Colonies In Space by T.A. Heppenheimer
There is a bittersweet quality to this book. It’s nonfiction, so it has no engaging characters, no suspenseful plot, but it does tell a story. It’s more of a snapshot, really, of a hopeful era in which humanity seemed on the verge of venturing out into space, building colonies, and expanding its reach throughout the galaxy. It seemed inevitable, a near certainty, almost right around the temporal corner. The first step would happen soon. Large colonies would be built in space. Initially, these would produce and maintain solar power stations, which would beam their energy back to Earth via microwave transmission. This would make the space colonies economically self-sustaining, possibly even highly profitable.
Published in 1978 (copyright 1977), the author’s predictions about what would happen over the next forty years are often incorrect. He did not foresee, for example, the stunning advances that have been achieved in solar voltaic cells, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, or the possibility of cultured meat (his colonies would raise chickens and goats). He was extrapolating from the proven technology of the time, and all of these areas were still quite speculative.
He was also extrapolating from current culture and politics, prior to Reaganomics or the collapse of the Soviet Union. I found the following rather poignant:
Barring a catastrophic epidemic of human stupidity, the decades ahead are likely to see the foundations solidly laid for a world without large-scale poverty or hopelessness, a world of opportunity, rising living standards and widely shared middle-class levels of affluence. Such a world will endure into the indefinite future. (pages 250-251 of the 1st edition Warner mass market paperback)
Obviously, the world he envisioned didn’t come about. One can argue whether this is good or bad, but the political motivation and the governmental financial capacity to fund large-scale space development no longer exists. We didn’t build space colonies. Perhaps, some day, we will. If humanity is to survive into the distant future, I believe we must.