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Between us and Venus

Local ecologist veteran, author's interplanetary allegory hits close to home

A veteran with a lifelong love for ecology, A Hundred Lifetimes local author David Zink spins a science fiction yarn rooted in scientific fact. Photo credit: Jared Lovrak

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A nice planet is hard to find.

That's why local author David Zink spent most of his life cherishing our little corner of the cosmos and working diligently to protect its environment for future generations.

Zink's eco-friendliness owes in part to a childhood on his family's fishing resort in northern Minnesota. While most of us reap nature's bounty from the nearest grocery store, Zink's family subsisted largely off of the fauna and flora they hunted and harvested. A harsher way of life than most of us are accustomed to, but not without its benefits. (Do you know what snapping turtle tastes like? David does.)

After graduating from the University of Winnipeg with degrees in biology and geography, Zink spent 10 years working as an Environmental Health Specialist in the Army, a job which mainly meant making sure that our troops abroad didn't get killed by the environment like the Martians in H.G Wells' War of the Worlds.

"Bacterial and microbial contamination from unclean water and the like has contributed to at least as many deaths as ‘lead poisoning,'" Zink said with a chuckle.

After diabetes abruptly ended his military career, Zink spent nearly three decades working with the Washington State Department of Ecology. Now retired, the self-proclaimed "beachcomber on the shores of the galactic sea" keeps busy as an officer in Tacoma Veterans for Peace, teaches botany at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, and recently published his first novel.

In the days before space exploration, scientists and science fiction writers alike proposed some interesting and imaginative hypotheses about the other planets in our solar system. Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote of a Mars populated by four-armed green monsters and beautiful princesses. Frank Herbert (another local, ecologically minded author), posited a fanciful future where the whole of human transportation and logistics depends on a chemical found only in the desert. And until the 1960s, Venus was thought to be a tropical paradise.

Of course, Venus is completely inhospitable to life as we know it - it's a desolate landscape of perpetually erupting volcanoes where it rains sulfuric acid and the average temperature reaches a toasty 864°F.

But that might not have always been the case.

"We can deduce from the presence of organic compounds in its atmosphere that Venus did have life at one point," Zink said.

The question central to Zink's novel, A Hundred Lifetimes, is how yesterday's Venus became today's Venus.

Discovering that Venus is rapidly surpassing a series of environmental "tipping points" that threaten the planet's future, mantis-like Drelbi botanist Zyzz is drawn into a tangled web of corrupt government officials, greedy corporate shills and radical environmental activists.

While Venus' current condition is one heck of a grim "spoiler alert," Zink's eerie ecological parable is a brisk, fun read filled with interesting characters who are surprisingly human despite not being human at all. It's a thin allegory with a disturbingly prescient moral we'd do well to take to heart. As one Drelbi remarks,

"There are too many dead planets already." 

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