The human colony on the planet Argo has long explored and exploited the technology left behind by an extinct alien race. But then an archaeology team accidentally activates a terrible weapon... Read More.
Praise for Star Dragon
"Seldom does a storytelling talent come along as potent and fully mature as Mike Brotherton. His complex characters take you on a voyage that is both fiercely credible and astonishingly imaginative. This is Science Fiction."
-- David Brin
"Star Dragon is terrific fare, offering readers a fusion of hard science and grand adventure."
-- Locus Magazine
"Star Dragon is steeped in cosmology, the physics of interstellar travel, exobiology, artificial intelligence, bioscience. Brotherton, author of many scientific articles in refereed journals, has written a dramatic, provocative, utterly convincing hard science sf novel that includes an ironic twist that fans will love."
-- Booklist starred review
"Readers hungry for the thought-provoking extrapolation and rigorous technical detail of old-fashioned hard SF are sure to enjoy astronomer Brotherton's first novel."
-- Publishers Weekly
"Mike Brotherton, himself a trained astrophysicist, combines the technical acuity and ingenuity of Robert Forward with the ironic, postmodern stance and style of M. John Harrison. In this, his debut novel, those twin talents unite to produce a work that is involving on any number of levels. It's just about all you could ask for in a hardcore SF adventure."
-- Paul di Fillippo, SCI-FI.COM
Launch Pad will run from June 1-7, 2015, this year. We will open for applications on February 1. Thanks to new and very welcome funding from SFWA, we plan to reinstate travel stipends as we have had in the past, so Launch Pad will be more affordable than ever.
Please spread the word!
Sorry for the blog slowing to an astronomical time scale, but I needed some time away to focus on my personal life and my research. I plan to resume more regular posting in the near future, here, and at Amazing Stories.
There have already been a lot of scientists and science popularizers and others looking at the science of Christopher Nolan’s ambitious film Interstellar. Kip Thorne, the eminent Caltech scientist powering much of the science, has written a book and there’s even a TV documentary.
Interstellar is a gorgeous film with fantastic visuals that takes us to places I’ve never seen before on screen, namely the environment around a supermassive black hole some 100 million solar masses, dubbed Gargantua. I enjoyed the film while watching it, but felt unsettled about some things. I hoped these things would make more sense in hindsight, but they don’t unfortunately.
Let me be clear. I recommend seeing Interstellar, and enjoying the many things it got right and the spectacle it created. The rest of this post will be my take over the science elements relying on my expertise as an astrophysicist who studies supermassive black holes and as a science fiction novelist who tries to put exotic but accurate astrophysical environments in front of readers. This is the kind of blunt and honest report I’d write to a screenwriter asking me to provide feedback on the scientific aspects of their story.
There are a few things early in the story I’d be critical about (e.g., our characters apparently drinking beer seven years after the blight has wiped out wheat), but let me focus on the astrophysics, aspects of which I have not seen considered elsewhere. More specifically, let me focus on the astrophysics that makes the entire plot of Interstellar kind of ridiculous.
First, we have an accretion disk around our supermassive black hole. The disk is apparently “anemic” even though it has temperatures like that of the surface of our sun. Even an “anemic” organized disk like this around a black hole of a 100 solar masses, as Gargantua apparently has, puts out too much heat and hard radiation for any planets to survive anywhere close to it. Drop its output, and you lose the organized, thin disk that is clearly present. Furthermore, there is no orbit that can stay far from this disk. There won’t be any planets. And if there were planets, somehow surviving and somehow in a place where they are the right temperature to colonize, they would not stay that way for long. The output from these disks varies on human timescales. We freak out, and rightly so, about a tiny temperature change here on Earth that is nothing compared to what a planet around Gargnatua would experience. There is no way I can make these planets make sense.
A blighted Earth is a million times more habitable than any planet could be in Interstellar. Venus, Mars, or the moon even.
I’m sure the idea for the movie came about to highlight effects like time dilation close to the event horizon of a black hole. That part in the movie doesn’t even make sense. A “planet” with a time dilation as depicted in the movie would have to be within 100 meters of the event horizon, which is a pretty tiny distance to fit an Earth-sized planet. And there wouldn’t be a radio signal from any previous mission that could be detected, because there would be a similarly extreme gravitational redshift putting into a very long wavelength part of the electromagnetic spectrum, with a correspondingly weaker signal strength.
Our rocket-powered lander could also not manage the delta vees required to get to this location and get back out. A shame, after a multi-stage rocket was shown to get off the Earth. We lose all semblance of reality for the technology on display.
There are other nits to pick, but there’s no need to pick them after making this main point: colonizing the unrealistic planets shown in Interstellar is akin to colonizing a wooden raft in the caldera of an active volcano. It’s not justifiable as a “Plan A” or a “Plan B” or even Ed Wood’s “Plan 9″ (which is more feasible).
If I were revising this very flawed script and wanted to highlight the features of a black hole like the time dilation, here’s how I would do it. Make the blight something more like radioactive contamination with a half-life of a few thousand years, and get rid of hibernation technology. Let the black hole become a time machine to go into the future to a time when the Earth is safe again. That’s my best idea for salvaging something that just doesn’t work.
It’s unfortunate that we get so many of these movies these days, where some effort has been put into the science, but not applied evenly to the entire story. I’m thrilled to have the gravitational effects of the black hole portrayed so accurately, and to get real physical effects like time dilation having real effects on the story, but the story itself is flawed. I am reminded of the Star Trek reboot, where so much effort was made to get Saturn and Titan right, but no one seemed to realize that having a faster-than-light warp drive means that the event horizon of a black hole is not actually a problem to escape.
OK, I’ll stop being Professor Buzzkill now. If you liked the movie, please keep liking it. It was cool and got a lot of things right, and will, I hope, pave the way for more big-budget movies set in interesting astrophysical environments.
A possible Launch Pad style workshop for Quantum Physics?
November 13th, 2014
Chad Orzel is proposing to create such a workshop, called the Schroedinger Sessions, targeted for science fiction writers. He is trying to determine the interest level in order to support a grant proposal to fund his workshop. Please help him out and take the poll:
I’m one of the guests for the latest, which you can find and listen to here. There were some smart, interesting, and funny things said. I was especially pleased to be on with Ed Bryant, whose Cinnabar blew my mind as a kid.
I don’t know why I wasn’t aware of this before, but there’s a Jim Baen memorial short story contest that looks very hard sf/space positive. I’m going to check out some past winners and think about entering myself.
I wish everyone followed these rules when arguing with someone over a different viewpoint. I try to do this, at least when I think of it. Sometimes I’m busy and dismissive, like too many, especially on the internet.
First, let me congratulate the 2014 Hugo Award winners, a list which includes several Launch Pad alumni like Ellen Datlow, Anne Leckie, John Joseph Adams, and Mary Robinette Kowal. Perhaps someday all the winners will be Launch Pad alumni…
First, let me start with former Wyoming student Shannon Hall’s efforts to bring everyone the true story of searching for alien worlds like our own: Debunking Earth 2.0. Please consider helping out her efforts.
The trailer to The Theory of Everything, a biodrama about Stephen Hawking. I found the trailer very moving, and look forward to the movie. We’ve all had set backs in our lives, but few have had as much success after as big a fall. While there is life there is hope…
Neil DeGrasse Tyson tells GMO critics to “chill out.” For the most part he’s right — there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with something being “GMO” just because it is “GMO” — and there’s little science that convincingly shows any GMO products being significantly harmful. Many GMO critics are biased and science deniers, like climate change deniers, and must overcome those biases if they want to be taken seriously rather than continue to demonstrate the naturalistic fallacy to embarrassing degree.
Writing advice from Chuck Palahniuk. While I am in general agreement that his advice results in better, more evocative writing, I know many successful writers who don’t follow it and who make boatloads of money, because some readers don’t read for the things that Palahniuk values.