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
Peter Higgs: I wouldn’t be productive enough for today’s academic system. No duh. I looked up his publications, and they seemed to vanish after 1966, with only a very few after that (Note that there are a few other P. Higgs in the list that I couldn’t automatically filter). Look, Nobel-prize-winning work is quality work, but if you hire someone to do research and they stop publishing, we call that “deadwood.” So while I do think we need to shift the scales more toward quality as opposed to quantity and the system is far from perfect, I’ve seen this article passed around like productivity is bad and that we should give smart people free rides for life if they did something great once upon a time. Imagine publishers paying Haper Lee or J. D. Salinger salaries for books they never turn in, or the Bulls continuing to pay Michael Jordan today, nearly two decades after he played for them.
Smarter people stay up later, do more drugs, and have more sex. More interesting than the article was the bio of the writer Sean Levinson: “Born with a prehensile tail in an Amish commune just west of Beijing, Sean Levinson always dreamed of being crowned lord of the dance. Unfortunately, his goals were derailed after he responded to an ad for a fluffer posted by Elite Daily. It was here where Sean discovered that all he was really after was drugs, money, and a lucrative job that would get him more money to pay for drugs. You can catch him on a biographical special on MTV next month titled: He’s the Man: The Sean Levinson story.”
Astroboffins? Astroboffins? WTF am I reading here? Interesting story about black holes totally ruined by bizarre “boffin” terminology. OK, maybe I’m not just as up on my British slang as I had thought, but the term fails for me.
“Negative data.” This is all too true a scenario, and the current system does not reward those who publish the null or uninteresting results. There should be a journal with a low barrier to publication that lets us write short letters summarizing the experiments that didn’t yield anything interesting enough to write up in detail and publish in a top journal, an arduous and expensive process (in time and money).
I saw the Loch Ness Monster, but maybe that’s just me. Actually an article about an interesting topic: the perceptual limitations of humans, unfortunately under the patronizing title “Be Less Stupid” and with some elitist text.
High-Paying Jobs for People Who Don’t Like Stress. Astronomer made the list, but I think the numbers are exaggerated a little. More senior tenured profs may make that kind of money and don’t have to worry about losing their jobs, but until that point, not so much in that location of parameter space.
A friend and I were talking over beers the other night, and discussing the handful of movies that had transformed the experience of going to the cinema. They contain unique elements not seen before, and influence everything that comes after. Some of the transformation is simply in the realm of special effects, but some of the differences are more profound. Let me explain by providing a list with some words of explanation for each. In reverse order…
Gravity (2013). I have never seen a movie like this before (a refrain that will hold for other entries, too). Watching the movie in 3-D IMAX felt like the closest I could imagine coming to a space experience. This will be the standard for films set in space for years to come, and many of the techniques used to shoot this will become standard (a refrain that will hold for other entries, too).
Avatar (2009). This was the first movie I saw in the modern 3-D, and the most amazing realization of science fictional world-building I’ve ever seen. The work that went into this film was amazing.
The Matrix (1999). The “bullet time” special effect alone raised the bar for all other movies to follow.
Jurassic Park (1993). This was the first movie I saw in which I thought dinosaurs looked authentic and believable. The integration between the CGI and the human actors defined state of the art. Go watch any other movie from the late 1980s/early 1990s and compare.
Blade Runner (1982). This is the realization of the dark, gritty cyberpunk dystopia hitting the big screen in a big way for perhaps the first time. This marks a turning point in many respects for broadening the spectrum of visions of the future.
Alien (1979). While alien monster movies were not new in 1979, this film forged new ground. Ripley is not an obvious hero, just a working stiff on a dirty space barge, and notable for being female but not a damsel in distress or a Barbarella style sex kitten. The “John Hurt moment” redefined how shocking a movie could be.
Star Wars (1977). The special effects were amazing for its day, and the impact of the franchise was perhaps unique in the history of movies.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The science and special effects were fantastic, and the way its slow pace and big shots reflects the size and isolation of space is unmatched. The amount of respect for the intelligence of the audience would be unheard of today, even if many original viewers were stoned while watching it.
King Kong (1933). A big step back in time, surely skipping a lot of worth entries, but King Kong surely was a milestone in the special effects business, and defined how many big monster movies would be done for decades to come.
Honorable mentions: Blair Witch Project/Cloverfield (2008), for pioneering the found footage format.
This list is far from comprehensive, especially going back to before I was born when it is harder for me to recognize the transformational films. What have I missed?
I took the weekend off the big proposal deadline Friday. I’ll do a starlinks post soon, but in the meantime, the video of my recent talk in Gillette, WY, on the science of superheroes is now available. Enjoy!
November is always crunch time for me. No, not NaNoWriMo, but it starts with Halloween and throwing a party, and then has a proposal deadline for the National Science Foundation on the 15th, and just driving for the end of the semester takes an effort. So, the slow blogging continues. But here are some links to clear out for the week:
“What this means is, when you look up at the thousands of stars in the night sky, the nearest sun-like star with an Earth-size planet in its habitable zone is probably only 12 light years away and can be seen with the naked eye. That is amazing,” said UC Berkeley graduate student Erik Petigura, who led the analysis of the Kepler and Keck Observatory data.
Keep in mind that they all won’t be perfectly “Earth-like” — Venus has a runaway greenhouse effect that makes it less than habitable, for instance. But it does mean that we’re probably closer to living in a Star Trek style universe, with lots of “M-Class” planets and potentially a lot of life in the Milky Way.
I’m at a bit of low, emotionally and physically, after the inevitable post-Halloween crash. Winter is coming, too, with shorter days and colder weather. NSF grant proposal deadline looms. Exams are sitting on the desk, waiting to be graded. Some people get by on routine. I never have a set routine, and sometimes I regret it. Well, here’s one glimpse from the big annual party:
I had a long couple of days, flying up to Gillette, Wyoming to give a talk about the science of superheroes (I will post a video when it is ready). The University plane had a problem and we wound up driving back, although I did get to see Devil’s Tower in person finally and had a good carload of smart, interesting people to chat with on the long drive home.
New distance champion among galaxies. An aside: it’s standard to quote the proper distance to an extragalactic object — the distance it was at when it emitted the light we are seeing from it. Apparently the press release made a big deal about its current distance, which is probably pretty confusing to some readers. This article does explain the difference.
A bit of a placeholder here for now, as I think it will be of interest to write up the anatomy of an observing run in Chile, but wanted to let anyone looking here know that I wasn’t dead. My wifi on my laptop however, which was supposed to let me stay better in touch and blog from my hotel in Chile, is apparently dead. I did have ethernet connections in the office at the University of Concepcion and the Las Campanas Observatory, but I was pretty busy working at those times. Suffice to say for now I got good data, gave what I think was a well-received colloquium talk, ate/drank some good stuff, and talked science a lot. And had a cold most of the time.
Just catching up here on a long list of stuff now that was put off by the trip.
Trying to finish up a lot of things before I leave for Chile this week (a colloquium at the University of Concepcion, work with an old student/collaborator, and an observing run at the Magellan Observatory).
Speaking of that, there’s more on the NASA story vis a vis China and congressional restrictions (which should be lifted during a shutdown, right?). Well, Congressman Frank Wolf got annoyed and wrote NASA a long, angry letter about how his legislature and his positions on China have been mischaracterized. Although it’s harsh, I’m actually pleased because I now have a better understanding of the restrictions and I don’t think they’re as oppressive as I originally thought. I almost always prefer engagement over boycotting, so I don’t love the situation, but…