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
It’s at Wait But Why. Highly recommended for a high-level overview of the issue all in one place.
My personal take on the Fermi Paradox, or why we appear alone in the universe, is covered in the article. It’s a combination of we don’t know what to look for, and aliens are not going out of their way to visit us or communicate with us. I think Fermi’s original assumption that alien civilizations would build self-replicating machines to populate a galaxy is also questionable.
(If you’re interested in more on the Fermi paradox, some videos on this old blog post may be of interest to you. Look for the ones on SETI involving Seth Shostak.)
Must Read for Hard SF Fans: The Martian by Andy Weir
May 21st, 2014
I don’t always keep up with the latest novel releases, but when a science fiction novel — and a hard science fiction novel to boot — makes bestseller lists and is overwhelmingly positively reviews by readers of all kinds, I sit up and take notice.
A novel meeting this description is The Martian by Andy Weir. The wikipedia article says it’s “Apollo 13 meets Castaway.” I’ve seen others call it a realistic “Robinson Crusoe on Mars.” It also has echoes of Gravity as a survival story in the harsh environment beyond Earth’s cradle.
Bottom line: it’s very good.
It’s both a page turner as well as thoughtful. There’s a lot of terrific scientific and engineering detail told with a voice that lets the hard parts go down easy and permits the reader to grok the import even if they don’t follow all the details. I myself learned a lot — the science here is not astronomy (with one or two exceptions), and it’s not all about Mars, as important as the backdrop is, but about staying alive. That’s something that tends to be of interest to humans.
I wish this is a book I had written. I’m glad I got to read it, and will also try to learn from it.
Amy Sterling Casil
E. C. Meyers
James L. Sutter
There are some very talented people here with a diverse range of backgrounds and audiences. I’m looking forward to meeting them in July!
First, note the “Promotions to Professor” part of this article. In the USA, you’re first an assistant professor, then an associate professor, then a (full) professor. I’m 46, so about time…
Also, I got stressed out back in March. I taught a new course (Physics I for Engineers) and it took a lot of extra time. I was also doing observing, and too many other things more generally. I decided I could skip the blogging until I had a little more time. Semester is over now, grades turned in, and I can give the blog some attention again.
I’ve been busy and stressed with a telescope proposal deadline, a week of observing up at WIRO, generally keeping up with the new course I’m teaching, and another half dozen smaller things, so blogging has taken a back seat. Let me jump in the back seat to catch up on some things I’ve been watching with interest in the news and around the internet.
The first issue is the announcement for evidence for inflation. I teach cosmology, so this result was of special interest to me, as I usually teach the topic as the first of several “speculations” that have good theoretical standing but no direct evidence. Well, I’ll have to start teaching inflation different, apparently. This is an important result that has gotten a lot of attention, so let me just link to some good explanations: Phil Plait, Dennis Overbye, Sean Carroll, and PhD Comics. Also let me point at (and laugh at) someone’s ridiculous theological interpretation (yes, I know that it’s an opinion piece, but CNN really shouldn’t be publishing stupid opinions if they can help it, in my own opinion, because she could have written this year’s ago and it still wouldn’t have been “proof of god.”).
Cosmos has continued to get attention, I’m happy too see. Mostly the attention is positive, but I wanted to remark about the response from creationists, which isn’t positive. They want equal time. The uncharitable response is to ask if they give science (real science, not their heretical non-science science) equal time in their churches? The more charitable response, which I think is appropriate in almost every instance, is that if you’re not seeing what you want to see in the media, start producing your own. We have free speech and it’s up to you to generate your own audience, not to complain that other people don’t say what you want them to say. I was also amused at “Corporate Cosmos” that speculates about what would happen if corporations decided that evidence for black holes was contrary to their bottom line (e.g., as seems to have happened with the science of climate change, cigarettes, etc).
Then there’s the “End of Civilization” as “predicted by NASA.” This is a great example of bad science reporting (if we can even call it that) based on a study of questionable merit. It’s also a great example of how to use sensationalism and people’s lack of critical thought to make something go viral. There’s a great two-part take down of this recent incident.
I’ve resumed playing Magic the Gathering, due to having some new students in the department who play. It’s been fun, and seeing all the changes since I played 20 years ago has been interesting. Still, there’s an element to it that reminds me of my high school chess playing days. I have to try to laugh with the stereotypes that are sometimes true… Man goes to MtG tournament, poses next to butt cheeks.
I watched the premiere of the new Neil de Grasse Tyson-hosted version of Cosmos tonight on Fox.
The goal was to update the science of Carl Sagan’s show — we have learned a lot in the last 30+years — and present it in as entertaining way as possible. Tyson says:
“The goal is to convey why science matters to the person, to our society, to us as shepherds of this planet. It involves presenting science in ways that connect to you, so Cosmos can influence you not only intellectually but emotionally, with a celebration of wonder and awe,” says Tyson. “Science should be part of everybody’s life. The prerequisite is not that you become a scientist. It’s that at the end of the series, you will embrace science and recognize its role in who and what you are.”
I strongly agree with those goals, and the show was for the most part visually striking and fun. While I had some concerns about the animated sequence showing Bruno’s execution for proposing a view of the universe that the Catholic Church did not agree with, the story was largely correct.
Where I want to criticize is in some scientific and technical details that the show just got wrong. I can forgive other kinds of errors, but this is really a show that needs to get these correct. If you see inaccuricies here, you can’t really trust anything, can you? This isn’t a professor answering a question off the cuff in public in realtime; this is an expensive, polished show with plenty of time and cause to be factually accurate.
Here are three points I thought were largely or totally wrong that need correction. I’ll take this opportunity for a teaching moment.
1. The graphics showing the asteroid belt, and the Kuiper belt, did not reflect reality. It showed a high density of large objects that would appear to crash into each other regularly. This is the same misconception that The Empire Strikes Back fell into. While there are systems of gravitationally bound asteroids (e.g., binaries, “rubble piles,” etc.), the general case is that you could fly a spacecraft through them a thousand times and not only not hit anything, you’d not be likely to even see anything. This was just an error and reinforces misconceptions.
2. Tyson referred to using night vision technology to see into the (thermal) infrared — cool objects in the universe. Wrong. While night vision does see slightly into the near-infrared (about 1 microns), it is primarily a light amplification technology. Thermal imagers are what we use to see cool dust, gas, and the coolest stars. Compare both technologies here.
3. Tyson, discussing the Big Bang, repeats a commonly held misconception that is wrong. He said that the entire universe came from a point smaller than an individual atom. If he’d used the modifier “observed” or “observable” in front of universe, I’d have given him a pass. But after making such a big deal about infinity earlier in the episode and bringing up the point of only part of the universe being observable, I can only call this a significant error. The reality is that if the universe is infinite today (and indications are that it is, and that is the adopted standard model), and therefore could never have been finite in size. Think about it. How do you change something from a finite size to an infinite size? The answer is that you don’t. A better way of thinking about the Big Bang was that the universe approached infinite density, but without approaching zero size.
So while I am pleased to see a show like Cosmos back on network TV in a good timeslot, I am worried that the quality control is lacking. I don’t know who gets input into the scripts and graphics, or who gets final say, but they’re not doing a good enough job in my opinion. If I were teaching astronomy 101 or cosmology this semester, I’d be discussing these points in my class — as well as assigning the show as homework.
Here are the nominees this year, and I will put Launch Pad people in bold. I’ve been impressed with the applicants every year I’ve run the workshop, and some who were not yet seasoned award contenders have become such since Launch Pad (I can’t take much credit there). No, they’re not all writing a lot of astronomy/space physics into their work, but some are, and I’m very proud of that. Pat Cadigan directly credited the workshop with inspiration and confidence for writing her Hugo-award-winning story “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi.”
We’re still open for applications for the summer 2014 workshop being held in Laramie from July 13-20 this year.
2013 Nebula Nominees Announced
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America are pleased to announce the 2013 Nebula Awards nominees (presented 2014), the nominees for the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and the nominees for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (Marian Wood)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman (Morrow; Headline Review)
Fire with Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
Hild, Nicola Griffith (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK) The Red: First Light, Linda Nagata (Mythic Island) A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar (Small Beer)
The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker (Harper)
‘‘Wakulla Springs,’’ Andy Duncan & Ellen Klages (Tor.com 10/2/13) ‘‘The Weight of the Sunrise,’’ Vylar Kaftan (Asimov’s 2/13)
‘‘Annabel Lee,” Nancy Kress (New Under the Sun)
‘‘Burning Girls,’’ Veronica Schanoes (Tor.com 6/19/13)
‘‘Trial of the Century,’’ Lawrence M. Schoen (lawrencemschoen.com, 8/13; World Jumping)
Six-Gun Snow White, Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean)
‘‘Paranormal Romance,’’ Christopher Barzak (Lightspeed 6/13)
‘‘The Waiting Stars,’’ Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky) ‘‘They Shall Salt the Earth with Seeds of Glass,’’ Alaya Dawn Johnson (Asimov’s 1/13)
‘‘Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters,’’ Henry Lien (Asimov’s 12/13)
‘‘The Litigation Master and the Monkey King,’’ Ken Liu (Lightspeed 8/13)
‘‘In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind,’’ Sarah Pinsker (Strange Horizons 7/1 – 7/8/13)
Best Short Story
‘‘The Sounds of Old Earth,’’ Matthew Kressel (Lightspeed 1/13)
‘‘Selkie Stories Are for Losers,’’ Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons 1/7/13)
‘‘Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer,’’ Kenneth Schneyer (Clockwork Phoenix 4) ‘‘If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,’’ Rachel Swirsky (Apex 3/13)
‘‘Alive, Alive Oh,’’ Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (Lightspeed 6/13)
Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
Doctor Who: ‘‘The Day of the Doctor’’ (Nick Hurran, director; Steven Moffat, writer) (BBC Wales)
Europa Report (Sebastián Cordero, director; Philip Gelatt, writer) (Start Motion Pictures) Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, director; Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, writers) (Warner Bros.) (Past Guest Instructor Kevin Grazer was the science advisor.)
Her (Spike Jonze, director; Spike Jonze, writer) (Warner Bros.)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Francis Lawrence, director; Simon Beaufoy & Michael deBruyn, writers) (Lionsgate)
Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro, director; Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro, writers) (Warner Bros.)
Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black (Little, Brown; Indigo)
When We Wake, Karen Healey (Allen & Unwin; Little, Brown)
Sister Mine, Nalo Hopkinson (Grand Central) The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine)
Hero, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
September Girls, Bennett Madison (Harper Teen)
A Corner of White, Jaclyn Moriarty (Levine)
Damon Knight Grand Master Award: Samuel R. Delany
Special Guest: Frank M. Robinson
NASA/Tor Collaboration to Promote Science in Science Fiction
February 13th, 2014
I got this email from Robert Roten, President of the local astronomy group here in Laramie, about a discussion they’re having:
In William Forstchen’s new science fiction novel, “Pillar to the Sky,”there are no evil cyborgs, alien invasions or time travel calamities. The threat to humanity is far more pedestrian: tight-fisted bureaucrats who have slashed NASA’s budget.
The novel is the first in a new series of “NASA-Inspired Works of Fiction,” which grew out of a collaboration between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and science fiction publisher Tor. The partnership pairs up novelists with NASA scientists and engineers, who help writers develop scientifically plausible story lines and spot-check manuscripts for technical errors.
The plot of Mr. Forstchen’s novel hinges on a multibillion-dollar effort to build a 23,000-mile-high space elevator—a quest threatened by budget cuts and stingy congressmen. Forthcoming novels in the series will explore asteroid mining, wormholes and astrobiology.
Fact-based science fiction may sound like a contradiction, or a poor marketing strategy, in a literary genre that typically celebrates flights of fantasy. But Tor and NASA say both stand to gain. Novelists get access to cutting-edge research and experts in obscure fields. A NASA official says that shaping science fiction offers “an innovative way to reach out to the public to raise awareness of what the agency is doing.”
NASA has been hosting novelists at its research facilities for multiday tours titled, “Science Fiction Meets Science Fact.” At one mixer, in October 2012, some 20 sci-fi writers mingled with NASA experts at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
They toured the radar detector development lab, laser and electro-optics facility and cosmic ice laboratory.
“Getting a message across embedded in a narrative rather than as an overt ad or press release is a subtle way of trying to influence people’s minds,” says Charles Seife, author of “Decoding the Universe,” who has written about NASA’s efforts to rebrand itself. “It makes me worry about propaganda.”
Enidia Santiago-Arce, a NASA official who is coordinating the author-scientist exchanges, says the agency isn’t pushing pro-NASA story lines. The collaboration doesn’t include any NASA funding.
“They write whatever they want,” she said. “We provide them with people who have the expertise to help make it as accurate as it can be within the realms of science fiction.”
President, Laramie Astronomical Society and Space Observers (LASSO)
I didn’t know about this NASA effort to bring in novelists, but it seems very complementary to Launch Pad, and I’m going to look into it.