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
My old and dear friend and fellow science fiction writer Jay Lake has finally succumbed to cancer following six years of battle. I’m a little numb about it. I had a good cry last year when he got his condition changed to terminal and the experimental treatments seemed like a longshot.
I’m in China right now, working with a friend on some astronomical research. The last time I saw Jay in person and had the time to have a lengthy discussion was in Beijing in 2009. We both just happened to be there and got together for an evening.
I first met Jay in 1992, I believe, in Austin, TX, where we were both wannabe writers years before we’d get anything published. While I attended Clarion West for six weeks in the summer of 1994, Jay remained in Austin and wrote a novel. It turned out to be a novel he couldn’t sell at the time, but it impressed the hell out of me. Jay always read quickly, wrote quickly, and was wicked smart and well educated. I knew that if he got the quality of his work up, he’d be a force in the field. I was right, because that’s what he became, both socially and professionally.
Jay also had a sick, twisted sense of humor that I much admired. I had one straight-laced girlfriend too easily offended who nearly left a restaurant over something he said, and made me promise she never had to socialize with Jay or my writer friends ever again. Big surprise, the girlfriend didn’t last. She’d never have survived “the long night of the gas giant” anyway…but that’s another bigger-than-life story I’d never have had without Jay. I won’t share it here now, but rather keep it to myself, and smile thinking of it and Jay’s central role.
We shared an editor at Tor in the wise Beth Meacham, taking our own paths to novel publication that ended in the same place just as we started in the same place. My favorite book of Jay’s is probably Green. I have the two sequels (Endurance and Kalimpura) on my kindle and will read them this week or on the flight home. He’d probably be ticked at me for linking to amazon, who do seem to find ways of negatively affecting writers as they play negotiation hardball with publishers, but they did lock me in with the kindle.
I was very happy that Jay got to attend my Launch Pad workshop in 2008. That meant a lot to me. And I was also very happy we got to reprint his terrific novella “The Stars Do Not Lie” in our Launch Pad anthology.
Even though Jay and I didn’t get to see each other much the last few years, I always felt close to him through his daily blogging. He shared so much of himself there, warts and all. Jay was always fascinating and inspiring, even if his honesty about our medical system was tough to look at. And while I don’t think he always succeeded 100%, Jay tried to be open-minded and listen and discuss ideas with people that had different perspectives than he did — a general policy of engagement that too few seem to embrace today, instead favoring their own echo chambers.
I loved my friend, and the world is lesser place today without him.
His example makes me want to be more energetic, more productive, more engaged, more day seizing — even about the little things. I remember him writing once about how Peter Jackson splitting The Hobbit into three movies likely meant he wouldn’t get to see the end, and Jay was right. Live now, live well now, because there’s no guarantee you’ll be around for a scheduled end in the distant future.
I’ve been struggling to find writing time given my scientific career and my social life. Jay didn’t struggle. He made the effort, every day. He had a daughter, a full-time job that involved regular travel, daily blogging, a full convention schedule, cancer the last six years, and he wrote a quarter million plus words of fiction annually. If Jay can do that, surely I can at least do a half Lake, or a quarter Lake, on the fiction side, can’t I? As I said, Jay was inspirational, and will continue to be so for me. Jay knew he was leaving this life with a rich body of literary work, but he’s left much more than that with us, and I hope he knew it.
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.