Posts Tagged ‘science’

R.I.P. Opportunity

I woke up yesterday to the news that NASA had officially declared Opportunity to be dead, which has made me sadder than I expected. I was working in the aerospace industry when Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars back in 2004, and I remember it being a very exciting time at work.

(I did not work on Mars-related stuff at the time, but it was all anyone wanted to talk about. You couldn’t get three feet around the office without the rovers coming up in one form or another.)

And, to be honest, I hadn’t thought about the rovers in years. Spirit was declared dead a long time ago, and then Curiosity was launched, and Opportunity slipped my mind.

For a rover meant to last 3 months, the fact that it lasted almost 15 years is pretty dang amazing. And NASA did such a good job of getting us all to care about some little (I say little facetiously–neither Spirit or Opportunity is that small, and Curiosity is freaking huge) robots exploring on another planet.

But I will admit I cried a little, when I learned that Opportunity’s last message was “My batteries are low and it is getting dark.” (And it makes me feel better to know I wasn’t the only one.)

I know it’s just a machine, but Godspeed, Opportunity. Thanks for all your hard work.

It seems to me you lived your life
like a rover in the wind
never fading with the sunset
when the dust set in.

Your tracks will always fall here,
among Mars’ reddest hills;
your candle’s burned out long before
your science ever will.#ThanksOppy. I owe you so much.— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) February 13, 2019

Where Has All the Hard Science Fiction Gone?

So, I recently finished reading Inherit the Stars by James P. Hogan, a hard science fiction novel from 1985. We talked about some of the things that were a little bit jarring a few weeks ago in the Old Science Fiction post (to that, I add: an apparent lack of the understanding of plate tectonics), but overall I enjoyed the book and found the science to be mostly solid, even if the characters didn’t figure out what must have happened for things to make sense scientifically until about 100 pages after I did.

That got me to thinking. In general, I like hard science fiction–it must appeal to the engineer in me or something–but all the examples I could think of that I’ve read are older books. Rendezvous with Rama was published in 1973. Ringworld is from 1970. Contact is also 1985, and The Andromeda Strain is from 1969.

Even looking at the Wikipedia and Goodreads lists of hard science fiction shows that there’s been very little of the subgenre put out in the last ten years (and Goodreads’ list is a bit suspect. I am pretty sure Ender’s Game is not hard science fiction).

Why do you think that is, Squiders? Is it because hard science fiction, being fairly dry, just doesn’t ever attract that many readers, meaning a limited number is published at any point of time? Maybe it’s not any slower than before, but there’s just not a lot of it in general. Or is it a representation of some changing tastes in readers and/or writers, where people don’t want to think about science unless it’s accompanied by  explosions and starship chases?

I don’t honestly know, my friends. I welcome any thoughts you have on the matter, and if you do have any good, recent hard science fiction recommendations, please share.

In Defense of Fantasy: Multiple Sentient Species

Let’s look at Earth. We have exactly one sentient species: us. Humans. (Although, it can be argued that other advanced species – elephants, gorillas, dolphins, whales – are sentient, depending on what particular factors one’s looking at. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say sentient in this case means regular tool use, complex language, some control over the elements, and self-awareness and consciousness.)

Your average fantasy world, on the other hand, can have several: humans, elves, dwarves, orcs, occasionally dragons, goblins, kobolds, halflings, gnomes, trolls, etc.

These species tend to be on a more or less even footing.

So, how is it that you can have several sentient species on a fantasy planet when science says that competition will limit species of a similar niche?

I know I said the fantasy doesn’t have to follow the laws of science, but on one hand, this is something that bothers me. It may be because a lot of fantasy closely mirrors the real world with the exception of its many species and possible use of magic, so ignoring how evolution works seems a bit odd to me.

The being said, there are ways to have multiple species on the same planet and not break science.

1) You can have them all be related, like emus and ostrichs are related. Common ancestor in the past, isolated populations, etc. This isn’t that hard. Dwarves, for example, typically live underground or in the mountains. In general, most fantasy species come in similar builds and colors, so it’s generally believable.

2) For worlds where you want two widely different sentient species (such as dragons and elves, for example), if you have something that keeps them from competing earlier in the evolutionary phase, such as them being on different continents, or low-birth rates where there’s not a lot of spread, then you’re more likely to have two advanced species come into being.

You can, of course, always make the argument because it doesn’t matter because it’s fantasy. It depends on the reader whether or not they’ll be bothered by it. I don’t tend to worry about it unless there’s a truly ridiculous amount of species or something else stands out as being very strange. I’m more bothered by species that are supposed to be natural but seemingly have no natural reason for existing.

In Defense of Science Fiction: Time Travel

For the next two weeks, I’m going to look at typical aspects of science fiction that seem to have fallen out of favor for whatever reason. First up: time travel.

Why has this fallen into disrepute? Well, according to modern science, the amount of energy necessary to go back in time is infinite. And, of course, you can’t draw infinite energy because you’ll destroy the universe (personally, I think there’s a story there anyway). So, say the naysayers, time travel is out.

It’s impossible.

Now, if we want to get really science-y, we can talk about spacetime and how you can move forward in both time and space since they’re essentially the same thing, and blah blah blah.

My point is this: sure, maybe modern science says no. But here’s the thing – science, especially physics, changes all the time. Sure, back a hundred years ago when it was a less-developed field and we hadn’t figured out how to split atoms or that the universe was expanding, it was easy to justify time travel. Why couldn’t you go forward or backwards in time? There was nothing that said we couldn’t!

But even now, I don’t think you can rule it out. The universe is too fluid, our understanding constantly changing. There’s tons of fun theories right now that could be used to explain time travel. Sure, maybe the ol’ warp around the sun to go faster than the speed of light theory is bunk, but with a little twisting, the sky (the universe?) is the limit.

Besides, I don’t think you can knock it if you haven’t tried it.

And science fiction is about possibilities. What if this? What if that? To look at a classic aspect and write it off just because modern mentality says it ain’t so – that’s anti-scifi. A hundred years ago, no one thought we could make it to the moon either.

When Science Goes Stale

Last night, my husband and I watched Jurassic Park.  To make you all feel as old as I do, Jurassic Park came out eighteen years ago, in 1993.  I probably haven’t watched it in a decade, but I remember being really impressed with it (I even had the soundtrack).  DNA!  Dinosaurs!  Gene sequencing!

Turns out, it comes across really dated now.  The advances in Paleontology in the past decade have been immense – now we suspect most if not all dinosaurs had feathers, and, in some cases, we even know what color they were.  Even ignoring that, which admittedly people may not be up on if they are not as big of a dinosaur freak as I am (I had to explain to two people in the last week that there was no such thing as a brontosaurus – it was an apatosaurus put together wrong), they’re using CRT televisions.  Lex gets excited about a CD-ROM.  The “UNIX” that Jurassic Park runs on looks nothing like any UNIX I’ve ever used.

I started this post with the intention of talking about science fiction and how what can seem strange and cutting edge can be old news or just plain wrong in a matter of years – I don’t know if you’ve ever read Verne or Wells, they are brilliant, but oh, the science at times – but I realized it’s not just science fiction where this is a potential problem.  I read a mystery lately where I honestly wondered why the main character didn’t just look something up on the internet before I realized that it was because there was no internet, not really, in 1994 when the book was published.

What’s an author to do?  If you’re writing contemporary or science fiction, you don’t know how the world’s going to go, and it makes no sense to second-guess everything you write, from the internet to cell phones to air travel (I’m still hoping for reliable teleportation in the next few years).  I’ve seen this go a couple of different ways: 1) set the story in the near past (i.e. the last twenty years) where things are close enough to today to be  relate-able and the technology state is known, or 2) say Hell with it and go about your business as usual.

It is a bit aggravating when something you wrote four years ago has gone out of date technologically, however.

As a reader, does it pull you out of the narrative when the science and technology don’t mesh with how you know things to be now?  As a writer, what’s your approach when dealing with technology that is here today but may be gone tomorrow or may never come to be?

Friday Round-up

My thoughts and prayers are with Japan today.  Here are some options for helping them.

Secret Space Shuttle Blasts Off for Second Mission
Alien Microbe Claim Starts Fight Over Meteorite
Solving the Mystery of the Most Violent Event in the Universe
Voyager Continues to Explore Edge of Solar System (Soon it will find the Borg and be transformed into V’ger and wreak havoc)
Picture of Saturn and Titan
Real Life Transformer (They programmed it to dance!  That’s awesome, but…why?)
Amazing photo of ISS/Discovery in front of the sun

Interview with Robin Hobb
Giveaway for Sonia Gensler’s The Revenant (Plus other fun swag – enter by Sunday)
Review of The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
3 Ways George Lucas’s Wife Helped Star Wars
Brandon Sanderson muses on the Suvudu Cage Matches
Review of Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey
Favorite Undercover 80s Aliens
Interview with Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert about Hellhole
History of Science Fiction (graphic)

Misc Books
Science Fiction Author Declares War Against Literary Fiction

Query Letter Critique Contest (focused on YA)

Things of Interest
National Geographic builds House from Up! (Awesome, but…why?)

Friday Round-up

Pictures of Discovery Approaching the ISS
Henry Morgan’s Cannons Found in Panama (Yay, pirates!)
Picture of Discovery docking with the ISS taken from Earth!

2010 Stoker Nominees
Review of Elizabeth Bear’s Grail
Review of The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Vol 5
Excerpt from M.M. Buckner’s The Gravity Pilot
Massive book giveaway
Release Date for New George R. R. Martin Book
Creepy Apollo 18 Poster
Star Wars Fans Trying to Save Lars Homestead

Misc Books
Mystery Novelist telling Story Page by Page on Lamp Post
Kindle Gives Thriller Writer a Plot for Success

Get Wired In (Not writing specific, but helpful for focusing)
Revisiting the Fantasy Hero

On We Blindly Stumble
Cats with Thumbs
Alice, the Saddest Whale in the Ocean

Friday Round-up

The Extraordinary Face of the Moon
Picture of Discovery on the Launch Pad
Interactive James Webb Telescope (launches in 2014)
Photos of Discovery Launch
Sotheby’s to Auction 1961 Soviet Capsule

Endurance wallpapers
Locus Magazine Recommends Some of Tor’s Short Stories from 2010
Review of Ian McDonald’s Ares Express
What does poor showing of I Am Number Four mean for Scifi Movies in 2011?
Video Excerpt of The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Apparently there is also a movement at the moment to help Nathan Fillion buy Firefly.

Misc Books
Borders’ Footprint
Notes in Margins
Tim Burton’s Children’s Book Rejection
Indie Alternatives to Closing Border Stores

Dark Fairytales Writing Community
Seven Stages of Critique Grief

The Boat, It Floats
100 Best Protest Signs from Wisconsin
China Bans Reincarnation  (I just…what?)

Friday Round-up

Symphony of Science
Earliest Photos of Universe Yet
Possible Previously Unknown Gas Giant in Our Solar System

Literary Crushes
Book Cover Smackdown
How to Tell if You’re Going to Get the Girl

Misc Books
Books of Love Letters
Return of the Serial Novel?

Writing Full Circle
Search Engine for Writers
Is Your Writing in a Rut?

Friday Round-up

Private Company to put Robot on Moon (For some reason, this sounds like a terrible idea to me.  Sounds like a good way to leave trash everywhere and mess up scientific missions.)
Last Rollout of Space Shuttle Discovery (video)
Recycling the Space Program
Trying to Prove the Multiverse (The quantum physics at the bottom kind of hurts my head.)
All 1200 Possible Exoplanets Found by Kepler Visualized
NASA’s New Technique to Find Alien Life
Pictures of Space Shuttle Discovery’s Building

The Furniture of Steampunk
Winners of the 2010 British Fantasy Awards
Chance to win a signed copy of Maria V. Snyder’s Inside Out
The Unreal and Why We Love It Part 6: Recognition
Star Wars Characters – Who Got Better?  Worse?
New #Torchat on Twitter
What Star Wars Job are you suited for?  (I’m a Jedi! \o/)

Misc Books
10 Greatest Child Geniuses in Literature

Stop Thrashing

Odds and Ends
Who to blame for the snow?
Science Valentines
If Social Media was High School
Headless Monk Forces Move of Amusement Park Ride
IKEA Instructions for the Large Hadron Collider

Also, this is awesome: Zombie Choose Your Own Adventure, all across the interwebs.