The Brink of a New Age of Discovery

Do you remember those old posters from the 1950's that had people in flying cars and robots doing the dishes? It must have been an exciting time. Test pilots had just broken the sound barrier, followed by a breathless rush into the dawn of the Space Race that led to the moon landings just 66 years after the first time Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first airplane. At that time, nuclear power seemed ready to offer limitless cheap energy, and the boom of microelectronics was just beginning to dazzle.

flying-car

 

What happened to my flying car? While it's true that electronics have gotten smaller and faster beyond the wildest of imaginings of 40 years ago, it's also true that the 747 airliner first flew in 1969, and that's probably the same plane you'd take to fly today. Same speed, same altitude–the 747 was an amazing feat in the 60's, but by now we were supposed to be vacationing in the vast donut space stations of Arthur C. Clark's 2001. And speaking of 1969, that was 47 years ago…if we went from the first airplane to the moon in just sixty years, fifty years after that shouldn't we be taking warp-drive spaceships to Betelgeuse? What happened?

For instance, what about dark matter? This is the stuff that makes up about 90% of the mass/energy of our universe, but so far physicists have only been able to narrow it down to (a) massive subatomic particles that we're literally swimming in although have never detected, or (b) primordial black holes that invisibly glue together galaxies. So 90% of everything is either something subatomic or something unimaginably massive and large. That's a pretty big gap for something rather important.

Dark_matter_stride_by_tchaikovsky2

Or how about eels? If you live in North America or Europe, you've most likely encountered an eel in your local river. Yet all North American and European eels originate from a single source, the mysterious “Sargasso Sea” somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean where eels spawn each year and migrate outward. Despite knowing this *has* to exist, not one person has ever witnessed a spawning eel, or found the location of the Sargasso Sea that has to exist.

eels

Two obvious things that have to exist, and yet we've never seen them. I believe this is called faith. So keep the faith, my friends, because our future is fast approaching.

Just a few years ago, I remember feeling depressed when NASA made tired-sounding announcements of sending humans to Mars in thirty or forty years. Ho-hum, ho-hum. And then this week, SpaceX makes a surprise announcement saying they plan to send an unmanned Red Dragon capsule to Mars in 2018 (TWO years from now, not twenty), and in September of this year will they will release serious plans for colonizing Mars. Holy Buck Rogers! And this comes just a few weeks after they butt-landed a rocket on a floating drone ship in the middle of the Atlantic. Does this sound like something from a science fiction book? Cause it's not. This is happening, folks, not to mention the slew of other private space enterprises going on.

In other news, big corporations are now creating their own endemic artificial intelligences–witness Siri from Apple, Alexa from Amazon, Cortana from Microsoft, and reports of just about every major hedge fund in Connecticut starting up their own AIs to run their core businesses. It's not quite the android Replicants of Mr. Philip K. Dick, but it's more than halfway to HAL of 2001…and pair this up with the walking robots from Boston Dynamics. And speaking of AI disasters, when Microsoft recently unleashed Tay–Cortana's AI cousin–free and unfettered into the world a few weeks ago, within hours she became a Hitler-loving racist asshole, which I feel perhaps doesn't bode well for humankind over the long term (bear fealty now to our robot-AI overlords before it's too late).

But this isn't the big news. No. The big news, I think, is that we're on the brink of TOE–and by that I mean the Theory Of Everything. Without getting stuck in the details, for the last forty or so years, we've been stuck with quantum-electrodynamics theory on one side (the merger of quantum, electromagnetics, and strong and weak nuclear force theories) and gravity-relativity on other, and never the twain shall meet. Nobody has been able to devise one coherent physical model of our universe that includes the four fundamental forces together with quantum theory–but I think scientists are on the brink of a breakthrough (witness the discover of a new, previously unsuspected particle by the LHC) that may create a new fundamental picture of reality.

Esoteric?

How can this possibly affect us?

Perhaps.

But “quantum theory” only really emerged in 1924 as a discipline unto itself with Heisenberg and Schrodinger (it did exist as bits and pieces in the 1800's, but only hints of something unconnected), and at the time, sitting on a steamship deck and sipping your coffee, you might have been excused from wondering what possible application it could have. Fast-forward sixty years, and it fueled the technical underpinning of the electronics boom that has birthed the Internet, AIs, and worldwide instantaneous communication networks.

images

What could a new theory of the ultimate nature of reality make possible? I have no idea, but I'll bet you that in fifty years it will be something amazing that we can't even imagine now. Tired old NASA is even funding a serious research project into faster-than-light travel–the idea isn't to really travel faster than light, but to bend space (and thus time) to punch holes through it. The physics say it's possible, but the energies required are either vaster than a hundred suns, or not much at all–what's needed is an understanding of the real physics behind the ultimate nature of our reality, and our lab-coated friends may just be on the edge of supplying it. So dust off your Mars suit, boot up your personal AI, and step onto that warp-drive spaceship, because the future is fast approaching.

But I doubt we'll ever find out where eels come from.

Adventures in Hybrid Publishing

The changes that have occurred in publishing over the past decade are pretty remarkable. I first wrote this post for Simon and Schuster about a year ago, and even more has changed in publishing in that time.

 

book-genre

 

Authors are no longer restricted by the old rules of publishing. You don’t need a literary agent or a traditional publishing deal to get your story into reader’s hands. E-readers have helped fuel a revolution, where an unknown author like Hugh Howey can become a New York Times Bestseller almost overnight. From Wattpad to Amazon, publishing has never been easier. But that doesn’t mean one method is better than the other. It simply means that authors and publishers have more options.

Three years ago, when I was still a purely self-published author, New York Times bestselling author Bob Mayer told me that hybrid publishing was the future. At the time, I didn’t even know what that meant. But, that’s exactly what I became; by mixing and matching the strategies that worked best for me, I became a hybrid author. Two years later, with a series traditionally published under Simon451 (a digital-first imprint of Simon & Schuster) another series I’m self-publishing, and a third acquired by Blackstone Publishing, I found the right balance of freedom and control to survive as a full time writer.

My publishing story started about four years ago. I had an unpublished manuscript that I’d been working on for years. I thought about querying agents or sending the book to a small press but after some consideration I decided to go with what seemed like the least painful method — I decided to self-publish.

This was one of the most important moments of my career. It opened a door to the world of self-publishing and while that novel didn’t do all that well, it paved the way for my next book, Orbs. Using the marketing knowledge I’d gained from my first novel and the advice of fellow self-published authors, I was able to successfully launch my second book. Two months later, Orbs was a breakaway hit on Amazon and a number one bestseller that attracted the attention of several publishers including Simon451.

Orbs

Now I was faced with an important dilemma. I wrestled with whether to continue to self-publish or make the leap to traditional publishing. It wasn’t until I asked myself an important question that I found my answer — what could Simon451 bring to the table that I wasn’t doing for myself?

Sure, self-publishing allowed me the freedom of getting my stories out quickly. I had control over the marketing and price. But there were still obstacles preventing me from reaching the audience outside of Amazon. I thought a traditional publisher could help tear down those walls and help me reach those readers. But in addition to that, with professional editing and copyediting I would be able to improve my technical skills as a writer.

 

Nick typing

 

For that reason I decided to sign with Simon451. I knew that with the power of their editing and marketing teams my books could potentially reach an entire new level. My writing would improve and my books would reach more readers. Simon451 did just that. They put my Orbs series on every major e-reader platform, and their superb editing team has made me a stronger writer. Starting in July of 2016, the books are coming out in paperback.

After signing with Simon451 I came to see the other side of publishing. My old editor calls the e-book revolution the Wild West. More publishing options means more authors. That also means more competition. In order to survive in this environment I knew I needed to adapt. I needed a flexible model that would allow me the freedom to get books out faster while having the support of a major publisher on other titles.

 

Buffalo_bill_wild_west_show_c1899

 

That’s why I returned to my roots after I completed the Orbs series by self-publishing the Extinction Cycle series. All five books are number one bestsellers on Amazon and the audiobooks are too, with Extinction Horizon hitting #1 in the audible store in 2015. This new series has allowed me the ability to self-publish every four or five months. In a little over a year, the series has sold over two hundred thousand copies.

While writing the Extinction Cycle series I was also writing a new trilogy called Hell Divers. With the success of the Extinction Cycle, my agent was able to sell Hell Divers to another traditional publisher, Blackstone, the same company that published the Extinction Cycle audiobooks.

I get questions all the time about how to survive as an author in the constantly changing world of publishing. My answer is to go hybrid, if you have that opportunity.  By keeping one foot in the self-publishing sphere, I’m able to maintain the breakneck pace necessary to compete with other eBook authors, and by keeping the other foot in traditional publishing, I’m able to work on slower-burn projects that might need extra attention like Hell Divers.

 

20130207-KINDLE-OLD-BOOKS-031edit

 

My ultimate goal is the same as most authors: to have my books in print and on bookshelves. There isn’t anything I can think of that’s much better in life than holding my book in paperback. But the path to print publication requires skills learned in both worlds, the skills I learned as a hybrid author. Now that is happening with both Orbs and Hell Divers.

Publishing is continuing to evolve every day, providing endless possibilities for authors to bring their stories to life. Ultimately, I believe Bob Mayer is right. Hybrid publishing is the future for many. It may seem unconventional right now, but with the ever-changing landscape of publishing authors will be required to adapt in order to achieve their goals, just like I have.

 


Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Nicholas Sansbury Smith is the bestselling author of the Orbs and Extinction Cycle series. He worked for Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management in disaster mitigation before switching careers to focus on his one true passion–writing. A three-time Kindle All-Star, several of Smith's titles have reached the top 50 on the overall Kindle bestseller list and as high as #1 in the Audible store. Hell Divers, the first book in his new trilogy, will release in July 2016. When he isn't writing or daydreaming about the apocalypse, he's training for triathlons or traveling the world. He lives in Des Moines, Iowa, with his dog and a house full of books.

If you'd like to hear more about Nick's books, you can join his spam free mailing list here: eepurl.com/bggNg9

Interspecies Communication

I first met Sammy Davis, Junior, when I was nine. At the edge of the kitchen counter, he waited, a gray house lizard—what we in the Philippines called butiki. No bigger than my father’s index finger, half of him was a thin, twitching tail that tapered to a point.

 

Butiki

 

Sammy Davis was a similar specimen of Hemidactylus frenatus that my mother and father discovered long ago in their first apartment near España Boulevard in Manila. He had kept the moths and mosquitos at bay, and so they’d tolerated, then befriended him.

Now, several years later, my father approached Junior, making a series of clicks with his tongue, his hand outstretched with a pinch of boiled rice. My mother continued nibbling at her steamed chicken while my seven-year-old brother watched with a kind of stunned, frightened look in his eyes.

Still clicking–a quick click-click-click, pause, repeat–my father carefully set down the pinch of rice about two inches away, while the lizard watched with rotating eyes.

It took about half a minute while the lizard twitched his tail, swung his head first this way, then that–before he darted forward and snapped up the rice, swallowed, then darted away down the vertical side of the counter.

Triumphant, my father offered another pinch of rice.

Click-click-click.

Junior poked his head over the edge, scrambled to the rice, and gobbled it up.

Click-click-click.

 

koko-a-talking-gorilla

 

Koko, a lowland gorilla trained by Dr. Penny Patterson, is said to comprehend over one thousand signs from American Sign Language and to understand and respond to a spoken vocabulary of over two thousand English words. Beyond that, Koko is reported to have invented her own signs to communicate new thoughts: for example, describing a ring by combining “finger” and “bracelet” into the new word “finger-bracelet.”

 

kanz-icon

 

Kanzi, a bonobo, has been using a specialized keyboard with symbols on the keys to communicate with the team of primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, using a vocabulary of six hundred words.

 

Alex

 

Alex, an African Grey, was shown by Dr. Irene Pepperberg to understand over a hundred English words and could identify various colors and shapes.

 

Nim

 

A controversial project in the 1970s saw a baby chimpanzee named Neam Chimpsky—“Nim,” for short—taken from his mother just days after birth at a primate research center. Behavioral psychologist Herbert Terrace aimed to raise Nim as a human child, placing him with human families who strove to teach him a form of American Sign Language. Despite a sad end, when researchers attempted to re-integrate him unsuccessfully with other chimpanzees, Nim learned to sign in three- and four-word sentences:

Apple me eat.

Drink me Nim.

Finish hug Nim.

Give me eat.

Hug me Nim.

Tickle me Nim.

Yogurt Nim eat.

Banana eat me Nim.

Me eat drink more.

Tickle me Nim play.

 

Dolphin

 

In a NASA-funded experiment with a bottlenose dolphin named Peter, neuroscientist John C. Lilly tried to prove his theory that dolphins could learn language via constant human contact. Over ten weeks, Margaret Howe, his research assistant, spent day and night with Peter.

Dolphins can make human-sounding noises via their blowholes, and Margaret’s goal was for Peter to mimic sounds that he heard.

Over time, Peter could pronounce a rough version of several words, including “hello,” “we,” “one,” “triangle,” “diamond,” and “ball.” His favorites:

Hello, Margaret

Play, play, play

Disturbingly, Peter got emotionally attached to and aggressive with Margaret, circling around her, nibbling her, and jamming himself against her legs. The behavior escalated, and he was quickly re-instated with other dolphins until he had calmed down enough to be re-introduced to Margaret.

Unfortunately, after ten weeks, funding for the project ended, and Peter was shipped to another lab. Without Margaret, he apparently lost the will to live and refused to breathe, sinking to the bottom of his tank in what might be understood as suicide.

 

Butiki 2

 

Months later, I’m alone in the kitchen when I hear a clicking beside me.

There is Junior, his eyes two quivering balls of black, his tail flicking, right in the middle of the table.

Click-click-click.

I throw a rice grain at him, and he runs forward, catching it in his mouth and swallowing. I follow with several more.

Click-click.

Two clicks means “I’m done.” He twitches his tail one more time, turns, and is gone.

 

Big Ear

 

On August 15, 1977, astronomer Jerry Ehman was examining data from Ohio State University’s radio telescope, part of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project. He saw an anomaly in the data from the direction of the constellation Sagittarius in the 1.43GHz frequency. Most scientists agree that would be the most likely frequency an alien civilization would use to broadcast a signal. It was so amazing that Ehman circled it and wrote “Wow!” in the margin of the print-out. Up until then, the signal had resisted all explanation. The signal’s strength was represented on a scale of thirty-six intensity levels by the numerals 0-9, then A-Z. The 72-second signal formed a perfect bell curve:

6EQUJ5

We are here.

 

Wow_signal

 

Out there, beyond the furthest arms of our galaxy, our radio telescopes broadcast our own signals, our hopes and dreams, in a language we hope someone will understand.

Our spacecraft bear plaques engraved with drawings and symbols of ourselves in a form we hope someone will decipher.

And we listen, straining to hear beyond the noise of supernovae and neutron stars, to ascertain if there is indeed somebody out there.

 

adoptaspacecraftvoyager1

 

Click-click-click.

 


SAMUEL PERALTA is a physicist and storyteller. An Amazon bestselling author, he is also the creator and driving force behind the Future Chronicles series of speculative fiction anthologies, with 14 consecutive titles ranking at the top of the Amazon SF Bestseller lists, several hitting the overall Amazon Top 10 Bestsellers list. His own work has been recognized in Best American Science Fiction and included in the author community anthology for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New SF Writer.

Samuel Peralta

Samuel Peralta, creator of The Future Chronicles

This article was first published, in slightly different form, as the Foreword to Interspecies

https://www.amazon.com/Interspecies-Inlari-M-J-Kelley-ebook/dp/B01G7KON9U?tag=disscifi-20

Interspecies, a shared universe anthology

 

The Butterfly Effect

“Can anyone alter fate? All of us combined… or one great figure… or someone strategically placed, who happens to be in the right spot. Chance. Accident. And our lives, our world, hanging on it.”

— Philip K. Dick

 

Ray Bradbury’s classic short story A Sound of Thunder is the most reprinted science fiction story of all time. Set in the year 2055, a company offers time travelling safaris to the past, to the Cretaceous Era, to hunt a Tyrannosaurus rex.

 

The company takes great pains to choose targets that are about to die anyway, since the belief is that changes in the distant past could become an avalanche that changes everything. But despite all precautions, something goes utterly wrong—

 

Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder", illustrated by Richard Corben (Topps Comics) 1993

Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder, illustrated by Richard Corben (Topps Comics) 1993

 

Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?

 

Butterfly Effect

Samuel Peralta

Because your father stopped in Strandja park
to point out that whirligig of wings–blue
argus
, he said, Ultraaricia
Anteros
–you were dazzled forever.

Those wings wafted you here, ten thousand six
hundred kilometres away, to the
University of California,
Davis. Encyclopedia of Insects

in arm, you haul yourself up the stairwell
of Briggs Hall. Your frail sandal spindles on
the threshold–and you trip, a beautiful,
crippled Lycaenidaen specimen,

into the butterfly net of my arms.
Somewhere in Texas, a hurricane stirs.

 

Ultraaricia anteros

Ultraaricia anteros

 

Besides the chaos theory reference, my free verse sonnet Butterfly Effect arose from many memories. Of my father writing a scientific monograph on moths and butterflies, and handing me a paper pamphlet of it, when I was young.

 

Of my fondness for the blue argus butterfly, from the family Lycaenidae, a specimen restricted to the Balkans in Europe.

 

Encyclopedia of Insects

Encyclopedia of Insects

 

Of seeing the Encyclopedia of Insects in a library, a bloody huge book.

 

And memories of the three years, I lived in Davis, California, where I won my first-ever literary prize, and where I first thought I was in love.

 

MU Entrance, Freeborn Hall

University of Davis, California

 

So here we are. Where we are now, what language we’re speaking, what foods we eat, what we believe in—all of these are based on a myriad of events happening in the past, just so. Accidents. Coincidences. Chance.

 

We don’t live in the world of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle because the Allied forces were victorious over the Axis powers in the Second World War.

 

From Amazon's production of "Man in the High Castle" by Philip K. Dick

Amazon's production of The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

 

We don’t live in a world where Franklin D. Roosevelt was defeated in his third run for President of the United States, to be replaced by Charles Lindbergh, as in Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America.

 

But what if? 

 

Speculative fiction itself is based on asking that question.

 

What if Pope John Paul I hadn't died after just a month in his office? What if the women's suffragist movement lost their battle for the right to vote? What if Steve Wozniak’s focus had turned to medical technology instead of personal computers? What if the Japanese and United States of America had allied to combat an expected Great Depression? What if Edward Jenner had died prematurely before developing a vaccine for smallpox?

 

butterfly-effect-1920x1200

 

The flap of such butterfly wings would surely have changed everything—lives, loves, the world as we know it.

 


SAMUEL PERALTA is a physicist and storyteller. An Amazon bestselling author, he is also the creator and driving force behind the Future Chronicles series of speculative fiction anthologies, with 14 consecutive titles ranking at the top of the Amazon SF Bestseller lists, several hitting the overall Amazon Top 10 Bestsellers list. His own work has been recognized in Best American Science Fiction and included in the author community anthology for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New SF Writer.

Samuel Peralta

Samuel Peralta, creator of The Future Chronicles

This article was first published, in slightly different form, as the Foreword to Alt.History 101

Alt.History 101, part of The Future Chronicles series of speculative fiction anthologies

 

FTL – Science Fiction’s Fudge Factor

Hyperspace, warp drive, folding space…over the years, authors have come up with lots of ways to travel faster than light, a virtual necessity if we are to portray any plausible kind of interstellar civilization.  Yes, you can build a good story even with years of transit time between even close systems.  Generation ships and crews in suspended animation can be interesting, and of course, we can restrict the action to a single solar system.  The Expanse is a great example of this kind of action.  But sooner or later we want to break away from the gentle warmth of Sol and explore the galaxy.  And we need to leave light behind in our dust (cosmic dust) as we do.

 

This is where the fudging begins.  Without turning this into a physics symposium, let’s just say that even the wildest imaginings of our knowledge of science tell us it is impossible to do this, especially for something like a spaceship full of human beings (as opposed to a few sub-particles).  So what do we do?  We make something up, of course.

 

Here is where we branch off in options.  Some authors make considerable effort to create systems of faster than light travel that at least seem plausible (they’re not).  Others don’t even worry about it.  They may call it a hyper-jump or a Jaworsky Field (after the fictional inventor), but they don’t even try to explain how it functions.  It can also be a naturally occurring phenomenon, a warp point, for example, or something manmade (possibly by ancient aliens now mysteriously vanished).  But one way or another, we will get the spaceships from system to system.

 

Sometimes, however, there is method to the madness, though it is often driven by plot rather than science.  For example, look at something like Star Trek.  The Enterprise flits all across space, seemingly unconcerned with refueling or even maintenance, at least unless someone sneaks onboard and scrags the dilithium crystals.  This is a great system when you want your ships to be able to get anywhere, to function at maximum efficiency even when they are lost and cut off.  But what if you want the reality of travel to impose greater restrictions on your space fleet?

 

Other systems are based on more of a fixed system using point to point travel.  I’ve used warp gates in my Crimson Worlds series.  These largely unexplained natural phenomena allow travel back and forth between two systems that are lightyears apart.  A system like this offers a number of advantages, especially for the writer of military science fiction.  It takes space, in all its three dimensional glory, and reduces it to a series of connections.  It rationalizes battle lines, and it creates a value structure for systems, making those with larger numbers of gates leading to cool places worth fighting over.

 

FTL systems can also be used to regulate the pace of travel and warfare in space.  Perhaps ships can “jump” anywhere, without the need for warp gates or the like.  But they can only go so far, and then they need to stop and refuel…and possibly have repairs done.  This can drive the plot in a powerful way.  Why is this backwater world so important?  Why are there giant battleships in orbit?  Because it is on the invasion route into the heart of a space empire!  This can be used to create something akin to the “island hopping” campaigns of World War II, as fleets maneuver to secure bases along invasion routes.

 

So the next time you pick up a new space opera, stop and think about whether there was more than made up science in the author’s mind.

 


JAY ALLAN currently lives in New York City, and has been reading science fiction and fantasy for just about as long as he;s been reading. His tastes are fairly varied and eclectic, but favorites are military and dystopian science fiction and epic fantasy, usually a little bit gritty.

Jay writes a lot of science fiction with military themes, but also other SF and some fantasy as well, with complex characters and lots of backstory and action. He thinks world-building is the heart of science fiction and fantasy, and since that is what he's always been drawn to as a reader, that is what he writes.

Telepathy – From Science Fiction to Reality

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Arthur C. Clarke

 

During the Golden Age of science fiction, John W. Campbell, Jr.’s Astounding Science Fiction was a vanguard in popularizing stories that centered on humans with enhanced mental abilities, and how ordinary society might look at people with those abilities, notably with A.E. van Vogt’s serialized novel Slan and the similarly themed stories that collectively made up Henry Kuttner’s Mutant.

 

Indeed, the first Hugo Award was given in 1953 to a novel that revolved around telepaths. The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester, is a police procedural science fiction story set in a world where telepathy has become commonplace, although so-called espers have varying degrees of ability.

 

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

 

That this work has become a landmark in the genre is evidenced by nods to his work, as in the television series Babylon 5, where the author lends his name to one of the primary protagonists, Psi Corps officer Alfred Bester, played by the iconic Walter Koenig from Star Trek (whose Vulcans were also able to mind-meld, to share thoughts, memories, and knowledge with others through physical contact).

 

Today this melding of minds, this staple of science fiction, is coming closer to reality than many of us may realize.

 

In his book The Physics of the Impossible, Michio Kaku, noted futurist and Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City College of New York, classifies three types of impossibilities. Class III impossibilities are what we normally think of as not possible: things that cannot become real, at least not according to our current understanding of science; these include perpetual motion and precognition. Class II impossibilities include things that may be realizable, but in the far future, such as faster-than-light travel.

 

According to Professor Kaku, telepathy is a Class I impossibility. These are phenomena that don’t violate the known laws of physics, and indeed may become reality in the next century.

 

A meeting of minds

A meeting of minds

 

Never mind the next century—some scientists believe the age of telepathy may be upon us.

 

The first clue? That people lacking one or more of the normal five senses can now, in certain situations, be given them.

 

Since the 1960s, around 350,000 people who were profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing have been fitted with cochlear implants, providing them with a sense of sound where previously there was none. Essentially, a microphone picks up sounds, which are filtered by a speech processor and sent as an electronically coded signal to a transmitter behind the ear. This transmitter sends the signal to the subject’s brain through an array of up to twenty-two electrodes circling the cochlea, which then send the impulses through the auditory nerve system to the brain.

 

Following European approval in 2011, the United States Food and Drug Administration in 2013 approved for use the first retinal implant. The system uses a video processing unit to transform images from a miniature video camera into electronic data, which is then wirelessly transmitted to a sixty-electrode retinal prosthesis implanted in the eye, replacing the function of degenerated cells in the retina. Although vision isn’t fully restored, the system allows those affected with age-related macular degeneration, or with retinitis pigmentosa—a condition which damages the light-sensitive cells lining the retina—to better perceive images and movement.

 

Retinal implant

Retinal implant

 

Similar advances are being reported for the other three senses of touch, smell, and taste.

 

But what about the sixth sense?

 

In my own speculative fiction universe, electronically augmented telepaths make use of technologies akin to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to associate perceived images of neural activity with a subject’s memory palace in his brain. This is a key point for my conception of the protagonist of my short story Trauma Room, a man who can use augmented telepathy to traverse a subject’s thoughts and memories using the method of loci.

 

Trauma Room by Samuel Peralta

Trauma Room by Samuel Peralta

 

Today, functional MRI has actually been used to sense words being thought by a subject, or to discern the images being formed in the brain as a subject watches a movie. It’s still very mechanical, matching monitored brainwave activity with a huge database of impulse responses to benchmark words or images, but it’s the same big numbers principle that enabled the IBM Deep Blue chess computer to win against then-World Champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.

 

In the same year that The Demolished Man was published, Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human also came out. It’s the story of several people with extraordinary abilities who are able blend their abilities together and achieve human transcendence. The same theme—of humans transcending ordinary humankind—is explored in Time is the Simplest Thing, by Clifford D. Simak. It can be argued that a similar sort of communal experience—if not transcendence—is already part of our experience, with the spread of the Social Web.

 

It’s only a matter of time before all the input and output devices we have—keyboards, flat screens, heads-up displays—become obsolete. Why should you have to type or dictate information into a computer, when you can control it directly by thought? Why project information onto your eyes when you could send information directly into the brain? In time, many of us may be direct input/output nodes into the cloud.

 

Science fiction?

 

Direct brain interfacing

Direct brain interfacing

 

We live in a world where cochlear implants are already helping the deaf to hear, and retinal implants are beginning to help the blind to see.

 

We live in a world where smartphones and connected wearable devices—watches, glasses, health and fitness monitors—simultaneously receive and broadcast information to and about us through the cloud of the Internet.

 

We live in a world where deep brain stimulation is routinely used in therapies to address Parkinson’s disease, where implants in the brain allow people to bypass a broken spinal cord and move hands, arms, limbs with the power of thought.

 

Augmented reality heads-up display

Augmented reality heads-up display

 

In fact, we live in a world where real telepathy has already been achieved. A team at Duke University in North Carolina has, for the first time, demonstrated a direct communication interface between two brains. In the Duke experiments, two thirsty rats are placed into separate cages. They cannot see or hear each other, but their brains are wired together via electrode implants in their motor cortices. Each rat will be rewarded with a sip of water if it pushes the correct one of two levers. In the first rat’s cage, a light comes on above the correct lever to let the rat know which lever to push—but there is no such indicator in the second rat’s cage.

 

The experiment, then, measures whether, when the first rat pushes the correct lever, it sends a brain-initiated signal to the second rat, which must then correctly interpret the signal it experiences in its own brain, and push the correct lever.

 

The technology is simple: implanted electrodes capture the signals from the firing of the neurons in the motor cortex, translate them into binary code, and sends the signal—via a wire, wirelessly, or via the Internet to another location—into the electrodes in the other brain, which translates it back into neural signals.

 

Sheer chance would have the second rat pushing the correct lever 50% of the time. In fact, the rat chose the correct lever between 60% and 85% of the time. This was true even when one animal was in North Carolina and the other was in Brazil.

 

How much longer before what you read in the following pages is no longer science fiction?

 

The Future of the Mind by Michio Kaku

The Future of the Mind by Michio Kaku

 

In The Future of the Mind, Professor Kaku notes, “We have learned more about the brain in the last fifteen years than in all prior human history, and the mind, once considered out of reach, is finally assuming center stage.”

 

Science fiction writers peer into possible futures, using a literary form of precognition, as it were. And so we follow that grand tradition, celebrating this a new Silver Age of fiction, an age of online publishing and digital books, an age where we are surrounded by wonderment and wonders, where science, in many ways, has become magical.

 


SAMUEL PERALTA is a physicist and storyteller. An Amazon bestselling author, he is also the creator and driving force behind the Future Chronicles series of speculative fiction anthologies, with 14 consecutive titles ranking at the top of the Amazon SF Bestseller lists, several hitting the overall Amazon Top 10 Bestsellers list. His own work has been recognized in Best American Science Fiction and included in the author community anthology for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New SF Writer.

Samuel Peralta

Samuel Peralta, creator of The Future Chronicles

This article was first published, in slightly different form, as the Foreword to The Telepath Chronicles

Various_TELEPATH_CHRONICLES_EbookEdition-320x512

The Telepath Chronicles – part of The Future Chronicles anthology series

 

So you want to fly to Alpha Centauri…

Fictional Propulsion.

You want to get there, and you want to get there fast. How do you do it?

Well if you're Dale Earnhart Jr., you stomp down on the accelerator. If you're Usain Bolt, you push balls-to-the-wall and run like the wind. If you're Lance Armstrong, you dope up and hope no one notices.

But what if you're a starship captain? Fortunately, you are not real, and so have an advantage over the rest of us. You can engage the warp drive, or the quantum jump engines, or fly through a wormhole and explore the Delta quadrant.

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 1.13.17 AM

For argument's sake, let's assume you're a real starship captain. That is, you need to obey as many laws of physics as humanly possibly. Basically, this is Hard Science Fiction–think Mark Watney on Mars: even though that dust storm (that extremely rarified 1 percent of Earth's atmosphere dust storm) could have never in a million years blown you off your feet, you still need to obey physics to get back to Earth.

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 1.22.03 AM

Let's go out on a limb and say that in 500 years we have fusion down pat–as in, it's no longer perpetually 30 years in the future but in actually instaScreen Shot 2016-04-01 at 1.17.20 AMlled down in engineering on deck 10. Let's inch even farther along that limb and say that we have anti-matter production and containment solved, and know how to derive lots of useful energy from its reaction with normal matter. Deal? Ok, so we've more than inched–we're hanging by a thread off that limb, but these are realistic technical goals within the next few centuries, and they at least let us begin to address the ugly truth: Interstellar space travel is very hard and will require unthinkably enormous amounts of energy.

Let's jump tracks for a moment. What is our goal as a starship captain? Let's keep it simple and easy (and dire): our colony on the third planet of Alpha Centauri just sent out a distress signal. Aliens are attacking, and they desperately need our help. Of course, they actually sent out the distress signal 5 years ago, but the transmission didn't reach us until now because, as we all know, radio waves are a form of light, which travels at the speed of, uh, light. What do we do?

Full speed to Alpha Centauri! Helm, lay in a course! Engage the engines! Full thrust! We will avenge them!

EVENTUALLY!

You see, Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to us, is nearly 5 lightyears away. Let's assume for the moment that our starship can sustain a substantial thrust for an extended period of time. Just for convenience, and because it's nice to have Earth-like gravity on our ship, let's say the thrust is 1 g. Furthermore, assume our ship weighs about 1000 tons, and that we're able to extract ALL of the energy out of our anti-matter reaction and dump it into propulsion. Easy-peasy, right? At this thrust, we'll max out at about 96% of the speed of light halfway through our journey before we flip the ship around and start slowing down in time to not collide with the third planet of Alpha Centauri at relativistic and therefore splat-inducing speeds.

We have a problem.

In this 1000-ton-ship scenario, it takes about 5000 tons of anti-matter to get us there. Did I mention that the 1000 tons of ship has to include fuel? Oops. It does.

Basically, going 1 g at 100% anti-matter fuel conversion, it still takes about 5 times the amount anti-matter than you can store on your ship. Remember–you have to accelerate the fuel too. No free rides!

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 1.44.06 AMBut let's look on the bright side. Even though our fictional starship didn't actually make it to Alpha Centauri, our non-trip took us only 3.77 years! From our perspective. From the point of view of everyone back on Earth, and the poor besieged souls on the third planet of Alpha Centauri, our non-trip took us 6.66 years. That's because as we approached the speed of light, from our perspective, the distance between Earth and Alpha Centauri shrunk. By as much as 72% at our highest speed. From their perspective, our clocks slowed down. If they could have watched us through our windows with an impossibly powerful telescope, they would have seen us moving in slo-mo aboard our ships.

Ok, so we can't sustain 1 g of acceleration for 3.77 years. How many g's can we sustain, and still be able to store all the fuel required for the trip?

About 15%-18% of a g. That's right, you'll be running around on your ship with the same amount of gravity as on the moon. And you'll have a lot of time to do it–10.5 years. 12 years according to observers.

Let's inch back towards reality. Just an inch. Suppose that our fuel conversion rate is not 100% like we assumed. Let's make it something more within the realm of physics. Like, say, 10% (still generous, if you ask me). Now we're talking about a 34 year trip. 34.5 years for observers because we only (only!) ever got up to about 28% of the speed of light.

You see why riveting, fast-paced interstellar hard science fiction is tricky? And we never even addressed the problem of propellant–you know, the stuff you have to heat up and shoot out the back of your thrusters.Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 1.18.56 AM

And then there's the single particles of dust that will destroy your ship while traveling at a fraction of the speed of light. And if you're fortunate to not run into a dust particle, then the 1 atom of hydrogen per cubic meter of space will slam into your forward hull so fast that it will soon overheat and melt. And if you can somehow cool off your hull from all the interstellar hydrogen running into it, there's always the background radiation of space itself–the leftover glow of the big bang.

Huh, you say? Isn't that stuff harmless?

Yes, for us it's harmless, traveling very slowly. But speed up in any direction, and those harmless microwaves can blueshift into sunburn inducing ultraviolet waves, or worse, x-rays. But nothing a little lead shielding on your hull can't handle, right?

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 1.24.18 AMUh, better slap on an extra 1000 tons of lead to your 1000 ton spaceship. Which means you'll need more fuel. Which means … crap …you died from old age trying to save the Alpha Centarians, Captain. Sorry.

Just stick to the solar system for your hard SciFi, ok? Think Pluto. Pluto's nice.

 

For fun, you can try out your own interstellar travel calculations here: http://nathangeffen.webfactional.com/spacetravel/spacetravel.php

Use the calculator to plan your space travel at your own risk. I am not responsible for any accidental time dilation, space contraction, shrinkage (the spaceship kind), old age from excessive space travel, bone density loss, impotence, baldness, and/or death from any misuse of the calculator. Proceed at your own risk.

Science, Progress, and Science Fiction

As a novelist I often get categorized as a ‘hard’ science fiction writer, which I’ve never been entirely certain fit because I absolutely make use of the customary handwavium and even the occasional Unubtanium. Of course, I do try to at least explain my speculative technologies within the framework of real scientific hypotheses and theories… and that is where things can get sticky by times.

For your average reader in most genres, cutting edge research isn’t on their daily reading list. That’s just not the case in Science Fiction, however. Scifi readers tend to enjoy science, at least the knowledge of it, just as much as they enjoy science fiction. And that’s awesome, but it does make for interesting times as an author because science advances, and does so quickly, so sometimes your brilliant (or just acceptably clever) scientific plot point can be turned into fantasy magic overnight by some PhD at Cern or other research facility.

Ok, by this point it sounds like I’m complaining about science ruining my novels.

Not even close.

When you’re writing speculative works, you have to expect that some (most) of your speculations will be wrong. That’s just par for the course unless you happen to be a PhD with access to billions of dollars’ worth of equipment and a series of theories that you’ve, for some reason, not already put out to your peers.  If you’re that guy, I have to question your priorities.

Still, it can be jarring to have something you specifically wrote about be chucked out by scientists, even if you knew it was coming anyway. It’s happened three or four times over my time as a writer, and each time I go through the same stages of response.

First, there is the automatic face palm.

Yeah, that moment where you’re just grateful that you weren’t drinking anything when you found out, otherwise you know you’d have a mess to clean up. Your brain goes immediately to the vilest epithets you can imagine which, for me, is usually something out of Bugs Bunny… (Don’t judge me.)

Thankfully that only lasts for a few seconds because, hey, this is the game we play and we play it because we love it. Any advance in science is good for science fiction. When a door closes, a dozen others unlock, because that’s just how huge the universe is. Maybe someday we’ll know so much about how things work that every theory that’s disproven somehow makes the universe smaller, but that day isn’t going to be today.

So that brings us to the second stage, the question of whether we can adjust the story to work. This is an important question, particularly if the story is currently ongoing. If we’re working on a series and we know that there will be another novel coming out, or more perhaps, then we have to decide if we’re going to stay in our, now ‘fantasy’ world, or try and wrench the laws of physics back to reality as we’d like to know them.

Sometimes this is easy, especially with cutting edge theories. Quantum Mechanics is such that you can bury a lot of crimes in the uncertainty of String or M-Theory. Sometimes, though, it can’t be done without retroactively messing with novels you’ve already written and, quite likely, other people already love.

Don’t DO that.

It’s better to write fantasy than mess with the stuff people already love.

Ok, maybe it’s a close call… I mean, it is Fantasy and all. (I’m kidding! Relax, I like fantasy, just making a point about so called hard science fiction here.)

So we finally get to the third stage, Acceptance.

Yeah, we get there faster than for stages of grief, but we’re science fiction types. We’re just awesome that way.

Whether you’ve managed to fix the problem, or you’ve decided that it can go play in the Elysian Fields for all you care, it’s time to put it aside and go back to writing.

After several times through this process, I have to admit that I look forward to it now. Being proven wrong, even when it was relatively obvious, is fun. It means that you’re working with real ideas that real people are also tangling with in the real world. Even being wrong is awesome because of that connection to actual research.

We’re science fiction fans, all of us, and that connection with the cutting edge is what drives us just as much as the ancient link to the story construction itself. We care about both the future and the past, so science fiction connects both the cutting edge world we live in and the oldest art we know of…

Storytelling.


 

Evan Currie has been writing both original and fan fiction works for more than a decade, and finally decided to make the jump to self-publishing with his techno-thriller Thermals.

Since then Evan has turned out novels in the Warrior's Wings series, the Odyssey One series, and the first book in an alternate history series set during the height of the Roman Era. From ancient Rome to the far flung future, Evan enjoys exploring the possibilities inherent when you change technology or culture.

In his own words, “There's not much I can imagine better than being a storyteller.”

It’s All About Light

In just three years from now, we will mark the fifty-year anniversary of man’s first setting foot on the moon.  Fifty years!  It’s gone fast.  Too fast.  The 70’s and 80’s were full of visionaries projecting that we would have bases on the moon and burgeoning tourism by now.  Alas man hasn’t set foot on the moon again since our last Apollo mission in 1972.  Eugene Cernan was the last man to walk on the moon and that was almost 44 years ago!

For those of us who grew up on Star Trek and Star Wars, our effort in getting off the planet and into space has been agonizingly slow.  Instead, we watch as NASA sends rover after rover to investigate nearby bodies, while mumbling amongst ourselves “how hard can it be?”

But as it turns out, it’s pretty hard.  Physics is the most obvious problem, especially for technologies that haven’t been invented yet.  And the more we learn about space, the more obstacles we discover.  Problems like radiation.  Or lack of gravity.  Or social isolation.  The problems continue to grow based on the most fundamental human traits imaginable.  And things we’ve taken for granted for millions of years.

Even with today’s technologies, we only have “ideas” on how to solve some of these problems.  And it can be a very long time between initial concepts and working models.  Which paints a pretty stark picture.  The unfortunate reality is that it may be a very long time before we have a ship capable of going anywhere.

Light beams

So the question then is…do we even have to?  We all know the fastest speed possible (that we know of) is the speed of light.  And while we’d love to venture out and see other places and new planets, it all really boils down to just one reason.  After all, if you’ve seen one sun, you’ve pretty much seen them all.  And I don’t think anyone is all that excited about seeing a planet comprised of nothing but barren rock or clouds of deadly methane.

No, most of us prefer to venture through space with one single, monumental goal in mind.  To find life!  Any kind of life.  Sure, a friendly alien waving back at us, waiting to share their knowledge would be great.  But even just seeing plant life on another planet would be incredible.  Or knowing that life “exists” beyond our own Earth would change everything.  Not just textbooks, but it would validate so much of our beliefs.  Even the Drake Equation, as simple and realistic as it is, is little more than scientific “faith”.  And knowing that our assumptions and extrapolations were right would fill so many of us with a profound sense of eternal satisfaction.

But we have no ship.  And we won’t have one that can help us make these discoveries for a very long time.  Most likely after the vast majority of us have long since been laid to rest.   Although there is one way.

There is one way that is within our grasp.  And it’s possible right now.  It doesn’t require huge leaps in technology, or exotic solutions that we can only imagine in diagrams or books.  A way that may just be able to answer the question as to whether we’re alone, long before we pass on still clinging to our scientific faith.

I’m talking about planet hunting.  The search for distant Earth-like planets, visible to us now thanks to the wonders of light.  You see, instead of us having to figure out a way to make the trip, light has already done that for us.  And when that light has bounced off a distant planet, it carries with it signatures of the elements that it bounced against.

In other words, by examining the faint rays of this light, even using today’s technology, we can see what molecules are in that planet’s atmosphere.  Which means we can determine what caused it.  Things like methane and carbon dioxide can be caused by many things, but one thing that is a sure signature of life is oxygen.  Oxygen, in large quantities, is unquestionably the result, or byproduct, of a living organism.

This all means that we can potentially answer the biggest question of all, without ever having to leave our planet.  At least for now.  Because while a plant or forest may not sound interesting, we simply need to remember that those are complex organisms.  And to find complex life out there means we will eventually find more complex and potentially intelligent life.

Light is the key.  Light doesn’t just provide illumination.  It provides information.  Like nature’s fiber optic cables, with bits of data that has already traversed the universe, it can help us verify that we are not alone.  And that as Frank Drake posited many years ago, there are likely thousands of other civilizations out there.

This is why we all love science fiction.  Because deep in our hearts we know we’re right.

And with any luck…simple photons are about to prove it.


Michael C. Grumley lives in Northern California with his wife and two young daughters where he works in the Information Technology field. He's an avid reader, runner and most of all father. He dotes on his girls every chance he gets. His website is http://www.michaelgrumley.com