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.
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.
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 installed 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!
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!
But 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.
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?
Uh, 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.
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…
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.”
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.
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
“It isn't all over; everything has not been invented; the human adventure is just beginning”
– Gene Rodenberry
I’d been waiting to fly the Antares all summer.
The first rocket I’d ever launched, it stood over a foot tall, an inch in diameter, red fins swept back at its base like red fletching on an arrow.
I’d selected, instead of an A8-3 first-flight engine, a C6-5 solid-propellant engine. The C6-5 was a single-stage engine, its propellant, delay charge and ejection charge held in a cylindrical tube by a clay retainer cap and shaped nozzle—much like the A8-3, but more powerful.
With luck, this baby would lift-off to over 1000 feet.
Next to Star Trek, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, Estes Rockets were my hero. They came to prominence by inventing a process for reliably manufacturing small, solid-propellant engines for model rockets.
Estes manufactured a huge variety of kits, ranging from small first-flight model rockets to ones which could house a small camera, designed to take photographs during flight and descent. The fuselages were usually of paperboard, with nose cones and fins of balsa.
It was not just simplicity in design, not just cost consciousness—the construction was calculated to lighten the load under launch, addressing the same issues faced by the main engines propelling NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiters.
The first of these Space Shuttle orbiters, the OV101, was intended to be named the Constitution; it was changed, after an intense letter-writing campaign by fans of the television series, like I was, to Enterprise.
The Enterprise was flight tested atop a modified Boeing 747 aircraft at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, and made its first free flight test at Dryden, beginning the cycle that would see humans begin to first use spacecraft that did not have to be discarded after a single flight.
The beginnings, as it were, of a star fleet.
That same year, I stood in a field, electrical line uncoiling from where I was across to the launch pad, where a guide-rod held the Antares vertically, facing the sky.
When I threw the switch, the current would race through the line, across the micro-igniter clips to the ignition wire, and the engine would fire with an impulse of 10 Newton-seconds, ramping to a maximum 15 Newtons of thrust in 0.2 seconds, over a total burn-time of 1.6 seconds.
I held my breath.
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.
This article was first published as the Foreword to The Galaxy Chronicles
Worldbuilding. It’s a term that gets bandied about quite a bit when discussing fiction, especially in genres like science fiction and fantasy, but for all the endless times it is repeated, I think sometimes the importance is overlooked.
It’s very fashionable to say things like, “character development is the important thing,” or “it’s the story that matters.” And, of course, those things are absolutely essential. But they’re not the whole story. Not by a longshot. Not in science fiction or fantasy.
A work of historical fiction set, say, during the American Civil War doesn’t need worldbuilding…it’s world is the world, and beyond pointing out some historical facts the reader might not know, the author can focus almost solely on characters and storyline. But science fiction and fantasy demand more. These stories take place in worlds that are the creations of their authors. They may be set in the near future, based heavily on the real world, or they may be wildly different (a galaxy far, far away), but either way, the reader needs to understand this setting, and the only way that’s going to happen is if the author fleshes it out.
Imagine a work like Dune, without the immense detail of the empire, stripped of the customs, institutions, and history so carefully laid out by the author. What is left? A good story, some well-developed characters? Yes, perhaps. But an enduring classic of the genre? Doubtful.
Or Asimov’s Foundation series…with its galactic empire and its ‘world as one giant city’ capital. The characters come and go in what is mostly a series of short novellas, but the overall plot of the fall of empire ties them all together.
On the fantasy side, could there be a better example than the Lord of the Rings? The three books cover little more than a single year’s activity, yet Tolkien’s work wouldn’t be the classic it is without the massive worldbuilding that gives us thousands of years of fictional history interspersed with a few months of real time action.
In science fiction and fantasy, the setting is like a character itself, often as much a part of the story as any hero and villain. When I think of the books that have resonated with me in my forty-odd years of reading science fiction and fantasy, it is those that offered rich worlds in which I could lose myself that became the favorites I pull out every couple years to reread.
Writers pursuing effective worldbuilding sometimes get blindsided by terms like “infodump,” and efforts to show the reader the true vision of a fictional universe often falter on such endless attempts to oversimplify good writing into arbitrary ‘rules’ and nonsensical little blurbs like, ‘show, don’t tell.’ Should a book start with an encyclopedia-like multi-page blast of pure background information. No, not usually at least. But is it important to share the true scope and vision of a fictional universe? Absolutely. Do readers want to know about these worlds their favorite authors create? Definitely.
There is no question that worldbuilding has to be done well, subtly, and not like a tank smashing through the wall. Information needs to be doled out slowly, steadily, not in one massive torrent. In a series it can come over several books. But when it is done, and done well, the rewards are enormous, both to the author and to the reader. The best fictional universes take on lives of their own, and they begin to feel real, at least to the readers who become ever more immersed in the escape they offer.
As an author, more often as not, I’ll begin a new project with a clearer idea of the setting and the realities of the universe than the characters themselves. I want my heroes—and my villains and bystanders too—to feel like they’re from that setting, and not some generic creations I cooked up and dropped in…which is why worldbuilding remains the core of my writing process, and always will.
I’d like to add a note on another kind of worldbuilding, the kind that is behind this web site. This is my first blog post for DiscoverSciFi, and I’m very excited to continue to share ideas and motivations with all of you. I’ve got a long list of topics for future posts, and I know my co-author partners here do as well.
One of the things I love about participating in something like DiscoverSciFi is the chance to create another way to reach readers. Authors today have the opportunity to be closer to their readers than ever before, and I think this is a great thing for publishing in general. I get a lot of emails from fans, and I answer them all. There is no substitute for input from those who read and enjoy your books, and no better source for new ideas where to take a story than those from fans. I’m excited to see where this DiscoverSciFi journey takes us. I’m sure it will be a great ride!
Autumn Kalquist is the author of the USA TODAY Bestselling Fractured Era book series and is a singer / songwriter. Her stories have also appeared in several bestselling anthologies, and she's written tie-in fiction for Star Citizen (Cloud Imperium Games).
Would you briefly describe your currently available books and projects?
Almost all of my published books and stories are part of my USA TODAY Bestselling Fractured Era Series. My epic science fiction series spans nearly 1,000 years and follows the same families through generations as they survive worldwide catastrophes (Defective), search for a new Earth (Legacy Code), and deal with the consequences of centuries’ worth of difficult decisions (SunPath).
The books are very Game of Thrones meets Battlestar Galactica. Nothing is black and white, and they explore themes humanity has been struggling with for as long as we’ve been a sentient species, such as “When does the ends justify the means?”
What are your top three science-fiction books or authors?
I grew up reading Epic Fantasy (which might explain why my own series spans centuries), so those books have my heart. But I enjoy reading science fiction today. Some of my recent favorites include the Grimspace series by Anne Aguirre, Wool by Hugh Howey, and the Rebel Wing series by Tracy Banghart. I really enjoy reading short stories, too, like those found in The Future Chronicles, produced by Samuel Peralta. Even when I’m busy, I can still get lost in a well-written short story for a few minutes, and I find myself thinking about the themes and ideas in it for hours afterward.
When did you realize you were, truly and actually, a writer? Could you share with us your favourite, or one of your favourite, reader responses to your work?
When I wrote a full-length novel in one month during NaNoWriMo and felt high the whole time. I’ve been addicted ever since. I also wrote my first short story that month, and it placed third in a local newspaper contest. It seemed like a sign that maybe I had something here, and if I worked hard at it, I’d eventually write a book worth reading. (My first NaNo novel has already been rewritten once, and it will eventually be rewritten again since it takes place in the Fractured Era Series world.)
I love when my readers send me e-mails or write reviews about how hooked they are on the series. How they stayed up all night reading or how they refuse to read the last short story because then it’ll be over until I finish the next book. It’s awesome to know I’m not the only one addicted to this world and these characters. J
Are you an early morning or late night writer? What’s your writing style? Describe what surrounds you while you’re writing.
I work better in the morning… when I get up. I’m naturally a night owl but fighting to become a morning person. I like to outline my books before I write, and I now have hundreds of pages of notes on this series. It makes writing the first draft easier, but I still have to go in usually and do a significant number of revisions.
When I’m writing, I like to be facing my collage wall, which has images inspired by my latest work in progress. I usually burn a candle, and it’s always the same candle scent for the entire project. A wooden dish holds special stones I’ve picked up over the years, and I wear rings with the same kinds of stones in them. I always have a mug of coffee or hot chocolate sitting on my Stargate coaster.
Earbuds in, Spotify character playlist on, and I can begin.
Most writers have creative outlets other than writing. What’s yours? Could you tell us more about it, and what you get out of it that’s different from what you get out of writing?
I’m a singer. I write songs to go along with each of my books. Lyrics are fun to write, and I like coming up with melody lines and fleshing out the song structure. Hitting a complicated and difficult run lights up my brain like nothing else. But honestly, storytelling and song writing feel the same to me.
The key you choose for your song will affect how your listener feels. But almost all good songs have repeating patterns, a familiar structure with rising intensity, call and answer elements, harmonies, many instruments playing different notes in the same key, and a rhythm that carries it all.
Genre is a label to help readers choose the type of book they want to get lost in, but all well-told stories share certain elements. They have repeating thematic elements, a familiar three-act structure with rising intensity, subtle foreshadowing of later events, multiple plot threads that complement one another and inevitably connect, characters who tell their part of the story with their own unique voice, and good pacing – the rhythm that carries it all.
Star Trek or Star Wars? Any other favourite films or television series?
Labyrinth is my favorite movie of all time. But I don’t sit through many movies. I hate spending two hours getting into a world, and then it’s over forever. So I watch TV. The more seasons, the better. My favorite TV shows include: Battlestar Galactica, Stargate (all of them), Continuum, Farscape, The 100, Game of Thrones, Killjoys, Fringe, Firely, 12 Monkeys, and on and on. I’m in heaven with all the SFF shows on TV right now.
Is Deckard a replicant?
I had to Google this. *hides*
In my defense, I wasn’t even born when this movie came out, though I did see it… once. Ask me what I think about the end of Mass Effect 3, or the fact that the crew of the Destiny will be hanging out in stasis pods for the rest of eternity. Then we can talk.
Autumn Kalquist writes science fiction that asks compelling questions–often met with morally gray answers. Her preschool-aged ballerina and code-writing husband keep her sane and happy.
Each book comes with a song. Sign up for Autumn's newsletter at AutumnKalquist.com to learn more about her Fractured Era Series and get free songs and short stories.
It’s an amazing experience when a prediction from a science fiction writer’s book comes true. I had this happen to me last week when gravitational waves were discovered, in almost exactly the way I predicted in my book Nomad (when two colliding black holes were discovered).
How did it feel? Surreal would be the best word. Frightening. Then surreal.
Dozens of fans sent me copies of articles describing the use of LIGO, a laser interferometry device, to find the black holes—which was exactly the plot device I’d used in Nomad. It felt like I was reading something from my own book when I read online about real scientists. And not only that, but the size of the black holes were almost exactly as I’d described as well. The critical difference was that these black holes weren’t on a collision course with Earth. (ed. note: Now THAT would have been frightening! And that was the point of Nomad.)
To be fair, much of the credit for this goes to the long list of astrophysicists that I consulted with as I constructed the plot (and I credit them right at the start of the book, thank you very much, gentle-men and -women). Still, it felt like I’d done my own little part in the rich history of science fiction writers making predictions about the future.
Reading Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon, first published in 1865, really provided my inspiration in wanting to write books like this. If you're a fan of science fiction, I'd recommend reading it. Amazing. Of course, he made predictions about a manned space flight to the moon almost 100 years before the Apollo program, but I wonder how many of the engineers involved in Apollo might have been inspired by reading science fiction to do what they did?
And the term “robot” was first coined in science fiction (originally appeared in a play called Rossum’s Universal Robots in 1921 by Czech writer Karel Čapek, and popularized by Isaac Asimov in his Robot series, which if you haven't read, please stop reading now and go do your homework), which is an interesting example of fiction creating reality—but the list goes on and on, from space travel to submarines, sliding doors, laser guns, invisibility cloaks and more. All of these were once the realm of science fiction, and are now reality. So what's next?
And that’s one of the reasons I became a science fiction writer in the first place. To do something like that. To become a part of the tradition.
Each of my books makes an attempt at this, to educate as well as entertain. In CyberStorm, I took readers on a realistic journey into what a major cyberattack might look like. In Darknet, I explored the merger of modern financial networks with artificial intelligence–and within a year after publishing Darknet, I got a flood of emails from fans talking about the announcement of an AI program at the world’s biggest hedge fund.
With Nomad, the idea I wanted to explore was how the earth wasn’t separate from our interstellar environment, and just after I finished writing it a year and a half ago, I had another surprise in the news.
In February of 2015, researchers were amazed to discover that just 70,000 years ago, near enough in time that our direct ancestors would have seen it, Scholz’s star passed about a half light year from the Earth (in comparison, the star currently closest to the Sun is Proxima Centuri at 4.2 light years).
This led to a flurry of data crunching last year, leading scientists to discover that, for instance, four million years ago, a giant star–more than twice the mass of the sun–passed less than a third of a light year from us, and in just over a million years from now, another star will pass at just over a hundredth (yes, a hundredth) of a light year from our sun, grazing the solar system itself and possibly affecting the orbits of the planets.
Now scientists are saying that Sedna, the 10th planetoid of the Sun, the one after Pluto, might not even be an original planet of our Sun. New data suggests it was probably captured from a passing star about a billion years ago, when our solar system collided with an alien star’s planetary system. Hundreds of objects in the Kuiper Belt, the collection of planetoids past Uranus, might have been captured from passing stars.
A change in Earth’s orbit 55 million years ago might have even triggered one of the biggest global warming events in its history. And a massive ice age, started 35 million years ago, might have been also been caused by another shift in Earth’s orbit, and this same event might have disturbed the asteroid belt enough to precipitate several large asteroid impacts, one of which formed the Chesapeake Bay. Some now believe these sorts of events might have been caused by the gravitational effect of a passing star, now we know that they're literally swarming around us.
And that is exactly the kind of event that I described happening in Nomad–which is free today on Amazon.
All my best and thanks for joining us on our journey to Discover Sci-Fi!
Many long ages ago, before I was a full time science fiction author (in other words, in 2015), I was a senior scientist at Dynetics in Huntsville, Alabama. As a medium-sized technology company, it mainly does defense contracting, but recently it's been winning quite a few NASA contracts (including one last year that I wrote!) and moving aggressively into the space industry.