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The future is on Mars

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Elon Musk is famously aiming for a private expedition to Mars a decade earlier than the most likely government-financed trip. Planetary Resources and other companies are working on asteroid mining technology. What impact will these activities have on the world in the future?

Worlds of Sol explores this question.

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The Genie in the Bottle

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In the March/April issue of Analog C. Stuart Hardwick presents an analysis (Taming the Genie: How Fear of the Atom Threatens our Future) of the safety of nuclear power generation compared to that of other sources. He shows what every competent physicist knows: nuclear power, even  considering Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, has caused far less environmental damage and human health detriments than any other source.  (I have a Ph.D. in Radiation Biophysics and I have expert knowledge of his arguments. He’s right.) There’s a lot of excellent detail, all of it scientifically sound. Even the risks of nuclear waste storage are addressed.

Fear, as he points out, has made nuclear power a bete noire far out of proportion to its actual ability to do harm. As Japan and Germany retreat from nuclear power, they damage the environment far more than keeping them while reducing reliance on coal-fired plants and moving toward exclusive reliance on wind and solar. New designs make even the accidents we are familiar far less likely to recur. And lest anyone complain about the high cost of nuclear, by far the biggest contributor is misguided regulatory hurdles placed in front of potential nuclear power plants. For those of us who consider the future of travel throughout the solar system, nuclear power in its many forms can be a key component.

We are science fiction enthusiasts, mostly not scientists, but we need to make our voices heard about the terrible neglect of the  environmentally cleanest source of centralized power. Ironically, buying a plug-in electric car may make your carbon footprint increase due to the large reliance on coal for electricity in the U.S.

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Incoming

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There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Wm. Shakespeare

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts in my SF Facebook groups about various things in the solar system and beyond. Astronomers are beginning to learn so much about the solar system that we never knew. ‘Oumuamua is the first known object that came from outside the solar system and, unless something happens, will be leaving. I have a story about that topic. Watanabe’s Hammer,  I am trying to publish. Here’s a little tidbit that addresses the same question, although not from the same storyline.

Who goes there? (in memory of John W. Campbell)

Incoming

 

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Still collecting rejections

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I am still collecting rejections but I have six stories out for review at various magazines.

The most interesting rejections have come from GigaNotoSaurus and Fantasy and Science Fiction. GigaNotoSaurus suggested three resources  listed below:

CC Findlay is the editor of F&SF, from whom I have collected three rejections so far. If you read the last resource in the list above, you’ll find F&SF uses a variety of form letters for stories not used, so you do get a touch of feedback about whether it wasn’t ready for prime time, your hook worked, there was some problem with the rest of the story or it was’t bad but somehow just didn’t make the cut.  (My analysis, not exactly what it says in his post.) I’ve gotten enough encouragement for some of my submissions that I think they’re worth revising and submitting elsewhere. I know if you can’t take rejection you shouldn’t be trying to publish, but you look for crumbs of acceptance wherever you can.
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American Steel

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I read today an essay from The New Yorker that said the 20th century railroads made the mistake of thinking they were in the railroad business instead of the transportation business. I think American steel is making a similar mistake. A lot of American manufacturing in general survived WWII with their physical plant intact. The European, Chinese and Japanese combatants were bombed virtually into oblivion. That gave America dominance in the 1950’s but left them with aging plants trying to compete with rebuilt, modern plants elsewhere in the 1960’s. It’s too soon to say what the effects of tariffs, threatened or imposed, will be in American steel. But there is another perspective.

America’s forte is its high tech basis and its educated workforce, not low cost. America already has companies investigating asteroid mining and space manufacturing. American steel from asteroids would reduce CO2 emissions, pollution and  other externalities that have large costs. It would also create new jobs that don’t exist today.  It won’t happen overnight, but what will 21st century opinion writers say about American industry? Will they cite mistakes or vision?

See http://inigopress.com/life-on-mars/  for where this might lead.

Writing

Ed2Go Writing Classes

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I’ve been taking writing classes from Ed2Go through the Howard Community College in Maryland. So far I’ve taken Beginning Writer’s Workshop and Advanced Fiction Writing and now I’m taking Write Like a Pro. I’ve found them very helpful. The first focused on how you write. The second and third focus on structuring stories and how to merge story (emotional journey) with plot (the actions that move the protagonist through the story). I highly recommend them to all aspiring writers. You can find them at www.ed2go.com.  They provide a venue through which you can take the courses.

Several of my stories on this blog grew out of exercises in this class. My two WiP novels both benefited greatly from the structuring methodology I learned in these courses. Check out Banjo Music and Dialogue with a Seagull for examples of class exercises run amok!

 

Science Fiction

What is science fiction?

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Analog Science Fact and Fiction magazine publishes stories “in which some aspect of future science or technology is so integral to the story that, if that aspect were removed, the story would collapse.” That leaves out current science that informs our understanding of the distant past. I was thinking of the science of evolution when I wrote Hero.

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Astronaut

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A while ago I met an astronaut. He had given a presentation about flying the space shuttle at a meeting I had arranged. Afterwards, I introduced myself and told him I had applied for the astronaut program in 1979 and been rejected.

“Me too,” he said.”And again in 1980, and 1981, and every year for thirteen years until they accepted my application.”

While I was trying to process that, he smiled. “You screwed up, buddy,” he told me.

Yesterday I got another rejection for one of my favorite stories. I felt a little down about it, with many rejections and no acceptances in the last three months. Then I thought about the astronaut.

All authors say they have copied with rejection.  It feels personal sometimes, but I am determined to persevere. Someday I’ll be an astronaut.

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To the Belt!

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This morning Elon Musk announced that his Falcon heavy rocket has succeeded in boosting a Tesla roadster into the Asteroid Belt. This is the first step toward a commercial space industry. Many people bemoan the new “Gilded Age” in which some become rich while widespread poverty continues to plague us. But standouts like Elon Musk and Bill Gates show is what individuals can accomplish that governments simply cannot. The truth is, it takes both to achieve our destiny.

See Life on Mars

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Emergent Phenomena

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In the absence of any other model, it is currently fashionable to posit that consciousness and intelligence “emerge” out of the complexity of life. Our brains allow emergent intelligence to evolve. What this means is anyone’s guess.

Let’s assume that it’s true, that out of sufficient complexity, consciousness and intelligence can emerge. How would this work? Would it require evolution in its traditional sense, inheritable change modified either in gradual ebbs or brisk saltations? Would an entity sufficiently complex be able to change itself so that consciousness emerges?

Ethical decisions are based on core values and models that guide decisions based on outcomes. In an artificial intelligence, how would these values be determined? How would different values be weighted? What would be the outcomes?

See Emergence for my take on it.