Science for Science Fiction

Well, there sure has been a lot discoveries lately… the first of course is Oumuamua, or the visitor currently passing through the Solar System. It’s got a lot of people puzzled because instead of being a blob shape, it’s an elongated thing with a ten to one aspect ratio (i.e. it’s ten times longer than wider). And that’s the problem. It shouldn’t be this shape (this is an artist’s impression) …

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It’s large – 180 metres by 30 metres by 30 metres. Objects that large have mass and wherever there is significant mass there’s significant gravity. It’s this gravity that should turn such masses into blobs over time.

Oumuamua is clearly no blob. So how was it formed and why did it stay this shape?

There are other blob shapes around the Solar System. These are when two rocks get close to each other and meld into shape – but that would only produce a shape of around 2 to 1 aspect ration. This is 6 to 1 – so it would take roughly three such combined two-rock blobs to be place together in a chain somehow. Extremely unlikely, but possible.

What other processes could there be?

  1. Molten rock or liquid ice being spurted out in a stream before surface evaporation. The question becomes where from? A supernova tends to suggest itself to my mind, because anything smaller would beg questions about how that she was formed.
  2. A rock shard from a planet or large moon that was suddenly destroyed. Depending on the rock formations concerned this could be possible.
  3. Of course, what everyone wants it to be – an alien spacecraft. Something along the lines of a lighthugger slowed down to pass through our solar System, as used in Alastair Reynolds Revelation Space series.

Take your pick, but this sounds like an interesting PhD topic for a talented astrophysics student. It would have the added advantage that the study may one guide how we humans could build an interstellar ship, because as we all know, such long narrow ships have the advantage of minimising the hull damage interstellar space dust can cause.

But I have a second issue with Oumuamua. It’s going at speed through out Solar System, well if you can call 26.33 km/s at speed (though it did speed up when it was closer to the Sun). Are there other interstellar objects travelling at speed from the same direction, and if so could one of those hit Earth? Admittedly the probability of an impact is extremely low. And even we can spot them in time, will we be able to do anything about them? These are questions that can only be answered by experts.

So many unknowns, so many answers required. In the meantime, us science fiction writers can have fun writing stories, speculating on what might be.

The other discovery that caught my eye was that they have discovered certain collections of molecules can behave like magnetic monopoles, which could occur naturally i.e. not forced to exist or manufactured. The article can be found here.

This goes very much against what we were taught at school i.e. a magnet will always have a south pole and a north pole no matter how small you make it. This may just be the start of the path that leads to a major update of Maxwell’s equations on electromagnetism – yep, it may that fundamental. Yes, the theorists have already worked out what those equations should look like etc etc. But the important thing is that Dirac proved that if magnetic monopoles exist, then electromagnetism can by quantised… and this thought alone gives me a headache! There’s enough bizarreness to quantum physics as it is without adding more to it.

But again, speculation of where this can lead can produce some very interesting science fiction stories.

Go write!

 

 

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Votes and Nominations

It’s that time of the year when the favourites are being nominated and voted for…

There is still time to nominate your favourite novel, short story, artwork and non-fiction if you are a member of the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA). See here for details. Nominations will close on 31st December this year.

Over at Kraxon Magazine, voting has opened for your favourite story for 2017. You have to be a member of SFF Chronicles. The voting will close 23:59 GMT on 20th December. See here for details.

Yes, I do have a story in the ring for the latter – The Courage of Care see here for the story – but there are some wonderful stories to choose from – I’m going to have to read them all again to make up my mind!

January’s Sciency SF Novel Pick

With Christmas going to be out of the way and many people supposedly restrained in their spending capability, you would think there would be a lack of new novels coming out in January. There are, but not as much as I expected. The Sciency Science Fiction pick for January is:

Neogenesis

by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

This is a follow-on novel from the best selling The Gathering Edge in the Liaden universe and will be published on 2nd January. What a good way to start 2018!

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The Blurb:

The Complex Logic Laws were the result of a war waged hundreds of years in the past, when two human powers threw massive AI navies at each other and nearly annihilated themselves. Being human, they blamed their tools for this near miss; they destroyed what was left of the sentient ships, and made it illegal to be, manufacture, or shelter an independent logic.

Strangely, however, the Free Ships and other AIs did not turn themselves in or suicide, they merely became wary of humans, and stayed under their scans. A clandestine support network grew up, including hidden yards where smart ships were manufactured, and mentors–humans specially trained to ease a new intelligence into the universe–socialized them, and taught them what they needed to know to survive.

Among those with a stake in the freedom of Independent Logics is Theo Waitley, who is somewhat too famously the captain of intelligent ship Bechimo. Theo’s brother, Val Con yos’Phelium, presides over a household that has for a generation employed an AI butler. Recently, he approved the “birth” of the butler’s child, who was sent, with human mentor Tolly Jones, to rescue or destroy an orphaned AI abandoned at a remote space station.

Then there’s Uncle, the shadowy mastermind from the Old Universe, whose many projects often skirt the boundaries of law, both natural and man-made – and the puppet-masters at the Lyre Institute, whose history is just as murky – and a good deal less honorable.

All have an interest in the newly-awakening Self-Aware Logic that is rumored to have the power to destroy universes.

The question is: Who will get to it first?

The Reason for this Pick of the Month:

Well, let’s face it, part of me likes being a geek, as anyone who has read my C.A.T. series of stories will know. And this promises to extend the debate about malevolent Artificial Intelligences (AIs).

One small research paper for scientists, one big change for science fiction.

Every so often an obscure research paper is published that, at first sight, you would think will have very little impact on the future, but ends up setting in motion a chain reaction that leads to a global societal change.

That paper is about an obscure part of physics that very few have an interest in. It takes an engineer to identify where such research can be of use. That engineer usually then has to fight for money to get the development and regulatory (e.g. health and safety) tests done. So it’s years from research paper to general use – the rule of thumb is about 30 to 40 years.

But there is a shortcut to envisioning the likely results which, of course, is science fiction.

Let me give you an example of such a technology. Airbus worked on and developed wings that had ten percent less aerodynamic drag on its wings. For a single flight it amount to a negligible saving in the full and hence the cost of the journey. Airbus 300 first flew in 1972 and its first commercial flight was in 1974. In this days the big plane manufacturers were Boeing and Lockheed. Airbus, being a relative newcomer to the field, found it not surprisingly difficult to sell their planes. There were various issues, nothing to do with the aerodynamics that needed to sorted out. But once they were, those few airlines that did fly Airbuses found they were saving a little fuel each journey and could therefore marginally undercut their rivals with the Boeings or whatever. So more airlines switched to Airbuses.

Okay, there isn’t that much difference shape-wise between the Airbuses and the other designs, but it did cause a bit of an upheaval in the airline industry. It is not that surprising that this seems not to have been picked up in science fiction at the relevant before-time.

But – here is the big but – these lesser drag wings are needed to help the forever floating cloud cities. Only they are not enough in themselves.

Now comes news that they found a way to drop the drag of a sphere TO 10% (not BY 10%). See full article here. But the abstract is (non-geeks go to following paragraph):

Minimizing the retarding force on a solid moving in liquid is the canonical problem in the quest for energy saving by friction and drag reduction. For an ideal object that cannot sustain any shear stress on its surface, theory predicts that drag force will fall to zero as its speed becomes large. However, experimental verification of this prediction has been challenging. We report the construction of a class of self-determined streamlined structures with this free-slip surface, made up of a teardrop-shaped giant gas cavity that completely encloses a metal sphere. This stable gas cavity is formed around the sphere as it plunges at a sufficiently high speed into the liquid in a deep tank, provided that the sphere is either heated initially to above the Leidenfrost temperature of the liquid or rendered superhydrophobic in water at room temperature. These sphere-in-cavity structures have residual drag coefficients that are typically less than Embedded Image those of solid objects of the same dimensions, which indicates that they experienced very small drag forces. The self-determined shapes of the gas cavities are shown to be consistent with the Bernoulli equation of potential flow applied on the cavity surface. The cavity fall velocity is not arbitrary but is uniquely predicted by the sphere density and cavity volume, so larger cavities have higher characteristic velocities.

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Above are photos taken from their experiments – yes this is real stuff – taken from the linked article.

Okay… now here’s the thing… gases, air, atmospheres, liquids, seas, oceans are all fluids that these spheres can travel through. So if this physics is developed further, what could it mean for our future societies?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Cars using these mechanisms would have to travel a minimum distance apart – and goodness knows what that is going to do to add to travel congestion
  2. Mag-lev trains need less fuel, therefore have less weight, therefore can float on their magnets at less cost – and goodness knows what this is going to mean for our railways
  3. Space probes on re-entering our atmosphere need less heat shielding, again reducing the cost of their missions
  4. Having a near-zero drag shield for spacecraft travelling through dust-laden areas.

And these are only starters for 10.

But the point I want to make is that the shapes of vehicles in the future will be very different from what we have today. And as noted in my first example there will be consequences on the way humans behave. (I wonder how much editing will go on into the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises to catch up with this science.)

This comes on top of the recent advances in EmDrive technology. Which means there is a whole vein of untapped science fiction to be written about realistic future transport methods… go write!

Newsy Bits and Bobs

The annual awards season has just started. Nominations are now open for the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) best novel, best short story, best artwork and best non-fiction article. Members can nominate up to four items in each category and you have until 31st December. Nominations can be done here.

There will be a second round of member voting in January before shortlists become available. This system stops the issue of a small group of friends hijacking (innocently or deliberately) the awards for their purposes.

The Last City anthology has recently had a teaser trailer released that can be found on the twitter account darrenbullock61. I gather Darren’s also got a video in the pipeworks… or should I say streamworks?. So it looks if the anthology release is not that long away – where you’ll be able to read my short story, The Colditz Run.

 

In the meantime I still can’t get my head round well after a year since it was published the Explorations: Through the Wormhole anthology continues to be seen in the top 100 selling lists on Amazon. As I type this, the UK Kindle version is:

  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #15,607 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
    • #19 in Kindle Store > Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Anthologies & Short Stories
    • #40 in Books > Fiction > Science Fiction > Anthologies & Short Stories
    • #45 in Kindle Store > Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Time Travel

Yes, I have to admit that I do have a short story in there – AI Deniers. Congratulations to Nathan Hystad and his team at Woodbridge Press for what in book terms is a resounding success.

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British Women Science Fiction Writers

Idiot questions can pass through your mind at odd times of the day and I had one of those last night… who are the British women science fiction writers?

The then answer was Mary Shelley… and who else? Pat Cardigan…. and um er… yes there are quite a few women science fiction writers that tend very much towards fantasy… but real sciency science fiction?

So I dug into that backstop wikipedia and found the lists of British Science Fiction Writers (which includes this fantasy-tending writers) and here’s the list of women that I have been able to glean from that…

  1. Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne
  2. Storm Constantine
  3. Susan Ertz
  4. Nicola Griffith
  5. Jane Gaskell
  6. Charlotte Haldane
  7. Cicely Hamilton
  8. Liz Holliday
  9. Monica Hughes
  10. Gwyneth Jones
  11. Georgina Kamsika
  12. Louise Lawrence
  13. Doris Lessing
  14. Jane C Loudon
  15. Anita Mason
  16. Susan Price
  17. Mary Shelley
  18. Sue Thomas
  19. Aelfrida Tillyard
  20. Liz Williams
  21. Mea Allen
  22. Marion Arnott
  23. Margot Bennett
  24. Lady Florence Dixie
  25. Naomi Mitchison
  26. Lianne Norman

I’m sure this is not the complete list. Apart from anything else, those listed with initials instead of forenames could well be women. But the predominant fact was that there were many more men in the lists I took the names from.

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It is therefore my intention to write a short article once a month on this blog about a British woman science fiction writer to help give some publicity to this neglected sector of the genre writing.

 

C.A.T.-mas-1-2-3 & Artemis

In 2013, 2014 and 2015 I published C.A.T. Christmas stories on his blog. 2016 turned into one of those years for me, so no C.A.T. Christmas story crept its way onto his blog. But I have completed the first draft of his novel. Because C.A.T. has developed in the novel and I don’t want to give away the what, why or how, I’ve decided to publish a print version of his Christmas stories in C.A.T.-mas-1-2-3.

Amazon UK C.A.T.-mas-1-2-3 is here.

Amazon US C.A.T.-mas-1-2-3 is here.

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You’ll see the relevance of Christmas trees when you read the stories… ahem…

C.A.T. and his stories are of course serious sciency science fiction. Another seriously sciency fiction author has had his second novel published this month. I am of course writing about Andy Weir and his novel Artemis.

Although I haven’t yet had a chance to read the novel, I found Adam Roberts’ review of it fascinating (see here for full review). In it he notes that Weir’s first novel sold five million copies. Of course we know the history of The Martian. It first appeared as a series of posts on his blog, which was then picked up by a publisher after it became popular with readers. This was definitely a case of publishers missing out until reader pressure dictated otherwise. Why? Well we don’t know the answer for that for sure, but the discussion after the review points to publishers not being interested in geeky novels. Adams considers the writing of inferior quality, citing a couple of examples to demonstrate his point. If this quality of writing is seen throughout the novel, then no publisher would have touched it. So Artemis was clearly published because of the author’s success with The Martian.

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And yet the reviews on Amazon are in general very good with currently an average rating of 4.2 stars out of 5 stars. Additionally, this novel is high in the Amazon bestsellers lists. Which shows there is a readership appetite for such novels and boy do they seem to be hungry.