Science Fiction and Science – The Relationship

28 08 2016

The relationship between science and science fiction is a set of complicated multiple links. I have, as a first draft, tried to put the principle ones on what people call a mind map. See the picture below:

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It needs further work to develop the intricacies, but I’m sure you can think of where most science science fiction novels and stories fit in this scheme.

The interesting thing about this diagram is that there are loops which you can go round multiple times. Some a simple like ‘Human Wish List’ to “Serendipity’ and back again. Others are very complicated with oodles of steps.

What does this mean for new science fiction? [I’m not talking about repeats on a theme here.]

It means it can have a feedback loop that builds up momentum to a crescendo or sinks momentum until there are no more new stories or, exceptionally rarely have a momentum that is stable.

As we have seen from statistics provided by Locus Magazine via the Best of SF by Gardner Dozois, new science fiction novels have been on the rise since about 2009 after being produced at more or less a steady rate.

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2009 was when the films Avatar and Star Trek Reboot hit our screens. Both turned out to be very popular – one for its incredible graphics and message of hope, the other because it delivered on old themes with very much a modern look that people tuned into. This, in my opinion, started the interest in science fiction novels. But why has the graph continued to rise since then, especially as there was no follow-up to Avatar and a lot of films have veered to the fantasy end of speculative fiction?

There must have been some positive feedback loop at play. It may be one that I’ve identified in the mind map. It may be something completely different. Without doing the legwork of identifying theme threads through those years, it is difficult to tell.

However, there have been hints on the science fiction grapevine that science fiction novels are going to be curtailed in the near future. Adam Roberts for one has stated that he will not have a novel published this year and his short novel due out next year will be more commercially based. See here for more information. Added to this comes the news that SFF market is slightly contracting – see here for reference. Judging by the above graph, I suspect this is more to do with the fantasy end of the SFF spectrum than the SF side. Nevertheless, if does not bode well for SF as fantasy novels may take more of the share of the SFF market, because they have the bigger segment anyway and are more likely to produce powerful new novels to be published. Which means a dent in new science fiction novels should be expected over the next couple of years.

The question has to be what is the new feedback loop that has come into play here. I have my suspicions, but until I have the definitive proof, it would be pure speculation. My guess is that the wave of dystopias has started putting people off science fiction. You only need to look at popularity of Anne Leckie’s novels in comparison to others, to see this is a distinct possibility. This could easily lead to a detrimental feedback loop impacting the number of new novels being published.

But I have hopes that after a few years this trend will be reversed… but we’ll have to wait and see.

 

 

 

 

 





Exoplanets have it…

25 08 2016

Looks like yesterday was the day for exo-planets. First off, the winner of the Arthur C Clarke prize was Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time.

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The blurb that goes with this novel is:

The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life.

But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has borne disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare.

Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?

I gather from the buzz, that Adrian was stunned to be announced the winner of the Clarke – I believe there is a ‘damning photo’ somewhere.

Oh, and I’ve just noticed that it’s no 1 in Amazon’s best sellers list…

All in all, huge congratulations to Adrian… and commiserations to the short-listed authors to have come up against such a worthy winner.

The other exoplanet news of course was they’ve discovered a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri that is in the Goldilocks zone – that zone that is neither too hot nor too cold, but just right to sustain water in liquid form and therefore could develop life.

The planet, Proxima b until they can agree a name for it, is about 1.3 times the mass of Earth, has an orbiting period of 11.186 days around the star and is about 0.0485 astronomical units (or c. 7.3 million kilometres) from the star. Those are the facts. There are still a lot of unknowns. And where there is unknowns, imagination and science fiction stories can take over.

In fact, someone somewhere has predicted there will be a whole slew of science fiction stories about to be published as a result of this discovery. Only of course Adrian got there first!

Hm… good job I’ve got my writing planned out for the next year or so, or I’d be joining the bandwagon!





Explorations: Through the Wormhole – coming soon

23 08 2016

A date has been set for the publication of Explorations: Through the Wormhole anthology – September 3rd. Oh the excitement…

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I have got hold of ARC and it’s looking good. There’s some exciting stories in there… but then I’m biased, aren’t I?

PS If anyone wants to to do a review, ping me an e-mail and we’ll take things from there. (Yes, the catch is you have to know my e-mail address, so I know who you are… I’m obviously picking up some of C.A.T.’s bad habits – talking of which, earlier this month I reached the half way mark with the first full draft of C.A.T.’s novel!)





Megastructures and all things weird…

14 08 2016

August is turning into a truly weird month with one thing and another… and one of those weirdos is the new results on Tabby’s Star, also known as KIC8462852. For those of you with photographic memories, you will know that this star hit the headlines last year. This was discovered by Tabetha Boyajian, a citizen scientist, to have strange dips in its light output, by up to 20%. Sensible explanations like a planet orbiting in front of the star were ruled out because the timings in the dips were not right. In fact, they had difficulty explaining the whys and wherefores. In desperation, an astronomer resorted to suggesting aliens had built a megastructure round the star. To be fair to him, he did consider this as an explanation of last resort. Hence the headlines. In the end Tabby and her team settled for an explanation of a comet swarm in the middle of dissolution. 

Of course the scientists and astronomers went on to do some more investigation. Only things got weirder. Some people checked historical archives for old glass plates of the star. They found that over a hundred years, the star had faded by a whopping 0.16 magnitude. Only, as is usual in scientific circles, someone pointed out another possible cause – the long term dimming could be due to systematic errors. Problem solved then. Phew!

A new study looked at four years worth of data from the Kepler telescope to find if Tabby’s star had any trends. That was when they realised the star was fading even faster than anyone had thought – which kind of backed up the results from examining the century’s worth of glass plates.

End result was that it kicked the breaking up of a comet swarm theory to dust.

In fact, the experts are stuck for any theory at the moment. And obviously the astronomers are going to keep an eye on it – in fact a kickstarter has funded time on a telescope to get more observations.

I’m not expert, but I can think of two possibilities. The first is that Tabby’s Star is in some kind of death throes mechanism that does weird things to stars. The second one is to do with magnetohydrodynamics, so I won’t bore you with the details, except to say that similar mechanisms have been seen in planetary atmospheres.

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Now for weirdness number 2. A Trans-Neptune Object is not behaving itself.  Details can be found here. The object not only swings around the Sun backwards compared to other planets, asteroids, comets etc, but is in an orbit tilted at 110 degrees to the Solar plane. They have christened it Niku – Chinese for rebellious (pity they didn’t call it Rogue One – ahem… said she tiptoeing away from this statement). So the logical conclusion is that Niku must have been knocked off its original course, whatever that was. The astronomers did check whether this could be the mysterious Planet IX they are searching for, but it turns out to be coming too close to Neptune’s orbit to be the case. But then 70,000 years ago, a star did pass through our system – Scholz’s star. See here for details.  Could this be the culprit that knocked Niku off course? Or could it be an interloper from outside our Solar System? If it’s the latter, I can see NASA pulling together a programme to send a research satellite there.

All this weirdness should be an inspiration to science fiction writers (unless they are in the middle of a novel that they now need to tailor to take account of the new facts).

So why aren’t we seeing more stories?

The answer lies somewhere in the publishing industry, but where, I don’t know for certain. I personally don’t think there is much room for hard science fiction in the magazines that are being published. And yet, as we’ve seen here, there is a need for science fiction to come up with out of the box ideas that might help the scientists explain what is going on.





By Jove, from cold to hot!

9 08 2016

I was going to be the garage waiting for my car to have a puncture repair, so I thought I’d take laptop and do some fiction writing – my C.A.T. novel to be precise. I was thoroughly enjoying writing about the laser shoot-out when the nice garage man mentioned it was a bit incongruous having a lady writing science fiction in a relatively ordinary garage. Well, I suppose he had a point – garages are so humdrum and science fiction is so exciting.

However, all science fiction should have at least a modicum of science in it. And there has been a whole slew of interesting announcements lately.

There’s that hotspot over at Jupiter i.e. the giant red spot has a high temperature. See here for more details. It does go some way towards explaining the higher than expected temperatures around Jupiter.

And going from hot to cold – apparently Jupiter’s moon, Io, has its atmosphere turn to frost and collapse every time it goes behind Jupiter into darkness. Once it emerges back into the sunlight the frost is melted back into atmosphere. It’s almost as if the moon were breathing. See here for more details. 

 

 

 

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Why all this interest in Jupiter on my part? Well it has another moon, Callisto. This is the closest place to Earth and the Moon where humans can inhabit the surface without problems of radiation. In other words it’s a much better place than Mars.

Talking of heat – they’ve discovered something new about fire.  See here for details. This new type of fire comes in the form of a blue fire tornado (now there’s a title for a science fiction novel if ever I heard one) and could be used to help cleanly clear up oil spills.

These science discoveries are all sources for a good piece of science fiction – go write!





New SF Novel Stats – Update

2 08 2016

It’s that time of the year when I get a chance to buy Gardner Dozois’s annual Best New SF and have a chance to update my graph on the new novels published in speculative fiction. See below.

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The general trends of the last few years continue, with horror holding more or less at the same level, paranormal romance continuing its decline and fantasy continuing to increase despite the dip in 2013/ 2014.

Science fiction continues to rise and has been doing so since 2009 – the year that saw the release of the films Avatar and Star Trek and saw the publication of Alastair Reynolds’ ‘House of Suns’, the last major novel of the Revelation Space series.

As the early noughties saw the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films come out and the rise of new fantasy novels can be dated from about that period, my guess is that the health of a genre is now dependent on good new genre-based films coming out.

If this is the case, then I would guess that 2016 will see another rise in new science fiction and fantasy novels (Star Trek – Beyond and Star Wars VII).





Innovation and Science Fiction Trends

30 07 2016

I came across an interesting paper written in 2004 about innovation. It looked at the innovations from 1453 (which the author calls the end of the Dark Ages). It can be found here. What it basically says is that innovation per head of population peaked in 1873 and is now being limited by lack of human brain power or constrained by economic considerations.

Yes I did write 1873 – when Queen Victoria was still on the throne. That was the year Jules Verne published “Around the World in Eighty Days”. His arguably most famous novel, “Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea” had only been published three years earlier, in 1870.

There have since been other papers published in 2010 and 2012 that have confirmed Jonathan Huebner’s finding on innovation trends. Huebner went on to predict that the level on innovation would reach the level of the Dark Ages in 2024 – only eight years away from now.

So what does this mean for science fiction?

If you look at an outline history of science fiction – its use of science ca be traced back the Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”. But it science-based science fiction did not really take off until the pulp magazines introduced science fiction to a wider audience – from 1926 onwards. It had be particularly good run post World War II when there were a lot juvenile novels written to help teach physics. But from the 1960s onwards the science based science fiction tended to take more a back seat compared to other types of science fiction. So we have the peak of science-based science fiction very much lagging behind the peak of innovation  productivity – by about 70 to 80 years.

I would tentatively suggest that it takes about 70 to 80 years to make innovation, or at least the understanding of innovations, readily available to Joe Bloggs in the street.

It’s rather depressing to think that science-based science fiction will continue to decline in line with the lag in the innovation trend.

But there is a twist – or least there can be – if the science fiction publishing world are brave enough to take on the challenge. Before I go on to explain why, let me explain a little bit about science.

Science has one fundamental assumption behind it, namely that if the right set of conditions are set up, then the results are repeatable over and over again. This need for guaranteed repeatability has led to the theories being the minimal possible to describe what is going on. You only need to look at the history of the development of the laws of planetary motion to see this (i.e. going away from an Earth-centric theory to a Sun-centric theory, to a mass-centric theory). The theories describe what would happen and only what is guaranteed to happen.

What science does not do, is describe would could happen, but we can’t notice (for those familiar with the theory, look at the gauge theory in electromagnetism). Here multiple theories can abound and all of them be right!

What this means for science fiction is there is a plethora of worlds we cannot sense waiting to be explored (e.g. the different gauges in the electromagnetic theory). Whilst we can’t sense them directly, there is no reason why we can’t invent ways of sensing them and writing a story about this.

Whilst I have cited one example in physics where there is may be possible, there are a lot of others. Furthermore, this type of science fiction, whilst science-based, does not rely on innovation in itself to fuel the stories.

In the meantime, there will still be innovation happening worldwide, albeit at a reduced rate. So there is still material to write science-based science fiction.

…….

Of course, this whole argument changes when humans can get access to more resources. Innovation trends will only change if we can get into space at a cheap enough cost, which is why the development spacecraft such as the Skylon spaceplane is so important.

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Which is why I am rather pleased to see that the next stage of funding for its development has been recently released.

……

This whole argument would in itself be a good basis for a science fiction story…. over to you….








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