Category Archives: Non fiction Science for science fiction

Counting Spaceship Colonists

IMG_9518Writing science fiction often takes you off into the weeds of future speculation. When I took on the Terran Series and started writing A World Too Far, I had to figure out how many people and ships would be traveling. I also had to state a reason for the mission.

I didn’t want the reason to be that the Earth was annihilated or destroyed. I hope that as time goes on we do things better and more efficiently. Stephen Hawking says that we need to expand out from Earth in order to survive long term. The “Not Everyone in the Same Basket” theory. I think we have enough people like Elon Musk that we don’t need a catastrophic event to push people out into space. So I made the reason for the expedition the fear that humans need to diversify to other planets in order to survive…and the plain old human drive of seeking adventure and new worlds.

Okay, how many then? Two names kept cropping up. One was John More who said 160 was enough. Local Portland University anthropologist Cameron Smith said 14,000 to 40,000.

space-station-485590_640

Wikipedia:

Estimates of the minimum reasonable population for a generation ship vary. Anthropologist John Moore has estimated that, even in the absence of cryonics or sperm banks, a population capacity of 160 people would allow normal family life (with the average
individual having ten potential marriage partners) throughout a 200-year space journey, with little loss of genetic diversity; social engineering can reduce this estimate to 80 people.[6] In 2013 anthropologist Cameron Smith reviewed existing literature and created a new computer model to estimate a minimum reasonable population in the tens of thousands. Smith’s numbers were much larger than previous estimates such as Moore’s, in part because Smith takes the risk of accidents and disease into consideration, and assumes at least one severe population catastrophe over the course of a 150-year journey.[7]

Cameron Smith in Acta Astronautica
April–May 2014, Vol.97:16–29, doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2013.12.013

Estimation of a genetically viable population for multigenerational interstellar voyaging: Review and data for project Hyperion

I find that previously proposed such populations, on the order of a few hundred individuals, are significantly too low to consider based on current understanding of vertebrate (including human) genetics and population dynamics. Population genetics theory, calculations and computer modeling determine that a properly screened and age- and sex-structured total founding population (Nc) of anywhere from roughly 14,000 to 44,000 people would be sufficient to survive such journeys in good health. A safe and well-considered Nc figure is 40,000, an Interstellar Migrant Population (IMP) composed of an Effective Population [Ne] of 23,400 reproductive males and females, the rest being pre- or post-reproductive individuals. This number would maintain good health over five generations despite (a) increased inbreeding resulting from a relatively small human population, (b) depressed genetic diversity due to the founder effect, (c) demographic change through time and (d) expectation of at least one severe population catastrophe over the 5-generation voyage.

That’s quite a range.
What to do?

I started with sixty ships with two hundred per ship that worked the ship and two hundred in cryo. But then as the ships approached the designated planet, a population campaign increased the live colonists to five hundred per ship, give or take. That put us in the range of thirty thousand along the lines of Cameron Smith’s estimate.

Besides, I liked Babylon Five, the TV series, and wanted several ships on the journey for diversity and interest.

When the target planet was found toxic, forty ships decided not to land and jumped away. Of course, problems started happening immediately and the population underwent a severe reduction.

I needed a more manageable number of characters. I was trying to read The Dark Between the Stars by Alan Dean Foster and too many main characters overwhelm a reader. I got overwhelmed and didn’t finish the book.

As ships sought ways to increase the population, space found ways to destroy ships.

Now as I’m writing the next stage that deals with survival on a space station and alien planet, numbers again play an important role. Only so many can fit on station, and those stranded on the orbiting ships create a nice tension to those on planet that don’t want a horde of aliens invading their home and try to keep them on the station or ships.

Readers often don’t realize how much science fiction authors need to balance science plausibility with attention-keeping fictional plots and often wander off into the weeds of research.

Or maybe they do. Maybe they require it.

fortunes-pawnThis week I read Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach as it is a Powell’s science fiction readers group selection. I really enjoyed it…so much so that I’m now reading the sequel Honor’s Knight.

It’s even better.

Devi Morris is a super gung-ho mercenary from the military planet Paradox where the king reigns supreme. The universe is full of inhabited planets and ships travel all over via jump technology.

However, there is an unknown dangerous threat lurking at the edges of the universe.

Devi’s favorite possessions are her battle armor, which she has named Lady Gray, and her weapons. (Also named). She polishes them and talks about them a lot. Being a merc, she has few friends. Being aggressive and battle smart… she has few friends.

In order to accelerate her career, she has taken a job in a beaten up trading ship called The Glorious Fool. The ship has a dangerous reputation but it’s rumored to be a fast track to the rank of Devastator, the name of the king ‘s elite guards, a rank Devi aspires to.honors-knight

On board, an interesting assortment of aliens form the crew. The navigator is a cranky aeon, a birdlike species; her doctor is from a race of crablike insects that are enemies of most humans, and the cook, Rupert, well, he’s incredibly handsome and nothing like he seems.

Nothing.

Actually, nothing is as it appears and soon Devi is wrapped up in secrets that are world heavens-queenshattering with the real possibility of not surviving her tour.

But she’s a stubborn, resourceful, and surprisingly capable mercenary who soon finds herself with a few deadly secrets of her own.

Fast page-turning action with a passionate love story makes this one of my favorites, and one I recommend.

Happy Halloween!pumpkin

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Comet Ison: Not Science Fiction

IMG_0174If the name Ison means nothing to you….then you need to read on.

If it does, then you might want to read on anyway.

Ison is the name of a spectacular comet that has entered our solar system and is headed toward the sun. On November 28, 2013, it will approach perihelion with the sun (closest point: 700,00 miles above the surface) and one of three things will happen:

It will survive and head out towards Earth, it will break up into pieces like the Schumacher-Levy Comet did, and pieces of it will continue towards the sun, or it will disintegrate completely due to the sun’s enormous gravity and heat. It may not survive…

Most Sungrazing comets don’t.

touching-crystal-thumb-1This exciting event happens just around the time of the launch of my sixth book, Touching Crystal, and yes, Chapter One starts with a comet streaking  out from behind the sun and crashing into Thanos, Alysia’s smaller moon. Richard Steele and Trace Walker have to cope with the aftermath of changing weather and disrupted economies. But more than that, there’s alien crystals and invaders involved.

Exciting stuff…and very timely.

I would like to say that I planned Comet Ison coming at this time, but of course, I didn’t.

Serendipity.

Here’s an interesting link on 12 cool facts about Comet Ison.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2013/11/21/comet_ison_12_cool_facts.html

It’s less than two miles across in the rocky core…1.2 miles (size of Manhattan) and shrinking as it casts off huge amounts of gas and water. The tail is five million miles long and the coma (front part) is 100,000 kilometers in size. The tail has recently split into possibly three tails and the front has sprouted “wings,” which indicates that pieces may have come off.

If it does survive the sun and comes around out of the backside, it could reach a velocity of 225/sec or fast enough to cross the Continental US in twenty-five seconds.

But…

New Image of Comet ISONThe closest it will get to Earth is on December 26 (hmmm…) at forty million miles away. (phew!)

We should be able to see a spectacular show, and even now, it’s brightening up enough to be seen with binoculars and the naked eye at certain times.

Then, once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. It’s called a Perihelion Comet and they don’t come back.

So be alert, and check the skies for a once in a lifetime event.

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Cutting Edge Science fiction: Discovering a new Indie author

IMG_0174“Hacking the human brain” was a recent topic in the tv series “Through the Wormhole” moderated by Morgan Freeman. If you’re not familiar with the series, I recommend it to you.

The show covered several studies or experiments, but I was surprised to learn that a computer can “read” what the brain is thinking just by tracking blood flow. Thousands of test subjects were shown images and a “picture” was taken of the brain for each image or concept. It appears that these blood flow patterns can be categorized into words and concepts using a computer and then another human can be asked to think of certain subjects, I.e. a beach, a forest, friendship, the computer matches the blood flow patterns and puts out words that translates what the subject is thinking.28GRAYMATTER-articleLarge

So, using that computer program, you can read someone’s mind, or at least get an idea of what he/she is thinking.

That’s a little scary.

Another part of the show explained how false memories can be implanted into a human mind. Since our legal system uses witnesses and expert testimony to determine sentencing, this is also troubling.

A Brief History of TimeStephen Hawkings is an example of how the human brain can think of words and ideas and a computer translates them into both text and speech. By the way, his book A Brief History in Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes is a suggested non fiction read for anyone wanting to learn more about our universe.

This controlling of electronic devices through thought is the jumping off premise for a debut book of local Portland author Dan Marshall. His novel Lightcap explores this idea and takes it to the next step of controlling human behavior through a cap like device.

 

Adaptech made a fortune with its Mind Drive, a product enabling control of electronic devices through thought. Wildly popular, most citizens use it as a way to act more efficiently with everything from computers to coffee pots.

Now, Adaptect has come out with the Lightcap and Adam Redmon is promoted to lead a group of employees to test this new product. However, exactly what it’s function and side effects are is not fully disclosed.Lightcap

As the test goes on, blackouts and strange dreams, along with a mysterious death, lead Adam to discover the frightening function of the Lightcap. It controls the human brain and makes individuals open to suggestion. Suggestions like murdering a colleague who has turned against the experiment. Adam is not the only subject who becomes suspicious of the dark side of the device. Dej and Aria have realized the danger also and together the three try to fight the hold that Adaptech has on them and the corporation’s plans to control whole populations through distributing the Lightcap.

After watching the show on brain hacking, this novel’s premise intrigued me. Dan writes well, his sentences clear and grammatically correct. However, since it is written from Adam’s point of view, the reader is subjected to the influence of the Lightcap.

“Adam felt like a deer in the headlights until he blinked and broke the spell.”

I went for a cup of coffee to clear MY mind.

The first part of the book is woozy as Adam loses chunks of his life. His fear of losing his job if he complains or quits makes the reader want to shake him and yell, “Wakeup.”

After a colleague goes missing and two others in the test group reveal their concern for the effects of the cap, Adam starts to get suspicious and investigate.

From there the action picks up to the inevitable conclusion…and possible sequel.

If you like cutting edge science type stories and movies such as “The Bourne Identity”, then you might like Lightcap by Dan Marshall. Available most places online and local Indie bookstores.

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The Science Part of Science Fiction

“Science fiction isn’t here to say, ‘This is true or that will happen,’ it’s here to say, suppose it did, then what?” —Peter Watts.

Science fiction walks a thin line between what can happen, what might happen, and what’s complete speculation …right now. People reading it, want believable science and get in an uproar if the science isn’t right. But there is also the fiction part. The imaginative part that elicits the impossible and improbable. And is fun to contemplate, that makes a good story.

So, here’s the thing…

Today’s science may not be tomorrow’s science and science fiction should push those boundaries. Make our scientists consider the improbable.

My father said that he was told that humans would never leave Earth because of the escape velocity needed.

But scientists went ahead and developed solid rocket fuel anyway, and took off for the moon. Ten years ago black holes were a theory, a myth, and now scientists have proof that they exist and even believe that there is a black hole at the center of most galaxies. Maybe, they are the engines of creation.

The Universe is vast. To get anywhere within a reasonable lifetime, we need faster than light or a trick tunnel or the story is stuck in our solar system.

So I did that in Past the Event Horizon. Had to. And it’s been done before often enough that the public accepts the convention. The movie “Contact” showed a wormhole that enabled travel across deep space. So it must be possible. We have filmed evidence. Carl Sagan said so.

However, I want a lot of my science as accurate as possible in my space stories and thus this week, I read If the Earth Had Two Moons by Neil F. Comins….because you see, my world of Alysia has two.

This non fiction novel is interesting. It contains ten thought provoking speculations on our solar system. Each one starts with a short fiction story and then buckle in for the detailed science follow-up. Other chapters  are: “What if the Earth Were a Moon?”, What if the Earth’s Crust Were Thicker?”, What if the Earth Had Formed Somewhere Else in the Galaxy?”, “What if the Earth had two Suns?”, What If Another galaxy Collided with the Milky Way?” and other equally challenging hypotheses.

Great fodder for science fiction stories.

The writing is reasonably easy to read, but be aware that there are illustration, graphs and numbers involved further on. Science…real science. It’s a book you sip in concentrated sittings, but it’s guaranteed to stir your imagination.

Heads UP!

Orycon is this coming weekend. It’s our big annual Science Fiction Con and I have manuscripts in two workshops. Bill Nolan of Logan’s Run will be one of my professional critiquers again.

I’m stoked.

I’ll let you know how it goes in my next blog. Stay tuned.

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