The official announcement has been made, so I can finally mention that my short story “A Taste Of Time” has been chosen for On Spec magazine’s Silver Jubilee anthology. I was happy enough to have it published in the magazine last year, but to be chosen from among 25 years of past issues is quite an honour. Unfortunately, the anthology won’t be published until August 2014! Here’s the link for the table of contents.
It was announced last week that the world’s population will grow from the current 7 billion to 9.7 billion by the year 2050. That many billions of people, each with his or her own story—in fact a lifetime of stories. Kind of boggles the mind, doesn’t it? And that’s just on our one little planet.
Instruments like the Kepler space telescope have detected nearly a thousand planets orbiting other stars in our galaxy so far, and thousands of other potential candidates. If each star in our galaxy has just one planet orbiting it, that makes hundreds of billions of planets. Who knows how many are habitable by some kind of species capable of thought and communication? Or maybe someday we’ll get to them.
Of course our Milky Way galaxy is only one of more than one hundred billion galaxies in the universe (if you want a conception of that, here’s a great link to a video courtesy of the Hubble Space telescope).
Are you gobsmacked by the possibilities yet? Well how about this:
Remember that time you were invited to a party but blew it off and went to a movie instead? Except you wanted to see Gravity and your friend talked you into seeing Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2. Did you feel bad about it (at least the movie choice, if not the party snub)? Don’t worry too much because in a parallel universe another version of you did go to the party, and a second doppleganger went to the right movie. Thank you, quantum physics.
That is, if you subscribe to some version of physicist Hugh Everett’s many-worlds interpretation. An overly simplified explanation would basically say that every time a quantum particle can either zig or zag it does both, perhaps zigging in this universe and zagging in an all-new universe that is just slightly different from ours from then on. Even if it only applied to the decisions made by people, there’d be a mind-boggling number of new universes floating around after just one day (even a universe where Miley Cyrus can keep her tongue in her mouth…maybe). Since there is an unthinkable number of quantum particles interacting at any given pico-second, the number of possible universes is literally incalculable.
What am I getting at? Nearly ten billion humans, billions more potentially-habitable planets in the galaxy, a hundred billion galaxies, and an infinite number of possible universes (some of which just have to allow for warp-speed to let us get to all of those other places). The conclusion?
It can never be possible to run out of stories to tell! Not to mention people to tell them to.
Now if I can just live another hundred years to make a small dent in that number.
And find publishers for them all of course.
Interested publishers can find my contact information on the “About Scott” page. Probably best if you’re from this universe, though.
When is good news bad news? When the good news is about climate change.
Some leaked reports obtained by the Associated Press indicate that the rate of global warming has slowed down in the past fifteen years, even though greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere have continued to rise. The rate of warming from 1998 to 2012 was only about half the rate of the years since 1951. That’s good news, right? Well, not if it gives climate change deniers yet another opportunity to attack the science and encourage everyone to keep burning fossil fuels like there’s no tomorrow.
Friday September 27, 2013 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will begin to present its latest update, and as scientists have gathered in Stockholm to prepare, there has been disagreement on how to deal with the awkward fact of the slower warming rate, and whether or not to even exclude it from the report. Countries have objected to the short 15-year length of the measurement. Others say 1998 was an exceptionally warm year, and a bad starting point. The U.S. is pushing the favourite explanation: that the deep ocean is absorbing more heat than originally expected. But it would be a mistake to hide or obscure any findings. The deep pockets of the oil companies and other industrial interests will ensure that there are lots of voices willing to twist the truth, hide it, or outright deny it. Climate scientists must show that they’re above that and adhere to the strictest standards of full disclosure. The coming report will likely assert that scientists are 95% certain that humans are mostly to blame for the rise in global temperatures over the past sixty years. In science 95% is huge.
Let’s not forget that, in spite of a slower warming rate, the past decade was still the warmest on record and this decade is on track to beat it. Let’s not forget the shocking number of extreme weather events of the past few years, especially massive storms and devastating flooding, even though the rate of warming was slower than expected. Climate science has to be among the most complex of all areas of study, with an unthinkable number of variables to account for. So predictions are bound to have a margin of error. If the rate of warming was an error, at least we’ve come out on the good side so far, but it is no excuse to discount the rest of the science and stay complacent about climate change, doing nothing. (And believe me, as a citizen of Canada, a country that’s gone from having one of the best environmental reputations in the world to one of the worst in the span of one administration, I’m not pointing fingers.)
I’m struck by the fact that millions of people have sacrificed their lives in wars to stop oppressive forms of government—fascism, Nazism, communism, and other –isms—for the sake of future generations. Yet we’re not even willing to make sacrifices to our lifestyle to save our children and their children from a global climate that no form of government will be able to alleviate.
Science fiction writers and fans imagine apocalypses for fun, but when faced with real threats we turn to our faith that science will provide a solution. Well, sometimes science can only offer a warning.
The rest is up to us.
A couple of cool things got me thinking this week. If you haven’t seen it, here’s a link to a video pieced together by NASA from images captured by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling the Moon since 2009. The video gives us a chance to see the Moon as a spinning globe. It does spin like the Earth does, except the speed of its rotation is such that the same half is always facing the Earth—we never get to see the far side at all. Somehow this view makes it special in a way that static photographs can’t.
One day human explorers will go back to the Moon—we’ll probably build colonies and mine its dusty surface for rocket fuel. There may even be tourism, if people can be convinced that there are things that are fun to do in one-sixth of Earth’s gravity (let’s just leave their imaginations to work on that one, shall we?) And remember the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey with the monolith dug up on the Moon that screams out a warning to the aliens that humans have made it that far into space? Which brings me to the second cool thing…
NASA announced last Thursday that the Voyager 1 spacecraft had finally left the solar system—or at least it’s left the heliosphere, the sun’s main zone of more energetic gases for the denser and more placid elemental particles of interstellar space. Technically, it still has to pass through the Oort Cloud, which is considered both a part of the solar system and interstellar space. At 18.2 billion kilometers from Earth, it’s by far the most distant man-made object, and as it continues on into the space between the stars is it possible that it could encounter explorers of an alien race? That was the premise of the movie Star Trek: The Motion Picture: Voyager was altered by a race of intelligent machines and sent back to Earth, where it mainly provided an excuse for endless sequences of expensive special effects. On the remote chance that such an encounter could happen, the real Voyager was equipped with a unique gold record (like Elvis and the Beatles had on their walls in great numbers) which incorporated pictures and sounds of Earth as well as important messages from some VIP’s at the time. Think about it—that could very well be the first human-made object investigated by an alien intelligence.
A gold record. From 1987. That needs a special phonograph to play it.
Will the aliens say something like, “Hey, that’s a cool little trinket”? Or something more like, “Damn tourists—think they can toss their trash just anywhere”?
And if they are inspired to come and meet us, remember that Voyager itself contains 1987 technology, including an 8-track tape recorder and computers with 240,000 times less memory than your iPhone. Couldn’t that be kind of embarrassing? That would be like me finally getting to pitch an idea to James Cameron only to find him holding a picture of me wearing a mullet.
But then, if they’ve intercepted our TV broadcasts it’s all over anyway. Three’s Company, anyone?
Most of us probably think of science fiction as a literature that predicts things, from new trends in society to nifty gadgets we’d like to see. A quick Google search will show you lots of predictions writers got right: nuclear power, communications satellites, submarines, a moon landing, cell phones, the internet, ray guns (the U.S. Navy had another successful test of a laser weapon this summer)…the list is long. There are also a lot of predictions that didn’t come true, at least not yet, and it has me wondering who got it wrong: the SF writers or the rest of us?
Take flying cars as an example. Yes, there have been a few creations that functioned as both cars and planes (not well as either) but there’s no chance of them replacing the automobile anytime soon. Is it because technology is lacking? Probably not. I imagine that the computer stabilization systems that make Harrier jump jets and stealth fighters able to fly could keep a little sport coupe in the air, too. Maybe the powers that be took a look around themselves during rush hour and realized the prospect of such unskilled and easily-distracted commuters actually swooping around each other in the sky (while texting and putting on makeup) was just too frightening. Or more likely the profit margins just weren’t there. Let’s keep making cars instead (using the same old assembly line equipment) but dressed up with a little more cheap primping every year. You can blame the same reasoning for the absence of personal rocket packs—or maybe that’s the fault of the insurance companies!
What about the idea of household robots to do all of our chores for us? Some would say the requirements of such varied multitasking are beyond our automation capabilities, but would that be true if enough money had been poured into the research? Except, you see, a robot that could do everything would only make the robot manufacturers rich. What about the appliance factories, the home renovators, and the makers of convenience foods? They’d be left out in the cold. Nope, better hold off on that robot thing for a while longer.
Remember the 1960’s magazines articles and Jetsons episodes that boldly forecast a dinner menu consisting entirely of pills? Stupid idea, right? Well maybe not if you consider that, according to some sources, modern farming requires a gallon of gasoline to produce a pound of beef. Not to mention the waste of water and grain stocks. Our western levels of food consumption are clearly not sustainable for everyone on the planet. But we like the taste of food—so much so that we’re eating ourselves into early graves. So maybe the idea of pill meals wasn’t stupid, it just didn’t take human nature into account.
Who got it wrong? Hard to say. In fact, if you believe in the quantum theory of multiple universes, maybe there is a parallel Earth where people do wear jumpsuits, eat pills for dinner, and fly to work like James Bond in Thunderball on the thrust of their own personal jet pack. The question is: how can we get there?
Scotty, I don’t suppose you could arrange a convenient transporter “accident”, could you?