Saturday, December 26, 2009

Quantum Physics as Mythology

Perhaps I'm searching too hard to explain reality beyond our senses, as I posited in my last post. The problem, as I see it, is trying to describe a reality beyond the one we know and connect it to the world we live in. Since we live in a world of cold matter on one hand and abstract thought and emotion on the other, maybe I don't need to look so hard.

As I said in the previous post, explaining the contents of kibble to a dog is beyond purpose. The dog can't grasp it and the owner should know that. Yet when marketers sell tinned dog food with chunks of meat, carrot and peas, some owners imagine that this makes a difference to the dog. It's the same conversation, only visual. These owners imagine the dog will understand the concept of peas and carrots if they look like them more than if they were pureed or freeze dried.

Advertizers personify everything into talking images that tell us we should love them so much we want to brush with them, chew them up, cure our ills or kill our environment with them.

So how could a lowly SF writer such as myself take advantage of the human need to personify everything we see and touch to describe and define a quantum world? I think the physics community treats the layman as the dog in this analogy instead of the owner. They explain it to each other in mathematical metaphors like branes, multi-dimensions, strings and so forth that require a good deal of noodle work and leave us poor dogs staring uncomprehending at the mess of peas.

The ancients like Greek and Mayans were on to this long before Madison Avenue. Creating myths to personify the universe helped to explain complex ideas to common folk. For example, the Titan, Cronus, devoured his children because the sages told him one of his sons would overthrow him one day. So his wife, Rhea, feeds him rocks and hides her baby Zeus who grows up to kill the old man. This story reaches us profoundly on a gut level so that we don't need to overexplain it.

I wonder if there's a way to reach people with quantum mechanics on a similar wavelength? I guess I have my work cut out for me.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

New Year's Resolution: Let's reinvigorate science for our readers

Developing a theory of quantum gravity that both fits my own concept of how the universe works (the heavy lifting done by all the physicists I read) and being able to describe it in my novel are two very different challenges. The ins and outs can be explained to physicists and other interested parties. But making it accessible to a wide range of readers who may barely be familiar with the basics of higher dimensional theory is like explaining the ingredients of kibble to the dog. They hear the words, they just don't understand...or care.

It's not so hard to talk Einstein and relativity, even to kids. Most people can relate to red shift and black holes and time slowing down as velocity picks up. We learn it in school and it's now part of science 101.

However, discussing quantum mechanics and gravity loop theory with friends and family usually dulls the eyes of even the most polite listener. Most people nod off watching PBS's version of a string theory lecture that barely scratches the surface of the science. Unless quantum physics is a subject you love, it's about as exciting as metric vs. standard lug nut wrenches. That goes double for readers. So, how to introduce it into the story in enough spurts and bits to bring the reader along without losing them completely?

I want, no, I need them to relate to quantum gravity, to feel the power of a planck universe on our lives. I am trying to create a link between our universe and something so foreign that it is virtually indescribable, yet is the backbone of what we are. Not an easy task.

In storytelling, you don't get a second chance to tell it right. So spoon feeding relevant bits and hoping they stick, while introducing the next concept somewhere in the mix of adventure, romance or plot is a balancing act.

That leaves me on the precipice of totally losing my reader before I've even engaged them. Worse, it leaves me with a sense of pointless humility at how so many have lost interest in the sciences. We have to work very hard to bring it back.

Merry Christmas, Sam.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Quantum computing here we come...

Pack your bags, Sam. We're leaving pentium computing and making the move to a quantum processor.

An exciting move forward in quantum computing has just been achieved where chilled beryllium ions passed the threshold of performing a computing task. Maybe it's not enough to go out and sell all your Intel stock and invest in qubit venture captital, but the VAX computer wasn't much compared to what we use now. However, it was an important step along the way.

I wonder what will happen when a bazillion qubits send that dissertation you've been working on for 2 years into the alternate state of a partner qubit on the other side of the universe. Or just as bad, Heisenberg kicks in so that you're paper is but isn't really there, depending on where you don't look.

This could be a nightmare. Be careful what you wish for...

Monday, November 30, 2009

What if the world was like Heaven

I suppose the obsession with superhero stories these days is because the world is so stressful and problems seem so overwhelming that people dream about larger than life characters that can swoop in and save us all. I read Spidey and Thor when I was a kid because when you're a kid your immediate world is so overwhelming that dreaming heroes that understand and take charge is a parental kind of thing.

But, as adults do we really want to admit that our obsession in movies and TV with superhero, military hero, vigilante hero worship is really telling us that we're longing for mommy and daddy to swoop in and save us from the big bad world? All the adults in these stories are power hungry jackboots or buffoon 'yes men' who put obstacles in the hero's way. Unless, of course, it's a gorgeous blonde hiding behind black rims, a nuclear physicist in a D cup and compassionate lover of all things good. Is that how we really see society - through the eyes of a teenage male who is too young to even understand what he sees?

I wonder what we would make of it if one day we all woke up, our petty grievances resolved, our childhood problems washed away, bigotry and greed vanquished to irrelevance, leaving us with a clean conscience, positive attitude, and truly adult perspective on the world.

Who would save us then? I get the willies just thinking about it!

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Quantum Quack

Last month a bird with a baguette flew into the LHC collider at CERN wreaking minor havoc and confusion. Sounds to me like the time is ripe for a new genre in monster movies.

Ever since Oppenheimer and the boys donned dark glasses in Nevada to watch the mushroom release of radiation into the Earth's unsuspecting atmosphere, SF stories have been dripping with radioactive mutants from giant insects and lizards to incredibly shrinking men that leave us with the lesson that nature is not to be tampered with so frivolously.

Well, enter the light speed particle travelling at 18 TeV. Imagine what could happen during the crucial collision period where Higgs meets boson and a new dimension of the universe is about to unfold. Picture this: A poor baby duck has been separated from his mother where they were nesting unbeknownst in the collider ring. She's caught in the beam. Doctor Planckmann presses the booster button just as the red digital countdown clock hits 000.0.

The moment, a bizarre culmination of hazardous forces where Uncertainty begats Dark Energy Force begats Johnston and Masters and zippo --- the duck gets goosed into a higher energy dimension where it exists and doesn't exist. Where time and space are meaningless in our short sighted optical view, where even the low beaked thoughts of a baby duck can alter the reality of our universe.

Ah, the possibilities. Welcome to a new and exciting era in SF monsters -- Godzilla: the Quantum Lizard.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

countdown to stupid

If life was like the movies, in order to capture all the bombers in the world, Homeland Security would only need to track the sale of large digital timers that beep a red countdown to zero before the blast goes off. There could only be a couple of reliable companies for this product so the feds only need follow their sales and our problems with terrorism are over.

In movies, SF, thrillers, and mysteries are all guilty of overusing this corny and really outdated device. "The explosives are ready, Bob, but I haven't finished designing the oversized timer." Give us a break. Even bombs strapped to chests have these stupid clocks on them like a bomber has to let their victims know how many seconds they have left.

Here's a SF twist. What if we all wore digital countdown devices wired to our quantum biorhythms that told us when we are going to die? Imagine it starting at 90 years and beeping it's way along. You start smoking and it drops a couple of years. Cancer? Suddenly you have 5 years. Go into chemo, it adds another three.

You're walking home and it drops to 10 minutes. Realizing you're 10 minutes from home, you imagine a killer is waiting there. You cell 911 and tell the cops to meet you there. On your way there, you get hit by a bus and die on the way to the hospital on the 10 minute mark.

Would it convince us to live healthier lives? Not likely. No more than the disconnect Americans seem to have between gun violence to guns.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Schrodinger's Car

Another idea for space travel propulsion would be employing the all too oft repeated entanglement paradox of Schrodinger's cat. If we imagine the paradox not only suggesting we don't know the state of the cat in the box, we can apply it to the state of our entanglement particle engine as long as we don't look under the hood.

As long as we leave the hood down we'll never know whether the engine is broken or working and can merrily continue on our way. Alas, that's how many of us treat the monster under the hood of our all too 20th century engines.

Friday, October 30, 2009

That's Why Special Relativity is so Special

It seems there's some news from the Big Bang. The recent gamma ray bursts from the bowels of cosmic history (13.1 billion years ago) have given us a bit of experimental evidence to confirm special relativity down to the Planck Scale. Physics reports that the "speed of light does not vary with wavelength down to distance scales below that of the Planck length. They say that this disfavours certain theories of quantum gravity that postulate the violation of Lorentz invariance."

The reason for this is some quantum gravity theories modify special relativity in order to balance the macro with the quantum world. Specifically Quantum Loop Gravity theory takes a hit but others have to do some reconsidering as these data get examined and absorbed into the physics community.

This is cool stuff here, Sam, don't you think? Not only does it add to the discussion and help us whittle down the GUT options but having information like this arrive 'out of the blue' as it were, reminds us that an untold amount of information is coming at us from afar every day.

Who knows what tomorrow brings.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dear Sam,

It's hard to keep up with a blog when finding time to write anything is hard enough. When I do, I'm trying to finish my novel. My apologies to my probable one reader who may look forward to my cursory look at the physics/SF conundrum to get them past their morning cuppa.

After watching a series of lectures and panels streaming from the Perimeter Institute's Q2C Festival all last week, I came to the conclusion that I'm drawn to the quantum gravity theories more than dark matter and dark energy. Not being a physicist, I can't draw these conclusions on my own and rely on the books and material I read from those in the field.

What I discover from a variety of sources is that, while pro-dark matter advocates insist a breakthrough is imminent and there is no other way to describe the universe, the question is still wide open. The anecdotal evidence on the dark matter side of the equation relies heavily on past scientists concluding the existence of atoms, magnetic fields, etc., without evidential proof only to be vindicated when experiments caught up with theory. All well and good, I suppose but it isn't enough on it's own to hang one's hat.

On the other side, Loop Gravity, MOG, and other space-time fabricators, imagine, as Einstein did, that the universe is complicated enough without having to invent new particles. So, while we don't have the answer, it doesn't mean we need to add complexities just to balance the equations. That notion appeals to me. The idea that space-time is the fabric of existence rather than a background to existence also appeals to me.

I intend to explore these avenues, both in science and SF, to better understand and to create possible universes for storytelling. For now, I think I'll make up some flash fiction for the blog and also publish the Evan Kovachi Particles of Time theory here for you to mull over.

Maybe I should give my solo reader a name. How about Sam? That would cover both genders.

Monday, October 19, 2009

q2c Festival 2009 Online

There's a wonderful event this week at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario. It's called the Quantum2Cosmos Festival and they have great lectures, panels and ideas. The good news for us far away is that all the discussions are on live streaming video at their website or on file to watch whenever you like at
Take a look!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Quantum Chaos Propulsion Drive

Reading some articles on dark matter theory, I came across an interesting quantum chaos theory on Essentially, chaos theory suggests that all events connect through a series of seemingly unrelated events. Therefore if a dog fart in Alabama can affect a typhoon's intensity on the Pacific Rim. The connection string is long and impossible to follow but it essentially implies, we're all in the same soup together, like it or not. Cause and effect on a grand scale.

The new concept in this theory is taking it to a quantum scale so that if a string shivers in a Planck universe, the mass of a graviton on the other side of the galaxy might get a GUT ache.
If it sounds like I'm not taking this too seriously it's because I'm not. Chaos is a great concept but you can't prove or disprove it. Randomness is just that. However, in the spirit of Douglas Adams, I had an interesting notion. What about a Chaos Propulsion System?

If the basic purpose of the universe is to transfer energy, why not create a Chaos Drive that randomly disturbs a quantum particle in order to feed a rocket system down the chaotic vibe?

Anyone want to tackle the logistics of that?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bombing the Moon for Fun and Profit

I loved today's moon mission attempting to find water by dropping a missile near the pole! I've been disappointed ever since Apollo that we didn't pursue a moon base and realize the importance of a permanent human footprint on the Moon, instead of just a shoeprint.

I watched the gab on the news shows as the missiles struck and they all talked about being disappointed that there was no plume, and lost expectations and what a failure it must have been, etc, blah blah blah. What did they want? Krakatoa erupting before their very eyes?

These turkeys have no idea what astronomy and astrophysics is. They've been watching too much Star Wars and CSI. Somehow they think that scientists really do have computers where you press a button and a 3D image of the brain they just scanned rotates around in front of them, showing where the lesions are. Or grabbing a cheap image off an ATM surveillance camera and managing to magically regenerate the focus of a black spot driving by at 40 miles an hour into a recognizable face.

We're starting to believe our own hype. Special effects in SF at least say 'its the future' but in crime dramas and military shows, they expect you to believe they actually have this far out equipment. It sets reality up to be a real let down.

What the general public needs to remember is that astronomy includes a healthy dose of imagination. Flights of fancy into the improbable where we dream about future reality. Today's demonstration was for NASA to learn, not for the public to get a YouTube rush and then go back to dancing hamsters and fish that sing pop tunes, forgetting completely that this was the friggin' Moon, man and we are looking for ways to survive there!.

As SF writers and dreamers, we need to lower expectations of the visible and inspire the imagination for the possible. It'll make it easier for the public who want the spectacular or nothing at all to realize that what happened today was spectacular.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Have Space, Will Travel

I've been meaning to do a video short of all the different spaceship designs that have graced fiction over the past 75 years. When I do, I'll post it here. In the meantime, a quick overview of where they've been and what comes next could be fun.

The original rockets blasted off with fires raging out their tails, much like the real thing. We all have images of cartoon and movie rockets from the 50's: basically missiles with some poor slobs strapped inside. Then came flying saucers. I don't know why the aliens always got the cool saucers and we had the exploding rockets. "The Day The Earth Stood Still" flying saucer barely impacted the crowd that gathered on the ground. SF during the early days of nuclear testing, called them 'nuclear powered'. Whatever that meant. I guess if it had nuclear power it could rise slowly into the air to the tinny strains of the theremin.

I think that the Jupiter II on Lost In Space was the first human flying saucer. It, too, ran on "nuclear" power so it just floated away on whimsy. Star Trek, way ahead of it's time on this, created the Enterprise, a ship that never landed and was powered by something completely unprecedented - crystals that held unimaginable power. They transferred this power to their engines, which had the capacity to accelerate them beyond the speed of light on a 'time warp factor'. A very nice gimmick to get them across great gaps in space in a short time.

This was followed up, a decade later by Star Wars and 'hyper drive'. These engines catapulted the ship across the galaxy in seconds by passing through hyperspace, which I suppose occupies a different dimension of space and is quicker to cross.

Since then, we've stuck with that basic concept for SF space travel. Hit the button, see you next Thursday. There are logistic problems but they're easy to gloss over because all we're trying to do is cover great distances in a hurry.

As an alternative, and we have to give Star Trek some more innovative credit, there is the personal transportation idea. Beam me up by transferring matter into coded energy and then reassembling it in its original form. This works better for short distances because the energy only travels at the speed of light. But there are gimmick ways around that, too. Ion propulsion, graviton waves, halcyon particles, the works.

A nod has to be given here Doug Adams "Hitchhiker's Guide" series and his improbability drive. Using the Heisenberg Principle, he fantastically imagined a mode of transportation that works on unlikely, and therefore necessary probabilities.

The big joke there is that modern physics experiments with particle transfer puts Adams ideas closer to the mark than any warp engine or hyper drive. The nifty thing that's going on right now is that a muon or lepton or some such teeny speck of a particle has been sent from New York to London by breaking it down and transporting it.

Here's the rub. What actually happened was that the original particle was broken down to the quantum level and then a new, identical particle was created in the destination location. You might think this is cloning. In a way it is. But the only way to succeed in this transfer was to destroy the original when it was sent. So you now have a clone but no original. The clone would be so identical that it might as well be the original.

Here's where the hand rubbing, speculative SF ideas get to come into the mix. New York to London sounds like going from Detroit to Flint. Who cares? But if we can extend the trip using the quantum principle where two identical particles can communicate across the galaxy instantaneously, then we got ourselves a quantum rapid transit system that requires no warp drive or stable worm holes.

Let's dehumanize this for a sec. Don't send people, send nano satellites that can gather data and send it back from, say, the core of our universe. Seriously, if the only data that reaches us from the center of the universe is 14 billion years old, wouldn't it be something to find out in a flash what's going on there right now? We could send quantum satellites all over the universe with one mission: signs of life. They could be designed to send signals back only if they are tampered with.

Scientists are already considering nano satellites launched from Earth, but transporting them on a quantum wave would be a cheapo way to explore the galaxy. We can work on how to shrink an astronaut into one later on.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Stepping off topic today, I was climbing a tree with my seven year old grandson last summer talking about writing a story. I asked what he'd call his story and he said 'The Witches Daughter'.

I love this idea. There are so many angles to what you could do with a concept like this. Imagine the witches daughter going to school, her gingerbread house off the beaten track, an outcast because of her mom. This could be a picture book or a novel.

How about the witches daughter as a teen torn between her mom's life and the village life. Would she protect her mom from the torch wielding mob or join them because of peer pressure.

Imagine the middle aged woman dealing with her young life in therapy after being raised under the shadow of her mother's wicked life.

Of course, there is the version where she is an acolyte into the world of witches, either ala Samantha Stevens or a dark tale of being inducted into the world of evil.

There are so many richly complex notions in this one title that I almost wish I wrote magic tales.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


M Theory, the composite string theory, supposes that there are 11 dimensions (10 spatial and one of time). All these dimensions above and beyond the 3 we see around us are supposedly curled up and so tiny that they fit right in a planck scale pocket (that is 10-33). The universe, according to this theory, is made up of countless compacted dimensions rolled up in "Chalabi-Yau" shapes, which are multi dimensional units.

These ideas, still completely conceptual, are great fertile ground for Quantum SF. What would a life form be like in a curled up dimension like that? If these dimensions are that small they can be living among us by the bazillions right now, more prolific than dust mites or amoeba, or atoms. The concept that we could be living with alternate dimension life forms blows my mind.

Here are two questions that start the ball rolling for me. How do we define life forms (always a great science and SF question)? Second, if they exist here, do we call them Earthlings or alien?

Hey, who knows, they may be our ticket out of here to the great beyond of outer space.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

What's the scoop with Dark Matter?

There's still no experimental proof of the existence of dark matter and dark energy. We can't see it, feel it, reflect it, or find it. BUT it balances many GUT (Grand UnificationTheories) that proponents say it's got to be there. They point to many examples of physical realities that we couldn't prove when they were theorized that later were confirmed. On the other side, theorists who don't want to rely on unsubstantiatable (is that even a word?) phenomena to balance their equations are reluctant even skeptical to put dark matter into the mix.

There is no right or wrong here. It's all still theory so the search for a TOE (Theory of Everything - ain't it great when you can have a bunch of acronyms that mean the same thing) continues. The key is in balancing gravity on the large scale with planck scale. So, of course, dark matter weighs a TON (theory of nothing - that one was mine).

I wonder who might be hiding in the dark matter? What if there is a consciousness that doesn't want to be seen? Wouldn't it be frightful if we discover the existence of God in dark energy? Reminds me a bit of Arthur C. Clarke's short story The Nine Billion Names Of God. In that tale, a computer calculated all the incarnations of God and ended existence as we know it.

What if we light up this dark matter and don't like what we see.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Tangle of Strings

I really love string theory - all of them.
It reminds me of the Mark Twain quote, "Man is the only animal with the true religion -- several of them!".

Friday, September 25, 2009

I'm Dreaming of a Planck Universe

The novel I'm writing has developed an odd mix of mysticism and quantum science. I didn't really mean to have floating consciousness and mystical effects enter into it, but in the end I couldn't avoid it. You see, the universe I'm trying to create has a root in quantum gravity theory, one I mixed and matched from several thinkers, so that the shifting tides of reality are being manipulated at a planck level.

That's where a 'mystic' element creeps in. Who manipulates it? If someone controls it, how can they do so without conscious effort? Sure, I suppose I could invent a machine with lights and buttons and circles and arrows on the back that heats particles on a string level. But I want to get closer to the bone on this one.

The question becomes: how much energy does it really take to create a black hole? The more I read and understand the physics the more relative that question becomes. At our place in the scheme of things, that is our size, our velocity, our low energy, it would take a particle accelerator with a circumference the size of Jupiter's orbit to create anything near the Planck energy. That means right now we're safe from creating an energy burst so awesome that it begat the Universe. I can live with that. It also means to invent such a machine in SF requires a jump to future time and technology for my story. But shift into a different paradigm, a different plane of mass/energy, and we could spark it up with much less fuss.

How do we get there from here, you ask? Let me answer with a question: what is the relative density of a thought?

We have no idea what the power our brains really have. We tinker with technology and language while we scrape out an existence on Earth and think we're damn clever. But we haven't scratched the surface of our potential any more than we've scratched through the crust of the planet. A lot of our brain is unused, at least, so we tend to believe. But if we focus on the simple transfer of energy, add a dash of Heisenberg, imagine that thought may relate subjectively to the speed of light, we got us a whole new ball game.

Then the question is: what would a Planck universe look like through such a mind's eye?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Beware the Martians

My wife said I should write about Mars. Okay.

There have been lots of great stories about Mars going back to the good old days. My classic faves are Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, and, for a real change of pace, C.S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet. More recently, especially since we've been to Mars on more than one occasion and know there are no cities or lost worlds waiting to be reborn, science can take a different role in Martian stories and many stories involving the complications of colonizing the planet have come along. I have to admit that I haven't read many of these. I'm actually remedying that with Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars series.

In the movies my vote goes to Red Planet written by Chuck Pfarrer staring Val Kilmer and Carrie-Anne Moss. The plot involves colonizing Mars and the problems encountered by the astronauts on their first manned voyage there. What sets this story apart from many is that it is about man vs. the elements in the struggle to tame a new frontier. The first job is to create a breathable atmosphere. Unfortunately, the story plows straight into several cliche conflict devices, not the least of which is AMEE, their homicidal robot. They had enough conflict without it but...that's the movies for you. However, on the plus side, it's not about meeting aliens who require dispensing with.

Back in the 70's when the first surface pictures from Voyager hit the magazine shelves, I was enthralled at our close up look at, well, not much at all. Just a red hillside covered in rocks. Kind of a let down. Kind of like looking at galaxies through a small scope. Tiny grey puffs of smoke. What's the big deal, right? For us geeks, both images tug the imagination with the realization of where they are and what you're looking at. In the past decade robots on Mars dug down to look for signs of water. Our measuring stick for possible life.

That's where I get on board with the scary SF ideas. The first plot I thought up was "The Second War Of the Worlds". What happens when we bring the sample home? What if has a dormant virus in it that treats us worse than anything H. G. Wells could ever dream up? Martians that we can't even see. Now there's some seriously hard science fiction.

It's my firm belief that one day Earthlings will survive the end of the Earth, travel to Mars and beyond to the stars. I'm just not so sure they'll be human beings.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Humankind: a waste product of the Universe?

In the beginning there was heat.

According to all that is holy in the physics world, the universe is energy. Energy transfer, to be specific and lots of it. So much so that it couldn't contain itself inside such infinite density and blew its brains out to create what we call space. As it cooled and spread out, particles formed to assist in this transfer across greater distances. Now, at that time (the first microseconds of the universe), we're not talking lightyears. No, sir. While muons begat leptons begat quarks begat protons begat electron which begat hydrogen, we've barely moved from the planck length to the atomic length. All for the glory of energy.

As the universe expands and energy is swapped and diffused, hydrogen begat helium and so forth down the line forming cooler and cooler atoms (consult a periodic table near you). At this point the background temperature of the universe is barely above absolute zero. Energy transfers take place mostly in stars. They swap hydrogen for helium for as long as poss and when the juice is sucked out, the cooler metals get spit out like seeds from a grape. That grape seed becomes a planet and when it's energy has bounced around enough to disperse and cool, it forms a crust of molecules in the cold, cold reality of space .

Welcome to our world. The universe is finally cold enough to form water, that refreshing lava of life! There's not much energy going around the surface of the Earth but what there is gets batted around until somehow we evolve from amino acids in the water to rush hour on the Long Island Expressway.

The upshot here is that in essence, from the big bang on down we human beings are a part of the universe's waste stream. Simply a byproduct of spent energy. I'm sure there's a metaphor in there somewhere. Rising from ashes, the wretched refuse...something.

What I wonder is what happened to all that energy? It's still out there somewhere...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Black Hole (2006)

I bought a bundled DVD of 4 SF movies for cheap the other day and watched the 2006 TV movie The Black Hole with Judd Nelson and written by David Goodin. The story was about a research lab that discovers a black hole has formed in their accelerator. As it begins to eat eastern Missouri, some kind of electrically charged being jumps out of the black hole and starts sucking up energy off power lines, relay stations, and wherever it can find it.

For the most part this film was full of more holes than Bonnie and Clyde. The dialogue needed mouth to mouth and the acting was phoned in from Mars. But it followed the fundamental rules of Quantum SF, albeit with a very cheezy execution.

First, the beast had no interest in human beings. It wasn't there to wage war. In fact, it wasn't even aware of human beings. It simply went about it's business. Second, it was an alien lifeform that had no connection to 'humanoid' or 'terrestrial' lifeforms. It used the black hole to travel through space and time. It didn't care that the hole was devouring Earth. Thirdly, the humans couldn't communicate with it because there was no common frame of reference. They had to understand it on its terms.

This kind of story pits human against himself, his resources, and a universe he has yet to comprehend. The human/alien connection has to be made through other means than a simple "na nu, na nu". Unfortunately, this particular story did none of those things with this nice creative setup because it was trying to keep the audience from changing channels for 90 minutes. However, that's another issue.

For my money, grappling with the unknown in science fiction should be more challenging than exchanging weapons fire with Klingons.

Monday, September 14, 2009

When is a jetpack really a flying broomstick?

There's a lot of talk about where the line is between science fiction and fantasy. The line in hard SF is usually clear. You build a rocket, you go to Fbiblinar, meet the aliens, and blow them to kingdom come. Job well done.

But what about tachyons (a highly unlikely particle favored by Star Trek writers), or gravity boots, or warp/hyper drive? These and thousands of other devices are sheer fantasy and can't be dressed up as 'coming to a reality near you' simply by giving them a funky name. A Plesnian Ion Field Emitter that creates a barrier between you and your enemy is no more plausible than a Twallzari Druidian Separation Spell. But for some reason, one works in genre A and the other in genre B.

This kind of gray area gives plenty of food for fandom to blog about. So let me throw a couple more photon on the fire. In Quantum SF, where our world connects to the world of quantum mechancis, how do we bridge that gap if not with some kind of fantasy? It borders on mysticism.

I have a friend who leans more towards mystic consciousness in his preferences to the uber quantum world whereas I tend towards the hard science. He postulates that if you can think it, it can exist. Standard enough “I think therefore I am” stuff, but he goes further to suggest that if a mystic monk can control his body environment (ie: keep healthy, cure internal disease, etc.) then why can’t he control the surrounding reality, too? Can we change reality through our deeper levels of consciousness? Would that change the equations? Would we know? This gets to the fundamental question of reality and there is a huge population that believes in mysticism, higher consciousness, etc. as firmly as physicists believe in dark matter. Neither can be proved imperically but it doesn't shake their belief.

After much reading on quantum physics I keep coming back to this question: Is quantum reality simply a metaphor for the equations? After all, why create 11 dimensions in String Theory unless they make the equation balance? Same with 3 branes, multiverses, and dark matter. Are these contrivances simply metaphoric descriptions of an equation for the layman to understand?

If we reverse the question to read: is the math simply our description of reality? Then, says my friend, couldn't there be other ways to describe reality, perhaps through consciousness and other metaphysical language? In truth, consciousness is our only way to understand or describe reality.

This is a complex topic and my brief example is only meant to spark the concept that using mysticism, conscious altered reality, and other metaphysical states impacts the SF vs. Fantasy puzzle. There is much literature based in mysticsm that isn't called science fiction.

Maybe it should be...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It's all Geek to me

Science Fiction was traditionally considered a 'guy' thing. Books boys with black rimmed glasses and uncombed hair could hide behind to avoid talking to girls. The girls had no idea what kinds of world and fantastic adventures they were competing with. For many there was no contest.

That's changed somewhat over the span of the past, say, 40 years. But not so much as we SF writers would like. One of the big drawbacks for mainstream girls getting behind our genre is the slabs of expository techno-talk and science jargon that drop into the story from time to time. Since this blog is about hard SF, I'm not talking about the flavored patter of rocket jockeys, galactic conquerors, and so forth. What I'm referring to is the background story or tech talk that writers need to help the reader understand the science behind the story.

The two basic questions are: How much is too much, and how much pre-existing understanding should you credit your reader with knowing? Quantum SF puts those questions to the test. After all, employing quantum mechanics and planck scale physics demands some conceptual understanding from the reader if you want to engage them in the story. In my YA novel The Aquanauts my 1st person narrator , Greta, is not a scientist so she describes the forces that impact the story in layman's terms. In effect, she translates the geeks into plain English. I was very pleased to hear from many readers, including women, that said they appreciated this as it helped them with some difficult concepts without having to slog through a physics course.

The Aquanauts stayed mostly with Einsteinian relativity, concepts that most of us learn in grade school. I'm writing a continuation of that story (I hate to call it a sequel because these days sequels seem to be a rehashing of the same story in a slightly different setting) and the physics involved are much more complex. The narrator is the same but I can't assume she stays ignorant of thing that have happened to her.

My goal in this genre is to make concepts that I find exciting accessable enough so that a wide range of readers will get excited about them, too. My first insticnt is to feed them small nuggets throughout the first sections of the book, so readers don't have to blink uncontrollably when confronted by larger bites as the story zooms into full throttle. At the same time, it's important to have other elements of the story moving so the 'what happens next?' impusle keeps the reader turning pages.

Too many writers in the past have just poured extended explanatory hunks of dialogue out a character's mouth forcing the reader to plow through. That's okay for geeks but less enthusiastic readers who came that far will either blip over it or put the book down.

Personally, I loved it. It was a great way to avoid girls.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Look out SETI, here comes CERN

In 1964 Sir Fred Hoyle, Astronomer Royal of Britain, wrote The Black Cloud about an immense fog that covered our entire solar system and blotted out the sunlight. Life on Earth was in danger of being wiped out so the story was about a plight that brought humans together to save themselves. The cloud was intelligent and needed ultraviolet solar waves to survive. When our scientists managed to communicate that it was starving the third planet of needed low band light, it created a hole so the sun would still shine on Earth.

As with the aliens in 2001:A Space Odyssey, soldiers couldn't meet the strangers and blast them with a ray gun. They didn't exist on our brane. In Ben Bova's Jupiter the creatures living in the dense layers of gas on that planet had no connection to how life exists on Earth, either. This meant the story couldn't be about a direct confrontation between our species.

The problem with this is it's much easier to create conflict if an alien has arms and legs and can be blasted back to Orion with teflon coated gluon rounds. This is a real challenge in hard SF: how to create 'non human' aliens in human stories. Some will have them 'take over' human beings as in Dark City or any number of Star Trek episodes where the aliens speak through crew members which make them destructable. But in the above examples of Hoyle, Clarke, and Bova, they use the alien presence to create human conflicts without the alien being a direct menace. The alien may threaten life on Earth, but shooting at it won't help. The conflict is in how the human race will deal with the unknown.

It may be a while before mainstream SF moves past the 'space blaster' genre as the standard bearer. But we can still embrace stories that don't make warriors of us all when faced with an alien presence.

As soon as next year, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN may break the 16 GeV energy barrier and demonstrate the existence of the Higgs Boson particle. This isn't science fiction. This is hard science in Geneva. The Higgs is purported to exist in more than our 3 dimensions. If we distort, destroy, or tag one in any way, might we possibly be disclosing our existence to intelligent lifeforces that may share our space but not our dimension?

What do you think they will make of finding a particle that has been deliberately altered coming from a dimension of space where they thought no life could exist?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

Time is a real bugger to define.

We observe it through the lens of decay. We grow old. Entropy. All we get is a linear view and from that keyhole perspective we drive ourselves crazy trying to understand it. From the planck view, time doesn't seem to have the same properties that we ascribe to it here on Earth. Tomorrow doesn't follow today because there is no tomorrow. It's a moment, an event, a response or simple action (a simple metaphor in the computing world would be the 1 vs. 0 binary structure) followed by another one and then another.

Many physicists speculate that the universe is simply a collection of such events. A vibration or transfer of energy from particle A to particle B and these transfers are knitted together by the exponential millions in a web that make up space-time. The make up of these particles will wait for another discussion.

Okay, where does that leave us fictitious speculators on the subject of large scale time and time travel? For me, I don't believe there's any possibility to travel back and visit Abraham Lincoln in time to save him from that fateful bullet. Makes for good fantasy but doesn't fit with where science now leads us.

In Quantum SF, time travel has to be more on a grand scale. Billions of years in a blow, traveling back to the Big Bang in the same way we do simply by following a beam of light into the past through Hubble. If we influence time on a planck scale, if we can manipulate individual time 'events' and their relationship to gravity and the transfer energy ... who knows what kind of reality we'd end up with.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

You have to dance with the Alien that brung you

If I had any readers, I'd be in a lot of trouble over this post.

I've grown tired of reading stories with all the "humanoid" alien races created in SF. I understand why they're all 6' tall and have fingers and vocal chords and think like humans - up to a point. It creates a connection for the reader and conflict for the author. We go to war with them, they land here to devour us, we travel light years to learn high tech living and warfare from them, become partners, enemies, mixed races, etc. etc. etc.

The problem is, none of this conforms with what science informs us every day about the construction of the universe and our fragile place in it. Humanoid Alien advocates (and that includes CETI participants) rely on one concept to buy into a universe is inhabited by creatures with brains in skulls on top of biped sketetal structures: the odds must be in their favor. "If only one in a million stars had planets, and only one in a million of those had Earthlike atmosphere, and only one in a million of those stustained life then there would still be..."

Ya, ya, ya. All well and good. The problem is, our understanding of the actual universe has gone beyond that. One in a million million is way too good for the odds. We live in an incredibly narrow 'goldilocks zone' (not too hot...not too cold) that defines how we can exist. So the one in a million gimmick is still way too large a number.

This doesn't mean I don't imagine there's life out there that thinks and survives. I just can't imagine it being anything like us. That's my connundrum. If I want to create a fictional reality set in a quantum universe, it forces me to create alien beings that can exits there and still be accessable to readers here on Earth.

I'm not saying I haven't enjoyed the ride with Alien, Independance Day, Dune, Foundation, Star Trek, Star Wars, Childhoods End, and a host of others. I've loved those stories. But for me, it's time to move into a different frame of reference when imagining alien life in the universe.

Arthur Clarke's 2001 Star Child, Alex Proyas' Dark City, and the Keanu Reeves rendition of Klaatu in the recent version of The Day The Earth Stood Still are on the right track.

Time to think outside of Schrodinger's box.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Quantum Thinkers

Okay, I took the summer off to, you know, get a life. Now the weather's cooling and I'm off to the races.

I've read a lot of fascinating perspectives on the TOE and GUT (Grand Unification Theory and Theory of Everything to those outside the box) and, being a moderate liberal, decided to compromise and invent my own.

For starters, let me acknowledge the great brains I cribbed from. Lisa Randall's vision of large higher dimensional braneworld. Lee Smolin spells out some outstanding concepts in quantum gravity and Loop Quantum Theory. The daddy of M theory: Edward Witten.
A fun alternative theory is the MOG (Modified Gravity) by John Moffat. Then, among a host of others, are Brian Greene and Michio Kaku for string and other quantum perspectives.

From there, I jump off a cliff and hope my own modest ideas will keep me aloft.
Coming up: Kovachi's Time-Gravity Intercommutative Force (TGIF) theory.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Quantum Science Fiction


Today I join the blogosphere. Big question: why? Is this guy just another schmoe going online to rattle his own cage about the doings of his puppy and what brand of raisin bran he prefers on Tuesdays?

Man, I hope not. If my writing is reduced to that then wheel me off to the assisted living tomb and strap me to a bed (with a bowl of Total). In the immortal words of Louis Jordan “Jack, you dead.”

I’m a science fiction novelist, among other things, and I figured I’d start sharing and exploring the avenues of the warped out brand of fiction I like to read and write, and the even more warped field of science I’m a fan of.

What would that be, you ask? Why, string theory, quantum gravity, raspberry flavored upquarks and a whole 3 branepan full of other stuff involving planck scale mechanics.

I want to explore stories that can take place inside that amazing universe. Search as I might, I haven’t found many people who write stories from this perspective. Big shock. Huge. So I decided I better invent me up a genre.

Here it is. Ta Da! Now introducing “Quantum SF”. Catchy, oui?

Well, catchy or not, you heard it here first! That’s what I’ll be centering my blog around. Hard SF concepts involving quantum gravity and the quantum scale universe.

I’m not a scientist I’m a writer which gives me licence to bend the facts around the gravity well of my own imagination. My apologies to any physicists that join the discussion and find my ‘truths’ to be anything less than self evident.

Feel free to roll up your sleeves and correct my errors in planck judgement. Any and all ideas about writing, thinking and talking about sci fi and quantum mechanics are welcome.

In keeping with my blog name, my posts will tend to be condensed and to the point. Don’t let that stop you from telling your tale in whatever way suits.