Monthly Archives: November 2014

Ten Must-Read Self-Published Science Fiction Novels

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Check Paul Goat Allen’s list of unsung gems dotting the jam-packed landscape of millions of unwashed and underappreciated self-published novels, and note (ahem) the diamond holding down the number two spot:

Full article

You should add ALL these novels to your reading list! But especially read this stunning review:

BlueInk Review

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Interstellar

Interstellar

Love it or hate it?

I saw Interstellar last night and read impressions on the internet this morning that ran the gamut from people who absolutely hated the movie and thought it was the worst garbage they’d ever seen to those who were wildly enthusiastic. Then there was the majority, more or less in the middle, who saw both flaws and brilliance, the good and the bad. While my wife falls into the first grouping, I’m in the upper range of the middle category. Jan hated it and was bored throughout; I liked it despite many flaws.

One thing that signals a good work of fiction for me—a movie, a novel, a short story—is what it does to you the next morning (as I sit here pondering it). Does it have legs? Does it walk around in your head, making you wonder what this or that was about? Does it make you want to revisit the story to understand things that slipped by, to find out whether they were really profound or just plain silly? Or is this pondering the imponderable?

The movie does that to me. I need to see it again. I need to read about it. I want to absorb it better so I can understand whether it was filled with silliness, or profundities, or comes down in the middle with both, like a quantum mixed-state. It raises an itch in the brain that needs scratching. Can it withstand a second viewing?

I read that it’s too ambitious, that the plot twists and turns insufferably, full of holes, that the science is schlock, the sentiments smarmy. But ambition is good, isn’t it, even if not completely realized? And—from my physics education and spaceflight experience—the science is mixed, some of it dead-on, some not, but at least when the science is not as it should be, the story is clever enough to shift into the metaphysical, to put it beyond the realm of the laws of physics—exactly what happens when you cross the horizon of a black hole. When you enter a black hole, you  enter Alice’s Wonderland, because nobody—not Einstein nor Hawking or Schrödinger or Heisenberg—knows for sure what goes on there. You’ve entered the rabbit hole free-fall, and the Interstellar story knows this and exploits it and boldly strikes off into a metaphysical dimension to move us toward the finale. It’s both cliché-ic and brilliant simultaneously, a superposition of states poised for a measurement (read that as re-viewing) to collapse it into a single eigenstate.

There are parallels to my own story, The Darkest Side of Saturn, even though the plot and substance are completely different. It too has twists and turns, it’s described as complex, as over-ambitious, as metaphysical. Some reviewers call it vapid, and others, profound. Some readers see it fixated on the phrase “Where are we?” that runs through Harris Mitchel’s head, just as some viewer’s of Interstellar are overloaded by repetition of Dylan Thomas’s Do not go gentle into that good night.

Some hate it, some love it, but if it walks around in your head the morning after, superimposed states colliding tumultuously, it has met its mark.

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Review: The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene

22435If you’re curious about the universe, if you always had a hankering to understand relativity, quantum mechanics, string theory, M-theory, and how many supersymmetric particles can dance on the head of a pin, one of the ways to make a little progress on your never-ending journey of understanding reality is to read Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality.

He begins with a spinning bucket of water to illustrate the notions of motion held by Newton, Leibniz, Ernst Mach, and Einstein in their conflicting views of absolute versus relative space. For a couple of chapters and most of a hundred pages he threads the ideas of those thinkers through that simple spinning bucket and concludes unsurprisingly that Einstein has the best handle on the issue with his general relativity theory supporting a surprisingly absolute concept of spacetime and accelerated motion. And Greene manages this while not putting you to sleep, keeping you entertained with intuitive analogs and earthy examples such as a pistol duel between two whimsically named characters, Itchy and Scratchy.

Although my educational background is physics (from a long time ago), I learned something new—an astounding revelation for me in a chapter devoted to quantum theory. To the counter-expectations of Einstein and many others, physics (aka nature and reality) was proven to be non-local as a result of experiments in the 1970s and 1980s based on an insight by physicist John Bell in 1964. This earth-shaking result, violating the cherished notion of the locality of physics, establishes that things can be interconnected instantaneously at a distance, sinking Einstein’s notions of hidden variables and the incompleteness of quantum mechanics. The experimental establishment of quantum entanglement and the discovery that it apparently disobeys the law—the speed limit of light—nearly brought down the Special Theory of Relativity, leaving it in a delicate and unsteady balance with quantum theory.

The book progresses through three more broad themes—“Time and Experience,” “Spacetime and Cosmology,” “Origins and Unification”—before concluding with a final “Reality and Imagination.” The topics within those themes include the ebb and flow of time and its dance with entropy (which way does time’s arrow point?), the teeming fullness of the cosmic vacuum, the Higgs field and the Big Bang, repulsive gravity, inflation and a runaway universe, string theory and M-theory, and curled-up six-dimensional Calabi-Yau shapes in ten-dimensional spacetime.

As might be expected, the last theme, “Reality and Imagination,” is full of blue sky (or should that be black sky?) conjectures on dark matter, dark energy, and the fate of the universe among other things, but among those other things is discussed the concrete and tantalizing possibility that strings (the fundamental constituents of string theory whose different vibrational modes constitute everything we’re made of) might be much larger than previously thought, which would translate into the CERN Large Hadron Collider finding scads and scads of previously unseen supersymmetric particles, like ”a well-hit golf ball ricocheting around the inside of a piano.” The book was written in 2004, and since then the first phase of collider operations has concluded with the discovery of the Higgs particle but not much else. Although this is not a refutation of string theory, it puts a damper on some aspects of it that Greene waxes enthusiastically about. There remains a chance that the future upgraded version of the collider will find something in its extended energy range.

This book manages to make an entertaining story out of an incredibly esoteric and still unsettled field. Greene is a master of the simple and easily grasped analogy, which is why his explanations are so easy to follow and understand. He more than acknowledges the incompleteness of our knowledge of the cosmos, and in fact revels in its incompleteness as an exciting path forward through a jungle of unknowns, a never-ending path of adventure for the human spirit. If you’re curious about the cosmos and the meaning of space and time, then The Fabric of the Cosmos is your book. It does a damn good job of laying out some of the answers and being entertaining as well, but leaves plenty more unknowns to ponder …

But then that’s the nature of the infinite journey we’re on, isn’t it?

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