2017 N3F Short Story Contest- 1st Place Winner!

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I have exciting news!

I’ve won another contest!

This one happens to involve three of my short stories. In December, during my vacation, I came across a writing contest by The National Fantasy Fan Federation (N3F), the oldest international Science Fiction and Fantasy fan club on Earth. They’ve been publishing stuff since 1941. Per contest rules, I could submit up to three short stories. It just so happened that I had some sitting around, waiting for a publisher to snatch them up. I submitted all three, and a month later, I received an email that went something like this (excluding story-specific feedback):

“To the Author of Nautilus:
[…] Great story! Exquisite pacing, excellent construction, a beautiful dramatic build-up to the climax, a strong and active climax, flawless narration, and good dialogue. […]
Your story did not win in the 2017 National Fantasy Fan Federation Short Story Contest, but was one of the nine Finalists.

“To the Author of “Icarus Drowned”:
[…] Everything about this story is great. There is absolutely nothing I could teach you about writing!
Your story did not win in the 2017 National Fantasy Fan Federation Short Story Contest, but was one of the nine Finalists.

“To the Author of “Quantum Quietus”
[…] Wow! This is a totally nifty story! It brings new ideas to the table, in new ways. The protagonist is well developed, the narration is strong, the dialogue is mature, and the *ideas* are just staggering! […] The story is a gem and a joy.
This story has won First Prize in the 2017 National Fantasy Fan Federation Short Story Contest!

So in addition to taking up a third of the finalists’ slots, I also got 1st place!

True, I have no idea how many people entered the contest, but I’ll get some prize money out of it and a shot at getting another of my stories published.

The inspiration behind the winning story:

I was inspired to write “Quantum Quietus” after researching the strange and instantaneous communication of quantum-entangled particles, even over large distances. The only way to make sense of the phenomenon was to conclude that time itself did not apply to entangled particles. By acting on one, that action would reach back in time to the moment of entanglement, and define the properties of its partner. I envisioned a day when the pharmaceutical industry could make a drug that entangles our minds, allowing us to receive Feedback from seconds into the future. The story also delves into the dangers of playing with quantum uncertainty. In the words of the antagonist, “If humanity continues to allow the principles of quantum uncertainty to direct our future, it will discover just how uncertain that future is.”

Summary of the story:

Joe is one of the handful of people allergic to Quantanax, the latest drug from Prescience Pharmaceuticals. It gives people the near supernatural ability to see into the future. With just a few seconds of foresight, their reflexes become quick, their actions unerring, and their mistakes erased before they ever happened. They called it Feedback, the new sixth sense. Had things turned out different, Joe could have been like them. His life would be free of unpredictability and hardship, better in every way.

When television broadcasts are hijacked, and a man with a mask and synthesized voice walks onto the screen, Joe realizes he’s more fortunate than he first believed. The masked man has placed a nuclear device in the city, one triggered by a Quantum Random Number Generator. As the man activates the device, nearly everyone drops to the ground, catatonic, and overwhelmed as they experience their deaths second after second. Unaffected, Joe is the city’s only hope to find the bomb and shut it down.

 

I’ll be sure to supply the link to the award announcement as soon as the N3F newsletter is released, and another link to the story if/when it gets published.

I apologize to my readers for yet another writing update. I promise to get back to my regular Science in Sci-Fi posts soon. I do quite a lot of science writing for my day job, so my brain has been over-saturated lately.

Until next time, write well and science hard! (I think this will be my new slogan).

 

cross-of-pipette-and-pen

Release Day- The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide to Seattle (free preview)

seattle TPATG

Today is release day for The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide to Seattle. It is the sixth Episode of TPATG Series 1. Even though it is classified as a Novelette, it is just a few hundred words shy of being a Novella. To read more about the work that went into writing it, see my previous blog post.

This book is dedicated to my brothers, Ben, Tim, and Greg, for introducing me to Seattle. They made sure I stayed hydrated, well fed, and was given all the tours I could ever want. Thanks to them, my life in Seattle has been positively pre-apocalyptic.

My thanks to all those who pre-ordered. It is available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. Click the cover image below to be directed to the Amazon purchase page.

TPATG_Seattle_cover

Link to Amazon purchase page

Remember to check out the other books in the series, all of which were written by award-winning authors!

 

The Episode Blurb:

When the alien invasion ended, humanity strove to mend their broken world… until they remembered how much they enjoyed war. In Seattle, rival clans fight over territory and resources. Resh, the headsman of the Five Clan, has the power to conquer the entire city, but he has other ideas. He runs. Outside the city, far from responsibility and the risk of assassination, Resh comes across an abandoned hospital. Inside, he finds a young man climbing into a wheelchair. Suffering from a mysterious illness, the traveler makes him a deal he can’t refuse. But Resh takes on more than he bargained for. To help the traveler find the cure he’s after, Resh must return to a city filled with scheming and betrayal, and confront an organization with a terrifying agenda.

 

Free Preview:

 

The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide to Seattle

By Philip A Kramer

 

The building was abandoned. Trees and foliage grew unchecked along its perimeter, making it nearly impossible to see from the road.

Resh recognized the series of letters still visible on the partially collapsed awning. This was a Hospital. In Seattle, the W Clan made their home in one. It was a large network of buildings with hallways that stretched between them. This building was far smaller, rising just above the surrounding trees. Before the invasion, it might have looked welcoming. Now it could easily be a wolf’s den.

Resh looked back the way he had come. Night had already fallen, and he could make out a dim glow to the sky to the north, where thousands of Seattleites sat around their campfires. The city had been his home his entire life, but he was never going back. For weeks he’d been possessed by a singular urge to explore, to learn more of the world outside the city. The urge had become so strong; he had walked away from everything.

The same urge compelled him to carry on, to leave this building behind like all the others, but the needs of his body prevailed. He had walked until blisters formed on his feet, and continued to walk until those blisters burst. The muscles of his legs were knotted tight, and sharp stabs of pain radiated up his bones with every step.

If this Hospital was anything like the W Clan’s, it would have some beds inside.

Resh ducked under the sagging awning and through the shattered glass door of the building. He fished his lighter from his pack and flipped it open. By the meager light of its flame, he entered.

Most of the building had been picked clean of metal, but he found a few mattresses uninhabited by mice within a closet on the second floor. He collected branches from a tree sticking in through a shattered window and built a small fire one the ceramic tiles of a small shower in a bathroom. He stacked the small, thin mattresses on the floor beside the fire and fell asleep in moments.

He dreamed of familiar faces around familiar fires, until an unfamiliar sound woke him. He grappled in the dark for his knife, and his stiff muscles protested as he came to his feet.

The sound that had woken him repeated, a soft shuffling, the sound of disturbed leaves.

Resh rubbed the last vestiges of sleep from his eyes and brought out his lighter, sparking it into life.

The room beyond was quiet and empty, and Resh inched out into the hallway. The dim flame illuminated the dirty vinyl flooring at his feet, but the darkness thickened further down the hallway. The coating of dust and leaves that had covered the floor earlier was disturbed, brushed aside by something dragged across them. A long smear of blood confirmed what he suspected. This was a wolf’s den. A lone wolf he could deal with, and a new pelt and a week’s worth of meat would see him to the next settlement.

He held the knife out before him as he followed the faint sounds. When he rounded the corner at the end of the hallway, he saw a doorway that hadn’t been open before.

Placing his feet furtively, deliberately with every step, Resh entered the room. It was a supply closet, one he had given a cursory examination last night only to find nothing of use.

Unlike the night before, someone was in the room. It was not a wolf, but a man with shaggy, filthy hair and tattered clothes. Every inch of his exposed skin was red from excessive sun. His arms shook as he attempted to pull himself into one of the wheelchairs stored in the room. His legs did little to assist in this goal, dragging behind him like useless chunks of meat. He looked defenseless, with nothing more than a small pack on his back. It was a sad sight, one Resh did not care to watch.

Resh sheathed his knife, preparing to turn away, when a horrible possibility struck him. Could this man have been injured by something to the south? Resh did not want to end up like him, mauled by one of the mutated beasts rumored to roam the land outside the city. He could exchange a few words, learn of any troubles ahead, or even discover the best route down the coast.

The man finally pulled himself into the wheelchair and faced him. Behind the mop of disheveled hair, his eyes reflecting the flame of the lighter with a savage intensity. He didn’t look surprised to see him. Perhaps he was used to expecting the unexpected.

“It looks like you’ve seen better days,” Resh said, thinking some levity would ease the palpable tension.

The stolid features of the traveler transformed with a grin.

“Better days?” he asked with a grunt. His voice placed him as a young man, but his appearance suggested he’d fought hard for every single year. “I barely remember what those are.”

A moment later, the man’s face scrunched up in pain, as if he had only just become aware of his injuries. He lifted his hands from the armrests of the chair and looked at them. Blood oozed from ragged gashes along the flats of his palms to his elbows. His knees were large splotches of red beneath tattered jeans.

Resh had seen hundreds of men die in his thirty-six years, he’d had a hand in killing many of them, and he could tell when a man was near death. This man should have been dead already.

“Anything I should avoid down the road?” Resh gave the man’s wasted and bloodied frame a significant look. “Like whatever you got into?”

“My kind of trouble is…unique,” he said, his eyes looking distant, sad. “And mostly of my own making.”

It was a shame, Resh thought. Knowing what lay ahead might give him some sense of direction. It would be better than following this blind urge to walk into the unknown.

“Any information you have would be more than I’ve got. In exchange, I might have some water and a few bandages I can spare.”

The man dipped his head in agreement, with no small amount of gratitude in his eyes. He then lowered his hands to the wheels of the wheelchair, and winced as his hands encountered the metal bars.

Resh waited a few more seconds, frowning. The traveler tensed as Resh came forward and then moved out of sight behind him. Resh grabbed the handles of the wheel chair and pushed the man out of the room and back to the bathroom in which he had slept.

The traveler looked from one end of the small room to the other, taking in Resh’s scattered belongings. Resh had never been tidy, and even a night spent in the room made it look like he’d been there for years. In Seattle, he’d had someone to clean up for him, to arrange his things, and to cook him food. That was over now.

The traveler’s eyes strayed to the small tin pot of water Resh had set over the fire to sterilize. The water was cold now, the fire little more than ash and embers. The man’s dry, cracked lips parted as he accepted the small can from Resh, and guzzled it down.

When he spoke again, his voice had lost its raspy edge.

“Where are we? How far to Seattle?”

“Just a day by foot. Maybe two or three in the shape you’re in.” Resh sat on the toilet seat and reached into his pack for a spare shirt. “Where you coming from?”

The traveler watched warily as Resh took out his knife and proceeded to cut the shirt into strips.

“The east, from a place you’ve never heard of.”

“Any better out there?”

The traveler smiled wistfully.

“There are still barbarians and cannibals if that’s what you’re asking. But it was better in its own way. It was home.”

His hands paused in their task as he regarded the stranger. Resh had been a barbarian once, but he refrained from saying so. He’d left that life behind him. He no longer had a home, and he preferred it that way. Now the thought of home carried with it a sense of restlessness and revulsion. How could anyone stand to stay in one place for so long?

The man squinted at him.

“Well?”

Resh realized he’d been staring.

“Well what?”

“Aren’t you going to ask me why I’ve come all this way? That seems to be everyone’s first question, usual right before they try to slit my throat and eat me or feed me to their pigs.”

Resh shrugged a shoulder.

“I won’t do any of those things,” Resh said. Unless you give me a reason to, he thought. “It’s none of my business, just as mine is none of yours.”

The man dipped his head in acquiescence.

Resh motioned for the man to lift his hands, and he complied hesitantly. He took his wrist and turned his hand palm up. He proceeded to rinse the wounds with water from his canteen and bandage them, ignoring the man’s curses and grunts of pain. He was not the charitable sort, but this man had information he wanted. If there was one thing he’d learned from his old life, it was the currency of favors.

Once he had both hands cleaned and bandaged, he turned his attention to his other injuries. Exposed bone jutted out from beneath the dirty mop of cloth and strips of skin of his knees.

“I don’t see any breaks.”

The traveler looked down at his legs and frowned.

“They aren’t broken. I can’t even feel them to be honest. They gave out yesterday.” He must have seen Resh’s look of confusion, for he added, “It’s a sickness, not contagious,” he clarified. “Still, I knew it would happen eventually.”

Resh was not reassured. He finished bandaging the man with the remaining cloth, and washed the blood from his hands with the last of the water.

“So why did you come here?”

“What happened to that being none of your business?”

“Guess I’m curious now. If you knew it would happen, shouldn’t you be at home, living out your days in peace or in the arms of a beautiful woman?”

The man looked to the ground as if he wished for nothing else, then he leaned back in the wheelchair and withdrew a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. Resh took the proffered slip and unfolded it. Printed in neat, tiny letters, like the kind he’d seen on signs and in books, was a message, and a logo: a shield with some kind of slender tree on it. Above that, there were three S’s, one of the few letters he recognized.

“I can’t read. What does it say?”

“In short? You’re infected with a disease that will eventually kill you. For a cure, come to Seattle. Good luck.”

“Who’s it from?”

“Synapse Sentries of Seattle,” he said, the S’s coming out as disdainful hisses.

“Never heard of it.”

He sighed.

“No I suppose that would have been too much to hope for.”

“I suppose there isn’t immediate danger down the road then?”

“Oh there’s plenty of that,” he said, chuckling. He pulled his pack out from behind him and took out a worn leather book like the kind he’d seen in the old libraries. Most of those had been used for kindling.

“What’s that?”

“A journal of sorts. A travelogue.”

“A guide?”

“Sort of. A recounting of my journey and the things I’ve learned along the way: People I’ve talked to, some history, and a lot of the troubles I’ve managed to live through. I’ve documented everything I’ve encountered since Louisville. I’d read some of it to you if you like, but there’s a lot.”

He flipped open the book to reveal a page with long squiggling lines. Resh squinted down at them. They were letters unlike anything he’d ever seen, not nearly as neat and small like those in books, but more elaborate and beautiful.

Resh had to have it. The man was incapable of putting up much of a fight. He could take the book by force, but what good would it be to him? He couldn’t read the words.

The man must have seen the desire in his gaze, for he closed the book and wagged it back and forth.

“If you help me find what I’m after. This cure. The book will be yours. You want to know the best places to visit? Avoid dangerous roads? This will tell you how. Get me what I need, and it is yours. It’s even worth something to the man who commissioned it if you return it to him.”

“I said I can’t read.”

“I will teach you. It could be days before we find it. That should be enough time. You’re not the first I’ve taught.”

Resh shifted uneasily. He had every reason to avoid returning to Seattle. Many of his former clansmen would like to see him dead, and that was the last thing that bothered him. Going back meant going in the wrong direction and losing several days. But if what this man said was true, it was a small sacrifice. Knowing where to go and what to avoid could save him weeks on the road and could save his life.

The decision was made, and a bargain was struck.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed the free preview. For more, click here to purchase the book on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

 

sss

 

 

The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide to Seattle

I’m excited to share the news. I’ve just completed a new project, and it is now available for pre-order on Amazon!

Let me give you a rundown.

The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide Series.

cropped-copyright_logo2

I met Stephen Lawson back in May at the International Space Development Conference. If you recall, he was the runner-up for the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award. A couple of months later, he reached out to me with an idea for a project. He came up with The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide, a series following a young man, Thursday Forrester, as he treks across a post-apocalyptic United States in search of a cure that will save his life.
Stephen’s idea was straightforward. He would introduce the character, the setting, and the stakes in his first installment of the series. As Thursday traveled, other authors would be in charge of moving Thursday through their own cities, progressing the plot, and moving him closer to his final destination. Stephen has a lot of author contacts and managed to recruit the following authors for the 1st series:
Episode 1- Louisville- Stephen Lawson
Episode 2- St. Louis- David VonAllmen
Episode 3- Utah’s Deserts- Dustin Steinacker
Episode 4- The Mojave Desert- Sean Hazlett
Episode 5- Los Angeles- Jake Marley
Episode 6- Seattle- Philip Kramer
That’s right, Seattle is the location of the cure to Thursday’s mysterious illness, and so I had the honor of wrapping up the series. It’s been a blast planning and coordinating with the other authors. We’ve had to communicate regularly to brainstorm and to avoid inconsistencies and plot holes. They are all award-winning authors and have written great stories. Click the links above to purchase their episodes.
Stephen also reached out to the award-winning illustrator Preston Stone for the original cover art and logo.

TPATG_Seattle_cover

Cover by Preston Stone. ©Stephen Lawson 2017. Click image to be directed to purchase page.

The Series Blurb.

They descended from the infinite void of space, annihilating cities and destroying the foundations of modern civilization. Black nanoswarms fed like a locust plague on anything with an electromagnetic signal, wreaking havoc on the lifeblood of human industry. Then, as quickly as they came, the invaders mysteriously died, leaving humanity with nothing but savagery, starvation, pestilence, and death in their wake. Spurred by a life-threatening illness, a young man named Thursday Forrester chronicles his harrowing journey through a land riven by violence and superstition.

Episode 6 Blurb.

When the alien invasion ended, humanity strove to mend their broken world… until they remembered how much they enjoyed war. In Seattle, rival clans fight over territory and resources. Resh, the headsman of the Five Clan, has the power to conquer the entire city, but he has other ideas. He runs. Outside the city, far from responsibility and the risk of assassination, Resh comes across an abandoned hospital. Inside, he finds a young man climbing into a wheelchair. Suffering from a mysterious illness, the traveler makes him a deal he can’t refuse. But Resh takes on more than he bargained for. To help the traveler find the cure he’s after, Resh must return to a city filled with scheming and betrayal, and confront an organization with a terrifying agenda.

Visit www.tpatg.com to learn more about the other episodes!

How to buy.

The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide is a six episode series. Episodes will be released on Kindle beginning November 1st, and every two weeks thereafter. Episode 6 of Series 1 — The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide to Seattle — will launch on January 10th, 2018. Pre-order here!

Location Scouting.

While I’ve seen quite a lot of Seattle in the past, mostly thanks to my brother, a captain in a local tour boat company, I needed to do more research before writing my episode. Here are a few of the pictures I’ve taken while scouting locations for the story:

 

I hope you enjoy reading the story and please don’t forget to purchase the other episodes in the series.

 

Writing Update- 1 Year Blog Anniversary

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My blog is one year old! In this past year, I’ve posted 30 times, have had nearly 300 followers, and over 3000 viewers. For a first-time blogger, I will call that a success.

My most popular posts.

The science of time travel

Writing Update- The Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest

The science of killing your characters

The science of gravity

The science of making your readers hate you

However, I believe the majority of people who visited the time travel post were referred by a conspiracy website where someone tried to draw some tenuous connections between me and the deceased bassist of The Iron Butterfly who shares the same name. Oh well, any traffic is good traffic, right?

Also in this span of time, I have interviewed scientists and have even been interviewed. I have published a short story and sold a couple non-fiction pieces.

Lessons I’ve learned.

  1. Have an original platform:

Creating a unique theme for your website is a great way to stand out among the thousands of other writing blogs out there. With a relatively original platform, you will be the first person to come to mind when writers and readers encounter a specific writing problem. For me, that platform is science in science fiction. I have received several science questions from authors over the past year and have tried to assist them with the science in their stories. I even received one question from a best-selling author!

  1. Write regularly:

This is obvious, but I feel obligated to mention it. The more posts you have, the more people will find their way to your site. Once you haul them in, chances are they will stick around to see what other posts you’ve written. Having an archive of posts will continue to draw in readers even if you haven’t managed to post anything new in a while. The longer gap between posts, the more likely the reader will forget your name, the content you offer, or their interest will have faded.

  1. Write quality posts:

This requires planning, patience, and quite a lot of research. Readers aren’t going to come by your blog if all you talk about is yourself and the day-to-day minutiae of your existence. Most people search for blogs because they are interested in learning something new, or are trying to find quality reading material, or an answer to a specific question. I try to keep my posts longer than 1000 words.

  1. Make writing friends:

I have met many other writers through writing websites and while writing for this blog. I would even call some of them friends, even though we’ve never met. If you’re lucky, these friends and acquaintances will help spread your name around and direct people to your website. Doing the same for them isn’t always expected, but it’s appreciated.

On that note, here are some websites that have been great resources for me. They are run by some very talented writers, friends, or host amazing writer communities and forums.

Resources.

Dan Koboldt

Amber Pierce

Judy Mohr

Corey D. Truax

Rick Ellrod

Writers helping writers

Critique Circle

Codex

Things I’m going to try next year.

  1. Guest posts:

There are numerous other areas of science in which I have no expertise, so new perspectives and advice will only help my readers. Plus, getting other authors and experts invested in the success or your website, if just to improve their own success, is the definition of a win-win. I would also like to volunteer to write more guest posts for the same reasons. The more my name shows up on other quality websites, the more readers will recognize and remember me.

  1. Post some of my writing:

This applies to those short stories or novels that I do not intend to professionally publish. They may provide a separate means of drawing in traffic and serve as a sample of my writing to future prospective readers, agents, and publishers.

 

Thanks again to all of my readers and followers and writer friends. I like to think I write and maintain this blog for myself, but the truth is, I do it for you!

The science of suspended animation

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I sold my first non-fiction article!

Back in January, I got in contact with Tony Daniel, the senior editor of Baen books, sent an article proposal, and signed a contract. Around the same time I won the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story award. I think it took him a couple of weeks to realize he was communicating with the same person in the two different email chains. This article was originally going to be posted last month, but he felt it was best not to publish it the same month as my short story “Feldspar.”

Here is the link to the article on the Baen website: “Stasis: The Future of Suspended Animation.”

For this article, I managed to get an interview with Dr. John Bradford, the COO of SpaceWorks, who is pioneering the development of suspended animation techniques with NASA for future human expeditions to Mars.

Here is the full, unedited interview:

Me- “How long could hibernation theoretically be sustained?”

Bradford- “One initial comment that is a bit of semantics, but we like to always clarify. On the term ‘hibernation’: We can’t actually make people hibernate, so prefer terms like “human stasis”, “torpor inducing”, and “metabolic suppression”. Maybe in the distant future through gene therapy/modification, this can be achieved, but right now we are focused on artificially inducing a hibernation-like state via cooling and metabolic suppression. So, we are trying to mimic hibernation, but not achieve it.

We are in the process of evaluating how long we can sustain the low metabolic state. This will ultimately have to be determined through testing, but since we are starting with current practices for Therapeutic Hypothermia, we have a lot of data to evaluate on what is occurring in the body over short 2-4 day periods. Longer periods of up to 14 days has been achieved, but data there becomes much more limited. We also look at animal hibernators as sources of understanding (and inspiration). Bears are a great model since their core temperature doesn’t drop to the extreme conditions most hibernators experience. They can be in torpor for 4-5 month periods. In summary though, we don’t know what the theoretical limit is yet. For our approach, it would not be measured in years. We can benefit a lot in terms of space travel if we can achieve just a few weeks, but ultimately we are looking to achieve months.”

Me- “Are there any plans to test human hibernation in the near future?”

Bradford- “Eventual human testing is on our roadmap and plans. NASA’s NIAC program is not funding us for any medical testing though, only to evaluate if this is possible, identify how we would do this, and quantify the mission impacts if it is feasible (engineering analysis). However, we are getting inquiries from a few investors and looking at non-governmental funding sources to start some specific testing. Note again that we do have medical data from subjects undergoing TH over short periods already, but those were not controlled tests.”

Me- “What is a major medical/engineering hurdle that will have to be overcome before this technology can be implemented?”

Bradford- “I get asked this question a lot and my answer probably changes frequently depending on what aspect I’m currently working on or problem I’m trying to solve. There are certainly challenges, but we are coming up with a variety of solutions or ways to mitigate them, either via a medical approach or engineering it out. The ability to initiate human testing will certainly be a milestone – fortunately I hear from a lot of people that want to volunteer! Transitioning to space-based human testing would be the next big step.

Lastly, I’d say we believe human stasis represents one of the most promising approaches to solving the engineering and medical challenges of long-duration spaceflight. With this technology, a variety of new options can be introduced and applied that address major human spaceflight medical challenges and risk areas such as bone loss, muscle atrophy, increased intracranial pressure, and radiation damage. System-level engineering analysis has indicated significant mass savings for both the habitat and transfer stages. These savings are due to reductions in the pressurized volume, consumables, power, structures, and ancillary systems for the space habitat. This capability is potentially the key enabling technology that will ultimately permit human exploration to Mars and beyond!”

To read the full article, including other interviews, and to learn about the science of suspended animation, click the image below:

 

stasis article

Link to Baen article: http://www.baen.com/stasis

“Feldspar” is now published

I’m happy to report that “Feldspar,” the story that won me the 2017 Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award, has officially been published on the Baen website, where you can read it for free!

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Screenshot of the Baen main page’s listing of “Feldspar.” Click the image to be redirected there.

Here’s the blurb they wrote for the story in their newsletter:

“In the future, a gaming company is accomplishing what governmental space agencies tried and failed to do: they’re slowly making Mars suitable for human habitation. But to do so they’ll need the help of a team of gamers back on planet Earth. One such gamer is Blake; his remote-controlled rover is Feldspar. But not all Martian exploration is done from the safety of an ergonomic chair in front of a computer desk back on Earth. Astronauts still make the dangerous trip to the Red Planet. And where human space flight is concerned, things can go very wrong very quickly. Now, Blake and his intrepid rover are all that stand between one astronaut and certain death in “Feldspar,” the grand prize winner of the 2017 Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award.”

Last month I flew to St. Louis to attend the International Space Development Conference to receive the award, and to meet with Baen editor, Tony Daniel, and the contest administrator, William Ledbetter. I had the chance to meet with several other authors at the conference, including the runner up, Stephen Lawson, and the third place winner M. T. Reiten. Baen also published Stephen’s story, Bullet Catch. It is a story stuffed with fascinating characters, science, and suspense. It is well worth the read.

Group photo

From left to right: M. T. Reiten, Me, Stephen Lawson, and Bill Ledbetter

Tony surprised us with a request for an interview at the conference to discuss our short stories and our backgrounds. You can listen to the interview below, which was aired on the Baen Free Radio Hour Podcast on May 26th.


The talks at the conference were amazing, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a huge nerd. I heard talks on space elevators, space beacons, space medicine, planet colonization and exploration, Mars simulations, and new ways to harvest asteroids and solar energy. I even got to share the award banquet with Linda Godwin, a former astronaut and recipient of the Missouri Space Pioneer Award. Needless to say, I came away from it with all kinds of new story ideas.

Linda Godwin presentation

Presentation by Linda Godwin

I don’t believe my own acceptance speech was recorded, but I’ve transcribed it for you below. To hear the introductory speech Tony gave, listen to the above podcast.

“Thank you, Tony.
It is an honor to receive this award as both a writer and a scientist, and to be here at this amazing conference.
I’d like to thank all those who helped make it happen, especially my family and friends who gave me valuable feedback on the story,  Bill Ledbetter, the contest administrator, and all the judges who chose my story from all the other entries. It couldn’t have been an easy decision. Finally, I would like to thank Jim Baen, for the impact he had on science fiction, and the legacy he left behind.
It would be difficult to find a scientist here who was not in some way inspired by science fiction. I think we’ve all dreamed of a future where traveling to space becomes no more routine than getting on the bus to work each morning. The part of me that’s a writer can only dream of this future; it’s up to the scientist in me, in all of us, to make it a reality.
Thank you.”

Last but not least, I got to explore St. Louis with my girlfriend, Megan. First on our to-do list was to RE-explore the City Museum. The last time we went, we lost a large number of our photos due to a cell-phone malfunction, so we had to re-document the amazing place. We felt like kids again.


Now for my regular readers, I’m happy to tell you that I’ll be getting back to my regular science in sci-fi posts. I have a big one planned for next month, so stay tuned.

Interviewed by my alma mater

WhywelearnSo this was a first. A couple weeks ago I was interviewed by my alma mater, Auburn University Montgomery, for their article series titled “#WhyWeLearn.” Click here to view the article they wrote.

For those of you who are interested in how I came to love both writing and science, I posted the full interview here. Enjoy!

Interviewer- Beck Phillips, AUM Strategic Communications and Marketing

Q1. You started in English and left for Biology. What made you want to switch?

Like so many other freshman, I still hadn’t figured out what to do with my life. I wanted many things, but one passion stood above the rest: writing. It takes a lot of practice and dedication to become a professional writer, and I planned to make it there eventually. In the meantime, I went in search of a work-study position at AUM. I admit, the idea of spending all day in the library for both work and school, was idyllic. Unfortunately, no such position was available, so I accepted an opening in the biology department. I’d always found science interesting, so it wasn’t surprising that I took to my responsibilities with a lot of healthy fascination and curiosity. In setting up labs and helping biology professors with various tasks, I was introduced to Virginia Hughes, who was an instructor in the Clinical Laboratory Sciences program. For days I helped her use the microscope camera to take pictures of blood cells for a hematology atlas. My interest piqued, I investigated the program. In addition to hematology, they taught immunohematology, microbiology, immunology, chemistry, and many other clinical subjects. For someone who loved many scientific fields, it was immediately appealing to me. Within a few weeks, I had applied to the program. Science, I decided, would be my career, but writing would always be my hobby. At the time, I couldn’t have foreseen how important my writing would be to my science career.

Q2. But you never gave up your love for language and writing?

Writing has been my passion since high school, when I decided to write the story I had always wanted to read. Those creative muscles couldn’t be exercised with science alone. I still had stories to tell, experiences to share, and an imagination that needed to be let out on paper every now and then. So I wrote. At first I wrote short stories, but then a story that was too large came along. After my first novel, I started another, then another. I was addicted. For me, writing was a way to communicate those complex ideas I couldn’t quite vocalize, to exercise my imagination, and to hopefully inspire others.

Q3. Did your professors here encourage you to do both? How did you avoid being
“pigeonholed”? Did anyone here at AUM help or encourage you?

For a long time, I kept my love for science and writing separate. When I took creative writing classes, I focused on writing, and when I took my science classes, I focused on science. Then one day in my Writing Fiction class, Jeffrey Melton, my instructor, gave me the advice all writers will eventually hear: “Write what you know.” And I knew about science. I wrote a short story about a crime scene and a clever detective who used forensic science to identify the true perpetrator. The story was well received in class, and I decided that perhaps writing and science could somehow mesh together. This concept became even clearer in my science classes, when I was required to write reports and papers, and give presentations. The mechanics of writing and the ability to tell a good story are just as important to communicating science as writing fiction. My main source of encouragement was Melinda Kramer, who, as both my mom and an AUM employee, cultivated my love for science and writing and knew exactly where I could find the resources I needed.

Q4. How did your time (and the people) here at AUM help prepare you for your
future and your career?

I owe my success in writing and science to so many at AUM. The instructors in the Biology department deserve most of the credit. Sue Thomson, took me in as a work-study student, and gave me every opportunity to learn new things and pursue my interests. Ben Okeke gave me my first research experience and taught me about biofuels and microbiology. When I joined the Clinical Laboratory Sciences program, I was introduced to Kyle Taylor, who taught me all about microorganisms and disease, and gave me even more research opportunities. To this day, I still use the laboratory practices and techniques I learned from Kathy Jones. I owe many of them thanks for writing the recommendation letters that played a large role in getting me into Grad school.

Q5. You were sort of a pre-cursor to STE(A)M (science, technology,
engineering, (arts), and math) — how valuable has your work in each field
been to the other?

My experiences in each field have been immediately applicable to the others. The broad scientific background I received at AUM gave me an advantage over my classmates in Grad school, many of whom came from highly specialized fields. My interest in hematology, immunology, and biochemistry culminated in many successful and highly cited studies in my dissertation lab. My background in writing and the arts has allowed me to communicate my science and create effective figures for my publications and presentations. I use math daily to perform my experiments and to analyze data. I have consulted and beta-tested new technologies for clinical research, and have been called on to perform troubleshooting and repairs for those instruments. No skill has been wasted. The true test of this was perhaps my short story entry into the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story contest. The contest seeks scientifically accurate short stories set in the near future, and is co-hosted by the National Space Society. My story was about a rover operator living in San Francisco, who finds himself in the terrifying position to save the life of an astronaut on Mars. I was not qualified from a mathematical, engineering, or technological standpoint to create a 100% feasible story, but if there was one thing the sciences taught me, it was how to do research. I spent months investigating every aspect of Mars and rover technology that might be relevant to the story.

Q6. How do you apply your talent for writing to the field of science?

Writing scientific grants, publications, and reviews require the use of descriptive and persuasive language. With the current state of scientific funding, a grant must be interesting and comprehensible to stand out among all the rest. I have personally applied for and received two grants for personal funding and have been involved in many large institutional grants that have been funded. My writing experience has been invaluable to the writing of nearly 20 co-authored scientific publications, which have been cited over 200 times. The same can be said for the role of science in my writing successes. The science I learned from AUM, grad school, and during my time as a biomedical researcher, routinely serves as fodder for my stories. I currently maintain a writing and science blog that advocates for the use of accurate science in sci-fi.

Q7. What goals do you have for yourself in the future after winning this award?

The Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest was the first short story contest I’d ever entered. To say I was surprised to win is an understatement. Receiving even the slightest bit of validation for your craft does wonders for your motivation. There are more contests to enter and no shortage of stories to tell. In the near future, I hope to publish my first novel. All of this would be impossible without the help of the writing and critique groups I’ve joined, and the continued support of my family, friends, and former teachers.

Q8. What advice do you have for current and future AUM Warhawks about their
academic choices?

Never let go of the things that make you happy. Life gets busy, and often you have to set your passions aside, but if it is truly something you love, you will find time for it. Be it writing, painting, music, culture and language, eventually that hobby will make you stand out from your peers and give you the advantage.
Additionally, there are far more opportunities out there than you may realize. If you’re intent on pursuing one career path from the moment you enter college, you’ll miss out on some amazing opportunities. Take the time to learn about the world, and soon you’ll discover your place in it. That is, after all, why we learn.

Writing Update- The 2017 Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest

Feldspar

I am pleased to announce that my short story, “Feldspar,” won the 2017 Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest. It is an honor to be chosen as the grand prize winner from such a pool of talented finalists.

The contest.

Baen books describes the contest as follows:

“Since its early days, science fiction has played a unique role in human civilization. It removes the limits of what “is” and shows us a boundless vista of what “might be.” Its fearless heroes, spectacular technologies and wondrous futures have inspired many people to make science, technology and space flight a real part of their lives and in doing so, have often transformed these fictions into reality. The National Space Society and Baen Books applaud the role that science fiction plays in advancing real science and have teamed up to sponsor this short fiction contest in memory of Jim Baen.”

If you follow my blog, you can tell why this contest came to my attention. I am a scientist, but my narrow field of research only satisfies a small portion of my fascination for science, space, and innovation. I decided some time ago that the only way I could make a real difference in science (beyond my own research) was to write about it. With any luck, my stories will inspire other scientists to invent what I do not have the time, intellect, or resources to create on my own. Winning this contest means a lot to me.

As the winner, I will be professionally published by Baen Books sometime in June. This will be my first professional publication, so it’s kind of a big deal for me. Along with publication, I will be given a year’s membership to the National Space Society, free admission to the 2017 International Space Development Conference in St. Louis, an engraved trophy, and tons of other prizes. Needless to say, as both a scientist and writer, I am most excited about attending the ISDC conference in May. It will give me the chance to speak to leaders in the field of space development about topics such as living in space, the space elevator, planet colonization, and innumerable other topics of mutual fascination. A previous Baen winner was able to sit next to Buzz Aldrin at lunch *cue two months of giddy excitement*. With any luck, I may be able to discuss my own scientific research and how it could help prevent the muscle atrophy associated with low gravity. I hope to come away from the conference with many new contacts as well as exciting story ideas.

The story.

“Feldspar” is the story of Blake, a lonesome rover operator in the city of San Francisco. With the help of the gaming industry, space exploration has boomed, and Mars has become the largest sandbox game in human history. Over a hundred rovers prowl the surface of the red planet, harvesting regolith for smelting. The iron wire they receive in return is used to 3D print any object these gamers desire.  But they aren’t the only ones on the red planet. When Blake comes across the footprints of a NASA astronaut over a hundred kilometers from the Eos Basecamp, he becomes her only hope of staying alive.

My thanks.

I’d like to thank Bill Ledbetter, the contest administrator, Michelle, the “slusher of doom,” and all the judges, including author David Drake, for choosing “Feldspar” from the slush pile. I worked on “Feldspar” for months, gathering feedback from friends, family, my writers group, and even my uncle Wade, a NASA employee. I appreciate their valuable feedback. This was my first short story contest, and it gives me hope that there is a place and perhaps a need for my unique voice in the world. I will diligently continue my writing, hoping that my vision for the future of space exploration will inspire scientists to make it a reality.

Links to award announcement.

Locus

File 770

Baen

The Science of Time Travel

time-machineLet us draw an arrow arbitrarily. If as we follow the arrow we find more and more of the random element in the state of the world, then the arrow is pointing towards the future; if the random element decreases the arrow points towards the past. That is the only distinction known to physics. This follows at once if our fundamental contention is admitted that the introduction of randomness is the only thing which cannot be undone. I shall use the phrase ‘time’s arrow’ to express this one-way property of time which has no analogue in space.

-Arthur Eddington. The Nature of the Physical World (1928)

Time travel features heavily in speculative fiction. It provides a useful means of foreshadowing and helps to heighten suspense as the characters try to avert a looming disaster or manipulate the future for their own ends. It appeals to all of us who have ever experienced guilt or loss and want to go back and fix it. It is rife with unintended consequences and can trigger exciting conflicts. However, it also provides a great source of frustration for writer and reader alike as they try to contend with the plot holes, paradoxes, and skewed logic associated with tampering with the fundamental laws of our universe.

In this post, I will address the most common problems and paradoxes associated with time travel, and then discuss the science that could make it possible.

Causality.

Cause and effect. That is how the universe works. Nowhere in nature can an effect cause itself, which is to say that energy cannot spontaneously manifests itself to perform an action. Thermodynamics and all of Newton’s laws require a cause and effect, but time travel inevitably breaks these laws.

Like the Billy and Rubin comic above, if the Professor succeeded in going back in time to stop Billy from building a time machine, he would then have no time machine with which to make the journey. Traveling to the past, for even a few seconds, can violate causality and initiates all kinds of paradoxes.

Grandfather paradox.

There is no better example of a causality violation than the Grandfather Paradox. If a time traveler kills his own grandfather before he meets his grandmother, the traveler will have never been born. Most disturbing of all, are the implications for “free will.” If the traveler sees his grandfather, he will be physically incapable of killing him, for doing so will prevent his own existence. Imagine a knife that physically cannot interact with a person, because if it were to interact, it would prevent its own interaction. *Mind blown*.

Butterfly effect.

A term used in chaos theory, the Butterfly Effect is coined after the concept of a gentle disturbance in the air caused by a butterfly’s wings, which eventually leads to a hurricane.

Some writers insist that any disruption to the timeline will “heal,” and all will be set back on course, but this is unlikely. If the person went back just to witness an event, they talked to no one, and received no more than a passing glance by others and were quickly forgotten, then I could see the future not changing… much. But even if something small happens, like the traveler buys a slice of pie from a street vendor, it could initiate a chain of events that divert the future substantially. What about the person who was supposed to buy that slice? That person might then continue walking to find another vendor, and chat with friend he met on the street. If that friend subsequently misses a trolley and arrives late to work, failing to smile at the woman who would have been his future wife, then generations of people will have ceased to exist in the future, and all of their actions, and achievements, will have been erased… just because of a slice of pie. This is another example of causality, and every major and minor moment in our lives can be traced back to equally minuscule events.

Foresight and self-fulfilling prophecies.

Time travel isn’t the only thing that violates causality, it can also be violated with foresight. Having knowledge of a future event can allow the future to be changed, but is it really the future if it can be changed?

Prophecy is a common plot device in Fantasy novels. If a seer or prophet sees the hero’s future or reads their fortune, what will happen if that hero decides to do something completely different? If the hero changes the future, was it ever the future to begin with? What is to stop a person from just sitting down and not doing anything if they learn of their future? If that future depends on them performing an action, yet that person refuses to do anything, how can that future exist? This is the Idle (or Lazy) argument. For example, if a man learns he will die by being hit by a bus, that man can refuse to leave his house, thus preventing the future. I have seen authors stretch the limits of believability by having the hero walk into situations, saying and doing exactly what the prophecy says they will, even though they know exactly what fate awaits them.

This only works if the prophecy aligns with the main character’s own motivations, or if they are somehow duped into causing the situation they were hoping to avoid. We call these self-fulfilling prophecies, wherein the hero makes something happen because he or she believes there is no avoiding it, or because they want it to happen. For example, there is a prophecy that a castle will be invaded; so on the day of, the character leaves his guard post at the gates and flees the city. The enemy notices this new weak point in the castle’s defenses and decides to invade.

The science behind time travel:

Paradoxes aside, it should be noted that time is very strange. Some scientists suggest it is nothing more than a product of our minds trying to make sense of the universe. Time can go faster for some, and slower for others, all depending on how much gravity is around or how fast an object is travelling.

Black holes.

Time is inherently linked to the three dimensional fabric of space. Therefore, a force that can condense that fabric, can also affect time. Gravity is such a force, and a black hole is a near infinite supply of gravity. If it were possible to survive the spaghettification (gravity literally stretching you out) associated with entering a black hole, you would most certainly be crushed by the pressure of the mass surrounding you. There is a theory however, that a zone exists around a black hole where the centrifugal forces of its spin counteract the forces of its gravity. Thus, time would be slowed (possibly even reversed), but you would not be pulled into the center.

Special relativity.

Satellites in orbit are actually experiencing time a little slower than we are, largely because of the speed at which they circumnavigate the globe. Einstein introduced the concept of special relativity, which basically states that, while nothing can travel faster than light, light will still appear to travel at light speed, even if the light source is traveling at close to light speed. So, depending on your reference frame, time will move differently based on your speed. This time dilation can make a person’s 300 year journey near light speed feel like 20 years. This is probably the closest humanity will come to “traveling though time,” but it is a one-way ticket. Traveling faster than the speed of light, theoretically, would reverse the flow of time. Most scientists maintain this is impossible, because it would violate causality.

Quantum mechanics and the Many-Worlds interpretation.

Some writers have gotten around the causality argument by suggesting that time might be like a river. If a significant event disrupts the flow of time, it can branch off into another stream, parallel to the first, creating two different timelines of different pasts and different futures.

Based on observations of quantum entanglement, and particle-wave duality, it is clear that, at the quantum state, an object can be in two places at once, and doing different things. Physicists have since theorized that any and every action creates a parallel universe, in which the opposite action was taken. These infinite worlds can be very similar to our own or very different. While this concept doesn’t quite offer up a solution to time travel, if proven true, it can help eliminate many of the causality paradoxes associated with it.

Conclusions:

Because there are so many theories regarding time, its nature, and how to travel through it, there is no correct way to portray it in speculative fiction. I would advise, however, to thoroughly outline your book if it contains elements of time travel. For many readers, time travel paradoxes are indistinguishable from plot holes.

What other considerations should writers take when writing about time travel? Did I miss a theory? Leave your comments below.

Rest assured, if time travel is possible, I will travel back in time to this very moment to ensure that I got everything right…

…nope. No Phil from the future. I’m a little disappointed, actually.

Books I read in 2016

For those of you who haven’t found your way over to my Reviews page, I decided to post the content here now that 2016 is over. Overall it was an average year for me. I estimate that I read about 25 books. Unfortunately, I’ve only had time to write reviews for a small number of those. I will post more reviews throughout 2017.

In keeping with the theme of this site, these reviews will focus on the plot and the accuracy of the science. I graded these books with a POINTS system I invented for this purpose (Plot, Organization, Intelligibility, Novelty, Technology, and Science). Each will be given a grade out of 5 with a highest possible score of 30. This score has little to do with my enjoyment of the novel, but how I rate the individual parameters. I will try not to give too many details or spoilers, but it might be necessary on occasion.

*Cover images taken from listings on Amazon.com.

Here they are:


51ax82bt2b4ylColumbus Day: Expeditionary Force, Book 1 by Craig Alanson (POINTS= 25/30)

Plus POINTS: This first book in the series follows the POV of a young soldier home from a stint in Nigeria. He is surprised to see an alien ship crash land in a field near his hometown. The aliens immediately start destroying things. He rounds up some people and fights back. This is only the beginning of the story. More aliens arrive, but these are helping them, and eventually drive the hamster-like aliens away.  The young soldier is shipped away to an alien planet where he must keep the peace. It is there that he discovers that their friends, the lizard-like aliens, are not so much their saviors as their overlords, and the ones they should be fighting. He teams up with fellow soldiers and an artificial intelligence to take back humanity’s freedom. Science and technology wise, it is hard to say what is and isn’t possible when advanced alien technologies are thrown into the mix. At least they didn’t all speak the same language and instead they were given devices that could interpret everything that’s said. Overall, this is one of the more humorous books I’ve read. There are some slow parts but it is nicely paced and full of action.

Minus POINTS: Alanson didn’t write the most original story, but he definitely put a new twist on the average military scifi. The science is probably the lowest scoring in the POINTS system. The thing that I have the hardest time coming to terms with is the appearance of the aliens. They are described to be very similar looking to hamsters, with another species very similar to lizards. It is very unlikely that an independently evolving species on a separate planet with an entirely different climate would look remotely like anything we have on earth. Even more unlikely, is that they would all breath similar air compositions. I think adding in some breathing apparatus for the aliens or humans on a foreign world wouldn’t have detracted from the story. Also, Alanson states that the insects, animals, and microorganisms on these foreign worlds wouldn’t effect them, which may be true when it comes to ingesting unknowns compounds, proteins, or being exposed to a venom, but it is more likely that an organism would have found the organic molecules that makeup the human body very pleasing, and the human immune system would have no way to fend it off. Artificial wormholes and faster-than-light travel is also mentioned, but with no explanation as to how such things were made or how FTL drives don’t affect causality and mess with… pretty much all of Einstein’s theories. A long-vanished race of aliens left behind the wormholes as well as an artificial intelligence. Providing comic relief is not the only thing the AI can do, it can also bend space-time, hack every encryption code, interface with every technology, and exist in multiple dimensions. Despite all of this, it still uses helium 3 as a fuel source. Overall, I would recommend this book as a great, entertaining read, so long as you aren’t expecting hard-scifi.


41t82bdrhohlThe Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey (POINTS= 27/30)

Plus POINTS: This isn’t your typical zombie story. I was actually very surprised to find out that it was a zombie story. The story follows Melanie, a very nice and bright little girl, except she is treated like a dangerous monster by the people who take her from her cell and deposit her in class every day. Her diet consists of the occasional grub. Carey has cleverly used a well know fungus, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, that causes zombie-like behavior in ants, as the zombie pathogen of choice. Zombies that have been turned long ago, end up with fungal coatings and even sprout mycelium. One of the doctors doing the research actually goes into detail how they think the fungus is hijacking the brain, and why kids like Melanie are so special. She introduces some actual research tools and techniques as well. In order to prevent Melanie from smelling human’s and feeling the impulse to eat, they have to constantly douse themselves in chemicals. When the facility that’s holding her gets overrun, she and the humans that fear her must band together to get her to another facility where they can continue to perform research on her. Melanie has to overcome many zombie-ish impulses along the way. POINTS across the board.

Minus POINTS: While it is impossible to say how the cordyceps fungus has been manipulated or mutated to create zombies, it is never likely to have such a devastating role on humanity. For one, most fungal infections grow very slowly, and the immune system slow it even more. Also, the fungus would have to somehow penetrate the blood-brain-barrier, which is difficult for even the smallest of pathogens. There is also a scene where a huge wall of fungal mycelium stretches into the sky, sprouted from thousands of zombies. There is nowhere near enough biomass available to support that type of growth, especially when it would have to compete with other microorganisms. It’s difficult to believe that it could withstand the wind or even a single storm.  There is also a scene where they arrive a huge mobile-tank of a laboratory. I can’t believe that anybody would have designed or constructed such a laboratory. There is no logical purpose. Overall, the story started strong but became more and more improbable as it went along.


611ezqeptpl-_aa300_The Mountain Man Omnibus (Books 1-3) by Keith C. Blackmore  (POINTS= 23/30)

Plus POINTS: The mountain man is Gus. He lives on a hill outside a small city in Nova Scotia. He is constantly drinking and lonely. You can’t really blame him; zombies have taken over the known world. These books were a great read. It was a story of survival, friendship, and the fragility of the human mind and morality. When you have to fear the living more than the dead, it really paints a grisly picture of mankind. He does make one friend though, Scott, who leaves the picture a little too soon in order to chase down a killer. There is some serious ingenuity and resourcefulness on the the part of Gus and Scott. The story gets many plus POINTS for plot, intelligibility, and organization.

Minus POINTS: As for novelty, technology, and science, I have to deduct some POINTS. I’m tempted to give very little points for science and technology, especially since this is a zombie novel, but on multiple occasions, Blackmore addressed that they didn’t know how the virus worked, but that it slowed decay, and could even jump species. No detail is better than the wrong detail. There was at least one occasion where the author described the ‘smell of cordite’ after guns were fired. This is a common description which is completely inaccurate. Cordite has not been used in ammunition since the end of WWII… and this book is set in the near future.For the most part, every character had a purpose all the way up to the third book. Personally, I saw little point to the Norsemen except as a tool to show how savage humanity can be. Also, Gus spends years scavenging for supplies, but doesn’t ever try to find seeds and grow his own food. This seems very short-sighted.


511dbkz7gulSpaceMan by Tom Abrahams  (POINTS= 26/30)

Plus POINTS: This is a great post-apocalyptic novel that isn’t afraid to throw some science and technology into the mix. An astronaut, Clayton, becomes stranded on the ISS, when a massive Coronal Mass Ejection strikes the earth. He recovers his dead colleagues who were out on a space walk, and then tries to find a way back to earth, to his family. The other POV in the story is Clayton’s family and a family friend. When the CME hits, power goes out, and many devices are shorted. A short time later, planes come crashing to the ground. All-in-all, this story was successful in integrating accurate science and terminology with life or death situations that hook the reader’s interest as well as educate.  I see too many books getting the facts of solar flares wrong, but Abrahams accurately demonstrated how fast CMEs move (pretty slow compared to the light from the flare), the radiation they carry (protons), and the devastating effects of the EMP on electronics. It was apparent that the author did his research. Many plus POINTS for Science and Technology, novelty, and intelligibility.

Minus POINTS: The book was short and the author really should have included the sequel as a part of book 1 because very little of the conflict is actually resolved. While Abrahams does a decent job of switching between POVs, I thought the novelty of the book was the astronaut stuck on the ISS, but he seems to spend more time following the people on the ground, making this feel more like an average post-apocalyptic story. In fact, it seems like the space adventure ends too soon. While it is hard to say what people would do in the event of the apocalypse, I think chaos and disorder happened a bit too quickly, with gangs, thugs, and religious cults taking to the streets within a day or two.


51qvtzb2vyl-_sx322_bo1204203200_

Leviathan Wakes (Expanse series #1) by James S. A. Corey (POINTS= 27/30)

Plus POINTS: Despite being categorized as a space opera, I see very little resemblance. This is a book with a lot of political and interpersonal conflicts, but it really gives us a snapshot of what might actually happen when humanity begins to colonize the solar system. With large corporations and governments fighting for resources, and the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter being a source of much of it, tensions are high. The story is a mystery suspense that focuses on the disappearance of a woman and the seemingly pointless destruction of an ice freighter. It follows the perspective of a detective on the Ceres station on the belt, and a small surviving crew of the destroyed ice freighter. They uncover conspiracies that can change the way the humanity views their place in the universe. The pace was great, the writing gripping, and the science as spot on as it could be for such a large leap into a possible future. Corey (pen name for two authors) accurately depicts G forces, types of ‘artificial gravity’ (thrust or rotation), and the health effects and physiological changes of people that aren’t living in a ‘gravity well’. He knows what he is talking about.

Minus POINTS: There isn’t much negative to say about this first book in the series. I felt a bit more info could have been provided on the Epstein drive, which is a fusion reactor capable of providing continuous thrust. The crash couches and other seats meant to cushion the crew during high G maneuvers and accelerations are interesting, but the explanation of the ‘juice’ pumped into them to sustain consciousness and mobility during such event doesn’t quite satisfy me. Also unexplained is how a particular entity (protomolecule) can control many EM fields, take over organic matter, and change direction or speed up with seemingly no change in inertia. While it does break a couple of Newton’s laws, Corey does salvage his credibility by bringing up this fact and having the character’s baffled by how it could be done. They are, after-all, face to face with a strange entity that may have technology far beyond our own. It is also a bit improbable that humanity would have developed so far as to begin colonizing some of Jupiter’s moons and build massive ships, but not improved on standard projectile weapons, nukes, etc. Everyone knows that developing weapons is the first technological leap in most societies. Humans love killing each other.


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Hell Divers (The Hell Divers Trilogy Book 1) by Nicholas Sansbury Smith (POINTS= 23/30)

Plus POINTS: When the rest of humanity lives on floating airships above a radioactive earth, how can they survive? By sending divers down to the surface to scavenge for any fuel cells and supplies they need, that’s how. This book had a very unique concept and was full of action from start to finish. The overall scientific concepts are sound, though Smith does not talk about the science the much. I can’t even guess if severe electrical storms would be caused by massive amounts of radiation on the surface of the planet, but it makes sense that many, many ions and radicals would form under the radioactive onslaught, leading to severe electrical discharges. Smith also does due diligence in describing the harm such radiation inflicts on the human body, whether it be an acute exposure or a chronic one. Overall, it was a very interesting read and kept me entertained throughout.

Minus POINTS: Given the fairly short length of the novel, I would have preferred one or two fewer points of view. There were some 5 or so in total, and it really prevented me from getting attached to any one character. Alternatively, the book length could have been increased to help flesh out some of the underdeveloped sections. For example, there was one conflict where militant crewmen seize control of a section of the ship and make demands. It almost ends in catastrophe, and was definitely suspenseful, but I felt like nothing much came from it and we never had a lot of closure. Drawing out the suspense and fleshing out the resolution would have made a much more satisfying read. The organization was a bit awkward as well. I felt like he worked the tension up a bit for each dive, but none of them lasted that long. He could have had fewer dives and drawn out the suspense a bit more for each one. Smith compensated for this a little bit by having one POV on the surface most of the time. And unless I missed it, I imagine that solar energy would be a better energy source for an airship, but instead they rely on nuclear power. Perhaps, for whatever reason, they can not rise above the omnipresent cloud cover. Such cloud cover, however, would have caused the earth to cool. While Smith mentions quite a lot of snow on the surface, it isn’t clear if this is due to the location of the city or if it is the general state of the planet. But these are very minor points. The major minus points to the science was the use of super mutant monsters. Yes, perhaps two centuries had passed since the war occurred that irradiated the planet, but that is way too short a time for humanoid creatures with hard skin, barbs, wings, and no eyes to have evolved. Yes radiation can speed mutation, but it is more likely to cause death to the creature that is being irradiated, thus preventing evolution. Also, the radiation would have been much worse centuries ago when the war started, and these creatures would not have had their thick skins to protect them from it. Earth would be sterile. It is also not clear how the monsters are detecting electrical and radioactive energy or feeding off of it.


41ck5inzmjl-_sx311_bo1204203200_Sand Omnibus by Hugh Howey (POINTS= 22/30)

Plus POINTS: This was a highly original and engaging novel which really got my imagination going. Like Wool, much if the story takes place underground as it follows a family of sand divers as they explore the remains of forgotten and lost cities that have been buried under the sand for a long time. It is not just a tale of survival under the sands, but above it, as more and more people compete for the loot as well as chase after the most valuable loot of all, something that can make obstacles, and people, vanish in the blink of an eye. This story has a lot of political and survival elements that really amp up the suspense.

Minus POINTS: Vibrations seem like the most likely way to penetrate into sand, however, the notion that vibrations can be controlled so well as to extend from a suit and several feet away into the sand to harden sand or soften it, is a bit ridiculous. Yes, they character’s use little headsets that read their intentions, but the technology feels more like telekinesis than real technology. Soften the sand all you want, it would still exfoliate your face off and tear through any type of fabric or metal with enough time (the same principle as sandpaper), but this seems to have been left out by Howey. The worst part for me was the ending. The hero goes off with a mission, rather than show that hero doing their exciting mission, we are instead give the POV of the concerned family as they sit around a camp, bored as they watch the horizon for proof of the hero’s success. Showing people being bored is a sure way to make the audience bored. The climax of the story, while interesting, wasn’t all that intense either. And with a lack of a satisfactory resolution, the story really suffered in the last half.


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Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 – 5) (Silo series) (POINTS= 28/30)

Plus POINTS: I thoroughly enjoyed this series and I was surprised it had taken me so long to pick it up. Hugh Howey has crafted a fascinating world for us, an underground world. The residents of a large underground silo have been living for generations below the toxic atmosphere, believing that nothing and nobody was capable of living above the surface. Their only connection to the world outside the silo is a camera that shows them the toxic wasteland above. Occasionally men and woman are sentenced to death (or volunteer in some cases) to clean the surface of the cameras with a bit of wool. They always clean, even when they say they wont, and they all die before they can climb the hill and out of view, their suits deteriorating in the toxic environment. It has become taboo to speak of the outside, and in fact, it is a death sentence to express any interest in leaving. But everyone thinks about it. When the sheriff of the silo expresses an interest to leave, everyone is shocked. The send him out to clean and then go on with their lives, growing plants, recycling everything, mining, in the hopes of keeping the silo running for their life times and their children’s. When a new sheriff is recruited from the lower floors, mechanical, she begins to research why the previous sheriff wanted to go outside, and uncovers some large conspiracies that upend all they know about the world above and the purpose of the silo. The science and technology presented in this book appeared very thought out and well conceived and very realistic. I couldn’t think of many things he could have added to improve on the silos. The plot was full of suspense throughout, and I had a hard time putting it down. The culture and mindset of the silo seem very logical, with religions, taboos, and other things like their concept of distance and open spaces, the scarcity and price of paper, or the mythological view of animals that may have once walked the surface.

Minus POINTS: The only minus points here are due to the ending and a bit of the science. There were several points were I thought the motivation of the characters was a bit lacking or underdeveloped, thus resulting in actions that seemed very unlikely, or that they were overlooking some obvious problems and then became surprised by the consequences. The ending was a bit underwhelming and I never got the sense that I experienced a true climax of the tension. My only issue with the science were a few unlikely events where someone survived what would have been some extreme pressure, and the seeming lack of exhaustion for some people as they climbed a bunch of stairs. Also, there is apparently some room for people to fall or drop things over the edge of the stair well, if that is the case, why didn’t they create a lift or pulley system to help transport supplies or people? Technology wise, everything seemed a little dated and unsophisticated, but you learn that much of this was intentional.

Note: I chose not to review Shift (POINTS=19/30) or Dust (21/30) by Hugh Howey because I felt like I didn’t have a lot of positive things to say about them. Neither ended very satisfactorily, had way too much background, alternate POVs, unrelatable motivations, and info I thought distracted from the story, and were kind of boring. Dust wasn’t too bad, though. I think he could have left out Shift and continued with Dust, and made the whole series much better.


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The Martian by Andy Weir (POINTS= 29/30)

Plus POINTS: As far as the POINTS system goes, The Martian is currently the standard by which all books are judged. The story of a man deserted on a barren planet, trying to survive until rescue, is about as hopeless and grim as you can get, but Weir manages to inject humor, action, intrigue, and most importantly, science. From orbital dynamics, to pressure regulation, and oxygen and water reclaiming systems, he is pretty spot on, with in depth descriptions which are intelligibly and cleverly delivered (which the movie does a really poor job of replicating). I thought he started the story in just the right moment, not too early or too late. While it may not be targeting the softer side of the sci-fi readership, for us hard sci-fi fans, it’s just what we’ve been asking for. I confess that I did not read this recently, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten many details… I’ve read the book 5 times now!

Minus POINTS: Its really no one particular thing. If I could take away a third of a point from the intelligibility, science, and plot categories, I would. It is pretty heavy on the science and terminology, so readers need to pay attention to avoid missing anything vital to their understanding. Scientifically, there is a minor point with the inciting incident, where Mark gets impaled by an antennae and the MAV almost tips. With atmospheric pressure so low on the planet, it would have been impossible for the wind to push over much of anything. The only part I found lacking in the Plot was the seeming disappearance of a secondary character, Mindy Park, who was in charge of monitoring Mark on the surface of Mars with orbiting satellites. I would have liked to see her jump in and save the day at the end, perhaps having a satellite diverted to help with a lost communications issue or something. And perhaps have Mark establish some sort of relationship with her in the end. They both seemed pretty lonely. Oh well, can’t have everything.


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Red Rising by Pierce Brown (POINTS= 22/30)

Plus POINTS: This is an emotionally charged and gripping story about a young Red man in a caste-based society, who must become a Gold in order to “break the chains” they use to enslave his color. It has a more futuristic Hunger Games vibe, but the purpose of this competition is to train Golds how to become ‘peerless,’ to separate the grain from the chaff. I would classify this novel as a dystopian space-opera. Though it is not hard sci-fi, it was evident that Brown did his research and took his time constructing the elaborate and rich story line.

Minus POINTS: The story opens with the main character harvesting helium 3, an essential part of fusion reactions, from beneath the surface of mars, though this process and fusion reactors in general are not discussed. Also unaddressed by the author is how this isotope of helium can build up below the surface of a planet with minimal geological activity. Solar wind is the primary source of this particle in the solar system, so I have a hard time believing it would occur anywhere but the surface. There are elements of genetic manipulation, complex physiological alterations (‘carving’) and power over laws of physics. Cleverly, Brown uses the main character’s ignorance and perhaps lack-of-interest in these processes as a way to avoid explaining them in detail. Grav boots, for example, are a contraption that allow their wearers to zip around wheresoever they please, while ghost cloaks make the wearer become invisible. Many other such technologies exist that can somehow prevent the local vibration of air molecules to suppress sound, and make swords infinitely sharp and capable of cauterizing flesh.


51pg95d6dvlGolden Son by Pierce Brown (POINTS= 23/30)

Plus POINTS: As the second installment of the Red Rising Trilogy,  Darrow continues on his ongoing mission to overthrow the Gold overlords of society. To do this, he has become one of them, made a name for himself, and schemed his way into a position of power where he gets the Golds to war amongst themselves. His inner turmoil grows as his mission clashes with his burgeoning love and friendships. Breaking away from the setting of Mars, the setting of this story take place on the moon, in space, and a few other places around the solar system. There were no obvious plot holes that I could see and it was a very enjoyable read, with intriguing characters, exciting space battles, and political drama.

Minus POINTS: My main scientific objection to this story was the creation of Earth-like atmospheres and climates on the moon (and many of Saturn’s and Jupiter’s moons). Not only is the moon able to hold atmosphere, but it still has a low gravity? Unless I missed it, this was never explained. While I find it plausible that ‘artificial gravity’ might be created one day, and could possibly help hold an atmosphere to the moon’s surface, it is obvious that this was not the method Brown used. And how do they protect themselves and prevent the atmosphere from being stripped away from cosmic rays? We will never know. The razors, incredibly sharp whips that can become sturdy swords with a “chemical impulse” also defy reason, but they are an interesting concept, nonetheless. The characters also seem capable of recovering from almost any injury, and can have severed limbs and eyes replaced within the span of a few chapters.


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Golden Son by Pierce Brown (POINTS= 22/30)

Plus POINTS: The ruse is over, Darrow can no longer pretend to be a Gold. In this book, he must discover who is ally and who is enemy as he seeks to overthrow the Gold overlords. There are many fronts to this war and Darrow must choose one to fight first as well as amass an army to accomplish the impossible task. This story is packed with interesting characters, fascinating plot twists, and non-stop action.

Minus POINTS: The organization and plot take a bit of a hit here. While it was easy to follow, the author relied a bit too much on the ‘all hope is lost’ mentality for the reader, allowing us to believe that all of the plans have gone horribly wrong. Yet still Darrow and his friends still accomplish the impossible at every turn. It is sometimes difficult to understand his motive during these events. For example, rather than fight the Jackal or Sovereign, he decides to go take on a large fleet outside of Jupiter instead. His plan to gain the moon lords allegiance and take out the huge fleet seems rather flimsy, indeed, it almost ends terribly for him and the cause he fights for, but as always, just when things start going horribly wrong, he succeeds and even accomplished more than he intended to. As is typical with this series, the technology and science bring the score down a bit. While these aspects of the book are interesting, they don’t have much of a connection to reality. Medically, you can’t just stand up and be alright after being ejected into the vacuum of space for several minutes or being locked in a small box for 9 months, even if given an injection of some secret stimulant in the heart. Also stab wounds are probably going to cut vital organs or at least cut through some muscle and bleed a lot, so it’s unlikely that you can just carry on fighting without being slowed much. Wounds also seem to disappear with a couple chapters or so, and amputated limbs are somehow found and reconnected.