Friday, December 30, 2016

Reading Order

You might not think about it very often, but people have different ideas of the order books in a series should be read or movies should be watched. You probably go into a library after hearing that something is good, and look for “book 1.” But there are different ways of determining which book is “book 1,” and here at A Scientist’s Fiction we are generally unsatisfied with letting someone else do our thinking for us, so let’s dive into the mess.

I assume most people go by publication order when deciding what order to read something. They would watch Star Wars in the order 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3. To me, reading books in the order they released is usually the obvious choice.

But some people want to read stories in the order their events take place, chronological order. For example, they would say you should start The Chronicles of Narnia with The Magician’s Nephew, and go 6, 1, 5, 2, 3, 4, 7. Or for Star Wars, they would go 1, 2, 3, Rogue One, 4, 5, 6, 7.

You could lose friends over this.
When chronological order and publication order disagree, I am usually in favor of publication order. But not always. So do I have two incompatible preferences that I switch between, or is there is another, as yet unstated option? The answer, partly, is a third option:

The order that makes the best of what you love most. Most of the time, books are written, including prequels and side stories, assuming that the readers know everything that has been written before. This is why I most often agree with publication order. Sometimes, though, neither gives the writing the best possible treatment. With the original Star Wars series, the best way is the Machete order, proposed by Rod Hilton on his blog five years ago. He says you should watch the films in the order 4, 5, 2, 3, 6 (and then the others, if you are really interested). This gives you two movies of Luke, two movies of Anakin, and one where they have their showdown.

Still, this only applies if you want to read every book or watch every movie and episode in the series. If it is long and somewhat disconnected, like Discworld or Star Trek (or Star Wars in the near future), then you might want to get straight to the best parts, and ignore the fluff and side stories.

In addition, different people get the most out of different things. For example, you may love character interactions, but if you are a longtime reader of A Scientist’s Fiction you know I love to be blind-sided by an earth-shattering plot twist. As you can see, the details can get really complicated.

Despite all this, I still believe there is a formula. I am of the philosophical persuasion that there is always a formula for everything, though I won’t take a tangent into the justification here. I cannot give you the equation for the formula of reading order, but I can tell you that it incorporates both the preferences of the individual readers and their external circumstances. Find out what you love about stories and check your time constraints, and base your reading order off of that. And when you introduce someone you know to the series, pay attention to their preferences when suggesting where they should begin. It all gets back to the golden rule, do unto others what you would have them do to you, and that includes getting to know them and what they are interested in, not assuming they are just like you. And if your friend does not see the same way as you, accept that it is okay to disagree.


On a different note, I want to give myself a pat on the back for releasing an ASF discussion on each of the five Fridays this month! It has been over a year and a half since the only other time I have done this. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I did it right after NaNoWriMo. Here is to keeping the momentum going!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Strange Cosm: A Short Story

Strange Cosm
By Christian David Horst

This story may have been subconsciously inspired by the webcomic BlankIt.

     They were. They did not awake in the traditional sense, nor as from a dream, nor a hallucination, nor any kind of slumber of any sort. They were simply there, two men between the ages of twenty and thirty coming to full awareness at the same time, with no memory of any existence prior to or outside of that moment, in that place—if a place it could be called, as there was nothing in any of the six directions but a smooth, monochromatic white. They could see each other, but the ground had no texture, the sky had no feature, and not even a horizon could be distinguished.
     Of the two men, one had a round face with eyebrows that seemed to jump off his face when he arched them. His clothes were semi-formal, but hung loosely, showing that he was comfortable and relaxed in them. On his wrist, he wore a bulky watch. The other was tall, had a square jaw and large, rectangular glasses. His mouth seemed stuck in a bewildered smile. He wore a sweatshirt and a brown scarf.
     “Who are you?” The tall man said.
     “I . . . don’t know.” The short man looked befuddled, but not the least bit frightened. “Who are you?”
     “Beats me. We’ve got to call each other something, though.” He pointed at the other man’s watch.      “You’re Wristwatch.” Then he looked down at the fabric hanging down his front. “And I’m Scarf.”
     “All right then, Scarf,” Wristwatch said, tapping his foot against the ground, “let’s try to figure it out.”
     “Figure what out?” Scarf said. He looked around. “Oh, that.”
     Wristwatch knelt down on the ground and placed his hand on it. “Decent friction. Grippy, but not sticky.” He tapped it with his knuckles. “Solid as rock.”
     “So what?” Scarf asked.
     “It means,” Wristwatch said, with a smirk, “that we’re definitely somewhere.”
     Scarf put his hands in his pockets and looked around. The lack of change in the view made him dizzy. “It sure doesn’t look like we are.”
     “It may look like we are in some kind of world between universes or something,” Wristwatch said,      “but we’re not.” He stomped his foot, and the ground clacked like marble. “This place has properties. That means it’s real. I mean, feel the air. A decent seventy Fahrenheit, if I might guess. And we’re breathing. That means the atmosphere must be a good fraction oxygen, and the rest non-toxic gases.”
     “That’s . . . interesting,” Scarf said.
     “Sure is. It means there has to be photosynthetic activity somewhere. Come on, let’s start walking and see if we can find anything.”
     “Which way?”
     Wristwatch looked around. “Well, I guess it doesn’t matter, as long as we keep going in a straight line.”
     Scarf started forward, but Wristwatch stopped him. “What’s up?” Scarf said.
     “We need a reference to make sure we aren’t walking in circles.”
     “Can’t we just keep going in the same direction?”
     “We could try, but humans are really bad at going straight without something far away as a reference, like a mountain, or stars in the sky.”
     Scarf looked up. “I guess you have a point there.” Wristwatch was silent, and Scarf looked down to find him eying the fabric tied around Scarf’s neck. “Oh no you don’t,” Scarf said, stepping back and holding his hands out defensively. “I’m named after this thing.”
     “What else are we going to use?” Wristwatch asked.
     Twenty minutes later, Scarf and Wristwatch marched forward, Wristwatch in his socks, holding one shoe in his hand. Every now and then they looked over their shoulders to make sure Wristwatch’s other shoe was directly behind them. It was little more than a dot by now, but since everything else was white, they could not miss it.
     “Hold up,” Scarf said, “I need to pee.”
     “Oh no,” Wristwatch exclaimed, “I forgot about bodily functions! How are we supposed to eat or drink in this place?”
     “Good question,” Scarf said, “but would you mind turning around?”
     “Oh yeah, sure.” Wristwatch turned his back, and the sound of zipping and then splattering liquid reached his ear. With a sudden inspiration, he said, “Does it flow?”
     “Uh, yeah.”
     “Which way?”
     “Uh, out, like it always does.”
     “No, I mean—forget it, are you done yet?”
     Scarf zipped up his pants. “Yeah. Hey, what are you doing?”
     Wristwatch scurried over and bent over the yellow-tinged pool. “Static,” he said. “As still as can be expected from a completely flat plane.”
     “So?”
     “Don’t you see?” Wristwatch stood up. “We thought we were on a flat plane. Now we have evidence supporting it.”
     “Uh, didn’t we already know that? What is the use of proving something you already know?”
     Wristwatch slapped his own face with the palm of his hand. He sighed, as if not sure how simple he had to go to explain. “Thinking and knowing are two different things. We thought we were in a flat plane, and now it has been confirmed. But we still don’t know it for sure, only that at this spot it is close enough to flat as to be indistinguishable from it.”
     “Dude, what does it matter?”
     “Ugh.” Wristwatch put his hand down and closed his eyes. “The more we know about this place, the better chance we have of surviving, escaping, adapting, etcetera. Make sense?”
     “Kind of, but wouldn’t it be better to learn about where to find food and water or something?”
     “Let me know when you have something to go on. Until then, I’m going to keep studying the finer details of the world in the hopes that something useful emerges.”
     They kept moving, walking for hours, nothing changing. “Something is wrong,” Wristwatch said.      “We’ve been here so long, and it’s still all the same. Nothing has happened to mark the passage of time. Even the light has remained constant.”
     “Yeah,” Scarf said, looking around his body. “And now that you mention it, we don’t have any shadows either.”
     Wristwatch stopped, standing straight, his eyebrows shooting up to the top of his forehead. “You’re right.” In addition to not casting shadows on the ground, they seemed to be illuminated equally from all sides. He could make darkened places by cupping his hands together over his face, but anything that was exposed to the whiteness was uniformly lit.
     “Oh, oh!” Wristwatch shouted. He shook, so excited that he actually started jumping up and down. He stopped and threw his arms open. “We’re not on a planet, or a plane!” He grinned at Scarf, showing his teeth. “The perfect lighting, and the fact that we can’t see a horizon or any variation in shade. The geometry works out perfectly. We’re inside a uniformly glowing sphere!”
     Scarf’s eyes slowly tracked upward. Then, pointing, he said, “Then shouldn’t we see your shoes up there somewhere?” Wristwatch’s first shoe had gone out of sight a while ago, and they had dropped his other one so they could know they were still going straight.
     “It’s too big for that,” Wristwatch said. “We might have to walk for miles and miles in order for there to be enough curvature for us to notice the difference.” He grinned. “And we’d need a much bigger shoe.”
     “And how do you know it’s a sphere? Why not a cube or a cylinder or something?”
     “Well I don’t know exactly, but it has to be close to a sphere because of the uniform lighting. Everything exposed to the surface is equally bright. Because we live in three dimensions, the intensity falls off as the square of the distance, and that adds up equally in all directions from any point inside the sphere. It’s Newton’s Shell Theorem, except with luminosity instead of gravity.” He took a breath. “Either that, or someone programmed the lighting to center on us.”
     At this point, Scarf was scratching his head. “Yeah, sure.”
     Wristwatch sighed. “You know, the single most important thing for us right now is to figure out how to get out of here so we can stay alive, and one of the best things we can do to further that goal is a little cosmology.”
     Scarf’s mouth twitched. “I guess. It’s just way over my head.”
     “You might try learning some mathematics sometime. It’s useful stuff.” They started walking again. “I wonder if we’ll find we’re walking uphill, or if the gravity always points outward. Hopefully one of us will have to pee again soon, so we can see if there is a downhill yet.”
Scarf made a face.
     Wristwatch stopped, face aglow with a new idea. “What if it’s spinning?”
     “Oh, I know this one!” Scarf said. “The centrifugal force from something spinning is like gravity.”
     “Centripetal force,” Wristwatch said, digging in his pocket. “It’s the ground pushing on us to keep us moving in a circle. There’s not actually a force pushing us outward. But yeah, you’re basically right.” He found a quarter, and squatted down and placed the coin on its edge, holding it with a finger.      “Come to think of it, gravity isn’t actually a force either.” He flicked the coin, and they watched it spin.
     “What are we looking at?” Scarf asked.
     “If the place is rotating, the coin should fall over quickly,” Wristwatch replied, a note of disappointment creeping into his voice. The quarter continued to spin gracefully. “The coriolis effect should keep its rotational direction constant, or from our perspective tip it over in the direction the sphere is spinning.” The coin loudly finished its ring-down, settling to the ground. “It looks like it’s gravity after all. Oh well, we would have to have been perfectly on the rotational axis not to feel like we were on a hill anyway, and my guess is that the Copernican Principle applies here.”
     “What’s that?”
     “The idea that we find ourselves at a reasonably average place instead of somewhere special. It’s really just probability. Although,” he looked back at his last shoe, a mere speck in the distance. “We might as well try walking in a different direction, just in case.”
     Scarf pointed to the ground. “You quarter is American.”
     Wristwatch looked down, and his face lit up. “You’re right! Let’s check our pockets for other things. And our clothes too.” He twisted his neck and pulled his shirt collar around to read the tag. “Made in China. Figures.”
     “I found a wallet!” Scarf said. “And it has . . .” he fumbled it open, and his face fell. “No ID.”
     “What’s this?” Wristwatch said. He pulled his hand out of his pocket. In his palm was a compass. “Sweet!” He turned it, and the needle turned with the shell. Frowning, he gave it a twist, and the needle rotated a little more.
     “Doesn’t work?” Scarf asked.
     “Maybe, but I’m more willing to bet there’s just no magnetic field here. It’s too bad; we might have had a new way to keep going forward. As it is . . .” his gaze tracked down to Scarf’s feet.
     Hours later, the two of them found themselves in what appeared to be the exact same place as they started, minus their shoes. Any sign of what they had left behind was lost in the distance, and still their surroundings had no feature, no variation, just endless white.
     Wristwatch sat on the ground and heaved a sigh. “Let’s rest for a bit.”
     Scarf sat down nearby. Their feet were sore, and it felt good to be off them.
     Wristwatch lay on his back and groaned. “What is this place?” he said. “Why are we here? How do we know things as if we have past lives, but have no memory of those lives?”
     “Yeah, it’s pretty weird.”
     “And all the things we figured out—the temperature, the friction of the ground, the lack of magnetic field—no matter how much I think about it, nothing makes sense.
     “Maybe it’s a dream.” Scarf offered.
     “Pinch yourself. It’s real. And think of all the time between when we first ‘woke up’ to now. You can remember a full narrative. If we were dreaming, there would be gaps and contradictions, and things that change when we look away. This is too consistent.”
     “A story, maybe? Stories make sense where the characters look, but there comes a point when the writer says, ‘that’s enough,’ and there’s no more further detail.”
     “But we’re conscious,” Wristwatch said. “Consciousness is something we know is absolutely real. It can’t be imagined into existence in a made-up world.”
     “What about a simulation? That could have all the features of a story, but be more open-ended. And there might be a way to create consciousness in a simulated world.”
     “Maybe.” Wristwatch yawned.
     “We’ll have more time to think about it tomorrow,” Scarf said.
     “Yeah, I guess so.”
     They stopped talking, and soon their thoughts grew incoherent, as they drifted off toward sleep.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Bad Science Arguments


Science is the pinnacle of thought, plowing relentlessly into the unknown, conquering it and making it ours. Science has shown us great truths, that the universe is amazingly old, that all life is related, that the sun is a star of billions in the galaxy, and the Milky Way is one galaxy of billions in the universe, and countless more. Science is a monolith of thought, knowledge, and understanding. Yet despite this—or perhaps because of it—a few ideas have made into the mainstream consciousness of the scientifically-minded community that do not meet the rigorous standards of a scientific claim. In this discussion, I will go through a few of them, explaining the arguments, and then pointing out where they fail. We shall see that they all share a common problem.

Note: I am not talking about scientific ideas that are misunderstood. That is another discussion. This is about ideas that many scientists and science enthusiasts subscribe to, and perhaps should not.

The Doomsday Argument

By Indigodeep on Deviantart
The Doomsday Argument claims humanity is on the brink of extinction. It goes like this: suppose someone was randomly chosen from anywhere in human history. What time period would you expect that person to be from? We know from history that the human population grows exponentially, so the later in time we look, the more humans we see. That is, until we die out. It is an ever-more-strongly-rising peak, and then a near-immediate jump down to dwindling numbers, and then extinction. Therefore we would expect to find our randomly chosen human being to be found near the end of human civilization. But think, you yourself are a randomly chosen human being from all of human history, so you should expect to find yourself near the end of human history. Therefore, we must conclude that humanity is about to die out.

Because I want to believe humanity will flourish for the rest of the lifetime of the universe, I have a personal interest in debunking this argumet. Luckily, it is quite easy to do so. The Doomsday Argument assumes that you and I are randomly picked from all of human history. We are not, though, we are you and I. Pick a point in history between the dawn of agriculture and the end of time, and the Doomsday Argument will give the same result: humanity is about to end.

The Doomsday Argument also fails to consider any particular method for human extinction. It is not easy to wipe out an intelligent species, and the more we advance, the more scenarios we can avoid. We have space programs that can find and deflect asteroids that are on a collision course with Earth. Some disasters might wipe out a significant number of us, but we will be able to rebuild and return, advancing further than before. We can weather out nuclear winter in underground bunkers. We can adapt to global warming. There are still possibilities we cannot avoid, like the sun suddenly increasing its temperature or a nearby star going supernova, but we can catalog these possibilities, and it is reasonable to assume that none of them will happen within a few billion years. Despite the cynicism of the Doomsday Argument, it looks like humanity will be here for a long time.

The Simulation Hypothesis

It is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window, or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been put over your eyes to blind you
 from the truth.
Look at how computer technology is advancing. Twenty years ago, the internet barely existed, and now it is all but an extension of people’s brains. Science used to be done with a pencil and paper, and now it is done on supercomputers. In all likelihood, this trend will continue.

Our simulation capabilities are getting better and better. We are at the point where we can put a billion particles in a virtual box, shake it up, and watch them form into galaxies and galaxy clusters. The particles we use have the mass of a thousand suns, but if computation continues to get better, there may be no limit to the complexity of the simulations we can run. In fact, a billion years from now when we have mega-computers that surround entire stars, we may be able to simulate a universe the size of our own, with particle-perfect precision. Given the vast number of stars in the universe, there are bound to eventually be a staggering number of simulated universes, compared to our one real universe. With this information, we are infinitely more likely to find ourselves in one of the many virtual universes than in the one real universe.

Except there are a few major flaws in this argument. First, we are conscious creatures. Our consciousness resides in our brains, and brains are very different from computers. We do not yet have a science of consciousness, and have no idea if consciousness can be created by a computer algorithm.

Second, the same logic that tells us that we are probably in a simulation would tell us that the universe that simulates us is also probably a simulation, and the universe that simulates it is probably a simulation too. The argument looks at the complexity of our universe, and concludes that, since we can make universe-precise simulations in our universe, then our own universe is probably a simulation. In fact, the higher up we go, the more complex the universe we find ourselves in, the more likely it will be able to generate universe-precise simulations, and thus the more likely it is to be a simulation itself! It is an infinite regress, which blows up the further out we go. Any valid argument would have to result in the conclusion going the other way around, with simpler universes being more likely to be simulations than complex ones.

Some universe has to be the real thing. And until it has been demonstrated otherwise, I see no reason not to live as if the one we find ourselves in is it.

The Technological Singularity


Again consider how rapidly computation is progressing. Fifty years ago, the first people walked on the moon, using less computing power than a Texas Instruments calculator. Now, we have built programs that can beat humanity’s best chess and go players, and it is only a matter of time before a true Artificial Intelligence is born that can beat the best human at everything. Once this happens, it will upgrade itself, making it even better. Then it will upgrade itself again, and again, and again, and by the next day we will all be ruled by an all-powerful robot god. It is not a question of if, but when. And it is coming soon.

Except it’s a lot more complicated than that. Though human brains are often compared with computers, they really have very little in common. Computers may be able to do mathematical calculations far beyond the human capability to comprehend, but they do exactly what they are told, sometimes so exactly as to frustrate us to no end at their stupidity. For example, if we told an AI to “make paper clips,” and left the room, we might return to find it has turned the entire house into paper clips. And even if we can code some “common sense” into our AI, there are still things that humans will always be better at, like philosophy and the arts. Suggesting a computer that can outdo us at those things goes far into the realm of science fiction. The bottom line is, all it takes to avoid our AI worries is smart programming. We have to be responsible with what we create, no differently when we are talking about AI than any other technology.

There is also an implicit worry that a superintelligent Artificial Intelligence will become conscious, and want to wipe us out as evolutionary competitors. This is simply baseless worry, brought about by our human tendency to project our own perceptions and behaviors onto the universe. All life in nature, including us, evolved in competition with other life. That which was violent and destructive toward other life forms was more likely to survive. When we look back through our history and see the wars and the subjugation we wrought, it is because evolution favored those of our distant ancestors who had those things in their nature. AI is different; we decide its nature. So all we have to do to avoid our creation revolting against us is to program it with an unchangeable command to value above all else the freedom of human beings to pursue their own fulfillment.

The technological singularity is a much more nuanced than I have covered here, and it is interesting enough that I might write a whole other discussion about it sometime in the future.

Conclusion

All of these arguments have the same problem: they rely on the extrapolation of trends, and neglect to take into account any of the real factors that come into play. There is no immediate existential danger that we are not in the process of taking steps to prevent. We have no examples of perfect-precision simulated universes, nor any evidence that consciousness can exist within them. And we have no evidence of any computer having any intent at all, much less the intent to destroy us. These ideas are gold mines for science fiction; it is quite popular these days to have stories about AI gone amok or Earth being threatened by some catastrophe, and The Matrix did fairly well too. But science fiction is all they are.

For a final word, I want to point out that just because they are bad arguments does not mean they aren’t possible. It merely means it is not reasonable to take them as definite or inevitable at the present time. Science has such a good track record of providing solid, airtight arguments, that we run the danger of letting our guards down and simply accepting everything that comes from a scientific source. But it is important to remain agnostic when we do not have enough information to say one way or another, and we must take these ideas as warnings, so that we can look to the future with clarity and responsibility.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Fermi Paradox (The Great Silence)

The Great Mysteries:
Fermi Paradox
Consciousness


Humans have always looked up at the sky and wondered at what might be up there. In the millennia we have been around, we have come to find that the sun is a star, and we live on one of the planets revolving around that star. In recent years, we have found thousands of planets orbiting other stars, and estimated that the total number of planets in the galaxy vastly outweighs the number of stars.

60 years ago, a bunch of physicists were having lunch and talking about the possibility of intelligent aliens, when one of the physicists, Enrico Fermi, burst out “Where are they?” If there are so many stars and so many planets in the universe, why have we not seen any sign of life from another world? No visits, no messages, nothing. This question became known as the Fermi Paradox.

The first question you might have is, why should we think we should have seen alien life? Space is really, really big, after all. Another physicist, Frank Drake, proposed an equation to calculate the number of intelligent civilizations in the galaxy. This became known famously as the Drake equation. It gives us the probable number of civilizations in the galaxy, given the rate of star formation, the fraction of those stars with planets that could support life, the fraction of those planets that give rise to life, and the fraction of those planets that evolves intelligent life. The problem, though, is that we have no idea what numbers we should plug into it.

Can we guess? We have to look at human life, the only example we have. Intelligent life arose on Planet Earth in 4 billion years. In the 100,000 years since we evolved intelligence, we have gone from hunter-gatherers to globally-connected space-exploring civilizations. Assuming we continue to develop and expand, we will be all over the galaxy a few million years from now. So the time it takes between the beginning of life and the colonization of the entire galaxy is, at least in our example, about 4 billion years.

But the universe is 14 billion years old, so civilizations have had plenty of time in which to develop. Life needs heavy elements, which are only produced in the most extreme environments like supernovae or colliding neutron stars, so the longer the universe has been around, the better the environment for life to arise. Still, some of the first stars exploded less than a billion years after the big bang, which means it would have been possible for the first forms of life to arise 13 billion years ago. If it evolved to intelligence, then it would have spread across the galaxy ten billion years ago, and only continued to advance since!


If humanity is any example, intelligent life advances fast, a mere blink of an eye compared to the age of the universe. In science fiction we see all kinds of alien life forms encountering each other at about the same technological level, but this is unrealistic. Given the vast amount of time the universe has been around, if life arose elsewhere, it would be much more likely to be ancient than our age.

Science enthusiast YouTuber Isaac Arthur has gone further and suggested that as humanity expands, we will create artificial habitats around each star until the star is completely obscured from outside view. These swarms of habitats are called Dyson Spheres, after the physicist Freeman Dyson who first proposed their possibility. They would still give off infrared radiation as a heat signature, so we would be able to detect them. So if intelligent life besides us arose in the Milky Way, it would most likely be old and have covered all the stars with Dyson Spheres, so we should not be able to see any stars in the sky. Furthermore, this logic applies to all galaxies. Since we see billions of galaxies in the sky, and have so far found none to have the heat signature of a Dyson Swarm, then we might be pressed to conclude that we are the only intelligent species in the observable universe; a lonely and depressing thought.


So if civilizations are rare, what might be the reason? Some say it is because when civilizations advance enough, they turn introspective, have a strict non-interference policy, die out by natural disaster, or wipe themselves out in wars. But in order to resolve the Fermi Paradox, these explanations would have to apply to all civilizations, setting a heavy burden of proof to meet.

A more favorable resolution is something called the Great Filter, which would be an event in the course of the development of life that is extremely improbable. Any Great Filter candidate would have to be something that have happened only once in the history of life. There are several key events that fit this criterion, but I will focus on two of them: abiogenesis and intelligence. Since we have only one example of each happening, we cannot assign probabilities to them, so either or both might be extremely improbable.

We still do not know how life began on Earth. Though we have created simple bacteria in the laboratory in extremely artificial conditions, we have not observed it in nature nor in laboratory-reproduced conditions of the early Earth. If the Great Filter is abiogenesis, then life may truly be rare in the universe.

The evolution of intelligence is a happier Great Filter possibility, because it would mean that the universe is teeming with bacteria, plants, animals, and perhaps other Kingdoms we do not have on Earth. Imagine sending probes to planets around other stars, only to get back pictures of wild forests and creatures, ripe for colonization!


On the other hand, it may be that intelligent life is quite common, and we simply have not been able to find it yet. After all, the fraction of our own galaxy we have searched is so small that, as Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it, to claim there is no other life in the universe is like scooping up a glass of water from the surf and proclaiming there are no whales in the ocean. Space is big, and we have a lot of exploring ahead of us, and with the new telescopes we are building we may be on the brink of answering this age-old question.

Friday, December 2, 2016

NaNo Results 2016

I did it! I wrote a full novel draft in one month! The Void Stared Back, first draft, has a final word count of 28,800 (including editing notes). The official NaNoWriMo goal is 50,000 words, but my own personal goal was just to get it done. From what I have been able to gather in my studies, most writers are too wordy, having to cut and pare down to get their stories to be short enough. I am the opposite; I struggle to get my word count up to an acceptable level.

When starting out in writing (or any craft, really) we have a psychological barrier to success. The first book seems like an insurmountable sheer-faced mountain until you finally get to the top. The second is easier, and so on. This NaNo draft is the second first draft I have finished. It was easier than the first draft of Raiders, and I expect they will only get easier from here.

Don’t expect to see The Void Stared Back on shelves anytime soon. NaNo is meant for practice and momentum, not for great prose. There were times as I wrote when I though “ugh, this is the worst,” but instead of making it better, I added a note reminding my future self to fix it, and moved on. Now that I am finished, I am tired of this story, so I will put it aside for a while and let my brain go off to other things.

They say you have to write a million words before you get published. I would guess, thinking back over the years at my pre-writing, abandoned chapters, short stories, and full drafts, that I am at about 150,000. If my momentum keeps up, it should not be long before I get that count up to mastery.