Classic sci-fi books, reviews, and the best of from a dedicated fan and author!
Matt Williams is a professional writer, science fiction author, and science communicator who currently writes for Universe Today, Interesting Engineering, Stardom Space, and Stellar Amenities. He is also the Director of Media Communications for Mars City Design and a member of Enterprise in Space and Explore Mars. His novels, The Formist Series, are available at Amazon.com and through Castrum Press. He lives with his wife and family on Vancouver Island in beautiful British Columbia.
The series continues with the latest stop in the Solar System: Mercury! Hold up, that can’t be right! And yet, it is. Contrary to popular opinion, humans could actually live on Mercury, the closest planet to our Sun. Granted, it won’t exactly be a cakewalk. In addition to being an airless body (i.e., no atmosphere to speak of), Mercury is exposed to almost seven times as much radiation as Earth.
And because of its slow rotation and rapid orbit, surface temperatures range from hot enough to melt lead to cryogenically freezing! But with the right know-how, technology, and strategies, we could build a thriving outpost of civilization and economy on Mrcury based on the export of mineral wealth and energy, as well as art and ideas!
The idea has been explored in science fiction and scientific literature alike. And assuming there are enough people adventurous enough to settle there, there’d be a new branch of humanity known as “Hermeans.” Follow the links below to learn more.
In the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), there are many limiting factors. These go beyond the usual technical limitations, where SETI researchers are reliant on existing radio telescopes that can only be used for limited amounts of time. A far greater one is the very limited frame of reference we have for measuring intelligence.
Let’s face it, our notions of intelligence are entirely self-centered and anthropocentric. We think of intelligence in terms of ourselves and rarely consider that intelligence can occur under other domains, even though many exist here on Earth, and there is a considerable body of research that takes a wider view.
Given the way SETI research has become reinvigorated in recent decades, there are many who believe it’s time to expand our notions on what forms life and intelligence could take. For my purposes, the following scheme is motivated mainly by my interest in science fiction and its unparalleled ability to explore the deeper mysteries of the Universe.
Therefore, for your viewing pleasure, I present the Intelligence Scale. It is arranged based on the nature of the intelligence (labels are frustrating and inexact) and the scale it occupies.
Type a — Distributed: Consisting of individual intelligent beings connected together through social relationships Type b — Collective: Consisting of large groups of organisms that make up a cohesive intelligent unit Type c — Cooperative: Consisting of individual intelligence that has merged to form a larger whole Type d — Adaptive: Consisting of intelligence that is capable of functioning in more than one mode or environment Type e — Assimilative: Consisting of intelligence that is collective and incorporates all organisms in its environment into a greater whole
Type I — Micrometer: Organisms measuring a few micrometers to a few centimeters in scale (ranging from microbes to insect-like creatures) Type II — Meter: Organisms measuring in the meter range, mammals to high-order primates Type III — Planetary: Organisms encompassing a large geographic region to an entire planet Type IV — Stellar: Organisms extending beyond a single planet to an entire solar system Type V — Cosmic: Organisms occupying a large region of space, extending for light-years and possibly entire galaxies
For reference, humanity is a Type IIa species, which is arguably making the transition to a Type IIIa thanks to the digital age. Will we ever give rise to different classes ourselves, or will we find examples that challenge our notions out there in the cosmos? In both cases, I sincerely hope so!
There’s an old saying by Kierkegaard, “Life can only be understood backward; but it must be lived forwards.” I’ve heard this adage many times, except that the word “history” was always substituted for “life.” This is certainly true, to a point. After all, history is subject to prejudices, bias, and the good old human tendency to look for patterns. In my experience, how we remember history is no less about “the winners write the books” as “the writers impose their organization principle.”
That’s what I love about science fiction’s future histories. The sub-genre owes its existence to Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men, a science fiction novel released in 1930. In this “future history,” Stapledon presented an imaginative romp through several futures where the descendants of humanity rise and fall many times, creating advanced civilizations and periodically slipping back into barbarism.
This week’s topic is near and dear to my heart (I know, when aren’t they?). But this one is especially so since so much depends on it. Around the world today, space agencies and commercial space entities are developing nuclear propulsion systems. These systems come in the form of Nuclear-Thermal (NTP), Nuclear-Electric (NEP), and Bimodal Nuclear Propulsion (BNP) – where both methods are used by a spacecraft.
This week, I got into one of the more intriguing aspects of astrobiology – the search for life in the cosmos! Right now, all of our astrobiology efforts are focused on Mars, the most “habitable” planet (by our standards) beyond Earth. But what of the icy moons that orbit Jupiter, Saturn, and beyond? For decades, scientists have speculated that moons orbiting gas giants beyond the “Frost Line” could have warm-water oceans that could support life.
These oceans result from the gravitational pull of the gas giants they orbit, causing tidal flexing in their interiors. This, it was theorized, would lead to hydrothermal activity at the core-mantle boundary, where the icy outer shell meets the rocky and metallic core. The energy this released would maintain a liquid-water ocean rich in the chemical elements we associate with life.
The theory emerged by the 1970s after scientists got a good look at some of Jupiter’s largest moons – Europa and Ganymede – which showed evidence of resurfacing, plume activity, and their interactions with Jupiter”s magnetic field. In recent years, the list of “Ocean Worlds” has expanded to include moons like Titan, Enceladus, Dione, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, Oberon, Triton, Charon, and even Pluto!
In all cases, these bodies have geological activity or sufficient nuclear elements (which decay to produce heat) to maintain liquid water in their interiors. The plethora of “Ocean Worlds” in our Solar System also has implications for the search for life in extrasolar systems. After all, if icy satellites in our outer Solar System could support life, then similar bodies are sure to exist out there (in abundance). Check it out below!
This week, I sat down with NASA astronomer and exoplanet researcher Dr. Charles Beichman, the Executive Director of the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute (NExScI) at Caltech. He’s an esteemed scientist who has spent decades searching for exoplanets and led several path-finding missions. These include the Space Interferometer Mission (SIM), the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS),the Spitzer Space Telescope, and the 2 Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS).
One could say that he was looking for exoplanets before it was “cool.” Suffice it to say, the man has some very interesting stories. Very soon, he and a team of astronomers will be using the James WebbSpace Telescope (JWST) to observe Alpha Centauri, where they hope to find the first definitive proof of exoplanets in that system. I think I speak for everyone when I wish him and his colleagues the best of luck!
This week’s episode was the third installment of the “Settling the Solar System” (or “Great Migration”) segment. Previous episodes covered how humans could one day live on the Moon and Mars. In this latest installment, I discussed how humans (with the right technology and strategies) could live on Venus. Well, not exactly on Venus, since the planet is a total hellhole!
The air pressure alone is enough to crush your bones, the average temperature is literally hot enough to melt lead, and there’s also sulfuric acid rain! Basically, Venus is the WORST piece of real estate in the Solar System! At least… it is on the surface. But above the cloud tops, where temperatures are mild, the air pressure is decent, and the sulfuric acid rain is sparse, floating cities could be established.
Over time, these settlements could be used to terraform the planet into an ocean paradise. Check out the episode to hear how it could be done!
A few months back, my publisher announced that, unfortunately, they could no longer publish my trilogy, known as the Formist Series. The pandemic had hit the publishing industry pretty hard, especially smaller operations, and they were no longer able to keep producing their clients’ books. Fortunately, there’s a wealth of independent author resources out there, and I have some experience with them.
So as soon as I reacquired the rights to my books – The Cronian Incident, The Jovian Manifesto, and The Frost Line Fracture – I reissued them immediately via Kindle Direct Publishing. For the first little while, nothing much changed. But a few short weeks ago, I noticed that the number of ratings had climbed considerably, especially for the first novel. Allow me to present it in table format. I like doing that!
Frost Line Fracture
Doing the math, CI’s ratings have increased by 292%, JV’s have increased by a comparatively modest 37.5%, and FLF’s have increased by 100% (but only because it went from 1 to 2). I’m not sure what led to this uptick, but I think the way my online profile has increased in the past decade has directed more people to my books. And it seems likely to me that this is recent since the increase has been concentrated on the first installment in the series so far.
While it’s certainly the case that most readers will pick up the first book in a series and hesitate to buy more, that much of a gap between the first books and the sequels suggests to me that anyone who bought the first one (and left a rating) are still deciding if they want to read further. Personally, I hope they do because (imho) the second book is the best one, while my publisher claimed that the third one is. I invite readers to decide for themselves!
The field of astronomy has become increasingly accessible in recent years, thanks to the growth of online astronomical communities, citizen astronomers, and open-access databases. This growth has paralleled the creation of next-generation telescopes, instruments, and data-sharing methods allowing greater collaboration between observatories and the general public.
Unfortunately, despite these positive developments, there are still millions of people around the world who do not have access to astronomy and would like to. This problem mirrors disparities that exist worldwide, where many communities experience lower education, health, and economic outcomes. These exist not only between nations but between urban and rural communities, where a lack of infrastructure can translate into a lack of access.
To address this disparity, a growing number of organizations are looking to bring STEM education to traditionally underserved communities. This includes the Asif Astronomy Club, which has engaged with students in remote communities in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains since 2020.
Through its efforts, the club and its leader (El-Mehdi Essaidi) are spreading the culture of astronomy and its central message: “Space is for everyone.” They are also helping to inspire the next generation of scientists and change-makers to reach for the stars (literally and figuratively).
I have to this, this was a complete surprise and I didn’t even realize anyone was keeping track. And yet, my friend and colleague James Maynard brought this bit of news to my attention. The list comes from PlayPodcast.net, a site that that offers free listening for hundreds of podcasts and (apparently) ranks them according to various categories. For this list, they ranked the best astronomy podcasts this year.
I’m not sure if this represents their own assessment or based on reviews, but I’ll take it. Also, note that The Cosmic Companion is the podcast of my buddy James. I invite you to check it out seeing as how he has some very cool stories, is a NASA alumni, and interviews some very interesting people (scientists, researchers, astronauts, etc.).