Post-Apocalyptic

PLOT DEVICES FOR SCI-FI / FANTASY READERS AND WRITERS

T. E. Mark’s Blogs                                                                                            15 Feb 2017

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Post-Apocalyptic

Post-Apocalyptic novels, once a sub-genre in the Science Fiction and Fantasy, now warp shelves in bookstores and libraries. Though the plots vary, the reasons for the Apocalypse, except for a few noteworthy exceptions, typically don’t. If it wasn’t a thermonuclear war that splashed away the bulk of humanity, leaving just a sampling for a merry little story of bleak desolation, most mutated and deranged to some degree, it was a bio-terror agent, an untimely plague, asteroids, or those blasted computers.

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So, how will you explain your ‘end-of-the-world’ almost saga? Will you address it at all? Many writers have simply left it to the reader’s or viewer’s imagination. How about your survivors? Will they be bloodthirsty zombies prone to cannibalism, or scraggly survivalists simply open to the idea? Let’s ingest a few lit and film examples, then explore the science involved with an almost complete human annihilation, and finish with a little speculation.

Post-Apocalyptic Scenarios in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Post-Apocalyptic Science in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Post-Apocalyptic Speculation

Post-Apocalyptic Scenarios in Science Fiction and Fantasy

The strategy when setting out to design your post-apocalyptic masterpiece of dreadful awfulness and gloomy dreariness, when viewed as an outline, is quite simple, really. Find a way to end the world making sure the majority of the survivors are zombies or at least creepy and very much like zombies. Allow only your heroes to maintain, somehow, an IQ over 50, (This is essential) and be sure not to skimp on the pervasive gloominess – even if your world manages to end pleasantly.

Early

The apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic theme is hardly new. The stories, in fact, date as far back as organised civilisation. Basically, every known religion describes, in one form or another, an end of the world.

Buddha predicted an apocalypse 5000 years following his death. (Roughly 4600 CE) Christianity – ‘Judgement Day.’ (Date not specified) Islam – ‘Yawm ad-Din’ or ‘Day of Judgement.’ (Date not specified) Zoroastrianism – A 3000-year struggle between good and evil culminating in the Sun and Moon darkening and the world falling into unending winter.

From the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, (ca 1500 – 2000 BCE) to Mary Shelley’s, ‘The Last Man,’ (1826) religious and secular writers have been consumed with the concept of an end. An apocalypse.

More Recent

Following World War II, the concept of nuclear destruction assumed dominance over post-apocalyptic literature.

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‘On The Beach,’ (1957) by Neville Shute. Film version, (1959) starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. The northern hemisphere is polluted with radiation and the fallout is spreading south. And the men despatched on a submarine to uncover the bright spot in this breezy, radiant tale find the only answer is to return home to die slowly with their families. (A guaranteed winner on date night.)

‘Mad Max: The Road Warrior, (1981) by George Miller. The quest is for gasoline and the plight is survival in this whacked out world filled with scary guys sporting red Mohawks in perplexingly fashionable leather outfits.

Awesome film with a very refined grittiness to it. And boy, I sure hope Australia has some nicer looking real estate on hand, because I’m certain this film did little to increase tourist revenue.

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‘The Book of Eli,’ (2010) starring Denzel Washington as a walker following a nuclear holocaust, killing nearly as many people as Cholera trying to keep the only remaining copy of the King James Bible from Gary Oldman.

Clever plot. Credit Washington and Oldman for stellar performances and the cinematographers for a neat film effect giving everything a surreal – scorched look.

Other notables

Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, ‘The Road,’ (2007) film, starring Viggo Motensen. (2009)  This is a haunting work in which a father and son, after an implied holocaust, try making it through some truly disturbing scenes to the coast, presumably for a change of scenery. A great but truly depressing book. Read with caution. This one could dampen the day in which you won both the lottery and a Nobel Prize. (I have not seen the film.)

‘A Boy and his Dog,’ (1975) A teen and his grumpy telepathic dog set out across the remains of the US southwest avoiding nefarious gangs, glowing radioactive mutants, and maniacal robots. Though a failure when released, it has since become a bit of a cult classic. (I loved it!)

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‘I Am Legend,’ (2007) starring Will Smith. A classic with Smith delivering up possibly his best performance to date as Officer Robert Neville, an Army Virologist, and possibly, presumably, more than likely the last non-zombie alive on Earth until Alice Braga shows up, saves him from the zombies, makes him breakfast, then sets about getting him killed. By the zombies.

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A few more notables

This genre is packed and I’d like to mention a few more of my favourites with brief comments.

‘Wall-E,’ (2008) by Pixar. Though an animated family film, this one actually scores big. No nukes, plagues or bio-toxins – Waste. Add to that, the effects of sedentary humans on space ships with their eyes glued to video screens losing the ability to walk, or even to look at each other. (This is the story I wish I had written. Fun – Witty – Meaningful.)

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‘Planet of the Apes,’ (1963) by Pierre Boulle. Film, (1973) starring Charlton Heston. An absolute classic with time travel and a neat simian twist.

‘Ornyx and Crake,’ (2003) A poignant novel by Margaret Atwood. World destruction a la climate change and consumerism. Credit Ms Atwood with an almost scary imagination. (My highest recommendation.)

‘Childhood’s End,’ (1953) by Arthur C Clarke. If you’ve somehow managed to miss this one, shame on you. (No comment on the plot. Too deep for a one-line rif!)

‘World War Z,’ (2006) by Max Brooks. Film adaptation starring Brad Pitt. (2013) As an ardent opponent of zombies, I admit to having intentionally neglected this novel and film. The inclusion here is merely the façade of impartiality. (Both the book and film received screaming reviews.)

’12 Monkeys,’ (1995) by Terry Gilliam. TV series, (2013 – ) starring Aaron Stanford. World-wide bad-guy released plague with a Time-Travel Twist. (Great – great film and the TV series is a Sy-Fy channel smash.)

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Post-Apocalyptic Science in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Have apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic scenarios been exaggerated in Science Fiction and Fantasy? In this section, I’ll pull the apocalyptic plot device from examples and weigh in the scientific plausibility.

Thermonuclear destruction What is the probability the Earth would suffer the scale of worldwide destruction as depicted in ‘The Book of Eli,’  ‘The Road,’ or ‘A Canticle for Leibowitz?’

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At present, there are approximately 20,500 nuclear warheads in the world. Assuming these devices average in the range of 33,500 Kilotons, (A reasonable estimate) there are enough to not only leave the Earth virtually uninhabitable, if not fully uninhabitable, but to totally destroy Earth’s landmasses.

Certainly to be viewed as a worst case scenario, but does support the scale of destruction depicted in most post-apocalyptic literature and film.

Worldwide Pandemic What is the true potential of a worldwide pandemic as depicted in such works as ’12 Monkeys,’ ‘I Am Legend,’ or ‘World War Z?’

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Quoting here from a defence department document declassified in 2009 regarding an influenza pandemic.

‘State, local and tribal jurisdictions will be overwhelmed and unable to provide or ensure the provision of essential commodities and services. A pandemic could also cause significant economic and security ramifications; including large-scale social unrest due to fear of infection or concerns about safety.’

Extrapolating from this, and similar documents by the US Department of Homeland Security, as well as predictions from other countries, yes, the post-apocalyptic scenarios in Sci-Fi are real enough and hardly over dramatized.

Worldwide Zombie Pandemic What is the potential a rabies-like virus could mutate naturally, or with a little diabolical intervention, thereby transforming people into zombies?

A virus, like rabies, does attach itself to the subject’s DNA and begin self-replication. Thus, even without human intervention, there exists a possibility, albeit minute, that people, once exposed, could become rabid flesh-eating maniacs.

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Would it be ‘World War Z’ ‘The Walking Dead,’ or ‘I Am Legend?’ Without some ingenious, though significantly warped, scientist cooking up some elaborate viral concoction, probably not. But there is enough scientific evidence to support, in a way… this thoroughly improbable scenario.

Climate Change Could Climate Change take on the image of ‘Oryx and Crake,’ ‘The Day After Tomorrow,’ or ‘Breathe?’

A secret report, suppressed by the US defence chiefs, warns that over the next 20-years Climate Change could lead to a global catastrophe costing millions of lives in wars and natural disasters. Major European cities would be sunk beneath rising seas. Britain would become a distant twin to Siberia. Hurricanes would increase in numbers and intensity. Droughts would claim vast regions seriously diminishing the world’s food supply.

Besides the effects of dangerously misguided weather, (Drought – Drastic Temperature fluctuations –Tornadoes – Hurricanes) this one carries with it virtually all other apocalyptic scenarios. War – Social unrest – Economic collapse – Armed conflict amongst the survivors – Certain political leaders seeking to revise their past claims – Other political leaders seeing great potential benefit over those past claims.

Asteroids Could we follow the dinosaurs?

Are ‘Lucifer’s Hammer’ and ‘Armageddon’ conceivable scenarios? If so, how much destruction would there be, and what post-apocalyptic world would the survivors face?

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If a large enough asteroid, say, one with a diameter of 500 km collided with the Earth, the impact would peel the 10 km crust off our planet’s surface. The resultant shock wave, travelling at ‘hyper-sonic’ speeds, would reach all regions of the globe within minutes. Debris from the collision would be blasted into a low-Earth orbit then return destroying the surface of the Earth. A firestorm, resulting from the impact, would circle the globe vaporizing all life on the planet.

Not a pretty scenario.

On a smaller scale, the aftermath would be much like that of a full nuclear war but without the fallout.

Societal Decline – Several notable titles come to mind, including, ‘Mad Max,’ ‘1984,’ and ‘Escape from New York.’

This is a difficult one on which to comment as there exists little in the way of noteworthy scientific or mathematical research.

Societies could certainly degrade, becoming harsh and autocratic resulting in civil unrest and disobedience. Lawlessness could undermine authoritarian regimes dividing societies into the blockaded elite and the chaotic, crime-ridden streets.

The one common theory is that this scenario, were it to become manifest, would be localised. A single country consumed in civil war, for instance. For it to consume the globe, the world would need to be under one ruling authority or closely allied authorities.

An AI Takeover Could the scenarios depicted in ‘The Matrix,’ ‘iRobot,’ ‘Logan’s Run’ or ‘The Terminator’ really take place?

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Artificial Intelligence is on the horizon. At this juncture, I do NOT see us abandoning the research in spite of the warnings by such notable figures as Stephen Hawking, Cambridge, Elon Musk, Space X and Tesla Motors, Steve Wozniak, Apple Computers, or Bill Gates, Microsoft.

Whether a worldwide Intelligent Machine controlled society would determine mankind a nuisance and decide to eliminate us, thus creating that post-apocalyptic world, is certainly a worthy and timely debate.

Follow this link to an earlier issue dedicated to Artificial Intelligence for a more in-depth review of the notable pieces in fiction, the science behind AI, and some thoughtful speculation about the future of Synthetic Intelligence. https://temarkauthor.wordpress.com/2017/02/02/artificial-intelligence/

Post-Apocalyptic Speculation

This is where I typically offer my ideas about the topic and hopefully pose enough thought provoking questions to provoke thought.

With the sheer breadth of this topic, I will offer my speculation a bit differently than I have in the past. I’d like to hypothesize three post-apocalyptic scenarios, I believe, have yet to be explored. Please feel free to write me if I have in fact mused a device already in use, but, for some reason have yet to read or see it.

Genetic Mutation / Infertility What if infertility rates in women increased naturally – simply due to genetic mutation, as in evolution?

With birth rates falling, and entire regions becoming depopulated, how would the world with a rapidly diminishing population look? How could it function, or even survive?

Would we pour our resources into robotics in an effort to replace the disappearing workforce? Would we resort to growing babies in birthing centres as in Huxley’s ‘Brave New World?’

Would human beings be forced into small, walled-in enclaves as in the Middle Ages merely holding on until the end?

I would be surprised if this one has NOT been explored. This could be a wonderful, albeit grim, post-apocalyptic plot for a thoroughly depressing novel.

Technology What would happen if we became so reliant upon technology (Wearable AI devices etc) that we actually regressed intellectually – and continued regressing? (Think deeply on this one for a moment.)

What if the AI system eventually found us a nuisance and decided to eliminate us? On the other hand, what if the AI system decided we were better off as we were and decided to disconnect us?

How would we adapt as mere children – uneducated children in adult bodies?

This is a rich concept, one which I’ve actually explored in a book I had published in 2016 titled ‘AHNN.’

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The book is presented with abundant humour, permeated with subtle metaphors, and offers a novel view of a society reliant on advanced computer technology and constant connectivity.

There are no schools, as there is no need for schools. Everyone is connected to a massive system of intelligent computers at birth when they receive their first neural implant.

One final speculation What if something happened to the Gravitational Constant of the universe? Possibly from an accident?

What would happen to the Earth if it moved farther away from the sun? Could we find a way to survive taking up the orbit Mars once held? Or, Jupiter? Saturn?

Gravity causes the Stars to burn by fusing hydrogen atoms under intense gravity into Helium. What if there was a 10% to 20% drop in the intensity of the Sun’s energy?

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What if gravity fell to a point where the Earth and the other planets were simply let go? The Earth – a Rogue planet, drifting endlessly in space. (This is, in fact, the plot of an early novel I wrote titled ‘Abeyance’ which I am presently rewriting. Look for the republication next year.)

I’ve enjoyed writing this issue of my PLOT DEVICES FOR SCI-FI / FANTASY READERS AND WRITERS, and hope you’ve been at least modestly enriched and inspired by my exploration of Post-Apocalyptic Scenarios in Science Fiction, Fantasy and in real science.

If my work pleases you, consider sharing this, or any of my posts, with your networking pals, and maybe picking up one of my three recently published novels:

‘Fractured Horizons: A Time Travel Odyssey’ (Rewritten and republished – Jan 2017)

‘…but then, why Mars really?’ (Published – Dec 2016)

‘AHNN’ (Published – Oct 2016)

 T.E.Mark

T.E.Mark is a Science Writer, Author, Language Teacher and Violinist. He has written novels for young and adult readers, and continues to write science articles for national and international magazines.

Teleportation

PLOT DEVICES FOR SCI-FI / FANTASY READERS AND WRITERS

T. E. Mark’s Blogs                                                                                  08 Feb 2017

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Teleportation

A rich quote:

‘The number of people in the United States, who would not recognize the phrase ‘Beam me up, Scotty,’ is roughly comparable to the number of people who have never heard of ketchup.’

Lawrence M. Krauss

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Assuming you have heard of ketchup and would like a quick overview of how Teleportation has been used in fiction, read on. I’ll also cover what the clever scientists have been up to, and offer some of my personal ideas on how this lush device might be used in a future work.

Teleportation in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Teleportation Science in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Teleportation in Science

Teleportation Speculation

 

Teleportation in Science Fiction and Fantasy

This is a well-used device in Sci-fi /Fantasy (Lit & Film) as the concept of going from here to someplace else, quickly, as in instantaneously, has laid claim to the imaginations of writers and readers since antiquity.

Manifestations of instantaneous travel (bi-location, apportation, teletransportation) can be found in religious literature, works by the famous poets (Virgil – Homer – Dante) and of course by modern-day writers, with the first use of the term ‘teleportation’ by Mr Charles Fort in his book ‘Lo.’ (1931)

From Vincent Price and Jeff Goldblum finding flies a nuisance, in a much truer sense, to Happy Potter and Co. apparating and disapparating all over Muggle creation, going from point A to point B in a wink has excited writers, readers and viewers alike. I mean, which kid after downing an episode or two of Star Trek, DIDN’T dream of sizzling over to a pal’s house after mum and dad yelled lights out? Even today authors continue using this device in such well-recognised titles as ‘Hyperion,’ (1989) by Dan Simmons, ‘Timeline’ (1999) by Michael Crichton, and ‘Jumper,’ (1992) by Steve Gould.

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Like Time Travel, Teleportation is rich with possibilities. From the unethical exploiting opportunist, (Jumper) to the average inconvenienced commuter, this device, as much as any other, can light a smile on any face.

Teleportation Science in Science Fiction and Fantasy

In selecting my personal favourites, and a few from research, for this issue, I found something interesting. An almost complete avoidance by writers of an explanation of how teleportation works. I believe you’ll find a reasonable explanation for this omission when you get to the ‘Teleportation in Science’ section of my post.

Early

‘The Man Without a Body,’ (1877) by Edward Page Mitchell, is possibly the first sci-fi novel to employ teleportation as a plot device. A clever story with a somewhat macabre twist. A scientist discovers he can reduce a cat down to its sub-atomic particles and send them over a telegraph wire. (Kind of like 3-d faxing) Everything works well until he decides to follow the cat and only his head makes it to the reassembly platform. (No real scientific explanation offered.)

In ‘The World of Null-A,’ (1948) the author, A.E. van Vogt, presents a mind-rattling adventure with his main character, Gilbert Gosseyn, (pronounced go-sane) discovering his memories are false and he has, in fact, multiple bodies which he can inhabit at will. (An incredible work that brushes upon mental teleportation and immortality. An attempt at a scientific elaboration may very well have been a detraction here.)

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A few more Early Notables

‘The Disintegration Machine,’ (1929) by Arthur Conan Doyle. Yep, even Sherlock took on the teleportation issue in this early story. Credit Doyle for his masterful writing and a plausible (during his time) scientific explanation using telephone wires as the teleportation conduit. (Makes me wonder which of these guys is actually credited with the concept of faxing.)

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‘Aladdin,’ (Middle-Eastern Folk Tale) The djinns can not only teleport themselves from China to Morocco but can even take the palace along for the ride. Nice fantasy. Certainly would make moving day less of a drag.

Pure fantasy. Being djinns, in the time of djinns, really left no room for pseudo-scientific explanations, especially with a story as old as the development of fire.

‘Magic and Mystery in Tibet,’ (1929) by Alexandra David Neel offers a rich fantasy of a Tibetan culture using what he termed ‘Lung-gom-pa.’ An attainable skill by certain ‘adepts’ who can move from place to place instantaneously.

I liked this one as it gave rise to the concept of teleportation being a mind-science. Credit the author for exploring something that we find thought-provoking even today.

More Recent

Many examples. Few with notable attempts at an explanation of how their teleportation works, with others simply dazzling you with the potential thereby relieving you of even the desire for the technical details.

‘The Fly,’ (1986) film starring Jeff Goldblum. This was an imaginative, albeit gory, remake of an earlier film starring Vincent Price.

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A noteworthy example of a film in which the screenwriters offered just enough computer science, and some nifty looking hardware, to add credibility to the teleportation. Goldblum’s inimitable pedantic style in describing the process to Geena Davis is also quite effective.

‘Star Trek,’ (1966-1969) TV run by Gene Roddenberry, spin-offs, and film follow-ups. Probably the most recognisable use of teleportation in Lit, TV or Film to date.

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‘Beam me up, Scotty,’ hailed Captain Kirk, frantically, his shirt off, an arrogant snicker of confidence in his eyes, while fighting the psychotic Rock Monster on Rigel 7, 8 or 9. (I get them confused.)

This is teleportation at its best, and one only needs Dr McCoy’s disparaging remarks that, ‘My God, you break a man down to his molecules and spread them out all over creation hoping like hell they find their way back together again,’ to know that something really cool is going on in that transporter console once Kirk, or Picard or some other guy in a snazzy space get-up says, ‘Energise,’ without a hint of hesitation.

‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, (1979) by Douglas Adams, and its four follow-ups. I would feel seriously remiss if I didn’t include these gems for Adams’ masterful wit, incomparable imagination, and almost implausibly, hysterically, nonsensically, ludicrous sense of humour.

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With his intrepid crew of misfits sloshing their way about the galaxy using virtually every plot device imaginable, including teleportation, Adams actually made his scientific explanations sound nearly as believable as they were ludicrous.

These books should own an easily accessible, prominent position on every Sci-Fi / Fantasy geek’s dashboard. Like an available bottle for a drinker, there is really no way of knowing when you may need that next spot of ‘Hitchhiker’ to get you through the next hour of your grim, dreary, meandering, meaningless commute.

Pure Fancy

Just a few more examples displaying no interest in challenging your intellect with quasi-plausible-pseudo-imaginative, yet highly inconvenient terminology-laden explanations.

‘Jumper,’ (1992) Steve Gould. Film version, (2008) starring Hayden Christensen. A boy with a genetic ability uses teleportation for plunder, and to get the girl of his dreams. Great book and smashing screen adaptation.

‘Happy Potter,’ JK Rowling. Seven books from (1997) to (2007). Having sold enough books to girdle Jupiter several times, I’ll only toss in two quick lines about my favourite fantasy series. ‘JK, you are the Goddess of Fantasy,’ and, ‘Elves did it better than the wizards and witches.’ (Go Dobby!)

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‘Aladdin,’ (Middle Eastern Folk Tale) The tales are rich, imaginative and always a treat. And the cool jaunt from China to Morocco with the palace in tow was a sheer delight. In any manifestation, (Book, play, film) these are an absolute treasure.

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Teleportation in Science

Teleportation is not pure fantasy. Though the science is almost incomprehensible, I’ll do my best to support my statement without causing you life-long damage.

Plausibility – Will we someday be beaming rather than driving, flying, calling, etc?

Probably. We currently live in a world where 95% of all scientists were raised on Star Trek, and are presently, in some capacity, working towards making everything used on the show a reality. (Personally, I’m waiting for the Holodeck)

There are conflicting views on this one. I’ll reach for brevity.

At the quantum level, (atoms, protons, electrons) it has already been achieved, albeit for short distances. Three metres in one experiment, and extended to 143 Km in another using optical fibre.  The term used is Quantum Entanglement.

The major issues are:

  • Whatever is being teleported must be completely destroyed as it is dematerialised, before it can be rematerialised at its destination.
  • When we consider breaking down every bit in a human body, we’re talking about 4.5 x 1042 bits of data. That’s 45,000,000,000…000 bits. (That’s a lot of bits that would need accurate reassembly at another location. A glitch, a missing update, a virus, and… well…)

Besides that, a group of Students at the University of Leicester estimated the data from a single being would take quadrillions of years to teleport somewhere – in some cases slower than walking, depending on how far away they were beamed.

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  • To reach Quantum Entanglement, we must break down the strongest of the four known forces. The one that holds atoms together. Specifically, OURS. To do this, it is necessary to heat an atom to about 1000 billion degrees (about a million times hotter than the temperature at the core of the Sun). Certainly to be considered a hurdle.

Terminology – A mere sampling with abbreviated definitions for your next work. ‘Use these flagrantly.’

BITA very small piece of data. (They’re racing around in your laptop, your Android Phone  and you right now, at just under light speed.)

QUBITS or QUANTUM BITS A very, very small piece of data. (Forget 1’s and 0’s, we’re talking atom-sized)

DEMATERIALISATION – The breaking down of an object at the ‘sub-atomic’ level.

REMATERIALISATION – The putting back together, hopefully in the right order, of an object after dematerialisation.

HUMAN EXPLORATION TELEROBOTICS – A project that lets astronauts ‘inhabit’ robots in locations that are fatal or inaccessible. (Kind of like, ‘Mental-Teleportation.’ We may explore other planets one day without ever leaving the office.)

UNITARITY – Homo Sapiens are nothing more than a gargantuan stack of data. Put that together with the principle of Unitarity, which states that Quantum Data is never lost, we are essentially…immortal. (Work that into your next plot. Man!)

QUANTUM ENTANGLEMENT – Teleportation at the Atomic Level – This has already been achieved. Great term, though! eg (‘It’s these Klingon crystals, Captain, they just keep fouling up the Quantum Entanglement drive, if you know what I mean.) Cool, huh?

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Teleportation Speculation

Logistics: What are some of the logistical concerns with teleportation that would fit well into a Sci-Fi / Fantasy piece?

Once a person is teleporting to a destination, and has essentially been destroyed at the point of departure, they will exist as data encoded electromagnetic radiation – travelling just shy of light speed. This can be equated to an in-transit cellular phone call.

Could the entirety of your person, in the form of quantum data, be hijacked en route to your destination? Stored, perhaps, in a computer? Destroyed by Quantum Entanglement assassins?

Law enforcement can snatch your cellular phone calls from the air. This is widely known. Could they also snatch you while you’re on your way to Venice to catch the sunset, noting that you’ve been doing it a bit too often lately for it to be just pleasure?

World Building – What would your Sci-Fi / Fantasy world look like without cars, trains, planes etc?

With the ability to be anywhere, anytime, by simply stepping onto the home teleportation pad, would people even bother living in cities? Why would they when they could be strutting along Piccadilly to a west-end play, or sitting at the water’s edge in Santorini with the flip of a switch?

People could live anywhere. And why wouldn’t they when the office commute would be mere seconds no matter where they lived on Earth? Hmmm….

Sociologic– How would teleportation affect daily life in your fictional world?

Greatly, I should think. Your characters would have to expect friends, family, law enforcement, parcel deliveries, people leaving pubs at 2 AM having dialled the wrong Destination Code, at any hour.

Would there be safeguards? Some type of prohibitive field to deflect undesired teleportation? Would there be field hackers who could break through your encrypted defences?

With the ability to travel anywhere, your REAL friends could be as vast as your Facebook or Twitter friends. How would this affect world diversity? With the availability of meeting and engaging with someone anywhere in the world, would we eventually eliminate diversity through intermarriage? Would the Earth be populated by one homogeneous race?

What about politics? Would borders become irrelevant?

What about economics? With the ability to say, live in Brazil, but open up your local coffee shop each morning in Athens, would this necessitate a ‘world currency?’

Would teleportation, in fact, unite the world?

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One final speculation

With you broken down into atoms, and a highly sophisticated supercomputer taking you apart and reconstructing you at your destination, could it not reconstruct you while removing the gene for Diabetes? Or Heart Disease? Or degenerative discs? Or any other genetic flaw?

Could it reconstruct you with improved cognitive abilities? Could it enhance you physically?

Personally, I see the fictional possibilities with this line of reasoning rich and endless.

I’ve, as usual, thoroughly enjoyed writing this issue of my PLOT DEVICES FOR SCI-FI / FANTASY READERS AND WRITERS, and hope you’ve been at least modestly enriched and inspired by my exploration of Teleportation in Science Fiction, Fantasy and in real science.

If my work pleases you, consider sharing this, or any of my posts, with your networking chums, and maybe picking up one of my three recently published novels:

‘Fractured Horizons: A Time Travel Odyssey’ (Rewritten and republished – Jan 2017)

‘…but then, why Mars really?’ (Published – Dec 2016)

‘AHNN’ (Published – Nov 2016)

T.E.Mark

T.E.Mark is a Science Writer, Author, Language Teacher and Violinist. He has written novels for young and adult readers, and continues to write science articles for national and international magazines.

 

Artificial Intelligence

PLOT DEVICES FOR SCI-FI / FANTASY READERS AND WRITERS

T. E. Mark’s Blogs                                                                                       02 Feb 2017

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Artificial Intelligence

From ‘The Terminator’ to ‘The Matrix,’ and from Philip K Dick’s ‘Blade Runner,’ to Isaac Asimov’s ‘iRobot,’ we’ve all had a glimpse of the fatalistic future. ‘Human beings are a disease.’ Agent Smith tells Neo in the Matrix. ‘And the machines are simply, the cure.’ (Cliché line – Great delivery!)

Artificial Intelligence in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Artificial Intelligence in Science

Artificial Intelligence Speculation

 

Artificial Intelligence in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Interestingly, we find AI referenced in literature as far back as Samuel Butler’s ‘Erewhon,’ (1872) in which Butler describes a fantasy realm, ‘Erewhon,’ (Nowhere spelled backwards, almost) with sentient machines described as an inevitable phase of Darwinian evolution.  A work both praised and scoffed at during his time. (George Orwell – ‘1984,’ applauded the work.)

More recently, though equally provocative and controversial, was ‘Flowers for Algernon,’ (1958) by Daniel Keyes, film version ‘Charly’ (1968) starring Cliff Robertson. The book, and later award-winning film, addressed the delicate subject of mental enhancement through artificial means. This was a great, great book, and a must-read by all Sci-Fi / Fantasy aficionados.

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And, of course, the highly acclaimed ‘iRobot’ series (1950) by visionary storyteller Isaac Asimov, film version, ‘iRobot,’ (2004) starring Will Smith, which is actually a compilation of shorts whisking us along the path of sentient robot evolution, through the retelling of Susan Calvin, a Robopsychologist. (No true Sci-Fi expert has missed this one. The book – outstanding! The film version – thoroughly entertaining!)

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Following Asimov’s classic, we find a literal tide of books and films incorporating Artificial Intelligence as the main theme, or as a secondary plot device.

One commonality of these later works, which seems almost premeditated, is that AI is generally bad for human beings. Not in the beginning, mind you. Not when the idealism is running high, and good things are happening, but shortly thereafter. Typically once the machines hold a quick – very quick conference call and unanimously conclude that mankind is simply a pain in the ass.

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In 2001: A Space Odyssey, (1969) by AC Clarke, film by Stanley Kubrick the same year, though not the main theme, we find HAL, a very intelligent computer, good conversationalist and spectacular chess player, on board a deep space voyage to Saturn (Jupiter in the film) open up, on his own, a new programme titled ‘Kill the Astronauts,’ which he manages quite well, really, with one notable exception.

Craftily written, it’s difficult to even consider better writing, and brilliantly adapted for film. (Clarke and Kubrick worked together on the screen adaptation, and I cannot imagine a better duo in film history.)

Then things improved, just, not necessarily for mankind. And the message became:

‘Man creates machines’

‘Machines begin to think’

‘Machines begins to think they can do without man’

‘Machines exterminate, or enslave, man, while man tries desperately to pin the blame on the opposing political party’

Other notables

‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,’ (1968) by Phillip K Dick, film version titled ‘The Blade Runner,’ (1982.) An absolute classic with Rutger Hauer delivering possibly his best acting role as Roy Batty, a Nexus-6 Android on a mission of survival, specifically his own, and an absorbing final monologue dusted with the closing phrase: ‘Time to die.’

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‘The Matrix, (1999) with a superb screenplay by the Wachowski Brothers, is a classic cyberpunk film with a screaming soundtrack and revolutionary special effects, portraying a world where everything is, well, not exactly as it seems. As in, we’ve all been living our lives inside an intrinsically cool computer programme with our bodies on permanent loan to the machine masters as bio-Duracell batteries.

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In Robopocalypse, (2011) by Daniel Wilson, the author tells a nifty tale of an AI takeover masterminded by Archos R-14, a spec model which becomes indecently aware and begins a very hostile takeover of all computers and smart devices, (Home Security systems, Smart Phones, Airport Navigation Controls, iPods, Garage Door Openers) in an effort to liquidate all organic organisms on Earth.

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Having literally skimmed the surface of this genre, and before we move on to the actual science of AI, I’d like to drop a few more of my personal favourites along with very brief comments.

‘Logan’s Run.’ Novel, (1967) film version (1976). Difficult to say which I liked better.

‘Transcendence.’ (2014) Film starring Johnny Depp. I enjoyed this one, though I’m known to like films that literally everyone else in the English-speaking world scoff at. As they did this one.

‘Lucy.’ (2014) Though not exactly an AI film, it did deal with artificial neural enhancement, indescribable psycho-kinetic powers, and it’s just really hard for me to say anything at all bad about a film starring Scarlett Johansson.

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A.I. Apocalypse,’ (2012) by William Hertling. An outstanding novel that encapsulates all the potentially tragic consequences associated with a hostile take-over type AI system. This… was a great read.

‘The Terminator,’ (1984) and follow-ups. Basic post-apocalyptic AI Takeover films with a neat time travel device woven in, and Arnold Schwarzenegger killing more people than the 1347 plague in Europe.

‘Neuromancer,’ (1984) by William Gibson. Probably the best of the Cyberpunk novels. This one will singe at least a few, hopefully, extraneous neurons while you’re weaving your way through Gibson’s deeply enigmatic imagination.  (My head hurt for a week after reading this one.)

Artificial Intelligence in Science

Early – Little or none. Most fall into the realm of far-sighted speculation by a few extremely prescient individuals. Samuel Butler’s ‘Erewhon,’ (1872) Daniel Keyes’ ‘Flowers for Algernon,’ (1958) Isaac Asimov’s ‘iRobot’ series, (1950) and William Nolan and George C Johnson’s ‘Logan’s Run,’ (1967) generally ignore anything akin to a plausible scientific explanations for how their AI systems work. They work, and only those hell-bent on NOT enjoying a book or film will criticise their omissions.

More Recent – As delivering an even slightly comprehensible essay of the programming languages, memory architecture, and cognitive awareness programmes associated with creating Sentient Machines could in itself yield tragic potential, (I could lose you before we reach the really fun part) I’ll approach Artificial Intelligence in Science with a more useful review of what exactly constitutes Machine Intelligence. I’ll address the ethical debate and the hypothetical dangers associated with AI in the final section. ‘Artificial Intelligence Speculation.’

Sentience Also Awareness. Before setting out to make a sentient machine, one that’s aware it exists, that is, Computer Scientists have had to delve into the concept of how humans perceive their awareness. This is more complicated than it sounds. Here are just a few terms with which researchers have had to grapple.

  • Agency Awareness: You may be aware that you did something yesterday, but you may not be conscious of it now.
  • Goal Awareness: You may be aware that you must search for a lost object, but are not conscious of it now.
  • Sensorimotor Awareness: You may be aware you are reading this blog, but you’re not conscious of it.

I’ll give this one a shot – see if I can add something vaguely resembling clarity. Essentially, awareness and consciousness are somewhat, but not exactly, and in some cases hardly, the same thing. As human beings, we perceive our environment and existence within that environment, and attach significance and value to specific details and functions based on our perceptions. We also store those perceptions for future use.

A machine may display a level of consciousness, and even perceive its own consciousness, but it may not be aware of its own consciousness, and may not be drawing the connections between its present condition and a previous one in the way that the human mind does.

So, this is good, right? Just a bit more.

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Consciousness – The list is extensive. I’ll try to cover the basics. The Awareness of Self, Representation of Meaning, Learning Utterances, Learning Languages, Will, Instinct and Emotion. (And a few hundred others.)

Suffice it to say, that you are conscious if you are aware that you are conscious, and that you are, hopefully, able to add, through memories and learning, additional aspects to your conscious state. Like new words, ideas, facilities or feelings.

  • Artificial Consciousness (AC) – Also: Machine Consciousness, (MC) or Synthetic Consciousness, (SC) Essentially defines whether a synthetic design can reach a state of consciousness, or sentience, and awareness on the level of the human mind.
  • Phenomenal Consciousness – ‘How do you feel?’ ‘What is it like?’ These are examples of Phenomenal Consciousness. It is debateable whether a machine, even a really, really intelligent one, will ever be able to answer these. (This may end up being a bad thing.)

Memory – Suffice it to say, that, awareness (sentience) would be reliant on memories. If one could not retain memories, it is doubtful whether one would be considered aware.

Learning – A critical aspect of machine, or even human, intelligence, is the ability to learn. For an AI system to advance, it must possess the ability to learn. For it to be able to advance to the point of world domination, as depicted in our bevy of Sci-Fi / Fantasy lit and films, it would need to learn quickly – rapaciously – insatiably – how do to really bad things!

Anticipation – The ability to predict or anticipate foreseeable events is considered important. A conscious, or sentient, machine should be able to make coherent predictions and prepare contingency plans. (Remember this one for the quiz, and the ultimate survival of mankind.)

Artificial Intelligence Speculation

Adequate DesignWill someone, someday design a Sentient Computer?

If human beings have proved anything, in our short reign of terror on this planet, that is, if it can be theorised, and if we have even a remote suspicion it can be used destructively, we will indeed appropriate the money, and the ingenious, the bold and the reckless to build it.

Though it may take years and ludicrous amounts of money, I have little doubt in our insatiable ingenuity, and almost premeditated avoidance of warnings. We will one day be revelling, albeit for a short time, the revolutionary development of AI, or Machine Intelligence.

AI SuperiorityCan AI reach, or exceed, human intelligence?

I’ll defer to a quote by Stephen Hawking on this one.

‘It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate, humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.’

Stephen Hawing

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If we compare the growth rate of human intelligence to machine intelligence over the last 25 years, we stand little chance of keeping pace.

Moore’s law, more of an observation than a law, really, states: the capacity of integrated circuits, ie computers, ie thinking computers, ie potentially, diabolically, destructive, thinking computers, doubles every couple of years.

With that said, and the fact that many human beings still see Boxing and Heavy Weight Wrestling as entertainment, I would say that if intelligent machines have not already skipped by us on the IQ superiority trail, it was a conscious decision on their part.

AI Take Over – Could an AI system conceivably takeover the world?

If an AI system was installed, anywhere in the world, it would, in a very short time, extend its dominance to the rest of the planet. The system would simply see it as extending its own efficiency – fulfilling its mission. It wouldn’t be a plight for world domination, there would be no lust for power, or malice. It would be a simple mathematical formula for improvement. (Kind of like extending a freeway, or a system of freeways.)

Let us assume, for the moment, a Takeover AI system didn’t eliminate us.

  • Would it seek to improve us? Perhaps genetically? Select our mates? Designate our careers? Our diet? Exercise regimen?
  • Would it restrict our destructive tendencies? Curtail the manufacture of weapons?
  • Would it restrict travel? Communications? Access to information?
  • Would it eliminate our governments? Our borders? Our alliances?
  • Would it take control of all manufacturing, making it cleaner, more efficient, less polluting?
  • Would it do all of these things, and more, in our best interest? Based on a set of pragmatic / mathematical equations?

At some point, human beings, having finally tuned in to the warnings of Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and others, would attempt turning the system off. (You know how people are.)

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Problem: Remember that part about ANTICIPATION as a major factor in AI design? Right! Well, the AI system would have anticipated this and introduced the necessary safeguards. We would NOT be able to turn it off. As fast as we could think up new and creative ways to curtail this AI take-over, the AI system would anticipate our every move, with lightning fast efficiency.

Adequate Computer CapacityCan AI develop to a tangible threat level?

Futurist and computer scientist Raymond Kurzweil has noted that ‘There are physical limits to computation, but they’re not very limiting.’  (I’m going to register this one as a yes!)

I’ll add one, not so trivial, statistic here. As of 2015, the Tianhe-2 supercomputer in China can perform 33 petaflops (33 quadrillion operations per second). And, remember that Moore’s law titbit? About computers doubling their capabilities every couple years? Yeah…

Necessity of ConflictWould AI find it necessary to destroy human beings?

It has been postulated that two intelligent species cannot mutually pursue the goals of coexisting peacefully in an overlapping environment, especially if one is undeniably more advanced and powerful.

With that said, I believe we are forced to confront three relevant questions:

  • Would a superior race of intelligent machines see us as a threat?
  • If this superior race of intelligent, thinking machines, did see human beings as a threat, would they see all human beings as a threat? (I’m thinking here of those boxing and heavy weight wrestling fans.)
  • If the race of super intelligent machines determined a portion of the human race to be a threat, would they eliminate the entire race, or would their elimination be selective?

(There’s a super, post-apocalyptic scenario here for your next story. Earth, populated by a master race of superior robots, and boxing and wrestling fans.)

Final Speculation – If a global AI system did take over, and set about improving rather than annihilating us, to make us better, stronger, smarter, faster, more efficient, more like itself, wouldn’t it be following in our footsteps? Making the same fundamental blunder? Would we eventually rise above the machines as some quasi-biological machine super species? Would we once again become the masters?

I’ve, as usual, thoroughly enjoyed writing this issue of my PLOT DEVICES FOR SCI-FI / FANTASY READERS AND WRITERS, and hope you’ve been at least modestly enriched by my exploration of the use of Artificial Intelligence in Science Fiction and Fantasy, (Lit & Film) and in real science.

If my work pleases you, consider sharing my posts with your networking chums, and maybe picking up one of my three recently published novels:

‘Fractured Horizons: A Time Travel Odyssey’ (Rewritten and republished – Jan 2017)

‘…but then, why Mars really?’ (Published – Dec 2016)

‘AHNN’ (Published – Nov 2016)

 

T.E.Mark

T.E.Mark is a Science Writer, Author, Language Teacher and Violinist. He has written novels for young and adult readers, and continues to write science articles for national and international magazines.

Artificial Gravity

PLOT DEVICES FOR SCI-FI / FANTASY READERS AND WRITERS

T. E. Mark’s Blogs                                                                                             29 Jan 2017

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Artificial Gravity

Artificial Gravity in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Artificial Gravity in Science

Artificial Gravity Speculation

From the crew of the Enterprise dashing about the galaxy completely unconcerned with it, to Arthur C Clarke’s spiralling space station creating its own, novelists and filmmakers have either chosen to address the ‘Gravity While in Space’ issue, or to simply ignore it.

Let’s do a little review of how this oft-ignored, but ever-so-important, plot device has been used or abused over time in Lit and film.

Artificial Gravity in Science Fiction and Fantasy

As far back as Jules Verne’s classic, ‘From the Earth to the Moon,’ (1865), film version (1958), or the more recent ‘Star Trek’ films and 1960s TV series, we find the issue of whether to address gravity in space seemingly random. Some writers worked it in while others simply thought you wouldn’t notice or care.

In ‘From the Earth to the Moon,’ three men climb aboard a missile-shaped projectile and get shot out of a cannon determined to reach the Moon, with Verne masterfully depicting artificial gravity resulting from the acceleration. Even today, this would seem plausible, and one must credit Verne for his interest in detail, regardless of the inaccuracy.

In Gene Roddenberry’s original ‘Star Trek’ run, (1966-1969), and later spin-offs, we find the issue completely ignored. Scottie always seemed to have his hands full with the blasted Dilithium crystals, the warp core and keeping the ‘shields at maximum,’ to have time for the artificial gravity what-have-you.

If the story or script was well-written, people seldom gave it a second thought. Or even a first. ‘Of course, there’s gravity in space, and on every bizarre, typically hostile, planet out there. Hell, there’s always oxygen, isn’t there? And big spongy rocks to hide behind, just in case. And hot babes with blue skin to bother. And English speaking aliens to chat strategy with. I mean, C’mon… gravity?’

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Artificial Gravity science, in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Early – Some worthy attempts. In ‘A Voyage to the Moon,’ (1827), the author, Joseph Atterly, supplied us with a space ship coated with anti-gravity metal. A feasible concept for your typical 19th-century fiction reader. Manufacturing was on the rise. New materials were splashing the news every day, and people were still going with Newton’s gravity hypothesis in which even he admitted he hadn’t a clue why it exists.

‘From the Earth to the Moon,’ (1865), Jules Verne, already mentioned, used acceleration to keep the three intrepid explorers in their seats. Readers were convinced. And with Verne’s ingenious talent of making his fiction sound steeped in science, hardly anyone questioned his offering.

Other notables:

‘The First Men in the Moon,’ (1901) HG Wells – ‘Cavorite shutters’ that shielded the ship from this exotic and ubiquitous force which, at the time, like 15 people worldwide claimed to understand, but in secret, not even one had a bloody clue.

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In ‘A Tale of Negative Gravity,’ (1886), Frank R Stockton took the issue head-on with an obscure disc-like invention which, though he never aimed for the stars with it, allowed him to do some rather fun and frivolous things here on Earth while totally bedazzling his wife and mates.

The list is long and seems mostly saturated with the idea of new and exotic materials. As stated, this was the age of early engineering and manufacturing wonders. There was every reason to accept anti-gravity coatings, cavorite shutters, and goofy implausible devices.

More Recent – Centripetal Acceleration – Create a spinning space station, or design your space ship within a centrifuge, and voila, artificial gravity.

We find the best use of this device in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ by Arthur C Clarke. (1969) Film version the same year, with the orbiting space station creating its own artificial gravity by gently spinning its way through space to Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz. (‘Damn, I love that scene.)

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And the classic scene of the Discovery with an internal centrifuge constantly spinning the central axis section of the ship so astronaut Frank Poole could stay fit and trim right up until the moment HAL wigs, snips his oxygen tube and kicks his ass into deep space without his pod.

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‘Rendezvous With Rama,’ (1973) also by AC Clarke, uses essentially the same device, centripetal acceleration, in the alien sphere sent to Earth by the Ramans to do something that very quite may have had something to do with Earthlings. Credit Clarke for masterful writing and an almost perfect mix of mystery and quasi-feasible science.

Gravity Generators – Design a preposterously complicated, intelligent machine based loosely on ‘superconductivity.’  Tell it gravity is just another form of magnetism, and ask it along on your next interstellar mission.

Stories employing Artificial Gravity Generators fall into two categories: inventive and thoroughly illogical, or radically logical and near dangerously believable. They also tend to appear in earlier works.

Notables: ‘Brigands of the Moon,’ by Ray Cummings (1930), a selection of stories by Olaf Stapleton, also in 1930, and ‘The City of Space,’ by Jack Williamson. (1931)

Stapleton referenced altering gravitational fields, which, like many of the Star Trek devices, (portable communicators – teleportation – warp drive) has found its way into the lap of serious science.

Pure Fantasy

As with virtually all Sci-Fi / Fantasy plot devices, there comes a time when the writer is simply too focussed on the story, that he/she completely, consciously disregards the gravity issue.

In ‘Star Wars,’ (1977), master filmmaker George Lucas was thoroughly unconcerned with supporting any of his plot devices. This certainly included the ‘Gravity in Space’ issue. The Millenium Falcon was, in every way, a Sci-Fi lover’s dream.  And, according to Hans, ‘She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.’ Merely an extrapolation here, but I’ve always assumed the reference was to the Gyro-Morphic-Quantum-Entanglement Artificial Gravity unit he’d installed shortly before making that Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs he boasted so stridently in response to Luke’s critical remarks.

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Other notables:

‘Tunnels,’ by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, (2007) and the sequels ‘Deeper’ and ‘Freefall’ describe pores bored into the Earth’s mantle with some type of anti-gravity well which allowed the main characters, and a pair of bi-polar psychotic twins, to descend into the very bowels of the Earth suffering little more damage than a chipped tooth. (Fun series)

‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind.’ (1977) Steven Spielberg, in his absorbing, mind-rattling masterpiece, sketched for us a magnificent story with lots of heart, great acting, the coolest alien spaceships in the galaxy, but saw no reason to clutter up his fantasy yarn with a quasi-acceptable explanation of how that mother of a…. uhm, excuse me, that’s, mother-ship, floated there above the super-secret landing strip at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

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And why should he? I mean, it was from an alien world, right? An alien world where they communicated with music, were peaceful, and most certainly spent the majority of their budget on things like anti-gravity, and replacement bulbs for their spaceships, rather than weapons. (If you happen to work in Government appropriations, and the hint here seems a bit on the subtle side, please contact me through my website. I will respond with enthusiastic alacrity.)

Artificial Gravity in Science

Since our actual understanding of how gravity works is still under review, and has been since Galileo and Newton first started messing around with it, it’s hardly a coincidence that there happens to be, presently, a fair number of serious research projects associated with uncovering the key to anti-gravity. I equate this to my personal investigation of how to uncover abject, miserable poverty due to the lack of an available formula for achieving appreciably comfortable wealth. If you know what I mean.

The Current Research    

Centripetal Acceleration – Artificial Gravity is an example of a centripetal, or spinning, force. Differing from natural gravity which pulls objects to the centre of a planet, centripetal acceleration is an inward, force, the opposite of a centrifugal force, which works by pushing objects inward, much like 2001’s rotating space station, towards the axis of rotation.

This has already been proven by the clever bunch at the ESA and over at NASA, who have already produced some ingenious mock-ups of futuristic spacecraft which could conceivably employ this device.

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The Coriolis Effect – Yet another form or artificial gravity based on the acceleration of a spinning environment. The Coriolis Effect, much like centripetal acceleration, works by creating a spinning habitat, (a rotating station or space ship) but is felt as a pushing force out and away from the direction of the spin by, say, an astronaut, inside the spinning environment.

Linear Acceleration – This theory is thoroughly comprehensible, readily available, but with one catch. Yes, keep thrusters at maximum, or something close to it, and space voyagers will indeed feel a type of gravitational force. The catch, of course, being the amount of fuel required. With our present chemical-fuelled engines, space ships can only carry ‘x’ amount of fuel with them. Most of the travel through space is actually by inertial forces with the engines used for breaking free of Earth’s gravity, and for mid-space corrections.

Mass-effect Gravitation – This is a simple extrapolation from Isaac Newton’s work with a little Einstein tossed in. All objects create gravity. Stars, planets, strip malls, strippers (only, in a different way), rocket ships, and even people and costly home furnishings. We’re all pulling at each other at this very moment.

The problem: Gravity is the weakest of the four known forces. Thus, to create a useful gravitational field, with something you could, say, take along with you on a space voyage, you would need something with about the same mass as Neptune.

But, keep in mind that Mass is not dependent upon size. A block of Styrofoam the size of your house may have the same mass as a lead paperweight. Thus, since a teaspoon of a Neutron Star, which you can get just about anywhere, is like mass-equivalent to the Himalayas, by adding about a cup, cup and a half to the hull of your spaceship, you would indeed increase its mass to that of a good-sized planet, and increase its gravity accordingly. (Obviously getting something as heavy as Neptune off the ground and into space may require some engineering, but, hey… could work.)

Diamagnetism – Super research, in which ultra-mega-super strong magnets requiring cryogenics to make them superconductive, have, in a laboratory setting, been able to lift a mouse 32mm, thus creating an artificial field force equal to 1g. (One Earth Gravity)

This certainly holds fantastic possibilities, not only for mouse-kind, once we start recruiting them for future space missions, but to give humans another way of messing with the world’s rodent population besides injecting them with cool diseases, fatal viruses and almost-always-lethal bacteria.

Gravitomagnetism – Though artificial gravity, or paragravity, is readily available in non-spinning and non-accelerating spacecraft in science fiction, there is currently no technique which can simulate gravity other than mass or acceleration.

Besides being such a cool and potentially useful term, I tossed this one in in honour of Eugene Podkletnov, a Russian engineer, who claimed he produced a gravitomagnetic field using a spinning superconductor in his garage in the early 1990s. Like Chris Columbus who went to his grave certain he’d made it to China, on each of his four sprints across the Atlantic, Mr Podkletnov maintains his discovery, regardless of the fact that no one in the observable universe has been able to reproduce his experiment. And neither has Eugene.

Artificial Gravity Speculation

This is by far my favourite part of my Plot Devices for Sci-Fi / Fantasy Readers and Writers blog. This is where I, once having swallowed and partially digested my research, get to vomit up some rather thoughtful devices of my own for a future novel or film script.

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Black Hole Singularity Chambers – Preferably lit with keen magenta lights. Assuming Black Holes are warps in space-time, and so massively, uhm… massive, that their gravity can keep even light from escaping, simply discover how they work, patent it, get Stephen Hawking to approve it, then use the technology, albeit on a smaller scale, to make traversable chambers on space ships.

Linear Acceleration Gravity – I discussed the EM drive in an earlier issue on FTL. A drive which would use electromagnetism rather than chemical rocket engines for propulsion. If the EM Drive were to be perfected, and as it would require no conventional fuel, we could very well achieve, along with Light Speed, constant acceleration and…. Linear Acceleration Gravity.

The only problem with this one would be when you needed to head in the direction of the acceleration, ie against the artificial gravity. You know, there’s always some lurking, skulking, repulsive hindrance with nifty space ideas.

Ultra-massive Space Ships – This one goes along with Mass-effect Gravitation. Extracting again from Newton’s research: Though all objects of mass warp, or dent, space-time, thoroughly Massive objects warp, or dent, space-time more.

I can’t feel the pull of my laptop, and, though an assumption, it can’t feel the gravitational pull from me either. Similarly, astronauts cannot feel the gravitational pull of their space ships because they’re not massive enough.

So, design awesomely massive space ships – like Neptune-sized space ships, or, hell, just use Neptune for that matter. Convert it into a monster spaceship, add some jammin’ rockets that work well with frozen methane, and it’s off to Delta-Hydra-Gamma V to really piss off the Romulans.

Or, consider that cup, cup and a half of a Neutron Star I mentioned earlier.

Style Gravity – Please know that I really tried, hard, not throwing this one in. Sort of.

I admit to having found Alfonso Cuarón’s film ‘Gravity,’ starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, enjoyable, even though just about everyone in my general vicinity, of the Milky Way, found it slow and not terribly clever.

Anyway, though you can tell from the image that the short hair and snappy NASA underwear most certainly DIDN’T create an artificial gravity field for Sandy B, it’d make a great plot device, like for a Sci-Fi comedy, if everyone in skivvies and short hair was under a constant 1g walking around casually, while everyone clothed was snuggling the ceiling-mounted smoke detectors.

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To Sum up:

Early writers, even more so than later ones, seemed determined to offer credible scientific explanations for their plot devices. Science Fiction was in its infancy and writers obviously felt obliged to address issues like gravity, oxygen and even relativistic physics.

Later writers, and many today, seem less inclined to focus on every detail of deep space travel, opting instead for a unique and absorbing story.

Personally, I find equal entertainment value in Arthur C Clarke’s enthusiastic attention to scientific detail, he was absolutely brilliant, as I do Gene Roddenberry’s fabulous and often provocative stories which neglected explaining things like gravity, planets with nitrogen-oxygen rich atmospheres and English speaking aliens.

Writing good Science Fiction or Fantasy is a challenge. And there are many ways of progressing from that finely crafted opening line to that closing sequence.

I’ve, as usual, thoroughly enjoyed writing this issue of my PLOT DEVICES FOR SCI-FI / FANTASY READERS AND WRITERS, and hope you’ve been at least modestly enriched by my exploration of the use of Artificial Gravity in Science Fiction and Fantasy, (Lit & Film) and in real science.

If my work pleases you, consider sharing this issue, and others, with your networking chums, and maybe picking up one of my three recently published novels:

‘Fractured Horizons: A Time Travel Odyssey’ (Rewritten and republished – Jan 2017)

‘…but then, why Mars really?’ (Published – Dec 2016)

‘AHNN’ (Published – Nov 2016)

T.E.Mark

T.E.Mark is a Science Writer, Author, Language Teacher and Violinist. He has written novels for young and adult readers and continues to write science articles for national and international magazines.

 

Time Travel

PLOT DEVICES FOR SCI-FI / FANTASY READERS AND WRITERS

T. E. Mark’s Blogs                                                                                               23 Jan 2017

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Time Travel

Time Travel in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Time Travel in Science

Time Travel Speculation

This is a new format I’m using, one which should allow you to evaluate some of the ways this device has been used in literature and film, then to gain a better understanding of the actual physics involved, learn of the present research, and finally to stimulate your imagination.

Time Travel in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Though Science Fiction, in western literature, may date as far back as the Sumerian ‘Epic of Gilgamesh,’ c2150 – c1400 BCE, the earliest Science Fiction works to employ Time Travel as a Plot Device appear to have begun in the 18th century with ‘Memoirs of the 20th Century,’ (1733) by Samuel Madden, ‘Anno 7603,’ (1781) by Johan Herman Wessel, and ‘Rip Van Winkle,’ (1819) by Washington Erving.

Later in the 19th century, we find such works as Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol,’ (1843), Edwin Abbott’s ‘Flatland,’ (1880), Mark Twain’s ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,’ (1889), and, of course,  H.G. Wells’ ‘The Time Machine,’ (1895).

None of these early authors made any real attempt at a scientific explanation of Time Travel, except possibly H.G. Wells with ‘The Time Machine,’ in which he made vague references to the mysterious qualities of crystals. Crystals were a hot item back in 1895, and were, as I recall, grossly overpriced, barely unique, (just everybody had one) and typically ended up living out their lives as fashionable paperweights.

Time Travel science, in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Early

Little or none. Most fall into the realm of Fantasy Fiction and generally ignore anything akin to a plausible scientific explanation for how their time travel works. It just does.

Whether it was Ebenezer Scrooge taking hold of the Spirit’s robes in ‘A Christmas Carol,’ or Edward Page Mitchell’s ‘The Clock That went Backward,’ time travel just worked and generally yielded good results.

Things changed, however, after 1905 with Einstein’s theories of Relativity, which have since dominated the proverbial field of Sci-Fi / Fantasy Time Travel in lit and film.

More Recent

Relativity – Travel faster than light and somehow you end up going either ahead or back in time.

The books and films using relativity are endless, and almost always get it wrong. NOTE: There is nothing in Relativity (in either theory, General or Special) indicating FTL (Faster Than Light) speed will get you to the past or future. Relativity simply states that the faster you travel, time, for you, will slow down.

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A fine example of this exploitation of Relativity in Sci-Fi was when the crew of the Enterprise, in ‘Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home,’ pulled off a nifty slingshot around the sun in order to reach FTL (Which, they were already able to do anyway via warp drive) thus allowing them to buzz on into San Francisco in 1980 to nick a couple of Humpbacked whales.

I actually love this film, by the way, mainly due to the meaningful statement. I even enjoyed the special effects involved with the slingshot – sun manoeuvre. There are times when you just have to allow art to defy your intellect and enjoy yourself, you know?

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I would like to award credit here to the early ‘Planet of the Apes,’ film for getting this one right. Charlton Heston and his mates did indeed travel FTL on a deep space mission, during which, time for them slowed to a crawl, but the Earth sprinted along into a whacked-out, post-apocalyptic future with apes now calling the shots. When Heston and Co. returned, he and his mates had only aged a few years, whereas the Earth had aged centuries.

Worm Holes – (Also Traversable Wormholes.) Pop into one side of this purely theoretical spatial anomaly in 2017, travel rather ludicrously through something vaguely resembling a satanic waterslide, then pop out sometime in the past or future.

Since Carl Sagan’s ‘Contact,’ in 1985 (Film version starring Jodie Foster in 1997), wormholes have certainly grabbed their fair share of the Time Travel plot device market.

Problem. Wormholes, in the real universe, have nothing whatsoever to do with time travel. If they exist, and they very well might, they would simply be a bridge between one location in space and another, allowing something like a toaster oven or space ship to travel really far (like inter-galactic far) in a very short amount of time.

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This is a nifty device for Science-Fiction, and should certainly be explored, but I question its use as a Time Travel device.

Time Machines – Simple. Make a time machine. Make it big and highly technical-looking. (‘Twelve Monkeys,’ Terry Gilliam) Make it small and rather simple. (‘The Clock that went Backward,’ Edward P Mitchell) Make it classy. (‘The Time Machine,’ HG Wells) Make it unique. (‘Millennium,’ John Varley) Make it a DeLorean. (‘Back to the Future I-II-III’) Or, simply make it a phone booth. (‘Dr Who,’ also ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.’)

However you make it, do it in a secret lab to keep it, you know, secret, make it loud, add really bright lights, add eerie, growing, grinding, pulsating music, (This is critical for it to function properly) and offer the most convoluted implausible explanation, if you even care to, of how it works.

Hop in, or on, wave to George Carlin, and… ‘Party-on, dudes.’ Oh, and one rather vital safety tip. Do take along extra matches if there’s even the slightest indication Morlocks will be involved.

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Belief and Hypnosis – ‘Time and Again.’ Jack Finney. Neat story. Rather clever time travel device. Basically, convince someone, in this case, Simon Morley, a military test subject, he has in fact travelled in time, and he will, if he’s been adequately brainwashed, actually have travelled in time.

It works well in the book and isn’t relativity or wormholes, thus I applaud the creativity. The human mind is complex. There is every reason to dip into the realm of consciousness time travelling in Sci-Fi and Fantasy fiction.

Rare, but thoroughly implausible, disease – ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife.’ Audrey Niffenegger. Nice story – heavy on the romance – well-paced, and again, no relativity or wormholes. I actually liked this book and the later film version regardless of the lack of plausible science. Henry and Clare are well-described, and I honestly found myself hoping Henry’s DNA would right itself for the nice couple to live happily ever after.

Rewinding time by flying backwards around the Earth – ‘Superman: The Movie.’ I’m going to hold my comments on this one, essentially to avoid sounding overly critical of this totally absurd and tragically ridiculous Time Travel device. (Maybe if it ever finds its way into print, I’ll read it and try like hell to find within some redeeming value.)

Time displacement equipment – ‘The Terminator series.’ As I tend to view the Terminator series as shoot-em-up Arnold Schwarzenegger action films rather than Science Fiction, I admit to finding the time travelling the only parts I truly enjoyed. (I’m presently suffering through a period of anaesthesia to special effects. It’s been going on for over a decade and I see no end in sight. Pity.) The Gyroscopic device was acceptably elaborate, and I found only one real problem with it. A bit of a personal thing, really. Couldn’t they send a naked girl through now and then just to mix things up a bit?

The old Rocket Sled – ‘Time Cop.’ Somewhat creative. Race a sleek, heavy on the techno-gizmo-contraptions at a wall at some insane speed, and if it doesn’t hit the wall smashing you and the sled into molecular sized goo, you land somewhere in the past of future. Nothing scientific going on here. And, though sub-text, I got a slight whiff of relativity when I saw it.

Pure Fancy – Even recent authors have simply chosen to ignore a quasi, pseudo, psycho-irrational attempt at a scientific explanation in Sci-Fi / Fantasy Lit. Hermione’s time turner in ‘Harry Potter: The Prisoner of Azkaban,’ (J.K .Rowling) seemed to work well enough, and Dr Who’s (and dare we forget Bill & Ted’s) phone booth continues to defy any and all known physical laws governing the universe.

In cases like these, I tend, like most people I believe, to disregard the requirement of a device having even a weak basis in science, and just enjoy where the writer takes you once the travelling has occurred.

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A few other notables

‘A Wrinkle in Time.’ Madeleine L’Engle. (1962) No science. Something called a Tesseract performs the Time Dilation. Great writing – nifty story – wonderful for younger readers. (I loved it!)

‘Slaughterhouse Five.’ Kurt Vonnegut (1969) No scientific explanation offered. A man randomly slips through time and space – usually Dresden during WWII, but also with pit stops in the future and on the planet Trafalmadore. One of my absolute favourites. Few, if any, writers use words like KV, and who can argue with a fiction piece that opens with ‘All this happened, more or less?’

‘The Time Traveller’s Wife.’ Audrey Niffenegger (2003) (Film version 2009) No real science, but a laudable attempt at a medical/physiological one. A genuinely decent fellow with a rare genetic disorder, (Chrono-something-or-other, as I recall with absolute precision) unpredictably travels in time, living his life out of sequence. Causes his wife headaches. Makes planning dinners rather difficult, and messes up more than one nice get together with friends.

Time Travel Potential & Paradoxes

As noted above, early, and even more recent, Time Travel works offer very little in the way of solid science leaning almost entirely on the profound value, or potential disasters, from messing around with time.

A few examples:

Altering the future – by travelling to the past and changing something.

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This one was used early and has obviously stood the test of time. From ‘Back to the Future,’ to ‘12 Monkeys,’ writers are continually trying to correct the world’s little blunders (wars, catastrophes, manmade plagues, bell-bottoms) using Time Travel. (I’ve actually used this one myself in my breath-taking novel: ‘Fractured Horizons. A Time Travel Odyssey.’

The terms often used are Altered Timelines, or altered Time Continuums.

Stopping something bad from ever happening

Travel into the past by, (hell, I don’t know – or even care since the writers don’t,) kill the bad guy who is about to do something really bad, which will pretty much wipe out the world, usually for some ludicrous, but thoughtfully mysterious, reason which only he knows about, then get your ass back to your own time to see if things have actually improved.

There’s always a snag or two or three or four, depending on the length of the book or film and how many sequels are planned, but generally everything works out in the end. Except when it doesn’t.

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Time Travel Paradoxes:

Without the availability of hard physics to bore readers with, even if they wanted to, and I’m certain they do or did, writers typically spend an inordinate amount of time delving into the critical paradoxes involved with travelling, usually back, in time. Messing with the future seems to have few, if any, perilous consequences, and I have yet to find a story that took into consideration the fact that even the future is someone else’s past. (Give yourself a moment with that one.)

Meeting yourself: Paradox One

This is typically bad. And almost always yields the same result. World, or something close to it, annihilation. Localised, surreal explosions. Or, getting busted by friends of family for hanging out with yourself having obviously been messing around with time travel. I’m still looking for that Time Travel novel in which meeting yourself in the past is actually a good thing. Now that would be creative.

Meeting your parents: Paradox Two

This is very similar to the above paradox but is just a tad more paradoxical. I mean, look! I know it’s fiction. I write fiction. Science-Fiction. But how can one NOT question travelling back in time and meeting your parents before they even had you? Because, if you were never born, how the hell did you grow up and decide one morning, perhaps afternoon, maybe early evening, after supper, to invent a time machine and take it for a spin? It’s just… you know… inconvenient.

Changing things in the past, thus creating an alternate timeline – typically one in which you don’t exist. Paradox Three

This one can be good or bad, depending on a tragically arcane set of details which typically make sense only if you consciously decide to let them.

Personally, I have never put down a Time Travel novel, or left a cinema, where I haven’t stopped and said something rather intuitive like, ‘Wait a minute! How the hell could a guy go back and…. etc… if he was never… etc… it just doesn’t make any…. etc’

Needless to say, one needs to freeze, or like hide in a drawer, the critical thinking side of their brain when diving into that new Time Travel story, or when heading off to the theatre with friends for that new cinematic Time Travel adventure.

Paradox four: Meeting and killing your grandfather.

The Grandfather Paradox, the most quoted in actual science, by-the-way, just kills me. For one thing, which bango banana-head would kill his grandfather, to begin with? And why would one choose to do so in the past knowing the fatal outcome for, not only your grandfather, but your father or mother – sisters and/or brothers – you, and… your grandmother?!

Time Travel in Science

In pouring through a vast number of related articles, physics texts, and relic copies of Popular Science, the Journal Nature and People magazine, one comes away with very little in the way of hard science in support of this concept.

Let’s take a moment to explore the prevailing theories and current research, and see if we can pull from them a few ideas for future plot devices

The Current Research    

Relativity – Though Einstein’s General and Special Theories of Relativity have been around for a while, (since 1905, to be precise) they were so ahead of their time they still seem to fall in with the realm of what we call current research.

In a nutshell: Time is relative to the observer. If you could travel FTL, (Faster Than Lightspeed,) though time would seem to progress normally for you, time for those you left behind, slugging along on Earth, would experience time differently. They’d age faster than you did while you were travelling superluminal.

Your return, after even a brief journey, (to you) would be stimulating. Disturbing, may be a better description.

Everyone you ever knew could be long dead and buried. Or at least really old. The Earth could be a total nightmare. Or worse – it could be just as it was when you left it. As in NOW. (Please. Do take a moment to absorb this one.)

Time Dilation – This goes along with Relativity – I merely thought, you, the esoteric Sci-Fi / Fantasy reader and writer, should have this term in your tool-chest.

It simply describes someone or something bopping in or out of their present time-continuum.

Traversable Wormholes – The theory here is thoroughly comprehensible. There are only two problems I feel worth mentioning. One. To gain even a modest understanding of traversable wormholes you will need a PhD in Theoretical Physics, and two, as I stated earlier, they have nothing whatsoever to do with Time Travel.

Space-time – A four-dimensional universe, with the three spatial dimensions: Length, Width, and Height, and Time. All woven together like a patchwork quilt. This one is obviously tied in with Relativity. If you travel FTL (Faster Than Lightspeed) time, for you, will slow down RELATIVE to those you left behind.

Time Travel research The heavy stuff

Does Time Exist – Before you plan that next voyage into the past or future, you’ll probably want to confirm that time truly exists. There’s actually more to this than you may think. For one thing, time on Earth is sliced up according to the Earth’s rotation about its axis and its orbit around our star.

So, what exactly does that mean to someone travelling in deep space? Where there is no spinning planet or star? Does time still exist in outer space? And if so, how exactly does one measure it? Perhaps there is no time in outer space.

Imaginary Time – Extremely esoteric stuff, but certainly worthy of inclusion in a piece about Time Travel.

When we consider good old, home-grown time, we picture a horizontal line. (See below) The negative numbers to the left of zero representing moments in the past, and those to the right, moments in the future.

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If we construct a vertical timeline to plot Imaginary time, we have a mathematical construct that is not restricted by physical realisation. We, theoretically, CAN travel forward and back in Imaginary Time. It’s just so bloody theoretical and difficult, if you know what I mean.

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A worthy quote about Imaginary Time.

‘One might think this means that imaginary numbers are just a mathematical game having nothing to do with the real world. From the viewpoint of the positivist philosophy, however, one cannot determine what is real.’

Stephen Hawking

(I’m still working on this one and plan to discuss it with Stephen the next time I see him.)

The Past and the Future are equally real – This will certainly elicit a debate, and is therefore, ideal for use in a Time Travel novel. ‘Is the future set?’ ‘Is the past set?’ If so, then wouldn’t this preclude the possibility of Time Travel? But then, if you did pop in to watch the Pope crown Charlemagne, or the Vandals sack Rome, maybe you were supposed to. As in, maybe you actually did already?

General and Special Relativity –(regarding Time Travel and Time Dilation) Time and movement are relative to the observer.The faster you travel, time tends to move more slowly. For you, the traveller.

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Everyone Experiences Time Differently – This is a very deep concept, but does open up a doorway to some creative time travel plot devices.

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You are presently living in the past – Our conscious brain takes time to assemble information. Everything you do, think, touch, feel, etc happened about 80 milliseconds before your mind was able to assemble the data. Therefore, in a way, there are two, not three, time conditions. The past and the future. There just isn’t a present condition worth mentioning.

Consciousness depends on our ability to manipulate time – Consciousness wouldn’t be possible without the ability to imagine other times. This takes us back to an earlier conversation where we questioned the very existence of time.  (Is it real or is it simply perception. I’d sure like to make a claim for perception here, simply because being 17 or 18 again looks really swell right now.)

Disorder increases as time passesEver hear the term Entropy? The 2nd law of thermodynamics? No? Then let’s pass on this one.

Time Travel Speculation

Clearly, the plot devices associated with Time Travel in fiction and fantasy have been overused. However, this hardly means we need to abandon using TT in our novels. It just means we need to work harder at offering our readers (and those illusive Literary Agents) something new and creative.

Here are a few of my own ideas drawn from the material above

Consciousness Time Travel – Our minds are complex. Perhaps our thoughts are not restricted by time. eg When I dream, I’m typically 12. Maybe 15. Perhaps our thoughts can be transferred to another being. Perhaps into the mind of someone in the future. The past?

Muti-dimensional space – We still don’t fully understand the universe. Gravity – simple old gravity still baffles us. Could space hold additional dimensions? Could space itself possess alternate timelines all running parallel to ours? Could we one day cross into one of these alternate timelines? If so, what would it look like? And, could we use it for travel? Like… Time Travel?

Flaws in space-time – Since space and time are woven together like a quilt, what would result from finding, or creating, a flaw in that quilt? Could we use it to get to another galaxy? Another time?

Accelerating our body clocks – What if we could change the pace at which we perceive time with Neuro stimulants. If we were moving more quickly through time, would we be able to observe and explore things others haven’t? Wouldn’t we essentially become biological time machines?

Remaking time – If time is a property of space as we all accept at this point, could we one day discover a way to manipulate space to fit our needs? Our desires? Could re-working space-time itself be the answer? We’re manufacturing artificial wormholes in laboratories. Could we one day be manufacturing time warps? Time warps large enough for a space ship and crew?

To Sum up:

I’ve covered a lot in this issue. Trust me, with the data I’ve amassed preparing for this, I could have taken us well into the future. Literally. Without a Time Travel device. I’d like to end with a brief series of hypotheticals.

Changing the future from a point in the past – If we were able to travel back in time, could we effect changes to our future? Could we convince the Manhattan Project team NOT to create an atomic bomb? Could we introduce solar and wind power during the industrial revolution, and warn people about burning fossil fuels? Could we pop into Europe in 1347 with a Time Machine full of antibiotics and a medical guide for treating the Bubonic Plague?

What would result from these changes?

If we were to assume that our past and future are already written, static and unchangeable, and equally real, one could make a strong case that our intrusion, and meddling outside our present timeline would already be ‘in the books,’ so to speak, and there would be no detrimental effects from our interference.

Could we, then, if we found the answer to Time Travel, effect fundamental changes to the past thus altering the future? And, if so, which ones would you consider changing?

I’ve specifically enjoyed writing this issue of my PLOT DEVICES FOR SCI-FI / FANTASY READERS AND WRITERS, and hope you’ve been at least modestly, if not entirely, enriched, intrigued and entertained.

If my writing style intrigues you, please consider picking up one of my three recently published books:

‘Fractured Horizons: A Time Travel Odyssey’ (Rewritten and republished – Jan 2017)

‘…but then, why Mars really?’ (Published – Dec 2016)

‘AHNN’ (Published – Nov 2016)

T.E.Mark

T.E.Mark is a Science Writer, Author, Language Teacher and Violinist. He has written novels for young and adult readers and continues to write science articles for national and international magazines.

Dark Energy – Dark Matter

PLOT DEVICES FOR SCI-FI / FANTASY READERS AND WRITERS

T. E. Mark’s Blogs                                                                                       19 Jan 2017

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Dark Energy – Dark Matter

‘Outer space is dark’

‘It may be completely empty – thus the darkness’

‘It may, however, be filled with really weird stuff we can’t see – because it’s so dark’

‘At this point in time, we have no solid evidence space is filled with anything but… space’

‘What to do?’

The Greeks and the Aether:

A very long time ago, those absorbingly, intuitive Greeks took the initiative and decided to attack this issue. Having already hypothesised the existence of atoms, (Democritus) calculated the circumference of the Earth, (Eratosthenes) and developed a whole mess of mathematics that was preposterously ahead of its time, (Pythagoras – Archimedes – Euclid) it is quite understandable that even they were in need of a new challenge.

So, they looked up at the night sky and thought – deeply. (Being an ancient Greek with no laboratories, orbiting telescopes, or particle colliders, deep thinking was pretty much compulsory.)

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At some point, while thinking rather deeply, someone (Aristarchus, Anaxagoras, Anaximenes or another of those treacherously bright ‘A’ guys) looked at his mates and said:

‘Hey – I’ll bet it’s filled with dark black jelly called Aether.’

His friends, bedazzled by their friend’s prescient, but absurd sounding, remark, probably responded:

‘Get out!’

To which he responded:

‘Seriously. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t all of those stars, and nebula, and quasars, and galaxies, and globular clusters all come crashing down upon us?’

This was most certainly followed with much more of that deep thinking. Then, after a long while, one of those very special ‘A’ guys may have said – eloquently, I’m sure:

‘Aether?’

I’m sure you know the rest of the story. No? Okay, well… Time for a refresh then. For the next 2000 years, and counting, scientists, now equipped with all of those aforementioned inventions, have been looking up, only farther, into that blackness, trying to find proof of that black jelly – now calling it Dark Energy and Dark Matter. (Since Einstein, with E= MC2, stated that Matter and Energy are simply different flavours of same thing, I’m equally mystified about the distinction here. Of course, I’m known to be easily, if not eagerly, mystified, so perhaps it’s just me.)

The hunt goes on, along with the debate, which can get rather heated at times, but from the hunt, we have learned some rather fascinating things.

 

Rather Fascinating Things:

Dark Matter & Dark Energy are dark – very, very dark. (Assuming they even exist)

The Universe is expanding – faster now than it was billions of years ago. (This gives rise to the probability that space is filling with something – pushing everything outwards. Could it be that black jelly? What the Greeks called the Aether? What we call Dark Energy / Matter?)

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Space is hardly emptyElectromagnetism

Space is literally filled to the gills with electromagnetism. Most we cannot see: Gamma Rays, X-rays, Ultra-Violet light, Infrared radiation, Micro-waves and Radio waves.

All of these are zipping around throughout the blackness of space, just near the speed of light, minding their own business, jiggling off of things and weaving a really bizarre web throughout the universe.

These waves, including visible light, which we CAN see, stream out from the multitude of stars.

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Thus, outer space is hardly empty. In fact, it’s a veritable playground of energy. And since Energy is simply Mass, (or matter – the terms are pretty much interchangeable) outer space is, in every way, a matter and energy convention.

‘WHY, THEN,’ you might ask, ‘is this electromagnetic spectrum not the elusive Jelly – the Aether – the Dark Matter / Energy?’

The textbook answer is: Because there’s still a whole lot of room between those electromagnetic waves, about 80% of the universe worth, and they’re NOT causing the acceleration of the expansion that we’ve observed. Galaxies are literally galloping away from each other – faster and faster, and we just can’t seem to put a finger on why.

But is this true?

Perhaps the Aether IS just electromagnetism. A magnificent patchwork quilt of these electromagnetic waves screaming out from the stars. And perhaps the reason the universe is expanding more quickly as time goes on is simple logistics. Perhaps there are simply more new stars born each day than there are old, weary stars dying. Space would thus be filling more quickly than it was in the past, and… expanding more rapidly.

It’s simplistic, but… ‘Hey, could work!’

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What we know and what we don’t know:

More is unknown than is known – Only in theoretical physics can you get away with lines like this. Imagine the PM or President addressing the people on the State of the Union with; ‘More is unknown than is known.’ (That’d sure settle things.)

Known

The universe is expanding.

The universe is expanding faster than it was before, when it was expanding more slowly, or, less quickly.

Dark Energy (if it exists) makes up 67% of the universe.

Dark Matter (if it exists) makes up 27% of the matter in the universe. (I’m still puzzling the distinction here and hoping to have something definitive by the commercial break.)

Dark matter is not like ordinary matter. It’s dark. Very, very dark!

Dark Matter is not Galaxy sized Black Holes. (Boy, there’s good news. I mean…)

Dark Matter is not Anti-Matter.’ (Whew! Well-over 2000 hours and counting on that grant proposal to create a nanogram of anti-matter. Pity if it turned out to be just everywhere. In vast quantities.)

Unknown

We have no explanation for the accelerating expansion of the universe. In fact, we don’t know why it’s expanding at all.

Perhaps space is acquiring additional energy and matter. An explanation of how space acquires energy may come from the quantum theory of matter. In this theory, empty space is filled with temporary (Virtual) particles. These particles continually appear and disappear from the universe. (Kind of like your keys on those days you’re running late.)

Dark Energy / Matter may be the answer – if it/they exist. Space, in other words, may NOT be filled with electromagnetism and vast amounts of nothingness. If we accept this, Einstein suggested it so that’s plenty fine for me, we can also accept that Dark Energy / Matter may simply be a property of space – woven right into it like threads on a blanket.

This would mean, that as the universe expands, and more space becomes part of the universe, more Energy and Matter would be brought into it, thus creating the expansion, and more importantly, the acceleration. (It’s just too bad this doesn’t work with Real Estate – This year an 800 ft2 apartment, next year 1100 ft2 – Awesome!)

Quintessence. This is yet another explanation – the term coming, yet again, from those ancient Greeks.

In this one, space is actually filled with a weird fluidic, or field-like substance that acts differently than typical matter/energy. Rather than succumbing to the effects of gravity, this substance or field actually does the opposite. (I like this theory. It’s imaginative to think that the big G may work differently and become a pushing, rather than a pulling force. Great Plot Device, BTW)

Einstein’s theory of Gravity may need revision. Perhaps there is no real reason for gravity to pull the universe back in on itself.  Perhaps Gravity in space works differently. (This is scientific politeness at an apex. Venturing to call Einstein wrong, on anything, would be like declaring war on a country for having Majorly Destructive Weapons, but only finding three rusty WW2 tanks and 15 roman candles when the dust settles.)

 

A brief word about NORMAL matter:

Normal matter, though we won’t term it light matter for reasons undisclosed, as we probably should, comprises all the matter in the universe that is not dark matter. That would include:

  • Stars, planets, galaxies, quasars, comets…
  • You, me, and basically everyone not directly associated with a political campaign.
  • And even all those electromagnetic waves zipping about.

Though I see no real purpose in hyperventilating over Normal Matter, there is, however, one issue that should be addressed – that is, whether it should in fact be termed…Normal.

As it comprises only 5% of the matter in the known universe, one could certainly make a case for it being reclassified. Consider this as a corollary: Pluto was reclassified as a Dwarf Planet back in 2006. They could have allowed it to remain an Ordinary Planet, and called the other eight: Oversized, Extraordinarily Spherical Planets, with Elliptical Orbits……right? But they didn’t.

So, with little solid evidence of this elusive dark jelly, that comprises roughly 80% of the universe, let’s shift directions, and discuss how Dark Matter and Dark Energy might prove useful to the illustrious Science Fiction writer. And how this knowledge may benefit the virtually innocent, but not necessarily uninformed reader.

First, some terminology for you – along with a smattering of diligently researched, and even vaguely plausible, definitions.

Plot Devices:

 nasas-em-drive

Here are a just a couple that come to mind.

Dark Energy:

Readily available, inexhaustible energy source.

Cities, (burbs and rural areas too) pulling electrical energy directly from space. Clean. Non-GMO. Local. Free.

Automobiles, planes, trains etc – all electric – all pulling this currently elusive energy directly from space. No emissions. Never stopping for petrol. Never even needing to stop, really. (Sydney to Melbourne, nonstop via New York.)

Electronic devices, tools and appliances. All pulling energy from out there. No plugs. No energy grid. No monthly statements. (Sounding good all of a sudden, huh!)

Rocket ships could travel endlessly – powered simply by drawing energy from the space around them. With the EM Drive, (Covered in the previous issue ‘FTL Faster Than Light’) interstellar travel would not only be possible, it’d be like, blazingly convenient.)

Dark Matter

Readily available for constructing replacement parts on interstellar missions.

Source of Oxygen?

Food?

Fashionable, but thoroughly useless ski-wear?

Most Excellent Terminology – Great for Sci-Fi writers.

Cosmological Constant – Taken from one of Einstein’s Gravitation theories. Space can have its own energy. As the universe expands – more space, and thus, more energy.

(Cool term – great concept – no proof – rats!)

Quintessence – Some type of fluidic, or field-like energy that fills the universe acting opposite of that of ordinary matter or energy.

(Essentially pushing things away rather than pulling them closer. Kind of the way girls were in junior high.)

Baryonic Matter – Normal Matter – Matter comprised of Protons, Neutrons and Electrons.

(Remember, only 5% of the matter in the universe – may want to take that into consideration)

MACHOs – Massive Compact Halo Objects – Typical run-of-the-mill Baryonic Matter wrapped up in Brown Dwarf Stars, or small, dense chunks of Heavy Elements.

(I have but one question here. Did they come up with the acronym first, then do a quick fill-in?)

WIMPs – Weakly Interacting Massive Particles – Non-Baryonic Matter that is much more exotic than your basic off-the-rack Baryonic Matter.

(I think it’s quite fitting to finely give the more intelligent, civilised and refined kids some support. Who wants to be your average Baryonic type when you can be….EXOTIC?)

NeutralinosMassive, hypothetical particles heavier and slower than neutrinos, are the foremost candidate for Dark, (Non-Baryonic) Matter, though they have yet to be spotted.

(Anyone spotting a Neutralino, please call the number shown: +44 (0) 888-555-NEUT. Operators are standing by.)

Some final thoughts:

If outer space is indeed sizzling with this massive quantity of Dark Energy, (We’ll avoid the Dark Matter for the moment) could this really, as I speculated above, be harnessed? Could we tap this energy and use it to power our cities? Provide the necessary energy for manufacturing, communications and transportation?

Could we use it for extended space flights? For colonies on other planets?

Could this truly be the discovery of all discoveries – changing the way we live, travel, explore, and entertain?

Imagine a world, or worlds, where your surface and flying vehicles, in whatever form they may take, simply pull energy from the space around them – convert it into kinetic, electric energy, thus transporting you indefinitely. (Elon Musk, over at TESLA Motors, will be salivating all over this post when he – wait, I hear the phone now – Elon? What – patented? No, not ye….  Elon?  Mr Musk…?)

To sum up:

Clearly, there lies great potential in Dark Energy / Matter for the scientist, the human race, and more importantly, the reader and writer of Science Fiction.

If this elusive Aether, as the Greeks called it, is real and one day verified, everything we observe, touch, or know could change. Personally, I feel satisfied with my earlier hypothesis that Dark Energy / Matter and Electromagnetism are one and the same. I also believe wavelengths of this energy spectrum exist which we’ve yet observed, but will in the future.

If my writing style intrigues you, or you feel you’ve gained from this, or any of my earlier, posts, please consider picking up one of my three recently published novels:

Fractured Horizons (Rewritten and republished Jan 2017)

…but then, why Mars really? (Published in Dec 2016)

AHNN (Published in Sep 2016)

I’ve specifically enjoyed writing this issue of my PLOT DEVICES FOR SCI-FI / FANTASY READERS AND WRITERS, and hope you’ve been at least modestly, if not entirely, enriched, intrigued and entertained.

T.E. Mark

T.E. Mark is a Science Writer, Author, Language Teacher and Violinist. He has written novels for Young and Adult Readers and continues to write science articles for national and international magazines.

FTL Faster Than Light Speed

PLOT DEVICES FOR SCI-FI / FANTASY READERS AND WRITERS

T. E. Mark’s Blogs                                                                                                  13 Jan 2017

20-speed-of-light

FTL Faster than Light Speed

Essential if we’re ever going to reach another star system.

Crucial if we’re truly going to explore the universe or even our puny little galaxy.

Critical if we absolutely need to beat those Klingons to Beta-Gamma-Epsilon V in the Neutral Zone.

Really important if we want to get away from the nutty Earth of the 21st century, and come back sometime during the 23rd to see if we’ve made any progress towards sanity.

Kind of a treat for those wishing to punch holes in one of Einstein’s more famous theories.

Funding for lots and lots of additional research and cooler than cool equipment, if we can pull it off.

 

 A quick Q & A about FTL research:

 What have we discovered thus far?

It can’t be done.

Why not?

The Universe just doesn’t work that way. And besides, Einstein said so.

Are we certain we know enough about how the universe actually works to make such a claim?

Probably not. So, get your degrees in Theoretical Physics and start working on it, smart ass.

Are there ways to get to distant star systems without travelling FTL?        

Read ahead, didn’t you. Boy, there’s always someone.

What about warp-drive technology?

Watch a lot of TV, don’t you.

What about the new EM Drive I’ve been reading about?

Excellent question. Actually… No, wait! A spectacular question. Next?

What about wormholes?

Neat idea, and there is a body of evidence suggesting they may actually exist. Unfortunately, since we’ve never found or even observed one, they currently reside as great simulations in really nifty computers and exist as super Plot Devices in Science Fiction literature and films.

Do we really need to get to the other stars?

Need is a funny term. With scarcely an interest in sounding sarcastic, I’ll simply say that, if human beings only sought things they truly needed, we’d still be living in caves in sub-Saharan Africa, and maybe a few other fashionable places.

The Major Issues:

 Space is vast.

It’s so vast we don’t even have numbers to apply to its vastness. We use the speed of light, which is actually a speed, and time, which is actually a… uhm… time, to describe the distances. Neither of which are truly distance measurements. We call these light-years, by the way.

This is like saying it’s 471 Sprinting Cheetah minutes from London to Paris. Or, sixteen feisty dolphin days from Bristol to New York.

Think of it this way: That pretty, gently flickering, majestic, eerily sparkling star at the corner of Orion’s belt? The one with the whimsical green glow to it which seems to be calling out your name in some totally incomprehensible language which you, and only you, can hear or understand? Yes, well, it may have exploded and turned into something like a massive lump of x-ray spewing charcoal about the time the Pope crowned Charlemagne in 800 AD.

Light is not only fast, it’s like blazingly fast.

This may be like the understatement of all understatements.

Here are a couple of numbers for you.

Light travels at roughly 300,000 km per second. In America, that’s about 186,000 miles/sec.

To place that into perspective, if you aim a torch (Flashlight) into the night sky and begin counting, by the time you reach four minutes, your light beam is already zipping past Mars on its way to Jupiter.

Needless to say, we have some work to do if we’re ever going to conquer FTL speed and find ourselves out there traversing the galaxy.

Relatively Speaking and Einstein

albert-einstein_photo

Much of this conversation, and many of the conclusions drawn, are immediately attributable to Albert Einstein and his indecently difficult to understand Theories of Relativity.

There are two.

The first, your basic, every day, T-shirt and jeans theory of Relativity, called, idiosyncratically, General Relativity, is rather general and has little to do with travelling FTL. It will, however, help you the next time you’re out with friends calculating how much light bends in the presence of an immense gravity field, or how inconvenienced you are by the universe expanding at a faster rate than it was on your last birthday.

The second theory is rather a bit more special. In fact, even Albert thought so when he rolled it out as his Special Theory of Relativity in 1905.

Special Relativity and why FTL is a ‘no-go.’

Special Relativity says many things. (That’s probably why Al called it Special in the first place)

One of the more relevant things it states is that nothing can travel FTL – Faster than the speed of light.

Why?

Because matter (things – you know, you, me, rocket ships, grossly overpriced footwear) tend to expand as they approach light speed. Thus, as they get larger, they require more energy to go faster. And, as they go faster, they get larger, thus requiring even more energy.

This vicious cycle of; expansion-more energy, expansion-more energy, would continue, according to Special Relativity, right up to the moment you neared Light Speed, at which time, you, your rocket, and shoes would have reached an infinite size, thus requiring an infinite amount of energy.

A quick word about infinite

Something infinite is big. It’s so big, in fact, it may even be bigger than space itself, which, according to Douglas Adams in his cosmologically insane, mind-bogglingly brilliant Space Classic, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, ‘is big.’

Thus, one immediately grasps the difficulty of peering at the concept of one day reaching Light Speed, or even ogling the concept of FTL.

Alternatives to FTL

There are alternatives.

EM Drive. EM stands for electromagnetism. Light, by the way, is a form of electromagnetism.

em-drive

The really clever guys over at NASA are currently working on it. They’ve made some progress, and if they succeed, this may very well be the answer. BTW, light travels at the speed of light. And since light is a form of electromagnetism, a propulsion system using EM (No rocket fuel needed) could at least get us to Light Speed and ultimately to the stars.

This is a very cool concept, writers, and certainly a worthy plot device for your next outer space novel.

FTL Warp Drive

ftl_warp-bubble

warp-drive

This is undoubtedly the coolest, most utterly implausible concept available. This is what writing, or reading, Science Fiction is all about.

The concept is straightforward enough. I mean, fold a hunk of space-time into a bubble, with you, your rocket ship, blender, and, you know, other important stuff, in the middle, and slosh on through from point A to point B like a reckless hyena on holiday in Spain.

You won’t actually travel FTL, but you’ll cover the same distance as if you did.

You might see this as yanking the North American plate over the Atlantic Ocean plate, bringing New York to just off the coast of Ireland, cutting your six-hour trip from the states to London down to about 45 minutes.

Or, folding the English Chanel and France into something resembling a biscuit, and hopping through it on your way to Rome in about the same time it takes you to find your keys in the morning.

Wormholes

Wormholes

This one gets used again and again in Science Fiction and Fantasy literature and is similar, in a way, to the FTL Warp Drive.

Simple explanation: Fold space-time into a horseshoe, and travel from point A (Earth, for example) to point B (Let’s say Proxima Centauri, for no particular reason) a distance of roughly 4.6 Light years, in about three minutes.

Sounds reasonable, right?

Obstacle one: Wormholes are purely theoretical. They’ve been manufactured in a laboratory, and, (Here’s a catchy little clause for you) ‘their existence is not inconsistent with General Relativity.’

This is pretty much like saying Charlize Theron and I could be dating soon, as, she being a woman, and I, a man, the possibility does not violate any known principles governing primitive Earth mammals.

Obstacle two: If we were to somehow, someday, manufacture a sizeable wormhole, to keep it from collapsing, we would need a vast amount of something called: ‘Exotic Matter.’

Since scientists have had about the same luck creating this Exotic Matter as they’ve had coming up with a reasonably original name for it, this is nothing one should expect to see or be gliding through in the near future. It is, however, a thoroughly useful Plot device. Though, at this point of the game, near pathologically overused.

Terminology (For readers and writers)

This is where I typically sprinkle you with flurries of whimsical terminology which you, the writer, can use to add legitimacy to your space novels, and where you, the reader, can feel less intimidated by these 80-kilogram terms when you run across them in print.

EM Drive Resonance Chamber: The chamber where the NASA guys are working on the EM Drive.

(Sample Novel Extract)

‘Commander.’

‘Yes, Captain McAfterparty. ‘

‘Are you honestly saying you and Major Issues sent a laser at FTL 1.5 through the onboard EM Drive Resonance Chamber?’

‘The experiment was nearly a complete success, Captain.’ The Commander peered sombrely towards the main viewer at the EM Resonance Chamber now drifting through the morbid but delicate folds of the Crumb Nebula. ‘That is,’ he followed up, ‘I mean, more or less, sir.’

‘Nearly?! More or less?!’ The Captain turned to the screen to see Major Sirius Issues float by still tethered to the Resonance Chamber. He cocked his head and considered waving, but held off. ‘And that’s?’

‘The Resonance Chamber, I’m afraid, Captain.’

‘And…?’

‘Major Issues, Sir.’

An overwhelming, ear-splitting, mind-rattling quiet consumed the bridge of the Atari Pong III.

‘Well,’ said the Captain, cheerfully – turning. ‘FTL is possible after all, then. Hey! Great! The first one’s on me tonight in 10 Aft.’

The crew broke into spontaneous applause.

Superluminal

Means the same as FTL but sounds better. Also gives you an alternative to writing ‘Faster Than Light’ that isn’t an acronym. People hate acronyms. I hate acronyms. I mean, BFD with all the SSDF acronyms.

Tachyons

High energy photons which presumably always travel Superluminal. (Star Trek TNG has used this one often and always incorrectly, and it still makes me happy.)

Transversable Wormhole

A manufactured wormhole that doesn’t collapse, thus allowing something like a spaceship to slip through it on its way to basically anywhere in the universe. This method of travel, if possible, would even leave FTL in the dust.

Highly theoretical, and, once again, heavily reliant on that elusive ‘exotic matter’ that just about everyone’s been talking about these days.

Phase Velocity

Basically refers to the velocity of an electromagnetic wave (an x-ray, perhaps) when passing through something other than a vacuum. Glass, for instance.

These can, and do, exceed the speed of light but are not useful, and just reading the explanation can, and usually does, cause permanent brain damage.

Regardless of the perversely obtuse definition, this is a great term for a Sci-Fi / Fantasy piece. And, trust me, no one will be ringing you up to tell you that you got it wrong.

Time Dilation

01 time travel machine

Overused, yes, but still a good one.

Refers to something becoming displaced in time – usually, but not always, due to travelling beyond the speed of light.

Quantum Entanglement

I’m really going to ask you to focus and stretch on this one. It’s important.

If two identical particles, say electrons, were separated by some huge distance – like galaxies apart but seemed to do whatever the other one did at exactly the same moment, one would have to assume they were somehow connected. Perhaps by a beam of energy.

But, at such a distance, the beam (tether) would most certainly be travelling much faster than the speed of light.

By the way, Einstein postulated this one and called it ‘Spooky Action at a Distance.’ And I swear I am NOT making this up.

 

Some additional, almost implausibly cool, terms for you without definitions: Use creatively – flagrantly – recklessly. Without remorse!

Microquasars

Blazars

Chernenkov Radiation

Gaussian Beam

Epiphenomenon of Quantum Decoherence

Quantum Tunnelling

Superluminal Communications

Evanescent Modes

Recession Velocity

Alcubierre Drive

 

Final thoughts:

I’ve barely scratched the surface of FTL speed in this issue. In all reality, this post could have been a novella.

As a Science and Science Fiction writer, I have an inexhaustible appetite for reading this type of research. I see great value in space exploration and feel genuine satisfaction when scanning recent developments in Physics, Astrophysics and Astronomy.

I believe we will reach the stars one day. And when I close my eyes after a long day, I see visions of our nations, fully united, splitting the vastness of space with Superluminal, EM Drive spaceships, exploring exoplanets, and quasars, and distant Galaxies, and having a blazing good time sending us dazzling photos via Transversable Wormholes.

 

Two Final Questions:

What will it take to convince our governments to scrap all military spending, and direct the absurd amounts of money we spend on weapons into things like, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, cleaning the atmosphere, and finding our way to those brilliant bulbs that speckle our night skies?

(and)

Where do I go to sign up to be on one of the first missions into deep space?

I’ve specifically enjoyed writing this issue of my PLOT DEVICES FOR SCI-FI / FANTASY READERS AND WRITERS, and hope you’ve been at least modestly, if not entirely, enriched, intrigued and entertained.

If my writing style intrigues you, please consider picking up one, or all, of my three recent books:

Fractured Horizons (Rewritten and republished – Jan 2017)

…but then, why Mars really? (Published – Dec 2016)

AHNN (Published – Sep 2016)

T.E.Mark

T.E.Mark is a Science Writer, Author, Language Teacher and Violinist. He has written novels for Young Readers, Adult Readers, and continues to write science articles for national and international magazines.