Futuristic science fiction.

Trying to predict the future is simply not sensible; the wretched future generally refuses to behave as you wish. However, writing futuristic science fiction should not be an attempt to predict the future. H. G. Wells, in his time machine story, used his chosen futures to illustrate social problems of his own time. An alternative is to explore the consequences of some action that might take place, not because the author thinks that will happen, but rather because it will act as a warning, perhaps, of what not to do. In some ways, this idea corresponds to the physicist’s gedanken experiment, where the experiment is carried out in the mind with imagined equipment that works perfectly, and whatever happens carries some sort of explanation or illustrates some point that the physicist wants to make. So it is with SF stories. One purpose of them is to raise issues that the reader may not have considered.

Of course a novel is not the place to preach or harangue, but one can give food for thought in the background. One example that I have tried relates to current economics. Thus in my ebook trilogy First Contact a number of countries had merged to form a Federation. For that to work, all citizens must follow Federal law and regulations, the purpose of which was to provide uniformity of opportunity for all citizens. It is important that citizens in one part have to be able to behave in the same way as somewhere else. On the other hand, it is helpful if countries could continue more or less as they had before, at least initially, so that the desired common behaviour arises by desire and not through force.

Economic management becomes a real problem because, as Europe is currently learning, you cannot successfully run a common currency with several independent economic policies. My suggestion in my novels was that the average citizen continued to use dollars, marks etc, and these currencies might change value according to supply and demand. However, major industrial or national transactions were always paid in Federation Currency Units. That latter concept was designed to ensure the member countries could have moderately different economic policies while remaining in the Federation. Had something like this been employed in the EU, it might have saved the EU from the huge problems generated by countries like Greece pursing an economic policy that was incompatible with some of the others. One cannot have a common currency with various economic policies, but it is very difficult to persuade an assortment of different countries to have a common policy, because that will favour one or two of them, at the expense of others.

Joining countries together is not an easy matter. The reason they were separate in the first place usually led to individual cultures, and different ways of life. Such differences are difficult to simply overcome, for example the Greek way of life is quite different from that of the Germans, and these differences, together with the historical availability of resources have led to entirely different ways of going about making a living. By itself, that should not be a problem, but it soon becomes one if they have a common currency but without a common economic “policy”, as Greece has discovered.

I make no claim to having found a solution, and in practice that might not work, but by writing stories around such problems, perhaps people can be persuaded to think about them. 

Voting: a right or an obligation?

Nobody can predict the future, but I think you can make reasonable guesses about some aspects of it based on applying logic to current evidence. An example might be, eventually, if we keep expanding our use of fossil oil, there will come a time when production cannot match needs. After all, we are using oil that was formed tens of millions of years ago, and even if nature is still making it, it is doing so too slowly to be of any further use to us. We do not know how much is there, so we do not know when the shortage will bite, but we know it will sooner or alter. In logic, our choices would appear to include (a) find an alternative source of energy, (b) find an alternative means of making products similar to what is made from oil, e.g. biofuels, (c) find an alternative means of propelling vehicles, e.g. electric vehicles, (d) transport fewer things and more slowly, e.g. walk to work, use wind-powered ships. There are probably others, but that is not the issue. What is obvious, at least to me, is that at some time in the future, those in power will have to make some very difficult decisions that will affect everyone’s future. The question is, how will they decide? And how will the decision makers be chosen? In a democracy, the voters select the decision-makers, but what happens if the election is based on little more than attractiveness on TV?

 What bothers me is that only too many people are not interested in thinking, but in our democracy, they have equal influence. As an example, check out some of the debates on evolution. Some people seem to believe asserting evolution is a challenge to their belief in God. Their thinking then goes, God is, therefore evolution is not. This is just silly logic. There is absolutely no connection between whether God or evolution, or both, are true. Einstein was amongst one of the greatest scientists of all times and he happily accepted evolution, and he believed strongly in God. The issue lies in the failure of many to accept and analyze the facts through logic. Strictly speaking, it hardly matters whether everybody properly consider evolution, but it matters if people stop logically analyzing the facts when forming policy upon which millions of lives depend. Should not everybody who wants to vote accept the responsibility of thinking about the issues?

 The question then is, what can be done about this? When I was writing the trilogy of futuristic novels, starting with A Face on Cydonia, I needed a new form of government to get around this problem. What I proposed was that many countries formed a Federation, they retained their national governments, but the Federation Government had members appointed partly by election from sections of the community, but all candidates had to be approved as capable of doing the job for which they were standing. Their role was to determine whether a given policy was workable, and to show what the consequences of implementation would be, and to prevent anything that would give consequences outside those considered “acceptable”. People standing for power had to announce in advance essentially what they were going to do, although of course there was always flexibility for reasonably unforeseen circumstances. The novels, of course, are not intended as a political treatise, but merely to provide some rules that the characters must follow.

 What I was trying to do, though, is to suggest that decisions have to be made based on analysis of the situation, and based on the facts. The stories are based on the obvious problem: people do not necessarily follow the rules. Nevertheless, I feel that it is important that governments behave logically. I am sure that with climate change, debt, decreasing availability of easy resources and an increasing population, some difficult decisions will need to be taken. If we get it right, future generations will be secure, but if we do not, then we are in trouble. My argument is that the time to start thinking about these problems is now. Do you agree?

Rocky planets, atmospheres and aliens

This week, the second ebook, Dreams Defiled, in my trilogy, First Contact, was published on Amazon. The trilogy is nominally about contact with aliens (at least an alien hologram in A Face on Cydonia) and its consequences. It is also about how civilization might deal with (or perhaps fail to deal with) certain crises that appear to be inevitable. One solution to a crisis that you may or may not like is the proposed solution to the fuels/transport crisis, for no matter what, it is unlikely the whole planet can continue burning energy at the rate some western countries do so now. Check out my solution, and see what you think.

In the meantime, back to the issue of how many planets could have alien life. In previous posts I made an estimate of the likely number of stars that have rocky planets suitable for life. While most stars are not suitable, there are still billions of stars that are, even in this galaxy. The rocky planet then has to be within the right size range. It would have to be somewhat bigger than Mars to ensure it held a significant atmosphere, and there will also be a maximum size, but we do not know what that is. According to my theory, to keep within the right size range, the star has to clear out the accretion disk early, but up to half the stars do this. So, the next question is, will they have water and atmospheric gases? Where do the gases come from?

The usual argument is that the rocky planets get their water and atmospheres through later being bombarded by small asteroids. I don’t believe this either, since, as I show in more detail in Planetary Formation and Biogenesis, since Venus, Earth and Mars have totally different atmospheres, they have to be bombarded selectively by totally different types of asteroids that, as far as we can tell, no longer exist. Thus Venus has about four times as much nitrogen as Earth, but negligible water. Mars has a reasonable amount of water, but almost no nitrogen. How does that come about?

My answer is that the rocky planets form by cement-like dust joining rocks together, and that is where the water comes from. The available cement depends on how hot the solids get during primary stellar accretion, and at what temperature they set during the late cooler accretion disk. Earth happened to set at the optimum temperature – the first stage had been hot enough to get the best cement made, while the second stage was cool enough to let the cement set with the most water. Venus had the same cements, but it was hotter, so it did not set with much water, while Mars had only a limited cement, so while it was cooler, it did not have the means of setting much water. Subsequently, the water reacted with solid sources of carbon and nitrogen and made the atmosphere, and Venus, because it was hotter, had more carbon and nitrogen, so it used up most of its limited water making its very dense atmosphere. If that is true, then most stars that can form rocky planets will have one like Earth in the habitable zone.

That means there are billions of planets in this galaxy capable of forming life. That does not mean that the galaxy is teaming with civilizations. For example, the nearest suitable single star, Epsilon Eridani, is only about 900 million years old. At that age, Earth may or may not have got around to having primitive single-cell life. Of course, in Dreams Defiled I give hints there is a civilization there. How could that be? There is an obvious possibility, but to add to the mystery, I provide evidence that in this fictional story, the food on the rocky planet around Epsilon Eridani and on Earth is each compatible with both life forms, and in general, life forms that evolve separately find that they can only tolerate food that evolved with them.  Now can you guess where this plot is going? As you might guess, I am trying to write stories that also try to impart some scientific knowledge, and which I hope readers will find interesting.

More on the Cydonian “Face”

At least one of the readers of this blog indicated an interest for more information on the Face of Cydonia, so here goes. The Face was first noticed in July, 1976, and was considered a trick of lighting. However, two computer engineers Vincent DiPietro and Gregory Molenaar, contracted to the NASA Goddard Flight Centre, processed images using new software, and included a pyramid, about 800 meters high, about 16 km from the Face, in their study. They concluded the Face and the pyramid were hard to reconcile with naturally-formed objects. In 1988, Mark Carlotto further processed the Viking images, and from an analysis of the shadows in the two Viking images, he came up with a three-dimensional reconstruction. Further, he argued that The Face looked like a face from any viewed direction, which does not usually happen with “accidental faces”. He went even further and suggested a second eye socket may be present, and he argued there was fine structure in the mouth suggesting teeth.

The problem with the processing of images is that the processing software invariably contains a bias. The procedure usually looks for contrasts, and enhances strong signal regions and deletes low intensity, but this tends to find things that are not there, or lose things that are. A classic example I can recall came from the “famous” UFO off Kaikoura in New Zealand. A reporter and a cameraman hired an aircraft and took images of an orange light that followed the aircraft. Image-processing software was used. Each run deleted pixels, but no sharpening occurred, so the image was rerun. Finally, all the pixels were removed and the conclusion: there was nothing there! This conclusion is obviously ludicrous, but it illustrates the fact that computer processing merely changes things. In many cases the changes will improve things, but they can make matters worse by leading to a totally incorrect conclusion.

As noted in the previous post, the basic problem was insufficient data. The Viking cameras simply did not have the necessary resolution, mainly because the task they had did not require it. Remember, resolution comes with a price, such as a corresponding reduction in area covered. The reason we only got two images of this zone was that the cameras only imaged this area twice. Mars might be a small planet, but it is a planet, and it takes a lot of thin strips to get the lot. The thinner the strips, the longer the satellite will take to cover everything.

As you might expect, the initial speculations on the Face died down. Most scientists simply shrugged and said, “insufficient data”, while some merely scoffed at the concept. The Face would probably have died a natural death until Richard Hoagland got involved. He pointed out the presence of a rectilinear arrangement of massive structures, together with several smaller pyramids, which he named “The City”. All of this was published in a book, The Monuments of Mars.

Eventually, Global Surveyor produced the image I showed last post, and that should have been the end of it, right? Wrong! If you search the web, you will see items arguing that statistically the chances of the Face being natural are billions to one against. Of course you do not see the details of the calculation. Another interesting point is that Cydonia is littered with mesas like the Face, and these are of interest to planetary geologists because they are in a transition zone between cratered highlands to the south and smoother lowland plains to the north. An argument can be made that the northern plains are the remains of an ancient Martian ocean, in which case the mesas might represent ancient islands. This interpretation is consistent with the erosion around their bases, so the Face might be of interest as providing evidence of such ancient water, if not aliens. In my novel, A Face on Cydonia, I describe an easier means of climbing to the top of the Mesa. I cannot help it if you do not believe this, but I did this from the Global Surveyor images when I wrote it, back in the late 1990s. While rechecking the web, I found a link to a “trail map”, where a NASA scientist indicated where he would climb it. What pleased me is we start in exactly the same place. I am not totally illiterate with images! The link is

http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2001/ast24may_1/#trailmap

Another interesting link  shows some illusions:

*http://www.space.com/11947-photos-mars-illusions-martian-face-images.html   

One final comment. It is obvious that the shape of the butte is either natural or of alien origin, right? Not so fast! In my novel, A Face on Cydonia I try out yet another option. I also promised a link, so:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BQPUG6Q

Suppose the Face were real and alien, the fringe seems to argue that NASA is covering it up. This must go down as utterly ridiculous. If the Face were a real alien monument and demonstrably so, NASA’s budget would fly upwards! And please do not tell me that NASA is not interested in increasing its budget.

The “Face” of Mars

I start my new SciFi ebook, A Face on Cydonia, as follows:

On the Cydonian region of Mars there are two faces staring into space. Both are two and a half kilometers long, a kilometer wide and about four hundred meters high, and since both are in exactly the same place, no observer can see more than one of them. Most see a battered butte with craters roughly in the right place such that, with considerable imagination, the image of a badly torn face can perhaps be seen. Some, however, see a refinement of the enhancement produced from the original low resolution Viking photographs, a truly alien monument, a deep message to humanity . . .

I refer, of course, to the “Face”, which has gained a certain degree of notoriety as people speculated as to what might have created what we see.  Guesses run from Martians, aliens, to natural erosion. Most people would be skeptical and point out that, “You can see faces anywhere, such as clouds,” and dismiss anything other than nature as nonsense. While this face is somewhat different from cloud faces, it has one interesting thing in common: much of the face is hidden in the original image, simply because the angle of the sun shades half of it. One purpose in my novels is to try to show that reality should follow the rules of logic. So, what would logic say? The first question a scientist asks is, are the data suitable to resolve anything? If they were collected for some other purpose, they may not be. The initial data were collected by the Viking orbiter, which had the task of creating the first map of Mars. The map, perforce, had to deal with the major features, so for various reasons it settled on resolution that would give the desired map. Below, see one of the images of the Cydonia Mensae, in which the Face was first seen. Note that the angle of the sunlight shades quite a bit of the Face.

Image

 

We can expand and enhance the particular region (small black dots are lost pixels and are not real):

Image

Image

 

The initial argument against erosion/adventitious craters was initially, the probability of sufficient coincidences is too low. That argument is false, because what was overlooked was that with so few pixels devoted to the face, coupled with the shading, you do not need much in the way of accidental coincidence. That does not prove it is natural, but rather suggests you need better data before reaching a conclusion.

As I noted in Red Gold, we can immediately eliminate Martians, because the face looks like ours  (if it looks like a face) rather than like a possible Martian’s, and leaving aside the inhospitality of Mars, even had there been such Martians, they would have no idea what our face would look like. There are further reasons: there is no reason why a Martian would carve a face only we could see, and Mars could never have evolved indigenous technological life forms without leaving some evidence of the process. Aliens are slightly more difficult to eliminate by logic. As one of the characters in Red Gold said as a joke, space-traveling aliens who visited Earth, say two million years ago, could have worked out what our faces would look like when we evolved sufficiently to develop the technology to see such a butte on Mars, and they could have carved something. It could then be a message to us, meaning, “Come to space; it is possible and it is worth it.” That still leaves the issue of why would they bother to do that.

All of this speculation almost certainly annoyed NASA considerably. Beside the Face, some thought they saw pyramids. That is not hard to understand, except again the specific lighting in the first picture greatly enhances the possibility, since only a pointed top and an edge is required. Accordingly, when Global Surveyor was sent to Mars, NASA promised to use its better resolution to settle for once and for all what this rock was. Meanwhile, I had thought that all the activity might make it worth while to write  a SCiFi novel about the rock. Of course you cannot simply write about a rock, so I had to construct a story around it. This was slower than I thought, and Global Surveyor settled this issue, one of its images being reproduced below:

Image

 

The end of speculation about aliens! Well, not necessarily in fiction! (Actually, not necessarily in reality, as can be seen if you check the web!) I started my novel A Face on Cydonia with a television program that showed the image of the butte, intending to show how silly people were to think there could have been aliens, when the image morphed into the Viking-type image and winked. Eventually, this lead to an expedition, in which the members all have problems with each of the other members, and the book focuses on these problems. To add to the mix, there are at least three attempts from an external agent to murder at least one of them. Then, to keep the story going, each of the participants finds exactly what they did not want to find, and I set up a situation for more story by having each of them look forward to a future where they will have to carry out what they do not wish to do.

For those interested, in next post I shall give a link to A Face on Cydonia.