5.01.2013

How to Build a Better Horcrux


The question – the critique, really – of what would make the best Horcrux occasionally pops up all over the Internet. It starts with the basics:

“Voldemort’s so stupid – why did he pick something with his name on it?”

“Voldemort’s so stupid – why did he pick objects that people could logically deduce might be his little soul boxes?”

“Voldemort’s so stupid – why is he protecting the source of his immortality in something that is mortal and with a shorter life span than humans?”

Make no mistake. Voldemort is kind of an idiot, and any respect we had for the creepy 17-year-old douche bag that went around commanding giant serpents, killing girls and family members, and completely getting away with everything despite Dumbledore’s suspicions went away in Goblet of Fire. Yeah, he’s powerful, but who spends a year masterminding ways for a (at this point, still capable of independent motivation and critical thinking) 14-year-old to win a complex series of challenges rather than just having him kidnapped by an invisible and perfectly placed minion at the beginning of the book?


A moron, that’s who. But that’s besides the point. The point is he chose his soul Tupperware badly, and the whole Internet not only knows it but has better ideas. They typically range from an unidentifiable pebble to anonymous objects buried somewhere in a place like Argentina or Siberia to some sort of equivalent to the One Ring. Which requires a very specific method of destruction and, taken literally, takes traveling to a fictitious alternate dimension to destroy. If magic was real, this might be totally possible.

Then the ideas get increasing specific. Like using famous and well-protected Muggle artifacts (because who would even plausibly consider Voldemort doing that? Certainly not our benevolent and heroic but still ridiculously dismissive towards Muggle culture protagonists). Or using man-made objects we sent off into space. The sixties and seventies are the decades that Voldemort was the most 'Horcruxily active', and we certainly haven’t progressed in space tech enough to chase after specific things speeding out of the far reaches of the solar system.

We’ve probably all seen this at some point:


So the collective HP fan mind of the Internet isn’t doing too badly for itself – though this collective whole seems to find some sort of perverse happiness in becoming the antagonist... and winning. You’ve got objects too far to reach (since apparently ‘Accio’ is a summoning spell not capable of summoning much), anonymity, pop culture references, and removed culture. Not to mention pitting Harry and his cohorts against the pissed off might of the FBI, which is probably still too angry that Nicholas Cage managed to get away with shenanigans to let three teenagers do the same.

Sometimes theories will get even more recursive and abstract. Can you make a soul a Horcrux? Because what decent protagonist could kill someone completely removed from the situation? And that’s not even getting into the potential religious ramifications of some sort of Dante’s Inferno/Greek mythology/HP mix-up where wizards have to remove a Horcrux from the soul of someone already dead and thereby sort of completely inaccessible.

Can you make a concept a Horcrux? What about a Phoenix or something indestructible?

And I don’t think these are the answers. All of them have some sort of metaphysical wiggle room attached to them, and someone could create a loophole – however far-fetched – to make it possible for the good guys to win.

There’s really only one way to one-up Voldemort and create a Horcrux that Harry Potter could never destroy.


What does Voldemort want to do? Rule the world. What does Harry want to do? Save the world by killing Voldemort. What’s the only way for Harry to save the world?

Destroy it.

Now that’s a plan worthy of the psychotic but genius bad guy we all know Voldemort to be. You knew when he had to face Harry himself in the first book that he was a possessive, vengeful asshole, and he proved it in the fourth when he screamed that Harry was his to kill. This is exactly what a better Voldemort would do, because if he can’t have the world, no one gets to.


You could keep going with this theme. The Sun, a black hole, the universe in general. But that last one in particular is a bit of a stretch, and I think there are probably a few proximity rules when it comes to magic that rule out objects millions of miles away. And if Voldemort really thought about, he probably wouldn’t want to outlive the Earth when the Sun expands and devours it.

At this point, it’s game over. Voldemort doesn’t even have to protect his Horcrux. He knows full well that there’s no way the good guys could ever destroy Earth, and the only thing he has to watch out for his future psycho bad guys who want to go out with a bang.

Well, there would be one good way for the heroes to win:

 

Thoughts? Additions? An urge to recommend this post on StumbleUpon? Are there other ways for super villains to win the day only to be defeated by a surprise use of burgeoning-but-not-up-to-where-it-should-be space technology?

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

3.20.2013

March 20, 2013: This Week's Alien and Space News


Most of the news this week isn’t actually news.

It’s just a restatement or increased confirmation of what we already know:
Voyager I is getting further and further away? there’s an increasingly large number of Earth-like planets in the universe? sex in space isn’t exactly what sci-fi action thrillers make it out to be? there may or may not have been life on Mars? We knew all this. But there are always new implications to consider. Plus, the fact that space research is still continuing is at least a baseline of 'good news.'

And there is new news, too: laser satellites, ftw.

Heliocliff, or the Classification Game: The more we learn about space, the more we have to change our thoughts about the universe we had pictured before. A (relatively) recent wake-up call on this note was the demotion of Pluto, though the whole Copernicus and ‘we’re not really the center of the universe, guys’ will probably remain the biggest one until we find intelligent aliens. Voyager I has just introduced us to yet another classificatory gray area: it has exited the heliosphere, exchanging being bombarded by anomalous cosmic rays for galactic rays, and no one knows quite what to call space right outside the sun’s general domain. Is it really in interspace yet, or some thus-far-unnamed middle ground?

Mars Kind Of Has Water and Maybe Had Life, Part Infinity: Here’s some more evidence for our lack of uncertainty regarding exactly how watery and microbially-inclined Mars is, was, potentially is or was, or might have been in some alternate dimension… that last one might have been an exaggeration (if only because the last thing this investigation needs is the inclusion of a variable like a multiverse). But Curiosity has now collected evidence of hydrated rock in surprising places, and that this hydration may or may not have been fairly spread-out. While it ups the likelihood that life could have eked out an existence on Mars, it doesn’t prove there was any life there to do that. So this update isn’t exactly out of the blue, but a lack of weekly alien-related epiphanies is the price we pay for being constantly in the loop and not being in a Hollywood movie.

The Future of Laser Communication is Now: This one’s pretty cool. NASA’s about to set up its first laser communication satellite (LLCD), and I’m really hoping it works out well. The scientists are cautioning that it might be ridiculously difficult to get working well  -- LLCD will have to “point its very narrow laser beam accurately to ground stations across a distance of approximately 238,900 miles while moving.” But not only will it completely revolutionize terrestrial communication (I know, stereotypical phrasing, but it might just apply here) by making it six times faster, but communication between people in space and people on Earth would also dramatically improve. Which would get rid of that long delay between Mars and Earth for that colony we’ll eventually, maybe, possibly set up. This is awesome for two reasons: one, we’re getting closer to a level one on the Kardashev scale and, two, having a laser satellite system might stop those stupid arguments about how a solar power satellite is just a laser weapon waiting to happen.

Because we can't have nice things without the Joker
screwing them up.
Sex is a Bad Deal for Virtually Everyone in Space: That human reproduction in space would be gross, difficult, and dangerous in space has been mutually agreed upon by everyone who even momentarily considered the concept. But it turns out that humans (and mammals more generally) aren’t alone in that particular drawback to zero-gravity life. The pollen tubes in male plants, along with a lot of other pathways in the cell, have traffic jams when there isn’t gravity to keep everything organized and running smoothly. The upside? Even this nix is teaching scientists more and more about how terrestrial life evolved.

More and More Habitable Zone Planets, Part Infinity: This article has the same kind of feel as the one about Martian maybe-water and maybe-life, but I’m not nearly as exasperated with it. A researcher at Penn State has stated that we have even more Earth-sized Goldilock planets than we did just a few weeks ago, when the estimate before that was debunked. While initially as seemingly newsworthy as the wishy-washy status of Mars’ news, this build-up of articles increasing the number of potential Earths means that there’s an ever-growing number of planets we might one day branch out to (it also means our ability to sense these planets is constantly improving). This is good news any way you look at it.

Want to share all the good news? Please be sure to recommend this post on StumbleUpon – all it takes is a click! 

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

3.10.2013

Video: Is Pluto A Planet?



Here's a great little video from C.G.P. Grey. In it, Grey -- in his trademark fasted paced and informative manner -- explains the basic history of Pluto, some of the reasons why it was reclassified and the precedent for reclassifying planets.

What I really like about this video though is the fact that Grey doesn't just address the history of Pluto but also explains why there are problems classifying planets to begin with, as well as a very basic etymology of the word 'planet'.

As always, Grey's videos are definitively worth a watch and if you haven't taken the time to browse through his videos then you owe it to yourself to explore his channel.

Rusty is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and gets up to all kinds of shenanigans planning for any and all kinds of apocalypse when he's not busy reading, writing, or yo-yoing. Keep up with him and Rachel on Facebook and Twitter to get cool, space related news or click here to read more of his thoughts on the terror of alien invasion novels.

2.28.2013

February 28, 2013: This Week's Space and Alien News


SpaceX Mission 2/12: On March 1, SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft will be
making a return trip to the International Space Station. Their overall mission hasn’t changed: bringing up supplies for the astronauts and their experiments, and bring down samples and used equipment. It’s going to be filled up severely below capacity both ways (it’s made to handle 7,000 pounds of cargo), a load capacity which might just be used when the ISS meets its hypothetical deadline in a few years and will stop having people in it. Or maybe we’ll make repairs and keep using it (or maybe we’ll make something better). Either way, NASA has ten more missions to use SpaceX for yet.


A Lot of ‘Ifs’ for Aliens: If planets exist in the habitable zone of white dwarf stars. If there is alien life on these planets (probably newly possible due to the transformation of its local star). If these aliens will have a big enough impact on the atmosphere that we can see it from Earth. If we are equipped to study the multitudes of white dwarf stars for potential dimming. If that dimming actually reveals a solid planet. If scientists have the funding for an organized search. If all of these ‘ifs’ come true within the next ten years, we might just find evidence of extraterrestrials. As if all of these uncertainties and unlikelihoods are actually news.

Doing Something About Asteroids: ESA’s mission to analyze asteroids, AIDA, has received an unsurprising boost in support. This mission involves studying Didymos, which will be near – but not catastrophically near – Earth in 2022. The study involves crashing one of two spacecrafts into it, at which point the second craft will record how that crash changes the asteroid. This project is based off the hypothesis that asteroid can be deflected by hitting them with something relatively small at just the right angle and speed to change its trajectory to something safer. It’s hopefully a good idea – it has to be better than blowing it up with a nuke.

Doing Something About Asteroids, the Graffiti Sequel: And this idea might be even better than hitting an asteroid to make it stop hurtling towards Earth. For this plan, according astronomy and physics professor at Texas A&M Dave Hyland, we would just paint the side of any potential life-destroying asteroid. Because asteroids near sunlight have a dark and a light side, momentum-carrying photons might just have an impact on the asteroid’s movement. If we interfere with this with paint that reflects more or less light than normal, we could change the asteroid’s trajectory. With paint. There’s a rock, paper, scissors joke in there somewhere, there just has to be.  

The Water Worlds of Jupiter’s Moons: Space scientists seem to have a thing about planning missions for 2022 because, just like hitting Didymos, ESA and NASA plan on sending a radar to analyze Jupiters and it’s moons Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto in nine years. We think the icy moons might have water oceans, which is cool not only because it’s more water in our solar system (and this might bode well for a potential base there in however many hundreds or thousands of years it’ll take to get actual people in space again) but because water might mean aliens. Fishy aliens, no less. Also, the ESA is getting a bit punchy with its mission names: this one is JUICE.

Want to share all the good news? Please be sure to recommend this post on StumbleUpon – all it takes is a click! 

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

2.24.2013

Metalaw: Should We Stop Anthropomorphizing Aliens and Use the Anti-Golden Rule?


Science fiction with aliens tends to anthropomorphize, amoeba-ize, or monster-ize extraterrestrial characters. There are three fairly good reasons for this, and while they’re all understandable, they leave a big gaping hole for philosophical possibilities.

1. Aliens in books have to be within the realm of possibility for the books to sell well. Aliens with vague descriptions, inexplicable actions and motivations, and plot points hastily followed by exclamations of ‘but we have no idea what aliens are really like’ aren’t all that desirable in literature. So, if they’re intelligent beings, authors make them more or less like us -- just with different strengths, flaws, and cultures. If they’re monstrous enemies, they’re one-dimensional horrors –- and let’s face it, we do this with antagonists even if they’re human. If they’re not human or menacingly animalistic, we assign them to one of the other kingdoms of life categorization, usually either Bacteria or Plantae and so don’t have give them personality, thinking ability, or equal status.

2. We have absolutely no idea what alien life will be like. We only have ourselves, our plants and animals, and our microorganisms to go off of. Once humans actually come across aliens, we’ll have a bit more to base our story lines on (unless they’re microorganisms, which is the lamest level of alien awesomeness imaginable). But that’s not looking likely anytime soon, so we’re stuck (roughly) with what we know.

3. Science fiction almost never has the primary purpose of exploring alien neurology or psychology – at best, it’s an interesting sub-point. Sci-fi tends to promote capitalism (Heinlein), critique imperialism and militarism (War of the Worlds), or how people might react to alien invasions (too many to even name). Science fiction is a nerdy way to critiquing social mores, an interesting but anthropocentric motivation.

And, maybe because sci-fi is so anthropocentric, most of it contain undertones of the Golden Rule. ‘One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself’ might do pretty well for humanity (even though it can be ridiculously self-involved), but space-going and extraterrestrial-contacting protagonists rarely seem to get it right. In War of the Worlds, the narrator says that all the imperialistic humans are getting what they deserve, seeing as how death, destruction, and domination are exactly what they treated other native societies to.

This shows the negative of the Golden Rule, or the Silver Rule (‘One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated’), more than the pure Rule, but the concept stands. (And I really hate the narrator for saying this, because he’s a moron.)

In Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, the rule is outright violated: nobody treats anyone else how they personally want to be treated and a lot of things go wrong as a result of that. And in many of Heinlein’s books, characters are given therapy and rehabilitation until they not only follow the golden rule but want to be treated the way social mores demand.

So the Golden Rule is pretty important, and science fiction, taken altogether, seems to create the maxim of ‘follow it or suffer and probably die.

Not so according to Andrew G. Haley and advocates of metalaw. Following the Golden Rule in relation to extraterrestrials is apparently the exact opposite of what we’re supposed to do.

And this is semi-justified in a pretty cool way. Haley, the world’s first ‘space lawyer’ created the term metalaw in 1956. It’s based on Immanuel Kant’s philosophical ideas, which are hard chunks of metaphysical tongue-twisters, but relies most heavily on his Categorical Imperative:

"Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."

This applied to aliens more specifically (as specifically as a universal law can get) created an inverse rule Haley called the Interstellar Golden Rule. Rather than ‘doing unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ every intelligent being in the universe should ‘do unto others as they would have you do unto them.’

Let’s think about this.

So – rather than treating aliens as humans should fairly be treated, we should treat aliens as aliens should fairly be treated.

>In many respects this isn’t a bad idea. For one exaggerated example, imagine that aliens and humans are merrily interacting on neutral ground, but then one human accuses one alien of some sort of criminal act (let’s say breaking and entering). In the United States, the accused have the right to face their accuser. But we can’t very well do this if the alien’s culture mandates a duel to the death the second an accused and an accuser meet face to face or else the accused suffers an immediate and crippling loss of honor. On the flip side, the human should hardly be expected to engage in mortal combat.

People could argue that the laws of the location take precedence, but that’s a sucky cop-out that dodges the actual question at hand. It also only applies (if even then) in matters of actual law.

Maybe an intelligent alien species has good justification for a seemingly barbaric social hierarchy. Maybe no other alien species with a legal system agrees with the idea that corporations are people. Maybe a powerful species of militaristic aliens think consequentialism is a ethical idea punishable by planet-wide genocide. We just don’t know.

In any case, Haley put his foot down on being so anthropocentric, and he gets bonus for that.

On the other hand, this smells terribly like moral relativism, which makes me take the majority of his bonus points away.

We should by no means go around judging hypothetical intelligent societies by our values, but at the same time we can’t just accept that their culture fits their circumstances best and leave it be.

For (yet another exaggerated) example, if we come across an intelligent alien society that tortures and kills half of their offspring for fun and no better reason – no limited resources, no tribute to gods/more powerful aliens, no biological demand, no nothing – we can hardly say ‘No, keep going. And, by the way, here’s a few of our own children who want to study abroad.’

By the same token, if an intelligent alien species comes to our planet, sees warfare, gang killings, or wide-spread child neglect, and can do something about it that doesn’t involve mind-control or extermination, I’d rather like for them to do it. Or at the very least I’d hope they communicate some sort of censure.

Some ethical codes are actually superior to others. It’d be nice, in the event of the mixing and mashing of multiple alien cultures, we could come to a nice, civil, and altogether superior amalgamation of everyone’s moral code. That notwithstanding, we can’t just issue a blanket statement that each society will independently evolve in the best way possible.

And neither the Golden Rule nor the Silver Rule are awesome when it comes to hypothetical extraterrestrials we can’t even begin to understand.

Want to spread the debate over extraterrestrial ethics a bit farther out? Be sure to recommend this post on StumbleUpon – all it takes is a click! 

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

2.22.2013

February 22, 2013: This Week's Space and Alien News


The past week has had an unequal combination of cool news and potentially catastrophically bad news. NASA captured video of the safe asteroid DA14, but Russia got hit by a destructive space rock. Scientists have potentially find a way to propel space technology outside the bounds of the solar system, but Salmonella might just kill any astronauts who try to get there. Oh, and the moon is acting up again (it must have gotten jealous about all the attention on Mars).

DA14 The Movie:  With what is quite possibly the world’s worst FPS (at 0.003), NASA’s California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory released a video of DA14’s journey past Earth. The recording is based off of radar as the asteroid was leaving Earth’s periphery at a distance of 74,000 to 195,000 miles away. While this might not be too impressive relative to the distance of far-away galaxies we’ve captured glimpses of, it gave us an impressive amount of detailed information. Not only does this data about the asteroid’s size, surface, and rotation teach us more about asteroids in general (they are an ever-present threat, after all), it might be important in the upcoming asteroid-mining boom.

A New Alteration to Science Books Everywhere?: The space section in science textbooks just keep giving us problems. This time, scientists at University of Michigan are arguing that the moon wasn’t formed from debris knocked off the Earth during a (dare I pun?) Earth-shattering collision. Signs of water – including hydroxyls  (one hydrogen, one oxygen) in volcanic rock and water ice being knocked into the air by the crashing LCROSS – pretty adamantly disprove that theory. Of course, this leaves us without a good theory to go on (and American science education just seems to hate that).

Space Keeps Finding New Ways to Kill Us: Or, rather, we keep discovering new methods of destruction that demonstrate just how human-unfriendly the final frontier really is. While humans tend to not do that well in space, and microgravity is a big part of that, microbes have no such limitations. Microbiologist Cheryl Nickerson is studying how well disease-causing organisms exist in microgravity, and the answer is ‘disturbingly well.’ Astronauts have to face the double whammy of having lowered immune systems in space and having pathogens like Salmonella be far more aggressive. The only good news is now that scientists know about the problem, they might be able to do something about it.

Space Rock Wake-Up Call: It will end up costing an ungodly amount in repairs, and over 1,000 people were injured. But, all in all, the space rock that hit Russia was a mild reminder of exactly how dangerous space objects can be. At the very least, it’s a sign that the world needs a much improved, and all-encompassing, monitoring system for incoming space rocks. Even that’s not enough – knowing that danger is imminent is only half the battle of preventing said danger and, as it stands, no country or space organization is equipped to do either. It’s a sobering thought, because nobody saw this thing coming.

Using Ion Propulsion to Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before: I don’t expect human exploration outside the solar system anytime soon, but it’s nice to know that scientists are slowly preparing for it. This newest technological improvement takes Hall thrusters, which use a fast-moving ion stream for movement, and gets rid of the tendency for the discharge channel walls to erode. This erosion has restricted this mode of transportation to ‘in the solar system,’ but we’ve hypothetically – and in this one aspect – moved beyond that restriction. 

Want to share all the good news? Please be sure to recommend this post on StumbleUpon – all it takes is a click! 

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

2.07.2013

February 6, 2013: Just Another Day on the International Space Station


As part of their daily update about goings-on on the ISS, Mission Control Houston presented a few of the scientific studies happening in orbit. Various observations about earthquakes and fishing patterns are underway, and there’re constant maintenance and inspections to make sure nothing goes wrong. There were also two particular scientific events of note yesterday. One, the Kibo robotic arm from Japan was used to inspect several experiments exposed to space. Two, an ongoing study called Matrishka involves measuring radiation dose types and amounts that astronauts are exposed to during long-term space missions. This last study is particularly important as the world moves – hopefully – toward long-term and long-reach space exploration.

Be sure to recommend this post on StumbleUpon – all it takes is a click! 

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

Trajectory of DA14


In the United States -- and pretty much everywhere except southern Asia -- the asteroid DA14 won't be that spectacular. It would be a visible dot in the sky, at least, except it'll be daytime in the Western hemisphere. So, to make up for that missed astronomical action, here's a short animation from NASA that shows DA14's trajectory near the Earth. If you play some dynamic music in the background before the asteroid's bounce-back action, you can almost see Bruce Willis on it.

The video demonstrates a few interesting points about how asteroid travel, especially how they move in relation to planets, but it's slightly less cool than the actual asteroid will be. Still, you have to take what you can get with asteroids -- and hope they don't give too much.


Be sure to recommend this post on StumbleUpon – all it takes is a click! 

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

1.30.2013

Deep Space Industries


There’s another asteroid mining company out there, trying to make things happen. Their schedule of progress over the next several years is fairly ambitious, but their premise makes a lot of sense. Deep Space Industries, looking to become the second big name in asteroid mining (or maybe the first if Planetary Resources doesn’t pick up the pace), announced last Tuesday that they plan to join in the race for off-Earth mining. And it’s a little different from how Planetary Resources plans on doing it, with a riskier but sensible goal.

The hardest part of space travel, once you’ve made sure that the gear is capable of keeping organisms alive and technology intact, is getting off the surface and beyond the atmosphere. Gravity can cause a ridiculous number of problems with this, and any extra weight sent into space costs thousands of extra dollars per pound. Things like fuel, water, and oxygen have to be replenished during any lengthy trip in space, and that, especially in regards to fuel, adds up. It’s bulky, expensive, wasteful, and completely inefficient to send all that up from Earth; the only reason we do it that way is because Earth happens to be the only current source of any of it.

But Deep Space Industries plans on mining in space for in-space purposes. Gravity is much less of a problem on an asteroid, and once you get away from the expense of getting heavy and large volumes of necessities off of Earth, replenishing space missions becomes relatively cheap. Not outstandingly cheap, of course, because it’s still space and there are start-up costs to consider, but a definite improvement down the line.

DSI also has plans of mining metals from asteroids in order to make replacement parts for technology already in space, which is incredibly awesome. If something breaks in space, it’s defunct until the part is sent from Earth and replaced. This means people have to decide if the value of whatever broke down is worth the cost of repair and the cost of pushing up against Earth’s gravity. This sort of dilemma occurred when the Hubble kept having problems in the 1990s, and people nearly decided no – it wasn’t worth the cost. (Which it completely was, and would have been less of an issue if something like DSI had been up and running back then.)

In the long-term, provided DSI has a long term, it can even self-generate mining stations for other, further out asteroids. You really can’t beat a business plan where you can use free resources to create extensions of your mining equipment that can go, find new asteroids, and begin making new extensions with new free resources. The only things standing in the way is the as-yet fairly limited evolution of artificial intelligence and the coming wave of space laws (we all know that it’s coming, and that it’s going to hit hard).

And this sort of thing – mining in space for in-space uses – makes a whole lot of sense, definitely more than off-Earth mining for on-Earth uses. Just as it’s expensive to get things up into space, it’s troublesome to get things down to Earth safely and without damage. It’s also not terribly cost efficient. We’re nowhere near the point of desperately needing metals, oxygen, or water from space – and by the time we are, it’s probably going to be too late to start this kind of thing. Space mining and terrestrial mining, at least for a while, are going to be on different scales of expense, and terrestrial demand doesn’t yet justify that kind of cost.

With any luck, outer space demand will, and that’s why DSI’s premise is risky. NASA, ESA, JAXA, and countries like Iran and India plan on getting heavy into space travel. Iran just successfully brought back a monkey from sub-space orbit and has plans of sending someone to the moon; the United States is planning for long-term exploratory missions and maybe even a moon base. But all of these are plans rather than a steady stream of reality, and a business with huge start-up costs needs more than that. So while their ideas about supplying parts for space technology, fuel, water, and oxygen are cool and logical, and will hopefully stay successful once it really gets going, it has to really get going first.

As it stands, Deep Space Industries has a pretty ambitious list of things to achieve in the next few years. As of 2015, the company will send out unmanned Fireflies (and wasn’t that a wise choice in name to garner sci-fi fans everywhere?) to assess the material resources of nearby asteroids. Then Dragonflies will bring samples back to Earth for more rigorous analysis.

In 2020, just seven years from now, DSI hopes to be able to start sending out their Harvestors, which will actually begin the mining work. That’s ridiculously soon, but I really hope they make that deadline – not only will getting started sooner mean awesome things will continue to increase in number during my lifetime, but 2020 is the date for several other aerospace plans and DSI needs that market to stay afloat.

But right now, Deep Space Industries is at the 'announcing they exist and generating computer models' stage. The likelihood of the company’s success is a complete unknown, but their hypothetical success would be an integral part of future space travel.

If you found this interesting, please recommend this post on StumbleUpon – all it takes is a click! 

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

1.29.2013

January 28, 2013: This Week's Alien and Space News


NASA Starts Trying to Make New Technology Off of Technology 40
Years Old
:
Engineers at NASA have started looking at the F-1 rocket engine that the Saturn V used. It’s the most powerful engine, so that’s something, but it’s about forty years old and it’s a bit pitiful that we haven’t gotten beyond this point in our space technology yet. Any time technological progress at NASA is described with the word ‘resurrected,’ is a pretty sad day. But they seemed to be just looking at it to create something much better, which they will hopefully be able to do. In the article, Director of the Propulsion Systems Department in Marshall Engineering Directorate Tom Williams says that they’re looking into liquid oxygen and kerosene – which hasn’t been used in a while – and that, "These tests are only the beginning.” They better be only the beginning; technology four decades old shouldn’t be the end of it.

Beetles Using Stars to Navigate: This news isn’t exactly Earth-shattering or as intellectually significant as it is kind of being played up to be, but it’s interesting.  Just as some insects revolve around local bits of light, dung beetles also use light to pick what direction they’re going in. During the day, they use the sun. At night, they can use the moon. But the moon isn’t always reliable, and scientists discovered that the beetles use the stable glow of the Milky Way to navigate.

Getting Closer to Long-Term Space Exploration: In NASA’s Advanced Explorations Systems Program, there is a standing objective of developing deep space habitats for people to live in and explore space beyond Earth’s orbit. And we might get closer to that starting in 2015, when SpaceX will ship up an expandable habitat to attach to the ISS. Called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), this expanding habitat will be tested for two years to see if it can withstand space conditions and not kill potential people inside of it. If it works, not only will Bigelow Aerospace become a bigger name in the space industry, we’ll be that much closer to having people on Mars and exploring actual space.

It’s Not Just Asteroids and Our Sun That We Have to Worry About: The Universe just became a bit scarier of a place. Scientists have figured out a likely explanation for a strong burst of gamma radiation that hit Earth in 775. They’ve ruled out supernovas and solar flares, but think that it might have been two objects in far off space colliding and merging. Space objects like black holes, neutron stars, or white dwarfs anywhere from 3,000 to 12,000 light years away from us. This is kind of horrifying, not least because the scientists expect that any similar event today would play havoc with our electronics. No, the article is concluded by one of the scientists noting that, had the source of the radiation been any closer, some terrestrial species might have gone the way of the dinosaurs.

Monkeys in Space: Iran is also making its way into space. Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi reports that their launch of a live monkey into suborbital space was a success as the Pishgam space capsule returned the monkey alive. The United States is protesting this, as the same technology that makes good space travel possible makes a good missile system possible, but Iran still has plans to send a human into space by 2020 and a human to the moon by 2025. I guess that explains why the U.S. is picking up the pace a little with our space tech.

Want to share all the good news? Please be sure to recommend this post on StumbleUpon – all it takes is a click! 

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

1.26.2013

Video: How to Pronounce Uranus



So here's an interesting video on how to pronounce, the seventh planet in our solar system, Uranus from the fantastic CGPGrey.

I've been a fan of Grey for a while now but I was recently re-watching some of his videos when I saw this. There's not really a whole relating to aliens in this, but that doesn't stop it from being both entertaining and informative. Definitively worth a watch.

Rusty is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and gets up to all kinds of shenanigans planning for any and all kinds of apocalypse when he's not busy reading, writing, or yo-yoing. Keep up with him and Rachel on Facebook and Twitter to get cool, space related news or click here to read more of his thoughts on the terror of alien invasion novels.

1.08.2013

Review: Out Around Rigel


Out Around Rigel, Robert H. Wilson. Short Story.

“The Comet had attained an average velocity of perhaps 175,000 miles per second, and the voyage that seemed to me six months had taken a thousand years. A thousand years! The words went ringing through my brain. Kelvar had been dead for a thousand years. I was alone in a world uninhabited for centuries.” 

 I read this short story as part of Rusty’s and my 2013 Book Reading Challenge. The goal is to read as much sci-fi as possible, especially anything to do with aliens, and this short story had quite a few elements that are worth thinking about. It’s not necessarily a great story on its own – though it would probably make a pretty standard action adventure movie; it’s the history and ramifications of the story that are interesting. 

The Background: 

It’s 1931, and Einsteinian science hasn’t fully saturated into everybody’s consciousness. Also, most of the science fiction of that time was martial (though not yet Cold War-style ‘aliens are communists, destroy them all’), about how people would react to aliens or how aliens would react to us, or shamelessly centered on really bad science. This story by Robert H. Wilson, however, tried to incorporate relativity in a way that made sense at the time but is kind of cheesy now.

Time dilation is a problem, but it’s certainly not a surprise for us in the twenty-first century. It was a surprise in the 1930’s, though, and that makes the story a good bridge to understanding science if you lived before WWII but not a story for the ages.

The Premise:

There are two best friends and a girl – and we all know where this is going to go. Third-wheel Garth dares Dunal, the friend who got the girl, to test out his speed-of-light-barrier-breaking space ship with him. Dunal agrees and they fly away from their terraformed moon, leaving the girl behind. This is a sinister trap, however, as Garth sets the ship down on a planet in the guise of exploring and then suddenly challenges Dunal to a duel. Things don’t go as expected: aliens appear and are demonstrably displeased by their shenanigans. This leads to a surprising not-quite ending, which in turn leads to the ending everyone expects when there’s someone traveling faster than light and they leave someone they love to wait for them.

Who Should Read This Story? 

Anyone who has 15 or 20 minutes should read this story. For all of its scientific gaffs and clichés, it’s entertaining. And the aliens are kind of a nice touch. But, really, this story is most enjoyable to someone curious about the evolution of science fiction and looking at how it’s changed alongside scientific discoveries. This story is also good for anyone planning to travel faster than the speed of light any time soon. It will remind them about a really valuable tip: don’t leave the people you like behind – they won’t be there when you get back, and it’s not because they’ve moved on.

Final Verdict:

The story is fun in a dark kind of way. It’s not spectacularly wonderful, but it doesn’t have to be. The book is a short story removed from the era when it would have had the most impact. It provides a quick look at how much science has changed while still showing how people’s interest in space hasn’t changed that much. Out Around Rigel is also free – and really short – so you can’t go wrong with it. The audio is available here, along with quite a few other short stories, and the text is available at Project Gutenberg.

How did you like the book -- or did this review even make you interested? If you have any opinions, suggestions, or reflections yourself, feel free to comment below! (Or you could keep us going on StumbleUpon)

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

1.05.2013

Review: The Door Through Space


The Door Through Space. Marion Zimmer Bradley. Novel. 116 pages.
 
“The Terran Empire has one small blind spot in otherwise sane policy, ignoring that nonhuman and human have lived placidly here for millennia: they placidly assumed that humans were everywhere the dominant race, as on Earth itself.”

There are books that are good because they ask interesting philosophical questions, use entertaining but realistic facets of human behavior to create subplots, and have a really good protagonist creating a quality point of view throughout the whole text. And then there are books that are bad because they have really bad romance scenes for no good reason and a tendency to not fully explain realizations that characters have that shift their entire perspective.

These categorizations are easy to organize and read accordingly, but books are at their most frustrating when they’re both. And The Door Through Space by Marion Zimmer Bradley is both.

The Background:

Marion Zimmer Bradley is famous for her Darkover book series. This isn’t one of that series, but it takes place within the same, not to be (punny), universe. Many things from the Darkover books are in this one, and it helps flesh out and add side stories to her central series. Quite a few concepts are pre-established in this story: there is a Terran government that is Earth-based and powerful over several dozen worlds; humans have traveled through space for quite a while and have become integrated with terrestrial nonhuman civilizations, even to the point of siding with nonhumans and autonomy over Terran loyalty.

The Premise:

There’s a Terran intelligence officer named Race Cargill who works a desk job on a planet called Wolf. This guy used to be a really big deal in covert operations, but he and his brother-in-law slashed up each other’s faces in a fight six years ago, and distinctive physical characteristics kind of inhibit someone’s ability to sneak around and blend in. But then he hears how his brother-in-law, Rakhal, is now involved in a plot to forcefully remove Terran influence on Wolf.

Race Cargill decides he now has two good reasons to kill Rakhal – ruining his ability to do his job and trying to supplant the government – and resolves to do just that. Shenanigans ensue.

These shenanigans finally coalesce into a plot through another character’s use of intraplanetary portals and toys that make children hate their parents. I can’t say much more than that, because anything else will give away the ending and the majority of the book is spent world-building more than it deals with the actual plot, anyway. 

Final Verdict:

This book is best read after her Darkover series or if you’re willing to read a few more of her books. The writing style is great, as is her universe and characterization of the protagonist, but it feels incomplete. It can stand alone, but it probably shouldn’t. The good news is, if you read this, there’s enough quality stuff going on to make you want to read her other books. Oh, and that’s another noteworthy point: the author is a woman, and so readers don’t have to deal with the typical female character stupidity that happens far too often in science fiction.

This book is just over 100 pages long, and since it’s free – both in text and audio format – I can’t think of a good reason not to read it. That’s probably not the most enthusiastic verdict, but the really cool questions it poses about our future and potential interaction with extraterrestrials are probably in another, better book.

Maybe even in her Darkover series, which will find its way onto this site eventually. 

How did you like the book -- or did this review even make you interested? If you have any opinions, suggestions, or reflections yourself, feel free to comment below! (Or you could keep us going on StumbleUpon)

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

1.02.2013

Review: The Aliens


The Aliens. Murray Leinster, 1960. Short story. 40 pages.

“‘And I think, sir,” said Baird, “that until they detected us they thought they were the only intelligent race in the galaxy. They were upset to discover suddenly that they were not, and at first they’d no idea what we’d be like. But I’m guessing now, sir, that they’re figuring on what chemicals and ores to start swapping with us.’” 

The Background:

Murray Leinster has a ridiculous amount of published science fiction. He is best known, if you can be well known for one specific thing out of over 1,500, for his story First Contact, and the majority of his stuff is surprisingly original. This particular story also gets bonus points for not being anti-communist propaganda, which alien science fiction generally is when it’s from that era.

Instead, this book focuses on a lot of interesting problems that come with the first discovery of aliens, even though Leinster kind of skates over a few of the major ones (to be fair, trying to include all the issues would lead to there not being any kind of book). There’s the potential risk that comes with confronting any species on our level, especially if they also have our sort of hostility. Communication is also a problem, since we wouldn’t even have the universal facial expressions humans have here. The only thing that can be easily(-ish) done is demonstrate our intelligence, seeing as how we’d find each other by technological sensors.

Probably. 

The Premise:

An exploratory spaceship is going through the galaxy, trying to find out about an extraterrestrial species of Plumies, which had only been studied before through artifacts. The ship quickly comes across a Plumie ship, and suspicious panic ensues when they don’t respond to the humans’ attempts to communicate. So, rather than considering the huge technological, perceptual, and linguistic barriers, the humans open fire. The Plumies, presumably irked at this point, reflect the missiles back and then careen towards the humans to instigate a giant game of space chicken.

Both sides lose, and somehow become welded together in the process. It gets even better: the ship combo then starts drifting towards the nearest star. To survive, the two species have to not only get along, but communicate with enough skill to help each other repair the ships.

This entire misadventure is made worse by the guy in charge of defensive maneuvers. This xenophobic soldier spends the story screaming in the background about the inferiority of everything that isn’t human, how the Plumies should be shot, and so on. He even tries to blow up their ship in a fit of supremacist hysteria, which causes obvious logistical difficulties when the two ships are connected.

Final Verdict:

This is a really good sixties-style short story about how humans and aliens might first interact. It’s hopelessly naïve – aliens would hardly be welcoming when a raging idiot keeps almost managing to slaughter them – but has several interesting ideas about science and future interstellar trade.

The story also manages to mix in a bit of realism in the beginning paranoia, the ‘shoot first’ philosophy of everyone (not just the xenophobe), the bad attempts to communicate over long distances, and the uncertainty in the first part of the book when the humans know essentially nothing. The only irritating thing in the book is the sappy romance that pops out of nowhere, but it’s fairly easy to ignore – or at least to laugh at.

Since the book is only forty pages, and the audiobook is only eighty minutes, it’s definitely worth your time. Especially when it’s free in both formats here.

How did you like the book -- or did this review even make you interested? If you have any opinions, suggestions, or reflections yourself, feel free to comment below! (Or you could keep us going on StumbleUpon)

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.