Friday, May 24, 2013

Links 24/05/13

'The temperature in the permafrost on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian high Arctic is nearly as cold as that of the surface of Mars. So the recent discovery by a McGill University led team of scientists of a bacterium that is able to thrive at –15ºC, the coldest temperature ever reported for bacterial growth, is exciting.  The bacterium offers clues about some of the necessary preconditions for microbial life on both the Saturn moon Enceladus and Mars, where similar briny subzero conditions are thought to exist.'

A huge methane-based ecosystem has been discovered deep in the Atlantic ocean. 'Studies of this kind and of these communities help scientists understand how life thrives in harsh environments, and perhaps even on other planets.'

Forecast for Saturn's moon Titan: Wild weather could be ahead as seasons change from spring to northern summer, if two new models are correct. '"If you think being a weather forecaster on Earth is difficult, it can be even more challenging at Titan," said Scott Edgington, Cassini's deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.'

Meanwhile, back on Earth, a Dalek has been found at the bottom of a pond in Hampshire.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


She was a small, slight woman not much older than Hari, the sleeves of her oversized quilted jacket cuffed back to her elbows. She yawned when Rav started to explain who Hari was and how he had ended up in Fei Shen, said every transient had some kind of bad luck story and none of them were very interesting.

‘Use this, kid,’ she told Hari, and threw a package at him.

His bios caught it, ran it through a sandbox to check for hidden djinns, implemented the simple trait it contained. Layers of information settled through him. Map and phone functions, a ticker that showed the slow, steady unravelling of his store of credit. The hours left before he had to go to work for the city, or find a way of leaving it.

He thanked the woman (her tag was a wireframe cube that contained a clear blue flame and no readable information, not even her name); she shrugged inside her jacket.

This was in a dark little shop where thick, heavy True lifebooks, bound in metal or manskin or shimmering polymers, were chained to wooden presses. A single volume was spreadeagled on a lectern, its pages wider than the span of Hari’s arms and printed with double columns of elegant handwritten script as black as the outer dark. Intricate and colourful illustrations framed the tall initial letters of the first words of every paragraph, and at the top of the right-hand page a woman with a burning gaze and bright yellow hair looked out of a window, talking about something that no doubt had been important in the long ago, when she had been alive.

From Evening's Empires

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Hard Problems

I'm often labelled as a writer of hard science fiction, and frankly it's a label I don't much like, and think isn't of much use. Its strict sense defines a kind of fiction that takes the actual world seriously, tries not to violate known laws (and signals violently if it does), and builds convincing stories about actual discoveries, actual science, with as little fakery as possible.

Trouble is, it's come to imply difficulty, something arid and arduous, something crabbed and restricted, and of limited appeal to anyone who isn't a stone science junkie who knows her muon from her pion, the difference between RNA and DNA coding, and the meaning of every acronym NASA has ever coined. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but there can be too much emphasis on the science and not enough on the fiction, on the weight of cold fact rather than flights of imagination. Too often, so-called hard science fiction strives to be dully convincing, and forgets to be amazing.

And in any case, the definition is mostly redundant. Any fiction about the world as it is, rather than the world we imagine it might be, sticks to the facts. Isn't much of the enterprise of modernist fiction about realism - about the accurate replication not only of the external world, but also of the inner world, the world of the mind? And aren't we living in a world that's driven by science and technology? Isn't the present too often framed as being 'just like science fiction'? Which is to say, just like science fiction in the movies, which is rooted in science fiction from the 1950s.

The world as we know it is one thing; science fiction should be about something more. Should use the known as a jump ramp into implied spaces and possibilities. Should respond to the weirdness of actual science rather than reusing received notions and used genre furniture. Should be irresponsible. Should stop arguing with itself. Should fly.
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