So where are they?

May 27th, 2015

Scientists have pretty much ruled out the chance of there being a really advanced alien civilization near us. By really advanced, they mean a Kardaschev Level 3 civilization – one capable of harnessing the energy of an entire galaxy. The search covered 100,000 nearby galaxies and didn’t detect any sign of such a civilization, which could be found by its heat signature. The jury is still out on less advanced civilizations though.

Unable to secure funding from standard sources such as NASA or the National Science Foundation, Wright’s group instead turned to the Templeton Foundation, a private organization with a history of supporting controversial and speculative research. With that funding the team searched for type 3 civilizations in an all-sky catalogue from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). They looked for objects that were optically dim but bright in the mid-infrared—the expected signature of a galaxy filled with starlight-absorbing, heat-emitting Dyson spheres. After using software to automatically sift through some 100 million objects in the WISE catalogue, Wright’s student Roger Griffith examined the remaining candidates by hand, culling those that weren’t galaxies or that were obvious instrumental artifacts.

The result was about 100,000 galaxies, with about 50 in particular that emitted much more heat than light. Jessica Maldonado, a student at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, then scoured the astronomical literature to determine what was already known about those top candidates. Many of them were well studied, and can be explained as pairs of galaxies in the process of merging or as isolated “starburst” galaxies—two processes that can heat galactic quantities of light-blocking dust to generate powerful infrared glows. According to the researchers, an additional 90 galaxies with less extreme heat-to-light ratios warrant further study but, by and large, the results are null. “On Kardashev’s scale, a type 3 civilization uses energy equal to all the starlight produced by one galaxy,” Wright says. That would equate to an infrared-bright galaxy seemingly bereft of stars. “We looked at the nearest, largest 100,000 galaxies we could find in the WISE catalogue and we never saw that. One hundred thousand galaxies and not one had that signature. We didn’t find any type 3s in our sample because there aren’t any.”

The Monarch on sale

May 26th, 2015

The Monarch: A Thriller, a novel by local author, Jack Soren, is on sale on Amazon.ca for $2.99. The blurb says: “Fans of thrilling adventures and international suspense will love Jack Soren’s whirlwind debut novel—a tale of two thieves detoured on the road to redemption.”

Normally, I wouldn’t be interested (I like thrillers, but given the number of SF novels I’ve bought but haven’t read yet, I just don’t have time), but Jack Soren is the pen name of someone I know – a writer who I hired (and had to lay off three months later when the company hit bad times) when I was working at Daleen fifteen years ago. I’m not sure if he wants his real name spread all over the Internet so I won’t reveal it here.

The Monarch has been nominated for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in the Mystery category and it’s also on sale on the KoboBooks site.

I’ve had a skim through the book and it does look good and the Amazon reviews are highly positive, so do check it out. I will read it, once I finish my slog through this year’s Hugo nominees.

A Word 2013 annoyance

May 25th, 2015

I was recently upgraded from Word 2010 to Word 2013 at work and generally, I like it. But I have found one annoying change that I first thought was a bug.

In earlier versions of Word, turning on text boundaries showed you the overall text boundaries for your page – in other words, the area bounded by your margins. This was handy for judging the layout for things like tables that might extend past the margin boundaries.  Now, in Word 2013, the text boundaries show for each paragraph. This is essentially useless information and can be visually distracting to the point where the only option is to turn them off.

According to Charles Kenyon, it’s not, as I had first thought, a bug but a (rather unfortunate) design change.

The workaround, such as it is, is to turn on crop marks, and if you wish, the ruler.  I will probably set up a macro that I can add to my Quick Access Toolbar that will toggle the display of text boundaries on and off, for the times when I need to see them.

2015 Aurora Award nominees

May 24th, 2015

The nominees for the 2015 Aurora Awards have been announced. The Aurora Awards are for Canadian science fiction, fantasy, and fan achievement and will be announced at SF Contario 6 in November. The novel category is particularly strong this year – at least three of them would have been legitimate contenders for the Hugo this year had not the Puppies peed in the dish.

We are proud to announce the 2015 Aurora award ballot for work done in 2014 by Canadians. Voting for the awards will begin for members of CSFFA* (Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association) on June 1 2015 and will close at Midnight (end of day) EDT on October 17, 2015. The awards will be presented at  SFContario 6 / Canvention 35 on the weekend of November 20-22, 2015.

Best Novel – English

Echopraxia by Peter Watts, Tor Books
The Future Falls
by Tanya Huff, DAW Books
My Real Children by Jo Walton, Tor Books
The Peripheral by William Gibson, Penguin Books
A Play of Shadow by Julie E. Czerneda, DAW Books

Trailer for Childhood’s End

May 21st, 2015

Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End is one of my favourite books – I’ve read it at least six times and when I taught an SF course years ago, it was the movel I used as an example of 1950s SF. It still holds up and hasn’t dated badly at all. Now SyFy is making it into a three-part mini-series and the first trailer is out. And it looks promising. I am cautiously optimistic, although the comments on the SF Signal site are much less so.

Written by Arthur C. Clarke and hailed as a revolutionary work of science fiction since its publishing in 1953, Childhood’s End follows the peaceful alien invasion of Earth by the mysterious “Overlords,” whose arrival begins decades of apparent utopia under indirect alien rule, at the cost of human identity and culture.

Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) will play Karellen, the ambassador for the Overlords. Mike Vogel (Under the Dome) will play Ricky Stormgren, a midwestern farmer whose life is turned upside down when he is named the sole human ambassador for the Overlords. Julian McMahon (Nip/Tuck) will play Rupert Boyce, an enigmatic American entrepeneur.

I’ve often wished I had the money to commission Philip Glass to do an opera version, especially after having seen Einstein on the Beach a few years ago.

The Hugo Controversy makes the WSJ

May 20th, 2015

Well, the Hugo controversy has hit the big time – it’s come to the notice of the Wall Street Journal.

The success of the Puppies stunned and outraged many authors and fans. They say the Puppies’ claims are nonsense and that their real beef is with science fiction’s move toward greater diversity, with growing prominence in recent years for women, minority and gay authors and an increased focus on social and gender issues. To them, the Puppies’ supporters are carpetbaggers who gamed the process, trashed a cherished institution and injected the wider culture war into science fiction to stick it to the “social justice warriors”—that is, outspoken liberals.

“They’re crashing the party and wrecking the place, and that’s not the way to do it,” said John Scalzi, a Hugo-winning novelist.

The fury on both sides has roiled the Hugos, and no one knows what will happen when the 13-inch-tall, rocket-shaped trophies are awarded Aug. 22. Multiple categories might go to “No Award” as anti-Puppy voters try to prevent Puppy nominees from winning.