Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Space Age marvels - near and far

Let's lift our heads from Earthly troubles for a bit. First something cosmic -- BBC World Service uses me pretty often, most recently on a program about moving the Earth.   A light take on a very – um – heavy topic that I explicate further here.

Is “dark energy” real? It’s based on the notion that cosmic expansion started accelerating again, some 5 to 10 billion years ago, as apparently evidenced by the distance and brightness profiles of Type 1a supernovae, which are our standard candles for immense distances. But what if those candles were not “standard” across those billions of years? Might the brightness of a typical S1a have varied, as the galaxies got older, and more ‘metal-rich’? Or even (perhaps) as space-time itself got more stretched out? (I feel it, even across my almost seven decades!) 

If so, then the new inferred distance/recession curves might eliminate the supposed acceleration and thus any need for dark energy.  (There are other metrics like the Cosmic Background Radiation and the baryonic acoustic oscillations (BAO), but these are even more indirect.) What fascinating times. Fight for a brave, scientific civilization.

Soon the New Horizons spacecraft (with Pluto and and Ultima behind it) will take images of two "nearby" stars, Proxima Centauri and Wolf 359. When combined with Earth-based images made on the same dates, the result will be a record-setting parallax measurement yielding 3D images of these stars appearing (as points) to pop out of their backgrounds, giving very precise distance measurements.

Image from Inouye Solar Telescope
And coincidental with our re-release of my first novel - Sundiver… the new Inouye Solar Telescope based on Maui in Hawaii is taking the most detailed images of our Sun to date. Amazing pics of convection cells the size of Texas coupled with titanic magnetic fields and sources of the Solar Wind that sometimes surges as massive storms.  

== ...and only slightly less cosmic ==

On a broader scale,  a study published in The Astrophysical Journal  found that hundreds of galaxies were rotating in sync with the motions of galaxies that were tens of millions of light years away. It should be impossible that the galaxies separated by six megaparsecs [roughly 20 million light years] directly interact with each other. Perhaps the synchronized galaxies may be embedded along the same large-scale structure. “In 2014, a team observed curious alignments of supermassive black holes at the cores of quasars, which are ancient ultra-luminous galaxies, that stretch across billions of light years.” And yes, one notion is that this provides forther evidence for “we’re in a simulation.” Well, it’s one thought occurring to science fiction readers.

Amazing composite image of the Tycho Supernova, with the red and blue coloring used to give a 3D feel to it (retreating and advancing silicon and other stuff too).

While breathless reporters ask if Betelgeuse is about to go supernova (not huge odds in our lifetimes) a smaller spectacle seems assured in mere decades. V Sagittae is made up of an ordinary star orbiting around a white dwarf star, with the former’s matter slowly falling onto the latter. The astronomers’ mathematical model predicts this process to result in a merger between 2067 and 2099. “It’ll be “substantially brighter than the all-time brightest known nova just over a century ago, and the last time any ‘guest star’ appeared brighter was Kepler’s Supernova in the year 1604.”

China has finally booted up its “super-Arecibo” radio telescope. The completed FAST is about 2.5 times as sensitive as any other radio telescope on the planet, and is expected to have four times the range of the next largest dish. That is, till the Square Kilometer Array goes live.

Astronomers have discovered a 'void' with absolutely nothing in it. ‘The void, which is about 6 billion to 10 billion light years away, is nearly a billion light years across, is empty of both normal matter and dark matter. The finding challenges theories of large-scale structure formation in the universe.’

Speaking of which, here’s the coolest recent thing: a light echo of SN 1987A! Some of the light from the supernova from 1987 went a different direction, bounced off a gas cloud and got here almost 33 years late. Even cooler, we can do this proactively. We can calculate and find gas clouds that WILL reflect a known event to us, at some future time, and then catch some of the very earliest light curves from sudden events like supernovas. 

== And more coolstuff! ==

The first-ever direct image of a black hole's event horizon was a truly impressive feat though so-far low-resolution, confirming exactly the visual appearance (of an accreting singularity) predicted by Caltech Nobelist (and sci fi fan) Kip Thorne, for the movie “Interstellar.” This computer simulation is truly gorgeous. You’ll be glad you clicked.

A titanic, expanding beam of energy sprang from close to the supermassive black hole in the centre of the Milky Way just 3.5 million years ago, sending a cone-shaped burst of radiation through both poles of the Galaxy and out into deep space.

Hubble Spots a Ghoulish 'Face' in the Depths of Space. Well, two galaxies colliding. But kewl. Watch as it happens! (Be patient.)

The fastest eclipsing white dwarf binary yet known orbits in only 6.91 minutes, and is expected to be one of the strongest sources of gravitational waves detectable with LISA, the future space-based gravitational wave detector. “Closely orbiting white dwarfs are predicted to spiral together closer and faster, as the system loses energy by emitting gravitational waves. J1539’s orbit is so tight that its orbital period is predicted to become measurably shorter after only a few years.”

==The Sci Fi Beat ==

 Kickstarter for SHAPERS OF WORLDS, an anthology featuring first-year guests of The Worldshapers podcast, offers stories by Seanan McGuire, David Weber, me, and many others. 

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Science patterns and speculations... and Freeman Dyson and Stephen Wolfram

My friend and legendary polymath Freeman Dyson passed away at 96. We had lunch planned for when he and his irrepressibly impressive wife Imme next came to their apartment in La Jolla. Alas, it’s not to be.

Freeman’s long and creative life was spent being a scientific and philosophical rascal — rewarded for impudent skills at questioning anything and everything… skills that would likely have got him strangled in any other culture. Born into this one, he rose from World War II Blitz survivor to one of the most original thinkers in mathematics, physics and space technology.

One thing you’ll not read in any of the bios spilling across media is my judgement that Freeman Dyson was the greatest theologian of the 20th Century! He and Tulane University Professor Frank Tipler had books in the 80s forecasting the likely condition and interests and survival of intelligent super-beings in the distant future. Tipler’s notions centered on a cyclical cosmology — gravity slowing the Bang expansion, then reversing it into a Big Crunch — as illustrated in Poul Anderson's famed novel Tau Zero. 

Meanwhile, Freeman pursued the logic of the Great Dissipation, assuming that the expansion goes on forever; how might intelligence continue long after galaxies, stars and even protons decay away?

Freeman “won” that rivalry when astronomers discovered universal acceleration of expansion (the fact behind “Dark Energy” speculations.) Hence my awarding him that title. 

(The title of Greatest 21st Century Theologian may be won by another friend - Roger Penrose - who has revived cyclical universe notions in new and funky ways that are totally consistent with Freeman.)

Of his many legacies, Freeman's absurdly creative and productive offspring -- first George & Esther and then four more with Imme -- count highly. One recent memory was taking him (with the Benford boys) to revisit the glider point at Torrey Pines (near UCSD) where he 60 years ago helped to invent a new kind of launcher catapult. What a guy.

Okay, that was an impulsively garrulous riff, borne out of my sitting here perplexed and grieving, but celebrating a life like no other.

== Speculations and advances ==

Speculations run rampant about the source of the coronavirus pandemic, which I went into elsewhere… and whether it might have repercussions similar to Chernobyl.  

Meanwhile folks might find interesting my stories about infectious disease, offering insights into how some become killers and others might evolve into something else. Maybe cooperative. Or even weird? "The Giving Plague" was a Hugo nominee (It's in Otherness but also available on my website.)

And "Chrysalis" Is a biology tale found in my third and best collection Insistence of Vision.

And moving on... this woman apparently has the super-power to smell early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, long before a victim shows any outward symptoms.

Researchers have created a mutant bacterial enzyme that can in only a couple of hours break down PET plastic bottles into their individual chemical composites, which could later be reused to make brand new bottles. Conventional recycled plastic that goes through a “thermomechanical” process isn’t high enough quality and is mostly used for other products such as clothing and carpets.

An interesting claim: “ "Air-gen" or air-powered generator, connects electrodes to microbe-created protein nanowires to produce electrical current generated from the water vapor naturally present in the atmosphere.” I’d like to see the energy gradients, to believe it.

Scientists describe how they assembled genomes made up of blueprints for proteins — and demonstrated that it was capable of replicating 116 kilobytes worth of its own RNA and DNA. The team plans to build an “enveloped system” that can reproduce like this last one — but also consume nutrition and dispose of waste, like a living cell.

Between the 1860s-1890s, father-and-son glassworkers Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka created thousands of anatomically correct models of marine invertebrates. They're so delicate it could be mistaken as a real sea creature. Thank you David Crosby!

Scientists outlined a method to “shape intense laser light in a way that accelerates electrons to record energies in very short distances: the researchers estimate the accelerator would be 10,000 times smaller than a proposed setup recording similar energy, reducing the accelerator from nearly the length of Rhode Island to the length of a dining room table.”

Especially interesting as an amateur beekeeper who does have problems with wax moths… Showing how beekeeping has multiple uses, an amateur beekeeper and scientist at the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria learned of the ability of the greater wax moth larvae in eating plastics after she plucked the larvae out of her beehives and tossed them in the garbage only to find them chewing holes in the bag. The one drawback is they excrete a toxic substance when fed plastic. 

==  A Theory of All ?  ==

More diversion from those exploring the smart-edge of civilization. Polymath Stephen Wolfram - inventor of Mathematica and the Wolfram Language - wrote me a note about his new venture… solving the Riddle of Everything and "cracking the code in physics." Do visit his linked site - Stephen has credibility! In addition to the web-posted missive linked below, see his "Physics project.”

While I'm a licensed, if minor league physicist, it strikes me that his approach has much in common with (1) cellular automata using simple rule sets to create complexity (and note that John Conway, inventor of the Game of life (featured in Glory Season), died of Covid, last week), plus (2) pattern-sifting... plus (3) big-data machine-learning systems... both of the latter needed in order to cull the vast population of rule-based 'universes' down to a few worth contemplating.

When we last spoke - gosh a year ago - we mulled over how different statistical regimes -- e.g. Bose-Einstein vs Fermi-Dirac -- would certainly apply to the range of rule sets. And sure enough, in this missive Stephen says "the only requirement is that it’s distinct from all other elements," suggesting that the example he gives in this web presentation uses the Fermi-Dirac approach. But of course in a "universe model" you'd have to generate both types, since fermions make up all the "matter" -- Leptons and quarks -- while bosons carry the forces of light and EM and gravity etc. It will be a combination of both rule sets, that interact, with bosons created-destroyed in a simple tabulation of energy... while fermions must keep careful track of their identity and net-sum number.

The first exampled network that SW's rule pattern "grows" will strike you as looking like a human brain. I wouldn't make anything of that. But the stringy clumping of the galactic clusters - according to recent maps -- also comes to mind.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Covid insights... but don't forget the political implications.

AlertWith oil near $0, there's no reason for a vulnerable US carrier group to be anywhere near the dangerously confined and provocative Straits of Hormuz... except to serve as a "Tonkin Gulf" trip wire. Putin needs a US-Iran war to raise both oil prices and Trump's polls. Keep an eye on this.

 == Some Covid-related flash thoughts ==

(1) Might the many who have but have antibodies, but no symptoms, have been exposed through food rather than breathing?" asks Joseph Carroll. 'Attenuated, it may not reproduce fast enough to outrace immunity." We assume the virus is killed in stomach acids. But the esophagus other points of entry might offer attenuated lethality... to many, not all. Even if true, don't restart "edibles" versions of “Corona Parties” yet! Because the virus can be brutal outside the lungs, if it gains traction almost anywhere. “[It] can attack almost anything in the body [and] Its ferocity is breathtaking.”  Both views may be partly right, for some populations and some strains. 

(2) Meanwhile, this article in the South China Morning Post suggests that Covid-19's mutation rate is far higher than previously thought, with some strains - like the one attacking most of Europe and New York - being especially aggressive and deadly.

(3) And yes it's either criminal negligence or much worse. For example: the National Security Council gave Donald Trump a 69-page pandemic plan three years ago — he ignored it. Snopes has verified: “The Trump administration fired the U.S. pandemic response team in 2018 to cut costs.” And that's just one of maybe fifty culpable failures.

(And there were ignored warnings from science fiction. My Hugo-nominated story “The Giving Plague” explores our complex relationships with viruses and such, including the several paths a parasite can go down, in “negotiating” with us hosts… and yes read it for free.)

(4) The anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine Trump touted is linked to higher rates of death in VA coronavirus patients, a VA study says. Even more strongly it says "no net benefit." And yes, when combined with that antibiotic.

(5) We need right now to start massing tracking of even the non-symptomatic infected for hidden effects. We mentioned non-lung damage, above. But further, some viruses are known to have downstream effects like triggering cancers. While I doubt this... or an HIV-style immune system attack... it means "we'll get past this" merits adding a "maybe."

(6) Lots of infected/recovered folks donating plasma for experiments using serum from covid survivors to help the ill. (I wasn't able to give my 96th pint because I'm (probably) pure and uninfected! Can't have that!) Here's a summary of efforts to evaluate this possible treatment.

(7) A couple of non-covid blips: Most years I try to warn folks in March to be wary when traveling during the 3rd week of April. Nut jobs often go rampaging on 4/19 - the anniversary of the Waco Debacle and Oklahoma City bombing. And the next day is old Adolf's birthday and Columbine Day. (Why did cannabis folks choose 4/20? Were they nuts?) And now the Nova Scotia shooter. See other mid-April jolts here. And Stay safe. Beware Holnists.

Oh but the 4th week of April starts with Earth Day... now its 50th Anniversary. So take heart. And yes, Earth.

(7) Finally, a Republican-led Senate review unanimously supported the conclusion of the intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, undercutting claims by President Trump and his allies that the findings were those of a “deep state” seeking to undermine his victory. Demand wagers from your MAGAs, now that every GOP senator agrees with the Deep State.

== The contrast that nails them ==

Biden's Health Play In a COVID-19 Economy: Lower Medicare's Eligibility Age To 60.”  

Well, yes, that is half of my recommendation! But it's the other half that would make election-winning headlines. 

Also include all children, up to age 25! You'll gain converts from most parents in America! Then comes the capper. Include an escalator. A year after the law takes effect, the not-covered age range becomes 27-to-58... then 28-to-57... then 29-to-56... automatically. Watch how quickly insurance companies then rush to (at last) negotiate in good faith.

And even if the GOP retakes Congress (as they did in '94 and 2010) they won't dare rip this away from the nation's kids. Unlike "Medicare for all," this could easily be afforded out of just ending Supply Side voodoo. And hence, no need to rail over "How you gonna pay for it?" Since the more complex issues have been put off for later (middle aged folks stay with employer insurance or medicaid,... at first), This version could pass within one month of a new Congress sitting in session. And support would span the spectrum from AOC types to moderates to sane Republicans.  

So good for you Joe. That's a baby step toward something both truly disruptive and affordable. See more in Polemical Judo.

== Judo your way past their reflex defenses ==

It is a grievous error for democrats to leap and proclaim "deficits don't matter!" Savvy guys like Reich and Krugman have been doing this and it's a trap. A free giveaway of a choice campaign rejoinder that just reinforces an image that helps Fox hold onto working stiffs. 

Vastly better is to shout: "Republicans are the budget-busting wastrel biggest spenders! Not only do they almost ALWAYS throw away more money and increase debt faster (care to bet on it?) but they waste it on "supply side voodoo" gifts to the super rich and oligarchs and mafias....

"...At least we'd spend it on making healthy, educated children who can then compete with the rich in flat-fair-open markets. Yes Democrats would spend extra in a recession, as FDR did, but look at the states! In good times, Democrats pay down debt! No Republican does that, ever!"

Anyway, there is a reason why US conservatives and especially libertarians never mention Adam Smith, who taught the fantastic creative power of flat-fair competition. They veer away to worship Milton Friedman and “Supply Side” incantations, or Ayn Rand, or apocalypse fetishism… or sigging a playground bully, rather than face the pure fact that Adam Smith today would be a Roosevelt Democrat:

"Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all." 
          -Adam Smith, The Wealth Of Nations (1776)

== Political potpourri ==

A member of the Supreme Court Bar resigns and tells John Roberts off. Wow, on target and apropos of this era’s John Taney.

And double wow in contrast, what a deep bench of women Biden could choose a running mate. Michigan Governor Whitmer has had a lot of attention, lately. Bottoms and Duckworth and Masto offer big diversity points while being solid folks. (Duckworth also has political and veteran chops, though is from a bluest state.) I doubt Klobuchar, who does nothing to salve the left. Harris is strong on paper (and ranks #1 on this list), but yipe do her huge brains and savvy and feistiness (and racial points) make up for the sense she has knives up her sleeves, eyeing everyone in sight?

Okay, a year ago I predicted Biden-Warren. And that he'll depart after 3 years, giving her nine, after she garners some executive experience. (She has none, but is a fast learner.)

Let's be clear on the Veep Record. Democrats always pick someone who is qualified to serve as president... and who is somewhat boring. 

Republican nominees since WWII have all but once picked a living horror, a wretched "ticket balancer" who is spectacularly not-qualified, with no thought to the national consequences.

That exception? Ronald Reagan chose as running mate a fellow who - on paper - was supremely well-qualified... and who went on to be the very worst US president of the 20th Century... who set the stage for two of the worst in the history of the republic.

Want another consistent pattern? Democratic ex-presidents are manic, they spend the rest of their lives scooting around busy trying to save the world. e.g. Jimmy Carter. Republican presidents always "retire to the ranch" or golf or paint. The pattern goes back (perfectly) to Ike. 

== Twitter metrics ==

And now some other analytics that could help you convince someone about the emperor’s non-clothes…

The New York Times analyzed Trump's 11,390 tweets since becoming president, and found he praised himself 2,026 times

Stylistic variation on the Donald Trump Twitter account: A linguistic analysis of tweets posted between 2009 and 2018.

Text Analysis of Trump's Tweets - an Online Project.

Twitter Analysis shows How Trump Tweets Differently About Nonwhite Lawmakers.

Do not let Covid distract you from what's important -- saving the Western Enlightenment Experiment and the American dynamic progress toward better horizons. This crisis should make you more determined than ever

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Our bold future in space!

Looking past quarantine... and the War On All Fact People... let's pause amid the gloom and assume that we'll prevail! Where are we headed for our next bold adventure?

Well, for one thing, sample-return missions from Mars are in the works: this is how the ESA and NASA will work together to bring rocks back from Mars. And NASA has developed plans for a lunar base camp on the surface of the moon, looking toward a sustainable human presence. 

== NIAC on the Attack! ==

NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts program (NIAC) has announced their new Phase I, II and III fellowships for 2020, including some of the most intriguing possible endeavors or new technologies that might lead to new missions and adventures out there.

Among the cool new projects: 
-An ultra-low frequency 5 km radio telescope that would fit snugly into a crater on the far side of the moon. (This had a lot of press; it's a lunar use-case that actually makes sense.) 
-And using "extreme metamaterials" for solar sails. 
-Ways to biologically convert the abundant CO2 in the Martian atmosphere into liquid hydrocarbons suitable for rocket propulsion and other energy needs on Mars. 
-Pulsed plasma rockets for combined high Isp and thrust. 
-Antimatter deceleration of interstellar probes! 
-A way to rendezvous with and study InterStellar Objects (ISOs) like 'Oumuamua'. 
-Plus ways to synthesize pharmaceuticals needed by human explorers to other worlds.  
-Another NIAC grant got press play as a possible way to actually image distant, interstellar Earthlike worlds.
... And a dozen more new and vivid concepts!   

(Full disclosure, I serve on the NIAC external advisory council.)

== Space miscellany ==

In an important milestone, one commercial spacecraft was used to save and reactivate a more valuable one, by latching onto it and providing the maneuvering ability it had lost. This is just the beginning as we'll gain the ability to service and refuel - and dispose of - satellites and make better use of orbit.

Spacefarers: How Humans will settle the Moon, Mars and Beyond, by Christopher Wanjek, explores humanity's cooperative, bold future in space, with colonies established beyond our home planet - to reap benefits, both scientific and economic. 

This may illuminate the origins of life: ribose has been discovered in meteorites, wow. Even more amazing… some bits of stardust found on an Australian meteorite are presolar grains that apparently formed before our sun. A new analysis of the meteorite revealed particles that formed between five to seven billion years ago. That makes the meteorite and its stardust the oldest solid material ever discovered on Earth. Inferred from elements that were likely formed by incoming interstellar cosmic rays.  

New maps of water distribution on Mars… including vast regions where ice appears plentiful near the surface… will be of major use in planningfor future habitation.

Here's a great looking video that could be on Mars, but isn't. Vegetation? Who needs vegetation? Seriously cool.

You might enjoy this... A game called Terraforming Mars - played on an accurate map of the Tharsis region of the Martian surface, where corporations vie to tame the Red Planet. 

A visual treat: this gorgeous image from the space station of the trail of the Proton-Soyuz rocket bringing up a friend.

A Scottish start-up just successfully tested a 3D-printed engine for the orbital stage of its 72ft launch vehicle. It burns 'Ecosene' (made from plastic waste). They plan to launch from a Scottish spaceport. Pure dead brilliant.

Here’s a fascinating interview with Dennis Bushnell, Chief Scientist at NASA Langley Research Center, regarding a range of potential breakthrough technologies to improve our access to space. (Some of them we’ve funded at NIAC.) 

== Strange gullies in Mars from sliding Dry Ice Blocks? ==

Wow. Mysterious features observed... and clever researchers not only come up with a great explanation, but then test it out on nearby sand dunes... Followed finally by speculation on a great new sport folks may play someday... on Mars.

What a time to live in. Astronomers took a closer look at how the Vela neutron star spins at about 43,000 rpm. (Yes, you read that right.) Only about 8 km across, it sometimes “glitches” for a brief slowdown, then speeds back up again. A model now explains this as subtle interplay between a “mantle” of superfluid neutrons and an outer crust of a different superfluid state.

And how would Earth look as an exoplanet? … though I’d seen preliminary versions. It will be some time before we can image planets in other systems. (A couple of tricky methods are being funded by NIAC - it’s fun getting first looks!) Till then, an intermediate will come when we can get single pixel images with some spectral resolution. Yeah, “images” consisting of one blurry dot. But analyzing over many bands and over time, you’ll get data like rotation period, possibly mass, atmospheric constituents and – yes – a very good stab at both cloud data and the rough shape of oceans and continents!

A fascinating JPL experimental rover looks and acts like a pool cleaning robot, patrolling the underside of sea ice with two big wheels, observing the abundant life there and testing possible technologies for a Europa mission.

TESS mission has found its first Earth-sized, potentially habitable planet, orbiting at the Goldilocks range from a smaller-reddish star just 100 light years from us.  Size and orbit confirmed by the soon to be retired, venerable Spitzer Telescope. It’s tidal locked in a 37 day orbit and reddish dwarves dent to flare a lot, but this one appears to be relatively calm. All told, when we get scopes that can study atmospheric traits, this might be the one for answering many questions about a tidal-locked world. Still you can be sure all the METI kooks will be aiming yoohoo cries and adverts at this one.

Earth orbit is filled with trash – abandoned satellites, upper stages etc. – endangering humanity’s shared resource. In Existence, I posited using tethers, ropelike systems to snag and dispose of some objects. Even better would be to equip all new satellites with tether-based de-orbit systems, like the one just tested (by Tethers Unlimited). ‘Prox-1, a 71-kilogram cubesat that launched into a low Earth orbit in June on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, successfully deployed a 70-meter length of conductive tape in September that is creating enough drag to deorbit the satellite much sooner than simply abandoning the satellite.’

The Very Large Array in New Mexico – featured in the movie CONTACT – is doing an all sky radio survey that will allow the Breakthrough SETI program to tap into the data stream with a supercomputer, looking for potentially sapient patterns. “The VLA is being used for an all-sky survey and we kind of go along for the ride,” said Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley Seti centre. “It allows us to in parallel conduct a Seti survey.

== Stay Safe ==

Here's hoping all's well for you and yours and that you are healthy and doing great.
Do thrive and persevere... you and all you love.

But also fight for a civilization that rises above the blandishing allure of that old curse - feudalism - and instead decides that we can do better by cooperating and competing fairly, in the light. And then riding light to the stars.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

What to do during Cov-Fe-Fe (Covid Forced-exile From-employment). Some of you are writing fiction. Even science fiction!

First a brief historical note about the "Asian Flu" of 1957, quoting: "Maurice Hilleman, a doctor later regarded as the godfather of vaccines, in 1957 read about a nasty flu outbreak in Hong Kong that mentioned glassy-eyed children at a clinic, tipping him off that these deaths meant the next big flu pandemic.” Hilleman requested samples of the virus be shipped to U.S. drugmakers right away so they could get a vaccine ready. Though 70,000 people in the United States ultimately died, “some predicted that the U.S. death toll would have reached 1 million without the vaccine that Hilleman called for... Health officials widely credited that vaccine with saving many lives.” 

What differed then? Well, Dwight Eisenhower was a different kind of president. And the Greatest Generation admired science and expertise. And the most popular American at the time was named Jonas Salk. Make America that kind of great again.

(Read about that event and other far worse plagues from history.)

== Are some of you taking on the Great Humanican Novel? == 

While my life has changed less than most… e.g. exercising with weights instead of at the gym… I have seen a surge in news media and podcasters wanting interviews. They claim it’s for wisdom or insights about the near and farther future… but I suspect many are just bored, or need filler.

Another uptick is from folks wanting to do spec scripts based on some of my stories.* And yes, there are many fine ‘possibles’ to be found in my three collections. Someone, someday, will do “Dr. Pak’s Preschool” right and creep-out millions!  

But most prevalent in the era of Covfefe are pleas from the house-quarantined, seeking advice about writing! Both nonfiction books and (especially) science fiction stories and novels. (Ignore the slander phrase "novel-coronavirus"! They are trying to deter you!)

Yes, this happens more mildly during NaNoWriMo November (National Novel Writing Month.) Only now with greater urgency! At-minimum, it’s a more creative use of time than binge-TV and maybe a lifetime opportunity to check that item off a bucket list. And so, to those of you with an ear for dialogue and a feel for character and sense-of-story… and willingness to work hard while seeking criticism… to all of you talented up-and-comers I say –

-- to Go Away! The field is full! Have you tried jigsaw puzzles?

Um, just kidding! We’re all readers, too! And someone out there might be just on the verge of creating the Great Humanican Novel -- a tale so deeply moving it will change us all for the better. For that reason… and others… I am among the few “best-selling authors” who always responds personally to every such appeal. (I do not promise always to do that! Stephen King used to, but physically can’t anymore, alas; Nice guy, BTW.)

 Oh, sure, I have some shortcuts, like “canned advice” that I paste into most responses, using QuickKeys, before adding some bits apropos to each person. So it occurred to me. Why don’t I share that now, with all of you? 

For one thing, it might keep some of you from emailing me! (Except to say thanks and to promise me a copy of the award-winning best-seller I helped to inspire? ;-) 

More importantly, maybe some practical tools and tricks will help a few of you achieve that glimmering goal, and thus enrich us all.

== David Brin’s Canned Advice Note ==

Dear _____

Naturally I’m pleased you are writing and I do want to offer my encouragement. Still, there is good news and bad news in this modern era. The good: there are so many new ways to get heard or read or published that any persistent person can get out there.  Talent and good ideas will see the light of day!  The bad news… it is so easy to get "published," bypassing traditional channels, that millions can convince themselves "I am a published author!" without passing through the old grinding mill, in which my generation honed our skills by dint of relentless pain. 

 . . . . . . . . (Insert apropos personal note in here! ____)

Alas, fiction writing is a complex art that involves a lot of tradecraft... as it would if you took up landscape painting or silver smithing. It is insufficient simply having ideas and being skilled at nonfiction-prose, nor does a lifetime of reading stories prepare you to write them.

Story telling is incantatory magic and there are aspects to the incantation process that are mostly invisible to the incantation recipient (reader). Skills at rapid-opening, point-of-view, showing-not-telling, action, evading passive-voice and so on are achieved by studied workshopping -- and as in most arts, the whole thing is predicated upon ineffable things like talent, e.g. an ear for dialogue that only a few people have. Indeed, point-of-view (POV) is so hard that half of would be writers never "get" it, no matter how many years they put in.

This is not meant to be discouraging! It is to suggest that extensive workshopping and skill-building are as important today as they were 30 years ago.  And to do that, you need to do one of the most difficult  but rewarding things a mature human can do – relish and seek criticism.

And enjoy whatever level you reach! Seriously. Tell a story. Even give it a way (as I am virtually giving away my sci fi comedy!)
No matter what, you'll be a creator of worlds. 
A kind of deity. 
An artist.

This answer is already too long. So what I can do is point you to an "advice article" that I've posted online, containing a distillation of wisdom and answers to questions I've been sent across 20 years.  (Note, most authors never answer at all.) 

I can also offer a general site containing advice bits from other top writers.

Then there is my advice video!  

Many people have found these items extremely helpful. I hope you will. But either way, do persevere.

Good luck!
David Brin

== Anything Specific? ==

All right that was a bit vague and general. There's lots more specific advice and pointers if you follow the links. And down below in comments. If enough of you ask, I may append some very specific examples of common beginner mistakes and how to avoid them.

Beyond that, however, the adventure is yours. Enjoy. And at-risk of violating my own rule against repetition… persevere!


* Re spec scripts: I do require a very strong, signed release! And real experience is required. And this applies only to short fiction, not novels or series. Sorry.