Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Fermi Paradox and the Great Filter

Word that water may well flow on Mars (periodically) was met with great excitement by many people. Water makes it easier to land and live there, as well as dramatically increasing the potential for life on Mars.

However, a few people were dismayed by the hugely significant discovery, which seems a little odd. Until you learn about the Fermi Paradox and the Great Filter [before yesterday, I knew of the former but not the latter].

Concisely, the Fermi Paradox wonders why we haven’t encountered any other aliens (yes, space is enormous, but species could have been developing for billions of years more than us, so where are they?). The Great Filter is a reference to a theoretical barrier that is very difficult to surpass, and prevents species reaching a certain technological height (hence why we haven’t encountered any).

A very interesting and lengthier explanation is available here [some fruity language so perhaps NSFW]: http://waitbutwhy.com/2014/05/fermi-paradox.html

The issue with the Great Filter, as well as potentially not existing, is that nobody knows where it is. It might be an extremely early evolutionary barrier, at the unicellular level, or it could be in our distant (or immediate) future.

The human race is inherently unstable, to some degree. It might be that high intelligence (which, on an individual level, has high co-morbidity with many psychological conditions) in a species naturally coincides with instability. It’s not hard to think of the numerous wars we’ve made on ourselves. If we keep doing that, the chances of nukes or biological agents (or weapons yet undeveloped) getting used on a global level will shorten (perhaps to a terminal extent).

We’re also very near the Singularity, a moment when artificial intelligence will exceed that of ourselves. This is significant because we could create a machine, which then designs a more intelligent machine, and so on. As this moment approaches, we’re also developing ever more effective robotic forms of death, which has led scientists to call for laws governing autonomous killing machines.

Inventing autonomous killer robots with superior intelligence to our own would be a very human way to commit species-wide suicide.

Drifting back to Mars and the Martians: if there is life on Mars, then that removes the earliest instances of the Great Filter, and makes it a bit more likely the Great Filter (which may well be an apocalypse of some variety) lies in our future, rather than our past.

Cheery thought. And all because some salty deposits were found several million miles away.


Thursday, 10 September 2015

777 Writer’s Game

Yesterday I was tagged by LK Evans, author of Keepers of Arden, to take part in the 777Writer’s Game.

The premise is simply to post 7 lines from a page number ending in 7 from a WIP (work-in-progress), and then tag 7 other writers to take part.

Picking which WIP was a bit tricky, as I’ve technically got three large ones on the go. I went for Sir Edric’s Kingdom, which isn’t quite done and won’t be out for a while (it’s the third of his adventures, with Temple and Treasure due for a release in early 2016). Hard picking which bit to use too, as it’s a bit longer and less episodic than the first two, and I didn’t want to give away plot points.

Anyway, here’s the excerpt:

“Good idea,” Sir Edric agreed. “You do that, and I’ll occupy myself getting thoroughly drunk.”

“That might dishearten the men, sir.”

Sir Edric popped his cork and took a long swig. “Dog, half the men already lack stomach, guts, spines and brains. One fewer organ won’t make any difference to their life expectancy.”

“Nevertheless, sir, I do have in mind a perhaps better use of the wine.”

Sir Edric lowered the bottle and raised his eyebrow. “A better use for wine? Unless there’s a foxy redhead around here you want to get squiffy, I find that hard to believe.”

My septet of tagged victims are:

I look forward to seeing what excerpts my seven tagged persons post.


Monday, 31 August 2015

The Final Hybrid blog post, by Teresa Edgerton

Often, self-publishing precedes traditional releases. But in the fourth and final part of our series, esteemed author Teresa Edgerton explains why someone might choose to self-publish their backlist, after it’s been traditionally released some time earlier.


Monday, 24 August 2015

Review: Ghost on the Throne, by James Romm

Ghost on the Throne is a history of the years immediately after the death of Alexander the Great, as the Diadochi (Successors) battled for mastery of the world. I have read a small amount on the subject, and was interested to see how this stacked up.

After Alexander passed on, it was as if the alpha wolf of a pack had died. But because he had so many secondary fellows, all of whom acknowledged they were his inferior but considered themselves equal to their fellows, suddenly there were a large number of would be alpha wolves looking to get as much power and influence as possible. No shrinking violets, the upper echelons of the Macedonian elite were (almost uniformly) personally brave, quick-witted, devious men hardened by decades of constant warfare. And the only man capable of reigning over them was gone.

There are ten chapters, each starting with an overview and then little sections of a few pages (sometimes less) focused on one individual or a small group in a given time and place. The approach is interesting, and effectively disentangles a fluid political and military situation that might otherwise become too complicated, enabling the various events to be kept track of more easily.

Whilst I was familiar with the general progression of events there was new information about the parts I knew (anecdotes about Antigonus losing his eye and trusting Demetrius), and a whole slew of completely fresh information regarding the situation in Athens (as well as bits and pieces elsewhere).

The level of detail was spot on. The progression of events was relayed in detail without getting bogged down in triviality, and the writing style was very easy to read without being dumbed down.

There’s a focus on the political (and personal psychology) rather than the military, which is partly because major battles and direct confrontation were relatively uncommon.

Another plus was the map at the start (there are a few others, and some illustrations/photographs, later on) which overlaid Alexander’s conquests onto a modern map of Europe/Asia/Africa. It really was bloody enormous.

So, down sides. Not many, to be honest. I would’ve liked the book to go on for longer, though it does end at a natural break point. The references to ‘old man Antipater’ do get over-used. There are notes, which was a surprise because there are no symbols/numbers to signify these and I stumbled across them at the back of the book when I’d finished it [I also much prefer footnotes to endnotes].

I would recommend this book to anyone after a history of the aftermath of Alexander’s death. I think it’s accessible for new history readers, but has a level of detail that would also satisfy people who already have some knowledge of the era.