Guilty as Charged: I Had an Ulterior Motive

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Okay, I admit it. I had an ulterior motive when I wrote the Star Trails Tetralogy. I don’t think it was a bad one, but it was there nonetheless. As I’ve mentioned before, perhaps ad nauseam, I was inspired to pursue a career in a technical field by the science fiction I read as a kid. And that is what I wanted to do with my stories, make science intriguing and interesting enough that my readers would love it as much as I do and want to know more. I mean, seriously. Why else would an otherwise normal person get a degree in physics? At least I thought I was normal. Then again, maybe not.

At any rate, my books have apparently succeeded to some degree. But don’t listen to me, I’m clearly biased and perhaps not to be trusted. Here’s what some of my reviewers have to say:

Marcha Fox has a gift for explaining the science in an interesting and original way. Sci-fi fans who love properly developed cultures backed up by hard and well understood science will devour these stories.

Science theory is a large part of this story and the writer uses many scenes and situations to explore warp drive, time bumps, worm holes, and warp gullies to name a few. When explanation is needed in a book, it usually slows progression of the plot, but the author uses the science as a “key” to unlock the puzzle of the many developing situations in which Creena finds herself. It’s a great book for anyone that wants to learn more about scientific concepts while being thoroughly entertained.

Anyone who loves hard science will lap this book up.

Having taught junior high science for a number of years I think this read would be a fabulous addition to classroom libraries as well as “the hungry for sci-fi lovers” personal bookshelf.

A great book for anyone that wants to learn more about scientific concepts while being thoroughly entertained.

The scientific details added greatly to the story without sounding like something out of a textbook.

I am in awe of the world author Marcha Fox has created. She has populated our galaxy with human colonies and aliens, enriching the story with intricate detail covering solar systems, seasons, geology, politics, anthropological, fauna, eco-commerce, technological, and spiritual beliefs that are unveiled layer upon layer as the story progresses.

[The author] integrates actual science into science fiction, creating worlds, customs, and life forms outside the world we live.

Needless to say I was deeply gratified and appreciative that these wonderful readers picked up on my ulterior motive and didn’t give me a one or two star review because it was too technical and therefore boring. Of course, nerds like myself LOVE the technical side, but that’s besides the point.

So what is the point? The point is that I didn’t stop there. I also put together “The Star Trails Compendium” which includes a glossary of terms, both fictitious and otherwise, as a companion volume to the stories. I include more details about the star system, Cyraria’s weird, lemniscate (figure-8 shaped) orbit, its effects on their horrific, extreme weather, political structure, and a bit more about the bnolar, the planet’s indigenous species. I hope no one is too disappointed that I refrained from including all the calculations I did while developing the star system, mostly because math is so tedious to express via the keyboard.

And here’s the best part: The ebook versions of the Compendium are FREE!  (At least everywhere but Amazon, who’s a bit uncooperative, but might come around eventually given enough complaints. Hint, hint..)

If you’re an educator or perhaps a homeschooler, there’s an even better bonus especially for you. I’ve included suggestions for lesson plans and discussion topics based on the chapters of each book. Thus, any science teachers who have students who need a little bit more could assign my books as extra credit backed up by assignments which are all but laid out for you in the Compendium. Science clubs could likewise utilize them. Knowing how overloaded today’s teachers are, this could provide the needed stimulation for the Advanced Placement students without a lot of extra work on their part.

If you’re wondering how this works, here’s an example using an excerpt from Chapter 3 of “Beyond the Hidden Sky.”

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The Escape Pod

Shortly after jettison the acceleration shell loosened its grip and shrunk back into the side of the seat but Creena remained in place, gripping the armrests with white-knuckled hands. She’d always been frustrated with the rapid heartbeat and breathing provoked by anger but that was nothing compared to what she was feeling now. She’d experienced a variety of emotions on Mira III, more than most that went through their ordered lives in a state of unquestioning, unreactive calm.

What she felt now, however, was stronger still, a deep, primal reaction from the core of her being. Seared by adrenaline every cell cried out with an unspeakable fear far deeper than any provoked merely by thought, terror firing her blood like a burning fuse.

Never in her entire life had she been so scared.

Her breathing rasped in her ears, mouth dry with her hands shaking and clammy against the armrests. Gradually her racing mind slowed and her heart stopped pounding though her breathing remained heavier than normal as she concentrated on her surroundings.

Funny, it didn’t even feel like she was moving anymore. But it hadn’t felt like the Aquarius was moving, either. She thought back to her Academy physics class and remembered that was the case when something was moving in a straight line at constant speed. The starfield on the holoscreen likewise seemed still but instinct told her that was simply a matter of scale.

She released the straps, their recoil sloppy and slow. The breathless, airy feeling swelled upward, the sensation similar to a soaring dive in an air cruiser. She gasped clutching her chest and the next thing she knew she was floating haplessly above the shell, like a sphere under electro-magnetic levitation.

She gasped in renewed horror.

Was she dead?

She pinched herself, hard, relieved only slightly when it hurt.

Across the pod lights blinked and flashed while the metal floor offered a dizzying design of concentric rings that still seemed to spring upward in pulsating waves. The illusion aggravated the growing nausea even as the facts fell into place.

The Aquarius hadn’t felt that much different from being confined in an ugly building. Certain areas like the galarium where wall-embedded holoscreens gave every impression that a real world lay beyond epoxy shields even added to the deception. But the pod was designed for survival and lacked the power hungry comforts of a starship.

And a mass generator’s gravity simulation was one of them.

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And here are two of the Compendium Discussion and Lesson Plan Suggestions for Chapter 3:

  1. It doesn’t feel as if the pod is moving. Why?

When something is moving in a straight line at constant speed you can’t tell it’s moving. This relates to Newton’s 1st Law of Motion or the principle of inertia which states than an object will remain in a state of rest or constant velocity unless acted upon by unbalanced forces. Newton’s 2nd Law is best described by the equation Force = mass x acceleration or F=ma.

In other words, the force exerted on an object depends on its mass and how fast it is changing speed or accelerating. Newton’s 3rd Law relates to opposing forces, that whenever a force is applied to something, an equal and opposite force is generated, such as the kickback on a rifle or pushing off the side of a swimming pool.

  1. Why is Creena weightless in the pod?

It doesn’t have a “gravity simulator.” Mass such as that of a planet creates gravity which is proportional to how big it is. Scientists will don’t understand exactly how or why gravity works, but they can predict its strength based on the mass of an object or planet.

* * *

So this should give you some idea of the possibilities. Did I have an ulterior motive for this blog? Of course I did. I want my books to reach the audience for which they were intended! But here’s the good news. You can get “Beyond the Hidden Sky” as an ebook for only $0.99 and the Compendium for FREE! Why don’t you check it out? If you’re a teacher or parent trying to encourage your child to not only enjoy science but perhaps actually pursue it, what do you have to lose? Oh, yeah, there’s one more thing. If your library has ebook lending capability, it can obtain all four volumes of the Star Trails Tetralogy for free through Smashwords.

“Beyond the Hidden Sky” Buy Links

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0615658865/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0615658865&linkCode=as2&tag=valkyrastrol-20&linkId=DKGQSU3GYWZM6WH7

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/509500

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/beyond-the-hidden-sky-marcha-a-fox/1112260474

Kobo Link: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/beyond-the-hidden-sky

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/beyond-the-hidden-sky/id957915250

Create Space (Print copy): https://www.createspace.com/3911767

“Star Trails Compendium” Links

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/537630

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/star-trails-compendium

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/star-trails-compendium-marcha-fox/1121807004

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/star-trails-compendium/id989027687

What’s Behind the Science in Science Fiction Part 5: The Matter – Consciousness Interface

Now we’re getting to the good stuff and I hope you can see why I gave you all that background information leading up to it. In order to fully appreciate something, whether it’s good music or literature, you need a foundation, no matter how rudimentary it may be. And believe me, it was, even though your eyes may have glazed over. My previous posts were a whirlwind tour of physics for dummies but you are now much better informed than most people out there, assuming you read it. Congratulate yourself! I will try to reward your efforts by building on that information so that anyone who skipped it will be entirely lost and need to go back and suffer through it like the rest of you.

Quantum theory was mind-blowing because it introduced the possibility that an observer could influence how light and even matter behaved. This, of course, was only proven on a very small scale, yet the influence was there. Suddenly the world of physics and metaphysics were starting to overlap.

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One of my heroes in the physics world is Richard Feinman because he demonstrated an interest in so many things besides physics. I believe he was as brilliant as he was to the point of winning a Nobel Prize was because he was so open-minded and had the courage to see things differently. That is how breakthroughs come about.  I’ll be forever grateful to him for his “Lectures on Physics” which helped tremendously when the textbooks fell short.

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Another great physicist who seemed to grok the concept that there was more to life than one’s own very specific discipline was Werner Heisenberg, also a Nobel Prize winning physicist with an actual phenomena named after him that relates to quantum theory, i.e. the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. He stated, “It is probably true quite generally that in the history of human thinking the most fruitful developments frequently take place at those points where two different lines of thought meet. These lines may have their roots in quite different parts of human cultures, in different times or different cultural environments or different religious traditions: hence if they actually meet, that is, if they are at least so much related to each other that a real interaction can take place, then one may hope that new and interesting developments may follow.”

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Hello? Ya think that maybe quantum theory would be a good one for collaboration with other disciplines? Scientists need to talk to one another! Here we have physicists scratching their heads over whether consciousness and matter interact while we have psychologists such as Dean Radin researching psi phenomena which may well be the mechanism that causes that interaction between consciousness and matter. Rather than treating these researchers with about the same respect at Dr. Venkman (played by Bill Murray) in Ghostbusters, maybe they should get together over a pitcher of margaritas and see what they come up with.

Quantum entanglement is the term used to describe two particles which become tied up with each other enough, kind of like atomic soulmates, that even when they are separated by long distances, if something happens to change the state of one, the other reacts also. This happens instantaneously, i.e. the communication occurs faster than the speed of light, a barrier that was never supposed to be breached. Psi is also instantaneous. Does this imply that we become entangled with others at the quantum level? This is especially enticing when you think of the stories of identical twins who originated with the same genetic material and are also connected at the psychic level.

Along similar lines is the concept known as NLP or neuro-linguistic programming. It has also been called “the power of positive thinking,” and described in a movie called “The Secret” and promoted by a plethora of motivational speakers who declare that you can create your future by visualizing what you want on an consistent basis such that you will eventually draw that situation to you from the Universe at large. If psi has the power to manipulate matter and create not only matter but circumstances, doesn’t that sound as if it has something to do with quantum theory?

Weird, you bet. But it works. We can, indeed, draw circumstances to us in this manner. Which bring me to favorite quote of mine from science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke: “Technology sufficiently far advanced is indistinguishable from magic.” What would Isaac Newton think of your smartphone?

However, there was one rather large problem that comes down to one, little three-letter word: EGO.

Scientists tend to have tunnel vision when it comes to their own field of study. I remember hearing once that as a person comes closer to a PhD that their IQ actually goes down. This does not mean that they are losing brain cells from overwork and losing intelligence. The typical IQ test assesses how much a person knows about a broad spectrum of knowledge and as a person narrows their interests down to the level required to pursue a PhD they get in the realm where they know a lot about a little which actually jeopardizes their IQ. This also means that they start blocking out anything that doesn’t relate to their chosen subject. They can become arrogant as they become experts and sabotage their colleagues who are seen as competitors for needed research funding. There is also the status issue. If you’re proven wrong you are probably through. After all that work getting to that pinnacle, the last thing you want is some upstart to push you off.

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Breaching this obstacle is likely to require what has been described as “progress by funerals.” In other words, as the old farts die off and those new upstarts take over, things will move along much faster.

At least until the upstarts scale that pinnacle and replicate the cycle.

(c) Copyright 2014 by Marcha Fox All Rights Reserved

What’s Behind the Science in Science Fiction? Part Two – Atomic Theory

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I know you’re anxious to get to the good stuff like other dimensions and time travel, but you need to be patient just a little longer. After all, this blog is about what’s behind the science in science fiction, not the final result. Think of it as similar to those documentaries you see on TV which explain how they do the special effects in your favorite movies. I don’t know about you, but knowing how they do that makes me appreciate the movie even more. If you couldn’t care less, then you’re probably reading the wrong blog and need to just go back to reading sci-fi novels. Those who are left need to just bear with me a little longer as I explain the basics of atomic theory which is more relevant than you may think. Ready? Okay, here we go.

As far back as 400 BC or so early Greek philosophers pondered what constituted matter and decided that it could only be divided down so far, from which atomic theory was born. The term “atom” even originated with their adjective atomos, which means indivisible. Back then the elements were believed to be water, air, earth and fire. Clearly they are all important, particularly to life, but not a one of them is an actual element in the chemical sense.

However, proving it was another story and it wasn’t until the 18th – 19th century that scientists gradually discovered that water was comprised of hydrogen and oxygen; air is mostly nitrogen with hydrogen, oxygen and various others in the mix; earth is made up of too many elements to count; and fire is a process that involves oxygen and thus called oxidation but isn’t an element in and of itself. As they confirmed that certain chemicals could only be broken down so far the Periodic Table of the Elements was born. Periodically more are added (pun intended) though in most cases they are manmade.

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By the early 20th century experiments involving electromagnetism and radioactivity revealed that, would the truth be known, the atom was not indivisible after all, but consisted of other particles which were identified as protons, neutrons and electrons. These were suitably dubbed subatomic or elementary particles and scientists conveniently ignored the fact that the etymology of the word “atom” no longer applied, figuring most people didn’t know Greek, anyway.

How these subatomic particles were arranged was a matter of debate that went through numerous speculations. J. J. Thomson’s idea was sometimes referred to the “plum pudding” model where protons and electrons were lumped together in a glob of positively charged fluid. After that, Ernest Rutherford decided that the positive charge as well as most of the mass were concentrated in the center with the electrons surrounding it in some unknown way.

In 1913 Danish physicist, Niels Bohr, proposed his version of the hydrogen atom which remains the mental image many retain today, i.e., a nucleus in the center with electrons revolving around it much as the planets orbit the Sun as shown at the beginning of this blog. Bohr still believed that electrons orbited the nucleus but he placed restrictions on them to certain discrete distances or allowed orbits so that it would agree with what experiments thus far had revealed. At this point they considered the electrons to be itty-bitty particles that orbited the nucleus according to the laws of classical mechanics, in other words like the planets orbit the Sun.

The electrons would change orbits based on either emitting or absorbing a photon, as shown in the animation. This was getting closer, but still had problems.

Nonetheless, the idea of specific orbits was a definite step toward quantum theory and the fact that only specific energy states were allowed. The real problem was thinking of electrons as tiny specks of matter which behaved according to Newton’s Laws pertaining to gravitation. WRONG!

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In 1924 a scientist named Louis de Broglie (pronounced de-broy) proposed that all moving particles could exhibit wave-like behavior. Erwin Schrodinger liked this idea and developed it further, into a probability wave. This theory helped explain behaviors that previous ones couldn’t but still didn’t cover everything. This was ultimately solved by Max Born (no relation to Jason Bourne) who theorized that Schrodinger’s equation represented all possible positions where the electron might possibly be. This conveniently reconciled the two ideas and the wave/particle duality of electrons was born (pun intended).

However, trying to figure out the atom was not taking place in the proverbial vacuum (though admittedly some experiments were). During this same time numerous other scientists were hard at work investigating what interested them most and ultimately led to so many different scientific disciplines. Things were getting too complicated for any one person to have a firm grip on everything anymore.

Light was also under scrutiny since it was apparent that atoms and electromagnetic radiation (a.k.a. light) were related. If you’re scratching your head on where that came from, it derived from having established that atoms emit a photon when they change states, like that cute little animation shows. And in case you’re wondering, yes, even the Sun, our greatest source of energy and light, is no more than a giant glob comprised mostly of hydrogen atoms which bond with each other under pressure to become helium at which time a photon is emitted. Lots of them, true, but that’s the process. Simple.

Most people think of light as what we can see which is conveniently broken down into its various colors by a prism or in some cases a rainstorm that occurs when the Sun is out and thus produces a rainbow. Visible light, however, is but one small portion of what is known as the “Electromagnetic Spectrum.” It also includes various other wavelengths that span a vast variety of wavelengths and energies ranging from radio waves and infrared (heat) on one side to ultraviolet, x-ray and gamma radiation on the other. In the picture you can see the rather small portion of visible light in the middle where it looks like a rainbow.

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Albert Einstein theorized that similar to matter, light could also only be broken down so far, the smallest unit of which was ultimately called a photon. He even proved it and received the Nobel Prize for his paper on the photoelectric effect, which stated that a photon could change an atom’s energy state and that principle is used widely today with all those automatic doors you encounter everywhere from the grocery store to Wal*Mart.

Physicists conducted numerous experiments with light which revealed that it, too, had both wave and particle characteristics. Since photons originate with atoms the fact that they share some of the same characteristics shouldn’t be any more surprising than the fact your have your father’s nose or your mother’s smile. True, photons are massless, but electrons aren’t. Nonetheless, they also show wave and particle traits.

This is a good place to ponder Einstein’s famous equation, E=MC2, which states energy is equal to mass times the square of the speed of light. If you rearrange it algebraically you have energy divided by the square of the speed of light is equal to mass, which essentially declares that mass and energy are the same thing.

Now we’re getting into the good stuff. So give that some thought until next time when I introduce you to the true beginnings of weird science which originated with something called the double-slit experiment.

See you then.

© Copyright 2014 by Marcha Fox

All Rights Reserved