Thursday, April 12, 2012
A post because I really shouldn't miss posting on a day when a book is released, and besides I have some crow to eat.
So, first of all Losers in Space is now out there and available for purchase at Amazon, B&N, and any old indie bookstore you can find via Indiebound.
Nina and Ron Else — Nina is the person who used the phrase to describe me that named this blog — are holding a reading/signing/general purpose hanging out at Who Else? Books, here in Denver, which is lat 200 S Broadway (a couple blocks south of the Mayan Theatre) on Saturday the 14th of April, at 3 pm, and I'll be there, demonstrating that I can hold a book right side up and spell my name correctly. Those of you in the Denver area should come on by; I'm planning to shave and wear a clean shirt!
Now, about that crow ....
Losers in Space is deliberately very, very hard SF, i.e. get-the-science-right stuff, mainly because I'm somewhat saddened by the way that "geek" has morphed from meaning "a socially clueless dork who thinks chemistry class is exciting" (i.e. a valuable person who will someday make us all better off, just by pursuing his/her passion for understanding the world) into meaning "a member of an alternative fashion/status clique who knows a shitload about Batman," (i.e. a hip consumer who may eventually also branch out into knowing a lot about Harry Potter or alternative rock, and whose existence will make the pop culture distributors slightly richer).
So I did my damnedest to load it up with geek appeal, including creating the "Notes for the Interested," which are what I wished sci-fi books had when I was eleven—a quick, easy way to find the interesting infodumps and skip over all that adventure and relationship stuff. (Or one might say, a quick way to read like a geek and not like the boys or girls of the publisher's imagination).
So I claimed in the introduction that I had done everything I could do to make the science as accurate as possible.
Well, I didn't quite do everything I could do. (Now spitting out black feathers ...)
If you look at Note for the Interested #13, which begins on page 167, there's a whopper of an error in there. Most of the initial stuff about how radio and microwave communication works is still right, so that's okay
But I screwed up massively with respect to the super-special amazing antenna that (spoiler not necessary to specify, go read the book).
Sub-millimeter waves (or terahertz, see the book for why those are the same thing) actually fall on the electromagnetic spectrum in the region between very short wave microwaves and very long wave infrared. To use them for communication over interplanetary distances, therefore, the difficulties would be something like the difficulties of using microwaves and something like the difficulties of using light, and in both cases, that means you need a really big antenna or lens.
An antenna is a conducting surface that works by letting the electromagnetic waves induce a current in it; a lens is a nonconductor that refracts the electromagnetic waves into a small, intense image. Either way, the bigger the antenna (if the submillimeter wave communication is more like microwaves) or the bigger the lens (if the submillimeter wave communication is more like infrared light), the more signal you would get, and in fact, contra what the book says right there on page 172, it is indeed something you could knock together out of wire, or perhaps clear plastic. So I made Susan and Glisters into Very Bad Geeks, and if Derlock were not an uninterested psychopath, he'd have been sneering in their faces.
The (wrong) detector (the feet are really chewy but not as dry as the feathers) I describe borrows various aspects of the x-ray telescope, cell phone towers, and some other things I researched. If I had been working much further up the spectrum – at about the boundary between far-ultraviolet and very-soft-x-rays – it might have been plausible, because up at those super short wavelengths and high frequencies, electromagnetic radiation tends to behave more particley and less wavy, and the gadget I describe is a particle detector.
How'd I produce such a screw up? I didn't run it by Howard Davidson soon enough to be able to revise the book when he said "Uh, whoa." And so, alas, here I am, dining upon crow. (That beak is crunchy).
Which, I hope, will cause bejillions of young readers, encountering this, to aspire to read and write more hard sf, because of the pleasures of catching an old poop who doesn't know what he is talking about! So if this tricks you further into the hard sf world ... well, great. Thank Howard for it. I'll be over here finishing off the crow.