Pixel Scroll 4/23/17 Scroll White And The Seven Pixels

(1) BORN ON THE SEVENTH OF JULY. In “Spinning a high-tech web”, the LA Times provides an elaborate, photo-illustrated preview of Tony Stark’s upgrade to the new Spider-Man suit that will be seen in Spider-Man: Homecoming, due in theaters July 7.

(2) FILK HALL OF FAME. The 2017 inductees to the Filk Halll of Fame were announced at FilkOntario this weekend:

(3) FAHRENHEIT 451 TO SMALL SCREEN? The Bradbury novel is on the road to development once more. “HBO to Adapt Fahrenheit 451, starring Michael B. Jordan”  — BookRiot has the story.

Now, HBO is “moving toward a production commitment” (via Variety) on a feature-length adaptation of Bradbury’s 1953 novel starring Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Chronicle, Fantastic Four) as the protagonist Guy Montag and Michael Shannon (Man of Steel, Boardwalk Empire) as Montag’s boss, Captain Beatty.

The film will be directed by Ramin Bahrani (99 Homes, At Any Price), who is co-writing with Amir Naderi (99 Homes, The Runner). David Coatsworth (production manager on Underworld: Evolution, Ender’s Game, My Big Fat Greek Wedding) will serve as producer.

(4) THEY’RE HUUGE! “Black Holes Are Bigger Than You Thought” accuses Yahoo! News. (Just how big did you think they were? How did Yahoo! News find out?)

Now meet S5 0014+81.

It’s the largest black hole ever discovered and is heavier than our Sun by 40 billion times (40, 000, 000, 000) in the last observation.

If you plug in the equation above, you’ll find that this black hole has a Schwarzschild radius of about… 119 billion kilometers, along with a said diameter of about 236,39 billion km.

(5) THE TOUGHEST AROUND. Let Den of Geek point you at “17 really difficult LEGO sets”.

The Tower Of Orthanc

It may look simple enough on the box, but The Lord Of The Rings’ Tower Of Orthanc is actually a real tough cookie. Because most of its 2,359 pieces are jet black and slim, working out which bit goes where is the stuff of nightmares (in, um, a good way). The Treebeard that comes with it will make the struggle worth it… honest.

Buy The Tower Of Orthanc now for £348.07.

(6) TODAY’S DAY

  • April 23 — World Book and Copyright Day

Pays tribute to authors and books and their social and cultural contribution to the world

(7) DID YOU KNOW? Last year the International Costumers’ Guild participated in a “friend of the court” brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, joining Public Knowledge, the American Library Association, and others, asking the Court to protect the rights of clothing designers and costumers to freely practice their craft.

(8) AT HOME. The Verge’s Andrew Liptak reports “Netflix will invest billions to shoot its original content in California”:

Netflix is betting that filming closer to home will produce better content. In 2015, the streaming giant has announced that it would be doubling its output of original content, and it is aiming to have original productions make up half of its of its streaming catalog in the coming years. The goal is to entice users to come to the service by providing content that can’t be found elsewhere, but that goal is proving to be a strain on the existing film studio infrastructure. To cope, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos announced that the company would be investing $6 billion to expand infrastructure in California, rather than chase tax incentives offered by states.

Sarandos explained to The Wrap that the company determined that going after the incentives leads to diminishing returns when it comes to their final products. Filming out of state is hard on the actors and crew of a project, and the move will help bring projects back home to California. That could prove to be costly for the company, even as California has increased its own tax incentive program in recent years. While remaining in the state will likely cost Netflix more, Sarandos seems to think that the extra cost will be worth spending.

(9) SQUEAK UP. YouTube’s TheBackyardScientist set up 10 megaphones end-to-end to see how loud a noise he could make.

The video, posted to YouTube by TheBackyardScientist, features Kevin Kohler explaining he was inspired by Bart Simpson‘s prank in the season 8 Simpsons episode The Secret War of Lisa Simpson to place 10 megaphones end-to-end and test the results.

Bart’s experiment led to a shock wave that shattered all of the windows in town — as well as Homer’s fridge full of beer — but Kohler quickly ran into a problem Bart didn’t face: a feedback loop.

 

(10) BITE ON. The number of people who give their smartphones to dogs as chew toys is probably smaller than the number of men who have walked on the moon, but for them — “There’s an anti-dog label inside the Galaxy S8 — here’s what it means”. Let The Verge explain it to you.

Basically, you don’t want Fido in a situation where a battery could hiss and explode in its mouth. It’s obviously possible that a child could bite through the battery as well, but the likelihood of him / her piercing through the battery is lower.

(11) ARTIFICIAL DOG INTELLIGENCE. Amazing. How is it mine doesn’t do that?

(12) FIX THE SLATING PROBLEM FOREVER. That’s what Greg Hullender would like to do. At Rocket Stack Rank he summarizes his views about the effectiveness of 3SV, EPH(+) and their combination. He says, “I  think it makes it really clear that we need both 3SV and either EPH or EPH+. Otherwise, even small slates (100 to 200 people) will be able to control a significant amount of the final ballot, including adding embarrassing nominees.”

For each year, we produced two theoretical maximum graphs. A “finalist graph,” which shows what percentage of finalists a slate could have captured for a given number of slate voters, and a “sweeps” graph, which shows what percentage of entire categories a slate could have captured.

Looking at those four pairs of graphs (2.1-2.4 below), we will draw the following conclusions;

  • Std (5/6) by itself is far too weak.
  • EPH doesn’t protect enough finalists, but it is excellent at preventing sweeps.
  • EPH+ is an improvement on EPH, but it’s still not enough by itself.
  • 3SV is much stronger for protecting finalists, especially for modest numbers of slate voters, but it’s vulnerable to sweeps, and it breaks down for slates above about 300 people.
  • The 3SV/EPH and 3SV/EPH+ combinations are far, far stronger than either component alone. Either combination is probably sufficient, but the second one is stronger.

Accordingly, we conclude that the Business Meeting should ratify both EPH+ and 3SV. That should protect the Hugos from slating interference for the nonce.

(13) DREAM CASTING. Enjoy “Miles To Go” hosted at Archive of Our Own. Note – Password = Vorkosigan (as it says at the post).

There once was a man who dreamt of the stars…

A fanvid based on the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold.

…Obviously, it’s not so easy to make a feast for a fandom with no existing visual source. But where there’s a will, or in my case an enormous and driving folly, there’s a way. It was always going to be an ensemble vid, with Miles as the star, but the question was how to cast it. I did eventually solve that problem, and I won’t discuss my solution in detail here because… spoilers.

[Thanks to Carl Slaughter, Cat Eldridge, Robin Reid, JJ, Doctor Science, Greg Hullender, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories, Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Kurt Busiek.]

Astronomy Update

By Carl Slaughter: A roundup of astronomy news.

Dry country. Water on Mars  — gone, baby, gone.

“We’ve determined that most of the gas ever present in the Mars atmosphere has been lost to space,” Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator of the MAVEN mission, explains. That lost gas — somewhere in the neighborhood of 65% — greatly depleted the planet’s atmosphere, causing oceans, lakes, and rivers to dry up as the vital elements were swept away into space by intense radiation and solar wind.

The count. Nine planets, 100 planets.  Why stop there  Redefine a sun, redefine a moon, redefine an asteroid.  Go all the way and redefine life.

Most of us grew up learning that there are nine planets in our solar system. Back in 2006 that all changed, when Pluto was demoted from being labeled a proper planet to its new classification as a dwarf planet, leaving just eight true planets in our celestial neighborhood. Now, a group of scientists says Pluto should definitely be added back to the planet list — oh, and that there are over 100 other objects in our solar system that should also be called planets.

Right stuff. A super-earthlike planet.

Do you like Earth? Yeah, it’s pretty neat, huh? Well despite living on a planet as awesome as our own, astronomers are super eager to find more Earths, just for fun. A planet called Gliese 1132 B (GJ 1132b if you feel like making it slightly shorter) is one such planet. It’s called a “Super Earth” because it’s larger than our own planet, but is thought to be made of similar stuff, and researchers just discovered something extremely awesome that makes GJ 1132b the most Earth-like exoplanet humans have ever found: it has an atmosphere.

The new Number 9. Planet 9 – convincing evidence.

Using data from the SkyMapper telescope at the Australian National University, nearly 21,000 citizen volunteers browsed an astounding 100,000 images of the region of the solar system where the mythical Planet Nine is thought to exist. The group labeled over five million objects, and rapidly completed the classifications in just a few days, instead of the years upon years that it would have taken a single astronomer to perform the same task.

Disturbance in the force 11,000 neighboring galaxies fizzle out.

When we think about the survival of the human race we often focus on making sure our planet stays alive and habitable, but out there in the depths of space there are entire galaxies being killed off in a manner that is utterly perplexing scientists. A new paper (PDF) from researchers working at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research addresses the odd and extremely troubling trend and attempts to propose an answer for what exactly is leading literally thousands of galaxies to die premature deaths.

There goes the neighborhood. The Borg, solar flares, crashing meteors, now a traveling black hole.  The universe just isn’t safe any more.

Supermassive black holes are one of the scariest, most destructive and utterly intimidating forces in the universe, but the good news is that they usually don’t do a whole lot of moving around. They often reside at the center of large galaxies, like our own Milky Way, with a gravitational pull keeps us all swirling around it. So what could be more frightening than a stationary black hole? How about one that is flying through space like a colossal vacuum, sucking up whatever it happens upon? Astronomers think they’ve spotted one doing exactly that.

Say cheese. First picture of a black hole.

The closest astronomers have come to directly “seeing” a black hole happened last year, when the LIGO observatory detected the spacetime-warping gravitational waves radiating from a pair of black holes that collided some 1.3 billion years ago.

That’s cool. But for astronomers, it’s not enough. What’s eluded them is a view of the event horizon, the boundary of the black hole from which, when crossed, there is no return. After the event horizon, gravity is so intense that not even light can escape.

We’ve never seen a direct image of a black hole. But if an audacious experiment called the Event Horizon Telescope is successful, we’ll see one for the first time.

More on black holes. “Massive explosion from unknown source billions of light years away baffles astronomers”

At 10:49pm Western Australian time on February 2 this year, cosmic gamma rays hit the Nasa satellite, Swift, orbiting the Earth. Within seconds of the detection, an alert was automatically sent to the University of WA’s Zadko Telescope. It swung into robotic action, taking images of the sky location in the constellation Ophiuchus.

Pixel Scroll 2/23/17 We Scroll Not Because It Is Easy, But Because It Is Hard

(1) NAME THAT TRILOGY. The game show where you figure out the title of the third movie based on the first two! And who is our contestant today, George?

(2) NUANCES OF LESTER DENT. Cat Rambo’s new Doc Savage post — “Reading Doc Savage: The Spook Legion”.

Hideous and amazing! Let us begin. Leo does, of course, send off the telegraph and soon after Doc Savage calls on the phone. He points out certain subtleties we might have missed earlier:

The mysterious circumstances surrounding the appearance of the message then came out. Dr. Savage heard it through without comment then advised, “There is probably no A. N. Onymous listed in your directory.”

Leo Bell looked in the directory.

“No,” he said. “There is not.”

“The name was the result of a trick writing of the word ‘anonymous,’” Doc pointed out. “The dictionary defines an anonymous work as one of unknown authorship, which seems to fit in this case.”

Lemony Snickett has nothing on Lester Dent. Leo and the night manager discuss the mysterious telegram and then vanish from the book, never to be seen again.

(3) THEY’RE BLACK, AREN’T THEY? Blastr says “We’re finally going to find out what black holes look like. Sort of.”

We think we know what black holes look like. NASA renderings and sci-fi special effects artists usually imagine the eerie glowing ring of an event horizon around what appears to be an impenetrable dark chasm. It happens that they aren’t so far off from the truth — and a groundbreaking (sky-breaking?) telescope is about to prove it.

Supermassive black holes have long been suspected to lurk at the center of every galaxy, including ours. These mysterious phenomena were initially predicted by Einstein’s Theory of Gravity over a hundred years ago. Don’t get any time-travel ideas yet, but their gravitational power is intense enough to warp space-time. Activity that occurs at the edge of one of these dark leviathans can actually ripple through the entire galaxy it resides in. Despite their awe-inspiring power that has fueled pages and pages of brilliant science fiction and even an iconic Muse song, no one has actually ever seen one.

(4) SAVING TED’S HOME. Ted White’s appeal “Save My House” has funded. He asked for $15,000, and within two days 352 donors have given $17,948.

(5) LAWLESS AND DISORDERLY. “Stories ripped from the headlines” as it’s famously said about one TV franchise. Amanda Bressler tells readers of the HWA Blog how to profit from this strategy in her post “Horror in the Headlines: Using the News for Novel Ideas”.

Multiple points of view While good journalism tries to cover a story in a balanced way, you really never get the whole picture. Everyone involved in a tragedy or mysterious event will have a slightly different version of what happened. Fiction gives authors the ability to explore and create those various angles through multiple points of view. School shooting novels especially use this tactic as these encounters are so personal—the gunman, the victims, the bystanders are the friends, teachers, siblings, and classmates with whom there is history and relationships. Allowing for many first person accounts gives a fuller picture of this tangled web of high school connections and emotions that culminate in a horrific and terrifying event.

The book Violent Ends takes a unique approach to multiple points of view by giving 17 YA authors one chapter each to write from the perspective of a student in a high school that has been taken hostage by a fellow classmate. It achieves an even more complex study into what would drive a person to such violence, and the variety of styles throughout the book make for a more interesting reading experience.

(6) WHO KNEW? The President of SFWA may be mighty but she is not in charge of your Wikipedia entry.

(7) ODDS AGAINST. Meanwhile, a former SFWA President swats another fly – “Reminder: There’s No Such Thing as an Automatic Award Nomination”.

Over at Inverse, writer Ryan Britt is annoyed that two of his favorite science fiction books of the year, Death’s End by Cixin Liu, and Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey, are not on the Nebula list of nominees for Best Novel. His argument for both basically boils down to they’re both amazing so they should be obvious nominees, obviously, which to be fair is the same general argument anyone makes when they complain about something they love getting what they perceive to be a snub for whatever award they think the thing the love should be up for….

…It’s pretty much 100% certain this didn’t happen here; instead, people just voted for the novels they preferred, and preferred other books.

But Death’s End and Babylon’s Ashes were good books! Indeed they were. But there were five Best Novel slots available on this year’s Nebula ballot and dozens of SF/F novels (at least!) of sufficient quality to make the ballot. The two novels that Britt points out are only a couple of the novels that could have been on the ballot, from the perspective of quality, but aren’t. There are — thankfully — always more good SF/F novels in a year than may fit on a Nebula ballot.

And not just novels but novellas, novelettes, short stories, YA novels and screenplays, those being categories that SFWA awards annually. I mean, let me use me as an example: My novella The Dispatcher was eligible for the Novella category this year. It was very well reviewed, had a huge audience, and is already up for other awards. I’m a well-known and (mostly) liked science fiction writer, and former president of SFWA, so I’m also familiar to the folks who nominate for the Nebula. The Dispatcher should be a shoo-in for a nomination, yes? Yes! I say yes! A thousand times!

(8) THE FLY STRIKES BACK. Swatted is just a metaphor, of course, for while people were reading Scalzi’s fine-tuned mocking, his target, Ryan Britt, was busily (buzzily?) typing a reaction piece, “Science Fiction Awards are Basically Bullshit”. But he writes as if he suffered an actual rather than metaphorical concussion. Today, for a brief and shining moment, Britt seemed to understand how works get shortlisted for the Nebula, something he misstated in Tuesday’s post (“Two Huge Sci-Fi Novels Were Snubbed by the Nebula Awards”) —

In order for something to make it on the ballot of the Nebulas, it has to be nominated by members or associate members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This is a little better than the Hugo nominating process, which is loose enough to create loopholes that let all sorts of bigoted groups to hijack the process. But still, the non-insider fan gets bamboozled: SFWA ignores great science fiction writing published outside of the places they usual look. The Nebulas and Hugos will nominate books about fantasy worlds and spaceships, but when the technological sci-fi speculation gets closer to home, those types of books tend to be overlooked. And this doesn’t mean they aren’t finding really obscure, indie sci-fi authors. Just the opposite. Mainstream literary fiction — which is totally sci-fi — gets snubbed by the Nebulas and the Hugos completely.

Unfortunately, by the last paragraph he was again telling people the Nebula finalists are the product of a “nominating committee.” His syntax was pretty groggy, too —

This year, the Nebula Nominations have proven again that they’re nominating committee is only seeing half the picture. With two huge science fiction novels nowhere on the list — Death’s End and Babylon’s Ashes — it feels like a good time for fans can start looking elsewhere for good science fiction book recommendations.

(9) USE YOUR PLACE AT THE TABLE. What to do after you’ve been to the ISS: “After Making History In Space, Mae Jemison Works To Prime Future Scientists” at NPR.

On encouraging more women and minorities to enter math and science

I think that there are really important things that we have to do with students to get them to succeed in science, to go on and stay with careers. And that includes the idea of being exposed to something.

So if you know that those things exist, it makes it easier for you to get involved. For example, it helps to know what an engineer is. It helps to know what a biotechnician is, so you’re not afraid of it.

Then, it’s experience. When you do hands-on science, you learn to — you learn about electricity by wiring a flashlight. And then it’s expectation. And that expectation is, we should expect our kids to succeed and to achieve. Children live up or down to our expectations. And so, I always call it the three E’s: experience, expectation and exposure.

(10) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • February 23, 1896 — Tootsie Roll introduced by Leo Hirshfield.

(11) YESTERDAY IN HISTORY

  • February 22, 1957  — Incredible Shrinking Man premieres.

(12) COMIC SECTION. John King Tarpinian recommends the LOTR joke in today’s Brevity.

(13) A BOLD DEFENSE. In Kate Paulk’s Mad Genius Club post she never names the person she is standing up for.

So when a controversial figure’s book deal is suddenly canceled because of a manufactured furor (not even over the content of the lies used to create that furor because the publisher has printed and supported far worse from those who happen to have not had the howling mobs roused against them) it impacts all of us readers and authors.

For the record, I don’t give a flying fuck what that – or any other author – does in privacy with consenting partners. Even if I would be squicked to high heaven by the details if anyone was crass enough to tell the world. I don’t care what he – or anyone else – believes as long as it’s not being shoved down my throat and nobody is being damaged by it. If I don’t like the author’s behavior or politics I don’t have to buy their books and I certainly don’t have to read them. I am sufficiently mature that I do not see the need for a legion of sensitivity readers to take their works and massage them into bland, tasteless pap.

What I care about is that someone who has – objectively – done not one damn thing wrong is the subject of a coordinated effort to not merely silence him, but disappear him. I’ve seen this happen in the past. It happened to Larry Correia. To Brad Torgersen. I didn’t get the full force of it last year, but instead got the cold shoulder of people doing their best to pretend I’d already been disappeared

(14) WRITERS GUILD AWARDS. SciFi4Me points out that Arrival hasn’t lost all the awards to its song and dance rival:

LaLa Land may be the heavy favorite to sweep the Oscars this year, but on February 19 the Writers Guild of America (WGA) awarded Best Adapted Screenplay to the underdog science fiction film Arrival.

Here are some WGA winners of genre interest.

FILM NOMINEES

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Arrival, Screenplay by Eric Heisserer; Based on the Story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang; Paramount Pictures- WINNER

TELEVISION AND NEW MEDIA NOMINEES

ADAPTED SHORT FORM NEW MEDIA

“Part 4” (Fear the Walking Dead: Passage), Written by Lauren Signorino & Mike Zunic; amc.com – WINNER

CHILDREN’S EPISODIC

“Mel vs. The Night Mare of Normal Street” (Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street), Written by Laurie Parres; Amazon Studios – WINNER

VIDEOGAME NOMINEES

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN VIDEOGAME WRITING

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Written by Neil Druckmann, Josh Scherr; Additional Writing Tom Bissell, Ryan James; Naughty Dog – WINNER

(15) NO BUCK ROGERS, NO BUCKS. Jim C. Hines continues to analyze the data from his latest survey — “2016 Novelist Income Results, Part 4: Impact of Marketing and Promotion”.

Does this mean the time and money I spent last year as a large-press author traveling to signings and conventions and doing online promotion was completely wasted? Not necessarily. We’re looking at overall trends, and any individual data point might buck a given trend. (Also, correlation =/= causation. I think I’ve said that on every post so far.)

There’s also the question about how you’re spending that time. 20 hours spent standing on a street corner wearing a BUY LIBRIOMANCER! sign probably wasn’t as effective as 20 hours spent researching reviewers and sending out targeted review copies of my book.

(16) SPACE STATION OF THE APES. First there were snakes on a plane. Now there’s a gorilla on the ISS.

Astronauts aboard the international space station recently had a surprise visitor, but it wasn’t an alien.

In a video posted on Twitter, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly dresses up in a gorilla suit and chases his colleagues around the space station.

Kelly’s brother, Mark Kelly, posted a video of the incident on Monday with the hashtag #ApeInSpace.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Chip Hitchcock, JJ, and Cat Eldridge for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day bookworm1398.]

Pixel Scroll 7/18/16 Dead Sea Pixel Scrolls

(1) EYEING EARTHSEA. Ursula K. Le Guin talks about working with Charles Vess, illustrator of The Big Book of Earthsea, in a post for Book View Café.

…So, this is how it’s been going:

Charles begins the conversation, emailing me occasonally with questions, remarks, while reading the books. I answer as usefully as I can. Also, we chat. I find out that he has sailed all around Scotland. He tells me about Neil Gunn’s novel The Silver Darlings, which I read with vast pleasure. I don’t know what I tell him, but slowly and at easy intervals a friendship is being established.

Suddenly Charles sends me a sketch of a dragon.

It is an excellent dragon. But it isn’t an Earthsea dragon.

Why?

Well . . . an Earthsea dragon wouldn’t have this, see? but it would have that . . . And the tail isn’t exactly right, and about those bristly things —

So I send Charles an email full of whines and niggles and what-if-you-trieds-such-and-suches. I realize how inadequate are my attempts to describe in words the fierce and beautiful being I see so clearly.

Brief pause.

The dragon reappears. Now it looks more like an Earthsea dragon….

(2) QUINN KICKSTARTER REACHES TARGET. Jameson Quinn’s YouCaring appeal today passed the $1,300 goal. I, for one, am glad to see that news.

(3) YA HORROR. “And Now for Something Completely Different: Adding Humor to Your Horror”: Amanda Bressler tells YA writers how, at the Horror Writers Association blog.

With the popularity of dark comedies, it should be no surprise that horror and humor can be a compelling mix. However, when it comes to young adult books, few succeed at the balance that keeps a funny horror book from losing its edge or appearing to try too hard. Here are a few humorous elements used in YA horror to enhance the story, characters, or setting without sacrificing their horror-ness.

(4) EARLY HINT OF ELVEN. Soon to be available in print again: “70-year-old Tolkien poem reveals early ‘Lord of the Rings’ character”.

A poem by J.R.R. Tolkien that’s been out of print since the year World War II ended will be published this fall for the first time in 70 years, the Guardian reports.

And even if you were around in 1945, you likely didn’t see the poem unless you were a dedicated reader of literary journal The Welsh Review. That’s where “The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun” (Breton for “lord and lady”) was published, based on a work Tolkien had started around 1930.

Why should modern readers care? The poem suggests an early version of elf queen Galadriel from “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Silmarillion.” The poem tells of a couple that cannot have children until visiting a witch known as the Corrigan, who grants them twins, but later demands a price be paid for her assistance.

(5) GOBBLE GOBBLE. New Scientist calls it “Einstein’s clock: The doomed black hole to set your watch by”.

OJ 287’s situation is a window into what must have happened in galaxies all over the universe. Galaxies grow by eating their own kind, and almost all of them come with a supermassive black hole at the centre.

Once two galaxies merge, their black holes – now forced to live in one new mega-galaxy – will either banish their rival with a gravitational kick that flings their opponent out of the galaxy, or eventually merge into an even bigger black hole.

In OJ 287, the smaller black hole is en route to becoming a snack for the larger one. The larger one is also growing from a surrounding disc of gas and dust, the material from which slowly swirls down the drain. Each time the smaller black hole completes an orbit, it comes crashing through this disc at supersonic speeds.

That violent impact blows bubbles of hot gas that expand, thin out, and then unleash a flood of ultraviolet radiation – releasing as much energy as 20,000 supernova explosions in the same spot. You could stand 36 light years away and tan faster than you would from the sun on Earth.

Even with all this thrashing, the smaller black hole has no chance of escape.  Energy leaches away from the binary orbit, bringing the pair closer together and making each cycle around the behemoth a little shorter than the last.

Although the outbursts may be impressive, the black holes’ orbital dance emits tens of thousands of times more energy as undulations in space time called gravitational waves.

Last year, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the US offered a preview of the endgame of OJ 287 in miniature. Twice in 2015, LIGO heard gravitational waves from the final orbits of black-hole pairs in which each black hole was a few dozen times the size of the sun, and then the reverberations of the single one left behind.

(6) SFWA CHAT HOUR. In SFWA Chat Hour Episode 4: Special Pokémon Go Edition, SFWA board and staff members Kate Baker, Oz Drummond, M.C.A. Hogarth, Cat Rambo, and Bud Sparhawk as they discuss the latest doings and news of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) as well as F&SF news, recent reads, Readercon, Westercon, and more.

(7) FLASH FICTION. Cat Rambo says her “Gods and Magicians” is a free read “brought to you by my awesome Patreon backers, who get bonuses like versions of new books, peeks at story drafts, and sundry other offerings. If backing me’s not in your budget, you can still sign up for my newsletter and get news of posts, classes, and publications as they appear.”

This is a piece of flash fiction written last year – I just got around to going through the notebook it was in lately and transcribing the fictional bits. This didn’t take too much cleaning up. For context, think of the hills of southern California, and a writing retreat with no other human beings around, and thinking a great deal about fantasy and epic fantasy at the time.

(8) LIVE CLASSES. Rambo also reminds writers that July is the last month in 2016 that she’ll be offering her live classes (aside from one special one that’s still in the works). Get full details at her site.

I’ll start doing the live ones again in 2017, but I’m taking the rest of the year to focus on the on demand school (http://www.kittywumpus.net/blog/on-demand-classes/), which will adding classes by Juliette Wade and Rachel Swirsky in the next couple of months.

(9) FREE CHICON 7 PROGRAM BOOKS. Steven H Silver announced: “I’m about to recycle several boxes of Chicon 7 Program Books.  If anyone is interested in adding a copy of the book to their collection, I’d be happy to send them one (for the cost of postage). People should get in touch with me at shsilver@sfsite.com, but I need to hear from them before the end of the month.”

(10) DETAILS, DETAILS. In 1939, sneak preview of The Wizard of Oz, producers debated about removing one of the songs because it seemed to slow things down. The song: “Over the Rainbow.”

(11) TODAY IN HISTORY

However, according to writer/director James Cameron, most people at that time tried to convince him not to make the movie.

After all, they reasoned, any positive elements of the film would be attributed to “Alien” director Ridley Scott, and all the negative parts would be viewed as Cameron’s fault.

“I said, ‘Yeah, but I really want to do it. It’ll be cool,'” he said in an interview. “It was like this ridiculous, stupid thing. It wasn’t strategic at all, but I knew it would be cool.”

(12) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

  • Born July 18, 1921 – John Glenn. Here’s a photo from 2012.

(13) GROUNDWORK FOR PREDICTION. Brandon Kempner is back on the job at Chaos Horizon, “Updating the 2016 Awards Meta List”.

A lot of other SFF nominations and awards have been handed out in the past few weeks. These are good indication of who will win the eventual Hugo—every award nomination raises visibility, and the awards that using votes are often good predictors of who will win the Hugo. Lastly, the full range of SFF awards gives us a better sense of what the “major” books of the year than the Hugo or Nebula alone. Since each award is idiosyncratic, a book that emerges across all 14 is doing something right.

Here’s the top of the list, and the full list is linked here. Total number of nominations is on the far left….

(14) VANCE FAN. Dave Freer tells what he admires about Jack Vance, and tries to emulate in his own writing, in “Out of Chocolate Error” for Mad Genius Club. Freer, while straightforward as ever about his worldview, makes an unexpected acknowledgement that another view could be embodied in a good story. Under these conditions —

There are at least four ‘meanings’ and stories that I’ve spotted in this particular book. I’m probably missing a few. Because I wanted to write like this myself, I’ve tried hard to pick up the techniques. I think the first key is that there must be a very strong and clear plot-line. You’re asking it to balance a lot of subtle and quite possibly overpowering elements. The second of course is that your characters cannot be mere PC-token stereotypes. Yes, of course you can have a black lesbian hero, or whatever (it actually doesn’t matter)– but if that stereotype is in the face of the reader rather than the character themselves, that becomes a compound, rather than the portmanteau. The third is that you cannot preach, or tell, your reader your ‘message’. Not ever. You can show it, you can let them derive it. If they fail to: well they still got a good story. And finally – if your audience leaves your book saying ‘that was about feminism… you, as a writer, are a failure, at least at writing entertainment or portmanteau books. There is a market for message, but like the market for sermons: it is small, and largely the converted. If they finish with a smile: you’ve done well. If they leave your book with a smile thinking: “yeah, true… I hadn’t thought of it like that. Look at (someone the reader knows). I could see them in that character (and the character happens to be a woman who is as capable as her male compatriots) then, my writer friend, you are a talent, and I wish I was more like you… Out of chocolate error…

(15) GOTCHA AGAIN. Chuck Tingle announces his retirement.

(16) HE’S NOT THE ONLY ONE. Rue Morgue reports Guillermo del Toro told Fantasia ’16 attendees that he’s retiring from producing and will stick to directing from now on.

(17) GRAPHIC STORY SLATE. Doris V. Sutherland discusses the impact of the slate on The Best Graphic Story Hugo nominees in “Comics and Controversy at the 2016 Hugo Awards” for Women Write About Comics.

After a reasonably strong set of graphic novels, the Best Graphic Story category starts to go downhill when we arrive at the webcomics. When Vox Day posted his provisional choices for the category, the list consisted entirely of online strips: Katie Tiedrich’s Awkward Zombie, Tom Siddell’s Gunnerkrig Court, Kukuruyo’s Gamergate Life, Aaron Williams’ Full Frontal Nerdity, and Grey Carter and Cory Rydell’s Erin Dies Alone.

Comprising strip after strip of anti-SJW caricatures, Gamergate Life obviously fits Day’s ideology; I have also heard it suggested that he chose Erin Dies Alone as a dig at Alexandra Erin, who wrote a short e-book spoofing him. Beyond this, it is hard to discern the exact criteria behind his choices. One of the comics, Gunnerkrig Court, proved controversial within Day’s comments section: “Gunnerkrigg Court recently gave us not one, but two big, fat, awful, in-your-face gay/lesbian subplots (involving the main characters no less!) and so I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending it anywhere these days,” wrote one poster.

The final Rabid Puppies slate—and, consequently, the final ballot—included only two of the above strips: Full Frontal Nerdity and Erin Dies Alone.

(18) DEEP SPACE PROBE. Will a “broken umbrella” speed space exploration?

…This sounds impressive until you remember that Voyager 1 was launched in 1977, is fitted with early ’70s scientific instruments, cameras and sensors and has been voyaging for almost 40 years.

Before mankind attempts to send another probe out towards interstellar space, engineers hope to figure out a way to get there a lot faster and, ideally, within their working lifetime.

There are several options on the table. Some favour solar sails – giant mirrored sheets pushed along by the force of photons from the Sun. Others – including Stephen Hawking – suggest flying these sails on tightly focused beams of photons generated by lasers fired from Earth or satellites in orbit.

Nasa engineer Bruce Wiegmann, however, is investigating the possibility of flying to the stars using a propulsion system that resembles a giant broken umbrella or wiry jellyfish. The concept is known as electric, or e-sail, propulsion and consists of a space probe positioned at the centre of a fan of metal wires….

(19) HORNBLOWERS. Did John Williams tell these kids to get off his lawn? Watch and find out.

This is what happened when 2 guys with horns made a spontaneous decision to set up and play the Star Wars theme in front of John Williams’ house on 7/11/2016!

 

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Cat Rambo, Chip Hitchcock, Steven H Silver, and Xtifr for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Kendall.]

Pixel Scroll 2/23/16 The Lurker at the 5% Threshold

(1) THE PUPPET’S INSIDE STORY. Mary Robinette Kowal livestreamed “Ask a puppet about publishing” today. The answer to the old standby “Where do you get your ideas?” got perhaps the truest answer that has ever been given to this question.

(2) GREG KETTER MAKES NEWS. The legendary Minneapolis bookstore is featured in Twin Cities Geek — “From the Stands: DreamHaven Books Is Still Standing”.

Dreamhaven

A later memory I have of the store is hearing Neil Gaiman read his book The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish there upon the book’s rerelease in 2004. I remember maybe 35 or 40 people in the store, which can’t be correct—there must have been more than that to see Neil Gaiman—though I’m certain it was a number far smaller than you’d expect to see today, in the age of expanded cons, fandom, and the Internet social-media grapevine. Except for running into Gaiman a few weeks later at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival (and a few other places, actually—that was a weird summer), I wouldn’t see him again in the flesh until an MPR Wits show last year, crammed into the Fitzgerald Theater with over 1,000 other fans. That show was a little closer to what one would expect of a Gaiman sighting, where Neil is a smudge, his pale face and customary black clothes treating us to an impromptu and sparsely populated Mummenschanz show against the stage’s dark backdrop, not at all the mild, T-shirted man with the roiling mind, reading to us about the best deal you could get in a trade for your dad.

… Last April, DreamHaven returned to normal store hours with the help of Alice Bentley, a former business partner of Ketter’s. The two co-founded the Chicago bookstore The Stars Our Destination in 1998, which Bentley ran by herself from 1994 until 2004, when she closed the store, moved to Seattle, and got out of the book business. Says Ketter of Bentley, “She had been out of books for a while, and she really wanted to get back in. So, she moved to [Minneapolis] from Seattle and she’s partnering with me . . . She’s very knowledgeable; in the last 11 or 12 years since she left, things have changed a great deal [but] she’s been very happily relearning the book business.” The two now run the business as partners, with Ketter as the “go-to guy for questions” and Bentley employing her “love of spreadsheets” to keep the business on track.

(3) SPURNING PASSION. Andrew Porter recalls, “I wanted to reprint a Tolkien poem first published in the 1940s, and Tolkien refused me permission — and then he refused a whole bunch of other people including Ballantine Books, and it’s still not been ‘officially’ published. But some people got tired of waiting for “official” publication, and here it is, on the web: “The lay of Aotrou and Itroun” (1945).

A witch there was, who webs could weave
to snare the heart and wits to reave,
who span dark spells with spider-craft,
and as she span she softly laughed;
a drink she brewed of strength and dread
to bind the quick and stir the dead;
In a cave she housed where winging bats
their harbour sought, and owls and cats
from hunting came with mournful cries,
night-stalking near with needle-eyes.

(4) TELL ME IF YOU’VE SEEN THIS BEFORE. At MeTV, “7 reused props on television that will make you do a double-take”.

Neosaurus Disguise:

Lost in Space’s creator Irwin Allen liked to recycle props, but one of his most notable ones was reused by another iconic ’60s TV show. The neosaurus disguise first appeared in Lost in Space:

(5) NEW SAWYER NOVEL. Robert J. Sawyer’s 23rd novel Quantum Night will be released March 1 in hardcover, ebook (all formats), and as an audiobook from Audible.

Robert-J-Sawyer-novel-Quantum-Night

What if the person next to you was a psychopath? And that person over there? And your boss? Your spouse? That’s the chilling possibility brought forth in bestselling author Robert J. Sawyer‘s new novel Quantum Night. Psychopaths aren’t just murdering monsters: anyone devoid of empathy and conscience fits the bill, and Sawyer’s new science-fiction thriller suggests that there are as many as two billion psychopaths worldwide.

A far-out notion? Not at all. As Oxford Professor Kevin Dutton, the bestselling author of The Wisdom of Psychopaths, says, “Sawyer has certainly done his homework about psychopaths and he understands well that, far from being just the occasional headline-grabbing serial killer, they’re everywhere.”

Sawyer says: “Reviewers often call me an optimistic writer — one of the few positive voices left in a science-fiction field that has grown increasingly dystopian. I like to view my optimism as a rational position rather than just naïveté, and so I felt it was necessary to devote a novel to confronting the question of evil head on: what causes it, why it flourishes, why there seems to be more and more of it — and what we can do about it. The theme is simple: the worst lie humanity has ever told itself is, ‘You can’t change human nature.’”

Click to read the opening chapters. Details of the Canadian and U.S. stops on Sawyer’s book tour can be found here.

(6) OSHIRO STORY CONTINUES. Here are links to new posts dealing with Mark Oshiro’s published harassment complaint.

The Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, Inc. (KaCSFFS) is the sponsor of ConQuesT, the oldest convention in the central states region. The KaCSFFS Board of Directors oversees ConQuesT, but the day-to-day operations of the convention are done by the volunteer chairs and convention committee, who change from year to year.

In light of recent issues we feel that more oversight of the convention committee as a whole is necessary by the KaCSFFS Board of Directors. This is being addressed by the current Board of Directors as we speak.

KaCSFFS is profoundly sorry that these issues arose, and the policies in place were not followed through to completion. We are taking steps to ensure that future complaints are addressed appropriately and in compliance with current policies and procedures in place.

Posted by Jan Gephardt

The KaCSFFS Board of Directors is: Margene Bahm, President, Earline “Cricket” Beebe, Treasurer, Kristina Hiner, Secretary, Jan Gephardt, Communications Officer, Keri O’Brien, ConQuesT Chairperson for 2016, and Diana Bailey, Registered Agent.

From SFF and romance convention attendees alike. To the point that I’ve applied some probably unfair stereotyping of my own, in deciding that media and writers’ conventions in Those Four States (Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri) are probably off limits to me. If I won a lottery tomorrow and travel costs were not an issue…I probably wouldn’t change my decision.

I get told, rightfully so: ‘That’s unfair. We have lovely, diverse people at X convention or Y festival! By not attending, you are letting the bad people win!”

True. I know some good people in those places. I’d love to visit them. There is a large romance convention in Texas and an even bigger SFF gathering in Kansas City that I *should* attend for career reasons. (Except that the romance con has a dismal record respecting M/M romance authors, and I’m not sure I’m at the professional level to go to the SFF con yet.)

By not attending, I’m not validating some indefensible behavior from con committees who keep getting away with this shit, and use fans and sane staffers as their human shields. I’m not paying into the tax coffers of hotels, cities, and corrupt hypocritical legislatures who still seem to be stuck in Pre-Civil Rights America. By myself, I’m a nobody, and I only have power over what I personally spend and buy.

I was unlucky enough to get tapped for a self-pub panel at CONQuest (Kansas City 2013) that consisted of me and two gatekeepers who bloviated the entire time, talking over anything I had to say. Lawrence M. Schoen was the moderator who opened his introductory email to me with a declaration that nobody should self publish unless they’d already been vetted by the publishing industry. He also used the term “politically correct” which prompted the following response from me:

“Please do not use the term ‘politically correct’ in my presence. My colleagues and mentors include survivors of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the Soviet GULag. Current American usage of this term trivializes these mass atrocities in the service of defending lazy-minded reflexive bigotry.”

In response, he doubled down on his insistence on right to say anything he liked.

On the panel, Silena Rosen was particularly notable for her crude, hostile manner as well as rant about how self-pub was shit, fanfic was public masturbation, yadda yadda yadda. Schoen wasn’t so much a moderator as a partner in the pile-on. I had quality assurance experience from multiple industry jobs, and a whole list of suggestions for editorial collectives and the like. They talked right over me as loudly as they could. None of that stuff even got said.

I felt the whole time as if I were fighting with both hands tied behind my back. I was there to give the audience new ideas and perspectives and to present myself with courtesy and professionalism; they were there to beat me up in public.

I don’t know anything about the Oshiro thing. Is that the one where the guy was the GoH at a con and didn’t get treated well? I’ve seen that in passing is all. I can only assume that if File 770 is upset over it, they’re either on the wrong side, or just plain stupid.

A bunch of comments from File 770 are reproduced in that same thread. Which is great, because it proves how many of Larry’s fans find this blog despite his refusing to allow pingbacks from my posts, and how they force the rest to read the material anyway.

(7) REASONS WHY DOING NOTHING IS WORSE. Jim C. Hines reviews the recent history of convention antiharassment policy enforcement in “The Importance of Having and ENFORCING Harassment Policies at Cons”

I get it. It’s one thing to write up policies on harassment and appropriate behavior for a convention. It’s another to find yourself in the midst of a mess where you have to enforce them.

Emotions are running high. The person accused of violating the policy isn’t a mustache-twirling villain, but someone who’s been attending your con for years. They’ve got a lot of friends at the con — possibly including you. If you enforce the consequences spelled out in your policies, someone’s going to be upset. Someone’s going to be angry. Someone’s going to feel hurt. It feels like a no-win situation.

And it is, in a way. There’s nothing you can do to make everyone happy. But we’ve seen again and again that there’s a clear losing strategy, and that is to do nothing. To try to ignore your harassment policy and hope the problem goes away on its own.

It won’t. As unpleasant as it is to be dealing with a report of harassment, doing nothing will make it worse. Here are just a few examples from recent years.

(8) THE F IN SF IS NOT FILLET. Seeing a comment on File 770 about all the fiction with “bone” in the title, Fred Coppersmith recommended:

(9) HENCEFORTH THEY WILL BE CALLED FUCHSIA HOLES. Gazing at black holes – “What does a black hole actually look like?” at Vox.

Impossibly dense, deep, and powerful, black holes reveal the limits of physics. Nothing can escape one, not even light.

But even though black holes excite the imagination like few other concepts in science, the truth is that no astronomer has actually seen one….

We do have indirect images of black holes, however

Some of the best indirect images of black holes come from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, where Edmonds works. “The friction and the high velocities of material forming out of a black hole naturally produces X-rays,” he says. And Chandra is a space telescope specially designed to see those X-rays.

For example, the Chandra observatory documented these X-ray “burps” emanating from the merger of two galaxies around 26 million light-years away. The astrophysicists suspect that these burps came from a massive black hole: …

Similarly, the fuchsia blobs on this image are regions of intense X-ray radiation, thought to be black holes that formed when two galaxies (the blue and pink rings) collided: …

Be sure to check out the fuzzy but fascinating video showing the proper motion of stars around an apparent black hole.

(10) YES THERE IS A DRAGON. Pete’s Dragon official teaser trailer.

(11) FARTHER BACK TO THE FUTURE. TechnoBuffalo declares “This fan-made Back to the Future prequel trailer is amazing”.

There’s never going to be a Back to the Future sequel or reboot—at least as long as director Robert Zemeckis is alive. With that in mind, what if there was a prequel? Didn’t think of that, did you? I sure didn’t, but after seeing the trailer above, I’d totally be on board.

If you’ve never seen BTTF (what’s wrong with you?), it begins with Doc Brown revealing to Marty that the only way to produce the 1.21 Gigawatts necessary to time travel is to use plutonium. The prequel would be a story about how Doc Brown gets hands on the plutonium, which he only mentions in passing in the original film.

The prequel trailer was brilliantly edited together by Tyler Hopkins, who used footage from various movies featuring Christopher Lloyd (the actor who played Dr. Emmett Brown).

 

(12) HE’S A MARVEL. “Stan Lee Makes a Cameo During Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns 30th Anniversary Panel”. (Check out the photo at the post — Stan looks younger than Frank!)

In Los Angeles to celebrate the 30th Anniversary Edition of the book’s release, Miller sat down with IGN to talk about The Dark Knight Returns’ enduring legacy, what makes Batman relevant, and why he keeps coming back to the character. He then took the stage for a Q&A moderated by DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio, where he discussed his initial apprehension at reinventing such an established character, the impact he’s had on future creators, and who would win in a fight between Batman and Captain America.

The evening took an unexpected turn right out the gate as Miller’s panel was interrupted by an audience heckler. That heckler turned out to be none other than Marvel Comics legend/cameo king Stan Lee, who was on hand to celebrate pal Miller’s accomplishments. Lee of course demanded to know who would win in a showdown between publisher mainstays Batman and Captain America, to which Miller slyly responded “Robin.”

(13) THE ICON’S IMAGE. Abraham Riesman profiles the icon in “It’s Stan Lee’s Universe” at Vulture.

A comic-book Methuselah, Lee is also, to a great degree, the single most significant author of the pop-culture universe in which we all now live. This is a guy who, in a manic burst of imagination a half-century ago, helped bring into being The Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers, The X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, and the dozens of other Marvel titles he so famously and consequentially penned at Marvel Comics in his axial epoch of 1961 to 1972. That world-shaking run revolutionized entertainment and the then-dying superhero-comics industry by introducing flawed, multidimensional, and relatably human heroes — many of whom have enjoyed cultural staying power beyond anything in contemporary fiction, to rival the most enduring icons of the movies (an industry they’ve since proceeded to almost entirely remake in their own image). And in revitalizing the comics business, Lee also reinvented its language: His rhythmic, vernacular approach to dialogue transformed superhero storytelling from a litany of bland declarations to a sensational symphony of jittery word-jazz — a language that spoke directly and fluidly to comics readers, enfolding them in a common ecstatic idiom that became the bedrock of what we think of now as “fan culture.” Perhaps most important for today’s Hollywood, he crafted the concept of an intricate, interlinked “shared universe,” in which characters from individually important franchises interact with and affect one another to form an immersive fictional tapestry — a blueprint from which Marvel built its cinematic empire, driving nearly every other studio to feverishly do the same. And which enabled comics to ascend from something like cultural bankruptcy to the coarse-sacred status they enjoy now, as American kitsch myth.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Moshe Feder, Paul Weimer, Andrew Porter, and Michael J. Walsh for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Brian Z.]

Black Hole Emergency

We long ago surrendered our dreams of Bradbury’s rainy Venus and Burroughs’ canal-riven Mars to the advances of science. Is the same thing on the verge of happening to science fiction’s tales involving black holes?

Alert SFWA – Condition Red!

Black holes have been appearing in sf stories for a long time. A conversation with Stephen Hawking decades ago led Larry Niven to write a story involving quantum black holes, 1975 Hugo winner “The Borderland of Sol.”

But on his 70th birthday this month, Hawking said he regards his idea that information was destroyed by black holes as his “biggest blunder.”

Also, Hawking’s unpublished work “Information Preservation and Weather Forecasting for Black Holes” (available from the arXiv preprint service) reportedly declares that “there are no black holes.”

Hawking’s basic theory already supposed black holes are not immortal, because they leak particles via “Hawking radiation” over time. Lately he has been at work trying to reconcile what two competing theories that explain basics about the universe have to say about black holes. Discovery.com phrases the effort this way —

It all boils down to a conflict between two fundamental ideas in physics that control the very fabric of our Universe; the clash of Einstein’s general relativity and quantum dynamics. And it just so happens that the extreme environment in and around a black hole makes for the perfect “fight club” for the two theories to duke it out.

Black holes have not been read out of the cosmology, but their behavior may be less absolute than Hawking originally argued.

Black Hole Hunter

Gamma ray bursts are the most powerful events in the universe, surpassed only by the energy discharged when Bob Eggleton leaps onstage to accept a Hugo and does That Thing With His Hair. Astronomers theorize collapsing stars produce black holes, sending gamma rays shooting across space. The bursts are short-lived, much like Arnie Katz’ fanzine titles, so it’s not easy for astronomers to react and make observations. Now NASA has sent the fastest-swiveling space science observatory ever built into orbit, launched November 20, to scan for the “birth screams” of black holes.

Black hole” is a phrase coined by American John Wheeler in 1968 to describe an object with a gravitational force so powerful that not even light could escape its pull. (Fans who don’t know the difference between a black hole and a neutron star will see that date and be wondering how Larry Niven won a Hugo for something before scientists gave it a name.)

NASA’s new orbital observatory, named Swift for its speedy pivoting and pointing, finally made it off the pad after weeks of delays caused by hurricanes and a three-day postponement due to rocket trouble.

The concept of something like a black hole dates back to the 18th century, when the English and French rivaled each other for world leadership in science as well as war. Either England’s John Mitchell or France’s Laplace first thought of the notion. Historians know Mitchell used Isaac Newton’s theories of gravity and corpuscular light to calculate that a star 500 times larger than the sun would have enough gravity to prevent light from escaping.

Astronomers have never seen a black hole directly, but infer their existence the radiation created as material feeds the object, not unlike the way fans know Bob Tucker is present in a crowded room party, although blocked from view, after everyone suddenly calls out “ Smoooooth!

In contrast to astronomers, who like to study these things from a safe distance, science fiction writers make their characters drive right up to the edge of black holes and fall in. Of course, for writers this is simply a word picture of their careers as they send manuscripts off to publishers whose interminable response times make it seem like their work has disappeared into a singularity with a New York zip code.

Stories are certainly the easiest way for people to visualize the experience of entering a black hole. Otherwise, what constitutes “falling in” can only be fully understood after years spent studying advanced equations (an unlikely choice among people squandering time by clicking on articles at Trufen.net.) How long does it take to fall in? Ted Bunn answers:

“Let’s say you start at rest from a point whose distance from the singularity is ten times the black hole’s radius. Then for a million-solar-mass black hole, it takes you about 8 minutes to reach the horizon. Once you’ve gotten that far, it takes you only another seven seconds to hit the singularity…. Once you’ve crossed the horizon, in your remaining seven seconds, you might panic and start to fire your rockets in a desperate attempt to avoid the singularity. Unfortunately, it’s hopeless, since the singularity lies in your future, and there’s no way to avoid your future. In fact, the harder you fire your rockets, the sooner you hit the singularity. It’s best just to sit back and enjoy the ride.”
It’s just human nature to poke and prod and try to find out things man was not meant to know. So stubborn astronomers continue to learn all kinds of trivia about black holes. (1) The x-ray radiation emanating from black holes has two components. (2) The Hubble telescope

has detected the noise of gas being slurped into a black hole (and it bears no resemblance to Joe Haldeman slipping into that tub of lime jello; and most remarkable of all, (3) Stephen Hawking and Roger Ebert now agree that nothing escapes from a black hole.

NASA’s Swift observatory is a $250 million collaboration by NASA, Italy and Britain. Unless you think Santa is bringing you one for Christmas, you may have to settle for what you can afford and research black holes the old-fashioned way, by downloading the free board game based on the international Space Very Long Baseline Interferometry Program (SVLBI).