Sunday, December 31, 2023

Creating Alien Aliens by Guy Stewart: Aliens As Crystalline Colonial Organism -- Biology Today, Thought Next Time

Five decades ago, I started my college career with the intent of becoming a marine biologist. I found out I had to get a BS in biology before I could even begin work on MARINE biology; especially because there WEREN'T any marine biology programs in Minnesota.

Along the way, the science fiction stories I'd been writing since I was 13 began to grow more believable. With my BS in biology and a fascination with genetics, I started to use more science in my fiction.

After reading hard SF for the past 50 years, and writing hard SF successfully for the past 20, I've started to dig deeper into what it takes to create realistic alien life forms. In the following series, I'll be sharing some of what I've learned. I've had some of those stories published, some not...I teach a class to GT young people every summer called ALIEN WORLDS. I've learned a lot preparing for that class for the past 25 have the opportunity to share with you what I've learned thus far. Take what you can use, leave the rest. Let me know what YOU'VE learned. Without further ado...

Crystalline life forms…if there were such a thing…which there’s not. Though there is a fringe of Humanity that believes that crystals have mystic powers: Certainly the mirror (which is, of course made of glass, aka crystalline silicon (NOT “silicone”, which is a human-made plastic) in Snow White would be considered sentient.

The question I’d pose here is why would the mirror cares what a bunch of Humans were doing, no matter how ravishingly beautiful they were? Fact is that: the mirror; the crystalline silicon being, would find Human affairs dull and boring.

So, what if crystals WERE a sapient life forms in themselves – or when the right number of them are gathered together, could “come to life”? What if what we see as physical reactions, are instead the reactions of a life form I wouldn’t recognize as a lifeform?

In a book I’m reading, A ZOOLOGIST’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (obviously riffing off of HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY), zoologist and author Arik Kershenbaum writes: “The book argues that the evolutionary processes that are observed operating on Earth are universal, and a necessary requirement for the presence of complex life on any planet. As a result, many aspects of animal behavior are likely to be present in the equivalent lifeforms on alien planets. This includes certain features of social behavior, communication, and movement, the evolutionary origin of which on Earth is underpinned by universal processes.”

On the other hand, Carl Zimmer in his recent book, LIFE’S EDGE, writes this near the end: “Instead [of defining life] scientists should be working towards a theory that explains life…‘assembly theory’…calculates the number of steps it takes to build something…a living organism needs far more [than one step to form]: materials made by living things…are exquisitely complex…’ Life is a state of matter that can spontaneously make things with a lot of assembly steps.’”

“One of the originators of this theory of life is a chemist, Lee Cronin, who has devised an ingenious experiment to test the theory…’The idea is that some of the droplets [that form] will spark complex reactions, creating new compounds that can store information – a condition of life. Cronin’s droplets may even, one day, be declared alive. ‘I’m pretty sure we will crack the origin-of-life problem in the next few years,’ he says. ‘But then everyone will go: ‘Oh, that was easy.’”

I’m not sure yet why Kershenbaum believes that biological laws (which even on Earth) are regularly and spectacularly contradicted, must be Universal everywhere else in Physical Reality.

Associate professor Kevin J Mitchell, at Trinity College in Dublin (Ireland) wrote this: “By taking what is essentially an engineering and computational perspective, we can simplify our view of the functional architecture of living systems. For example, we can recognise that some set of components interacting in a certain way acts as a filter, or a switch, or a coincidence detector, and so on. And when we put several of them together just so, we make an oscillator or a homeostatic regulator or an evidence accumulator. This provides a way to go beyond simply describing what is happening to actually understanding what the system is doing.” Zimmer holds that once we can “calculate the number of steps it takes to build something”, we will if nothing else, be at the beginning of understanding life on Earth – and presumably life among the countless exoplanets.

To summarize: one author believes that all life in the universe will be some understandable riff off of the life on Earth (which, while in its wild variety, is UNDERSTANDABLE), and therefore all aliens will be UNDERSTANDABLE (Kerschenbaum); again, that we will be able to UNDERSTAND alien life, no matter where we find it. “We will use the laws of biology just as we would use the laws of physics and chemistry.”

Mitchell from Trinity expects that once we recognize the components that interact in particular ways, we will understand life on Earth and elsewhere.

What I understand my reading thus far, is that there SHOULD be a “theory/theories of biology” that is as succinct to apply as Newton’s Third Law of Motion: Force = mass x acceleration. Yet all three of these writers – all at the cutting edge of their fields – can’t state one of the Laws of Biology with anything even approaching the elegance of Newton’s Third Law, F=ma.

So, there are currently 5040 confirmed exoplanets in some 3876 star systems. A FORBES online magazine article suggests that one third of these confirmed exoplanets may be in their star’s habitable zone. (, so approximately 1,663 of them would be in their star’s HABITABLE ZONE (aka the “Goldilocks Zone” (or, “Goldilocks went upstairs into the bed chamber and first she lay down upon the bed of the great, huge bear, and then she lay down upon the bed of the middle bear and finally she lay down upon the bed of the little, small wee bear, and that was just right.” The Zone would be JUST RIGHT for…Humans…right?)

Dr. Kershenbaum is writing (thus far), he seems certain that life on other worlds will be no more amazing that life on Earth – which is no mean feat, spanning Humans and elephants to Bacillaria and Black Smokers…It almost seems that he’s limiting life to what we both know and understand…

So what does that do to my story?

If life could evolve from regular, everyday single-celled organisms, what’s to stop it from evolving from Bacillaria? It is an organism that is both unique and difficult to explain. Bacillaria paxillifer is a colonial diatom whose members live in colonies and slide along each other, rather like slippery rectangular microscope slides.

The question of WHY they behave this way is essentially unanswerable. The majority of diatoms float freely; though not all of them, and we might as well include my Siphonophoria “alien” based on one of the colonial “jellyfish” recently observed off the coast of Australia. How would a sapient lifeform, descended from paxillifer THINK?

Maybe it would be easier to start with a “single-celled” crystalline organism like the mirror I postulated above? In the movie starring Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen, the crystalline mirror DOES actually have an opinion. It tries to communicate that opinion, which the Queen ignores until the end and the sentient crystal says, “Ready to learn the price for using magic?” and a dark movie actually becomes darker as the crystalline entity exacts its vengeance by allowing the Evil Queen to age to her true age – a wizened and aged crone who can barely walk or talk.

Next time though, I’d like to skip over the philosophy above and look at how I see a crystalline entity behaving – especially looking at how it would perceive the world and wondering how Mirror got trapped into being a simple looking-glass in an ancient kingdom…

Reference: STAR TREK: TNG – “DataLore”; “Silicon Avatar”;,temperature%2C%20light%2C%20or%20vibration.; ;

Sunday, December 24, 2023

One Point of View: Stars of WONDER, "Star of Royal Beauty, Bright" Christmas 2023


The foundation of science fiction is a journey to the stars. I remember as a kid searching for book titles with “star”, “planet”, “moon” or “alien” on the cover or the book spine.

One of Arthur C. Clarke’s most famous short stories is titled simply, “The Star” (Infinity SF, 1955). (If you never read it, try it here (it's short)

Christmas lights.

What’s the connection between stars and Christmas lights? Most sources point to the practice of lighting Christmas tree candles or putting candles in the windows of homes as a measure of “pushing back the night” of long, dark winter nights and having lifted various pagan religious practices in the process. Sites that are brutally honest say that Christians stole lighting, trees, yule logs, and holly for the nefarious reason of subjugating all other traditions and belief systems to their own.

Others less brutal note that the reason for hanging lights at Christmas is at best unclear and at worst, disappeared like a ghost into Christmases past.

So I’m going to throw my own theory out there.

We do Christmas lights to add more stars to the universe we live in so that one particular star on one particular night might stand out even more than it already does. Adding stars to the universe – even imaginary ones on green coated electrical wire – seems somewhat silly when you consider that cosmologists number the stars in the observable universe at some thirty sextillion (30 followed by twenty-one zeroes). Others opine mathematically that the universe is infinite so that there are an infinite number of stars.

Cool! Ain’t God great?

OK, so rather than theorize why “we” put up Christmas lights, I’ll tell you that I like to put up Christmas lights in an infinite universe to mimic stars.

On that first Christmas night – whether it was December 25 or August 12 – a Star shone brightly in the night sky. It so outshone its usual companions that the star watchers or astrologers or magi of the Great Cultures at the time of the Christ’s birth – Ptolemaic Egypt, Carthage, Aksumite Empire in Ethiopia, Persia, Indus Valley Chera/Chara/Suaga/Satavahana, the Han Dynasty, Rome, Armenia, Scythia, the Three Kingdoms of Korea and Teotihuacan – made pilgrimage to where this bright star led them.

Three of them made it to Bethlehem in time for the Birth. (Never thought about what a story this might make...)

The strings of lights I put up are to celebrate the Star of Bethlehem. This celestial object seemed to hang over the City of David. The Roman Emperor had called for a census and Joseph and a very pregnant Mary had gone to their hometown for it. She had her Son, God Incarnate who came to Earth to solve the problem of Original Sin of humanity against God’s Sovereignty – because God loved the entire population of humanity everywhen so much that God chose to send the Son to redeem them with the only thing humans clearly understand: blood.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem as the unique Savior of all humanity – all of whom are free to accept that they are in need of saving or pass on the offer.

I choose to believe that I am in need of saving; I choose to accept Jesus as the Christ. I choose to believe that unlike what Arthur C. Clarke opines in his story, God did not capriciously wipe out a kindly advanced civilization to suit His own, cold whim. God used a cosmic celestial event to mark a cosmic spiritual event; and I use Christmas lights to remind me (and anyone who sees my lights) of the Bethlehem Star.

Someday, I want to write a story that responds to Clarke's -- not a vicious attack; not a mean-spirited diatribe; rather a gentle alternative to the one of an exploding star destroying a peaceful civilization of intelligences. I’ll let you know when my story, “The Winter Star” is done, but until then, in the words of Hub Pages columnist and fellow Minnesotan, Kika Rose: “These are my views. Attack me if you will, but I will believe what I will believe, and you can’t change my mind for me.”

A Few Links To Follow:

Saturday, December 23, 2023

“Script Treatment” • by Bruce Bethke


TO: Gene Roddenberry, Paramount Studios

FROM: Bruce Bethke, Auteurs Sans Fierté

DATE: 12 October 1988

RE: ST:TNG Season 3 Script Treatment


“Wesley Crusher Returns Again for the Last Time, No Kidding!”

Okay Gene, here’s the outline. Returning from a mission dirtside, the Away Team discovers that a freak malfunction of the transporter contrast control has turned them all black. Picard retires to the executive conference room (I understand we’re contractually obligated to use the conference room set for at least five minutes in each show, right?), opens the executive safe, and reads the Enterprise warranty, only to discover that the transporter is covered by a carry-in service contract and the nearest XEROX service center is 200 light-years away.

Troi gets a “bad feeling” about this.

In the meantime, Wesley, bored out of his mind now that he no longer gets to save the ship each week, programs the holodeck to simulate the Enterprise. He enters the holodeck and goes down to the holographic holodeck, where he meets a holographic simulation of himself. Together the two of them program the simulated holodeck to simulate the Enterprise, whereupon they enter the simulated simulation, go down to the holographic holograph of the holodeck, and meet Wesleys #3 and #4…

Troi feels “confused.”

Ryker barricades himself in the lunchroom and demands that the replicators be reprogrammed to produce soul food, so that he can prove how macho he is by eating chitlins and collard greens. Data desperately and unsuccessfully attempts to learn to break dance to Michael Jackson, there apparently being no developments in popular culture after the end of the 20th Century. Geordi, watching Data, laughs himself comatose. The ship’s chief medical officer “has never seen anything like it before.” (Seriously, where does Star Fleet keep finding these ignorant medical officers, anyway? Draftees? Med school “C” students doing a hitch in Star Fleet to pay off their student loans?)

Troi feel “nauseous.” (Not nauseated, nauseous. There is a difference. Look it up.)

Suddenly, the Enterprise is stricken by a massive power outage caused by Wesley’s recursive adventures on the holodeck! The ship comes to a screaming stop in mid-space (obviously Newton’s Laws have been repealed by the 23rd Century) just as the Tholians, Malcots, and Gorns join forces with an ancient pre-warp-drive Romulan battle fleet that’s still alive due to relativistic time dilation! Picard, after being reminded by Worf that Romulans never take prisoners unless it’s essential to the story line, realizes he must restore power to the phaser banks and start shooting things if he is to save the series! But Geordi is still unconscious, and the rest of the engineering officers have been spirited away by an assortment of omnipotent alien life entities! Decisively taking action, Picard boldly calls an emergency meeting in the executive conference room, and all the senior staff members leave the actual running of the ship to the redshirts while they assertively discuss options right up until the commercial break.

Troi is feeling, “Not bad. How are you?”

At last, Picard realizes there is no alternative except direct action. Setting the transporter controls for both “duplicate” and “enlarge 125%,” he beams a few dozen Worfs directly onto the holodeck, with orders to kill all the Wesleys they can find. There follows a cheerful slaughter of Wesleys…


So whadaya think, Gene? Have we got a deal? Fax me your okay tonight and we can have a shooting script banged out by Wednesday. My best to Majel.


Bruce Bethke adds: It is perhaps worth noting that I wrote this piece during the second season of ST:TNG and actually sold it to a pro magazine, which actually paid me cash money for it, before someone in the magazine’s upper management decided (probably wisely) that the value of running this piece was peanuts compared to the possibility of offending either Paramount or Pocket Books, both of whom bought a lot of ad space in that magazine. The piece was spiked, but I received a kill fee. This therefore became the first time I was paid more not to publish something than to publish it. It’s nice work, if you can get it.

Over the years I’ve written a lot of these weird little metafictional pieces, some of which were published in various venues while others ended up just laying around here, cluttering up the place. If you’d like to see more like this one, let me know. 

P.S. “Auteurs Sans Fierté” is French for “Authors Without Pride.” ASF is the imaginary Hollywood agency to which I attributed a lot of these ghastly little things; for example, The Towering Poseidon Adventure and Snakes and Ladders: The Movie. ASF has been dormant for a few years, but lately I’ve been feeling the itch to reactivate it.

Monday, December 18, 2023

“Corrections” • by Lorraine Schein

After my skull implant and genochemical modification, I received this sublimail letter in my visual field.

To our new editor hire:

WELCOME TO CEREBRUM EDITING! Congratulations on joining our team of AI-assisted, brain-modified remote editors. Your surgery was successful and there should be no lingering symptoms or disability after your stitches are removed. 

You can now offer the latest in biothink editing for fiction, essays and research papers for new clients. Those who become subscribers for a year or more will be able to purchase your services at a reduced rate.

Below find our payment rates, tech manual and style guide, a sample ad for attracting clients, and best practices for working with them.

Our payments are made quarterly upon receipt of your invoices, in your choice of credits for oxytocin infusion mist or direct stimulation of your pleasure centers.

I had just finished downloading the style manual when the ringing in my ears alerted me to my first client. After agreeing to my fee (a percentage of which went to Cerebrum), he uploaded his copy into my brain. It flashed before me, then hovered before my visual field in 12-point, misspelled type without punctuation. 

Twinge! I blinked commas into place, then consulted my embedded dictionary, tilting my head back to scroll and locate the atrocious misspellings. My skin pinched sharply every time I located one, resulting in a welcome release as I corrected each.

To insert required Oxford commas, I executed a complex double-blink and eye-roll. 

I snorted my queries into place through my nose, which made it irritated, but I couldn’t pause to apply nasal spray, as I was on deadline.

Then I formatted the document, wiggling my ears several times to paragraph and indent the run-on sentences.

There was questionable language I’d have to discuss with my client. I considered referral to a sensitivity reader, but that would cut into my fee, so I completed the edit without one. 

Then I submitted the job with my invoice to Cerebrum for approval and waited for payment. 

Suddenly, I heard a loud electric buzzing, then my visual field blurred. Stunned, I collapsed writhing on the floor, legs jerking, clutching my throbbing head. 

When I came to, I saw the manuscript had been returned with a note from Cerebrum, which said: 

Your submitted edit job #32987 was rejected by our overbots. Please note the offensive text highlighted in vibrating neon to avoid internal taser consequences in the future.

They hadn’t bothered to give me a trigger warning!


Lorraine Schein is a New York writer. Her work has appeared in VICE Terraform, Strange Horizons, Enchanted Conversation, Mermaids Monthly, and in the anthology Tragedy Queens: Stories Inspired by Lana del Rey & Sylvia Plath. The Futurist’s Mistress, her poetry book, is available from Mayapple Press:

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Sunday, December 17, 2023

Creating Alien Aliens: How Would Intelligent Reptiles Think and Behave?

Five decades ago, I started my college career with the intent of becoming a marine biologist. I found out I had to get a BS in biology before I could even begin work on MARINE biology; especially because there WEREN'T any marine biology programs in Minnesota. 
Along the way, the science fiction stories I'd been writing since I was 13 began to grow more believable. With my BS in biology and a fascination with genetics, I started to use more science in my fiction.

After reading hard SF for the past 50 years, and writing hard SF successfully for the past 20, I've started to dig deeper into what it takes to create realistic alien life forms. In the following series, I'll be sharing some of what I've learned. I've had some of those stories published, some not...I teach a class to GT young people every summer called ALIEN WORLDS. I've learned a lot preparing for that class for the past 25 have the opportunity to share with you what I've learned thus far. Take what you can use, leave the rest. Let me know what YOU'VE learned. Without further ado... If this were a sapient alien, how would it THINK? WHAT The Heck would it think???

Scientists have been tracking this turtle among several dozen others. What I want to think about is if these creatures grew to become sapient – or were a primitive form of a sapient alien we might one day meet – what would they be LIKE? How would they behave? How would we be able to communicate with them?

My depiction would hardly be the first time writers tried to figure out what a sapient turtle would be like – behavior, speech, thought, and scientific advancements. One is THE SINGERS OF TIME by Frederich Pohl and Jack Williamson; shell-less alien turtles from Laserblast!; snapper aliens from Stellaris’ Let’s Play Happy Turtles; Turgle from Star Wars Jedi; the Chelonians from several episodes of Doctor Who; Star Citizen’s Xian; the Clutch Turtles of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller; and lastly, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – though they can’t count as aliens because they are still from Earth, though mutants…

A serious study "Given the Cold Shoulder: A Review of the Scientific Literature for Evidence of Reptile Sentience"
(, looks at the evidence of what they call reptile sentience. I'll draw more on that later, but for now, let's keep going.

Most of the examples above seem to create “aliens” who, while they look like turtles, behave like Humans in funny suits – which is what the “aliens” from Star Wars, Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy, and countless other movie depictions that are supposed to show us “alien life forms”. On Earth, turtles – which include Galapagos Tortoises, Painted Turtles, Alligator Snappers, and Sea Turtles and are wildly different animals that might spark wildly different sapient life forms.

So, what are the characteristics of the turtles and tortoises?

· Shell size can range from about 3 inches up to about 8 feet
5 ounces to 1,800 pounds
· They mature between 5 to 25 years
· lay anywhere from a few or over 100 eggs, hatchlings will be from 1 to 3 inches
aquatic species can live up to 70 years while some of the land tortoises can live 150 years or more.
· quiet, shy, and harmless yet display intelligence
· very sensitive to loud noises, vibrations, and sudden bright lights
· quick to frighten if they feel threatened; most will withdraw their head, legs, and tail into their shells; aquatic turtles will first try to swim quickly away.
· Those with less shell have developed other defense mechanisms; like the snappers who have an extremely strong mouth, the musk turtles which can emit a rather distasteful odor, and some that have strong claws or extreme agility. Once they have withdrawn, they are often very slow to re-emerge.
· content being single.
· Mostly fine with community, there can be territorial tension, especially when in breeding mode.
· Some tortoises have been known to ram and even kill other tortoise species.
· Water (mostly freshwater, some brackish water, only sea turtle are salt) species, usually have webbed feet for swimming. Basking Turtles: These climb onto a log or a rock to sun themselves; Non-basking Turtles: These bask at the surface of the water or on top of floating vegetation.
· Aquatic turtles notorious as carriers of the salmonella bacteria which can be transmitted to humans and a potential health hazard.
· Terrapene (4 species) the familiar box turtles, and Cuora, the Asian box turtles,
Tortoises (tortoise): Tortoises are exclusively land bound. With only a couple exceptions they have highly domed shells. The burrowing species have spade-like flattened front feet; can get very big; very specific temperature and humidity requirements; subject to more serious health problems; very long lived
· turtle or tortoise has a specific type of environment that it needs: aquatic turtles, the semi-aquatic turtles, land turtles, box turtles, and tortoises
· All turtles and tortoises thermoregulate their body temperature by sunning themselves. A general rule of thumb is that Chelonians will be most content in daytime temperatures between 75 - 85° F plus a cool secluded area to sleep.
· aquatic turtles often sleep submerged, but near to the surface around twigs or vegetation. Semi-aquatic turtles will sleep burrowed into grassy areas or a sphagnum moss substrate. Land turtles and tortoises will do well with a small shed or bushy area.
· Aquatic turtles eat vegetable matter, but also insects and worms; adults becomes primarily a vegetarian, eating dark green leafy plants.
· Land turtles are omnivorous their whole life, eating many kinds of vegetables and fruits as well as earthworms and even occasional bits of dog food.
· Tortoises are primarily vegetarians, wide variety of vegetables and some fruits

OK – now to pick the aspects of turtles, land turtles, and tortoises that would make interesting characters…

I’m going to stay away from aquatic turtles for the time being as it doesn’t seem likely that they would develop a technology I would recognize, being a land animal myself. Tortoises are the larger of the two land Chelonians, so let me pull out the characteristics of wild Chelonians:

· Shell size can range from about 3 inches up to about 8 feet, 5 ounces to 1,800 pounds
· They mature between 5 to 25 years
· lay anywhere from a few or over 100 eggs, hatchlings will be from 1 to 3 inches; land tortoises can live 150 years or more.
· quiet, shy, and harmless yet display intelligence
· very sensitive to loud noises, vibrations, and sudden bright lights
· quick to frighten if they feel threatened; most will withdraw their head, legs, and tail into their shells.
· Those with less shell have developed other defense mechanisms; like the snappers who have an extremely strong mouth, the musk turtles which can emit a rather distasteful odor, and some that have strong claws or extreme agility. Once they have withdrawn, they are often very slow to re-emerge.
· content being single.
· Mostly fine with community, there can be territorial tension, especially when in breeding mode.
· Some tortoises have been known to ram and even kill other tortoise species.
· Tortoises are exclusively land bound. With only a couple exceptions they have highly domed shells. The burrowing species have spade-like flattened front feet; can get very big; very specific temperature and humidity requirements; subject to more serious health problems; very long lived
· tortoise has a specific type of environment that it needs.
· All turtles and tortoises thermoregulate their body temperature by sunning themselves. A general rule of thumb is that Chelonians will be most content in daytime temperatures between 75 - 85° F plus a cool secluded area to sleep.
· Land turtles and tortoises will do well with a small shed or bushy area.
· Tortoises are primarily vegetarians, wide variety of vegetables and some fruits

Narrowing further: huge shell, takes 25 years to mature, lay 5+ eggs, smart, but quiet/shy, sensitive to extreme light/sound, quick to frighten and withdraw to shell, strong mouth, emit strong musk, long claws, (shockingly) agile, OK with single life, can become territorial, especially during breeding time, will ram, kill other tortoises, specific natural environmental requirements, primarily vegetarians...

FINALLY: I’ll call them the Chelonians. These have become bipedal by necessity, but function just fine on four feet. Their forward feet have fingers that fold into a tough pad when on four feet; but the fingers are agile and they move quickly – despite how they look (slow-and-steady; these aliens embody the aphorism: “Slow and steady wins the race”), they CAN be startled fairly easily – hence they are extreme “planners” and orchestrate the direction they personally take as well as a civilization. They do everything to make CERTAIN there are no surprises. Their ships are uncomfortably warm to Humans, but within our tolerance – Humans from civilizations that grew in high temperature/humidity regions of Earth adapt most quickly to Chelonian ships and worlds; they have health problems (some are health COMPLAINERS, others talk about their health like “little old Earthmen”), long-lived and VERY particular about their environment and homes – they are fanatic art collectors, though no one has been able to figure out WHAT Chelonians view as art – or WHY, thermoregulated, almost exclusively vegetarian, though certain Chelonian cultures have peculiar NON-vegetarian delicacy choices, can and DO become territorial unexpectedly

That’s it for today. I need to get this posted. However, next time, I’m going to play with a Human-Chelonian interaction…and I’ll be thinking about it…and I'll be using the information in the article above as well.


Friday, December 15, 2023

“Silenced Night” • by Paul Celmer

In the TV studio a warning bell sounded, and then the lights came up at Leon, blinding.

Kyle Jackson spoke first, as usual. “And now for all the latest nuts and bolts on this whopper of a storm, the man you have all been waiting for, our resident master meteorologist, Leon Metzlmann. Take it away, Leon!”

Leon couldn’t stand Kyle, but Leon smiled back anyway. “Well folks, we are looking at a rare event for us here in the southeast,” he said, turning his tall spindly body and staring directly into the camera to give his most earnest made-for-TV expression. “We have a low pressure system on the move.” Leon flapped his arms in front of a blank green wall like a street magician so the Chroma key would create for the viewers at home the illusion of a graceful arc waving across a computer-generated map of the United States. “This system’s bringing down some bitter cold from the north to meet up with a moist air mass from the south.”  Leon traced the ominous image that he wanted to impress upon his fellow residents of his small hometown in the middle of North Carolina.

“I can’t say this enough. The roads tonight are very dangerous and getting worse. Stay off the roads. We could get accumulations of up to six inches or more. In fact, this storm is reminiscent the storm of 1979, forty-four years ago this week, the storm that caused the tragic death of Lillington High School senior Laura Jenkins…”

Kyle broke in, “Leon, you have a memory like a steel trap. Thanks for that report. And now for the latest school closings.”

Leon was used to being cut off by Kyle. Of course it had not always been Kyle Jackson. Over the years Leon endured a whole parade of square jaws like the virile Kyle bursting with his scripted enthusiasm and burning desire to escape. But Leon would never leave. He loved his town—especially on nights like this.

After the broadcast, Leon and Kyle walked backstage. Leon fumbled with the clip on his microphone, His hands were a little shaky, a side effect of the medicine the doctor had given him for his heart. He sent the device skittering across the floor. 

“What’s the matter Leon, you’re nervous as a cat. Got a hot date?” Kyle chuckled, still using his pompous anchorman’s voice. 

Leon was 61, but looked older. He had always refused TV makeup, and his wispy gray hair lay limp on his balding head like a tangle of daisy stems that had been trampled upon. “Very funny Kyle. Just trying to get out of here before it gets too bad. You should too.”

“Sure thing. Married guys like me have to get home on time, rain or shine. Just got to stop off and get something for the wife. Gifts. It’s what people in love do for each other, you know?”

Leon buttoned up his coat and went out to his rust-riddled car. It started om the third try. The snow continued falling. But Leon didn’t worry. He knew there would not be enough snow to cause any real problems. 

Leon navigated the back roads towards the old high school at the edge of town. Memories flooded in from his days as a gangly kid loping along from class to class, hoping for just one day without some taunt or insult. 

It was also where he had once snuck out behind the chorus building and first kissed the only girl he ever fell in love with: Laura Jenkins.   

Leon turned into the parking lot. The cracked asphalt had turned into a bone-white lake. The expanse glistened under the lone streetlight with flecks of astral blue.

No one heard the door of his car slam shut. 

He crossed the practice football fields, his feet brushing hushed steps through the ash-soft dusting of snow. He stopped half-way and stood facing the woods beyond the edge of the field.  

He peered into the crisscrossing mass of black and gray branches and trunks. He looked for a long time. The snow spiraled down. It did not matter how long he stayed out here. There was no one to miss him.  

Snowflakes pricked his nose and melted. Still he did not dare move. This was the eighteenth year since his promotion to head meteorologist at the station, the eighteenth year he had come. He knew that even the slightest sound could cause the entire scene to collapse.  

As he stared into the tangled dark, with icy flakes pattering like a whispering soft breathing, Leon cast his hearing as far out as he could. He had done his part, using his staged exaggerated forecast to frighten away as many drivers as possible, silencing the din of traffic from the highway. Now he had to wait.

He waited a long time.

Then, a tiny glint of sound. From far far off. He listened, hunting. For it was only now, in the middle of the special quiet of a rare snowfall night, that one could even hope to hear it. But finally. The singing. Just the barest, most delicate diaphanous sound, fading in and out like winter breeze through swaying barren treetops. A lilting winsome sound, high and thin and curved as the wind, a woman singing, yet still too distant to make out words. But Leon felt in his heart of hearts the singing was for him alone. 

He started again towards the woods. Each year the singing would stop well before he made it to the edge of the forest. This time he ventured as far as being able to touch the first trees and the singing did not stop, but became louder, clearer. Then out of the corner of his eye he caught a flicker of movement. 

Leon turned. A crimson ribbon fluttered from a low branch. He untied the hasty half-knot, too silky to be a surveyor’s marker. More like what a young woman might wear in her hair. He opened his coat and with great care placed it into his left shirt pocket. The singing stopped. He gazed down a dark snowfall path that led into the woods. 

Leon became very cold. His chest had a feeling inside like a sparrow trying to flutter its way out. He decided to enter the woods. 

He did not return. 


When not traveling to parallel universes, Paul Celmer is a technical writer in Durham, North Carolina. His recently published flash science fiction includes “Spooky Action At a Distance” in Daily Science Fiction, “The Last Rosy-Fingered Dawn” in Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, and “Katafalka” in Stupefying Stories.

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Sunday, December 10, 2023

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Near Future SF OFTEN Ignores Human Education

Using the Programme Guide of the 2020 World Science Fiction Convention, ConZEALAND (The First Virtual World Science Fiction Convention), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the 2020 Program Guide. I will be using the events to drive me to distraction or revelation – as the case may be. 

The Day After Tomorrow: Near Future SF

What are the challenges of SF set in the near future? What are good examples?

Shiv Ramdas: panelist, writer
Karl Schroeder: author and futurist, love his world, CANDESCE!
Glen Engel-Cox: writer
Caren Gussoff Sumption: writer, mental health professional
SB Divya: author, co-Editor of Escape Pod, data scientist

The vast majority of my professionally published work has been, much to my dismay, based in the Near Future. (I love ALIENS!!!) Most often, the story revolves around genetic engineering – or gengineering. Four of my published pieces deal with aliens, three are historical, and thirteen others deal with us messing around with our Human genetic code.

In one set of stories, Humans mess with the DNA so much that another part of Humanity has splintered off in protest and has narrowed Human to being someone with 65% or more unaltered Human DNA as documented in the 2023 version of the completed Human Genome Proje
ct [It was declared complete on April 14, 2003, and included about 92% of the genome. Level "complete genome" was achieved in May 2021, with a remaining only 0.3% bases covered by potential issues. The final gapless assembly was finished in January 2022."

 So, anyone with fewer Human genes than that is, by definition NOT Human; though at the same time, they aren’t ALIENS, either. I’ve had two stories published that take place in that universe.

So what else will happen the day after tomorrow?

How about changes in EDUCATION? One of my biggest pet peeves is that for some reason, many SF writers appear to insist that “In the 23rd Century, children will sit in desks while being taught by a Human teacher – with (of course) the obligatory tools of computers…remind you of another century in which computers were integral parts of a classroom? Does “Twentieth” ring a bell? The writers of STAR TREK have kids sitting in desks aboard the FREAKING FLAGSHIP OF THE FREAKING UNITED FEDERATION OF PLANETS! Oh, and the children are members of a variety of species of aliens – all of whom, apparently, learn the exact way Humans do.


OK, I’ll try to tone down the shouting. The thing is, no one seems to want to look at the future of education. Is it because they believe that how we educate our children today reached its absolute pinnacle in 1950 and there was nothing else to add? Close the book. End of entry. Bye-bye…

Has anyone ever wondered if it a profound limitation of the Human brain that the ONLY way we can learn is by sitting in desks and allowing OTHER people to teach our children, ones who are TRAINED to do it in the CORRECT manner?

I call “Hooey” on that one! If that were actually true, then Abraham Lincoln as well as Edison, Teddy Roosevelt, Agatha Christie, Alexander Graham Bell, Alexander Hamilton (of recent musical fame), MacArthur & Patton, DaVinci, both Wyeths, Brigham Young, John Phillip Sousa, Alex Haley (who, of course, wrote ROOTS), and William F. Buckley (plus several OTHER presidents beside Lincoln and Roosevelt)…would have been uneducated louts because they were HOME SCHOOLED.

“Ah, but that was in the OLDEN DAYS!!! EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT NOW, the 21st Century is so incredibly more complex. We KNOW (and have been repeatedly told by the Education Machine) that parents are in NO WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM QUALIFIED TO TEACH THEIR CHILDREN!!!!” Students ALL need to have access to computers (Note: I originally wrote this before the Educational Fiasco of the Pandemic Years...though I'd like to note that the biggest issue there was that teachers, schools, and other paraprofessionals had to INVENT curriculum and methodologies while the rest of the world pretended that even though everything else had changed, education had not. Many parents assumed that the SCHOOLS would continue to educate students as they always had -- with minimal parental input. The schools on their part, made the assumption that all parents "automatically" knew how to educate their kids. We all know exactly what happened all around the world...)

OK, I’ll pick up the gauntlet you’ve tossed down to tell me that the pandemic has conclusively proven that parents can’t (read: didn’t realize their kids were so DIFFICULT to teach) possibly provide an effective education to their children (read: and pursue their own lives and careers) – [(please keep in mind that I was a middle school and high school science teacher (all levels, grades 6-12; astronomy to zoology; special education; English Language learners; and International Baccalaureate/Honors program) for 31 years; followed by ten years as a counselor; mostly at a near-inner-city high school which drew ten percent of its population FROM inner city families whose intent was for their children to get the best education they could – and I’ve taught at private religious, a public charter school, a summer school program for Gifted and Talented student; as well as homeschooling our own children from K-4th grade and 1st to sixth grade…]. Oh, I'd like to throw a few other homeschooled names out: the first woman confirmed as a US Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor. The Jonas Brothers were all home schooled. So was Simone Biles (you know, that Olympic Gold Medalist in Gymnastics…); Tim Tebow, Serena and Venus Williams, Ryan Gosling, Emma Watson (yeah the one who had a small part in those little-known movies about some kid named HARRY POTTER…), Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Condoleeza Rice (66th US Secretary of State (as well as first woman, and first African American (under a REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT no less!) to be so appointed. Speaking of which, a fair number of other presidents were homeschooled…)), and mathematics genius Erik Demaine. I’m sure there are other people who have “survived” being homeschooled and who contribute to society in meaningful ways. Oh, and the objection that, “Homeschooling will not give my kids the essential SOCIAL skills that they need to SURVIVE in the world and get a job!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Yeah, too bad Teddy Roosevelt was such a shy wallflower. Put him and Tim Teboe and Emma Watson in a room and no one would say a word because they haven't been properly socialized...

I’d be willing to bet money that the subject this panel did NOT discuss changes in education (please enlighten me if you were there! The video wasn't available when I tried to watch it...).

However, just adding technology to do the same stuff Humans have been doing at least since 1642 is NOT a paradigm shift. [a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions.] (“The first compulsory education law in this country was enacted in 1642 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony…by 1918, all states had passed school attendance legislation…”) Formal education was initiated in Egyptian history during the Middle Kingdom, around 1040 BCE. So, science fiction writers telling me that public education won’t change in the future (except that we’ll add computers…) is quite honestly ridiculous! I call “Hooey” on that attitude!

I’ll also call, “Where EXACTLY is the creative, forward thinking that made science fiction the ‘literature of ideas’…” I’ve worked on it and I think I have a fascinating and advanced way to teach…and have been regularly and silently rebuffed in my attempts to present OTHER ways that Humans might effectively learn. Can anyone link me to an SF story that actually proposes something that is more than a reiteration of a system that is well over 5000 years old…

(BTW: direct "brain download" isn't something we can do today. Besides, if I simply downloaded all of the data a typical 8th grader learns, followed by the data and textbooks 9th-12th have to receive in order to graduate from High School in Minnesota...THAT WILL GIVE ME A STUDENT WITH A HIGH SCHOOL EDUCATION?" A brain implant would suffer the same problems -- education requires some sort of matrix onto which "facts" can be hung; as well as a neural network of emotion and context that can integrate the facts... 

I wish I could say I’d expect a challenge or response to this suggesting that there’s been SEVERAL stories and novels that show novel, creative ways of teaching. In fact, I am EAGERLY WAITING TO BE SO GIFTED!!!!

…but I sadly doubt that I will.

Program Book:

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Remembering the Future: “Requiem for the Space Age” • by Bruce Bethke

This morning I learned that after 33 years in orbit, the Hubble Space Telescope has gone offline, due to the failure of one of its three remaining gyroscopes

Gee. What a shame we don’t have some sort of reusable, crewed, orbital launch vehicle—let’s call it a “space shuttle”—that we could use to fly a repair team up there, to perform the sort of in-orbit maintenance the Hubble was expected to need and designed to accommodate.

I’m speaking sarcastically, of course. I’m well aware that we had a space shuttle, and also well aware that those first-generation Enterprise-class brick airplanes were retired for good reason, after they killed two crews in in-flight accidents. The second-greatest failure of the shuttle program wasn’t the design of the ship, though. It was the decision by someone in the NASA hierarchy to pretend the shuttle was not an extremely dangerous experimental aircraft, and instead to try to sell the thing to the public as a flying magic school bus. As a consequence schoolchildren nationwide got to watch in horror as Ms Frizzle and the crew of the Challenger were blown to bits on live TV.

Still, the greatest failure of the shuttle program was not the loss of the Challenger, or even the loss of the Columbia. It was that those ships were not merely first-generation craft; they were the only generation.

Whatever happened to learning from tragedy and trying again?


I grew up on the Space Age. I grew up with the Space Age. I watched the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs unfold as news, not history, and followed aerospace news and the X-plane programs the way other kids my age followed major league baseball. I was that nerdy kid off in the corner with a hand-me-down copy of Aviation Week & Space Technology (what, didn’t everyone grow up with aerospace engineers and rocket scientists for family friends?), with my feet on the Earth but my head in the stars. Long before Star Trek ever went on the air, the idea of the Final Frontier had its hold on me. Western Civilization had already gone as far west as it could go. Now the only choices were to go down, into the oceans—yech, too cold and wet for me; maybe it would have seemed like a better idea if I’d lived somewhere where there were porpoises, not carp, and the water wasn’t about five degrees above freezing year-round—or else up, into space.

Besides, we had to get to the Moon before the Russians did. If they got there first, they might claim it as Russian territory! And put atomic bombs up there!


In retrospect, perhaps things would have been better if the Soviet Union had gotten there first. In the sober light of day, the idea of putting a nuclear missile base on the Moon is ridiculous. There would be no way to hide the visible signature of a missile launch. 

[“But what if they put it on the dark side of the Moon?!” my inner ten-year-old argues.

[“Even if they could somehow hide the light emitted by the launch burn,” my adult self answers, “and even if they could hide the launch vehicles from ground-based radar as they came out from behind the Moon, our entire defense industry would be working overtime to find some way to detect such a launch as soon as it happened. And given that it takes at least three days for a spacecraft to make the transit from the Moon to the Earth, by the time their warheads finally arrived here, the war would be over and the Soviet Union would be a smouldering radioactive wasteland.”

[“But… what if they used faster missiles?”

[“If they were launched from the dark side and had to slingshot around the Moon to get pointed in the right direction, it would still take at least three days. Because physics. Specifically, orbital mechanics.

[“Remember, the point of a nuclear deterrent is to have it close to your enemy, so they don’t have much time to react. If you’re going to give your adversary three days’ advance warning, you may as well not launch at all. That was why we were so alarmed when the Soviets tried to put nuclear-capable intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba—and why the Soviets were so willing to give up their plan to put IRBMs in Cuba in exchange for our quietly withdrawing our Redstone missiles from Turkey a few months later. Both launch sites were too close; they were oops close. Neither side wanted to start Armageddon by accident.”

[“Huh—what? But I thought the Cuban Missile Crisis…”

[“Never mind. I’ll explain later.”]

Think it through, though. If  the Soviets had gotten to the Moon first and established any kind of presence there, there is no way our government would not have moved Heaven and Earth, and perhaps a little bit of Hell, too, in order to establish an equal-but-opposite presence on the other side, just to keep an eye on the Russians. What great advances in space exploration and a permanent human presence in space might have grown from that deep mutual mistrust!

Instead, we got there first, and discovered, in the immortal words of Earl Holliman in Forbidden Planet:

“Another one of them new worlds. No beer, no women, no pool parlors. Nothing. Nothing to do but throw rocks at tin cans, and we gotta bring our own tin cans.”

So we went back to the Moon—and back again—and pretty soon the public lost interest, and the TV ratings dropped, and the Apollo program was canceled prematurely, like the last season of Babylon 5. I never got him to explain exactly what his personal connection was, but Dr. Jerry Pournelle was at times known to wax quite profane at the idea that his Saturn V—it was supposed to be either Apollo 18 or 19—never flew, but ended up as a museum piece, corroding away in the rain on the lawn of the Johnson Space Center.

I look at that sad sight and think of 1421, which is when (it is claimed) a Chinese fleet under the command of Admiral Zheng He discovered and explored the western coast of North and South America—and then, finding nothing of particular interest or value here, Zheng turned around and went back to China, never to return.


Back in the 1960s, we all knew that Wernher Von Braun’s vision of strapping astronauts into capsules perched on the noses of ballistic missiles was just a stopgap; an expedience; it was what we had to do to beat the Russians to the Moon. The Thor, Redstone, Atlas, and Titan launch vehicles that were the muscle of the Mercury and Gemini programs were all originally designed to deliver nuclear weapons to Russia. Only the Saturns were designed from the drawing-board up as manned space exploration vehicles, with no nuclear warhead payload. The real future of manned space exploration, we all knew, would evolve from the X-plane program.

For now, yes, brave men sitting in tin cans bolted onto the noses of giant bombs built by the lowest bidder; that will have to do. But in the future we will fly up to space, in proper hypersonic aircraft, live and work in space in comfortable giant orbital bagels, and then, when it comes time to return to Earth, we will fly down to a controlled and comfortable landing in a conveniently accessible place.

The obvious next step then was to build a space shuttle, designed to do exactly that, and to fly that mission profile. I remember following with great interest the arguments that were raging circa 1970 over which of the competing design concepts would be the best way to build a craft that could achieve those objectives. 

And then, because NASA is a government agency, they settled on a ceramic glider bolted onto the side of a giant bomb, with the initial liftoff thrust to be augmented by a couple of Minuteman missiles strapped onto the sides of the fuel tank. And all this to be built by the lowest bidder.

What could possibly go wrong?


The story of human progress is the story of risk. From the day our first proto-human ancestor thought, hey, maybe it would be a good idea to climb down from this tree and try walking upright, every step of progress has come with the risk of disaster. Sometimes it’s disaster for an individual; sometimes for an entire group. Sometimes the sabre-toothed cat gets you; sometimes you wind up wearing its pelt and discovering that it’s good to be warm and not naked. It may be possible to live a life that is completely without any risk at all, but I have to think such a life would be a stultifying, boring, and very nearly meaningless.

In the long run, I think it would even be an irrelevant life. The ones who chose not to take risks are still up in the trees, searching for fruits and insects to eat and hoping not to be eaten by jaguars. They aren’t our ancestors.

Our ancestors were the ones who came down from the trees. Our ancestors were the lucky ones, who took risks, prospered from their good choices, survived their bad mistakes, and learned from their experiences. Being social animals, the even-luckier ones were those who developed the ability to learn from observing the good choices and bad mistakes of others, and then to pass on what they had learned to their offspring. We are the product of 4.5 million years of hominid evolution, all of which seems to have come together to produce a creature unique in its ability to say, “Okay, that didn’t work. What else can we try?”

Note that I did not say the end product. I don’t believe evolution is done with us just yet. But it does seem to me as if evolution has taken a brief pause just now, as if to catch its breath, before we take our next great leap.


As we stand today we are biological learning machines, shaped by millions of years of evolution to be creatures willing and able to explore our world, to try to comprehend it as best we can, and to figure out how to either adapt to its conditions or to modify its conditions to better suit our needs. We are creatures designed to find new frontiers, and then to wonder what lies beyond them. We are explorers. We are learners. We are problem-solvers.

Yet here we stand, on the threshold of space, hesitant and seemingly afraid to take the next step. Okay, the brick airplane didn’t work. What else can we try?

I look at NASA and see an enormous bureaucracy that lacks a vision and a purpose, beyond the sad purpose of perpetuating the continued existence of the bureaucracy and all those well-paid government jobs. I look at the EAS and see about the same thing, only smaller and with less money. I look at Roskosmos and try not to laugh: we were afraid of them

I look at Virgin Galactic and don’t understand what I see. Is this a serious space exploration company? An expensive publicity stunt? A really bad music video? 

I look at SpaceX and admire their chutzpah, at Boeing’s Starliner and hope it pans out, at Lockheed Martin’s Orion and hope that after 26 billion taxpayer dollars spent it actually flies some day. But of all three I think, great, cool, we’re almost back to where we were when the Apollo program was canceled, nearly 50 years ago.

Now what about flying into space, and flying back from it? Sixty years later and we still haven’t figured out a better way to get into space than by putting a capsule on top of a giant bomb and lighting the fuse, nor a better way to come back down from low-Earth orbit than by popping a bunch of parachutes and hoping we don’t hit the ocean too hard? We are by nature problem-solvers. Isn’t anyone working on a way to solve these two problems? 


I don’t remember doing this, but apparently my father thought it was so cute that he wrote it down, and I found it in his notes as we were cleaning the house after he died. When I was very young, someone asked me if I wanted to be the first person to go to the Moon. I said no, I wanted to be the first person to come back from going to the Moon.

I no longer believe that’s going to happen. I’m getting too old. This body of mine is wearing out. When I was young not only did I believe I might someday actually go to the Moon, I believed the manned exploration of Mars was only a few decades away and something I would see happen in my lifetime.

I no longer believe that, either.

What I do believe is this: that as a society, we face a choice. We can either let this be 1421 all over again, or we can take the next step, and go back up and even further out into space. Even if it involves great risk. Even if missions fail. Even if sometimes entire ships and crews are lost. 

I believe that we were not made to stay put forever on this good planet Earth. I believe that we were made to explore, to learn, and to come back if we can, to tell the tales of the strange and wonderful places we have seen. We were made to be voyagers, sailing on the sea of stars.

Not me. Not now. My time has passed. But perhaps my grandchildren, or my grandchildren’s children, will be the ones to take those next steps. Evolution isn’t done with us yet. I believe we are on our way to becoming something new; something better. Call our descendants Homo astronauta, or Homo cosmicus, or Homo stellaris, or whatever you will.

Whoever they are, they’re going to be fantastic. I wish I could be there to meet them. Even if it means my being on the wrong side of the unbreakable glass in the Monkey House, in the primate wing of the Intergalactic Zoo… 

Just, please don’t lose your nerve and go 1421 on me. We’re meant to be better than that.


In science fiction circles Bruce Bethke is best known either for his 1980 short story, “Cyberpunk,” his Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel, Headcrash, or as the editor and publisher of Stupefying Stories. What very few people inside the SF/F fiction bubble have known until recently is that he spent most of his career in software R&D, doing things that were fascinating to do but almost impossible to explain. What even fewer people have known is that he actually got his start in the music industry, as a composer, performer, and a member of the design team that developed MIDI, among other things, and he has an enormous repertoire of stories that begin, “This one time, this band I was in…” all of which are far too raunchy to tell in any medium his children or grandchildren might someday read.

Yes, he still has his 50-year-old cherry red Gibson SG with P-90 pickups, as well as his original 1971 ARP 2600, and he fully intends to get back to doing music, one of these days…



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Monday, December 4, 2023

What Do We Do When We Find “Them”?

Using the Program Guide of the 2018 World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose, CA, I read the notes and comment on the subject.
What Do We Do When We Find Them?

Scientists at SETI, and METI, and other organizations are actively searching for extraterrestrial intelligence. But what are we going to do when we make that first contact?

Andrew Fraknoi: Director of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, author, Asteroid 4859 Asteroid Fraknoi…
Brother Guy J. Consolmagno, SJ: American research astronomer and Director of the Vatican Observatory
SB Divya: author, Nebula Award finalist, co-editor of Escape Pod, degree in Computational Neuroscience and Signal Processing, electrical engineer
Douglas Vakoch: PhD, President Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence, editor
Lonny Brooks: PhD, associate professor of communication at California State University

What to do, what to do?

I’m sure the “answer” was easy for this group and the people sitting in the room. I wasn’t there, though I would have slipped unnoticed and unremarked into the “people sitting in the room” demographic. ALL of us would have intelligently discussed the pros and…well, pros.

I’m sure someone would have mentioned Hawking and Brin, and even though he was listed among the Program Participants, he didn’t attend this particular session because his thoughts on phoning ET are pretty well known (though side-stepped here by quoting the originator of the opinion he echoes at every opportunity): “Jared Diamond offers an essay on the risks of attempting to contact ETIs, based on the history of what happened on Earth whenever more advanced civilizations encountered less advanced ones... or indeed, when the same thing happens during contact between species that evolved in differing ecosystems. The results are often not good: in inter-human relations slavery, colonialism, etc. Among contacting species: extinction.”!

From the grave, Hawking’s opinion would have echoed from the 2016 documentary Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places, “Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they could reach,” he said. ‘Who knows what the limits would be?’ And in the, Hawking reiterated his views: ‘Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn’t turn out so well.’”!

These and other ET “deniers” couldn’t have been “shushed” (both of them carry the status of Super Star, and who would stand against Hawking, whose mind is often compared to Einstein, Newton, and ), but I’m sure their imprecations would have fallen on mostly deaf ears. Certainly a reasonable number of SF writers have a somewhat different view of what interactions between Earth and extraterrestrials would be like. Even in Brin’s UPLIFT UNIVERSE, Humans, while underdogs, were hardly slaughtered wholesale and enslaved (though several intelligences, like the Gubru and the Soro, thought Humanity could use a bit of “finishing” followed by a thousand years of indenture.

No, rather than the faithful and the deniers, the Con should have invited the “person on the street”, the ones who number in the BILLIONS (seven billion to be more accurate), and don’t really give much thought to the possibility of First Contact. Yet, they would be the most profoundly affected by such an event. HG Wells held out little hope for a calm response to First Contact:

"So, you understand the roaring wave of fear that swept through the greatest city in the world just as Monday was dawning—the stream of flight rising swiftly to a torrent, lashing in a foaming tumult round the railway stations, banked up into a horrible struggle about the shipping in the Thames, and hurrying by every available channel northward and eastward. By ten o’clock the police organisation, and by midday even the railway organisations, were losing coherency, losing shape and efficiency, guttering, softening, running at last in that swift liquefaction of the social body.” (XVI. THE EXODUS FROM LONDON. Paragraph 1) WAR OF THE WORLDS)

With wildly differing opinions among the faithful, what do you expect from commoners for whom the appearance of real-live aliens could range from outright, psychologically TRUE denial, to blithering panic, to catatonia.

While I’m sure the session was great fun, I’m pretty sure that they wouldn’t have any idea what a regular person’s real reaction to “when we find them” would be…