Mike Brotherton

  • There have already been a lot of scientists and science popularizers and others looking at the science of Christopher Nolan’s ambitious film Interstellar. Kip Thorne, the eminent Caltech scientist powering much of […]

  • I would be happy to see Spinrad given this award. After reviewing my own list of (too many) worthy candidates who haven’t yet been named grand master, and giving preference to age, I’d like to see Larry Niven […]

  • ThumbnailSurvivor: Ceti Alpha V. Watch to see who is truly superior.

    Workout with Worf. Sharpen your bat’leth!

    Our Lady of Betazed and the Immaculate Conception. The fastest growing religion in the alpha quadrant […]

  • Lots of great movies (go Mystery Men!), but in my opinion the list is missing Watchmen, Kick-Ass, Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier, and puts Guardians of the Galaxy too high. Batman (1966) and Superman are […]

  • ThumbnailBlack holes capture the imagination: objects so dense that their gravity does not even allow light to escape. Originally just a theoretical oddity, physicists wondered if they could even exist in our universe, […]

  • Thanks for the shout out, Steve! Just back from a quasar meeting in Texas (http://www.as.utexas.edu/quasars/) and saw this today.

  • You tell ’em, Steve!

    And comparing any movie to Armageddon, with Armageddon being the realistic one, is a joke unto itself.

  • I recently came across Hugo Gernsback’s formula for a perfect science fiction story: “75 percent literature interwoven with 25 percent science.

    Stop for a moment. Think about that. And consider we’re talking […]

  • ThumbnailScience fiction stories like Poul Anderson’s classic Tau Zero have taught us that with constant thrust, the universe is our oyster. We can practically go anywhere in finite time thanks to the time and space […]

  • If you’ll notice from the pictures of Superman, his color is muted as well, even if reds and blues are still discernible. I’m afraid they’re going dark and moody for the whole movie, and while that works for […]

  • I talk about aliens all the time, at least when I’m around other science fiction writers and some scientists (e.g., those who work on exoplanets or SETI). The science fiction literature and TV/movies have offered […]

  • Last year I wrote about how Mars was the “vampire of science fiction,” a story element that kept popping up from many writers over more than a century. That particular post focused upon novels and short stories, but I could have also included movies:

    War of the Worlds (1953)

    Invaders from Mars (1953)

    Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)

    Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

    Total Recall (1990) — at least it’s the Mars of the imagination, if not really Mars.

    Rocketman (1997)

    Red Planet (2000)

    Mission to Mars (2000)

    Ghosts of Mars (2001)

    Mars Attacks (1996)

    Doom (2005)

    Mars Needs Moms (2011)

    John Carter (2012)

    Mars continues to show up everywhere EXCEPT in a TV series. You search for Mars on TV and you get Veronica Mars and Life on Mars, not exactly TV shows set on Mars. The closest I remember was several decades ago with the Martian Chronicles mini-series.

    We’re overrun with doctor and lawyer dramas, featuring smart, interesting, attractive people living their personal lives against the backdrop of interesting and life-threatening situations. I can see why it would be challenging to make such a drama set in a science lab, assuming it was trying to be realistic, but how about exploring Mars? It can be straight up realistic, or could include speculative elements (life on Mars, alien ruins, terraforming, etc.). It could be about the first landing or about colonization, perhaps from multiple countries. It could be a lot of things, all generating natural human conflict, and I would tune in and watch.

    Is it too close, too mundane? Is it science fiction without enough science fiction in it? Why hasn’t some studio tried to do a high-quality drama set on Mars?

    Maybe the recent success of Andy Weir’s The Martian will help, if the Ridley Scott directed movie version featuring Matt Damon takes off. I’m up for another good Mars movie, but I’d really like to see a high-quality weekly TV show, where I think it really would be novel.


  • ThumbnailIn the science fiction community, we often call it “FTL” and sometimes confuse the mundanes who don’t know the acronym.  Still, the idea does get covered by the mainstream (e.g. at the Washington Post no less!), […]

  • I agree with you, but I suspect the problem today is the belief that people won’t watch “anthology” shows, with different characters and premises every week. While science fiction fans sometimes crave novelty, I […]

  • I loved Gateway. In a manner similar to my feelings about The Wrath of Kahn, I feel that the sequels, while not bad, undercut the greatness of the original somewhat.

  • ThumbnailAs a working scientist, I occasionally get sent email from people who believe they have a better understanding of how some aspect of the universe works than conventional scientists.  It isn’t just me — usually […]

  • I picked this topic for this week because I saw a news story with the headline:

    Beam me up: Scientists say human teleportation is ‘possible’ as they transfer atoms three metres in groundbreaking experiment

    Based on the story that follows, this headline is a flat out lie.  And I’ve seen similar articles over many years repeatedly making the same lie.  I’m sure a lot of low-information folks thinks scientists are teleporting things willy nilly in their labs all day long instead of curing cancer or telling the truth about global warming.  But I digress…


    There’s an effect, long known in quantum mechanics and one that Einstein was skeptical (but wrong) about, in which indeterminant particle states can become instantaneously assigned over a distance. At least that’s one interpretation of the equations of quantum mechanics, and it seems a likely one.  This has been called “quantum teleportation” but is not actual “teleportation” in the sense that most of us think of it. The head scientist confirms, but also confuses:

    What we are teleporting is the state of a particle,’ Prof Hanson, from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, said.
    ‘If you believe we are nothing more than a collection of atoms strung together in a particular way, then in principle it should be possible to teleport ourselves from one place to another.

     ‘In practice it’s extremely unlikely, but to say it can never work is very dangerous.

     ‘I would not rule it out because there’s no fundamental law of physics preventing it.

     ‘If it ever does happen it will be far in the future.’

    The Daily Mail and the scientist are pulling a fast one on the reader. The “state of a particle” and “a particle” are not the same. One is information, the other is an actual physical object.  At best, what we’re talking about here, is a kind of fax machine. A copier over a distance. To even be remotely considered teleportation they have to win a philosophical argument about whether a perfect copy is the same as the original. Like Dr. McCoy, and the traveler in James Patrick Kelly’s “Think Like a Dinosaur,” I’m skeptical (especially if we’re talking destructive copying of the original, and it may be worse for the argument if we’re not!). Maybe, like Einstein, my skepticism is misplaced. Still, what quantum teleportation is likely good for is making for more secure communications, not teleporting people.

    Before moving on from here, let me just quote wikipedia from the quantum teleportation link above:

    “Although the name is inspired by the teleportation commonly used in fiction, current technology provides no possibility of anything resembling the fictional form of teleportation.”

    Let me consider two other better possibilities from the world of physics before I conclude that teleportation — true movement of objects from one place to another without traversing the space between them — is to be forever left to the world of science fiction rather than science.

    First, there’s another quantum effect called quantum tunneling. The basic idea is that a particle has a probability to be found in a certain location governed by its state, and while classically there are some places that a particle shouldn’t be found (e.g., on the other side of a barrier), quantum mechanics give those places a chance. Given enough time, your particle will pop up where it shouldn’t, having “tunneled” through the barrier. Teleportation? Maybe. Movement on quantum spatial scales isn’t well understood in any complete sense.  Exploitable to beam me up? Very doubtful.

    The other possibility comes from the other end of physics, from general relativity. There are solutions to Einstein’s field equations that permit space to be connected to itself in unusual ways: wormholes, or Einstein-Rosen bridges as they’ve been called in the scientific literature and the movie Thor. It’s not that general relativity requires such bridges to exist, but they are valid solutions for a theory that has been very successful in explaining observed phenomena involving matter, energy, space, time, and gravity. From Thor to Dune, Event Horizon, and Star Trek, the worm hole is a staple of science fiction. To make it a reality requires the ability to manipulate space in a way we currently have no clue how to do. I won’t say never on this, but I don’t see a predictable and viable path to get from here to there. Not yet.

    There may be other ways of simulating teleportation, like the quantum teleportation copier. For instance, being able to move very fast, or to slow down time, can provide the illusion of teleportation. But that’s a topic for another post.

    For the forseeable future, teleportation is solidly in the “science fiction” category.  Now, beam me out.



  • Someone is going to ask me about this meteor show and I will not be able to pronounce the name.

  • I think invisibility is another good topic.

  • There is a type of science fiction known as “mundane science fiction” that is generally limited to speculation that is within known science and does not require significant technological extrapolation.  It’s […]

  • Load More