Scientists Propose Detecting Extraterrestrials Through Light Pollution (as Described in “Containment”)

alien_light_pollutionAstronomers Avi Loeb and Edwin Turner recently published a paper proposing a technique for detecting extraterrestrials: use telescopes to look for light pollution from alien cities. From the paper’s abstract:

This method opens a new window in the search for extraterrestrial civilizations. The search can be extended beyond the Solar System with next generation telescopes on the ground and in space, which would be capable of detecting phase modulation due to very strong artificial illumination on the night-side of planets as they orbit their parent stars.

I was thinking the same thing when I wrote Containment:

The telescope assembled on the far side of the Moon succeeded in capturing some stunning images, including a few faint pixels of possible light pollution originating from a small rocky planet in the habitable zone of a nearby solar system…

The SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is already using arrays of Earth-based radio telescopes to search for evidence of alien technology (as dramatized in Carl Sagan’s excellent novel, Contact). Since we’re already detecting exoplanets, it seems reasonable that within the foreseeable future, the technology could exist to measure light pollution on extrasolar planets, providing the first hard evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence. Perhaps alien civilizations have already detected us.

It’s fascinating to watch technologies dreamed up for the sake of science fiction gradually become reality. For instance, the idea of using the LHC for time travel, and artificial photosynthesis.

Introducing “Farmer One”

Update: Farmer One was purchased by StoryFront, and is now exclusively available on Kindle.

My newest book/novella, Farmer One, is now available in all formats (Kindle, Nook, iBooks, EPUB, and HTML). If you’ve read my other work, you’ll find that this one is a little different. It’s still science fiction, but I took it in a slightly new direction. Here’s the synopsis:

In an economically depressed and politically dysfunctional United States, the long-defunct National Aeronautics and Space Administration is reestablished in a desperate attempt to channel the patriotism and optimism of the previous century’s Soviet Space Race. But this time, the nation to beat is China, and the goal is Mars.

Far behind steady advances in Chinese aerospace engineering and even lunar colonization, a team of American scientists, engineers, and astronauts struggles to integrate decades-old technologies, untested prototypes, and some very out-of-the-box thinking to give their nation a shot at one of the most important achievements in human history. Nothing goes as planned while pursuing what appears to be the impossible, but the ultimate surprise lies in the mission’s conclusion.

This quirky and intelligent novella by Christian Cantrell is both humorous and unpredictable as it explores an unfamiliar, but not entirely unimaginable, post-superpower United States.


I owe special thanks to David Coletta and Ben Rossi for their excellent editorial assistance.

Free Copies of Containment: Audio and Paperback

containment_audio_coverUpdate: I’m all out of copies, but I should have more in a few weeks. Thanks for your support!

Containment has sold over 70,000 copies, and recently passed the 300 review mark on Amazon. To celebrate, I’m giving away free copies. I have five audio books (7 CD box set), and five paperbacks. If you want one, here’s what to do:

  1. Leave a comment here to reserve your copy. Indicate if you want the audio version or the paperback. If you want the paperback, let me know if you want it signed or not.
  2. Send me your address and which version you requested through my Google profile. (Since I’m covering shipping, I need to limit this offer to the US, unfortunately.)
  3. Once you’ve read or listened to Containment, tell the world what you think. Post on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, reddit, your blog, etc. (Of course, there’s no requirement that you give Containment a positive review — just tell the world what you honestly think.)

If you don’t get one, I’ll do this offer again when I receive the next shipment, and once I hit 100,000 sales, I’ll do an even bigger giveaway. As always, your support is greatly appreciated.

Mechanical Keyboard Roundup

mx_keyswitchesUpdate (2/11/2013): Added a review of the Realforce 87U with Topre switches.

Update (1/14/2013): Added a review of the Filco Majestouch-2 with Cherry MX Red switches.

Update (2/1/2012): Filcos (my favorite mechanical keyboards at this point) are now available on Amazon!

Update (1/27/2012): Added a review of the Leopold Tactile Touch.

After sensing something profoundly lacking from the modern typing experience, I decided to delve into the world of mechanical keyboards. As is the case with most fetishes, I discovered that there are entire online communities, cultures, and movements surrounding the magic of the mechanical keyswitch. I could have easily spent many months and several thousands of dollars acquiring, experimenting with, and reviewing all of the mechanical options out there, but with both time and money in short supply, I decided to focus on five specific models: the Das Keyboard Model S Professional, Filco Majestouch-2, DSI Modular, Matias Tactile Pro 3, and the Unicomp SpaceSaver M.

There is a lot of personal preference involved in picking a mechanical keyboard. Factors like key travel, clickiness, tactile feedback, weight, force, build quality and more all contribute to the typing experience, and all of these things mean different things to different people. Keep in mind that the reviews below represent my own opinions, and I tried to differentiate between things that personally appeal to me (clickiness, for example), and more objective characteristics (like build quality). The upshot is that there is no clear winner, and you will probably just need to try a few of these out to see which ones inspire you to get out of bed in the mornings and begin your day of typing.

If you know you want a mechanical keyboard and you’re just here to see and hear about some different models, skip on down to the video reviews. But if you’re wondering why in the world someone would buy a relative expensive mechanical keyboard when you can get a membrane or scissor-switch keyboard for far less (and sometimes for free), read on.

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An Audio Version of “Containment”

I’m very excited to announce that Containment will be an audio book published by Tantor Audio and available exactly one month from today (6/27/2011). It will be distributed through various vendors, including my favorite, Narrating will be William Dufris who has done everything from Isaac Asimov to Mark Twain (and was also the original voice of Bob the Builder in the US and Canada).

I’m a huge fan of audio books, and I always thought Containment would make a great production. I’m really looking forward to hearing it for the first time, and I hope some of you will check it out.

Where is Mobile Phone Privacy Headed?

There has been a lot of talk recently about privacy in the context of mobile phones, primarily thanks to the recent O’Reilly Radar article pointing out that some iOS devices store users’ location information. If you think this kind of thing is interesting and/or scary, I encourage you to read the Wall Street Journal article entitled The Really Smart Phone which argues that this is just the beginning of what mobile phones can and will track. In addition to several interesting experiments that are currently underway, the article points out situations where mobile sensor data is already being used/abused:

Cellphone providers are openly exploring other possibilities. By mining their calling records for social relationships among customers, several European telephone companies discovered that people were five times more likely to switch carriers if a friend had already switched… The companies now selectively target people for special advertising based on friendships with people who dropped the service.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the direction this kind of technology could go in, and I’ve incorporated several of my ideas into two short stories: Human Legacy Project and Venom.

Both stories take place in a future United States (mostly) which has become increasingly totalitarian. The government gradually enacts legislation which gives them access to mobile phone and other sensor data which they use to track and control anyone they consider to be a dissident. Human Legacy Project tells the story of a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the life stories of everyone on the planet, and how the group is transformed into a terrorist organization by the government’s ever-tightening grip. The two parties continue to feed off of each other until the conflict culminates in an event that nobody was prepared for.

Venom is a parallel story which describes how the controlling party gains and keeps power in what was once an open and democratic system. A young engineer figures out how to build a device which she believes will lead to the ultimate sustainable democracy, but when she discovers that her ideas have been used against her, she joins the HLP in an attempt to undo the damage her life’s work has inflicted on the entire nation.

I believe the number one job of science fiction is to entertain, however I also think that it can serve as both inspiration for the future, and a stern warning.



Update (4/29/2011): Here’s another great example of sensor data being abused, this time by TomTom.

Update (5/11/2011): The government will require a special new chip in mobile phones.

Artificial Photosynthesis Becomes Reality (as Predicted in “Containment”)

My science fiction record is getting better. Last week, scientists theorized that it might be possible to use the LHC as a time machine (which is the premise of my story The Epoch Index), and this week, artificial photosynthesis, one of the themes of my novel Containment, becomes a reality.

Check out the article on the ACS website for more details, but the general idea is that Dr. Daniel Nocera, a scientist at MIT, says his team has successfully developed the first practical artificial leaf. In his own words:

A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades. We believe we have done it. The artificial leaf shows particular promise as an inexpensive source of electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries. Our goal is to make each home its own power station. One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology.

In Containment, the concept is called AP, or artificial photosyntheses, since the scientists are not so much interested in creating an artificial leaf as mimicking (and improving on) the chemical processes that happen inside the leaf. Interestingly, the scientists’ objective in Containment isn’t the energy that photosynthesis creates, but the oxygen byproduct.

Here’s a quote from one of the lead scientists studying the problem from Ishtar Terra Station One, humankind’s first permanent outpost on Venus:

The Agriculture Department has perfected stemstock, or meat without the animal, and now we need to perfect photosynthesis without the plant. As much as I love our ferns, the day is coming when we’re going to need more oxygen than they are able to provide us. Without more oxygen, V1 is as big as it’s ever going to get, and it will always be vulnerable to things like pathogens and any number of other events that can unexpectedly destroy plant life.

If this is the kind of thing you’re into, give Containment a try. It’s available in all digital formats, and for this much hardcore science fiction, you can’t beat the price.


Introducing “Venom”

My newest story/novella, Venom, is now available in all formats (Kindle, iBooks, Nook, EPUB, and HTML). Maybe it’s just because Venom is the most recent thing I’ve written, but I feel like it’s one of my favorites.

Venom is sort of a parallel story to Human Legacy Project. It takes place in the Human Legacy Project universe, but it’s an entirely independent story describing the rise of the People’s Party, and the HLP’s attempts to infiltrate it.

If you like fiction — especially science fiction — give Venom a try. For this much hard-core sci-fi, you can’t beat the price.


My Science Fiction May Become Fact: The LHC and Time Travel

lhcMy friend PolyGeek forwarded a story to me this morning that completely caught me off guard. The article is called Atom Smasher Could Be Used As Time Machine, and it describes a proposal put forth earlier this month by two physicists that the Large Hadron Collider could be used to send particles — and hence message — forward and backward in time.

Other than being incredibly cool, why was I so intrigued? This is precisely the premise of a story I published in August of last year called The Epoch Index.

An excerpt from the article:

The scientists outline a way to use the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 17-mile long (27-km) particle accelerator buried underground near Geneva, to send a hypothetical particle called the Higgs singlet to the past.

And an excerpt from The Epoch Index:

But the LHC ended up finding something which most people consider to be far more interesting. As the data analysis algorithms parsed through the petabytes of recorded data, they began to uncover very regular patterns in the spins of newly discovered particles. While the direction of the particles’ spins initially appeared random, the analysis began detecting a repetition which looked increasingly like sequences of bytes, and which were eventually decoded into various forms of digital data: text, images, audio, and even simple video. When it was determined beyond a doubt that the encoded information referenced people, events, and dates that did not yet exist, the site was immediately secured and the project promptly put under the control of a small team from the UN. The name of the mysterious particles whose spins had turned out to be tiny windows into the future was changed from “saxions” to “tachyons” — a term derived from the greek word takhus meaning “swift.” The LHC had proven for the first time and beyond any doubt that it was possible for matter to travel faster than the speed of light. At least at the particle level, time travel was possible.

I’ll let them take the Nobel Prize for physics as long as I get the one for literature.

Everything You Need to Know About How to Digitally Self Publish

Final Update: I’m now publishing with a traditional publisher, so I haven’t updated this page in quite a while. Some of this information will still be relevant, but some will also be obsolete, so make sure you cross reference with other (better maintained) sources. Good luck!

Update (9/27/2011): Added the section on copyrights.

Update (5/15/2011): Changed DTP (Digital Text Platform) to KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) in accordance with Amazon’s rebranding.

Update (10/1/2010): Added details about PubIt, and added the royalty chart.

If you’re thinking of publishing to the Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks store, or to the Barnes & Noble Nook, this article will provide you with everything you need to know to get started. It is the result of many hours of research and experimentation, and probably represents the most comprehensive guide on digital self-publishing currently available. Keep in mind that this is necessarily a living document; I’ve been shocked at how much the industry has changed just since early 2010, and I expect it to continue to change at an equally rapid pace for the foreseeable future. As it does, I will update this resource to reflect everything I continue to learn.


Digital publishing has been around in one form or another for many years (starting with early eBook readers from Sony and devices like Palm PDAs), but it wasn’t until Amazon introduced the Kindle — and then Apple followed up with iBooks and Barnes & Noble with the Nook — that eBook readers really went mainstream.

I’ve been digitally self-publishing fiction on these new platforms for about as long as it has been possible. I’m a huge believer in digital publishing, but the truth is that it’s not nearly as easy as it should be. The industry is changing extremely quickly as are the tools, devices, and the best practices. The newness of the industry, and the pace at which it continues to evolve, means that mastering digital self-publishing is still pretty challenging. I’ve spent a huge amount of time learning the ins and outs both through research and trial and error, so I decided to put together this comprehensive resource to try to make digital self-publishing more accessible to as many other writers as possible.

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