Version Control by Dexter Palmer Review 

There is no shortage of Time Travel stories in recent times; many TV networks have at least one science fiction show that involves time travel. So, believe me when I tell you that this book breathes new life into the Time Travel genre. Rebecca is married to brilliant, albeit weird and sciencalholic physicists Phillip who has been working on a Causality Violation Device (don’t you dare call it a goddamn Time Machine) and a mysterious organisation has been funding his research, trying to make Causality Violation a possibility. As the a story progresses we see that Rebecca and Phillip had lost their child in a car crash that had happened a while back, and Phillip, at least in the back of his mind, blames Rebecca and her drinking for it. Rebecca blames her self as well, but won’t admit it. Phillip has also been been engaging in an extramarital affair with his colleague, Alicia.

Time Travel theory is a largely pseudo-physics field that very few dabble in, though, in theory of course, Einstein’s GTR allows it. This book uses one of the many time travel theories as a basis. 

The experiment to test Causality Violation uses a small robot with a clock that is synced to the atomic clock in Boulder; this robot is then sent into the device and is then retrieved. In Theory, the robots clock should show that an hour had passes, while for them, outside the chamber of the CVD, it would’ve been just a few seconds. 

So theory states that the robot did travel in time, but it entered a different universe it was sent an hour later, rather that the time it was actually sent, and hence all the event were changed to fit that. This is a heavily scientific theory, and I would love to get into the he details of it, but I’ll save you the trouble. 

So, when Rebecca finds out about her husband’s infidelity, she is extremely pissed and she enters the CVD just to spite her husband and her work and the woman he’s been sleeping with; When she does that, she wakes up and everything is different, though she doesn’t know it, because her memory has been fixed to fit the new reality; the new reality is where her husband went to pick their Son up, and he had died in the car crash and not their son. There is another CVD-reality presented towards the end as well, where Rebecca died and not the Son.

Most of the book is devoid of much science fiction, other than the technological developments of that universe. 

The characters are really well developed towards the end, and the transition from one reality to the other is quite subtle; if you haven’t read the blurb or know what to expect, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Though, I will admit, it was a tiny bit of a task getting past the first hundred pages; it was quite slow, but then it picked up and it got really interesting. 

I really like books that take physical concepts and build fiction upon it, but don’t overdo the scientific aspect by giving some rubbish explanation. This book took one single time travel theory, and took such a subtle approach to it, without shouting it at your face. It is only mentioned towards the end of the second section. 

Version Control by Dexter Palmer is a brilliant book for the science fiction lovers, and time travel aficionados who really want a book that takes an interested approach towards time travel. I really liked this book. Definitely one of my favourite books of this year. 
My feelings towards this book would compare to what I felt last year for Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things. (Which is also a brilliant book, go read it!)

Holding Back Gravity

(This is something I wrote a while back for my University)

Take a look at the night-sky and what do you see? Stars, constellations, a moon, the occasional planet, maybe a shooting star, but everything else is dark. Theory and several observations suggest that the Milky Way, the galaxy in which our humble solar system lies, has millions and millions of stars. Not just that, we have observed several other galaxies with millions of stars. Then, one can ask, why do we not see all, and just a handful? If the universe was static, and infinite, as many believed it to be, then the night sky should be bright and full of wondrous stars, rather than dark abyss that we see. This contradiction between theory and observation is called the Olbers’ Paradox. This Paradox has many solutions, as is standard for paradoxes. Many of them are absurd, as is expected, but I shall focus on exactly one – The Inflationary Model.

Hundred years ago, Albert Einstein was formulating his General Theory of Relativity and the equation he formulated described a universe that is constantly expanding. At that time it was assumed that the universe was static, and not expanding, so Einstein introduced the Cosmological Constant, denoted by Λ (Greek: Lambda) to counteract this expansion. Around the same time Edwin Hubble discovered through observations of galaxies that the universe was expanding, as described by Einstein’s original equation sans the constant. According to George Gamow, Einstein called his failure to recognize the accuracy of his equations the “biggest blunder” of his life. Many assumed the cosmological constant to have a zero value, and this led to a conclusion that the expansion of our universe was decelerating. But observations of galaxies showed them receding away from us at an accelerated rate. This led to the cosmological constant to be brought back, and this constant was said to have a positive value to account for the accelerated expansion.

So, why is the universe expanding at an accelerated rate, and what is resisting and counteracting the attractive nature of gravity all around us? The answer is that something is pushing it and that something is Dark Energy. Dark Energy is this hypothetical “force” that exists in the form of negative pressure causing this accelerated expansion and works against gravity. This constitutes the so-called ΛCDM – Model (Lambda- CDM; and CDM is an abbreviation of Cold Dark Matter), which takes into account Dark Energy as well as Dark Matter.

Dark Matter is that hypothetical substance that occupies a large amount of space in our universe, and it is used to explain the gravitational effects (like gravitational lensing) of very large-scale structures, which cannot be explained by ordinary matter. Cold Dark Matter is a form of Dark Matter, which travels at speeds much smaller than the speed of light (hence the name cold). Dark Matter is described as “non-baryonic” that is to say that it is made up of elementary particles that are not protons or neutrons; dissipationless – that is it cannot cool itself by radiating photons; and collisonless – that is it interacts with each other, and ordinary matter through gravitational forces or the weak force, but not directly.

It is estimated that the total energy density in our universe has the following distribution: Dark Energy – 70%, Dark Matter – 25%, and Ordinary Matter (stuff we are made of) a mere – 5%.

The ΛCDM – model includes a single originating event – the Big Bang or a Singularity where there was no bang but a sudden and unexpected appearance of an expanding space time with a temperature of around 1027 K. The very next instant, about 10-29  seconds after it came into existence, it started expanding at an exponential rate and this is what is known as Cosmic Inflation. For the first several hundred thousand years it was very hot (around 10,000K) and this is detectable through the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) Radiation. Cosmic Background Radiation is what is observed in the microwave spectrum in the dark between galaxies where there are no stars.

This Inflationary Model tries to provide a solution to The Horizon Problem. Imagine standing somewhere in space. To your left, at about 10 billion light years away (1 light year is the distance traveled by light in a year) is a galaxy. To your right, again at 10 billion light years is another galaxy. Armed with the knowledge that the universe is 13.8 billion years old, one would assume that, since nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, the two galaxies would not have had any opportunity to communicate with each other as light could not have traveled sufficiently far to reach the other galaxy to transfer information. Here “information” refers to some form of physical interaction.

Now, let’s take something basic like heat transfer. The Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics states that heat from a hot body, keeps flowing into a cold body until they reach thermal equilibrium, and only if they are in thermal contact. That is heat flows from a hot body, to a cold body until they are at the same temperature and the bodies would have to be in some form of physical contact with each other, without which no heat transfer can happen.

The two galaxies that were mentioned before have never been in physical contact and light wouldn’t have travelled fast enough to transfer any information. So, one would expect these galaxies, and the whole universe to have different properties. But this is contrary to the observations made.

Our Universe is highly isotropic, meaning it has roughly the same properties throughout; and it is homogenous, which means that matter is spread quite evenly throughout. The CMB radiation that fills the universe is roughly the same temperature: 2.728 K. The difference in temperature is extremely minute and only recently has human kind developed the technology to detect these differences.Inflation helps resolve this problem.

The universe, at the very beginning was very small, very dense and was causally connected. It is at this stage that all the properties evened out and then there was a very brief period of exponential expansion, which led to an increase in the size of the universe by a massive factor. This didn’t eliminate any irregularities, but greatly reduced them.

This theory of Inflation (originally proposed by Alan Guth in 1980), though it manages to solve several problems that have plagued the field of cosmology, was not welcomed with open arms by everyone. Roger Penrose, a world renowned physicist, is one of the most vocal critics of this theory. He says that for this theory to be a valid explanation, the originating events must have had highly specific initial conditions, and this is otherwise known as the Fine-Tuning Problem.

Andrei Linde of Stanford, another major contributor to the Inflationary Model, proposed something called Chaotic Inflation, a more general theory of inflation (also called Eternal Inflation). He is also responsible for proposing the theory on how matter was created (in a process called reheating that took place right after the inflationary stage). Linde made a prediction that the inflationary model of the universe would inevitably lead to the creation of a multiverse. He suggested that the inflation will go on, in certain parts of the universe, endlessly and this will lead to creation of pocket universes that will be independent of ours. So, our universe, instead of being like a balloon, will be like a huge fractal.

The ΛCDM – Model and the Inflationary Model try to provide an explanation as to why the night sky is dark, instead of bright. The acceleration of the universe is causing something known as redshift. To put it simply, redshift is what causes the emitted light to increase in wavelength, hence pushing it beyond the visible spectrum and into the microwave range, which our eyes cannot register. This redshift causes the energy to reduce by a factor of 1100 and so the light fades into the Cosmic Background Radiation. This causes the night sky to look dark, and not bright, as theory would suggest. Hence providing one of the most beautiful, and plausible explanations to the Olbers’ Paradox.

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel Review 

Sylvian Neuvel’s Sleeping Giants opens to the discovery of a mysterious hand by a young girl. This young girl grows up to become a physicist, and is later recruited to uncover the mysteries of this hand, and its origins. She joins a brilliant pilots and her co-pilot, a geneticist and an even more mysterious interviewer.

The rest of the story is presented in the form of interviews and new reports, and it is a very cool way of story telling. I really loved the way it was presented to us, though initially I was apprehensive of it because I couldn’t understand how they’s convey the sheer magical, alien feel of this device/weapon.

I really loved the story, it had a very Ancient Shores, Stargate SG-1 feel to it (I actually realise, as I write this, that Ancient Shores and SG1 are almost, nearly alike, with few exceptions of course). The characters are really good; I’m surprised by how well developed the characters are though their consciousness isn’t narrated, all we get is their speech through the interviews and it’s really amazing how the characters grow on you.

Sleeping Giants is Sylvain Neuvel’s debut novel that he self published a while ago and recently it was picked up by Sony, I believe, to be made into a movie. I’m really excited to see how this translates into a movie. I would actually love to see the events being played out in the movie, just as they did in the books.

The way I imagined it was a set of web videos of these interviews with documents and newscasts; I don’t know – this just sounds so much better than the movie. But, who am I to judge? The movie might actually be very good, like The Martian was.

Fingers Crossed.

In conclusion, this is a brilliant book, and I can’t wait for the next book.

United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas

Science Fiction Books off late have been very disappointing. They are either formulaic or they get very predictable, or they fall into the usual tropes which I just find annoying. I try to preface all my reviews of Science Fiction books with my distaste for modern science fiction, with a few exceptions of course.

It’s a sort of quasi-follow-up to Phillip K. Dick’s phenomenal The Man In The High Castle.  In a similar fashion, USJ open to Japan winning the World War, and taking over the Americas. Now, the Americans worship this Emperor as a God figure, and he rules over all this land with an iron fist. Any form of sedition is considered as treason; slacking, negligence or even laziness is considered a punishable offence.

Agent Akiko Tsukino, a member of the Japanese Secret Police, is this hardcore rule follower who’s first name should ideally be “Agent.” She meets Ben as part of her investigation into a mysterious and seditious game that imagines a universe where America has won the world war. She suspects Ben, but then enlists him to help her uncover the mysterious origins of this game, and it’s relation to his former General, Mutsuraga and the surprisingly sudden death of Ben’s friend and the General’s daughter, Claire.

I’ll start of by complementing the author on phenomenal world building. The way he describes this Alternate History version, with the rebel groups called George Washingtons; USJ having a Video Game Censor department and monitoring seditious activities through games; the God-Status of their Emperor; and, of course, GIANT FIGHTING ROBOTS! All of this, somehow, seems plausible. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Emperor actually turned out to be the head of Nintendo!

But, my point it that the story is good. It’s very good, in fact. Both the characters are so well developed by the end, and there is so much mystery surrounding both of their intentions until the very end.

The book is filled with references to both The Man in the Hight Castle and American History. It also has this really funny scene that related to Hitler (which I shall not spoil for anyone).

Oh! And did I mention GIANT FIGHTING ROBOTS!!

JAPAN ACTUALLY USES GIANT FIGHTING ROBOTS!

Yeah, so, I really liked this book!

 

A to Z Challenge: Science Writing

I don’t even know why I got turned onto Science Writing. It’s a very weird thing in my opinion, but I thought it was appropriate given that I’m majoring in Physics with a minor in English (Seriously, start taking shots when I mention Physics and English; if I did that, I’d be out and sloshed somewhere, with someone else’s baby, and maybe a tramp stamp. I digress, apologies. Getting back to the point).

Yes, apologies for the internal monologue.

So, yes, Science Writing.

Recently I attended a talk where this woman, a very well established science writer who works at NPR and with BBC World, talked about her field. She talked about how it is about telling stories, just that these stories are about science and related discoveries in that field; she made it sound so so sexy.

I really like writing, and I really love Physics (SHOT!) and I really want to tell stories through physics. Chaos by James Gleick has often been cited as one of the most prominent works in science writing. Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs (which I can’t stop talking about) by Lisa Randall is another brilliant example of science writing.

I want to be able to get people interested in things like Dark Matter, Black Holes, Cosmology and so much more. Physics (SHOT!) has such interesting, confusing, and perplexing topics to talk about, and paradoxes to bash your brains over. It is such a beautiful field.

 

…or maybe it’s just me.

 

A to Z Challenge: Shakespeare

“Who’s there?”

Shakespeare, that’s who.

For my Modernist Fiction class I had to read Mrs. Dalloway, and in the first three pages, I noticed two distinct references to Shakespeare. As the book progressed, I found more, and more, and more.

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
Nor the furious winter’s rages; 

That’s from Cymbeline, one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays.

I say “lesser known” because people don’t know anything beyond Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, and maybe, maybe Othello. They know one, maybe two of his Sonnets, and almost always the sonnet happens to be:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

-Sonnet 18 

He has so much more to offer.

Othello is a beautiful tale of jealousy and how human mind can easily be corrupted. Hamlet is a tale of revenge and insanity. Macbeth is one of treachery, and hubris and witches. The opening lines are so iconic:

When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?  

There is something about his language, something about the rhythm, the cadence, everything. There is just something about Shakespeare, and it is so seductive.

So Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. It’s really good. Virginia Woolf though, she quotes Shakespeare like it is her second language. She quotes it like a pro.

There is so much detail to uncover in his plays, that maybe even a lifetime devoted to his works would not be enough; and the joy is finding it, uncovering it on your own. He has some keen insights into the human mind, which at that time would’ve been impossible to have at that point in time. I mean, there wasn’t a Freud to tell people they were repressing sexual feelings for their mother, or repressing sexual feelings in general. But, I digress, as usual. Look at the opening lines of Hamlet: Who’s There? So much can be read in to it. I was telling my friend about it recently, about how it is one of the most interesting opening lines of any play, so I won’t bore you with this. She’s already got the whole deal.

The point is, Shakespeare is an amazing chap, with some amazing plays. I find it strange that people dismiss him so easily, he is the king of dirty puns and sexual innuendos.

Another thing about Shakespeare is that his works are timeless classics. Somehow these stories are relevant even in recent times, with maybe a slight change in context. But they are relevant. The timelessness allows for such brilliant interpretations of the plays. Most recently, I caught a touring company called Filter Theatre who performed Twelfth Night. It was so so good. It was hilarious, it was crazy, it was magical. And one of my fondest memories are with that particular show.

I could go on and on, but I guess you have read enough.

A to Z Challenge: Pi

3.1415926535 8979323846 2643383279 5028841971 6939937510 5820974944 5923078164 0628620899 8628034825 3421170679 8214808651 3282306647 0938446095 5058223172 5359408128 4811174502 8410270193 8521105559 6446229489 5493038196 4428810975 6659334461 2847564823 3786783165 2712019091 4564856692 3460348610 4543266482 1339360726 0249141273 7245870066 0631558817 4881520920 9628292540 9171536436 7892590360 0113305305 4882046652 1384146951 9415116094 3305727036 5759591953 0921861173 8193261179 3105118548 0744623799 6274956735 1885752724 8912279381 8301194912 9833673362 4406566430 8602139494 6395224737 1907021798 6094370277 0539217176 2931767523 8467481846 7669405132 0005681271 4526356082 7785771342 7577896091 7363717872 1468440901 2249534301 4654958537 1050792279 6892589235 4201995611 2129021960 8640344181 5981362977 4771309960 5187072113 4999999837 2978049951 0597317328 1609631859 5024459455 3469083026 4252230825 3344685035 2619311881 7101000313 7838752886 5875332083 8142061717 7669147303 5982534904 2875546873 1159562863 8823537875 9375195778 1857780532 1712268066 1300192787 6611195909 2164201989…

 

 

Idea Credit: Bharath Sambasivam.

A to Z Challenge: Literature

I’ve always wanted to have an intellectual conversation about Literature, using words like Post-Modernism, Structuralism, Romanticism and use phrases like, “Oh, I think the writing style is a bit too mid-western for my taste.

I honestly don’t even know what that phrase means, but I’ve heard someone using it.

I want to be able to talk about Shakespeare, about Frost, about Woolf, about Plath, about Joyce and about so many other authors, playwrights and poets as if it were my first language. I want to go through the day quoting Shakespeare. I want to have a poem in my head for nearly every situation.

Oh your significant other just dumped you? “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Lord Alfred Tennyson’s In Memoriam A.H.H.

Are you in love? “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.

Tired of being courted when all you want is to be alone? “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.” Much Ado About Nothing, Act 1 Scene 1.

Some life advice? “If you liked it, then you should have put a ring on it.” Beyonce’s Single Ladies.

How about something incredibly profound: “It was as if the five acts of a play that had been very exciting and moving were now over and she had lived a lifetime in them..” Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. 

I just really love Literature. I don’t know where I would be without it. But the thing I realise, with every book I read, is how little I’ve read and how much more I want to read.

I want to be caressed by Literature’s warm hands, I want to be serenaded by Literature. I want Literature all around me. 

And in case you haven’t guessed, I’m minoring in English.

A to Z Challenge: Kryptonite

Kryptonite, in popular culture, is the green rock from Kal-El’s homeworld that takes away his Yellow Sun given superpowers and renders him human. It has, in recent times, has become a neologism. It is now used, colloquially, to indicate someone’s weakness.

Now, I’m not here to talk about Superman and his green Kryptonite. I bloody hate that guy. I wouldn’t talk about him unless it’s to hate on him. I’m here to talk about my own kryptonite. Most of them.

My biggest kryptonite is Meryl Streep. Just a picture of her makes me weak in the knees, makes me feel feelings. She is an amazing, amazing woman. She can play any role and own it, make it her bitch. She is also a beautiful woman. The woman will turn 67 this year and still looks so so gorgeous. Words cannot describe her brilliance and her beauty.

I don’t know what would happen if I’d ever meet her. I know one thing though, the moment I meet her, after I’m over the initial shock of meeting her and then the subsequent shocks, I will have one quote running in my head:

“If it were now to die,
‘Twere now to be most happy”

My second would be books. I go past a book shop I can’t help but stop and stare, touch the spines, smell it, take it in and eventually buy it. I’m never too far away from a book. Hell, I never poop without a book. I go to movies with a book, I go to meet my friends with a book (much to their annoyance). Never trust me in a book shop, I will want to buy more than I can handle.

The last one I shall talk about is Musicals. Good gods I love musicals. My current obsession is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. The songs are so catchy, and they get stuck in your head so easily. Next to Normal, a pulitzer prize winning musical is another beauty. I love Next to Normal more for the story than the music. There’s always Mamma Mia, Sound of Music, Wicked, Into The Woods, so so many more.

One more that I’ll just briefly mention: Red Wine. I have a slight, teensy, weakness for Red Wine. I love it a bit too much. So when someone offers this to me, I can never have just one glass. Soon I will be left inebriated, and anyone can take advantage of poor old Smau.

I have so many different Kryptonites, it’s very easy to weaken me. Start a conversation about any of the above 3, or even Penelope Cruz, Physics, Shakespeare, Science Fiction in particular if we are dealing with books; or even just a passing mention and I will be weak. I will be..human.

 

 

A to Z Challenge: Is Physics Really Dead?

“Relativity and quantum mechanics appear to suggest that the universe should be a boring place. It should be dark, lethal and lifeless.” – Henry Cliff

This title is never a nice thing to hear when you’re in your Undergrad hoping to become a physicist. It’s not a nice thing to hear at all; we might be reaching the end of the only real science. What’ll the next big thing be? Biology? Chemistry? Gods I don’t what to live in a universe where Biology is the next big thing. IT’S NOT EVEN A REAL SCIENCE.

Okay, calm down. Conceal, don’t feel, and don’t let them know.

Where was I? Yes, Is Physics really at its end?

It is a really interesting situation we are in right now, where we know so much, yet there are so many things we don’t know. The TEDTalk by Henry Cliff “Have We Reached the End of Physics” talks about how finely tuned the things are in our universe. For example, the Higgs Field, which exists all around us, has a constant value. Now the problem with this is the following: theory states that this field should be either ‘on’ or ‘off’ but it is somewhere between the two, and if it weren’t so we’d have no physical structure in our universe

Similarly, we have a problem with the strength of Dark Energy. Calculated value suggests that it is massive, and I mean massive. The value is 10 to the power 120 times more than the value from observation, and that is truly massive. An explanation for this would involve fine-tuning on a whole new level.

Another issue that was brought up in both the TED Talk and Stephen Hawking’s “Gödel and the End of the Universe” is M-Theory. It is actually a collection of several different theories, which seems to explain why there is something rather than nothing, and if we assume other universes with various other conditions, there is nothing. The problem with this is that it cannot be falsified.

The fear, now, is that we may be approaching a new era where there is nothing to answer, except the unanswerable. The fear is that physics is coming to an end. The fear is that something like biology will take over, and that, dear readers, is truly, and utterly terrifying.

 

 

This post is actually inspired by two things: A TED Talk by Henry Cliff “Have We Reached the End of Physics?” and Stephen Hawking’s ‘Gödel and the End of the Universe.’