Confronting Jonestown in America

Recently, I asked my Twitter following what I thought was a simple enough question. “Do you know where ‘Drinking the Kool-Aid’ comes from?” The range of responses were eye-opening.

Among my following, Gen X and older had vivid recollections of the events that coined the phrase, while Millennials and younger were largely in the dark.  This is by no means their fault. Time marches on stubbornly, and the 80’, 90’s, and early 00’s were more than frantic enough for big stories from prior decades to fall to the margins.

So, everyone younger than myself, let me introduce you to Jonestown, Guyana, 1978.

In the 1950’s, a preacher named Jim Jones sheparded a congregation in Indianapolis of all places. Like Charles Manson before him, and David Koresh after, his charisma ensnared many among society’s most vulnerable people. His ambition quickly outgrew the Midwest and his flock moved to California. In the ensuing years, his People’s Temple flourished. Jones was a fixture among the California political scene in the mid 70’s as aspiring and even established politicos sought his endorsement.

Then, the political ground beneath him shifted, and Jones went from Kingmaker to pariah. Too many questions to ignore were raised by nervous relatives of People’s Temple members. Custody battles between former members and their child still living in the temple community drew legal pressure and unwanted media attention.

Jones panicked, and fled to an agricultural colony they’d established in Guyana, due in no small part to the lack of an extradition treaty between the two nations. Almost overnight, “Jonestown” as the colony was known, swelled to nearly a thousand people. But the pressure back home mounted, and eventually a fact-finding expedition was formed to ascertain the living situation in the colony. This mission was led, surprisingly, by sitting US Congressman Leo Ryan, hailing from California’s 11th, along with his legal advisor, Jackie Speier, and several others.

After more than a day of meetings and presentations in the town, Rep Ryan was ready to return to the US, with a handful of defectors in tow. As they tried to board their plane to leave, Jonestown loyalists ambushed the contingent and opened fire. Rep Ryan was shot more than twenty times, killing him. Jackie Speier was also shot multiple times but survived to become a member of Congress in her own right. It’s still unclear if the loyalists acted under Jones’ orders, or their own zealotry. Either way, the damage was done.

Jones had prepared his following for the day they’d commit what he labeled “Revolutionary suicide,” staging mock events where everyone would drink red-colored “poison” from vials. But with the body of a Congressman cooling on their runway, there was nothing fake about what happened next. The entire population of Jonestown was herded into the town square, where guards armed with guns and crossbows were ordered by Jones to shoot anyone who tried to escape.

For hours, Jones railed about loyalty and the coming Apocalypse, trying to convince his flock to join him in death. A batch of cyanide-laced grape Flavor-Aid was prepared. But it didn’t go his way. Many resisted, despite his guards. Jones went so far as to have poison squirted into the mouths of children to convince their parents to follow. And yet still people resisted. In the end, more than seventy people were physically restrained while needles were shoved into their veins to deliver the coup-de-grace. All tallied, nine-hundred and eighteen people were killed that day.

In the ensuing decades, “Drink the Kool-Aid” came to mean brainwashed people willingly going along with transparent political or corporate propaganda. But that interpretation ignores the real human tragedy of Jonestown, where almost a thousand people realized too late that they’d been led down the wrong path by an unhinged dictator who put them to death because he had nothing left to lose. They had no choices, in the end.

Which brings us to today.

Donald J. Trump, like Jim Jones before him, is psychologically incapable of recognizing people outside of himself as human beings. This pattern has repeated over his lifetime, from habitually stiffing contractors at his casinos and real estate projects, to his fraudulent Trump University which deliberately preyed upon the dreams of vulnerable students with false promises of fortune, to using Trump Foundation donor money to pay his own family’s legal settlements and to buy gaudy paintings of himself to hang at his overvalued, money-pit golf courses.

Like Jones, Donald Trump has inspired people to kill for him. In Charlottesville, Pittsburg, and now El Paso, dozens of Americans have been massacred in the streets, in synagogues, and in a Walmart in the name of Trump’s xenophobia.

He’s only getting worse. In the last two days, Trump accused a majority of American Jews of disloyalty to Israel, retweeted a fringe figure exalting him as the “King of Israel” and “King of the Jews,” and just yesterday morning anointed himself the “Chosen One” while looking to the sky as cameras rolled. Already a malignant narcissist and leading a personality cult, Trump is now moving on to mainstreaming the sort of messianic language his followers have only been whispering in their churches for the last three years.

Now, cornered by the criminal revelations of the Mueller Report and a cooling economy triggered by his idiotic trade wars, Trump has trained his sights on four sitting US Congresswomen of color, accusing them of anti-Semitism and hating Israel, rhetoric sure to inflame his far-right evangelical base. AOC has already been the target of countless death threats issued by Trump’s minions, even before these new, baseless attacks. How long before Trump inspires another “lone wolf” to take action and assassinate a sitting Congressperson on his enemies list?

If that happens, literal hell will break loose as this cauldron of poisonous nationalism, End Times theology, and Trump’s own terror at having nowhere left to run all comes to a rolling boil. Like every other cult leader through history facing their day of reckoning, Trump will do whatever it takes to delay the inevitable, even if it means burning the country down to its foundations.

Jonestown is coming back home to America. If we can’t stop it, we’ll all drink the kool-aid, whether we choose to, or not.

 

As always, if you like what I’m doing here, make sure to sign up for my email list in the blue bar at the top of the page. And if you really like what I’m doing, buy a copy of my latest novel, STARSHIP REPO.

 

 

The Canopus Awards, Year Two. Drumroll Please…

Big announcement today, everybody. Yesterday, after an unfortunate hiatus caused by Hurricane Harvey, the people over at 100 Year Starship were finally able to announce the winners of the second year of the Canopus Award for Excellence in Interstellar Writing.

As the name suggests, these awards go out to authors and works that align with the mission and the spirit of 100 Year Starship; laying the groundwork to take mankind to the stars. The organization is made up of writers, scientists, astronauts, futurists, and dreamers who can’t help themselves but to look up and wonder.

So, I’m beyond pleased to announce that my debut novel, THE ARK, was selected by the judges to receive an Honorable Mention in this year’s contest! And while it fell short of winning, it’s an honor to be considered alongside genre greats like Cixin Liu, Alistair Reynolds, and some guy named Buzz Aldrin, who isn’t an author per se, but did do some flying or something. If you haven’t read THE ARK yet, now’s probably a good time to see what all the, ahem, buzz is about.

Congratulations to all the finalists and winners. It was a tough slate to go up against. Nominations for this year’s contest will be opening in the near future, however, and both GATE CRASHERS and STARSHIP REPO will be eligible works. Maybe throw me a nomination or two when that happens.

But only after you’ve read the books, obvs.

 

STARSHIP REPO Audiobook Available Now

Starship Repo bookAudiobookphiles! The long wait is over. STARSHIP REPO is now available to pipe into your eardrums. Narrated again by Broadway star Alyssa Bresnahan, it’s a can’t miss. Burn a credit and give it a listen here.

From the summary: Firstname Lastname is a no one with nowhere to go, with a name that is the result of an unfortunate clerical error and destined to be one of the only humans on an alien space station. That is, until she sneaks aboard a ship and joins up with a crew of repo men (they are definitely not pirates).

Now she’s traveling the galaxy “recovering” starships. What could go wrong?

I hope you enjoy it. And don’t forget to leave an honest review on Amazon and Goodreads when you’re finished. Thanks!

CONvergence 2019 Schedule


 

Hello fans and followers! We’re one month out from CONvergence 2019, in my not-so-humble opinion the best con in the Midwest. If you’ve ever been to CONvergence before, you know it’s famous for cosplay and themed room parties going well into the wee hours. And this year, it’s moving to new digs downtown, near some of the best restaurants and bars Minneapolis has to offer!

I’ve been selected to participate in panels once more. So, if you’re making the trek to the Twin Cities over the 4th of July weekend for four days of nerdy debauchery, here’s when and where to find me and what I’ll be jawing about:

 

Jul  5 2019  9:30AM: Tools for Writers

Jul  5 2019  5:00PM: Storytelling in Different Media

Jul  6 2019  9:30AM: Writing for Visual Storytelling

Jul  6 2019  3:30PM: Writing a Culture Not Your Own

 

Stop in and say hello, and don’t forget to bring a copy of STARSHIP REPO to get signed.

Fake Reviews and Amazon’s Apathy

Starship Repo book

Hello fans, friends, and followers. As you (hopefully) know by now, Tuesday marks the launch of my next book from Tor, STARSHIP REPO. Order yourself a copy, you won’t be disappointed.

Unfortunately, the impending book birthday party for my newest is being crashed by a familiar group of rabid, obsessed cyberstalkers. For the last nine months, I’ve been the target of a non-stop harassment campaign, organized by trolls on Reddit. You can read about the origins and the first few weeks of their attacks here.

For going on a year now, this small group of a few dozen terrorists has been single-mindedly haranguing me across the breadth of the internet, swarming my YouTube channel, blog, and Instagram with homophobic and body-shaming comments, launching mass false reporting attacks to suspend my Twitter account and lock my Facebook, impersonating me in the comments section of my publisher’s website trying to make me appear racist and anti-Semitic, doxxing my home address, making harassing phone calls to local businesses I frequent, and of course death threats and suicide demands.

This same group was featured in People Magazine for an identical harassment campaign waged against singer/songwriter Logan Lynn, using similar tactics and making many of the same false accusations. The original 27,000 subscriber subreddit eventually imploded when one of the mods tried to impose some semblance of order, and was immediately torn apart by his own members. It was then resurrected in a smaller, but no less vile sub populated with support for homophobia, racism, and white supremacy.

They are, in a word, unhinged. During all this time, this group has also tried very hard to tank my Amazon and Goodreads scores by review bombing my books with faked 1 Star ratings. Most of these fraudulent reviews are easy to spot, as they are seldom verified purchases, lack any sort of detailed descriptions of either characters or plot that would indicate they’d actually read the book, and are often written by accounts that are either brand new, or have very little activity. But casual browsers unaware of the situation can hardly be expected to do the necessary sleuthing to separate the real reviews from the fraudulent.

However not all fake reviewers are content to take a pithy shot at work they haven’t read and hit enter. Some of them are far more insidious. Like this one:

Again we see the twin accusations of anti-Semitism and racism, which is a common theme and tactic among these people: Accuse the enemy of that which you are guilty. But, is it true? I think anyone who’s been following me knows the answer to that already, but just in case, here’s pages 83 and 283 from GATE CRASHERS:

Now, if you can find any anti-Semitic dog whistles or references to women leaving their husbands for African Americans anywhere in there, you should probably lay off the drugs for a while. Not only is this review fake, it is deliberately abusive and libelous. But they’re not content with past abuses, oh no. For months now, this sub has been counting down the days until they can review carpet bomb STARSHIP REPO with more of the same fake ratings the second it’s released, hoping to tank sales. That’s not hyperbole, by the way. They literally have a countdown clock:

Classy. Remember, this is a book none of them have read, and none of them even have access to. We know who advanced reader copies have been sent to, and none of them are on the list. This is purely about continuing their terror campaign against a randomly picked target for fun.

I fully expect that before I wake up tomorrow, STARSHIP REPO will have several dozen fake, malicious reviews already posted on its Amazon page, along with the half dozen that have already appeared on Goodreads. All of the above evidence and explanation has already been repeatedly sent to Amazon customer service, both from myself, and from my publisher. And what has Amazon done in response?

Absolutely nothing. Indeed, they have actively refused to take any action at all, falling back on the excuse that their algorithms have already determined the reviews are genuine, and no human actively polices them anyway.

This is, to put it mildly, disappointing coming from one of the largest and most powerful companies in the entire world. When all is said and done, I don’t really blame the trolls for their antisocial, maladjusted behavior, any more than I would blame a baby for soiling its diaper, or a college student puking up six hours of 2-4-1 Long Island Ice Teas in an Applebee’s sink on their 21st birthday. In all three cases, they simply have no control over themselves, and can’t be expected to do better.

But Amazon and other companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit can be expected to do better. Indeed, we must demand they do. Targets of online harassment campaigns must be given the tools they need to combat these all-encompassing attacks, and their oppressors silenced.

Somehow, when it comes to our collective online lives, society has agreed to the perverse notion that people of accomplishment and status, be they actors, athletes, writers, or musicians, should just shut up and take it when harassed. “Don’t feed the trolls” people who have never been in the spotlight say, not realizing that trolls turn to stone in the presence of sunlight. Meanwhile, hordes of anonymous terrorists are somehow afforded infinite free speech rights, up to and including consequence-free libel, incitement to violence, and threats of bodily harm or death.

This social compact is not just counterintuitive, but utterly insane. It validates and encourages the dead worst behavior, from the world’s most awful people. It has poisoned social media and public discourse, and it must change. Some websites are actually taking steps to combat brigading, like Rotten Tomatoes, which changed their review policies after a misogynistic review bombing campaign against the Captain Marvel movie. Disney made the right move in rehiring James Gunn to direct Guardians of the Galaxy 3 in the wake of his firing after being attacked by an alt-right defamation campaign.

These are good first steps, but far more needs to be done to counter online hate mobs. As for me, I’ll be spreading the word by linking this article to every fake review one of these lost boys posts to my work. If Amazon won’t help creatives by protecting the integrity of their ratings system, we’ll just have to take matters into our own hands.

 

As always, if you like what I’m doing here, please subscribe to my email list in the blue bar at the top of the page. And if you really like what I’m doing, order a copy of STARSHIP REPO. And maybe leave an honest review.

Trump Goes Full Autocrat. Never Go Full Autocrat.


 

What a year this week has been, and it’s still only Friday.

On Monday, Trump’s former personal lawyer, mob fixer, and porn star payer-offer, Michael Cohen, reported to federal prison to begin a three year sentence for crimes he committed on behalf of, under the implicit instruction of, and for the benefit of the *President of the United States.

Then on Tuesday, the New York Times dropped a bombshell report that came as a shock only to people who haven’t been paying even a shred of attention. Yes, turns out Trump lost an average of one hundred and ten million dollars per year between the mid eighties and mid nineties for a total of over a billion dollars of negative income. For comparison, it would take the average drunken sailor on shore leave after a six month WestPac more than a thousand years to blow that much money on booze and women of negotiable affection. Indeed, according to IRS documentation, Trump was one of the single largest individual failures in the entire country over this ten year span of time.

Nor are the revelations about Trump’s laughably pathetic business acumen going to stop anytime soon. Since Trump is a well-known among American banks as a default risk because, again, he is an abysmally terrible businessman, the only western bank that has been willing to loan to him for the last fifteen plus years has been German-based and Russian-money-laundering-scandal-plagued Deutsche Bank. Whelp, ze Germans are busy spilling the beans on all of their shady loans over the last decade to the New York Attorney General’s office as they build a case against the Trump Organization. Speaking of New York, on Wednesday, the NY state assembly voted to advance a bill that would legalize the release of Trump’s personal and business state taxes to the US Congress, forms which would very closely mirror Trump’s federal taxes Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin broke the law to keep secret from the House Ways and Means Committee earlier in the week, an act that may land him with a Contempt of Congress charge. More on that in a bit.

But none of that is the biggest news to come out of the Executive Branch over the past week. That dubious and deeply worrying honor goes to one William Barr, the toadie Trump hand-picked to replace Attorney General and racist Kebbler Elf, Jeff Sessions after he made the cardinal sin of recusing himself from the Russia investigation following the recommendation of an ethics review.

First, a little background. This is not Attorney General Barr’s first turn in the office, but his second. His first stint as the nation’s top law enforcement officer came during the George H.W. Bush administration, where he immediately set to work doing the White House’s bidding by recommending pardons for nearly everyone involved in the Reagan era Iran Contra Affair, hoping to bury the scandal and help those responsible avoid accountability once and for all.

Does that sound even vaguely familiar? Because it should.

You see, Barr auditioned for the job of Trump’s new and improved AG when he penned a memo nobody asked for or wanted arguing that it’s actually legally impossible for a President to obstruct justice, and that Mueller’s entire investigation into Trump’s motivations for firing FBI Director James Comey, intimidating witnesses like Michael Cohen via Twitter, and dangling pardons to the traitor Paul Manafort, was therefore entirely invalid, even frivolous.

To say this view of an infinite Executive branch unburdened by the restrains of the law and justice is an extreme position is to torture every word present in the sentence. Barr’s memo is not just far to the right of every serious Constitutional scholar, judicial opinion, and American history, it’s out past the Keiper Belt and charging up for a jump to warp speed out of the solar system. Anyone who lived through or studied anything about the Watergate scandal that took down Richard Nixon knows that one of the articles of impeachment against him was indeed Obstruction of Justice in the aftermath of the DNC break in and subsequent cover-up.

Yet even after putting his insanity to the page, practically begging to be picked for the job of covering up for yet another criminal Republican administration, Barr cruised to confirmation, and then indeed tried to exonerate Trump of Obstruction in the court of public opinion. Which is why on Wednesday, after he refused to turn over the unredacted Mueller Report to Congress, a report he deliberately and maliciously lied about the contents of to the American people just weeks before, the House Judiciary Committee took the drastic but entirely necessary and justified step of referring the Attorney General of the United States to the full House on the charge of Contempt of Congress for only the second time in our history.

The first time came a few short years ago when the GOP led House held Obama era AG Eric Holder in contempt for refusing to turn over certain documents related to their probe into the Fast and Furious scandal. That investigation dead-ended with exactly no charges or indictments, no arrests, and no convictions of anyone in the Obama administration, largely because the scandal was a conspiracy theory ginned up by the far rightwing blogosphere from the start, and their probe into it was nothing but cynical political theater much like the ten Benghazi hearings.

Mueller’s Trump/Russia probe was anything but cynical theater. Instead, it not only proved beyond any reasonable doubt that Russia actively interfered in our election with the goal of installing Trump and defeating Clinton, but that it made numerous attempts to infiltrate the Trump campaign and bring Trump associates into the conspiracy, attempts that were positively received by Trump’s campaign manager, personal lawyer, son in law, eldest son, and several other key members working for the campaign in both official and unofficial capacities, such as Roger Stone.

Mueller’s investigation by contrast, which was started by Republican Rod Rosenstein, incidentally, lead to over one hundred criminal charges against thirty-four people and three companies, eight arrests, seven convictions and counting, and as many as fourteen new criminal investigations into related matters that have now been handed off to other prosecutors.

By the numbers, the Mueller probe was the most successful and consequential Special Counsel investigation in American history, uncovering a vast, international web of criminality that ensnared some of Trump’s closest advisors and confidants. Which is exactly why Barr was brought in to lie about and bury its findings. So flagrant were Barr’s misrepresentations of the report to the American populace, that Mueller himself, who has a history of being tight-lipped and rigidly respectful of the chain of command, wrote a letter to Barr personally expressing his displeasure at how his new boss dishonestly presented his team’s findings and sowed confusion among our citizens.

Barr has made a career out of lying and burying bodies, but he’s not the one at the center of the web giving the marching orders. Instead, it’s Donald Trump who has ordered Barr, Mnuchin, former White House Counsel Don McGahn, and other officials to violate Congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony, in effect obstructing justice to conceal his earlier obstruction of justice in a layer cake of criminality, like if Inception had been written by the world’s dumbest mobster.

Donald Trump was never President, not for one second. His “election” which remember he fucking lost by three million votes, was rendered illegitimate by not only Russian interference, but his campaign’s own complacency and encouragement of that interference. “If it’s what you say, I love it,” Donny Glue Eater said instead of reporting to the FBI. Thanks to nearly two years of work by Mueller’s team, these are now established, undeniable facts, even if they were unable to meet the strict legal standards of evidence that would have supported conspiracy charges (which I’m sure had nothing to do with members of Team Trump destroying evidence). In Trump’s continued efforts to conceal not only his illegitimacy as *President, but the ever-expanding dragnet into his decades of financial crimes, he is busy burning down two hundred and forty plus years of our institutions, checks-and-balances, and shredding the Constitution itself by stonewalling Congress in their duty as a coequal branch of government and responsibility to provide oversight.

The danger here is that Barr’s delusional vision of an unchecked executive of infinite power may itself become something of a self-fulfilling prophesy. As many pundits have already observed, the founders envisioned a wannabe tyrant like Trump. But they never imagined in their darkest nightmares a party so dedicated to their own racism and feudalistic class war that they’d actually help a despot dismantle everything they worked so hard to create. The lengths the entire Republican party has gone to bend over backwards for the Tangerine Toddler in his hostile takeover of democracy would be impressive if only any of them possessed a spine. He means to fully consolidate power into the office he stole with Putin’s help, because remaining there indefinitely is the only thing saving him from dying in prison, and he knows it.

We are past the point of a Constitutional Crisis, and have entered a Constitutional Meltdown. The Democratic party in Congress, and by extension every remaining American patriot, must fight tooth and nail, using every means available, to drive back this assault on our republic and our democratic system.

We do not have a President today, and if we’re not careful, we’ll never have another one again.

 

As always, if you like what I’m doing here, subscribe to my email list in the blue bar at the top. And if you really like what I’m doing here, preorder my next book, STARSHIP REPO. Oh, and follow me on Instagram.

NASA’s Unexplained Files, S6E3 Recap


 

It’s here, fans and followers! Thursday night, I made my TV debut on NASA’s Unexplained Files. As you might expect, I… didn’t watch it live because I was in a theater with my wife for Avengers: Endgame. Because we have priorities. But first thing the next day, we hopped on the ol’ DVR and had a look. If you were similarly engaged, you can stream the episode here.

 

There I am. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I shared the episode with fellow Tor Books author, Hugo Award winner, and former VP of SFWA Mary Robinette Kowal. I’ve only had brief conversations with Mary at conventions over the years, but she’s always been lovely and you should definitely check out her books. Mary got to talk about sexy time in space and I’m a little jealous.

Anyway, on to my recap and behind-the-scenes talk. This week, the episode started out with a segment about the discovery of a rogue black hole and the potential threats such objects could pose to Earth, which, as you can imagine, are substantial. Before we continue, I should probably take a moment to define some terms. When it comes to black holes, there are two categories. Stellar-mass, and super-massive.

First are stellar-mass black holes, which begin their lives as cosmic horrors when the fusion engine at the heart of a star around five to ten times the mass of our sun runs out of hydrogen, runs out of helium, and burns its way through the periodic table until it gets to iron. That’s where nuclear fusion ends. The cast-iron skillet in your kitchen isn’t just good at bashing in zombie heads, it actually helped to murder an entire star.

When a star starts manufacturing iron, the end of its life is only seconds away. Fusing iron into heavier elements absorbs energy instead of releasing it, and the outflow of heat and pressure pushing back against the crush of gravity that had kept the star from falling in on itself for millions or billions of years comes to a sudden and violent end. If the star is big enough, flipping that switch means gravity pulls everything inward with such intensity that not even the strong nuclear force that maintains the nucleus of atoms can hold it back, and everything falls beyond the event horizon, the point at which gravity bends spacetime so intensely that not even light can break free.

That’s how stellar-mass black holes are created. It’s the inevitable end of the life-cycle of large stars. But again, that’s only one class of black holes. There’s another, and it’s even stranger.

The difference between a stellar-mass black hole, and a super-massive black hole is the difference between the size of the average high-school graduating class, and the entire population of Earth. Super-massive black holes are, well, fucking massive. Not a few times bigger than the sun, but many billions of times bigger. The domain of these monsters lay exclusively at the centers of galaxies, much like the super-massive black hole in galaxy M87 that made waves recently after being directly imaged for the first time.

 

There she is. What a beauty. That Eye-Of-Sauron-lookin’ ring weighs 2.4 billion Earth suns, with a “B.” This class of black holes is so massive that they are proportionally tied to the size of their galaxies in a way we still don’t understand.

But even more inexplicable is the fact there are no black holes that mass between these extremes. As far as we can tell, there are no black holes, anywhere, that are a few hundreds of thousands of times bigger than the sun. It’s either a few dozens times larger, or billions of times larger. We’ve run the numbers, and it doesn’t seem possible that enough time has passed since the birth of our universe for any stellar-mass black hole to have swallowed enough material to grow to the proportions of a super-massive black hole. Which means the way the two classes form is fundamentally different. We still don’t know how.

Which brings us round circle to the idea of “rogue” black holes. Untethered wanderers, rogue black holes as described in the episode are entirely possible, right up to the claim that they could be moving invisibly through the galaxy at five million miles an hour. These would be on the small, merely stellar-mass side of black holes. Super-massives are exclusively gravitationally bound to the centers of entire galaxies, but from that lair, they can fling any of their smaller brethren which fly too close like ping pong balls. This is known as a “gravitational assist” among JPL rocket scientists, dating back to the Voyager missions that explored the outer planets of our solar system for the first time. But instead of Voyager II stealing orbital momentum from Jupiter for a small boost towards Saturn and beyond, this is one giant black hole stealing energy from a cataclysmically gargantuan black hole, sending the former out into the rest of the galaxy like a cannonball.

The trouble with this from our perspective on Earth is, as alluded to in the episode, spotting that rogue black hole careening through the galaxy is almost impossible. The only reason we were able to directly image the black hole in M87 was because it was in an active phase, meaning it was consuming large quantities of matter from the surrounding space, most of which became too hot and volatile for the black hole to swallow before it crossed the event horizon, instead converting that energy into heating the surrounding accretion disk and into a pair of magnetically-constricted jets of impossibly-charge particles shot out at its poles.

That we can see, because matter is falling into it and being converted into an immense amount of energy like a lighthouse. But an inactive black hole… that’s literally invisible. The only way to spot an inactive black hole is to detect the gravitational lensing effect it has on the stars behind, relative to our perspective on Earth.

In a worst-case scenario, which, let’s be honest, is what the show plays up for dramatic effect, would mean Earth might have only weeks or days of warning before the end. But what does the end look like?

 

Eagle-eyed fans will remember this was the foundation of my debut novel, THE ARK, where a rogue black hole named Nibiru showed up with only 80 years warning. Well, there’s only two outcomes to a rogue black hole sauntering through our solar system. The first is Earth gets swallowed in hellfire, and the story pretty much ends there so there’s no good reason to explore that outcome further, because there really isn’t one. Falling into a black hole is the game, folks. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

However, there is a second, and more thematically interesting possibility. In the process of devouring our sun, the gravitational interactions between the two bodies actually ejects planet Earth from the solar system, granting a temporary respite from a fiery death, but condemning the planet to a slower, colder fate.

Without light and heat from the sun, winter is here, forever. The temperature quickly drops below freezing on the surface, rain is replaced with blankets of snow, lakes and rivers freeze over, and the polar ice caps begin growing. it takes quite a while longer for the oceans to freeze simply because of their immense thermal momentum, and because a surface ice layer acts as surprisingly effective insulation. Certain areas of the deep ocean may never fully freeze as volcanically fed hot thermal vents keep pockets of water warm enough to remain liquid.

Once the surface of the oceans have frozen over, the return of a snowball Earth triggers the next, even more destructive phase of the death of Earth. Once the atmosphere reaches -297 degrees F, oxygen precipitates out of the air as rain, followed by nitrogen at -320. Frozen oceans become coated with a thin layer of liquid atmosphere, until this too freezes solid. Now, the Earth’s surface is truly dead.

 

However, that’s not the end of the story. Deep below the surface, insulated from the frigid vacuum above, heat from the planet’s molten core will continue to radiate upwards for billions upon billions of years. Here is where humanity could make its last stand, provided we have enough warning to make the needed preparations.

As unbelievable as it may sound, digging out massive caverns to fill with farms, factories, and cities is already being explored for colonies on the Moon and Mars. In both of those cases, the prime candidate sites for colonization are old lava tubes which provide natural caverns. Being underground has several big advantages. First, the rock acts as a natural pressure vessel to contain atmosphere. Second, a few yards of rock makes an impenetrable barrier against solar and cosmic radiation that would otherwise scramble our DNA. Dig deep enough, and the ambient heat of the planet’s interior will keep the colony at a constant, comfortable temperature without the need for wasting energy on heating or cooling.

 

Even in frozen death, mother Earth could still provide everything a subterranean civilization needs to survive. Oxygen and nitrogen ice could be harvested from the surface by teams of space-suited miners and brought back down to provide atmosphere for the colony. Absent wind and solar power, electricity could be generated via nuclear and geothermal processes. Food could be grown in vast hydroponic and aeroponic farms sprinkled among residential towers. With no environment to preserve, waste could simply be ejected onto the surface and forgotten. The population would necessarily be small, and growth tightly constrained. Life would be heavily regimented, with food, water, and oxygen rationing an integral part of daily life, much like living on a generation ship with defined, finite resources to go around. But life would endure.

Civilization could theoretically continue in this way indefinitely as the Earth made its lonely voyage across the void, waiting for a random chance encounter with a new star to call home. Should that happen, we might have one last chance at redemption. If through this whole process, the Earth and the moon managed to remain gravitationally bound to each other, like a flyaway astronaut throwing a wrench to change their trajectory, we could use engines, or lasers, or explosives to eject the moon and slingshot ourselves into a stable orbit around the new star.

Bathed in light and heat once more, the atmosphere would melt and boil into the sky, the oceans would thaw, and Earth’s surface could begin the long, laborious process of blooming once more.

Sounds like something I’d write, doesn’t it? Hmm…

Anyway, I’m not on this week’s episode, but will be returning after the break for three in a row on May 16th, 23rd, and 30th. Make sure to tune in and be ready for the next behind-the-scenes post.

 

As always, if you like what I’m doing here, subscribe to my email list in the blue box at the top of the page. If you really like what I’m doing, preorder my next book, STARSHIP REPO, coming May 21st from Tor Books.

Repost: A MAGA Hat is not “Just a Hat.”

Hey folks. So my incel cyberstalking army is at it again, making false mass reports against my Facebook account hoping to deplatform me there just as they did with Twitter. As a result, I’m removing anything they could potentially take out of context and use against me. One post in particular has made their undies tight, so down it came. But as I still believe in the content, and stand behind my words, I decided to repost it here so that it would be preserved against accusations of deletion or trying to hide. Here it is, complete and unaltered:

Apparently some open-mic blond lady who likes to wear a MAGA hat and mouth off to other comics during their sets got herself a black eye and is now crying about it on social media.

Let’s get something straight here, a MAGA hat is not just a hat. It is a recognized symbol of hatred, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, and creeping authoritarianism. It is a public announcement that you personally support Trump’s declaration that Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers. You want to ban Muslims from traveling to our country. You want to strip trans troops of their right to serve their country. You approve of kidnapping thousands of immigrant children from their asylum-seeking parents and then losing them into a network of concentration camps where they’ve been sexually assaulted and have even died.

Wearing a MAGA hat announces you’re okay with Trump’s treasonous coordination with Russia to steal the 2016 election. You’re okay with his calls to violence against protestors at his rallies, his calls to violence against the press which has led to multiple bombs being mailed to media offices. You’re cool with his non stop attacks on our law enforcement and intelligence communities as they present more and more evidence of his lifetime of crimes. You’re fine with his demonization of the dozens of women who have come forward to accuse him of sexual harassment, assault, and even rape.

Your MAGA hat says you’re behind him when he intimidates witnesses on Twitter, obstructs justice in plain sight by firing the people investigating him, or even those who aren’t adequately protecting him from justice. You’re onboard with him flagrantly lying more than 9,000 times in just over two years.

Your MAGA hat says you’re on the side of the people who mail bombs to democratic politicians, the people who run over protestors with cars, the people who burn black churches and shoot-up synagogues.

Your MAGA hat is a declaration of your fealty to the destruction of our pluralistic society, and your open hatred for more than half of the people who live in it.

Your MAGA hat says you’re fine with lawlessness as long as it is in service of your racist, proto-fascist agenda. Your MAGA hat is a threat of violence against everyone who doesn’t look, think, pray, and love exactly like you.

And since you’re fine with lawlessness, and since you’re cool with violence to advance your intolerance, guess who doesn’t get to cry about it when someone takes the law into their own hands and socks you in your stupid face for threatening them, their friends, their families, and the soul of our nation?

You. You don’t get to cry about it.

Play fascist games, win fascist prizes.

P.S. And for all the pearl-clutchers who will doubtless say “But a man should never hit a woman!” don’t worry, I’m sure we can find some roller derby lesbians willing to throw an elbow or two.

Reminder: NASA’s Unexplained Files Debut

 

Hey gang, quick reminder. I’ll be making my television debut tomorrow night on the third episode of NASA’s Unexplained Files on Science Channel at 10pm Eastern.

Knowing my audience, I expect at least half of you will be in a theater somewhere watching the opening screenings of Avengers: Endgame. I totally will be. So make sure to set your DVR, or catch it streaming on the Science Channel Go app.

Once I actually see the episode and get the chance to witness how my interview was edited and arranged, (still haven’t, it’ll be just as new to me as the rest of the audience) I’ll put together a blog post, or maybe a video that goes deeper into the story and the research, the stuff that didn’t make it to the small screen. It’s going to be fun.

 

My GenCon 2019 Panel Schedule

Hey fans, as most of you know, I’ve made the annual pilgrimage to Indianapolis for GenCon for many years. This year is no different, and once again I’ll be participating in the excellent GenCon Writer’s Symposium. This is quite literally where I got my start as a professional writer. The panels and connections I made there way back in 2009 were instrumental in moving me down the road to publication. Any aspiring authors out there should really consider attending, especially if you’re already going to be at the con.

Anyway, here’s my signing and panel schedule. Swing by and say hello!

As always, if you like what I’m doing here, consider subscribing to my email list in the blue box at the top of the page. If you really like what I’m doing, preorder my next book, STARSHIP REPO, coming in May from Tor Books. Oh, and follow me on Instagram @pstomlinson.