Resurrection! Or: No, We Haven’t Died!


Ow! I fell victim to the Unannounced Hiatus!

I’m extremely sorry for being invisible these last few months, but after adjustment to a new job, surgery, conquering an illness (and my first real vacation in seven years), I’m finally crawling back into the blogosphere! The really good thing is that I’ve been thinking of Sacred Earthlings and Third Order since Balticon, and not only do I have tons of great articles and photographs for you, but that I have a full lineup for Third Order going through the end of the year and into January just as soon as I don’t feel like I was run over by the Starship Enterprise.

karen_in_sewardBuying books in Seward, Alaska!

I’m extremely excited about all this, and I hope you are, too. I’ll be back very soon with more story recommendations, commentary (hello, Killjoys!), convention reports, old paperbacks I picked up in Alaska, and, yes, stories for Third Order! (I’m finishing up the lineup by the end of next week!)  And if you’re going to Capclave in Washington, D.C. in October, flag me down! See you soon!

SHORT STORY ALERT: “Belief” by Nancy Kress

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God
who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect
has intended us to forgo their use.” -Galileo Galilei


Hello, earthlings! We’re back!

Religion against science, science against religion; which one is right? It’s an old, hoary story, one that goes far back past the books of Christopher Dawkins to the well-known tales of Galileo, Hypatia and Socrates. Devotees of science say that the ordered world precludes a belief in God, while the faithful say the very same proof explains it.

We’re still having this conversation, on the same kind of cultural scale. You can visit the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY, where you can see a real, world-class allosaurus fragilis skeleton and then learn that the animal in question existed at the same time as human beings and died in the Flood. You can head to your local streaming service and rent Bill Maher’s film “Religulous,” which tries to put the screw to who people who truly believe in the power of prayer without trying to understand why they might be so devoted.

Maher at the Mount of Olives, destroying sacred cows or something.

This conversation, unfortunately, has no room for men like Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno, an actual scientist who is also a Jesuit brother. (He’s so cool we’re going to devote an entire article to his work. Stay tuned.)

Nope. The rest of us are still fighting over who’s right and who’s wrong. Who knows? It’s my opinion that we’re just adding to the fighting that’s been happening since some nameless, curious shaman discovered fire and thought it might be a gift from the gods and not just a natural reaction, not making progress. We’ll never know. All we can do is keep talking and trying to understand each other.

Nancy Kress’s “Belief,” in the March/April issues of Fantasy & Science Fiction, tackles this dichotomy on a very personal level. There is a mother devoted to the path of science; there is a teen daughter who is looking for something a little more transcendental. What I love a lot about this story is the fact that Kress allows the readers to explore both viewpoints in a parallel fashion and draw their own conclusions. And Kress’s protagonists, unlike the Mahers and the Fox News anchors of the world, actually make progress.

In an interview with The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Kress explains that “neither the rigors of the scientific method—which in some quarters is taken pretty much as a religion—nor the ‘squishiness’ of faith are completely satisfactory. ‘Belief’ is my personal way of simultaneously criticizing both–while leaving the door open to both. Talk about squishy!”

We here at Sacred Earthlings call it awesome reading.

This is wrong no matter which side of the argument you’re on.

Let’s all keep trying to understand each other — without shouting each other down, denouncing faith or science with a broad brush or as a matter of course. As Kress’ heroines may (or may not! No spoilers!) discover, there’s only one way out of this mess we’ve made, and that’s together.

Read the rest of the interview with Kress at Fantasy & Science Fiction, where she talks more about her inspiration for the story and discover where you can pick up the March/April issue in which the story is published.

Dyson Spheres Are Real (Maybe)

“I’m frequently asked, ‘Do you believe there’s extraterrestrial intelligence?’
I give the standard arguments- there are a lot of places out there, the molecules of life are everywhere,
I use the word billions, and so on. Then I say it would be astonishing to me if there weren’t extraterrestrial intelligence,
but of course there is as yet no compelling evidence for it.”
— Carl Sagan

In the early aughts, I was friends with Ryan, a really nice guy who had installed SETI@home on his computer. When he wasn’t working on college essays or playing Starcraft, SETI popped up as quickly as a screensaver, and started to use his processing power to handle just one thread of the millions of bytes of telescope data coming in from all over the world. When we watched movies and played board games in his basement with our friends, SETI blinked away in the corner, watching and analyzing, ever hopeful.

I wonder what he thinks of this week’s news — that users on the astronomy crowdsourcing interface Planet Hunters processed data from the Kepler telescope suggesting there was something unnatural happening around KIC 8462852 — now known in some astronomical circles as the “WTF Star.”

A NASA diagram of how the Kepler observatory works

How does the Kepler telescope work? Basically, Kepler hunts for planets by analyzing the shadows that pass in front of stars. When a star passes by a planet, the star dims; planet hunters use that data to extrapolate whether or not it was a planet and what that planet might look like.

This time, Kepler found a star where, according to Yale astronomer Tabatha Boyajian:

“What was unusual about that was the depth of the light dips, up to 20% decrease in light, and the timescales (of light variation) — a week to a couple of months.”

That wasn’t proper planet behavior at all, she said.

wateronmarsEvidence of liquid water flowing on Mars, courtesy NASA

Frankly, one of the reasons there wasn’t more of a hurrah to NASA’s recent announcement to their discovery of water on Mars was that we were expecting it to happen. We’ve listened to Carl Sagan, we’ve heard the lessons of The Doctor, we know in our hearts that Mulder was right. I think the same thing is happening here.

Like astronomer Jason Wright says, aliens should always be the last hypothesis you consider. But he’s a scientist. We here at Sacred Earthlings are science-tinged dreamers.

So yes, it could be a swarm of comets, a large debris field, a moon forming, or some other kind of easily-explainable galactic phenomenon. Something delicious that will still help us learn more about the galaxy where we live and how things work here. And the scientists are going to do a lot more science before a “could be” or a “might be” turns into an “is,” of course, as they should.

But here at Sacred Earthlings, given our mission, we obviously need to hope what the Planet Hunters and the scientists at SETI are hoping: that the unexplainable data may be a giant solar-array superstructure funneling energy from the WTF Star to a nearby alien civilization that has truly advanced engineering skills. Imagine what that would mean: that an alien civilization got so far to channel energy directly from around their very own star. These would be no mere solar panels, my friends, but an engineering feat unlike anything humankind can currently offer. What kind of technology would be available to that civilization? Would there be any want on that planet? Any war? Any energy need at all?

Wouldn’t it be completely nuts if Dyson Spheres were real?

– – –

Lastly, I’d like to thank people for coming back to Sacred Earthlings after a distinct lack of content these few weeks. I hit my head on a kitchen cabinet in late September and received a concussion for my pains; my doctor had me off all screens, texting, and reading about amazing developments to put on this blog. I’m slowly on-ramping back to Internet life, and boy, do I have a lot to say about the brain. Next time, Gadget! Next time….

For more information on the Planet Hunters’ discovery:

Reddit’s Explain Like I’m Five


Washington Post