These days, zombies are everywhere: from television series, to movies, to books, even to television commercials. If you were to ask people how this craze got started, most would point back to the classic 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. A few of those people, with more knowledge of the history of horror fiction, would acknowledge the late Richard Matheson’s classic 1954 novel I Am Legend, in which a single human tries to survive in a world filled with vampires.
If one broadens the definition of the “living dead,” however, the idea of a plague of zombies can be traced back much further, to the writing of none other than science fiction master H.G. Wells and his 1933 book The Shape of Things to Come!
In the later years of his life, H.G. Wells had strong socialist political views and believed that humanity’s inevitable utopian future was to form a world government; much of his later writings reflected this belief. I have blogged previously about Wells’ 1914 novel The World Set Free, in which the world is forced into peace by the development of nuclear weapons. In The Shape of Things to Come, Wells takes an even more grandiose view, and predicts the future of the world from 1933 (the present, to Wells) to 2106.
There are a lots of popular science books out there, but a relatively small fraction of those books are related to physics. And of those popsci books related to physics, there are only a small fraction that discuss optics.* And only a small fraction of those on optics are any good.
I was therefore delighted to learn a few months ago from Stephen Wilk about his new book How the Ray Gun Got Its Zap, which was released early in October.
Stephen Wilk is a contributing editor of Optics and Photonics News, the news magazine for the Optical Society of America. He writes and edits the “Light Touch” column for the magazine**, which as advertised presents lighter and fun stories about optics and science in general. Ray Gun is a revised and expanded collection of these essays, grouped into sections on History, Weird Science, and Pop Culture.
Thanks to a busy workload over the past few months, I’m way behind in my blogging on a variety of topics! I thought I’d start catching up first on my backlog of weird fiction, as I’ve been reading an immense amount in my evenings.
A few months ago I blogged about The Great White Space (1974), a novel by author Basil Copper, recently reprinted by Valancourt Books. Basil Copper (1924-2013) was a stunningly prolific writer who penned a variety of novels and short stories in both detective and horror fiction. The Great White Space is Copper’s take on Lovecraftian cosmic horror, and I really enjoyed it; this, of course, led me to wonder if the rest of his work is just as good.
Fortunately, Valancourt Books has also released another of Copper’s novels, the compellingly-titled detective story Necropolis (1980).
But I didn’t stop there — I also scared up one of Copper’s out-of-print books, the horror novel Into the Silence (1983).
So what did I think? Neither of the novels was quite as spectacular as The Great White Space, but they are both enjoyable and worth reading.
In the annals of “shameless self-promotion,” I should note one more appearance I’ve made in local media! Yesterday, a journalist from WCCB TV in Charlotte stopped by my office to interview me on camera about invisibility physics and the interesting possibilities associated with it. The spot appeared on television in the Charlotte area last night; here’s a link to it!
I haven’t actually watched the spot yet (I get anxious about my appearances on screen), but please let me know what you think! I’ll probably watch it myself on DVR this evening. I had a lot of fun doing the interview, as it gave me an opportunity to get a “behind the scenes” view at how news features are made.
In another bit of news, I also had a brief interview with a journalist from The Daily Tar Heel that went up last week!
This is the second in a series of posts about the upcoming OSA Frontiers in Optics meeting in Orlando. This post covers research related to the presentation FM3F.1: Alan E. Willner, Multiplexing Information-Carrying Orthogonal Beams using Orbital Angular Momentum States. To be (hopefully) cross-posted at the Frontiers in Optics blog.
Do you think your internet is too slow? If you’re like me, you probably do, even though the speed of data transmission has exploded over the past 15 years. When I was in graduate school, dial-up modems that could download 56 kbit/s (56 thousand bits per second) were state of the art, whereas today some broadband business connections* can download 400 Mbit/s (400 million bits per second)! But even still I want more data, and at a faster rate — and I’m not alone!
Fortunately, it is possible that the rate of telecommunications may increase dramatically in the near future. Over the past couple of years, researchers have demonstrated the possibility of transmitting data at a rate of over a terabit/second (one million million bits per second), in both free space** and an optical fiber***, by giving the light that carries the data a “twist” before transmission!
Continuing my recent streak of self-aggrandizing posts, I wanted to point out (again, for those who don’t follow me elsewhere) that I recorded a short interview the other day for our local Charlotte NPR affiliate, WFAE, on the physics of invisibility. You can listen to my interview online here.
As a fun game — try and count how many times* I say “actually” during the extremely short interview! I don’t normally do that — I suspect that the topic of invisibility seems so counter-intuitive that I kept trying to point out what is really possible, and that resulted in me saying “actually” a lot.
* The correct answer is 100 billion times.
Valancourt Books has been releasing new editions of classic John Blackburn books faster than I can blog about them! I’ve spent a fair amount of time talking about Blackburn on this blog, and with good reason: he was an amazing writer of horror and thrillers, and immensely popular in his time. As The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural put it,
He is certainly the best British novelist in his field and deserves the widest recognition.
Blackburn’s work fell out of print after his death and it is only recently that Valancourt began to re-release them in new edition, some of which have introductions written by me! I thought I’d briefly highlight two of these: A Scent of New-Mown Hay (1958) and The Flame and the Wind (1967).