Category Archives: Science Fiction

Grading the Science in Sci-Fi: The MOHS-F Scale

I have long wondered if we could create a scale of hardness for science fiction comparable to the Mohs Hardness Scale for rocks and minerals. Here is my first stab at it. I welcome your comments on how to improve upon this first iteration.

The Measure of Hardness in Science Fiction, MOHS-F for short, is a new method for measuring the hardness of science fiction stories. The scale ranges from 1 to 10, with 10 being the hardest and closest to non-fiction and 1 being the softest and closest to fantasy. Here is a proposed MOHS-F scale, with selected well-known works as benchmarks for each number:

  1. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams – This book is known for its comedic and light-hearted approach to science fiction.
  2. “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells – This book is known for its exploration of time travel and the implications of altering the past.
  3. “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card – This book is known for its exploration of militarism, politics, and the nature of humanity.
  4. “Dune” by Frank Herbert – This book is known for its complex political and ecological world-building.
  5. “The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells” – This book is known for its exploration of the potential consequences of an alien invasion.
  6. “The Three-Body Problem” by Liu Cixin – This book is known for its exploration of advanced alien technology and the implications of first contact.
  7. “Ringworld” by Larry Niven – This book is known for exploring advanced alien technology and the implications of encountering an alien civilization.
  8. “Contact” by Carl Sagan – This book is known for exploring the scientific, philosophical, and religious implications of the discovery of extraterrestrial life.
  9. “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” by Robert A. Heinlein – This book is known for its exploration of lunar colonization, politics, and advanced technology.
  10. “The Martian” by Andy Weir – This book is known for its hard science fiction elements, such as space travel and survival on a hostile planet.

It is important to note that this scale is somewhat subjective, although I hope we can develop some good guidelines over time to determine the level of hardness a book represents. Also, many books can be considered for each level; it’s not a definitive list, but it’s a good starting point. One final note: books (or movies or short stories) can be rated in between these works using decimals. For example, I would rank my first book, “Enemy Immortal,” a little softer than “Ringworld” but definitely harder than “The Three-Body Problem,” so it might be scored at 6.8.

I hope the MOHS-F scale can become a useful tool for evaluating the hardness of science fiction stories. It can be used to compare different works of science fiction and to identify the relative level of scientific rigor and realism in a given story. I encourage readers to try it an share their thoughts and suggestions for improving it.

Science Leapfrogs Fiction Again

Designer DNA is here now.

Rewriting DNA with fewer letters.

I have never been so flabbergasted by an article in Scientific American. In my book Enemy Immortal, I predicted that, since multiple gene sequences are transcribed into the same amino acid, someone could re-sequence all of our DNA to use just one of these gene sequences, then alter the cell’s ribosome to transcribe the unused sequences into something else. In Enemy Immortal, this technology gave Jade Mahelona’s cells the ability to make nanomechanical particles with the special ability to detect electric fields.

My book takes place in 2206. It turns out Nili Ostrov at Harvard is doing this DNA re-sequencing already. She has almost completed re-sequencing E. coli DNA without using a large number of naturally occurring gene sequences. This demonstration project should result in an E. coli that is impervious to all natural viruses. In previous research, she has reprogrammed a ribosome to translate selected DNA sequences differently. The pieces are all there.

I can’t believe I was off by nearly two hundred years. How much longer until we harness dark matter, do you think?

Read the full SciAm article: The Invulnerable Cell

Read Enemy Immortal

Why we know interstellar war is raging in our galaxy right now

If intelligent life is abundant throughout the galaxy, then where are they? — Fermi’s Paradox, Enrico Fermi, 1942.

Since 1942 the paradox has only deepened. Scientists have found many Earth-like planets and shown that creating the amino acid building blocks of life is relatively easy. The standard assumption is that since intelligence is a beneficial survival characteristic, life on nearly every planet will eventually evolve intelligence. Yet scientists have probed the galaxy for the artificial broadcasts of a super-civilization. They have found nothing.

In theory it’s possible that a civilization sufficiently advanced to have space flight would be so beneficent to undeveloped species that they would leave young planets like Earth undisturbed. After all, isn’t that what humanity will do when we reach the stars? I doubt it. And it happens that all of the many civilizations out there are beneficent? The probability becomes minuscule.

No, we don’t see any signs of intelligent life out there because they are hiding. The only question is, what are they hiding from? What could be more fearsome than an advanced interstellar civilization? They must be hiding from each other–because when they are not hiding, they are fighting.

Why haven’t we seen signs of war, you ask? Things like exploding stars (oh, novae) or annihilated spaceships (oh, GRB–Gamma Ray Bursts).

Yes, novae and GRBs can be explained as natural phenomena. But let’s say you are an advanced technological civilization and do not want to draw attention to yourself. Wouldn’t you disguise the blast of your weapons as a natural process?

Workshop Mania – 3 writing workshops in 4 months

I’ve been extremely busy with writing workshops the last few months. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the writing workshop process, it usually involves (1) writing madly to get your submission in shape and send it in, usually about a month before the workshop, (2) reading and critiquing the manuscripts from all the other workshop participants, (3) going to the actual workshop and getting your writing beat up by guest professionals and the other participants, (4) fix up the story based on the critiques you received at the workshop. (The rewrite (4) can be done right away or put off until later.)


In late August, I attended Sasquan (WorldCon 2015) in Spokane, Washington. Sally and I made this trip into a vacation, visiting our son and daughter who live in Oregon and Washington State the first part of the week, then going to Spokane. Under a black cloud of smoke from nearby forest fires, I received writing critiques on the opening to my book, Enemy Immortal, from pros Mark Van Name, James C. Glass, Laurel Anne Hill and fellow participants. The main take-aways were that my book got off to a slow start (too much setting up) and my synopsis seemed to pack an awful lot into one book. I rewrote the opening and submitted the new version to the Sail to Success workshop in December (more on that later).

ICON – Cedar Rapids, Iowa

In October, I attended the writing workshop at ICON in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. There I received writing critiques on my short story, “Jubilee,” from fellow participants and met with guest speakers Joe Haldeman, Anne Leckie and Tamara Siler Jones. The main critique was that I needed to do more to develop the romance between two of my main characters.

At ICON, the workshop participants also gave short public readings from their works (typically a different work than was critiqued). I read from the opening of Enemy Immortal (revised version). Unfortuantely I had a cold and had to cut my reading a little short. In any case, thanks to Brent Bowen from the Hugo-nominated Adventures in SciFi Publishing, who recorded this session and has released it in his pod cast. I am the last reader on Part 1.

Adventures in SciFi Publishing – Part 1


Adventures in SciFi Publishing – Part 2



Sail to Sucess





In December, I attended Sail to Success, a writing workshop aboard the Norwegian Sky cruise ship. While cruising the Bahamas, I received writing critiques on my short story “Collisions” from Nancy Kress and on Enemy Immortal from Baen editors Jim Minz and Toni Weisskopf. I’ve updated my stories based on these critiques and they are off to the publisher’s slush piles.

Phew!  After this marathon of workshops (including a fourth, Paradise Lost, last May, which makes 4 workshops in 9 months), I plan to slow down the pace, but most likely I will workshop at this year’s WorldCon in Kansas City. I’ve also volunteered to be presenter on a panel in the KC WorldCon, so I hope something interesting comes of that.