On the craziness of neutrinos, or: Why is there stuff?

I’m going to try to blow your mind two separate times in this post. Stay with me while things get weird, ok?

minos_detector

Today’s photos are of MINOS, a neutrino experiment at Fermilab.

Let’s have some fun with neutrinos. For this very-sophisticated physics demonstration you’ll need your hand and one second of time. I’ll wait while you collect those supplies.

Ready?

Ok, first hold out your hand, palm up. Now wait for one second. Are you done? Did you notice anything freaky happening?

What if I told you that about a trillion neutrinos passed through your hand in that one second? Not figuratively, the same way you might say “I’m so hungry I could eat, like, a trillion pizzas”. I mean that several thousand billion particles — called neutrinos — pass through your body every single second of every day and night.

Don’t freak out! Well, go ahead and freak out a little if you want. A trillion is a freaky-big number. But the thing about neutrinos is that they’re guaranteed not to bother you. They basically never interact with other matter. You could shoot a neutrino through a brick of lead one light-year long, and that neutrino would only have a 50% chance of colliding with one of the atoms in that lead brick. They’re like the ghosts of the particle physics world.

Wait wait, come back! I’m sorry I made you think about trillions of ghosts whooshing silently through your body. I promise they won’t hurt you.

All those neutrinos are coming from the sun, by the way. The sun is so hot and massive that individual solar protons will squish together and fuse into helium. One of the by-products of that solar fusion is some neutrinos. And by “some” I mean “a number so big it hurts to think about it”.

minos_detector_hall

Neutrino experiments tend to happen in underground caves. Burying your experiment under a hundred meters of rock and dirt is a great way to keep unwanted radio waves, cosmic rays, and other surface dreck from confusing your data. And the neutrinos don’t care where they are, of course.

Now let’s change gears slightly. Remember the Big Bang? When the universe was a crazy-hot pinprick of horrendous energy? As the infant universe expanded and cooled, little globs of matter — particles! — started to condense out of that energy. That happened the way Einstein said: some energy E would turn into some mc2, and then all of a sudden there’d be a particle (with mass m) where before there was just a wad of energy.

The thing is, Einstein’s E = mc2 doesn’t say anything about particles vs. anti-particles. A wad of Big Bang energy should be just as likely to make an anti-electron as to make an electron. (Or whatever, pick your favorite particle.) Statistically, then, you would expect equal amounts of matter and anti-matter to form after the Big Bang.

But! Any Trekkie will tell you that when matter and anti-matter collide, they annihilate in a puff of energy. (That’s how the Enterprise runs!) So in an early, hot universe with particles zooming around helter-skelter, you’d expect matter to collide with anti-matter, leaving nothing. That’s right folks, if physics was simple and things generally made sense, the universe would be filled with nothing. Instead of which, we have not-nothing! There is stuff, and all of the stuff we’ve ever found in the universe is made of matter. Nobody has ever seen an anti-matter galaxy full of anti-matter stars.

If I’ve done my job right, you’re freaking out again right about now.

where_neutrinos_go

The experiment was RUNNING when I took this tour! That guy is sticking his hand into AN ACTIVE NEUTRINO BEAM. No problem! The white spot is where the neutrinos leave the experimental hall and pass through 450 miles of rock. They emerge at the bottom of a mineshaft in Minnesota, where another set of particle detectors are situated. All of what you just read is real.

Physicists have worked out a theoretical model that explains this matter/anti-matter asymmetry. Theoretically, there’s some mechanism that biased the early universe in favor of matter. In order to test that model, we need to study some pretty esoteric things about neutrinos. That brings us to the final question of this post: If neutrinos are so insubstantial, how can you possibly study them?

The answer has to do with statistics. Let’s say you build a particle detector and then you start throwing neutrinos at it. If you only throw one neutrino at a time, there’s basically no chance of that particular neutrino interacting with your detector. What if you throw a million trillion neutrinos at once? Each individual neutrino still has a vanishingly small chance of interacting with your detector, but now statistics is starting to work in your favor. This is kind of like the lottery. If you buy one lottery ticket, I promise you won’t win the million-dollar jackpot. But if you buy a million lottery tickets, you might have a decent chance of winning.

minos_DAQ_hardware

Computer hardware for data acquisition. If you like things that look cool, you might like to tour a particle physics laboratory.

There are some experiments that manage to use only solar neutrinos to answer very specific questions. The Ice Cube experiment in Antarctica is a notably, amazingly hardcore example of this. But really big questions (“Why is there stuff?”) require way more neutrinos than the sun alone can provide. Another experimental approach is to make your own neutrinos in way, way larger quantities, and to throw them all at your particle detector as fast as you possibly can. (This is equivalent to buying all the lottery tickets.) And what’s the best way to do that? Why, with a particle accelerator of course! This is just what I was talking about in last week’s post.

I want to build a neutrino factory. Don’t you?

Makin’ those Big Decisions

Let’s you and I gaze … INNNNTOOO THE FUUUUTURRRRRRRE!

cloudsI want to be able to tell myself a story about the future. If I have no idea what the next month will bring me (like when I was applying for jobs this past spring) I can get a little stressed. If I have a story to tell myself, then I have a goal I can work towards. But if I don’t know enough to put together a story, then in my mind every future is equally likely. I could get my dream job or I could get no job. We could move to Illinois or we could get sucked through a rogue cosmic wormhole and end up on Planet Squizznonks. I have a good imagination! But my imagination needs some structure or it will freak out, like a middle school student who’s too smart for his own good.

Right now, I can tell myself a pretty convincing story about the next year or two. Anaïs might graduate and start looking for jobs. I might be working like crazy on my new experimental program. Maybe we’ll make it through a couple Chicago winters and they won’t seem so insane anymore. Story: check. No freak-outs: check.

But if I look a little farther out, there’s some pretty big stuff I just don’t know about yet. Are we going to buy a house like real grown-ups? Are we going to start having kids? Can I plan on staying at my new job that I love, or will we need to solve the “two-body problem” again when people start showering Anaïs with super-amazing job offers? (Anaïs will certainly get showered with job offers because she is brilliant and hard-working and beautiful.)

So for now, I’m trying to focus on the present. The present is pretty good. And I haven’t noticed any rogue cosmic wormholes in my neighborhood yet, so that’s something.

Now let’s peer into our copper cauldron to ponder the phuture of particle physics…

cauldronSame story, different characters. When you talk about the future of particle physics, there’s some near-term stuff that’s easier to plan and talk about, and some long-term stuff that’s hazy and hard to imagine.

In the near-term, there’s a lot of exciting questions about neutrinos that we can answer with today’s technology. For example, some people think there might be new, weird flavors of neutrino we haven’t observed yet. Also, a careful study of neutrinos could help us answer this question: “why is there stuff?” Don’t you want to know why there’s stuff?

Let’s leave that as a teaser for the next blog post: the mystery of the existence of stuff. But for now we’re talking about the future. In my artful and clever allegory, all this neutrino business is in the easy-to-imagine, anxiety-mitigating near-future. It’s good to know we have some important work ready to be done right now.

Beyond that neutrino stuff, though, it’s harder to tell ourselves the story of the next big accelerator. The problem is that right now, we don’t know enough about the next big questions. Is there only one Higgs boson, or are there a bunch of them? And what about supersymmetry? Is that a thing, or what?

Those are big, big questions in physics that will be answered by building a big, big accelerator. And until the LHC generates more data, we really don’t know what kind of accelerator we’ll need. Should we even build a new, giant accelerator? (Yes.) Should it collide protons or muons, should it be circular or linear, and who should build it? Right now we just don’t have enough data. It’s hard to say what the next big machine will be like because we’re not quite sure — yet — how to ask the next round of big questions.

That uncertainty about the future of particle physics is fuel today for a lot of meetings and powerpoint slides and general hand-wringing. My physics pals and I are working just as fast as we can to put together the next big story in a way that makes sense to us all. And that’s what I’ll spend my next few blog posts talking about. Stay tuned!

New job, new post!

hoorayI took a few months off of blogging so I could focus all my energies on worrying about job applications. And I guess all that worrying paid off because I got a job! I work at Fermilab now, doing basically the same stuff as before.

I want to tell you all about it! But not all at once, because (a) I respect you and your limited free time too much for that; and (b) oh man, Anaïs and I still have so much unpacking to do.

I’m very happy to be blogging at you again. Hello!

Friday Physics Photos: ???

fragile_lasers

 

Ok you guys, I’m doing that thing where as I write my next post, I discover that I have more and more things I want to talk about and the post gets longer and longer … Right now it’s an unreadable mess. While you wait for me to carve that mess up into several smaller messes, here’s a little bit of fun.

On my bike ride into work, I passed by another department’s lab. In their parking lot was this totally inexplicable vignette. I have absolutely no idea what’s going on here and I love it. Somebody write me a short story about this.

I made you a li’l movie!

Hi! Hello. I made a small movie about a small particle accelerator.

But first. A public apology to the woman who cut my hair the other day. (And who is definitely reading this right now?) I’m sorry I made you talk about physics.

For the 100% of you who are not the lady who cut my hair, I will explain. Briefly. During a lull in standard-issue haircut conversation, Haircut Lady asked me what I did for work. My internal dialogue went like this:

  1. I should just tell her I’m a scientist and leave it at that. Supplying more information is an implicit assumption that she wants to hear me say a lot of science stuff.
  2. On the other hand, I’m going to be sitting in this chair for a long time and physics is fun to talk about.
  3. On the other hand, plenty of people have told me that they hated physics in high school and they don’t know anything about it now.  She might be one of those people.
  4. While I’m sitting here thinking, an awkward pause is stretching out into weird, uncomfortable seconds. I should just say what I do for a living.  I shouldn’t be so hung up about this.  Daniel! Have a conversation with a stranger! Go!

Anyway, so I tried a little experiment.  I told her what I do, and then I asked her what she thought of when I said “particle accelerator”. Not like a pop quiz! I wasn’t looking for a specific answer. (I said that, too.) Instead, I think scientists have a responsibility to clearly communicate their work to the general public. If the general public knows what we do, then we’re doing a good job of communicating. And if they don’t, we obviously aren’t doing a good enough job.

Your homework for tonight: What do you think of when you think about particle accelerators? What would you draw if you had to draw one? Describe it in the comments below!

Dear Haircut Lady, I’m sorry that I put you on the spot because I was curious about abstract ideas. You handled it very gracefully.

For the curious: she had the general idea that accelerators are sort of like a laser beam, but wasn’t clear on what they might be useful for. I think this is where most people are at.

Which brings me to this video I made! A colleague at work had this little science demo that she let me play with, and I had so much fun I wanted to share it.  Here we go!

DIY photo booth adventures

This is a scan of a print-out of a very handsome couple’s booth photo at our wedding. That is, this is what the final product looked like. Read on to find out more!

My cousin had a photo booth at his wedding.  It was super fun and everybody loved it and for his entire reception, there was a line of excited people outside the booth waiting for another turn.  So when we were starting to plan our wedding, I started thinking about whether I could do something similar.  Naively, it seemed to me like it should be possible to write a computer program that does all the stuff a photo booth should do.  Could I really do this myself?

“Yes” is the answer.  You can too — you can make a photo booth similar to the one my cousin used with relatively few supplies and without a lot of computer-related suffering. And everybody will love it and your party will be great!  On the other hand. If, like me, you have poor impulse control when it comes to solitary learning and technical problems, you can try to do everything yourself!  And it will only take a thousand times the sweat and effort!

Here is an uncharacteristically long post about how I built a photo booth for my wedding.  Partly, it’s a long post because it contains advice and recommendations for other people trying to build a photo booth. Partly, though, it’s long because I’m so pleased with myself.

Planning

Sitting at the metaphorical drawing board, I tried to sketch out the job I wanted my booth to do.  Here it is:

  1. The user should be presented with a very very simple setup.  Inside the booth, only the camera, a monitor (for feedback to the user), and a big shiny button should be visible.
  2. Wait for a user to sit down and get themselves situated.  Display a live image of the camera’s view in the monitor, so the user can compose the photo.
  3. The user pushes a button to initiate the photo taking/printing process.
  4. The DSLR takes 4 photos.
  5. The photos are stored on the computer with unique filenames so they’ll all be available later.
  6. The photos are stitched together into a standard-looking photo booth strip, along with a label marking the occasion and the date.
  7. Send this image to the printer.
  8. While the computer is thinking / printer is printing, the button is disabled so a rambunctious user doesn’t break the software or clog the print queue.
  9. Once the photos are printed, goto step 2.  Do this until the end of time, or until somebody digs out the laptop and presses Ctrl-C.

Also important during the planning stage was my existing inventory.  I wanted to avoid buying anything expensive or learning complicated, new software just for the sake of the booth.  Here’s the material I had on-hand before I started building:

  • DSLR camera
  • tripod
  • laptop running Ubuntu, full of free software
  • generic color printer
  • 19″ LCD monitor
  • the same Griffin PowerMate USB button that my cousin used for his booth
  • all kinds of cables and whatnot

If you look around at other photo booth DIY projects (and really, the internet is crawling with them) you’ll see that lots of people use webcams instead of DSLRs.  This isn’t a bad idea, since there’s plenty of software out there to control webcams.  Plus they’re fast and cheap.  I went with my DSLR instead since (a) I own one that takes good photos, (b) it gave me more control over photos in low-light situations, and (c) I wanted high-res photos that I could send to people afterward as keepsakes.

Software

Here’s a thing about DIY projects: they become way less scary if you can break them down into sub-projects.  It’s not calming or instructive to tell yourself “Today I have to build a photo booth”.  By comparison, it’s fun and exciting to think “Today I need to figure out how to operate my camera from a UNIX terminal.”  Small tasks = considerably less panic.  Once I made my numbered list, each individual step didn’t seem so bad.  I finished some of those sub projects by typing a single line of code, or after five seconds of Googling.  Here, let’s walk through that list again and I’ll tell you what I did.

  1. Set everything up.  Nothing to discuss, really.
  2. Getting the camera to show a live view of the booth interior took some thought.  Fortunately, somebody had thought about it before me.  To control my camera, I used gphoto2 and a set of scripts by Alex Dumitrache called piggyphoto.  This software worked beautifully for me! And it was very, very easy to install on Ubuntu.  Once your camera is plugged in and detected by the software, you can take photos from the command line!  And do other more complicated stuff too.  Very smooth.
  3. Getting the USB button to “talk” to the computer was the hardest part of the whole process.  I don’t have much experience programming for peripheral devices, so there was a big learning curve.  Maybe there was a better solution here, but I went with gizmod, a Python-based not-really-a-daemon that looks for specific input device events and maps them to user-specified computer functions.  I wrote a script that “listens” for a USB button press, and then starts the photo taking/storing/printing process.
  4. Taking photos using command line functions was a breeze using gphoto2.  To take four photos at intervals of one second and store them on the computer’s hard drive (instead of the camera’s internal memory), do this:
    gphoto2 --capture-image-and-download --interval 1 --frames 4
  5. My friend Matt, who is smart, suggested naming each photo using the standard UNIX “date” command.  That way, each file gets a unique filename and nothing is in danger of being overwritten.
  6. You can easily stitch your photos together using ImageMagick, another wonderful bit of free software:
    montage test00.jpg test01.jpg test02.jpg test03.jpg caption.jpg -tile 1x5 -geometry +0+10 final_product.jpg
  7. Print using “lpr”.
  8. Disabling the button until the printer is finished: easy.  Just build a delay into your script.
  9. Repeat!

Since I don’t have much USB control experience, it’s totally possible that I made step #3 unnecessarily complicated.  But ultimately, gizmod was a problem.  It was heartbreaking to install and run, and then a memory leak meant that somebody had to restart the photo booth script every once in a while.  Bummer.  I’d do this part differently next time.  But anyway, it worked!  Mostly!

Construction

This part was pretty easy, actually.  I build a boothy sort of structure out of 3×6′ plywood sheets, some scrap wood I salvaged from the street, and a handful of carriage bolts.  I put it together in an afternoon.  Compared with the software, this was so easy and fun!  I didn’t have to Google anything to build it right.

I used some 1.5″ PVC pipe and connectors to build a frame I could hang some curtains from.  The curtains were just raw, unsewn fabric that was heavy enough to block out light, and that had a cute pattern for the photo backdrop.

As a side note, the plywood sheets made another fun little diversion for our guests.  We painted the plywood a flat blue before the guests started arriving, and then during a party we set out paint and brushes and our guests went to town:

Here’s the setup: camera + monitor + a big shiny button. I used some of the curtain material behind the monitor to hide the tangle of cables and the un-painted interior booth walls.

Operation

One other difficulty deserves mentioning: the printer broke.  Of course the printer broke! That’s what printers do.  Actually, it didn’t even break.  It was running low on blue ink, so it started refusing to print black and white images.  I warmly invite you to explain to me why this makes sense.  Since I had only planned on printing black and white images, I didn’t have any spare color ink at the reception.  And since printer ink is expensive, it’s not like I was going to encounter this problem during my normal testing.  Quick fix: Since all the photos were saved on the computer anyway, I just put up a note promising to email everybody their photos after the wedding.  I was disappointed that our guests couldn’t have a party favor to take home with them, but it’s better than nothing.

Aside from the software and printer problems I mentioned, I’d do one other thing differently next time: I’d add a progress bar.  I hadn’t built any user feedback into my software, so after my guests pushed the big shiny button, there were no messages saying “Say Cheese!” or “All Finished!”  That stuff would’ve added an extra layer of polish to the whole operation.  

Parting Thoughts

Do you have some DIY project kicking around in the back of your head?  And you haven’t started yet because you’re not sure whether you can do it?  I fully recommend jumping in with both feet.  Look, as long as you can do it safely and the deadline is far enough away, you can do anything you set your mind to.  If you get stuck, well, the internet is enormous and full of people who want to give you advice.  And the payoff is new skills and a really excellent sense of accomplishment.  Nothing feels quite like building something that works.

Sunrise on Haleakalā

Wedding photos: You want to see them, I want to see them, everybody wants to see them!  But oh my goodness, there are so many.  There are about 1,250 photos for us to sort through.

Sorting through our wedding photos may take a little time.

While you’re waiting, I’ll periodically post some photos from the honeymoon.  We went to Maui, because … well, because Maui.  It was totally and completely Maui.  One of the Mauiest things to do on Maui is to sit on top of a volcano at sunrise.  So we did that.  Here are some photos!

This is a crater near the summit of a probably-dormant volcano called Haleakalā, which apparently means “House of the Sun”. (Can you guess why?) The environment is so austere and lunar that the Apollo astronauts came here to train in the 1960s.

Once the sun was up, you could see all the things. All of them.

3,055 meters is apparently not enough elevation for me.

Coming up next: DIY wedding photo booth stories!

LBNL Open House

It is my pleasure to show you low-quality cell phone photos of an impossibly great physics thing.  This is a Lego scale model of the ATLAS experiment, one of the two detectors at CERN responsible for the recent discovery of the Higgs boson.

Here’s what it looks like in real life:

ATLAS Experiment © 2012 CERN

The Lego version is still pretty cool though, right?

A lot of my posts lately have been about particle accelerators and how impressive they are.  (A quick summary: particle accelerators are impressive.)  But I’ve only briefly touched on what you might want to use one for.  Let’s totally talk about that it more detail, very soon.  For now, I’ll just say that discovering fundamental properties of matter at the smallest scales requires some very very impressive, complicated machinery.  Something like 3000 people work on ATLAS.  Some of them develop hardware and maintain the various bits of the detector.  Some of them work on piping the vast amounts of collected data from the detector complex to their computing farm.  And some of them study that data, looking for evidence of new and interesting physics.  Three thousand people!  And this is only one of six detectors operating at CERN right now!

The model is color-coded, by the way. Here’s the key.

The model is built to scale. Look at those little Lego guys! Yes, the detector really is that big.

This wonderful monument of dorkitude was on display at my lab’s recent open house.  I ran a demonstration about the superconducting magnets used in certain kinds of particle accelerators, including the LHC.  I would be very happy to write a post about this, but first I need to get a few more photos together.

PS.  Should we talk specifically about the Higgs boson?  Or did you get enough of that from every other blog in the entire world?  I think it would be interesting to address your questions, if you have any.  (“What is the Higgs” is a fine sort of question to ask.)  I encourage you to post your questions in the comments section.

Book Review: “2312″ by Kim Stanley Robinson

Travel! Deadlines! Wedding prep! I haven’t posted for weeks! Look, here’s a review of a book I managed to read on the plane before and after a conference:

23122312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I need to use the word “transcendent” to talk about a book with spaceships in it. I am fully aware that this is a silly thing to do, and I hope that one day you can forgive me. But really, 2312 is a transcendent work of science fiction.

Let’s start with the science fiction and work our way up to the transcendence. So. Three hundred years from now (q.v. the book’s title), we’ve managed to colonize the solar system and we’ve started terraforming some likely planets, moons, and asteroids. The advent of powerful quantum computation is a real presence in this effort, and hugely extends humanity’s technological reach. And medical technology has advanced to the point where humanity has started to speciate into different variations with all kinds of weird body types and more than two genders. Oh, plus a two hundred year lifespan is starting to seem reasonable.

That’s all really rich material, and good sci fi has been written about any one of these ideas alone. But Kim Stanley Robinson takes all of these ideas together and builds something large, profound, and beautiful with them. Take the colonization of the solar system for example. This is driven by environmental catastrophe on Earth (totally understandable, given the bottomless dithering about climate change we see in 2012) and in turn it drives an expansion into new economies and systems of government. So in addition to the exciting plot and the rich emotional lives of the characters (I’m getting there, hold on) you, the reader, also get to think about twelve billion people living all over the solar system. Is 21st century American-style capitalism the natural course for all these people in all these different environments? What does the working day look like for somebody who grows up on Mercury? How would she relate to somebody who grew up on one of Saturn’s moons?

The miracle of 2312 is that it doesn’t turn into a giant essay on political science. Instead, Robinson manages to explore and develop all these ideas through strong, vital characters moving in an exciting plot. (In a science fiction novel! Imagine that!) Things kick off with Swan Er Hong, a citizen of Mercury’s only city, dealing with the unexpected death of her grandmother Alex. Alex was a politically important figure in the solar system, and this importance sucks Swan into an rich and complicated world of interplanetary politics, space travel, and quantum computers that may or may not be behaving strangely. (Get it? Quantum physics joke — you’re welcome.)

It’s worth stressing this point: Swan is a fascinating protagonist. She used to be a scientist who designed and built enormous, space-bound terraria to house animals and ecosystems that can’t survive on post-climate-change Earth anymore. But now she’s an artist, because somehow that other work wasn’t rewarding for her? She grew up on Mercury and has, yes, a mercurial temperament. And along the way she meets huge, intensely contemplative, toadlike Wahram. Wahram has a complicated past that involves manual labor but also apparently a nontrivial role in the politics of Saturn. (Wahram is a titanic, saturnine citizen of Saturn’s moon Titan. This would be trite if it wasn’t so well done.) Then, lots of things happen to them.

I want you to understand how great this is. It is a real rarity in contemporary fiction – especially genre fiction, but also in TV and movies – to find characters who are totally actualized, who speak with their own voice instead of the author’s voice, who are not just robots built to drive the machinery of the plot. Instead, each character is unique and together they interact in ways that totally make sense given this uniqueness. I guess I have high standards for books about space travel? Anyway, to sum up, I’ll just say woo-wee Kim Stanley Robinson can write!

It’s very hard for me to understand how there can be so much breadth and depth in a 550-page book. How can you have a book about interplanetary politics that is also about one person’s complicated emotional life? There are only a few other books I can think of that manage this successfully and I love them so much: Neal Stephenson’s Anathem takes breaks from the action to explore dialogues – all of them relevant to the plot, but also just intellectually cool – between a teacher and a student; Frank Herbert’s Dune starts chapters with excerpts from a scholarly work on galactic history; and of course Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy quotes liberally from the titular Guide. 2312 manages this in a more postmodern way, by sprinkling the book with 1-2 page “Excerpts”. It’s not explained what these passages are excerpted from, but it doesn’t matter. They’re a great way for you to catch your breath and put the action into a larger context. Some of them are long and expository, but some of them are short little political-scientific lightning strikes:

…any given economic system or historical moment is an unstable mix of past and future systems. Capitalism therefore was the combination or battleground of its residual element, feudalism, and its emergent element — what? … as feudalism is the residual on Earth, capitalism is the residual on Mars

I chewed on that one for a while before I moved on to the next chapter. Or how about this one:

It was rumored in these years that Martian spies were everywhere in the system, but that they were constantly reporting back to headquarters that there was nothing to fear — balkanization meant Mars faced nothing but a stochastic chaos of human flailing

This is what ends up making 2312 transcendent instead of just “good” or “exciting”. There’s just so much more than you could possibly expect from a single science fiction novel. It manages to look forward to a plausible, exciting future for humanity, totally, but it also somehow manages to make deeply incisive observations about the world we actually live in today, in reality. It explores wild new ways of being a human being – Swan Er Hong has given birth to a child, has also fathered a child, and has an extremely powerful computer implanted in her head – but the book still throws much of its emotional weight behind the growing, blossoming relationship between two interesting people. (Just like Jane Austen does, but different!) The action spans the solar system and multiple governments on multiple planets, but there are wildly exciting, nail-biting chapters devoted to small groups of people in difficult, exciting situations. And all the future-y technology-related stuff is cool and forward-looking while still seeming plausible.

2312 manages to be great in every way that a science fiction novel can possibly be good. Read it.

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