Wednesday, April 18, 2012

So there's Life on Mars - and we killed it?!

From Wikipedia

Apparently two space craft landing on Mars back in 1976 found microbes in the soil samples - and then boiled them alive. So much for 'we come in peace'. In fact, it reminds me of a certain comical Star Trek song and Kirk's line of 'We come in peace (shoot to kill)'.

Okay, so we didn't know for certain that they were there and acted in ignorance, a bit like stepping on an ant because we didn't see it. But should we go stamping around on another planet if we can't watch where we're putting our technological foot? Maybe we should leave well alone until we can fine tune it all.

So how would we really react on meeting aliens for the first time? In this case the aliens in question are microscopic and not sentient - as far as we know. Most scifi films focus on the cliche that the military response would be to 'shoot first and ask questions later'. Our histories are dotted with a thirst for exploration which often turns to exploitation - taking the things that we value from those unable to resist. If we ever migrate to Mars, what would happen to the 'natives' then? Preserved in special microbe zoos? Eradicated? Or will our presence introduce other microbes against which they have no defence? Would people care if that happened?

Some would. Life, no matter what its form, is precious. But given the often commercial drive of most projects, I doubt any number of microbes on Mars would be seen as significant of salvation. You only have to look at what we're doing to our own planet to see how little respect for our world the global economy has. But if it was proven to be sentient?

Wikipedia defines sentience as 'the ability to feel, perceive or be conscious, or to have subjective experiences.' I was reminded about this on reading Refugees on Urloon by Melisse Aires, where one of her characters quoted a sentience scale as a way of judging whether a race was sentient or not. A 'sentience quotient' was created 'by Robert A. Freitas Jr. in the late 1970s.[1] It defines sentience as the relationship between the information processing rate (bit/s) of each individual processing unit (neuron), the weight/size of a single unit and the total number of processing units (expressed as mass)'. Not something that could apply to a microbe. Would we be able to apply this to an alien species as a way of judging their sentience? But even if the life on Mars proved sentient in any form - unlikely at best - would that give it any protection? If we can claim entire continents from their native and sentient inhabitants, what chance does a microbe have over us staking a claim on 'their' planet?

Perhaps we need Starfleet's Prime Directive in place - 'that there can be no interference with the internal development of alien civilizations'. Some might argue that microbes hardly constitute an alien 'civilization'. But isn't that how life began on Earth?

Pippa's Journal

On a more positive note...with Keir's release in just 19 days (squeee!), I thought maybe a post on the preparations I'd made for the day might be appropriate. The whole process from the very start to the actual publication date has been a steep learning curve for me, but perhaps the most daunting part has been the marketing side of it. I'm not a salesperson. Aside from eBay and car boot sales (kind of the UK equivalent of yard sales), I've never had to sell anything, least of all myself or my writing. So as with anything else I've learned, I've researched - looked at what other authors do or advise, and read up any posts I've seen on the whole promoting and marketing of books.

1. Virtual Book Tours. With the explosion in digital books and authors using social media platforms for promotion, this seems to be the number one choice for a book release. There are several sites which will, for a fee, organize a book tour for you. However, you can arrange your own. If you have friends/fellow authors with blog/websites, it's worth asking if they will host you. There's now a list on the SFR Brigade website here of various members willing to host book tours and what they will accept or extras they may do like interviews and giveaways. The advice I've seen is to consider the blogsites that you would like to host you in the same genre as the book you're releasing, but I haven't restricted myself to that. Although Keir is a science fiction romance, the first part of the book is set in a medieval style society, so there's an element of fantasy to it as well. Most of the blogs on my tour are speculative fiction and/or romance, so I'm hoping to reach as wide an audience as possible. And I've tried to tailor my posts to match the host as well as revealing snippets from the book. If you're struggling to come up with material for the posts, see if the host will interview you instead. I originally only intended to do a week's tour leading up to release day, but this has escalated into two weeks - and I could easily have made it a month's worth.

2. Giveaways. My publisher is giving me ten free copies of my ebook. Since they also submit my book for reviews, I've decided to use the free copies as a prize on most of the stops for my book tour. If I feel the need to make more submissions for reviews then I'll buy some. I've also put together a special prize for release day with gifts I feel tie into the book - a blue and silver scarf, a charm bracelet with KEIR on it, a temporary tattoo similar to one I describe on Keir and bookmarks. Try to make your giveaway international - of course, giving an ebook away makes this easy, but I often come across giveaways of physical items only to find they're US and Canada only. :(

3.Promotional items. One thing I'd decided I was definitely going to do was make bookmarks. Especially after receiving my gorgeous cover. I used a printing company to make them, but a fellow author told me he prints his own onto thin card and laminates them - something I'm going to try in the near future. So far my bookmarks have gone to a scifi convention in Wales, a US library and an office in Germany, an office in Alaska and to the Romantic Times Book Lover's Con. Hopefully friends and family would be willing to distribute a few of these for you. As for other items - I'm still thinking. It's a case of balancing a tight budget against something that may or may not work.

4. Blog rings. I've been taking part in Six Sentence Sunday on and off for over a year now. I also do Science Fiction Fantasy Saturday which is relatively new but growing fast. These not only help to put your name out there, but can also bring you into contact with authors in similar genres or styles. They may become friends/crit partners and/or favourite reads. :)

5. Extras. There are plenty of sites happy to do author features, giveaways, interviews, reviews, or include your release in their announcements and newsletters. Keep your eyes open for such things and compile a list of useful sites. Some charge a fee to do so and/or to advertise you on their sites - others do it for free or in exchange for you offering a prize. Grab any opportunity to get yourself mentioned somewhere, but take care to spread yourself out so that you're not hitting spammer level!

I know this question has been asked before amongst the Brigade, but if there's anything you've found works better/doesn't work or you have any additional suggestions, please feel free to put them in the comments. :)
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has donated their time, effort and blog sites to help me, especially those hosting me on the tour, the SFR Brigade, and a special thank you to Heather Massey at The Galaxy Express for the frequent mentions and the offer to post my tour dates. Honestly, I can't thank you enough but I want you to know how much I appreciate all the support I've had.


  1. Excellent post, Pippa, and certainly some things worth mulling. The Outer Planets deals with the exploration vs. exploitation scenario via its antagonist--a terrorist who is vehemently opposed to space exploration and manages to gain a berth on an exploratory vessel.

    I think though our intentions are to tread lightly on other worlds, damage is still done. I read an account of the Mir space station that told how every vessel returning to Earth was packed with refuse and garbage from the station, because they had no other way to dispose of it. Imagine an epic manned voyage to other planets or systems--where would they dispose of their trash other than to do what we've done to our oceans for the last several centuries. Jettison it. And how might that eventually impact other worlds? There's a lot to consider here.

    So excited about the upcoming release of KEIR! Won't be long now!

  2. Thanks, Laurie. I just find a certain tragic irony in the thought that in our search for alien life we may be the reason for extinguishing it on contact. We don't have a great track record as a species! But then, the idea makes for terrific story lines, especially in the apocalyptic genre.
    And I think I may be bouncing off the walls for the next few weeks with KEIR. :D

  3. Very good points, and I will tell you that Roger asked me to pass along his thanks. He did not appreciate his neighbors being boiled!

    I am so, so excited that Keir's launch is almost upon us! Wooo hoooooo! Congrats! You deserve it -- but I can't wait either! :-D

  4. Awww, pass my condolences to Roger! But at least it wasn't him that got boiled!
    (And how spooky that I was composing this post when you posted yours! I had a snippet come up in my Google reader.)

    And thanks! It's so close now! I wish you could come to the barbeque we're having on the day - weather permitting of course. Although it'll be lunch time here before Keir actually releases in the US - damn time difference!

  5. Great post, Pippa, and I loved the Stone Trek video! When you think about it Roddenberry was a visionary in all sorts of ways and the Prime Directive was one of them. Although Kirk and company violated it more often than not, we'd do well to go into space with something like that in place to keep our lumbering captains and crews from doing greater damage.

  6. One tip that I was given was to try and identify areas in your book that might be of interest to specialist chat groups on the internet. EG if you were looking at family history - then join groups who were into that. I know its hard to identify these sorts of areas - I really don't want to join a swinging party (cough) but the idea has merit if you can think of something relevant. use the same idea to chat with journalists who cover stories that might relate to aspects of your novel. Possible free publicity!

  7. Crikey! That figures. I went to a talk given by a NASA astrobiologist a couple years ago, and he mentioned that if we ever truly found even the tiniest bits of life there, we would have to address the fact we leave equipment there, with bits of potentially contaminating EARTH life clinging to it, and that we would have to find some way of sterilizing that equipment. The chemical engineer sitting next to me cracked, "Hydrogen peroxide." We asked the speaker about it afterward, and that was actually one of the options they were considering! Something about it cracked me up - imagining little robots with peroxide-soaked cloths scouring pieces of discarded probes, etc.

    Thank you for sharing your promotion adventures! I will be there soon myself. . .(ack, I already am!)

  8. @Donna - I really think we need something like the Prime Directive in place. But as you say with Kirk, how many times is it likely to be violated? And would it apply to our own solar system? It'll be interesting to see, since scientists believe there could also be life on Jupiter's moons.
    @Barbara - hmm, I'll try and look into that. I know my publisher sets up chats at romance sites, but the problem for me is often the time difference - they're usually in my night time since I'm UK and they're US.
    @Sharon - the promotion side is a little scary, but a lot of it has been fun. I'm really looking forward to the start of my virtual tour.
    And hydrogen peroxide?! Eek! I would imagine one issue with that is it might be just as fatal to the life on Mars. Catch 22.


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