That time of skeletons creeping down chimneys and eldritch carols has passed, and the time of reflecting upon the closing calendar year is here in its full strength. It’s also the time we think of our wishes and resolutions for the coming year. Overall, 2016 has been strange. If there is such a thing as split personality for years, 2016 is a prime example. We’ve seen extremists from various sides of political spectra and social media-abusing demagogues triumph, while many thousands of people in danger massively flee their homes. Some warn that the foundations of democratic societies are crumbling, and it somehow feels like we’re just before one of the timelines in William Gibson’s The Peripheral (oh yes, Gibson has got an uncanny knack at noticing things already present in the world years ahead of others). We should not take it lightly or dismiss it as exaggerations.
And yet, it was also the year that most likely continued the good trends of the preceding decades: decreasing both relative and absolute number of people living in extreme poverty in the relevant documented history, conquering even more diseases, spreading literacy, higher perceived happiness – all in all, if there’s no unexpected big jump in the data (for more on the poverty trend and pros/cons of the methodology e.g. here), it was on average a very good year, it’s just that this average is shadowed by many horrid events and also more subtle changes like the income gap widening in many areas: not to be taken lightly, perceived as normal or forgotten. But also not to be a cause for shouting “apocalypse”, panicking and doing nothing useful. They’re serious and need our work and attention. We can work on continuing that trend of the world getting on average better in terms of reducing poverty, providing access to medical care, education, and more. All of us can contribute to that, and every baby step counts.
In the realm of speculative fiction, it was a very good year. Lots of exciting new novels and shorter works on my to-read list! For me personally, it was a wonderful year. Lots of my stories and my translations of other authors’ stories had been accepted, I edited Dreams From Beyond (reviewed here by Rachel Cordasco), and several of my stories were published this year. Um, the award nomination season is approaching, right? This is new to me and I’m just becoming to understand it as a stranger to the Anglophone market for most of my life, so any advice how it’s done? Or I could just list my eligible stories (aside from the anthology) below, yes?
- The Ship Whisperer (In Asimov’s 3/2016. Short story. In orbit of a star that shouldn’t exist in so young a universe, a curious ship whisperer, a determined colonel and a conscious ship are facing the toughest decision of their lives. Update: Thanks to Jason Sanford’s tweet, I found that the story appeared on the Tangent Online 2016 Recommended Reading List.)
- The Nightside (In Alien Artifacts anthology. Novelette, apparently; 7 540 words as my word processor shows me. Linus doesn’t like cold, dark, dangerous places – but being stationed on one, a world of truly hellish qualities, was his only chance to escape war. Yet war may be coming to him…)
- Becoming (In Persistent Visions. Short story. You can read this one online! Dive into the strange world of a space station controller forced to live in a gravity well once again, until a first contact happens. You can also check out what Ada Hoffman said about the story.)
If you have read and loved any of them, please consider them. If you haven’t, don’t. Seriously. Never nominate something you haven’t even read, no matter who else recommends it. Read it first, decide then.
In terms of getting to know other people, places or things, 2016 has been superb. I attended The Astrophysics of Planetary Habitability conference, which was just astounding and full of inspiration for science, popular science articles and science fiction alike. Academia Film Olomouc was as great as the year before. I got to the national FameLab finale and received one of the awards. I toured Norway all the way from Oslo to Lofoten with my husband, and when we got lost on Moskenesoy, we’ve met a great hiking books writer Harri Ahonen by asking him for the directions. During the two science-themed summer camps I worked on, I got to impersonate a saber-toothed cat, teach kids how a skeleton fits together, and find several open as well as globular clusters with a telescope on my own (while interested in astronomy for as long as I can remember, I’m a lousy sky observer!). On the Festival Fantazie in Chotěboř, I won the Aeronautilus Award for the best novel and also the best short story published in 2015.
I had the honor to be among the students selected by ESA for a sponsorship to attend the International Astronautical Congress, held in Guadalajara in late September. It was an absolutely wonderful experience, made even greater by the ISEB (International Space Education Board) events. I loved it and gained some useful insight into my educational and perhaps also scientific activities. Not speaking of the beauty of Mexico we at least briefly glimpsed, and then touring Netherlands on my own and spending time in the Rijksmuseum, wandering through Haarlem and getting my hair blown into my face by gusts of wind next to the famous windmills. And then there was Eurocon in Barcelona: absolutely brilliant! I’ve met so many wonderful people on the convention, seen lots of interesting program and got to see the beautiful Barcelona.
Back from me to the bigger picture. In science, 2016 was a great year. Gravitational waves. New confirmed exoplanets. Hypothetical Planet Nine. More dwarf planet and smaller objects discoveries in the Kuiper and beyond. The successful finale of the Rosetta mission. Juno’s arrival to Jupiter. Year in Space and the Twin Study. Lots of bold announcements concerning especially piloted space exploration. GAIA data release. Genes transcribed post-mortem. Wider uses of CRISPR. Eukaryote which lost its mitochondria completely. Peculiar silica deposits on Mars. Thinner crust of Enceladus than expected. Possibly more subsurface oceans than we had expected (not just you, Pluto – what about Dione?). Maybe very young Saturnian inner moons. And much, much more, some of which we’ll perhaps only appreaciate some years in the future.
So. When I was 25, it was a good year. Let’s make the next one even better.
I’m looking forward to lots of expected events in 2017. The final part of the Cassini-Huygens mission. New rocket launches. Continuing search for Planet Nine, and hopefully more Kuiper Belt/scattered disk/inner Oort cloud objects. And I have a special list of somewhat specific wishes for 2017…
- I wish to know what scientific equipment will the Red Dragon capsule carry for its maiden voyage to Mars. If it makes the 2018 launch date, it’s high time to assemble that… So – any chance for a sensitive seismograph (Just imagine three active seismographs on Mars! InSight, Red Dragon, plus later ExoMars 2020 lander. You know how it goes: The more seismographs, the merrier… and the greater chances of learning more details about the inner structure and evolution of Mars.), and maybe some astrobiological instruments before piloted missions end planetary protection and make the results less reliable?
- I wish an “Ocean Worlds” mission to Enceladus and/or Titan is selected for implementation by NASA. Also, if there is a way to constrain the age of the inner icy moons (would more precise tidal dissipation measurements be feasible?), it would be perfect to include it if possible.
- I wish DAVINCI or VERITAS is selected in the current Discovery selection by NASA (and that perhaps two Discovery missions could be selected…?), and that more missions to Venus would follow. We know staggeringly little about the history of this “Earth’s sister planet”. Did it have water oceans at all at some point, and if so, was it for tens of millions years, two billion years, more, something in between? How did its surface and atmosphere evolve? Learning more about Venus would additionally give us useful insights for Earth sciences and exoplanets research. Update: This wish was over quickly. NASA selected Lucy and Psyche instead, but these are so great missions it would be hard not to be very excited! Venus may get its chance in the next New Frontiers selection.
- I wish there’s more drive to return to the Moon with piloted missions. This wish actually seems to have a good standing right now. Anyone up for making the Moon Village concept reality?
We’ll see what 2017 holds in store. As for me, I’ve got a few resolutions…
- Finish a novel in progress before the Worldcon.
- Start writing another one (and preferably have most of it ready in a year’s time).
- One short story or novelette a month, let’s say?
- Translate some good fiction. Luckily, it’s not in short supply.
- Write some good nonfiction. Topics also not in short supply (the opposite, really).
- Expand our science outreach programs.
- Visit the Eurocon and the Worldcon.
- Attend the European Planetary Science Congress in Riga.
- Try to attend the next IAC in Adelaide.
- Get on with older data and finally write those two papers, so that I’m not nearly in the middle of my PhD studies for nothing.
- Go running regularly (everyone needs an exercise resolution, right?).
- Not get months behind with transcribing interviews anymore. (AI industry, please make speech-to-text usable, please…)
- Not remain the thing I loathed and yet have become this year (= the person who sometimes takes weeks to respond to simple e-mails).
- Generally make the world a better place. Baby steps matter too.
- …and, you know, just enjoy the year and help others to do the same.
Suggested keywords for 2017: Reason. Fact. Peace. Curiosity. Exploration. Fun.
All the best into the new year!