content by

William S. Higgins

Voices of 1956: Hear Asimov, Bradbury, and Campbell on the State of Science Fiction

The science fiction of 1956 is calling. Are you listening?

There was a science fiction boom going on in 1956. An unprecedented number of science fiction magazines were available on the newsstands. Books were being published. Radio drama. Movies.

On the 4th of December that year, the NBC radio network broadcast “Ticket to the Moon,” an episode of the series Biography in Sound. Usually this series profiled a prominent person of recent decades — for example, Winston Churchill, Knute Rockne, or Grandma Moses — but on this occasion, the subject was science fiction.

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Poking Fun at Britain’s Moon Men: The British Interplanetary Society

By the 1930s, spaceflight’s visionaries, such as Tsiolkovsky, Goddard, and Oberth, had worked out how rockets could be made to ascend above the atmosphere, enter orbit, and even someday land on the Moon.

Younger enthusiasts became disciples of these visionaries, striving to spread the word to everyone that the Age of Space was about to arrive.

In Britain, this took the form of the British Interplanetary Society. Founded in 1933 in Liverpool, eventually its most active members were near London, so its center shifted there. They held meetings. They published a journal. They publicized their cause by writing letters to newspapers and by inviting prominent Britons to join. They corresponded with rocket advocates in other nations. They learned that under an Explosives Act, rocket experimentation was illegal, so their experiments focused on building the instruments a spacecraft would require.

[A light-hearted look at two fans in a Flat, and the rocketeers of London]

Reporting on Science: Does the Press Get it Right?

“We don’t serve faster-than-light particles here,” growled the bartender. A neutrino walks into a bar.

Last week, scientists at the CNGS experiment (CERN Neutrinos to Gran Sasso) reported the arrival in a lab in Gran Sasso, Italy, of neutrinos produced at the accelerator in CERN, on the Swiss-France border, at a rate that implied they were moving slightly faster than the speed of light. As soon as the reports hit the press, in physics departments around the world, jokes like the one above were all the rage. Particles moving faster than light? Wouldn’t that mean a violation of causality? Could these particles be moving backwards in time?

Behind the science is an interesting social issue, however… how much can you believe of you read in the papers about science? Do news reports of major breakthroughs get it right?

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The Latest Starfighter: A Paradox

One very hot new hobby seems to be 3-D printing. There are machines which, starting with a mathematical model of an object, can create arbitrary shapes by gradually building up layers of material.

Recently during Musecon, near Chicago, I encountered James Brown demonstrating a Makerbot Thing-O-Matic machine. It was busy manufacturing little keychain gewgaws, and the smell of hot plastic was in the air. He handed me a little toy spaceship. “Do you know what this is?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said. “It’s a ship from The Last Starfighter.” It pleased him that I recognized it.

A kind soul known as “7777773” had uploaded a design for this spacecraft to an online library of objects. With the Thing-O-Matic, James had manufactured a copy.

The Gunstar fighter sent my mind voyaging back to the early 1980s.

[Back to the days when pixels were young…]