Five Ways to Sell People on the Thankless Task of Planetary Colonization

The illustration of a Mars base at the top of the article, an "artist's conception," is the work of Carter Emmart. He depicts the Mars vehicles and base design cooked up by a study at the Second Case for Mars conference in 1984.  This is just one of Mr. Emmart's pictures of the mission scenario, more of which may be found at this link.

Carter Emmart is now at the American Museum of Natural History, where he is Director of Astrovisualization.  Which is a very cool title, if you ask me.

Four Stories That Subvert the Cosy Catastrophe Genre

Though she found the phrase useful, Jo Walton did not coin "cosy catastrophe;" for this phrase we must thank Brian Aldiss in Billion Year Spree (1973).

Tales From the Science Fiction Barroom

A truth well-known in SF circles—and which a reader not privy to any insider knowledge might easily guess—is that the White Hart is a fictionalized version of a pub Clarke frequented with his friends: the White Horse. From the 1940s onward, London's science fiction fans met regularly in this Fetter Lane establishment. Many of the youthful fans of the Thirties (whose antics were sketched in fanzines) had, in maturity, become pro SF authors or editors. On Thursdays, they mingled there with younger fans and older friends from all walks of life.

Rob Hansen, the admirably diligent historian of UK fandom, has placed online an interesting 1954 article.  "Tales from the White Horse," by Frank Arnold, portrays the publican, Lew Mordecai, and attempts to convey the spirit of a time Arnold experienced as a golden age.

The fannish gathering eventually moved to another pub, the Globe, and later another; London fandom persisted, and kept up regular meetings for decades afterward.

The White Horse was much older than SF fandom, by the way; James Pollard painted its portrait in 1865.

Five Unforgettable Books Involving Amnesia

A pal of mine once told me that the opening of Nine Princes in Amber was lifted from a Raymond Chandler story.  I never read enough Chandler to learn which story, though, and I don't know if this is true.  Maybe I misinterpreted my friend?

14, Tim: Zelazny also plays with a deliberately-induced form of amnesia in Today We Choose Faces (1973).


The protagonist has edited his memories, and in the course of the plot, finds it necessary to restore a previous (unpleasant) version of his personality from a sort of computer.

Memorable blurb: "'Pull pin seven and loose the demon within..."

Five SF Stories That Mix Swords and Starships

I am puzzled why your Art Person chose to display at the top of this article a totally swell picture of the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission spacecraft, which has nothing to do with either starships or swords.  Unless— in the grand 1960s-1970s tradition of SF cover paintings that illustrate no scene whatsoever of the story within—it was chosen because it's a totally swell picture.

I await your forthcoming entry, "Five Novels in Which Magnetospheric Physics Plays a Role," in the hope that it will be illustrated by a picture of a hot babe brandishing a sword.

Imaginary Space Programs Are Always Better Than Reality (But Reality Is Pretty Amazing)

Rick Guidice’s illustration portrays deflection plates tweaking payloads at the business end of a mass driver (a sort of electric catapult). I suppose it’s technically a part of a Lunar Colony, on its exterior, but the caption seems a bit misleading.

Another One of Them New Worlds: Revisiting Forbidden Planet

ChristopherLBennett writes in #19:

So it’s really rather preposterous to portray an exploration vessel spending only a few days exploring a planet before moving on.

Right you are.  The proper way to explore a planet, as everyone knows, is to send one or two rovers there every decade.

Science Fictional Rulers, from Undying Emperors to Starlike Sovereigns

Goldomark in #3:


You pose a worthwhile question, but I prefer to regard your examples as possible fodder for a future Nicollian essay, rather than as omissions from this one.

Building (and Breaking) the Myth of the American Astronaut

It might be interesting to examine the (not very good) 1953 film Project Moonbase, with screenplay by Robert A. Heinlein and Jack Seamans.  Among other things, this pre-Sputnik, pre-Vostok, pre-Mercury film attempts to tug the incipient Myth of the American Astronaut in a feminist direction.  This doesn't keep it from cringeworthiness.

In the story, women space pilots can be just as good as men, possibly better, but must endure harrassment within a male-chauvinist military establishment.  Meanwhile, the heroine, played by Donna Martell, behaves and speaks in ways that the filmmakers thought would please an early-Fifties audience, but at which we modern viewers look askance.

This SPOILER-filled Smithsonian article by Jackie Mansky (its very title is a spoiler for the interesting feminist fluorish at the very end) contains further discussion of women and Project Moonbase.

PDF drafts of the screenplay can be purchased from the Heinlein Archives for a bit more than three bucks.  Bootlegged versions of the 63-minute film can be found on the Web. One can also find DVDs for sale.  And Mystery Science Theatre 3000 counts Project Moonbase among its many hapless victims.

On Needless Cruelty in SF: Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations”

In #14, Andy Cooke writes:

 From the cover image – why not just jettison the tiger?

You're thinking of a Frank R. Stockton story, "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

Surviving the End of the World: Girls’ Last Tour

(Can I figure out how to put a Flickr selfington into a Tor comment? Let's see!)

(Several bungled drafts later: No.)

Well, I could give up and just link to it.

SF Stories That Cut the Vastness of Space Down to Size

7: Another example of a house-on-many-worlds is one of Roger Zelazny's lesser novels, Today We Choose Faces (1973).  All of humanity live in a House divided into Wings, each an a different planet, and connected with teleportation Passages.

Five Works of Hard Science Fiction That Bypass the Gatekeepers

Joel Fritz, #14:

How about the stories about systematizing magic like Pratt and DeCamp’s Harold Shea series or Rick Cook’s Wiz Zumwalt series?

See Footnote 2, above.

Driving Without Wonder: Pixar’s Cars

As entp88 has already observed in #28, what would make this article complete is a “Pixar Rewatch” tag.

Asimov’s Guide To Shakespeare Exists, and You Need It

Kirth Girthsome @14: I had not known Asimov had been active with the Village Light Opera Group.  How interesting. With the clue you provided, I found a 1989 New York Times review of an Americanized production, U.S.S. Pinafore. To quote:

'Isaac Asimov writes new lyrics for 'Pinafore'! William S. Gilbert turns in his grave!'' screamed the advance publicity for the Village Light Opera Group's production of ''U.S.S. Pinafore,'' which opened over the weekend at the Fashion Institute of Technology.


In line with a production concept that places the action in the United States in the 1930's, Mr. Asimov amended Gilbert's lyrics for ''H.M.S. Pinafore'' to replace British allusions with American ones. Thus, most obviously, ''He is an Englishman!'' becomes -with surprising ease - ''He is American!'' Mr. Asimov's alterations were restrained (indeed, perhaps too discreet if vernacular American English was the goal), clever and unobtrusive except when the production italicized them.

Doing the Math: Aliens and Advanced Tech in Science Fiction

I recognize the picture at the top of the page as representing the Kepler-42 system. I've asked NASA but have not been able to learn the name of the artist. This star is 126 light years from here, having a mass 0.13 times that of our Sun and a luminosity 0.0024 times the Sun's.

Some while back, tired of "the search for Earthlike planets," I went hunting for Sarr, the home planet of the sulfur-breathing protagonist in Hal Clement's novel Iceworld. (Have Powerpoint, will travel.)

In the picture above, the planet closest to the star is Kepler-42c, the nearest match for Sarr in the data available at the time I was looking.  Sarr's radius is 0.77 that of Earth; 42c's radius is 0.73 Earth radii.  42c's orbit has a a semimajor axis of 0.006 astronomical units, snuggled up less than a million kilometers from its small, dim parent star. Its "estimated equivalent temperature" is 720 Kelvin, give or take 73 K.  Sarr's temperature must be around 770 K or more, given its sulfurous atmosphere, but there is plenty of room for 42c's actual temperature to be that high.

Hal Clement gives the length of Sarr's day, 13 hours, but not its year; Kepler gives 42c's year, 11 hours, but not its day. If 42c is tide-locked, as seems likely, then its day would also be 11 hours, pretty close to Sarr's.

Sarr is said to be 670 light years from Earth, so it is considerably further away than Kepler 42, but otherwise Kepler 42c is a decent match for the homeworld of Clement's hero, Salman Ken.

There are a lot more worlds to be found in exoplanet databases than the Earthlike (whatever that means) ones.  Maybe your own favorite planet from SF is in there somewhere.  Take a look.

Please Love This Thing You’ve Never Heard Of: The History of Sci-Fi Hype
Making an excellent point in #4, Bluejay writes:
And isn't music always the in-movie hype man, getting us excited about what we're watching? Think of the Wagner in Apocalypse Now, or the Strauss in 2001. Brilliant choices all.
The Strausses, Bluejay. The Strausses in 2001.
Why I Love 2010 More Than 2001
In #6 ChristopherLBennett writes: But I think 2010 stacks up well compared to SF cinema as a whole, because it's one of the vanishingly few space movies that actually use good science. In particular, it develops a few interesting ideas that came along after 2001 was made. Aerocapture. Life beneath Europa's ice. Sulfur from Io's volcanoes, staining spacecraft yellow. The novel is Clarke's love letter to the Voyager spacecraft, which made Jupiter and its neighborhood unprecedentedly real. And something new was happening in filmmaking. In 2010, Io and Europa are big miniatures. The ever-changing cloudscape of Jupiter, however, emerges from a computer, the same machine that had given us The Last Starfighter. (With an assist from NASA's Voyager data.) Finally, another technical novelty. Peter Hyams sought Clarke's help when writing the screenplay. They bought identical Kaypro II portable computers. Awkwardly they kluged up methods for flashing text from Los Angeles in the U.S. to Colombo in Sri Lanka, exchanging drafts and personal messages across 15,000 kilometers of phone lines at 300 baud. Imagine collaborating with someone on another continent-- electronically! It seemed like all Clarke's telecommunications prophecies from the Fifties and Sixties were about to come true. Truly we were living in an age of wonders.
The Man From Mars Sweepstakes!
In Palmer's era as editor, Amazing was published in Chicago. As a Chicago SF fan, I'd like to know more about the local history of SF, so this book is up my alley. In 2000, I helped other fans with a project to produce a map of Chicagoland locations significant to SF, both real and fictional. So it included the Amazing offices, and the residences of L. Frank Baum and Edgar Rice Burroughs, but also the route Kimball Kinnison's ancestor takes as World War III begins, speeding to the rocket interceptor base on his high-speed motorcycle. "Clear Diversey to the Outer Drive, and the Drive south to Gary and north to Waukegan!"
Three Short Stories With Stranded Time Travellers
I distinctly remember someone whistling a Beatles song in one time travel story... "Yesterday." James, that would be the aforementioned The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers. A signal to locate other lost time travelers, should they be hanging about in the same crowded marketplace.
The Many Bromances of Neil Gaiman
The first book I ever bought with Gaiman's name on it was Ghastly Beyond Belief: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Book of Quotations, for which his partner was British horror maven Kim Newman. This afternoon, Wikipedia calls the book "a light-hearted tribute to entertainingly bad prose in fantastic fiction." (Tomorrow, as we all know, Wikipedia may call it something else.) It was published in the UK but Alice Bentley and Greg Ketter had the wit to stock it in their Chicago store, The Stars Our Destination, where I found it. GBB is riddled with dreadful dialogue, frenzied movie-poster slogans, and overblown blurbmanship. Fortunately, none of it was actually written by Mr. Newman or Mr. Gaiman, who merely compiled these choice bits for the delectation of readers. Both authors may have gone on to greater things, but Ghastly Beyond Belief was, as far as I can tell, the first time Mr. Gaiman found himself between covers with a partner. As it is darned funny, I reckon it a success, so it deserves a salute here.
FULL Trailer for Man of Steel Leaks Online
Man of Steel Leaks Online really doesn't sound an appealing title to me. Nor do I wish to see a trailer for it.
More Than Alien: Larry Niven’s Protector
Jo, thanks to you, I re-read Protector this weekend. It was entertaining, and I was filled with nostalgia for the days when classic Niven was being read by classic Higgins. I'd been wondering how the older Higgins would react to this novel. One thing leapt out at me: This book has been visited by the Planck Fairy. I probably should write a column explaining what that means.
Have We Lost The Future?
In #14 Shalter writes: The twelve year old me (1975) would have picked space travel. The internet is somewhat difficult to fully explain without experiencing it. I know I posted a garbled misquotation above; but now here's an exact quote from Sir Tim Berners-Lee: "It's so difficult to explain to people who are used to the Web why, before the Web, it was so difficult to explain to people what the Web was all about."
Have We Lost The Future?
Moonbase or Internet? Sir Arthur Clarke is an interesting figure because he could see both futures so clearly. He wrote a bunch of nonfiction books about communications, though he wrote even more about spaceflight. As a moonstruck lad Clarke preached the gospel of spaceflight enthusiastically. As a radar tech in the Royal Air Force, he married his knowledge of radio to his familiarity with rockets, and became the father of the geosynchronous communications satellite. He eagerly followed every new development in computing and telecom all his life. He was pretty sure we were going to get instant interational contact with our pen-pals and rivers of information at our fingertips. But he was pretty sure we would get lunar cities, too. If he hadn't been an SF writer, he'd still be remembered as a prophet of spaceflight. If he hadn't been either, he'd still be hailed as a prophet of the telecom revolution. Really, we were lucky we had all three Clarkes. As for the question at hand, please allow me to garble Gilbert Shelton: "The Internet will get you through times of no moonbases better than moonbases will get you through times of no Internet."
More Than Alien: Larry Niven’s Protector
Lakesiedy writes in #38: Flaws notwithstanding, I loved both Protector and World of Ptavvs (another book which doesn't receive much love, I feel) enough to re-read them multiple times. If you're looking for a vote for World of Ptavvs, Niven's first novel, you can count on me. I've re-read it to death... but I haven't re-read it recently. Maybe it's time for a trip to the basement.
It Was the Summer of ’82
I recall Q: The Winged Serpent as somewhat more intelligent that I expected a monster movie to be, and fairly solid two-star entertainment. Don't dismiss it out of hand.
Gone Too Soon: The Best of Kage Baker
Around 2009, I became quite fond of her "Ancient Rockets" series, reviewing SF and fantasy movies of the silent era here on
The 10 Best Comedic Science Fiction Films According to Me
I am pleased to see The Absent-Minded Professor get some love. I will always be a member of the Dark Star cult and the Buckaroo Banzai cult. Martha Coolidge's comedy about intelligent people, Real Genius, is a huge favorite. Upon reflection, though, I must admit that its science-fictional elements are inadequate to push it into the category of SF film; like a technothriller, it is firmly set in the here-and-now of 1985 with a few plausible gadgets. Tends to be a film loved by SF fans, however.
Introducing the Palencar Project
I believe Alfred Bester's great story "5,271,009," also known as "The Starcomber," which punctures many tropes of lazy SF, was written for a cover painting. Fred Kirberger's cover March 1954 Fantasy and Science Fiction shows a prisoner chained to a drifting asteroid; Bester duly worked the preposterous image into his story, right down to the number on the prisoner's chest. Here's the cover.
Art History Through Sci Fi-Colored Glasses
The Boticelli painting is discussed in the text of Venus on the Half Shell, and so there is nothing subtle about placing a "swipe" of it on the cover. There is a site devoted to covers of the book. I wish I knew which artist painted the Dell edition, which, as I recall, carried the blurb "NOW AVAILABLE FOR THE FIRST TIME WITHOUT LURID COVERS!"
Future Shock: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
The year is 1997 and the Earth is at war with the enigmatic Taurens. Acttually, the year is 1997 and the Earth is at war with the enigmatic "Taurans." Check the text. Joe Haldeman writes:
This happened near Aldebaran, in the constellation Taurus, but since "Aldebaranian" is a little hard to handle, they named the enemy "Tauran."
More like this, please: James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes
Maybe there would be more good SF novels if more of them were written on Wednesdays. Mr. Abraham and Mr. Franck should start a literary movement, and publish a "Wednesday Manifesto."
Reading Joanna Russ: How to Suppress Women’s Writing (1983)
The recent appearance of this article may explain a sudden summons I received: I had checked out How to Suppress Women's Writing from an academic library many miles away. Another patron (possibly Jabberwocky) now wants it. I have often heard that this is an important book and felt I should read it. Yet ahead of HTSWW in the batch of books I'd checked out, I had been reading a history of radio astronomy and an account of editing pulp magazines. With regret that I hadn't moved Prof. Russ to an earlier point in my queue, I have mailed the book back to the library. Jabberwocky, let me know when you're done reading it. I'll check it out again. Or maybe I should just buy the damned thing-- there seem to be used copies available for under ten bucks...
A Woman on Gont: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Tehanu
On the one hand she's saying very clearly that women's domestic lives are central and important, and on the other the force of story is bending everything to have an actual plot, which needs an evil wizard and men and the world of action. It strikes me that this same tension exists in your own novel Lifelode. Did you have Tehanu in mind as you were writing it?
Poking Fun at Britain’s Moon Men: The British Interplanetary Society
Bill Leininger: If you read Temple's account to which I linked, you'll see that they do indeed begin assembling mirrors into a demonstration of the Coelostat, which results in some very silly scenes. Schrodingers_cat: I'm not sure of the reasons-- perhaps guarding the income that results from their paper publications?-- but yes, the BIS does not seem to make articles available online as far as I know. When I want to read one, I have to drive fifty kilometers to find a library that subscribes. Rob Hansen: Interesting! The Relapse article (reprinted from a 1939 issue of JBIS) is clearly another account of the same event, written for a rocket audience rather than a fannish audience, sans Coelostat. Real names of people are inserted and the tone is not quite as goofy. One of these pieces is a rewrite of the other. My guess would be that the fanzine version came first. However, I do not know where or when "Benefit Performance" was first published. I presume Walt Willis was reprinting it. I could not find it in the collection of the London fanzine Novae Terrae you yourself have placed online (for which many thanks), even though Clarke and Temple often wrote for that zine.
Working With Vernor Vinge: Thirty Years On
I decided, sometime in the Seventies, that I was exactly the sort of reader for whom Vernor Vinge was writing. And I haven't had any reason to change my mind.
A Finite Future: Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky
Vinge has considered means other than merely building smarter computers for enhancing the power of intelligent beings. The fictional "Focus" is itself related to Vinge's speculations on the Singularity: what if, through drugs or other techniques, humans could bring the full intensity of their intelligence to bear on a particular problem, free of distractions? (And the 1993 article, while not his earliest writing on the Singularity, is certainly a good summary of his ideas.) Even Vinge's early 1966 story, "Bookworm, Run!" is connected to the Singularity, because it explores another plausible enhancement of intelligence: the bookworm protagonist is a [SPOILER] whose mental radio link to a computer gives him abilities far beyond his un-enhanced talents.
Remembering Jim Henson
I confess I am now curious to see what Scatman Crothers's Yoda would have been like.
Announcing the 2011 Hugo Award Winners!
Andy Love writes in #21: Remember the "controversy" about the use of the standard Hugo rules to determine the winner of that award? Um, no?
Announcing the 2011 Hugo Award Winners!
In #15, James Nicoll, proud loser of the Best Fan Writer Hugo, writes: Beamjockey did my homework for me: You're welcome. Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey (This should really be "Bill Higgins, Beam Jockey," but circa 1988, putting a comma in the "From:" string broke some mailers, so my sobriquet acquired two hyphens and a space instead.)
Hugo Nominees: 1993
In #13, Carlos writes: The Usenet references have dated badly as well: does anyone still think Henry "Sandor at the Zoo" Spencer is an infallible net.god any more? Yes.
Tampering with Historical Destiny: Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy
The Galactic Lens exists in Hawaii. It's 100 feet across. Last year I met its designer, Jon Lomberg. It's biological. See
Tampering with Historical Destiny: Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy
In Hawaii, the Galactic Lens exists. Last year I met Jon Lomberg, its designer. Here's a surprise: it's biological. See
How Robert A. Heinlein wrote about making dinner: some thoughts on Farmer in the Sky
Jo reads Papa Schultz's family as Germans, from Germany. This startled me, because I had always read them as "Pennyslvania Dutch," that is, Americans of German descent who speak a local dialect of German. Papa wears a lavish beard and he is really, really good at farming under primitive conditions. When he is first introduced, he uses the word "kinder" to mean "children:" "One of the kinder saw you going past on the road, so Mama sent me to find you and bring you back to the house for tea and some of her good coffee cake." This bit of tile is another clue: "[The fireplace] was faced with what appeared to be Dutch tile, though I couldn't believe it. I mean, who is going to import anything as useless as Ornamental tile all the way from Earth? Papa Schultz saw me looking at them and said, 'My little girl Kathy paints good, huh?'" Germans from Germany are not ruled out, but in my opinion Heinlein was thinking of the Pennsylvania Dutch. (Though it's understandable if Jo is not very familiar with them.) In his story "Waldo," an important character, Gramps Schneider, comes from this subculture.
Hugo Nominees: 1982
In #15 James Nicoll mentions a publisher (of a novel) that was "an odd fit for Gilliland." This might also be said of the publisher of his books of cartoons, Loompanics Unlimited. The Loompanics line offered how-to manuals for readers desiring to go on the lam, live off the grid, create false identities, or manufacture various illicit substances. A variety of tracts on politics, radical in various directions, also appeared in the Loompanics catalogue. But then again, what would be a "normal" publisher for a collection of fanzine cartoons? By Chicon IV Mr. Gilliland had won a Hugo for Best Fan Artist, and would go on to win three more. Today, vast numbers of his fine cartoons can be seen on his Web site. This appears to include the contents of his cartoon collections. Treat yourself.
Hugo Nominees: 1977
1977 was my first Worldcon; it was in the extravagantly tacky Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach. I commuted from my parents' home in Coral Gables every day. And hated to go home each night... Just before the Hugo ceremony, I had dinner with Phil Foglio, whom I had recently gotten to know. Seeing Phil win the silver rocket filled me with (unjustified) pride, and I clapped as hard as I could clap.
Review: Limitless
The music is disappointingly generic, considering that its trailer featured a song, Kanye West's "Power," that basically is Limitless in song form... I understand that trailers often employ music that is not part of the movie's soundtrack when it is finally released-- in many cases, I imagine, the score is not yet finished when the trailer hits the cineplexes. I will leave it to others to discuss the cliched musical passages that have been overused in trailer soundtracks.
Science Fiction/Fantasy Lonely Hearts Club Band
At first glance, I thought your top photo was a picture of Rhysling, blind singer of the spaceways. But he was not particularly lovelorn.
Wisecracking, aliens, and hot places: Roger Zelazny’s This Immortal (“And Call Me Conrad”)
The estimable Gardner Dozois writes in #22: As far as I can cudgle my poor tired old brain into remembering, the term "vegan" was not in wide use then, if in use at all. Hark! This looks like a job for Google N-Gram Viewer! From 1800 to 1970 he word "vegan" appears as less than once in a million words, in the corpus of Google Books used to construct N-grams. In the 1970s, it begins to rise. In the 1980s it is four or five words in a million. In the Nineties, it climbs steeply to two words or more in a hundred thousand. Click the searches at the bottom of the graph to see books where "vegan" appears in various years.
Wisecracking, aliens, and hot places: Roger Zelazny’s This Immortal (“And Call Me Conrad”)
In 2004 I learned that the title "We, in Some Strange Power's Employ, Move on a Rigorous Line" is a misquotation of Matthew Arnold: Arnold's line is We, in some unknown Power's employ, Move on a rigorous line: Can neither, when we will, enjoy; Nor, when we will, resign. This was easier to find out because I waited until after Google had been invented. By the way, Delany's story not only contains a character named Roger, but is also dedicated: "--for R. Zelazny."
Plays and Plato: Mary Renault’s The Mask of Apollo
DavidA1 (or rather DavidA) writes: Jo, it is a little spooky how so many of my favorite books and authors turn out to be your favorites too. You want spooky? Read Among Others once it comes out next month. As Charles de Lint said (see, "It has also jumped right into my short list of favorite books ever, and it's one that I plan to reread more than once."
Dark ages and doubt: Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz
I have always loved Brother Francis's illuminated reproduction of St. Leibowitz's circuit diagram. In 1979, I was rooming with Todd Johnson, a young electronics whiz. At a fan gathering, we met Mary Lynn Skirvin, a talented artist. I was intrigued to learn that she knew how to do calligraphy. "Wouldn't it be cool," I told Todd, "if Mary Lynn could draw the circuit diagram from A Canticle for Leibowitz?" Todd provided a plausible diagram for Transistorized Control System for Unit 6-B-- some kind of servo driver, if memory serves. I dug out the book and loaned it to Mary Lynn, who hadn't yet read it. The result was wonderful. Vines grow up the wires. Hovering cherubs unroll blueprints. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost gaze benignly upon the Schmitt Modulator. St. Leibowitz himself, carrying a bundle of smuggled books, raises his hand in blessing. Radiation symbols and resistor color codes serve as decoration. Mary Lynn made 600 prints and, over the years, she sold them all to delighted members of the technoculture. Her diagram hung over many a workbench, many a computer terminal. I have Print Number One on my own wall. The original she gave to the man she loved. When Mary Lynn married Todd, I was their best man. Saint Leibowitz must have interceded, for they are still making amazing art together.
Fiction Affliction: Diagnosing December Releases in Science Fiction
In #7 James Nicoll writes: "Back to the Moon appears to belong to a subsubgenre I've been running into lately, in which people go, uh, back to the Moon. Other examples would be Issui Ogawa's The Next Continent, which is on my Hugo list, and Bill White's Platinum Moon, which I also enjoyed." Apparently Dr. Taylor has, with John Ringo, also written in another obscure subgenre, namely "People fly a submarine into space and have adventures." Another example would be Harry Harrison's The Daleth Effect, a.k.a. In Our Hands, the Stars. (This book also happens to be an example of the first subgenre, as the Danish submarine makes a stop on the Moon to rescue stranded cosmonauts...)
SFContario Party Game: Fannish Fortune Cookies
This one is not from SF, but it partakes of an SFish feeling: "It's so difficult to explain to people who are used to the Web why, before the Web, it was so difficult to explain to people what the Web was all about." (Sir Tim Berners-Lee)
A self-aware computer and a revolution on the moon: Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Shakatany writes in #26: Heinlein predicted GCI and as far as I know was the first to think of it (or at least was the first to come to my attention). When Mike started to manipulate pixels to become Adam Selene it was a taste of what we now can do in movies and TV. Did you mean to say Computer Generated Imagery, CGI? This was an advanced idea for an SF writer of 1966, but Heinlein was not the first to think of it. Take a look at what Ivan Sutherland was doing with his amazing program Sketchpad in 1962: Drawings on a screen, generated by a computer, moving in real time as the user commands them with a light-pen. It's the forerunner of today's Computer-Aided Design software, or drawing tools like Adobe Illustrator. Once Sketchpad exists, better CGI and, ultimately, Adam Selene's video persona are forseeable-- in a future with MUCH better hardware than the Lincoln Labs TX-2. Fortunately, that future eventually did arrive. (Before Mike-style artificial intelligence did.)
A future that never came: Arthur C. Clarke’s A Fall of Moondust
Much as I love Clarke, I've long thought that plotting was not his strong suit, not at novel length anyway. Most of his books are closer to travelogues than they are to thrillers. But in A Fall of Moondust Clarke uses straight-ahead disaster plot that works very well to show off his strengths.
Annapolis in space: Robert A. Heinlein’s Space Cadet
In #34, John Arkansawyer writes: Now, I won't swear I've gotten all this right, but I think, on the evidence, one could plausibly make the claim that Robert Heinlein was one of those soft-headed one-world propagandists, leading juvenile market into perdition. John, were you at the "Heinlein and the Bomb" panel at the Heinlein Centennial in 2007? I'd kinda thought you were. There Tad Daley asserted (in a deliberately provocative way) that Heinlein advocated that the U.S. give up a portion of U.S. sovereignty to a supranational organization. The crowd got surly, and as moderator, I had to rein them in several times. I called for quiet and urged them to hear out Tad as he made his argument. Which was (as I said above) that Heinlein in the 1940s saw an international agency with control of nukes as the only reasonable way to avoid atomic war--notwithstanding his reluctance to give up a measure of American autonomy. Once Tad laid out his reasons the audience's hostility simmered down, though it didn't disappear. Most people had been thinking of the fire-breathing, anti-Communist, fallout-shelter-building Heinlein of the late Fifties and Sixties. The guy who has really thought about this aspect of Heinlein is Éric Picholle, critic and physicist. He edited Solution Non Satisfaisante, which includes a French translation of "Solution Unsatisfactory" and various commentary on Heinlein and the Bomb (I contributed a chapter on Robert A. Cornog).
Annapolis in space: Robert A. Heinlein’s Space Cadet
In #18 Doug M. writes: "Nuking Des Moines would be all too consistent with some tropes and concerns of Heinlein's later fiction." Look in the other direction: Heinlein's earlier writings. Having learned about uranium fission, which he discussed with John Campbell and with his friend Bob Cornog, beam jockey (then working at Berkeley's cyclotron lab), he wrote "Blowups Happen" in 1940. It's about a nuclear reactor and the possibility that a mistake in its operation might lead to a devastating explosion. He foresaw a nuclear arms race in "Solution Unsatisfactory" (1941). With a radioactive superweapon that can destroy cities, the U.S. quickly concludes World War II. But your country is not safe just because it is the only country with nuclear weapons; others can and will develop similar weapons. How to avoid wars? The unsatisfactory solution of the story is to give control of the weapons to an international agency staffed by (hopefully) incorruptible soldiers dedicated to keeping the global peace, even to the point of attacking their own home countries. For four years, Heinlein brooded about nuclear war. He and Campbell noted in letters that physicists had abruptly stopped publishing anything about uranium. Bob Cornog sent a note: "For the nonce it's completely impossible to visit or be visited-- I'm in a 'deep, dark void.' Will let you know when things change--" A visiting relative found Heinlein staring out the window of his Philadelphia apartment one morning "to verify that New York is still there." The shoe dropped. The U.S. attacked Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs. Japan surrendered. To Heinlein, nothing was more important than preventing atomic warfare from destroying his own country. Conventional weapons were obsolete. Within a month he was in New Mexico, meeting with Cornog and with other Los Alamos scientists who would eventually form the Federation of American Scientists. They gave him a lump of greenish radioactive glass from the Trinity site. Heinlein and the scientists agreed to work toward international control of nuclear weapons. Heinlein spent much of the next year writing nonfiction articles, trying to convince the public of the nuclear threat and the need for international control. He contacted politicians and military officers. Cornog, too, contacted a Congressman he knew. Heinlein's articles didn't sell (some of them appear in Expanded Universe). Heinlein returned to fiction. In Rocket Ship Galileo (1947), Dr. Cargraves obtains his thorium from an international agency that controls fissionable material. Space Cadet (1948) portrays a Patrol prepared to enforce global peace with orbiting bombs. In "The Long Watch" (1949), a coup by not-so-incorruptible Patrol officers is thwarted by the loyal Lt. Dahlquist, willing to sacrifice his own life to uphold the principles of his service. Heinlein continued to have a lot to say about nuclear weapons as the Cold War wore on. But Space Cadet has its roots in concerns that had troubled him for many years. In a sense it's a sequel to "Solution Unsatisfactory."
First Juvenile: Robert A. Heinlein’s Rocket Ship Galileo
Egad writes in #9: IIRC, the ship took off from the surface of the Earth using a nuclear thermal rocket employing *mercury* as the working fluid. Don't wanna be downwind of that! Zinc. Vaporized zinc. "You remember Heron's turbine in elementary physics? Little boiler on the bottom and a whirligig like a lawn sprinkler on top? You heat the boiler, steam comes up through the whirligig, and makes it whirl around. Well, my drive works like that. Instead of fire, I use a thorium atomic power pile; instead of water, I use zinc. We boil the zinc, vaporize it, get zinc `steam.' We let the `steam' exhaust through the jet. That's the works." Even so, Egad is probably right about not wanting to be downwind of it.
First Juvenile: Robert A. Heinlein’s Rocket Ship Galileo
Jo writes: The most regrettable didn't-happen-that-way bit is the commercial intercontinental rocket flights—why don't we have those? I suppose jets are in some way better, but it beats me as to why. Oh well, it's probably totally clear to an engineer. Yes, it is clear to an engineer (I will spare you the disquisition). But it was much less clear in 1947; the first jet airliner was still some years away, and the war years had just seen fantastic advances in rocketry. So it was quite plausible at the time-- even to an engineer-- that jet travel would eventually be superseded or supplemented by rocket travel. Also, Heinlein desperately needed commercial rockets to exist in order to make his plot work at all, so he may have been deliberately optimistic about how soon they would appear. Dr. Cargraves appears to have worked on the Manhattan Project circa 1945, and he does not appear to be an elderly man, so the novel must be taking place between World War II and maybe 1970 or 1975. Yet he purchases a surplus commercial-rocket airframe to build the Galileo, so there has been time for rockets to be developed, come into everyday service, and become surplus. That seems like a mighty fast timescale for a new industry to mature, but I suppose that during Heinlein's lifetime automobiles and aviation grew up just about that quickly, so rocket-liners might have looked like a safe bet from where he was sitting.
Heinlein Biographer Tells All
Carlos writes: I suppose I will have to listen to the mp3 to understand what Patterson might mean here, but I know that the world-famous Brookings Institution was founded when Heinlein was about nine... Bill Patterson does not address this question in the podcast either. He again mentions it briefly. Not having read the book, I don't know whether he makes the case there. Interrogating the Google Books version of Learning Curve, one finds Bill uses the phrase "think tank" on one page of his introduction, but otherwise it refers only to an informal group of friends Heinlein convened in World War II, not to any institution we'd call by the term. I'm sure we can get Bill to sketch out the thinking behind his think-tank statement here or in some other online forum at some point. Seems like the heyday of the policy think tank was more the period of Volume Two, yet to be published.
Robert A. Heinlein’s technological prophecies
Heinlein was writing about these issues before nuclear weapons had been invented. He got the effects of the technology right, but he got the technology itself wrong. The weapon he predicted wasn't a bomb, it was radioactive dust. Heinlein was aware a uranium bomb was possible. Among other things, one of his best friends* was a cyclotroneer at Berkeley, and they regularly discussed atomic research. In a 1957 talk, he said of "Solution Unsatisfactory:" "I might even add that one of those predictions would have come true even more precisely had I not just finished writing another story on atomic power and wished to avoid repeating one of the incidents in it." He refers to "Blowups Happen" (1940), where potential explosion of the barely-stable nuclear reactor is the threat that drives the whole plot. Apparently he didn't want to typecast himself as The Atomic Explosion Story Guy. So he may lose a few prognostication points for failing to name the correct weapon, but he gains a lot more for laying out the nuclear arms race and its attendant paranoia. Imagine the strain this put on his wartime experience-- knowing that physicists have stopped publishing uranium research, knowing that his buddy has disappeared into a "deep, dark void," wondering every morning (according to a visiting relative) whether New York has yet been vaporized. And knowing that even if America got the Bomb first, the world would be plunged into terrible danger. *Robert A. Cornog, about whom I have recently published a biographical article.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Look at the Birdie—the last of the wine?
Lenny, I always believed that Trout = Sturgeon, not least because of the pun. Vonnegut confirmed this in 1987. Nevertheless, I feel you are onto something. There is something of Trout in Philip K. Dick. Of course, Trout isn't just one sad-sack writer-- he embodies Vonnegut's ideas about the whole world of science fiction.
Reincarnated as a Space Yacht: IKAROS Flies/Sails Again
If one takes a liberal view, James, one must also recognize Mariner 10, launched in 1973, which used light pressure for attitude control to save propellant.
Gargoyles, fonts, and anachronism, oh my!
In the early Sixties, Ed Emshwiller set up a time-lapse camera and filmed himself creating cover paintings for science fiction magazines. I'd love to see these films-- I think they still exist. This was the pivot between his career as an illustrator and his career as an avant-garde filmmaker.
In Sheep’s Clothing: Why Fantasy and SF might be disguised as each other
John W. Campbell edited Astounding Science Fiction for most of his life. For a brief time-- about four years, 1939 to 1943-- he began a fantasy magazine called Unknown. Unknown attracted writers of science fiction, and many of its stories featured a rather science-fictional approach to fantasy. Magic had rules and logic, and its practitioners treated it something like engineering. Pratt and de Camp's Harold Shea stories, or Heinlein's "Magic, Inc.," are examples. This is not exactly a crossover-- these stories are definitely fantasy and not SF-- but they're very different in tone from other fantasy of the time. Even though the magazine died, the Unknown style lived on. A really good example written a couple of decades after its heyday is Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions, where a modern engineer is catapulted into a fantasy world and finds that physics and chemistry help him deal with magical beings. Once the fantasy boom got going, this kind of thing was assimilated, and it's pretty common these days.
Donald E. Westlake 1933-2008
I have not read more than a few Westlake novels. With most of Wodehouse, some of Damon Runyon, and one lonely Heinlein book, they are pleasures I've been saving for my old age. Yesterday at the Goodwill I came across a Dortmunder novel, Watch Your Back! I had recently enjoyed another one, so I picked it up. A dollar seventy-nine. I took it home and started reading. On the title page is inscribed, quite legibly, DONALD E WESTLAKE 4/24/05. This is the kind of thing that keeps me coming back to thrift stores, and scanning all the books. Even though I already have plenty of books.
SF reading protocols
PNH writes in #16: I think that, to the contrary, more people are better at following more complicated SF setups and storylines than ever before. This, neglecting the "SF," is essentially the thesis of Steven Johnson's book Everything Bad Is Good for You. He argues that television narratives have become more complex over the decades, and that an episode of modern TV is way more challenging to the viewer's mental skills than an episode of, say, Sixties TV. I'd say SF and fantasy films and TV have followed the same path. Worldbuilding and incluing are considerably more sophisticated than they were decades ago (though they generally lag behind ink-&-paper SF still).

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