August 21, 2017

Review: In Space No One Can Hear You Scream Edited by Hank Davis

A scifi classic!

Think space is a friendly place? This week’s review will cause you to think again.

From killer supernovae to the cold and uncaring vacuum to space alien beasties with their own agendas, the universe is indeed trying to kill us.

This week, we take a look at a thrilling (and chilling) look at a new compilation out from Baen Books. In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream edited by Hank Davis takes a page from the classic Alien movie tagline to bring you some terrifyingly great classic tales from the annuals of science fiction.

It’s a Lovecraftian cosmos out there, with stranger things than can be known. This collection culls some great tales of science fiction from such masters as Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, Sarah A. Hoyt and many more. We often forget that sci-fi is more than just rockets and rayguns. As this compilation reminds us, science fiction, fantasy and horror often go hand-in-hand… just be sure first that said hand is not a claw or slimy tentacle that you’re actually holding on to.

Here’s just a few notable tales contained herein:

A Walk in the Dark by Arthur C. Clarke: Hey, we didn’t know that there was a Clarke tale out there that we hadn’t read yet! It all starts with a breakdown and a simple walk home, which soon becomes disconcerting under starless sky on a world far out on the galactic rim. Beware those tales from earlier colonists of things that go bump in the night…

Frog Water by Tony Daniel: What might an alien menagerie contain? Two humans are about to find out in this far out and disconcerting tale. I love how the aliens are depicted as, well, truly alien, complete with inscrutable goals and interests, far from a peaceable Federation whining about intergalactic treaties, etc.

The Last Weapon by Robert Sheckley: Don’t open Pandora’s Box… except you just know that humans can’t resist peeking inside in this classic sci-fi tale. A team of mercenaries finds an ancient Martian weapons cache… and a dire warning. Hey, we’ve all been there, right?

Mongoose by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette: A classic tale of inter-dimensional infestation, Mongoose was also featured on the Drabblecast. Set in the Boojum universe, Mongoose evokes the feel of Lovecraft, as an intergalactic exterminator and his pet must remove a bizarre plague from a space station that let the task go for just a bit too long. A great action-packed tale!

Sandkings by George R.R. Martin: A gem of a tale, Sandkings is worthy of a reread. The story tells the tale of a collector of alien pets and curiosities that discovers the ultimate prize: a sentient insect-like species that worships him like a god. His pernicious proclivities get the best of him, however, as he takes the game too far. The installers weren’t kidding when they said to “watch your faces…”

That’s just a few of the weird and wonderful tales contained in In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream… read ‘em if you dare!

Review: The Martians by Kim Stanley Robinson.

A companion for a classic saga!

   Creating your very own universe is a tough endeavor in the realm of Sci-Fi. While other “serious” fiction writers have a readymade reality in place for them, science fiction writers must create a believable one from scratch. One of the modern best in the business is Kim Stanley Robinson. Recently, we had a chance to pick up his 1999 book The Martians, and it was worth the wait. [Read more...]

Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey

 

 

Original Theatrical Poster.

Original Theatrical Poster.

 

  This week, we here at Astroguyz are taking a look at a science fiction cinematic oldie but goodie. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey makes the top of nearly every science geek’s short list of movies that bother to get the science right. And like its sequel, 2010, its just plain fun to look back now that those years have come and gone and see how well reality has held up. [Read more...]

Review: 50 Short Science Fiction Tales edited by Isaac Asimov & Groff Conklin.

Original 1963 cover.

Original 1963 cover.

 

   No story format is better suited to good science fiction than that of the short story. This allows the writer to present us with a glimpse of a unique and fresh universe, complete with the “hook” or novel idea that the Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling later made famous. A writer must build, adapt and maneuver in a tight literary space; lengthy expositions or side plots are not allowed. [Read more...]

Astro-Challenge: Spotting O’Neill’s Bridge.

 

 Area of "O'Neill's Bridge". (Photo by Author).     

The region of “O’Neill’s Bridge.” (Photo by Author).

   Sometimes the most interesting visual challenges are objects that never were. This type of “non-event” can give us pause, to wonder exactly what those skilled observers of yore might have seen… such a challenge comes to us this week in the form of the spurious lunar formation known as O’Neill’s Bridge. This formation lies on the edge of the Mare Crisium along the meeting points of two lunar headlands: Promontorium Lavinium and Olivium, respectively. In the early morning hours of July 29, 1953,observer John O’Neill reported spying a tiny fan of light shining under what appeared to be a natural arc. He was using a 4-inch refractor with a magnification of 125x to 250x. Reports confirming his observation soon spread. The troubling thing was, natural bridges such as those in the American southwest are formed most by water and erosion processes that aren’t present on the Moon. And the dimensions of O’Neill’s bridge would have to be huge; something on the order of 20 miles long and one mile high! Clearly, something odd was at work here. O’Neill’s bridge also garnered a brief controversy in the pre-space travel era when it was suggested that it might be artificial! The bridge also gathered a moment of science fiction fame in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel A Fall of Moondust

So what did O’Neill and so many others see? Are alien engineers setting up shop on our Moon, building bridges to nowhere?  Part of the mystery and solution lies in the fact that lighting angles on the Moon change dramatically from one apparition to another. Apollo 17 images show a tiny crater almost exactly centered between the two points; the thinking is that at the exact right lighting angle, the straight wall of the crater can look like a bridge between the two points, with perhaps a central peak just grabbing the sunlight to complete the illusion of an arch. A discussion of this came our way via Stephen O’Meara’s outstanding column The Secret Sky in the July 2010 edition of Astronomy magazine, and we felt it was an interesting challenge to share. O’Neill’s bridge seems to be most apparent when the sun angle is at a co-longitude of 127 degrees. This occurs about two days after Full, although the area of O’Neill’s bridge is illuminated from about 3 days after New until just past Full. Optimal viewing dates for the rest of the year are:

19:50UT October 25th

09:40UT November 24th

00:05UT December 24th

Good luck and maybe you’ll see or capture the illusion as it bridges the gap!  

The astro-word for this week is Terminator. This is one of the more ominous sounding science fiction terms mostly thanks to the killer robot movie franchise of the same name. The terminator of an object is simply the dividing line between illumination and darkness. On most populated areas on Earth, you stand directly under the terminator twice a day, once at sunrise and at sunset. On the airless Moon, the terminator can appear abrupt and sharp, and most of the intriguing detail occurs along this line. I especially like to watch crater rims catching the first or last rays of sunlight while the floors are still in darkness, or seeing the tips of the lunar peaks lit while surrounded in darkness. Just what would it be like to camp out on those lunar ridges, watching the sunrise on a two week long “day” as the Earth is perched high overhead?

Review: 2010: The Year we Make Contact.

2010: The year we make contact. Original movie poster. (Credit: MGM).
2010: The year we make contact. Original movie poster. (Credit: MGM).
 

This week, we here at Astroguyz are going retro with our review. Way back in my pre-historic high school days (like, 1984), my friend and I went to see 2010: The Year We Make Contact  in our local theater. At the time, the actual year seemed unimaginably distant, a far future that we would never actually, well, live in… Well, 2010 is now here. So jJust how well does the movie stack up to reality? Of course, 2010 was the hugely successful sequel to Arthur C. Clarke  and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which dealt with space travel, artificial and alien intelligence, and the next step in human evolution. The concept was based loosely on the Clarke original short story The Sentinel, and the concept was that an alien intelligence played a hand in human evolution and had placed artifact(s) in the solar system that we would only discover when we were sophisticated enough to find them. Similar themes are further developed in Clarke’s outstanding Childhood’s End. In 2010, the film picks up nine years after the original mission of Discovery One, as a joint US and Soviet expedition is sent to salvage the site. The Jupiter system had yet to be reconnoitered by the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft when 2001 was made; 2010, however, incorporated images and data that by the 80’s were known.  The first movie also departed from the book, in that the final action sequence originally revolved around Saturn and its bizarre moon, Iapetus; the book 2010 centers, like the movie, around the Jovian system; the movie leaves out, however, the side plot of the Chinese landing on Europa.

The joint crew of the Alexei Leonov dock with Discovery, which is now coated with sulfur and spinning lazily above the surface of Io. 2010 is much more politically charged than 2001; it, like Ben Bova’s Millennium and Larry Niven’s Footfall  are very much a product of the end of the Cold War era and seem somewhat dated by today’s standards. It’s as if the world expected the Cold War standoff to be a natural state of affairs, ad infinitum. A cool nod to Clarke and Kubrick to this effect can be briefly seen in the flick, as both are depicted on a Time magazine news cover!

Of course, we’ve yet to reach Jupiter via manned spaceflight, or get back out of Low Earth Orbit, for that matter. We do have a continuous manned presence in space via the International Space Station, but the now defunct TWA has yet to offer commercial flights to the Moon. Of course, some things have come to pass; the average IPad now dwarfs the intelligence of HAL9000, and nearly everything is made of plastic… in fact, it’s amusing to see the scene with Dr Heywood Floyd on the beach, with what looks to be a mini Apple IIE  as what was envisioned as the ultimate in computing portability…. and of course, 2010, like most science fiction, totally missed cell phones, the Internet and the rise of Twitter which was just around the corner.  (Interesting side note: pay special close attention to the video monitors in both movies; 2001 made use of flat screen projection, while 2010 saw a reversion back to CRTs!)

Of course, both flicks predicted the rise of “video-phones” which we now have via webcams… like much technology; however, this didn’t take into account the human factor. People like the perceived anonymity that phones, cars, and comment boxes such as those that grace this site provide them; most only converse via teleconferencing when only absolutely necessary.

The brave new world of Io as seen by the Galileo space probe. (Credit: NASA/JPL).

 The film climaxes with an extraordinary event; the collapse of Jupiter to form a new sun in our solar system. Of course, whatever super-advanced intelligence performed this feat didn’t do it for our benefit, although it does avert a super power confrontation. As per consultations for 2001 with Dr Carl Sagan, alien intelligence is implied, but never seen. This saves both flicks from a perceived campiness that plagues much of Sci-Fi. “I was glad to see that some of my suggestions were taken to heart,” Carl was quoted in saying upon review of 2001. While stunning, just how a relatively low mass object such as Jupiter could sustain a fusion reaction even after ignition isn’t addressed, but I doubt the Europans care as they are now suddenly the mystery aliens’ favorite sons…

Do catch 2010 if you haven’t had an opportunity to do so; it’s currently up for instant viewing on Netflix. And to see how the drama ultimately plays out, be sure to read Clarke’s two additional novels in the saga, 2061 and the somewhat anti-climatic 3001. The future is may be now, as the calendar reads 2010… any Vegas odds on when we’ll make contact?

The bizzare world of Iapetus, the original setting for 2001. (Credit: NASA/JPL).

14.10.09: The Earth-Moon System as viewed by HiRISE.

A Crescent Terra & Luna as seen from Martain orbit! (Credit: NASA/HiRISE/JPL).

A Crescent Terra & Luna as seen from Martian orbit! (Credit: NASA/HiRISE/JPL).

The image above floated through our tweet-o-sphere yesterday, thus prompting today’s news post. HiRISE, NASA’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter(MRO) is the spacecraft that you’re probably not following, but should be. In orbit about the Red Planet since early 2006, its been transmitting some pretty mind blowing images, all definitely worth a daily peek! Housing a 0.5 meter reflecting telescope which would be the envy of any backyard astronomer, its the first true “spy satellite” quality orbiter that we’ve fielded about Mars. Able to resolve targets about 0.3 meters across, some of the highlights have included stunning views of the polar caps and dunes, snapshots of the Opportunity and Spirit landing sites, and even catching the Phoenix Lander in descent! In fact, eagle-eyed desktop amateurs may even prove successful it divining the fate of the many (more than half!) errant Mars-bound landers over the years. But as is often the case with space exploration, we travel millions of miles to find…ourselves. Some of the most memorable images are actually those of the Earth, whether its “Earth-rise” aboard Apollo 8 or the “Pale Blue Dot” as viewed from Voyager 1, images such as these and the HiRISE pic above of our tiny home remind us how special our place is. Snapped back in 2007, it shows us that the Earth is not only a pretty, but dynamic place were things are happening. Mars is tiny and cratered, and through a backyard telescope, generally yields little detail. Venus, although dazzling, is perpetually shrouded in sulfurous cloud. Not so with the Earth. Cloud cover changes, the surface shows a variation in sea, land, and seasonal growth, and at night, an experienced telescopic eye might just pick out the lights of cities, evidence of human activity. Views like this always remind me of Arthur C. Clarke’s little known but classic short story Report on Planet Three, where Martian scientists argue that life couldn’t exist on Earth! Clarke wryly points out that life elsewhere may not be remotely Earth-like. I personally can’t wait to spread my telescope tripod legs out under a night under Martian skies; and without a doubt, the slender crescent Earth-Moon duo will be my first astronomical target!

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

  OK, Arthur C. Clarke merits two “great” entries.  One of my favorite authors since I was a teenager, he has the uncommon knack of making real science come alive. The scenario presented by Clarke in Rendezvous is a highly pausible one; I’d place a private bet that it would be the most likely situation if First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization was made face to face. [Read more...]

Childhoods’ End by Arthur C. Clarke

   Childhoods’ End covers a broad swath of human history. Like Rendezvous with Rama it covers one of sci-fi’s most hollowed (or hackneyed?) themes; first contact with extraterrestials.  [Read more...]