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Category Archives: science fiction
Sci-fi becomes reality: 10 books about our future with Pluto
“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.”
–William Arthur Ward
by Andrea Sefler
Stargazers are having a momentous week with the Pluto flyby of New Horizons. With this success we have now made close inspection of most of the largest objects throughout much of our solar system, from the sun and all the planets, even the tiny one 4.67 billion miles out. And I refuse to engage in any “size matters” arguments here; I grew up learning nine planets, and nine planets there be.
While scientists will spend many years analyzing data from the mission making new discoveries, there is already a great deal of impressive accomplishments from the mission. Let’s just take the spacecraft itself. Are you one of those people impressed with and lusting after a high-tech Tesla? Well the New Horizons probe engineers managed to pack everything needed for the 9.5 year journey and the data collection upon arrival at Pluto into a craft smaller and lighter than many automobiles. Not to mention the fact that this baby was ripping along at more than 50,000 mph. Okay, maybe we can’t get the benefits of a gravitational assist from Jupiter on our highways, but this still makes a battery life of ~265 miles on an electric car seem weak.
Many will disparage this mission’s $720 million price tag and the space program in general as a waste of taxpayer money for esoteric and useless knowledge about places far too distance to be of concern. But the data collected at the destination is almost hardly more than icing on the cake. The real value lies in the journey and what needed to happen in order to make it a possibility. Most of our public companies, even those considered to be our most innovative, such as Apple, are concerned with small, incremental product changes, e.g. a few more pixels in the camera, a little bit larger screen. With NASA and the space program, the absolute necessity for small, robust, energy efficient components compel designers to push things to the limits. And then we all get to benefit from the successes as the designs find their way into our everyday devices.
Whether this gets done through solely at government agencies or through public/private consortiums, the point is to have these big, shared dreams and goals. My earliest datable memory is of the Apollo 11 moon launch. I am still staggered ever time I visit the Kennedy Space Center by the Saturn V rocket and all the incredible infrastructure developed to build, transport, and launch this behemoth, including the Vehicle Assembly Building, which is so large it sometimes rains inside.
The dream of sending a person to the moon united people to a common mission and, as such, everyone had a part in the success. Even better are the missions involving international collaborations, such as Apollo-Soyuz where we can begin to imagine ourselves as citizens of planet Earth and not Greeks or Germans or Americans or Russians.
But these missions all begin with dreams: dreams that came straight out of the pages of science fiction novels, leapt into the minds of curious, adventurous men and women, and wound up at the far end of our solar system. Many a great scientific discovery throughout history has been preceded by a fictitious imagining of it. Jules Verne published From the Earth to the Moon in 1865, and then in 1969 we did go from the earth to the moon via Apollo 11. H.G. Wells imagined tanks in The Land Ironclads (1903), and tanks were invented in 1915. There are many more examples, and whether these works of sci-fi were merely prophetic visions or actually served as inspiration in some direct or indirect way, the point is that the ability to imagine something comes before the actual doing. And in this respect sci-fi often has stronger ties to the real world than some people give it credit for.Today’s far fetched concepts may be tomorrow’s reality. And today’s flyby may be tomorrow’s manned expedition to Pluto. In celebration and acknowledgement of this idea, here are some sci-fi works over the years that have involved Pluto in some way. Some of these are forgotten works, but may they be rediscovered and inspire future generations to imagine new discoveries.
Details about the books at: http://www.popmythology.com/10-sci-fi-books-about-pluto/
Creation writing: is sci-fi a 21st-century religion?
Ever since mankind began to count, the uncountable stars have been filling us with awe. But the splendour revealed by a cloudless night reveals only a fraction of the universe’s truly awe-inspiring scale. The Hubble space telescope reveals a tiny smudge in the sky such as Andromeda to be a galaxy vaster than our own, teeming with a trillion stars, one of a hundred million other galaxies spread across the heavens.
Science today shows us a very different universe than the clockwork model imagined by Isaac Newton in his description of gravity. Jules Verne could imagine shooting a rocket from the Earth to the moon in 1865, but could not have imagined the vastness even of our solar system’s Kuiper belt. It was only when Edwin Hubble identified the first star beyond the Milky Way, and only when the telescope that bore his name photographed 3,000 galaxies in a single patch of “empty” space, that the human eye could glimpse the near infinite depths of space.
The work of the most ambitious SF authors like Iain M Banks, Vernor Vinge and David Brin manages to capture the true scale of the universe in fiction. And even then SF can detail only the tiniest portion of a cosmos some 93bn light years wide (and expanding ever more quickly), shaped by the unifying force of gravity, where the elements of life are created in supernova explosions and destroyed in black holes. The scientific model of the universe begins to look eerily like that expressed by Hindu astronomers over 3,000 years ago, in which the cycles of the universe are measured in aeons 1.28tn years long, reality is maintained by the force of Vishnu, and all things are created by Brahma and destroyed by Shiva.
Perhaps it’s these mythic resonances that have seen science fiction trend more and more towards religious zeal in recent years. The Singularity, a point in the near future when technology evolves so fast that it allows life to transcend all physical boundaries, is now a common idea in SF, explored by writers from Damien Broderick to Charlie Stross. Its believers style themselves as singulatarians and transhumanists, but their rhetoric of life after death in silicon virtual realities so deeply echoes fundamentalist Christianity that no one is joking when they call it the Rapture of the Nerds.
Some thoughts on science fiction.
Interview by Dinesh Raghavendra, Steven A. Michalkow, C. Derick Varn, Jayaprakash Sathyamurthy. Jake Waalk, and Joseph Brenner
Jonathan Lethem is an American novelist, essayist and short story writer. His first novel, Gun, with Occasional Music, a multi-genre work that mixed elements of science fiction and detective fiction, was published in 1994. It was followed by three more science fiction novels. In 1999, Lethem published Motherless Brooklyn, a National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel that achieved him mainstream literary success. In 2003, he published The Fortress of Solitude, which became a New York Times Best Seller. In 2005, he received a MacArthur Fellowship. His most recent book is Dissident Gardens. We decided to speak to him about New Wave science fiction, and its relationship to mainstream literary writing as well as other developments in a writer’s life.
Do movements like the new wave achieve any sort of…
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When I’m introduced to someone as a writer, a now familiar pattern of events often follows.
“Oh, really! How interesting!” the someone—let’s call her Jane—says, sounding quite enthusiastic. “What do you write?”
“Science fiction,” I say.
Jane instantly glazes over. “I’m afraid I never read science fiction.”
In other instances, people who know me have read a book of mine out of curiosity and then told me, in some surprise, that they liked it—“even though I don’t normally like science fiction.” Indeed, when a short story collection of mine won a non-genre prize, it was apparently a surprise to the judges themselves: According to the chair of the judging panel, “none of [them] knew they were science-fiction fans beforehand.”