Archive for the ‘There's a Problem with Physics’ Category

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“Pictures Don’t Lie” by Katherine MacLean

December 30, 2011

The Book: “Pictures Don’t Lie” by Katherine MacLeanOriginally published by Galaxy Science Fiction in August 1951. Read in The Diploids and Other Flights of Fancy published by Avon (G-1143) in 1962.

The Setting: Earth, a military base.

The Story: Aliens are coming to Earth! They’re in contact, audio and video, plus they’ve sent some of their sitcoms along too. But once they’ve landed, no one knows where they are…

The Science: Spoiler: The aliens are tiny and move, speak, the whole works, much faster than we do. Though we both use radio waves to communicate.  I don’t see why it should be possible for other worldly organisms to perceive and interact with space and time in radically different ways than we do. Hell, it’s a major trope in sciencefiction and super hero stories.

The Reaction: A very good story. It has humor, it’s got a twist, and it’s just fun. I’m not surprised that it was widely adapted into other media. 

The Cover: Same as the first time.

Next Up: Foundation by Isaac Asimov.

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“A Subway Named Mobius” by A. J. Deutsch.

April 2, 2011

The Book: “A Subway Named Mobius” by A. J. Deutsch. Originally published in Astounding Science Fiction December 1950. Read in the anthology Where Do We Go from Here? edited by Isaac Asimov published by Fawcett Crest in 1972.

The Setting: Boston, Earth.

The Story: An addition to the Boston subway system has unexpected mathematical consequences.

The Science: A Mobius strip subway makes trains disappear. That’s ridiculous. The Mobius does have unusual topological properties, but it’s not in communication with some sort of mystical fourth-dimensionality. I call bullshit.

The Reaction: It reminds me of “-And He Built a Crooked House-“, but somehow less good. It’s not the greatest story, but it’s not so long that I resent having read it.

The Cover: A generalized science fiction anthology cover with what may be planets or molecules or whatever.  But mostly, ASIMOV.

Next Up: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.

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Man of Two Worlds by Raymond F. Jones

July 28, 2010

The Book: Man of Two Worlds by Raymond F. Jones.  Originally published as a serial in 1944, then as a novel titled Renaissance in 1951.  The edition read was published in 1963 by Pyramid Press.

The Setting: Kronweld (a distant planet?) and Earth

The Story: A man tries to prove that the religion of his society is all hocus pocus, and gets embroiled in much more than he bargained for.  This includes, but is not limited to: cross dressing, political intrigue, epic journeys, military training, and leading a new and better world.  Yeah, there’s a lot of story in this book.

The Science: So, a lot of this book involves hopping back and forth between Kronweld and Earth.  And the mechanism that allows the hopping between the two places is called a Gateway.  The book never really bothers to explain how it works, except to say that a gauge is crucial to it.  It seems to be device that can rip holes in the fabric of space and allow you to step directly from one planet to another.  And they do that a lot.  Initially, it mostly sends babies from Earth to Kronweld.  Then, at the end, there’s a lot of space hopping by war machines in both directions.

I don’t think I need to point out that this is technology which we do not possess.  I do worry, based on reading stories and watching movies, that the citizens of Kronweld and Earth are possibly doing irreversible damage to the spacetime continuum, ripping it all open like that.  It’s very much the same sort of holes in space as in Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife.  It’s an awesome idea, but a hard one to really explain without magic.

The Reaction:The back matter on this book really had me worried.  It declared “CALL ME KETAN” at the top, and went into a first person thingy.  It sounded awful.  Thank goodness it seems to be just a misguided marketing attempt.  The story itself is complex, interesting, and unpredictable.  Even 20 pages from the end, I had no idea what was going to happen.  There’s even a female character who spends a fair amount of time being a good character before pleading with her daddy and asking Ketan for a baby.   I declare this worth reading.

The Cover: Cover painting by John Schoenherr.  I love this cover because there’s a big crazy bug machine on the front and a close up of the human chaos on the back.  The bug machine, alas, seems to be only a product of John Schoenherr’s imagination, as it doesn’t match anything in the book.  But it is an awesome machine.  Points for coolness.

Next Up: “The Invisible Boy” by Ray Bradbury


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“Proof” by Hal Clement

July 5, 2010

The Book: “Proof” by Hal Clement.  Story originally published in 1942 by Astounding Science Fiction.  Read in the anthology Where Do We Go from Here? edited by Isaac Asimov published by Fawcett Crest in 1972.

The Setting: The Sun

The Story: A solar being (Solarian) tells a scientist of a related species about a mysterious crash.  Spoiler: turns out the crash was on Earth.  The solar species are pretty sure that solid matter is impossible, so Earth can’t exist, logically.

The Science: Wait, what?  Organisms evolving on the sun?  Certainly not with life as we know it.  But life as we know it still gets pretty weird.  Take, for example, the hyperthermophile, a type of extremophile that thrives at temperatures between 140 and 212 degrees F.  Which is nothing compared to the 10,000 degrees F (or so) sun.  But still, science has only discovered these crazy little life forms recently, and they’re discovering more all the time in environments which are very inhospitable.

The Reaction: Nice story.  I like these stories that aren’t (primarily) from the human perspective.

The Cover: A generalized science fiction anthology cover with what may be planets or molecules or whatever.  But mostly, ASIMOV.

Etc: Second appearance of the term Solarians – the first referred to humans in Asimov’s “Homo Sol.” Bonus nerdage: Doctor Who did an episode involving solar life.

Next Up: “John Carter and the Giant of Mars,” in John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

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“-And He Built a Crooked House-” by Robert Heinlein

July 4, 2010

The Book: “-And He Built a Crooked House-” by Robert Heinlein.  Story originally published in 1941 by Astounding Science Fiction.  Read in the anthology Where Do We Go from Here? edited by Isaac Asimov published by Fawcett Crest in 1972.

The Setting: Hollywood, California, Earth

The Story: An architect builds a house in the shape of an unfolded tesseract, but does it a little too well and an earthquake shakes it into an actual fourth spatial dimension.

The Science: Tesseracts, as a geometric figure, are a thing.  And you could build a house in the shape of an unfolded tesseract.  But would is an earthquake capable of shaking such a thing into an actual fourth spatial dimension?  I very much doubt it…  UNLESS THE EARTHQUAKE WERE IN THE FOURTH DIMENSION.  Yeah, or not.  When has an earthquake ever shook an unfolded cube into a cube?  If that’s happened, maybe we can talk.

The Reaction: Neat idea, good characters, great story.  Lots of fun, and makes your brain hurt too.

The Cover: A generalized science fiction anthology cover with what may be planets or molecules or whatever.  But mostly, ASIMOV.

Next Up: “Proof” by Hal Clement

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“Heavy Planet” by Milton A. Rothman

June 20, 2010

The Book: “Heavy Planet” by Milton A. Rothman.  Story originally published in 1939 by Astounding Science Fiction.  Read in the anthology Where Do We Go from Here? edited by Isaac Asimov published by Fawcett Crest in 1972.

The Setting: Heavyplanet.  Creative name, that.

The Story: Ennis, inhabitant of Heavyplanet, encounters an Earthly spaceship which has crashed in the ocean.  No survivors, only red jelly.

The Science: Rothman has a vision of a planet with gravity much much heavier than earths, so much so that the human body squishes under the pressure.  The Heavyplaneteers are enormous, squat men, evolved to withstand the enormous pressures of their world.  Also the same, one wonders whether life in heavy gravity would be the harder-than-rock sort described in the story, or if it would choose a more yielding form.  Or, at the very least, if bipedalism is really the best answer.  Why have legs when it would be hard to stand up?

The Reaction: Original.  Interesting.  Scientific.  It’s genuinely good science fiction.  And short too!

The Cover: A generalized science fiction anthology cover with what may be planets or molecules or whatever.  But mostly, ASIMOV.

Etc: Not only does the author have a cool name, but he was a physicist who literally wrote The Laws of Physics.  Also, a total nerd.  ❤

Next Up: Synthetic Men of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

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Short story: “The Man Who Could Work Miracles” by H.G. Wells

February 9, 2010

The Book: “The Man Who Could Work Miracles” from The Time Machine and Other Stories by Herbert George (H.G.) Wells.  First published in 1898.  The edition read was published in 1969 (copyright 1963) by Scholastic Book Services.

The Setting: Earth, unspecified present.

The Story: A skeptic with a silly name, George McWhirter Fotheringay, suddenly discovers that reality obeys his every command.  Hijinks ensue.  Fotheringay turns a cane into a rosebush, sends a policeman to hell and, later, to San Francisco.  Concerned about the policeman’s well being, Fotheringay seeks the advice of the local clergyman.  The clergyman and Fotheringay strike upon the idea of using the miraculous powers for good, ignoring the policeman.  They creep about in the dead of night, reforming drunkards, turning beer to water, and curing the vicar’s wart.  But they need more time to do good!  So the clergyman suggests that Fotheringay stop the earth turning, so that time stops.  But it all goes terribly wrong…

The Science: The science is good!  I know, because I asked the internet.  Not the miracles, mind you.  The “force of will” behind the miracles is not scientifically sound, but the consequences of stopping the earths rotating suddenly is accurate.  Everything on the face of the earth would go flying off, there would be a horrific wind, and, essentially, the earth would get torn apart and everything would die.  A+ on this one, Mr. Wells.

The Reaction: A fun little story.  Like literary popcorn shrimp.  Tasty, but not filling. I really like Fotheringay; he never thought to go mad with his power, and he was very concerned about rectifying his single major abuse of power.  Just the sort of fellow who ought to have the power of miracles, if anyone should.  Although maybe he ought to have a better grasp of physics…

The Cover: See The Time Machine.

Next Up: The War of the Worlds by, you guessed it, H.G. Wells.