Category ArchiveScience Fiction
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Sometimes they were called “blasters, ray guns, or even zap guns,” although that last one was sometimes also used for the “stun gun” the puny sibling to the much mightier Death Ray. Asimov had one called a “Disinto.” Hugo Gernsback was sure they’d be either radio waves or powered by radium. Fritz Leiber imagined the “fission pistol,” that had all the nuclear reactions in the gun going in the same direction. A. E. van Vogt used light to “conduct” nuclear reactions to the target, at least on the Space Beagle. In Slan, it was just raw atomic power. Once in a while the death rays were “sonic.” More frequently they were “electron guns” which actually exist in television sets, but for something else entirely (though one may argue that TV is something of a stun device). H. G. Wells began the whole thing with the “heat ray.”
And we wanted them, maybe as much as we wanted to go into space (which is maybe why I wasn’t as interested in the things as my fan boy brethren). And it wasn’t just us.
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A review of Gojira, Ishiro Honda, dir. Toho Co, Ltd. 1954; reissued by Classic Media 2006.
On March 1, 1954, the United States detonated Castle Bravo at Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific. Castle Bravo was a hydrogen bomb with a yield of 15 megatons, roughly two or three times what had been expected. It was the largest radiological accident ever caused by the land of the free and the home of the brave and poisoned the crew of a Japanese tuna boat, the Daigo Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon No. 5), with one crew member eventually dying of leukemia. This led to a tuna scare in Japan and a petition drive to ban the bomb.
Tomoyuki Tanaka was one of many Japanese who followed the story closely. He worked as a producer for Toho Company, Ltd., one of Japan’s major film studios. When a deal fell through and created a hole in the studio’s release schedule, Tanaka decided to fill it with a new kind of film, a sci-fi horror story filmed in noir style and featuring a prehistoric beast awakened by an atomic explosion. The beast was named Gojira and the film was released in Japan on November 3, 1954.
If you look closely, you’ll see a reference to Lucky Dragon No. 5 early in Gojira. The movie opens on a freighter at sea off Odo Island, the Eiko-maru. It’s evening and some of the sailors are gathered together while one of them plays the guitar and another the harmonica. There’s a sudden bright light and a loud noise. The sailors rush to the side of the ship to see what’s happened:
Notice the number on the life preserver, “No. 5.” The freighter sinks and all hands are lost.
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I know a lot of amateur scholars, including myself (ask me about New York City circa 1911 sometime). Many of them concentrate a fair amount of their scholarly impulses on science fiction, and that includes my friend Douglas. He’s taken advantage of the fact that U.C. Berkeley has a collection of the papers of A.E. van Vogt, for example. He also tells me of a movie review of Metropolis written by H. G. Wells.
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By Jame Killus
Fred Hoyle was born in Yorkshire in 1914 to decidedly middle-class parents (a wool merchant and a teacher). He was probably the most prominent scientist to ever have a significant career as a science fiction writer, having written such books as The Black Cloud and A for Andromeda. In the latter novel, some scientists genetically engineer an alien woman based on DNA coding sequences they receive from a stellar transmission. The book was made into a 7 episode series for the BBC, then the idea was pinched for the movie Species.
Hoyle is popularly known for his coinage of the term “Big Bang” and for his opposition to the Big Bang Hypothesis; he believed in “Continuous Creation” and held to it long after the discovery of cosmic background radiation and the more-or-less complete adoption of the BBH by the entire astronomical community. Not content to be something of a crank on the Big Bang, he also put forth the theory of panspermia as an alternative to terrestrial evolution. Panspermia essentially holds that life first occurred in space, and then came to planets; its strong form holds that evolutionary changes rain down from space as viruses or something similar. It is held in high regard in some Creationist circles, though I have no idea why genetic changes from space viruses are more in keeping with Creationist logic (or lack of it) than terrestrial mutations.
It’s possible that Hoyle’s anti-establishmentarian mind-set cost him the Nobel Prize. Hoyle’s co-worker, William Fowler, won the Nobel in 1963, essentially for confirming Hoyle’s prediction of a resonance level in the carbon nucleus, a prediction that Hoyle made as a result of a problem in nucleosynthesis of heavy elements in stars. (It may be noted that Hoyle made the prediction as part of his program to explain heavy elements as being a natural result of stellar nucleosynthesis, something that was absolutely essential if continuous creation was to be viable).
The problem that Hoyle was working on involved the nuclear fusion of elements past helium. The difficulty is that, if you try to fuse helium, you get beryllium-8, which almost immediately fissions back into two helium nuclei. So helium looks like a dead end. The only way out seemed to be if another helium nucleus hit the Be-8 during its very short lifetime. Unfortunately, calculations showed that the resultant highly energetic carbon-12 nucleus would also break apart. Indeed, the nuclear formation of Be-8 (from a Li-7 plus a proton, say), or C-12 (boron-11 plus a proton) form the basis of proposals for “light fission” nuclear power, because the created nuclei fly apart to He-4, liberating considerable energy.
Hoyle decided that there had to be a “nuclear resonance” in carbon-12 nuclei, that sometimes allowed the stable formation of C-12 from the Be-8 + He-4 reaction. Fowler later measured that resonance and found it to be only a few percent off Hoyle’s calculations.
It was about as daring a prediction as has ever been made in science, combining nuclear physics, astronomy, and the anthropic principle (Hoyle reasoned that he was made of carbon, therefore there must be a way for carbon to be formed), along with the simple bloody-mindedness of trying to support a doomed theory, continuous creation.
Hoyle was eventually knighted, and is doubtless much more famous than his co-workers, or, for that matter, Alpher, Bethe, and Gamov, who formulated the Big Bang hypothesis, but didn’t name it as such. Hoyle also championed Jocelyn Bell, as the real discoverer of pulsars (her Ph.D. advisor was awarded the Nobel), again showing perhaps the effects of not being from quite the right social class for British science.
Of Hoyle’s novels, only The Black Cloud seems to be in print, but many of his others can be found used; I was always fond of October the First Is Too Late. I’d also recommend Element 79, a collection of short stories, for often providing just loopy good fun.
Welcome to the Party! Please allow me to invite you for a walk down nostalgia lane.
My family was living in California (Palo Alto, to be precise) when the first Star Wars movie came out. Somehow my younger brother, who was five then, cajoled my parents into taking him to see it about twice as many times as I did. (I shouldn’t have been surprised: this is the kid who as a pre-schooler talked dozens of drunk college students into giving him “just one sip” of their warm, cheap beer during a faculty-student intramural softball game at my dad’s college.) Before my family made the cross-country trip back to our hometown in central New York, my bro and I saw Star Wars more times than the sum total of our years on the planet. I have an excuse for a kindergarten baby beating me in the viewings race: I had a seven-year-old’s crush on my second grade teacher, which is to say, I had other priorities. Still, losing to my brother in that and losing out to some other kid who was able to impress Ms. Buntin with his knowledge of the fancy word for “spit” were no fun to experience and just slightly less not-fun to remember (note to Party leaders: a great topic for a future Open Thread would be confessing — and ranking — the worst of your life’s trivial disappointments).
To tell you the truth, I have a terrible memory, so bad that I don’t have anything that specific to share about my reactions to Star Wars, at least anything that everybody else who saw it for the first time at that age isn’t likely to say, too (Darth Vader: scary! Luke Skywalker: cool! Princess Leia: hot! C3PO and R2D2: funny! Special effects: awesome!). Many things from that CA interlude stand out far more vividly still today than those movie-watching experiences:
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Harmonic Convergence of the Geeks - By Oaktown Girl
The Star Wars geeks are all a-twitter over some big 30 year anniversary celebration happening this weekend. It will be all Star Wars, all the time, all weekend.
So let’s talk about Star Trek instead. (Don’t worry, Lucas fans. The WAAGNFNP’s leading Star Wars geek, TC, will give us all a full report on Star Wars next week, including facts, memoirs, free appraisals of your Star Wars memorabilia, and Lord Astaroth knows what-all else).
WAAGNFNP MOOAD Tribunus Laticlavius christian h. has a good Open Thread idea: program 6-8 hours of Star Trek television, from any of the TV series. Tell us which episodes would you choose, in which order, and why. Remember, this is not merely a “favorites” list, so put on your “Spock’s Brain” helmet and get to thinkin’. Yes, you may post as you ruminate, so we can all do some thinking together.
But the MOJ is ever-merciful, and is willing to share this space with all sci-fi/fantasy fans seeking refuge from the Star Wars onslaught. You are welcome to discuss Babylon 5, Buffy, Lord of the Rings (movies), or whatever your little hearts desire - TV and movies only - any topic. Please visit the Readers Anonymous thread for book chat.
Mirror Universe Spock….mmmmm…sexy. DS9’s Captain Sisko once they let him drop the dweeb look and be his natural hot, hunky self…very sexy indeed. So here’s another idea: tell us your secret (or not so secret) Sci fi/Fantasy TV/movie crushes. Go ahead, ‘fess up. The truth will set you free.
Now please enjoy the following nifty edit of “Mirror Mirror”. Definitely worth a look:
I have a problem. I am addicted to reading. Normally, I got things under control. I have policies: never order books - if I don’t find them in a store, they’ll have to wait. No libraries. Don’t read more than three books at once. Get enough sleep (together with work, this cuts down on reading a lot). But sometimes, I lose it. I become a binge reader. I’ll read one or more books a day. I won’t sleep much, I’ll forget about eating and I’m late in answering my email (seriously, when I was an undergraduate I sometimes didn’t eat anything but chocolate until I felt too weak to walk up the stairs, at which point I realized that was a bad idea). I discard all discretion - I won’t distinguish anymore between good books and bad, those worth reading and those only good to while away the hours on a transatlantic flight. Do you have similar problems? Then join me in Readers Anonymous. The last couple weeks, I have had an attack.
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I have been working on a film script to counter claims that the WAAGNFNP unfairly concentrates on nuclear destruction over other forms of apocalypse. A précis follows. [I have the idea pretty well fleshed out, but am looking for some help from readers on a few details.]
Working title: Triumph of the Snark.
The movie, set in the indeterminate future, starts with an unnamed narrator (later in the movie we hear him referred to as “Doc”) describing the cynical and barren life that he lives in a cramped underground city: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered? That about sums it up for me. There is nothing of beauty in this city, the residents (who sarcastically refer to themselves as Morlocks, and the city itself as Turgidsonville) are mean, spiteful, rude and condescending. Most spend their days online, trading acerbic barbs and ridiculing anyone who advances any positive agenda for change. A great catastrophic event in the past is hinted at, and the viewer at first assumes that it refers to some manner of nuclear, ecological, or epidemiological disaster. Instead, it is revealed that people were merely driven underground by their own perverse thoughts, their insistence that anything “nice” or “cheery” was bad - a “New Nihilism” had swept the world, sapping people’s will to live and reproduce, and leaving a small embittered remnant ensconced in their digitally-enabled tombs.
Doc’s job as an electrical engineer takes him to the surface on occasion to look after the power grid. The surface is a pleasant enough place - though it is evident that Doc himself is utterly unimpressed with it. There are a smattering of automated farms and mines providing raw materials for factories producing mass quantities of Mountain Dew, junk food, electronic components and other essentials. Working on the surface one winter day, Doc is drawn away from the solar grid he is repairing by a vision of a giant rabbit who tells him that “death will come from the sky” in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. Following the vision causes him to miss being crushed by a falling jet engine that lands precisely where he had been working. Nearby he finds an injured teenager lying in the snow, mumbling Schlachthof Fünf over and over again. Doc brings him home, and although the boy can only remember his name - Donnie McLightly - he has a relentlessly cheerful nature which proves infectious. Inspired by the song Mr. Blue Sky from a CD Donnie finds in his pocket, he convinces Doc to help him form a club which he calls Electric Light Orchestra Illuminati (ELOI) club. Tapping a hidden, seething vein of optimism in Turgidsonville, the club soon grows in number, despite what seem to be self-limiting set of rules.
The first rule of ELOI club is that you do not blog about ELOI club.
The second rule of ELOI club is that you do not blog about ELOI club.
If this is your first day at ELOI club, you have to logoff and go topside.