Saturday, August 29, 2009

Discovery in orbit

Late last night STS-128 successfully blasted off and entered low Earth orbit.

"Heat Shield Inspection for Crew

Sat, 29 Aug 2009 01:53:54 PM CDT

The crew of space shuttle Discovery woke at 1:30 p.m. to start work on the first full day of their 13-day mission. The seven-person crew will focus on heat shield inspections and preparations docking to the International Space Station Sunday.

Overnight, the Flight Control Team reported the failure of one of two small steering jets that flank the orbiter nose due to a leak. This will have no impact to docking, other mission activities or entry, but the crew will close a manifold to isolate both jets and disable them from use for the remainder of the mission."

When it docks with the ISS it will deliver astronaut Nicole Stott and a cargo that includes the COLBERT treadmill. An interactive timeline of the mission is available on the NASA website, and you can watch events unfold on NASA TV.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Epic Star Trek Design FAILs

John Scalzi has posted his Guide to Epic SciFi Design FAILs - Star Trek Edition. Not quite as funny as the SW one IMO, but worth perusing anyway.

Bad design, or awesome? Evidence for awesome: They can very precisely vaporize living creatures -- and their clothes! -- whilst leaving everything else (floors, walls, objects people are sitting on) untouched. Evidence for bad: Inconsistent power output. In Star Trek II, a phaser vaporizes a mind-controlling eel of Ceti Alpha V (also, the Starfleet officer it's inside of -- and his clothes!), but then turns another such eel into a smoky smear. Yes, one can dial down phaser power, but I'm pretty sure you can't actually set a phaser to "smudge."

You have your choice: Velouresque pajamas and miniskirts (resurrected for the 2009 reboot), burgundy jackets with puffy blouses (Treks II - VI), or progressively unflattering jumpsuits (Treks VII - X). Do Starfleet personnel ever stop what they're doing, look at each other, and ask, "Who dresses us?" They should. But all of the above are at least better than the eye-poking fashions of the first movie."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Most Epic FAILs in Star Wars Design

The other day John Scalzi posted his Guide to the Most Epic FAILs in Star Wars Design. Funny stuff, and here's a sampling.

Yes, I know, I want one too. But I tell you what: I want one with a hand guard. Otherwise every lightsaber battle would consist of sabers clashing and then their owners sliding as quickly as possible down the shaft to lop off their opponent's fingers. You say: Lightsabers can slice through anything but another lightsaber, so what are you going to make a hand guard out of? I say: Dude, if you have the technology to make a lightsaber, you have the technology to make a light hand guard.

"Stormtrooper Uniforms
They stand out like a sore thumb in every environment but snow, the helmets restrict view ("I can't see a thing in this helmet!" -- Luke Skywalker), and the armor is penetrable by single shots from blasters. Add it all up and you have to wonder why stormtroopers don't just walk around naked, save for blinders and flip-flops.

Star Trek fans, don't get smug: I'm going after it next."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Abandoned NASA projects

New Scientist has a cool gallery of abandoned NASA projects complete with conceptual art imagining what these machines would have looked like had they been built.

It's great source material for a science fiction setting, especially a realistic one. NASA has its own gallery of concept art available, covering everything from the current Ares rockets to possible missions to Mars.

Lets hope none of them end up in a future article on abandoned projects.

[via SF Signal]

Friday, August 21, 2009


It seems like the field of astrobiology is booming with findings making the news in the past few days.

First was the major announcement that NASA's Stardust probe has discovered discovered glycine, an amino acid used by living organisms to make proteins, in samples of comet Wild 2. This confirms previous observations of glycine in some nebula occupying interstellar space. This suggests that carbon based life might be found on the other planets and moons of our galaxy, and perhaps in our own solar system.

Then comes the news that UCLA molecular biologist James A. Lake of the Center for Astrobiology has conducted research that shows how two major classes of relatively simple microbes fused together more than 2.5 billion years ago. This provides new insight into how life evolved on Earth and also into how it might evolve on a similar planet somewhere else in the galaxy.

There's a great page devoted to astrobiology on the NASA website. (I'm amazed at how much content NASA has to offer. It seems like I'm always finding a whole new section that I never knew was there.) One of the cool features is the Ask an Astrobiologist feature where you can have your questions answered by David Morrison, the Senior Scientist of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. But reading some of the recent questions he's been fielding is a depressing insight into the appalling scientific ignorance of the public. For one thing, most of the questions seem relate more to astronomy rather than astrobiology. Not an unreasonable mistake to make, but come on people. Worse still, he seems to be plagued by questions about space brothers and 2012. Time to call in CSI. No wonder Hollywood can get away with such rubber science silliness when this kind of foolishness is so prevalent.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Martians Never Die

We now return you to your regular program, already in progress.

Martians Never Die (Galaxy Science Fiction, April 1952) by Lucius Daniel

"It was a wonderful bodyguard: no bark, no bite, no sting ... just conversion of the enemy!"

Zero Data (Planet Stories, September 1952) by Charles Saphro

"All the intricate, electronic witchery of the 21st century could not pin guilt on fabulous Lonnie Raichi, the irreproachable philanthropist. But Jason, the cop, was sweating it out ... searching for that fourth and final and all-knowing rule that would knock Lonnie's "triple ethic" for a gala loop."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

sf books in space

An interesting blog post over at The Guardian today lamenting the low-brow tastes of the astronauts crewing the ISS. Apparently someone used the FOIA to get a list of the books, movies, and music that the space station's crew relax with in their spare time. I'm not sure why they went to the trouble of using the FOIA since this isn't exactly sensitive information. A simple email to a NASA representative would probably have accomplished the same thing.

A quick perusal of the list shows that the people exploring the final frontier have a fair amount of sf in their orbital library. Not surprisingly, the popular authors David Weber and Lois McMaster Bujold both boast the largest number of titles. More serious authors, like Greg Bear, Walter Jon Williams, and Kim Stanley Robinson only rate one title each. Vern's 20, 000 Leagues Under the Sea appears to have two copies orbiting the earth but H. G. Wells is scandalously absent.

Interestingly, several issues of both Analog and Asimov's are available, but for some reason all the copies date from 2004. You'd think if anyone would rate a complimentary subscription it would be these people. And while there are several fantasy titles up there (including two of Piers Anthony's misogynist Xanth novels) the list is mercifully free of Harry Potter tomes. So far.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hall of Mirrors

The Finding of Haldgren (Astounding Stories, April 1932) by Charles Willard Diffin

"Chet Ballard answers the pinpoint of light that from the craggy desolation of the moon stabs out man's old call for help."

Hall of Mirrors (Galaxy Science Fiction, December 1953) by Fredric Brown

"It is a tough decision to make—whether to give up your life so you can live it over again!"

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Space Rover

The Space Rover (Astounding Stories, February 1932) by Edwin K. Sloat

"Young Winford heads a desperate escape from the prison mines of Mercury."

Lighter Than You Think (Fantastic Universe, August 1957) by Nelson S. Bond

"Sandy's eyes needed only jet propulsion to become flying saucers. Wasn't Pat wonderful? she beamed, at everyone."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Gentlemen Broncos

The Hess brothers, who brought us Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre, are set to release their new movie, Gentlemen Broncos.

Leaving aside that this is a rather shameless rip-off of Garth Marenghi, this looks like it will be a funny film. The Onion recently poked fun at a similar inanity when it reported how a "Sci-Fi Writer Attributes Everything Mysterious To 'Quantum Flux'".

But as funny as this stuff is, I'm hard pressed to figure out who they are making fun of. A movie like Galaxy Quest succeeded because it was recognizable as a parody of Star Trek. And Garth Marenghi was so funny because he was so obviously a send-up off Steven King and Dean Koontz. Maybe I'm missing something, but Ronald Chevalier bears little or no resemblance to any science fiction author I can think of. If anything he seems to reflect the kind of cut-rate sf that dominates Hollywood rather than what you'd actually find on the shelves of your local library's science fiction section. So this movie may be an enjoyable comedy but I doubt it will be a successful parody.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Decision (Space Science Fiction, September 1953) by Frank M. Robinson

"The captain had learned to hate. It was his profession—and his personal reason for going on. But even hatred has to be channeled for its maximum use, and no truths exist forever."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Star Trek Las Vegas

The Star Trek Las Vegas Convention recently concluded and G4Tv had a correspondent on hand to cover the festivities. He even got a few words with Jonathan Frakes and Micheal Dorn.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Moon is Green

Today a tale from the incomparable Fritz Leiber.

The Moon is Green by Fritz Leiber (Galaxy Science Fiction, April 1952)

"Anybody who wanted to escape death could, by paying a very simple price—denial of life!"

This same story was adapted for the X Minus One radio program in 1957. (13MB MP3)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Human's Closest Relative

Recently The Daily Show ran a sketch in which "John Oliver meets two professors arguing over which monkey is man's closest relative."

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Even though one of these professors is clearly a crackpot, this bit reminded me of H. G. Wells' classic sf story, "The Moth -- Genus Novo", in which a scientific rivalry has an unexpected outcome. Of course Wells' tale isn't comedic, and could actually be seen as a prototype of the kind of story that came to typify the later Twilight Zone TV show.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Death of a Spaceman

Project Gutenberg has added another Golden Age sf story. At this point Amazing Stories was under the editorship of Howard Browne who was notorious for his hatred of science fiction. Nevertheless some good stories were published during his tenure.

Death of a Spaceman by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (Amazing Stories, March 1954)

"The manner in which a man has lived is often the key to the way he will die. Take old man Donegal, for example. Most of his adult life was spent in digging a hole through space to learn what was on the other side. Would he go out the same way?"

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Project Gutenberg continues to add stories from the May 1955 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction, one of the premiere sf magazines of the period.

Competition by James Causey

"They would learn what caused the murderous disease—if it was the last thing they did!"

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Cuckoo Clock

Project Gutenberg has added two more Golden Age sf stories to its library.

The Cuckoo Clock by Wesley Barefoot (Amazing Stories, March 1954)

"You know a murderer preys on your household—lives with you—depends on you—and you have no defense!"

Teething Ring by James Causey (Galaxy Science Fiction, January 1953)

"Anyone can make an error, but the higher the society ... the more disastrous the mistake!"

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sorry: Wrong Dimension

With QuasarDragon taking a well earned break from blogging I thought I'd take up a bit of the slack by listing the new additions of classic sf stories to Project Gutenberg.

The Aggravation of Elmer by Robert Arthur (Galaxy Science Fiction, May 1955)

"The world would beat a path to Elmer's door—but he had to go carry the door along with him!"

The Altar at Midnight by C. M. Kornbluth (Galaxy Science Fiction, November 1952)

"Doing something for humanity may be fine—for humanity—but rough on the individual!"

Sorry: Wrong Dimension by Ross Rocklynne (Amazing Stories, March 1954)

"So the baby had a pet monster. And so nobody but baby could see it. And so a couple of men dropped out of thin air to check and see if the monster was licensed or not. So what's strange about that?"

The Game of Rat and Dragon by Cordwainer Smith (Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1955)

"Only partners could fight this deadliest of wars—and the one way to dissolve the partnership was to be personally dissolved!"

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The City of the Titans

by Clark Ashton Smith

I saw a city in a lonely land:
Foursquare, it fronted upon gulfs of fire;
Behind, the night of Erebus hung entire;
And deserts gloomed or glimmered on each hand.

Sunken it seemed, past any star or sun,
Yet strong with bastion, proud with tower and dome:
An archetypal, Titan-builded Rome,
Dread, thunder-named, the seat of gods foredone.

Outreaching time, beyond destruction based,
Immensely piled upon the prostrate waste
And cinctured with insuperable deeps,

The city dreamed in darkness evermore,
Pregnant with crypts of terrible strange lore
And doom-fraught arsenals in lampless keeps.