A few weeks back we looked at a speech memo written for the US President in the event that some catastrophe befell the Apollo 11 Moon landing, and they were unable to return to Earth. In the write up for that, I mentioned that some other posts sort of along a similar vein would be forthcoming, and this look at the science fiction book The Pilgrim Project, by Hank Searls, is the first of those. When I came across that memo, this story was the first thing that popped into my head. This book seems to be somewhat of an unknown, and was one of those books that my family just happened to own when I was growing up, and my brother and I read it as our interest in space and technology began to grow. For those of you [Professor, cough, cough] that might have been around, you may recall a film entitled Countdown, make in 1968 and based on this book. Reviews indicate the film was somewhat forgettable, and likely overshadowed by the actual Moon landing the following year.
The Pilgrim Project seems to have been inspired by actual ideas tossed around during the early days of the space race, and that always made it more interesting to me. In 1962, at a symposium in New York, members of the Institute of Aerospace Sciences proposed sending an astronaut on a one-way trip to the Moon. This was no suicide mission, but a long term mission. The theory was that we had rockets powerful enough to get someone to the Moon, but not to execute the then early plans for an Apollo type mission, where an orbiting capsule would send a lander down and then back up, then safely return to Earth. Instead, a simple capsule would land the intrepid astronaut on the lunar surface, and a separate launch from those same less powerful boosters would sent up a living quarters. Then those same rockets would launch re-supply containers at frequent intervals, until such time, perhaps a year or two in the future, the Saturn booster was ready for a full Apollo mission, at which point our lonely explorer would stand relieved and return to Earth.
Why go to extremes to get to the Moon? To beat the Russians, of course!
Continue reading Toasters Reads: The Pilgrim Project
Every major sect of society has its “must read” books. Christians have the Bible. Football players have their playbooks. Detroit politicians read books about how to take bribes and skim from the public coffers. Nerds and geeks have their “must read” books, as well. Prominantly on that list is Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon.
Continue reading Toasters Reads: Cryptonomicon
As a treat for those of you with smaller children, who want to share the fun of Dune, but don’t think they are quite ready for the real deal, check out Goodnight Dune! Back in late 2010, Caldwell Tanner of the website College Humor posted some children’s book covers done up in sci fi style. These covers had some out on the webs clamoring for a whole book version, and in 2011 Julia Yu obliged. The whole thing is available for reading at goodnightdune.com, so send your kids gently off to sleep Dune style tonight!
Continue reading Toasters Reads: Goodnight Dune
There are definite classics in the realm of science fiction, books that many have undoubtedly read. Dune is one such book, and as such, I am a little leery of covering it here. Can I tell you anything profound, or new? Likely not, but perhaps there may be some out there who have seen the film, a classic in its own right, but have not read the book. This is a club that I was a member of until recently. Having waited so long to read it, I can safely say that both are quality pieces in their own right, and if you haven’t read it, you are missing out!
Continue reading Toasters Reads: Dune
Science fiction has long been a medium through which the boundaries of the world’s technology can be pushed. Have you ever wondered just what sort of things have been predicted, and wen? Or seen a certain idea pop up in a few differing stories, and wondered just when it first made a fictional appearance? The website Technovelgy.com (a play on technology and novel [both novel like a book and novel like a new idea. Witty, no?], with the tag ‘where science meets fiction’™)¹ has just the Timeline for you! Starting with Johannes Kepler discussing weightlessness in Somnium (The Dream) in 1634, and running all the way through a causality-violation device (or weapon)² from Singularity Sky by Charles Stross in 2003. You can see when the first use of terms like grok and crysknife occurred, or when someone first proposed a ray gun or reaction engine, complete with a excerpt from the book or story, in addition to links to other inventions from that particular tale, as well as links to other ideas from the same author. To give you an idea of quality of the timeline, I pulled out a few examples of sci fi innovators.
In 1867, Jules Verne proposed the concept of retro rockets, a booster that would retard or stop the progress of a spacecraft in From the Earth to the Moon:
This answer brought Barbicane back to his preparations, and he occupied himself with placing the contrivances intended to break their descent. We may remember the scene of the meeting held at Tampa Town, in Florida, when Captain Nicholl came forward as Barbicane’s enemy and Michel Ardan’s adversary. To Captain Nicholl’s maintaining that the projectile would smash like glass, Michel replied that he would break their fall by means of rockets properly placed.
Thus, powerful fireworks, taking their starting-point from the base and bursting outside, could, by producing a recoil, check to a certain degree the projectile’s speed. These rockets were to burn in space, it is true; but oxygen would not fail them, for they could supply themselves with it, like the lunar volcanoes, the burning of which has never yet been stopped by the want of atmosphere round the moon.
Barbicane had accordingly supplied himself with these fireworks, enclosed in little steel guns, which could be screwed on to the base of the projectile. Inside, these guns were flush with the bottom; outside, they protruded about eighteen inches. There were twenty of them. An opening left in the disc allowed them to light the match with which each was provided. All the effect was felt outside. The burning mixture had already been rammed into each gun. They had, then, nothing to do but raise the metallic buffers fixed in the base, and replace them by the guns, which fitted closely in their places.
Continue reading Science Fiction is the Mother of Invention
In a slight departure from the book-like focus that the brief run of Toasters Reads has had, today’s entry is more of a longish short story, a novella if you will. The story is KILLDOZER!, a definite classic from the pen of Theodore Sturgeon. Written in 1944 (revised in 1959) and originally published in the November issue of Astounding magazine, this tale is an excellent science fiction yarn.
The plot is not hard to discern, given the imagery of the one word title. In a world that existed before our world, in a time long before our time, beings of energy that could control mechanical machines evolved. Somehow one of these beings has survived, and…well, while you can quietly guess where this is going, the story is well written and will pull you in. I am certainly no expert on early science fiction, but KILLDOZER!, is one of the oldest ‘Ghost in the Machine’ sci fi tales that I have read. Many later works, both within and outside of the sci fi realm seem to owe inspiration at the least to this story.
Continue reading Toasters Reads: KILLDOZER!
Undoubtedly many of us here have had the opportunity to read some obscure science fiction titles, since our love for the obsolete often extends to the pulpy side of the printed world and that low tech hanger-on that is the used book store. There are others out there that share that enjoyment for prior generations’ [...]
The best of science fiction are those stories in which the science is creating a believable framework for the story.* That is not to say that those stories where the science is a giant leap, edging in on fantasy, aren’t enjoyable. But it is something special to be able to visualize the events of the story being achievable in just a few short years, if technological development and scientific investment progressed along the right path.
One such book is Arthur C. Clarke’s A Fall of Moondust, from 1961. Like many of Clarke’s stories it is told within a realm of fact and realism. Additionally the tale reflects an interesting take on the optimism of the ongoing space race. In the book, the optimistic piece is that Earth has built permanent bases on the Moon, as well as multiple space stations in orbit. The interesting aspect is that by the point in the timeline at which the story takes place, the fact that we are on the Moon is basically taken for granted, and considered no big deal. It is a little hard to imagine anyone in the early 1960s feeling blasé about being able to take a vacation to see the surface of the Moon.
Continue reading Toasters Reads: A Fall of Moondust
Imagine a world where the future took a different turn after the 1970s, where the rampant global warming of recent years never happened. Some of you may remember when global warming would have been the savior, rescuing us all from the impending Ice Age caused by inevitable global cooling. Even such reputible publications as Time and Newsweek had declarations of the coming deep freeze. This is the world of Fallen Angels, a world of glaciers moving slowly south, cutting off more and more of the United States (sorry Canada).
Continue reading Toasters Reads: Fallen Angels
Today’s post marks the launching off of an Atomic Toasters book club of sorts, wherein on a semi-occasional basis we’ll take a look at a work of outstanding science fiction literature, but not in a boring way. I hope to find books that explore some interesting technological aspect, or perhaps that had some predictive value, or perhaps just highlighted a cultural interaction with technology.
I have given some consideration to exactly where to start, and it is certainly a challenge. Do I lead off with something obscure or well known? Heavy or light? Robots or aliens? One suggestion was Stranger in a Strange Land, which I do enjoy, but since it explores some, shall we say, especially sensitive themes, I thought I might hold off a bit on that one, and get the discourse flowing here before we dive into that.
So instead of that, but sticking with Robert A. Heinlein, and with an eye towards the military on this Memorial Day Weekend–I present Starship Troopers! If you’ve seen the movie, but never read the book, stick with me, I assure you the book is an excellent read, and only vaguely similar to the film.
Continue reading Toasters Reads: Starship Troopers