Tag Archives: science-fiction

What’s Orbiting a Distant Star Will Astonish You

Or not.


Alien Armada by Bogwoppet on DeviantArt

Citizen scientists have been keen on a particular star since 2011 for its irregular light pattern, observed through Kepler Space Telescope. Irregular light patterns indicate object moving between us and the star, which could be planets, asteroids, tentacles of space squid, or the Borg. Any of those very realistic possibilities. The astronomers noted the star does not appear young, so debris surrounding young stars was ruled out. What could surround a mature star like this?

Jason Wright of Penn State suggested “the star’s light pattern is consistent with a ‘swarm of megastructures,'” Ross Anderson of The Atlantic reports, “perhaps stellar-light collectors, technology designed to catch energy from the star.

“When [Boyajian] showed me the data, I was fascinated by how crazy it looked. Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”

The science-side of the Interwebs has been abuzz with this news, but what can be understood from this observation? An article published in Scientific American earlier this year, which mentions Wright’s research, states nothing has been found. Writer Lee Billings explains Wright’s team’s goal.

They looked for the thermodynamic consequences of galactic-scale colonization, based on an idea put forth in 1960 by the physicist Freeman Dyson. Dyson postulated that a growing technological culture would ultimately be limited by access to energy, and that advanced, energy-hungry civilizations would be driven to harvest all the available light from their stars. To do that, they might dismantle a planet or two as feedstock for building star-enveloping swarms of solar collectors. A star’s light would fade as it was encased in such a “Dyson sphere

Dyson himself is not discouraged by finding nothing. “Our imaginings about the ways that aliens might make themselves detectable are always like stories of black cats in a dark room,” he said. “If there are any real aliens, they are likely to behave in ways that we never imagined.”

Which means they probably aren’t hoping to eat us.

American Zombies: Enemies Next Door

Kurt Schlichter ruminates on our current obsession with zombies. Not long ago, many mainstream stories focused on foreign threats or nuclear fallout. Today, we entertain ourselves with mysterious outbreaks that turn people into flesh-eaters.

“What does it say,” Schlichter asks, “that our collective subconscious senses less of a threat from fanatical outsiders who, in the last couple decades, have killed thousands of us via terrorism, than from each other?

. . . The foreigners are a threat, but that’s under control. What is out of control, or what seems like it is out of control, is our society itself.”

Fantasy Dressed Up as Sci-Fi

Author John C. Wright argues against the ‘It Ain’t Gunna Happen’ camp of science fiction with his own Space Princess camp. One side says we will never find intelligent life on other planets or build our own colonies there. The other side says, not only is there intelligent life out there, but the women are remarkably hot and need to be rescued by noble earthmen.

One side says, “Psionics is just magic wearing a lab coat.” The other side says, “Without psionics, there is no way to speak and understand the space princess when you first meet her. Learning a new space-language without psionic aid involves many long and boring sessions with philologists and translators and grammarians, which is all hogwash and humbug. Space Princesses can read minds just enough so that you can talk to them. That is settled.”

You can see where this is going.

Is this kind of argument having assumed your conclusions really that different from the supposedly serious argument put forward in this Canadian propoganda, which says Science is a political value we must all support?

Rediscovering Pluto

Clyde Tombaugh had only graduated from Burdett High School in Burdett, Kansas, when we applied for a position at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. His family didn’t have the money to send him to college, so he studied on his own, assembled a portfolio, and presented himself to the observatory director, V. M. Slipher. While working there as a photographic assistant, he discovered two comets and variety of other stellar objects including Pluto.

We haven’t had a good look at the once-and-future-planet until today. NASA’s New Horizons probe is passing by Pluto, carrying Tombaugh’s ashes and sending photos back to us. Will we discover the truth of what many sci-fi authors have written about this place over the last 85 years? Gregory Benford describes some of those details.

In his first novel, World of Ptavvs, Larry Niven depicted an astronaut landing in the Plutonian atmosphere, his vessel’s hot exhaust releasing the frozen methane and oxygen and causing the entire planet to burst into flames. In a later story, Niven imagined an even odder fate. A stranded astronaut freezes, only to find that his nervous system has become superconducting and that he can still think, frozen solid. . . . My own 2006 novel, The Sunborn, has small, smart creatures thriving along the shore of Pluto’s supposed nitrogen sea.

Scalzi and Redshirts

John Scalzi is interesting as someone who has built a writing career in these strange days,” Joseph Bottum explains. “He spent a few years writing movie reviews after college before landing, in 1996, a sweet gig at America Online as editor and in-house writer. Laid off in the meltdown of AOL, he took to writing guidebooks for the money and science fiction blog posts for the fame. Or, at least, the dribs of money and the drabs of fame. The blog, called “Whatever,” proved enjoyable for readers—a few years ago, he issued in book form selections entitled Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded—and it successfully established him as a voice to be reckoned with in the field.”

Scalzi’s most recent novel is called Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas. It’s a story about a red-shirted crew that discovers it’s dangerous to accompany the senior officers on landing parties.

John C. Wright on the death of freedom in Science Fiction

By way of our friend Anthony Sacramone (I’d link to his blog, but he’s in one of his hiatuses. Hiati?) an excellent article from Intercollegiate Review, “Heinlein, Hugos and Hogwash,” by John C. Wright concerning the sad state of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, an organization from which I have also withdrawn:

The purpose of all this hogwash is not to aid the plight of minorities. The purpose is power. The purpose is terror.

One need not ignite a suicide-bomb to enact a reign of terror. One need only have the power to hurt a man’s reputation or income, and be willing to use the power in an arbitrary, treacherous, lunatic, and cruel fashion. For this, the poisonous tongue suffices.

At one time, science fiction was an oasis of intellectual liberty, a place where no idea was sacrosanct and no idea was unwelcome. Now speculative fiction makes speculative thinkers so unwelcome that, after a decade of support, I resigned my membership in SFWA in disgust. SFWA bears no blame for all these witch-hunts, or even most; but SFWA spreads the moral atmosphere congenial to the witch-hunters, hence not congenial to my dues money.

Read it all here.

Otherworld, by Jared C. Wilson

A UFO craze has hit Trumbull, TX, a little town outside Houston. It starts when Pops Dickey, a transplanted farmer from Wisconsin, discovers one of his cows dead one morning. He calls the local police, who call a local vet because the cow has been slaughtered with little or no blood spilled on the ground. Not the norm for vandalism. The vet labels the killing the work of aliens, and that’s the cue Pops needs to step into the media limelight.

Aliens had visited Trumbull. They took some cow parts as souvenirs. Pops Dickey will tell you all about it and make up more along the way. Police Captain Graham Lattimer won’t have any of it, and when another cow dies, he wants to resolve the two incidents in entirely human terms.

In Houston, Mike Walsh is a magazine writer, who has been assigned a background story on UFOs with a few details from the Trumbull encounter to make it relevant. As he does his research, he is fed up with the hype and tumble of alien books and TV shows until he meets a philosophy and culture professor, Samuel Bering, who seems to know more than anyone else about alien phenomena. But for all of his knowledge, Bering has neglected wisdom, and now he hopes to gain a secret knowledge that will lift him above everyone in the world.

Alien with beerIn another part of Houston, a troubled young man gives in to the voices in his head and starts killing people, because this isn’t actually a book about visitors from outer space. It’s a book about an ancient evil.

And it’s fun. At one point, Mike Walsh says the events are getting too much like Peretti, which is a great comparison for Otherworld. The pace and plot read like This Present Darkness with an important difference. Jared has chopped up his narrative with short news reports, journal entries, and brief scenes of other characters. It has a TV feel to it, maybe a bit of artificiality, but I wasn’t annoyed by it. It helped the story move quickly.

While the characters aren’t depicted very deeply because of the fast-paced story they are in, they are all well-rounded. For example, the pastor, Steve Woodbridge, isn’t the Bible-quoting pillar of strength nor is he a villain. He’s a burned out, materially successful preacher, who wants to follow the Lord and may not be very good at leading his church. His character arc is beautiful.

Otherworld is a good story without Amish people falling in love or frowning on those who do (as Jared notes on his blog). If you have been a Thinklings.org fan for a few years, you may notice some familiar names for background characters. I don’t doubt that his next novel will be twice as good as this one and the following one twice as good as that.

New and Free Today: Otherworld by Jared C. Wilson

Pastor and author Jared C. Wilson has written a novel of UFO sighting and troubled circumstances on the outskirts of Houston. He actually wrote it several years ago and has only recently gained enough money to bribe a publisher. It is free today for Kindle, so take a look at it. Jared says, “Otherworld is a supernatural thriller in the genre of Christian fiction that does not involve any Amish people.” What more could you ask for?

Mars Hill Audio Podcast

I guess I missed the announcement this summer, because I just learned about Mars Hill Audio’s podcast, Audition. Ken Myers’ most recent recording is dedicated to P.D. James’s ideas on fiction and mystery and her sci-fi novel, The Children of Men. I believe I have heard most of this recording in early editions of the Mars Hill Audio Journal, and here you can listen to it for free.

The previous podcast has many literary subjects too. Taking from the description post, this recording discusses:

  • “how W. H. Auden’s conversion to Christianity affected his poetry”
  • “J. R. R. Tolkien’s view of language, and the dangers of a society that debases language”
  • “how Flannery O’Connor’s fiction reveals her incarnational view of life”
  • “how myth differs from the modern novel, and what is lost when the gods disappear from our stories”
  • “how C. S. Lewis was more open-minded than his Victorian atheistic teachers, and how that open-mindedness left room for Lewis to become a Christian”

Wonderful stuff.