the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘science

We’re all always talking about the first science fiction book we read,  or scifi movies we liked as a kid.  For me,  my love of science fiction was born directly from a childhood fascination with all things science.

 

For me, science and science fiction have always gone hand in hand. If you’re going to go explore the stars, it helps to have an understanding or at least an appreciation of astronomy and physics, right?  Science Fiction is the stories of everything that science makes possible. And with science, everything is possible. My love of science fiction was born through my fascination with Science.  Science made everything possible, science fiction stories are where all those cool things happened.

 

I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit.  My mom would take me to the Cranbrook Science Museum. It was perfect for elementary and middle school aged me – youth friendly exhibits on geology, holograms, physics, astronomy, optical illusions, and more. I’m sure there was grown-up stuff too, but I was a kid, so I went to the kid stuff.I have a vivid memory of being 11 or 12 years old, and getting to go to one of their astronomy events where you could look through the telescope and see the rings of saturn. And I saw the rings, and I felt like I could touch them.  The science of refraction and lenses showed me the rings of Saturn, and in the science fiction stories I was reading, people went to the rings of Saturn.  I was looking at something right out of a science fiction story!  And if the rings of Saturn were attainable through a chunk of glass, couldn’t anything in a science fiction story be attainable, eventually?

Cranbrook Institute of Science. where it all began.

Cranbrook Institute of Science. where it all began.

Around this same time in my life, I was a huge Star Trek the Next Generation viewer.  Dad and I had a standing date to watch the new episodes.  We didn’t have cable TV, so anything new on TV was cool, and getting to hang out with my Dad was extra cool. On that TV show,  science (or at least TV science and technobabble) was applied.  They were doing the things that I only saw through a telescope.  They were doing science (and plenty of other stuff), and science was something that could take you to new amazing worlds.

 

Come on. I was eleven years old.  Any planet they visited on ST:TNG was amazing to me. I didn’t care that it was all tv technobabble and none of the science actually added up. They were taking all the cool science stuff from the museum I went to, and applying it to do really cool things.
Science Fiction is full of hope that one day we will be able to attain what is unattainable today. And  applied science  is what will one day make science fiction a reality.

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You ever notice that some books really work, others work relatively ok, and some just don’t quite work?  And those that work, you just can’t put them down!  Maybe when I say “it works”, what I mean is pacing,  I’m not really sure what I mean, actually.

 

Well, right now, I’m reading a book that really works – Darwin’s Radio, by Greg Bear.  Darwin’s Radio came out  in 1999, and won the Nebula in 2000 and was nominated for the Hugo, Locus, and Campbell awards.   As I was zipping through the first 80 pages, I realized I wanted to know why this book works as well as it does. Is it the pacing? The characters? The presentation? The science? The all of the above? I wanted to pick it apart and figure it out.

darwins radio works

I’m about a third of the way through Darwin’s Radio, and this is what I’ve come up with so far:
– The first thing I noticed was how much showing Bear does, and how little telling. Very early on, a character has a mountain climbing accident, and wakes up in a hospital. Bear doesn’t give us a description of the man’s injuries, but the way that other people treat him gives us a pretty good picture of the state this guy is in.  Instead of describing the picture, Bear paints one, and lets the reader look at the painting and get information that way.  It’s up to the reader to decide how much they want to see.

 

– The info isn’t dumped. This is a hard science thriller with lots of genetics, anthropology, molecular biology, the study of viruses and diseases, how bacteria works, how our bodies fight off diseases and how early mankind might have fought off diseases and probably more science stuff that I haven’t gotten to yet. It’s fascinating as hell, but way over my head. None of it is dumped.  Most of it is presented through dialog, with the old trick of “Let me tell you what our team has been doing in the lab these last two weeks” type conversations. Is that a trick? Sure it is. But it gets your reader a lot of information in an accessible and non-info-dumpy way. And hey, now I have just enough knowledge to sound like I know what I’m talking about next time I’m at the doctor’s office.
– So far, there’s been zero action. No chase scenes, no fights, no nothing. Which is a little weird, since a lot of recent books I’ve read have super intense action scenes as a way to get the reader hooked on all that 100% pure awesomesauce. This book is all scientists and politicians and others talking about things, and trying to figure stuff out. The “action” is in how fast their ideas are transmitted.  They bounce ideas off of each other (typically while learning their funding is about to be cut), and the fast pace comes when their brain is moving faster than their mouth, and the ideas tumble out  . . .and it’s totally cool.
– So we’ve got all these characters who are trying to solve the problem from different angles, and everyone has slightly different information to share, or not.  But us readers have *all* the information.  This is where the tension comes from.  I know that this guy knows this one thing, and this other lady knows this other thing, and these jerks over here know something else. So omg, when are they going to share what they know!! Because if they don’t, this horrible other thing is going to happen!

 

Gah!  I gotta go read this book!
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a book that fucking works.

voyage basilisk coverVoyage of the Basilisk, by Marie Brennan

published March 2015

where I got it: purchased new

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Voyage of the Basilisk is the third book in Marie Brennan’s “Lady Trent” series. If you’re just joining us, I suggest skimming or skipping this review, as there are unavoidable spoilers. But do take a look at my reviews for the earlier books in the series!

For the last six years, Isabella Camherst has been second guessing some of her decisions in Eriga, allowing her townhouse to become a gathering place for the intelligentsia and curious, and raising her son Jake.  She pours over research and samples, trying to understand how to categorize the known species of dragons. There is quite a bit of talk of what makes something a dragon, or simply a reptile (if Pluto is a planet, why is this larger thing not a planet?). Is it the extraordinary breath? having wings? having a bird-like bone structure?  Are sea serpents not quite dragons since they don’t have wings, or even legs?  She’ll simply have to study them more!

Her plans come to fruition, and along with Jake and his governess, and fellow researcher Tom Wilker, she finds herself on the Royal Ship Basilisk, which is captained by Dione Aekinitos, known as the mad Captain.  Tiny quarters will be their home for at least the next year, but who cares? Isabella and Tom will have the chance to study sea serpents, fire lizards, and other species the most Anthiopians have only ever heard about second or third hand. Part of her funding has come from a local society, so part of her letters home include dispatches, essays, and researches to be published publicly.

Of course, things do not go as planned. She does see sea serpents. and fire lizards.  And meets a handsome and engaging archeologist. And has a secret marriage.  And there are politics and pirates and volcanoes. And references to Linear A, the Rosetta Stone, and how to translate untranslatable languages. And like in the first two books, there is much in the way of Isabelle the elder taking pains to “set the story straight”, and to make sure the reader knows that when she was traveling she had no way of knowing what people were saying or doing back home.

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Migration-186x300Migration by Julie E. Czerneda (Species Imperative #2)

published in 2005

where I got it: purchased used

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Now that the summer is over, I want everyone to tell me how they dealt with all the weeds that popped up in their garden all summer. Did you read up online about invasive species? Did you pull the weeds out one by one? Spray weed poison on them? figure out what their food source was and then deprive them of it? Nuke ‘em from orbit, just to be sure?

 

When I reviewed the first book in the Species Imperative series, Survival, I made reference to the Guggenheim Museum. That I’d felt a little let down that when I got to the top floor of the metaphorical museum, there was a door in the corner that said “roof”, and how unsurprised I was that the door led to the roof.

 

Okay, so now I’m reading Migration, the second book in the series. I’ve opened the door, and I’m on the roof. And damned if the view from up here is far more amazing than I’d expected. I can nearly see my house from here, I can nearly see across the solar system from here, I can see that what’s going on is a hell of a lot bigger than what I’d originally thought. What’s happening here is huge.  If Mac was on this roof with me, she’d be standing at the edge with a huge smile on her face saying “wanna jump?”

 

Mac is trying to get her life back together. She’s getting better at using her prosthetics, getting better at not crying every time she thinks of Emily. She’s trying to forget Nik before she decides how she feels about him. No one she works with knows where she’s been, let alone what she’s witnessed on an alien planet. The Dhryn are the galaxy’s greatest enemies, how can Mac ever tell anyone she’d become friends with one? That she’s spoken to a Dhryn progenitor? that when she sleeps, she talks in Dhryn? She’s trying to stop waking up screaming.   To be sympathetic to the galaxy’s most invasive species is a recipe for arrest.

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Silence is golden you say?

How’s this for creepy science fiction in real life:  The anechoic chamber at Orfield Labratories is the quietest place on earth. So quiet you can hear your internal organs.  So quiet, people start to hallucinate after 30 minutes in the room.

The longest that anyone has survived in the ‘anechoic chamber’ at Orfield Laboratories in South Minneapolis is just 45 minutes.

It’s 99.99 per cent sound absorbent and holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s quietest place, but stay there too long and you may start hallucinating.”

Read the rest of the article here. It’s a quick article.

When hubby told me about this the other day, I immediately said “I wanna go!”.  he said people hallucinate there. Now I really, really want to go!

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Long story short – It was ah-maz-ing.   another weekend of my geekgirldreams brought to us by the very hardworking folks at Stilyagi.

but, in case you are interested in the short story gone overly long, here ya go:

Last year at ConFusion I was about authors, authors, authors, and just for good measure more authors (also, one particular author, but that’s a different story). But this year I wanted to branch out a bit and see what else was going on. Luckily, the programming made that even easier for me. The sheer variety of programs and panels was amazing. There was an entire Science track, a Doctor Who track, lots of guest artists doing artwork in the hotel atrium,  and a Studio Ghibli movie marathon on top of all the amazing author readings and “such-and-such in Sci and Fantasy” panels.  And the best part? I was totally cool about this year. A little bit less of the running up to authors and babbling ohmygodIloveyourbookssomuchwillyoucomehomewithmecanicookyoudinner going on. Also, I cosplayed for the first time. Now that I’ve worn a tail, I can see why people don’t want to take them off.

Friday afternoon was saying hi to friends, hitting up the dealer room, finding the consuite (on the first floor, down the hall from all the panel rooms = WIN) and playing “spot the famous person” (omg, there’s John Scalzi! and he has a ukelele!). I made it to 2 panels on Friday, Fun with Liquid Nitrogen, and the Opening Ceremonies of the Con.

Liquid Nitrogen with Dr. Jennifer Skwarski.   I always thought if the stuff touched you, that part of your body would shatter off. not so! (wait, scifi movies lied to me??) Apparently you can splash it all over your hand and be OK, although I don’t recommend trying that.  Also, it makes a really neat snapping noise when splashed all over the floor. Demonstrations included the amazing whirring around ping pong ball, frozen vodka, frozen soap bubbles, crunchy expanding balloons, and of course making ice cream!

The epic immersion blender of awesome.  Also, liquid Nitrogen ice cream! Epic brain freeze.

The epic immersion blender of awesome. Also, liquid Nitrogen ice cream! Epic brain freeze.

Not too much to say about the Opening Ceremonies, except that Mary Robinette Kowal had the best ever marionette story.  I’m hoping she posted it on her blog somewhere, because if I try to tell it I’ll mess it up, and also it’s not my story to tell.  And, Yes, she had her Hugo. Perhaps it was a prop for this?   Also, Charles Stross has a really cool accent.

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And yes, I am talking about *that* John Campbell. You know, the guy who edited Astounding (later renamed Analog) for nearly 35 years, the guy who kicked off the careers of many of the most famous golden age science fiction writers. This is the guy who in 1938 also penned a little novella called Who Goes There? which later became, among other incarnations, John Carpenter’s 1982 film The Thing.  Simply put, without Campbell,  science fiction would not be what it is today.

SAM_2425The Black Star Passes, by John W. Campbell

published in 1930 / 1953

where I got it: purchased used

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The Black Star Passes is a 1953 fix-up of three of Campbell’s earlier stories that were originally written in 1930.  I know that the stories were edited from their original forms to become a smoother novel, but I don’t know the extent of those changes. In Campbell’s introduction to this 1953 printing, he says the fiction he writes is for students (he specifies male students, but take it in the time in which it was written) who were discovering the joys of math, chemistry, and engineering while in high school or college. These stories were for people who enjoying thinking about problems and figuring out the answers. Basically, these are stories for science nuts.

In Piracy Preferred, the first story, the young inventors Arcot and Morey are challenged with catching an invisible thief. The pirate manages to gas entire airplanes with sleeping gas, get aboard, steal the valuables, and get away. the plane is able to safely land on auto-pilot, and no one is ever hurt in these attacks, except for the fact that the sleeping gas also cures many cancers and other ailments.  If a pilot begins to feel sleepy, it’s too late.  It’s quite entertaining when entire planes go up filled with the elderly and cancer stricken and all their money, hoping to bait the pirate into curing them.  This isn’t a mystery or a suspense story, and after a bit of experimentation in their labs, Arcot and Morey are able to make themselves invisible, break through the invisibility cloak of the pirate, and catch him. And what do you do when you catch a genius criminal?  you hire him, of course!

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.