#26 – Vonnegut, Adams, and Modern Satire

While many early works of proto-sci-fi were satires like Gulliver’s Travels, satirical works also appear in modern sci-fi. In this episode, we take a look at the two most famous authors of this subgenre, Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams.

Book recommendation: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

Vonnegut’s letter to his family during World War II.

Other works discussed:
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Check out this episode!

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#25 – Strange New Worlds

While much of the New Wave was about exploring inner space, some authors were still writing about exploring other words. In this episode, we see how this subgenre of “strange new worlds sci-fi” developed, both through Star Trek and through the literature of the time.

Book recommendation: Inverted World by Christopher Priest.

The Sci-Fi Encyclopedia on aliens, mentioning the influence of John W. Campbell.
Neil deGrasse Tyson’s interview with Nichelle Nichols.
Shannon Chamberlain on fanfiction.

Other works mentioned:
Solaris by Stanisław Lem
Dune by Frank Herbert
Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
Doctor Who
Star Trek: The Original Series

Check out this episode!

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A Study in Parallel Universes: the Diproton “Catastrophe”

Advocates of “fine-tuned universe” claim that if the physical laws of our universe were just slightly different, life would not be able to exist. Some of my colleagues and I previously looked at these claims with the “Weakless Universe,” where the weak nuclear force doesn’t exist at all. (We later also looked at varying the strength of the weak force.)

Another fine tuning argument is that if the strong nuclear force were just a little bit stronger, two protons could stick together and form a helium-2 nucleus (also known as a diproton). They say that this would break the universe by converting all of the hydrogen into helium in the Big Bang.

Spoiler: it wouldn’t.

I have co-authored another paper with Fred Adams, Evan Grohs, and George Fuller, which is now publicly available on the arXiv, studying what would happen if the universe would look like if this did happen—if diprotons (and dineutons) were bound states. And there were some definite surprises, but none that would make life as we know it impossible.

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Episode 25 Delayed

Hi all. Sorry there’s no new episode this week. I have the script finished and everything, but my computer’s gone on the fritz. I barely got it working again after the mess it got into yesterday, and until I have a better idea of how it’s doing, I don’t trust it to get through recording and editing an episode.

I’m going to have to play it by ear for now. If the problems resolve themselves, I should be able to record and release Episode 25 next week and continue with Episode 26 on schedule. If not, I’ll shift the schedule back and start again as soon as I’m ready.

New episodes will always come out on Monday mornings either way, so keep checking back, or make sure you’re subscribed so you never miss an episode, and as always, thanks for listening.

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#24 – The New Dystopias

#26 – Vonnegut, Adams, and Modern Satire A Reader's History of Science Fiction

While many early works of proto-sci-fi were satires like Gulliver's Travels, satirical works also appear in modern sci-fi. In this episode, we take a look at the two most famous authors of this subgenre, Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams. Book recommendation: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut's letter to his family during World War II. Other works discussed: Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  1. #26 – Vonnegut, Adams, and Modern Satire
  2. #25 – Strange New Worlds
  3. #24 – The New Dystopias
  4. #23 – Overpopulation and Environmental Collapse
  5. #22 – Nuclear War

In the New Wave, a new batch of dystopian stories appeared that reflected the newer concerns of the time. These were different from the classics like Nineteen Eighty-Four–more diverse, and very often more hopeful. In this episode, we explore the highlights of these stories.

Short story recommendation: “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut.

My essay on the classic dystopias.
Kurt Vonnegut on “Harrison Bergeron.”
Darryl Hattenhauer on “Harrison Bergeron.”
My analysis of Logan’s Run.

Other works discussed:
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Logan’s Run by William Francis Nolan and George Clayton Johnson

Check out this episode!

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Do the Demographics of Logan’s Run Make Sense?

Logan's Run.jpg

As a companion to this week’s episode of A Reader’s History of Science Fiction, I wanted to take a closer look at the science behind one of the books I’ll be talking about: Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson.

In Logan’s Run, the world combats overpopulation by euthanizing everyone over the age of 21—a society completely by and for the youth. You may be thinking that number is wrong, but if you are, that’s probably because you’re thinking of the movie. In the movie, which is quite a bit better known, everyone is killed at 30 years old.

I want to take a look at the book, though, because a society where everyone is under 21 seems extreme and unworkable, even though they define adulthood to start at 14. But the really strange part is that Nolan and Johnson write that the youth massively dominated the world’s population before the revolution. As they write in the opening lines to the book:

The seeds of the Little War were planted in a restless summer during the mid-1960s, with sit-ins and student demonstrations as youth tested its strength. By the early 1970s, over 75 percent of the people living on Earth were under twenty-one years of age. The population continued to climb—and, with it, the youth percentage. In the 1980s, the figure was 79.7 percent. In the 1990s, 82.4 percent. In the year 2000,—critical mass.

Logan’s Run was published in 1967, when the fears of overpopulation were at their peak, and at the same time (at least in America), youth activism was becoming a major political force. Nolan and Grayson extrapolate this to suggest that the population boom of the 50s and 60s would lead to a massive rise in the youth population that would give them the power to take over the world.

…But 82.4%? Really?

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The Logic of “The Gordian Paradox”

In my recent short story, “The Gordian Paradox,” a human attempts to defeat an evil artificial intelligence with a logical paradox: “This sentence is false.” However, instead of getting the AI stuck in a loop, the evil AI and the good AI start arguing about the meaning of the paradox.

I realize this logic may not have made a whole lot of sense, especially as presented in the story, so I wanted to shed a bit more light on it.

Spoilers Below

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#23 – Overpopulation and Environmental Collapse

#26 – Vonnegut, Adams, and Modern Satire A Reader's History of Science Fiction

While many early works of proto-sci-fi were satires like Gulliver's Travels, satirical works also appear in modern sci-fi. In this episode, we take a look at the two most famous authors of this subgenre, Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams. Book recommendation: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut's letter to his family during World War II. Other works discussed: Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  1. #26 – Vonnegut, Adams, and Modern Satire
  2. #25 – Strange New Worlds
  3. #24 – The New Dystopias
  4. #23 – Overpopulation and Environmental Collapse
  5. #22 – Nuclear War

In the 60s and 70s, awareness of environmental issues was rising, and that was reflected in the New Wave of science fiction. Of particular note were overpopulation and pollution (leading to widespread environmental collapse). In this episode, we explore the highlights of this subgenre.

Book recommendation: Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

Other books mentioned:
Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison
The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi interview on The Windup Girl

Check out this episode!

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The Gordian Paradox

A Short Story

“Duck!” Raven yelled, and Dave dropped to the floor. Two bullets whizzed over his head before she blocked the rest of them with her improvised shield. He didn’t know how she could stay ahead of the automated defenses for this long, but if she kept it up, they might have a chance. There were several precision gunshots from over his head, and the enemy fire stopped.

“Up!” Raven told him, pulling him up by his arm. “Through the door, forward sixteen, then left nine and stop.” The numbers were counting strides. Dave didn’t know how she could compute his stride length with such perfect accuracy, but it had worked so well up till now that he could do it blind. He ran to the spot she told him while she took care of the next obstacle.

It still wasn’t going to be easy. The evil supercomputer GOLIATH was well on its way to taking over the world. It had frozen just about every device connected to the Internet and issued an ultimatum to world leaders. Many military units were sufficiently insulated to mount a counterattack, but it wasn’t looking good. Their only hope was to stop the machine at the source. Hence why Dave was here.

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The Perseverance Rover Lands on Mars Tomorrow!

https://mars.nasa.gov/system/resources/detail_files/25468_PIA24345-web.jpg

Tomorrow is a big day in the world of planetary science. NASA’s Perseverance rover (formerly Mars 2020) will be landing on Mars at 3:55 PM EST.

This is something that brings back memories for me. Eight and a half years ago–in fact only a month before I started this blog–I watched the landing of the Curiosity rover at the Planetary Society’s Planetfest event in Pasadena. It was a massive and euphoric two-day event attended by luminaries from Bill Nye (CEO of the Planetary Society) on down.

Today, of course, we’re living in a very different world, and there are no massive celebrations for Perseverance (although the Kennedy Space Center is apparently holding an in-person event), but the landing is still going forward. Also, the rover’s name feels so much more meaningful than it did a year ago when it beat out my first choice of Ingenuity, (which happily was still given to the helicopter it carries).

As an aside, I still can’t get over the fact that we’re going to fly a helicopter on Mars in harsher conditions than anyone has ever flown a helicopter on Earth!

Perseverance is basically a Curiosity chassis with better instruments on it, including ground-penetrating radar, a test oxygen production system, an ultraviolet spectrometer capable of spotting organic compounds, and a sample return system (to be picked up by a future mission). Since it’s the same design, in order to land, it will need to do a repeat of Curiosity’s “Seven Minutes of Terror,” in a Rube Goldberg-esque process where it will be lowered on a cable from a rocket-powered crane.

That still sounds like something a ten-year-old would come up with, but it’s not; they’ve already done it once!

But this time, they have to do it while carrying 14% more weight, and on much rougher terrain. To do that, this will be the first camera-controlled automated landing of a spacecraft. It’s going to be a wild ride, and it’ll be streamed on NASA Live starting at 12:30 PM EST. Or if you want to keep up the tradition, you can check out the Planetary Society’s live stream starting at 2:30.

Godspeed to Perseverance. Here’s to the next step in the Final Frontier.

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