#9 – The Dystopia Classic

#9 – The Dystopia Classic A Reader's History of Science Fiction

Dystopian fiction has become a popular subgenre of sci-fi in its own right, but the earliest dystopian novels shared some unique elements in common, inverting the standard tropes of the hero's journey. In this episode, we explore what has made these stories so enduring. Book recommendation: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. My essay on the inverted hero's journey. Link to the Heroine's journey. Link to O'Brien's speech.
  1. #9 – The Dystopia Classic
  2. #8 – The Dawn of Cinema
  3. #7 – H. P. Lovecraft and Cosmic Horror
  4. #6 – Pulp Fiction
  5. #5 – H. G. Wells and the Dawn of Science Fiction

Dystopian fiction has become a popular subgenre of sci-fi in its own right, but the earliest dystopian novels shared some unique elements in common, inverting the standard tropes of the hero’s journey. In this episode, we explore what has made these stories so enduring.

Book recommendation: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.
My essay on the inverted hero’s journey.
Link to the Heroine’s journey.
Link to O’Brien’s speech.

Other books mentioned:
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Check out this episode!

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The Mars Perseverance Launch Is Tomorrow

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6f/PIA23962-Mars2020-Rover%26Helicopter-20200714.jpg
The Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter drone (artist’s impression; credit: NASA).

Space news of the day: NASA’s Perseverance rover (formerly Mars 2020) will launch at 7:50 am EDT tomorrow morning on its mission to Mars. (It was originally supposed to be July 17, but it was delayed due to equipment problems.)

I wrote about this mission in January when they were naming it with a public contest of student submissions. The name Perseverance was chosen for the rover, and I was pleased to learn that my personal choice, Ingenuity, was chosen for the helicopter drone that’s riding along.

And can I just reiterate: how crazy is it that we’re sending a helicopter to Mars? For one thing, I’m pretty sure this is the first powered flight ever outside Earth, and for another, this is Mars we’re talking about–a planet where the air is so thin that it’s like being 100,000 feet 80,000 feet up (24 km) on Earth. (I forgot to account for Mars’s lower gravity in my previous post.) Meanwhile, the world record for a helicopter flight on Earth is only 42,500 feet (13 km).

Let me put that more clearly: we’re trying something on Mars that we haven’t even accomplished on Earth yet!

Anyway, live coverage of the launch begins at 7:00 am tomorrow morning on NASA TV. Be sure to check it out.

*Disclosure: I am a postdoc at NASA. All opinions expressed are my own.

Posted in Current events, Space exploration, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

#8 – The Dawn of Cinema

#9 – The Dystopia Classic A Reader's History of Science Fiction

Dystopian fiction has become a popular subgenre of sci-fi in its own right, but the earliest dystopian novels shared some unique elements in common, inverting the standard tropes of the hero's journey. In this episode, we explore what has made these stories so enduring. Book recommendation: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. My essay on the inverted hero's journey. Link to the Heroine's journey. Link to O'Brien's speech.
  1. #9 – The Dystopia Classic
  2. #8 – The Dawn of Cinema
  3. #7 – H. P. Lovecraft and Cosmic Horror
  4. #6 – Pulp Fiction
  5. #5 – H. G. Wells and the Dawn of Science Fiction

At the same time science fiction came into its own as a genre, cinema was doing the same. Here, we see an overview of the most notable sci-fi films of the silent and pre-Code eras, and how they influenced the culture.

Movie recommendation: Metropolis.

Other films mentioned:
Le Voyage Dans La Lune (YouTube link with 2011 restoration soundtrack.)
Frankenstein
King Kong

Check out this episode!

Posted in Science Fiction | 2 Comments

Book Review: A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor: A Novel (The Carls): Green, Hank ...

I’ve previously reviewed An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green, a science educator and YouTube host alongside his brother, John (author of The Fault in our Stars). Hank’s debut novel featured a visit by an enigmatic alien robot named Carl, and the world’s reaction to it seen through the lens of social media. I thought it was a good story and a brilliant commentary on today’s internet culture.

Well, now, it’s two years later, and the internet culture if anything has only become crazier, and Hank Green is back with the sequel, A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor. I have to say, this one is even better than the original. More action; more intrigue; more stakes. (Quite a few more words, for that matter.) And this time, he goes even deeper and broader into examining humanity’s relationship with technology and each other.

My rating: 5 out of 5.

Spoilers below.

Continue reading
Posted in Book reviews, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

#7 – H. P. Lovecraft and Cosmic Horror

#9 – The Dystopia Classic A Reader's History of Science Fiction

Dystopian fiction has become a popular subgenre of sci-fi in its own right, but the earliest dystopian novels shared some unique elements in common, inverting the standard tropes of the hero's journey. In this episode, we explore what has made these stories so enduring. Book recommendation: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. My essay on the inverted hero's journey. Link to the Heroine's journey. Link to O'Brien's speech.
  1. #9 – The Dystopia Classic
  2. #8 – The Dawn of Cinema
  3. #7 – H. P. Lovecraft and Cosmic Horror
  4. #6 – Pulp Fiction
  5. #5 – H. G. Wells and the Dawn of Science Fiction

H. P. Lovecraft brought the Gothic horror of the previous century into the modern era with his new genre of cosmic horror, which placed humankind at the mercy of vast and inscrutable alien entities. Despite a tarnished legacy, he is still considered the master of sci-fi-horror and a great influence on the genre ever since.

Book recommendation: At the Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft.

Other stories mentioned:
The Call of Cthulhu
The Shadow Out of Time
The Shadow over Innsmouth
The Dunwich Horror

Lovecraft’s stories may be read at hplovecraft.com.

Check out this episode!

Posted in Science Fiction

Why does the Lagrangian equal T-V?

And here’s one for the category of “Posts where you need a degree in physics to even understand the question.” Okay, there are probably a fair number of you who don’t have a degree in physics who can understand this question, even if you don’t know the calculus. But consider this a dry run for some stuff on quantum field theory I want to do down the road.

This post is an attempt to answer a question that confused me when I was an undergrad physics student, and if the internet is any indication has plagued many other physics students.

Why is the Lagrangian kinetic energy minus potential energy?

Continue reading
Posted in Physics, Posts where you need a degree in physics to even understand the question., You thought I was joking, didn't you? | Tagged , ,

#6 – Pulp Fiction

#9 – The Dystopia Classic A Reader's History of Science Fiction

Dystopian fiction has become a popular subgenre of sci-fi in its own right, but the earliest dystopian novels shared some unique elements in common, inverting the standard tropes of the hero's journey. In this episode, we explore what has made these stories so enduring. Book recommendation: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. My essay on the inverted hero's journey. Link to the Heroine's journey. Link to O'Brien's speech.
  1. #9 – The Dystopia Classic
  2. #8 – The Dawn of Cinema
  3. #7 – H. P. Lovecraft and Cosmic Horror
  4. #6 – Pulp Fiction
  5. #5 – H. G. Wells and the Dawn of Science Fiction

The hallmark of early science fiction was the pulp magazines, which continued the tradition of larger-than-life adventure stories. Despite the sometimes silly and over-the-top writing style, this was an important step in the development of the genre.

Book recommendation: The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Other books mentioned:
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burrows
Galactic Patrol by E. E. Smith
Armageddon 2419 A.D. by Philip Francis Nowlan

Check out this episode!

Posted in Science Fiction

The Shadow of the Conqueror Film Project

Image credit: Diratia Productions, Shadow of the Conqueror press kit.

Last year, I reviewed Shadow of the Conqueror, the debut fantasy novel of medieval enthusiast Shad Brooks, also known as Shadiversity. I thought it was pretty good—a little rough around the edges, but with a lot of potential.

Well, it seems that I wasn’t the only one who thought so. A group of “Everfans” of The Chronicles of Everfall (the series to which the book belongs) at Diratia Productions have begun an effort to produce a 15-minute short film of selected scenes from the novel, and they’re asking for your help on Kickstarter.

Diratia Productions is a Montréal-based, independent video production company whose staff have professional experience in Hollywood studios, TV shows, and theater. They’re just getting started on the project, but I was impressed by their dedication. They have a YouTube channel, where you can see updates on the production, and in just a few weeks they’ve already made significant progress, including in casting, composing music, and test filming.

The team is working with experts in historical European martial arts (in simplistic terms, traditional swordfighting) to ensure the historical accuracy of the film (you know, aside from the magic). And crucially, they are working with Shad himself to produce a faithful adaptation of the book, so this is a serious effort. You can see Shad’s announcement video for the project here.

The next step for the team is securing funding, and today Diratia Productions began a Kickstarter to fund the project. They are looking for $65,000 Canadian to fund the short film, and they made one third of that in the first 12 hours, so they’re off to a pretty good start. They’re also prepared to expand the project with pretty much any level of support. The Kickstarter runs through July 8, so if you enjoy Shadow of the Conqueror, Shadaversity, or fantasy in general, consider donating.

Disclosure: this post was made at the request of Diratia Productions.

Posted in Art, Fantasy, Requested | Tagged , , , ,

#5 – H. G. Wells and the Dawn of Science Fiction

#9 – The Dystopia Classic A Reader's History of Science Fiction

Dystopian fiction has become a popular subgenre of sci-fi in its own right, but the earliest dystopian novels shared some unique elements in common, inverting the standard tropes of the hero's journey. In this episode, we explore what has made these stories so enduring. Book recommendation: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. My essay on the inverted hero's journey. Link to the Heroine's journey. Link to O'Brien's speech.
  1. #9 – The Dystopia Classic
  2. #8 – The Dawn of Cinema
  3. #7 – H. P. Lovecraft and Cosmic Horror
  4. #6 – Pulp Fiction
  5. #5 – H. G. Wells and the Dawn of Science Fiction

H. G. Wells was in many respects the first real science fiction author, where earlier writers wrote more or less in existing genres. This episode is an overview of his work and legacy.

Excerpt on Wells’s Law.

Book recommendation: The Time Machine by H. G. Wells.

Other books mentioned:
The Invisible Man
The Island of Doctor Moreau
The War of the Worlds

Check out this episode!

Posted in Science Fiction

SpaceX’s First Human Spaceflight Is Tomorrow!

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/96/SpaceX_Demo-2_Rollout_%28NHQ202005210011%29.jpg
The Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon on the launchpad today. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Astronauts have not blasted off to space from American soil in nearly nine years. But tomorrow, that finally changes. SpaceX will launch its first ever crewed mission, Crew Dragon Demo-2, tomorrow at 4:30 pm Eastern Time. The rocket will ferry NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Benkhen to their scheduled rotation on the International Space Station.

This is a big deal. It’s especially a big deal if you work in a space-related field, like I do, but it should be a big deal to everyone. In 2011, this could have been the news story of the week. Maybe even of the month if it was a slow month.

I don’t even remember the last time we had a slow month in the news media. I think it was in 2015.

The United States has not had the capability to launch our own astronauts into space since the retirement of the Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2011. Ever since, every astronaut to go into space has had to hitch a ride with the Russians.* Elon Musk, although he’s not the only person in the game anymore (Boeing is planning to do it next year), was arguably single-handedly pushing us in this direction for years, and that work is finally paying off.

The mission will go on tomorrow, weather permitting. You’ll be able to see it live on NASA TV, SpaceX’s live stream, and on the Discovery and Science Channels. So if you’re stuck at home for quarantine, or if you otherwise have some time to set aside, be sure to check out this historic event.**

*Aside from a few Virgin Galactic tourists on sub-orbit flights, and those only by FAA standards, not international standards.

**Full disclosure: I am a postdoc at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. However, this post represents solely my own opinions and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of NASA or the United States Government.

Posted in Current events, Space exploration | Tagged , , ,