Friday, April 19, 2013

Links 19/04/13

You wait for a potentially Earth-like planet and two come along at once.  In the same system.

Fossilised iron-loving bacteria may contain the signature left by a supernova.

How do you clear space debris from Earth orbit?  With space harpoons, of course.

'There were once were two planets, new to the galaxy and inexperienced in life. Like fraternal twins, they were born at the same time, about four and a half billion years ago, and took roughly the same shape. Both were blistered with volcanoes and etched with watercourses; both circled the same yellow dwarf star—close enough to be warmed by it, but not so close as to be blasted to a cinder. Had an alien astronomer swivelled his telescope toward them in those days, he might have found them equally promising—nurseries in the making. They were large enough to hold their gases close, swaddling themselves in atmosphere; small enough to stay solid, never swelling into gaseous giants. They were “Goldilocks planets,” our own astronomers would say: just right for life.'

 Russian enthusiasts may have spotted the Mars 3 lander in a Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image.

 Nano space-suits for insects.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Day In The Life

Let me start by declaring an interest. A couple of decades ago, Kim Newman and I were touting an anthology of original stories to my then editor at Gollancz, the late, great Richard Evans. We had a potent weapon in our armoury: a submission by Ian R MacLeod, one of the best alternate history stories we'd ever read.  The anthology, In Dreams, was eventually published, and didn't do half as well as its contributors deserved, but now Ian MacLeod's story has found new life as a TV play in the second series of Sky Arts' Playhouse Presents...

It's 1991. John Lennon is fifty, living in a rented room in Birmingham, and at a new low point in his life.  He been forced to take up menial work by his local Job Centre, and his nemesis, the Beatles, are about to start a Greatest Hits tour ('obviously the solo careers are up the kazoo again'). Forever known as the guy who left the Beatles (during a blazing row in 1962, over whether or not they should cover Gerry and the Pacemaker's 'How Do You Do It'), history has rolled on without him. The Beatles never were toppermost of the poppermost, and Lennon is on his uppers, licking envelopes for a living, sustained by roll-up fags and his sarcastic wit, struggling to stay out of the clutches of the Snodgrasses, with their suburban bungalows and 2.4 children, their yuppie phones, and their dead imaginations.

Adapted by David Quantick, it's a marvellous piece of ventriloquism, a poignant, funny, surrealistic commentary on the struggle against conformity, and regret for the life not lived, the consequences of a moment and a choice made long ago. Ian Hart, who played the young Lennon in Backbeat and The Hours and Times, perfectly captures the voice and vulnerable defiance of an aging Lennon who never was, a man out of time; Martin Carr provides musical cues from the Beatles' alternate career; David Blair's direction jigsaws warmly-lit snippets from the past into the cold blue present. It's a story in which nothing really happens, yet it closes on a marvellous moment of affirmation. It's one of the best science fiction dramas you're likely to see this year.

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