Saturday, July 06, 2013

Links 06/07/13

' seems that the chemistry that can take place in the cold clouds of gas of space is much more complex than we had predicted. Reactions that would be impossible under normal circumstances—simply because there's not enough energy to push them forward—can take place in cold gasses due to quantum mechanical effects. That's because one of the reactants (a hydrogen nucleus) can undergo quantum tunneling between two reactants.'

'Next year, relying on the effects of gravitational lensing, scientists will be able to examine the sun’s closest neighboring star—Proxima Centauri, which is 4.24 light-years away—and, notably, its solar system, if such a system exists. No planets have been detected thus far; if there are any, they are too small to see with conventional instruments. But when Proxima Centauri passes in front of a distant star in October, 2014, its gravity—and that of any orbiting bodies—will bend the light from that star. By analyzing the way the light bends around Proxima Centauri, scientists will be able to perceive whatever planets are nearby.
'An Italian space scientist, Claudio Maccone, believes that gravitational lensing could be used for something even more extraordinary: searching for radio signals from alien civilizations.'

Giant starfish with lasers, creepy robot babysitters, flying saucer tourism... The strange worlds of Japanese retro-futurism.

Vulcan veteoed: recently discovered 4th and 5th moons of Pluto officially named.

Stephen Van Vuuren has created an IMAX movie, In Saturn's Rings, by animating a million images taken by robot spacecraft. Here's the first teaser trailer:

Friday, July 05, 2013

The Other Half Of The Sky

One of the depressing things about the science-fiction scene here in the UK at the moment is that the proportion of women writing and publishing SF doesn't seem to have much increased from the fairly low level it was at when I started to buy SF books in the 1970s. The percentage of novels by women submitted to the Clarke Award this year was around 20% (and Farah Mendlesohn, who read many of them, reports that 'most of the books by women are simply not eligible however wide I draw the net'). The average over the past decade wasn't much higher, at around 30%.

Add to this recent incidences of crass sexism in the field, including reports of sexual harassment at conventions, multiple scandals in the Science Fiction Writers of America (here's a useful timeline), and a dumb post about the 'differences' between men and women genre writers on the blog of a publisher which is actually making some effort to publish new women sf writers . . .  There's a growing feeling that science fiction is becoming like one of those antediluvian golf clubs that excludes women so that flush-faced fifty-year-old boys can belly up to the bar and make dubious jokes, complain about political correctness and anyone who doesn't share their skin colour or political opinions, and bang on about imaginary triumphs from days long lost.

I don't want to be a member of that club. Tricia Sullivan points out that it's mostly women who are spending their time and energy pushing back against this stuff - 'I can count on one hand men who have done anything about this' - so for what it's worth, here's my first tiny contribution: an incomplete list of science fiction books by women that I think you should read. You should also check out Ian Sales' ongoing project, Mistressworks, and Nina Allan's excellent cross-genre list. Oh, and take a look at the anthology The Other Half of the Sky, from which I totally stole the title of this post: science-fiction stories about women, not exclusively by women. Meanwhile, the list (shaped by personal taste - let me know what I've missed):

Gill Alderman - The Archivist
Margaret Atwood - The Handmaid's Tale
Lauren Beukes - Moxyland
Leigh Brackett - The Long Tomorrow
Octavia E. Butler - Parable Of The Sower
Pat Cadigan - Fools
Suzy McGee Charnas - Walk To The End Of The World
C.J. Cherryh - Downbelow Station
Jennifer Egan - A Visit From The Goon Squad
Eleanor Arnason - A Woman Of The Iron People
Carol Emshwiller - Carmen Dog
M.J. Engh - Arslan (a.k.a. A Wind from Bukhara)
Gertrude Friedberg - The Revolving Boy
Karen Joy Fowler - Sarah Canary
Patricia Geary - Strange Toys
Kathleen Anne Goonan - In Wartime
Eileen Gunn - Stable Strategies And Others
Elizabeth Hand - Winterlong
Nalo Hopkinson - Brown Girl In The Ring
Mary Gentle - Golden Witchbreed
Molly Gloss - The Dazzle Of Day
Lisa Goldstein - Tourists
Kij Johnson - At The Mouth Of The River Of Bees: Stories
Gwyneth Jones - Spirit: or The Princess of Bois Dormant
Ursula K. Le Guin - The Dispossessed
M.J. Locke - Up Against It
Leigh Kennedy - The Journal Of Nicholas The American
Nancy Kress - Beggars In Spain
Katherine MacLean - The Missing Man
Maureen F. McHugh - After The Apocalypse
Judith Merril - The Best Of Judith Merril
Judith Moffett - Pennterra
Elizabeth Moon - The Speed Of Dark
C.L. Moore - Clash By Night And Other Stories
Pat Murphy - The City, Not Long After
Linda Nagata - Deception Well
Kit Reed - The Story Until Now: A Great Big Book of Stories
Justina Robson - Natural History
Kristine Kathryn Rusch - Diving Into The Wreck
Pamela Sargent - Cloned Lives
Josephine Saxton - Queen Of The States
Melissa Scott - Trouble And Her Friends
Tricia Sullivan - Lightborn
Sue Thomas - Correspondences
James Tiptree Jr (a.k.a. Alice Sheldon) - Her Smoke Rose Up Forever
Lisa Tuttle - A Spaceship Made Of Stone And Other Stories
Joanna Russ - Picnic On Paradise
Joan Slonczewski - A Door Into Ocean
Joan D. Vinge - The Snow Queen
Kate Wilhelm - Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang
Liz Williams - Empire Of Bones
Pamela Zoline - The Heat Death of the Universe and Other Stories

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Hari's Ship

He studied the ring ship’s familiar contours and landmarks as they grew closer. Spars and tethers anchoring the motor pod in the centre of the ring ship’s Möbius strip. Cubical modules and domes of various sizes scattered over the surface. The two big rectangular hatches of the starboard garages. The cluster of dish antennae where he’d done his first work on the ship’s skin, helping Nabhoj swap out a frozen servo. The workshop blister where he’d assembled much of Dr Gagarian’s experimental apparatus. The hatch for the garage that housed his utility pod, 09 Chaju, a tough little unit with pairs of articulated arms either side of the diamond blister of its canopy.  The hours he’d spent in the couch that took up most of the pod’s cramped cabin, ferrying and assembling components, welding . . .
From Evening's Empires.
They are an unfashionable trope in science fiction right now, but at this late stage in my career, when I should probably know better, I'm still writing about spaceships. Despite early consumption of much science fiction steeped in the romance of the Great Out There, I'm not really interested in the sky-filling giants and naval manoeuvres of old-style space opera and default SF. If I'm interested in them at all, if they're something more than a convenient mode of transport to actual landscapes revealed by actual spacecraft, the equivalent of the plane that takes the protagonist of a contemporary novel from London to New York, it's as a place where people work, where they live and make their living.

My father was in the Royal Navy, a sailor from the ship-building town of Belfast. Because my family lived in land-locked Stroud, in the Cotswolds, I didn't see him that often. And after he and my mother divorced I didn't see him at all. But there were always reminders of his work about the house. Postcards and aerograms from ports in post-colonial remnants in the British Empire. Carved giraffes and elephants from Kenya. A gaudy lamp from Hong-Kong, whose shade, decorated with sampans, revolved in the heat of its bulb. A weighty book about the sea and ships: I have forgotten its title, but can still recall its wine-dark cover and grainy photographs. I still have my father's hardback copy of Graf Spee, an account by Michael Powell of the World War 2 battle which he and Emric Pressburger filmed as The Battle of the River Plate; a film in which my father, who served on one of the frigates that stood in for the British WW2 ships, makes a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance. I remember watching him lay delicate gold leaf on the boat badge for the bridge of the ship on which he was serving. One year, when he was stationed at Portsmouth, my family lived in a rented bungalow in Portchester, hard by the shore, and I would watch the great grey ships across the water, fossick in the low-tide estuarine mud, and bring back shards of electronics from an unfenced military dump.

Hari, Gajananvihari Pilot, the hero of Evening's Empires, was born and brought up in his family's ship. It's the only life he knows until it is taken from him. When his family's ship is hijacked, and his family is kidnapped, or worse, Hari escapes. Stranded on a barren asteroid, he swears to get back everything he's lost.

Where do we get our ideas from?

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A Short Taxonomy Of Spaceship Covers

After a little research, here's a list of credits for the 1970s SF paperback covers I put up in two previous posts. I haven't been able to identify the artist for one cover: Poul Anderson's The Trouble Twisters.  Does anyone know who created it?

Part 1
Equator, by Brian Aldiss - Bruce Pennington
The Trouble Twisters, by Poul Anderson - unknown
The Stars Like Dust, by Isaac Asimov - Chris Foss
The End of Eternity, by Isaac Asimov - Chris Foss
Foundation, by Isaac Asimov - Chris Foss
In The Ocean of Night, by Gregory Benford - Peter Andrew Jones
The Star Dwellers, by James Blish - Colin Hay
The Testament of Andros, by James Blish - Chris Foss
A Life for the Stars, by James Blish - Chris Foss
Triton, by Samuel R. Delany - Tony Roberts
Now Wait for Next Year, by Philip K Dick - Chris Foss
334, by Thomas M Disch - Tony Roberts

Part 2
All the Sounds of Fear, by Harlan Ellison - Chris Foss
Deathworld 2, by Harry Harrison - Eddie Jones
The Machine in Shaft Ten, by M John Harrison - Chris Foss
The Heaven Makers, by Frank Herbert - Bruce Pennington
The Best of Fritz Leiber - Tony Roberts
After Apollo, by Barry Malzberg - Tony Roberts
The Caltraps of Time, by David I Masson - Gordon C Davis
The View From the Stars, by Walter Miller - Chris Foss
A Hole in Space, by Larry Niven - Tony Roberts
West of the Sun, by Edgar Pangborn - Colin Hay
The Fifth Head of Cerberus, by Gene Wolfe - Jim Burns
Away and Beyond, by A.E.Van Vogt - Chris Foss

A few brief notes:

All the covers were scanned from books in my collection, and I bought almost all of them (the two exceptions are The Machine in Shaft Ten and The Caltraps of Time) in the 1970s. Back then, it seemed as if every other science fiction paperback had a spaceship on its cover; even though the proportion was probably somewhat less, spaceships were a major signifier, and catnip to my younger self.

You may have noticed that none of the covers are of books by women. There were plenty of women publishing science fiction novels and short story collections back then - Octavia E Butler, Suzette Haden Elgin, Ursula Le Guin, Tanith Lee, Anne McCaffery, Vonda McIntyre, Kit Reed, Joanna Russ, James Tiptree Jr (Alice Sheldon), and Kate Wilhelm, for instance - but they didn't seem to get spaceships on their covers. They mostly got people instead. No doubt Freud would have something to say about that.

Chris Foss was the major SF cover artist of the 1970s. His massive spaceships and other machines -

- with their chunky realism and chequered and striped paintjobs, are instantly recognisable. I'm pretty sure that he was one of the influences on the generation of British writers who in the 1980s and 1990s started publishing the kind of science fiction that's become known as the New Space Opera. (One of those writers, Al Reynolds, has republished his review of Foss's book, Hardware, on his blog.)

Monday, July 01, 2013

Spaceships From 1970s British SF Paperbacks, Part 2

(I'll post artists' attributions for this and the previous set a little later. And yes, I know the machine on the cover of The Caltraps of Time might well be a futuristic jet fighter. Exception/rules/whatever.)
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