Friday Sci-Fi: Lostronaut

June 5, 2009

Since marine science and space seem pretty tight these days, check out Jonathan Lethem’s lovely and very bleak short story “Lostronaut.” It’s written as letters home from an astronaut stranded on a disintegrating space station with failing plant-based life support, and shouldn’t be read if you’ve got a space-faring loved one.

If reading the story makes you feel sciencey, Eric explored the science behind using plants for life support on the Science Not Fiction blog. But if reading the story makes you want to kick back and feel mournful, listen to Amanda Palmer’s amazing song “Astronaut.” I’m obsessed.*

*Yes, this entire post was an excuse to post this song.


TGIF: Glowy jellyfish-puppies

April 24, 2009

Why make glowy transgenic jellyfish-puppies? Because…because…SCIENCE!

What the Earth of 150,000 years ago was really like

March 23, 2009

SPOILER WARNING: This entire post is a giant spoiler for the Battlestar Galactica Season 5 4.5 finale, so I’ve tucked it behind the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Free astronomically-correct science fiction

February 18, 2009

Are you annoyed by faster-than-light travel and sound in space? Check out Diamonds in the Sky, a free anthology of astronomically-correct science fiction stories.

Diamonds in the Sky is a collection of astronomy-based science fiction stories edited by Mike Brotherton and funded under his National Science Foundation grant AST 05-07781.  The purpose of the anthology is to provide stories with ample and accurate astronomy spanning a range of topics covered in introductory courses…Contributions include both original stories and reprints from some of the top science fiction writers working today.

Best Broader Impacts idea ever! I’m downloading it right now, and will report back on whether they’re actually good stories.

Now how about some ecologically plausible alien worlds? They can be both an ice planet AND a jungle planet! Or how about psychic dolphins (my personal sci-fi bugaboo) that behave just like real dolphins and ravage a space station Aliens style?

Via Boing Boing

Where New Yorker short stories and science collide!

November 20, 2008

Check out Eric’s latest column for Science Not Fiction, in which he ponders the possibilities of plant-based intergalactic life support. Pretentious short-story writers and teeny tiny wheat plants collide!

The use of plants to recycle air and provide food for long term space trips is one of science fiction’s favorite tropes. It makes so much sense, right?….In the 1990s, NASA’s Advanced Life Support division  conducted a series of experiments at the Johnson Space Center to see if they could make the system work on a much smaller scale.

You might also enjoy his take on getting a head in cryogenics.

A little research reveals that it’s basic economics: Head-only freezing can cost as little as $80,000, far better than the $150,000 whole-body freezing costs, based on the pricing at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, a real life cold-storage non-profit.

Science fiction in science

November 19, 2008

Consider my nerd quotient dialed to 11. I will be attending the Science Online 2009 conference this January, and one of the perks will be the panel on using science fiction as a tool for science communication. The moderators asked for input and to “start an online conversation between science fiction writers and science bloggers.”

Well, I want to talk to science fiction writers! And since so many TOG readers are nerdy nerd nerds (and frequently educators of various kinds) I figured you all might want to weigh in, too. Here are my answers to the “Questions for Science Bloggers.”

What is your relationship to science fiction? Do you read it? Watch it? What/who do you like and why?

I love science fiction, though I think probably most of what I read falls more into the fantasy camp. I suppose I’m kind of sterotypically girly in that I care a lot about character development and less about speculative technology, though I do love me some space fights. Though I read all kinds of tripe in my callow youth, I now no longer enjoy books without decent female characters. (Though I don’t mind if they’re sexbots as long as they have a personality and actual humanoid motivations – I thought Charles Stross’ Saturn’s Children was tons of fun.)

My favorite scifi author is Ray Bradbury. I’m going to count China Mieville in there too, since he kind of writes about speculative (albeit dystopian) biotechnology. I listen to several scifi podcasts, mainly Escape Pod. My favorite scifi show is Battlestar Galactica, particularly the first and second seasons, with their optimal combination of space fights, daring rescues, and interesting, flawed characters. (Please, gentle readers, DO NOT spoil the fourth season. I watch it on DVD so I haven’t seen it yet!) I still pine for Firefly. I found Heroes tedious and derivative, and could never bear any of the Stargate series.

What do you see as science fiction’s role in promoting science, if any? Can it do more than make people excited about science? Can it harm the cause of science?

Right now, I don’t see scifi as having much to do with real science. Most of the science in science fiction is so bad that it is either neutral (not associated with real science at all) or harmful to science. I stopped watching Farscape over some nonsense about Aeryn Sun being cold-blooded and how that meant she couldn’t get hot. Hadn’t anyone in LA been to the desert and seen all the lizards scuttling around?

Besides, the science portrayed is so far away from what is possible now. For example, somebody who became a computer programmer to be like Hiro Protagonist in Snow Crash would be sadly disappointed.

Have you used science fiction as a starting point to talk about science? Is it easier to talk about people doing it right or getting it wrong?

I really haven’t. This is probably because I’m a marine ecologist and not too much science fiction is about that type of thing. (Except for the horrible abundance of “dolphins with mystical knowledge” books. I would never use these book as examples because a) people do not need to be encouraged to harass poor cetaceans for Mystical Truths; and b) they are BAD books.)

Are there any specific science or science fiction blogs you would recommend to interested readers or writers?

The science blogs I read are listed in my blog roll. I don’t regularly read any scifi blogs, but if I did, I’d read Io9 and Discovery Magazine’s Science Not Fiction. (Full disclosure: Co-blogger and cohabitator Eric blogs for Science Not Fiction, but that’s only 47% of the reason I’m promoting it.)

Have a vintage apocalypse for Halloween

October 31, 2008

Zombie movies are on the rise, clearly indicating a time of war and social unrest. I09 has a handy chart:

Clearly, the only way to fight the zombies is to go back to an earlier, purer time, untainted by the smell of rotting undead flesh and the moans of the encroaching hordes. Bring on the alien invaders from Mars! Orson Welles’ 1938 radio play, The War of the Worlds, is available as a free streaming broadcast!

I heard a bit of it last night, and I promise you that 70 years has not made it one little bit less terrifying. Had I been around for the original broadcast, there is a reasonable chance that I would have packed the car full of bread and fled.

Fortunately, the Grovers Mill Martian Landing Site Monument provides needed closure to any traumatized by the Martian invasion. How comforting. Until the zombies get you.

Links via Metafilter, chart via Boing Boing