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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Resources for Brave New World

Record Brother has released mp3s of a two-part dramatization of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (part 1, part 2). The author speaks! A quick search turned up this site as a critical resource, which includes the text online and an mp4 video author interview on the text from 1962.

In case cross-pollination were desired, Gutenberg has his first novel and a book of poems available online. Librivox has the author's first novel in audio: Crome Yellow.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

More Resources to peruse

David Brin has a list of webpages to explore (movies, catch-all, even his own stories). We adults tend to forget 1) the step-wise transition from child to adult, 2) classroom time comes at a premium--a precious commodity--and 3) the specific science covered in a science course. These three ideas are often inextricable. For example, combining #1 and #3, one does not leap too far ahead of where the students are. Nonetheless, I look forward to exploring all that Brin has to offer science teachers.

Meanwhile, I have read Geoffrey A. Landis' "Approaching Perimelasma" mentioned in the last post concerning Mike Brotherton's anthology of science fiction stories about astronomy, Diamonds in the Sky. It is perfect for the discussion of black holes. However, 1) it may be longer than students are willing to put up with, which means this should be given to upper-level students or at least not required, 2) it requires some background knowledge that Landis assumes readers will already know. I'll try to prep this into something more usable next weekend (weekends never seem long enough).

Friday, May 14, 2010

Teaching Astronomy with SF

I recently stumbled upon Mike Brotherton's anthology of science fiction stories about astronomy, Diamonds in the Sky--free and online. It includes the following authors:

Jerry Oltion, Alma Alexander, Wil McCarthy, David Levine, Jerry Weinberg, Mike Brotherton, Dan Hoyt, Mary Robinette Kowal, Valentin Ivanov, Jeffrey A. Carver, G. David Nordley, Kevin Grazier and Ges Seger, Alexis Glynn Latner, and Geoffrey A. Landis.

I will look into its usefulness at a later time. Meanwhile, feel free to post your observations.

International SF

World Literature Today has published an issue of World SF, edited by Christopher McKitterick, has some online content from the print magazine.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Using 2012 in the Science Classroom

Students tend to ask whether movies can happen. When a student asked about 2012 (wiki)--since I do not get out to movies often--I had not anticipated that a Mayan 2012 prophecy (government scientist debunks a number of these) would lead to a movie using science as fodder to explain this doomsday scenario.

Like Roger Ebert, I enjoyed the movie for what it was--a science-fantasy lark (if a few too many one-damn-thing-after-anothers). The source of all the trouble is neutrinos, which for some reason stokes up the fires in the earth's core. Neutrinos normally pass through the earth without hitting anything. The movie does some hand-waving and says these neutrinos are behaving abnormally. That's good enough for me; however, most audiences may not pick up on the sleight-of-hand, which no doubt ruffles a few scientists' feathers. But as I see it, crazy science gets people asking questions, which allows scientists--such as those who wrote the blog column just linked--to correct misunderstanding and disseminate science to those who might not have looked it up, otherwise.

If in the sun were to have a larger than normal solar flares, one would have bigger problems than neutrinos, but mostly with our satellites and electrical appliances, which many countries have grown a stronger and stronger dependence upon. Another problem, depending on how much radiation penetrates the atmosphere, might be an increase in cancer.

But back to neutrinos, this brings us to two critical points that we can drum up in our Physics and Physical science classes: 1) momentum (mv) & kinetic energy (1/2mv^2) are dependent upon mass, 2) average kinetic energy of particles translates to its temperature.

If neutrinos are already extremely hard to detect when you're trying hard to locate them--no doubt due to their electrical neutrality and their minuscule but nonzero mass--it seems improbable that even a hundred-fold increase could cause much concern. Also, thanks to its low mass, it is unlikely that matter that doesn't have a desire to interact with matter due to mass and neutrality would raise temperatures. If a dust particle strikes you, it's unlikely to move you. Even a thousand particles should cause you little alarm. Why? (Students should be able to answer this intuitively.) Because their mass compared to yours is insignificant.

If you see any science here that needs correcting, please let me know in the comments. If you have another link or other science you'd like to comment on, please do so.

"Warm" by Robert Sheckley

  1. Galaxy, June 1953
  2. Second Galaxy Reader of Science Fiction, ed. Horace L. Gold, Crown 1954
  3. Untouched by Human Hands, Ballantine 1954
  4. Galaxy Science Fiction Omnibus, ed. Horace L. Gold, Grayson 1955
  5. Untouched by Human Hands, Four Square 1967
  6. Alpha 8, ed. Robert Silverberg, Berkley 1977
  7. The Arbor House Treasury of Horror and the Supernatural, ed. Bill Pronzini, Martin H. Greenberg & Barry N. Malzberg, Arbor House 1981
  8. The Arbor House Treasury of Science Fiction Masterpieces, ed. Robert Silverberg & Martin H. Greenberg, Arbor House 1983
  9. Is That What People Do?, Holt, Rinehart & Winston 1984
  10. Great Tales of Horror and the Supernatural, ed. Bill Pronzini, Martin H. Greenberg & Barry N. Malzberg, A&W/Galahad 1985
  11. Great Tales of Science Fiction, ed. Robert Silverberg & Martin H. Greenberg, A&W/Galahad 1985
  12. Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories: 15 (1953), ed. Isaac Asimov & Martin H. Greenberg, DAW 1986
  13. The Collected Short Stories of Robert Sheckley Book One, Pulphouse 1991
  14. Evolutionary Rag #1 1993
  15. A Century of Science Fiction 1950-1959, ed. Robert Silverberg & Martin H. Greenberg, MJF Books 1996
  16. Vintage Book of Amnesia, ed. Jonathan Lethem, Random House/Vintage 2000
  17. Project Gutenberg: text online.
  18. Librivox: audio online.
Summary: Anders, who is in love but dreading it, hears a voice in his head, pleading for help. It guides him--through his date with Judy, through a typically shallow party, through an encounter with the hungry homeless--to the ultimate, scientific understanding of life and existence. Once he arrives, it isn't what he expected.

  1. After you have read the story, ask yourself how the story's first sentence comes to have two simultaneous meanings.
  2. Anders is in love. How does he feel about this? Point to specific passages. How do you explain Anders' dress and where he is at the story's start? How is his approach clinical or scientific from the start?
  3. How might the word "stamp" taint the love conveyed in this sentence: "the seal of acceptance would, figuratively speaking, be stamped across his forehead"? How does his yawn play up the humor of his love?
  4. After you have read the story once, how does the voice's "Help me!" have sadder undertone? The voice doesn't know who or where it is. Knowing how events turn out, explain how this make sense. Is there hope for the voice?
  5. Psychology: To which psychologist does this allude: "Don't tell me you're my guilty subconscious, attacking me for a childhood trauma I never bothered to resolve"?
  6. Psychology: What is schizophrenia? Read up on this. Might this be what Anders has?
  7. Psychology: Is it "lamentable" that Anders has confidence in his own sanity? Once he concludes this, what does he logically--at least according to his logic--conclude? Note his reaction upon learning that the voice is coming from inside his head.
  8. Note the different usages of "warm" in the story and compare them to dictionary definitions. What all does the term encompass? How does this aid our interpretation of the story? What sorts of actions help him get "warm?"
  9. What key adjectives describe where the protagonist is headed: "It was suddenly a mixture of muddled colors, instead of the carefully blended pastel shades he had selected. The lines of wall, floor and ceiling were strangely off proportion, zigzag, unrelated"?
  10. On his date with Judy, Anders' perception slowly changes. What personality trait does he display before the change that accentuates this perception?
  11. When he makes the change in the third passage, what words and what type of language does Sheckley employ to help you sense his distancing? How does he describe people?
  12. What is the big question asks us to think about regarding the intersection of science and humanity?
  13. What does Anders mean when he tells a party-goer in a loud tie that Judy's sick and hasn't got long to live? Is he lying, manipulating the party-goer's reactions, or speaking metaphorically?
  14. What happens to Anders (and what is his reaction) that causes Anders' final transformation?
  15. When Anders returns to himself, how does he find himself? What progress has he made?
  16. If you can think of other possible questions , please let me/us know.
Key Passages:
  • Anders lay on his bed, fully dressed except for his shoes and black bow tie, contemplating, with a certain uneasiness, the evening before him.
  • It really would be much more comfortable not to be in love. What had done it? A look, a touch, a thought? It didn't take much, he knew, and stretched his arms for a thorough yawn.
  • "Help me!" a voice said.
  • "Who are you?" he asked.

    "I don't know," the voice answered.

    Anders realized that the voice was speaking within his own mind. Very suspicious.

  • It was suddenly a mixture of muddled colors, instead of the carefully blended pastel shades he had selected. The lines of wall, floor and ceiling were strangely off proportion, zigzag, unrelated.
  • A lemming in love, he told himself.

    "You're getting warm again," the voice said.

  • "Teaching psychology to young apes—"

    "Oh, come now!"

    "Warmer," the voice said.

  • The analytical young instructor was better off in the classroom. Couldn't science wait until 9:10 in the morning?
  • Her feelings were nakedly apparent to him, as meaningless as his room had been in that flash of undistorted thought.
  • the reactive machine opposite him on the couch said, expanding its shapely chest slightly
  • the flesh-clad skeleton behind the total gestalt Judy
  • "When you look at a girl, you're supposed to see—a pattern, not the underlying formlessness."

    "That's true," the voice agreed, but with a shade of doubt.

  • "Give me a dime for some coffee, mister?" something asked, a thing indistinguishable from any other thing.

    "Old Bishop Berkeley would give a nonexistent dime to your nonexistent presence," Anders said gaily.


    "I'm really hungry," the intricately arranged atoms muttered.

    All atoms. Conjoined. There were no true separations between atom and atom. Flesh was stone, stone was light. Anders looked at the masses of atoms that were pretending to solidity, meaning and reason.

    "Can't you help me?" [...]

    "I don't believe in you," Anders said.

    The pile of atoms was gone.

    "Yes!" the voice cried. "Yes!"


    What was an atom? An empty space surrounded by an empty space.

  • The voice of Anders reached back to someone who could save him, perhaps.

    "Save me," the voice said to Anders, lying fully dressed on his bed, except for his shoes and black bow tie.

  • Science: A number of important concepts are contained here--atom and space being primarily space (chemistry, physics or physical science--the major key here lies within the realm of philosophical implications. This may be most useful at the beginning of any science course where students are learning about what science is and does.
  • Psychology: See uses in science.
  • Philosophy: Science, certainty, existence.
  • English: This may be one of Robert Sheckley's most dense stories for literary mining. This should work well for any number of units.
  • If you can think of other possible uses, please let me/us know.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Come All Ye Faithful, by Robert J. Sawyer

  1. Space Inc., edited by Julie E. Czerneda (DAW Books, July 2003)
  2. Identity Theft, story collection by Robert J. Sawyer
  3. Escape Pod, audio read by Mike Boris
Summary: Stationed on Mars, Father Bailey is sent out to investigate a purported appearance of the Virgin Mary. He reports in gilded detail that indeed she is.

  • From the introduction, the author calls this his "schtick [about] the conflict between faith and rationality."

  1. The story opens with someone damning in the name of God in front of Father Bailey, our narrator--possibly in an attempt to anger or upset the Father. Does it work? Why or why not? How does this set the stage for what is to follow?
  2. What is Father Bailey's feeling about how the Mars colony feels about Father Bailey and his religion?
  3. What is Father Bailey sent out to investigate? What significance might there be that he is sent out to investigate this near the face on Mars?
  4. How does Father Bailey feel about the televangelist, Jorgan Emet?
  5. Why does Father Bailey choose to lie? See question #2 and the story's title for one possible explanation. How is this choice complicated by his feelings toward Jorgan Emet? Was Father Bailey wrong to do this? Traditionally, in science fiction, there is a history of stories (such as that found James Gunn's Station in Space) where the implication is that lying is a means justified by the end. In fact, many in politics feel this way. Do you agree? Why or why not?
  6. Returning to what the author calls his "schtick" (see Source above), what does this story have to say about religion? Robert Sawyer writes, "[A]s an author I no more am obligated to truly believe in all the things I write about than George Lucas is obligated to really believe in the Force." Is the story about religion in general or an aspect of religion? Might your beliefs impact how you read the story?
  7. If you can think of other possible questions , please let me/us know.
  • Science: This is probably not a story that applies to the science curriculum.
  • Philosophy: A course in philosophy may be the best application for a story discussing choices made by religious authorities.
  • English: Clearly the story has some thought-provoking elements, but it may be best suited for a science-fiction unit or as story choice for a student interested in philosophy, religion, or science fiction.
  • If you can think of other possible uses, please let me/us know.

Shoulders of Giants, by Robert J. Sawyer

  1. Star Colonies edited by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers (DAW Books, June 2000)
  2. Iterations, story collection by Robert J. Sawyer
  3. Relativity, story and essay collection by Robert J. Sawyer
  4. Escape Pod, audio read by Stephen Eley.
  5., author's website.
Summary: Colonists are bound aboard a generation starship to Tau Ceti, captained by both Toby (our narrator) and Ling Woo. They have been frozen for centuries only to discover the planet, that they had intended to settle, has already been settled when they arrive--for six generations. They are greeted as novelties--as relic celebrities since these colonists were born centuries before they were. The captains of the Pioneer Spirit ask for a new starship, to take them to Andromeda galaxy.

  • From the introduction, the author lists Michael T. Savage's The Millennial Project as saying, "[O]nly a fool would set out for a long space voyage on a generation ship."
  • Another source, thematic, is listed as a link in the fifth question.

  1. The first sentence--"It seemed like only yesterday when I'd died, but, of course, it was almost certainly centuries ago"--is known as a science-fiction sentence. Can you guess why? Context should supply the meaning, but you might have to read the whole story to find out how the sentence is meant. How can someone dead tell a story? The narrator, it becomes clear, is no zombie or vampire. What is meant by that sentence? The story never states the answer explicitly, but perhaps you've read or watched stories that have happened like this.
  2. What other uses do you think the name of the starship has in the story aside from being just a name? How does it reflect on the captains and the colonists they represent? How does this impact their reaction to being greeted and asked to stay on the planet circling Tau Ceti?
  3. What does the story's title refer to? Who originally said it, in what context, and for what purpose? How is the title meant by the first Tau Ceti colonists? How do the captains of the Pioneer Spirit change its meaning?
  4. How does the attitude of the Pioneer Spirit (question #2) impact the change of meaning in the title (question #3)?
  5. Can the title mean more than what the story is about? How might it be applied to your life today? The author comments on the application to his own life.
  6. If you can think of other possible questions , please let me/us know.
  • Science: As much as the story runs on a scientific concept, this is probably not a story that applies to the science curriculum. One possibility might be during the teaching of dimensional analysis or some other unit on measurement, but it is perhaps too long for what science it conveys. One might mention the story in passing, however.
  • English: Clearly the story has some thought-provoking elements, but it may be best suited for a science-fiction unit or as story choice for a student interested in science or science fiction.
  • If you can think of other possible uses, please let me/us know.