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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thumb-wrestling Cage Match--Rudy Rucker vs. Robert Sheckley

These two authors share much in common: both have relaxed styles, a feeling of spontaneous invention at novel lengths, a penchant for humor derived by putting humans in awkward and bizarre scenarios.

They do differ in literary approach, however. While Rucker's characters tend to feel more fleshed out, Sheckley's emphasis on examining the human condition spurs breadth or depth of thought. Rucker also examines the human condition but as a consequence of examining some mathematical or physical anomaly in much the same manner as Edwin Abbott or Hal Clement, who take concepts and push them to extremes. A child-like wonder suffuses Rucker's approach, seen for instance in "Inertia" where Rucker asks if there might be a difference in masses from gravity to that determined by force. In Masters of Space and Time, Rucker inquires as to how one might travel forwards or backwards in time: by shrinking or enlarging, depending on the direction one were to travel.

Sheckley, meanwhile, might try to separate the best and worst of human nature in a manner not unlike Stevenson's "Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde" presents two sides of one man. Sheckley's Status Civilization, however, operates on a societal level, sifting and isolating the undesirables to one planet and saving Earth for the good people. Here Sheckley devotes his time to examining questions of "status" and its permutations of meaning between these two societies in addition to questions of what "civilization" is.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

"Approaching Perimelasma" by Geoffrey A. Landis

  • Year's Best SF 16th Annual, St. Martin's 1999 tp
  • Explorers: SF Adventures, St Martins 1999 tp
  • Impact Parameter, Golden Gryphon 2001 hc
  • Mammoth Book of SF, Carroll & Graf 2002 tp
  • Beyond Flesh, Ace 2002 pb
  • Infinity Plus [text online]
  • Diamonds in the Sky, NSF-sponsored anthology, 2008. [text]
  • Beam Me Up, [online audio, occasional mispronounciation]
  1. Black Hole (includes probably the best animation on gravitational lensing)
  2. Event Horizon
  3. Gravitational singularity
  4. Schwarzschild radius
  5. Tidal force
  6. Worm Hole (wormholes in fiction and other media)

    Summary: A man can edit and upload a copy of his personality into a machine that can descend into a black hole. Two problems: 1) Who are you if you're a copy--a copy edited with new memories? How do you get back out again?


    1. If you can think of other possible questions , please let us know.

    • Physics
    • Physical Science
    • Mathematics
    • Astronomy
    • Dimensions (Space/Time)

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    "Breaking Point" by James Gunn

    1. Space Science Fiction Mar 1953
    2. Breaking Point, Walker 1972
    3. Space Opera, ed. Brian W. Aldiss, Futura 1974
    4. audio
    5. text online
    • Psychological piece
    • Locked room SF-mystery (not a whodunnit, but a whatsgoingon)
    • Written before Twilight Zone, but it has a similar feel.
    Synopsis: The crew of a ship are subject to an alien presence that sees what they are mentally made of.

    Saturday, December 3, 2011

    R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by Karel Čapek

    1. Science Fiction Thinking Machines, ed. Groff Conklin, Vanguard 1954
    2. The Treasury of Science Fiction Classics, ed. Harold W. Kuebler, Hanover House 1954
    3. Of Men and Machines, ed. Arthur O. Lewis, Jr., E.P. Dutton 1963
    4. Science Fact/Fiction, ed. E. J. Farrell, Scott Foresman 1974
    5. The Arbor House Treasury of Science Fiction Masterpieces, ed. Robert Silverberg & Martin H. Greenberg, Arbor House 1983
    6. Philosophy and Science Fiction, ed. Michael Philips, Prometheus 1984
    7. Great Tales of Science Fiction, ed. Robert Silverberg & Martin H. Greenberg, A&W/Galahad 1985
    8. The Road to Science Fiction Volume 6: Around the World, ed. James Gunn, White Wolf 1998
    9. R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), New York: The Oxford University Press 1923
    10. R. U. R. and The Insect Play, Josef Capek & Karel Capek, Oxford University Press 1996; tr. by Paul Selver
    11. Project Gutenberg: text online
    12. eBooks@Adelaide: text online
    Pre-Reading: .

    Summary: Steena, Bat, and Cliff investigate the mysteriously derelict spaceship, Empress of Mars. What at first seemed a handicap becomes a necessary attribute in difficult circumstances.


    1. If you can think of other possible questions , please let me/us know.

    Critical commentary:
    • From Fantastic Universe Science Fiction: "An odd story, made up of oddly assorted elements that include a man, a woman, a black cat, a treasure—and an invisible being that had to be seen to be believed. Under normal conditions a whole person has a decided advantage over a handicapped one. But out in deep space the normal may be reversed—for humans at any rate."
    • Chemistry, Physics, or Physical science: Introduction to Electromagnetic Radiation.
    • Biology: Limited: colorblindness or bat behavior.
    • Inclusion: People with special needs are shown in a positive light.
    • English: This might fit well with a unit on comparative literature, genres, fairy tales, or science fiction.
    • If you can think of other possible uses, please let me/us know.