It’s one of those months when anybody interested in astronomy, astrophysics, space – you know, all that stuff that science fiction does – must have been in seventh heaven. I mean, just look at the stuff that’s been coming out. There’s the discovery of an Earth-like world that could be capable of sustaining life in orbit around our nearest neighbour. And if that sounds familiar, Stephen Baxter’s novel, Proxima, is about a habitable planet around the star Proxima Centauri. Here’s how he has responded to this new discovery.
Then the search for the presumed Planet Nine, out beyond Pluto, has turned up some pretty weird stuff right on the edge of our own Solar System. There are two versions of the same story here and here.
And if you remember the spaceship that’s about the size of a Coke can that features in Accelerando by Charles Stross, then you may be fascinated to learn that there are scientists planning to send thousands of tiny postage-stamp-sized “nanocrafts” to Alpha Centauri.
Mind you, those nanocraft are probably huge in comparison to what’s inside another creation, because a team of programmers has built a self-generating cosmos which apparently contains a galaxy of 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 unique planets. I presume somebody has counted. But it does make you think that the difference between science and science fiction is disappearing even as we speak.
But then, science fiction has problems of its own. For instance, here’s a fascinating piece on the lifecycle of genres (warning, it’s long, it contains a lot of academic language, there are footnotes and graphs, and it is probably somewhat contentious, but it’s worth reading all the same).
Meanwhile, Eileen Gunn, author of that wonderful collection, Questionable Practices, has a piece in the Smithsonian magazine about how science fiction writers don’t predict the future, but still see their ideas turning into reality.
At the recent Worldcon in Kansas City, there was a little bit of a storm in a teacup over a panel about the state of short fiction chaired by Dave Truesdale, which Truesdale hijacked as the platform for a rant that came down to a reiteration of the Rabid Puppies arguments about how liberal sensibilities are ruining science fiction. The episode resulted in Truesdale being ejected from the convention, but here Mark Teidemann examines some of the issues raised.
Also at the Worldcon, the Hugo Awards for Novel, Novella and Novelette all went to women of colour. But it seems that they may be the lucky ones, since a new report suggests that black science fiction writers face extra problems in getting into print.
Actually, science fiction has long been a primarily Anglo-American affair, with writers from other languages and cultures finding difficulty in even being noticed. So it is good that we are beginning to recognise these difficulties, and sometimes find ways around them. In the light of which, this new anthology of science fiction inspired by Muslim Cultures has got to be a good thing.
Talking about other cultures, the weirdest book in the history of the world has got to be the Voynich manuscript. For a start it is written in a language that no one can read, and it contains images of plants and animals that simply don’t exist in our world. Inevitably, there are those who claim that it was written by aliens, though it could just as easily be a hoax. And now a facsimile of the original manuscript is about to be produced, but don’t all rush at once, the facsimiles will be sold for around £6,000 each.
Let’s get back to actual science fiction. Here is a filmed discussion about the state of sf involving Ellen Datlow, Thomas M. Disch, Ben Bova and Samuel R. Delany. Enjoy.
One of the books I’ve most enjoyed so far this century was Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, which of course has those two wonderful science fiction sections right at the heart of the book. Well, it turns out that if you read the American edition, you are reading something very different from the original British edition. As if the book wasn’t already complicated enough.
Finally, a couple of other things that caught my eye – or rather, my ear.
Second, you come across science fiction in the most unlikely places these days. But how about this video by Clipping which includes a reference to the Kefahuchi Tract, which first appeared in M. John Harrison’s novel Light, and to the Ekumen, which appears in Ursula K. Le Guin’s novels such as The Left Hand of Darkness. And does the album title, “Splendor and Misery”, include a nod to Samuel R. Delany’s never-completed sequel to Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand, which was to be called The Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities?
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.