Monthly Archives: July 2012


Our backyard (just kidding)

Prior to this week, Doad’s experience setting off fireworks was limited to one sparkler at a friend’s wedding.  This Fourth of July has been a novel experience for him.  I was disappointed to discover that we’d need to drive to Nevada to get tanks (and Doad would have loved tanks so much!), but we have a good assortment of sparklers, fountains, and  ground blooms.  This evening, there are kids across the street with sparklers, aerials going off to the north and south and west, and periodic booms from the Super Bowl.  The air is filled with smoke.

Not the most environmentally conscious of holidays nor the safest, to be sure, but I think we need to be able to set off fireworks.  They are part of our national identity.  But they are also simply a fitting symbol of freedom and peace.  There’s something wonderful about things that were originally weapons being repurposed for peaceful uses.  Gunpowder and explosives, the bedrock of modern warfare, become a harmless form of entertainment, fun and frivolous.  Let’s beat our swords into ploughshares, use our bombs to build fireworks, and celebrate.


Image actually of San Diego’s fireworks accident.


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Exoplanets vs. Martian Canals

Reading classic sci-fi like Wells and Verne, I can’t help but be struck by the curiosity, creativity, and simple joy of the genre’s early years.  There was so much we didn’t yet know about even our closest celestial neighbors.  Life on the moon?  Quite possible.  Canals on Mars?  Why not?  And since nobody had ever traveled to space, authors enjoyed great freedom to invent their own methods of travel: Giant cannons, anti-gravity elements, and so on.  Scarcely any distinction can be drawn between hard and soft sci-fi at this point; everyone was simply making their best guesses about things that no one could really predict.

Then came space exploration, a huge boon for both humanity in general and science fiction writers in particular.  Some of the greatest science fiction of all time was written shortly in its wake.  But amidst it all, I can’t avoid a sense of loss.  Now that we know how to travel into space, an author of serious science fiction must obey those rules.  No anti-gravity; no walking about on the moon without a spacesuit.  If one wants to write about life on the moon or an alien invasion from Mars, one must resign oneself to the absolute pulpiest end of soft sci-fi.  Sometimes it feels as if science fiction no longer has any room for creativity.  We simply know too much.

And then there are the exoplanets.

Before 1992, we knew nothing about them.  Many people assumed that they existed, of course, but only by extrapolation from our own solar system.  Perhaps we were unique.  No one could say.

Then we began to discover them.  First the large ones, orbiting blisteringly close to tiny stars.  Perhaps we were an aberration after all.  Then more and smaller.  Earth-like planets turned out to be common, some close to their stars, some far, many orbiting no star at all.  We are constantly discovering more.

We know virtually nothing about these intersideral siblings of Earth’s.  They may be as dry and dead as our own neighbors, or they may have water, atmospheres, geothermal activity.  Perhaps life, like the planets themselves, will turn out to be astoundingly common; perhaps it is rare; perhaps we are completely alone.  Someday we will know.  For now, we can only speculate.

So, for any science fiction author willing to set his or her sights a little farther away, there are still places where imagination can run rampant and where the restrictions of science do not weigh on us all that heavily.

And there are still things we can look forward to discovering.


Image from Wikimedia Commons.

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