Monday, January 30, 2017

Mr. Spaceship by Philip K. Dick

mr_spaceship-illo1.png

This is the original image with the story - public domain

A human brain-controlled spacecraft would mean mechanical
perfection. This was accomplished, and something unforeseen: a
strange entity called–

Mr. Spaceship by Philip K. Dick

Kramer leaned back. “You can see the situation. How can we deal with a
factor like this? The perfect variable.”

“Perfect? Prediction should still be possible. A living thing still
acts from necessity, the same as inanimate material. But the
cause-effect chain is more subtle; there are more factors to be
considered. The difference is quantitative, I think. The reaction of
the living organism parallels natural causation, but with greater
complexity.”

Gross and Kramer looked up at the board plates, suspended on the wall,
still dripping, the images hardening into place. Kramer traced a line
with his pencil.

“See that? It’s a pseudopodium. They’re alive, and so far, a weapon we
can’t beat. No mechanical system can compete with that, simple or
intricate. We’ll have to scrap the Johnson Control and find something
else.”

“Meanwhile the war continues as it is. Stalemate. Checkmate. They
can’t get to us, and we can’t get through their living minefield.”

Kramer nodded. “It’s a perfect defense, for them. But there still
might be one answer.”

“What’s that?”

“Wait a minute.” Kramer turned to his rocket expert, sitting with the
charts and files. “The heavy cruiser that returned this week. It
didn’t actually touch, did it? It came close but there was no
contact.”

“Correct.” The expert nodded. “The mine was twenty miles off. The
cruiser was in space-drive, moving directly toward Proxima,
line-straight, using the Johnson Control, of course. It had deflected
a quarter of an hour earlier for reasons unknown. Later it resumed its
course. That was when they got it.”

“It shifted,” Kramer said. “But not enough. The mine was coming along
after it, trailing it. It’s the same old story, but I wonder about the
contact.”

“Here’s our theory,” the expert said. “We keep looking for contact, a
trigger in the pseudopodium. But more likely we’re witnessing a
psychological phenomena, a decision without any physical correlative.
We’re watching for something that isn’t there. The mine decides to
blow up. It sees our ship, approaches, and then decides.”

“Thanks.” Kramer turned to Gross. “Well, that confirms what I’m
saying. How can a ship guided by automatic relays escape a mine that
decides to explode? The whole theory of mine penetration is that you
must avoid tripping the trigger. But here the trigger is a state of
mind in a complicated, developed life-form.”

“The belt is fifty thousand miles deep,” Gross added. “It solves
another problem for them, repair and maintenance. The damn things
reproduce, fill up the spaces by spawning into them. I wonder what
they feed on?”

“Probably the remains of our first-line. The big cruisers must be a
delicacy. It’s a game of wits, between a living creature and a ship
piloted by automatic relays. The ship always loses.” Kramer opened a
folder. “I’ll tell you what I suggest.”

“Go on,” Gross said. “I’ve already heard ten solutions today. What’s
yours?”

“Mine is very simple. These creatures are superior to any mechanical
system, but only because they’re alive. Almost any other life-form
could compete with them, any higher life-form. If the yuks can put out
living mines to protect their planets, we ought to be able to harness
some of our own life-forms in a similar way. Let’s make use of the
same weapon ourselves.”

“Which life-form do you propose to use?”

“I think the human brain is the most agile of known living forms. Do
you know of any better?”

“But no human being can withstand outspace travel. A human pilot would
be dead of heart failure long before the ship got anywhere near
Proxima.”

“But we don’t need the whole body,” Kramer said. “We need only the
brain.”

“What?”

“The problem is to find a person of high intelligence who would
contribute, in the same manner that eyes and arms are volunteered.”

“But a brain….”

“Technically, it could be done. Brains have been transferred several
times, when body destruction made it necessary. Of course, to a
spaceship, to a heavy outspace cruiser, instead of an artificial body,
that’s new.”

The room was silent.

“It’s quite an idea,” Gross said slowly. His heavy square face
twisted. “But even supposing it might work, the big question is
whose brain?”

[Read More…]

Friday, January 20, 2017

10 Brilliant Hard Science Fiction Novels

man_in_space-nasa.jpg
From NASA’s Unsplash Collection - public domain

10 Brilliant Hard Science Fiction Novels
For those who take their science fiction with a side of accuracy…

From The Portalist here’s 10 mini reviews of Science Fiction novels. Stephen Lovely is the reviewer. Here’s a bit from his intro.

If you’ve ever rolled your eyes at a science fiction novel’s description of light-speed travel or told a friend that the Death Star wouldn’t really have made a sound when it blew up in space, then you’ll appreciate these hard science fiction novels. The term “hard science fiction” doesn’t mean sci-fi that’s tough to read, of course; it means sci-fi that really values scientific accuracy.

Now I wouldn’t call all of these novels hard science fiction and John W. Campbell probably wouldn’t either. But it’s a different world than it was in the golden age and if you are looking for some real science fiction that’s real good here you go. I haven’t read all of them but the ones I have read I would recommend. I would guess that you can’t go wrong with any of these picks.

Also the feature image above the reviews is from Nasa’s Unsplash collection. 34 images you definitely can’t go wrong with and they are all public domain.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Thorns

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Photo by Alexey Yakovlev CC BY-SA

Thorns
by Martha Wells
CC BY-NC-ND

Coming down the stairs to dinner, I found the governess engaged in battle with my great great grandnephew. The disgusting little boy was wrestling with the poor woman, apparently trying to thrust her over the bannister.

“An application of the birch rod would settle that, Miss,” I said.

“I would dearly love to, Madame,” the governess answered, breathless and more sharply than her wont. Perhaps the struggle to preserve her life — we were on the third landing, and the stone-flagged floor of the Hall was far below — had overcome her usual reticence. “But I’ve been instructed to use only modern methods of disciplining the children… ”

The unruly creature’s mother, my great grand-niece Electra, was hurrying up the stairs toward them, her satin skirts rustling like storm wind. She dithered near the struggle, waving her plump soft hands. “Oh, Malcolm, you mustn’t treat Miss Grey so!”

I smiled grimly. Modern ideas. Such notions had succeeded in making the already over-indulged children a terror to the servants and the rest of the household. But Electra has always had a soft heart.

The boy obligingly released his governess, and with a triumphant grin stooped to seize her workbag which had fallen to the carpet. I had no doubt he meant to thrust it over the bannister in her place. I lost patience, and seized the creature by the ear. He desisted with an alarmed shriek — I’m old, but my fingers are strong. It was an effort not to squeeze too hard. We have cousins who are maddened by the scent of a child’s blood in the air, or the sight of the dew of perspiration on a downy cheek. It makes them inconvenient guests at family gatherings. Of course, one can’t eat one’s own great grandnephews, however deliberate the provocation.

Electra simpered and said, “Oh, dear, Malcolm, you must learn not to be naughty. Naughty boys die and are sent to Hell.”

“Some more precipitously than others,” I added, thinking of the deep well at the bottom of the garden.

Taking my action as tacit permission to apply mild force, the governess seized the creature’s other ear as I released my grip, and herded her charge up the stairs.

We continued down, Electra fluttering at my side. “Auntie, you know Malcolm is really a little dear… ”

“I know nothing of the kind.” Electra is a small woman, for our family, her wispy blond head reaching only to my shoulder. Her figure is plump, and requires a corset to keep its shape, and her eyes are mild and her face cherubic. An odd pair we would seem to outsiders’ eyes, for I am grown thin and cadaverous with the long passage of years, and my features were always rather sharp.

“Now, Auntie… ”

We reached the landing above the Hall. Below, Electra’s husband, Mr. John Dearing, was personally receiving a guest, a young man in the act of handing his greatcoat to the butler.

There were no guests expected, and just before the dinner hour is not considered an appropriate time for casual calls, yet Dearing was greeting this presumptuous fellow as a prodigal son.

He was a striking figure. (The guest, I mean. Dearing is a stout bewhiskered muskrat of a man, a fit mate for Electra.) Blond curls, broad shoulders, a chiseled profile. I felt a feather of unease travel down my spine; old instincts rousing, perhaps. His garments, though somewhat the worse for travel at this rainy time of year, were of fashionable cut and fine cloth.

Frowning, Electra caught the attention of one of the footmen stationed at the bottom of the stairs, and called him up to her to ask, “Why, William, whoever is that?”

“Madame, they say it’s a foreign Duke, the son of the King of Armantia.”

“I see,” Electra dismissed the man and looked to me, her mild dove eyes vaguely troubled. “Oh, dear. A prince.”

“It has been a long time,” I said. But I’ve dealt with such before.

[Read More…]

Friday, January 6, 2017

So You Want to Read Epic Fantasy: Here’s Where to Start

stories_of_beowulf_fighting_the_dragon.jpg

Stories of Beowulf fighting the dragon Public Domain

So You Want to Read Epic Fantasy: Here’s Where to Start

I love reading and writing super shorts. Of course I spend more time reading epic fantasy. It’s got where trilogies aren’t enough. The stories are huge. Vast in scale and imagination. I will never write epic fantasy. But I do read it.

Link on over for these recommendations by Shawn Speakman. The ones he mentions that I have read or am reading are definitely good. I’ll bet they all are.

In his intro Speakman says:

Epic fantasy once meant large books with an everyman-type of lead character against a dark lord. But to me, the epic fantasy that has been written in the last three decades are not only large in size and scale of story but also feature numerous point of view characters and several storylines that are separate but are also intertwined.

To talk about and recommend epic fantasy, it requires an epic list. These are the books I recommend people start with if they want a truly epic reading experience.

I can’t really add to that. So get epic. And enjoy!