Tag Archives: Books

Science for the People: Coffee Table Science

sftpThis week, Science for the People meets the authors of three big books that use stunning images to tell intriguing stories about the history of science. We’ll discuss evolution and the building of the fossil record with invertebrate palaeontologist Paul Taylor, author of A History of Life in 100 Fossils. Archivist Julie Halls shares stories of unheralded ingenuity from her book Inventions that Didn’t Change the World. We will also learn about attempts to map the world in three dimensions from independent conservator Sylvia Sumira, author of Globes: 400 Years of Exploration, Navigation, and Power.

*Josh provides research help to Science for the People and is, therefore, completely biased.

My picks for weird post-apocalyptic SF

BlueprintsPKmech.inddThis week I’ve contributed to SF Signal’s Mind Meld. The question is essentially what science fiction you’d bring to a wedding:

Something old, something new, something borrowed. . .

Recommend three books to our readers out of your list of favorites: An older title, a newer title, and title you discovered because you borrowed it from a friend or a library.

Go check out all of the great responses. My answer focuses on, as you may have guessed, post-apocalyptic SF. The best SF book I ever borrowed from a friend was Dhalgren, a marvelous and very weird New Wave beast that takes place in a fictional ruined city. To go with Dhalgren, I picked two other outstanding weird post-apocalyptic classics, something old (The Night Land of 1912), and a strange new book that more people should read (the 2012 Blueprints of the AfterLife). Head on over and whet your appetite for some very weird post-apocalyptic SF.

Science for the People: Impossible Space

sftpThis week Science for the People is exploring the limits of science exploration in both fictional and fact. We’re joined by “lifelong space nerd” Andy Weir, to talk about his debut novel The Martian (and soon to be film, trailer below), that pits human invenitveness and ingenuity against the unforgiving environment of the red planet. And astrophysicist and science blogger Ethan Siegel returns to explore so-called “impossible space engines“, and what news stories about them can teach us about journalism and science literacy.

*Josh provides research & social media help to Science for the People and is, therefore, completely biased.

Indy SF Month: M.J.A. Watney’s Kybernos

KybernosLately I’ve been reading enough SF from small independent presses for a review series. And so over the next few weeks it will be Indy SF Month here at The Finch and Pea, which will include one of the recent nominees for this year’s Philip K. Dick award, a fascinating, non-horror zombie apocalypse from one of my new favorite small presses, and a collection of fascinating stories by a long-time local (St. Louis) SF author.

First in line is M.J.A. Watney’s Kybernos, a self-published work that was a quarter-finalist in 2014 Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award competition. Watney provided me with an ARC of this intriguing work, which, like a good fraction of the indy SF we’ll discuss in the upcoming weeks, is better described as speculative rather than science fiction.

Kybernos is part of a tradition of SF stories that play with the direction of time, not time travel so much as questions of reversibility and causality. Hard SF usually comes to mind when we think of this theme – Gregory Benford’s great classic Timescape explored the idea of trying to change the present by sending messages to the past via tachyons, faster-than-light particles that travel backwards in time. Unlike Timescape, Kybernos is not hard SF, but it explores some of the same questions about alternate time trajectories and the reversal of cause and effect. Continue reading

Apocalypse 1912: A Naturalist End of the World

Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague (1912)

ScarletPlagueWe’re all familiar with classic scenes of a brutal post-apocalyptic world like this: A group of refugees from the pandemic is holed up in an abandoned building with a cache of food and arms, firing on a gang of assaulting raiders. Or, a former professor of English Literature, clad in goat skins and huddled around a fire, is telling his dirty, illiterate grandsons about life before civilization vanished.

Today these scenes are standard fare in post-apocalyptic fiction, from The Road to The Walking Dead. But when Jack London wrote them a century ago, they weren’t. The genre itself had been around for a long time, and many of the classic themes, settings, and catastrophes had already been introduced. However, nobody before Jack London had described a collapse of civilization so violent or an aftermath so squalid. In the century since, images of a gritty and brutal world in ruins have become almost a requirement in this genre. Continue reading