Today In History 1/28

January 28, 1986: The space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after take-off, killing all seven crew members, including teacher Christa McAuliffe.

One of those “Where were you when you heard?” generational mileposts.

I heard it on the local all-news station while preparing a lesson for an IRS training class in LA’s mid-Wilshire area. It was awful news, both for the lives lost, and the questions it raised about continuing the manned space program.

After 28 years memories, even if they were accurate to begin with, can blur. Here is an interesting commentary at NBC News on “7 myths about the Challenger disaster”. Well, six myths and a copyediting complaint. He pedantically says one of the myths is that the shuttle “exploded.” If he is technically correct in saying so, he overlooks that we who use the word “exploded” have seen the video and the fireball. “The Challenger exploded” is an idiom, not an NTSB report.


Goodnight Moon

YutuYutu, China’s Moon rover, has suffered a potentially crippling breakdown that may keep it from enduring a two-week lunar night when temperatures can plunge to minus-180 Celsius.

According to the Associated Press —

The 300-pound rover was traversing a relatively flat part of the moon known as Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows, at a speed of 200 yards per hour. The landing vehicle, which has already shut down for the lunar night, is designed to conduct scientific examinations for one year.

Online speculation focused on the possibility of lunar dust having blocked one of the solar panels from folding inward, leaving equipment exposed to the dangerously low temperatures. It won’t be known if the probe is able to
function again until after the two-week break.

In anticipation of the rover freezing to death China’s state-run Xinhua news has issued the rover’s farewell remarks in a first-person report. The following quotes are from CNN.

Although I should’ve gone to bed this morning, my masters discovered something abnormal with my mechanical control system. My masters are staying up all night working for a solution. I heard their eyes are looking more like my red rabbit eyes…

Before departure, I studied the history of mankind’s lunar probes. About half of the past 130 explorations ended in success; the rest ended in failure…

This is space exploration; the danger comes with its beauty. I am but a tiny dot in the vast picture of mankind’s adventure in space.

The sun has fallen, and the temperature is dropping so quickly… to tell you all a secret, I don’t feel that sad. I was just in my own adventure story – and like every hero, I encountered a small problem.

Goodnight, Earth. Goodnight, humanity.

Hertz: Why You Might Like Boskone

By John Hertz:  It’s a new year. Last month I turned in my 2013 Worldcon report in time for File 770 163 [PDF file] — a prime issue. This month Bill Wright and I closed Down Under Fan Fund nominations, and opened voting. Boskone LI is approaching at the terrifying rate of sixty seconds a minute. So I thought I’d better tell you how golden Boskone L was.

“Boskone” for Boston + con refers to E.E. Smith’s Lensman series. His Boskone and Lens first appear in Galactic Patrol (1937); prequels and sequels followed.

The earliest Boskone conventions were hosted 1941-1945 by the Stranger Club; Boskone I of a new series in 1965 by BoSFS the Boston S-F Society; current host NESFA, the New England S-F Ass’n, took the helm with Boskone V (N.S., we might say — or anyway I might). Boskone L was 15-17 Feb 13 at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel; Boskone LI will be likewise 14-16 Feb 14.

I was Special Guest at Boskone L. Boskone doesn’t have Fan Guests of Honor; the SG may be a fan or pro (or both): before me had been Guy Consolmagno, Irene Gallo, Bob Madle, Shawna McCarthy, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Toni Weisskopf, Tom Whitmore.

In fact there is one Guest of Honor. Therewith, an Official Artist; a Featured Filker (Boston’s history with filk music being mighty), later called Featured Musician; an SG; a Hal Clement Science Speaker; and a NESFA Press Guest (NESFA Press being the publishing pseudopod of NESFA). Some folks are or become variously eminent: Jordin Kare, FF in 2000, was SS in 2013.

At Boskone L the GoH was Vernor Vinge; OA, Lisa Snellings; FM, Heather Dale; SG, me; SS, Kare; NPG, Jerry Pournelle. Chair, Rick Kovalcik. Attendance about 1,000.

Suford Lewis, then NESFA President, thought to publish a fourth collection of my fanwriting, and reprint the three previous. This was done, the fourth being Neither Complete nor Conclusive, released at the con. I couldn’t or anyway didn’t resist a Lensman reference. Nor does the con newszine, naturally Helmuth speaking for Boskone.

It’s only fair to note that in the event Neither took extra hours by Suford, sleeping on a NESFA Clubhouse couch by me, learning what was with the %*?! software and printer by Paula Lieberman, and a host of others, all in a hard day’s or night’s work.

I led three Classics of S-F talks, The Man in the High Castle (1962), Moonraker (1955), and Patrol. Another project was a reprise of the Chicon VII Diane & Leo Dillon exhibit. Elizabeth Klein-Lebbink had kindly modified her top label. Sure enough Chip Hitchcock arrived with NESFA Library books the Dillons had illustrated. He’d co-chaired World Fantasy Con XXV where they were Guests of Honor.

Colored tape on the hotel’s lower-level floor ran to the Art Show, the Dealers’ Room, Hospitality. Ron Salomon talked with Pournelle about wise and unwise couplings, e.g. telephones and cameras. Guest Liaison Persis Thorndike’s daughter Talis Thorndike Love headed a children’s space, Dragon’s Lair; she’d been the child warrior helped by a dragon in “Seeking Hope” at the Millennium Philcon Masquerade, to which I and the other judges awarded Best Transformation.

Alas, I couldn’t attend “Who Painted That?”, reprising a panel or maybe game I’d built for L.A.con IV from watching Bob Eggleton browse at Massoglia Books; Renovation reprised it with Mark Olson moderating; now John Picacio moderated Eggleton, Olson, and Joe Siclari. In the Art Show, Siclari with Edie Stern curated a superb 50-year Boskone retrospective. I had my hands full with Galactic Patrol.

In that discussion Fred Lerner brought up Ezra Pound’s “news that stays news”. Lori Meltzer said the aliens weren’t what we were used to. Ben Yalow said their incomprehensibility was made a tool to show character development. I said we weren’t used to seeing that from outside. C.D. Carson said, as in Homer.

At the Awards Ceremony the Skylark, whose trophy is a lens, was given to Ginjer Buchanan. Stern had in 2012 been made a Fellow of NESFA. I said fandom’s difference was participation. Dale sang.

Moonraker was intense. Meltzer asked if its rocket could as well have been a sailboat. I expounded 1955 British rocket science, seconded by Peter Weston. We dug into the role of science in s-f, the characterization of Bond and Brand and Drax, the skill of Fleming.

I lunched with Woody Bernardi and Geri Sullivan, took Picacio’s Art Show tour and gave mine, led Regency Dancing, heard filking, and taught Zev Sero something he didn’t know about the Book of Jonah. As Judah P. Benjamin said in Britain, that’s my case, my lords.

Jay Lake Update

The fundraiser to defray Jay Lake’s expenses while he’s in an NIH trial has topped its goal of $15,000. His fans and friends have pledged $16,433 at this writing. NIH funds the trial anticancer treatment procedure, but Jay has other support expenses to cover.

Jay had surgery on January 23. The purpose of the procedure is explained here.

Jay’s report on the surgery is here. It includes this comment about the unexpected benefit of the genome sequencing done last year –

The doctors also mentioned the Whole Genome Sequencing data has been very helpful in refining cell selection, with improved chances of good treatment outcomes. As Dr. Klebanoff explained, they would not normally have sufficient lead time to do such a study before beginning the TIL cell therapy. They’re quite excited about having this data to guide their work.

A picture of Jay in the ICU, taken by his dad, is here.

Black Hole Emergency

We long ago surrendered our dreams of Bradbury’s rainy Venus and Burroughs’ canal-riven Mars to the advances of science. Is the same thing on the verge of happening to science fiction’s tales involving black holes?

Alert SFWA – Condition Red!

Black holes have been appearing in sf stories for a long time. A conversation with Stephen Hawking decades ago led Larry Niven to write a story involving quantum black holes, 1975 Hugo winner “The Borderland of Sol.”

But on his 70th birthday this month, Hawking said he regards his idea that information was destroyed by black holes as his “biggest blunder.”

Also, Hawking’s unpublished work “Information Preservation and Weather Forecasting for Black Holes” (available from the arXiv preprint service) reportedly declares that “there are no black holes.”

Hawking’s basic theory already supposed black holes are not immortal, because they leak particles via “Hawking radiation” over time. Lately he has been at work trying to reconcile what two competing theories that explain basics about the universe have to say about black holes. phrases the effort this way —

It all boils down to a conflict between two fundamental ideas in physics that control the very fabric of our Universe; the clash of Einstein’s general relativity and quantum dynamics. And it just so happens that the extreme environment in and around a black hole makes for the perfect “fight club” for the two theories to duke it out.

Black holes have not been read out of the cosmology, but their behavior may be less absolute than Hawking originally argued.

Michael Hemmingson (1966-2014)

Michael Hemmingson, 47, died of apparent cardiac arrest in Tijuana, Mexico, on January 9. He was a prolific dramatist, journalist, fiction author and critic.

Michael Hemmingson

Michael Hemmingson

Within the genre, he wrote the screenplay for the 2007 film Aliens, based on a one act play. (Not connected with Sigourney Weaver movies.)

His media study monograph, Star Trek: A Post-Structural Critique of the Original Series, was a San Diego Book Awards Association  2010 finalist nominee for General Non-fiction Book.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

Actress Sarah Marshall Dies

Sarah Marshall in 1967.

Sarah Marshall in 1967.

Sarah Marshall, 80, died January 18 of cancer at home in Los Angeles. She had an active career as a TV actress and her 69 credits listed at IMDB include genre shows Twilight Zone, My Favorite Martian and Star Trek.

She played a woman whose daughter vanishes into the fourth dimension in the Twilight Zone episode “Little Girl Lost” (1962). She appeared as a former love interest of Captain Kirk’s in the Star Trek episode “The Deadly Years” (1967).

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

Benford Study Published

Gregory Benford, a volume in the Modern Masters of Science Fiction series by George Slusser, Eaton Collection curator emeritus, is now available from the University of Illinois Press.

Gregory Benford is perhaps best known as the author of Benford’s law of controversy: “Passion is inversely proportional to the amount of real information available.” That maxim is a quotation from Timescape, Benford’s Nebula and Campbell Award-winning 1980 novel, which established his work as an exemplar of “hard science fiction,” dedicated to working out the consequences of modern science rather than substituting pseudoscience for fantasy.

Slusser traces Benford’s ideas on science and writing sf, his literary production — over 20 novels, 100 short stories, and 50 essays – and his place in contemporary science fiction.

Happy Birthday, Philip Jose Farmer

Born: January 26, 1918.

In 1953 Philip Jose Farmer took home one of the first Hugos as Best New SF Author. He won another Hugo for his story “Riders of the Purple Wage,” published in Dangerous Visions, in 1968, and a third in 1972 for the opening novel of his epic Riverworld series, To Your Scattered Bodies Go. He passed away in 2009.

Vic Ghidalia, Anthology Pioneer

Vic GhidaliaFandom just recently became aware that prolific anthologist Vic Ghidalia died on May 28, 2013 at the age of 87.

He edited 18 sf and fantasy anthologies (some with Roger Elwood.)

Yet that was really a sideline from his day job was at ABC TV in New York, where he was employed for over 35 years. In 1974, Ghidalia worked with Lorimar Productions to do Richard Matheson’s Mother By Protest as a movie of the week for ABC television, aired under the title The Stranger Within starring Barbara Eden and George Grizzard.

James H. Burns, in a comment at the Classic Horror Forum, adds that Ghidalia was a great friend to the sf, fantasy and monster movie magazines in the 1970s when it wasn’t always easy to get a mainstream publicist to understand what a Starlog or Fantastic Films was all about.

The Devils Generation ed by Vic Ghidalia

[Thanks to James H. Burns for the story.]