Time Travel Without Wormholes, Historical Fiction from Science Fiction’s Golden Age #review #bookreview #history #fantasy

Kindle cover, which is WRONG. My paperback has the 1882 picture in tinted color with black & white around it, the way the hero sees New York

Jack Finney wrote some classic science fiction. I’m most familiar with his book The Body Snatchers from 1950, a Golden Age story. But I recently found one of his later paperbacks in a used book store. It’s from 1970 but now on Amazon, Time and Again.

This is a time travel story, but there are no wormholes or flux capacitors. I’ll let you discover the method on your own. It may disappoint hard science fiction fans, but the detail put into the experiment is engaging.

The real point of this story is to contrast New York City today (remember, published in 1970) with New York in 1882. There are loads of real pictures from the era, though not all exactly from 1882. An apartment building is a key part of the story, and Finney admits in his author’s note that it wasn’t completed until three years after his story. Why didn’t he simply move his story a few years? There’s another building that figures in the story’s climax, where Finney uses a real event that was more important than the date the Dakota was completed. But the Dakota is such a magnificent structure I’ll forgive the little fudge.

The Dakota apartment building

I’ve got to show you the Dakota

The Dakota may sound familiar to you. It’s been a fancy abode for the rich and famous from its opening to today. Yoko Ono lives there now and John Lennon was murdered outside the building in 1980. So it’s infamous as well as famous.

If it seems odd to talk so much about buildings instead of the story, I think Finney would approve. Any lover of New York or the late 1800s will adore the detailed descriptions of places, people, and the way of life. Finney and his hero Si Morely love New York in 1882. The point of the book is to contrast the two times, and there are more period-correct illustrations than I bothered to count.

Si Morely is impressed at how he experiences 1882. He goes on about it quite a bit, and during his returns to today everyone wants to know how it feels. Si can’t truly put the feeling into words, but Finney tries. He’s impressed throughout the book and I thought he would have gotten a bit more used to the feel over time.

Okay, the story: Si is recruited for a secret time travel experiment, and at first his only goal is to successfully arrive in New York’s 1882. But an odd personal motive arises – a mystery. Half way through the book, it seems that his mystery is solved. He even says, my mission is over and I wish that it weren’t. At least in part, that’s because he’s falling in love with a woman as well as with 1882.

When he returns to today, a second mission arises and Si makes a decision that promises to cause trouble. It does. Towards the end, the placid tale picks up some real action. Lives are in danger and lives are lost. The original mystery turns out to have a second mystery inside, in a neat twist. Finally Si tackles the core paradox of time travel, how the past effects the present.

So if you read for action, be patient and you’ll get there. But this book is really for lovers of cities a hundred and thirty years ago. Especially New York.

What others are saying
A Kindle version came out in 2014 and has 4.2 stars from 882 reviewers on Amazon. Most readers love it, especially the vivid, brought-to-life history. “Masterpiece,” “brilliant,” and “awesome.” Of course, no book appeals to everyone. Others thought it was over-hyped, or that parts were tedious. I will admit that once I got to the action part of the story, I began skimming descriptions so I could find out what happens. The person who said “nothing ever really happened” must not have gotten all the way to the end, but if you want a fast paced story, this is the wrong book.

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Bad News is Good News, Because This is How Science Works #science #diet #research

In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know, that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. Carl Sagan

It happened again, in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. Stay with me – there’s statistics – but it’s worth the read.

Gazpacho Ingredients

A Mediterranean diet is still a good idea – make yourself some gazpacho

A 2013 study of the Mediterranean diet claimed proof that people eating the fruits/vegetables/olive oil/nuts/fish diet were less likely to experience a heart attack or stroke than people eating a low-fat diet.

Statistical problems were discovered and the study retracted and revised to say, while the subjects had fewer heart attacks and strokes, the diet wasn’t proven to be the reason.

Okay, this may not seem earthshaking. But how it happened is so cool.

We can thank John Carlisle, a British anesthesiologist.

He wrote a letter to an anesthesiology journal bemoaning the fact that his field was polluted by one researcher’s data that many suspected were problematic. The journal editor told Carlisle to prove it.

He studied statistical methods so he could prove it, and got over a hundred papers in his field retracted. But Carlisle wasn’t done. He looked at many more papers in many fields and found 2% were flawed – that they claimed to use a gold standard of randomized trials but had blocks of non-randomized data. (There, that’s the statistics part.)

The lead author of the 2013 study quickly acknowledged the problems when Carlisle pointed them out, and revised the paper. That’s got to hurt. Studies cost a lot of time and money, but he did it. Carl Sagan would be proud.

If that still doesn’t sound earthshaking, consider that studies like these can impact the health of millions of people all over the world. And that “paper mill” journals with fewer scruples than the NEJM have sprung up recently, further complicating our lives.

Carlisle praised the journal’s response. ‘I think that the NEJM editorial team responded very maturely to my paper,’ he says. ‘They took the possibility of a problem seriously and acted quickly and thoroughly.’

That’s science. That’s why science transforms our lives.

Thanks to npr.org for reporting to those of us who don’t read the NEJM. Also check out Retraction Watch, a website that reports on scientific retractions and related issues.

Build a Living Planet – Here’s What You Need #biology #evolution #poem #poetry #astronomy #earth #sciences

Earth's magnetosphere

Many factors go into a Goldilocks Zone

If you want to build
a world alive,
There’s a recipe
to satisfy.

Avoid the inner galaxy,
Few stellar neighbors
are what you need.

You’ll want a source
of energy,
A stable star’s
complementary.

Liquid water is a plus
To grow some life,
maybe a must.

A core of
radioactivity
Will warm the planet
‘Cause you need
A molten center
that will churn
Magnetic fields
for which you yearn.

Stabilize your globe’s
precession
With a large moon
in its possession.

Oxygen may be
microbe poo,
But adds shielding
from what radiation do.

Now you’ll have
biological fun,
Based on our sample size
of one.

Kate Rauner

Earth is the only example of life we know, so we tend to look for earthly life in the solar system and beyond. It was fun to use this article in nationalgeographic.com to build a poem. Try it yourself. I’m sure there are many possibilities.

Summer is the Time for Reading! Discover a New Author #book #reading #ready4summer #scifi #sciencefiction #ebook

Instafreebie GiveawayDoes anyone use Instafreebie? The site offers free downloads of previews, excerpts, and even full length novels in exchange for you giving the author permission to contact you via email. These contacts are pretty well regulated now (especially in Europe), and you can always unsubscribe.

Interested? I added a 13 chapter preview of my Glory on Mars book (more than any store will give you) to the science fiction giveaway group Brave New World – step into new worlds – available from June 6th to July 10th.

This could be the summer that you discover a new favorite author 🙂 and it’s not just scifi. There are other genres too.

UPDATE: It’s Thursday June 7th and 92 readers have already claimed my Glory on Mars preview. Thanks readers. Here’s a secret: SUBSCRIBE when you download and you’ll receive a coupon for a free download of the entire book. Join me on Mars 🙂

Short Reads in Scifi and Fantasy – Great Price UPDATE for a few more hours, Great Fun #scifi #sciencefiction #scififri #stories #shortstory

A lazy summer day is the perfect time for a short story or some flash fiction. Come to think of it, so’s a commute or a break during the day. My collection of short science fiction and fantasy stories, now available on Amazon Kindle for 99 cents. Two days only at this ridiculous price, starting June 1st 8 am PDT 4 pm BST through June 3rd 1 pm PDT 9pm BST. If you’re late, don’t despair. Discounts continue through June 5th, so check it out.

BTW – Wondering how those times were chosen? Don’t ask me. It’s an Amazon thing.

I’ve Been Baffled for Years, but Maybe Here’s the Reason Why Birds Survived Dinosaurs’ Horrific Extinction #evolution #dinosaurs #chicken #science

guinea fowlIn 1980, the Alvarez hypothesis  suggested that an asteroid impact killed off the dinosaurs and many other species in one of the six largest mass extinctions in Earth’s history. That went from crazy idea to mainstream science fairly quickly (because once scientists knew what to look for, the data were overwhelming) and the details are still being studied.

It was such a spectacular, world-wide disaster that I understand why three-quarters of animal and plant species on Earth died out. Evidence supporting a vast loss of forests includes “a thin rock layer formed during the first thousand or so years after the impact, [where] 70 to 90 percent of the spores found come from just two species of fern… pioneer species rapidly recolonizing open ground, such as seen today when ferns recolonize lava flows in Hawaii.”

I’ve always wondered how anything survived. I’ve read that, on land, small burrowing animals were doom-dayers surviving in their Cretaceous bunkers. That seems plausible.

But how did birds survive? Sure, birds had relatively large brains, but I’m not sure my enormous ape-brain will help me if another 9-mile wide asteroid hits.

The only birds that survived were ground-dwellers, including ancient relatives of ducks, chickens, and ostriches. Following the cataclysm, these survivors rapidly evolved into most of the lineages of modern birds we are familiar with today, according to paleontologists led by Daniel Field at the University of Bath in the U.K., as argued in the journal Current Biology.

Climates changed catastrophically, temperatures were depressed for years, and the food chain left tattered. I have mental images of chicken ancestors peeking out from scrubby reeds in deep valleys or along the wet edges of streams and lakes, staring in slack-beaked awe at a dark, ash-filled sky. Modern kiwis nest in burrows, so perhaps this is plausible too. It’s an amazing thought.

However they did it, birds did survive and prospered. But now I have a lot of new questions. Where on the globe were the survivors? Did they migrate? What path led the ground dwellers back into trees to nest? And while we’re at it, how did tree seeds survive? Maybe in the burrows of those doom-dayers? Many more studies will fill in the gaps and support or falsify Field et al. Can’t wait!

Berlin ArcheopteryxNote: The evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds was originally hypothesized in the 1860s when fossils of feathered dinosaurs were first described by scientists. It took decades to assemble enough evidence to turn this speculation into mainstream science.

Thanks to nationalgeographic.com for their article and the quotes above.

Expanding Universe Will Leave Us Alone #astronomy #poetry #poem #universe #cosmology

expanding universeThe universe expands
Ever faster as we gaze,
Carries off our cosmic kin
Farther every day.

Light from other galaxies
Won’t have time
to reach our own.
In a few billion years,
Look up! We seem alone.

Kate Rauner

A short poem this week – and late! But I’ve been working a fire with my volunteer fire department, and my dog is sick, so I have excuses. I have had time to think about cosmology, and read an interesting article I can’t find now! Darn internet.

It’s hard to wrap my head around, but the universe is expanding and accelerating. So the speed of light stays constant, but distances grow. Eventually, other galaxies will be so far away their light can’t reach our own. Of course, human beings won’t exist and even our solar system may be gone.

If there were people in that distant future, what would they think of the universe? A Steady State model would explain what they see, so they might never know there was a Big Bang. Perhaps the same thing has happened to us. The early universe may have been different in ways we can’t know or imagine. We may be missing the full truth, just like our hypothetical future brethren.