Monday, July 4, 2016

New Moon … and Other Worlds

After learning of my science fiction background, one of my writing coach clients very kindly gave me several 1950s issues of an SF pulp magazine Other Worlds Science Stories. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the last thing I needed was more books—given that I’m more or less an itinerant and still trying to lighten my material possessions.

But I was intrigued.

Tattered and smelling of “attic”, the magazines lured with adventurous covers that summoned memories of why I started reading when I was little: streamlined rocket ships, aliens from exotic planets, explorers on adventures, and technological “utopias”.
1st issue of Astounding Stories 1930

Defined by SF author Robert Silverberg as the epitome of the Science Fiction Golden Age, the 1940s heralded a panoply of short story magazines of the fantastic culminating in a true Golden Age for science fiction in the 1950s. According to Silverberg, the post-WWII 1950s saw “a spectacular outpouring of stories and novels.” Howard Browne started Fantastic in 1952. Horace Gold started Galaxy Science Fiction in 1949. Anthony Boucher founded The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1949. Samuel Mines ran Thrilling Wonder in the 1950s. And John W. Campbell Jr. had started Astounding Science Fiction in 1930, in which A.E. van Vogt and Robert A. Heinlein were first published. Hugo Gernsback had started Amazing Stories in 1926, in which Isaac Asimov was first published in 1939. Amazing Stories still runs today as an online magazine.

Asimov's first story in 1939 issue
The Golden Age saw in some of the most enduring science fiction tropes. Works celebrated scientific achievement and a sense of wonder in our universe. Space opera (space adventure) and exploration of the universe emerged; Isaac Asimov established the Three Laws of Robotics; Heinlein expressed libertarian ideologies and we saw the re-emergence of spiritual themes from the “pulp era”. Books that I read when I was young—Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles; Clarke’s Childhood’s End; Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids; and Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz—came from this era.

Clark Publishing in Evanston, Illinois, started to publish and sell Other Worlds Science Stories for 35 cents in the late 1940s. Raymond A. Palmer and Bea Mahaffey were editors.

I picked up the digest-size April 1953 issue of Other Worlds with its iconic rocket ship in an alien world of lush alien vegetation and exploring astronauts and large “moon” shining in the background; only in this case the lush world was our moon and the “moon” in the sky was Earth. A changed Earth. The cover art by Robert Gibson Jones portrayed a scene from the first story in the magazine called “New Moon” by Raymond A. Palmer (the editor of the magazine) and illustrated by H.W. McCauley. A story I found interesting for several reasons. 

Palmer introduces “New Moon” as a story taking place in 1967—14 years after he wrote it and two years prior to the first moon landing by the Apollo 11 crew. He proposed a two-fold premise: 1) that we can measure and reasonably predict dry and wet periods by using varves (layers in lake sediment); and 2) that rocket scientists will send a rocket to the moon in reasonable time. In fact, his story of a first moon landing was out by only two years.  Palmer also set his story during a major draught in America in the mid-sixties—a time when the Northeastern United States would be hit with devastating drought that would last several years.

The horizon was near, a rolling pail of brownish black, cutting down visibility to a matter of less than a quarter of a mile In the yard a thorny rosebush whipped in the wind, a few dried leaves still clinging to it. Above it the gaunt limbs of the great elm that had shaded the house etched photographically potent arms against the tragic sky. The ditch between the yard and the road was filled with curiously wind-rippled powdery dust…

When the moon suddenly and literally turns green—blossoming into a verdant paradise—scientists get excited. Enter Professor Pickersgill, physicist and astronomer, who explains that this resulted from “a vast cloud of atmospheric and water vapors that had drifted in from outer space, and had now engulfed the moon. Or rather, the moon had gulped most of it in to itself.” Pickersgill then explains to one of the crew who marveled at the speed of vegetative growth, that the spores of life may exist in all space and if so, “they’ve been falling for uncounted ages on the moon, accumulating in soil of incredible fertility. Maybe all that was needed was the water and atmosphere. And among all these strange vegetable forms, there must be hundreds unknown on Earth, and many of them may be much swifter in growth than those adapted to Earth conditions.”  

Scientists now know that water exists everywhere in the universe, from our own sun and planets to comets, dust clouds and even whirlpool-like spinning black holes.

In June 2011, researchers at ESA’s Herschel Space observatory identified a protostar or quasar, 750 light years away. The young star was blasting jets of water into interstellar space from its poles at 124,000 miles per hour. The telescope was able to trace where hydrogen and oxygen, two of the most popular elements in the universe, formed water on and around the star. Close to the star, its heat and pressure vaporize the water into jets of gas. But farther away the water cools into droplets that move like bullets at “80 times faster than the average round fired from a rifle,” writes Clay Dillow in Popular Science Magazine. The speedy spray is “equal to the amount that flows through the Amazon every second,” researchers said. This suggests two things: (1) that young protostars may be distributing vast quantities of water, potentially seeding life elsewhere in the universe; and (2) that water may have played a significant role in the formation of our own sun and solar system. “Stars are the alchemists of the Universe,” Philip Ball writes in H2O: A Biography of Water. Engines of creation, “out of their hearts come the elements needed to make worlds.”—Nina Munteanu, Water Is…The Meaning of Water
Scientists have shown that water plays a key role in the formation of organic molecules and together with the vortex-like radiation of a neutron star may influence the creation of life-forming amino acids. This is not surprising, considering water’s ubiquitous nature and weird properties.
Because water is denser as a liquid than as a solid, ice floats; this permits fish and other aquatic biota to live under partially frozen rivers and lakes. Water—unlike most other liquids—also needs a lot of heat to warm up even a little, which allows mammals to regulate their body temperature. Life’s cellular processes rely on water’s ability to act as a universal solvent. The high diffusion rate of water helps transport critical substances in multicellular organ- isms and allows unicellular life to exist without a circulatory system. one important result is that the viscosity of blood, which behaves in a non-Newtonian way (its viscosity decreases with pressure), will drop when the heart beats faster.—Nina Munteanu, Water Is…The Meaning of Water

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit for the latest on her books. Nina’s recent book is the bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” (Mincione Edizioni, Rome). Her latest “Water Is…” is currently an Amazon Bestseller and NY Times ‘year in reading’ choice of Margaret Atwood.

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