In Sputnik’s Orbit

A few thoughts to tide you over…

 

Meet The Winners – Sean Patrick Hazlett

As regular readers may know, I won the Writers of the Future contest in 2014 and ever since, I’ve left the welcome mat out for each year’s new class. It’s a great way to meet new friend who I’ll soon be handing with at cons.

In this case, though, my next “guest” has been a friend for a few years now, so please join me in welcoming 2017 Wotf winner, Sean Patrick Hazlett.

Read More

Gargarin: First in Space, but Not Drama

Netflix has a Russian language biopic called “Gargarin: First In Space,” which I found terribly disappointing. It should have been the Russian “The Right Stuff,” but totally wasn’t. And that’s a real shame.

Yaroslav Zhalnin plays Gargarin, and is a dead ringer, close enough that in some places, the production cuts back and forth between historical footage and recreation, and you’d never know. All of the cast is wonderful, and the emotions–such as there are–come through believably, even with subtitles.https://i0.wp.com/alchetron.com/cdn/Gagarin-First-in-Space-images-86d60f3f-e4c1-4f92-9c87-d0dce23d487.jpg?w=1170&ssl=1

I was pleased that they included (and named) all twenty of the original soviet cosmonaut candidates. Sadly, through, this story was all Gagarin, and either the filmmakers didn’t know much more about him than you might learn from a blurb on a trading card, or they chose not to dramatize it.

Instead, the story is pretty much just Gargarin preparing for, then taking his historic flight, with a few flashbacks to his early life. There is a nice scene of him stealing from a German soldier during the war and almost getting his little brother killed, and…that’s about it.  The only sources of drama are the (probably fabricated) conflict between Gagarin and Titov, resolved with a last minute hug at the foot of the rocket, and the long suffering silence of his wife, Valentina, “the pilot’s wife” played by the lovely Olga Ivanova.

Watching this film, you get the distinct impression that Gagarin only married her because she was pretty, and only was selected to be first in space because he was pretty; senior officers in one scene explain, not very dramatically, how he should be first because some of the other cosmonauts are more fit, and should be saved for the harder, longer flights to come. Really? His staunch party support and photogenic youth had nothing to do with it?

It’s sad, because the film should have been so much more. We don’t get to see Gargarin plant a ceremonial tree the day before the launch or have the bus to the launchpad pull over so he can take a piss–both on which happened and led to traditions carried on right up to the present day.

There is a brief mention of the passcode Gagarin was meant to be given so he could unlock the controls in the event manual operation was needed, but we don’t see the ground technician slip him the code–which we know from history is what happened; the ground crew knew that if he needed it, there would be no time for party officials to approve it. This conflict between party officials and common sense is portrayed, but is watered down to the extent one wonders who they are trying not to offend. At least Gargarin’s summary promotion from lieutenant to major (skipping a rank for political reasons) is portrayed.

Another thing they get right is that Gagarin had essentially nothing to do except sit in the capsule until it was done with the flight–then pull the eject rings. As he makes his one orbit, reflecting over his life, we are treated to several shots of his feet, dangling over the tiny porthole like a little boy’s from a treehouse.

https://i0.wp.com/i.pinimg.com/originals/88/b3/3b/88b33b4ad98939f7f02a24f6ab7acb0e.jpg?resize=540%2C356&ssl=1

Which is not to take anything away from him or the flight, but we get no sense of why he had to be the titular “first in space.” Instead, we see an attractive kid, an unexceptional but competent pilot, and his winning smile. We get no sense of anything that made him exceptional, either as a pilot, a cosmonaut, or a political envoy, we don’t see his post-flight drinking or infidelity (we don’t get to see him climb out the window) and we don’t see his fight to be allowed to return to the air, or subsequent crash and death (which would be where the real drama and tragedy lay).

We also don’t see cosmonaut candidate Valentin Vasiliyevich Bondarenko carried out in a body bag after his training accident, the drunken encounter that got Grigory Nelyubov booted from the program (later to commit suicide) or the state political revisionism that saw the famous photo of the Sochi Six–after the other fourteen cosmonaut candidates were airbrushed out of the photo–and history.

So…the effects are excellent and the performances are good for what they have to work with, but all in all, “Gagarin: First in Space” comes across as a fluffy bit of post-Soviet nostalgia that does a profound disservice to the genius and sacrifice behind Gagarin’s historic flight.

What a Year!

What a year! The world’s gone mad but my little oasis continues, unabated.

Once again, I made the finals for the Jim Baen award, didn’t win, but sold the story to Analog Science Fiction & Fact! “Open Source Space” is a spunky, humorous yarn about a near-future crowd-funded space adventure, and will presumably appear in the magazine some time in 2018.

Read More

America’s Invited Spies

I’m staying with in-laws, both retired bankers with a lot of disposable time and money, who have Alexa in every room.
I am connected to their network, which their ISP, Google, etc. can determine by my IP address.

Last night, before bed, kitchen conversation briefly turned to the topic of people buying too much house via interest-only mortgages and ending up under water, and then to a friend who lost his shirt gambling on real estate appreciation before the 1980s oil bust, and then to some general investment advice for the benefit of my nephew.

Then, not five minutes later, when I brought up YouTube on my computer, for the first time EVER, YouTube served up ads for investment services

Read More

An Everyday Science FAIL

Years ago, I read about a study that asked students a math question involving school bus capacity, to which most students answered “three and three quarters buses.” When asked if they thought that was a sensible answer, many responded that they thought they were being asked “school math” instead of “real math.”

This highlighted a big problem in the way education is done in this country, and the problem isn’t restricted to math.Related image

Today, I watched a car explode, and I knew without shifting my backside from the seat exactly what they owner had done to cause this yuletime catastrophe.

I was sitting in the drive-through at McDonald’s, having just ordered a hamburger after a quick trip to the store. I’d waited forever for the chance to order (no doubt, due to the car in question), but being literally sick and tired, and as there was a brilliant comedian on the radio, I didn’t mind. I pulled around and paid, rolled up the window, and heard a “Poofshwishshshshshshsh…”

Read More

Living In Infamous Times

Today is December 7th, 2017. Seventy-six years ago today, forces of the empire of Japan unleashed a surprise attack on US Naval facilities at Pearl Harbor, killing 2,403 people, sinking eighteen ships, and dragging the US into the war. Despite the gross imbalance in political and economic power, Japanese planners saw the US as weak and its people irresolute, and they believed that if they struck us hard enough, we would roll over and give them what they wanted–dominion over Southeast Asia and the Southern Pacific.

The lesson from that was, that if you don’t want war, be visibly prepared to win one.

Also on this date, forty-five years ago, Britons started dying in droves as a killer smog built up through the third of what would prove to be five days of temperature inversion over the city of London. Fog is nothing new to London, but this fog was saturated with the sulfur-laden emissions, not only of automobiles and trains, but of a set of coal-fired power plants built inside the city limits by the post-war Churchill administration, mostly to appease business interests and project an image of post war England as stronger than it she was. Churchill dismissed the growing catastrophe as an act of god, even though his government has been warned this would eventually happen before the plants were built, in part using scientific data from similar events in America. In five days, though mortality statistics were suppressed at the time, 12,000 people died–five times the number killed at Pearl Harbor, and not only soldiers, but women, children, and the elderly.

Read More

2017 Award Season

Once again, as Earth approaches perihelion and Dean Martin and the Andrews Sisters fill my Pandora playlist, it’s time for turkey dinners, warm hearth fires, and the annual award eligibility post.

This year, I have one story that I’m very proud of, and that has already received some pleasant buzz. “For All Mankind,” published in the July/August issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact, is about the Apollo Program and the Tsar Bomba. It’s a good old fashioned “astronauts go out to save the world from approaching doom” story, but more than that, it’s about history and prejudice and two women who transcend ideology and culture to share the common bond of humanity. It is, I believe, as timely today as it would have been in the era in which it takes place.

Finland’s TPI Kirjat rated it “four star-plus,” higher than any other story published in 2017, of any length, and more than one editor or reviewer has told me it’s on their nomination list for the year. Here is some of the feedback it’s garnered:

Read More

The Skinny on Our First Interstellar Visitor

In case you haven’t heard, the astronomy community is all atwitter over the first confirmed visitation from beyond our star system

No, we’re not talking aliens, not even the kind that look suspiciously like extras wearing costumes. No, Oumuamua as this visitor is called, is an oddly elongated asteroid currently whizzing through our solar system, having made its closest approach to the sun about two months ago.

Read More

Flying by the Waist of Your Pants

There’s a scene in Ron Howard’s wonderful film, Apollo 13, when the crew is preparing to fire the LEM engine in space and Commander Lovell is Seen ensuring that his socked feet are firmly attached to the velco floor. That might well be authentic, but it leaves audiences with a mistaken notion of when flying the LEM was like during a landing.

Landings were dangerous because there was a big moon outside, just waiting to smash into you. The LEM had to maneuver, and the crew could be tossed around as it did so, just as they needed precision control. If something went wrong (as it did in Apollo 10) such an upset could elevate a minor problem into a crisis, but even under the best of circumstances, landings could be hard, and the last thing you wanted was for a suited astronaut to bang to into a bulkhead, breaking the suit or the LEM.

NASA needed a way to hold the astronauts down so they could focus on their jobs while giving them the mobility needed to move about the cabin as needed. It had to be light, it had to be reliable, and it had to be dead simple. Their solution? The Apollo LEM Crew Restraint System:

https://i0.wp.com/www.hq.nasa.gov/alsj/a16/LM11-co5.jpg?resize=720%2C707&ssl=1

Apollo-crs

Read More

A Scam To Watch Out For

Most SPAM emails are so transparent, so riddled with grammatical errors and unlikely usage, you wonder why anyone would fall for them. In fact, researchers have found this to be by design. Spammers are happy to have the alert and educated see through them–those are the people who make trouble.

So today, when this message arrived in my mailbox, it got my attention:

Read More
Page 3 of 2912345...1020...Last »