So, are you excited for the 2017 movie season? U.S. Memorial Day weekend is almost upon us, and that means big ticket, explosion-laden sci-fi flicks and reboots/sequels. Lots of sequels. We recently got a chance to check out Alien: Covenant opening Thursday, May 18th as the second prequel and the seventh (if you count 2004’s Alien vs. Predator) in the Alien franchise.
Author Andy Weir, who wrote the bestselling novel “The Martian” on which the successful 2015 movie of the same name was based, announced CBS is picking up his idea for a new pilot for a television show called “Mission Control.” “For the past several months, I’ve been working on a TV show pilot, and I’m […]
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Thinking of taking a vacation this summer? Maybe you want to distract yourself with a bit of light science fiction fun. How about a deadly alien life form harbored within our solar system? That’s what Nick Kanas presents in his scientific novel “The Ca…
The film 2001: A Space Odyssey brought space science to the general masses. Today we may consider it as common place, but in 1968 when the film was released, humankind yet to walk on the Moon. We certainly didn’t have any experience with Jupiter. Yet somehow the producer, Stanley Kubrick, successfully peered into the future and created a believable story. One of his methods was to employ Frederick I. Ordway III as his science consultant. While Ordway has since passed, he left behind a veritable treasure trove of documents detailing his work for Kubrick. Science author and engineer Adam K. Johnson got access to this trove which resulted in the book “2001: The Lost Science – The Scientist, Influences & Designs from the Frederick I. Ordway III Estate Volume 2“. It’s a wonderful summary of Ordway’s contributions and the film’s successes.
What makes a movie? A plethora of ingredients must come together. But most of all, the audience must accept it for what it proclaims to be. For instance, a science fiction show must wander about in space and/or time. And the audience has to believe the wandering. In the 1960s, the general audience had little knowledge of space and could conceivably believe in anything.
Many films used expediency over truth, such as using a gun to shoot a capsule to the Moon. However, to validate his film, Kubrick enlisted Ordway from the Future Projects Office of the Marshall Space Flight Centre. Presumably this alone would have added large amounts of veracity, but Ordway took on the challenge as we see in Johnson’s book and pushed further.
Ordway interviewed many scientists and engineers. Many of these came to the set to provide advice. Ordway acquired drawings as well as made his own schematics. He went to industry, academia and governments. Johnson skillfully brings this all to light. How did the results mesh with this effort? That is the value of Johnson’s book. It gives credit to the breadth and depth of Ordway’s research.
The book’s first section identifies the knowledge sources; people like Willy Ley, books such as Beyond Tomorrow The Next 50 Years in Space, and organizations such as Boeing and its PARSEC project. It identifies the individuals who came to the filming sets to give advice and has many images of the sets as well.
The second section gives credit to preceding films, though it’s not certain from Johnson’s book as to how or if Ordway drew inspiration from them.
Its third and final section is probably the most fun as it provides many figures of the mock-ups, drawings and schematics. It includes a great full page image of Space Station V and a four page pullout section of Discovery X-Ray Delta One. There’s also an interesting note therein that indicates that the sets and props had to be thoroughly believable from every perspective, as they didn’t know where Kubrick may place the camera. Thus, the book gives the reader a taste of the fine detail for some graphics such as for the Moon Bus. With Johnson presenting all this from Ordway’s collection then it’s easy for the reader to understand why there’s a high sense of believability to the film.
Yes, Johnson’s book shows the amount of knowledge that was available in the early 1960s and that Ordway gained access to much of this information. The very large size of this book, about 11in by 14.5in helps show off many great images throughout. However, its size also suggests the style of the book; that is, it is a scrapbook. The book is a wonderful compendium of information relevant to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. But it doesn’t add to the knowledge base. It’s an excellent repackaging of existing material with only a little suggestive comments on cinematic technique that might be original. And, as with most scrapbooks, the value of this book is the images. While the text is informative, it’s also somewhat dry, so the reader will probably feel much greater reward from feasting on the many print reproductions, drawings and photographs within Johnson’s book.
Perhaps the greatest value of this book is what goes unstated. That is, with enough effort and research people can construct a likely overview of humankind’s progress into the near future. A future than can be thrilling. The book “2001: The Lost Science – The Scientists, Influences & Designs from the Frederick I. Ordway III Estate Volume 2” by Adam K. Johnson captures some of the excitement and thrill as humankind lay poised upon the edges of travelling into space. Reading it will give you pause at just how far we’ve progressed in the last 50 years. And perhaps get you thinking about what the films of today might be telling us about the next 50 years.
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Do you remember science classes from way back when? All those laws and rules made it seem like everything was logical and well behaved. Then perhaps with television and movies being a big part of your life you began to wonder whether what you saw was real and unreal. Those things on the big and small screens didn’t seem nearly as well behaved. For instance, can people hear sounds in space? Or, can travelers quickly and easily go from one star to another? If you want to get yourself back on solid footing, get a hold of the book “Hollyweird Science – From Quantum Quirks to the Multiverse” by Kevin Grazier and Stephen Cass. With it, you can sift through a lot of tropes and conceits and glean some wonderful insights of both modern science and modern cinema.
Yes, tropes and conceits are terms from the world of cinema and not of physics. Think of these terms as ‘untruths’ for entertainment that writers use to capture and hold the attention of the audience. As this book describes, writers conjure up these exigencies to meet their demands. Their main demand is to prepare a story that fits into a very limited timeframe and into a very limited budget.
And much of the first part of this book takes the reader on a journey of past and present cinema that involves detailed science. This part of the book substantiates the claim that science in the Hollywood world of cinema is weird, whether it is Superman’s kryptonite, Star Trek’s dilithium crystals or Godzilla’s shear bulk. So how does this book go about proving that the science is weird?
Ah, this is the part that you may either love or hate. The authors include science boxes at regular intervals throughout. These science boxes have the equations you may remember from your early science classes. And the equations include numbers or ratios that show how a trope or conceit is particularly untrue. That is, the authors return to all those laws and rules of science, such as the law of gravity, the formula for acceleration, and the standard chemical composition of ecosystems.
Nevertheless, most of these weird issues are ones that the audience has already accepted and even a science box won’t affect the shear enjoyment. For example, think of Torch, a human that can instantly become a flame even though there’s no fuel. While the authors do raise a general lament on the failure of cinema to faithfully follow science, they do provide some rationalization that the untruth or trope was necessary, whether to fit a timeframe or a budget. Perhaps most promising from this section of the book is that the authors indicate that the typical audience member has become much smarter. In consequence, writers put a lot more reality into their science and even the depiction of alien worlds.
Who knew that learning physics could be so much fun?
Overall, the first third of the book is a fairly light, simple read with not so many science boxes. At about a third of the way in, however, the book transitions from being a discussion of cinema entertainment, with particular attention to its science, and becomes a discussion of science with reference to cinema. Here the science boxes are more detailed and numerous. They assess the possibility of using material from the Earth to kick-start a failing Sun, as done in a movie. Or, the likelihood of the Earth’s Moon being kicked out of the solar system, also done. And there’s much detail on the holy grail of science cinema, the faster than light transportation, as happens in most science fiction cinema.
Reading through this part of the book may bring you right back to your science classes of yore and their laws and rules. That is, it will if your science classes included quantum mechanics, parallel universes and wormholes. Here in the book things get really weird as today’s science has yet to faithfully prescribe the laws. Thus, the authors introduce a whole field of science, add current investigations and then associate the science with somewhat related relevant films. Perhaps, when the science gets this challenging, then it’s a good thing that entertaining cinema can come along and at least introduce the ideas to the general public.
With all the attention that the authors give to the science in this book, the reader will quickly appreciate that the book is not just a simple list of cinema bloopers. Rather, the book’s details provide enough depth of knowledge to allow the reader to hold their own at lunch time conversations when the topic swings around to the science in the latest show or movie. Perhaps it may induce the reader to do a bit more exploring and learning, especially as many current films feature a website that defines the science, the tropes and the conceits. However, cinema is for entertainment and the authors must realize the same holds for their book. So as much as this book has lots of hard science, the authors still keep the book entertaining.
And entertainment is mostly what we want, whether from cinema or books. So even if explosions in space come with a loud bang on the sound track or people fly without space suits up and around the Moon, we the audience are content if we are entertained and we haven’t hit the ‘Oh please!’ moment. If you want to know more about this moment, take a look at the book “Hollyweird Science – From Quantum Quirks to the Multiverse” by Kevin Grazier and Stephen Cass. From it, you can make up your own mind on just what you’re ready to accept as entertaining and what is just too much expectation by the storyteller.
The book is available through Springer at this link.
Remember that time an X-Wing fighter flew past the International Space Station? Or when R2D2 saved the ISS crew?OK, yeah, those things didn’t really happen, but since the first Star Wars movie came out in 1977, there has been a lot of technology developed that mimics the science and tech from the sci-fi blockbuster films. Of course, we now have real robots in space (Robonaut), drones are now everyday items, there are actual holograms (Voxiebox and Fairy Lights) and DARPA has been developing prosthetic limbs that Luke Skywalker would totally use, called the Reliable Neural-Interface Technology (RE-NET). Plus, Boeing is building blaster guns that will use “pew-pew” sound effects from Star Wars. Seriously. The lasers are silent, and so they need to add sound to know for sure they’ve been fired.Since we all certainly have Star Wars on the brain today (The Force Awakens opens tonight), let’s take a look at a few recent space-related developments that hint of inspiration from the movies: ESA has announced some of the instruments that will be on board the 2018 ExoMars rover. One of them will work akin to the Skywalkers’ moisture vaporators on Tatooine. The Habitability, Brine Irradiation and Temperature package (HABIT) will will investigate the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere of Mars. According to one of the researchers leading the instrument, this proof-of-concept instrument will take water out of the atmosphere to produce liquid water. If it works, it could be used to create water for future astronauts on Mars. And if it works really well, it could work on a larger scale to support Mars exploration… perhaps making enough water to allow for farming.“HABIT can be easily adapted to ‘water-farms’ for in-situ resource production,” Javier Martin-Torres from Lulea University of Technology in Sweden told New Scientist. “We will produce Martian liquid water on Mars, that could be used in the future exploration of Mars for astronauts and greenhouses.”If it does work out, future Mars astronauts might need to watch out for Sandpeople tracks that are side-by-side.Death Star ConstructionSo, just how do you build something the size of a Death Star out in deep space?Instead of hauling all the materials long distances, the best way to build a Death Star is to construct one out of an already-existing asteroid, says Brian Muirhead, chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It could provide the metals,” he told Wired. “You have organic compounds, you have water—all the building blocks you would need to build your family Death Star.”Muirhead is working on NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, which will attempt to move a small asteroid in orbit around the Moon.Watch the full video and interview below, it is really great:
Speeder BikesWho hasn’t dreamed of riding a speeder bike like the ones in Return of the Jedi? Instead of just dreaming about it, Mark DeRoche from a company called Aerofex has actually done something about it. His company is working a “low-altitude tandem duct aerial vehicle” called the Aero-X. According to the company’s website, the Aero-X is a “hovercraft that rides like a motorcycle – an off-road vehicle that takes to the air. Designed for low-altitude sport and utility, the Aero-X bridges the gap between light aircraft and all-terrain vehicles.”It can carry two (smaller) people 10 feet (3 m) above any surface at airspeeds up to 45 mph (72 km/h). It can carry a total of 310 lb (140 kg), and can be customized for specific applications and aerial tasks such as agriculture, disaster relief, search and rescue, and patrolling borders and game parks.See it in action below:Or if you need to go a little more low-tech, you can make your own giant light sabers (3.66-meters/12-feet long), like one Star Wars fan did:And so you can fully prepare for the awesome power of the force, here’s the official trailer for The Force Awakens:Lead image caption: X-wing fighter flies by Earth? Actually, it is the ATV2 (Johannes Kepler) as it departs the ISS in 2011. Credit: NASA/Ron Garan
Astronomers at the SETI institute (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) have reported their findings after monitoring the reputed megastructure-encompassed star KIC 8462852. No significant radio signals were detected in observations carried out from the Allen Telescope Array between October 15-30th (nearly 12 hours each day). However, there are caveats, namely that the sensitivity and frequency range were limited, and […]
Alert: mild spoilers lie ahead, as we’ll be discussing minor plot points of the book The Martian. What, you haven’t read it yet? Have you been stranded on Mars? Don’t make us pull your geek card… Never mind The Avengers or the seventh installment of the Star Wars franchise… some early stills from the big […]
Elsewhen is a story about star-crossed young lovers, a love story for science fiction fans. Conceived when author/actor Gary Bullock was working at a radio astronomy site, Elsewhen follows the path of Elijah (‘Lije’) and Laura Bess, two child prodigies who fall head-over-heels in love before tragedy strikes and tears them apart. But for Lije […]