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Bloviating Zeppelin: In All the Universe

Bloviating Zeppelin

(in-ep-toc'-ra-cy) - a system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

In All the Universe

I can remember someone telling me, years ago when a child, that the universe was infinite. I didn't know what that word meant and my parents (and brothers!) luckily had lots of books about -- including a large dictionary. I looked up the word. It wasn't until I began to read voraciously at 12 or 13 that the word "infinite" began to take on meaning for me.

My brothers had a few science fiction paperbacks laying around in the early 60s and that, good readers, was my introduction to SF. One of the first books I ever remember reading was the compilation of stories published by Ballantine Books in 1962 (I had the second printing; the first was in 1955), entitled STAR Science Fiction Stories No. 3 (50-cents!). I absolutely devoured these wondrous stories, such as:

  • It's Such a Beautiful Day, by Isaac Asimov;
  • The Strawberry Window, by Ray Bradbury;
  • The Deep Range, by Arthur C. Clarke;
  • Alien, by Lester del Rey;
  • Foster, You're Dead, by Philip K. Dick;
  • Whatever Happened to Corporal Cuckoo? by Gerald Kersh;
  • Dance of the Dead, by Richard Matheson;
  • Any More At Home Like You? by Chad Oliver;
  • The Devil On Salvation Bluff, by Jack Vance and
  • Guinevere For Everybody, by Jack Williamson.

These, dear readers, are absolute bottom line stone blue all-star classic science fiction short stories written by geniuses in the art. I still have that paperback. It is kept in a glass case.

From there I can recall reading (and the copy of which I stole from my brother and possess to this very day -- and I am looking at now) the first paperback edition of the ground-breaking novel Dune by a little known author called Frank Herbert. This thick ACE paperback book, going for $1.25 in 1965, changed science fiction forever. Say what you will about the subsequent books, Dune was a benchmark in SF.

From there I was hooked. Any spare cash I spent on Matchbox cars (55-cents each at Bob's Toyland in Town & Country Village, Sacramento), monster models (Frankenstein, the Wolfman, the Mummy, all readily available for 98-cents -- plus tax = $1.02) and SF paperbacks. Star Trek became my favorite series. I owned every James Blish adaptation of the TV shows. I snatched the very last paperback copy of The Making of Star Trek by Stephen E. Whitfield from the hands of my (then) best friend Rick Back when his attention was momentarily diverted from the book rack.

I reveled in the Harry Harrison stories of The Stainless Steel Rat and The Deathworld Trilogy. I read every Asimov I, Robot story. I enjoyed Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers but failed to grok his Stranger In A Strange Land for quite some time.

That led me into what some would call harder military SF, such as Joe Haldeman's Forever Wars and thence into two of my all-time favorite SF books:

  • Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination
  • George RR Martin's Tuf Voyaging
I went so far as to purchase a private printing of Martin's Tuf Voyaging compilation that cost me -- well, let's just say it cost me.

Along the way I've enjoyed the Phaid the Gambler, Citizen Phaid and The Song of Phaid the Gambler series by Mick Farren, as well as When Gravity Fails and A Fire In the Sun, both by George Alec Effinger. The absolute toughest series to find (I defy you!) involves a horrible life form known as The Vang: The Military Form and The Vang: The Battlemaster, both by Christopher Rowley. Excellent, frightening books. Good luck.

Recently, I've read some SF novels that I would highly recommend:

  • The John Scalzi series, Old Man's War;
  • Robert Buettner's Orphanage and Orphan's Destiny.

Best current SF going: Death's Head by David Gunn. Wow. Wotta ride!

Which brings me back to my original rambling thought for this Sunday's post:

Infinite. Infinity. What is it? What does it mean? Could I even wrap my brain around the concept?

The answer then and now is: no. I cannot.

In my late teens and early 20s I would posit this inside my mind: Infinity. Never stops. Keeps going. Imagine there was a massive reach, a huge distance. Then there was a brick wall. Then what was BEYOND the brick wall?

How could this BE? How could there be something that goes and goes and goes and NEVER STOPS? It engaged my mind and then it exceeded my mind. Just as it does today.

Then there is the so-called "UFO" issue.

Photos tarted and maligned; clearly cheapened and staged. Obvious and poorly done. Then there is the Area 51 issue. And the Groom Lake issue.

One of the largest UFOs ever seen has been observed by the crew and passengers of an airliner over the Channel Islands.

An official air-miss report on the incident several weeks ago appears in Pilot magazine. Aurigny Airlines captain Ray Bowyer, 50, flying close to Alderney first spotted the object, described as "a cigar-shaped brilliant white light".

My question:

Is there life in the Universe other than that of our own?

I believe so.



Blogger TexasFred said...

I can't look into the night sky and see the vast number of stars and NOT help but think, we CAN'T be alone in this thing...

I believe it would be asinine to think otherwise...

Sat Jun 23, 10:25:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

Fred: I'm with you on that one. If infinity exists, why just US, why NOT others -- and not just a couple others, a whole HOST of others we'll not meet for some time?

That night sky? That infinite twinkling that seems like it came from a movie set, that it's so clear, so vivid, so remarkable? Like you could reach out for those very pinpoints? I can remember reading, somewhere, that the light we see tonight, all around us, from those myriad stars, was light generated during the time of the egyptian pharaohs and that it took THAT long, through the universe, to reach our eyes tonight.



Sun Jun 24, 03:01:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Ranando said...

If you believe in God then there’s your answer. God is not of this world, so he must be from some other place.

Another way I think of this is – If you filled your swimming-pool with BB’s, only one BB would have life, I don’t think so.

Sun Jun 24, 05:03:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Gayle said...

I truly believe that to think we are unique in all creation would be arrogance beyond belief, BZ. No, I don't believe we are alone for a minute!

Walt loved science fiction and got me hooked on it. He collected all those books and still has them, but unfortunately they aren't in prime condition as they took smoke damage from a house fire. He started collecting them in the 50's. I read all of them and re-read some of them. Maybe there are some humans who can wrap their minds around infinity, like Isaac Asimov, but I'm not one of them either.

BZ, I went to the link you left and got the website where I couldn't find the article you linked to.

Thanks for the beautiful picture. It makes one heck of a wallpaper. :)

Sun Jun 24, 06:44:00 AM PDT  
Blogger bigwhitehat said...

If they are out there, we need to warn them. Certain folks among us can't wait to find new people to tax.

Sun Jun 24, 12:05:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

Ranando: wow; really like that analogy.

Gayle: sorry aoout the bad link; I'll see if I can find it again.

BWH: long as we can forewarn visitors and keep them away from Washington.


Sun Jun 24, 12:21:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

Gayle: well, for whatever reason I copied the link but it doesn't come out in the post. Here's the actual link itself:'Mile-wide+UFO'+spotted+by+British+airline+pilot/

By the way, the artist of the top graphic is named Greg Martin, and his stuff is wonderful. He's at:

EXCELLENT digital artist!


Sun Jun 24, 12:29:00 PM PDT  
Blogger TexasFred said...

Here's that link in easy to click fashion...

'Mile-wide UFO' spotted by British airline pilot

A mile wide?? Damn, they are either really big or there was a lot of em...

Sun Jun 24, 03:27:00 PM PDT  
Blogger BB-Idaho said...

The nature of infinity is such that any number of lifeforms would be conceivable. Space and time are large entities. Sagon spent time searching and pondering. I got lazy about SF and get my fix from Stargate SG-1...

Sun Jun 24, 04:46:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Gayle said...

Wow! That's impressive! But we know it's just a weather balloon, right? Ha! Thank you for Martin's link. He is very impressive.

Sun Jun 24, 08:53:00 PM PDT  
Blogger shoprat said...

I believe that God created the entire universe to hold life and it will turn up everywhere.

Best Sci Fi ever? Heinlein's early stuff was great, even if science has now shown it not to be correct. (His later stuff was little more than pornography with a little sci-fi thrown in.

Mon Jun 25, 12:30:00 AM PDT  
Blogger A Jacksonian said...

A universe where life is *possible* via its conditions and from the ease we have seen of its building blocks to happen in the dead of space... vast nebulae with long-chain and complex reactive molecules light years and parsecs away, leads to the conclusion that the basis for life is, indeed, widespread. Fred Saberhagen's Berserker stories go to the heart of that: machines wanting to rid a planet of life, once there must: purify the atmosphere, sterilize the oceans and even reach down miles into the rock to remove the last bacteria.

Now complex life is another thing again, requiring the right conditions for it. Yet chemistry allows for that in wide and diverse array and we only have our forms to use and our bias towards carbon. Books such as H. Beam Piper's Uller Uprising speculates on the basis of silicon based life and Alan Dean Foster's Sentenced to Prism is one of the most enjoyable modern reads on how carbano-silicate and pure silica based life that yields intelligence would view *our* grand technology.... yes they see it as overly complex, why don't we just *grow* our machines? Silly humans!

From Asimov we get the vast and deep Robot/Empire/Foundation complex, which he masterfully tied together before the end of his life. The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun remain two of the best stories on how our creations can come to view us as helpmates over generations. Kieth Laumer played on that with his Bolo stories when mankind builds war machines complex enough to think and fight without us, and with an ingrained streak of protectiveness and appreciation to learn of humanity and its frailities: better that they should die so that we may learn.

The dimension of time has been seen in various ways by various authors and we still, as yet, have no definition of what time *is*. Early on Lester del Rey's story Lest Darkness Fall served as basis for the interactive view of history. H. Beam Piper would take a regularized view in his Paratime work which would include the Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen stories. That entire field of alt-history remained relatively stagnant, although Saberhagen's A Question of Time would start things rolling along with Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream. While others did work in that field, like Poul Anderson's Time Patrol works, Harry Harrison would kick-start it with The Hammer and The Cross books [aka The Warriors of The Way]. New ideas within science have spurred on David Drake and Eric Flint to work on their alt-history of the most dangerous general in history that is almost unknown because he remains untaught: The Belisarius Series. Eric Flint now melds SF with the online community in his Asitti Shards works, foremost and most deep of which is the 1632 universe where good sized town in West Virginia in 1999 gets picked up and put into a new, duplicate universe of ours... in 1632.

As for *intelligent life* that forms the outcome of the Drake Equation, we can speculate as it, apparently, takes a lot of trial and tribulation to get to a species smart enough to realize that nature is amenable to change and if you don't do that it will kill you. Poul Anderson's The Avatar, which is not everyone's cup of tea to be sure, puts forth a view on that and how life may be nurtured by others. Arthur C. Clarke also looks at that in Rendezvous with Rama on how just because it is *intelligent* doesn't mean they want to have anything to do with us. Larry Niven looks at that in his Known Space works, often lacking in good footing in later years for the science, but the concepts involved are still pertinent and have proven a lasting influence on SF, the best known of which is Ringworld but one that gets overlooked is World of Ptavvs as any race that can read and control minds comes to see the universe very differently from those who can't. But the deepest and most light reading and downright *fun* on what it means to be intelligent are the three Fuzzy books by H. Beam Piper, in which he explores the legal, ethical and moral implications of finding a species as smart as we are... and that need protection from our views even as they come to adopt them. Do we sin because another intelligent and ethical race learns to LIE from us?

The whole question of the whys and wherefores of more intelligent life contacting *us* has been in SF since the beginning. A good one that is interesting as it is disturbing, for all of offering yet another fun set of reads, is Alan Dean Foster's Books of the Damned in which peaceful starfaring races must learn conflict, and they just don't do it too well... until the side that is losing, a highly multi-culti society, runs across Rock 3 from Star Sol... and even the most pacifistic of people here are way, way more violent than they are. Asimov's short story on mankind getting *rooked* and how to get economic justice is in his short story Buy Jupiter!, so fast you don't even know you have read it! And when a technologically more sophisticated and even quite *nice* set of aliens conquer Earth, they find out what human heart is in Gordon R. Dickson's (do get the Novel, not the short story) Way of the Pilgrim, because we have a vast and deep drive within us that is in all of us... and the Aliens have it not. For dead-on accuracy on the UFO phenomena, one need look no further than Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy! Yes, just a buncha 'joyriders' 'buzzing the Earth' for kicks.... figures, really.... Nope, no grand FEDERATION... just a bunch of juvenile delinquents and aliens that get a lot of fun out of doing such things. Because, as Adams pointed out, no matter how special we think we *are* when we are given our true perspective in the vastness of the universe, we are not very much. Just because you are *intelligent* doesn't mean you are *smart*.

And the gulf between those two is the demon we wrestle with everyday... and we must win against everyday to make a better life, come what may. Just because we have *guidance* doesn't mean that we should leave it all up to that...or, as Franklin (I believe it was) said: "God helps those that help themselves."

Let us hope that we do not remain "Stuck on Stupid", as Gen. Honore said....

Mon Jun 25, 04:18:00 AM PDT  
Blogger bigwhitehat said...

I wonder if they would respect our borders?

Mon Jun 25, 08:31:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

I've read most of those books. LOVE Asimov.

And we are in no way alone. To think that is the height of arrogance.

Tue Jun 26, 11:22:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

AJ: wow, yeah, I had forgotten ADF's Prism books; I found them VERY interesting but, alas, haven't read Piper. OTOH, I KNEW you'd come through with a bunch of SF books I had either read or, apparently, I NEED to read. I just find SF fascinating but, clearly, you've got to have the bent for it; clearly not everyone's cup o' tea. Someday if we met, I'd pick your brain for good past and current SF. . .


Tue Jun 26, 05:44:00 PM PDT  
Blogger A Jacksonian said...

Mr. Z - I will be moving, hopefully by August, to WA State, if luck and health hold. So closer, at least, but I will still be homebound unless the climate affords me ability to recover in ways I cannot here.

I have a huge library of SF books I have read, quite some few more that I don't own but have read... and a bookcase full of ones I intended on reading before my health failed.

SF looks to how society adapts to and changes with the future... but the same drives that make us human, are always there... and the views on aliens, I am sure, while diverse, is limited as to what, exactly, is really out there.....

Wed Jun 27, 04:55:00 AM PDT  

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