Complex planetary system found

European astronomer have published the news of their finding a complex extra-solar planetary system that apparently is the second known one with great potential for Earth-like planets in the habitable zone. Link >>>

The Milky Way grows more and more hospitable for each year as astronomers make new discoveries with space-based telescopes. When I was young, the common attitude among scientists was rather that planetary systems ought to be extremely rare.

China’s Lunar Rabbit

China pursues an ambitious space program, trying to catch up with the big two by carrying out a limited number of missions where each comprises a big step forward. Now it is time for her first lunar rover, named Yutu (“Jade Rabbit”, which is an apt name because the rabbit is associated with the moon in Chinese folklore). Read more here — link >>>

The Soviet Union dispatched a few Lunokhod rovers to the moon in the 1970s, a subject that I earlier mentioned here. It seems likely that the Chinese mission will have little ability to add significantly to the scientific understanding of the lunar surface, so instead it is probably more about learning the art of executing complex interplanetary missions than about exploring the moon as such.

The Chinese Yatu moon rover

Lunatic plants

NASA is planning to establish remote-controlled plant habitats (i.e. mininiature “hothouses”) on the Moon in 2015 to investigate how to grow plats in that alien environment: the Lunar Plant Growth Habitat project — link >>>

The delivery to the Lunar surface is to be handled by private space ventures competing for the Google Lunar X Prize. This arrangement ties neatly to the on-going entry of new actors in the space research field, a subject that was covered in the previous blog post.

An experimental Lunar Plant Growth Habitat.

Urbs Mobilis — the Nomadic Town

Traditionally on Earth, the pastoral nomadic lifestyle stands in opposition to the sedentary city lifestyle. Ibn Khaldoun, an Arab philosopher of the 14th century, was the first to formalize that observation in social science terms in his book Muqaddimah, in which he analyzed the rise and fall of medieval Arab realms. However, technology occasionally provides the right tools to overcome constraints posed by nature.

Here is a article on how to construct nomadic towns with technology that is only slightly more advanced that what Earth possesses today — link >>>

So such a construct would fit into the worldscapes of SF-games like Traveller (the ship-borne towns in Nomads of the World-Ocean are a maritime equivalent), Star Wars D6 (consider the Jawas’ village-on-tracks in Episode IV), and 2300AD, where human corporations exploit alien worlds for their natural resources. The 2012 movie John Carter introduced the “walking” city of Zodanga, a more spectacular-looking science-fantasy version for Barsoom (the “Mars” of Edgar Rice Burroughs). And the picture below shows us a dieselpunk rendition. Ergo, this is a flexible concept that suits plenty of SF sub-genres.

Semper mobilis — the motto of the roaming cities.

Interplanetary Rosetta Stone

More than fifty years ago, science fiction author H Beam Piper penned Omnilingual, a novelette* about archeology and “forensic” linguistics on an alien world. I read it for the first time in an SF anthology in the late 1970s and it struck a chord deep in my heart, my being a language nerd. I would have loved to participate in that interplanetary expedition and test my wits against the enigmas of the distant past.

By chance I recently discovered a lightly edited version of the story being freely available on the Internet. It seems that the original story has entered public domain, at least in the United States (I am not sure how, because Piper died only about 50 years ago).

In Omnilingual, Piper combines the spirit of field work with the alien-ness of being elsewhere in cosmos. He expertly mixes some of the genres that I love: alternate history, legendary “Mars”, scientists in action (i.e. researching and analyzing while squabbling and practicing scholarly one-up-manship — yes, research funding disputes, college politics and “publish or perish” are all there).

You can enjoy the story here >>>

*i.e. a long short-story.

The literary roots of Classic Traveller

Michael André-Driussi has written an interesting web article about what kind of science fiction served as the designers’ inspiration for the original “classic” Traveller role-playing game — link >>>

The real thing: some vintage Traveller books

André-Driussi pays particular attention to E C Tubb’s many Dumarest stories and H Beam Piper’s novel Space Viking.

I agree largely with his observations, though I have not read Space Viking, but I would ascribe more design influence to Jerry Pournelle’s Falkenberg stories (future mercenaries in action on rural planets), perhaps also to the John Grimes stories by Bertram Chandler (plenty of low-level espionage and trade among the stars). Also, when I GM’ed classic Traveller in 1978-82, I got a lot of thematically appropriate inspiration from gritty British action novels of the 1960s and 1970s, e.g. by Desmond Bagley (whose High Citadel can be transferred straight into Traveller.)