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  • Summer Rerun: Stories of Solar Stress

    Posted by David Foster on August 23rd, 2017 (All posts by )

    (rerun inspired by the Eclipse)

    In my post A Perfect Enemy, I mentioned Poul Anderson’s 1972 story A Chapter of Revelation. God–intending to demonstrate His existence to the world and thereby encourage people to prevent the global nuclear war which is about to occur–stops the movement of the sun across the sky. (Technically, He does this by slowing earth’s rotation period to a value identical with Earth’s year.) The reaction to this event is confirmation bias on an immense scale: just about everyone draws the conclusion that the miracle proves that whatever beliefs they already held were the correct ones…for example, a Russian scientist (remember, this was written in 1972) suggests that  “The requirement of minimum hypothesis practically forces us to assume that what happened resulted from the application of a technology centuries beyond ours. I find it easy to believe that an advanced civilization, capable of interstellar travel, sent a team to save mankind from the carnage threatened by an imperialism which that society outgrew long ago.”   Moralists, militarists, extreme right-wing evangelists, Black Power advocates…all find in the miracle only proof of their own rightness, and the world slides into further chaos, with riots, coups d’etat, and cross-border military attacks.

    Several weeks ago, I picked up Karen Thompson Walker’s novel The Age of Miracles, in which strange solar behavior also plays a leading part. Eleven-year-old Julia, focused in the usual challenges of growing up, is not too concerned when scientists announce that–for some unknown reason–the earth’s rotation has slowed very slightly and the days and nights are both getting a little longer. But the process, whatever it is, continues…the days and the nights get longer..and longer..and longer.

    A very well-written book, IMO; especially impressive since it is the author’s first novel. Not everyone agrees: the Amazon reviews indicate that a lot of people liked it very much, and quite a few found it disappointing. But I thought it was very worthwhile; hard to put down, in fact.

    Another coming-of-age story involving solar phenomena is Connie Willis’s Daisy, in the Sun. Like the protagonist of the previous book, Daisy is dealing with the problems of adolescence–oh, and by the way, the sun (which Daisy has always loved) is going to go nova and kill everyone on earth. It’s a strange story, difficult to summarize…I’ll just quote from the author’s introduction:

    During the London Blitz, Edward R. Murrow was startled to see a fire engine racing past. It was the middle of the day, the sirens had not gone, and he hadn’t heard any bombers. He could not imagine where a fire engine would be going.

    It came to him, after much thought, that it was going to an ordinary house fire, and that that seemed somehow impossible, as if all ordinary disasters should be suspended for the duration of this great Disaster that was facing London and commanding everybody’s attention. But of course houses caught fire and burned down for reasons that had nothing to do with the Blitz, and even in the face of Armageddon, there are still private armageddons to be faced.

    The Poul Anderson story can be found in his short-story collection Dialogue With Darkness, and Daisy, in the Sun is in Fire Watch.

    8/22/17 update:  Isaac Asimov’s Nightfall would be a good addition to this collection.

     

    4 Responses to “Summer Rerun: Stories of Solar Stress”

    1. Jonathan Says:

      Somewhat related to the topic of confirmation bias, a large enough group will contain individuals whose interpretations of events are radically different from those of most other members of the group. Usually such radically different interpretations are crazy, but not always. Occasionally the oddball interpretations if not suppressed by authority will advance the state of human knowledge.

    2. Anonymous Says:

      The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes, dramatized on Night Gallery (2:1)

      Inconstant Moon, dramatized on the 1990s Outer Limit.

    3. Joe Wooten Says:

      That was one of Anderson’s less appreciated stories. I liked it a lot.

    4. clark e myers Says:

      The Poul Anderson story was earlier published in a theme anthology where a number of writers did stories on the sun stood still in the heavens themes. See The Day The Sun Stood Still, edited by Lester del Rey for other stories that mention the sun in that context.