Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Consulting Editor


Who By Fire
by Jeff Samson

Shit Eatin’ Dog
by Bob Sojka

Joshua Who Could See
by Elizabeth Streeter

Calliope Muse
by Rebecca L. Brown

Waver of the Image
by Joe Occhipinti

Salvation of Sam
by Ellen Denton

Three Into Two Won’t Go
by Ann Gimpel

3rd Dragoon Regiment and the Liberation of Contagor’e-Mare
by Don C. Ciers

Collector’s Item
by Doug Donnan


Journey Through the Center of the Earth
by Eric M. Jones

Mars: A New Look at the Old Hump
by J. Richard Jacobs





Comic Strips



Perihelion Forum


An Observation About Authors and Editors

When I began writing, more years ago than I wish to say, I also began learning about editors. I had the opportunity to deal with some of the most lean, mean editing machines in the business. One, I recall, rode me mercilessly and was zealously honest. He will remain nameless here, but I tell you there was no specter more frightening than facing him, and his notes to me were scorchers. He even went so far as to tell me my writing was stilted and amateurish. That I should seriously consider some other outlet for my pent up frustrations. That as a writer I reminded him of someone who would be better off flipping hamburgers or driving a trash truck. That he was right is beside the point.

First, let me say I didn’t want to be an editor then. That I have turned out, through a circuitous route, to be one is the irony of the ages. So, what did I learn? I learned that editors are usually correct in their assertions, no matter how much their comments hurt. I am not saying they all are, but the majority certainly are. After one has spent a year or so slushpile diving, you have to have learned something. They can spot junk like Superman can see through walls. They develop an instinct to know (most of the time) what is worth looking at and what is barely worth the energy to toss in the round file (or hit the delete key).

Ah, so you say, “What about all them famous authors who were rejected for books that later turned the world upside down?” Well, what about them? The editors that turned them away were looking for a complex set of somethings that they just didn’t see in the work at the time. It may have been something as simple as the publisher’s content requirements, maybe lousy format, perhaps grammar glitches, spelling terrors and the list goes on. It could even have been brought about by a bad night or a rotten breakfast. It might have been because of all of the foregoing. Whatever the reason, they were right in their own mind at the time.

Publishers hire editors to serve as bodyguards. To protect the kingdom from sappers who write stuff that could conceivably bring down the castle walls, either through lack of sales (bad business) or loss of prestige and credibility. Hey, even lawsuits come into consideration. It is because of this that editors sit at the right hand of God. Do they deserve that kind of distinction? You bet. It’s something all of us need to learn before we attempt to submit anything to a publisher of this caliber.

So, I learned to listen to their criticisms and, with a tear stained face, to fix my beloved and perfect from the git-go story. And I discovered that the story took on more of a glow and my writing improved. What? My writing improved? Yes, it did. It improved because some editor took the time (this is rare) to tell me I’d be better off slinging hash or sweeping streets.

J. Richard Jacobs
Hobbs, NM


Killer Robots? Asimov Protect Us!

Governments should pre-emptively ban fully autonomous weapons because of the danger they pose to civilians in armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on November 22, 2012. These future weapons, sometimes called “killer robots,” would be able to choose and fire on targets without human intervention.

At first glance, that is perhaps not a particularly relevant topic for a science article in a science fiction magazine, but think again—one of the first science fiction novels, and several by one of the greatest authors of the last century, addressed just this ethical and scientific problem. Think Mary Shelly and “The Good Doctor,” otherwise known as Isaac Asimov.

This topic, so new to lawyers and government planners, is old hat to science fiction and positive proof, if needed, that science fiction is often extremely relevant to humanity in general, not just a few of us scientists and geeks (Just so you know, I qualify in both categories, physics and computer geek, since 1963.)

We all know there’s nothing a lawyer won’t do for money (my lawyer is great, but yours is dangerous/unethical/immoral, etc.), but the military has always been painfully aware that there are things you can’t force normal human beings to do without severe consequences to society in general and specifically to those individuals in the form of suicides, PTSD, and even the refusal to torture prisoners.

As a stop gap measure, the military usually encourages the dehumanization of the enemy (by use of slang names for them) to make it easier to do to them what people in civilian life would never consider doing.

Fortunately for the military industrial complex (a mythical conspiracy theory propounded by that rabid 1950s pacifist President/General Eisenhower), they are on the verge of solving that nasty problem.

Unfortunately for mankind, unless we stop them, their solution is going to be killer robots—what easier way to “dehumanize” the enemy than by using non-human soldiers?

Governments have yet to address this threat, as has society in general. The great unwashed public don’t even realize it is a threat and I’ve never gotten any response even at Mensa gatherings when I mentioned my concerns.

But science fiction has been on top of this problem for more than a century.

Which brings up the obvious question, have you ever been called upon either directly or indirectly to defend sience fiction?

I’ve seen many arguments against it over the years ranging from those who sneered at juveniles because the authors didn’t seem to know about sex, to people who just didn’t see the point of “fantastic” writing. The latter never seemed to realize that science fiction is no more pie in the sky than are political party platforms or nearly as meaningless as Valley of the Dolls.

Well, if you’ve ever chafed at the ridicule this branch of literature receives on a routine basis, it is time to shake off any lingering embarrassment about your favorite reading matter.

Serious science fiction bears no more relation to Space Opera fiction than graphic novels have to Little Lulu.

If you ever entertained any doubts yourself, they should be ended by just how seriously two major intellectual, social, and cultural organizations are taking Asimov’s Laws of Robotics.

In large part due to movies such as “Frankenstein,” “I Robot” or “The Terminator,” at least a large portion of the public has some idea that machines, particularly thinking machines or, more properly, machines that think for themselves, can be a big problem.

Now this threat has been given its first serious attention by a prestigious NGO (Non Governmental Organization) in the form of a 50-page report just released by The Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law.

Lest anyone fail to see that they were influenced by science fiction, the following was emphasized in the final paragraph of their press release about the report:

“Finally, the use of fully autonomous weapons would create an accountability gap. Trying to hold the commander, programmer, or manufacturer legally responsible for a robot’s actions presents significant challenges. The lack of accountability would undercut the ability to deter violations of international law and to provide victims meaningful retributive justice.

“While most militaries maintain that for the immediate future humans will retain some oversight over the actions of weaponized robots, the effectiveness of that oversight is questionable, Human Rights Watch and the Harvard clinic said. Moreover, military statements have left the door open to full autonomy in the future.

“Action is needed now, before killer robots cross the line from science fiction to feasibility, Steve Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights Watch said.”

John McCormick
Punxsutawney, PA


A Lot of Good Stuff On This Site

When I was a boy in Russia, I was in love with science fiction, especially outer space. That was during the romantic era when space travel had just become real, in the 1960s. Every teenager dreamed of becoming a Cosmonaut. Unfortunately, not any more. Now space programs are militarized, all about wars and spying—or making money with GPS, cell phones, satellite radio and TV. No country or corporation wants to spend money on space programs that will return profits in the far future. Everyone wants an immediate payoff, even if life on Earth itself will be in danger as a result. Today’s teenagers have different kinds of dreams. I’d rather not go into details for fear of sounding like a nostalgic, grumpy old man.

I am glad to see new efforts from the editors of “Perihelion” to restore some of the old traditions of science fiction.

“Zeros ... All Those Zeros!” by Eric M. Jones impressed me big-time. I’ve never counted the amount of zeros for numbers that are greater than 100,000 because it is difficult to feel these huge numbers. When you read the article, you can really understand and feel all those zeros.

Mikhail Lekhter
Rochester, NY


What’s In a Trope?

In a recent discussion on LinkedIn, it was mentioned that Ben Kenobi and Batman were “tropes.”

Ben Kenobi or Batman aren’t tropes themselves; they’re characters (specifically trademarked and very valuable characters). To expand on that, we should look at the word “trope.” In the more standard literary definition, trope (from the Greek tropos, meaning turn or direction) is a name for the category of figures of speech that includes things like metaphor, irony, hyperbole, and so on. Thus in the technical definition it refers to very particular techniques of writing/speaking.

However, the modern definition (as exemplified on TVTropes) is of any recurring/well known motif, cliche, theme, etc., found in popular literature, television, movies, video games, etc.

By the standards of this definition, then, the characters cited are very “tropey”—that is, they strongly embody one or more tropes; Batman, for instance, is one of the iconic examples of “Badass Normal,” “The Cowl,” and “Crazy Prepared,” and has provided the name or key example of other tropes; Obi-Wan Kenobi’s role is sufficiently iconic that a mentor-figure who teaches the young hero and then dies is listed under “The Obi-Wan” trope. But neither of them as characters are tropes themselves.

The modern definition of tropes encompasses, in essence, any significant and in some way widely recognizable (within the key audience) component of a story that can be used to evoke particular reactions or expectations in a reader. As they emphasize on the TVTropes site, tropes are not bad—everything almost certainly contains at least one widely-recognized trope—and most tropes are not cliches in and of themselves, either (although most if not all cliches are also tropes).

Ryk E. Spoor
Troy, NY



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