Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Monkeys and Empire State Buildings
by James K. Isaac

Debbie Does Delta Draconis III
by Sarina Dorie

Becoming Einstein
by George S. Walker

No Good Conscience
by Edward J. Knight

Last Log of the Vancouver
by David Falkinburg

Saving the Galaxy and Taking Names
by Justin Short

Diplomacy in Springtime
by Jennifer Linnaea

Onkeymay Usinessbay
by Doug Donnan

Inside Magic Circles
by Brent Knowles


Cosmic Life Rays
by John McCormick and Beth Goldie

A Lost World On the Polar Ice
by Fitzhugh Green




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips





Naming Things ...

“ALL SCIENCE IS EITHER physics or stamp collecting,” said Ernest Rutherford.

Knowing names is not science, it is merely vocabulary. While it is helpful to know the vocabulary to communicate, it is not necessary to know the vocabulary to do science. In fact it probably makes it harder initially. And it also allows someone who knows the vocabulary but understands little about the science to have a seat at the table. This can be counterproductive.

I once shared office space with a Chinese engineer. Everything went well, except for the “common-parts books” in the engineering library (catalogs of existing stock parts, resistors, bearings, hardware, etc. which ease the creation of new products that use many of the already-existing parts). These rather large catalogs were listed in order by Roman numerals, but the order of these was always scrambled after he used them. I asked him to return the catalogs to their original spots. “See ... they have Roman Numerals on them.”

But as he explained to me, he said he wondered what those I’s V’s, X’s and XIV’s were. He never learned Latin going to school in China. Recently a World War II hero was introduced at a high school talk as being a World War Eleven hero. So much for Roman numerals.

“Latin's a dead language. It's plain enough to see. It killed the ancient Romans, and now it's killing me,” says the students’ complaint. Many scientific names are Greek or Latin because many common things have no exact common names— Hypothermia, for example. But I also think putting the terms into a foreign language makes everything harder.

Too much of science has been created to allow bookkeepers and butterfly collectors something to do. It doesn’t teach how the world and universe work.

Names for things that don’t exist; Lake Manly. You can probably get a point on some test by knowing this: Up until maybe 10,000 years ago the Death Valley rift was filled with water. The park guide will happily tell you that it was called “Lake Manly” named after William L. Manly, who was among the original Death Valley wagon train party in 1849. But when Manley saw Death Valley, the lake had been gone for ... oh ... just guessing here ... 10,000 years.

“Now wait a minute,” I said to the park guide, “The Earth is covered in vanished features that have no names. We don’t name mountains that have eroded away.”

I never convinced the park guide, but this naming nonsense has no limits.

Stick your moniker onto a “visible” star, and “your star will be registered with the Library of Congress” ... or somesuch. Actually there are only 8,000 or so “visible to the naked eye” stars, so using the term “visible” is dicey; or perhaps a star can be named for many people. (I am copyrighting all the stars in the gamma quadrant for myself just to be sure.) Now how far is this scam from naming them for “science,” or just having to memorize star names for a Monday morning quiz?

Fresh out of college, I found myself jobless and quite broke in the desert of Tucson, Arizona. In between utterly hopeless job interviews, I found a non-working antique wind-up Columbia Graphonola in an old junk shop haunt. I located exactly one scratched-up record for it. The playable side was Dorothy Lamour singing the 1933 hit song, “Little Grass Shack”:fish

I want to go back
to my little grass shack
in Kealakekua, Hawaii ... etc.
Where the humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa
goes swimming by.”

I played that song hundreds and hundreds of times, both as I was fixing the gramophone and afterwards as I was wrenching on my broken car. (I was pretty poor and the car radio or a rabbit-eared black and white TV was about it for entertainment.)

Humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa in Hawaiian means “reef fish with a pig-like snout,” or some say “a pig-like grunt.” Nobody is quite sure. It also may—or may not—be the Hawaiian state fish. And its Latin name is Rhinecanthus rectangulus ... but it’s harder to sing.

A decade later, having moved to Los Angeles and prospered, I was having dinner with a girlfriend and her friends when someone brought up the factoid that there is “a little fish in Hawaii” with the world’s longest name (it is actually second ... but close enough). Without missing a beat I calmly sent that slow-pitch sailing out of the stadium as I interjected, “Oh, you mean the humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa?”

Old gramophone; one dollar.

Dorothy Lamour 78 rpm Bakelite record; 25 cents.

Blowing my girlfriend’s mind; priceless.

Eric M. Jones

Jack Vance