Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Stone 382
by Sean Monaghan

A.I. Oh!
by Tom Doyle

Castle of the Slave
by Aliyah Whiteley

Home From Home
by Mark English

Aliens With Candy
by Michael Andre-Driussi

A Cumdumpster Kid
by Rebecca L. Brown

Harmony, Chaos, and the Reign Thereof
by Kyle White

Potential Killer
by Fredrick Obermeyer

Cinderella's Holo-Wand
by Sarina Dorie

Ears, Eyes, Nose ... and Throat
by Jez Patterson


Cargo Cultism
by Eric M. Jones

Coronal Mass Ejection by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Perihelion Reviews

Buzz Aldrin: Exclusive Interview

REFERRING TO DR. EDWIN Eugene Aldrin Jr. as “Buzz” is no disrespect—many years ago Dr. Aldrin changed his legal name to his famous nickname. This is the byline on his latest book, “Mission to Mars.” It is not science fiction. It is a detailed outline of Dr. Aldrin’s concept of why and how the world, not just the U.S., can and should stop fooling around with government funded low-Earth and moon-based projects and get started on colonizing the solar system, beginning with the red planet.

On July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made history by being the first and second humans to step onto the surface of the moon. For years, Dr. Aldrinmission held the record for EVAs, and was NASA’s expert in orbital rendezvous maneuvers.

Right from the outset of the book, Dr. Aldrin disagrees with NASA’s current plans which put so much money and effort into the dead end path which led to the now decommissioned space shuttles.

He pulls no punches in stating his fundamental disagreement with most of NASA’s plans.

I can sum up his feeling about going back to the moon succinctly as, “Been there; done that.”

This book is a rejection of most government projects to “explore” near space or the moon.

With the International Space Station (ISS) now in operation, Dr. Aldrin sees future efforts in low-Earth orbit and even moon-based exploration as being the province of private enterprise rather than a place for big government expenditures.

Instead he sees governments’ role in space focusing on visionary projects such as visiting asteroids and the colonization of Mars.

There are already plans for space tourism with tickets being sold, and private companies are supplying the ISS via their own cargo vehicles instead of government rockets.

That is the beginning of what Dr. Aldrin sees as the right way to build a space program.

Another strong disagreement he has with current policies is in just who the U.S. is partnering with in space.

As he sees it, it is a big mistake for the two next biggest countries to be completely left out of our plans. Why, he asks, are India and China, with rapidly advancing space programs of their own, not included in current space projects already spearheaded by the West?

Why force them to waste money and time duplicating what NASA did in the 1960s when every country interested in space programs could and should be collaborating?

As Dr. Aldrin writes on page 31, “There is great need to steer clear of a counterproductive space race with China in their admitted goal to be second back to the moon.”

The Eagle landed at Tranquility Base 66 years after the Wright Brothers first flew and, by working with China, Dr. Aldrin believes humanity could have a presence on Mars just 66 years after Apollo 11 took off.

Besides advocating the reliance on private enterprise as the primary moon and Earth orbit project leaders and funders and collaborating with rather than competing with China, Dr. Aldrin outlines a very different path to Mars from that currently envisioned by NASA.

Making use of his expertise in orbital mechanics (the subject of his doctoral work at MIT), and building on the work of NASA’s Tom Paine, he proposes to place transporters in permanent orbit between Earth and Mars.

The “Aldrin Mars Cycler” would serve as a continuous link between Earth and Mars. Passengers would travel up to the Cycler in relatively simple and inexpensive transports, perhaps civilian owned and operated.

At the Mars end they would debark to one of the Martian moons and then on to the surface.

This is a vastly more efficient method than the current plans to launch a disposable Earth-Mars vehicle from the surface each time.

The Aldrin Cycler would be reused for years, coasting virtually all the time with minor course corrections and acceleration to accommodate added cargo mass.

This is an extension of his objections to the space shuttle. Placing humans and cargo in the same vessel was incredibly expensive because people obviously need much more protection than freeze-dried ice cream.

There wouldn’t be days of national mourning if a cargo shipment crashed or was lost in space because it wasn’t given enough redundant capabilities.

In addition to describing the Aldrin Cycler, “Mission to Mars” looks at the history of the space program, moves on to explore the business case for privatization of local space, and proposes utilizing asteroids as sources of raw materials for a sustainable Earth.

The first step toward colonization of Mars involves robotic explorers which are only semi-autonomous and controlled not from Earth with very long communications delays, but from a human occupied base on Phobos, only light seconds from the surface.

The book runs 250 pages, is an easy read despite the technical nature of the subject, and would be the perfect gift for your favorite space happy teen or adult.

But why should we go to Mars? That’s the question always asked first by penny-pinching politicians and short sighted anti-technology luddites who only want “practical” projects funded.

In Chapter 5, Dr. Aldrin quotes science fiction writer Larry Niven:“‘The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn’t have a space program. And if we become extinct because we don’t have a space program, it’ll serve us right. That is insight, and I can’t say it much more directly than Niven has.”

Asked if early pulp science fiction influenced him, Dr. Aldrin told Perihelion, “I’m sure it did. In grade school I had to write a paper and read a number of Isaac Asimov and H. G. Wells books.”

He went on to say he was always impressed by how well Dr. Asimov explained astronomical concepts. “Asimov had a way of taking astronomy and making [complex concepts] very clear.”

Dr. Aldrin also reminisced about spending part of a day with Arthur C. Clark in Sri Lanka during 2001 and emphasized just how much incredible progress researchers have made recently in astronomy.

Speaking of his experiences with CETI and astronomy in general, he told Perihelion, “We’ve learned [an enormous amount] in just 25 to 30 years. Not just about galaxies but now [we are learning] about the planets orbiting [other stars].”

Referring to his own first science fiction book, “Encounter With Tiber,” Dr. Aldrin said, “I feel very good about my first science fiction book [which] came out in 1996 but which I started in 1975 after my return from the moon. There wasn’t even confirmation of any extrasolar planets at that time.”

Talking about his work at NASA he described his early work with zero buoyancy training—that is, learning to work underwater in conditions similar to weightlessness in space.

“I feel that the neutral buoyancy training equipped me with the confidence [necessary] for a spacewalk.”

Although he says didn’t initially come up with the idea, Dr. Aldrin pioneered water tank training. (“Mission to Mars,” Buzz Aldrin and Leonard David, National Geographic Society) 5stars—John McCormick


Hot Air in a Vacuum

BEN BOVA IS NO STRANGER to writing award winning fiction. With a career spanning over 40 years and over 100 books to his name, I was a bit disappointed by his latest, “Farside.”

Astronomers and engineers are building an interferometer on the far side of the moon to get the first look at an Earth-like planet, Sirius C, which is fairly close, nine light years away. The real problem with getting the interferometer isn’t the logistics of moving a giant mirror across the surface of the moon without damaging it, or the murder mystery that is awkwardly tossed into the plot to show acts of sabotage: the real problem is all of the cardboard characters that can’t seem to work through any of their banal personal problems.

I’m not sure what Bova was trying to do here. If the writing was supposed to be some sort of nostalgic throwback to early science fiction or if the character interaction was tongue-in-cheek and it just didn’t work. Bringing up that characters have trivial thoughts and insecurities to add a level of realism is one thing, having these thoughts and insecurities be their primary preoccupation is another.

The only character who has more than one-dimension is Grant Simpson, an engineer who is trying to work out past demons. Grant began taking steroids to work more and spends more time outside than he should, overexposing himself to farsideradiation. Finding that his liver is failing he opts to use nanotechnology to heal his liver and increase his work performance. Shortly thereafter, he finds that nanomachines are attacking the Farside Observatory. The one realistic character soon gets plagued with faults that made the other characters boring. He repeatedly asks Dr. Kristine Cardenas, the world expert on nanotechnology, if his nanomachines are doing the attacking. She has to tell him over and over again that they are not; even using a microscope to prove that they die once they leave his body, only for him to continue asking if they are doing the attacking.

The other men in the story are solely driven by lust, greed, or ambition. For example, the director of Farside, Jason Uhlrich, is driven to win the Nobel Prize even if he has to cut every corner and risk everyone on the base’s lives. Carter McClintock is a trust fund baby all grown up but he can’t touch the money unless he does some sort of community service. He goes to the moon to see if the interferometer is financially viable but spends all his time planning on bedding every woman he runs into.

And don’t get me started on the women. Each one seems to represent some sort of sexist stereotype: from the mousey, timid assistant to the gold-digger that sleeps her way to the top. Even the leading nanotechnology expert is constantly being rated on her attractiveness. Sure, some people think in these terms. But we don’t have to have a novel full of them.

The novel isn’t a total wash. The description of how Sirius C could gain an atmosphere is fascinating. Along with how the blind Uhlrich had his brain worked on to get tactile and auditory cues to show up as pictures in his mind. The nanotechnology arguments that keep coming up sound like badly veiled gun control arguments, both pro and con, which are overdone a bit.

If you are a fan of the “Grand Tour Series” be sure to pick this up, or if you just like tales of lunar life. But if you are looking for a set of great characters mixed in a great story like the “Academy Series” by Jack McDevitt you’ll be disappointed. Instead you get this lunar tale with characters that come right out of an early John Grisham novel. (“Farside,” Ben Bova, Tor Books) 2 stars — Adam Armstrong


Long on Action, Short on Character

NEILL BLOMKAMP IS A MAN WHO loves his action. Wielding shaky-cam, slow motion and sprays of viscera with an expert hand (save for an early scene with a bit too much shake), watching the South-African born director unleash bursts of gore-soaked fury in “Elysium” is an absolute joy.

It’s during these moments when his characters feel fully realized. Max DeCosta’s (Matt Damon) tortured hero is at his most desperate (and his most human) when fighting for his life. Likewise, Sharlto Copley’s grinning sociopath Kruger is best seen when manning any number of futuristic weapons. Kruger is a sneering predator, doggedly pursuing Damon’s hero and having the time of his life doing so.

Yet whenever Blomkamp steps away from the action, it feels as though he’s just killing time before the real killing begins anew.

The setting, at least, has been assembled with care. Set in the year 2154, the wage gap has been stretched to the length of a solar system. The ultra-rich live in sunny paradise on Elysium, a utopian space station in orbit around Earth. Those left behind are stuck in a planet-wide slum; an Earth unified in poverty and unspeakable living conditions. Illegal immigration is still the hot-button issue, but now people cross the border in search of health care, hoping to break into one of Elysium's many insta-cure med bays before being deported back to Earth.

Max DeCosta is a member of those huddled masses. A career criminal trying to go straight, he is injured horribly at his blue-collar job and has mere days to live. Desperate and broke, DeCosta agrees to do one last job in exchange for a ride up to Elysium, but of course things go horribly awry and our hero is forced to fight for the fate of humanity (as is often the case).

Damon and Copley are the standouts by far, but “Elysium's white-collar villains leave much to be desired. Jodie Foster and William Fichtner are both boxed into the roles of glorified cartoon villains. As the Elysium elite, they crave money and elysiumpower above all else and liken the working class to cockroaches, yet have neither defining features nor personality. It’s almost as though Blomkamp, realizing these characters could never don a cybernetic suit of armor or pick up a computer-controled grenade launcher, simply cast them aside.

Even Damon, despite a strong performance, doesn’t emerge unscathed from this simplistic characterization. Blomkamp spends the early portions of “Elysium” painting DeCosta as a warm-hearted soul beneath a thuggish exterior, but does so with far too heavy a hand. Rather than letting Damon’s humanity come out naturally, Blomkamp relies on frequent flashbacks to DeCosta’s childhood, an orphan raised by nuns who forms an early bond with his love interest Frey (Alice Braga). These flashbacks are the product of some entirely different film; soaked in slow motion, lens flare and sappy melodrama. In blatantly stating how Max, despite his criminal actions, is a good guy at heart, “Elysium” robs him of any significant character development.

All of this regards “Elysium” as a standalone film. And it is, at least on a technical level—a totally original idea free of any traces of remake, sequel or adaptation. Viewing it in the context of Blomkamp’s “District 9”, however, is an altogether different story. “Elysium” is “District 9” set on a larger scale and with a few pieces swapped out.

The basic formula is the same. Take a lead character who’s kind of a jerk, have him face his imminent demise, and watch him slowly (and bumpily) transform into a real hero. Both films put a futuristic spin on a modern political issue, and center their villains in the heart of the military-industrial complex. Both heroes undergo painful, unpleasant body modification. Both have a scene where the hero, trapped in a firefight and out of options, picks up an unconventional item and hurls it at his adversary. Everything “Elysium” excels at, “District 9” did better, and there’s nothing “Elysium” can tout that’s above its predecessor. For Blomkamp, this isn’t so much a step forward as it is a slight step to the side.

First and foremost, “Elysium” is a science fiction action film; on both of those levels it is a rousing success. The action sequences are far and away the best part of the film, while its science fiction setting has both the political undertones and the minute detail present in classic science fiction. Try to dig any deeper than that and it quickly crumbles apart. It doesn’t make “Elysium” a bad film. For a pure adrenaline rush, it’s exciting as anything you’ll see in theaters this year. Just don’t think too much about it once it’s over. (“Elysium,” directed by Neill Blomkamp, TriStar Pictures) 3stars—Adam Paul


Skirting the Edges of Engagement

HARD SCIENCE IS STRANGELY HARD to find in today’s speculative fiction, but Kim Stanley Robinson delivers it like a smashed birthday party piñata in his 17th novel, “2312.” A snow-globe city on rails outruns the sun each day on Mercury. Asteroids, hollowed out and converted into human habitats, convey people to and from colonies throughout the solar system, and the life span is now 200 years. Augmented humans download body apps that range from a talking2013 internal computer to purring vocal cords, songbird implants, and “double lock and key” genitals. The novel is a riveting yet revolting feast of fun ideas, with one missing element: the power of story to engage the reader. Rarely have I worked so hard to slog through 500 pages full of fascinating futuristic concepts and startling images.

The opening scene is vivid and shocking. Robinson’s prose explodes with adjectives to celebrate sunrise on Mercury. Crazed sunwalkers, clad in space suits, walk the rocky surface just to feast their eyes on the fantastic dance of the corona, a perpetual snarl of hot and hotter, a thunderhead of fire burning furiously, with long spicules of flame, and “shifting whirlpools in the storms of burning.” Watchers of the Mercurial dawn sometimes become entranced and watch until their retinas burn; some are blinded, killed, or even “cooked in groups of a dozen or more”—and so we should worry about Swan Er Hong, our heroine, who “skirts the edge of safety” and runs in giant low-g (low gravity) leaps, a “little booted silver ant,” barely making it in time to the city on rails before it outruns the apocalypse of the morning sun.

If this doesn’t convince us Swan is a heroine like no other, she also runs with wolves, howls, hunts, and poaches a rabbit for dinner in one of the traveling terrariums she has designed for human habitat and preservation of Earth’s species. Swan is one of the “spacers” who abandoned poor, dirty Earth to colonize other planets in our solar system. Earth’s masterpieces of art have been copied, the originals sent to museums on other planets for safe keeping. And so feral, outdoorsy, terrarium-designing Swan also appreciates art exhibits and Beethoven concerts on Mercury.

Joining her on Mercury is a big, froggy man she dislikes at first sight, Fitz Wahram from Titan. He shares Swan’s grief over the death of Alex, a beloved leader from upper management, but strives to shield Swan from the danger of “knowing”—i.e., Alex died because she knew something. This gives Swan additional reasons to dislike Wahram, but the toad-man can whistle whole scores of Beethoven, which helps pass time after a terrorist attack leaves Swan and Wahram walking for weeks on end in a tunnel. With “a bit of lark in her brain” she whistles along with him. The end of the long, musical walk through the tunnel spells the end of a newly formed habit, and Wahram delivers pages of interesting, autistic views of habits, or as he describes them, pseudoiteratives. His conflicted feelings for the difficult, reckless, augmented Swan make him an endearing hero, but this is no romance novel. Wahram brings Swan home to meet his family, casually introducing her to his wife—and to his husband, who used to be his wife, but they can’t seem to remember who is who in the multi-sexed “family.” Instead of a romantic come-together scene for Swan and Wahram, what follows is a clinical account of sex between two dimorphic humans.

If the romance angle is clinical, so is the “whodunit” of Alex’s death and the attack on Terminator, the traveling city. It took a hundred pages for this novel to provide a surprising plot twist with the introduction of Kiran, a young man Swan impulsively whisks from Earth, illegally and in secret. It takes another hundred pages for him to show up again. He does serve the plot, ultimately, though the plot is a bit like a wardrobe rod from which Robinson hangs his futuristic ideas and outbursts of purple prose. His love of classical music, literature, art, sex, physics, biology and the universe in general push this story like an overloaded train across the narrative tracks. The novel is freighted with facts, statistics and glorious anecdotes about our little blue planet, third from the sun—and if those words sound familiar, let me credit the group Five-Man Electrical Band. Robinson borrows lines such as “when you’re strange” by The Doors and paraphrases “hope is the thing with feathers,” perhaps trusting that all readers know their Emily Dickinson, as well as variations on Eliot: “the center had not held; things fell apart.”

Robinson and his characters just can’t help but love stupid, selfish humanity with all its feelings, flaws and achievements. Robinson glories in the kind of scientific “what ifs” that this genre is known for. Smartphones were first seen on “Star Trek,” driverless cars in “Blade Runner.” If today’s technology shows the influence of Frank Herbert, Gene Roddenberry, and Philip K. Dick, Asimov, Heinlein, and Verne, then we can only hope some of Robinson’s visions come to life in future generations. A talking computer inside our heads? Sign me up for the app. I’ll pass on the extra genitals, thank you, but yes, yes, yes to Mercury and the domed city that travels like a train around the planet closest to our sun. And if, heaven forbid, alarmist ideas about global warming should come to pass, and a Noah’s Ark of animals must be parachuted down for a “rewilding” of the Earth, you can sell me a ticket to watch.

“2312” is a nominee for the 2013 Hugo Awards. Robinson is a winner when it comes to the science and special effects, but not page-turning suspense and characters a reader can identify with. How does Swan outwit the villains, in the end? Does she ultimately defeat them, or is the door wide open for a sequel? Aside from a box of eyeballs (what the heck!) and a plot involving small pebbles versus high tech (a bit derivative of “Star Wars” and the Ewoks), the answers didn’t interest me. Then I saw a Facebook meme—“Three words for a writer: Make me care”—and understood what had gone wrong in this novel. (“2312,” Kim Stanley Robinson, Orbit) 4starsCarol Kean




Two ad


Film Reviews