Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


You’ll Always Have the Burden With You
by Ken Liu

by Aliya Whiteley

Adventures of Doria Quinn
by Joe Occhipinti

by Nathaniel Williams

My Soul to Keep
by Eric Del Carlo

Voices of { }
by Sean Eret

Foggy Planet Breakdown
by Peter Wood

Subcasting the Pain
by Erin Lale

Expansion of Space
by Brian Biswas

by Simon Kewin


Journey to the Bottom of Nothing
by Eric M. Jones

Giving the Gift of Science
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




Giving the Gift of Science

By John McCormick

IS IT OUR RESPONSIBILITY to educate as well as entertain when we give a gift? For some recipients, I think so. That’s why I recently gave a 6-year-old grand nephew a night-light shaped like the moon. His parents were impressed but he really loved it and it replaced his old night-light that very day. (It’s listed below as Milton’s Moon.)

So with a bit of thought I gave a scientific gift which may lead him to think about science in the future, especially because I plan to follow that up with future science-oriented gifts appropriate to his changing interests and age.

This is stealth science education which can’t hurt and may help nurture curiosity. Indirectly, this is part of the mandate of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science)—that is, to promote interest in science and science education. And what would science fiction be without “science?” Mere fiction.

Without science you might have no option but to read Emily Bronte or Louisa May Alcott instead of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s “Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus.”

With this in mind, I present my 2013 Holiday Gift Guide, an assortment of “nice” gifts which will thrill the kids and not annoy the parents; gifts for the parents, too, or any other adults with an interest in science.

The trick is to match the person to the gift and remember it is supposed to be enjoyable, not a form of punishment. That said, this is my pick of the best science-oriented gifts.

The cost of the gifts included in this guide range from zero to six figures, reflecting all tastes and budgets. It is my hope that you’ll find some interesting selections that you hadn’t considered before.

Old Science Books and Medical Texts

You obviously have a computer and can probably burn a CD or DVD, so for the hardcore science-oriented recipient what is better than a science related book? I’ve hardly ever seen a science book I didn’t like. You can buy an autographed copy of Einstein’s papers or a used set of Feynman’s lectures through AbeBooks. Cost would range from $50 to $15,000.

Free Gifts

But you can also download old books for no cost, burn them on a 50-cent DVD, and gift a dozen books. For example, you can find “Principia Mathematica,” either the one by Newton explaining calculus and gravity, or the one by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell, which takes about 200 pages to "prove" that 1+1=2.

For a more adult audience (such as my physician) there is a text written at Edinboro University by someone well known to all Baker Street Irregulars, “A Manual of the Operations of Surgery, for the Use of Senior Students, House Surgeons, and Junior Practitioners.” Illustrated by Joseph Bell, F.R.C.S. EDIN., Lecturer on Clinical Surgery, Surgeon to the Royal Infirmary and to the Eye Infirmary, and Late Demonstrator of Anatomy in the University of Edinburgh.

Or, “Aids to Forensic Medicine and Toxicology” by W. G. Aitchison Robertson, M.D., D.Sc., F.R.C.P.E.

Or, “Notes on Nursing,” by Florence Nightingale.

Or a psychology/sociology landmark text, “Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” by Charles Mackay.

Check out or for millions of movies, videos, music, and books, all free to download and copy to a disc as a gift. You can do this legally as long as you don’t sell them.


Sometimes a gift can be simple, cost-free, yet highly valuable. A prime example of this is the offer of a free education from an assortment of totally free online schools. You could package them as a gift by printing out pertinent information including those classes you think might be of particular interest to the recipient. Two of the best are:

Basic science—Kahn Academy K-12 including calculus, physics, etc.

At the college level, provides courses from molecular gastronomy to quantum computing. It offers certificate programs from the top universities in the world including Harvard, MIT, and more—no cost, entirely online, and complete with homework and grading.


One of my favorite pursuits growing up, and I’m still growing mentally at least, was and is astronomy. As a kid I had a 60 mm refractor telescope and my friend Rob had a 4 inch Newtonian. I became a scientist and science journalist, he became a musician and composer. Size does matter.

You can give many kinds of gifts related to astronomy from the moon nightlight I mentioned before, to a giant telescope larger than some of the professional scopes in observatories. You can even rent a telescope as a gift.

Remote Telescopes

The following list includes free or subscription telescopes in remote clear-sky locations which can be accessed online and controlled by subscribers.

The Observing With NASA website is part of a NASA-funded project to make the MicroObservatory robotic telescopes accessible to all audiences who want to appreciate and understand the amazing images and data from NASA’s space science missions. Using many of the same technologies that NASA uses to capture astronomical images by controlling telescopes in space, you can control a sophisticated ground-based telescope from the convenience of your computer.

The Bradford Robotic Telescope is a collection of telescopes and other instruments on Mount Teide, Tenerife, which you can rent via PayPal.

Other remote viewing telescope sites include:,,,, and

Physical Telescopes

You might consider a six-inch (long) handheld brass telescope with wooden box from Pirate Navigation by ITDC, $8.5 to $20.

(Reminder: if you buy on Amazon by clicking through any of the links in this article, it costs you the same, and “Perihelion” gets a small commission, allowing you to painlessly support the magazine without directly handing over hard currency.)

For that spouse or sky enthralled family, there’s the Celestron Sky-Watcher 10-inch Dobsonian Telescope S700. This is a 10-inch (254 mm) Dobsonian-style Newtonian, 1200 mm focal length (f/5), 2-inch Crayford-style focuser with 1.25-inch adaptor, eyepiece, rocker-mount with Teflon bearings and tension clutch, in a foldup truss design for easy storage.

Want to spend a bit more on a gift for that rich uncle you want to impress? How about a Meade 20-inch MAX2-ACF Telescope for $36,000? This sucker weighs over 250 pounds and is inches larger than some of the telescopes I’ve used in professional observatories.

If you lust for aperture, as every true amateur astronomer does, but lack the funds and are not skilled enough to build your own (or are realistic enough to know you’ll never finish the project), I spotted a used 20-inch F4 Truss-Tube Ultra-light Motorized Dobsonian Telescope with Premium Galaxy Optics for only $7,000.

It’s worth checking Amazon for used items.

For a bit less you can buy a Meade 1645-05-03 LightBridge 16-inch Truss Tube Dobsonian Telescope, Open Truss (Black) for only $2000 without the bells and whistles.

Sun Worship

The closest star to the Earth is also the only celestial body which changes visibly in the human time frame. The moon looks the same way it did a thousand years ago, at least through any home telescope.

And, yes, with a really big scope in perfect seeing conditions you can see changes on Jupiter over a few days, and the moons move daily, but old Sol actually changes a lot and you can observe some changes over just a few hours at very low magnification. Solar observing also lets you pursue your hobby 24-7.

But merely putting a solar dark filter on your telescope won’t do much, although you may see a few sunspots. What you need for solar observation is a very narrow filter which only passes one hydrogen atom emission line, hydrogen alpha. Top quality filters alone can easily cost $20,000. Fortunately you can see a lot with a specialty solar telescope costing far less. The sun is relatively quiet just now but it will become active again.

For $700, the 400mm f/10 Coronado PST-H-Alpha Personal Solar Telescope comes ready for solar observing. It won’t show as much solar detail as <0.7 au scopes which cost about $1000 more, but it is still impressive.

Other Astronomical Gifts

For everything from a pendant filled with space dust to thin slices of interesting meteorites check out House of Onyx.

Milton Moon is a 3D wall hanging/nightlight with remote control. Here’s a review from a 6-year old, “It’s good, I like it. It’s another good nightlight to have. Because it has more light and because it looks like outer space in my bedroom.” —Oliver, MA

This stunner from FAO Schwartz is a 40 inch × 70 inch hanging solar system with glow in the dark planets. $100 with 40 removable icons such as space vehicles and stars.


Expand their universe with this $89 Hoberman Mega Sphere Spectrum which expands to 4-1/2 feet.


A life-sized plastic skeleton on a stand, with wheels for $300.

Material Science

3B Scientific U21875 Plastic Budget Hand Held Spectroscope for $13.


A child safe GeoSafari Tuff Scope, $29. Can be used with a video camera and magnification up to 400×.

On the high end, demonstrating that Jeff Bezos is out to rule the world, what scientist could resist the 3B Scientific Scanning Tunneling Microscope for a modest $15,304? “Complete system with scanning head for scanning a line of the sample surface with the point of measurement, based attenuator vibration control device with computer interface, a graphite sample, and a sample of gold.”


For the perfumer wannabe in your life, there’s this perfume science kit, $60, from FAO Schwartz.


A quad blade RC helicopter with camera under $100. It is actually on sale for a lot less at times. I bought one and it is incredibly easy to fly. The camera is remotely controlled.

General Science

With the Dangerous Book for Boys Science Set from Hammacher Schlemmer, a boy or girl can conduct 60 chemistry and electronics experiments.


These won’t compete with the samples we got to see in a mineralogy course at Harvard’s Mallinckrodt building, but you can keep these on your desk. Various rock collections from bagged loose pieces to mounted and labeled collections starting under $20, from House of Onyx.


Fossil Collection (FO-100), $15, item #BH-FC-12/15. The collection contains 12 specimens including fossilized algae, ammonite, horn coral, crinoid stem, brachiopod, dinosaur bone, wood, gastropod, sea urchin, shark tooth, turritella, and trilobite, also from House of Onyx.

Dinosaur Egg Nest, (FO-139), $12,000.00. Free shipping. For more serious students. The collection varies daily but this one item recently offered for sale included: fossilized dinosaur egg nest from the Xixia Basin, Henan, China, of five brown fossilized eggs in a rust color matrix. It sits on a wood base with a lucite covering.

House of Onyx also offers the usual ammonites and trilobites as well as coprolite (dino dung).

If you need to pacify your better half because you bought a dinosaur tooth for yourself, House of Onyx is also one of the top wholesale jewelers in the world with everything you might want from certified gemstones to estate jewelry. Personal Note: I’ve dealt with this company for four decades with complete satisfaction.

Science Fiction

Last, but far from least, how about a donation to “Perihelion” or share our Web address with fellow fans or potential fans?

Or, perhaps you’ve heard that there is going to be a Museum of Science Fiction built in Washington, D.C. According to its developers, the museum will be a center of gravity where art and science are powered by imagination. It will be the world’s first dedicated comprehensive science fiction museum, covering the history of the genre across the arts and providing a narrative on its relationship to the real world.

Adults Only

Don’t get too excited. Although what follows is definitely a list of “gifts for adults only,” it isn’t x-rated. This section contains a selection of gifts (or, more likely, self-gifts) which are most appropriate for adults and, in some instances, senior citizens. At best, most of these would bring out the “I’m bored” monster in most under 21-year-olds. The whining paean of “are we there yet?” takes on a whole new meaning when trapped with a pouting teen on a sailboat.

Have you ever felt an irresistible urge to spend thousands of dollars for the opportunity to throw up in the company of a small group of friends and strangers, but don’t want to buy a dozen bottles of Dom Perignon and organize an all night alcohol binge? Well, now you can follow in the footsteps of thousands of civilians like yourself, and the wheel tracks of Stephen Hawking, and board a special airplane complete with airsick bag.

What was once reserved for a few journalists and all astronaut candidates, the Vomit Comet is something anyone who passes basic medical exams can “enjoy” for themselves. As Buzz Aldrin told “Perihelion” in our recent exclusive interview, underwater pzero-gractice is the only way to really gain experience in zero-g working conditions. But for those who just want to experience weightless, and not learn enough about space flight to repair the Hubble or work on the outside of the ISS (International Space Station), check out this experience either as a gift or a self-gift.

For $4,950 plus tax, you can reserve a flight on ZERO-G, the modified 727 used to simulate the zero-g environment of space orbits. Friends and family not wishing to carry barf bags can participate in the ground prep portion of the flight for only $195.

“It was exhilarating. It was great to experience both lunar gravity and weightlessness again. I hope that everyone interested in adventure tourism and space will participate in this amazing opportunity,” said Dr. Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 Astronaut.

“It was amazing. The zero-g part was wonderful. I could have gone on and on. Space here I come,” remarked Professor Stephen Hawking, Astrophysicist.

Flights are scheduled for a number of different U.S. cities in 2014.

And for the less adventurous explorer, there is an online gift shop.

Attack of the Space Virgins!

OK, Branson isn’t really attacking, but he is offering space flight virgins (virtually everyone) an opportunity to venture to the edge of space and beyond!

The price is a bit steep at $250,000 per seat, but, unlike many Earthbound flight reservations, this one is actually refundable.

Although the price includes no inflight service, there is extensive preflight training and even a uniform. You will probably also get to visit Branson’s private Necker Island home. Nearly 600 people have already made reservations so you need to get in line quickly because your flight will be scheduled based on when you booked it.

Lynx, Space-Ex Flights

For a measly $100,000, you can reserve a seat on the Lynx II sub orbital space vehicle.

But that’s not all, if you know someone building their own rocket, XCOR sells a piston-type rocket propellent pump which they say is more reliable than the traditional turbine versions. The XCOR pump is suitable for kerosene, Lox, and other common propellants.

NASA-Related Gifts

Ever wondered what astronaut ice cream tastes like? Pick up a tube of freeze-dried Neapolitan space ice cream for $3 at The Space Store.

The same website also offers a wide variety of shuttle uniform patches, even a $200 plaque with pieces attached that have actually been flown on shuttle missions. In the executive gift section you will find things such as autographed astronaut photos. Buzz Aldrin photos on the moon and on Earth run about $900 each.


Did the Indiana Jones movies speak to you in a special way? You’ll find a list of U.S. parks which are also preserved archeological sites at Archeological Parks in the U.S., where you can stop by for a tour or just wander around on your own. Sites range from Pennsylvania’s 600-year-old Native American village at Meadowcroft, and the Fort Pitt Museum in downtown Pittsburgh, to Painted Rocks Petroglyphs 90 miles southwest of Phoenix. There are a variety of sites with something near almost everyone in the U.S.

Another popular science-related gift lets you really get your hands dirty—a week or two of hard work at an archeological site where you volunteer to advance science at your own expense!

For archeology with a European flavor, La Sabraneque manages volunteer expeditions to assist professionals in France and Italy.

The Foundation for Latin American Anthropological Research (FLAAR) works on Mayan sites in Guatemala City. The work involves digital photography printing of Mayan vases. Evidently, some volunteer jobs are less dirty than others.

The U.S. Forest Service has similar volunteer programs based in the U.S.

And you can also find new volunteer opportunities at ArchaeologyFieldwork, resources for the archaeology community since 1996.

But for those who had enough of living like students from the time when they were students, and prefer vacations where there is four star service, there are luxury cruises which take you to exotic ports of archeological interest. Organized by the Archaeological Institute of America, travel is aboard smaller vessels and you visit more out of the way locations. There are both hands-off tours as well as cruises offering fieldwork experiences.

Is Eastern Europe more in line with your interests? Check Projects Abroad for descriptions of some volunteer archeological project opportunities in the old country.

Want to talk with the elephants in Africa, or surf in Peru while teaching local children in your off-hours? More luxury volunteer tourism opportunities are to be found at Elevate Destinations. These working vacations include pure vacation part of the time and volunteer work the rest of the day. According to the website, you can: assist teachers in their daily activities and help improve the future of disadvantaged children in Peru; help build a library in India or harvest organic farms in Laos; track endangered wildlife in South Africa and enjoy hands-on experiences with orphaned elephants; monitor lions in Kenya or assist local conservationists as they research sea turtles in Mexico.

The top site I found for those looking to research links to a wide variety of volunteer vacations is at Archaeolink.

Rather read about these adventures than sweat through them, or perhaps just learn a bit more before signing up? The Library of Congress has a list of print resources at Science Reference Services that describe a variety of adventure vacations, ecological vacations, and learning vacations. END

John McCormick is a trained physicist, science/technology journalist, and widely-published author with more than 17,000 bylines to his credit. He is a member of The National Press Club and the AAAS. His full bibliography can be accessed online.


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