First Contact By E.S. Strout


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Post February 20, 2009, 11:10:21 AM

First Contact By E.S. Strout

Like a lot of Gino’s work, there is some technological silliness and flat-out ignoring of known science in this one. Don’t know whether it’s supposed to be an alternate universe or if it’s just an inattention to easily researched details, but these things tend to distract a lot of readers. Needless to say, I’m one of them.

For instance, in our universe, a Martian sidereal year is nearly two earth years. In this story, two annual rotations (gotta mean two Martian years) are equivalent to two earth years. I can’t even begin to imagine how that would work.

Tachyon real-time Mars imagery would be a vastly greater technological leap than the Manhattan Project—if it is even possible. Kind of the same thing as the “experimental gravity drive”. . .that might just exceed the speed of light. Once again, if it even comes close to reaching the speed of light, we’d know it because it would destroy this chunk of the galaxy, starting with our solar system. Even NASA would notice that.

And oh yeah, if they really can retrace the “trajectory” of a rocket that (after several mid-course corrections) landed two earth years before, then they would end-up nuking the spot in space where Cape Canaveral was. In our universe both planets are moving through space at a nifty clip, and at different speeds, to boot. There are more examples, but why bother?

The funny thing is, I really liked this story. I think it’s the best thing Dr. Strout has published in Aphelion, so far. No kidding.
Sending booze and cigars instead of nuclear bombs at a threatening alien that you didn’t even know existed is a freakin’ fantastic story. I found the characters to be believable, well fleshed, and acting in manners consistent with their descriptions. Not a mean feat by any standard.

I think a lot of the problems with the setting in this story were due to the parochial approach. Why Mars? Why set just a few years ago with such mundane technology? Much of the aforementioned silliness was derived from trying to fit the story to such a familiar setting. I mean, not much you could do about them launching a missile if it would take three months (minimum transit time for unmanned vehicles) for you to send your package—be it nuclear or nicotine.

This same story could have been told of a confrontation on a planet that Earth forces were exploring and that we thought was uninhabited. Maybe we’re on one continent and they are on this planet’s version of Antarctica. Maybe we’ve set up a base on their moon and the warring aliens have oopsy-daisyed themselves into a nuclear winter. At least this could explain an advanced technological society or two that lives deep underground and mistakes our probes for the enemy.

The truly cool thing about First Contact is its portrayal of the benefits of finding common ground with an alien and/or alien culture. That story could have been told without having to strain the reader’s suspension of disbelief to the point where it brings them out of the story. Too bad it wasn’t.

Bill Wolfe
"I am Susan Ivanova. . . .I am the Right Hand of Vengence. . .I am Death Incarnate, and the last living thing that you are ever going to see. God sent me."

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Post February 20, 2009, 12:00:01 PM

Thanks, Bill. Your comments are always insightful and welcome. An English Composition prof told me once, "if the science doesn't fit the story, bend it a little."

gino
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Post February 20, 2009, 01:21:49 PM

First Contact By ES Strout

gino_ss wrote:. . . . . . An English Composition prof told me once, "if the science doesn't fit the story, bend it a little."

gino


Interesting thing to say, I wonder what he was thinking. The example I like to use is James Bond. Now, if he gets away from the villain by just flapping his arms really hard and flying away, people would be outraged. I mean, no jet packs or antigravity boots or anything else, just flapped his arms and flew away.

Well, wouldn't Mr. B. . .JB. . .be just bending the science, a little? Most good Science Fiction writers know enough science to avoid pulling the reader out of the story. The rest of us just try not to explain too much. Just push the button on the gizmo and travel between planets. Period.

I guess what I'm suggesting is that you bend the story to the science--which is really nothing but a tool that we invented to help us explain the universe. But writing, on the other hand, is magic.

Bill Wolfe
"I am Susan Ivanova. . . .I am the Right Hand of Vengence. . .I am Death Incarnate, and the last living thing that you are ever going to see. God sent me."

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Post February 20, 2009, 09:01:47 PM

I like this one! Especially the twist at the end!

The science needed a little tweaking but for the most part I could live with it. However a rocket’s trajectory in all probability would not follow a traceable curve like projectile motion. The rocket’s trajectory might be close even with course corrections, but with the vastness of space a pinpoint target found by plotting a rocket’s trajectory from parts of its final arc would be near impossible.

I don't know if Seti would be interested in low radio signals from our solar system. I don't know much about their research into the universe, but I think they train their Diskes for signals from other stars system! But like I said, I really don't know much about them.

But the science is only dressing for this story. The characters took on real personalities and that came from good dialogue crafting. And sensory input did added to the story; integrated into the story and not just added on as an after-thought when editing. Nice!

In this story we see that aliens might not be so much different from us!
We have wars, they have wars, we like our booze and smokes, they like theirs.




I liked that characters in this one, and I really liked the ending.

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Post March 05, 2009, 08:51:23 AM

First contact

Within this whole conflict of Science versus Fiction, we need to remember it takes a little of both to produce Science Fiction. Sometimes it leans to the left and becomes SCIENCE Fiction. Other times it leans to the right and becomes science FICTION.

This piece is definately science FICTION. I'm sure that even the author would agree that this story is not to be taken seriously. It is almost to the point of Fantasy - just insert elves and gnomes under the ice on Mars.

I personally believe the author is too good a writer for this kind of dalleying, but to each his own.

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