January 22, 2015

What's wrong with this picture?

"She's beautiful enough -- in her way -- of course," the man admitted, entirely unimpressed. "But the, so is a Radelegian cateagle, so is a spire of frozen helium, and so is a six-foot-long armor-piercing punch." -- Second Stage Lensman, E. E. Smith

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Engineer's Disease at 10:35 PM | Comments (7) | Add Comment
Post contains 48 words, total size 1 kb.

1 Helium kinda doesn't freeze.

Posted by: Wonderduck at January 22, 2015 11:19 PM (jGQR+)

2 Exactly so. It's physically impossible for helium to freeze.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at January 22, 2015 11:25 PM (+rSRq)


Authors sometimes toss off things like this just because they sound good, without really thinking them through.

There was a short story by James Blish about the first flight of a starship with an experimental FTL drive. They were trying to reach Alpha Centauri, but ended up hell-and-gone a long way from either star.

At one point one of the characters tosses off the statement that Alpha Centauri was 100 light years closer than the Sun.

As long as no one parks a black hole between the two stars, then that statement is geometrically impossible.

There are not one, but two examples of that in Railgun S where the writer pulled a number out of his ear without really thinking about it, that I've been meaning to post about. Maybe I'll do it tomorrow.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at January 22, 2015 11:36 PM (+rSRq)

4 Under enough pressure, helium will freeze into a solid. I'm not sure how you could actually look at it under those conditions....

Posted by: Mark A. Flacy at January 23, 2015 12:54 AM (PClZt)

5 It would have to be in a pressure chamber, but it probably couldn't form a spire.

Posted by: muon at January 23, 2015 12:57 AM (XIprt)

6 Under enough pressure, helium will freeze into a solid.

Considering that you have to do Very Bad Things to it for it to freeze, and it's nearly impossible to tell the difference between solid and liquid helium, I'm okay with my original statement.

Posted by: Wonderduck at January 23, 2015 01:12 AM (jGQR+)

 I'm okay with my original statement.

You even said "kinda"
Of course when Smith wrote this, they probably thought that Helium HAD to freeze at some point...that they just hadn't discovered yet. 
Alternatively, all the examples are oxymorons. After all, if punch has a low enough PH to pierce armor, one can't really drink it. and ones party is going to suck. 

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at January 25, 2015 12:02 AM (DnAJl)

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