October 01, 2012

Scientific errors

One of James Blish's books had a story in it about development of a new kind of star drive, and its first trip. They were trying to travel to Alpha Centauri, but ended up a long way further away. At one point after they finally figured out where they had ended up, one of them tossed off a comment that Alpha Centauri was actually about 70 light years closer than Sol.

Which is geometrically impossible. Since the systems are about 4 light years apart, one can never be more than 4 light years closer to one than to the other.

I was a smartassed kid and felt like sending a smartassed letter to him about it, but a combination of apathy and lack of knowledge about how to reach him meant I never did. And now I'm glad of it.

I just ran into another thing like that, in "Second Stage Lensman". Here's a line of dialog from Kinnison:

She's beautiful enough -- in her way -- of course. But then, so is a Radelegian cateagle, so is a spire of frozen helium, and so is a six-foot-long, armor-piercing punch.

So what's wrong with this picture?

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in General Entertainment at 04:59 PM | Comments (18) | Add Comment
Post contains 199 words, total size 1 kb.


Posted by: Wonderduck at October 01, 2012 05:12 PM (OzDz9)


Obviously not the case in that book (since you said "star drive"), but you could be more than 70 light years father from one than the other if your FTL thingamajigs run on one-way wormholes, like you can drive one block and be 3 blocks from where you started on a grid of one-way streets.

(I apologize for the imminent shortage of catgirls.)

Posted by: Mikeski at October 01, 2012 07:30 PM (1bPWv)

3 Wonderduck pedanted before I could!

Posted by: Pixy Misa at October 01, 2012 09:55 PM (PiXy!)

4 Yeah, well, here's one that's been bugging me since the late '70s.

At the end of the final episode of the original Battlestar Galactica series, they receive a transmission of the Apollo 11 moon landing. This is meant to make the audience feel that our intrepid explorers are nearing their destination.

However, *earlier* in the episode, they had received another transmission. This one was accompanied by video that showed the LEM *without its landing legs*.

In other words, they were flying away from Earth.

Posted by: Anachronda at October 02, 2012 07:59 PM (1c58W)


The "without landing legs" means it was in space after landing. It left the lower half behind when it took off.

The landing legs were part of the "descent stage". The "ascent stage" left the legs behind when it boosted into orbit.

In other words, film of the LEM with legs is earlier than film of the LEM without legs.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 02, 2012 08:35 PM (+rSRq)

6 I think Anachronda meant to say "away from the moon".   Which would be confusing; it does not make sense that they're headed towards Earth, because that transmission would have crossed their path after the one of the moon landing. 

In other words, they have missed the Earth and are headed away from it now.

Posted by: ubu at October 02, 2012 09:08 PM (GfCSm)

7 I read his post wrong, and he has a point. Sorry.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 03, 2012 05:04 AM (+rSRq)

8 Actually, now I see that we both read it wrong, but in different ways.  I thought he meant Apollo 11 was flying away from the moon; he meant Galactica was headed away from Earth.  Damn English and its unclear pronouns!

Posted by: ubu at October 03, 2012 06:11 AM (SlLGE)

9 Hmmmm...if anyone in the "Lensman" universe would be likely to encounter -- or engineer -- frozen helium, it would probably be a race like the frigid blooded Palainians, so maybe Kinnison picked up the "image" from his fellow Second Stage Lensman Nadrek(sp?).  (There's almost nothinig you can't rationalize if you try hard enough!)

Posted by: Dave Young at October 03, 2012 12:20 PM (GxTMf)

10 Has anyone else seen the old Lensman anime movie?  It wasn't too bad, really.  Cutting edge CG for the time.

Posted by: Toren at October 03, 2012 02:49 PM (oVXUb)

11 I saw the dubbed version (it's available on Amazon and BakaBT). The director made it too much like Star Wars.

In the original series, how are the Boskone as villains?

Posted by: muon at October 03, 2012 03:30 PM (JXm2R)


Something like 25 years ago, my then-girlfriend gave me a VHS tape of a half-hour anime called "Lensman". I gather that it isn't the only show ever based on the series, because what I vaguely remember about it doesn't match what anyone else says about it.

In that one, Kimball Kinnison is just another guy. A lensman crashes near him, and Kinnison finds the lensman as he's dying. He gives his lens to Kinnison, who thus becomes a lensman.

Which directly violates Smith's canon. A lens is tuned to one particular person. It vanishes when he dies, and while it exists, if anyone other than the owner touches it, they die.

And it went downhill from there. I thought it was terrible, and only watched it once.

"Boskone" is a good enemy in the actual series, but it isn't a person.

But the interesting thing is that the true nature of the struggle is never totally clear to most of the main characters in the series. It is only in the last book, Children of the Lens, that

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 03, 2012 04:03 PM (+rSRq)


This seems to be the one I had.

There seems to have been a TV series, too. I haven't seen it and don't know anything about it. But just from the description in ANN it's obvious that it ran roughshod over the canon, and I'm not interested.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 03, 2012 04:18 PM (+rSRq)

14 Grumble. I'm reading Children of the Lens now. The word "Ploor" has shown up three times so far, and every time the stupid spell checker changed it to "Floor".

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 03, 2012 04:46 PM (+rSRq)

15 That was the one. Apparently, the anime mixed in the silver age Green Lantern origin, which is ironic since the Lensmen pretty obviously inspired the Green Lantern Corps.

Boskone itself doesn't seem to, but are there antagonists for Kinnison among them that meet the "attractive" criterion for villains? (I'd say that Nero Wolfe's Arnold Zeck doesn't.)

On scientific errors, do E.E. Smith's inertialess ships hold up once you accept the basic concept?

Posted by: muon at October 03, 2012 06:17 PM (JXm2R)

16 While I don't know if the concept would actually work as shown, Doc Smith gets major points from me for continually and rigorously exploring the consequences and utility of his inertialess drive.  The evolution of warfare between inertialess ships actually feels like the kind of things that would happen between two warring parties using the same basic tech.

Posted by: metaphysician at October 03, 2012 06:34 PM (3GCAl)


Muon, any FTL drive, no matter what it is, tosses all of Relativity into the shredder. But if you grant that from the very beginning, I thought he did a pretty nice job with it.

For instance, the inertialess drive isn't infinitely fast. Instead, the force from the thrusters balances against the resistance of passing through interstellar gas -- which ain't very thick, usually, which is why the ships are so blisteringly fast.

But it turns out that intergalactic space has even less gas, so the inertialess drive is even faster between galaxies. And  that all makes sense.

He has a lot of fun with the "intrinsic momentum" of objects using the inertialess drive. Basically, when the drive is turned off, it resumes the velocity it has when the drive was turned on. If that's not in a direction you like, too bad for you.

Which means that docking with a ship from another system nearly always is pretty complex. Both ships have to turn their drives off, and then match intrinsics.

Yeah, I think it works pretty well. I've seen worse.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 03, 2012 07:10 PM (+rSRq)

18 I'm actually not totally sure that's the case, though it certainly is here.  Wormhole-based FTL and similar ideas certainly violate the causal ordering postulate, but the COP is on a lot more shaky ground than relativity proper ( there's a reason its a postulate, and not a theory ).

Posted by: metaphysician at October 04, 2012 05:51 AM (3GCAl)

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