the sunport vista:


2019 March 17th:   


The idea that one area of Space could possess a particular and special characteristic seems nonsensical - space is just space, is it not? 

And yet, it must be said, orthodox physics' concept of a "field of force" seems to imply space within the bounds of such a field is different in some way from space outside it.  Let scientists and philosophers struggle over that question.  I'll turn to literature...

The Countenance (to be found in the collection Best Stories From New Worlds II, edited by Michael Moorcock) is a powerful short story penned by "by P F Woods", a nom-de-plume of the great Barrington Bayley.  Set in interstellar space, it's nevertheless one of those tales which I like to mention because of its relevance-by-implication to the Old Solar System, for it gives an idea of our own special interplanetary Sun-centred space by investigating what it is not.  Because our Sun provides a reference point, you can have sight of System space and remain unscathed, whereas if you were to look out from a view-port directly into the void between the stars, then - 

"...Once you get out there - make no mistake, there's nothing to hang on to.  You're lost.  Nowhere to go, and if there were anywhere, nowhere to start from...  Space does it...  There's too much of it out there.  It would swallow us all..."

The theme of vertiginous psychic peril appears in the final part of Stapledon's Last And First Men, to explain the failure of one crew of the Last Men in an attempt to voyage between the stars.  And there is the positively beautiful passage in Out of the Silent Planet in which, shortly before landing on Mars, C S Lewis' hero Ransom finds himself wondering whether the interstellar "void" might surpass our own local "Deep Heaven" in crowded spiritual vitality as far as the latter surpasses planetary surfaces.

So, our System is more than just matter and mind.  Our Sun, with its family of planets, moons, asteroids and comets, possesses in addition a sort of quality-gilded capital space.

2019 March 10th:   


In the fiction of Colin Wilson one comes across the bizarre view that in relatively recent (Pliocene / Pleistocene) times the Moon used to be extremely close to the Earth - and I mean really close, an order of magnitude closer than it is now.  Goodness knows why, but there is is.  Anyhow, I've now found another book which presupposes the same idea.

It is The Green Suns by "Henry Ward".  Ward was really the French writer Henri Viard (1921-89) and the original French version, Les Soleils Verts, came out in 1956 - English translation 1961.

I found it to be a bizarre but impressive tale, mostly in the spy-thriller format but without the boring jerky staccato style I sadly expect from that genre.

There isn't much about the close Moon, unfortunately; hardly more than a few CLUFFs' worth.  The nub of the plot concerns contact with a sentient universe who's sliding through ours and in the process causing some havoc with our Cold War nuclear stockpiles - I confess I didn't quite grasp why.

As for that Moon's surface:  in the days before the fall of Atlantis 53,000 years ago, our satellite's atmosphere was "extremely rich in nitrogen, which gave rise to an abundant surface vegetation".  Unfortunately, a war between Atlantis and one of its colonies results in the Moon being bombed into uninhabitability....

A tantalising book, but worth reading.

Meanwhile here's a thought: how many equally interesting works have not been translated from the French?  What are we missing?

2019 March 8th:   


This evening my SF tastes overlapped with my more official duties: I've just tutored a little 12-year-old lad whose teacher has started his class on The War of the Worlds (I gather they listened to a recording). 

My pupil told me that they've reached chapter 5 (The Heat-Ray).  I don't know if any abridgement has been going on, but anyhow I've spent most of an hour explaining meanings from the first page of the text - "scrutinizing", "transient", "complacency", "serene", "missionary", "terrestrial" (I pointed out there is no such word as "Earthian"), "disillusionment"... and also I had to define "interplanetary".

I alluded to the way the book gives mankind-the-oppressor-of-animals a taste of his own medicine... and my pupil, though not the literary type, did get that point.

2019 March 3rd:    


I've exchanged Facebook messages with Kevin P Breen of Wichita, Kansas, who has vouchsafed some tantalizing data: he has a group called Retro Rockets and is planning a collection of new OSS tales, to be called Solar Stories.

He has recommended this site to his people and I intend to reciprocate in whatever way possible, so the more I know about everything to do with KPB and Retro Rockets, the better.  Watch this space for further announcements.

2019 February 27th:    


Sorry to have to announce that I shan't be able to produce Uranian Throne Episode 11 "The Terran Heir" by 1st March.  I'm nine-tenths there, but the final bit of work to be done is not the type of task that can be squeezed into a couple of extremely busy tutoring days.  It's a shame - it'll be the first time I've missed the (self-imposed) deadline.

2019 February 5th:   


A writer has brightened my day by sending the first submission to Vintage Worlds 2

It's a 7500-word tale mostly set on Mercury - the ultra-harsh, lifeless traditional sun-synchronous Mercury of stories such as Brightside Crossing

The way the chances turned out for Vintage Worlds 1, I found a near-perfect balance of settings in the range of submissions, without having to strive for it.  I don't know whether I can be as lucky a second time, so, to help the luck along a bit, I think I'll get into the habit of announcing the settings of submissions as they come in.

This does not mean that I expect any of you who may be writing for VW2 to throw out a good story just because you suddenly read in this Diary that someone has "got there first".  For example it is entirely possible that someone else may send in a great Mercurian tale and I end up choosing both of them.  This is especially true if the rival versions of the same world are notably different; thus, I'll be much more likely to approve a second Mercury if that one is provided with native life.

My only intention in keeping you all posted about the settings of the tales as they come in, is that in those cases where choices have yet to be made, you might bear in mind which territories are still crying out for a visit.

2019 February 1st:   


Although an improvement on January 2018, January 2019 was mediocre in most respects in terms of site usage.  2,352 visitors (we're back down to the hard-core elite) making 11,052 visits (that figure is fairly respectable), and a total of 18,034 page views (not brilliant).  However, let's wait for the February surge!  I say this, because last year that's what happened - the figures leaped, whooshed upwards in the second month. 

Meanwhile, on whatever planet you may be, for tomorrow I wish you all a cozy Candlemas.

2019 January 13th:   


Pictorial evidence has come to light of a straining in the multiverse, as the OSS and RSS realities put forth pseudopodia which grope in one another's direction...

Or to put it in more normal language, the fictions of Hergé and the designs of Elon Musk are converging.

Dylan has sent me some images of Space-X's latest rockets.  As he points out, they are irresistibly retro.  Dammit, this is what moon-rockets ought to look like.  (Unfortunately, with tiresome hyperbole, Musk calls them Starships.  Why not go for the far more exciting, because more credible and tangible, honest-to-goodness Moon-Rocket?)

Anyhow, you can no doubt spot the influence if you look at Professor Tournesol's moonship in Objectif Lune (1954).  As Musk is reported to have said, "When in doubt, go with Tintin."

To quote from yesterday's Daily Telegraph article (which points out the Musk-Tintin similarity), with regard to the Space-X "Starship Hopper":

"...The science-fiction silver is more than just for show, according to Musk, as the exterior will get too hot for paint..."

I expect there are also good engineering reasons for landing on a tripod of sturdy tail fins, if the pilot or the autopilot can manage it.  All in all, the spirit of the design also reminds me of Ray Bradbury's and Eric Frank Russell's happy-go-lucky whooshing rockets.

2019 January 6th:   


For someone with a whimsical turn of mind, the latest hit-parade of Page-View Winners can spark off an urge to indulge in transcosmic pneumaseismology, which, I hardly need say, means the study of spiritual tremors vibrating between one continuum and another.

In this approach to the data, we can speculate on what the changes in ranking of long-established pages, between end of September and end of December, might betoken in the OSS dimension, given that - for example - the following surges in status occurred:

- Mars is up from 10th to 8th place;

- C S Lewis has soared from 21st to 11th place;

- Mercury and Venus have risen from meta-page to hyper-page status;

- those rising from para-page to meta-page status include Primordial Worlds, Religion, Interplanetary Knock-Out and the Moon;

- those rising from super-page to para-page status include Hollow Worlds, Far Future, Space Sargassoes, Derelicts and Clumps, Hyper-Brains, Comets, The First Men in the Moon, NOSS - How Far Can We Go? - and Plying the Spacelanes;

- those who like C S Lewis have risen 10 or more places in the chart, include: Whom Gods Destroy (up 10 places, from 169th to =159th); Clark Ashton Smith's Immortals of Mercury (up 10 places, from 127th to 117th); Callisto (up 11 places, from 85th to 74th); Intelligent Plants (up 11 places, from 108th to 97th); Eric Frank Russell (up 11 places, from 142nd to =131st); What to see on Titan (up 12 places, from 131th to 119th); Asimov on Jupiter (up 12 places, from 162nd to 150th); Rex Gordon (up 12 places, from 179th to 162nd); A Rose for Ecclesiastes (up 14 places, from 105th to 91st); Jovian Inferno (up 16 places, from 173rd to 157th); The Martian Crown Jewels (up 17 places, from 144th to 127th); Relations with the Real (up 18 places, from 107th to 89th); Time to Rest (up 18 places, from 139th to 121st); What to see on Saturn (up 19 places, from 149th to 130th); Prisoners of Saturn (up 19 places, from 167th to =148th); The Ancient Inhabited Moon (up 21 places, from 152nd to =131st); Shoals (up 23 places, from 185th to =162nd); A E van Vogt (up 24 places, from 146th to 122nd); Sentinels from Space (up 24 places, from 148th to 124th); Brightside Crossing (up 26 places, from 109th to 83rd); A Relic from the Old Space Program (up 34 places, from 193rd to =159th); and, the biggest long-jumper of all, Interplanetary Huntress (up 35 places, from 135th to 100th);

- those pages which weren't anywhere on the winners' list in September but have joined it now, including: The Winds of Vulcan; Red Planet; Thoughts on Michael Moorcock's The Lost Canal; Project Utopia; A Barsoom and NSS Mars Match-Up, The Rise; Charles L Harness; Great Red Spot; A Plea for Lost Civilizations; What to see on Neptune; James Blish; What to see on Pluto; The Inorganic Character of RSS Mars; Styx; Leda; The Really Old Solar System; Keith Laumer; Raymond Z Gallun; and The Lifeblood of Worlds.

Now, what's the pattern in all this?  Um... this is where I need to say something Delphic.  Disturbances have occurred in the etheric network.  Lines of force have converged on the Jupiter and Saturn systems, but also on Mars and Venus, and ancient Luna.  There has been a touristic rush to see what there is to see on various locales in the Outer Solar System.  The Wheel of Fortune is bearing Lewis upwards and Clark Ashton Smith somewhat downwards, though the latter is still tops among the authors.  But both are breathable-atmosphere scene-setters, and my impression is that the habitable-without-a-spacesuit OSS is winning out over the marginally-habitable-with-some-mechanical-aid OSS.  However the picture isn't completely clear on this issue.  Fog swirls in my crystal ball. 

I'd better stop gazing.  Though the extinct-woolly-elephant annoys me, nevertheless I'll say it at this juncture: the completion of Page-View Winners 2018 was a mammoth task.

But it was worth it.  I wanted to see the results myself, and besides, as readers will note, "Page-View Winners" is itself very high on the list of page-view winners... somewhat recursively. 

My guess is, you use it as a convenient entrée to the range of pages available; an alternative to exploring via the nav bar.  Anyhow, for whatever reason, an average of 4.76 users accessed PVW daily during 2018.

I hope to do the 2019 PVW all in one go, in January 2020.

2019 January 2nd:   


In the month just finished this website had 2,731 visitors, making 11,618 visits totalling 23,178 page views.  A reasonably good month. 

It's a come-down from the recent heights - the November figures being 3,574 visitors, 14,063 visits and 29,511 page views.  On the other hand if you compare the current totals with the 2,273 visitors, 5,778 visits and 12,701 page views of the previous December, you'll see that the year-on-year trend is quite satisfactory.

We just need to keep our nerve and eventually we'll dominate the Solar System.