Review: The Planets edited by Byron Preiss  

Friday, July 27, 2007

I finished reading The Planets(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) a month or so ago. I meant to post a review long before now, but I was a little intimidated. My knowledge of astronomy (and many other scientific fields) is pretty elementary, so writing a review for a science/science fiction hybrid of a book is a bit unnerving. But, here we go.

I very much enjoyed the book. Three science fiction short stories stood out to me as being very, very good and standing the test of time: Dreadsong, Dies Irae, and Small Bodies.

Dreadsong by Roger Zalazny is about a scientist who imagines airbag-filled creatures that live in the atmosphere of Saturn. The most interesting part of the story is the alien thoughts of the creature as it hears the signal from humans and tries to respond as it is dying.

Dies Irae by x is probably my favorite. It's about a priest who goes to help a man stricken by fear. The man guides genetically created creatures that are building reactors on Uranus, preparing for human colonization. But the fact that some of these creatures have obtained sentience is a small thing compared to the haunting realization at the end.

Small Bodies by Paul Preuss is about a Creationist minister who comes into conflict with scientists when they are forced to allow him to accompany them on a mission to explore asteroids. When they find evidence of fossilized life on one of the asteroids, he searches feverishly for an explanation in the Bible and finds it. On his weekly transmission to his parishioners he begins to explain the discovery framed in the light of Creation, but something in the sea of stars makes him delay.

I also enjoyed After the Storm by Harry Harrison about a United States cut off from the rest of the world.

And surprisingly, even though this book was published in 1985, when Voyager II was making its way to Uranus, the information about the planets was still very current to things I see today in news reports. The book speculated frozen ice on the poles of Mars, something that seems to have just been "discovered" in the last couple of years. Perhaps it was just confirmed. It's amazing how much information about our outer solar system has come from the expeditions of Voyager I and II.

Pluto was still a planet in 1985 and not much was known about it. Much was speculated and I'm not sure if any of it can be confirmed or has been disproved as we still know very little. New Horizons should tell us a lot in another 8 years when it reaches Pluto, Charon, and the Kuiper Belt. I was a little surprised that although the book mentioned asteroid belts, it did not mention the Kuiper belt by name. Perhaps it wasn't named?

The combination of science (known and speculated) and science fiction made for a really interesting book. If you can get your hands on a copy it is definitely worth it.

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