Under Pressure: Life's Last Dance?

NON-FICTION by Julie Nováková in Issue 180 – September 2021

In the stifling depths where nothing had been thought to live, life thrives. In the deepest regions of Earth’s oceans or embedded far within its crust, both macroscopic and microbial life flourish despite the pressure that would instantly crush a human. Do you think the Mariana Trench is deep with great pressure at its bottom? […]

Retro Heroines: Bella, Buffy, and Katniss

NON-FICTION by Carrie Sessarego in Issue 179 – August 2021

The first decade of the 2000s was dominated by three groundbreaking heroines: Buffy Summers, of the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bella Swan from the Twilight series, and Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. These three heroines exercised power in ways consistent with their personalities and had different levels of success in reaching their […]

Destination Mercury

NON-FICTION by Andrew Liptak in Issue 178 – July 2021

There is no better example of how science fiction’s tendency to try and imagine a plausible future is like throwing a dart at a moving target than Larry Niven’s 1964 short story “The Coldest Place.” Up to that point, astronomers widely believed that the planet Mercury was tidally locked to the Sun: its rotation matched […]

Fungi in Fiction

NON-FICTION by Carrie Sessarego in Issue 177 – June 2021

Depictions of alien life-forms in movies and television are constrained by budget, by practicalities, and by storytelling purposes. For the purposes of budget and storytelling possibilities, Hollywood tends to highlight aliens with whom we can communicate, combat, cooperate with, and (if the original Star Trek is any indication) have sex with. Because of this, most […]

A Brief History of Russian Science Fiction

NON-FICTION by Alex Shvartsman in Issue 176 – May 2021

It’s telling that the Russian term used to describe speculative fiction doesn’t distinguish between science fiction and fantasy. The word is fantastika (фантастика)—the literature of the fantastic. It is used equally to reference the Three Laws stories of Asimov and the Middle Earth tales of Tolkien. It is this lack of distinction—combined with Russia’s rich […]

Wagon Train to the Arctic

NON-FICTION by Andrew Liptak in Issue 175 – April 2021

The history of space opera is one that prizes exploration and discovery; of finding new worlds and new civilizations or sights that human eyes have never encountered. Science fiction authors, tech visionaries, and science communicators have highlighted humanity’s long history of expeditionary travel as a sign that it’s our destiny as a species, one that […]

“We'll Know It When We See It”: The Trouble with Finding (Alien) Life

NON-FICTION by Julie Nováková in Issue 174 – March 2021

Last month, NASA’s Perseverance rover successfully landed on Mars to investigate current and past conditions on the Red Planet and search for life. With it, an old but still burning question inevitably arises: when—if—we find alien life somewhere, are we going to recognize it? The question is far less trivial than it sounds. The odds […]

Peter Pan Through the Years

NON-FICTION by Carrie Sessarego in Issue 173 – February 2021

“All children, except one, grow up.” These words open the novel Peter Pan, by J. M. Barrie. The story was published in and takes place in Edwardian England (after the death of Queen Victoria and slightly before World War I). Its pages are full of adventure, playfulness, terror, and levity. The novel was one of […]

Ghosts of Christmas Past: The Victorian Christmas Ghost Story Tradition

NON-FICTION by Carrie Sessarego in Issue 171 – December 2020

“Marley was dead, to begin with,” says Charles Dickens in the most famous Christmas ghost story. While modern readers continue to enjoy A Christmas Carol, few are aware that it was one of hundreds of Christmas-themed ghost stories that flourished in written form during the Victorian era. These stories represented a perfect meeting of interest […]

Mary Shelley's Dystopian Prophesy: Reading The Last Man During COVID-19

NON-FICTION by Carrie Sessarego in Issue 170 – November 2020

Mary Shelley’s classic science fiction and horror novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, was an instant hit when it was published in 1818. It was and is such a prominent part of literary and popular culture that modern audiences might be forgiven for thinking it her only novel. However, in addition to articles and travelogues, […]

“I Can Build It!” Tom Said Inventively: The Strange History of the Six Tom Swifts

NON-FICTION by Mark Cole in Issue 169 – October 2020

It started with a motorcycle. Not a flying motorcycle. Not one with jump rockets, magnetic impeller wheels, or wall climbing spikes. Just an ordinary broken-down motorcycle Tom Swift fixed back in 1910. Then it was a motorboat bought at auction. It hardly seems much of a beginning for forty novels—one of the most successful young […]

“The Moon's a Balloon”: Hot Air Balloons and Airships in Speculative Fiction

NON-FICTION by Carrie Sessarego in Issue 168 – September 2020

People have always dreamed of flight. With the invention of the hot air balloon (specifically, the Montgolfier balloon, which is essentially the same design one might see at hot air balloon festivals today) this dream became a possibility for a startling variety of people—aristocrats and scientists, entertainers and artists, men and women. The popularity of […]

Boxtops, Secret Rings, and Space Helmets: Those Brave Spacemen of the Videowaves

NON-FICTION by Mark Cole in Issue 167 – August 2020

It’s hard to imagine its impact. The image was grainy, fuzzy, more tones of gray than black or white. There would be static, constant hissing and popping, lines rolling across the screen or, if the weather, or sunspots, or who knows what else interfered, it would roll around or break up completely. But it was […]

The Human Genome Disparity

NON-FICTION by Douglas F. Dluzen in Issue 166 – July 2020

The sequence of the human genome is a living document that catalogs the history of migration, mutation, and environmental stressors that have shaped who we are and how we came to be. Sprinkled throughout the 3.1 billion DNA bases that comprise our genome are tens of thousands of protein-coding genes, regulatory regions that stipulate when, […]

Isolation in Fiction and Reality

NON-FICTION by Carrie Sessarego in Issue 165 – June 2020

Many of us are having experiences with isolation as we experience various degrees of shelter in place and quarantine measures. Some of us live alone, experiencing contact with others only from a distance. Others live like a group of astronauts in a spaceship, relying on each other for social contact but also infringing on one […]

Ray Guns, Robots and Spaceships, Oh My! The Birth of Science Fiction Toys

NON-FICTION by Mark Cole in Issue 164 – May 2020

When we think of archaeological digs, most of us picture Indiana Jones in search of ancient civilizations, but just as often, they are conducted on far more modern sites to learn how people lived in the recent past. Not long ago they conducted a dig in the Shenandoah National Park. Back in the twenties and […]

A Machine for Telling Stories: Tarot and Speculative Fiction

NON-FICTION by Carrie Sessarego in Issue 163 – April 2020

In his book The Castle of Crossed Destinies, Italo Calvino refers to tarot as “a machine for telling stories.” Writers have been using tarot cards as a storytelling device since the Italian and European Renaissance. Tarot appears in fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and speculative fiction works, including The Castle of Crossed Destinies. “Tarot” refers to […]

Separated at Birth? Occultism, Science Fiction, and Why People Can't Tell Them Apart

NON-FICTION by Mark Cole in Issue 162 – March 2020

Things are not always what they appear to be. For example, take The Suns of Easter Island (1972), a film by French New Wave director Pierre Kast. The basic premise is familiar. So familiar, in fact, that one has to keep reminding oneself that it was made several years before a certain far better-known film. […]

Jules Verne and a Journey Through Genre

NON-FICTION by Carrie Sessarego in Issue 161 – February 2020

Before science fiction was called science fiction, a hybrid category existed called scientific romance. Combining elements of fantasy, realism, and futuristic or alternative technologies, this genre formed a bridge between the medieval and the modern. In this essay we’ll explore the role that French author Jules Verne played in scientific romance and in the development […]

Reshuffling Evolution

NON-FICTION by Douglas F. Dluzen in Issue 160 – January 2020

In February 2001, a draft version of the human genomic sequence, over three billion DNA base pairs in length, was completed. Knowing the sequence of the human genome encouraged the development of biotechnology that has advanced personalized medicine, biomedical research, and catalyzed provocative discoveries in human evolution and migration. Yet, perhaps the most fascinating discovery […]

But Is It Art? Science Fiction that Isn't Really Science Fiction

NON-FICTION by Mark Cole in Issue 159 – December 2019

It sounds familiar. A tough, intergalactic private eye goes to a city enslaved by a giant supercomputer, to arrest or kill its creator and shut down the computer. But somehow it isn’t familiar—or perhaps too familiar, as Alphaville is just bits of the real Paris. Then, there are the truly strange parts: the bizarre swimming […]

Dracula and Modern Anxiety

NON-FICTION by Carrie Sessarego in Issue 158 – November 2019

The Victorian era, which lasted from 1837 to 1901, saw the rise of many iconic monsters in literature. One of the most enduring was Count Dracula, the villain of Dracula by Bram Stoker. The novel, published in 1882, was an immediate success in England and America. However, Stoker had no idea that the novel would […]

Destination: Luna

NON-FICTION by Andrew Liptak in Issue 157 – October 2019

Throughout history, humans have been entranced by our closest celestial neighbor, the Moon. It provided the inspiration for countless stories over time, but it wasn’t until 1969 when a pair of astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted the first footsteps on its surface. The last Apollo mission took off from the Moon in 1972, […]

Staying with the End of the World: SF Futures of Hope during Ecological Devastation

NON-FICTION by Eleanna Castroianni in Issue 156 – September 2019

By the end of the twenty-first century we might lose the majority of all species. Worse, this widely read academic paper claims that we have only about a decade left before facing irreparable consequences of climate change (that is, before everyone faces them. The underprivileged already do). Landscapes of ruination constitute the effects of what […]

It Came From the Garage! Technology, Film, and the Guy Next Door

NON-FICTION by Mark Cole in Issue 155 – August 2019

“Who is this guy?” There in the midst of Amazon’s suggested list of horror and science fiction films was a series of what appeared to be lost Fifties films. Except that they were new, and the work of someone named Christopher R. Mihm. “Who is this guy?” This time it was lurid covers promising octopus […]

Carbon Planets

NON-FICTION by Tomas Petrasek in Issue 155 – August 2019

Imagine standing on a beach of diamonds. You can see the crystals glittering against the backdrop of a black, sticky goo. The waves washing ashore are oily, pitch-black, coming across a sea of tar, without a single drop of water. A scorching desert of sootlike dust stretches inland, toward the horizon where it meets the […]

Tolkien and World War I

NON-FICTION by Carrie Sessarego in Issue 154 – July 2019

Critics and readers are always fascinated by the intersection of life and art. When analyzing author J. R. R. Tolkien, who is most famous for The Lord of the Rings, he is no exception. For instance, the recent film Tolkien sought to link the writer’s experiences in World War I with his work. During his […]

Love at Stake

NON-FICTION by Carrie Sessarego in Issue 153 – June 2019

It’s been twenty years since Buffy Summers won the “Class Protector” award at Senior Prom, but her legacy never even slows down. Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered in 1997. Every week for the first two seasons the show opened with the words, “In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against […]

Supernatural Brontës

NON-FICTION by Carrie Sessarego in Issue 152 – May 2019

Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are classic novels that can be reasonably placed in many different areas of the library. They contain within their pages romance, mystery, coming of age stories, and morality tales. They could also belong in the speculative fiction section, due to their reliance on supernatural elements in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre […]

Talking Cells: Deciphering the Messages in Our Blood

NON-FICTION by Douglas F. Dluzen in Issue 151 – April 2019

The average human has between 4.7 to 5.7 liters of blood, all traveling throughout nearly 100,000 kilometers (approximately 60,000 miles) of arteries, veins, and capillaries that form the circulatory system. We’re quite familiar with the functions and purposes of many of the larger biological components found in our blood. Recently, scientists have discovered that our […]
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