The Expanding Repertoire of the Gene

NON-FICTION by Douglas F. Dluzen in Issue 197 – February 2023

Our genes govern how we grow and develop and influence our responses to the environment. Thanks to the advent of sophisticated genetic engineering tools such as CRISPR and the growing usage of personalized medicine to treat disease, genes have never been more present in everyday conversation. They are highlighted by the media, found in dialogue […]

A (Brief) Love Letter to the Chemistry of Molecules

NON-FICTION by Ashley Deng in Issue 196 – January 2023

The microscopic world is fascinatingly geometric. Look at viruses under a microscope (and you would need a particularly powerful one to do so, the tiny buggers that viruses are), and you’d see the various polyhedral shapes they take on. The smaller the virus, the more geometric they seem to be, giving them an unnatural shape […]

A Stroll into Unfamiliar Worlds

NON-FICTION by Julie Nováková in Issue 195 – December 2022

“Perhaps it should be called a stroll into unfamiliar worlds; worlds strange to us but known to other creatures, manifold and varied as the animals themselves.” —Jakob von Uexküll, A Stroll through The Worlds of Animals and Men (1934) Science fiction often asks us to imagine the inner states of beings most alien, be it […]

The Neuroscience of “Babirusa”

NON-FICTION by Arula Ratnakar in Issue 194 – November 2022

Human minds are fascinating machines. They are able to process photons, soundwaves, and various other physical phenomena, turning the information into thought, emotion, and cognition—experience. They take snapshots and store these experiences to reemerge as memories in the presence of a reminder, then use those memories to generate fantastical simulations during dreams—experiences in their own […]

Between Chaos and Order: The (Un)predictability of Evolution

NON-FICTION by Julie Nováková in Issue 193 – October 2022

When the crew of USS Enterprise encounters yet another alien species that looks exceptionally humanlike, we know to suspect the production budget rather than more profound reasons. But the underlying question is an important one: How humanlike, or not, would members of an extraterrestrial civilization be? How familiar would we find walking through a forest […]

The White Tree of Gondor: A Brief Overview of Modern Ukrainian SF&F

NON-FICTION by Volodymyr Arenev and Mykhailo Nazarenko, translated by Alex Shvartsman in Issue 192 – September 2022

It is known that Númenor had sunk under a great wave, much as the Kievan Rus had perished in the flames of the invasion by the Golden Horde. In both cases, the legacies of those cultures live on. The descendants of Númenor had founded Arnor and Gondor, while the descendants of Kievan Rus live in […]

To Bear Witness: The Polar Bear as Refugee in Speculative Fiction

NON-FICTION by Octavia Cade in Issue 191 – August 2022

Polar bears are a charismatic species. They’re also one of the most visible victims of climate change, as the Arctic ice melts and deprives the bears of much of their hunting grounds, forcing them to spend more time onshore instead of out on the ice, and to exploit terrestrial food sources in order to avoid […]

Reef Renewal Foundation Bonaire: Hope on a Small Island

NON-FICTION by E.E. King in Issue 190 – July 2022

About fifty miles (eighty kilometers) off the coast of Venezuela lies Bonaire, the “B,” in The ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao). There isn’t much to see on Bonaire, the capital Kralendijk is about three blocks long. The island is flat, warm, dry, and humid. The only notable wildlife are flamingos. In the evenings they […]

Visitors From Other Stars: The First Interstellar Objects

NON-FICTION by Pauline Barmby in Issue 189 – June 2022

Many SF readers will know Arthur C. Clarke’s 1973 novel Rendezvous with Rama, in which an alien starship passing through the solar system is at first mistaken for an asteroid. Twenty years after the novel’s publication, the first nonfictional interstellar objects were found: interstellar dust grains measured by the Ulysses spacecraft. It took another twenty-five […]

Of Time and Travel

NON-FICTION by Galen T. Pickett in Issue 188 – May 2022

A fundamental consequence of Einstein’s Special Relativity is that no physical object can travel faster than light. A somewhat lesser-known consequence of this fact is a counterfactual. Any physical object (like a starship) traveling faster than light will break causality in exactly the same way a “time machine” would. That is, faster-than-light travel and time […]

Finding Endor: The Quest for Habitable Exomoons

NON-FICTION by Julie Nováková in Issue 187 – April 2022

Endor. Pandora. Acheron. What do these science-fictional places have in common? They’re moons. More precisely, habitable moons. In our own solar system, multiple moons—such as Jupiter’s Europa or Saturn’s Enceladus—host vast oceans of liquid water underneath their icy shells. But we have no moon whose surface would be habitable for life as we know it […]

Validating Rage: Women in Horror

NON-FICTION by Carrie Sessarego in Issue 186 – March 2022

Spoilers for: Halloween, Alien, The Babadook, Gaslight, Ready or Not, Rosemary’s Baby, A Nightmare on Elm Street In today’s world, women are often expected to be polite, to be selfless and self-sacrificing, and to be nurturing. Women never face more vitriol than when they express anger, an emotion that taints them with labels like “shrill,” […]

COVID-19 and the Mental Health Crisis

NON-FICTION by Douglas F. Dluzen in Issue 185 – February 2022

For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic changed perceptions about mental health, including my own. Suddenly, during lockdown, I was extremely restless at night, dreaming up worst-case scenarios for my family and community: What if my two-year-old son developed long COVID What if I lost my job? What if society completely fell apart? These worries have […]

Zero-g Zoo: Trying to Solve Reproduction in Space

NON-FICTION by Julie Nováková in Issue 184 – January 2022

Shall we go where no one has gone before? However, if we’re to stay there, we need to think about the next generation. Which means procreation in space—an issue we know very little about so far. What do we know, and what could be the potential obstacles of reproducing in space conditions? At least officially, […]

A Universe of Possibilities: Planets of Red Dwarfs

NON-FICTION by Julie Nováková in Issue 183 – December 2021

Live fast, shine brightly, die young: some stars are like that. But they are few. So are, cosmically speaking, stars like our own Sun, though it’s taking its “life” more slowly. By far, the most numerous stars in the cosmos are M dwarfs, also dubbed red dwarfs: tiny, dim stars that will never undergo the […]

Navigating the Storms of the Mind

NON-FICTION by Douglas F. Dluzen in Issue 182 – November 2021

The first time my four-month-old daughter Cedar spasmed, I had no idea I was witnessing a seizure. I had seen seizures in adults before, but this looked entirely different. Babies do strange stuff all the time, I thought, and this had been a brief thing. I dismissed the possibility that anything was wrong. But my […]

The Mermaid Problem

NON-FICTION by Carrie Sessarego in Issue 181 – October 2021

Almost everybody knows what a mermaid is, right? Human above the waist, fish on the bottom, oftentimes beautiful and seductive, sometimes terrifying and murderous: these creatures have appeared in a standardized form in Western art for hundreds of years. However, a deeper look at mer-lore shows a bounty of ancient and modern ways of thinking […]

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 […]