Dr Olesya Turkina is a Senior Research Fellow at the State Russian Museum, and the Head of an MA Programme at St Petersburg State University. She has a long list of exhibitions and publications to her name, including a large number on the topic of Space Exploration.
Soviet Space Dogs, the book at hand, is a curious mix of academic paper and popular treaty on the subject - (mainly) of the Soviet research programme of training and sending dogs into space to determine the feasibility of sending humans. The book is structured into six parts:
An Introduction to the topic to set the scene; Unknown Heroes, which provides some background on the personalities, their theories, practical developments, fictional accounts, and of course the ever-present politics behind the development of space-flying capabilities. The Heart of Laika, which focuses on the this specific flight – at once the most famous, and the most infamous flight (as it was the only one without any provision for the recovery of the passenger in the whole series of flights) Belka and Strelka: Space's First Pop Stars – the 2nd successful orbiting flight, and the international fame of its crew (and their offspring!) Paradise Lost, which briefly touches on the Bion programme (a topic worth several books in itself, I reckon), which moved on from dogs to monkeys and other creatures, which was at the end run in conjunction with the US, and was only canceled due to pressure from the public opinion regarding what these flights meant for and did to their involuntary passengers. Plus we get a Chronological list of dog flights – all 42 which are known, including dogs flown, rocket, altitude, duration (for orbital flights), and the outcome of the flight for the dogs
“Being smart has served homo sapiens well, enabling us to colonise the Earth and even sprinkle our technology lightly across the Solar System, but beetles, crocodiles, and horseshoe crabs have enjoyed much longer success, and all without feeling the need to build nuclear weapons or pump the atmosphere full of greenhouse gas. Intelligence may be useful to have but it comes with a self-destructive downside and it certainly isn’t the only way to dominate a planetary biosphere.”
Paradox starts with a chapter titled Fermi Paradox: An Introduction, by Marek Kukula and Rob Edwards. For those not familiar with the concept, the Fermi Paradox (named after Enrico Fermi from the Los Angeles National Laboratories) essentially points out that, given the number of solar systems out there, the statistical frequency of planets in those etc - the universe should be teeming with life, and thus, evolving from it, intelligent life. The basic premise was later expanded upon by Frank Drake in his famous equation, trying to quantify the question. But, we know that this is not the case, or not as far as we can observe. Thus, as the cover posits - Where is everybody?
For this nifty collection Ian Whates, writer and editor (and head honcho at Newcon Press) has assembled a fascinating list of contributors - scientists, scientists who write, writers who write Science Fiction - who in turn provided him (and us) with a fascinating variety of approaches, expanding on the various proposed answers to the paradox in a highly entertaining (and frequently enlightening) manner.
“Our enduring contribution to the shared cultural heritage of the Milky Way could amount to little more than a brief pulse of twentieth century TV and Radio.”
Now, finally available to read without having to buy a collection with some much more questionable content - I present you with what I feel to be a classic Peter Watts 'Military SF' (this definitely deserves the quotes with Peter) story Collateral.
This was originally published in the collection Upgraded, edited by Neil Clarke, but was now also re-published in Lightspeed Magazine and is also available from Peter's own Rifters site.
It is a stand-alone story following an augmented soldier after she has killed a number of apparent civilians on a fishing trip (on an ecologically dead sea...), which turned into a political shitstorm and could not be swept under the carpet. So now her assignment is to play along in damage limitation activities in the public eye, whilst her reflexes, her ethics, her morals, and other parts of her personality involved in battlefield engagements are being 'optimised'. It's not pretty, it has its surprises, and it is very well done.
This has strong echoes of both Malak (Peter's story of Drone warfare and free will) and of his anti-hero Achilles Desjardins from his Starfish trilogy - both of which I strongly recommend to read if you haven't done so.
The amazing picture on the right comes from Staffprod Staffpub via a Pinterest collection.
I don't think I need to greatly introduce the American author Ann Leckie here – her debut novel Ancillary Justice won most of the major awards on the scene, and introduced her as a major new voice in the field. Ancillary Mercy is the final book in the trilogy (the middle one is called Ancillary Sword), and shares both the title structure (and there's some clever allusions in these) and the cover artwork (all three are parts of the same painting. Clever, again).
Ancillary Mercy picks up where Ancillary Sword left off – Breq is still on Athoek Station, barely over the events at the end of the previous book, and the next round of 'fun' is alrady kicking off. It starts off with the discovery of an Ancillary from a pre-Radchaai ship on the station, something which is as impossible as it is alarming. It gets better with the arrival of another Presger translator, Zeiat (after convincing her that she cannot be Dlique as Dlique is dead), and tops off with the expected coming of Anaander Mianai, the lord of the Radch empire, who has split into factions and is at war with herself.
And if this is not enough major pieces on the board for some serious storytelling (and some action) then we can add Breq's rather unconventional take on ships and stations and their AI (given that she is/was a ship) to throw curve balls.
Let's just say there's much more going on here than the drinking of tea, or the Raadchai obsession with wearing gloves.
Political infighting and activism escalated to open warfare, with the state playing the 3rd party in the ring? Exploration robots attaining sentience/self-awareness, downing tools and taking up weapons? A heady mix of Virtual Reality, Real Life, and rather blurred distinctions of which is which? Ken MacLeod is at it again, indeed, and I have to admit that I’ve been lapping it up.
But let’s start at the beginning, seeing that The Corporation Wars: Dissidence, kicks off with a bang. Actually, it kicks off with rather a lot of bangs, as we witness two political/terrorist organisations slugging it out with each other and the state over London, using robot tanks, military drones, and planes loaded with ordnance. And we witness Carlos the Terrorist, fighting for the Acceleration, being duped by his state handler, and then killed…
“At the fag-end of the twenty-first century, immortality was the only thing worth dying for.”
Just to find himself revived in a VR simulation, and told that he’s dead, and has been for over a millennium. Also that he is still under death sentence, for the Docklands atrocity he’s committed (which he cannot remember). But he’s in a simulation of a terraformed world far away from Earth, which itself is running on a computer on a space station orbiting said, yet non-terraformed planet. And he’s going through military exercises in the forest, together with a group of fellow Axle War Criminals, to prepare for a conflict with prospecting robots which have attained self awareness, or consciousness, due to an unfortunate series of events. But of course it cannot be that simple…
And now for something completely different, to say it with Monty Python. Actually, this is not true - this is a different form, but rather in line with many other of my posts here.
So - I would like to introduce you to a poem, poetically (er) titled Brown woman at Safety Beach, Victoria, In June, by the illustrator, writer, and poet M Sereno. M Sereno was born in Manila, but now lives in Australia with family and pets, including, according to her, a cat which thinks it's a Koala. I'll just leave this here...
I find the poem rather evocative, and full of both mystery and strength, but would suggest you see (and feel) for yourself. It was first published in the May/June edition of Uncanny Magazine, which is also where the links sprinkled around this article point for the poem, and where the picture on the right hand side comes from.
Could I suggest that, after reading M Sereno's poem, you have a look at the magazine (much recommended in my opinion) and see if this is something you would consider supporting?