Science fiction and the death of the sun


131 points | by ohjeez 12 days ago


  • Reason077 12 days ago
    Danny Boyle and Alex Garland's 2007 film Sunshine is another great example of this genre. Rather than abandoning a frozen earth due to the dying sun, they send a mission to deliver a bomb into it to "restart" it.

    A real all-star cast featuring not only a young Cillian Murphy, but a young Michelle Yeoh, Chris Evans, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong, Cliff Curtis, and Rose Byrne!

    Highly recommended, despite never satisfactorily explaining why they require a manned spacecraft to do the job rather than sending a robotic drone ship. Seems to me that adding humans to the mix greatly increased the complexity and risk of the mission.

    • oceanplexian 11 days ago
      > Seems to me that adding humans to the mix greatly increased the complexity and risk of the mission.

      We spent the last few years watching robots with state of the art 21st century technology and software crash on the moon repeatedly, and yet, in the 1960s a few hot shot test pilots could stick a landing on their first try. Given the choice between robots and humans, I’ll take the humans.

      • perihelions 11 days ago
        You're reading history in reverse. The Soviets landed a robotic probe on the moon years before the USA succeeded with human pilots, ("Luna 9") ("List of missions to the Moon—Mission milestone by country")

        You absolutely don't need sophisticated technology or giant budgets to accomplish this.

        • generalizations 11 days ago
          Except, Luna 9 was soft landing attempt no. 12 - the point is the humans pulled it off on landing attempt no. 1.
          • ivandenysov 11 days ago
            Counter point: first unmanned US soft landing attempt succeeded 3 years before first manned attempt. Surveyor 1 - 1966 Apollo 11 - 1969. I bet that NASA learned a lot from 7 unmanned Surveyor missions and that contributed to the success of Apollo 11.
        • AlgorithmicTime 11 days ago
          Luna 9 used an airbag system, not a soft landing system.
      • strogonoff 11 days ago
        Human ingenuity aside, I wonder if sending humans on missions can offer higher success rates due to higher stakes for all involved (the cost of human life). When we send humans to the Moon, the pressure to get things right is higher and consequences of failure are very dire. Sadly, of course, not a guarantee of success.
        • alistairSH 11 days ago
          Which then leads me to wonder...

          The risk vs reward calculation for human-involved missions is necessarily higher than robotic missions.

          Is that additional cost an order of magnitude higher? IE, we can afford one and only one human mission, but three robotic missions? Does the math work out in favor of the single high-success mission, or the three slightly lower success missions? Obviously depends on the expected success rate and cost of each.

          But, probably why we haven't done a lot with human missions since the 60s.

          • strogonoff 11 days ago
            I am not sure such utilitarian math is the true solution, attempts to put a number on the value of human life seem all silly. I would rather say that the failure of a robotic mission costs an amount X, while the failure of a human mission intuitively has infinite price.
            • pixl97 11 days ago
              Conversely setting human life to infinity cost quickly breaks down with the trolley problem. Any problem where groups a or b are going to die then whatever group is bigger lives, even if it doesn't make sense, such as group b is all very old and group a is very young but slightly smaller.
              • strogonoff 10 days ago
                Trolley problems are an exercise in utilitarianism and maybe generally consequentialism. If those are your views, then you can probably put a number on it. Other views are available, however. (See sibling mentioning deontology.)
              • OkayPhysicist 11 days ago
                To be fair, it's not really a breakdown of the trolley problem. It's the point of the trolley problem. Setting the value of a human life to infinity basically gives you deontology, in that both outcomes are approximately equally bad, and thus your choosing to get involved at all is unethical.
      • tuyiown 11 days ago
        > in the 1960s a few hot shot test pilots could stick a landing on their first try.

        Ha you mean the most costly, engineering first and politicized science and engineering endeavor ever attempted, and even though it was some kind of little miracle ?

      • kjkjadksj 11 days ago
        Read about missions like gemini 9. Its a sheer stroke of luck the moon mission worked, it could have easily failed and there would have been no rescue.
      • jxdxbx 11 days ago
        I didn’t want to pipe up right when it happened with my non-expertise but seriously, that Odysseus lander seemed liked a pretty dumb design. Of course it tipped over. Come on
        • Cthulhu_ 11 days ago
          I am also an armchair expert but I've played enough KSP to know that their design could have worked, but they would have needed to really stick the landing. Or add enough reaction wheels so it could self-right.
        • KineticLensman 11 days ago
          > that Odysseus lander seemed liked a pretty dumb design

          It was built thin and tall to fit within the Falcon 9 fairing. It didn't have extending legs because these would have become possible points of failure. The crash happened because the altimeter wasn't working, which IIRC was due to a pre-launch assembly error. As a result Odysseus landed outside the safe operating parameters of the landing legs.

      • vpribish 11 days ago
        it's a movie. they wanted, like, human drama which is substantially more difficult if the main character is not alive.
      • ubermonkey 11 days ago
        That's an astonishingly bad take that requires gratuitous cherry-picking of data.
    • rk06 11 days ago
      > despite never satisfactorily explaining why they require a manned spacecraft to do the job rather than sending a robotic drone ship. Seems to me that adding humans to the mix greatly increased the complexity and risk of the mission.

      As a software engineer, this statement baffles my mind. like how could anyone in right mind trust software to make right choices in prod on first try?

      • kjkjadksj 11 days ago
        You think a manned mission obviates software?
        • rk06 11 days ago
          No, but manned mission can override software if unexpected scenarios are encountered. You can't expect software team on earth to account for all possibilities for a first time mission.

          Software can be tested for individual operation. But can't be relied for end to end co-ordination.

          • kjkjadksj 11 days ago
            All the controls they have use software to do work. Its not like a car you can’t rebuild your engine or jerry rig a solution yourself in outer space. If things don’t go as planned usually people just die, heroic MacGyverism is for hollywood.
    • amenhotep 12 days ago
      Every now and then I listen to the music for Capa's jump, then I have to watch the video, then I get all emotional. And the ending never fails to bring a tear to my eye. Amazing film.

      Somehow knowing the secret to Murphy's acting in that scene (Boyle secretly got a crew member to sit on his back) and having that objectively hilarious image in mind while watching it doesn't diminish the effect appreciably, which is remarkable!

      • beAbU 11 days ago
        Mind elaborating on what you are saying about Cillian having a crew member on his back? I'm a little confused..
    • jawngee 11 days ago
      > a young Michelle Yeoh

      She was 45 or 46 when she made Sunshine.

      • Cthulhu_ 11 days ago
        Cillian Murphy was also 31 by then, still relatively young I suppose but not young like the poster seems to imply.
      • brazzy 11 days ago
        Yeah, she starred as the "mature" woman already in Tiger and Dragon in 2000.

        I guess it just means that I'm oold for having that as a benchmark for Michaelle Yeoh's age rather than *Everything Everywhere All At Once"...

    • hackable_sand 12 days ago
      I thought they did explain why they needed humans, but I bet we can hand-wave that away with some radiation technobabble.
    • SideburnsOfDoom 11 days ago
      "adding humans to the mix" is not the most unrealistic thing by far, in that uneven film. The basic premise (suns do not forget to shine one day) and proposed fix (any human efforts would be of insignificant scale compared to a sun) take that honour. The third act of the film is a runner-up.
      • Reason077 10 days ago
        Most sci-fi films (heck, most films) require some level of suspension of disbelief. If you're unable to do that you'll find it hard to enjoy much at all. Do Marvel films seem realistic to you? Star Wars? Star Trek? Cartoons?
        • SideburnsOfDoom 10 days ago
          I watch a lot of sci-fi films and read a lot of sci-fi books - because I enjoy it when it's any good, so I don't need suspension of disbelief explained to me at all, thanks.

          I personally found this specific film not deserving of being called a "great example" of anything. It's at best a plodding, uneven, middling example of something, IDK what. Yes, I know that your milage may vary, but this film's status baffles me and others

          If anything, calling parts of it "good" and other parts "original" is generous. Most of it is neither. Perhaps if you just haven't seen or read that much, then some of it appears novel and good?

          It is not trying to be the same genre at all as Marvel or Star Wars fantasy films - some of which succeed on their own terms. Unlike "Sunshine". So that straw man distraction question is irrelevant.

    • throwup238 12 days ago
      Event Horizon is a great movie to watch after Sunshine
      • 0x38B 12 days ago
        These two articles in American Cinematographer (1 and 2) give some interesting background on the movie; concerning the ship they write:

        > When it first appears onscreen, the Event Horizon craft itself resembles a giant crucifix hovering over the surface of Neptune. "The spaceship was built on a cruciform, like all cathedrals are," Anderson explains. "We began the design process by literally scanning [photos of] the Notre-Dame Cathedral into the computer and then constructing the Event Horizon out of those Gothic elements. For example, the big thruster engines are an adaptation of the Notre Dame towers, repositioned on their sides. A lot of the iron and steel work of the superstructure is based on the cathedral's stained-glass windows. The ship also has a lot of triptych windows and big recessed crosses.

        > "When Adrian and I first sat down, we said, 'Let's do something completely different,"' says Anderson. "Since we were going into outer space, I felt we had to have a really strong design concept; otherwise Event Horizon would have ended up looking like [a bunch of] other movies cobbled together. We spent a lot of time coming up with a design concept, which we called 'techno-Medieval.' When the lights are on, everything looks very technological and very spaceship-like. But when the lights go off and the haunting begins, you start looking at the shapes, and the architecture is actually very medieval. We extended that techno-Medieval design idea into as many aspects of the picture's look as possible, without rubbing the audience's nose in it."



        • entrox 11 days ago
          It‘s fun to imagine that Event Horizon is actually in the same universe as Warhammer 40k.

          Not only does the plot fit perfectly with the ship going through the warp, the Gothic design matches the aesthetic as well.

          Even if not intended, it just works so well.

          • Cthulhu_ 11 days ago
            I'm not into 40K as much, but did play a space combat game in the 40K universe and ships looking like cathedrals was definitely a thing.
          • taneq 11 days ago
            I'm pretty sure I read that it was originally planned to be but they couldn't get GW to sign off on it.
          • throwaway17_17 11 days ago
            TL;DR — I agree wholeheartedly and thanks for the chance to blather about a fictional universe I really enjoy, also a huge wall of text about Event Horizon as a ‘prequel’ showing an interesting division within the 40K fandom.

            I agree so hard that I would upvote your comment a thousand times if I could. This fan originated ‘prequel’ to the 40k universe is absolutely perfect in both aesthetic and tone.

            But I think, despite the wide support this concept has, it displays a really interesting view into some large tonal changes in the fandom and published materials and attitudes. Within the 40k fandom I think there are a group of fans (mostly older now and less involved in the hobby) that disagree with Event Horizon as a ‘prequel’. It is an interesting dichotomy between what 40k has been since the late 90’s and what it was at its start and during its early editions.

            Early fans, in the discourse I have seen online and in older GW periodicals, really focused on the political satire and the somewhat eclectic humorous undertones (and often overtones). The tongue-in-cheek demonization of the human faction, via making them so crazily over-the-top authoritarian, WWII-type theocratic fascists, is clearly pitched as a caricature of the then super powerful right wing party, under Thatcher and her ilk. The other factions had less direct satirical targets, but, as an example, the Orcs power of ‘be stupid but believe and results will follow’ can be seen as a critique of the apparent lack of intellectual curiosity and focus on conformity present in the UK, or as a statement on the semi-‘Cargo Cult’ mentality around the rising hyper-consumerism that was beginning to be pushed on the public by plutocrats. There are plenty of other broad and specific satirical or openly political commentary throughout the 80’s material, especially in White Dwarf supplemental writing.

            However, then there are the fans that came into the hobby in the late-middle and late 90’s and up til present day. 40k has been a cornerstone, forerunner, and standard bearer for Grimdark(tm) for nearly the last 30 years. This block of fans (by far those most active in the hobby, particularly the lore/fluff/art creation and discussion) absolutely sees Event Horizon as being a perfect fit for 40K. The days of satire are long past, now the factions and characters in the setting are nearly played straight as examples of their respective stereotypes and associated tropes in genre fiction. Granted, 40k established a good portion of the grimdark tropes, but it has remained steadfast in utilizing and somewhat revising those trappings of the genre without apology.

            Where 80’s 40K would have by now been lampshading everything in the setting and potentially altering fluff to better satirize the current global political and societal milieu, the current fandom and GW itself are committing to playing the universe out.

            I love 40K and think both perspectives have merit, but at the end of the day 40K is still my vibe no matter which side of this divide I may find myself.

            • tialaramex 11 days ago
              To me the silliness of Event Horizon fits the tone of 40K well. People who decided it's supposed to be taken seriously seem the same as those who don't realise Batman isn't a serious way to attack crime or that Judge Dredd isn't an endorsement of militarised police.

              This is why I'll pay Relic but not Talisman, the Talisman game is very silly, but Relic sets it in the 40K universe where it makes sense. Or rather, it makes no less sense than everything else.

            • entrox 11 days ago
              Thank you for the interesting write-up.

              It feels like societal satire in this vein is becoming rare. I fondly remember sci-fi movies like Starship Troopers, Robocop, Brazil or even They Live, but not much about recent times. Maybe Don't Look Up comes close, haven't watched it yet.

              • slfnflctd 11 days ago
                I thought Don't Look Up was pretty solid satire. It's not quite so obvious at first, but by the time of the post-credits scenes they really hammer the point home and I found it very funny.
              • throwaway17_17 11 days ago
                Don’t look up is in position 3 on my ‘to-be-watched’. I’m holding out hope that it is good. I know it is supposed to be a comedy, but I haven’t seen someone fully commit to it being hard satire.
        • strogonoff 11 days ago
          “We began designing the spaceship by scanning the Notre-Dame Cathedral” is an example of exactly the right kind of non-spoiler spoiler, one that doesn’t ruin the film but only makes me interested in watching it.
        • voltaireodactyl 11 days ago
          Thank you for these excellent links, the added context to that design process is deeply satisfying.
      • Reason077 11 days ago
        Yes! And then I'd follow up Event Horizon with Pandorum. Perhaps not quite as good or as well-known as the other two, but still clever and worth watching.
        • rasz 11 days ago
          If we are at waking up with no memory I highly recommend Eden Log (2007).
      • Borrible 11 days ago
        Just in case you don't know 'Fading Suns'.

        Role-playing gothic sci-fi in a galaxy where the stars are dying.

      • xoxxala 11 days ago
        Event Horizon is the closest we’ll get to a Warhammer 40k film.
        • jtms 11 days ago
          We are at least getting a 40k series with Henry Cavil I believe
        • shawn_w 11 days ago
          Ultramarines says hi.
    • obruchez 10 days ago
      "Beyond the Sea" (the Black Mirror episode) had a similar problem: 2 astronauts are working in a spaceship and they can regularly go back to their families using some very advanced technology (VR, humanoid robots, etc.). Why are they not using that technology to "work from home"?
    • beAbU 11 days ago
      Sunshine is one of my favourite sci-fi movies for all the wrong reasons. The premise and setting is total bullshit handwavium.

      But I absolutely loved the story, tension and slow boil. The cast as you say was brilliant.

      It's a B-Grade disaster movie /really/ well executed.

      • hobs 11 days ago
        Let me just say that I fully disagree, the movie was plodding and preachy and boring up until the "twist" when it got TERRIBLE.

        I cannot believe the number of people who have said that its a good movie, the entire movie required a suspension of disbelief far and away of what I am willing to give.

        • Pigalowda 10 days ago
          I remember seeing reddit users recommend it as a great scifi film in 2012. I watched it and was horribly disappointed - it’s “the core” in space with a space zombie.

          I guess people like sucking down wet farts for 2 hours. Who am I to stop them?

        • SideburnsOfDoom 11 days ago
          Agreed. The premise was astoundingly silly, and the plot was "both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good". I really do not know why some people rate this film so highly.
    • ardel95 11 days ago
      So that xkcd “daylight savings time” meme was an actual movie?
  • gwern 12 days ago
    I never realized I had misread _The Time Machine_ or _The Magician's Nephew_ as being about red giants, rather than heat-death! Goes to show how easy it is to seriously misunderstand aspects of 'science fiction' when the science changes...

    OP missed a good historical example before Thompson, however: Isaac Newton himself had a cosmology with the Sun being renewed by periodic comet impacts. Unfortunately, we would all die when the Sun flared up after impact, but at least aliens on other planets would get a renewed Sun:

    • Vecr 12 days ago
      The The Magician's Nephew is about red giants, or at least the expanding phase of a star like the sun. It's from the 1950s, and C. S. Lewis wrote science fiction earlier.
      • gwern 11 days ago
        No, I think OP makes a good case that Lewis did not mean an expanding red giant in _Magician's Nephew_, even if he could have used the most recent science at the time to choose to do so:

        "“So big, so red, and so cold.”

        “It has always been so,” said Jadis. “At least, for hundreds of thousands of years. Have you a different sort of sun in your world?”"

        A red giant expanding to the point of taking up much of the sky would not be 'cold', nor would it 'always been so...for hundreds of thousands of years'. (It would be hot, the world heating up at that close an approach, and the expansion quite visible on the order of millions of years rather than totally static and unchanging.) That only is consistent with the cooled-down prior version.

        • Vecr 11 days ago
          How would it appear large in the sky though? Gravitational waves are out, maybe solar wind and light pressure were supposed to be keeping the planet orbiting higher? Or is the point that the planet was always close, but only cooled down enough for life after the star started cooling down?
          • gwern 10 days ago
            > Initial estimates put the sun’s lifespan at around 20 million years. It could hardly be much younger than that, so its lifetime appeared to be mostly over. Soon it would burn out. What about the earth? It would freeze over, its orbit would decay, and it would draw closer to the husk of the sun, becoming tidally locked. Ultimately, it would fall into the remains of the sun and be destroyed, but not until long after all life went extinct.
            • Vecr 9 days ago
              Yeah, that's in the article. I should look at the emissions curve for various stages of red giant stars. Maybe it's a late phase red giant, and the planet was always far away? It would need increased emissions and then they would have to start going down again. It is kind of suspicious for life to start on a planet only after the star starts expanding into a red giant, but it might be a similar handwave to the characters being human like.
    • 0x38B 11 days ago
      H.G. Wells and C.S. Lewis intersect in more ways than one; in Out of the Silent Planet, one of the characters references Wells's The First Men in the Moon (1900), and the plot of the two parallel each other when the inhabitants of Mars (in Lewis's work) find out about the violent nature of Earth's inhabitants.
    • PoignardAzur 11 days ago
      ... Man, I didn't remember this at all. The Magician's Nephew had a red sun in Jadis' world? It went completely over my head.
  • clarionbell 11 days ago
    New Sun by Gene Wolfe is a great example of that genre. Also of the unreliable narrator, as the protagonist is writing his autobiography, is not well educated and suffers from rather interesting neurological divergence (he forgets nothing).

    All in all, it makes for a very good series. Especially once you realize that you are reading about sci-fi world, as written about by a person living in essentially ancient society.

    • ignoreusernames 11 days ago
      Great series. If I'm not mistaken, there's an additional layer to the unreliable narrator part because the book is supposed to be a translation of that biography. So, when certain words are used, the reader knows that they don't necessarily represent the literal meaning and it's only an approximation for the actual thing in the book universe (for example, a "horse" is not actually a "horse" as we know it). It certainly helped me digest the more outlandish ideas.
    • autarch 11 days ago
      > Also of the unreliable narrator, as the protagonist is writing his autobiography, is not well educated and suffers from rather interesting neurological divergence (he forgets nothing).

      And also he's a pretty terrible person trying to make himself (unsuccessfully) sound a bit less terrible.

      • clarionbell 11 days ago
        Appropriate nickname given what he does with previous Autarchs brain.
  • Salmoneo 11 days ago
    Another entry in the dying Earth/Sun or Last Civilization approach is The Phoenix in Obsidian aka The Silver Warriors from 1970 by the oft forgotten but quite seminal Micheal Moorcock of Elric fame, but He wrote way more than that. Set in a frozen Earth and with a Sun that is just a white dwarf. The last surviving sea is so salty and dense is gelatinous and ship actually "flap" over it. It's part of the John Daker/Ereköse series, and in turn part of the bigger inter-books Moorcokian Multiverse.

    • someone7x 11 days ago
      The Ice Schooner as well, but sadly no wikipedia page for it.

      > In this far-future adventure, Captain Arflane leads his crew of the schooner Ice Spirit across the endless seas of ice covering Earth. To any survivors of this brave expedition will go the legendary riches buried beneath the ancient ice . . . the once-great city of New York!

  • radicaldreamer 12 days ago
    Liu Cixin has a novella about moving the earth to avoid a supernova
    • StefanBatory 11 days ago
      His books feel quite uncomfortable to me.

      They read like endorsement of CCP authoritarian govt, with how often the themes are "Leaders are flawless, don't dare to even criticise them" (last wallfacer in Three Body Problem)

      • firebaze 11 days ago
        Can you name other examples? I didn't have that impression yet, and the wallfacer example strikes me as a bad one (in the given context, it is reasonable to give the wallfacers full authority, would probably be the same even if the author was a Texan Redneck)
    • RaoulP 11 days ago
      I never realised until now that The Wandering Earth and The Three Body Problem are written by the same author.
    • melagonster 12 days ago
      For more information, These products are crazy popular in China.

      >It was also adapted into a 2019 film of the same name and its sequel, and a 2021 graphic novel.

      Main topic is the protagonist can make the important decision: sacrifice half of human to move earth. Other people were too hypocritical and supid to do this.

    • jandrese 11 days ago
      • foobiekr 11 days ago
        The Remembrance of Earth's Past series as a whole is also pretty terrible. Interesting concepts here and there, awful characters and writing, terrible convenient plot elements.
  • andrewflnr 11 days ago
    This hammered home for me how incredibly recent are a lot of the scientific discoveries we take utterly for granted. Even before nuclear energy, atoms themselves were only confirmed to exist in the 20th century. Everyone knows about plate tectonics, but that was confirmed in the 60s or something.
    • adrian_b 11 days ago
      I consider the date when the existence of the atoms has been confirmed to be 1865, when Johann Josef Loschmidt has determined for the first time the mass of some atoms.

      (i.e. he has determined the value of what is now called the constant of Avogadro, which is proportional to the inverse of the mass of an atom; there are various related quantities where knowing one determines all the others, including the constant of Avogadro and the concentration of molecules in a gas at standard pressure and temperature; knowing the mass of any molecule or atom allows the computation of the masses of all other atoms and molecules, using the chemical formulas)

      Using the mass of an atom, various other atomic quantities could be computed immediately, e.g. George Johnstone Stoney has computed in 1874 the value of the elementary electric charge, based on the results of Loschmidt. The work of Loschmidt has also allowed James Clerk Maxwell to propose in 1873 a system of fundamental units for the physical quantities which was based only on reproducible atomic properties, instead of unique artifacts like the platinum standard meter and the platinum standard kilogram. (However Maxwell's system was not yet practical at that time, because the accuracy with which the atomic masses were known was too low in comparison with the precision of the weight scales.)

      Before Loschmidt, the atoms were indeed just a hypothetical construct that could explain some properties of the chemical reactions and of the gases, but nothing could be said about them quantitatively.

      After Loschmidt, the atoms became physical objects with precisely known properties, e.g. you could count how many atoms are in a pebble that you hold in your hand.

      By the start of the 20th century, more than a human generation had passed since the last time when scientists wondered whether atoms really exist. At that time already atom beams were routinely manipulated with electric and magnetic fields and unexpected atomic properties like radioactivity and transmutation were already known.

    • RaoulP 11 days ago
      After this morning's earthquake I was thinking how, without any theory of plate tectonics (or previous theories, if any), an earthquake must truly feel like the wrath of god. I wonder if it's been the seed for any myths.
      • kjkjadksj 11 days ago
        Maybe it wasn’t actually trumpets that brought down the walls of Jericho after all
  • jrmg 11 days ago
    Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men, from 1930, seems to fit this genre too. It gets a bit outlandish with telepathy, but it’s ambitious novel telling of humanity’s ebbing and flowing, evolving a lot along the way, from ‘present day’ to the far, far future when the solar system is engulfed by a supernovaing sun. Considering its ambition, it reads surprisingly well.

  • weinzierl 11 days ago
    Since it fits the topic and my efforts to find this story have been unsuccessful for years, I'll give it a try:

    I am looking for a short story about an astronaut conducting radiation measurements on the dark side of the moon (or maybe mars). The astronaut ponders the strange measurement results when it dawns at him that the sun must have gone supernova and earth probably scorched. He returns to earth as the last living human, but discovers that other lifeforms (I believe to remember it was about a butterfly) seem to have survived and despite the end of humanity, life was going to continue.

    I read this story about 30 years ago in an anthology of short stories which my future wife brought from our local library. Unfortunately, I don't remember any of the other stories and authors, but I believe they were all well known names and not obscure pulp fiction authors.

    Today it strikes me, how naïve the thought was, that libraries and books were for eternity and that everything I'd read would be effortlessly available for me in the library to read again when ever I wanted.

    • fsiefken 11 days ago
      So is the old catalogue of the library perhaps available? Perhaps there is a dos computer or disk still available or someone who knows? Perhaps also ask in
    • paleotrope 11 days ago
      I was the same way when I was young, then I found out about books going out of print and then later, library book sales, and then even later, about librarians actively culling their book collections to make room for newer books.
    • PopAlongKid 11 days ago
      Plot sounds similar to Inconstant Moon by Larry Niven from the 1970s, but the protagonist is on the night side of Earth, not an astronaut on the moon.
  • whoisstan 11 days ago
    The Spin by Robert Charles Wilson is magnificent. Set in a contemporary setting, the sun and stars are replaced by projection shield that simulates them, and as the topic suggests it’s because the sun has died, but who did it???

  • mannykannot 11 days ago
    "For another thing, if the light came from incandescence, what on earth was a pulsar? Surely a star couldn’t be alternately collapsing and un-collapsing."

    This is odd, as pulsars were not discovered until 1967, and not hypothesized prior to their discovery.

    Variable stars have been known to science of since 1638, and an explanation for one type, eclipsing binaries, had been established by 1784.

  • atombender 11 days ago
    You can't have an article about the dying Earth genre and not mention The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe.

    The novel is deep and mysterious, involving — among many other things — a far-future Earth in which aliens have placed a black hole inside the sun.

    It's one of those books whose true meaning and cryptic clues are mined endlessly on mailing lists, forums, and podcasts (there are at least four that cover this book).

  • sircastor 12 days ago
    I recall back in 7th grade I mapped out a sci-fi story about people having to abandon the Earth after it suddenly transitioned into its red giant phase. I didn’t ever get to writing the story, but I was captivated by the concept of the need for sudden evacuation.
    • RaoulP 11 days ago
      Around the same age, I remember first hearing about the expanse of the sun, and being afraid of experiencing it.
    • xjay 12 days ago
      In some 1990s sci-fi series, an alien race played the long game by directing some (invisible) energy beam at the sun, accelerating its transition into becoming a red giant, a process which would have otherwise taken billions of years.
  • ranger207 11 days ago
    To add yet another entry into the genre is Asimov's _The Gods Themselves_, where humanity exchanges energy between themselves and a parallel universe with different physical laws, only to discover those physical laws are leaking over and will result in the destruction of the Sun. The middle section is the story of the aliens in the parallel universe and is an interesting look at a three-sex species, and it makes me wonder how Asimov would interpret modern LGBTQ issues.
  • mdale 11 days ago
    Really enjoyed this journey. Could have extended into more modern tropes of singularity and mastery of energy the sun provides finding it's way into modern sci-fi.
  • perilunar 11 days ago
    I've never really understood the pessimism of the dying sun trope in SF. If humans are still around in billions of years then our descendants will either have spread throughout the galaxy, or will have the technology to either tweak the Sun to not go nova, or to move the Earth out of harm's way. Seems like a major failure of the imagination.

    (Also: the idea that we need to find other planets to live on if the Sun goes nova or if we screw up the Earth is another one. We'll probably be living in millions of large space colonies, not on planets.)

    • bccdee 11 days ago
      That's awfully optimistic.

      For one, why would we colonize the galaxy? We probably can't beat lightspeed. It'll take generations to get anywhere, plus a huge upfront investment, and for what? We can't send resources back, so it is not an investment. Terraforming would be extremely challenging, extremely slow, and would (if we were very, very lucky) still just get us a worse version of Earth. It just isn't a rational choice.

      "Tweaking the sun" is probably unfeasible. We could crash our entire planet into the sun and it'd have little effect. The sun is really really really big and we are really really really small. Similarly, adjusting Earth's orbit would require a colossal amount of energy and reaction mass which we just don't have, and probably never will.

      There's no reason to assume that humanity will inevitably advance through some exponential techno-apotheosis such that we'll eventually be able to do anything we want. Instead, it's much more sensible to assume technological growth will follow a sigmoid curve. Technological advancement has a ceiling determined by our resources and abilities, and that ceiling is almost certainly too low to accommodate a galactic civilization of stellar engineers.

      • perilunar 10 days ago
        > why would we colonize the galaxy?

        To explore. Yes, it may take generations to get anywhere, and no, we probably won't be sending resources back.

        > Terraforming would be extremely challenging

        Yes. Terraforming is a bad idea. Much better to mine asteroids and build large habitats in orbit. When it gets too crowded, move to the next star. No need to terraform planets to spread out into the galaxy.

        > "Tweaking the sun" is probably unfeasible

        We've got millions of years to work out how. I doubt it would be something as crude as crashing planets into it.

        > Similarly, adjusting Earth's orbit would require a colossal amount of energy and reaction mass

        Yes, but you'd have a colossal amount of time to move it. Light sails maybe — they use energy/mass from the sun itself.

        > Technological advancement has a ceiling determined by our resources and abilities, and that ceiling is almost certainly too low to accommodate a galactic civilization of stellar engineers.

        I don't know how you can know that. It's only a couple of hundred years since the scientific revolution — how can you possibly know what the limits will be over millions or billions of years?

        • bccdee 8 days ago
          > To explore

          But then why start a colony? If you're just looking around, then the massive investment to build a comfortable habitat isn't worthwhile. I think the incentives just don't line up; that's my Fermi paradox answer. I especially think it's unlikely that anyone would set off on an exploration where they were going to die of old age before ever seeing anything.

          > We've got millions of years to work out how.

          What if it isn't possible? The sheer scale involved suggests there's nothing to be done. It is a bonfire exponentially larger than all the mass we can conceivably bring to bear upon it in any way. When it burns out, it burns out. Moving the planet is a little more feasible [1], but doing it with solar sails would take about a billion years, even if the sail was 19x the diameter of Earth. An ion drive would be snappier, but we'd have to have effectively unlimited energy to make that happen, and we'd have to eject about a sixth of the Earth's mass from outside of the atmosphere on some sort of planetary gimbal.


          > how can you possibly know what the limits will be

          Oh I can't. But there are limits, and we'll hit them eventually. The most obvious limits are energy and mass. We obviously can't do anything that would require more mass than exists in the solar system, and the ceiling for practically accessible mass for any given purpose is likely much lower. Some elements are quite rare. There may not be that much energy to go around. There are also likely soft time limits: A project that takes ten thousand years might simply be beyond us politically. Some tasks, like full comprehension of the human brain, might simply be too complicated to ever be realized. The longer you think about it, the more plausible limitations materialize.

      • mmcdermott 10 days ago
        > For one, why would we colonize the galaxy? [...] It just isn't a rational choice.

        If things are universally good on Earth, then sure. Bear in mind that many of the European colonies that would become the United States were built by people fleeing situations in their home country.

        Of course, replicating that scenario still requires a lot of technological advancement and I agree that level of sophistication is not a given.

        • bccdee 9 days ago
          > If things are universally good on Earth, then sure.

          Bear in mind that the choice is between living on Earth vs spending the rest of your life in an extremely cramped spacecraft with the hope that, after several generations of spacecraft life and many more of terraforming, your great-great-great-to-the-nth-power grandchildren will have a nice home.

          Bear in mind too that destitute people will never be able to make this call; you'd need to be quite powerful to start this sort of program.

          • perilunar 7 days ago
            Yeah, nobody would want that. But why assume the spacecraft will be cramped? They could well be extremely large rotating colonies, with an internal area equal to a large city or small country. And if you can build such craft, then why bother terraforming planets? Mine asteroids or planets for materials to make new colonies, study the stellar system, and move on to the next star when it gets a bit crowded.
    • macintux 11 days ago
      As the article elaborates, for many years the dying sun was expected to be much, much sooner than that.
  • nunodonato 11 days ago
    Science compels us to explode the sun
    • PoignardAzur 11 days ago
      Or wait for a few billion years.

      As an aside, I took a while to roll with the narrative about the heat death of the universe in Outer Wilds. It's too sudden: you go from a healthy yellow sun to a red star in the blink of an eye. Even if you accept that timeframes are accelerated in this game, same reason the planets are smaller, it should still happen in a timespan comparable to the sun's entire lifespan, not a single event.

      Still, best game, would erase my memory to play again.

      • nunodonato 10 days ago
        glad to see that someone picked up the reference ::)
  • Animats 12 days ago
    > "Now-disgraced sci-fi patriarch John W. Campbell..."

    What did he do?

    • KittenInABox 12 days ago
      John W. Campbell did one of those contrarian intellectual who knee jerked too hard. He advocated that slavery had good sides and that it should've been kept as an institution because the civil war was worse than slavery. Also that slavery was a more natural way of society. Also that the relation of smoking to lung cancer was esoteric (he loved a good cig). Oh and that racial segregation should be maintained because of the inferiority of negroes. You know this kind of personality.
    • cratermoon 12 days ago
      "In 1949, Campbell worked closely with L. Ron Hubbard on the techniques that Hubbard later turned into Dianetics. When Hubbard's therapy failed to find support from the medical community, Campbell published the earliest forms of Dianetics in Astounding."

    • cwillu 12 days ago
      “An increasingly strong interest in pseudoscience later alienated Campbell from Asimov.[4] In the 1960s, Campbell's controversial essays supporting segregation, and other remarks and writings surrounding slavery and race, served to distance him from many in the science fiction community.”
    • User23 12 days ago
      • KittenInABox 11 days ago
        I don't believe Samuel Delany is an open NAMBLA member. He has expressed support for NAMBLA in 2004, and in 2014 admitted to reading a newsletter from them but claims not to have kept up with them for 20 years. These statements are now a decade and two decades old & I don't know what to make of him now these days. If you have more recent info, please let me know.

        [Also: alleged pedophile? who alleged him of pedophilia? seriously asking]

    • fractallyte 11 days ago
      He relished challenging readers' thinking and preconceptions.

      You can make up your own mind - there's a collection of his Astounding/Analog editorials in this book:

      And then there's this, Jeannette Ng's acceptance speech for the John W Campbell Best New Writer Award:

      (She began by calling him "Joseph Campbell", with the audience cheering the rest of her increasingly incoherent speech... Derision from people who really don't understand science fiction.)

      • ubermonkey 11 days ago
        >He relished challenging readers' thinking and preconceptions.

        Yes, on things like (checks notes) segregation. Huh.

        • fractallyte 11 days ago
          He wasn't afraid to dive into the details of topics that many people shun or simply dismiss.

          He made arguments, and encouraged counter-arguments. Without that, there would be blind consensus, and at worst, societal stagnation. It's his relentless urge to shake things up that made him one of the most prominent figures in science fiction.

          It's very telling that there wasn't some kind of disagreement with Jeannette Ng's shockingly ignorant outburst, or the delighted applause of her equally ignorant audience.

  • Apocryphon 12 days ago
    > For while the dying-earth genre came to an end in the 1940s


    Dying Earth is a fantasy series by the American author Jack Vance, comprising four books originally published from 1950 to 1984.

    The Book of the New Sun (1980–1983, 1987) is a four-volume science fantasy novel[2] written by the American author Gene Wolfe.

    • shagie 12 days ago
      Another entry in the 1950s to 1980s time frame: The Songs of Distant Earth by Clarke.

      > The Songs of Distant Earth is a 1986 science fiction novel by British writer Arthur C. Clarke, based upon his 1958 short story of the same title. He stated that it was his favourite of all his novels. Clarke also wrote a short step outline with the same title, published in Omni magazine and anthologised in The Sentinel in 1983.

      > The novel tells of a utopian human colony in the far future that is visited by travellers from a doomed Earth, as the Sun has gone nova. The Songs of Distant Earth explores apocalyptic, atheistic, and utopian ideas, as well as the effects of long-term interstellar travel and extra-terrestrial life. The story is set in the 39th century and follows the journey of a spaceship called the Magellan as it carries a group of colonists to a distant planet, Thalassa. Thalassa is one of the few habitable planets discovered by Earth’s automated spacecraft, and it becomes a refuge for humanity facing the impending destruction of Earth due to a massive solar flare.

    • andrewflnr 11 days ago
      The author is using "dying-earth genre" to mean something rather specific that the series Dying Earth, despite the name, doesn't necessarily fit. I haven't read it, but going by Wikipedia it sounds like it has at least as much in common with the "sword and sorcery" stuff she mentions later as it does with the absolutely bleak stories she excerpts by Wells et al. I've read a couple of Wolfe's books (Short Sun, IIRC?) and I would definitely put them in her later category, even if "sword and sorcery" undersells them enormously.

      Reading further on Wikipedia though, she might have picked a bad/already taken name for her category.

    • svachalek 12 days ago
      I think these are by far the most popular works today associated with the "dying earth" genre? Interesting that the article ignores them. But I never knew how pre-fusion astrophysics inspired this kind of story, which was fascinating.

      I've read both series within the past few years and they're still worth a a read. Vance's works inspired lots about D&D (including the older "Vancian" spell casting system) and have a lot of humor. The Book of the New Sun is a challenging read, written by an unreliable narrator. They're kind of interesting if you just take them at face value but to really appreciate them you have to go down the rabbit hole of what's really happening here.

    • vlz 11 days ago
      I think the author alludes to Vance when she writes:

      > The dying-earth genre didn’t vanish on the spot, but it transformed into a stock setting for sword-and-sorcery stories set in the far future where modern civilization’s technology has long since been lost

      which for me is a fair characterization of Vance although not of Wolfe who's Book of the New Sun while having these undertones is much more complex and could be said to transform the setting into something different altogether.

    • megiddo 12 days ago
      Stunning that Vance isn't mentioned.

      I can't imagine how he's overlooked in this article.

      • ndsipa_pomu 11 days ago
        Likewise. I feel that Jack Vance's Dying Earth series isn't as well known as it should be considering the huge influence it had on the invention of D&D (there's names of spells copied directly from it).
    • ronnirradd 11 days ago
      ctrl-f'd for vance and wolfe. was shocked they didn't make it.
  • MrIrrelevant 11 days ago
  • Archelaos 12 days ago
    > During the Age of Enlightenment ... as the scientific method replaced religion as the explanation for physical phenomena

    This happended more than 2,000 years earlier. The author seems to miss basic knowledge in the history of philosophy and science.

    • JumpCrisscross 12 days ago
      I’ll bite. What are you referring to?
      • kuchenbecker 12 days ago
        One big realization I had how sophisticated the ancient world is, the Antithikara Mechanism. Device built by ancient greeks in 200BC using thousands of years of astronomical learning to build the first KNOWN Analog Computer and devices of similar sophistication are not seen until the late middle ages / early renaissance.
        • nradov 12 days ago
          Some ancient societies were quite skilled and sophisticated in certain areas. But as far as we can determine they didn't have the scientific method as we understand it today.
      • Supermancho 12 days ago
        > the predominant scientific belief was that the universe and the bodies within it were endless

        From the article. Zeng Heng, who codified a long held belief that most certainly predated 0 AD

        • JumpCrisscross 12 days ago
          Nobody claimed there was no science. Just that there was no scientific method, nor the supremacy of scientific over religious explanations for the natural world.
          • fiddlerwoaroof 12 days ago
            This is a case of “Whig History” that refuses to die
            • JumpCrisscross 11 days ago
              The scientific method didn’t exist before the Enlightenment. We had tolerant societies before the present. But the notion that science should trump religion is modern.

              That doesn’t imply a glorious present. Just a qualitatively different one from any period before the modern era.

              • bandrami 11 days ago
                I'd rather say that the distinction between disciplines of learning is an anachronism before the early modern era (and even through much of it). "Philosophy" included what we now call medicine, natural science, theology, astronomy, astrology, and even music theory. There wasn't a question of "trumping" in the sense that they weren't thought of as different things.
                • Archelaos 11 days ago
                  This is primarily a terminological issue, what is used as a general term: "Philosophy", "natural philosophy", "Science and scholarship" (the German "Wissenschaft" always means both together -- "science" in particular is "Naturwissenschaft").

                  A discipline emerges, when a specific body of systematic knowledge becomes so specific that it typically requires specific expert knowledge and training (polymaths aside). In the European history of ideas, the first such body of knowledge was mathematics, but many others evolved already in Antiquity and were refined during the Middle Ages, such as astronomy, medicine, botanics, ... By the way: music theory in this times was the study of harmonic intervals and predominantly mathematics.

                  And the conflict between religion and science avant la lettre was as old as all of this (see Sokrates or Abelard to mention just the two most famous from Antiquity and the Middle Ages, respectively).

                  What changed gradually in the 17th and then had a break through in the 18th century was the adoption of the experimental method. This was not completely new, but from then on become the standard that makrs modern science.

              • fiddlerwoaroof 11 days ago
                > But the notion that science should trump religion is modern.

                Not particularly: in both the Medieval and Islamic worlds, the writings of Ibn Rushd (Averroes) introduced this concept. And, then as now, it depended on an irrationalism about religion (or a view that religion was a sort of noble lie for controlling the masses) that was widely rejected by the medievals who tended to prefer a harmony model of natural reason and revelation.

                • JumpCrisscross 11 days ago
                  > in both the Medieval and Islamic worlds, the writings of Ibn Rushd (Averroes) introduced this concept

                  That isn't "the scientific method replac[ing] religion as the explanation for physical phenomena," it isn't a society being organised around the principle of scientific supremacy, it's a single leading thinker being ahead of their time. The Almoravids were a conservative Islamic society.

      • whythre 12 days ago
        Aristotle, perhaps?