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View Full Version : Bad Astro in dragon book (Skies of Pern) Possible spoilers



Ben Benoy
2002-Feb-11, 06:12 AM
So, yeah, I admit it, I recently (this afternoon, when I should have been doing homework) finished reading Anne McCaffery's The Skies of Pern. This is not a book review, although I will say that I seem to recall reading this book before. I think it was called... Satan's Mallet? Something like that. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_smile.gif

Regardless, on to the Bad Astronomy<font size=-1><sup>TM</sup></font>!

So those crazy dragonriders decide that they need to find all of the asteroids which could possibly be a danger to Pern. And they decide to do it, using 4 (count them, 4) telescopes arranged around the planet. Using these 4 (count them, 4) scopes, they will discover all of the large and small space rocks in their vicinity, and keep themselves safe.

Ahh... these must be some pretty impressive telescopes, you say. Well, it doesn't seem like it. The one that they describe, tucked away in its own private observatory, is about a 24 inch reflector. And the other ones are going to be smaller. Or at least, that's what it sounded like to me.

The other thing about the telescopes is that glassmakers are described as "building the mirrors". Exactly what does this mean, to build the mirror, I'm not sure. But I don't know anybody who does it that way. Those crazy glassmakers...

Also, the two main characters, Tai and F'lessan (see? I really did read the book! So there!) whip out a picture of an asteroid that is distinctly potato shaped, and has little craters on it. But they get this from their ground based scope, which as I mentioned, I don't think was massively awesome, gotta go call the grandkids amazing. Here's an animation of an asteroid going by outside the orbit of the moon, let alone out in the asteroid belt. Here. (http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap011224.html)

Er... anyway, the point is that they aren't that easy to find.

The other point is that they decide to do this because <spoilers!!!!> the planet gets smacked by a comet, causing destruction and ruin to many. (I guess I kind of gave that away with... Beelzebub's Sledge? It's on the tip of my tounge here. Anywho.) Then everybody decides that they are in danger of being smacked by stuff from the sky, and that its the dragonriders' responsibility to stop it. And they're planning to make a permanent career out of this. Is it just me, or does this sound like an incredibly dull job. How often can a big major threat wander by? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Disclaimer: this is not to say that astronomer's jobs are stupid, or that astronomers are silly, or that we shouldn't be worried about NEOs. But it seems to me that asteroid/comet hits come in a Poisson distribution, with a really long interval. by the time our intrepid riders are called upon to do anything, it will have been a really long time. And.. um... I guess I just feel disappointed by the book. It started off being about Luddites, and then it was about comets, and then it was about angst, and then, oh yeah, the Luddite problem is magically taken care of, only not really at all. Um... ok, I think I've wandered into the realm of incoherency. Yay!

So, in the final estimation, I would recommend this book to people who like books about things that this book is about, and also people who don't, because they should broaden their horizons. The end.

Ben Benoy

In related news, I was on Half.com, looking for a book for my Diff. Geometry class, and they informed me that people who bought An Introduction to Differentiable Manifolds & Riemannian Geometry, also bought Memoirs of a Geisha, Poisonwood Bible, and Bridget Jones. I think that these titles are completely and totally random, unless middle aged women have recently taken a keen interest in manifolds. (mmm... manifolds...) /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_smile.gif Check it out here: The Link! (http://www.half.com/cat/buy/prod.cgi?cpid=41151&meta_id=1&domain_id=1856). Hit refresh and spec those titles. Yikes!





Fixed Coding

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Ben Benoy on 2002-02-11 01:15 ]</font>

Jigsaw
2002-Feb-12, 01:57 AM
Er, am I correct in assuming this is the first time you've encountered an Anne McCaffrey Dragonrider Series book? So, you found out the big secret--it's not about Luddites, or angst, or even comets. It's about being a really cool person who gets to RIDE ON FLYING DRAGONS!! Yee-haw. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif

You should be thankful she even bothered to set up a plausible plot device for them to find the asteroids. Many fantasy authors would have simply had the characters find out about the asteroids' locations from friendly resident aliens, or maybe one of the Pern children would develop Esper asteroid-spotting capabilities... At least the Pern people had pretend telescopes.

But anyway, reading Anne McCaffrey for the astronomy is like reading Laura Ingalls Wilder for the deep insights into the plight of Native Americans during the 19th century. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif

Ben Benoy
2002-Feb-12, 02:55 AM
Hey, did I say I'd never read one before? I've actually read them all, a bit of a guilty pleasure, as it were. Of course they're about having the freaking coolest job ever. (Oh no! I have to ride on a dragon all day! Boo hoo hoo!)

But that doesn't excuse them from having Bad Astronomy. Otherwise, well... It just doesn't. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_smile.gif

Welcome to the board.

Ben

Jigsaw
2002-Feb-12, 01:47 PM
Thanks. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_smile.gif I see this morning that the half.com "people also bought" list has been changed--now it says that "People who bought Boothby's Differential Manifolds and How to Repair Them also bought Waiting, The Red Tent, and Sex and the City.

And I think I have the connection figured out. The hard-cover 1975 first edition of Boothby is out of print, so that makes him "collectible", and the sort of people who read this kind of bestselling novel are also the same sort of people who enjoy snobbish book hunts for rare books. "I've got my book dealer keeping his eye peeled for the Boothby Differentiable first edition. He says he thinks there's a copy in Rio..."

No? Well. The other explanation, and IMO the most likely one, is that the book lists are randomly generated. Just in the last few minutes, since I've been typing this, it's changed again. Now it says "People who bought Boothby also bought Poisonwood Bible, Outlander, and Beowulf, the Seamus Heaney version."

So, which is more likely? Either the half.com software is picking titles out of a hat, or else just in the last few minutes half.com sold 3 copies of Boothby's book, plus one copy each of the Poisonwood Bible, Outlander, and Beowulf, the Seamus Heaney version. And if Boothby is moving that fast, maybe I should order one...

/phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif

ToSeek
2002-Feb-12, 02:00 PM
On 2002-02-11 20:57, Jigsaw wrote:

You should be thankful she even bothered to set up a plausible plot device for them to find the asteroids. Many fantasy authors would have simply had the characters find out about the asteroids' locations from friendly resident aliens, or maybe one of the Pern children would develop Esper asteroid-spotting capabilities... At least the Pern people had pretend telescopes.


Don't try to tell Anne McCaffrey she's a fantasy writer - so far as she's concerned the Dragonrider books are carefully thought out science fiction. (As I recall, she does stick fairly close to the vest other than the flying dragons - and I think the first story in the series was actually published in ANALOG, which is known for its hard sf and not at all for fantasy.)

The Curtmudgeon
2002-Feb-12, 08:16 PM
On 2002-02-12 08:47, Jigsaw wrote:
...Now it says "People who bought Boothby also bought Poisonwood Bible, Outlander, and Beowulf, the Seamus Heaney version."

So, which is more likely? Either the half.com software is picking titles out of a hat, or else just in the last few minutes half.com sold 3 copies of Boothby's book, plus one copy each of the Poisonwood Bible, Outlander, and Beowulf, the Seamus Heaney version. And if Boothby is moving that fast, maybe I should order one...

I highly recommend Heaney's translation of Beowulf; it's probably the best poetic translation in the past ten or twelve centuries! /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif (I can say that, I took Anglo-Saxon Lang. & Lit., and read more versions of Wulfie than I care to count.)

Mind you, I can't recall Wulfie actually doing any differential manifolds, or astronomy either when it comes to that. ("Hey, Brecca! Did you know Saturn's got rings!? Come look through this tube-with-bits-of-glass-at-both-ends!!" Or, "Hey, Grendal! Integrate this!! [CRUNCH!!]") /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_rolleyes.gif /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_lol.gif /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_rolleyes.gif

The (hwaet-ing all over the place) Curtmudgeon

Moonpuppy
2002-Feb-21, 09:13 PM
I love The Dragonriders of Pern books! I've loved dragons ever since I was five or six years old--maybe because I was born in the Chinese Year of the Dragon? Hmmmm....

Anyway, methinks Anne McCaffrey didn't do much astronomy research, but who cares? There are people riding dragons! What could be cooler than that? The whole idea of animals that huge being able to fly is ludicrous, but I'll suspend my disbelief.

Beelzebub's Sledge would be a cool name for a rock band.

Lisa
2002-Feb-21, 10:08 PM
Okay, I'll admit it, I read the Pern books too. Even if the science makes me say "yeah right" every couple of pages. True, the plot was all over the place in the last book. I think its a set-up for a sequel.
Lisa

Moonpuppy
2002-Feb-23, 02:57 PM
One thing I always wondered was, if these Thread critters (micorhizoids?) are so destructive, why hasn't all of Pern's life been long since either wiped out, or evolved to deal with them? You'd think that eventually, all sorts of plants and animals would have evolved to eat, tolerate, or co-exist with Threads. It just seems that Pern's native wildlife is not terribly diverse.

Kaptain K
2002-Feb-23, 06:33 PM
Let's see...
Fire destroys Thread.
Dragons breathe fire.
Hmmm. Sounds like evolution at work.

_________________
When all is said and done - sit down and shut up!

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Kaptain K on 2002-02-23 13:35 ]</font>

Lisa
2002-Feb-23, 11:56 PM
On 2002-02-23 09:57, Moonpuppy wrote:
One thing I always wondered was, if these Thread critters (micorhizoids?) are so destructive, why hasn't all of Pern's life been long since either wiped out, or evolved to deal with them? You'd think that eventually, all sorts of plants and animals would have evolved to eat, tolerate, or co-exist with Threads. It just seems that Pern's native wildlife is not terribly diverse.

But Thread didn't fall all the time. There were hundreds of years between threadfalls. Is life on this planet comet and meteor-proof?
Lisa

Code Red
2002-Feb-28, 10:06 AM
I read the Dragon books many years ago, which were enjoyable but I must admit I always had a problem with this Red Star and Thread thang. Think about it - the spores had to a) somehow achieve escape velocity to leave the surface of the Red Star b) cross the void to Pern and c) Survive the enormous heat of re-entry. Add to this last fact that although the Thread could withstand this, it was easily burned up by the flames of the dragons (much cooler than re-entry heat cos the dragons produced flame by eating coal as I recall) and flamethrowers.

I did also wonder at one time how the "mindless" Thread could also do the necessary Newtonian calculations to be able to slingshot from home to Pern and what its motivation would be, but I guess the Thread just spews off in all directions, a small percentage of which encounters Pern in its path.

Excuse me, I'm starting to feel distinctly anal here...

Wally
2002-Feb-28, 12:51 PM
I remember reading this series as a kid as well. Can't remember names or the like (it's been way too long!), but I still remember thinking how cool it'd be to get selected by a newly hatched dragon and become a rider! Especially a blue dragon (didn't that mean something special???).

Ben Benoy
2002-Feb-28, 04:23 PM
Excuse me, I'm starting to feel distinctly anal here...


That's a major 10-4 on the anal, big daddy, but... er, nevermind.

So as far as the life cycle of Thread (always capitalized on the book, go figure), I think the plan is that the Red Star goes out into a wicked elliptical orbit, and picks up these spores from way out in the middle of nowhere, and they sort of tag along behind it. Then, when the planet swings by those fun loving guys and gals on Pern, some of them get tugged off and fall down on the intrepid Pernese.

When they are out in space, they're like grey balls, which have a nice tough outer shell to keep them from dying in the cold. The shell breaks or burns up somehow on reentry, and what you have left is Thread, which is suseptible to both fire and cold. Thus solving all of our problems. This is also why in Dragonquest, when F'nor goes to the Red Star, there's thread all over on the "ground", because they have fallen onto that planet too. Or something like that.

Ben

szyzyg
2004-Nov-02, 06:26 AM
By chance I discovered this site today and I feel compelled to weigh in on the discussion of Pern.

Anne certainly likes to do her research and I worked with her as a 'Cosmic Impact Consultant' for this book, providing my expertise in the field of asteroid and comet impacts. At the time I was working towards a PhD at Armagh Observatory, Northern Ireland (a PhD I never completed after getting sidetracked into this whole intraweb gizmo and moved to California).

The Pern series of books had started without much in the way of hard science, but Anne did a terrific job of building a scientific background to it all, turning the population of Pern into descendants of colonists from Earth. The Dragons were created through genetic engineering as the perfect self repairing and replicating defence mechanism against the threat of the thread. She'd even picked out a real star for the location of Pern, Rukbat - sadly this is one of the more obvious pieces of Bad Astronomy since the real star is a B type, much too hot and bright for Pernian system described in the books. I suggested offhand that perhaps there was a G type star relatively near to Rukbat which would fit, but really I don't think there was any scope for altering this in the near future.

I remember being interested enough to use the Hipparcos data to plot star charts as the inhabitants of Pern would see although I didn't have the imagination to come up with constellations to match the stars. As it happened visualisations were one of the things which I did a lot of, my astronomy skills weren't up to a PhD, but my diagrams still get used. (Check my Map Of Near Earth Asteroids (http://szyzyg.arm.ac.uk/~spm/) from my old observatory web page)

When I first talked with Anne she had a plan for the asteroid impact, an impact time, place, approximate trajectory etc etc. I made a few suggestions, there was some consideration over whether the object should be an asteroid or a comet. I suggested a comet because (a) I was able to give it an impact trajectory which more closely matched the one suggested in her plot outline (b) it would cause a massive meteor shower preceding the impact.

So, I threw some element calculations together to create a hypothetical object, as well as some visualisations and a timetable for the events. There's a few things in the book which come from my outline, and I'm honoured that she made direct references. There's an odd moment where some coordinates get used out of context, but she did a fantastic job.

Anne actually came to the observatory for a day, to get a feel for our telescopes, real antique instruments (this is Northern Ireland, most of the observatory's work is in theoretical research, most observing work is done elsewhere). She also spent a lot of time talking with Bill Napier, who has also published a *fantastic* book about killer asteroids, nuclear weapons, computer hacking, and renaissance era documents - all wound up into a tidy little thriller that would fit nicely alongside most Tom Clancy books. 'Nemesis' is probably still available and well worth a read - I also provided some 'expert' knowledge to Bill when I mused about the best way to hack into a US government research lab.

Anyway... it's true there are a few issues with any work of fiction, particularly something like the Pern series where there's been such a large amount of background material which has to remain self consistent. Anne does a pretty good job of consulting experts and she's a great person, I have good memories of my chance to work with her.

Scott Manley CIC
My Current Website (http://www.djsnm.com)
My Old Observatory Site (http://star.arm.ac.uk/~spm/)
[/url]

nomuse
2004-Nov-02, 08:34 AM
Nice to hear about all that, szyzyg. I do recall the first Pern book as serialized in Analog. And right on the first page it puts out its SF credentials -- talking not about holds and dragonriders and whatnot but giving data on the astrometrics of the Rukbat system.

And, oh, the lifeforms of the Southern Continent have evolved to deal with Thread.

The biggest Bad Science for me has always been how fast her people learn scientific facts, how quickly their technology moves forwards, and how smart her people are about their science. Of course, they are unblindered by religion and dispite generations of mythologizing they presumably still keep some cultural imprint of a rational, technological, colonist culture. It just would feel a lot better to me if they made a few more mistakes when dealing with the unknown.

Careless
2004-Nov-02, 10:01 AM
Thanks. &lt;IMG SRC="/phpBB/images/smiles/icon_smile.gif"> I see this morning that the half.com "people also bought" list has been changed--now it says that "People who bought Boothby's Differential Manifolds and How to Repair Them also bought Waiting, The Red Tent, and Sex and the City.

And I think I have the connection figured out. The hard-cover 1975 first edition of Boothby is out of print, so that makes him "collectible", and the sort of people who read this kind of bestselling novel are also the same sort of people who enjoy snobbish book hunts for rare books. "I've got my book dealer keeping his eye peeled for the Boothby Differentiable first edition. He says he thinks there's a copy in Rio..."

No? Well. The other explanation, and IMO the most likely one, is that the book lists are randomly generated. Just in the last few minutes, since I've been typing this, it's changed again. Now it says "People who bought Boothby also bought Poisonwood Bible, Outlander, and Beowulf, the Seamus Heaney version."

So, which is more likely? Either the half.com software is picking titles out of a hat, or else just in the last few minutes half.com sold 3 copies of Boothby's book, plus one copy each of the Poisonwood Bible, Outlander, and Beowulf, the Seamus Heaney version. And if Boothby is moving that fast, maybe I should order one...

&lt;IMG SRC="/phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif">


How many copies of "Differential manifolds and how to repair them" do you think they sell? if it's not many, it's understandable why the list of "also bought"s they have is screwy.