Way back in the 1960s, the only star system we really knew about was our own and despite there being billions of stars in the Milky Way and beyond, the existence of other planetary systems was a matter of sheer speculation. While it was possible to investigate stars of all spectral types to gain information about size, temperature, rotation and elemental composition, looking deeper to see if there were planets orbiting them was just beyond the capabilities of the time. With the advancement of electronic techniques, computers and satellite technology, all that has changed. The Kepler space telescope revolutionised our opinions! One technique involved the measurement of tiny fluctuations in the brightness of candidate stars which showed that bodies were orbiting around them. By this method and several others involving ground-based telescopes, at the beginning of 2014, it’s now known that 1800 extra-solar planets probably exist.
Astronomers are still scratching their heads when contemplating the information gleaned from these techniques because all the ideas of planetary formation have been swept aside. Instead of large planets being further from the star, as the case exists in our own Solar System, they are usually found uncomfortably close. Smaller planets not far removed from the size of the Earth were discovered with some of them in habitable zones where the possibilities of life-giving water in liquid state would exist. Science Fiction writers have for many years conjured up all sorts of planets everywhere in the universe but now, for the first time they actually have real places and scenarios on which to base their action. With this in mind, the book ‘Extreme Planets’ has been released which describes the adventures which could await us in the future when we begin to venture to these other worlds.
Yes, ‘Extreme Planets’ takes us on a great expeditionary journey to a variety of these planets. Edited by David Conyers, David Kernot and Jeff Harris, this is a collection of 15 stories, meaty and substantial stories at that, spanning 350 pages. All but one of the stories was written especially for this volume so here we have something new and relevant with up-to-date information. While it is fictional and adventurous, it’s all based on what we think is out there and what we think is fact. I found it to be a really good read, one which was difficult to put down and, in this review, I will go over some of the stories which grabbed my attention most.
‘The Flight Of The Salamander’ by Violet Addison and David Smith involved a mind transplant of a woman scientist into the body of flying salamander. The planet was dying, ripped apart by volcanic eruptions and yet it was being exploited by humans for minerals. A blue super-giant star threatened to engulf the world in fiery doom, making this an entirely unpleasant environment. Problems arose when the scientist could not get back to her own body which was encapsulated in a ship which had crash-landed on the barren surface. She then had to choose between her own personal safety or the lives of the other surviving humans!
‘Petrochemical Skies’ by David Conyers and David Kernot had great characters and a wonderful setting for the story, that being a super-sized Earth which had an eccentric orbit around a hot star giving periods of intense heat and then cold. Survival on the surface was impossible unless special suits were employed that could fly through the dense atmosphere and swim through seas of chemical sludge. Jenna was the astro-navigator on board the ship that was trying to outdo others in a race to provide services for another planet. She was inexperienced and somewhat immature, bullied by the captain and condescendingly treated by others. Things didn’t get better when she crashed into the planet, losing the artificially intelligent hyperdrive, jeopardising the entire mission.
Trying to find the hyperdrive was problematic because it involved an immense journey around the planet. Unfortunately, it was found in one of the seas which maybe harboured a type of primitive life residing within its murky depths. This carbon rich planet was covered with diamonds and the skies were saturated with hydrocarbons, making it a world of plenty for people like ourselves but to these entrepreneurs of the future, other things were more important. How would Jenna survive? Would her indecisive nature and inexperience be the undoing of them all?
Brian Stableford’s story, ‘The Seventh Generation’, can be described quite simply as magnificent! What a great writer he is! Superlatives notwithstanding, this well-known author takes us to the far distant future of our own planet. A couple of scientists, Corcoran and Halleck, by all accounts a couple of miserable middle-aged gentleman, meet up to discuss an experiment which will project one of them into the future. In this experiment, the actual person is not sent to the future, rather it is a conscious ghost which will nonetheless be able to interact to some extent with the environment. It’s a dangerous experiment but Corcoran has tried it before and this time wishes to proceed even further, to the stage when the sun has turned to a red giant, about 5 billion years in the future.
Without wishing to give away too much of the story, it seems that there could be several generations awaiting us in the future. Mankind disappears and other forms of life take over. The process which scientists go through to discover this future is exciting and dramatic and yet, it’s oddly quaint in a British sense. It’s one that you must definitely read!
As mentioned, 15 stories transporting you to many different planets and environments out there in the Galaxy, from comets and asteroids in our Solar System to worlds completely covered in water and, in another case, something resembling soup. There are blue giant stars of intense radiation, red dwarfs and a strange world living in the realms of a white dwarf star where the quest for sunlight is but a vain attempt to survive. This is one of the most exciting short story collections on the market for some time. Not only is it relevant, as far as the physics is concerned, it’s connected humanly and emotionally to our own species as it travels out to these strange worlds. One not to miss!
(pub: Chaosium. 350 page e-book. Price: $18.95 (US))
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