December 10, 2014

Atlantis Rising

This is just for fun.  I am totally charmed with the Martin Ruggles “Once Upon a Time in Inner Space,” addressing input from extraterrestrial visitors from a literary perspective.  Pursuing that, there is a pleasant coincidence.  Many know of Cyrano de Bergerac, the hero of the Rostand play by the same name; fewer know that there was such a person and fewer still have read his Comical History of the Empires of the Sun and Moon.  It is literary and social satire, so far as I know the only book in the genre.  It is science fiction, and if you take a strict definition of science fiction that it must be purely materialistic with no supernatural element, then this is arguably the first book in that genre.  Cyrano places himself as the narrator of the book so we have three Cyrano’s –  one real two fictional. 

The book is outrageous in the extreme, clearly deliberately so.  Leaving the social satire aside, the scientific satire involves some dozen principles that have been explored since.  For instance in the letters section of issue 109 Pat Alexander suggests building a reactionless space drive using a piece of ferromagnetic material and an electromagnet that can be turned on and off very rapidly.  In Cyrano’s time there was no such electromagnet, but he accomplished much the same purpose by moving a magnet quickly.  This movement, obviously, would have relativistic effects that would cancel out any net thrust, but the paradox would remain for centuries. 

Cyrano describes another drive involving bringing air into the bottom of the device, heating it, and releasing it from the top.  I have had an MIT rocket scientist assure me that it cannot work.  My great nephew assures me it works just fine. 

Cyrano’s Cyrano visits the moon and the sun and then returns and writes his book.  He does not stay long, dying before the book is published.  So in literary speak, that book is the gift of a visitor from space albeit a fictional one.  Fictional donor – real book.

Not many years after the book’s publication there was a plague, and Cambridge was shut down.  Isaac Newton went to his home town for the duration.  A bookish man he quite likely read Cyrano’s book.  As with my engineer friend, he was less than pleased.  The second drive should have pushed the device down.  In what just may have been a fit of exasperation he developed the laws of motion before returning to Cambridge. 

But that still left the question of the moving magnet unanswered.  That would have to wait for Einstein.  So don’t say Einstein disproved Newton.  Einstein rescued Newton from Cyrano. 

Since Newton’s laws of motion can be regarded as the beginning of modern science, and if he was goaded into action by a book ….  You see where this is going.  As I said, it’s just for fun.


Linton Herbert

There have been 147 visitors over the past month.  With anything like luck I’ll have something in a couple more days.

Home page