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Look out, Venus! The Russians are coming to open your shell.

Venus, forever shrouded in a protective layer of clouds, may soon be compelled to give up her secrets to a 1400 pound probe. Launched by the Soviet Union on the 11th, it is the first mission from Earth specifically designed to investigate "Earth's Twin."



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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from Timothy Gleason

Ishtar, Aphrodite, Venus—whatever you call it, the brightest of star-like objects in the sky has mesmerized humans for the entirety of recorded history, and likely beyond. It was among the first subjects of telescopic study, and you can bet it will be the first planetary target for space probes.

It is astonishing that, given all of the interest the Planet of Love has engendered, we know so little about our nearest planetary neighbor. The 2nd planet from the sun, Venus is an orb of mystery--she has been most reluctant to divulge her secrets.

Galileo saw that Venus went through phases, like the moon, and deduced that Venus was bright with reflected sunlight. Through transits of the sun (which happen twice a century—I hope I live to see the next ones in 2004 and 2012), we have learned that Venus has a thick atmosphere. More recently, it has been determined that Venus’ atmosphere contains several hundred times the concentration of carbon dioxide as ours. Measuring the Doppler shift of the planet’s edges, it appears that the planet rotates very very slowly, perhaps taking months to complete a rotation.

>From the planet’s period and effect on other planets, we know that its mass is actually quite close to that of the Earth, just a touch smaller. It almost certainly has a rocky surface. For these reasons, many have called Venus “Earth’s twin.”

Being closer to the sun, it is likely that Venus is much hotter than the Earth, but it is difficult to say how much hotter. It used to be thought that the surface of Venus might be a global, steaming ocean, but it is more widely believed now that there is no liquid water to be found, and perhaps precious little in the atmosphere.

But that’s all we know! The clouds are too thick to see through, so we can’t see the surface as we can with Mars. Perhaps in the near future, microwave and radio astronomy will be keys to mapping Venus, but for now, it’s just a silvery pearl.

Now, every year or so, when the alignment of planets is right, we have an opportunity to send a probe to Venus on a low-energy orbit that accommodates the largest payload for any given booster. The next one will be in November. Sadly, though NASA did have plans to launch a Venus mission this year, it has been pushed back due to development teething troubles. A test satellite with prototype equipment will be sent into orbit next month; if it does well, it bodes well for a Venus probe, though such won’t launch until the latter half of next year.
It may well be that the Soviets beat us to the punch. Look for a launch later this year (but note that their opportunities are slightly different from ours as they launch from a different part of the globe).

Next up—a review of the latest IF!

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I tried. I really tried.

When last we left off, I had saved Fritz Leiber's The Silver Eggheads for last. It comprises a good third of the January F&SF, and I thought it would be worth an article all to itself. I suppose it does, at that, but not the way I had thought.

For some reason, when I started this project, I'd had the impression that I liked Fritz Leiber. I think it was from reading The Big Time, which was pretty good. Thus my puzzlement when I reviewed "Number of the Beast", and again when I reviewed "Poor Little Miss MacBeth.".

I am now coming to realize that I don't like Fritz Leiber. The Silver Eggheads was yet another of his over written yet frivolous stories. I know Fritz has won the Hugo, and I haven't published any fiction since I was 14 (so what do I know?), but his latest novella was execrable.



Here's the plot. I think. In the future, fiction is turned out by sentient computers. The fiction-bots are destroyed by disgruntled writers (in the future, human writers don't actually compose; they just tend the machines), but then are unable to come up with their own stories. The glib explanation is that people are insufficiently educated in the future to write. This makes no sense--if the primary form of entertainment in the future is reading, how can it be impossible to know how to write, even if a mediocre fashion?

And there are these silver eggs that are apparently the brains of dead writers. And there is a whole species of robots with their own culture and even genders (but who act just like people--a typical sin of contemporary writers). And the whole thing is written in this baroque mess that is as much fun to read as stabbing forks into my eyes, with that same casual Playboy Magazine glib chauvinism that I've come to expect from Mssrs. Anderson and Garrett.

So, I tried. I really tried. But I could not get past the 16th page without skimming. I have failed you. I present myself prostrate and ask forgiveness. Or vindication, whichever may be appropriate.

The rest of the issue fares little better. John Collier's Meeting of Relations is a slight, biblically-inspired piece. It is also 16 years old; its reprinting suggests it was picked based on length rather than quality.

Invasion of the Planet of Love, by George P. Elliott, is another one of those strange pieces that leaves me wondering if it supposed to be satire or not. I suspect it is, because the subject (rapacious Victorian-types looting and torturing Venus and its inhabitants only to be thwarted by the most peaceful of peoples) is implemented in so heavy-handed a fashion that it must have been meant as some kind of allegory. It's certainly not science fiction, at least no more than Burroughs' work at the turn of the century.

From <i>Exploring the Planets</i> Copyright 1958
From Exploring the Planets Copyright 1958

Incidentally, it is looking as though the "hot but tolerable" Venus is about to go by the wayside (along with all the science fiction stories that take place on it). A presentation at the Paris Symposium on Radio Astronomy last summer revealed that radar studies done a few years ago show that Venus may be extremely hot--well above the boiling point of water. I have a suspicion that most of our treasured science-fiction tropes may well be rendered obsolete in the next few years of space exploration.

Wrapping up the magazine is The R of A by Gordon Dickson. It's another in a long line of wish-granting genie stories and an interesting commentary on predestination. Not great, but not bad.

That leaves the score for this magazine at one third 4-star, one third 2-star, and one third 1-star. This leads to an average of 2.33. And things started out so well. On the other hand, the nice thing about digests is you can pick and choose.

Next article: 43,000 Years Later by Horace Coon. Stay tuned!

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