Archive for: February, 2009

Evolution's influence in pulp fiction!

Feb 09 2009 Published by under History of science, Weird fiction

This February 12th will be the 200th anniversary of the birthday of Charles Darwin, father of the theory of evolution which forms the cornerstone of modern biology.  Being that this birthday coincides nicely with the February 15th deadline of The Giant's Shoulders, I wanted to write something about the influence of Darwin's theory.

The problem, however, is that I'm not a biologist, and have no training to meaningfully expound upon the significance of Darwin's work in biology (and would likely be biologically lynched if I tried).  My other blogging interest, however, is in pulp horror and science fiction, and the theory of evolution made a huge impression of the authors of such weird tales, in both positive and negative ways.

As my tribute to the memory of Darwin, I thought I'd take a look at some of the references to evolution in science fiction and horror in the years following its discovery!  We'll look at stories from almost the time of the publication of On the Origin of Species (1859) to the 1930s.  This list is by no means exhaustive, but represents some of the tales I've come across recently.

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A physics history-mystery: magnetism from light?

Feb 08 2009 Published by under History of science, Physics

As I've noted in previous posts, one of the fun things about researching historical scientific papers is the unexpected places the investigation can take you.   Often a simple search on a straightforward topic will start a chain reaction of increasingly interesting discoveries, comparable to a trip to the grocery store ending up in Machu Picchu.  Case in point:  I've been doing a series of posts about the research of Michael Faraday (see here and here), but I have yet to write about the paper that originally interested me in the subject!  Too many other intriguing observations keep getting in the way.

Case in point in case in point: I've been looking into Faraday's contribution to the understanding that light is an electromagnetic wave.  That investigation led me to some early work by other researchers on the light/magnetism connection, and led me in turn to a puzzler: how significant and accurate is that earlier research?  I don't have a good answer, so I will pose the questions to the physics/blog community in the post.

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Duke's Lovely Lemurland!

Feb 06 2009 Published by under Animals

There was one other event at the rapidly-receding-into-the-past ScienceOnline 09 that I wanted to blog about: my visit to the Duke Lemur Center!  Friday was a day for local trips to areas of interest, and I opted to go with a small group (including Brian) to the Lemur Center.

The Center is funded by the National Science Foundation and has a mission to "to promote research and understanding of prosimians and their natural habitat as a means of advancing the frontiers of knowledge, to contribute to the educational development of future leaders in international scholarship and conservation and to enhance the human condition by stimulating intellectual growth and sustaining global biodiversity."  It is a relatively low-key (but awesome) facility with a strong emphasis on research and conservation.  Visitors are welcome but must schedule a guided tour -- the directions to the Center are not even publicly displayed on their website!

We were not at the Center at the optimal time.  In the summer, the animals have free run of a open-air forest, but in the winter are kept mostly indoors.  The day of our visit it was particularly cold, and the animals had to be coaxed to even come near the open windows to say 'hello' by our excellent guides (whose names, alas, escape me).

Nevertheless, I've been a huge fan of lemurs for years, so I found the visit a delight.  Below the fold I share a few of my pics from the Center and some of my older lemur photos -- and videos!

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10 days until The Giant's Shoulders #8!

Feb 05 2009 Published by under General science, Science news

There are now ten days left until the deadline for the 8th edition of The Giant's Shoulders, to be held at at Greg Laden’s Blog.  Entries can be submitted through or directly to the host blog, as usual!

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The NSF online porn scandal!

Feb 03 2009 Published by under ... the Hell?

Finally I have a post topic (almost) as attention-getting as scicurious' posts (see, for instance, here and here)!  It was reported a few days ago that an internal investigation by the National Science Foundation's inspector general has revealed numerous cases of employees of the NSF downloading porn at work.  Via Politico,

Despite the less-than-lurid sound of the probes, the employees in question weren’t just logging onto their Facebook accounts or buying birthday gifts on The report says they were watching, downloading and e-mailing porn, sometimes for significant portions of their workdays, and over periods of months or even years.

In one particularly egregious case, the report says one NSF “senior official” was discovered to have spent as much as 20 percent of his working hours over a two-year interval “viewing sexually explicit images and engaging in sexually explicit online ‘chats’ with various women.”

Investigators calculated the value of the time lost at more than $58,000 — for that employee alone.

The revelations of the report have gotten Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley up in arms, and he has requested/demanded all relevant documents related to the scandal.

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A. Merritt's The Metal Monster

Feb 02 2009 Published by under Horror, Lovecraft, Weird fiction

Last week I discussed A. Merritt's book The Moon Pool (1919), an adventure/horror novel showing genuine flashes of weird brilliance but marred by some rather stereotypical pulp conventions.  Merritt's next novel, The Metal Monster (1920), is something else entirely!  Perhaps the best place to start is with the assessment of H.P. Lovecraft, from a letter to James F. Morton dated March 6, 1934:

Other recent items on my calendar are Dunsany's new book -- The Curse of the Wise Woman -- Weigall's Wanderings in Roman Britain, and A. Merritt's old yarn The Metal Monster, which I had never read before because Eddy told me it was dull.  The damn'd fool!  (nephew -- not our late bilbiophilick friend)  Actually, the book contains the most remarkable presentation of the utterly alien and non-human that I have ever seen.  I don't wonder that Merrittt calls it his "best and worst" production.  The human characters are commonplace and wooden -- just pulp hokum -- but the scenes and phaenomena... oh, boy!

Just as with The Moon Pool, I find myself in complete agreement with Lovecraft's assessment (excepting that I have no opinion on the foolishness of Lovecraft's nephew).  Though the protagonists of the novel are essentially generic pulp heroes and heroines, the weird and horrific elements of the novel are truly jaw-dropping in their beauty and utterly unique.  The Metal Monster has catapulted to near the top of my list of all-time favorite weird tales.  Let's take a loving look at it below the fold...

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