Observation for Now

Ours is the only country deliberately founded upon a good
idea.


--John Gunther



Saturday, April 18, 2009

Picoverse, by Robert Metzger -- A Review

If you want to read an interesting story about alternate universes, spacetime, and physics/relativity paired with human failures and hopes, this is a good read.
This 2002 novel chronicles attempts to crunch spacetime using a supercomputer named a Sonomak, in a project at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
When something goes a little wrong -- Dr Frankenstein, I presume? -- and a miniaturized creation -- a Picoverse -- is created, then things get interesting.
In Picoverse (the story) we have the creation and visiting of different alternate worlds, created by the misfiring of plasma injectors into magnetic fields (or something). Each universe is created as an exact duplicate of ours, up until the moment of divergence.
These worlds' scale (physical and temporal) are smaller in relation to ours, so, as in Theodore Sturgeon's classic tale "Microcosmic God," whole generations might pass in a picoverse in the course of a conversation on our plane.
But it's the tales of the characters, and their passages into various worlds, and interactions with their alternate selves and with other people, that make Picoverse so much fun and moving and insightful.
Metzger shows insights into many facets of the human character, including some we don't like to acknowledge -- pettiness, jealousy, selfishness, outright self-righteous justification. But the people in Picoverse also try to help themselves and others. They have loves and selfless motives and self-sacrifice.
Sometimes these polarities of human behavior are even shown in the same character, at different times.
Picoverse is a fun book, not an easy read if you're not up on physics (as I am not), but loaded with ideas and observations and people who make you want to know what will happen next to them.

Monday, April 13, 2009

His Lordship, Clark Kent!





Here we have the oldest comic I own, Action 106, cover-dated March 1947. Its cover story is "His Lordship, Clark Kent."





The cover illo (by Wayne Boring?) is a bit of a cheat. Because Superman himself doesn't become a British lord, only good ol' CK.


Check out the humorous splash page for the story. Clark and Lois stand in a drawing room with Superman sneaking in through a secret panel. Above the fireplace is a painting of the happy/tragic faces of Greek drama, along with Clark's and Superman's faces. The Superman face is winking at us.



The first page depicts a Brit appearing at the Daily Planet, and the second page sinks the hook: Clark Kent is the long-lost Bertram, hereditary Baron of Edgestream.






Dazzled by the prospects of such a story for his paper, Perry demands that Clark cross the Big Pond and report on the outcome.








On the top of the next page, as Clark boards a cross-Atlantic plane, the narrative takes on a strange resonance for me: "Clark cannot be sure he is not a long-lost British noble - for he knows only that he was an orphan reared by a kindly couple who found him."





In other words, in 1947, Superman did not know that he came from Krypton!


In a deathbed meeting with the dying Baron Edgestream, Clark finds he has been drawn into a family quarrel with wide implications. The old man knows that Clark isn't the heir, but he has selected the Planet reporter in place of the next in line, a scoundrel named Julian Fyffe.



Soon Clark investigates the family archives and discovers a long-hidden photo of the real Bertram as a babe, revealing a star-shaped birthmark on the boy's shoulder.





Time passes, and Clark learns of his vast holdings, including a series of coal mines. When Clark and others take a tour of the mines to investigate their alleged unsafeness, guess what!



That scoundrel Julian, having failed in several previous attempts on the life of "His Lordship, Clark Kent," goes for broke, dynamiting the mine and burying Clark, Lois, and several miners, including Eddie Pike, the miner who's been the most active agitator for mine safety.


Who, we discover, has a certain star-shaped birthmark on his shoulder.




Yep, the baddies confess, and the real Bertie becomes Lord of the Manor, while Superman builds new, safe housing for the workers.








Well, it's a typical 1940s Suprman tale, with a lot of silliness yet with some real social issues -- does rank make one man more important than another?


I think not. What do you think?
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