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Science Fiction Stories with Good Astronomy & Physics: A Topical Index


Relativity (The Special Theory of )

Benford, Gregory "Relativistic Effects" in In Alien Flesh. 1986, TOR. A ram-scoop spaceship accelerates very close to the speed of light and flies between two galaxies about to collide, able to remove some of the interstellar matter that would have flown between them, due to relativistic effects.

Forward, Robert "Twin Paradox" in Indistinguishable from Magic. 1995, Baen. One twin travels to the stars at relativistic speed, the other stays on Earth but stops aging.  So traveling twin gets to be older.

Haldeman, Joe The Forever War. 1974, Ballantine. Award‑winning novel of an interstellar war involving concepts from both special and general relativity.

Haldeman, Joe "Tricentennial" in Infinite Dreams. 1978, St. Martin's. Traveling near speed of light and the effects of time dilation.

Masson, David "Traveler's Rest" in Silverberg, Robert, ed. Voyagers in Time. 1967, Tempo. Intricate, brilliant story; relativistic time dilation becomes a function of latitude.

Sheffield, Charles "The Long Chance" in Vectors. 1979, Ace. Traveling into the future using relativistic space travel and suspended animation.

Stith, John Redshift Rendezvous. 1990, Ace. Explores the effects of a voyage in a "hyperspace" where the speed of light is 30 meters per second.

Varley, John "The Pusher" in Blue Champagne. 1986, Berkley. Poignant story on loneliness of relativistic space travel; time dilation makes it difficult to have a family on Earth.

Note: For stories involving the General Theory of Relativity, see under "Black Holes" and "Cosmology"

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Saturn (and its Satellites)

Clarke, Arthur "Saturn Rising" in Tales of Ten Worlds. 1962, Signet.  Story of a man who is driven by childhood trauma to build a hotel in Titan.  (Dated science, but good for its time.)

McDevitt, Jack "Melville in Iapetus" in Cryptic: The Best Short Fiction of Jack McDevitt. (2009, Subterranean Press) [also on the Web at:] An alien statue is discovered on this moon of the ringed planet and a human expedition wonders at the motivation of the artist. Nice descriptions of Saturn as seen from a tidally locked satellite.

Reynolds, Alastair Pushing Ice. 2005, Ace. Saturn's moon Janus turns out to be an alien craft, comes out of orbit, and takes a human spaceship on a remarkable interstellar adventure.

Swanwick, Michael "Slow Life" in Hartwell, D, ed. Best SF 8. 2003, Eos. Story of the first expedition to Titan; suggests a form of life that can survive deep under Titan's seas.

Varley, John "Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance" in The Persistence of Vision. 1978, Dell. Symbiotic humans and plants adapt to life in the rings of Saturn and make unearthly music.

Zelazny, Roger "Dreadsong" in Preiss, Byron, ed. The Planets. 1985, Bantam. Life forms that could live in Saturn's atmosphere.

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Science in General

Benford, Gregory Timescape. 1981, Pocket Books. An excellent novel that is one of the best depictions of the nature and pressures of scientific research; features astronomers such as Fred Hoyle and Geoffrey and Margaret Burbidge as characters.

Benford, Gregory Cosm. 1998, Avon/EOS. A Brookhaven physicist makes a universe in a particle accelerator.  Has excellent (and often caustic) portrayals of how big science is done today in physics and astronomy.

Chiang, Ted "Exhalation" in Hartwell, D. & Cramer, K., eds. Year's Best SF 14. 2009, Eos. A scientist, who is a mechanical being, tries to reason out his own anatomy by applying the scientific method.

Sagan, Carl Contact. 1985, Simon & Schuster. Good portrayal of how astronomical research is carried out and an interesting attempt to work out some modern issues between science and religion.

Weinberg, Gerald "The Moon is a Harsh Pig" in Brotherton, Mike, ed. Diamonds in the Sky. 2009, at On another planet, a bet about the cause for the phases of the moon leads a graduate student in astronomy to think more about science is done.

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SETI: The Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence via Radio Surveys

Baxter, Stephen "Last Contact" in Dozois, G., ed. The Year's Best Science Fiction, 25. 2008, St. Martin's. [Also available on the web at:] In the near future, the acceleration of the universe's expansion increases to such a degree that even stars in our own galaxy begin to be carried away very fast. Suddenly, SETI scientists pick up many messages: civilizations need to say goodbye.

Benford, Gregory “Bow Shock” in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: 24th Annual Collection, Gardner Dozois, ed. (2007, St. Martin’s).  A radio astronomer studying fast-moving neutron stars discovers the signature of an alien space ship.

Benford, Gregory "Dance to Strange Musics" in Year's Best Science Fiction 4, ed. David Hartwell. 1999, Eos/HarperCollins. First expedition to Alpha Centauri finds a planet-wide, collective life form that is sending out huge, information-rich SETI messages to one star after another.

Brin, David "Lungfish" in The River of Time. 1987, Bantam. Interesting contemplation of the many purposes to which alien civilizations might put self-replicating "von Neumann probes" and how conflicts between probes from different civilizations might arise.

Gunn, James The Listeners. 1972, Signet.  Good early portrayal of a scientifically reasonable search. (Note that the author is not the James Gunn who is an astronomer.)

McDevitt, Jack The Hercules Text. 1986, Ace.  Flawed, but interesting novel about radio communication with a distant civilization.

McDevitt, Jack "Nothing Ever Happens in Rock City" in Nebula Awards Showcase 2004, ed. Vonda McIntyre. 2004, ROC/Penguin. The first radio SETI discovery as seen from the perspective of the owner of the liquor store closest to the observatory.

Morton, Oliver "The Albian Message" in Year's Best SF 11, Hartwell, David & Cramer, Kathryn, eds. 2006, Eos. Suggests that the place to search for alien messages is in the human genome.

Piper, H. Beam “Omnilingual” in several short story collections, and free on the web at: (1957).  This story is somewhat dated (an expedition on Mars has found the ruins of extinct civilization, which is not scientifically reasonable with what we know today.)  But the key idea is timeless -- that the “Rosetta Stone” which enables an archaeologist to decipher their ancient language, turns out to be the periodic table of the elements.

Sagan, Carl Contact. 1985, Simon & Schuster. The discovery of radio signals from extra‑terrestrial intelligence leads humanity to re-evaluate its self-image.

Sawyer, Robert Factoring Humanity. 1998, Tor. A radio message from Alpha Centauri helps humanity get in touch with another civilization and itself.

Sawyer, Robert Rollback. (2007, TOR) A message from a civilization 19 LY away is received by SETI scientists, and turns out to be a survey on issues of morality for which they want many answers. We send a reply, and then their reply is eventually received, with instructions for incubating two baby aliens. Considers some of the issues of altruism and message construction that SETI researchers have been debating.

Spinrad, Norman "The Helping Hand" in Full Spectrum 3, ed. Lou Aronica, et al., 1991, Bantam. An alien message unites humanity, but turns out to be a benevolent lie.

Zerwick, C. & Brown H. The Cassiopeia Affair. 1968, Curtis. An exploration of the effects that an alien radio message might have on Earth. One of the authors is a geochemist.

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Solar System: General

Asimov, Isaac, et al., eds. The Science Fictional Solar System. 1979, Panther/Granada. A collection of short stories set on the planets and satellites of our solar system.

Preiss, Byron, ed. The Planets. 1985, Bantam. A collection of essays by noted astronomers about the planets in the solar system and science fiction stories inspired by our current understanding of each world.

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Space Flight

Garn, Jake & Cohen, Stephen Night Launch. 1989, William Morrow. A techno-thriller about the hijacking of the Space Shuttle in space, written by the first Senator to fly on the Shuttle.

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Space Travel (Realistic)

Anderson, Poul Tau Zero. 1970, Berkley.  While the ending is fanciful, this novel very nicely portrays some of the issues involving relativistic space travel.

Benford, Gregory "Relativistic Effects" in In Alien Flesh. 1986, TOR. A ram-scoop spaceship accelerates very close to the speed of light and flies between two galaxies about to collide.

Brin, David "An Ever-Reddening Glow" in Hartwell, D. & Cramer, K., eds. The Hard SF Renaissance. 2002, Orb. Suggests that it is the stretching of space by the general relativistic "metric surfing" (travel near the speed of light) of countless intelligent species that is responsible for the expansion of the universe, and that no species is willing to give up the thrill. (Very nice parallel with the ecological damage we all do to the Earth.)

Haldeman, Joe "Tricentennial" in Infinite Dreams. 1978, St. Martin's. Traveling near the speed of light and the effects of time dilation for the traveler.

Reynolds, Alistair "Beyond the Aquila Rift" in Year's Best SF 11, Hartwell, David & Cramer, Kathryn, eds. 2006, Eos. Proposes a network of ancient pathways like black holes that allow faster-than-light travel. Local stations can be reached fast, but the protagonist winds up in the Magellanic Clouds.

Varley, John "The Pusher" in Blue Champagne. 1986, Berkley. Poignant story about the loneliness of relativistic space travel; time dilation makes it difficult to have a family on Earth.

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