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How Antimatter Became a Plaything of Science Fiction
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Author:  beamjockey [ Mon Dec 29, 2008 11:07 am ]
Post subject:  How Antimatter Became a Plaything of Science Fiction

I have an article in Symmetry magazine about the path by which antimatter, a curiosity to physicists in the 1930s, found its way into science fiction.

I came across an exchange in the Heinlein Archives where John W. Campbell Jr. was persuading Heinlein to write a story about miners harvesting deadly "contraterrene" (what we would today call antimatter) asteroids for energy. Heinlein considered this and researched it for a while, then dropped the idea, so Campbell offered it to Jack Williamson. Williamson developed it into the "Seetee" series, adding his own ideas and a new word, "terraforming."

I unraveled the trail of scientific developments that preceded Campbell's inspiration. Heinlein looked like the perfect author to write this, since he had already done two nuclear physics stories, "Blowups Happen" and "Solution Unsatisfactory," for Campbell.

I also tracked down Williamson's carbon copy of the manuscript for "Collision Orbit," which the editors of Symmetry treated with the respect due a historic laboratory notebook or scientific communication.

And I turned the whole tale into a lecture, which I have presented at a couple of conventions.

Fun fact: Williamson wrote the first story in a shack he built himself, which still exists.

So the Archives have provided the seed for one magazine article so far. I hope there are more.

My only disappointment is that they cropped the "about the author" portrait, which Reidar Hahn went to considerable trouble to shoot.
Image

Author:  PeterScott [ Mon Dec 29, 2008 10:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How Antimatter Became a Plaything of Science Fiction

Beyond cool. Do you have a higher res version of the picture?

Author:  BillPatterson [ Tue Dec 30, 2008 6:56 am ]
Post subject:  Re: How Antimatter Became a Plaything of Science Fiction

beamjockey wrote:
I have an article in Symmetry magazine about the path by which antimatter, a curiosity to physicists in the 1930s, found its way into science fiction.

Nice! Your energy and productivity are an ongoing inspiration.

Author:  JackKelly [ Tue Dec 30, 2008 7:02 am ]
Post subject:  Re: How Antimatter Became a Plaything of Science Fiction

Good work.

Author:  beamjockey [ Tue Dec 30, 2008 7:32 am ]
Post subject:  Re: How Antimatter Became a Plaything of Science Fiction

Peter Scott wrote:
Beyond cool. Do you have a higher res version of the picture?


Yes. Since it was taken with a 36-megapixel Hasselblad, I have a MUCH higher-res version of the picture.

Jim's forum software balked at posting anything wider than 400 pixels, so I used a small version.

Here's one of modest 1024 x 696, which should satisfy everybody but the insane: http://flickr.com/photos/beamjockey/2962940166/sizes/l/

But for those of you who wish to count my eyelashes, here's a link to the 6724 x 4570 version: http://flickr.com/photos/beamjockey/2962940166/sizes/o/

I think Reidar's camera may have cost more than my annual salary. He did a time exposure to catch the lightning arcs, and fired a flash to get the portrait. The remote controls for the flash were not too happy in the presence of RF thrown out by too large Tesla coils, but he is a resourceful photographer and he solved the problem somehow.

Here is a detail showing my General Technics pin.

Image

Author:  RobertWFranson [ Tue Dec 30, 2008 12:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How Antimatter Became a Plaything of Science Fiction

Fine article, and neat photo!

Author:  sakeneko [ Tue Dec 30, 2008 3:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How Antimatter Became a Plaything of Science Fiction

That's a nice piece of work! I'm probably not the only physics geek around here, but I had no idea that Heinlein had been offered the chance to do the first "antimatter" stories in SF before Jack Williamson did it. (I *miss* Williamson, BTW; his books are cool and when met him at a con many years ago, he was a joy to have there.)

Author:  BillPatterson [ Tue Dec 30, 2008 4:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How Antimatter Became a Plaything of Science Fiction

sakeneko wrote:
That's a nice piece of work! I'm probably not the only physics geek around here, but I had no idea that Heinlein had been offered the chance to do the first "antimatter" stories in SF before Jack Williamson did it. (I *miss* Williamson, BTW; his books are cool and when met him at a con many years ago, he was a joy to have there.)
At Bucconeer several years ago, I sat down at a restaurant with my purchase -- a 1940 Unknown -- and scanned the title page. Just as I reached the last item, a short story by Jack Williamson, in he came with attendants helping him. Everybody else on that table of contents was gone by that time, and there he was going -- well, perhaps not strong, but going.

And he did keep going for another five or six years.

Author:  beamjockey [ Sun Jan 04, 2009 6:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How Antimatter Became a Plaything of Science Fiction

Bill Patterson wrote:
sakeneko wrote:
That's a nice piece of work! I'm probably not the only physics geek around here, but I had no idea that Heinlein had been offered the chance to do the first "antimatter" stories in SF before Jack Williamson did it. (I *miss* Williamson, BTW; his books are cool and when met him at a con many years ago, he was a joy to have there.)
At Bucconeer several years ago, I sat down at a restaurant with my purchase -- a 1940 Unknown -- and scanned the title page. Just as I reached the last item, a short story by Jack Williamson, in he came with attendants helping him. Everybody else on that table of contents was gone by that time, and there he was going -- well, perhaps not strong, but going.

And he did keep going for another five or six years.


Catherine, thank you for your kind words.

As for Williamson, he made his first sale at age 20 and won a Best Novella Hugo for a story he published at age 92. A career of such length and distinction will not often be equaled, even if science fiction continues to be published for a few centuries.

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