One endearing feature of our neighborhood in Lincoln are Little Free Libraries – a enterprising model of community building through a blend of literacy promotion and gift-sharing. These skillfully carpentered miniature schoolhouses serve as local “take-a-book, leave-a-book” kiosks, little do-it-yourself libraries that build on the shared space of coffee shops and the like.
I’ve found a few interesting reads in our local Little Free Library. This 1976 third edition of the original 1959 kids’ science miscellany text “The Answer Book” raises quite a few questions.
Kirkus Reviews submits the following about Mary Elting’s book of cutting-edge anecdotes:
“A mother — and a writer — Mary Elting has first hand experience with the unending stream of questions children ask. Emily Baker, of the San Bernardino County School system, has contributed her experience on the character and incidence of children’s questions. Others in the fields of science and natural history have checked on the accuracy of the text. And together their efforts have resulted in The Answer Book which should provide many thousands of desperate parents with the shortcuts they need in keeping pace with the questions on every conceivable subject their children are asking.”
Desperate parents armed with shortcuts.
Behold the following gem, reprinted in 1976, a year after Viking 1 landed on Mars with a host of biological experiments to perform on the soil of the Red Planet – none of which issued conclusive evidence of life on Mars…let alone organics, perchlorates, or anything that could eventually be read as a false negative in subsequent reanalysis…
Venus, with jungles? Mars, with growing plants? Chlorophyll? From that, what have you, parallel evolution of deciduous trees and a corresponding tasteful visual of winding drives through an autumnal Valles Marineris? Also, camera in a space ship (love the uncompounded usage – space_ship) as precursor to autonomous visitors? Wither the unmanned probe? Did the publishers of The Answer Book not bother to issue a revise order at any point over the decades-long lifespan of the title?
…Desperate parents armed with shortcuts. Shortcuts like timing a side of a rib-eye steak over hot coals to a cigarette on Fourth of July.
Robert Jastrow, on the other hand, was a notable early popularizer of space science in the U.S.. His Red Giants and White Dwarfs (1967), which I found while bin diving at the Center For People In Need’s book donation pile, offers lay analysis on matters of celestial mechanics and the nascent field of astrobiology:
Venus is theorized (correctly) to resemble nothing of the Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday sort:
In fact, readers come away learning that quite the opposite is the case – Venus is cast as a desert world, with some kind of science-y hypoconjuring to support the author’s modest going-there.
Jastrow on Mars:
Lichens. I recall this being a popular counterfactual to the Viking
nondiscoveries, even when I was in grade school, more than a decade after the fact. Researchers here on Earth have simulated the extreme conditions of Mars with the goal of determining the suitability of certain eukaryotic symbiotes of lichen, and the findings seem to confirm that lichen could theoretically exist in niche environments on the Red Planet…even in open space.
Which brings me to this:
Marvel Graphics appears to have been an imprint of the Marvel empire that functioned from the late 1980s into early 1990s. I picked this up at a comic shop in Queens when I was 9 or 10. It was already probably out of print then, and “Open Space” ran for four issues before being discontinued – probably one of many pities in comic book collecting, but I’m not going to take you on a tour of that graveyard here.
The Good Dr. Corus returns to Astranet HQ to reveal the plight of the Lichen Mind – interdiction is threatened, corporate interests grumble about canceling neurolinkage programs that could return some functionality to the Corus’s son’s legs; spouse guilt trips the hell out of Corus, because rhizome whyzome – “your son’s future is at stake! a real father – a real man – would do whatever had to be done!” when Corus inveighs against terraforming in order to save the telepathic cave moss thing (it’s not a moss thing, reader, it’s a lichen, a symbiosis between—
— so here we are. Sooner over later…
Doctor Peter Corus, Professor of Astrobiology, another desperate parent armed with a shortcut…
I figured if I had to pick a wrestling name consistent with the emergent theme of this post, it’d have to be Bryan Bryofight.