Star Burps

i-d85994cd68f652f39854d3d70f0565b4-venus_halfshell_cover.jpgIn the classic science fiction novel, Venus on the Half Shell by Kilgore Trout, the question of how intelligent life evolved (at many different locations) in The Universe is raised, and pursued by the novel’s protagonist. As the novel ends, it turns out that the origin of intelligent life across the universe is …

SPOILER WARNING … END OF THE BOOK IS BELOW THE FOLD



… closely linked to cockroach shit.

So now you know how it ends, but you’ve really got to read that book anyway.

Well, once again, real life imitates fiction (how does it do that???) as it has recently been discovered that planet-forming stuff can, metaphorically (I assume) “burp” out of a star after it swallows another star.

Now, if you’ve read Kilgore Trout’s masterpiece, you will know why this is especially funny. If not, well, you have to read this book.

Anyway, from New Scientist:

An unusual star may have swallowed its stellar companion and burped out a planet-forming cloud as a result, a new study reports.

The star, called BP Piscium, is surrounded by a thick disc of gas and dust from which it appears to be sucking up new material at a prodigious rate.

These properties are typical of young stars, but BP Piscium appears to be much older, based on the weak signs of lithium in its light spectrum. Younger stars have plenty of lithium, but it gets destroyed as stars age.

So, you have a choice. Read the piece in New Scientist, or read Kilgore Trout’s masterpiece, Venus on the Half-Shell.

Up to you.

Comments

  1. #1 Leart
    February 11, 2008

    Cockroach shit…hmmmm….why does that remind me of the Discovery Institute?

  2. #2 DiscoveredJoys
    February 11, 2008

    Ah! Fond memories.

    Have you noticed how books have got much thicker over the last 30 years, but contain fewer challenging ideas?

  3. #3 skyotter
    February 11, 2008

    and i thought i was the only person who had even *heard of* Venus on the Half-Shell …

  4. #4 Rob Knop
    February 12, 2008

    I remember reading this novel serialized in “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction,” when my uncle sent me a whole bunch of back issues from the late 1970’s.

    (This was in the 1980’s when I read it.)

    Now, Kilgore Trout was a Kurt Vonnegut character, but I believe that this novel was in fact not really written by Vonnegut, but by somebody else — Philip Jose Farmer, maybe?– as a sort of parody or some such.

  5. #5 Jonathan Vos Post
    February 12, 2008

    From the ROMANCE AUTHORS: A page of my “Ultimate Romance Web Guide” subdomain:

    Aphrodite: [Greek: "foam"] the Greek equivalent of the Roman “Venus”, daughter of Zeus and Dione [in Homer], who sprang from the sea-foam, standing on a giant scallop shell, thus giving rise to Kurt Vonnegut’s imaginary novel “Venus on the Half Shell” by his imaginary author Kilgore Trout
    see: Greek/Roman Pantheon

    From my TV page of my “Ultimate Science Fiction Web Guide” subdomain:

    Venus On The Half Shell, Nickelodeon, 1998
    A promising science fiction comedy cobbled together from a dozen of the fictitious novels of Kilgore Trout, himself an invention of Kurt Vonnegut.

    and, finally:

    Date: Tue, 19 SEP 1995 04:28:51 GMT From: Chuck cfalzone@ripco.com Newgroups: alt.books.kurt-vonnegut

    In “Two Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut” (“College Literature” #7, 1980, pp.1-29)(You can also find it in the Wonderful tome _Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut,_ a collection of interviews edited by William Rodney Allen (1988, the University Press of Mississippi, Jackson Mississippi)), an interview conducted by one Charles Reilly, we find this exchange:

    Charles Reilly: …Would you care to comment on the novel _Venus on the Half Shell,_ which was published under the by-line “Kilgore Trout?” …

    Kurt Vonnegut: _Venus on the Half Shell_ was written by Phillip Jose Farmer. He lives out in Peoria and he is a distinguished Science Fiction writer. … He kept calling me up and saying, “Please let me write a Kilgore Trout book.” He was delighted by the character, and as I say, he was a respected writer himself, so I finally said, “Okay, go ahead.” …

    Later in the interview, we find this exchange:

    Charles Reilly: Well, I know someone named Phillip Jose Farmer wrote a book “by” Kilgore Trout, and I know some of your critics yelled at you for letting him do it.

    Kurt Vonnegut: That’s about a third of the story. This Farmer wanted to forge on and write a whole series of books “by” Trout–and I understand he’s capable of knocking out a pretty decent Vonnegut book every six weeks. I hardly know Mr. Farmer. I’ve never met him and most of our contacts have been indirect, so I asked him, please, not to publish any more of his Trout books because the whole thing had become rather upsetting to me. I understand he was really burned up about my decision. I heard he made more money in that one “Kilgore Trout year” that he ever made before–in case you’re too polite to ask, I didn’t get any of the money.

    OK, do you get it now? I know Venus on the Half-Shell _reads_ like a Vonnegut novel. It’s a skilled impression of his style, and there is no question of plagiarism because KV gave Farmer permission to do it. Personally, I thought it was obvious that it was not actually by KV–Farmer has his style down but doesn’t approach KV’s substance.

    -Chuck Falzone cfalzone@ripco.com

  6. #6 Paul Neubauer
    February 12, 2008

    Another factoid for the edification of anyone who might be vaguely interested (if there is anyone in that category) is that the name “Kilgore Trout” itself is a transparent take-off on “Theodore Sturgeon”, another reasonably well-known SF writer.

    Paul

  7. #7 Jonathan Vos Post
    February 12, 2008

    First, I think Greg Laden is really smart and cool, simultanously. Of course, as I feel the same way about myself, my wife, and my son, this may be discounted slightly as Anthropological Membership.

    Second, Paul Neubauer is completely correct about the wordplay on Theodore Sturgeon.

    Third, that wordplay reflects a deeper message by Kurt Vonnegut, in that Theodore Sturgeon (with whom I spent enough time, and some writing projects together, to consider a friend) was one of the greatest short story writers in the English language, and not recognized as such by The Establishment, which marginalized him as a “mere genre writer.” From the other side, Theodore Sturgeon was marginalized by the Science Fiction Establishment as too slick and mainstream, and not sufficiently married to rockets, rayguns, time machines, and the other tropes of the genre. In fact, Ted Sturgeon was (the way Philip K. Dick is taken by Hollywood now and previously in Europe) to have been the Shakespeare of Science Fiction, and its greatest exponent of the human heart divided against itself. You have to read his heartbreaking autobiographical pamphlet to know how badly he was abused by his stepfather, and how he turned that agony into great compassion and great literature.

    Fourth, do look for more information on Sturgeon, Vonnegut, and the other greatest American genre authors (Asimov, Bester, Bradbury, Dick, Heinlein, et al) and their tribe throughout the centuries and across the globe at my Ultimate Science Fiction Web Guide, which is slightly obsolete in its 12th year online, due to the interference of so-called Real Life, but is still ranked roughly #5 by major search engines for the keyword “science fiction” topped only by group entities who sepnd roughly 100 times as much on web content and hosting. Science Fiction is not merely the Creation Myth of the global scientific culture, but a major art form whose didactic component offers lessons on utopian futures to be sought and dystopian futures to be prevented, and thus can help to Save the World.

    Fifth, I take Paul N’s point about “vaguely interested” — but I radically reject it in favor of my great uncle who declared “Life is fiercely interesting!”