Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Paul Levitz, on Arthur C. Clarke

Wired has an article on the death of Arthur C. Clarke which quotes Paul Levitz:

Clarke's writing about geostationary orbits clearly led Denny O'Neil and Julie Schwartz to place the headquarters of the Justice League in an orbiting satellite. His subtler influences on the DC Universe are many, and mostly only known to the individual writers and artists who took inspiration from his work. One of my Legion of Super-Heroes tales drew its strength from a rereading of "The Star," for example, and [Clarke's] equation of advanced science appearing to be magic pervading our worlds. Directly and indirectly, he was one of the seminal writers for generations that followed in prose, comics, film and any media that permitted speculation.

The description of the story "The Star" (spoilers in the link above) sounds like it inspired the Legion story in this issue. Any other guesses?

Transuits, flight rings, world-wide polymer shields, telepathic ear plugs, time bubbles - "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Hmmm... were Mordru, the White Witch, and others from the Sorcerer's World really just using super-advanced technology?

[An aside: Because of those JLA stories, I learned that the JLA satellite was at 22,300 miles in a geostationary orbit (one in which the satellite appears to hover over a single spot on the earth) over Metropolis when I was still in elementary school. It wasn't until I got to college and started studying aerospace engineering that I learned not only how to figure out the derivation of that 22,300 mile altitude, but also that you can only have a geostationary orbit over the equator. Otherwise it's a geosynchronous orbit, which looks like a figure-8 centered at the equator. Clarke is credited with coming up with the idea of putting communications satellites in geostationary orbits in the mid-1940s, more than a decade before anyone had launched anything into orbit.

Thus ends the engineering semantics lesson of the day.]

8 comments:

Greg said...

What "derivation"? It's a simple two-variable, two-equation problem; solve for v, r, using 2 pi r/v = T, v^2/r = GM/r^2, with T = 24 h., then r-R_E is the altitude you're looking for. Easy as pie!

Greg said...

(And I actually talk about this, including Gerry Conway's unwillingness to do research, over at the Curmudgeons.)

Michael said...

By "derivation" I meant that we had to derive the equations of orbital mechanics, and then once we had the generic equations we could plug in the numbers for the specific case of Earth.

It was pretty trippy learning after all those years where 22,300 came from but finding out that even given Kryptonian and Thanagarian science (which was sufficiently advanced so as to be indistinguishable from magic), you still couldn't hover geostationarily over Metropolis.

Of course, stuff like that also led to the engineers pointing out the technical errors during the Star Trek reruns in the afternoons after classes, more of the "Mr. Sulu, take us out of orbit" type than "reconfigure the deflector arrays".

Matthew E said...

I guess you could fanwank it so that 'over Metropolis' really means 'at the same longitude as Metropolis'...

Greg said...

I was being silly, Michael. I had to do the same thing in my first physics class, too.

Matthew: That covers most of the satellite appearances, but not the ones where the JLAers on monitor duty "watch Africa roll away beaneath them". Conway Didn't Get It.

Bill D. said...

I always loved that Clarke's Law got name checked on an episode of Doctor Who (which also posited that the inverse - any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology - might also be true).

Don Sakers said...

I've always figured that a corollary of Clarke's Law is "any sufficiently primitive magic is indistinguishable from technology."

And the whole thing brings to mind the Legion's distinction between machine-based super-powers (technology) and innate super-powers (magic)....

Terence Chua said...

I first encountered the inverse of Clarke's Third Law in the Infocom game Trinity, where it was formulated as: "Any sufficiently arcane magic is indistinguishable from technology."