Top 5 Star Trek TNG Episodes

(That miss most top 10 lists.)

Lately I’ve been nostalgic for the Star Trek series of my childhood, that is, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Maybe it’s the recent announcement of the new Star Trek: Picard series. Or perhaps because of The Orville, a TV series that is a spiritual successor, loving homage, or blatant ripoff of TNG. (Opinions vary.)

Whatever the reason, I’ve been rewatching some old favorites of mine, and noticed a few that fail to make the top lists. So here (confusingly) is my list of top Star Trek TNG episodes that don’t make the top lists.

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4 Ways to Save the World from an Alien Invasion

It’s the end of the world as we know it. Martian war tripods have been spotted just outside of Surrey. In New York and Washington, enormous saucers 15 miles wide hover menacingly over the Independence Day holiday preparations. A Dalek fleet approaches from one direction; a Borg Cube from the other.

In short, we’re so screwed. The super-advanced civilization that could stomp us out like ants appears poised to do just that.

In last week’s episode of The Orville (spoilers follow)…

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5 Places in the Solar System Where Life Might Be Found

5. Mars

Mars has been home to extraterrestrial life in our imaginations since the earliest days of science fiction. Percival Lowell believed that the canali described by Schiaparelli were canals built by an advanced Martian civilization. H.G. Wells wrote of a Martian invasion of Victorian England.

Although the Viking landers showed us an apparently lifeless Martian surface, it is possible that Mars once supported life, and may yet do so. After all, it possesses a (thin) atmosphere, essential nutrients, and fairly abundant solar energy. There is evidence that water ice is abundant, and that liquid water once flowed across the surface. Might there be Martian microorganisms hiding beneath the surface, protected from the harsh chemicals and UV radiation?

4. Titan

pia20713-titan-saturnmoon-labeledfeaturesiau-june2015

After Mars, Saturn’s moon Titan may be one of the most popular places in the solar system for speculation about alien life over the past several decades. Observed by Pioneer 11 and Voyager 1 only as a hazy world surrounded by an opaque atmosphere, the Cassini probe and Huygens lander provided much more information about Titan.

Though too cold for liquid water, Titan’s surface is covered by lakes of hydrocarbons. Its atmosphere is mostly nitrogen, along with methane and other hydrocarbons. This has led astrobiologists to speculate about life forms not based on water, but instead using methane or ethane as a solvent.

3. Europa

europa-moon

This moon of Jupiter possesses a subsurface ocean, kept liquid by the heat from tidal forces exerted by Jupiter. This same tidal flexing could create undersea hydrothermal vents, and there is evidence to suggest that the ocean is in contact with a rocky surface. The presence of a liquid ocean, coupled with an energy source in the form of undersea vents, and a rocky undersea surface as a source of minerals, suggests that Europa is a place that could support life.

Proposals have been made for exploration of the Europan ocean, but the high-radiation environment around Jupiter, difficulties involved in boring down to the ocean, and concerns about contaminating the moon with Earth life have prevented such a mission so far.

2. Pluto

nh-pluto-in-true-color_2x_jpeg-edit-frame

Yes, the poor non-planet at the edge of our solar system could potentially support life.

Pluto possesses a very thin atmosphere of nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide, and though it was once thought that the atmosphere would freeze when Pluto was farthest from the sun, scientists now believe that it remains gaseous throughout Pluto’s orbit.

Additionally, the New Horizons probe revealed the existence of tholins, a type of organic compound, on the surface of Pluto. If the extreme conditions of the surface make it uninhabitable, life might still exist deep beneath the surface, in a possible sub-surface ocean.

It should not be surprising, then, that science fiction writers have from time to time picked Pluto as a potentially life-supporting world.

Honorable Mentions

  1. Venus – Once imagined as a lush jungle world, we know now that our sister planet suffers from a stifling atmosphere with clouds of sulfuric acid and surface temperatures that can melt lead. Still, extremophiles do exist on Earth, and some speculate that life might survive high in the atmosphere of Venus.
  2. Ganymede – Another of Jupiter’s moons, Ganymede is suspected to harbor a subsurface ocean with more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined. Might something be swimming beneath the surface of this largest Galilean satellite?
  3. Jupiter – Hard as it might be to imagine life on a planet with no solid surface, Carl Sagan speculated that balloon-like organisms might float on the Jovian breezes, consuming microorganisms likewise swept around by the gale-force winds. Concept art was even created for his legendary Cosmos series.
  4. Earth. Ok, this one is a cheat. Not only does the third rock from the Sun support life, we’re also fairly certain that there’s intelligent life to be found here. Somewhere. If you’re searching for life in the solar system, Earth is your safest bet.

1. Enceladus

pia17202_-_approaching_enceladus

En-what? Enceladus, one of the larger moons of Saturn, is yet another world possessing a subsurface ocean. Observations by the Cassini spacecraft suggest a geologically active world, with geysers containing hydrocarbon compounds and indicating the presence of a high-pH ocean.

Though highly alkaline and buried deep within the moon, scientists speculate that this ocean may provide the energy sources and support the complex chemical reactions needed for life to form. Life on Enceladus may be powered by chemosynthesis, with hydrothermal vents being a source of chemical energy for the Enceladan microbes.

Incidentally, if you are ever uncertain about pronunciation, Space.com has a handy guide for pronouncing the names of all the planets and moons in our solar system. Yes, even the eighth planet…

5 Things to Do with a Time Machine

5. Battle Soviets and Ancient Aliens

The Time Traders“The Time Traders” cover art from ISFDB.

Even though the Cold War ended over a quarter of a century ago, westerners of ahem a certain age will clearly remember the constant threat of nuclear annihilation at the hands of the Communists. What could be more frightening, then, than a Soviet project to travel back in time 4000 years, to alter the course of history?

In Andre Norton’s The Time Traders (and its follow-on novels), members of Operation Retrograde face exactly this prospect. Over the course of the novel, protagonists Ross and Ashe must befriend the locals, discover the truth about the destruction of a US base in prehistoric Britain, escape a team of Soviets, and ultimately evade bald aliens who are also involved in events of the period.

As if Soviet troops or hostile aliens alone wouldn’t be enough to deal with…

4. Go Dinosaur Hunting

dino-reticle

In Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder, a company called Time Safari Inc. offers a once-in-a-lifetime safari expedition. Travel back in time for a chance to hunt a T. Rex. Don’t worry… they’ve already traced its history to make sure you’re shooting it just before it would’ve died anyway, and a floating walkway prevents you from stepping on anything and changing the course of history.

No, you can’t have the Tyrannosaur head mounted for your wall, but this outdoor safari will make your trek into the Cretaceous unforgettable.

Just don’t panic and step off of the walkway, or you’ll learn the true meaning of butterfly effect

3. Kill Hitler

Kill Hitler

If there is one thing most time travel stories seem to agree upon, it’s that if you can travel back in time and kill one person, it should be Hitler.

But as with all things temporal, the big question is when? Too late, as in the XKCD comic above, and your assassination is ineffective. Too early, as was once seen in an episode of the (new) Outer Limits, and some other monster will simply fill his place.

WikiHistory, by Desmond Warzel, has another take on this time travel cliché. Time travel in this story is so commonplace that edits are tracked Wikipedia-style. The one rule that each editor breaks (to the annoyance of one of the WikiHistory editors) is that no one is allowed to kill Hitler.

In the words of WikiHistory editor SilverFox316: “Permit me to sum it up and save you the trouble: no Hitler means no Third Reich, no World War II, no rocketry programs, no electronics, no computers, no time travel. Get the picture?”

2. Build an Oracle Machine

book-pnpThis possibility comes from an unlikely source: a spoof/homage named Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. In chapter 17, Harry Potter decides to use time travel for a purpose that could excite only a computer scientist: solving NP-problems in constant time.

His plan? Harry Potter is given the number 181,429 and told that it is the product of two three-digit prime numbers. He will loop through all possible pairs of prime factors, sending the result back in time to the start of the experiment, until he factorizes that number and the time loop stabilizes.

Harry expects that this will result in him receiving the two prime factors of 181,429 in zero perceived time. If this sounds like a dull application, keep in mind that Harry has effectively invented an oracle machine, and broken asymmetric keypair cryptography.

The actual results are a little more frightening:

Harry took Paper-2 in his trembling hand, and unfolded it.

Paper-2 said in slightly shaky handwriting:

DO NOT MESS WITH TIME

Harry wrote down “DO NOT MESS WITH TIME” on Paper-1 in slightly shaky handwriting, folded it neatly, and resolved not to do any more truly brilliant experiments on Time until he was at least fifteen years old.

To the best of Harry’s knowledge, that had been the scariest experimental result in the entire history of science.

I wonder if it was actually a dog-latin curse? NON MOLESTERE TEMPUS

Honorable Mention: Fail at Everything and Die

Usually we expect someone with modern technology and know-how will fare pretty well in the past. A modern soldier armed with an automatic rifle should make quick work of a Roman infantry unit. A chemist should impress medieval alchemists with his knowledge of chemical reactions and metallurgy.

In Poul Anderson’s The Man Who Came Early, the protagonist thinks much the same… but quickly learns otherwise. A Cold War-era American soldier stationed in Iceland falls back through time to the 10th century.

With his engineering knowledge, and knowledge of the Icelandic language, he expects to make sweeping and impressive changes. However, he learns a quick lesson in logistics, finding that the period lacks the infrastructure and industry needed for modern manufacturing. Nor are the locals impressed by his civil engineering knowledge, dismissing his plans as impractical, and ultimately coming to regard him as useless.

He likewise has trouble integrating into a society where jobs come through apprenticeship from a young age, where there is no concept of central government, and wrongs are settled by revenge killings. When he runs out of ammunition for his service weapon, he loses his only leverage against a clan whom he has offended.

If it’s any consolation, he dies a heroic death and finds honor posthumously.

1. Leave your Mark on History

What fun is time travel if you can’t brag about it? That’s what researcher George Kilroy thought in Isaac Asimov’s The Message. An academic from the 30th century sent to study World War II, George finds himself caught up in “an intense kind of life forever gone from the world of the thirtieth century”.

Though he is supposed to be merely an observer, George cannot resist leaving a sign of his presence. If you know Asimov’s writing and noticed George’s last name, you’ve likely already guessed the titular message.

Kilroy was here.

What would you do with a time machine? Let me know in the comments.

5 Spaceship-Free Ways Off-Planet in Sci-Fi

So you want to leave Earth, but the idea of traveling business class on Virgin Galactic just doesn’t appeal to you. Maybe you don’t like the roar of the rockets and the feel of 3g of acceleration as you’re blasted into the sky. Or perhaps you just don’t like being squeezed into a seat between Grunthos the Flatulent and the polypous creature who keeps asking if you’ve accepted Cthulhu into your heart.

Whatever the reason, here are five science fictional ways off the planet, without the need for a spaceship.

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5 Interesting Sci-Fi Weapons

Judging by the summer blockbuster movies, people love intense action and big explosions. Sometimes, though, you want something a little more interesting than just a slightly bigger gun or a moderately louder explosion. You want something different.

Science fiction explores the realm of the possible, so it should be no surprise that, aside from the typical Earth-shattering kabooms, there are plenty of interesting (and dangerous) weapons to be found within the science fiction genre.

Be warned — this list includes spoilers. So if you’re the type (like me) who still has a significant reading list backlogged from to the Golden Age of Science Fiction, continue with caution.
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5 Misconceptions about the Moon

The Moon holds a special place in our imaginations — and why not? Along with the Sun and the five classical planets, the Moon is one of the few celestial objects whose apparent motion in the night sky can be seen.

You can even see its disk with the naked eye — and unlike the blinding white-hot disk of the Sun or the barely-discernible-to-human-vision disks of Jupiter or Venus, what a disk is the Moon! Throughout history, we’ve stared at the shadows and highlights of the lunar surface and envisioned everything from a man to a magic rabbit.

Mercury
In case you’re wondering, that’s Mercury, not the Moon.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that we’ve built up some misconceptions about the Moon. Here are the five misconceptions about the Moon that I find to be the most prevalent, most fun, most frustrating, or just the most annoying.
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