Kaleidoscope [Naughty Language Warning]

Cidu Bill on Nov 28th 2017


Clearly a reference to Ray Bradbury’s “Kaleidoscope.” But had anything been added to the Bradbury story other than the fact that Frank’s remains are mistaken for snowflakes?

(as were the remains of the Sycorax spaceship in Doctor Who’s “The Christmas Invasion”)

Filed in Bill Bickel, CIDU, Perry Bible Fellowship, Ray Bradbury, comic strips, comics, humor | 23 responses so far

23 Responses to “Kaleidoscope [Naughty Language Warning]”

  1. Kilby Nov 28th 2017 at 08:15 am 1

    Two surprises in this strip: first, I don’t remember having seen this before, even though it is relatively old (#97, compared to PBF’s current #280). I guess it’s time for me to review the PBF archive.

    Second, I was about to describe a science-fiction short story that corresponds to this strip, but when I looked up Bradbury’s “Kaleidoscope“, I was surprised to discover that it was exactly the story that I had thought of (I was expecting it to be by Asimov).

  2. Ian D Osmond Nov 28th 2017 at 08:27 am 2

    I think the twist is that the kid is eating the astronaut.

  3. Mitch4 Nov 28th 2017 at 09:22 am 3

    So it doesn’t have anything to do with the contemporary use of “snowflake” as a condescending or insulting term?

  4. Powers Nov 28th 2017 at 09:58 am 4

    No, Mitch, this strip predates that.

  5. Bill Clay Nov 28th 2017 at 11:50 am 5

    Um… someone in orbit is already falling… they are in constant free fall keep missing the body below. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to get yourself out of orbit. If the astronaut just let go of the space station they would slowly drift away, but it would take a long time before they fell into the atmosphere. An astronaut on the space station couldn’t throw a tool, baseball or any other object anywhere close to hard enough to get it out of orbit and make it fall back into the atmosphere, let along “falling” away from the space station.

  6. fleabane Nov 28th 2017 at 12:19 pm 6

    Are you sure that this is a reference to “Kaleidoscope”? I have a feeling its a more two people came up with the same idea independently. The cartoonist thinks it’s cynical (and a little gross) and a funny idea for a strip and didn’t realize it was already a well known and serious short story.

    As you say, it adds nothing to the story.

    If it were a reference to Kaleidoscope wouldn’t he use the names Hollis and Applegate rather than Vernon and Frank?

  7. Ian D Osmond Nov 28th 2017 at 12:19 pm 7

    Bill — if an astronaut let go, they’d stay approximately even. If an astronaut suffered an explosion which slowed their orbit drastically and put them in a decaying orbit, however…

  8. James Pollock Nov 28th 2017 at 01:14 pm 8

    “If an astronaut suffered an explosion which slowed their orbit drastically and put them in a decaying orbit, however…”

    Slower orbits are further away.

    Low-Earth orbits (like the space station, or John Glenn’s Mercury-mission orbits) take about 90 minutes. Geostationary orbits are higher, and take 24 hours.
    The moon is higher still, and takes a month.

    Orbital math is very complex, and in many ways counter-intuitive.
    For example, when we launch a spacecraft to Mars, it doesn’t accelerate the entire way. In fact, nearly all the trip is made without any, because the spacecraft is placed into an orbit that happens to intersect the Earth’s at one end and Mars’ at the other.

  9. Scott Nov 28th 2017 at 01:22 pm 9

    Bradbury was not exactly a hard science fiction writer, and the story is from 1949 when the average person didn’t have a good grasp of what an orbit was. But at least he started with an explosion which might explain it.
    Letting go and falling to earth - no way.

  10. larK Nov 28th 2017 at 01:36 pm 10

    We are both in the same orbit, only you are in front of me relative to the direction of the orbit — how do I catch up to you? Answer: I fire my thrusters toward you, accelerating me away from you, which slows me down, which causes me to fall into a lower orbit, which is faster than your orbit, so I catch up to you, at which point, to stop passing you, I need to fire my thrusters to accelerate me forward, so I a) slow down (in the higher orbit) and b) get back up into your orbit.

    Totally counter-intuitive.

    If I slow down too much, my orbit goes down to where it intersects with the object I’m orbiting, or, if the the object has an atmosphere, before that it lowers my orbit to the point where I encounter atmospheric drag, which slows me down dramatically.

    So like Ian said, unless they slowed down so much that their orbit was decaying (through atmospheric drag).

  11. Winter Wallaby Nov 28th 2017 at 01:37 pm 11

    I enjoy scientific pickiness as much as the next nerd, but there doesn’t seem to be much justification for it here. The comic doesn’t say that the astronaut is falling simply because he let go. Whatever the cause of his fall is, it precedes the first panel of the comic, so you can as easily imagine a good cause as a bad cause.

  12. Ian D Osmond Nov 28th 2017 at 04:45 pm 12

    James — right, like larK said — you slow down to fall down. Right, like you said, that makes you go faster.

    So, yeah; I was imagining he was getting an explosion pushing him away from the direction of his orbit, which would be “slowing down” in a sense, although, I suppose in a more accurate sense, it would be “accelerating in a direction counter to its apparent motion relative to the Earth”. Which would then drop into a lower orbit, where Frank would be going faster.

    Because, yeah, orbital mechanics is weird. But I do remember “speed up to slow down, and slow down to speed up.”

  13. Arthur Nov 28th 2017 at 06:46 pm 13

    I figured the first 2 panels were in reference to the bogus
    orbital mechanics of the movie Gravity.

  14. Carl Nov 28th 2017 at 09:05 pm 14

    “For example, when we launch a spacecraft to Mars, it doesn’t accelerate the entire way. In fact, nearly all the trip is made without any, because the spacecraft is placed into an orbit that happens to intersect the Earth’s at one end and Mars’ at the other.” That’s a Hohmann orbit. Not all transfer orbits are Hohmann orbits. They are used a lot because they often are the least-fuel-required orbit (technically lowest mass-ratio required) but not always.

  15. furrykef Nov 28th 2017 at 09:37 pm 15

    A less confusing way of putting it is “if the astronaut reduces his velocity”. That unambiguously puts the astronaut in a lower orbit (or out of orbit).

  16. Treesong Nov 29th 2017 at 03:13 am 16

    Ian, if he was slowed down enough by an explosion to fall to Earth, he would have been shredded, so I don’t think PBF can be excused on that ground.
    furrykef, since a lower orbit means increased velocity, I don’t think that phrasing helps.
    Incidentally, if I recall my orbital dynamics correctly, a single slowing-down explosion wouldn’t put Frank into a lower orbit, it would put him in an elliptical orbit with the same apogee (highest point) but a lower perigee.

  17. Kilby Nov 29th 2017 at 04:33 am 17

    @ Treesong (16) - Your objection to the “explosion” scenario applies equally well (if not more so) to Bradbury’s short story. A certain amount of “suspension of disbelief” is required in both cases. It seems highly unlikely that any explosion strong enough to propel one astronaut back to Earth, and another one all the way to the moon, would fail to kill them all right from the outset (no matter whether by blunt trauma or damaged space suits). In addition, at least one of the two is bound to run out of oxygen long before reaching his destination.

  18. Olivier Nov 29th 2017 at 05:30 am 18

    Bradbury’s story was published in 1949, before anything was ever really launched in orbit.
    After all, Jules Verne sends people to the Moon with a cannon, why not send them back to Earth with an explosion ?

  19. Kilby Nov 29th 2017 at 05:58 am 19

    P.S. Does anyone remember the toolkit that was dropped by an astronaut in 2008? I remember it vividly, because several weeks later the backpack could be seen (without binoculars), leading the ISS in virtually the same orbit, but preceeding it, as would be expected according to the details in the comments above.

    P.P.S. After a quick Internet search, I discovered that the backpack burned up in the atmosphere in 2009 (about 9 months after it was dropped).

  20. Kilby Nov 29th 2017 at 06:38 am 20

    P.P.P.S. Today’s “Frazz” has a point to make about “suspension of disbelief” and/or “scientific realism”.

  21. James Pollock Nov 29th 2017 at 07:15 am 21

    “Bradbury’s story was published in 1949, before anything was ever really launched in orbit.”

    Hohmann published details about how transfer orbits work back in the 1920’s.
    Science-fiction authors are supposed to be current with the scientific research, even if the engineering hasn’t yet caught up yet.

  22. Olivier Nov 29th 2017 at 09:00 am 22

    “Science-fiction authors are supposed to be current with the scientific research, even if the engineering hasn’t yet caught up yet.”

    I’d emend that to “reasonably current”, otherwise, it sounds like only hard SF is SF.
    While some SF writers are teachers or scientists (Asimov, ACClarke), lots of them are not (PKDick, Bradbury).
    In 1949, scientists in related fields (and probably a few SF writers) knew about Hohmann and what his theories implied, but did the general public ? Obviously, at least one SF writer did not.
    “Kaleidoscope” was published in “Thrilling Wonder Stories” which doesn’t look promising a title as far as Nobel prize material (literature or physics ;) ) goes. I think that “suspension of disbelief” was not needed for most of their readers.

    I’d rather say that SF writers need to be at least current with the level of scientific knowledge of their readership.

  23. James Pollock Nov 29th 2017 at 12:07 pm 23

    “I’d emend that to ‘reasonably current’, otherwise, it sounds like only hard SF is SF.”

    Aficionados spend considerable time and heat discussing what is, and what is not, “science fiction”. This discussion is pretty close to universally not interesting to outsiders.

    Science fiction literature, categorically, is a subset of fantasy, which is itself a subset of fiction. Many things which are called “science fiction” are, more correctly, fantasy. This line is extremely murky even for people who agree precisely on where the line is or should be, and gets very messy very quickly when the location of that dividing line is not in accord.

    Separately, it is possible to combine genres. This can be a complete merging, wherein the conventions of both genres are observed fully, or a partial merging, wherein a story that fits one genre is given elements from another genre, but does not adhere fully to all the conventions of that genre. When a “foreign” type of story gets some SF elements, but doesn’t adhere to all the rules that make SF, the result is fantasy, not SF.
    Most media “SF” suffers from this. Superhero comic books fall into this, even when they borrow things that are SF if handled properly. So, Superman has superhuman abilities because he’s an alien (SF). OK… so what are those abilities, and how do they work? (fantasy). Hollywqod “SF” has tended this way as well, and hasn’t improved since they started making so much of their money from comic-book superhero movies.
    (Compare what you get when a comic-book writer writes Superman for a comic-book audience (Man of Steel), and what you get when a SF writer writes a Superman story for an SF audience (Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex).
    Jurassic Park is fundamentally an adventure story, with pseudoscience elements to make it plausible to a modern audience. Ditto for “The Lost World” (The original). “Alien” is a horror movie with SF setting, “Aliens” is a war movie with SF setting. I stopped watching Alien movies there, but I understand the third one is a prison movie with a SF setting.

    At its worst, the pseudoscience devolves to just throwing sciency-sounding vocabulary into the script, with no relationship to what those words actually mean. You’ll see this in pretty much any TV show or movie that features computer hacking. They may, or may not, use words related to computer security when they talk about it, but pretty close to never use any of the words correctly. The worst offender, though, was Star Trek Next Generation.

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