Gravitationally Unbound: H. G. Wells and the Discovery of Helium

I have been reading The First Men in the Moon, by H. G. Wells. A fascinating little tale first published in 1900-1901 about an inventor, Mr. Cavor, and a failed business man, Mr. Bedford, who travel to the moon by a rather strange vehicle. Mr. Cavor, has theorized that just as certain substances are opaque to heat and light, there must be a substance that is opaque to gravity.

Mr. Cavor manages to create this theoretical substance with an alloy of metals, and I’m not sure what all. Plus helium. A very interesting idea, to be sure. They make no small mess in the process of learning how to create this substance. Ultimately, however, they build a small ship that will take them into space.

This whole idea made me curious about when the element helium was discovered, and how new it was when Mr. Wells wrote this story. When I looked it up, I found that helium was first discovered in 1868 by a French astronomer who noticed a yellow line in the sun’s spectrum while studying an eclipse. It was later identified and named by an English astronomer. The element wasn’t found on Earth until 1895 by a Scottish chemist conducting experiments on a mineral called clevite.

According to an article on the JeffersonLab website, “Helium makes up about 0.0005% of the earth’s atmosphere. This trace amount of helium is not gravitationally bound to the earth and is constantly lost to space.”

It was this property of helium that no doubt intrigued H. G. Wells and sparked his curiosity. This story was first published between December 1900 and August 1901 as a serial novel in The Strand Magazine. The story then, was written in the years immediately following the discovery of helium.

I love that this story-written more than a hundred years ago and using what is now outdated science-could still inspire curiosity today. Now we live in a world where helium is used to entertain children at parties, and men really have been to the moon. And here I am, reading this antiquated little tale of adventure and learning something I didn’t know about my world.

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card: A Review

After spending the month of November consumed in NaNaWriMo, using all “spare” time to write, I am glad to get back to reading again. My 2016 Reading Challenge is not yet complete. At the beginning of December, I still had two more books left to read. One, a book that intimidates me, and one I’ve already read at least once.

For the first of those two, I am reading a collection of writing by H. G. Wells. It includes more than five hundred pages of stories by one of the top names in science fiction. And while I’m enjoying it so far, I decided to skip ahead and read the last book on my list before finishing this one.

I read Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, for the first time some years ago. It was my first experience with what science fiction could be. Prior to reading it, I’d mostly avoided science fiction thinking I would find it too dull or technical to be fun. But Ender’s Game isn’t another stuffy, highly technical, science-y sort of novel. Instead, Card has brought to life a cast of amazingly flawed characters who live in a technical, science-y future Earth.

I loved the book. And it opened my world up to a genre I’d previously avoided. After it was released as a major movie, I decided I needed to read the book again. I had, at that time, only recently recommitted to my own writing, and watching the movie version of Ender’s Game reawakened a lot of the same excitement I’d felt the first time I read the book.

Still, it took this Reading Challenge list to get me to finally commit to reading Ender’s Game again. I’m glad I did. I breezed through the book in a matter of days (really fast for me). And even though any surprises the book holds may have been “spoiled” by having read it before and seeing the movie, it was still very much worth it.

The book follows the story of Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, a rare and state licensed third child. He and his two older siblings are brilliant, sought out by a government agency bent on one purpose, protecting humanity from the threat of alien invasion.

There is a brutal honesty in this story, in a world where childhood has been crushed, and children as young as six are expected to bear the responsibility for humanity’s salvation. Card takes the reader through several years of intense training that Ender undergoes in order to become the battle commander of Earth’s space fleet. Card has expertly made the psychological and physical strains of this training regimen real to the reader.

This story reads fast. If you haven’t read it, I would encourage you to do so. Not a science fiction fan? I wasn’t either when I read this for the first time. And reading through it again, the book loses none of it’s impact.

I Heard the Bells

There is a poem written on December 25, 1864 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Originally, he titled the poem “Christmas Bells” and it was written during the American Civil War. It is more familiar these days as the Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

This has always been one of my favorite Christmas carols. I love the music. I love the words. It is, quite simply, a beautiful message. I recently learned more about this song’s history, and how it was written during a time of deep, personal darkness. This only makes it more meaningful.

This year, in my church Christmas program, this carol is featured, and one night during a rehearsal, I was struck by the words of the song. I heard again these words,

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
and mocks the song
of peace on earth, good will to men!”

I thought of all the hateful words being thrown about every day in this country, and I realized this song is as relevant today as it was the day it was written.

We may not be engaged in a civil war, but our country is bitterly divided. There are forces at work in our nation that want to see us torn apart. We are divided along political lines, racial lines, gender lines. There is so much division, we can’t even seem to agree on what we disagree about.

We make a mockery of ourselves as we clamor loudly for peace and yet we sling ugly slurs at our neighbors. We accuse others of what we ourselves are guilty of, as if by yelling all the louder, we can erase hatred with hatred. Instead of helping, we hurt. Instead of unity, there is division. Instead of peace, we bring violence. Instead of love, there is only hate.

Where hate seems strong, let the bells ring louder. Where there seems only division, let the bells bring us back together. There can be peace on earth, but we must find it first within ourselves. Let the bells of peace and love ring out.

The bells are ringing. They ring out all the louder, spreading their ongoing message of hope and forgiveness, of peace and good will. Are you listening?