Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Medicine in Fiction: How to Kill Your Imaginary Friends

I just came across another interesting blog: How to Kill Your Imaginary Friends.

It's author, Dr. Grasshopper, graduated from medical school in May and just started their residency.

Most of the posts aren't specifically about science fiction - although Joss Whedon, I'm Calling You Out discusses the incorrect portrayal of spinal tap in an episode of Dollhouse

I especially enjoyed the posts on how someone could really die of a broken heart and Tools for the Toolbox: Pellet with the Poison (who doesn't like a good fictional poisoning?).

Check it out!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Biology Pioneers Sydney Brenner and John Maynard Smith on Science Fiction

The "Web of Stories" is an oral history video project,where "remarkable people" tell stories about their lives. So far the list of remarkable people seem to be heavily dominated by scientists, some who talk about how their lives were influenced by science fiction.

Sydney Brenner is one of the giants of molecular biology.  Beginning in the 1950s his work with Francis Crick and Leslie Barnett helped decipher how a nucleic acid sequence is translated into the amino acid sequence of a protein. Later he worked to establish the nematode C. elegans as an experimental model organism for studying the genetics of cellular differentiation and organ development. This Nobel Prize-winning work has lead to better understanding of the biological mechanisms of aging and nervous system development.

From the transcript of Brenner's Web of Stories video on science fiction:
[...] I would go to this second-hand bookstore where this person had past numbers of something called Amazing Stories which you could buy for about tuppence each. These were the pulp magazines, there were two of them which were the best; one was called "Amazing Stories", other called "Astounding Stories". [... ] In fact, this stood me very well in later years, when Francis Crick wrote a paper on the idea of Pangenesis, namely that all life- Panspermia, I'm sorry- that all life had been brought here from outer space and the planet seeded. I told him that I'd read this somewhere before and he said that was very interesting, could I give him the reference. I thought, well, I can't remember the exact number, but it was "Amazing Stories", either 1936 or 1937, I'm sure you could find it there, it's been published before and he should be careful, you know, not to be accused of plagiarism. [...]
Panspermia has been a pretty common theme in science fiction since its early days, but I haven't been able to figure out which specific story Brenner might be referring to. (Any suggestions?)

Watch the video of Sydney Brenner for more of his reminiscences about science fiction, including Damon Knight's story "To Serve Man" and The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth.

Also reminiscing about science fiction is John Maynard Smith.  Maynard Smith was a British geneticist and theoretical evolutionary biologist who is best known for applying game theory to evolution and his theories on the evolution of sex.

From the transcript of John Maynard's Smith Web of Stories video on science fiction:
I read Wells, I read a man called Stapledon, who people don't read nowadays, wrote an extraordinary book called 'Last and First Men', in about 1932 or something, which has an atom bomb, it has a- the oil crisis destroying civilisation, it has giant brains, it has the breeding of new human beings who will be able to build civilisation and so on. And I remember reading this book and getting fascinated by genetics, because it was full of the idea of how do you change human nature by genetic means. And I guess, ultimately, that's why I became a geneticist.

You'll have to watch the whole video for the "twist" to Smith's story.

There are some other great SF-related clips (and lots of science history) at Web of Stories - for example Freeman Dyson talking about how the idea of the "Dyson sphere" was "hijacked" by science fiction. Check it out!

(Web of Stories via Amy Charles at, whose review of the site I largely agree with)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Just in time for Ray Bradbury's 90th Birthday!

Too bad the lyrics are NSFW, because this song by Rachel Bloom is really catchy:

It gives a whole new meaning to "I'd rather stay home and read".

(You can legally download the song here)

If that's not your cup of tea, be sure to check out the Ray Bradbury tribute site presented by UCLA: First Spark: Ray Bradbury Turns 90; the Universe and UCLA Celebrate. From the press release:
Fans can leave a virtual birthday greeting for Ray, watch the exclusive Ray Bradbury birthday message to his fans/advice for living to be 90, view examples of Bradburyana held in UCLA's Library's special collections, and check out other information about Ray and his connections to UCLA... the biggest one being that he typed Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of Powell Library.

Here's Bradbury on how to live to be 90 - he has "been in love with life every single day".

Bradbury celebrates his 90th birthday on August 22nd.

You can read an illustrated version of Bradbury's 1952 short story "A Sound of Thunder" at Scary for Kids.

You can read the 2009 graphic novel version of Fahrenheit 451 at

("F--- Me Ray Bradbury" via all over the SF blogosphere today)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bio in SF Bits 8/16/10

Cleaning out my (much too long) list of bookmarks:

On the Influence of SF: 

Letters of Note: He was there with you on the bridge
A woman writes to Patrick Stewart about how much pleasure Star Trek: TNG gave her son with muscular dystrophy.
All through last year Wednesday evening was his highlight of the week, his excitement being matched only by his anger if "Star Trek TNG" was cancelled. I think that in his imagination he was there with you on the bridge, free of any disability, sharing to the full in all your adventures - he never missed one.
Big Think: Interview with neurophysiologist Vincent Pieribone
Science fiction is huge, but it doesn’t translate into science reality for students.  They love to go see science fiction films, but I think science is not nearly as exciting today as the science fiction is.  I got a lot of people who show up in the lab and they think every day is going to be like Mr. Spock running around the deck of the Enterprise making huge discoveries and stuff.  And it’s a little slow.  It’s a lot of [pipetting] and you know, things don’t work and like any job, it’s really like any job.
Timmi Duchamp @ Ambling Along the Aqueduct: Because culture, not nature, is the problem (on Helen Merrick's "Engaging the sciences through feminist science fiction")
In this article she argues that feminist science fiction has the potential for bridging the "two culture divide" that persists in feminist scholarship-- the divide between the sciences and the humanities. 

On Science in SF

At ScienceOnline2010:  Tamara Krinsky and Jennifer Ouellette discuss "how online video and social networking tools are playing a part in connecting science, Hollywood and its fans."

Gary Westfahl @ IROSF: No Bark and No Bite
Dogs, in contrast [to cats], appear to be relatively rare in the science fiction futures of all media, with few examples coming to mind. [. . . ] Could the reason be simply that most members of the science fiction community, like myself, tend to like cats better than dogs? Or is there some logical reason for this curious imbalance in the genre's predictions?

Mark Terry @ Tobias Buckell's blog: It's all science fiction, right?
I have a degree in microbiology and public health, spent some times in an infectious disease research lab, then worked about 18 years in a clinical genetics lab before turning to writing full time. So I can safely say that what goes on in those TV shows about forensics have about as much in common with how real crime labs operate as Star Trek has to do with how NASA operates.

Juliette Wade @ TalkToUniverse: Body Models and Metaphors
The aliens we create can similarly have different models and metaphors for the body and its operation, and if you use those things to your advantage, they can influence characters' behavior and judgments, and possibly even the plot of a story. If a character were injured for example, why would or wouldn't he/she decide to get treatment? How would that influence the course of the story? Would two people from different countries in a fantasy world have different ideas of how the body worked and what kind of treatment would be good for it? Might one believe that washing with soap was dangerous (as we used to), while the other believed it was necessary for sanitary treatment?

Deborah J. Ross @ Book View Cafe: Not Just Another Funny Forehead: Creating Alien Characters
Since I loved invertebrate zoology in college, I used the gastropod family as a model [for my aliens in Jaydium]. In doing so, I violated a slew of biological realities (including the limits on size of creatures that don’t have skeletons, internal or external, as well as the limiting rate of oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange). And yet, what I did worked. No one, not even my professor (to whom I presented a copy) railed at me for scientific idiocy.

Mary Catelli: Babies in World Building
One world building error that I find as often in SF as in fantasy:  many, many, many writers neglect to figure out Where Babies Come From and Why It Matters. 
Alien Romances: Pull out the genitalia
[. . . ]we could give the peculiar goolies to the alien villain... as long as he is not a close relative of the hero. This could be quite useful. The heroine doesn't have to see them. The gentle reader only has to hear about them. Yet, the point is made that aliens have evolved differently.

jeremy @The Voltage Gate: The walk from dreamed inspiration to story
It was 12:40 a.m. when I rolled out of bed, only three hours after falling asleep. The dream had ended at what seemed to be a confounding crossroads, but as I paced to the bathroom, groggy, I was already working out what happened next. The story that my unconscious had crafted was now being filled out consciously.'

Written SF

At there's an interesting discussion going on of the new Heinlein biography.  See the round up of posts here.

L. Timmel Duchamp reviews Anil Menon's the Beast with Nine Billion Feet for Strange Horizons
The Beast with Nine Billion Feet tells a story in which the characters' personal lives and relationships become inextricably braided into an ideological conflict pitting two takes on the material consequences of biotechnology in bitter opposition.

Metafilter: James P. Hogan, author of Inherit the Stars, died on July 12th

Metafilter: The Waves of Sand Roll On (Frank Herbert and the Oregon Dunes)

Golden Age Comic Book Stories has great scans of Ed Cartier's illustrations for Travelers of Space

JC Hallman @ Bookslut: Jurassic Park and the Utopia Wars
The maddening thing is that when you try to explain something like Pleistocene Rewilding to someone who’s never even heard of it, you discover that before your utopian vision is complete, the dystopian retort is already in place: “Sounds like Jurassic Park to me.” That Jurassic Park might veil an ideology is a fact that many, it seems, would prefer their grave to accepting.

At the Mad Hatter Review Lavie Tidhar reviews Luna: The Genetic Paradise:
In brief, what Moav proposes is the establishment of a society along the lines of selective breeding, a complex structure dictating how many children—and with whom—anyone can have, based on their “humanity index”, a combination of IQ, artistic talent, and social-moral behaviour, with the focus on moral quality. Inherent in this scheme is Moav’s conviction that moral behaviour has a genetic basis, and can be passed on from parent to child.

The Phoenix interviews Paolo Bacigalupi about The Windup Girl:
When I say science fiction, I think of classic Foundation, I think of rocket ships. But there's this other tradition of science fiction, which is sort of the stealth version. It's the stuff you see with Aldous Huxley or George Orwell, where you're extrapolating about who are we, where are we going, what our society looks like, and I feel very connected to that strain of science-fiction writing.
And Bacigalupi was interviewed by Annalee Newitz at io9 about the future of hard science fiction:
I do research, but it's after stuff has percolated for a while. When I was an editor at High Country News I was reading all their stuff. There was a one-liner about checkerspots in [my short story] "The Gambler" - stuff like that, which I've absorbed elsewhere, drops in at convenient places as I'm writing. I'm always reading environmental journalism. Science writers point the way to interesting stories.

John Scalzi interviews Ted Chiang about The Lifecycle of Software Objects:

People routinely attempt to describe the human brain’s capabilities in terms of instructions per second, and then use that as a guidepost for predicting when computers when be as smart as people.  I think this makes about as much sense as judging the brain by the amount of heat it generates.
SF Signal interviews Jeff VanderMeer about The Third Bear
I wanted to show progressions and commonalities of theme or style. For example, "The Situation" with its biotech is followed up by a Dr. Moreau-type tale. A story about trying to find something that can never be found is followed by a story about wanting to be lost. I tried to also vary the length where possible. For example, the longer "Errata" and "Appoggiatura" couldn't really go back to back. "Appoggiatura" didn't feel like a story that could have anything come after it, so it's last. It has the finality of "The Third Bear" but also an openness to its ending. Some, like "Shark God vs Octopus God," are placed as palate cleansers.
Book Trailer for Scott Sigler's Ancestor a "bone crunching tale of high-tech horror"

Kay Holt @ Science in My Fiction: I know why the vampire sparkles!

By now, I’m sure you’re all with me; vampires are bugs. But what kind? It took me a while to figure it out, but now I’m convinced that vampires are nothing more than overgrown, parasitic…

Joel at Twelve Hours Later on "Year of the Rat"
In “Year of the Rat” (鼠年), published in the May 2009 issue of Science Fiction World, Stanley Chan Qiufan (陈楸帆) gives his unemployable college seniors an opportunity to serve their country by joining up with a rat-fighting brigade. Armed with crude spears, the new recruits hunt Neorats (新鼠), genetically-altered rodents that escaped from the incubators where they were being raised for export to international markets. It’s brutal work, particularly as the rats begin to evolve in ways that make them harder to track and kill, but the young men have no other choice [. . . ]

 Elizabeth Bear: long past their woodland days
It will probably come as a surprise to nobody, but I love me some science fiction. 
But recently, an acquaintance asked "Do you believe in science fiction?" Being in a contrary mood, I answered "no." What I meant, I admitted when pressed, was that I did not believe in the valorization of SF as the literature that's going to somehow save the world.

The Science and Entertainment Exchange's has an overview of the "Watching the Watchmen and Cheering the Heroes: The Science of Superheroes" panel at the 2010 AAAS meeting.
The question of how much of who we are is genetically determined, and how much is a factor of environment and the choices/decisions we make, underlies the entire story arc of Heroes, which explores the question of destiny versus free will when it comes to our identity, our abilities -- and our future.
Script PhD interviews the science adviser for Fringe. 

And Popular Mechanics looks at some of the science in the most recent season of Fringe: Fringe Double Feature Plays with Mutation and Exorcism, Does Fringe's Virus Eradication Plan Hold Up?,  Fringe's Killer Biological Weapon is Rooted in Fact

American Physical Society: The Futurama of Physics with David X. Cohen
Futurama Executive Producer and head writer David Cohen on his background in physics:
Cohen knew from an early age he wanted to be a scientist–he was directly influenced by both of his parents being biologists. “It became a matter of which science I would go into,” he recalls. He had always gravitated towards math and physics and computers, and contemplates that his choice to pursue physics in college was perhaps “a pathetic form of rebellion against my parents.”
Regeneration in Doctor Who was modeled on "Acid Trips"

Metafilter post rounds up links to BBC documentary series on British science fiction


Scott Pierce of Popular Mechanics talks to the CDC about the Franken-Virus in the Crazies
Eisner spoke with the CDC's Steve Monroe to figure out the possibility of manufacturing a virus in a toxin that switches from a waterborne illness to an airborne disease as it mutates. "The filmmakers clearly realized that they were going to stretch reality, but wanted to know about what was possible," Monroe says.
Scott Sigler's AMC column is about the use of protoplasm in Hollywood
When you think of slime creatures in real life, you may first think of the amoeba," says Tom Merritt, a Ph.D. in virology, gene therapy, and human molecular genetics. "These living slime packets are great, as you can throw them into liquid nitrogen -- freezing them instantly and suspending life itself -- then just thaw them out later like nothing happened. I don't think the same can be said for Ted Williams."

io9: The Hyperevolved Fish are Ready for Sexytime in  Humanoids from the Deep

Dayle McClintock @ Mega Piranha: an interview with director Eric Forsberg
I always research my projects. In this case, I did not research genetically-manipulated piranha. I did research food projects ongoing in South America.

Hero Complex: 'Planet of the Apes' Again? Yes Hollywood Still Has a Monkey on Its Back

Stephen Popkes @ Book View Cafe: Understanding Evolution
. . . I saw Cameron’s Avatar a few weeks back. I knew immediately that the aliens (the Na’vi) were not native to the planet.
Why? You might ask.

WolfGnards: How Long Could Luke Survive in a Tauntaun?


GamePro: The real science of StarCraft 2 

GamePro: The real science of Mass Effect 2

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Neurotopia's The Evil Monkey has a non-fiction article in the latest edition of Lightspeed Magazine about memory, self-perception and amnesia.
Personalities can change as we walk through life. One day you’re happy, the next, angry at losing your job. That anger can change you. Fear can change you, and some Buddhists would argue that you’re really a new person from moment to moment, with memory providing only the illusion of continuity. Events can set us free, scar us temporarily or permanently. Memory is not just a personal narrative, it shapes who we are. We recall our memories and reflect upon them, and that mere act of reflection and evaluation can alter our choices and, thus, who we become.

It's loosely related to Tobias Buckell's short story "Manumission" (published in the same edition), which uses intentional memory removal as a plot device.

Read "You Are the Person You Are Now" by The Evil Monkey at Lightspeed Magazine.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Great FSM! Futurama Mocks Attacks on Evolution!

Tonight's episode of Futurama - "A Clockwork Origin" - spoofed creationist attacks on evolution.
Subtle it was not, but funny it was.

The appearance of the  Flying Spaghetti Monster suggests that at least one of the show's writers is hip to the internet version of the the evolution vs. creationism "debate".

Watch a clip.
FuturamaThursdays 10pm / 9c
Preview - Evolution Under Attack
Futurama New EpisodesRoast of David HasselhoffIt's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

The episode's robot evolution theme made me think of the finale of Battlestar Galactica, particularly when Bender finds "evidence" of ancient robots  (a spring) at Olduvai Gorge. Yes it's silly, but the ending of BG was pretty silly too.

For a more serious SF take on human evolution, you could read Mike Resnick's "Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge" at Subterranean Press.

For factual information about evolutionary biology, I recommend:
And if you are interested in one of the real recent controversies in primate evolution, check out Brian Switek's  article "Ancestor or Adapiform? Darwinius and the Search for Our Early Primate Ancestors" in the most recent issue of Evolution, Education and Outreach.

Humanity Dies, Earth Abides

There is an interesting article by Kenneth Brower in the Summer issue of California Magazine (the UC Berkeley Alumni Magazine) about re-reading the work of George R. Stewart, with a particular focus on Stewart's famous post-apocalyptic novel Earth Abides

Earth Abides starts with a quote from from Nobel-prize winning biochemist and virologist Wendell M. Stanley.
If a killing type of virus strain should suddenly arise by mutation . . . it could, because of the rapid transportation in which we indulge nowadays, be carried to the far corners of the earth and cause the deaths of millions of people 
~ WM Stanley in Chemical and Engineering News, Dec. 22, 1947
That's the premise that sets the story in motion: a "super measles" plague breaks out that kills almost every living human, (not to mention our close biological cousins the apes). UC Berkeley graduate student Isherwood Williams - Ish - happens to hiking in the mountains, working on his graduate thesis The Ecology of the Black Creek AreaIsh is bitten by a rattlesnake, which lays him up for days in an empty cabin. It isn't until he returns towards the Bay Area that he realizes that amazoeveryone - or almost everyone is dead.

After driving across the United States and back1, he returns to his home - a thinly disguised Berkeley. He checks that the great University library is intact, and keeps that knowledge to himself as a sort of thin link to the civilization that died. He meets a few other survivors and the form a Tribe.

Meanwhile nature begins to take back the spaces that humanity used to fill. Cats and dogs and cattle go wild, and plants begin to overgrow the buildings.
As with the dogs and cats, so also with the grasses and flowers which man had long nourished. The clover and the blue-grass withered on the lawns, and the dandelions grew tall. In the flowerbed the water-loving asters wilted and drooped, and the weeds flourished. Deep within the camellias, the sap failed; they would bear no buds next spring. The leaves curled on the tips of the wisteria vines and the rose bushes, as they set themselves against the long drought. Foot by foot the wild cucumbers quickly sent their long vines across lawn and flowerbed and terrace. As once, when the armies of the empire were shattered and the strong barbarians poured in upon the soft provincials, so now the fierce weeds pressed in to destroy the pampered nurslings of man. 
There is a plague of ants, which lasts until the ant population crashes. That's followed by plagues of rats and grasshoppers and even cattle.  Mountain lions prowl the campus and dogs run in menacing packs. The message is that it takes time for the ecosystems of the depopulated Earth to become rebalanced in the absence of humans.

The Berkeley setting isn't particularly surprising, given that Stewart was a UC Berkeley Professor of English.  In his article, Brower notes that it's likely Stewart's ideas were influenced by his fellow faculty members (in addition to Wendell Stanley, quoted above):
The writer Ernest Callenbach (who himself owes a debt to Stewart for his California-of-the-future novel Ecotopia) supposes that Stewart's sensibilities must have been shaped at Faculty Club lunches with brilliant Berkeley scholars like the paleontologist Charles Camp, the geographer Carl Sauer, the wildlife biologist Starker Leopold, and the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber. (The Kroeber connection seems especially likely. "Ish" is doubtless a nod to Dr. Kroeber's friend and subject, Ishi, the California Yahi, last of his tribe and the final "wild" Indian in North America.)

Geographer Sauer, for example, rejected environmental determinism - the idea that the physical environment determines culture - and instead focused on the effect of humans on their environment, drawing some of his ideas from the work of Kroeber. As mentioned above, Kroeber is best known for his work with Ishi2, the last member of his tribe, much the same way Ish is one of the last of his kind.

Despite all that, the science in Earth Abides mostly appears as asides to the main story.  The novel is about Ish, his life after the Great Disaster and his death. I think that's one of the reasons the novel doesn't appeal that much to me.

Ish is a loner at heart, both before and after the Great Disaster. He is unable to effectively interest his fellow survivors (and later their children) with his book-based knowledge, and he and his Tribe spend decades living off canned food scrounged from supermarkets and the water still running through the municipal water pipes rather than setting up a sustainable system to feed themselves.  I want Ish to do more, to care more, to get some form of civilization up and running. I suppose I want intellectualism to be important to survival, not an affectation of no particular use for survival.

And another thing I've noticed on recently re-reading Earth Abides, is how much is a book for men. The women who survive the plague spend their time having babies and keeping house and being "given" to the men as partners. A depressing future.

Earth Abides was the first winner of the International Fantasy Award, and influenced many post-apocalyptic novels that followed, including Steven King's The Stand.

While the novel isn't one of my favorites, I think it's final message is true: whatever happens to humanity, the Earth and its other inhabitants will continue on without us.

Read "Natural Affinities: Reading George Stewart in Antarctica" by Kenneth Brower.
Earth Abides at

1. Earth Abides was first published in 1949, before the creation of the interstate highway system. I found it amusing that when Ish starts driving across the desert and really lets the car fly he's only traveling at 80 miles per hour.

2. Of course in science fiction circles Alfred Kroeber is probably best know as the father of Ursula Le Guin. His work clearly influenced Le Guins own fiction.

Top Image: Ruined Church © Copyright Jonathan Wilkins and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Bottom Image: Berlin Ghost Town by Snowfalcon

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Graboid Biology

Frank Robnik has created an educational film about Graboids for his bachelor's thesis project at the University of Applied Sciences in Augsburg.  It's an excellent introduction to the anatomy and physiology of these desert sharks.

Monstrous Wildlife from Frank Robnik on Vimeo.

And here is some footage of Mongolian Death Worms - close biological cousins to Graboids - interacting with humans in the wild.

If you need more Graboid action, you can watch episodes of the TV series Tremors at

(Robnik's video via Metafilter)

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

How OMNI Ruined Me for Analog

I just got home from a nice stay at my mom's and it's put me in a reminiscing mood.

I have a confession to make.

Despite being a voracious reader of science fiction (among other genres), I never picked up a copy of one of the "big three" science fiction magazines - Asimov's, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog - until I was in my early 20s. And when I did finally start picking up the occasional copy of Asimov's or Analog, I often felt like they fell a bit short of my expectations.

Part of the problem, I suspect, was that much of my short story reading had been in anthologies, which highlights an author's or magazine's best stories.

But it's also almost certainly because the magazine with science fiction I did read regularly was OMNI.  It was the first grown-up magazine I had a subscription to and it was awesome.  The magazine had science articles - in retrospect often pretty "fringy" or pseudoscience-based, yet always interesting - and original short science fiction stories, all in a glossy colorful package.

 Just look at the short stories OMNI published - during my subscription that spanned from 1980ish to 1987ish the list included William Gibson, Pat Cadigan, Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, Greg Bear and many others edited by the Ellen Datlow. These were the short stories of my teenage years and they came in a shiny sciency wrapper.

OMNI eventually ceased publication in the late 1990s, but it lives on at the OMNI Online tribute site (from which I borrowed the cover images) and some pages of the web-only version of the magazine that were archived by the Internet Archive.

To my 20-year-old self Analog and Asimov's seemed dull in comparison. And honestly, they still seem a bit dull me as a 40-something. It's not just the lack of pretty pictures, but the magazines' stiff "attitude" (for want of a better word) and old-fashioned feel.  To my mind the spirit of OMNI is closer to current personal science blogs than any print magazine.

And sure, the "big three" still publish good short fiction. But there is strong competition from other mags like Strange HorizonsClarkesworld Magazine, and Subterranean Magazine, to name a few. It's not a surprise to me that the circulation numbers for the big three has been declining.

I don't know what science & SF-loving teenagers are reading these days, but I hope whatever it is provides as much entertainment to them as OMNI did to me.

(See also Frederick Pohl's recent post about writing about the July 1991 solar eclipse for OMNI.)