It’s SF not Sci-Fi

If you are now looking at this blog, that probably means you like to read…a lot. Or maybe you just like reading Sound Bender — that’s cool, too. But what you probably all really like is science fiction. Me too. And since Sound Bender 2 isn’t coming out for a few months, I’m going to share some great science fiction books that you can sink your teeth into…until the wait for Sound Bender 2 is finally over!

First things first, never call science fiction “sci-fi.” If you have to abbreviate science fiction, do it as “SF” or “sf” but never, never use “sci-fi.” I’m serious.

So I’ve been reading science fiction for like 17 years (I’m 32), and I read a lot. And let me tell you, I haven’t even read a fraction of all the good science fiction books out there. Science fiction is literally a never-ending genre — there’s always something new and totally unexpected to be found. And here’s why.

In America, between the 1930s and the 1970s or so, there were, at any given time, at least half a dozen high quality science fiction magazines (like the ones in the picture above.) These magazines came out every month or every other month, and each edition was packed with novels, short novels, serials, and tons of shorter stories. If you were a SF fan back then, every month was like taking a grand tour on the universe! Almost all of the “classic SF”  books were first published in in those magazines, before they became “classic books.” Magazines like “Fantasy and Science Fiction,” “Galaxy,” “Astounding,” “Analog,” and on and on and on.

Sadly, there aren’t as many magazines still operating.

But here’s a few authors and classic titles to get you started. If you read Sound Bender by yourself, you’ll have no problem with most of these.  (A note about reading old science fiction: most science fiction novels take place in an imagined future.  Don’t worry if an author’s predictions aren’t true — like if he/she populates the moon with little moon rabbits — just enjoy the ride.  A lot of science fiction from the 1950s even had people on space ships smoking like chimneys!)

AUTHOR: Isaac Asimov — He’s the dude with the muttonchops at the top.  He’s one of the deans of science fiction.  He’s not the best writer, but he was incredibly smart and inventive.  The guy was a fast writer too — he wrote something like 400 books.  His name might sound scary and intimidating, but he was a nice guy and his books are easy-to-read.  I promise you’ll tear through them in a day and a half.

Asimov is probably best known for his Foundation Trilogy.  And that would be a great place to start.  They’re all about an amazing empire that stretches across an entire galaxy, and what happens when one man, who knows how to predict the future using math, believes that the empire will soon fall.  There’s nothing like this trilogy.  Fast and more addictive than angry birds, you won’t put it down.

Another book Asimov is known for is I, Robot.  There was that Will Smith movie a few years ago with the same name, and though the movie claimed to be based on the book, it wasn’t.  This actually isn’t a normal novel, but is a collection of lots of different stories about, what else, ROBOTS!

I can recommend almost anything by Asimov.  They’re all fun.

Author: Arthur C. Clarke — Arthur Clarke is another dean of science fiction.  He actually came up with the idea of using satellites for communications!  His writing can be sort of dry, but no one has better ideas than him.

A very good book to start with by him is Childhood’s End.  It’s about these aliens that land on Earth just as the people of Earth are getting ready to send their first ship into space.  The aliens claim they are there to help the people of earth, but to what end…?  You’ll tear through this.

Other good books by Arthur Clarke are: A Fall of Moon Dust & one of my favorites, Rendezvous with Rama.

AUTHOR: Robert A. Heinlein — With Clarke and Asimov, Heinlein is the third SF writer known as the Big 3.  Unlike Clarke and Asimov, Heinlein was known as a really mean and nasty person.  His favorite pastimes were drinking, smoking and shooting guns — and not in that order.  He was a bit of a wild man, but wrote a few pretty books.

You can’t go wrong with any of these books:  The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Starship Troopers, Red Planet, Rocket Ship Galileo, Have Spacesuit — Will Travel, and a ton more.


Okay, I’d hoped to keep listing stuff, but I’m exhausted after writing this.  Check back in a few days when I’ll list MY PERSONAL favorite science fiction books and authors, that anyone who read Sound Bender, can read and enjoy.

Also, Jon Scieszka’s fantastic website, GUYSREAD.COM, has tons more SF recommendations.  (plus, Sound Bender was their March “Book of the Month.”)


e**a in a*a**a

We got a fantastic email from a fantastic young woman from up way north. And because our email form is anonymous, we couldn’t tell her what a fantastic note she sent us. So to thank you e**a, and with the hope you’ll see this, here’s a recording of some Intuit women throat-singing!


So, apologies for not posting in like four months. We’ve been hard at work on Sound Bender 2, and now it’s finally done (and 3 times better than book 1.) It is going to come out hopefully within the year, but in the meantime, I pledge non-stop updates of non-stop intrigue and mystery.

Thank you all so much for your emails — they’ve been amazing.
We have our website gnomes with irregular facial hair working on it now, but our “contact” page is a little unclear. Because we’re not trying to collect your emails, our email form is anonymous, so if you didn’t include your email address in your letter to us, it’s impossible for us to reply. So to everyone who just wanted to say they loved the book, THANK YOU!

And to answer some of your questions:

1. The second book isn’t available in stores yet. We’ve written it, and now it’s at Scholastic, our publisher in New York City, where a team of really smart people are turning it into an actual book. We’re not certain when it’s coming out — at the latest it will be early 2013.

Here’s a bit about it:
Book 2, which is tentatively tilted, Sound Bender: The Immortal Underground, picks up right where the first book left off. It is a month later, with Leo and Hollis back in Brooklyn with Uncle Crane. Leo and Crane are in a cold war, a deep freeze, with Crane looking for any excuse to split them up, and send Leo to some tough love school for troubled youths. And by a horrible twist of fate, Crane has just found the only excuse he needs…

Action, mystery, and heart-thumping suspense follow, as Leo must team up with Crane, as they head deep into the jungles of Borneo, where they hope to find the dark half of a legendary conjoined twin mask.

2. Like this page, the contest page is not dead, but was just in suspended animation. We’re going to leave the current “alien voice” contest open until April 1st — just to give more readers time to find the book — but we’re going to start posting some of your sounds this week. Thanks so much for your submissions. Every one has been unique and strange and a little crazy!

BUT, we’re posting two more contests this week, with new and unusual prizes. So check the contests page by Friday of this week for details.

3. We don’t know who the kid on the cover is. That might sound strange, but we don’t have much say in what goes on the cover. We like him though. He looks like a nice guy.

4. Yes, we can speak at your school. We do it for free, and bring an autograph, a theramin and some other weird toys. We can either do a sound demonstration or teach science fiction writing to the class. Contact us again with your email.

5. The answer is two weeks. Yes, two weeks is the answer.


The Rarest Record in the Galaxy

You are looking at the rarest record in the whole galaxy. There are only two in existence, and you can’t find either of them on Earth. You’d have to travel about 14 billion kilometers to find one, and about 17 billion kilometers to find the other. And you’d need a space ship. But let’s back up a minute, and start on Earth.

I first learned about these gold records when I heard another record a few years ago. It’s not gold. In fact it’s hardly a record at all. It’s square and about as thin as paper. Here’s a picture of it:

It is a record, but it is a special kind of record called a flexi-disc. They were much cheaper to make than ordinary records. This one was made by National Geographic magazine, and was actually included in one of their old magazines, like a tear-out advertisement.

Here’s a snippet of some its audio:

I hope you listened, because that’s one of the coolest things ever said on a record.

Here’s some background: In 1977, NASA launched two probes on a grand tour of space to explore the giant outer planets of our solar system, like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The probes were loaded with tons of different cameras and instruments, and sent back some amazing stuff, like this time-lapse video Voyager I took of Jupiter:

Cool, right? It gets cooler.
You see, when you send a space ship that far into space, it can’t just turn around when it’s done with its mission. One of the laws of physics is: an object in motion tends to stay in motion. (Trevor helped with that.) So when all the NASA guys were planning the Voyager missions, they had a tremendous thought: what happens when the Voyagers leave our solar system? They knew they would keep travelling deeper and deeper into space, and that they could possibly keep going for a billion years!

So the astronomers thought: now what would happen if some aliens, just going about their business in their interstellar cruisers, happened to come across this floating hunk of metal? If they did, it could be so long from now, that all of humanity might not be around anymore. By that time, humanity might be older than the dinosaurs.

Now it’s a long shot that aliens might find either the Voyager 1 or Voyager 2. We don’t even know if anyone else is out there! But there could be. And if they are, shouldn’t we say “hi” and introduce ourselves?

The late astronomer Carl Sagan headed a group of scientists, and their job was to come up with our message and greeting to the aliens. Now Carl Sagan was a pretty deep thinker. His whole life, he was obsessed with the question: are we alone in the universe? And one thing I’ve learned is this: the deeper the question is, the more questions it leads to. And one of those questions was this: if we ever do receive an alien message from outer space, how will we translate it?

Carl Sagan was fascinated with whale songs and dolphin communication. He studied the research of a scientist named John Lilly (you might remember him from the book about me, Sound Bender, where he goes by the name of Jay Lylo.) John Lilly spent his life trying to decode dolphin language, and Sagan was fascinated with his research. Sagan thought that we might already have intelligent aliens living on Earth: Cetaceans — those are animals like whales and dolphins. And Sagan thought that the first step to figuring out a way to decode an alien message was to see if we could decode the sounds that whales and dolphins make. After all, these animals live in a world completely different than our dry land, and if they had language, it was probably completely different in every way from our own.

In the end, Carl Sagan and his team decided to put a gold record in each of the Voyager probes, both containing sounds and images from Earth. Here’s the flip side of it:

It’s got lots of diagrams, and those were ways of trying to tell the aliens where the probe came from.

Now I’m not sure what kind of turntable the aliens would have to have to listen to the record, but along with lots of pictures, it included lots greetings in different languages, music from around the world, and the songs of humpback whales. Carl Sagan believed that, if the humpback whales were actually talking and communicating, that the aliens would be able to translate their message, and hear what was on their minds.

And since the Voyagers won’t reach the next star system for 40,000 years, those are sounds that span time.

And had I not found that flimsy little record in the basement of a friend’s building while he was waiting for his laundry to dry, I’d have never known about any of this.


Coming up next, we explore the theremin, the first electronic instrument ever made. And the first instrument you don’t even have to touch to play…

And here are some more topics I’ll post about soon:
— Radioactive records from the 1940s.
— How to make your own turntable out of cardboard.
— Records made on x-rays.