The Science Of Fiction
Tip of the hat to Eric Diaz for reminding me of the muse.
Long before writing was invented, amazing stories were told through the medium of the ballad and the saga. Those old tall tales and modern science fiction often have a few common themes - ethics, morality, gadgets and heroic deeds. Gadgets run the full gamut - from the bag of wind used by Odysseus to fill his ship's sails, to the talking computers and planet busters in movies.
There are no epic tales in praise of cowardice.
About the year 1991 I determined to remedy that defect.
The following poem was inspired by Carl Sagan, Alan Turing, Robert Heinlein and Beowolf. It 'wrote itself' in my mind in about ten minutes. I wrote it in a (paper) notepad in about thirty minutes. It took over an hour to feed it into an old MsDos word processor, save it to a floppy disk and print it. It took all of five seconds to cut and paste it here. Such is progress!
BALLAD OF THE UNKNOWN COWARD
We came out of Arcturus, headed for Sirius,
ten thousand battlestars, faster than light,
we wore body armour, our weapons were loaded,
adrenalin flowed, we were ready to fight.
The admiral told us we faced a vile enemy,
alien, evil and ugly as sin,
he said we must fight for our race's survival,
and he had no doubts about which side would win.
We filled empty time as we sped through the cosmos,
preparing our weapons, preparing to die,
we knew in our hearts we were doing our duty,
yet some unknown coward had dared to ask "Why ?"
This yellow and cowardly disgrace to the service,
was flying a desk in a battlestar's core,
punching a keyboard, programming computers
and seeking the reason for starting this war.
The database told him there wasn't a reason,
at least, there was none the computer could find
we'd never encountered such alien creatures
but somebody thought that they threatened mankind.
Statistics and logic dictated that, likewise
the aliens reasoned the very same way,
and when two great powers are ready for battle
there's no man alive who can stand in their way.
Computer projections revealed that a battle
however we fought it would end as a tie,
our weapons were fearful, but so were the other's
and suns would go nova and systems would die.
There was a solution, the programmer found it,
established a link to the alien fleet
and sent out a message to their ships and our ships
"The cowardly enemy's admitted defeat."
"The terms and conditions are not yet established,
they want to negotiate just to save face,
in deed, if not word, they have offered surrender
your ship may stand down and return to its base."
In due course of time we established a treaty
of friendship and trading between the two powers;
and the aliens swear it was their unknown coward,
and yet, I would swear on my life he was ours.
I have no problem with educators printing this poem for classroom use, and other reasonable use for purposes of education, subject to proper accreditation.
On the web, please do not copy the entire poem, just a sample and a link here, please.
Copyright free picture courtesy of
Harker Heights High School
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- Neil Tyson On The Politics Of Science Denial
- Corals: Not So Passive, They Are Nature's Tiny Engineers
- Global 'Roadmap' Shows Where To Put Roads Without Costing The Earth
- Mutating Ebola Viruses Not As Scary As Evolving Ones
- Created: Renewable Propane Using E.coli
- How The Higgs Became The Target Of Run 2 At The Tevatron
- Low Carb Vs. Low Fat Diets: Which Is Better?
- "He used the term 'liberal' and thus so I did I, for the sake of consistency. In Science Left Behind..."
- "Clever one, Hank! In fact, I do have to exercise quite a lot of my limited self-control over..."
- "At least fruit flies have survived...."
- "Or put another way, a science blog should recognize the differences between: -Research that conclusively..."
- "Not to be rude - but the modern Left is Left - not liberal. I am Conservative, and would outscore..."
- An hour of moderate exercise a day may decrease heart failure risk
- Breast cancer patients with bilateral mastectomy don't have better survival rates
- Comparison of named diet programs finds little difference in weight-loss outcomes
- Increase seen in use of double mastectomy
- Study finds change in type of procedure most commonly used for bariatric surgery