The McAndrew Chronicles

The Charles Sheffield series continues.

Raw Feed (1997): The McAndrew Chronicles, Charles Sheffield, 1983.

Cover by Vincent di Fate

 Introduction” — Sheffield notes his confusion at separating the science from the pseudoscience be encountered as a teenager reading science fiction. He says no stories in this book violate current scientific theories.

First Chronicle: Killing Vector” — Introduction of the absent-minded and brilliant physicist McAndrew and his work in kernels (charged, rotating Kerr-Newman black holes). The McAndrew name and kernels seem to link this story to the Proteus Universe of Sheffield’s. A terrorist being transported on the ship McAndrew works on is sprung by his confederates though his plan goes very awry (he’s booted out of the universe) because of his incomplete knowledge of physics. The terrorist Yifter is head of the Hallucinogenic Freedom League which kills a billion people by putting hallucinogens in many of the water supplies of the world. This seems to point to a conception date for this story of sometime in the seventies [publication in Galaxy magazine in 1978, actually]. References to bio-feedback machines regenerating lost limbs, the central technology of the Proteus stories, are also mentioned made here.

Second Chronicle: Moment of Inertia” — McAndrew invents a balanced drive spaceship capable of traveling at 50g acceleration. The trick is not generating that much power. It’s accelerating that quickly and keeping the passengers alive. McAndrew uses a moveable disk of superdense matter to cancel out the acceleration forces with gravity (the equivalence principle of Einstein). However, during the ship’s trial voyage, the disk gets stuck so McAndrew can’t decelerate safely. The narrator of the senses (his friend and occasional lover) saves him. [No, 22 years later I no longer have any idea of what the “narrator of the senses” means. I don’t have the book in front of me.]

Third Chronicle: All the Colors of the Vacuum” — This story is interesting for a couple of things. I found the explanation for tapping “zero point energy” for a space drive interesting though in the book’s afterword, where Sheffield comments on the scientific validity of this collection’s speculations, no mention is made of it, so its plausibility is in question. Sheffield uses the idea (I’m sure he didn’t invent it – this story was first published in 1981) of space colonies, here “arks” of asteroids traveling out of the solar system, as being composed of political, social, and religious malcontents. He details some of the problems they might have: accidents, strange sexual practices, infertility, and lack of crucial elements in their asteroids. He also details some solutions: sperm filters and delivery of additional asteroids. McAndrew learns of a physics genius living in the Ark of Massingham and goes to visit him.

Fourth Chronicle: The Manna Hunt” — This is one of the neatest stories in the collection. McAndrew journeys to the Oort Cloud to find a vanished scientist who is mining the Oort Cloud for comets made of “complex organic molecules” to feed Earth’s teeming billions. Unfortunately, he encounters one on which life has evolved, and it kills him. (David Brin’s and Gregory Benford’s Heart of the Comet further develops the idea of evolved life in a comet.) McAndrew almost is killed too. He finds that, though the cometary life has plenty of food, it still competes for heat, including body heat.

Fifth Chronicle: Rogueworld” — This story (first published in 1983) interestingly seems to anticipate chaos theory popularized in the late 1980s. It features the idea of a rogueworld – a planet expelled by the gravitational interactions of three or more stars in a solar system. As far as I know, the actual expelling of planets in such a situation has been proved theoretically but not experimentally. [I do not know how the younger MarzAat thought experimental proof of this was possible.] McAndrew (with his daughter by narrator Jeanie Raker) encounter a rogueworld which does not rotate. Because it encounters no other bodies and does not rotate, it has accumulated a vast store of energy (manifested in earthquakes) in an ”unstable equilibrium” and unrealized by tidal interaction. However, the landing on the rogueworld of humans upsets the delicate system.


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