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Sometimes, an idea can be so arresting that, for a time at least, we care more about the fascinating nature of the idea than we do about its feasibility or reality. This was how I felt when I discovered that one man (and a few others before and after him) firmly believed that the Earth is “hollow and habitable within.” The idea of a concave inner world that was as yet unexplored captivated me initially, but in the end, it was the man who believed this theory so doggedly who captured my attention.

John Cleves Symmes Jr. lived 200 years or so ago; I discovered a monument in his honor in a park in Hamilton, Ohio, a small city north of Cincinnati. I first learned of it when I was surfing Atlas Obscura and went to check out the monument.

The monument stands in a really run-down park; the monument itself has been defaced and a forbidding fence has been erected around it to prevent further vandalism. On its top is a bronze model of the “Hollow Earth,” with the openings a little scalloped, like you could easily walk down the slope from the icy areas of Siberia into the lush interior of the Earth. No one in Hamilton really cares about this guy, as far as I can tell; no one really celebrates him, but the monument still hasn’t come down even 150 years later. More… “Hollow Words”

Laura Leavitt is a writer and teacher living in Ohio. She has written a variety of pieces about travel, young adulthood, and food culture, including pieces at The Hairpin and Roads and Kingdoms. She blogs about living a disorganized life at Messy Mapmaker.

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dark forest with mysterious eyes
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As the first asteroid confirmed to have originated outside the Solar System whizzed by at roughly 85,000 mph, scientists scrambled unsuccessfully to figure out some way to catch up to it. Was it different from the asteroids in the belt between Mars and Jupiter? Was it even an asteroid? What if it was some kind of technology designed by an alien race?

The Breakthrough Initiatives program observed and gathered data from the asteroid, but found no evidence of life or signals indicative of technology. For all we’ve learned about space, the more we realize we don’t know, especially when it comes to aliens. More… “Should We Stop Looking for Intelligent Life?”

Joelle Renstrom‘s collection of essays, Closing the Book: Travels in Life, Loss, and Literature, was published in 2015. She’s the robot columnist for the Daily Beast and a staff writer for Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel. Her essays have appeared in SlateAeonThe Guardian, and others. She teaches writing and research at Boston University with a focus on space exploration and artificial intelligence.

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We enter Panem, home of The Hunger Games, a dystopian film and book franchise that centers on the oppression of the 12 mostly impoverished Districts controlled by the Capital. Every year, the Capital holds an event called The Reaping where they make each one of the Districts sacrifice two children to The Hunger Games. During the event, they are forced to kill one another until there is only one left standing. That last child is the “victor” and wins a year’s worth of food for their district. We enter during the 74th Hunger Games, where the focus is on a young, white teenage girl named Katniss. All but two of the 24 tributes are white.

Mainstream dystopian fiction focuses primarily on the white protagonist and white-dominated societies — The Hunger Games is no exception. This trend can be seen in both Divergent (which has a white, female lead) and The Maze Runner (which has a white, male lead). Dystopian literature is defined as a sub-genre most commonly used within speculative fiction and science fiction. It shows a fictional world that explores social and political structures of a world in peril. To live in a dystopia is to be a part of a world that is impoverished, living in squalor, and/or highly oppressed. Dystopian fiction is that which dramatizes what it is like to be a marginalized within a culture, a body, and a world. Which is why it is so shocking that, at the margins, every character is white. More… “The Reality of Rebellion”

Byshera Williams is a Senior English Major at Drexel University and the current Associate Editor for The Smart Set.

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The future isn’t what it used to be. We need new futures.

Science fiction traditionally has had the task of providing us with alternative visions of the future. For the most part, it has done a terrible job. The main reason for its failure is that it assumes global uniformity.

In optimistic visions of the future, there is a liberal and democratic world government, or perhaps an interplanetary federation. In dystopias, there is a single global tyranny. In post-apocalyptic novels and movies set in the aftermath of a nuclear war, nuclear bombs seem to off gone off everywhere in the world, even in places remote from the homelands and allies of the major combatants. More… “The Future of the Future”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

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The Shape of Things to Come is the name of the H.G. Wells science fiction novel of 1933 which inspired Alexander Korda’s 1936 movie, Things to Come. Is there a shape of things to come? Does history have a shape as a whole?

For some ancient Greeks and Romans, history was a downhill slide. In Works and Days, the Greek poet Hesiod identified five ages, each worse than the one before, from the age of the Gold to the present age of Iron. In his Metamorphoses, Ovid presents a version of this scheme.

Nowadays some optimists think that history slants in the opposite direction. Some techno-utopians argue that technological progress is following an exponential curve, a J that is bending upward toward the vertical. At some point in the next generation or two the “singularity” will occur — a sort of secular apocalypse in which advanced technology transforms humanity and the world beyond recognition.
More… “The Shape of Things to Come”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

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There are few positions more prestigious than being named Oxford Professor of Poetry. A new one will be elected next month and if you would like to be considered, apply here. The current holder of the position is the very eminent and very English poet Geoffrey Hill. Previously Matthew Arnold, Francis Turner Palgrave, A.C. Bradley and W. H. Auden have all been elected to the post. There has never been a woman who has served as Oxford Professor of Poetry. But a new Facebook group hopes to change that. “A. E. Stallings for Oxford Professor of Poetry” was created last month to support the poet who is known in this country for her brilliant translation of Lucretius into rhyming fourteeners. So far the page has received over 100 “likes.”

More… “The Poetry Election, Bradbury, Sendak,
and Sun Ra”

Richard Abowitz is the editor of The Smart Set. Get in touch at rabowitz@drexel.edu.

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“If you cannot bear the silence and the darkness,” Loren Eiseley warned, “do not go there; if you dislike black night and yawning chasms, never make them your profession. If you fear the sound of water hurrying through crevices toward unknown and mysterious destinations, do not consider it. Seek out the sunshine. It is a simple prescription. Avoid the darkness.”

“It is a simple prescription,” Eiseley said to us, “but you will not follow it. You will turn immediately to the darkness. You will be drawn to it by cords of fear and longing. You will imagine that you are tired of the sunlight; the waters that unnerve you will tug in the ancient recesses of your mind; the midnight will seem restful – you will end by going down.”

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She… More…

I get emails, very occasionally, from acquaintances. They’re very short, these letters, as the subject header says it all: NEW ELLISON. Sometimes the sender betrays a faux intimacy with the author, and writes NEW HARLAN instead.

Harlan Ellison. Remember the best episode of Star Trek, the one where Captain Kirk lets Joan Collins die? Or did you ever catch the movie in which a telepathic dog bosses around a very young Don Johnson? (It helps if you’re the sort of insomniac who flips through hundreds of cable channels at two in the morning.) Or maybe you recall his pitchman spiel for the Geo Metro, or his appearances on Tom Snyder’s show or Politically Incorrect, or his segments on the early days of the Sci Fi Channel?

Nick Mamatas is the Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild-nominated author of three and a… More…

In 1896, H.G. Wells, father of science fiction, published a romance about bicycles. The star of The Wheels of Chance is Hoopdriver, a lower-middle-class draper who embarks upon a 10-day cycling holiday. Along the way, he comes across pretty young Jessie, cycling alone, and the two share a magical tour of South England. Jessie imagines herself a liberated woman like the modern ladies of her novels. Hoopdriver is an all-around romantic. “He wheeled his machine up Putney Hill, and his heart sang within him,” Wells writes of Hoopdriver.

It’s not the kind of fantastical, time machine fiction one expects of Wells, but at the time of The Wheels of Chance, the bicycle was in the midst of a golden age. A bicycle was a chariot to near-distant lands and interesting friends. It became a symbol for freedom of movement — geographically, socially, and economically — for women and the working… More…

The X-wing fighter has sunk, and only the tip of its nose shows above the lake’s surface.

LUKE: Oh, no. We’ll never get it out now.

Yoda stamps his foot in irritation.

YODA: So certain are you. Always with you it cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?

Luke looks uncertainly out at the ship.

LUKE: Master, moving stones around is one thing. This is totally different.

YODA: No! No different! Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.

LUKE: (focusing, quietly) All right, I’ll give it a try.

YODA: No! Try not. Do. Or do not!! There is no try….

The lines above are from the screenplay to The Empire Strikes Back, the second of the first trilogy of Star Wars movies, aka Episode V. Many of us who originally saw the 1980 film back in the theater fondly remember this scene in… More…