Diamonds in the Sky is a collection of astronomy-based science fiction stories edited by Mike Brotherton and funded under his National Science Foundation grant AST 05-07781. The purpose of the anthology is to provide stories with ample and accurate astronomy spanning a range of topics covered in introductory courses. Instructors in high school and college may find these stories useful, as some students may learn concepts more easily through story than from lecture. Fans of science fiction with good science should also enjoy these stories. Contributions include both original stories and reprints from some of the top science fiction writers working today. Special thanks to Jeremy Tolbert, Scott Humphries, and Nicole Wade for their efforts.
Excerpt from In The Autumn of the Empire. By Jerry Oltion:
The emperor of Earth didn't like to be wrong. Many of his acolytes had learned that the hard way, though this was merely rumor, since no surviving member of the inner court had actually caught Hadron the Perfect in a mistake, nor even witnessed one.
So when the little common girl, who had been brought to the palace garden to provide a photo op for His Excellency amid the falling leaves, asked him, "Why is there autumn?" two of his attendants faked sudden allergy attacks and ran coughing for the infirmary while another quickly said, "It's because of the tilt of the Earth's—"
Too late. The emperor laughed and said in his reedy voice, "Ah, my little darling, that's an easy one. We get autumn because the Earth is moving away from the Sun. Soon we'll be millions of miles away from it, and it'll be winter. But don't you worry, because that's as far away as we'll go, and then we'll swing around in our orbit and head closer to the Sun again, and it will be spring, and when we get as close as we're going to go, it'll be summer and the whole cycle will start all over again." He smiled for the video cameras in a sickly attempt to look caring and avuncular.
Curiously, only one of the camera crew wet himself. The others looked at him in puzzlement as he stammered an apology and rushed after the two fake allergy sufferers.
The others continued filming the emperor and the little girl amid the multicolored leaves, and the videocast streamed out into the datasphere, where the emperor's billions of subjects heard his explanation. Most of them hardly paused in their labors. A small fraction said, "Hmm, I didn't know that." And a smaller fraction yet said, "Wait a minute, it's the tilt of the Earth's axis that causes seasons."
Those people were never heard from again.
An astute businessman heard the emperor's pronouncement and immediately bought every cubic foot of refrigerated warehouse space he could find, funding it by selling everything he owned in the tourism industry. Then he bought every perishable fruit and vegetable he could lay his hands on, packing them away in his warehouses for a future he hoped would never come.
For the next few weeks the world buzzed with speculation, and even a few jokes about the emperor's knowledge of the planet he ruled with absolute authority, but the continual disappearance of jokesters and people with astronomical training slowed the innuendo until it seemed that the whole incident would blow over by winter. Or summer, if you lived in the southern hemisphere.
Yet one universal truth that had proved true for millennia kept raising its ugly head: it's nearly impossible to purge bad data from the system. The emperor's explanation to the little girl kept resurfacing to blossom across the datasphere yet again. Overzealous teachers even used it in classrooms to curry favor with the censors so they could slip in more controversial lessons about evolution or human sexuality.
People were by now quite used to "coming out of the water dry" — kowtowing to the official truth while privately knowing it was hogwash — but this particular one led to too many logical inconsistencies. How could Aunt Ortencia be watching her crocuses bloom in Argentina while the leaves fell in Canada if the whole world experienced the same seasons at once? How could Antarctica be dipping into six months of sunlight and the Arctic into six months of darkness if it was autumn everywhere? More to the point, how could people in the Northern hemisphere buy fresh fruit in February if February was winter in the southern hemisphere, too?