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The Carnegie Museum and JuROSSic Park Mall

on Mon, 09/01/2014 - 00:00

Approximately 150 million years ago, the region near the present-day German town of Solnhofen was a lagoon at the edge of the Tethys Sea. With limited access to open currents, high levels of salinity and shallow water, the area was not suitable to sustain life but the conditions likewise made it ideal for preserving fossils. Over 750 plant and animal species have been found imbedded within the limestone of Solnhofen, mostly of crinoids, ammonites, fishes and crustaceans that drifted in from the ocean or wandered into the region via land, giving a fossilized record of life during the Jurassic Period that goes beyond mere dinosaurs.

Pittsburgh is a long way from Germany, but the Steel City has not one but two collections of fossil-embedded Solnhofen limestone. The first is located at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, whose impressive assortment of relics includes the preserved remains of pterosaurs, an ancient reptile that was capable of flight and includes the pterodactyl amongst its relations. While Oakland may now be the home of those specimens, meanwhile, fossilized remains of coiled-shell ammonites, sponges, algae and worms can also be found in Ross Township in the most unlikely of places—the floor of Ross Park Mall. It turns out that when the shopping complex was remodeled in the year 2000, the tiles used were imported limestone from Solnhofen that contained noticeable traces of Jurassic Period creatures on their surface regions.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow Review

on Thu, 08/21/2014 - 00:00

Within the pages of Steel City native Thomas Sweterlitsch’s first novel, Tomorrow and Tomorrow (Putnam, 2014), the city of Pittsburgh has been destroyed, the victim of a nuclear explosion set off by a lone terrorist ten years earlier. While the world has changed during the intervening decade—with society becoming obsessed with violent revenge for such actions—Pittsburgh itself continues to exist in a virtual world known as the Archive. Using video footage from traffic cameras, surveillance systems and even webcams from home computers, the Library of Congress has recreated the Steel City, up to and including the fateful moment of its destruction. The Archive serves as both homage and remembrance to those who died in the tragedy, a lasting record of a lost city and a way for survivors to cope with their own personal bereavement.

In many ways, Tomorrow and Tomorrow is hard to pin down in regards to genre. Science fiction immediately comes to mind, with a mid-Twenty First Century dystopian setting similar to the futures imagined by such classic sci-fi novelists as Philip K. Dick and Ray Bradbury. The novel also contains numerous ventures into the Archive, meanwhile, offering a realistic vision of Pittsburgh with chapters containing not even the slightest tint of science fiction. Then there is the main narrative itself, which revolves around the recent discovery of a murdered girl within the virtual reality of Pittsburgh—a previously unknown crime committed ten years earlier that the main protagonist of the novel becomes determined to solve—making Tomorrow and Tomorrow part detective story to go along with its many other ingredients.

Cities in Flight, Pittsburgh on Mars

on Mon, 07/21/2014 - 00:00

Science fiction writer James Blish is best remembered for his short-story adaptations of episodes from the original Star Trek of the 1960s, and even authored the first novel based on characters from the television series in 1970, called Spock Must Die! Blish was also a trained biologist who made his living in the 1940s, 50s and 60s within the scientific realm while likewise writing science fiction pieces for the various pulps of the era. In 1959, Blish received the Hugo Award for “Best Novel” from the World Science Fiction Society for his religiously-tinged A Case of Conscience, and was further acknowledged the following year as Guest of Honor at the 1960 World Science Fiction Convention held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

James Blish’s appearance in the Steel City occurred two years before the publication of A Life for the Stars, which became the second “chapter” in Cities in Flight, a four volume omnibus that details mankind’s exploration of space that is arguably Blish’s greatest achievement. The quartet of novels that encompass Cities in Flight span millenniums, from the development of an anti-gravity device in 2021 that enables the human race to literally reach for the stars, to the inevitable end of the universe in the year 4004. The narratives contained within Cities in Flight are often referred to as James Blish’s “Okie” stories as they follow the journeys of New York City—which has been able to “lift” itself from planet Earth—as it travels the galaxy in search of work, in much the same way that millions of Midwest farm laborers migrated around the country during the Great Depression in the hopes of finding employment.