the impact zone
the witnesses
the cause?
current seminar
soapbox archives
ask doctor jack
who is doctor jack?
guest columnists
vurdalak in the news
vurdalak at the movies
vurdalak on the tube
vurdalak on the bookshelf
tunguska links
black hole links

Jump to Vurdalak...

In the News

At the Movies

On the Tube

On the Bookshelf


Vurdalak in the News

recent news items on Tunguska, near-earth objects, black holes, etc.

· Kazantsev Lives! [Read the Story]

KRASNOYARSK, August 10, 2004. In the news business, summer is known as the "silly season" — the time when real news is in such short supply that almost any story can make it onto the front page. So it’s small wonder if Russia's Yuri Lavbin, spiritual heir to Aleksandr Kazantsev (who started the whole Tunguska-crashed-spaceship thing), chose the month of August to announce his sensational “discovery” of a piece of space junk, ostensibly from the flying saucer that saved earth from destruction by an enormous meteorite back in 1908.

Yuri’s timing, if not his science, is impeccable, to judge from the number of Russian tabloids that have picked up his story and run with it.

Rather than cite still more sources and give Lavbin and company additional media play, we’ll point you instead to an analysis by James Oberg, former Mission Control operator and orbital designer at NASA's Johnson Space Center. It’s always fun, and usually instructive, to hear what Jim has to say on the topic of Tunguska. And he’s in rare form indeed as he takes Lavbin to task here.

Even so, as Jim himself points out, true or not, “these stories reflect the way the century-old Tunguska blast continues to resonate in the human psyche.”

Vurdalak At The Movies

Mini-reviews of black-hole inspired films

· The Black Hole. [Order the DVD]

Nothing much to do with Tunguska, or with primordial black holes, or, truth be told, black holes in general. Really, truly awful. Best scene: the climax, where the writers momentarily forget that you can’t breathe in interstellar space.

Walt Disney Productions, 1979, starring Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Robert Forster, Joseph Bottoms, Yvette Mimieux, and, in his science-fiction debut, Enrest Borgnine. Produced by Ron Miller, story by Jeb Rosebrook and Bob Barbash & Richard Landau, screenplay by Jeb Rosebrook and Gerry Bay, directed by Gary Nelson.

· Smilla’s Sense of Snow. [Order the DVD]

A Tunguska movie without Tunguska! Mysterious impact in a barren wasteland, leaving behind an even more mysterious super energy source from the stars — remind you of anything?

Twentieth Century Fox, 1997, starring Julia Ormond and Richard Harris. Produced by Bernd Eichinger, screenplay by Ann Biderman from the novel by Peter Hoeg, directed by Bille August.

· The Void. [Order the DVD]

Arguably the only Lifetime made-for-TV black-hole movie in the history of Western Civilization! Even mentions Tunguska, though they're off by a year (1907) and pronounce it "Tun-GAH-ska."

Lion’s Gate Studios, 2001, starring Stargate SG-1’s Amanda Tapping and Tracker’s Adrian Paul, with Malcolm McDowell. Produced by David Willson, written by Geri Cudia Barger and Gilbert Shilton. Directed by Gilbert Shilton.

Vurdalak On The Tube

Listing of Tunguska TV specials

· Discovery Channel, “The Great Siberian Explosion” [play dates]

Some interesting footage of Tunguska today and the few remaining witnesses (or children of witnesses) to the Event, now in their dotage. Other than that, it pretty much toes the party line: comet or meteorite, stated as fact, not theory, with no consideration of alternative hypotheses.

Granite Productions, 1997, narrated by Mike Pengra, executive producer Simon Welfare, written and directed by Stephen White.

· Discovery Channel, “Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World: The Great Siberian Explosion.” [play dates]

Not to be confused with “The Great Siberian Explosion” plain and simple, this one’s an episode of “Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World,” featuring interviews with such Tunguska-studies luminaries as N. V. Vasil’ev, E. L. Krinov, and others. Arthur at least mentions the Jackson-Ryan hypothesis (not by name), but finally comes down on the side of the impactor having been a meteorite from the Beta-Tauride swarm that intersects the earth’s path every year toward the end of June.

· PBS, Cosmos, Episode IV: “Heaven and Hell” [Order the DVD]

This is it, the episode that got Doctor Jack’s author friend Bill DeSmedt to writing his book. But let Bill tell it his own words:

“Several summers back, I was sitting around on a rainy Saturday afternoon watching a rerun of the Cosmos episode where Carl talks about meteor and cometary impacts.

“About midway through the program, Carl gets around to the Tunguska Event. And from there to the Jackson-Ryan hypothesis: that the Event was a collision between the earth and an atom-sized black hole. And then he’s refuting J&R, citing the standard missing exit-event objection — namely, that the black hole should have cut through the earth like a knife through morning mist, and come exploding up out of the North Atlantic about an hour later, wreaking all manner of havoc. Never happened. QED. And, next thing you know Carl’s gone on to Meteor Crater in Arizona or some such, leaving me sitting there, staring off into space.

“‘But, Carl,’ I say slowly, ‘What if the damn thing never came out?’”

Vurdalak On The Bookshelf


· Earth, by David Brin [Order the book]

Two black holes, one of which (pretty much incidentally to the plot) turns out to have been the Tunguska object. The other one’s man-made — an unintended product of the 21st century science of “cavitronics.” This is a mammoth book (682 pages, counting Acknowledgements and the Reading List), and it’s more about Brin’s ecological concerns than cosmology. He uses his holes to create the physical substrate for a Gaia-type planetary intelligence. Earth is sprawling and slow going for the first 500 pages or so, but Brin pulls it all together for a (literally!) gripping finale.

Bantam/Spectrum, 1990.

· Singularity, by Bill DeSmedt [Pre-order the book]

June 30th, 1908, Tunguska — The most violent cosmic collision in recorded history rocks Central Siberia, decimating ancient forests across an area half the size of Rhode Island, yet leaving behind not a shred of hard evidence as to what caused it. What if, as some astrophysicists have theorized, the culprit was a submicroscopic black hole, smaller than an atom, heavier than a mountain, older than the stars? What if that fantastic object is still down there, burrowing through the Earth’s mantle, locked into a decaying orbit that could one day consume the entire planet? What if you could capture it, and harness its awesome power to transform the world — or end it?

This is it — the one that takes the Vurdalak Conjecture and runs with it!

Per Aspera Press, on sale November 8th, 2004.

· Thrice Upon A Time, by James P. Hogan. [Order the book]

Mini black holes (lots of ’em) are nucleated in a new-model reactor, fall out the bottom and begin orbiting within the earth. They’re almost an incidental plot device in this one: Hogan’s real focus is on a (non-naked-singularity-related) device that enables the future to communicate with the past.

Baen Books, 1980.

· As She Climbed Across the Table, by Jonathan Lethem. [Order the book]

Female physicist creates a (rather choosy) black hole, then falls in love with it. Definitely the strangest book on this list — and one of the most enjoyable!

Bantam, 1997.

· Crashlander, by Larry Niven. [Order the book]

From the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, Larry Niven wrote a series of five short stories, all set in his “Known Space” universe, and all chronicling the exploits of one Beowulf Shaeffer, hyperspace pilot extraordinaire and professional coward. In Crashlander, Larry ties all those stories (two of which won Hugos) together by a slim novellic thread and adds a sixth to round out the saga.

It’s the fifth tale, 1975's "The Borderlands of Sol," that’ll be of particular interest to Vurdalak fans. In it, Beowulf and company run head-on (so to speak) into the Tunguska impactor, which turns out to be — wait for it — a quantum (a.k.a. primordial) black hole. Note the publication date: Larry wrote this one only a year or so after Al Jackson and Mike Ryan published their Nature article.

Del Rey, 1994
— special thanks to David (ddd@hplx.net) for bringing this one to our attention.

· Custer’s Last Jump and Other Collaborations, by Howard Waldrop, et al. [Order the book]

Nothing to do with Tunguska per se, or black holes for that matter, but this collection does include “Sun’s Up!” — the only science fiction story ever co-authored by Al Jackson of Jackson-Ryan fame.

Golden Gryphon, 2003

· The Doomsday Effect, by Thomas Wren. [Order the book]

A mini-hole orbiting partially above, partially below the earth’s surface. Though he published in 1986, and though his hole is dubbed Hawking-1, Wren doesn’t seem to understand Hawking radiation. Or characterization. Not a recommended read.

Baen Books, 1986.


· Cosmos, by Carl Sagan. [Order the book]

Chapter IV, “Heaven and Hell” is the print version of the episode from the Cosmos TV series discussed above.

Random House, 1980.

· The Day The Sky Split Apart: Investigating a Cosmic Mystery, by Roy A. Gallant. [Order the book]

Roy was one of the first Western astronomers to arrive at the Tunguska impact site after the fall of Communism. What resulted is this curious mix of Siberian travelogue and treatise on the Event for younger readers, by “one of the deans of American science writing for children.” Most noteworthy moment from a Vurdalak perspective: Academisian Nikolai Vasil’ev’s rant about Jackson and Ryan’s “naivete.”

Atheneum, 1995.

· Meteorite Hunter: The Search for Siberian Meteorite Craters, by Roy A. Gallant. [Order the book]

The grownup version. Its chapter-length treatment of Tunguska cribs more than a bit from the young adult#8217;s book, while omitting a lot of (mostly inessential) detail. A summation generously declares the question of what caused the Tunguska Event to be still open; privately, though, Roy’s own assessment of the Vurdalak Conjecture remains a resounding “Ugh!

McGraw-Hill, 2002.

· The Fire Came By: The Riddle of the Great Siberian Explosion, by John Baxter and Thomas Atkins. [Order the book]

Sporting an introduction by Isaac Asimov, an excellent mini-bibliography, and even a couple appendices containing translated Russian source documents, this one wholeheartedly embraces Aleksandr Kazantsev’s nuclear-powered spaceship crash hypothesis.

(You can read James Oberg's anti-Baxter&Atkins diatribe here.)

Doubleday, 1976.

· Cauldron of Hell: Tunguska, by Jack Stoneley (A. T. Lawton, FRAS, scientific editor). [Order the book]

Simon & Schuster, 1977.

· The Tungus Event: the unsolved mystery of the world’s greatest explosion, by Rupert Furneaux. [Order the book]

Panther Books, 1977.

What was going on back in the mid-seventies? Three Tunguska books in two years?

· Giant Meteorites, by E. L. Krinov.

The view from Moscow, by a veteran of Leonid Kulik’s third expedition. Includes a 140-page chapter on “The Tunguska Meteorite,” replete with historical data, eyewitness accounts, and the then-latest research. Somewhat dated, but still a good point of departure for the serious student of Tunguska.

Pergamnon, 1966.

NonFiction/Black Holes:

· Gravity’s Fatal Attraction: Black Holes in the Universe, by Mitchell Begelman and Martin Rees. [Order the book]

Britain’s Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, weighs in. This one won the American Institute of Physics’ Science Writing Award in 1996.

Scientific American Library, 1996.

· Prisons of Light — Black Holes, by Kitty Ferguson. [Order the book]

Cambridge University Press, 1996.

· The Whole Shebang: A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report, by Timothy Ferris. [Order the book]

Where would primordial black holes be without the Big Bang? For that matter, where would we be?

Simon & Schuster, 1997.

· The Inflationary Universe: the Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins, by Alan Guth. [Order the book]

Alan Guth chronicles the fascinating, and very human, story of how he discovered inflationary cosmology and solved the magnetic monopole problem.

Perseus, 1997.

· Hawking on The Big Bang and Black Holes, by Stephen W. Hawking. [Order the book]

The real deal: Stephen Hawking’s original papers on primordial black holes, black hole radiation, et cetera ad infinitum. Not for the innumerate, or the faint of heart.

World Scientific (Advanced Series in Astrophysics and Cosmology, Vol 8), 1993.

· The Illustrated Theory of Everything: the Origin and Fate of the Universe, by Stephen W. Hawking. [Order the book]

Compared to Hawking on The Big Bang and Black Holes, this one’s definitely Hawking-lite. Chapter 4, “Black Holes Ain’t So Black” offers a nice, accessible introduction to Hawking radiation, as well as some background on Hawking’s vexed relationship with Jacob D. Bekenstein, the young Princeton post-doc who first got him thinking along those lines.

New Millennium, 2003.

· Black Holes: The End of the Universe?, by John G. Taylor. [Order the book]

Perhaps the earliest book-length popular treatment of the subject, now dated and of historical interest only.

Avon, 1973.

· Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy, by Kip S. Thorne. [Order the book]

Including the by-now familiar story of how Carl Sagan, in search of a scientifically-credible means of faster-than-light travel for his novel Contact, turned to CalTech physicist and friend Kip Thorne.

Norton, 1994.

· A Journey into Gravity and Spacetime, by John Archibald Wheeler. [Order the book]

No black-hole bibliography, however brief, would be complete without a nod to the man who named the things.

Scientific American Library, 1990.

Join Our Discussion Group
Sign Up for Soapbox Seminars
Ask Doctor Jack
Contact Doctor Jack

Doctor Jack rolls out another new Soapbox Seminar every other week or so... check out the most recent one here!

current seminar

copyright (c) 2004 by amber productions, inc.