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How the ‘Star Wars’ saga scores on science

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Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver) wields a lightsaber with three blazing blades in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Just be careful where you point that thing, Kylo! (Credit: Lucasfilm / Disney)

The “Star Wars” saga isn’t exactly a science textbook, but there’s one fact about the universe that the movies got dazzlingly right: There are more planets out there than you can shake a lightsaber at.

Back in 1977, the movie now known as “Star Wars: A New Hope” put an assortment of alien worlds on display. There was Tatooine, a desert planet with two suns. Alderaan was Princess Leia’s home planet and the epicenter for a “disturbance in the Force.” Rebels took refuge on a moon in orbit around the gas giant Yavin.

In those days, the idea that there could be so many livable worlds seemed like pure science fiction. “For the most part, scientists thought planets were very rare in the universe,” said Jeanne Cavelos, an astrophysicist-turned-author who literally wrote the book on “The Science of Star Wars.”

Now we know better.

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The Force is strong with sci-fi shows on TV

Image: Cas Anvar
Like Han Solo, spaceship pilot Alex Kamal (played by Cas Anvar) has a complicated past in “The Expanse,” which has its TV premiere on Syfy tonight. (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)

While you’re waiting for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” to invade theaters this week, you can tune in a couple of other star wars on TV – with settings and themes that hit much closer to home than the goings-on in a galaxy far, far away.

Starting tonight, the Syfy channel is bringing two classic science-fiction sagas to the small screen: Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End,” a novel about space aliens that was written before dawn of the Space Age; and “The Expanse,” a series of future-looking novels and short stories by James S.A. Corey (the pen name for collaborators Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck).

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Season’s readings: 12 gift books for geeks

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NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins reads a book titled “Max Goes to the Space Station” in 2014 during a space station outreach activity called Story Time From Space. (Credit: NASA / STFS)

In this age of e-readers, there are still occasions when it’s nice to have a book printed on actual paper – like holiday giving, for instance. But which book works best as a gift for a science geek?

In honor of the 12 days of Christmas, here are a dozen recently published science books that have been well-received and are well-suited for gift wrapping. And if you still want to save a tree, some of them work just fine as e-books as well.

Get the full list from GeekWire.

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R2-D2 jet brings ‘Star Wars’ vibe to Seattle

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All Nippon Airways’ R2-D2 jet arrives at Sea-Tac. (Credit: ANA via Twitter)

All Nippon Airways’ R2-D2 Dreamliner jet touched down today at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for the first time, two and a half months after the 787 rolled out of Boeing’s Everett factory.

The airliner – decorated in a blue, black, gray and white scheme modeled after the adorable Star Wars robot – is taking on several Seattle-Tokyo flights this month. The timing is perfect for ANA to capitalize on the hype over “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” And Seattle fans of the movie series, or just plain cool-looking jets, ate it up.

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Free e-book shares sci-fi’s ‘Future Visions’

"Future Visions"
“Machine Learning” by Nancy Kress is one of the tales in “Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft.” (Credit: Joey Camacho / Raw & Rendered for Microsoft Research)

When you’re developing technologies that sound like science fiction, why not use science fiction stories to show what you’re up to? That’s the motivation behind“Future Visions,” a free e-book from Microsoft Research that highlights the gee-whiz ideas its researchers are working on.

“We have a group of people who are trying to turn science fiction into reality, and it seems fitting that we’d want to tell that story with science fiction stories written by science fiction authors,” Steve Clayton, Microsoft’s chief storyteller, told GeekWire. (And by the way, Steve, how did you get that job title?)

The authors are top-drawer: Eight short stories come from science-fiction luminaries Elizabeth Bear, Greg Bear, David Brin, Nancy Kress, Ann Leckie, Jack McDevitt, Seanan McGuire and Robert J. Sawyer. There’s also a graphic mini-novel by Blue Delliquanti and Michele Rosenthal.

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6 small steps toward cooler spaceships

Image: Magbeam station
An artist’s conception shows a Magbeam station emitting a plasma beam to propel a target spacecraft beyond Jupiter. (Credit: UW Advanced Propulsion Lab)

SPOKANE, Wash. — Is there a better way to power a spaceship? The basic tools of the rocket trade have been refined over the course of nearly nine decades, but there’s only so far the physics will take us. If we ever want to send anything to another star system, as described in Kim Stanley Robinson’s newly published book“Aurora,” we’ll have to come up with new technologies.

Some of those technologies were laid out at Sasquan, the world science-fiction convention playing out this week in Spokane, during a session on the art and science of spaceships. And it turns out many of those technologies have a Seattle spin. Get a quick rundown on six research areas, with links to the local connections.

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Will HBO finish ‘Game of Thrones’ first?

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“Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin sets the scene for a reading at the Sasquan science-fiction convention in Spokane. (Credit: Alan Boyle)

SPOKANE, Wash. — “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin acknowledges that HBO could air the final episode of the show based on his books even before the last book in the series comes out — and he’s OK with that.

“Anything is possible,” he told GeekWire during Thursday’s Q&A at the Sasquan science-fiction convention in Spokane. Martin took questions after reading a chapter from “The Winds of Winter,” which will be the sixth book in what’s expected to be at least a seven-volume series.

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