Sierra Foxtrot

Thoughts upon SF. Oddly, I've called posts "Sierra Foxtrot, Again" and "Once More, Sierra Foxtrot", but never just "Sierra Foxtrot". Now I have rectified the oversight.

Also, this is post 425. Which is 52×17.
  • I'm wondering if I should have a character mention that the space-fold drive used in my books is basically a cross between a modified Alcubierre warp and a traversable wormhole. Because it does have many traits in common with the latter, and it's not like "wormholes" are actually holes anymore than there's actually elasticity involved in a "gravity slingshot" (I don't think I've mentioned that the "gravity slingshot" ought to be called an "orbital halfpipe").

    Hey speaking of things being given odd names, while "beanstalk" is an OK name for an orbit elevator, what about "Indian rope trick"? Because, I mean, we've got a thing where you climb into the sky on a rope hung on nothing, and it isn't a beanstalk (the beanstalk was presumably just held up by hydrostatic pressure).
  • I realized, thinking about the whole concept that "science fiction is about the big questions", that, well, in a sense of course it is, all literature is, but actually SF is often unusually hampered in answering them, by insisting on trying to use science to do it.

    See, in order to do science, you actually first have to either answer several of the big questions, or treat them as answered for you. I.e., "does matter exist?", "is external reality consistent and knowable?", and "is there any point to knowing anything about external physical reality?". Those are big questions, and you have to answer all of them "yes" before you can do science. There are other questions equally large, like "ought one to use science to improve human life?", that must be answered before you can know what position to take on issues like technological civilization.

    The "big questions", I'm afraid, are a matter for philosophy, not science; all science can do is accumulate more facts for us to philosophize about. The risible howlers in so many sci-fi answers to the "big questions" generally come from attempting, thanks to a reductive empiricist worldview, to drive in the screws of philosophy with the hammer of science, having rashly jettisoned the rest of the toolbox.
  • I was reading a car magazine in a waiting room, and a writer had an interesting point about electric cars. He'd gone to an electric car convention, and, he said, they reminded him, mutatis mutandem, of muscle car enthusiasts. Specifically that they were into their car not for purely practical considerations (an electric car's range is significantly better than the average muscle car's), but because they liked the thing the car represented.

    Put aside the derpy decisions governments make RE: electric cars, and let's all acknowledge that this is, to use RTS terms, a tech-tree we need to invest in. Don't be like hippies with nuclear power, a tech-tree that they mindlessly tabooed for ideological reasons (and that was far more "nuclear means bombs, unclean, unclean!" even than it was halfwitted ecologism).
  • Speaking of power, so the typical solar panel is about 8-9% efficient. The ones on the International Space Station are 14.5% efficient; gallium arsenide panels are 19% efficient. And the currently demonstrated laboratory conditions maximum? 30% efficiency.

    Meanwhile the current off-the-shelf (so to speak) light-water nuclear reactor is 35% efficient. That is, 7/6 the current maximum of solar—and our current light-water plants are ludicrously inefficient as nuclear power goes. So no, man, we should totally be investing in solar, and not nuclear. Is not our current prosperity due to us dodging that dead-end "horseless carriage" technology and breeding ever better horses to draw the hansom cabs of our great metropolises?!
  • If you needed another reason to grumble like a small dog whenever people talk about Star Trek being science fiction, how about that the replicators and transporters should kill them all? Why? Conservation of baryon number (yep, another conservation law those things break).

    Conservation of Baryon Number states that when you turn energy into matter, equal quantities of particles and antiparticles are created. So for every 180 cc cup of "tea, Earl Grey, hot"...you get 180 g of antimatter (plus the mass of the cup, c. 370 g on average). 550 g of antimatter (which will annihilate with the air the second it comes into being) is the equivalent of 23.66 MT of TNT...or just over 1000 times the energy of the Fat Man.

    Just imagine what beaming Worf or Data aboard does.
  • A thing I think more conlangs could stand to have is different registers depending on the sex of the speaker. In Japanese, for instance, while the copula can be omitted (you can express "A is B" by "A B (declarative particle)"), omitting it is effeminate if a man does it. See, in Japanese, the copula has an implication of a type of formality that is seen as masculine. Similarly in Korean, if you're not in Seoul, you damn well better learn to use the "-mnida" form instead of the "-yo" form (polite formal rather than polite informal), if you're a dude, or you'll sound like a sissy.

    There are constructions in the Sioux languages that are considered "rhetorical", and, therefore, masculine—Sioux machismo has an element of bombast to it, reflected in, e.g., Crazy Horse's famous line "Let's roll, today is a good day to die." Apparently asking a female speaker how she'd say things (rather than how the characters would say things) is why Dances with Wolves has all the Sioux warriors talking like girls—imagine if the Vikings in 13th Warrior all talked like Monty Python housewives, for the effect the movie's Sioux dialogue apparently has on the language's speakers.
  • A perpetual dance with death is coming up with youth fashions of the future. I can play things safe in mine; my first two books take place not too long after the war, so military-surplus clothes or stuff that resemble them are popular. In the third one(s), though, the fashion has changed—spacers' clothes are in.

    'Course, not all those fashions go for everyone; the revived samurai and hwarang incorporate elements (sometimes modified) of their traditional dress, and the Peacekeeper uniforms have Mandarin collars (real ones, not the weird thing on many modern uniforms that's called that).

    Did I mention how the clothes inside-out in Back to the Future 2 reminds me of the late medieval trend of putting your face through the neckhole of your hood? Because it's totally similar (they were probably going by analogy with backward hats).
  • I'd wanted to have a Take That to the Culture books by Iain M. Banks in my SF books, but now I think I'm taking it out. I was going to have that the thoikh—the all-telepath evangelical Heideggerians—began their ritual of testing other species' worthiness of life (by forcing them to face, in angst and trembling, the truth of their own existence) when they encountered cultural-imperialist Transhumans like the Culture.

    Only, see, the thoikh are a race of psychometers as well as telepaths (also telekinetics), ruled by the priests of their ancestors and their environment. And the lifestyle of people like the Culture "offended the household and the city, the Divine Ancestors and the Swamp Mother". So the thoikh tried to telepathically explain what they saw as the problem, thinking the Transhumans would leave them alone if they once saw life as the thoikh did.

    Except, of course, that for a bunch of Transhuman anarcho-socialist omnisexuals to suddenly be forced to examine the truth of their own existence...is pretty much guaranteed to make them kill themselves. And the thoikh decided to test all other species they met, to ensure no other race would have to take on such blood-guilt—by taking it on themselves, making any species that, like the Culture-analog, have existences too undignified to be borne, into sacrifices to their ancestors.

    Now, though, I think they'll just be highly inscrutable as to their motives. In part because—my setting not being laughable nonsense—nothing like the Culture could exist in it. Post-scarcity, one, and ever-rutting left-lib utopias that can actually get to space, two, are well below FTL or AI on the possibilit-o-meter.


penny farthing said...

It's a shame how much the derpy government has hurt electric car development, wasting money trying to dictate which ones get built. The Volt is a piece of crap, as are many hybrids. When the Volt was forced on the market, at a loss of about $70,000 per vehicle, several companies abandoned or delayed their development of fuel cell electric cars, which already have longer range, greater speed, and more consistent performance than the best plugin electrics. Plus it doesn't take 7 hours to put more hydrogen in your car. Plus it doesn't involve having China manufacture anything involving heavy metals (the Prius is far more damaging to the environment than an ordinary SUV when you take into account its manufacturing).

The problem with current electric car tech (and also large-scale solar and wind) is the batteries. They just aren't efficient yet. That's another thing that's nice about about fuel cells.

There are actually very few electric cars that have greater range than muscle cars (sadly). You can drive a muscle car from Tucson to Phoenix nonstop (not that that's anything to brag about.) The Nissan Leaf, for instance, only has about 70 miles of of range. Besides, it takes about five minutes to get the muscle car going again. It takes 7 hours to recharge the Leaf (and there's nothing to do for 7 hours in Casa Grande). The Tesla roadster can theoretically make the whole trip, maybe even all the way to Flagstaff! (about 250 miles) but again, you'd better be prepared to wait once it runs out of power. Batteries will of course improve, and they have already, but fuel cells man! Fuel cells! That's how you get electricity! Of course, not everywhere is as vast as the American West, but that's my rant...

Sophia's Favorite said...

In one of the live-action shorts to advertise Halo 4, it mentions that the Warthog runs on fuel cells.

The UNSC apparently agrees with you.