2014/03/20

Survival Strategy

Or in Japanese, "Seizon Senryaku!"

It seemed an appropriate title for a combination exobiology and military SF post. "Listen up, you lowlifes who will never amount to anything!"

Incidentally, the kanji for "seizon senryaku" are 生存戦略. It's quite literally "survival" and "strategy", I'm guessing it's a deliberate calque.
  • Been thinking, if I double the energy output of zled lasers and increase their aperture to 3 centimeters instead of 2 (or close to—they don't make things in nice round numbers of our units, because they're freaking aliens), I apparently double the effective range(s, given that laser effectiveness varies by target material). It would just require twice as much spring (maybe in two separate coils?), with a total mass of 512 grams. That's comparable energy to 7.62 NATO, and 16 rounds of that weighs 408 grams.

    And you simply can't use 7.62 NATO in a pistol; not and get anything like proper twist out of your rifling. And the kick would be most unpleasant, in a firearm-pistol as opposed to a laser one, given 3200 Joules is on par with the most powerful magnum revolver rounds, the ones used primarily for hunting, and only found in a self-defense role in bear country. Appropriate, given zled cops have to deal with people the size of black bears in their professional duties. (And 16 rounds of .460 S&W Magnum weighs 508 grams.)
  • Khângây weapons haven't shown up yet (I'm currently majorly reworking my third book's plot), but I think when they do they'll either be handheld mini-railguns shooting small projectiles—"sliver" or "needle" guns, as they're often known—or else, "ETC liquid" (electrothermal chemical) propelled. Leaning toward that second one, since railguns' length and barrel-longevity is something of a deal-breaker. Not sure if there'll be separate liquid-propellant reservoirs attached to each round of ammunition, or a single reservoir that meters out the same amount of propellant, each time a round is chambered. The high temperatures involved mean their weapons are probably made of super-materials.

    It seems culturally appropriate, since the khângây are a race of artists and artisans, so they have a tendency to pursue intriguing technologies, sometimes without much reference to their immediate battlefield feasibility. They also have a much smaller military than either the zledo or even the humans, and "splurging" on equipment is the kind of thing affluent societies with small militaries do, e.g. the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. I imagine that while their weapon-manufacturing might be part of a clan's exclusive intellectual property (remember, they're like a potlatch culture), armor manufacturing, while closely guarded, would come under the heading of "safety information", and thus be public-domain. At least to the point that a faction whose armor-tech is stolen by a competitor doesn't have a legal grievance (there's no requirement to actively publicize armor-tech, of course).

    See, they don't regard things directly relevant to the preservation of life as being subject to intellectual property; all clans share things like medical knowledge and disaster-reports freely. Their major modern religion, also (unlike their older ones, which were one-to-a-tribe affairs), regards its teachings as relevant to safety—albeit of souls—and thus as public domain (I imagine, thus, that khângây physicians are disproportionately monks).
  • You know you're a science fiction writer when you see a slashfic based on your work and your first objection is, "Kzinti don't have external genitalia" (apparently that was Niven's reaction). But have you figured out whether your aliens do? And if so, what? Aside from the fact that you simply need to work out at least a rough outline of how your aliens work in that regard, there will almost certainly be cultural-setting implications to whichever particular structure you actually go with. My advice, as in all things, is to mix and match non-mammal, non-vertebrate, and even non-animal systems, till you get something interesting.

    Zledo, for instance, don't urinate (neither do birds), so their intromittent organ (which is external) doesn't do double-duty as part of the excretory system. Their sex-organs aren't even part of a "cloaca" (unlike birds, where the penis, if present, is part of the cloacal wall—species that don't have a penis, which is 97% of them, just use their cloaca for the purpose—and whatever the male's anatomy does, the cloaca serves as the female's genitalia, instead of a specialized vagina). In that respect the zled genital system is actually more like that of a cephalopod, with reproductive organs that have nothing to do with the excretory system (the cephalopod excretory system seems, for some weird reason, to involve both a urinary tract and an anus; most marine life doesn't even bother with uric acid—excreting which, instead of urea, is the reason diapsids don't pee—and instead just excretes ammonia directly).

    RE: Cultural setting implications, among other things, the fact that our reproductive organs are also part of our waste-elimination system is the basis of a great number of zled insults for humans.
  • Aeons ago, I mentioned that zledo (not yet identified as such in the blog) have Z0 sex-chromosomes (the male has two Z chromosomes, the female has only one, with no partial chromosome like a human male or a bird female—a system used only by a few butterflies, on Earth; the opposite, where the female has two and the male only one, is called X0, and is used by grasshoppers, crickets, and cockroaches, among other things).

    Well, did I ever mention that the gamete-growing organs and the sex-hormone organs are distinct, although the former grow from the latter? The testes and ovaries grow from the hormone glands; they have four of them. The ovaries and hormone gland are at the back of the uterus, rather than beside it and connected by a fallopian tube, and the specific ovary that ovulates actually becomes the placenta and amniotic sac(-analogues) when fertilized, and the whole thing is expelled at birth. (An ovary and its embryo, together, is basically what "fruit" is, except with extra things to aid in the spread of seeds—also there isn't a precise analog to the placenta, flowering plants actually use a second embryo for that, which is freaky.)

    Part of what that means is that female zledo regrow multiple ovaries throughout their lives (they can have more than four children in a lifetime), and males can regrow testes lost to injury (if their hormone-gland isn't also injured).
  • Did some checking. Apparently each round of 6.8 Remington SPC (assuming 7.45 gram bullets) uses 1.944 grams of propellant. Supposing you replaced the nitrocellulose propellant with octanitrocubane, as is used by Peacekeeper guns in my books, you get (42% of 1.944=)816 milligrams of propellant per round. Caseless means we don't have to add any extra weight for brass. Assume a 60 round casket magazine, empty, weighs 192 grams (it wouldn't quite weigh twice what the 30-round one weighs—the 30-round one doesn't weigh 1.5 times what the 20-round was, and 192 is the number I get when I plug "in the proportion of the real weight-difference to 1.5", then multiply it by "117×2"). We can say that, for the weight of the standard seven magazines carried by a US Army soldier (210 rounds, each magazine weighing 483 grams, for a grand total of 3381 grams of full magazines), a 24th-century Peacekeeper can carry 5 magazines—and gets 10/7 the ammunition, 300 rounds vs. 210, with fewer pauses to reload. The consideration in the pistol rounds, incidentally, is not mass, but simply the length of the grip and its ability to accept the rounds. Using octanitrocubane instead of nitrocellulose, though, would reduce the propellant load from 460 milligrams to a mere 193.2 milligrams.
  • Incidentally, given the theoretical density of octanitrocubane—2.06 g/cm3 (the slightly lower density usually listed is the actually-achieved one, remember that we can't yet get it to form even as dense as heptanitrocubane)—the 816 milligrams of propellant in the rifle round has a volume of 396.117 cubic millimeters. Treating the 7 millimeter-diameter by 31 millimeter-length bullet as a cylinder, and assuming the propellant "casing" has the same diameter as the brass one (10.7 mm), we discover that the propellant "casing" only has a length of 17.67 millimeters (the casing volume minus the bullet volume equals 396.117, casing diameter is given, solve for casing height). The "casing" sticks out 1.85 millimeters from the bullet, and goes 15.82 millimeters up its sides (assuming uniform propellant thickness in back, too). Hence, I guess, they call it "6.8 × 18 mm". Maybe "7 × 18 mm", I don't know where that "6.8" business comes from, 'cause those bullets (6.8 SPC uses the same ones as .270 Winchester) are 7.0 millimeters diameter exactly.

    193.2 milligrams of octanitrocubane has a volume of 93.786 cubic millimeters. Again, treating a 9 millimeter-diameter by 16 millimeter-length (JHP) bullet as a cylinder, and a "casing" diameter of 10.77 millimeters, we get 12.20 millimeters as the "casing" length. The propellant "casing" has a thickness of .885 millimeters, and goes (again, uniform thickness in back) 11.32 millimeters up the sides of the bullet. So I guess they call it "9 × 12 mm"? Notice these rounds are much shorter than their cased equivalents—the rifle round is only 32.85 millimeters long, compared to 6.8 Remington SPC's 58.8 millimeters, and the pistol round is only 16.89 millimeters compared to .357 SIG's 28.96. I imagine they use the extra room for a coolant-reservoir (the battery for the electronic firing is set into the base of the magazine)—no casings to eject means there's nowhere for the chamber's heat to go.
  • While I'm describing the precise dimensions of my propellants (I think they also have a tiny amount of a bonding agent that holds them to the bullets and controls the burn-rate, and are also painted to designate what type of bullet is being used, e.g. red for explosive-tipped), I'm having a real hard time figuring out what they smell like. Seriously, I have found exactly one reference to what octanitrocubane would smell like, and (apart from a joke about Cuban cigars), it's "probably a bit like camphor". No basis for this is given, but a man in my position grasps any straw he can.

    The smell, of course, is important, because what's a gunfight without the smell of gunpowder or nitrocellulose (often erroneously referred to as "cordite")? But apparently 24th century gunfights smell quite different, though. I imagine the cops busting into a house because they thought they smelled gunshots—but no, man, it's just Hindus performing puja! "Every time we have a gunfight, I get hungry for pork-chops afterward. If we don't make peace with these rival gangs soon, I'm gonna need to invest in a whole new set of pants." (Rosemary has camphor in it.)
  • The khângây being able to see near-UV, and thus also distinguish ten times as many shades as creatures that only have three color bands, are, as I said, a race of artists and artisans. Part of it is that they say there are 30-35 "main" colors, instead of just six or seven (the seven, again, are red, orange, yellow, green, azure, blue, and purple—or you may regard azure and blue as the same color, or call azure "blue" and blue "indigo"; if you're Asian you consider green and blue to both be shades of azure; you also might call purple "violet"). Notice I said 30-35, not 60-70? Yeah, well, actually, only three colors in English are even named for themselves, rather than for things that are their color.

    Think about it. What's orange? A fruit (its Old English name was "yellow-red", look it up). What's green? A formation of the same root as "growing" and "grass", it actually means "flourishing plants", that's not just a connotation of the word. What's azure? A rock. What's violet? A flower. What's indigo? A dye. So is purple. No, the only words that can even partly be considered to actually mean the color they describe, are red, yellow, and blue—we weren't just calling them primaries 'cause of paint. (There's something similar in Japanese—the only colors that are adjectives instead of derivations from nouns, are black, white, red, and azure. Yellow, orange, and purple are named after gold, bitter oranges, and the purple gromwell, and pink, brown, and green are named after peaches, tea, and melons.)

    Khângây cultures have ten times as many words for colors that actually mean the colors themselves, which, if we assume ten times as many as a typical human language, is about 20-40, not counting black and white (and they presumably have ten words that mean "gray" plus dozens for things like "gunmetal" and "mouse"). Then they also derive ten times as many specific shades from other sources as we do. I imagine that being around colored objects made by humans and zledo probably sets their teeth on edge (if their jaws could do that, which they can't—technically they don't even have teeth), with slight variations in shade that we don't even notice, but that make them feel like they're in the "before" segment of a detergent ad.
  • Mention of khângây teeth, or lack thereof, reminds me that I redid their biting/chewing anatomy. Instead of beak-like horn structures, but shaped like canid teeth, inside their lips, they now have bone plates with sharp cutting surfaces, like those of the armored-jaw fish (still inside their lips). Their "biting plates" have a horn-like coating, like a bird beak, which continually regrows as it's worn down. The horn is in the same color as the feathers of whichever ethnic group the khângây belongs to.

    I had had the males have brighter-colored plumage than the females, but I can't think of any species with a similar mating structure to khângây that have that. Most of the brightly-colored birds that mate for life—parrots, mostly, although blue-jays (being predators) are probably a closer parallel—have indistinguishable plumage between the sexes. I might just decide to have the sex be determinable by build (they give live birth and have big brains, so their females' anatomy has adaptations for that).
  • It's fascinating how many common criticisms of things are just unintelligent retreads of each other. I've talked before about the people who say walking mecha won't work because walking uses too much power...thus demonstrating they have never seen a mecha anime or they'd know they usually roll on good terrain. Another one is the people who yammer on and on about how military science fiction is stuck in the Cold War—and then talk as if it's self-evident that the wars of space-faring civilizations would be genocidal affairs that kill billions.

    Newsflash: war did not cease in the Cold War. It just got much smaller and tidier. The whole thing we learned from the end of the Cold War is that the whole idea of Total War is, like racism and women as legal minors, an incredibly stupid assumption of the Renaissance and Enlightenment that intelligent people would never have adopted, or resurrected, in the first place. "The only time it's worth killing your enemy is if you kill everyone like him" is an idea exclusive to the modern era; Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan would have regarded it as blasphemously bloodthirsty.

    The "every war is a war for race-survival (not to say Lebensraum)" trope in science fiction is not merely pre-end-of-the-Cold War, it is demonstrably just a hangover from World War II—or even from the 19th-century ideologies that brought about World War II. Do try to at least catch up to the point where eugenics has been discredited, women can vote, and there's black people at the diner, hmm?

2014/03/14

Rannm Thawts Three

Just what you see here.
  • Having Neil deGrasse Tyson host a Cosmos reboot is a stroke of genius. I was actually wondering, "How will you make Cosmos without Carl Sagan's smug unwarranted self-congratulation and laughably false hagiographic presentation of the history of science?" But Tyson fits the bill nicely.

    Well, except that his achievements make Sagan look like Niels Bohr. Sagan may only have contributed as much to science as the average state-university astronomy professor, but that is at least real research, and every single pebble-pusher in the trenches has a part to play. Tyson? I searched him on Google Scholar and so far haven't found a single thing authored by him that's not a glorified press release (I suppose "essay", if we're being polite) about how awesome Science™ is, or else about how some particular policy in Science™ is just the only tenable solution (e.g. RE: Pluto).

    Real research-papers have long, abstruse titles like "ATP sulfurylase from filamentous fungi: which sulfonucleotide is the true allosteric effector?"; Tyson's all have punchy, marketer-friendly storybook titles like "The Planet that Never Was" or "Death by Black Hole".
  • In the original Gundam, Earth and Zeon are supposed to have lost half of their populations "in the war's first month alone". Now, this is one of those settings where apocryphal population apocalypses are taken at face-value, and UC 0079 is something like AD 2131, so there would be well over ten billion people on Earth (and a single O'Neill cylinder can hold up to ten million people, and each "Side" consists of several cylinders).

    Which raises the question, "How is the Earth still habitable?" Anything that could kill billions in a month would have to involve nukes or something comparable. Nothing else—certainly not tanks, which is all mobile suits are—could kill at anything like that rate. Even assuming Nazi-like death-camps (six, in a faction controlling 4.3% of the Earth's territory, killing at a rate of 1.5 million annually, or 250,000 each per year), and Zeon control over the entire Earth's land-area (I assume the Feddies aren't killing many of their own people), with the same amount of death-camps per unit area as the Nazis, you still only kill 5,813,953 people per year. Killing even one billion would take 172 years; half the world's current population would take 602 years. Killing 1 billion people in one month means killing 10% of the current US population, or one whole Canada or Uganda, every 24 hours. Killing 3.5 billion people in a month would involve killing off the entire French-speaking population of Africa every day, and UC 0079 Earth almost certainly has more people than 2014 Earth. Can you think of a way to do that without rendering large portions of the planet uninhabitable?

    Of course, the whole idea that the world lost half its population is ignored for the whole rest of the series. Very little of the Earth has been rendered uninhabitable, very few cities are shown to have been completely abandoned; people after the war do not live in squalor and technological stagnation (a certain minimum population-base is necessary for progress, because with lower populations people who might otherwise be innovating are occupied with more routine tasks). Also, nobody even suggests genociding the Zeon people or even executing their entire leadership, which is what would absolutely happen to an aggressor who lost a war that killed half the human race. Apparently nobody at Sunrise knew how close their country came to getting either treatment, and the war they were the aggressor in only killed 1.5% of the world's population (their theater of it, anyway).
  • There's people coming up with makeup to foil facial-recognition software. There's people 3d printing plastic guns that don't set off metal detectors (presumably their ammo still would). There's several other petulant anti-surveillance gestures, all by people who seem to think they're actually engaged in meaningful political acts. But the net result? Massively more inconvenience and degradation, plus more expense to upgrade the equipment. You've made guns that can get through metal detectors (though they're not very good guns)? Then they're just going to have to ascertain that you're unarmed the old-fashioned way. I'm pretty sure at this point the best use for your 3d printed gun is as a dietary supplement, if you take my meaning.

    I mean, seriously. Most facial-recognition software is not used by automated systems. It's used by security guards, separated from the people the software checks by a Formica counter. If you have makeup that foils the software? Well, first, one of the guards nudges his co-worker, and says, "Hey, this dude's not showing up on the software." Then he comes around the Formica counter, and as everyone behind you in the line curses you for the delay you're causing, the guard approaches you. "Sir," he says, "please come with me." He proceeds to lead you toward the back room, pulling on an elbow-length latex glove as he goes.

    What a mighty blow for civil liberties and human dignity that was! You're a damn folk hero!
  • In my setting, the oldest space-station colonies are Stanford tori (which are a specific type of Von Braun habitat ring). Later colonies, after the invention of actual topological-distortion artificial gravity, don't have a geometry derived from a need to rotate. But I had been unclear as to what shape they would have; I had rather vaguely supposed something like a Bernal sphere or O'Neill Island (which they still didn't need for their space-dwelling population by the time they invented topo-gravity), presumably with the topo-gravity making them stick to the "walls" without the thing having to spin. But that, too, is a design based around rotation, and I despise SF designs whose form does not follow their function.

    So, I decided, the newer colonies would be, like the ships, oriented essentially like a tower. But since a space-station has no need to minimize mass, since it's not going anywhere, and one wants to maximize the area so it can fit a lot of population (and have room to breathe—long-term confinement in ship-like conditions would result in lots of crazy colonists), I figured it might be roughly saucer-shaped, or possibly mushroom-shaped, with a long shaft of various machinery (presumably a bunch of generators, for one thing) and a flat, somewhat bulbous habitat section on the "top". I imagine them looking something like the Kûkai Foundation from Xenosaga, except that I am not fond of windows on space-structures; or, come to think of it, like the Starbases in the pre-reboot Star Trek movies (which are probably the most realistic Star Trek structure).
  • Remember how I said zledo can hear the auroras? Well, I found out what that would sound like. A lot of the "aurora borealis sounds" you can find, are actually how the magnetic field of an aurora is received by radio, but there are recordings of the actual sounds that are statistically correlated with auroras (although it's apparently not proved that that's their origin).

    Anyway, it sounds like this. The buzzing is just the air around the microphone, but that sharp, glassy *crack*? That is associated with the aurora. I imagine it makes the more high-strung among the zledo very jumpy, especially when they orbit BY Draconis variables, which have so much sunspot activity their variation in brightness is detectable from Earth. It would be like having a star with an incessant bubblegum habit.
  • An old name for the Hopi is "Moqui". Now, it's usually said this cannot be a Hopi name, because in Hopi, "moqui" (or rather "mooki") means "dead", cf. "miqui" in Nahuatl. But the Hopi take their religious law—adherence to which is what makes them "rightly-ordered", hopi—from the Fire Clan, and the Fire Clan are the chosen clan of the god Masauwu, the Skeleton, god of death (and cosmic order). So it is actually possible that "dead" was once a term they applied to themselves. (Masauwu is probably the Aztec Mictlantecuhtli, "lord of the place of the dead".)
  • The Urheimat of the Uto-Aztecan languages, I just had occasion to look up, is either roughly in the Sonoran Desert region (so the O'odham, for example, probably still live in the ancestral locale), or, according to the minority view, actually in Mesoamerica. The evidence for the former seems to have to do with the vocabulary relating to foraging; the latter assumes a corn-growing culture that brought its agricultural knowledge north.

    I'm not sure what would be the precise locale involved in the second hypothesis; my knowledge of this language group and its cultures drops off sharply between the American Southwest and the Valley of Mexico. The Corachol branch, it looks like, from the map ("Cora" and "Huichol" being the two that are listed, apparently their branch's name was formed on the same basis as tabloid celebrity-couple portmanteaux). I know precisely nothing about them! (Well, I know they probably have agglutinating grammar and mark plurals by reduplicating initial syllables, but that's just tantamount to saying "I know they're Uto-Aztecan speakers".)
  • Speaking of Mesoamerican languages, there is quite a big gap between Ch'orti', spoken in Guatemala and Honduras, and the Chontal and Ch'ol languages, spoken in Tabasco and Chiapas (in Mexico), respectively—all the Mayan languages in between are in completely different branches of the language-group. Why the geographic gap? Well...Ch'orti' happens to be a direct descendant of the language we usually call Classic Mayan—so-called because it's the language used by all Mayan inscriptions (even the ones written by speakers of other kinds of Mayan, like how a lot of medieval German writing was in Latin). It sorta seems that the Tabascan and Chiapan Maya adopted the scholarly language as their own, at some point.

    Incidentally, the word in most of those languages for "speaker" is "yoko". The word in Chontal, specifically, for a speaker of Chontal Maya? "Yoko t'an". I think (I can't find a direct translation for "t'an") it means something like "clear speaker", i.e., we can understand these people, because they talk our language, unlike those babbling barbarians from other places. Interestingly, that's what the word "nahuatl" means, and those who don't speak Nahuatl are nonoalcah, "deaf-mutes", they can neither speak nor hear Nahuatl words. There are words like "yoko t'an" in many other Mayan languages; it may well be the closest thing to a collective term for "Mayan people" that there is ("Maya" is pretty much used only by the Yucatec and Itza'). Apparently "Yucatan" is actually an ethnonym, not a toponym, although then again "land of a particular people" is a very common way of naming places, the world over.

2014/03/08

De Advenae Vitae III

Speculative life-stuff. Mostly biochemistry, a bit about alien culture occasioned by a scientific discovery that's relevant to their biology.
  • Had been thinking I might have the thoikh be nitrogen-fixers. Maybe do that and breathe oxygen, instead of in lieu of it; it's entirely possible they could have mechanisms to sequester their nitrogenase(-analog) from O2. One of the major nitrogen-fixing bacteria is also photosynthetic, meaning its cells produce oxygen; either the same or a different one is protected by a kind of hemoglobin produced by the plants it's symbiotic with, that transports oxygen away from the tissues rather than to them. The reason they might still breathe oxygen is because nitrogen-fixation takes energy, which the bacteria that do it photosynthesize for.

    Whether the thoikh fix nitrogen in lieu of aerobic respiration, or in addition to it, they would probably exhale ammonia (possibly along with CO2 if they also breathe oxygen). It's a gas at room temperature (the stuff you clean with is actually a water-solution, like CO2 in soda). Presumably plants on the thoikh homeworld use gaseous ammonia, rather than absorbing it through their roots. But them exhaling ammonia made me realize two problems with the idea, so I probably won't go with it. The first is that zledo and to a lesser extent khângây couldn't stand to be around anyone that exhaled ammonia, they both have very strong senses of smell. And the second is that C. J. Cherryh's kif smell strongly of ammonia, and the thoikh were already pale gray, sepulchral, and wrapped in dark robes—too similar by far.

    But nitrogen-fixation for aliens, as an accompaniment or substitute for oxygen respiration, is a cool idea, just one I can't use because I can't wedge it in.
  • The recent kerfuffle about "the gender binary" in science fiction, got me thinking. As far as I know, all attempts to portray an alien species with more than two sexes are actually portrayals of alien species with two sexes, plus hermaphrodite and/or neuter. And occasionally, alternatively or concomitantly, of a fluidity to the binary that is more assumed than demonstrated with regard to any vertebrate more "derived" than certain fish and frogs.

    I'm sorry, did you maybe learn some weird system of symbolic logic with which I am unacquainted? I ask because, well, "A, B, both A and B, neither A nor B, and/or A becoming B quite easily or the reverse"...are none of them C, you idiots! You're incapable of even conceiving of a third sex; you can't even really conceive of another "gender", you just sometimes claim that people get to pick which one they are, or that they aren't one (apparently when you say "science" fiction you mean Mary Baker Eddy).

    There are very good reasons organisms on Earth have two sexes, even when they combine them in one organism like roses and snails do. All neuter organisms reproduce by budding or fission. I don't object to you trying to depict an organism that does things another way—but I have a serious problem with you saying that you are trying to do that, and then, instead of giving it an actual try, doing something else entirely.
  • An idea I like is aliens with different senses—e.g. Niven's kdatlyno and their radar. I don't know that something like that would evolve, on a planet that the Thrint would've colonized and whose inhabitants Kzinti can eat, but it's still a neat idea.

    When my setting was going to include space-borne life (which it was, once, though I don't think I've mentioned it here), the space-borne creatures were going to use radio both as their main sense, and for communication. They can't hear, of course, but they can mimic any sound they receive broadcast over analog radio (I think they might even be able to send images from their heads as analog video). They could even focus their "voice" sufficiently to use it as a weapon—imagine "fus roh da" causing all the asymmetrical molecules in the target to heat up (okay, so that's more like "yol toor shul", but it's not like anyone knows the names of any other Thu'umme).

    I had a whole plot about their dealings with one of the other species (which I hadn't yet decided, although probably not humans, at first), but not even I—who went to the Quentin Tarantino school of "cram in everything you think is cool"—could fit it into my larger plot.
  • On that note, there's some silly idea going around that "Starscream", as a name in Cybertronian culture, has something to do with wind. Maybe solar wind, but what the hell do stars have to do with wind otherwise? No. Many if not most if not all Cybertronians/Transformers/Autobots (which may be the original name of their species—depending on the continuity, but in the current one Orion Pax got the name from unspecified ancient records) are born with radio and radar as a sense, and all of them eventually learn to incorporate it into their physiology. Therefore? They can hear the stars (and "naked eye object" is a term with no meaning for them). My theory is that "Starscream" is the Cybertronian word for "sunspot" (there is a Decepticon named "Sunspot", but he only exists in the Bayformers continuity and thus can be safely discounted—even there, he's only a toy, not in the films). It's probably a similar name in their culture to, well, Solarflare.
  • I just discovered, on the 27th in fact, that I can't use 59 Virginis for the zled star. It's too young. The Internet Stellar Database lists it as 4.5 billion years old, but apparently the newer calculations say it's only about a tenth of that, much too young for life. I'm moving their home star to 18 Scorpii, which is a trifle more sun-like than I like but otherwise okay. I spent most of the 27th coming up with a new calendar for them; I decided this time around not to have months, but to base the divisions of their year (now much shorter—383 Julian days instead of 653) on the seasons. They still have a lunisolar calendar, but now their two moons (which I decided have a Trojan orbit) define their week(-analogue), not a "month". I'm a little impressed with myself, redoing...crap, twelve years of work in a single day, with only what wailing and gnashing of teeth was strictly necessary.

    I don't have to change too much of the actual books; most of the stars that are remote from 59 Virginis, and thus good places for the frontier colonies most of the books are set in, are also remote from 18 Scorpii (they are also roughly as remote from Sol). One that I am changing is instead of γ Serpentis-Tianshìyòuyuánsì (I also use the Chinese star-names), one of the books will now be set on a planet orbiting σ Boötis-Gěnghé-èr; given its Chinese name means "celestial lance", I'm changing the colony's name from "Iron-Crutch Li" to "Èrlángshén", since he uses a spear and all. It's a cooler name anyway.

    I might have to come up with another Pole Star for them. I know I want Orion to be an important constellation (I checked, it still pretty much looks like Orion from where they are, although the Belt is squished to one side), either on their equator or on their ecliptic; Muphrid no longer works as a Pole Star from 18 Scorpii. The math to be certain is hell, but I'm probably eventually going to do it, that's just the kind of man I am. (First I have to determine the galactic coordinates of some star in Orion, like say Alnitak, relative to 18 Sco, then I have to convert that to RA and Dec, then I have to essentially stick that star at the coordinates of something on the ecliptic, like say α Leonis, then I have to figure out what c. 90° declination away from that would be, then I have to convert that to galactic coordinates and find a star nearby to be the pole-star).
  • Might redo some of their constellations, which will entail renaming some of their stars. Sol is now in a constellation consisting of part of Taurus and part of Canis Major, which I could easily see as a monster Orion (which they also imagine as a hero, though not primarily a hunter) is killing. Gliese 570 (where my short-story "Fine and Fitting" takes place) is now in Orion. ...Actually it's significantly further from 18 Scorpii than it is from Sol, I might have to change the location of that story. HR 4458, or 289 G. Hydrae as 24th-century people prefer to call it, is half again as far from 18 Scorpii as from Sol, but the zledo have had space-folds for longer so that's okay. It's now in a constellation containing pieces of Monoceros and Puppis, as well as β and γ Canis Majoris, a bit behind Orion (if he's facing toward Sol); think I'll have it be his steed. The description doesn't change much, it just has one less red dwarf companion.

    Ξ Boötis is now in a constellation consisting of parts of Taurus and Auriga, seeming to hover over the head of the monster-constellation Sol is in. Don't know what that'll be yet, maybe a bird-analogue (in an unrelated capacity to the hero-monster fight happening on the zodiac). Σ Boötis is in a constellation consisting of several of the brightest stars in Ursa Majoris. Actually it kinda looks like a bear (though not in the way UMa is usually thought of), so maybe I'll name that one after a stughõ, which is a vaguely ursine zled domestic animal, used something like an elephant. 61 Ursae Majoris, which is where the first-contact story takes place, is now in a constellation mostly consisting of Gemini and Coma Berenices stars, as well as a couple Ursa Major ones (including Talitha Borealis, ι Ursae Majoris). I think I'll have that constellation be a ship.

    Given they put south at the top of maps and have Orion with the same orientation we in the Northern Hemisphere do, I think Lhãsai still rotates backwards, like it did when η Boötis was its pole-star. ("East" is defined by rotation and "north" and "south" are defined relative to it.)
  • It's kinda funny to be alive now. In between February of 2011 and October of 2013, the "scientific consensus" went from "Earthlike planets are exceedingly rare" to "between 20% and 33% of sunlike stars have Earthlike planets in their Goldilocks Zones". That one little datum (pretending for the moment that we actually know that, and we don't, it's an estimate) makes three of the seven terms of the Drake Equation "we have an educated guess" rather than "we pluck the numbers from the air". Admittedly, we already had a guess for the first, "the rate of star formation in the galaxy".

    The Drake Equation—N = R × fp × ne × fl × fi × fc × L—is, as its critics often point out, complete BS. It is an attempt to dress up wishful thinking as science, at best a framing for a problem of whose basic framework we know, more or less, nothing. Having an educated guess for three of its seven terms doesn't actually change that...in real life. For a science fiction writer, though, the Drake Equation was always useful, because setting the values certain ways said how many alien civilizations you had to plan around. Three of those terms now being "known" (albeit only in the form of a Scientific Wild-Ass Guess—YOLO!) greatly simplifies things for the science-fiction writer.
  • Example of how nuts I am: remember how in the last part of "Fine and Fitting", Dhêmãshlek mentions that zledo can process methanol (this is then translated by Léih Sèuhndíng)? Well, I figured out what, in general terms, that entails. The reason methanol is toxic is because it is metabolized into formic acid and formaldehyde. Zled metabolism has some mechanism (which I do not specify) that allows their bodies to safely remove these chemicals. The net effect, however, is that their crap smells like embalmed ants the next day.

    Their alcohol intoxication is different in other ways—they don't use GABA because their biosphere uses an entirely different set of amino acids (they do use an amino acid as their main inhibitory neurotansmitter, though). They also don't use acetylcholine, whose nicotinic receptors alcohol has a "facilitatory" effect on. I decided on that because of another characteristic of their chemistry, one that I decided on during the initial writing of the second book several years ago (although I determined its precise nature just now): zledo are immune to sarin nerve-gas (although if you pump a facility full of it they'll still die, just by suffocation—would've been cheaper to use CO2). Even I don't know what they do use for a neurotransmitter; I don't know if it's a different choline or something else entirely. Maybe a glutamate, some of those are used in the muscle-cells of cephalopods (vertebrates only use acetylcholine in their muscle-nerves, although they use glutamic acid as a neurotransmitter in other parts of their nervous systems).

    Maybe have them use the methanoic-acid choline—formylcholine? That might have some connection to the fact they can metabolize methanol ("methanoic acid" is the more systematic name for "formic acid"). Maybe the propanoic-acid one (methane-ethane-propane, their derivatives follow the same convention), propionylcholine? That's found in cow livers, apparently, though not as a neurotransmitter I don't think. I probably won't specify, I don't have the chemistry background to be sure I won't embarrass myself.