Chiefly Concerning Space

More random thoughts, but mostly on the theme of space; I'm prolific of late.
  • So a bunch of people discussing Firefly always say "I don't like Westerns" and, often, "I don't like SF in general." Really? Why I had no idea, considering you like Firefly and it's not science fiction. Far too many of the haters often say it too, when frankly we actual SF fans have more of a beef, if anything.

    As I said before, what really clinches it for me is that the Alliance, if they can terraform multiple planets, would have to be at least somewhat over Kardashev II. And it's doubtful the Independents, as portrayed, would've been able to survive long enough to enter battles, let alone win any.

    Suppose, to draw an analogy from real science fiction, that, instead of being oppressed by the descendents of their colony ships' crew, the insurrection on Mt. Lookitthat were oppressed by Pak Protectors, the builders of the Ringworld. Know what they'd be? Tanj out of luck, that's what they'd be. To be a titch less obscure, what if, instead of the Covenant, the UNSC were fighting the Forerunners in their hayday?

  • Firefly-haters are on more solid ground when they snipe at Whedon's pointlessly cute dialogue. Aside from his trademark snark—which is basically unknown outside Whedon's specific socio-economic, regional, and largely even professional demographic—it's anachronistic. I could see an increase in formal diction arising due to the Alliance with China, but Whedon got lazy, and just recycled 19th century diction wholesale, nevermind there've been dramatic shifts in the dominance of dialects. How about you make 'em talk like they're literally translated from Chinese? "Die out of my way" (screw off) and "naked in daylight" (completely boned) not colorful enough for you?

    Then again he doesn't know Chinese has its own profanity, and feels he's allowed to make up profanity for them. Yet he'd probably be the first to get in a snit if someone just swapped in a bunch of random, vaguely jive-esque nonsense in a black character's dialogue.

  • I still don't get why he went with the terraforming. Habitat domes and orbital colonies, Whedon, there's no need to make Star Trek's tech look like Quest for Fire! You could even work in such things to the Western setting—"Cletus, go help your pa patch that leak in the dome over the back 40, in another six hours the cattle'll suffocate." But that would've required that he care about the world he was building, and he's plainly not interested.


  • That's something I really like about Gundam, by the bye—when I cut my teeth on Gundam Wing on Toonami's Midnight Run (yeah, that's how long ago it was), it was the first time I'd seen a Stanford torus/Von Braun habitat ring in anything. It quite fired my imagination, I can tell you. Another thing I like about Gundam series is how the gravity, being rotational, doesn't work quite like the real thing. I still wonder why the ships have the floorplans they do—most of them don't seem to have rotating sections—but it's still a nice touch.

    Now if only the ships didn't have obvious 'bridges', which may well be the most boneheaded "space is an ocean" feature after long corridors. What's the problem there? During accelaration, a corridor running the length of the ship is no longer a corridor at all—it's a drop.

    Just one of many reasons inertia-compensation is a timesaver for writers and set designers. I'm torn as to whether to mention it in-text, but the ships in my book (which have inertia compensation based on the same tech as their gravity generators) have bulkheads that divide up their corridors if they lose the inertia compensation, keeping falls to survivable sizes. They also shut down their main rocket if they lose the compensation, though, since its acceleration is 25 Gs (half the lethal limit, and still doesn't feel pretty if you're not cushioned and restrained).

  • Speaking of things with rotating sections for gravity, I'm pretty sure the BeBop's rotating section is too small, and/or spins too fast. If its rotating section is its widest point—internet stats say 69.2 m—then to generate 1 g it needs to spin at 5.08 rpm, which is probably too fast for health and comfort. Though then again it seems to spin rather slower, though even I'm not nerd enough to count.

    Yeah, there's a neat little Javascript spin-grav calculator called Spincalc. Takes the guesswork right out of nitpicking SF shows.

  • Similarly the widest part of Babylon 5's rotating section is 950 meters in diameter, which means it must rotate at 1.37 rpm, quite comfy. A very real danger of using SpinCalc for utilitarian reasons (yes, I'm an SF writer, I actually have a utilitarian need for a thing like that) is that you'll get distracted, and start checking every fictional rotation-gravity system you can think of for realism.

    Maybe that's just me, though, the ol' ADHD flares up now and then.

  • So, heat radiators. Oy. Why doesn't anyone stick 'em on? They're important! The only person who does is Cameron, it's the only real SF in Avatar. Well, actually the Babylon 5 station has them, but the ships don't. Grrr.

    I shall not reveal the innovative touch I use, for heat dispersal; suffice it to say it takes the concept of the Liquid Droplet Radiator to a whole 'nother level. I'll also say that one limiting factor of radiators—that everything in existence will melt, and indeed vaporize, before it reaches 6000 K—is rendered entirely moot.

  • Someone had the interesting point that the probable maximum range for space combat (other than with smart missiles) is one light-second, c. 300,000 km. See, with one second's burn, any ship with decent rockets will be kilometers away from where they were when you aimed at them. Now, for ship-to-ship you'd probably use something that affects a volume of space anyway, either radiation or shrapnel, and missiles that home are another story entirely (since it wasn't fired until the other guy had a lock). But isn't that cool?

  • Thought of "don't fire unless you have a lock", which is basically a modification of Dicta Boelcke No. 3, makes me want to write space-war versions of the whole thing. Ahem:
    1. Try to secure as much advantage as possible before attacking. If possible, keep the sun or other large radiation source behind you.
    2. Always continue with an attack you have begun.
    3. Open fire only within one light-second, or only when you have a firm targeting-lock.
    4. You should always try to keep your eye on your opponent, and never let yourself be deceived by ruses.
    5. In any type of attack, it is essential to keep clear of your opponent's exhaust.
    6. If your opponent engages, engage countermeasures and, if possible, counterattack, rather than simply fleeing.
    7. When in enemy space, always remember your own line of retreat.
    8. Tip for groups: In principle, it is better to attack in groups of four or six. Do not simply attack en masse, but defend each other from counterattacks.


Habitable Planets Aren't Built in a Day

Boy, I'm on fire, huh? So anyway I was thinking about Firefly, and how it's completely, ridiculously impossible. Everything in it is essentially fairly plausible (except for the engines)...and then they go and have the terraforming. I know Whedon probably considers science patriarchal but his squeeing fangirls have praised the show's plausibility just once too often.

You awoke something you were better leaving asleep, now rue the day!

First off, terraforming one Earth's-worth of air involves manipulating 5 quadrillion tons of gas. It seems to have taken about 200 years, so (again using the shamefully patriarchal enterprise of math) I come out to about 68.5 billion tons of gas per day. How, pray, do they move all that? And that's just for one planet.

Even if you can move that much gas, the vast, vast majority of planets in a system are going to be much too big or much too small for human habitation. What do you think is the cost of covering the surface of each one in whatever generates their gravity? Even if they're only the size of the Moon, that's still 37.9 million square kilometers, or about 4 times the area of the US. How do they power the gravity generators, anyway? Let's suppose, ridiculously, that each generator only costs as much as a nuclear reactor, and can generate a gravity well in a hundred-kilometer radius. That's an average of $4 billion just for construction of each, and you need 1206 of them, so $4.824 trillion just to build the facilities in. Who knows how much the energy-generation to keep them all active, 24/7, would cost.

Even if you can schlepp that much gas and create enough gravity for it to stick (and more to the point for your colonists to be able to give healthy birth), there's still the question of keeping all that gas warm. The traditional way is with various kinds of collectors and mirrors, all redirecting every possible scrap of sunlight; these are notably absent in Firefly. The majority of planets in the system wouldn't be close enough to the star to be livable without habitat domes, also absent. There's also the option of artificial suns, but again, the setting's tech doesn't seem to be up to that.

Then, of course, is the fact that a civilization that can do what appears to have been done in the Firefly system, is unlikely to have much problem with people like the Reavers, or for that matter the Independents. In order to do that level of tailoring your environment, you've got to be on par with the Pierson's Puppeteers, maybe even the Pak Protectors or Thrint Empire. The only threat a group like that would really be threatened by, would have to be another, comparable system; no insurrection or psycho-raider would have a prayer. And, at the point where you can terraform on that scale, you probably wouldn't have to: you can just build ringworlds, giant seed-ships, or maybe turn your original homeworlds themselves into ships.

Which reminds me, it's a little hard to take that Reach was re-terraformed a mere 37 years after being glassed, but the Elites are presumably still the UNSC's allies, and they've definitely got the tech (they can teleport Supercarriers), and who knows what tech the Reclaimers have, well, Reclaimed from the Forerunners by then? Besides, Reach started out human-habitable, they don't have to change nearly as many variables.


Do Not Vex Me Or I Shall Turn on You

Reality check! I think this is the first time I've done two posts in the same day.
  • So a lot of idiots compare the marriage age in the Middle Ages—12 for girls, 14 for boys—to those cases where 50-year-old men marry 13-year-old girls, sometimes several of them. Only, first off, a 12-year-old girl would, in the vast majority of cases, be marrying a 14-year-old boy (those old-young marriages were mostly arranged, mainly only nobles did arranged marriage, and nobles tended to marry slightly older—think a 16-year-old girl with a 30-year-old husband, which can happen in several US states now).

    And second off, 12/14 weren't just the age for marriage; they were the age of adulthood. A 12-year-old girl was considered an adult for all purposes, including property ownership, contracts, filing lawsuits, and, again, voting. I really don't see where countries that retained traces of women being legal wards of their husband well into the post-World War II era get off criticizing.

    Again, women being their husbands' wards is a product of your precious Renaissance, a resurrection of Roman law.

  • Similarly, that old canard that "rule of thumb" meant you were allowed to beat your wife as long as the stick you used was thinner than your thumb. This is just you admitting you don't speak any Romance languages, right? 'Cause in those, the word for "thumb" also means "inch"—"rule (or 'measure') of thumb" means to measure something with your actual thumbs instead of a ruler.

    Actually medieval laws allowed civil divorces in cases of physical abuse—including, in some jurisdictions, taking one's "conjugal rights" by force. Yeah, the medievals had laws against what we call spousal rape, when exactly did your country get around to addressing that?

  • So the trope of the crazy veteran becoming a spree or serial killer? Yeah, turns out, most of the serial killers with military experience never saw combat. Dahmer was a nurse, the BTK guy installed radio antennas, the DC sniper was a mechanic. Timothy McVeigh (an agnostic by the way, not a Christian as is often asserted) was a gunner on a Bradley fighting vehicle. He had no demolitions training, though.

    Personally, knowing as I do that humans are fundamentally lazy and hate their jobs, I'd guess actual combat personnel are the least likely to go on a killing spree. It's too much like work.

  • An example of how America's left-wing media are a bunch of idiots is, they decided the Tea Party was racist before they'd ever looked at them, resulting in a risibly, demonstrably false narrative. If I'd wanted to discredit the Tea Parties, I'd have focused on the (minority of) signs that express Ayn Rand/Gordon Gekko "Greed is good", "Selfishness is commanded in the Nicomachean Ethics" sentiments. I know that'd work, because I thought those signs were typical, and frankly the average voter should be my pet.

    It's fascinating how often people's prejudices are unrelated to what's actually unlikeable about someone or something, huh? Like, you know that Anti-Semitic idea that Jews are over-educated and too cosmopolitan? Yeah, funny, every time I can remember that a Jewish writer has rubbed me the wrong way, it's been because of his provincial ignorance.

    So yeah, mostly just Dennis Prager, really.

  • I was reading this article about race politics in this country, about the implosion of black America, and one of the commenters insisted that it was still due to "200 years of slavery". And yet nobody has pointed out A) those problems didn't exist in the nearly full century between the 13th Amendment and the War on Poverty, and B), how come nobody in the former Roman Empire exhibited those problems as a legacy of 4500 years of slavery, at least? And, while slavery in America was the worst in all the colonies—France, Spain, and Portugal only had slavery in the economic sense (forced labor), while only the English and Dutch had it in the human-rights sense (chattel slavery)—it wasn't as bad as Roman slavery could get. How do I know?

    How about the forward-thinking, progressive legislation by Caesar Augustus forbidding feeding your slaves to eels? Somehow I don't think that even came up in the New World.


The Most Crying Need

After bread, the most crying need of the people is knowledge.

—Maximilian Robespierre
And what's really ironic is, lack of knowledge can severely imperil the people's ability to get bread. So I noticed a number of things relating to economics people are ignorant about, and thought it would be fun to pick them out for comment.

Thought I'd try a bulleted list. You know, change things up a little.
  • So many on the right, in its various shadings, like to characterize the American left as socialist. But actually, there are very few socialists in American politics. The inaccuracy is what annoys me most, it's just how my mind works.

    It's also kinda a political faux pas for the right-wingers, though, because the correct name for the American Left's economic theory is Fascism.

    And no, I don't mean "Fascist" as in "ill-considered synonym for totalitarian"; I mean "the economic theory of Benito Mussolini". The means of production in private hands, but the government reserving the right to dissolve freely-entered, valid contracts for purely regulatory purposes (rather than having to prove the contract's invalidity), coupled with a legal, governmental status for labor unions: there is a name for that, and it's called Corporativism. It's the economic theory of the Italian Fascisti.

  • If the middle class is shrinking, as some affirm, maybe it's because both the names for it have become insults, through the efforts of the capitalists on one hand and the communists on the other.

    See, the term for urban, usually professional, middle class, is bourgeois. Contrary to what so many of you seem to think, that word doesn't mean rich people, and it's the opposite of ostentatious, individualistic, or "faddish". They barely existed in the Anglophone world, but the comfortable, somewhat stuffy townsmen of 19th century literature would basically be examples of the type.

    On the other hand the word for the rural middle class, is "peasant". Now, technically peasant means "anyone whose wealth is in land and is not the tenant of another, mostly subsisting on agriculture", so there is such a thing as a poor peasant, but the type was unknown in the Anglophone world. English-speaking countries' poor farmers were more likely to be some form of sharecropper or tenant, dispossessed of the land. The only class in the Anglophone world approximating the peasantry of France, Spain, or Italy would be some of the moderately wealthy farmers and ranchers of 19th Century America. French literature of the period is full of the wealthiest peasants trying to land-grab each other; the American analogue would be the range-war.

  • Speaking of class, "proletarian" does not mean working-class or blue collar. It means "a person not in possession of the means of production he makes his living from". Many software engineers are proletarians; most plumbers and many taxi-drivers aren't. If it sounds crazy for me to say a plumber is a bourgeois and a software engineer is a proletarian, my guess is you've somehow bestowed emotional associations onto what ought to be technical terms.

  • It's fascinating to me that people don't notice that Communism is not the antithesis of Capitalism, it is its apotheosis. In Capitalism, the majority is proletarian—that is, dispossessed of the means of production, they labor for the minority that owns it. In Communism, everyone is proletarian—dispossessed of the means of production, they labor for the legal fiction of the state's ownership of the means of production, while actually in the employ of "design bureaus" that function just like corporations.

    Basically, Capitalism, where at least some people enjoy ownership, is the bare minimum of private property. Ideally, everyone would own his own means of production, either because he can work individually (especially because his "capital" is knowledge, as in a profession), or because he owns a share in a factory he himself labors in—everyone his own master. Any "reform" that aims to further reduce the amount of private property, as for instance by state takeovers of the means of production, is simply even worse than capitalism, not an improvement.

    Apparently that's actually hard for people?

  • So it's fascinating, but the phrase "social justice" has been completely hijacked by wackjobs. Its original sense, deriving I believe from Leo XIII's "Rerum Novarum", referred to...paying people decent wages for their work, and striving to have as many people being their own economic masters as possible. Not welfare, not planned economies, not affirmative action: just paying people as much as their labor is actually worth, and eliminating economic dependency as much as possible.

    But apparently it's not widely understood that the proletarian is dependent on the capitalist—in nearly all discussions of labor in capitalist countries is this legal fiction of both parties being equally free to contract or not.

  • The other odd thing is, are people actually so stupid as not to understand the distinction between "income" and "capital"? Obviously if I don't own any capital I have no right to benefit from the capital, unless I'm hired to use the capital to produce a good or service. So it's grotesquely immoral to mandate that I shall receive a share of the wealth produced by capital I don't own—though I have a right to beg charity, and others have a right to give it.

    But what's immoral in saying that as many people as possible ought to own capital—that is, that as many people as possible ought to have means of production they can use to produce wealth? And what's immoral in saying that those who are actually capable of using the means of production have more right to them than those who aren't? Most people have some sympathy for the idea that people who work the land have a right to own it, and nobody thinks it's "socialism" if sharecroppers prefer to be landowners; yet somehow when wealth shifts from land to capital the moral rules completely change.

    I submit that the difference is only sentimental; you've got emotional associations from agrarian movements but simply don't happen to have developed any for industry. There's not actually any difference, though.


La Valse Interminable

So I was looking to see if anyone had noticed the eye-going-back-and-forth-thing on the Cylons is the same as the one on the Zakus in Gundam (I think also some other Zeon suits?). And I came across a debate where a guy was pointing out that everything people were praising in the new BSG was found in the original, 0079, Amuro Rei vs. Char Aznable, Mobile Suit Gundam. He's understating the case; Gundam also has much harder science fiction, like launching the suits by railguns, the colonies being Von Braun habitat rings located in Lagrange points, and oh yeah, no FTL.

But this other jackass responded, and I shall reproduce his remark in full:
Your demand for Gundam respect is pointless, and I doubt many people can get past the sill[y] toy factor of the giant robots. I hav[e]n't seen much of the original Gundam, but I'm not prepared to take your word that it was all that good or sophisticated, either.

Gundam isn't the sort of things the Battlestar Gallactica people are talking about, anyway. Gundam's giant robots are just as silly as "stock characters, techno-double-talk, bumpy-headed aliens, thespian histrionics and empty heroics time travel or parallel universes or cute robot dogs" There's nothing "naturalistic" about giant robot anime.
Ahahahaha! Oh god, stop, you're killing me, you comedic genius!

See, when I think of Gundam, I don't primarily think of giant robots; I think of half-baked pacifistic preaching and ill-considered talk of moral equivalency. So yeah, there's a hell of a lot of parallel between MSG and BSG. But then again, Gundam was made by an ex-Axis power that can't admit they were evil in a war; they can only comfort themselves by saying war is always evil. What, precisely, is BSG's excuse?

But even leaving that to one side, no, actually, Gundam's "giant robots" are not as silly as Star Trek. Indeed, they're not even as silly as BSG. At least Gundam knows a mobile suit—which is not a giant robot, by the bye, it's an anthropomorphic vehicle—would have to completely power down, if it wants to remain undetected. BSG had Stealth In Space; after that all we can say is, "at least Star Trek's a sometimes-entertaining children's show, while BSG is a pointlessly dark children's show." Gundam's mobile suits, as that asshat monkey would know if it had ever bothered to watch a single episode, are the equivalent (except more realistic) of BSG's Vipers. But I do not doubt that the distinction between Real Robot and Super Robot is lost on this drool-soaked mouth-breathing halfwit.

What's really funny is, in Gundam Wing, Lucrezia Noin explained why the mobile suits are humanoid: it's for the psychological value. Yeah, in combat it performs like some combination of a light tank with a heavy attack helicopter (usually more the former), but your enemy will see it as you bestriding the field as a mighty colossus. Doesn't matter if it's a Zaku, a Leo, or a Gundam itself; the mere sight of one is a major morale boost to friendlies and a morale drop to hostiles (not to mention the logistics strain of all the pants they'll have to replace). There's also the ultra-modularity of its weapon system (it has hands) and the extreme versatility of its mobility (it can walk).

Even funnier was this one idiot who (though doing the Lord's work in pointing out how Avatar sucks), said that mecha don't make sense because the walking wastes energy. Again, hah! Maybe if you'd watched an episode of any mecha series, you'd know nearly all mecha had wheels (sometimes treads) in their feet, and roll on good terrain; the walking is only for bad terrain...the kind that completely precludes the presence of conventional armored vehicles. The one exception I can think of is the Original 7 in GunXSword, but those fly back up to their satellites for a recharge after about 20 minutes.

But then again, really, gentlemen, ask yourselves: what are the odds you've noticed a detail a Japanese audience—especially the model-kit building otaku audience that's Gundam's key demo—did not notice? The only really valid criticism of Gundam is moral: there really are good guys and bad guys in wars, and pacifism is not only suicide on the individual level, it's mass murder on the government level. But the criticism goes double for BSG, which also has absolutely nothing else going for it—if I have to sit through ill-thought out ideas on politics, at least make it look cool.

Gundam wins. Sorry.

Late addendum: Forgot to mention another superiority of Gundam, or rather two. First is that these series are set in Earth and its colonies, and yet are much less "our" culture simply transplanted to space, than BSG, where the government probably follows the American model more closely than that in the West Wing. And the other is that people in Gundam understand the concept, "I don't want to fight but if I don't people will die." Nobody in BSG actually gets that. And Gundam is just an ad for model kits.


Once More at Random

Wow, I really need to find something to do a full-length post on, huh? Till then, though:
  • So Halsey, in Halo, is a damn war criminal, and yet she's presented as sorta the voice of the setting. I do like, though, that the series forces its audience to cope with a moral ambiguity like that. Can you imagine Whedon trying to present a person like her as in any way admirable? Considering the Spartan program is basically what happened to River...only it saved humanity's entire existence. Because unlike Whedon the people who wrote Halo are grownups.

    Let's leave to one side that Whedon couldn't have a female character do what Halsey did, because let's face it, he believes that only men have free will. Women are only capable of evil, in his works, if they've been abused by men.

    Anyway, though, did anyone consider that maybe the reason Cortana didn't go rampant, and may in fact be "metastable", is that the person she's a neural clone of already considers herself a god?

  • So remember when Obama gave the conservative movement a very nice gift, by saying something about "I don't know how you'd say that in Austrian" and allowing them to mock him by pointing out that Austrian's not a language, they speak German there?

    Yeah, well, one problem, Austrian is a language, it's called Ostarrichi, and it's not mutually intelligible with standard German (where its name would be Österreichisch). But that doesn't change the fact it was a gaffe—see, in Austria, Austrian is just the folk dialect; all public communication is in the local variant of standard German. So basically Obama made the same mistake as assuming a Jamaican politician only speaks creole.

    Incidentally the Austrian for Roger Ebert is Orschloch.

  • So I was reading this extremely staid gag manga by the guy who did Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei, and one scene, where Confession is mentioned—yet portrayed as a thing where the priest just tells you that you're actually just fine—has once again raised a question in my mind, occasioned by every appearance of Christianity, especially Catholicism, in a manga or anime. Namely, do the Japanese not own encyclopedias? Because I'm pretty sure a stressed, developmentally-disabled Kaibab squirrel wouldn't get it that wrong, unless it was pathologically negligent with its research.

  • The revived samurai in my SF book talk like samurai, or some of them do, anyway. But I had an amusing scene where one of them says, "Sessha wa nanimono de gozaru to oboshimeshiteiyagaru?" See, samurai habitually use humble/honorific speech, and "oboshimesu" is the honorific verb "to think".

    You probably know it better as "Orya dare da to omoiteyagaru?"—who the hell do you think I am?

  • So you know how in Reach, finally, we can have female Spartans? Am I the only one who thinks their armor looks fetching if it's black with pink trim? Sadly I'm working my way toward the complete set of Gungnir armor (the helmet costs 400 thousand cR), and it looks dorky on girls. Except for the knee plates, they coordinate nicely with the wider greaves on the female suit. Anyone else notice that, that the female suit's greaves flare slightly toward the shoe, giving them a sorta rainboot/kogal sock look? It's fascinating how cute you can make a suit of armor, without affecting its functionality in the slightest.

    For guys' armor I usually go with white with orange trim, but my Gungnir suit is either dark orange or dark yellow, making it look like copper or bronze. I like the darkest color in each row best, usually, it has a neat enamel-like shine the lighter colors don't quite have.

    Yeah, other than language my major talent is designing clothes. I don't get it either, but there it is.

  • Another example of this weird dandyism of mine is that the felinoids in my book have lace cuffs on their jackets and coats, except the military, whose cuffs have a pleated ruffle. But the ruffle is actually an energy-dissipating inner layer, allowed to peek out at the cuffs—the military uniform also includes a jabot (think Captain Hook's necktie) made of overlapping armor plates.

    Both sexes, by the bye, have those cuffs and jabots, but the females wear skirts and hip-length jackets, while the guys wear tailcoats and pants sorta like the ones from an old-fashioned gi. Originally the tailcoats were robes, then they added a slit at the sides to allow them to ride, then they got rid of the front flap.

    Yeah, I don't really go into the evolution of their clothes in the book, but I've worked it out. It's all in a day's work for an SF writer.

  • I don't know if anyone out there has gotten right up close to a downed Banshee, in Reach, but if you do, walk around it in a circle. And watch as the back plate changes from green to purple, iridescently. This, even more than the obvious work that's gone into the cultural setting, shows you that the blokes at Bungie really care about what they're doing.

    But seriously guys, why aren't the bullets caseless? It's the 26th century.


This is Easier than Full-Length Ones

Yeah, so I really don't have much that's worth talking about at full-length. Here's some more brief ones.
  • So World God Only Knows has its anime a lot earlier than I expected; it's pretty good, though I would've tried to make the art a bit more like the manga. Still, though, how fast did they crank that out? Then again I don't know how far along they were when they announced the show.

  • The Sgt. Frog anime isn't quite as good as the manga—I like Natsumi when she's scarier, i.e. "If that stupid alien's still there, let's dismember him and pretend this never happened. It's a good thing today is kitchen-garbage day."

    But did anyone else notice the bizarre number of parallels to ZIM, despite the series having a completely different tone? Aside from the green, incompetent, easily-distracted invader, there's the occult-obsessed boy with dark hair and a cowlick, the violent sister with reddish hair, and the parent who's never home.

    The dub of the anime hurts me, though; the only voice I like is Giroro (because he's Piccolo), and I don't like how they rewrote a lot of the dialogue. I think I have to watch gag anime in Japanese.

  • So you know those "exploding schoolkid" 10:10 ads that may be the most boneheaded PR move since whatever Roger Ebert last Tweeted?

    Are my sister and I the only ones who thought "Wait, shouldn't there be bone?"

    Yeah, we know, we're messed up.

  • So I reread the Screwtape Letters after several years and, um, how come nobody's read this thing? Everyone I meet apparently has a tempter who's much smarter than Wormwood, because they're doing the stuff Screwtape recommends Wormwood try and get them to do.

    I, of course, have a tempter who only sits around and builds Gundam models, because let's face it, I don't really need his help.

  • You may have noticed I'm ambivalent at best about large portions of the First Amendment, at least as currently interpreted. A character in one of my SF books, a Japanese spy, explains it best, when he says the free press was meant to let the people criticize the government, but it's used to prevent the people from using the government to criticize the media. And the media, of course, influence what ideas are allowed, and therefore control how every other form of power gets used. He then says, "They have abandoned Heaven's favor, relinquished Earth's advantage, but have won the hearts of Men, thus gaining dominion over all three harmonies."

    And his little sister hits him. "Was that a Romance of the Three Kingdoms reference?!"

    Because it is—that was Zhuge Liang's advice to Liu Bei. Yes I'm a nerd.

  • In that vein, wouldn't it be fun to run a political campaign based on, "Prove to me you're not a moron"? You know, "So the media want you to favor [these policies], and they always paint [my policies] as incipient fascism. Yet I'll bet your lives not one of you has actually judged the facts of the case, being merely content to go by what you see in movies. You probably also got all your information about the French Revolution from A Tale of Two Cities. Go ahead, vote for the other guy; confirm my low opinion of your intelligence, as, like Pavlov's dogs, you salivate at the sound of a bell."

    Actually that would probably work in French politics, except for the "Tale of Two Cities" thing (who knows where they get their weird ideas about the Revolution).

  • Speaking of weird ideas about the French Revolution, did you know Free Trade, though it wasn't called that yet, was much more typical of the Jacobins than of America's Founding Fathers, who, again, were protectionists?

    Yeah, probably because the Jacobins were urban professionals and the Founders were rural landowners—protectionism is simply more advantageous to agriculture than to most other industries, though it can benefit from Free Trade just as much as the others.

  • So Molly Ivins said that one of Buchanan's speeches "sounded better in the original German". It's an ad Hitlerum, so it's jackassy, but it's also just stupid; Buchanan's sole point of similarity with the Nazis is the anti-Semitic tone in a lot of his Anti-Zionism, and the speech in question was about immigration.

    But then, I sincerely doubt Ivins ever heard of "Chôshû dialect Japanese"—because there's a more accurate name for Buchanan's paleocon isolationism, and it's Sonnô Jôi. In modified form (partly thanks to Sakamoto Ryôma), it formed the basis of Japanese Imperialism.

  • It's funny to me that people think Japanese Imperialism was an example of religious violence, by the way, because, being an outgrowth of Sonnô Jôi and therefore Neo-Confucian, Japanese Imperialism was atheist. I know, sounds weird, but all Neo-Confucians are. They merely prop up the state cults for their social utility, à la all those mainline-oldline-flatline Protestant groups that think the point of Christianity is establishing social justice (social justice actually just follows from the soteriology).


Briefly Noted

A few things I saw that didn't each warrant their own post.
  • I have every headshot-related achievement in Halo 3 and ODST. Let's just say nothing wants to be anywhere near me without a shield, if I have any headshot weapon. Indeed, Jackals don't even want to be near me then; I consider myself off my game if I can't do the "shoot the hand through the gap in the shield then headshot when they flinch" maneuver in one try per Jackal.

    But apparently people don't like the combo of plasma-pistol overcharge + automagnum headshot, they call it a "Noob combo"? Now I could see the trouble in Halo 2, in that you could just charge your pistol all day long and then zap a guy, but you'll burn it out in 3, so you have to learn timing.

    I vote we rename the thing the New Mombasa Drill, since ODST has an achievement for using it (which I have)—"drill" because of the Mozambique Drill, which is where you shoot an attacker twice in center of mass then once in the head.

  • It occurs to me that the plasma weapons in Halo are, basically, ball lightning combined with a railgun. It's stated right in the games (Kat's complaints about what they do to computers, for instance) that their primary damage is electrical, and their power is given in watts. I'd say they're among the most believable plasma weapons in anything (many hard SF afficionados discount plasma weaponry completely, there being a number of difficulties in using most forms of plasma as a projectile).

  • So I'm not a fan of the anime and manga "Otogi Zoshi"; it has a ridiculous demythologizing, "13th Warrior" take on Japanese legends that annoys me. But also, the special features on one of the DVDs had a history professor from Tokyo University—Japan's Harvard—completely embarrassing himself about the samurai.

    See, the guy said that the main way you died in warfare in the Heian age was being run down by horses—he apparently thinks samurai just rode their horses back and forth, crushing guys. It is to laugh. Actually, professor, the Heian military, like subsequent Japanese military, had sufficient infantry cohesion to stop a cavalry charge. Probably. Because they never faced cavalry charges—Japanese cavalry, like all Asian cavalry, was light, not heavy, and therefore didn't charge, but made multiple successive sweeps, since it was an archer-force, not a lancer-force. The principal way you died on a Heian battlefield was being shot; later, a Warring States era scholar estimated that about 70% of casualties were from arrows.

    After a few sweeps, of course, the samurai would dismount and duel each other—they were light cavalry that doubled as heavy mounted infantry.

    We'll be charitable and just assume this guy didn't know any military historians.

  • Speaking of cavalry, why do we call tanks cavalry? Plainly tanks are armored mobile artillery, and air forces are cavalry. I'd say fighters are light and bombers and attack craft are heavy, though of course the analogy's not perfect.

    Similarly modern armies are basically "mounted" infantry (currently called "mobile"), though they have a lot more mounts than just horses. One seldom has to march hundreds of miles on foot in modern war; marching was the backbone of military training in previous eras.

  • The other thing I enjoy doing in Halo, aside from headshots, is rocket launchers. I actually learned my amazing skills in Red Faction's multiplayer on the PS2—I'm the only person I've seen play that game who doesn't view the rocket launcher chiefly as a digging tool (for those who don't know, one of the game's major selling points was you could dig through the walls with the explosives).

    But I learned to use the rocket launcher when my sister and I would play a deadly game of cat and also-cat in the multiplayer, waiting for her to get far closer than would usually be safe to use a rocket, then jump back and shoot her. The trick with rockets—something no AI opponent and 90% of human ones seem to catch on to—is that you don't aim for the opponent. You might miss or get dodged, and you might damage something behind them that you need (a major factor in Halo where your allies are actually helpful, as long as they're not driving). No, see, you aim at the ground between the opponent's feet. Splash damage will probably do them even if they start to dodge.


Only Women Bleed

Because what's a discussion about misogyny in vampire fiction without an Alice Cooper reference?

So remember how I was talking about the creepy eroguro scene in True Blood? And the conservative backlash against Twilight ('cause, let's face it, there are people trying to sell Bella and Edward as a chaste couple, which is the kinda allies the sexual counter-revolution don't need)? Here's an interesting article from Buckley's magazine about how Twilight is damn creepy.

But seriously, and just in general, what exactly does vampire fiction have against women? Mina Harker's actually one of the strongest female characters in 19th century fiction—she's the strongest outside Jane Austen—but she's a rare exception. Star in the Lost Boys is pretty good, too. But otherwise? I mean, Anita Blake's decay is at least as famous as that of Cerebus the Aardvark—or even Ikari Shinji, given how Laurell K. Hamilton appears to be working out her own issues with this horse-hockey. It's somewhat excusable in Anne Rice's case; nobody expects respectfully portrayed women in bodice-rippers.

Arguably the worst offender is Buffy. Yeah, I said it, go ahead and issue a fatwa against me. Whedon postures like she's this big girl-power figure—indeed that he's the original girl-power writer—but it's no coincidence that Buffy (and River, among others) spend a lot of time curled up and crying. Because Whedon is not actually about women being empowered. His women are flat, rote, mechanical whenever they're empowered. The only scenes he can write believably at all are them being abused and victimized. Now, there is a charitable interpretation—that Whedon is such a loser he's only capable of writing failure, so scenes involving strength just don't feel alive from him—but you really do have to suspect that there's something up, when the scenes he obviously has the most emotional investment in are the ones that completely undermine his stated message.

Anyway though, why is misogyny the norm for vampire fiction? I mean, I get the appeal of girls in peril, the male (or lesbian) vampire as a threat to the life and/or chastity of the nubile ingenue. But I'm afraid I'm so constituted as to feel that damsels in distress ought to be rescued, and if they're not, the work ought not to wallow in their death and degradation; fade to black and then cut to the heroes (possibly, perhaps even ideally, including the surviving victim) setting out for vengeance.

Besides, why not show vampires killing men? I'm sorry, are they all Ventrue (a clan in Vampire: the Masquerade who can only feed from some specific type of person)? 'Cause last I checked a lot of vampires in folklore fed from men and children, at least as often as from women.

So why not kill men in vampire fiction (sorry, I fully support the taboo on killing children in fiction)? Because pretty much all vampire violence in modern fiction is eroticized, and male homoeroticism doesn't sell as well as heteroeroticism or female homoeroticism. There's also some unfortunate implications to the comparative dearth of female vampires who prey on men instead of other women; the problem isn't actually homophobia (to the extent such a thing exists) so much as it's some weird idea that women shouldn't be sexually aggressive toward men. Even Whedon has that, for all his feminist posturing.

Aside from vampire victims always being women, whatever the sex of the vampires, is the non-vampire women who deal with vampires. Who are, let's face it, Bond Girls at best. Anita Blake, post-decay, is basically a Bond Girl who fights vampires—which is to say a slut. And I hate to break it to the paleo-feminists out there but that's not empowering; movies about women like that are called "exploitation" for a reason.

All too frequently, though, the women who hang around vampires are worse, rap-video type arm-candy or Harley Quinn-esque doormats (the girl who played Bella would look fetching in motley). Now of course it'd be one thing if a vampire had a harem of "blood dolls" or a moll who severely lacks in assertiveness; such things are common trappings of villains, in real life as well as fiction. But even non-villain vampires act like that, and it's supposed to be a good thing! Edward Cullen is not a decent person by any stretch of the imagination, except for his constantly telling Bella he's no good for her...which she ignores, with her author's blessing. See that's what's so dysfunctional here—Edward knows he's dangerous, not just in the "these people are our @#$%ing food" way but in the "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" way, and yet not only does Bella keep flinging herself at his head anyway, Meyer seems to think it's a good thing! Why are you rubber-stamping the self-destructive infatuations of every 7th-grade girl who reads you, woman?!

Frankly this aspect of it is more puzzling than the "vampires always preying on women" thing. Has our society so completely warped its perception of masculinity that it actually lionizes, not mere sexual predators but sexualized beings whose predations are literal? Come to think of it it might be related to the victims-always-female thing, but taken together the implications are even more disturbing.

I really hope I'm wrong, I happen to really like vampire fiction.

Oh well, guess I'll just have to write the vampire stories I want. Why is Nemesis Pteroessa (Winged Vengeance) my muse?


Roll Again

Yep, 'nother random thoughts.
  • So I've found some—far too few—people who recognize Joss Whedon for the hack he undeniably is. One phrase I enjoyed was "overcompensating reverse misogynist". Another was this:
    Maybe Dollhouse speaks to some people. Joss Whedon is obviously trying to make statements about feminism, and sex consumerism, and how much he learned in Women’s Studies while deconstructing our media. [...] But it would be sad enough taking all that from a 22 year old, from a middle aged man it’s just pathetic.
    Then there was a guy who said if Whedon (apparently involved in Avengers in some way) sticks in his usual actors, plots, or dialogue, he will find Kevin Smith, have him buy the rights to Firefly, and have him remake it with View Askewniverse actors. And he'd have Mal played by Jason Mewes.

    It was cleansing.

  • What bugs me about Whedon is he's obviously painfully ill-read, so he doesn't know what's been done before. If you think "space western" is a new idea...does "Wagon Train to the stars" ring any bells? How 'bout "final frontier"? How about the cowboy planet in the original Battlestar Galactica? How about some tramp freighter captain (the name's on the tip of my tongue) who's best known for shooting first in a saloon altercation? Yeah.

  • Similarly I realized that's something I liked in Halo. It's not really all that hard—though the five words "New Mombasa megacity space elevator", all by themselves, are harder than the entire expanded universes of Firefly and BSG combined—but it just, I dunno, it feels more like the real thing. I honestly couldn't tell you what the literary influences on Firefly are; maybe some old comics. Ditto BSG, since "Aaron Sorkin" doesn't count as a literary influence. But Halo is one big tribute to Niven's Known Space from end to end.

  • From the same source as one of of those Whedon remarks, is the question, "Who's the most sexist SF writer?" And it amuses me that, right out of the gate, the guy says not to count female sexism against men, 'cause that's too easy—he then names two big-name feminist SF authors. I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed feminist SF is like the Black Panthers on race-relations.

    Incidentally my money's probably on Pournelle for "most sexist". There's others with weird ideas about sex and gender, but he's the most purely sexist. Maybe Niven? It sure as hell ain't Cherryh, who was this guy's pick, for one story where she was making a somewhat questionable point.

  • Am I the only one who questions whether Phil Dick actually even wrote SF? Speculative fiction, maybe, but quite honestly there's probably more science in Battlestar Galactica. Which is a hole with no bottom.

  • On a non-SF-related front, Windows 7 is the first Windows iteration to have an official moe anthropomorphism (an "OS-tan" as they're known). Her name is Madobe Nanami (which means "By-the-window 7th-beauty"), and she's the wallpaper of the computer I'm writing this on.

  • Turns out Red vs. Blue ended before they ever really made any story with Reach, which kinda bugs me, though they did do some specials with it (Sarge's "new way to greet people"—stabbing Grif in the face using an assassination—was hilarious).

    Still, though, I'm sad.

  • I was thinking about Twilight and True Blood and indeed Buffy, and I think I might have to do another post about the rampant misogyny of vampire fiction. And yes, Whedon is a misogynist, for all his man-bashing—his brand of "feminism" is about as good for women as Communism was for workers.

    But I noticed, the girls in my dark fantasy book are really fairly good. I'm not bragging; lord knows I didn't mean to make them sanely feminist. I just tried not to feel uncomfortable about them while I wrote them.

  • The thing about Twilight that a lot of conservative writers have noticed, the smarter ones that is, is that merely nodding in the direction of abstinence doesn't excuse a damned abusive relationship. Quite seriously, with friends like Meyer who needs enemies?

    Of course, abstinence is not identical with chastity, and, as in all things, anybody who relies on a reductive interpretation is doomed to failure. A bunch of scandals regarding people who were ever-so-public about "saving it" who ended up fumbling it once they got married, is, I feel, adequate proof of my point. Merely keeping the taboos is not enough without the right spirit; see, e.g., St. Paul or the Buddha.

    What's very annoying is the number of people who say "abstinence" when they mean chastity. But then again they say "capitalism" when they mean "private property", "socialism" when they mean "fascism", and "dualism" when they mean "hylomorphism".

    I blame thesauruses.