Just to Fill Space

So I just thought I'd give myself an even 108 for the year. So, um...Random Thoughts!
  • Dr. Rurru, an obscure little manga I don't think is available over here, is oddly similar to World God Only Knows. Except Rurru's spazziness makes Elsie look like the chick from Medaka Box.

    One gag I wish had been carried over from the oneshot pilot is the part where Rurru doesn't want to activate the escape pod, because its two switches (to keep it from being activated accidentally?) sorta look like nipples, and she's embarrassed to touch them. It's more or less everything you've got to know about her character right there.

  • So remember the Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man"? Aside from the fact the alien is Eegah (Shtimlo!), the story's basic premise is sound, but the execution is flawed.

    First, "their alphabet has capital and small letters", though obviously quite possible (lots of people develop a cursive form, and it's far from rare to have some mix of cursive and non-cursive—e.g., hiragana come from cursive kanji), is a lame reason to have trouble translating it. How about, "it's a system of logograms with some 4000 basic characters?"

    Second, I don't really think many other languages have "serve" as an idiom actually meaning "present as a meal."

  • Much better is the thing from the backstory of Halo, about the Covenant mistranslating "reclaimer" as "reclamation". Apparently Forerunner is like Semitic languages, and uses its active participle as an agentive form.

    Speaking of, the Arabic word for "poet", sha'ir (itself an active participle), was also the name for the pre-Islamic tribal medicine men—that's why the Arabian Nights-themed D&D setting uses it as the name for those mages who contract with genies. What's weird about it, though is, hataałi, the Navajo word for medicine man, means "singer". Or, I think, "he sings"—the Navajo agentive is usually a terpsimbrotos.

  • Speaking of terpsimbrotoi (assuming that's the plural), isn't the French word for "dishwasher" one? "Lave-vaisselle" means "washes dishes", so...huh, apparently French sometimes uses a terpsimbrotos-agentive too. You know, when it doesn't use "-eur".

  • Ah, crap, now that I've re-written my story to have fusion rockets, I gotta rewrite something. I was gonna have a "colony drop" variant (I don't regard it as SF without a Colony Drop, I'm a Gundam fan), except fusing all a ship's antimatter at once...but apparently fusion engines are too damned stable, and simply stop fusing when they're damaged.

    Huh, maybe just do it old school? Anything going at 3000 m/s packs its own weight in blam, and the cruising speed of military ships (which have the really big, scary fusion rockets) is .1 c, which is 10,000 times that...something going at that speed, that weighs nearly 8,000 tons, has a kinetic energy of approximately 820,000 megatons, or 1608 times all the nuclear testing of the 20th Century. Yeah, that oughta do it. Bwahahah.


Roketto de kidou shuuseishite kudasaru?

Which is, of course, "kindly perform orbital corrections with a rocket." Because ALI PROJECT are awesome, that's why (though, I ask you, why couldn't they have worked their trademark coquettish gothery into a spacey song?). That's a line from the opening to Sora wo Kakeru Shojo; technically it's "nee, anata no roketto", which makes it "say, with your rocket, can you correct (my) orbit?"

Anyway, this here's a collection of my recent thoughts upon rocketry and aviation and, y' know, SPACE.
  • Went to the Pima Air and Space Museum. Saw some historically significant, but boring, WWII planes. And, more importantly, a UH-1 Huey and a AH-1 Cobra and the A-10 Thunderbolt ("God's own anti-son of a bitch machine"), and a couple of those giant cargo planes that can carry an M1 Abrams tank. And, well, let's just say that place is sodding Disneyland for rocket nerds, because not only have they got a Blackbird (yeah, Sierra Romeo Seven One, sonny boy, there ain't another), they've also got, get this get this get this, a Vomit Comet. I trust you don't need that explained? Yeah, and the Super Guppy, which is used for flying Saturn V rockets around. And looking like a cartoon whale.

  • But alas, the space display there is somewhat...depressing. Why? Well, couple reasons. First is the display of shelved ideas for Shuttle replacements, Single-stage to Orbit reusable launch vehicles, and, well, of all the words of tongue or pen, the second worst are "it might have been."

  • Still worse are those we often see, "it is, but it hadn't ought to be." As, for instance, nary a word in the displays there about nuclear rockets. And let's face it, ain't no other game in town, kids. You wanna get out of this hole we're in, you gonna need somethin' a little richer 'n combustion. NTR's the bare minimum; me, I'm thinking fusion. H->He, if you can get it; 3He-2H or even mere 3H-2H, if you can't.

  • 'Nother thing that hadn't ought to be: so there's apparently this treaty that says space resources can't be claimed in situ, but can be owned once they're mined or refined or whatever. Which, um, hey, that's real cute and all, but why are you deliberately shooting asteroid mining in the foot? Where I come from we got a name for what that treaty legalizes, and that name is claim jumping. Gawd.

  • And yet those selfsame schmucks turn around (after cheerfully strangling space industry in its cradle from some weird hatred of private property) and go on and on and on about "privatizing space". Did it occur to anyone else that the kind of things you need to get anywhere in space are precisely the kinds of things no sane person wants in private hands? I'm sorry, I think most of the agitation about corporations being too powerful is poppycock, and Marxist poppycock at that, but I, for one, do not want Boeing to have the bomb. Kzinti lesson? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Speaker-to-Animals?

    The other problem I have with it—"space tourism"—is, it's the Scrooge McDuck approach to cultural conflict. Because obviously the best way to preserve and husband any resource is to turn it into a tourist trap!

  • Got GURPS Basic and GURPS Space. Um...wow. This system took me a day to learn. Damn, that's impressive, that's the Mac of RPGs (except universally compatible—zing!). But (and I know this is weird), something in the Space book was the final straw, and so I took the pion/beam-core antimatter rockets out of my book, and replaced them with an unspecified type of H->He fusion ship. I'd recently changed a few descriptions so now all the ships have the "tower" floorplan (because a spaceship ain't a plane or a boat), though I still have artificial gravity because 1 g of acceleration is too damn slow. I even changed the felinoids' ships to have that floorplan, and they have a reactionless engine...though, then again, they always visualized spaceships as fortifications, not boats.

    Whoo. Yeah, actually it didn't take that much rewriting to change the ships from pion to helium fusion rockets. Actually, though, they only use the H->He rockets on starships, to get to the edge of systems so they can use the FTL as quickly as possible; in-system ships use conventional 3He-2H or 3H-2H fusion, and go a lot slower. And for landing? Yep, they use either little shuttle-type ships, or have detachable habitat sections. Because no sane person lands a fusion rocket (I've always wondered why Niven has people do that).

  • Then again, Heinlein and Niven and all the other people who just transplant "rugged frontier individualism" wholesale into space, yo, got a point, gents. Two, actually. A) It never really happened in the first place, sorry, I live there. And B) how the hell do fiercely-independent Belters, or whatever horse-hockey colonists Heinlein has, manage to hang on to their rugged individualism when they all have to pool the very air they breathe, like some pinko's daydream? You can't live off the land in space, guys, I'm pretty sure you yourselves are constantly telling us that.

  • Finally, apparently, Whedon, during Firefly's over-prolonged existence, would apparently start off fan Q&As by saying, "If you ask me science questions I'll cry."

    That pretty much says it all, really.


On the Passing Scene

It occurs to me as I write this that the guy who does the "random thoughts" articles is Thomas Sowell. So hey, 'nother idea for a title for one. How helpful.
  • A review of Avatar mentions that one problem with the movie is the graphics. Not that they're bad; precisely that they're good. And so you stop noticing they're graphics...and start noticing the story. Oops.

  • So, the Incredibles. You know that thing about "Dash, everyone's special?" and he says, "Which means no-one is."?


    I actually have a story I'm writing, a comic book world but from the point of view of the "supervillains", where the "superheroes" are all self-righteous tools. And one of the "villains" is basically Syndrome crossed with Doctor Doom and Lex Luthor—a perfectly normal human, except for her technological genius (she uses Iron Man-esque powered armor). And she says: what we call "civilization" is nothing more or less than rendering greatness a non-factor. You needed more ability to use a spear than to use a bow, and more to use a bow than to use a gun. You used to need the ability to memorize, but then writing came along—you used to need to practice to read poetry or prose attractively, now we just record a person doing it.

    Yeah, I really hate these paeans to unique genius and special-snowflakeness. You know what we do with special snowflakes where I come from?

    We put salt on 'em so they melt.

  • Another of the Take Thats in my SF books is that there's a wackjob neo-Hermetic who wants to upload his mind to a computer. And whenever anyone hears about this, they say, "Didn't they erase a lot of people's brains trying that, a while back?" Yeah, and then he gets really mad, and says yes, thank you, he actually took the time to find out what a mind is and how it works. Not like those other transhumanists, who were idiots. He does admit to the continuity, though.

    Because let's face it, Transhumanists are basically a bunch of pre-millennial dispensationalists, like the Left Behind crowd, except they're socialist weenies and raving sex-perverts. Or possibly they're like the turn of the century Russian Cosmists, except with computers instead of rockets, and, you know, being fat lazy pervert Western socialists, instead of a bunch of Russian monks.

    Here's a hint: if you hold as an article of faith that science will discover the Second Law is wrong, you better never say another word about Christian fundamentalists. They, at least, know the supernatural when they're talking about it.

  • I seem to be the only person who's noticed, but all those atheists who write books with evil churches in them? Yeah, they're actually vicious attacks on Islam. Why? Because not one of them, I'm not exaggerating one iota, has even the slightest hint of the concept of salvation as understood by Christians; none that I can think of even gets how the whole Jesus thing works. Indeed, there's only one atheist I can think of who actually seems to know what Christianity is, and he's too polite to write a book like that (though apparently Gabe once threw him out for something similar).

    On a related note, RE: Tycho's atheism, I actually think saying the entire Lord's Prayer, then saying "Psych" (which Tycho advised against doing around Gabe), would be kinda funny. Though I'd probably have to punch you if you did it in front of me.

  • So where do people get this idea that biotech being a big deal is a new thing in SF? A Gift from Earth was published in 1968—man had not yet walked on the moon—and the Mt. Lookitthat colony has the mutant earthworms for mining, the mutant rats for housecleaning, the mutant grass for carpet, the mutant coral for building...the list goes on. To say nothing of the tailor-made viruses that form a part of the eponymous ramrobot cargo.

  • Speaking of colonies, whenever I read American conservatives, I'm appalled at their quaint acceptation of the hagiographies the English liberals made up about history.

    But then it occurred to me: America is a Soviet space colony. What I mean is, imagine if the Soviets had managed to start up a colony before the Wall fell. Even if it had repudiated Communism (as the US Constitution actually repudiates whole swaths of Whiggism), it would likely still retain traditions like that the Tsar was a devil or Stalin saved the world from Hitler.

    But I (as a person of French and Irish descent), am like a Ukrainian inhabitant of such a colony. And sorry, but I'm not going to let you kacapi forget about the Holodomor.

  • Speaking of the Holodomor (the Ukrainian famine), does anyone else think it's weird that we eat potatoes on St. Patrick's Day? I mean, the English made us eat potatoes because the wheat they forced us to grow was too good for us—and they forced us to abandon the Faith delivered to the Saints for the Hobby for the Younger Sons of Squires before they'd feed us, when the Blight caused the Famine. So isn't eating potatoes on St. Patrick's Day kinda like eating boot leather on St. Volodymyr's day?


The Word for World Is "Order"

...Because my ancestors had the arch, thank you. For the non-linguistically inclined, "mundus" and its derivatives mean "order"—though the word for "earth" in Latin (terra) means "thing that's not sea", rather than "dirt" like in the languages of Anglos and Germans. Yes it's a reference to a LeGuin story I haven't actually read, but that James Cameron plainly did (zing).

I was reading an interesting thing by John C. Wright about nonhuman characters in human fiction, and he said that aliens are either props or characters, and character-aliens are either art aliens, i.e. homunculi of various aspects of mankind, or else are science aliens—though of course most science aliens showcase aspects of humanity, and there're few art-aliens without a few nods to science.

It's a good point, but I'm afraid I must part company with him on the details of his analysis. Because, see, most of the attempts to make really alien characters, simply won't work. The Outsiders in Niven, for instance? Why would something that can photosynthesize be intelligent? You don't need brains to soak up sunlight, photons aren't noted for their cunning. Similarly the Pierson's Puppeteers: what's a herd-grazer need with intelligence? Grass, again, isn't smart, since it hunts photons; and the fact they live in herds explicitly means they're using mass of numbers, rather than intelligence, as a counter to predators. Finally, the Kzinti make little sense—in one of Niven's stories, a Puppeteer says the Kzinti have no use for abstract knowledge, and it's sort of implied that "monkey curiosity" is something Kzinti lack. But, um, Larry...did no editor take you aside, at this point, and remind you that the curiosity of cats is literally proverbial? Actually a society similar to that of territorial, mostly solitary predators like cats (or fossa) would probably look a lot like the kif from C. J. Cherryh: radical individuals, each waxing or waning in power relative to his fellows, combining only for gain, and with an elaborate system for establishing dominance. Niven writes space stuff, and arguably future histories, better than Cherryh, but her alien societies are better.

Actually it's doubtful whether anything not an apex predator would be smart, since anything not an apex predator would be too busy not getting eaten to develop civilization. Can there be an ecosystem dominated by its herbivores? I doubt it very much. Now of course "predators" includes omnivores like humans and bears as well as generalists like dogs and hypercarnivores like hyenas and cats, and you can find both solitary and gregarious predators in every group, so there's a lot to be done.

Now there's an interesting question as to whether non-gregarious animals would ever become sapient. On the one hand the group—I said before that humans are basically pack hunters—is an obvious advantage, plus a spur for development of language, but cats are solitary and have an incredibly elaborate system of social signaling, almost entirely devoted to "diplomacy" during inter-territorial encounters. It's not impossible for a species that lives like cats (and I don't mean lions) to develop language as a way to be very specific in their "please don't kill me for being near your territory" negotiations. Incidentally my felinoids are actually gregarious, not solitary—a bit more like hyenas than cats, except not matriarchal.

Brief digression, that's something I don't quite like about Cherryh's hani: they're too specifically lions, rather than more normal felids (probably to let her invert male-chauve tropes as she loves to do). See, normal felids are polygamists, like lions (most wild feline females only mate with one male), but instead of the females doing all the hunting for the group, they all hunt, since they don't see each other except to mate. Instead of each hani male becoming caretaker of his wives' land (which is sorta how the Navajo and Apache used to do it), his wives should be like independent landholders who all owe fealty (is that what they're calling it now?) to their husband, and his conjugal visits are also something like state visits. One of these days I'll have aliens like that.

Anyway, there aren't likely to be aliens with more than two sexes; the logistics would be a nightmare. Think how hard you, or any organism, finds getting a mate—now imagine you, and whatever mate you find, also have to find a third mate who's not only acceptable to both of you but who'll accept you, too. See the problem?

Aliens will likely have most of the same emotions as humans. Why? Emotions are cognitive time-savers, a sort of macros for your brain: half the program is pre-loaded the moment a situation starts, and you just have to execute the last few steps. So aliens will probably have fear, desire, lust, hunger, anger, and aesthetic appreciation (though aspects of that will probably be quite different). Actually hate, love, and probably approval and disapproval are intellectual or volitional, not emotions, but they, too, are probably universal (since angels and even God have them). That would incidentally be one difference between aliens-wholly-based-on-cats and Cherryh's kif: they'd have parental affection, which the kif don't seem to. Or the mothers would, anyway (if tigers are any indication, though, cat-chivalry would involve being kind to children a man encounters—and killing children to make their mothers receptive would be morally repugnant to an intelligent being, not that it stops humans).

As for culture, well, actually, there's not nearly as much variation in human cultures as people like to tell you. Anyone who tells you a concept can't be translated, for instance, is almost certainly lying to you, though it might take more than one word. Since we all have to cope with physical reality, and anything analogous to a rational animal would too (and it'd have to be an apex predator with at least some form of social interaction), its society would almost certainly function like a human one, though possibly in some particular combination we haven't often tried. They might have a form of recreation, economics, or social order that we don't, but probably not one we intrinsically can't.

Finally, it's probably unlikely there would be more than one intelligent species on a planet, although it occurs to me just now that my hypothetical based-directly-on-cats race, as distinct from the felinoids I'm actually writing books about, would be ideal for such a world. Basically they'd be the overlords, one (or one and her children) in a large territory, and then some other species, probably more generalist and gregarious, would be their underlings. Basically an aristocracy of cat-people with a populace of dogs or perhaps monkeys. That'd be pretty cool, huh?

Just One Thing

Damn them. Damn them to hell. If you make a movie and then call it Tree of Life, I expect damn Pak Protectors, not lame Magic Realism a la Benjamin Button (which also had Brad Pitt) with possible Freudian implications. I mean come on, that trailer started with that shot of space, like a nebula? Just to get my hopes up that I'd see Phssthpok's ramjet going through the gas, I swear. Bastards.

Yeah, it may've been silly to hope something like that, but it's not like they couldn't do it. Actually, though, I think we should get 'em to make a movie of "At the Core", though you'd have to change the title. Let's tell 'em it's about Global Warming (even though Global Cooling was the issue at the time, I forget which Known Space story mentions artificially restarting the Gulf Stream to counteract it).


Brief Note

So apparently Benedict XVI said that the Church's prohibition on torture cannot be contravened under any circumstances. So, forget everything I said about the deliberate infliction of pain possibly being justified. However, waterboarding involves the infliction of no pain, merely fear, distress, and discomfort, so I still say it's allowed (only being "torture" by analogy, like the Noriega Treatment). It's still only allowed, I should add, in cases of immediate necessity, for gaining intelligence.

Further Scientific Romancing

God, we should call SF Scientific Romance, shouldn't we? It's more specific than Science Fiction, and it also doesn't require you to lie by calling the books novels, because they aren't, not if they're remotely "hard" (or even, as mine are, "chewy"). Anyway, another series of random reflections upon my field of literary endeavor.
  • So in Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo, Itsuki mentions, when she first sights the Leopard colony, that it (or rather he) looks like an O'Neill Island III. And you know what? He does. It's not just some technobabble, it's actually the name for a cylindrical colony that has redirecting-mirrors for its solar cells. Leopard doesn't spin for gravity, but, considering he can go through hyperspace, he can probably generate true artificial gravity.

  • So apparently, when he canceled the Constellation program (which was to replace the Space Shuttle), Obama let them continue developing the Orion drive ship as, quote, "an escape module for the ISS." Um, what? Is this the Orion ship I'm thinking of, the one that uses nuclear bombs under a pusher plate?

    On the other hand, I suppose combining "escape module" and "self-destruct device" could be seen as a handy cost-saving measure.

    Oh well. Well-played, NASA; using "External Pulsed Plasma Propulsion" as a spineless euphemism for "Nuclear Pulsed Propulsion" seems to have paid off, since they're letting you keep researching it.

    Now come up with similar Newspeak for the Nuclear Thermal Rocket and we're in business.

  • Boy Protector's ending is depressing, huh? I just re-read it, and, um, wow. But I noticed something about it, and indeed many of the races in Niven, and the portrayal of human militaries as well: why does everyone go into these situations alone?

    See, I've decided to write a scene with someone (a battle cyborg? maybe an android?) with physical characteristics similar to a Pak Protector...who, nevertheless, is defeated by a bunch of soldiers (probably of the felinoid race). I'm thinking of using this line:
    He could probably reach one of them, and with his strength he could pull and twist his target's body enough to kill him, in a matter of moments. But by then the others would all have shot him, probably several bursts each; and their bullets were designed for piercing their armor. Against that, his armor might as well not exist.
    Also, why does everyone think planets are defenseless against nukes or even asteroids? You stick lots of satellites in geosynchronous orbit, far enough out that they can shoot something directly over the poles. You power 'em with big reactors (fission, fusion, antimatter, doesn't matter), and you put big, light-speed weapons on them, like lasers in at least the MW range. The satellites will know the approaching threat is there at least seconds before it arrives, and will have shot it down in the same, or actually a slightly shorter (since it got closer in the interim), amount of time. You put multiple guns per sat, so there'll always be some ready while the others recharge. Really, is that so hard? Sure, spendy, but peace of mind is worth it, right?

  • Of course, it's ludicrous to suggest you'd really do any major orbital bombardment, in a normal war. After all, what you're fighting over would be habitable planets as such, and there's no point breaking the thing you're fighting over. Maybe the occasional tactical nuke, and fusion and neutron bombs don't have issues like fallout, but there'd be none of this "create a Cretaceous extinction-level impact", except from utter nutjobs. 'Cause, you know, it might take too long to work to be militarily useful, and it'd definitely take too long to clear up to be a viable option in a territorial war.

    I think that's actually how the Man-Kzin Wars played out, so props to Niven for noticing.

  • Did you know the New York Times said Robert Goddard didn't even know the basics of physics, because, apparently, rockets can't work in a vacuum?

    That's even funnier than Jayson Blair.


A Correction Plantation!

You try coming up with a title that expresses that it's the 101st post, and also a Reality Check. Just to make one person happy, let me add this (ahem): we'll all be Labradors!

  • So the gent what runs Rocket Punk Manifesto was blatantly off-topic, and saying he wished the recession would force Americans to learn austerity. Dude, get with the 1970s. Austerity sometimes makes sense when you have commodity money, say gold. When you use fiat money, like we do, you're basically using consumer confidence as a monetary standard. Therefore, the less consumption and investment, the less your money's worth.

    Apparently people make fun of Sarah Palin for wanting a return to the gold standard (which I hear she favors, though I've never heard it from her). It seems they don't know that doing that would let us pursue alternatives to consumerism. It would, of course, also slow growth, but nobody ever said economics was simple.

  • Still oh-so-fascinating how many commentators don't know that capitalism means "system with an investor class". Though middle- and lower-class tax cuts are good for the economy, by driving up consumption, the ugly reality is that the biggest payoff comes from cutting taxes for the upper, investor-class. Because (and I know this is counter-intuitive) they then have more money to invest, in addition to engaging in purchasing just like the lower income brackets.

  • Did anyone hear about Ted Turner saying the rest of the world should adopt China's one-child policy? Which, he claims is accomplished "without draconian measures". I'm curious to know what he considers draconian, if not the measures by which the one-child laws are enforced. Does he mean they're not using metallic dragons corrupted by priests of Takhisis? Because that's the only possibility I can think of.

    The irony of all this is that CNN, which Turner owns, has reported on China's methods of enforcing that law. So apparently Turner doesn't watch his own network.

  • So back when John Paul II died, and they were discussing the next Pope, Chris Matthews said "They're not going to elect the Grand Inquisitor."

    The irony of that is, until the 1890s, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was known as the Roman Inquisition. So...actually, they did elect the Grand Inquisitor.

    Not really a reality check but on a related note, until the late 1990s half the detectives in France's national police had "inquisitor" (inquêteur) as their job title. Now they're all called the other thing, inspector (inspecteur). Wouldn't you be mad if they changed your title? "Inquisitor" is the coolest job title ever!

  • So routinely you'll find Orthodox writers saying Catholics don't value mystical, noetic experience of God, but, um, have you guys maybe heard of the Cistercians? You better tell 'em they don't value noesis, 'cause they sure think they do.

    Huh, speaking of noesis (adj. form noetic), the opposite, discursive thought, is dianoia. Of which the adjective, I think, is "dianetic". Yeah, Hubbard didn't make that word up.

  • So I'm not sure, but when people say "cerebral" science fiction, they seem to mean "soft". Firefly gets called "cerebral", Babylon 5 not so much—yet you can get doctoral dissertations out of Bab5, and not just in fake majors. Solaris, 12 Monkeys, Bladerunner—all of 'em could be based on Phil Dick books, and that last one is.

    Now I'll be the first to say science's whole point is to render intelligence moot (that's the whole point of all systems of thought), but a complex, hard sf story requires more brain-work, if it's also going to be entertaining, than a dystopia or a time-travel story. Besides, the two most intelligent time travel stories never get called cerebral—mostly because they star Michael J. Fox and the duo of Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, respectively.

  • A word I learned from John C. Wright is "amphictyony", an alliance of tribes who share common ritual centers. I bring it up because for some reason I referred to Christendom as a state, and that's silly; it's plainly an amphictyony.

    And that's also what the felinoids' "empire" is in my SF books, specifically a militocratic amphictyony with popular sovereignty and a strong executive.


Marshalling of Words

Alas, I do put on airs; this isn't half as cool as the part in Belloc's "Path to Rome" where he marshals his words (the Gallicisms are, apparently, very dangerous cavalrymen, and the anachronisms are, of course, commanded by old Anachronos himself). But I thought I'd do one on a lighter note, about writing and characterization and such-like. By the way, this is my 100th post this year.
  • To kick things off, here's Holly Lisle to tell us how to write joyless PoMo anti-fiction that wins Pulitzers. It is a healing balm.

  • So I remain convinced that my definition of the difference between SF and fantasy is correct—essentially that the difference is actually along a continuum, depending chiefly on whether the chief device of romancing is technological/scientific or marvelous/miraculous. But it occurs to me that I might want to have a working definition of SF as such. How about, "That field of romance where the chief wonder comes either from the data revealed or speculated upon by science, or from mankind's adaptations to same, social and/or technological." Yes, I think that's a good working definition. I would indeed argue that fantasy has the precise same definition, except with "folklore" substituted for science.

  • So where does everyone else stand on sex in stories? I'm a firm believer in the "fall into each other's arms and fade to black" method; past a certain point, sorry, but you're basically writing porn. Then again, most of the sexual relationships in my stories are based on (sometimes misguided) love, even the extramarital ones. Apparently that's rare; far too many of the stories I've read have this weird "everyone has a pathology and the relationship is therapy" approach to relationships.

    And hey, you know how it's supposed to be terrible when the smokin' hot villain lady falls for the everyman hero? Anyone else want to write something where someone says something about it, and she says, "What, so just because I'm a supervillain I have to be shallow?"

  • So I re-calculated my ships' masses, all based on the mass of this thing called a Reaction Engines Skylon, that's a jet-bordering-on-a-rocket that might soon be used for LEO insertion. So I figured hey, use multiples of its mass and dimensions (keeping in mind the Square-Cube Law) and you know your thing'll work as a spaceship, right? Yeah.

    It still shocks and saddens me how many spaceships are based on sea-ships, because apparently nobody knows those things are made of friggin' concrete.

    And then, the fact that I started using designs based on the Frisbee rocket has made me redesign my aliens' ships; I sorta can't take ships anymore unless they look real realistic. Which reminds me, I need to rewrite a couple scenes so the aliens land the right way (yes, they do land, they have better tech than the humans).

  • So that "I Write Like" thing said that, among other people, my sister writes like David Foster Wallace. That's not actually too bad; I don't know about his fiction but he can't have been all bad, since he said this:
    I want to convince you that irony, poker-faced silence, and fear of ridicule are distinctive of those features of contemporary U.S. culture (of which cutting-edge fiction is a part) that enjoy any significant relation to the television whose weird pretty hand has my generation by the throat. I'm going to argue that irony and ridicule are entertaining and effective, and that at the same time they are agents of a great despair and stasis in U.S. culture, and that for aspiring fictionists they pose terrifically vexing problems.
    True dat; maybe someone should tell Whedon.

  • So when you become a writer, some of the very odd things in other writers begin to make sense. For instance, in Niven, the ramscoop robo-probes being misprogrammed so the find habitable points, not habitable planets, resulting in worlds like Jinx and Mt. Lookitthat and We Made It? Plainly that process goes like this:

    1. Oh, and I'll have like a heavy planet, and one that's like Venus except you can live on top of one really high mountain, and one with really fast winds in two seasons!

    2. Wait, why would anybody be stupid enough to live on worlds like that?

    3. Oh, oh, oh, I know! It's an accident! They never would've gone except there was a mixup, maybe like a badly programmed robot probe or something, and hell, it's not like you can just turn around and go back, with spaceships.

    I submit that is the most likely explanation. Many of the most imaginative things in fiction start out as ways around objections to things you want to do; I know half my best work is.

  • Does anyone else notice that the deaths in Serenity (I shall not name names), and Whedon's interpretation of same (he apparently did it to show his audience they care about his characters), are essentially emotional abuse? "You're forgetting you love me, I'll leave until you realize it?" Yeah, I think Browncoats may have a touch of battered-women's syndrome here.

    Pointlessly, randomly killing off beloved characters may be "edgy" and "realistic", but it's also bad narrative. Plus, women having markedly less upper-body strength than men is also realistic. Thoughts, Whedon?

    Oh and by the way, smacking into another ship at reentry velocities will vaporize both ships, not just puncture the cockpit. The cockpit it shouldn't even have ("windows" on spaceships—yeah, we wanna be damn sure the Red Baron's not sneaking up on us, right?).

  • Larry Niven's Laws for Writers have some very good advice, like "it is a sin to waste the reader's time" and "everybody talks first draft." Also this:
    If you've nothing to say, say it any way you like. Stylistic innovations, contorted story lines or none, exotic or genderless pronouns, internal inconsistencies, the recipe for preparing your lover as a cannibal banquet: feel free. If what you have to say is important and/or difficult to follow, use the simplest language possible. If the reader doesn't get it then, let it not be your fault.
    Words to live by.


Ordering Our Lives Together

I was going to call this "The Art of the Possible" because it's about politics, but politics isn't the art of the possible, science fiction is. So I'm fallen back on an older definition, that politics answers the question "How ought we to order our lives together?"
  • So apparently the latest round of wiki-based intelligence leaks has revealed that, well...Saddam Hussein did, in fact, have lots of uranium "yellowcake", and other WMDs. I sincerely doubt vindicating the Bush Administration's position on Iraqi WMDs was WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's intent, but there you are.

    What fascinates me is people who can't be made to understand the concept, "even if there weren't WMDs, it is a good thing to get rid of someone who uses the systematic gang-rape and meat-grindering of the relatives of dissidents as a political tool." Go ahead and say the war was imprudent, if you think so (though we had less than half the casualties in five years that France had in one day at the Battle of Agincourt, so this ain't exactly a taxing war), but saying it was immoral is, as far as I can see, endorsing Saddam's practices. If not, how not?

    Finally, as a person of Irish and Acadian descent, I know a little something about having your resources taken by people with names like Bush and Cheney. It's something Anglos have historically proved quite good at. The fact we don't have Iraq's oil (and, by the bye, we don't) means they weren't after it.

  • Pat Buchanan and his ilk point to the violence against Chaldean Christians, in the absence of Saddam's more egalitarian terror state, as justification for opposing the war, but, I have a question. If the fact people abuse their freedom means they should not be liberated, mustn't we also scrub the operations inaugurated by the Declaration of Independence and the 13th Amendment?

  • One more point against a number of "Catholic" opponents of the Iraq War, and the larger War on Terror: waterboarding. So essentially what people like Mark Shea, who gets his news from Harper's (and therefore from the far-left MacArthur Foundation), say is, "War is not intrinsically immoral but torture is."

    Two things, jackass. First, the use of spanking in child-rearing is far more "torture" than waterboarding, since the former involves the deliberate infliction of pain and the latter doesn't (fear is not pain). Since the Catholic Church is not opposed to spanking, we may conclude that the deliberate infliction of pain is not intrinsically immoral. Similarly, the Church's lack of opposition to the deterrent use of any threat of force, lethal as well as nonlethal, forces us to conclude that inflicting fear, as well, is not intrinsically immoral.

    Second, your position is, given the ways one often dies in modern warfare, that it is immoral to subject someone to a little fear and discomfort (again, not even pain), but it is completely morally neutral to turn him into a gigantic plume of blood and tattered entrails on a crumbling wall with jagged shards of bone buried in it. Even though, given the evils terrorists perpetrate, his death is unusually likely to send him to hell.

    I don't know what cosmos you learned moral theology in, but in mine, that seems questionable.

  • So they're making a movie of Atlas Shrugged. Why? Shit, how should I know? But I'm sure the question on everyone's mind is, "Are they actually going to have John Galt Speak at the end for, what, an hour? Two?"

    I doubt it; yet not only is that speech the point of the book, it's probably the best part of the book (yeah, not a fan). The plot and characters are as worthless as Rand herself (who is, in my opinion, a one-woman tragedy of Stalinism and Nazism, namely that so many worth a damn people didn't escape them, and she did); only that one speech has any merit at all. Rand was a complete drool-soaked wrestling-helmeted incompetent at most aspects of writing, but she was good at rhetoric.

  • Speaking of strange movie news, Mark Johnson, producer of the Narnia films, claims he's not sure if they're Christian. So, Mark, are you also in doubt as to whether Rand might've been a socialist? Does Childhood's End leave you thinking maybe, just maybe, Clarke might've been a Southern Baptist? Just how much do you need to be beaten over the head with a message before you'll even acknowledge its presence?

    That is, indeed, my one complaint about Narnia. The characters and writing, and basic plots, are excellent; Lewis had a largely unrecognized talent for writing characters, especially children, and also a disarming style that also served him in his apologetics. But the Narnia books, far more than the Space trilogy, beat you bloody with their Christian allegory.

    Actually my problem with That Hideous Strength, the book in the Space trilogy everyone likes to pick on, is probably unusual. My problem with it is: there's no Church. There's Ransom and his tiny group of friends, and a bunch of spirits. There's no community, formal or informal, of believers. And Christianity is nonexistent without the Church, far more nonexistent than any religion except Buddhism without the Sangha (that's why most western Buddhists feel inauthentic).

  • More from Hollywood: Salma Hayek was apparently playing the Halle Berry "nobody casts minorities in good parts" card. Only, wait, what minority? Turns out she's Mexican, it's just hard to tell 'cause she's as güera as my (Czech-Irish) mom and has a German name.

    Hint, Salma: if you both look German and have a German name, you are not being discriminated against. Go look up the phrase "visible minority."

  • How come nobody's pointed out, to Libertarians who support gay marriage, that it's the thing they hate most, resource redistribution? And not a necessary resource like money, that people will die without; but a complete frill, social approval.

    Remember, the Libertarians are the ones who pride themselves on their "rationality" (i.e. shallow selfishness) and love books like Freakonomics, one of whose theses was that the recent drop in crime rates was due to a high Black abortion rate. When these people wax sentimental about "the right to love", either they're nuts or they're putting on a con-job.



How much do I rock? So much so that that title, aside from sounding like "sayonara", actually means "if it's psi." Yes, yes, I am that cool. No applause, just send money.

Before I kick this off I have to say I was a little hard on Arthur C. Clarke, though I generally favor mouth-shooting anyone who combines arrogance and ignorance like that (and I still love that post's title: zing, bitch). His jackass nominally atheist (but actually just quasi-Gnostic) bloviating is only a deal-breaker in Childhood's End. Otherwise it's a foible of a good writer, a thing like the rishathra, dolphins, or unworkable Kzin society, in Niven, or Cherryh's obsession with gender-reversing male-chauvinist tropes (she's an equality feminist, I think, one who never got the memo that some genders are more equal than others). You can tolerate it, though there's a few cases where it drowns out the plot. It's not like Asimov's systematic cultivation of blind, stinking pig-ignorance, or Brin's shrill doctrinaire-liberal harangues, or Iain M. Banks' puerile gutter-wallowing. Clarke's flaw is an annoying distraction from his writing; Asimov's, Brin's, and Banks' flaws are their writing.

Anyway, John C. Wright said, in his brilliant discussion of how much Childhood's End sucks, that in SF, you stick to a naturalistic worldview; any supernatural stuff has to be called psionics or something. My problem with that is, psychic phenomena have been demonstrated far more conclusively than Keynesianism or the Laffer curve; so, too, the pagan gods (if you disagree, try explaining it to the three men who are dead because they filmed the Navajo dance invoking Yé'ii Bichaii, the Maternal Grandfather of the Gods, all the way through). But the explanations "parapsychologists" always give are bunk. At best, you have to call that stuff "psi", which is a sciencey-sounding way of saying "hell if I know" (no really, the term comes from early ESP experiments, where the letter stood for "unknown factor").

Personally, in my own writing, the distinction between SF and fantasy is more subtle. My fantasy and dark fantasy have huge, improbable works of magic, fireballs and shape-shifting and vampires and Thor. But the science and tech are all real for the era they're set in. My SF book has fusion and antimatter rockets, space-folds, and inertia-control by stress-energy tensor metric patching, but the psychic powers are limited to the kinds of things Wolf Messing or Nina Kulagina could pull off. Basically, SF is where I'm being speculative with tech, while fantasy is where I'm being speculative with wonder-working.

The best example is onmyodo. Being the Nihonphile I am, I have onmyoji in both my SF and my dark fantasy. But in my SF book, it's subtle, and in doubt whether he's really doing anything at all—the main thing he does is use it to get around Lucas-Penrose. In my dark fantasy, the generating cycle of the five elements is used to blast zombies with fireballs by pointing twigs at them. See the difference?

Now, personally, I think anyone who calls that stuff "supernatural" or "miraculous" is quaint. There is, in real life, a distinction between the paranormal/marvelous, on one hand, and the supernatural/miraculous, on the other. And magic, ESP, telekinesis, ghosts, gods, and the rest of it, go firmly in the paranormal and the marvelous. So, actually, I guess I stand with Wright: I just have a vastly broader conception of "natural" than him. The only things I consider supernatural/miraculous are the things that involve contradictions of sacrificial economy ("equivalent exchange").

The resurrection of the dead is a miracle (it breaks a rule of magic; onmyodo's Taizanfukunsai or "Invocation of the Minister of Mt. Tai" is actually a technique for exchanging one person's bad omens for another person's good ones, and in any event would've required a human sacrifice for every person brought back to life). Indeed, resurrection breaks a metaphysical rule: ordinarily, form and matter, essence and accidents—what you skin-clad savages call soul and body—can't be reunited once separated. Creation ex nihilo is a miracle, as is a change in form/essence/soul without changing matter/accidents/body. Do you detect a pattern? Yeah, basically only God with a big G, the Subsistent Act of Being, can get you miracles. All of them involve existence, in some way, because no mere form can affect that (one might call it, in relation to the Four Causes, the Zeroth Cause). That's why they're violations of sacrificial economy.

Where exactly devils and angels go on this continuum is anyone's guess, I'm afraid. But I err on the side of caution; there aren't any in my SF book. There's two, possibly three miraculous apparitions, far back in history, but it's necessary to the plot. Meanwhile in my fantasy book the religion (the direct worship of existence) has clerics who can raise the dead and heal huge wounds (the gods, who are called elves and trolls when they're at home, can only speed up the body's own healing process, and regenerate their own wounds); my dark fantasy has three devils, one of whom is variously called Satan, Lucifer, or Shemyazah, an exorcism (of a possessed vampire no less!), a stigmata, and an intervention by the Guadalupana.

Holy shit. Did I just actually come up with a working definition of the difference between SF and fantasy, that can actually address mixed cases? I think I did. How do I patent this? Hell, while I'm at it, watch this: "pornography is those works whose sole or chief artistic merit is the excitation of the prurient interest." Ta-dah: gets around the question of whether it's "art" or not, and also represents more of a standard than "I know it when I see it."

I'd just like to say I rock and roll, all of the time.


Adolescence's Beginning

Why yes, that is a slap at Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End; dumbass sets out to try and write an atheist answer to Lewis' space trilogy and it just ends up being about emanationist pantheism, with shades of Fyodorov's Cosmism and De Chardin's Process Theology. I'm curious to know if anyone who calls himself an atheist really knows what the word means.

And to think, that "I write like" thing has the gall to give me this:
I write like
Arthur Clarke

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

Them's fightin' words, ya hairdressin' lil Java program. I write like Tony Hillerman.

Clarke may have invented the thing I get my teevee shows from, but that doesn't change the fact he was a philosophical illiterate and a shallow-skulled, self-righteous twit with a Pollyanna view of human destiny that bordered on the Hegelian.

Or take his "Apes or Angels" thing. In brief, Clarke theorized that what we call "human" represents a brief period between being an animal and some woowoo "ascension" crap, so we're very unlikely to encounter other species at a stage of development comparable to our own, but either in the stage before it or the stage after it.

Only guess what? Clarke was an insect. Provably, viz Heinlein. What I mean is, Clarke may have known a thing or two about space (oh hell, the man was a demigod, credit where it's due), but his understanding of evolution, especially human evolution, is the same pop-sci BS any man on the English street circa 1960 could give you. For God's sake, even TV Tropes knows there's no such thing as EvolutionaryLevels, but apparently nobody told Clarke.

Now, in terms of technological capabilities he's probably right, though I'll point out (gleefully, indeed I am dancing on his grave in spirit) that only one civilization on the Earth had Christianity, and Christendom is the only civilization to make several of the scientific advances necessary to the kind of technological progress Clarke talks about.

This post isn't all going to be a rant about Clarke, though (I know, I'm surprised too). See, this fact—that only Christendom could've created a space-capable civilization—has interesting implications for science fiction. It's certainly one answer to the Fermi paradox: the aliens haven't ever contacted us because they're quite literally benighted heathens. But what do you do if you still want to have spacefaring aliens, since we know nobody develops science without Christianity? And this isn't a thing where Buddhism is a substitute; Buddhists did develop egalitarianism and feminism, but they didn't develop science.

Although I just said Christendom mostly developed science because they couldn't do magic, there's actually another factor. Christians developed science because they're not allowed to hate the material world, and there are thousands of dead Cathars who might like a word with anyone who says otherwise. And that's why the Buddhists didn't develop science; what do they care about the tire-pressure on the Wheel of Suffering? That's also, to an extent, why not as much came of Buddhist egalitarianism and feminism—precisely because Buddhism is less worldly than Christianity, "Buddhist" countries usually based their laws on systems like Confucianism, unfortunately for the common people.

Anyway, you'd need, specifically, an Incarnational religion to develop science. I'm not sure which aspects are necessary, but certainly mere pantheism can't pull it off, or the Stoics would've. Islam, you say? Well, the only real thing they did with all that astronomical knowledge was figure out when Ramadan started; besides, after Averroes got the wrong answer to the question of reason's place in religion, the Islamic world basically decided everything is completely arbitrary, the will of God alone. That's not conducive to scientific advancement. They were okay at medicine but the West surpassed them by the 1400s, and in terms of what we think of as practical technology—manufacturing and agriculture—they were centuries behind the West, again because they had slaves.

Interesting, though, huh? Just like how you'll have to figure out your aliens' biology and economics, you've got to work out their theology. You can't avoid the question, because it determines whether they'll even show up.

Interestingly, theology is considered the queen of the sciences.


Sed Est Verus?

Reality Check (and a Latin title!). Mostly concerning history.
  • It will shock many of you to learn, not only did Pius XII save more Jews than anyone else, by a wide margin (that whole "Nazi collaboration" thing was, provably, made up in the 70s by the Stasi, to undermine the Vatican), but another ally of European Jewry was...Francisco Franco. Yeah, I know, weird, but he apparently helped a lot of Jews escape places occupied by Nazis or the other Fascists.

    Of course, what people don't know about Spanish Fascists would fill a pretty thick book. They sure weren't nice guys, but let's just say the fictional cruelty of the fascist in "Pan's Labyrinth" still isn't as bad as the stuff the Communists actually did, in the Spanish Civil War.

  • So a lot of ink gets spilled on the topic of why science arose in the West, and not elsewhere. Certainly it has something to do with Christianity, but a lot of writers ascribe it to the Christian view that nature is orderly and intelligible—yet Asia also generally believes that, but they didn't come up with science.

    Myself, I have a different theory. The reason Christians came up with science, and Asia didn't, is simple: we're not allowed to do magic. China and India both had much better astronomy than the West, but the primary thing they did with it was ever more detailed horoscopes. Similarly their biological and anatomical studies were inseparable from their folk-magic and alchemy. And the main use of astronomy in Mesoamerican cultures was horoscopes; all three of those cultures' much-lauded accurate calendars were at least half of divinatory origin.

    I'd say a related element, the much quicker technological development of the West compared to its contemporaries, is that, unlike both polytheist Asia and the Islamic world, the West didn't have slaves anymore: so they needed good machines. That's certainly why the Classical world had such great military tech but such bad plows: soldiers were freemen, but farmhands were slaves.

    Huh. It just occurs to me that the same is true of the Renaissance: technological development slowed to a crawl in that era, except in military equipment. What's really fun to point out, though, is that there's exactly one Renaissance scientist of any greatness (Copernicus), and he was mostly building on Oresme and Buridan. The two initiators of the Age of "Reason", meanwhile (Descartes and Galileo), were pretty much just picking up where Oresme and Buridan left off (Oresme actually invented "Cartesian" notation, did you know?).

  • So Cameron, not only is your plot economically impossible, but apparently its exogeology is wrong too. Seems the Alpha Centauri system's not that likely to have gas giants (Pandora is a moon), but is quite likely to have earth-sized rocky planets. Oops.

    Maybe someone should have pointed out that living on the "forest moon" of a gas giant is just one more parallel the Na'vi have to Ewoks, and they're pretty heavily-laden with those as it is.

    And I think the Unobtainium nonsense stems from Cameron being a flatlander. See, Unobtainium is just an unintelligent analogy to oil. Only, oil doesn't have to fight every law of physics and chemistry just to exist; in fact it happens because something else (a living thing) lost that fight. But a hot superconductor is not the kind of thing that is particularly likely to happen on its own at all, let alone on any planet a human can walk around on, breath-mask or no.

  • So there's this strange idea among many on America's right that Mexico (and much of the rest of Latin America) are having their recent political instability because of European-style statism. But actually, no, a lot of Latin Americans, and indeed Latin cultures generally, have a "screw the government" mentality that'd make Ron Paul's head spin. Its most extreme form is the Mafia's omerta code; Belloc was once in a French town that made about 2/3 its living by smuggling.

    Personally I think it's just what happens when you try to make Liberalism (classically defined, I mean) intellectually consistent.

  • Another example of how people know nothing of the history of Liberalism is, ask the nearest American conservative, "Who was more pro-family, Locke or Rousseau?" And of course they'll say Locke. Only, no, actually, Locke placed everything under the social contract, including familial relations, while Rousseau said that the family exists in the state of nature and its relations precede the contract.

    The other thing that's interesting is that "volonté générale", as used by Rousseau, doesn't mean anything remotely like "general will". It's much closer to "consent of the governed", except that Rousseau denies that the people are the governed—his thought, remember, defines them as the sovereign, and acts like it. It's arguably also something akin to "common good," as used by Aquinas (not by the quasi-Liberation Theology activists who've usurped the phrase).

  • Late Addendum: Reality check for myself! So I was thinking, and it turns out there is a way that the Serenity can use its artificial gravity to make its rocket more efficient, without something nonsensical like negating rest mass. If your gravity device works like a Kzin gravity planer/polarizer, you can put a gravity well just in front of your ship, and that makes acceleration easier, because it's quite literally downhill. Of course, at that point, you don't need a rocket anymore, and that's not how the artificial gravity in Firefly seems to work—if it was, the deckplan would be different.

    Come to think of it, the Serenity's exhaust seems to drift remarkably slowly. Its delta-v must be ridiculously low.



I think Miscellany (if you pronounce it to rhyme with Melanie) would be a really cute name for a girl. Anyway this is random thoughts.
  • So my travails with delta-v—curse your cosmist eyes, Tsiolkovsky!—have made me realize another flaw in Avatar. I know, I thought I'd run that well dry too. But that whole thing about how Sully can't fix his legs on his salary "in this economy"? Yeah, um, what economy is it that can afford to build rockets fueled by antimatter? 'Cause that's what the ship in Avatar uses for fuel, and antimatter is the single most expensive substance known to man. Even if it's fusion catalyzed by antimatter, well, their gas money could probably be used to stage a reenactment of the first moon landing. Except with high-grade heroin standing in for the moon dust.

    Of course, that also raises the question of how bad the economy can possibly be if they can fund these missions to Toliman (what, didn't know Alpha Cen had a proper name?). Also, considering they've got some Unobtainium, and it's naturally occurring, they should be able to synthesize it. Actually, that's understating it; they are able to synthesize it. By definition, anything naturally occurring (on a planet anyway) should be fairly easy to synthesize since, you know, it happens on its own. And even if it's not that easy, there is absolutely no way in hell that it's more expensive to synthesize than it is to schlepp—by slowboat, mind—four and a half light-years to mine the stuff.

    I'm sorry Mr. Cameron but your plot is an economic impossibility.

  • One of two things in my SF writing of which I'm very proud (the other being my cooling radiators) is my explanation for space war. See, synthesizing resources is either easy, or profitable for whoever does it, but terraforming is as-good-as-impossible, so planets that are easily-habitable (at least with domes) are at a premium. So the only thing you're fighting over is territory. Or rather, you come into conflict over territory, but you don't start fighting until one side or the other in the conflict does something rude. Like, you know, carrying off the wife of a chieftain whose tribe is contesting with yours over trade routes...and prompting him to launch the thousand black ships, and bring about the fall of Holy Ilium, and Priam, and the people of Priam of the good ashen spear.

  • So remember the name Robert Frisbee. Why? Oh, well, this.

    Yeah, an antimatter rocket design that's not AIMStar or ICAN-II (which aren't really antimatter rockets, they're antimatter-catalyzed nuclear rockets). And now, suddenly, I can get images into this blog; for some reason I'd had trouble doing that. Anyway, it's not exactly like what the ones in my story are gonna look like (mine have for-realsies artificial gravity, and aren't 700 kilometers long), but it's an awesome first step.

    In his honor, I may have to have "frisbee" be 24th century slang for an antimatter ship.

  • And yeah, people in my books do indeed use antimatter rockets...but nobody in my book says the economy is so bad that biotech (the fastest-growing field of tech after computers, by the bye) is too expensive for soldiers.

    And hey, come to think of it, so in Avatar's future there are no charities like Wounded Warriors? Maybe years of over-regulation and anti-entrepreneurial economic policies killed the biotech industry, and years of state-funded medicine killed the charitable impulse. Nah, I kid—Cameron favors those policies, remember?

  • So remember how I said I wanted to do SF Saiyuki and SF Peter Pan? Another thing, it occurs to me, is it'd be really fun to do an SF version of the Shinsengumi. I mean, for crying out loud, "Hijikata" means "Earthman", and he, Saitô, Nagakura, Harada, and probably more of them have numbers in their names. Don't "Primus Wisterfield" and "Triannum Earthman" sound like the kind of names a very far-future society might have? And you could give them cool gear based on their techniques—Okita's signature three-piece stab becoming a three-barreled gun, or something, and Saitô having a gun-arm on his left, that he suddenly switches to to catch opponents by surprise (contrary to Rurouni Kenshin, Saitô's signature left-handed thrust works best as a surprise maneuver).

    And hell, the Black Ships=first contact; the plot just writes itself. If you're going to use history as the basis for SF, at least use something less asinine than Gibbon.


Brief Note

So I have an addendum and a correction to the previous post.

The addendum is a line from "In the Bottom of a Hole" that ought to be tattooed inside every federal official's eyes, as in stamped on their retinas so it's overlaid on everything they see, forever:
There's everything in space. [...] Metal. Vacuum for the vacuum industries. A place to build cheap without all kinds of bracing girders. Free fall for people with weak hearts. Room to test things that might blow up. A place to learn physics where you can watch it happen.
And the correction is, I overstated our ability to do interstellar flight; turns out our currently available nuclear rockets would have to be more than 99% propellant tank to get up to .1c. I calculated the delta-v myself. But you might be able to refuel them in-flight using electrostatic (not electromagnetic) ramscoops. And one day we'll be able to make fusion rockets, and full-fledged RAIR (ram-augmented interstellar rockets) will be within our grasp.