Glittering Poisonous Tears

I knew it, I knew it, I knew it. While I was thinking about all those people saying Hunger Games was a Battle Royale knockoff, it was gnawing at my mind that there was another anime that was more like it.

And then I remembered: Deadman Wonderland. Hey, if nothing else good comes of Hunger Games, at least it might increase the market for that.

I'll see your little mockingjay, buddy-boy, and I'll raise you one woodpecker.

Seriously, who names an albino girl Shiro (white)?


But She Was a Queen of Men

The King looked up, and what he saw
Was a great light like death,
For Our Lady stood on the standards rent,
As lonely and as innocent
As when between white walls she went
And the lilies of Nazareth.

One instant in a still light
He saw Our Lady then,
Her dress was soft as western sky,
And she was a queen most womanly—
But she was a queen of men.

Over the iron forest
He saw Our Lady stand,
Her eyes were sad withouten art,
And seven swords were in her heart—
But one was in her hand.

—G.K. Chesterton, Ballad of the White Horse

I found a Youtube video of "Chant of the Templars" version of Salve Regina—it's actually from the Breviary used by them, at the Holy Sepulchre.

I like it. It sounds like Gregorian chant only more hardcore. It's got that Russian-like droning basso profundo there in the background, almost sounds like Gyudo monks.
Did you know that part of their ascetic practice was that they weren't allowed to hunt? Hunting being the main entertainment of knights at the time. Yes, with one exception: lions. Mainly because lions were a threat to the pilgrims they were charged with protecting, but also because they were Knights Freaking Templar and they were just that badass.

Have I told UbiSoft to go to hell lately? Because go to hell, UbiSoft.


Sur l'arte d'écrivaillon

French this time. "On the scribbler's art". One finds it best to use the humblest terms for writing, since writing has become a hieratic trade nowadays in a manner not seen since Egypt and Sumer. And those people had the excuse of writing with a large number of logograms, by hand.
  • I seem to have failed to convey my meaning, RE: Navajo mythology and black/white magic. My concern was with the kind of person who dislikes spiritual power being directly linked to people's behavior, which it actually is, in real societies' beliefs. Of course, what's funny is, the sort of person who thinks magic is neither good nor evil, generally also supports gun control—because (unlike spiritual power), hunks of metal can totally be evil.

    Huh, come to think of it, there is the issue of Donatism, though. So I suppose if a fictional society had established "sorcerer" as an office, anyone, good or bad, could call upon those powers, by virtue of the office—but limited by the actual function of the office. The evilest Catholic priest can only administer the same Sacraments as the saintliest; and if a society's sorcerers are supposed to invoke their Cookery Spirits, then cookery-magic they shall do, even if they are personally anorexic.

  • The article "A Reader's Manifesto", later expanded into a book, is a healing balm. In it, B. R. Myers rips literary fiction a new one, and details how it's substituted verbal gymnastics—frequently bad verbal gymnastics—for actually good stories that are told well.

    Also, though, what the hell does Cormac McCarthy have against commas, or breaking sentences up into reasonable sizes? His prose sounds like a slightly slow-witted six-year-old telling you about a very exciting day.

  • The section about the Paul Auster School of Writing—which is praised as "spare", yet involves lengthy ruminations on the concepts of "day" and "night"...merely along the way to informing the reader that it's dark when the protagonist wakes up—is hilarious.

    Although, a part of why it's funny, to me, is that the quoted passage reminds me of, "It's always April Fool's somewhere." "You have no idea how a calendar works, do you?"

  • Recently got back to work on my fantasy book after a long hiatus. Changed it so the people are Asian-featured, but European-colored (and bearded). Also rewrote a chapter leading up to a battle, in order to make it more believable.

    Apropos of nothing (or is it?!), Templars-crossed-with-Shaolin who ride caribou are boss.

  • I was thinking, it's interesting how civilization is almost exactly as old as the Young Earth set say the world is. So plainly, for a given value of "world", 6000 years is the thing's real age.

    Then again, phenomenological anthropocentrism is odious. If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, it does in fact make a sound—that sound is just largely irrelevant. And just because 6000 years ago is when the Earth started being worth a damn, doesn't make that when the thing started as such. I wasn't worth much of a damn until I was about 22, but I don't give my age as 5.

    Amusingly, that rank, imbecilic anthropocentrism is involved in the arbitrary definition of "time" that has people say FTL (that doesn't involve instantaneous velocities greater than c) inherently involves time-travel. Objects only "arrive before they left" because you hubristically define "before" purely relative to your observations.

  • Speaking of Biblical matters, "knowledge of good and evil" does not mean "knowledge" in the Greek sense. In Biblical Hebrew, to "know" a thing is to have mastery and authority over it...or to have sex with it ("knowing Biblically" is still a euphemism used in many rural parts of the US, which is frankly kinda cool). Hence, "knowledge of good and evil" means "presuming to define one's nature for oneself".

    If you don't know why that's a bad thing, you have a remarkably narrow experience of this world's moral possibilities. I assure you, there are more vices in this world—that someone might choose to claim are not vices, relative to their "nature"—than the small subset that you don't actually regard as vices.

  • Apparently people are praising the downer ending of the third Hunger Games book, for showing some asinine idea that "nobody wins in wars." Well. Huh. You know, 70 million people died in World War II. That's significantly more than the entire Jewish and Polish population of 1940s Europe. And even if the Japanese had also killed twice as many Chinese people as they did, and the entire population of Korea, more people still died from the war.

    Thanks for that, critics (and you, Suzanne Collins)—it's nice to have you on the record preferring to let genocide go on unimpeded, rather than dirty your hands with warfare. Unless the things you say have no relation to reality and human history? Which is it—are you evil, or just stupid?

  • Whenever people use the phrase "killing a sacred cow" as a term of praise, I enjoy reminding them that they are indulging in British Raj-era racial/religious/cultural slurs.

    Also, please recall that, if one actually knows why cattle are sacred in Hinduism, the phrase "kill a sacred cow" may be substituted with "symbolically murder your parents". Have fun with that.

    Then again, the proportion of the cheap iconoclasm generally praised as sacred-cow-slaughter that isn't mere Oedipal father-hating is statistically quite negligible. Perhaps the phrase is appropriate after all.

  • Similarly, if "iconoclast" is used as a term of praise rather than abuse, it must be taken as a tacit endorsement of the Taliban's destruction of Buddha statues.

  • It's too bad it's been about a decade since Morrowind came out—and that it's such a buggy game. I say this because that game's story—Indoril Nerevar, the Tribunal, the disappearance of the Dwemer—is far and away the best of the five Elder Scrolls games, and Elder Scrolls is currently the best work being done in Western fantasy, in any medium. All the best parts of Skyrim involve dwemer in some way, and the Ayleid ruins in Oblivion (to me, the most interesting part of that game) were, arguably, an only-partly-successful substitute for Dwemer ruins.

    That the main things people know about Elder Scrolls are stupid Skyrim memes—the arrow in the knee and one of the less-useful shouts—is, I think, a great injustice of our pop culture. This is the first setting I've been this enthusiastic about since my D&D campaign in high school, and I am not an easy man to please—still less when it has tropes I generally dislike, like snooty elves.

  • The main thing I don't like about Elder Scrolls or Halo, and one of several things I hate about Mass Effect, is the ra-ra human jingoism. Especially since science fiction fans, at least, are always talking about how puny and insignificant humans are. I'm sorry, but if you meant that, they wouldn't always be super-special awesomesauce, in your fiction.

    It also doesn't bode well for a real First Contact, if you pathetic monkeys can't stand the idea that another race might be better at anything than you. I'm not sure whether the narrative "the aliens' or elves' sense of superiority is always wrong" is of Whig-Jingo or Marxist class-war origin—but then again, since Marx, like Rousseau, is just repeating the lies of the English Reformation in slightly modified form, I probably don't have to pick.


Two Moons in the Unending Sky

Quote from the first Zero's Familiar opening—which, come to think of it, is very much in the vein of John Carter type stories. If Dejah Thoris were an utter screwup whose incompetence masks a long-lost power, and were also a Kugimiya Rie tsundere character.

Remember how I said John Carter of Mars is basically a sword-and-sorcery set on a world that happens to share a name and surface gravity with ours? Turns out it's actually in a genre called "sword-and-planet", which makes me happy. It's different from planetary romance, because of the spelling (and because planetary romance runs the full gamut of scientific verisimilitude, whereas sword-and-planet does not give a tinker's damn).

Well, actually, it doesn't share a name (its name is Barsoom), but it does share an orbital order.

Please recall, Carter's only basis (and yes, I have read the books) for saying he's on Mars, is that he sees a diagram showing Barsoom as the fourth planet. But at no point do any of them travel across the intervening space; they teleport. Actually in the book Carter, dying, is rather inexplicably transported to another world (possibly summoned by a find familiar gone awry?); the Therns of the books are just an ancient, decadent race, remnants of the (more or less extinct) White Martians who gave rise to the Red Martians.

But the movie, and some descriptions in the books, give me further basis for describing Burroughs' Mars as another planet. In both, the two moons are portrayed as big, honkin' dealies, each nearly as big as Luna, if not bigger—more in common with the moons of Nirn or the world in Zero no Tsukaima.

This, on the other hand, is what Phobos and Deimos look like:Obviously not the same moons. Incidentally, isn't it cool that we have a picture like this? On the Wikipedia page I got this from, their transit is animated!

Oh, hell, one more.This is sunset on a Martian winter solstice. But no, man, the space program is totally unnecessary.

Also, any writer worth his salt can get a lot outta the fact that Mars's natural satellites can only be called "the Terror Moons".

If John Carter is still in theaters in your area, go see it. Who cares that it's not really Mars? It's some war-world called Barsoom. And ignore that the Red Martians are just spray-tanned—go see it for the Tharks.

And We'll Monitor His Mind

Movies. Title's from this, if you didn't recognize it.

So. Prometheus is, apparently officially, a prequel to Aliens. Which is great if you like those movies, but I don't, so...I dunno. Bon appetit anyway, I guess.

They're remaking Robocop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers. Robocop is probably among the most overrated films of all time, while nobody has a terribly high opinion of Total Recall, but you could probably do a good job with it. As for Starship Troopers, at some point someone has to make a movie of that book that actually follows the book, i.e. has a Filipino protagonist and the eponymous troops in mecha.

Oh wait, the Japanese already did. Though, like Verhoeven, they did make Juan Rico white. But they didn't distort the plot to make the Federation out fascist, and unlike his worthless Dutch ass they don't owe their lives to the American military. Quite the opposite, in fact—Verhoeven's utter vileness is cast into sharp relief when you consider the Japanese didn't distort the story, and his country was never nuked by the American military.

If anyone wanted to make a science-fiction satire on Dutch society—like how the government legalized drugs just so it could profit off junkies, or how they stood up to the Nazis on euthanasia but became (along with Switzerland) one of the major destinations for "suicide tourism" in the 1990s, or how two Dutch TV hosts ate each other's flesh on TV...I beg you, dedicate it to Paul Verhoeven, with the words, "Bite us, dickweed, we don't have to do ludicrous, sub-Mad Magazine exaggerations of your country, just talking about the Netherlands sounds like a damn satire."

Ahem. Moving on, they are making two third installments of movies from a while back. First is a Riddick 3, which seems awesome—although it's got the horrible female Starbuck from the new Battlestar Galactica in it. Maybe she won't suck in a not-shit story, though.

And then there's apparently...Bill and Ted 3. Seems they'll be wondering where the hell rock went wrong, a valid question. Nevertheless, the odds of this movie being anything other than bogus are slim to nonexistent. Here's hoping I'm wrong.

Finally, there is no excuse for how badly John Carter did, especially compared to Hunger Games. Then again, perhaps market economics works, and you people are getting exactly the movies you deserve.


Sobre el arte del plumífero

I don't know why I'm using Spanish just now. That means "On the Hack's Art", in case you wondered. Is anyone else happy that the word for hack is "pen1-carrier"?

Thoughts upon writing.
  • There is apparently a movement of fantasy writers called "NEA", for "no elves allowed". Much like the National Education Association and the National Endowment for the Arts, they have an uphill battle justifying their existences, since as near as I can tell they are a mere puerile taboo.

    How about you start a group called TDCBTOODIAFCT, for "The Dwemer Can't Be The Only Original Dwarves In All Fantasy, Can They?" That'd be more productive. Oh and hey, guess what, a major part of why the Dwemer are original? They're elves.

    Nerevar's blade, you people suck at life.

  • So Whatsisname the Unbeliever, in Stephen R. Donaldson books, is not the only one of his protagonists who's a rapist. So is the vile little man who is the protagonist of his "The Gap" series, where there are, apparently, 40 pages of rape and torture of a young policewoman. The book is supposed to be about the dude's redemption (I hear—I wouldn't read it if you strapped explosives to my mother), but frankly, the only redemption I want that character to have is Last Rites.

    Why the Hell, Michigan do they insist on writing books like this? The best-case interpretation of such phenomena, in literature, is that they are produced to please the self-cannibalizing lit-crit set, who praise ugliness for the sheer effort it requires to appreciate—thus setting them apart from the crowd (in accordance with Megan's Law). Otherwise, congratulations, Donaldson, you misogynist shit, you're writing the tie-in novel of a snuff-film.

  • A commenter over on Superversive, about 5 years ago (I was reading something in his archive) said that he wonders what the Celtic original of the jousts in Medieval Arthurian romances were. Now I am not certain, having read very little Welsh literature, but if the Britons were anything like the Irish I can answer that.

    Wrestling. Warriors in Celtic societies wrestled, if some ritual combat short of warfare were required. If the Tain Bo Cuailnge is to be believed, they would actually deliberately wrestle in bodies of water, so that a combatant who was too stubborn to tap out would drown. Remember, these guys perfumed their hair so their severed heads would be decorative—plainly they were not messing around.

  • An oft-overlooked achievement of fantasy worldbuilding is the Slayers universe. For instance, the Mazoku and Shinzoku (Demon- and God-tribes) seem, at first glance, to be Moorcock/Warhammer Law-Chaos gods. But, upon examination, one discovers they're actually more complex not only than that, but even than the Anu-Padomay/Aedra-Daedra Elder Scrolls mythos.

    See, the Shinzoku and Mazoku both worship the Supreme Being. The difference is that the Shinzoku (gods) believe the things created by it, or rather her (this mythos' supreme being is feminine, the Mother of All Things—she produced creation from within herself), are good, and should be preserved. The Mazoku (demons), on the other hand, believe those things to be a corruption, an interference with her pure splendor, and want to destroy it all (and then themselves). She's often identified as a demon herself—Lord of Nightmares, Darkness Beyond Pitch, Deeper than Midnight—but that seems to be mainly because the demons hold her in such reverence (in the books, Xellos tells Lina that even saying "Lord of Nightmares" can't be permitted to a human; even he, more powerful than any demons but Ruby Eye and the Five Retainers, always calls her "Mother of All Things").

    I confess, one of the two races of trolls in my own fantasy get their ideology (remember, my fairy races divide based on their existential views) from the Mazoku. Mostly because "acosmic monism" is actually fairly common, and "we want there to be 'acosmos', so we're going to get rid of everything but the Monad" is a good motivation for evil-doing.

  • It is amusing that Moorcock sneers at stories with "talking vermin" in them, a class in which he includes hobbits, because he's Moorcock. I know some stories about talking vermin, nay talking varmints, that'd curl your hair, little boy. The most terrifying story ever told in any language is Woman Who Became a Bear—because it's about how the witchery of Corpse Poison Way came to involve the ability translated literally as "By Means of It, He Goes on All Fours" and idiomatically as skinwalking.

    And the protagonist of that story? Coyote, Altse Hashke, the First Scolder. His wife is the eponymous Woman. To win her heart, he uses the original form of the Corpse Poison: he dies (at her brothers' hands) and brings himself back to life. See, at least one version of the Navajo creation myth describes how First Man (Altse Hastiin) made Corpse Poison in the first place. He needed curses, but as the, well, first man, he had no relatives to commit fratricide or incest on. But he realized there was someone closer to him than any kin could ever be. So he killed himself and brought himself back to life.

  • Or how about what First Man says when the animals discover he's been stealing their medicine (in the Indian sense of the word)? "Oh yes, my grandchildren, I am full of evil. But there is a time to use it, and a time to hold it back."

    Or what Talking God said, when he and the others of the Four Colored Bodies2 first met the Navajo, when they emerged into the Fourth World (chased there, thanks to their penchant for cuckolding the Third World's inhabitants)? "We will teach you a law, so that you do not get into trouble like this. But your foolishness has left a stink on you; clean yourselves before we return tomorrow." I should perhaps mention that the Four Colored Bodies heard the Navajo coming, and came down to them, from the kivas of Anasazi ruins.

    Seriously, read Navajo mythology, before you even think of writing a fantasy story. Also before you even think of denouncing the idea of White and Black Magic. Where I come from, those are called Blessing Way and Corpse Poison Way.

  • It is amusing to note how much manga and anime involves villains who are pastiches of Sartre's ethics. And heroes who are closer to Camus's. One has to respect a nation that thinks different strains of existentialism ought to form the basis of comic-book fights.

    No, seriously. I'm pretty weird, that I do things like that. But over there, "swordsman who kills people just to affirm his existence" is easily as common as "corrupt corporate executive".

  • Tolkien, the silly chap, struggled mightily with the fact he'd set Middle Earth at least partly on a flat earth. Now, believe me when I say I sympathize—I write hard science fiction and have an anxiety disorder—but one might consider that poetic license, appropriate to the mythic setting.

    In my fantasy, the elves and trolls were born with the universe, and fought their first wars before anything their setting would classify as "earth" or "metal" had solidified. At some point they'll also mention their bodies have only looked like humans' in the time since humans have existed.

    Incidentally, I already had it mentioned, when one of the elves gets wounded, that she's having trouble breathing because her body is losing contact with Elemental Air. Elves have no need of respiration, but in order to maintain their bodies, they need to maintain a balance of the elements.


I just discovered the unfinished text of a random thoughts post I never got around to finishing. Here, have a couple more.
  • I was thinking about the issues with oxygen in alien atmospheres, and fire. One suspects that highly technological civilization would require an oxygen atmosphere to develop, or at least that non-oxygen atmospheres represent a significant handicap. Why?

    Because, while any atmosphere will have phenomena analogous to combustion, in an oxygen atmosphere, it's much more noticeable, thanks to the peculiar semi-plasma it creates as a byproduct. Not only is it much more likely to attract inquisitive notice very early on, but it is uniquely useful as a source of both heat and light. One wonders what some other atmosphere's inhabitants would have to use instead—or if they wouldn't be stymied by the fact their heat- and light-sources probably wouldn't be as conceptually tidy as fire is.

  • It is interesting to note that any writer who says they don't write (whatever genre) is generally not only a pure specimen of that genre, they are a very hacky pure specimen of that genre. Terry Goodkind claims he doesn't write fantasy, he writes "stories that have important human themes"—which seems to mean "uncredited Robert Jordan/Ayn Rand fanfic mashups". Or how about, apparently Nicholas Sparks—whose middle name, it seems, is not "motherf***ing", much to everyone's surprise—said he doesn't write romance novels. No, he writes "love stories", and, I quote, "In mine, you never know if it's going to be a happy ending, sad ending, bittersweet or tragic. You read a romance because you know what to expect. You read a love story because you don't know what to expect."

    Dude. Granted you don't write bodice-rippers, which seems to be what you think "romance novel" means, you emphatically write novels, which are about romance, and whose plots are basically find/change copies of each other. I doubt very much one could find someone who didn't know what to expect, in one of your books. Indeed, ask anyone who the most formulaic writer working today is, and they will not say "John Grisham" or "Dan Brown", they'll say you—and that is some stiff competition. You're a shoo-in for Hack Valhalla.



Piensas al azar. Which is almost exactly how you say "random thoughts" in French, come to think.
  • Anyone who wants to write Native Americans needs to go watch "Navajo Cops" on National Geographic Channel. Those are Navajos. Notice how little they resemble Lou Diamond Phillips? Notice how little their accent resembles that of Floyd "Red Crow" Westerman? Notice how they can't stand being around dead bodies? Yeah.

  • Speaking of how you say things in French, if you spell French phonetically it looks like an Asian language. E.g., ever hear of the famous detective Erkul Pwaro? Sounds like a manhwa, right? Or maybe a Turkish movie?

    How about Hercule Poirot, though?

  • It's always funny to me when Pan-Arabists insist the Lebanese are Arabs. Uh, no, no they're not. They speak Arabic, but their ethnicity/nationality is Canaanite. Or Phoenician. Please recall what country Tyre is in.

    Hell, Belgians get mad if you call 'em "French", and they're Franks and Gauls, just like the French are. Nothing but an outdated, erroneous ideology could make people misrepresent the situation.

  • Speaking of ideology, did you know that prior to about 1885, the Islamic world viewed the Crusades as a great conquest for their people, and the Crusaders as a defensive action that they defeated? Yep. But then, the Ottoman Empire, beginning to fray around the edges, decided to take a page from contemporary Romantic Nationalism, and reframed the Crusades as the West invading them—not coincidentally letting them paint themselves as the defenders of their (ludicrously oppressed) subjects against "imperialism".

    That's no big deal; anyone familiar with the history of Ireland knows the English did the same thing. What is a big deal, is that everyone actually believed the Ottomans' nonsense. Imagine if your history book, with a straight face, reported that England protected Ireland's freedom.

  • It's interesting, most "speculative fiction"/"soft" science fiction comes under the same opprobrium as Transhuman science fiction (see "Because Human Life Is Hard", over there on the right). Namely, the people who write most "speculative fiction", like the people who hanker after Transhuman apotheosis, are running scared from reality. Science tells you "some things I can give you, and some things I can't". Which is exactly what these spoiled-brat post-Boomers don't want to hear; that was the same reason they didn't like God. The little darlings thought science was more liberating than something that could give them miracles, and now they're complaining.

    I quite like science-fantasy and space opera; I merely request that people know the difference. But then again, I believe in miracles, too—and there are no miracles unless there are physical laws.

  • And I mean it: if people weren't all praising Mass Effect as science fiction, I would only very mildly dislike it, for being puerile Transhuman nonsense. But Tycho had to go and say the ending is "very much of the Hard Sci-Fi school: work predicated to a certain extent on Interesting Answers but far, far more of a piece with Interesting Questions". That's no definition of hard sci-fi I ever heard, and I actually write the stuff. Is he perhaps conflating the genre's defining features with some tics of a few of its proponents? Hard sci-fi purely refers to how scientifically rigorous the wonderment is, and the Insane Clown Posse and the Creation Museum sneer at Mass Effect.

    Same with Firefly, which is, to this day, pretty high on TVTropes' Mohs Scale of SF Hardness. Nobody who has not read Winchell Chung's Atomic Rockets site is even qualified to discuss whether something is or is not hard science fiction. Most of us—I know I was—are too corrupted by the same Hollywood that tells you Glocks can fool metal detectors to have a right to our opinions on the matter.

  • Another game manages to avoid the main flaw of Transhuman SF, despite having all industry be based on nanomachines, and people being able to take real objects from their computer networks. Even weirder, it is openly Gnostic-themed, even unto its third installment being based on the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.

    I speak, of course, of Xenosaga. While the first is the only good one, I think the reason it's actually good, despite being pretty Transhuman by any objective standard, is, well, Shion used to be a part-time waitress. This future, despite its tech, and the fact everyone and his clone has incredible nanomachine-based powers that stand in for Final Fantasy magic, still has economic scarcity. That's all I ask, really.

    Well, that, and I'll overlook a lot if you give me characters as moe as KOS-MOS and MOMO.

  • Hunger Games is making some noise of late. Too bad the worldbuilding is ludicrously implausible, though, huh? Also the ending of the third one sucks so bad, it leaves a hickey on your soul.

    I will, however, not be one of those naysayers who said "I liked this better when it was called 'Battle Royale'." Because they're really not that much alike. No, Hunger Games is more like the misshapen lovechild of Battle Royale and Code GEASS.

    Then again, I'm probably one of the very few people who thinks we should retire the "evil empire" trope already. The two most evil states in human history called themselves Republics—and the third's name, Reich, can also be translated as "Kingdom" (and the seventh is the United Kingdom). Only #4, the Japanese Empire, is an Empire—and Teiô/Tennô isn't actually equivalent to Imperator in the first place.

  • 5 and 6, in case you wondered, are the Mughal Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. But neither is really an empire; the Mughals were a Khanate, and the Ottomans were a Sultanate, neither of which, again, is equivalent to the European conception of Imperium, anymore than to the Chinese one of the Mandate of Heaven (Tianmìng, if you wanted to know).

  • There was an entire subplot I cut, back when my engines were based on antimatter, where—rhetorically—the captain of a spaceship asks the android who acts as his ship's computer, "What's the extra fuel usage having him [a stowaway] here?" And the android responds, "Those particular cold equations are not worth my time to calculate."

    No, he talks like that all the time—he's got china-white skin and jet black hair and eyes, and he wears a jet-black kimono and a Japanese straw hat, also dyed black. The kimono has a print of green pentagrams. You think a guy who looks like that talks like Ben Browder?

    But seriously, The Cold Equations is the epitome of plot-induced stupidity. That it is universally reviled for this fact gives one renewed hope in humanity.


The Mustache Sciences

Just thought I'd put up a picture. Of Nietzsche.Yep, he was the rootin'est, tootin'est pessimist-nihilist philosopher west of the Pecos.

Oh, while I've got you here, here's a joke. H. P. Lovecraft walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Why the long face?"That's the whole joke.


On the Taking of Ireland

I am reminded, by something I said over on Swords and Space (over there on the right), that there is a controversy, or perhaps just a mystery, in ethnoanthropology. Namely, by all genetic analysis, the English and French are both Celtic, while the Irish...are Scandinavian.

Now, it's known why the English and French are Celtic, despite the former speaking a Germanic language and the latter being named after a Germanic tribe. Namely, no invading force can displace the native populace, unless they have overwhelming numbers and/or vast technological superiority. A cultural prejudice against intermarriage and a disparity of disease immunities may be necessary, too (why yes, I am talking about the New World, penetrating of you to notice). Look at Latin America—the Spanish had superior technology and the Indians had no immunity to their diseases, but nevertheless much of Latin America is majority-Indian to this day. Most of those Indians, however, are Spanish in culture—because what the invaders can do is impose their own culture. Thus, the British became Germanized, despite still being Britons. The Gauls didn't become all that Frankified...except in their politics, where what had been Roman administrative divisions were given as vassal-gifts like rings in a mead-hall.

But Ireland? It's ridiculous to suppose Vikings are the explanation for why the Irish test as Scandinavian; the Vikings didn't raid that much, and they raped even less. More pleasantly, some Vikings did settle here and there in Ireland—everywhere but Connaught, that's why the English names of the Four Kingdoms have the Norse place-name ender "-ster" on the end. But they didn't settle anything like as extensively in Ireland as in Britain; Ireland has nothing comparable to Yorkshire, the former Danelaw.

Besides, again, no invading force can supplant the natives without several factors being just right, and the Irish outnumbered the Norsemen, had roughly comparable technology, were prone to all the same diseases, and neither party objected to intermarriage with the other.

I think, though, that I have the answer. Remember how I said the Danes were the Flowing Water people? Well, in Irish mythology, the second-to-last tribe to invade the island were divine beings called the Tuatha Dé Danann—which is "Tribe of Flowing Water" (Danu, the goddess, is "flowing water"—and "Poseidon" means "husband of said goddess"). The final invaders, the Milesians (the modern Irish; the mythological homeland of their people was in Spain), after defeating the Tuatha Dé Danann, agreed to a treaty with them, where they would offer worship at various sacred sites, in exchange for the Dé Danann staying underground.

What if, at some point in recent prehistory, a group of Proto-Danes settled Ireland? And then, centuries later—after they'd become the dominant populace—they were invaded in turn by Celts from the Iberian peninsula? The Celts wouldn't have been able to displace those Scandinavians, but they would have been able to impose their culture, language, and religion on them. And nothing is more typical, in the history of that sort of religion, than to impose certain "penances", in the forms of sacrifices and festivals, after a conquest. Half the Ancient Roman religious calendar is sacrifices to propitiate those slain in Rome's ancient wars, and the Lemures may have originated as the Remures, designed to pacify the unquiet shade of Remus himself.

Incidentally, one of the other tribes postulated to have inhabited Ireland, according to mythology, are the Firbolg—supposedly the Belgae branch of the Gauls (after whom Belgium is named).


Give a Reason

No, it's not about the second Slayers opening. Although one could totally write a philosophical dissertation on existentialism in songs from that show.

I was thinking about my "Da Rules" post (it's right over there), and how I said anything you could get from time-travel can usually be gotten another way—the only time you should have time-travel in the plot, is when it is the point of the plot.

And I realized, the same goes for science fiction in general. It isn't that the tech/science has to be the point of the story, but that nothing should be unnecessary. Anything you add to a story should serve either some main point, or artistry in general. And contrary to popular belief, you have more leeway in service to your main point, than to artistry.

For instance, take my book. I realized that my book is, in many ways, a meditation upon personhood—the aliens, the AI, the politics, are all connected to questions regarding the nature and dignity of man, his relationship to his fellows and the state, and so on. (Yes, it is a meditation—what, like a good action sequence don't belong in a meditation?)

I wanted aliens. And I wanted them to have fought a war with the humans. Now, the first Man-Kzin War notwithstanding, space-wars essentially require FTL travel, or they end up being a lot like a vampire-feud or the Alice Game from Rozen Maiden—deathless things we barely recognize as human briefly trading potshots at intervals of centuries. As that sort of war was not the purpose of my book, I feel justified in including FTL, especially since I gave it about as decent an explanation as it can be given.

I also wanted AI—totally in service to my explorations of personhood, I swear, and not in any way because robots are awesome. I promise. Okay that is a lie, but I really did get some cool discussions of personhood—and some bitchin' action scenes—out of 'em. And thus, my highly unorthodox workaround of Lucas-Penrose is eminently justified.

It was, in fact, a part of the plot that the zledo be vastly more advanced than humans, so I gave them several technologies I'd seen highly speculative papers on, like inertial control by stress-energy tensor metric patching. That became the basis of their engines and guns. They generate electricity by a technology derived from their superior understanding of space-time geometry, namely the dilaton alternator—quantum-scale waterwheels hooked to the expansion of the universe. It's pretty far-fetched, but since the relationship between quantum physics and the geometry of space-time is a science in its infancy, there is much room for speculation.

Having established that I need FTL and AI for my plot, and since there were humans in the story and we don't have either of those, I needed to set it in the future. Pretty much every piece of technology in the books that doesn't directly relate to FTL and AI, is just a piece of cultural-setting for the mid-24th century. Or, well, a prop, to advance the plot.

Meanwhile, the only thing I did in service to mere artistry, rather than to the plot/point/theme of the work, is the inertial compensation system, and artificial gravity. Such a thing is, probably, more or less possible—it bleeds the force of accelerations into the surrounding space-time. It would almost certainly, however, be less tidy and convenient than I portray it. Nevertheless, my plot would be unworkable if half the cast were gone for the time-frames involved in accelerating at 1 g, or if the people on the ships were in acceleration tanks.

Hmm. That the zled ships have artificial gravity while their engines are patching together stress-energy metrics might count as one too; though metric-patching is crazy theoretical, my impression seems to be that you'd probably be in free-fall while there. But free-fall is horrible, and, again, we have virtually no understanding of space-time geometry's actual functions—while we know, for instance, how gravity works, we still have no idea why it works like that—so it might be possible to create an artificial gravity well within a metric-patching space-time. The geometry of that situation probably makes math PhDs cry.


Announcement, and the Song of My People

So I got my first SF novel copyrighted recently—don't have the certificate yet, but the Copyright Office says once I have the confirmation email, I can go right ahead.

That being done, I feel brave enough to say: my felinoid species are called zledo, singular zled. I specifically wanted a word I couldn't find in any other language, and I searched both "zled" and "злэд" and came up with nothing. Other, that is, than that it's roughly the same as the Old Church Slavonic word for "give, hand over" (which shares an Indo-European root with "yield"), an entirely appropriate association given they conceptualize government as feudal obligations.

From henceforth I'll be calling them zledo. The evangelical Heideggerians are the thoikh, and the dromaeosaurs with the gift-economy are the khàngaì.


Point two: if any of you reading this have the opportunity to get/play Skyrim, and haven't, here's something that oughtta convince you. If you already want to, but can't, well, this is awesome anyway.

Let me play you the song of my people.
Dovahkiin, Dovahkiin
naal ok zin los vahriin
wah dein vokul mahfaeraak ahst vaal!
Ahrk fin norok paal graan
fod nust hon zindro zaan
Dovahkiin, fah hin kogaan mu draal!

Huzrah nu, kul do od, wah aan bok lingrah vod
Ahrk fin tey, boziik fun, do fin gein!
Wo lost fron wah ney dov
ahrk fin reyliik do jul
voth aan suleyk wah ronit faal krein

Ahrk fin kel lost prodah,
Do ved viing ko fin krah,
Tol fod zeymah win kein meyz fundein!
Alduin, feyn do jun,
kruziik vokun staadnau,
voth aan bahlok wah diivon fin lein!

Nuz aan sul, fent alok,
fod fin vul dovah nok,
fen kos nahlot mahfaeraak ahrk ruz!
Paaz Keizaal fen kos stin nol bein Alduin jot!

Dovahkiin, Dovahkiin
naal ok zin los vahriin
wah dein vokul mahfaeraak ahst vaal!
Ahrk fin norok paal graan
fod nust hon zindro zaan
Dovahkiin, fah hin kogaan mu draal!
Dragonborn, Dragonborn
by his honor is sworn
To keep evil forever at bay!
And the fiercest foes rout
when they hear triumph's shout,
Dragonborn, for your blessing we pray!

Hearken now, sons of snow, to an age, long ago
and the tale, boldly told, of the one!
Who was kin to both wyrm
and the races of man
with a power to rival the sun

And the Scrolls have foretold
of black wings in the cold,
that when brothers wage war come unfurled!
Alduin, Bane of Kings,
ancient shadow unbound,
with a hunger to swallow the world!

But a day, shall arise,
when the dark dragon's lies,
will be silenced forever and then!
Fair Skyrim will be free from foul Alduin's maw!

Dragonborn, Dragonborn
by his honor is sworn
To keep evil forever at bay!
And the fiercest foes rout
when they hear triumph's shout,
Dragonborn, for your blessing we pray!


Because Human Life Is Hard

So I was thinking. There is a theme in science fiction, one that long predates transhumanism but which is highly typical of it, and that can be observed in everything from Ringworld's Teela gene to the Kurzweil Singularity evoked in Mass Effect—which is the "from Mother Teresa to Hitler" of SF.

I refer, of course, to the portrayal of humanity as changing, of this species having some "ultimate destiny" that is different from that of our fathers, who ate their pound of dirt, loved, begat, died, and were mourned. It is done well or poorly; its blessed absence from Halo is just one more reason to like that setting; but it is a wholly invalid idea.

Let us first discuss its origin. There are two, one major and one minor—but the minor is the one that justifies its usage, while the major would, on its own, get a writer who employed it laughed out of the room.

The minor origin of the concept, and its sole justification for inclusion in science fiction, is the popular-science conception of science as the improver of human life. It heavily depends, of course, on the illiterate public's inability to distinguish science from technology, and has more than a shade of defending one's grant-money. It is the polar opposite of the "science is bad/hubristic/tampering in God's domain" idea, and no more intellectually valid; if mere knowledge changed people's moral character I'd be much less of an asshole (I am a walking refutation of Platonist ethics, it's a lot less awesome than it sounds).

The major origin, inextricably linked to pretty much all thought in much of the post-Renaissance West, is Gnosticism. Why Gnosticism is so popular in this culture is complicated; it would involve discussing the history of about twelve different esotericist movements throughout Europe. Suffice it to say that Gnosticism has a perennial appeal, especially to two classes of people: intellectuals and adolescents. It appeals to intellectuals in positing salvation solely as knowledge; no good works or efficacious dharma required, as long as you're smart enoughnote. It appeals to adolescents because he who has gnosis is special. And better than other people, in a way that the saint or bodhisattva isn't.

Hence its appeal to science fiction writers and fans. While, if Mass Effect is any indication, being even slightly interested in science is now optional for science fiction fandom, most such fans are still "nerds"; and, of course, even if the average fan is now too old to count as an adolescent, our culture has corrected for the demographic shift by making perpetual adolescence the hallmark of sincerity and "authenticity". A worldview where the people who know the most are the Spiritual Elect has an obvious appeal to "nerds", and unlike Confucianism or Rabbinical Judaism, where you have to learn things that other people can dispute, Gnosticism is actually built on the special, subjective "insights" that are the stock in trade of the adolescent (literal or figurative) with intellectual pretensions.

Incidentally, some science fiction writers are more open about it than others. One of them took Gnosticism further than any other, and, just as various Hermetic movements in the Renaissance enjoyed the patronage of aristocrats, his Gnostic "gospel" is very popular with celebrities. Oh yes, I said it: the only difference between Transhumanism and Scientology is that Scientologists know they're a religion (although they were just a psych-therapy, until L. Ron discovered that religions don't have an APA, and are also tax-exempt; don't be surprised if the Extropy Institute becomes a "church" after a run-in with the IRS).

Now, aside from Gnosticism being the Scientology of its day (or actually, Scientology is the Gnosticism of ours), there's a bigger problem. Namely, it's stupid. Just as much as the interspecies sex in Mass Effect, or for that matter the utterly irrational behavior in any fiction that only occurs in order to advance the plot, it is an abuse of artistic license. No such transformation is coming.

See, Transhumanists like to talk about "the end of evolution", and they claim it'll involve the elimination of the distinction between biology and technology. What's interesting is how incredibly close they are...and yet how completely far off. Because, for all intents and purposes, human evolution has already ended, and it happened some time before the Neolithic Revolution (invention of agriculture). Human evolution ended pretty much in the Upper Paleolithic.

Why? Because, after that point, our main means of adaptation was not our bodies. Instead of the very slow method of the best-adapted individuals passing on their genes, those first anatomically modern humans hit on the method we've been using ever since: screw adapting our bodies, just adapt our technology. That's right, kiddies, we've been living in the Kurzweil Singularity since 44 millennia before our oldest civilizations. We are those alien species who interact with their environment almost exclusively by means of high-tech environment suits—the suits are just kinda minimalistic (they're mostly just insulation), but that's because we still mainly live in our native environment.

There's another problem with this whole "ultimate human destiny" idea, in science fiction. Actually, there are several (I wanna say three, let's see how it goes).

First is, all such utopian schemes, no matter how well handled (like the Teela gene in Niven), are fundamentally wish-fulfillment, in a way that the burliest, laid-gettingest action hero isn't. Every post-scarcity, abolished-involuntary-death, mind-uploading, or (sneer with me) evolving-into-pure-energy future posited by science fiction writers is simply whining. Now, there's nothing wrong with complaining about how hard human life is—that complaint, and explaining its causes, is at the back of our two greatest religions. But to then come up with these implausible little utopias, where everyone suddenly can get everything they want, is puerile. It's essentially like how very young children assume that you deny them the things they want because you're mean, not because giving it to them is some value of "impossible"—it is predicated on a radical ignorance of how the real world actually functions.

Second is, you can either posture as a rationalist, as most science fiction writers do, or you can wax dewy-eyed about the New Jerusalem. Not both. Hell, actual religions don't pretend we'll have the happiness of heaven until we actually go to heaven. Apparently Arthur Clarke is significantly less emotionally mature than the average megachurch congregant—he wants his heaven here in the world of the living, thank you, and all the laws of physics and biology be damned. But no, man, keep talking about "faith that cannot survive collision with the truth"; I think it's cute.

Third is, not only is it puerile wish fulfillment, it's puerile in another way. Namely, the way that very young children say things like "I wish every day was Christmas", without considering the side-effects. I assure you, Iain M. Banks would hate living in The Culture. He'd kill himself the fourth week. And the Teela gene is simply impossible; even if psionic luck existed, what happens when two people who have it try to kill each other?

Seriously, what is you people's problem with reality? Science fiction is "about the possible", remember? You'd never stand for that kind of utopian BS in a fantasy story. Hell, ghosts and psychic powers are possible, but more of you bitch about their inclusion in SF than about post-scarcity economies—never mind that we don't know what happens when you die, or how the mind works, but we damn well do know there's a little thing called thermodynamics, and it doesn't give a shit about the blood of the workers.

I actually have no problem with religious or paranormal content in science fiction, but I really, genuinely do have a problem with people too stupid or self-deluded not to know when they're talking about a fucking miracle.


An Odd Story

Numbering that last post in hexadecimal reminded me of something. I got my little sister angry at me, a few months ago, because she asked, "Why does hexadecimal use letters as well as numbers?"

And I said, "Because it's hexadecimal?"

We repeated that exact exchange twice more, before I realized she didn't realize hexadecimal means "(based on) 16", and it needs more digits because its base is a number higher than ten (I don't know what she thought it was, just some alternate numerical notation, I suppose). To me, it seemed absolutely obvious—if someone said "Why do windshield wipers wipe your windshield?", "Because they're windshield wipers" is an entirely valid response.

But most people don't break words from other languages up into their component parts like that—I do it all the time, nearly as automatically as one notices if a word is plural or past tense, and so on. It's almost like a mental disorder, although it's probably why I'm so good with languages.

I wonder if I've ever done that to anyone else, though...

Da Rules

Short rules for art, mainly fiction, and that, mainly of the "speculative" variety.
  1. If a work is alleged to be science fiction, then unless explicitly stated otherwise, the laws of physics as currently understood are canon, so it doesn't matter how "internally consistent" a violation is.

  2. Secularism, as a theme in fiction, is cliché. And if you've never known anyone who can tell you the precise landmark where his gods live[1][2], you don't get to write about "nature" religions, either.

  3. Shonen Jump discovered the three themes necessary for adventure-romance: Hard Work, Friends, and Dreams. Hard work and friends without dreams is not an adventure; friends and dreams without hard work is having the world handed to you on a silver platter; and hard work and dreams without friends is Ayn Rand.

  4. Rock is an excellent vehicle for love songs and drinking songs (which is what "rock anthems" actually are), but it is a lousy vehicle for hymns, whether political or religious. Thus, there is essentially no Christian rock or political rock that is worth a damn. And punk is just political rock that is deliberately performed badly.

  5. Just because you think a theme is true and/or important, doesn't mean that a work you like is about that theme. A work where humans are mainly disliked because they got too awesome too fast, and they end up saving every other sapient being in the galaxy, is not about how humans are nothing special.

  6. There is absolutely no reason that a pattern-welded sword can be enchanted but a gun or computer can't. Put another way, Abe no Seimei's Law: Magic is a technology.

  7. Fantasy stories where the "monsters" are oppressed have, by now, become so cliche that having them be straightforwardly evil is downright edgy.

  8. If "funny little words dragged from the tomb" do some service a normal word doesn't, use it. If it does the same job as a less obscure word, use the less obscure word. "Ichor" (used to mean the stuff that supernaturals bleed) is a valid word choice; "squamous" is not (it just means 'scaly', apart from a technical medical usage).

  9. Up till the end of the 20th century, research was difficult and time-consuming. But now, we have Wikipedia. There is no excuse.
  1. Odds are very good, you could get anything you wanted out of a time-travel story without having time-travel. Terra Nova could've been a space-colony, Terminator could be set a little further in the future, with Skynet wanting to kill Sarah Connor because it's calculated the probability of her son being the rebel leader (an SF version of the "prophesied nemesis"/"Nice Job Breaking It, Herod" plot). Unless time travel is the whole point, like in Back to the Future or Bill and Ted, it is a waste.

  2. The F-word dates to Old English ("fuccan"—yes, now you can drop feoh-bombs), as do the S- and B-words and the cruder words for the naughty bits. The religion most of our cussing comes from isn't going anywhere, either. Inventing a future-profanity is simply reinventing the wheel—and generally going with an octagon instead of a circle.

  3. Not only a reference to the greatest manga ever written but an absolute rule for speculative fiction, "Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To gain anything, something of equal value must be lost." Post-scarcity economies and no-cost magical systems are, thus, ruled out of bounds.

  4. Most of the really old "cliches" are actually facts about the world, expressed symbolically. E.g., snakes are nearly always evil because the damn things are poisonous. Darkness is considered bad because we're a visually-oriented species, and need light to live—"the silence" might be a symbol of evil for a nocturnal one. If you think you're better than those ideas, you're actually just admitting that you are shallow, ignorant, and probably a racist (the Navajo consider all poisonous animals to be evil, and cannot even be in the same room as a snake).

  5. "Deconstructions" of elves are, by now, far more common than elves "played straight". This is a variation on 7, above—you're the opposite of as original as you congratulate yourself on being.

  6. Swords are not heavy. An arming sword weighs 3 pounds, a short sword half that, a longsword maybe twice that. Similarly, well-made armor is extremely easy to move around in (actually the worst, comfort-wise, is chainmail, since it all has to hang off your shoulders).
  1. There is never a reason to have a person from this world go to a fantasy world—if you can't make a person native to that world relatable, you are not creative enough to be a writer in the first place.
What, like an ordered list can't be numbered in hexadecimal?


Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?

Random thoughts. Incidentally, Brain misuses the word—"ponder" is not used in the sense that "think" would be in the phrase "thinking what I'm thinking". It should've been "Do you opine as I do?"—which sounds so pedantic as to suggest mental illness.
  • There is a controversy in my state about teaching that Native Americans came over the Bering land-bridge, when their own legends say they came up into this world from another. Now, I am prepared to believe a great deal of their mythology—since people have been known to die after transgressing against their gods—but the Emergence story must be interpreted at least partly metaphorically. It is essentially the Suns of Aztec mythology, denoting a spiritual change rather than a physical one.

    But hey, if we're going to teach their tribal mythologies, something must be done about the fact those myths mention white people. But we do not acknowledge having come from an emergence-hole. If we're going to acknowledge your emergence, gentlemen, then you must acknowledge Lech, Czech, and Rus, the Tuatha Da Danaan, the Fifty Black Ships, and Aeneas carrying his father and his household gods from the sack of Troy. Not to mention that Arthur ruled by the election of the fairies and Charlemagne ruled for 200 years.

  • They also get white peoples' names wrong, generally lumping us all together as if Zunis and Navajos were the same thing. The three big tribes of white people are the Brave People, the Kinsman People, and the Glorious People (Celts, Germans/Teutons, and Slavs). Celts are further divided into the White Hill People, the Abundant Country People, the Many Hyraxes People, and the Strong People (the Albionese or Welsh, the Irish and Highland Scots, the Spanish, and Gauls). Germans are the Narrow Water People, Machete People, Javelin People, West Harmonious People, East Harmonious People, and the Flowing Water People, some of whom just call themselves Our Own People (the Angles, Saxons, Franks, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and Danes, of whom the Swedes were a branch). Interestingly, "Goth" ("harmonious") has the same meaning as "Hopi", and the Navajo name for themselves, "Diné", means "the people" much as "Swede" does. The Slavs divide into the Rower People, the People of Forefather Lech, the People of Forefather Czech, and the Southern Glorious People (Ruthenians, including Russia, Ukraine, and Belorus; Poles, Sorbs, and Obodrites, probably also Slovaks; Czechs, and possibly Slovaks; and South Slavs, including Slovenes and the Yugslavian peoples).

    Then there are the Young Cattle People, and the people of many names, but who currently call themselves what might mean the Torch People (the Italians, and the Greeks or Hellenes), both of whom owe most of their culture to one of the Italian city-states, whose name means either Flowing River or Teat Hills. Until the 11th century, after all, the Byzantines called themselves Rhomaioi ("Greek", prior to that, meant "pagan").

  • My felinoids' phratry system involves a system whereby, if the phratry's lead clan has no male heirs, then female heirs pass on membership in that clan as well as in their husband's (they're ordinarily patrilineal and patrilocal). If the leading clan has no heirs of either sex, then the clan of the highest-ranked member of the phratry becomes the new lead clan.

    Similar systems were used in medieval Ireland and some Scandinavian countries, and are still used by some peoples in modern Iraq (presumably being of Persian origin). Only, lead-clan status, in the felinoids' system, is bestowed automatically based on military rank, while in most of those systems, it's electoral (eligibility to be elected is determined by heredity). We have an ideological bias in favor of electoral systems, but there's a reason most people stopped using electoral systems, in rank-inheritance—it makes every succession a disputed succession.

  • You know self-righteous idiots who say "Duhhh, Jesus wuzn't white"? Yes, actually, yes he was. Newsflash, Jews are white people—just ask Jeremiah Wright or Derrick Bell.

    Also, even Middle Eastern Jews (who you didn't know were called Mizrahim) are not very dark. You do know Jews are genetically almost identical to the Lebanese and Syrians, right? Well tell me: is Tony Shalhoub not white?

  • Remember how I was saying mimimum crew for a spaceship is 3? Well, Winchell Chung's Atomic Rockets site has the final word on the matter. A highly relevant quotation:
    ...accurate measurement takes into account "core crew", the minimum number of watch-standers to steer and fight the vessel. Core crew is about 80, and represents the minimum number of crew for a long-duration warship. ... Automation will eventually halve these figures.
    So, 40 people, for a warship—including missile techs and artillery officers. Suddenly the Nostromo's 7-man crew doesn't look so unrealistic, does it?

  • He also discusses a thing called the Mission Control Model, proposed by the dude who does Rocket Punk Manifesto and Raymond McVay of Blue Max Studios (I think they make RPGs, under an incredibly cool name). As Mr. Chung puts it:
    The idea is that the ship is not run by crew members doing things manually. The ship is run by system managers who oversee and command the computers who directly run the ship. This is not quite as nostalgic as the "bomber crew" model of spacecraft crews, but it is far better than a ship with a single button on the control panel labeled "Do Mission".
    I strongly urge y'all to read that whole section, it is an incredibly helpful guide to positions on a ship's crew.

    The next section, "Control on a Budget", reveals that I may have been slightly too optimistic—the implied minimum crew is 5 people. Namely, Commander, Guidance, Engineer, Payload, and Life-Support. But as it says, Commander and Life-Support don't sit watches, and conceivably Guidance or Engineer could be in command, and Engineer or Payload could be in charge of Life-Support. That combination is, I think, the one used by the parasite battle-spacecraft ("fighters", only more realistic) in my setting; I'd already set them as 3-man ships.

  • If you think about it, Trans-Humans are basically ultra-Baby Boomers. No need to worry about economic scarcity, never dying, absolute free reign for self-indulgence... Just add in "never have to contemplate the achievements of our parents' generation" and "the few children we choose to have (purely as a self-aggrandizement) will never question any of our values or tastes", and it ticks every single box in the average Boomer's "my idea of a perfect world" list.

    Sorry, but that view of the world ceased being tenable in, oh, 1981. And anyone not a Boomer who falls for it ought to get one of those "perpetuating the vicious cycle/outmoded worldview" lectures, ordinarily reserved for violent hillbillies and ancient bloodfeuds.

  • Games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect need a descriptive term (other than "Bioware sucks", I mean). Specifically, attention must be called to the fact their only appeal is in making their players feel "grownup"—which, again, is only something the immature give a damn about.

    So I have dubbed them the Huggies Pull-ups school.

  • Late addendum: I just realized something. So read the laughable farce that is io9's article "Why Mass Effect is the Most Important Science Fiction Universe of Our Generation". Now, aside from all the other problems with that—like how it is neither science fiction, nor important, except in the sense the Black Plague was important—they say that the series' message is that humans are irrelevant. They actually compare it with Lovecraft, with a straight face.

    Only, bullshit. I don't know what game that slack-jawed illiterate was playing, but in Mass Effect, all the aliens are plainly wrong for looking down on humanity. Shit, not only are they mainly frightened by how much faster than them humans advance, a human being saves them all. Rather than being about how some tiny little island doesn't have the right to dictate to the rest of the world, it's actually about how a tiny little island is better at everything than anyone, and is perfect and special and the natural locus of all greatness. It's basically a British Imperialist parable that even Cecil Rhodes would find over the top.

    Seriously, this article was not written after the first game, it was written this year. But if "Mass Effect never lets you forget that we might not add one jot of meaning or benefit to intelligent life beyond our solar system", then why is the whole game about how human beings are the only thing between all intelligent life and total annihilation?


A Pun

Just thought I'd put this here. I came up with it the other day.
What's it like, to be infertile?

You have no conception.
I kill me ("please do", you're doubtless thinking).

That's all.

Sigh. Longer, Deeper Sigh.

Tycho quote, reality check post.
  • To Luke McKinney, and any other Irish anti-clericals who take the position Patrick was the first act of English imperialism against Ireland: Patrick was a Roman Briton. That is, he was Welsh. You go tell the Welsh they're the same people as the English, I want to watch.

    Also, congratulations—you've given Cromwell what he wanted. What the English couldn't get from your ancestors by terror-rape, torture, and genocide, you gave them for fear intellectuals might think you were still "peasants", and in reaction against corrupt churchmen who sold out to the same people you have. You mewling soup-takers, how can you stand the sight of your own country, when everything from the Parnell Monument to the Hill of Tara rebukes your utter headless cowardice?

  • So the players have started a petition to get Bioware to release DLC that gives Mass Effect 3 a less tragic ending. Only, come on. You didn't see this coming? Remember how this series made you feel like big boys because it had political intrigue and gratuitous sex and violence? Well then don't be surprised that the ending was one that'll make you feel even more grownup. "Anyone can die" is a nigh-inevitable hallmark of this kind of puerile "edginess", in any work of fiction; the only surprise is that you were surprised.

    As for me, well, I stand with C. S. Lewis: "When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."

  • Ben Kuchera, over at Penny Arcade Report, had two remarks on the ending, both of which bear comment. One is, "The lesson of Mass Effect is much more brutal, and honest. Heroes die." To which I respond, "What if I am not a Puritan—insisting that all my art and entertainments must be 'moral'—and don't want a 'lesson'?"

    And the other is, "What makes this conversation so thrilling is that there is finally a science fiction setting in video games that features believable characters." To which the only reply is, "Mass Effect is not science fiction, it is unreflectively pulp space-opera—that is, it is space opera whose writers are so uneducated as to think they are writing science fiction. Also, its characters are less believable than those of a galge, and while we're at it, what is unbelievable about the characters of Halo? Shepard does ridiculously bigger things than the Chief, and he's not a super-soldier in a half-ton of powered armor."

    Mass Effect has, by all accounts, an impressive system for incorporating player choices into the story and world. Too bad that story and world are such utter puerile shit.

  • I think hard scifi people, though, bear some of the blame for most "science fiction" in popular culture being so light on that first word. People got so tired of being ragged on for every little artistic license they took with physics that they finally threw up their hands and said "screw it, we're just doing whatever looks cool".

    It's the same as how Libertarian governments are just as corrupt as any others, and if you think different, you don't live in Arizona. In my state, we have very few actual Republicans; most of our GOP is actually Libertarians who prefer being allowed to vote in primaries. Cronyism, and ideological sabotage, are nearly as big a problem in this state as in California. Why, when Libertarianism is predicated on hatred for those things? Because it assumes those are the natural state of government. If you assume a thing cannot be done well, why bother not doing it badly?

    The same principle is also why many pacifist ideologies commit atrocities in wars. They just think that's how war is.

  • I find all those jokes about Mexican food giving people diarrhea fascinating—and by fascinating, I mean "they make me want to pull your windpipe out through your nose."

    Seriously, which is it? Are you so racist you think Mexican food will be made with the sometimes-unsafe water of its second-world country of origin (never mind that cooking with it kills pathogens in water)? Or is it just that your wussy gringo digestive tract can't handle beans?

  • Have I mentioned that I think atheists should be required to wear muttonchop side-whiskers, so we can tell what century they think they live in? Seriously, that "religion is so violent" thing was tenable in the 18th and 19th century, but in the 20th, about four atheist regimes killed an eighth of a billion people in 72 years. And that's not counting the dead from all the wars they caused, nor all the people China and Cuba have killed since 1989. Add those in, and it's roughly a fifth of a billion. In less than a century. Now, admittedly, the world's population has grown, but when governments that follow your ideas proceed to kill several times more people than your opponents did in over 83 times as long, you get to shut your self-righteous piehole.

  • It's also funny how Europeans think America having flags all over is odd. Only, actually, they're the ones who are odd. Everyone in Asia, Latin America, and Africa puts their flag the same places we do—hell, Koreans say their flag-pledge before taekwondo classes.

    But I totally get it. If I was Dutch or English or German or Spanish or Italian, I'd be reticent about displaying my national symbols, too.

  • An oft-overlooked reason China didn't develop science is, Taoism. In Taoist thought, see, an experiment, having been set up by humans, is not an accurate representation of the principle it's designed to test. To a Taoist, experiments are basically a superstition, like "Voodoo" dolls.

    Interestingly, a mystical tradition that does acknowledge experiments, because of the principle "as above, so below" or "microcosm recapitulates macrocosm", was significant in the history of medicine. I refer, of course, to Hermetic alchemy, one of whose later proponents, Philippus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, or Paracelsus, is considered the father of modern pharmacology. As well as, supposedly, the only alchemist to successfully create a homunculus—probably why Arakawa-sensei named Ed and Al's dad after him.

  • The next person who spouts that "you're more likely to harm a loved one with a gun than an intruder" statistic should be forced to eat one—a gun or a loved one, you can try it either way. Sorry, idiots, but that statistic arises from flawed methodology—the surveyors only counted injuries to intruders, ignoring any and all incidents where guns scared them off without shots being fired.

    Actually—again—guns, merely being brandished, prevent upwards of two million crimes per year. Nobody has yet managed any such challenge to that statistic's methodology, and not for lack of trying.

  • Similarly, it's a common belief that we shouldn't fight terrorists, we should laugh at them. Only, no, mass murderers are something you should take quite seriously. Not to invoke Godwin's Law or anything, but we all also laughed at Hitler's little toothbrush mustache, and assumed the Nazis were just blustering oafs, too.

    It doesn't really matter how buffoonish someone is, if they have bombs. Also, the Middle East is markedly short on hipster irony; when someone there says he intends to kill innocent people, he's not generally saying it for laughs.

  • To continue in the same vein, people like to say "there's no war on terror, because you can't make war on a tactic". To which the appropriate response is, "You are a slackjawed, wrestling-helmeted mental defective."

    Or more specifically, "Well, huh, we seem to be able to combat 'organized crime', and that's just a business model. Never mind that Islamic terrorist groups are far more unified in purpose, goals, and methods, albeit decentralized, than the Cosa Nostra, Ndraghesti, Camorra, various Eastern European gangs, Triads, yakuza, and kkangpae who we lump together under 'organized crime'."

  • Here is an economic argument I wish someone else had the stones to make: contraception is disempowering to women. I know, counter-intuitive, but that's why games theory is good, it teaches you to analyze social interaction economically. Namely, contraception makes more women likely to have sex, by removing the inconvenience of children. Now quick, kiddies, what happens when you increase supply while demand remains constant? Oh, right, the price drops. Hence why men in our society are such bounder-cad prick-a-dicks. They don't have to do as much—pay as high a price—to get sex.

    Before you bitch at me, sorry, but, due to Bateman's Principle, males are, in essentially all species (even some flies), the ones who do the courting. All contraception does is lower the threshold for how cool your courtship display/nuptial gifts have to be, which decreases women's control over couplings. I'm sure you'd still love to insist that contraception is empowering to women, but the science of economics says otherwise.

    Actually come to think of it, I think a writer in First Things once made the same argument, but it needs to be more widely publicized.

  • Finally, you'll occasionally come across people who object to people from the USA calling ourselves Americans. Only, nobody in Mexico or Canada cares. Also, America is the country, North America is the continent.

    Hell, people from Mexico actually call the USA "los Estados Unidos", even though Mexico itself is one, too.

    Also, dude, seriously? Go pick on the Afrikaners.


The Seeds of Time

Macbeth quote, mama jamma. Thoughts upon future history, and predictions, and science fiction.
  • Natural disasters. This Cracked list of 5 Major Cities That Are Going to Be Destroyed is quite useful, though the dickweed who wrote it characterized the 12th century as the Dark Ages and said everyone was an idiot—I'd like to see you design Chiaravalle Abbey, smart guy, or mass-production water-powered fullering machines. Nevertheless.

    So in my setting, San Francisco no longer exists, Seattle is a shell of its former self (think Winterhold, in Skyrim), Venice is surrounded by a series of Dutch-style sea-walls and dikes and no longer has the canals, and Chittagong is the capital of Bangladesh. Taking the theme further, Miami and several parts of Texas and Louisiana have been hit by worse hurricanes than Katrina; Kathmandu's been hit by landslides, Manila by tsunamis, and both Jakarta and Mumbai have had disastrous flooding.
  • While lots of consumer electronics of the future might well look like iPods, future furniture and room decor certainly won't. Why? You'd go effing blind if everything around you was shiny white, that's why. Anyone who's had writer's block and stared at a big white page, whether it be paper or a word-processor, will tell you: you start feeling like your eyes are going to fall out.

    Also, while houses will probably have some kind of computerization, most things would probably not be hooked up to it. How come? As John Cheese (Cracked again) puts it, "Now let's flash forward to the first time your power gets knocked out. Or, the first time a virus—or, hell, a faulty software update—bricks the system. So, what, does your heat shut off?"

    Probably the main thing in your house that'd be computerized would be the meters, so your account can be billed for water, electricity, and so on, without a guy having to come by and read the thing once a month. Sure, you'd probably set the thermostat and water heater with a computer, too, but technically speaking you already do, it's just (probably) analog.
  • Though computers might well project keyboards, either onto a flat surface or into the air under (though not in front of) your raised hands, we're never gonna use the grab-and-drag things interface from Minority Report, at least not to the exclusion of ordinary old mouse and keyboard. Why?

    Two reasons. First, it's more tiring to conduct an orchestra than to sit and type. And second, as Tycho put it RE: theramins and the Kinect, "As a user interface, the void is profoundly unsettling."
  • Cigarettes. Yeah, I hate to break it to you hairdressing lil schoolmarms, but smoking looks cool. Just, objectively. I'm sorry you don't like it. But in the future, it will be electronic cigarettes, which are basically electric atomizers that steam a little vial of scented oil, with some nicotine in it. No, it's not good for you, but it's nowhere near as bad as actual cigarettes, and it still looks just about as cool.

    Making the "people will still smoke in the future" even more plausible, you know how everyone in Europe and America is doing all these fascistical smoking bans? Yeah, well, China—which we're all agreed is gonna own the future in a big way—has experienced its own shift in attitude RE: cigarettes. Namely, women have recently started smoking, which they didn't use to do there.
  • You will almost certainly not have the same degree of anonymity on the Internet that you have now. On the one hand, there's the precious civil liberties you mostly made up a couple decades ago, and on the other, there's the fact the main thing you use those rights for is harassing other people to the point of depression and suicide.

    South Korea and France both already have everyone going online under persistent identities. Now, your real-world identity is not, I don't think, public knowledge—someone can't immediately look up your home address just from your net-handle—but you can bet the cops will know if you pull something. Admittedly, they pretty much already do, but this greatly streamlines the process.
  • Somewhat relatedly, the amount of money that is physical currency will drop from 10%—which is where it is now—to 0%. All transactions will be computerized, and handheld computers will be the new wallets.

    In my setting, criminals set up dummy accounts, just as they also use false identities (which they do now), but you might instead have criminal transactions paid for in barter, or at least with some commodity of comparatively stable value.
    (Arguably, by the way, commodity money is actually a form of barter. It's really fun to point out to those Information Longs to Be Free types, who think the future will run on barter—because money is non-physical and thus, supposedly, can't be owned—that they have the same economic views as Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan.)
  • Clothes that change color or have glowing logos on them will be commonplace. Mainly as fashion statements—I had not previously encountered people in the future having slogan t-shirts, but I've got 'em in my book—but also, well, for utility. E.g., military uniforms can be changed to camouflage instantly. Only spec-ops soldiers have the ever-shifting, Predator-y type optical camo, though, because dude, logistics.
  • Many of humanity's genetic diseases have been eliminated. Many wealthy humans have designer babies, but it's frowned on—the way Hummers are (so...yeah). Gene-therapy enhancements are illegal, but are used by some of the super-rich and less scrupulous government agencies.

    The felinoids have essentially cured all their genetic diseases, but they don't bother with gene-therapy enhancements (you wouldn't either, if you could rip a man's head off by slapping him, and jump six meters straight up). Both species do use small amounts of gene therapy to make it easier to live on colony worlds, though, and they heavily modify things like plants and domestic animals for other planets.


Icebreaker Questions

I'm working on the story of the humans' first contact with the felinoids, at one of the felinoids' colonies; at one point, the humans send a series of questions to the aliens. Most of them are from their biologists, whose original purpose was to survey the system's planets to see if any could support a colony; one set was from their anthropologist (they only brought one, since they didn't expect to encounter intelligent life, but you'd still want someone along to handle it, if it came up).

But what questions does an anthropologist ask an alien civilization? They already know the aliens have two sexes, and what they look like, and that they're carnivores; the two species explained such basic things during the initial contact.

But, knowing one's speaking to a sexually-reproducing bipedal carnivore, there are still several questions. I thought it might be of help to other writers for me to put them up here, since it was hard for me to research the issue—I eventually had to look for "what questions do you ask for worldbuilding" to know where to start. Being able to answer these questions for a species will help with worldbuilding, even if you never have to portray first contact, of course.

  1. Subsistence
    • Foraging (hunter/gatherer)—not very likely for a spacefaring civilization, although my felinoids do have many professional hunters. Anyway, the main questions about foraging are "for what" (are they more hunters than gatherers, or vice-versa?) and "how territorial" (land-tenure predates agriculture by a significant margin)—although there might also be a question of if the tasks are divided, like how early humans delegated hunting to males and gathering to females.

    • Horticulture—may not occur on a large scale for a carnivorous species, but "on what scale" is one of the questions. Others include "how do they irrigate" and "what's their concept of land-tenure".

    • Animal Husbandry—do they raise animals for meat, milk (or equivalent), or work? Do they keep pets? How extensively have they modified their domestic animals? How much of a factor has mounted warfare been in their history? Are there any animals they don't domesticate, like how Muslims essentially forbid pig-farming?

  2. Economics
    • Gift—most Westerners don't seem to even know that this form of economy exists, even though it was a major element of feudalism and, before that, of the Germanic tribes' culture. Arguably, Roman patronage was also a form of gift economy. Polynesia and the Pacific Northwest still have a gift conception of economics. This would also involve questions about the aliens' concept of obligation, another thing most Westerners barely know exists.

      My felinoids conceptualize their government as a gift-economy, with power held in feudal gift from the people.

    • Redistributive—very highly-advanced and very primitive societies both often have this system, where everyone pools their resources and then they're doled back out. East Asia, apart from Japan, had this system, with the Emperor or King owning everything; arguably so did later Rome and Byzantium. Many subsistence-living hunter-gatherers, in the New World and Africa, use a system like this, to ensure maximum survivability for all their members. Also, communism—"from each according to his ability, to each according to his need". Questions regarding this system include "who does the redistributing" and "are there any forms of property that aren't returned to the common pool". Many subsistence tribes that use this system often have each warrior "privately" own his weapons, possibly to have a "market" style incentive to prowess in battle.

    • Market—odds are good, you're standing in one of these. However, there are several questions about such economies, like "is ownership exclusively individual, or by kin groups, or can unrelated individuals incorporate to own property jointly"—and, since there's likely to be a mix, "what sort of mix". Another important question is "are there any regulations on markets aside from competition and supply-and-demand?"

    More general questions about economics have to do with whether they regard manufacturing and service as economically equivalent, and what their concepts of intellectual property are. Speaking of, apparently service economies are older than commodity ones—monkeys "pay" each other for sex and food with grooming.

  3. Kinship
    • Family structure—do they use nuclear families, or polygamy, or serial monogamy, or promiscuity? Humans are (with a few exceptions) mostly nuclear families, with a few polygamists; most cultures aren't tolerant enough of divorce for their arrangements to qualify as serial monogamy, and polyandry is highly unusual (it's essentially unknown outside India and Tibet).

    • Lineality—is descent, and family-membership, traced through the mother, or father, or both? Also, is raising children primarily the responsibility of both parents, or some larger kin-group? E.g., is the main male presence in the children's life their father, or their mother's brothers?

    • Locality—assuming the family structure is not completely promiscuous, which spouse joins the other's household? Or do they choose one or the other, or start a third completely independent one? There's actually a lot of gradation in here.

  4. Control Structure
    • Stratification—basically, any large population is going to be stratified; egalitarianism only works with a small population. The question is actually, what's the basis of the strata, e.g. are the classes divided purely on the basis of wealth, or by their religious or military role, or something else? Another question is how strict the divisions are; medieval Europe had the same basic classes as India, but intermarriage between the classes wasn't remotely as difficult.

    • Locus of Power—basically, is the model of government used polity, aristocracy, or monarchy? Most people would actually be wrong, if they answered this question; Americans tend to think our country is a democracy (or rather, polity) or republic (which, again, is Latin for aristocracy), but it's actually a mix of both with monarchy, in the form of our strong executive. Most people from Britain would brag that they're a republic or a polity (which, of course, they'd call democracy), or (illiterately) lament that they're a monarchy, but actually Britain, like most of Europe, is an oligarchy, and no, not because of the House of Lords—technocracy is just as much oligarchy as plutocracy is, and European countries are dominated by "experts", most of whom have no check on their power to speak of.

    • Model of Power—not sure that's the best way to put it, but the question means, "is power personal or impersonal". Does office rule, or personage? Obviously there's gradation here; the office of president or judge or senator is obviously aided by a charismatic personality occupying it.

Note, too, that aliens would likely be answering these questions for their dominant culture, since pace Star Trek they wouldn't be homogenous. E.g., humans would be answering the last question for the Western-style "republics" that dominate most of the world, but nevertheless Saudi Arabia exists. Huh, I wonder, speaking of—does the Franco-American presidential or semi-presidential system, common in most Romance-language speaking countries, predominate over the Anglo-German parliamentary one? Because a presidential system may be said to be semi-monarchical, while a parliamentary one is aristocratic/oligarchy.


Space Core

What’s your favorite thing about space? Mine is space.

What's really weird, is that the Space Core is voiced by Nolan North, who also voices Romeo in ODST. Which is odd, as he's a white dude from New Haven, Connecticut, and Romeo sounds like, well, someone whose real name is Kojo Agu, born in a West African colony in orbit of 23 Librae (assuming it speaks American English).
  • The gent who runs Swords and Space, link over there on the right, was saying (when I was talking about how a realistic spaceship would tend to be long and thin, to maximize distance from the engine without increasing the mass), that you'd probably only need that for engines that are radioactive. But, unfortunately, virtually all decent spaceship engines are highly radioactive—if some nuclear reaction isn't taking place, the rocket takes days just to reach the moon. Yes, the moon is further away than any point on Earth—9.6 circumnavigations of the globe, to be precise—but that's a hop-skip-and-a-jump by space standards.

    There is one decent exception, though it has its own little oddities. Namely, the Orion rocket—a nuclear bomb, any kind, igniting plasma and pushing against a huge armor plate on the back of the ship—and its cousin, inertial-confinement fusion. Those have a respectable acceleration, maxing out at a sweet 1 meganewton per ton of engine, and exhaust velocities that can give you a healthy cruising speed (c. 5-10% lightspeed), without needing your ship to have the same gas-to-solid ratio as a party balloon. Most of their radiation shielding (called a "shadow shield" in the business, since "shadow" is what we call it when radiation gets blocked) is provided by the rocket-nozzle itself. Since, y' know, it's basically a huge metal wall (or a magnetic force-field, in many ICF designs).
  • Interestingly, possibly because it predates the Internet zealotry that will hasten to scrub the world of any challenge to some sacred cow, Alien's scientific flaws are regularly pointed out. But one common complaint is bogus—and this is me talking, I don't even like the thing.

    Namely, many people seem to think it's silly the Nostromo only has 7 crewmen. But why? Extra crew is extra mass, both the guy and the stuff to keep him alive, and that is very bad on a spaceship, especially a mining ship, most of whose pushing-power is already spoken for (for the ore). Currently, we're questioning whether you'd even man mining ships at all, and the answer we're coming up with is mostly "no". Even if you do, the consensus is that minimum crew for a spaceship is 3 people, and all three of them would only be on duty at the same time during rocket burns—sometimes only on the iffy things, like docking or landing (if it were a shuttle; I haven't seen the very beginning of Alien in a long while, but I seem to recall the Nostromo uses a lander, so, hey, points for that).
  • One real flaw in Alien that seems to be oft-overlooked, is, no spaceship is going to look like that on the inside. Know how big you can be and still crawl around a spaceship terrorizing the inhabitants? We made that movie already, it was called Snakes on a Plane—spaceships are basically airplane cabins on top of nuclear power-plants.

    The inanity of the pipes and chains inside the Nostromo is best summed up by Tom Servo, during Space Mutiny: "Back to the rusting septic system of this FUTURISTIC SPACESHIP!"
  • Not directly related to space, but related to SETI and xenobiology, Alien(s) and Avatar both raise an interesting issue: why do people think their work is done when they've got halfway-decent spaceships? The ships in Avatar, all forty-seven seconds of them, are rightly praised by hard-SF killjoys like myself...but nobody who didn't sleep through high school Bio praises Pandora.

    The Na'vi not matching their ecosystem is the big one. Aside from how everything else on their world is a hexapod, with a different mouth structure, they are just too damn human-looking in general; while I'll be the first to defend roughly man-shaped aliens' plausibility (not just because I use them myself, either), they would absolutely not have the same social signaling-cues. Cameron's much lauded facial-expression mo-cap technology is a detriment to his film; aliens should not emote the same way humans do. Sure, Zoe Saldana tried to shore up the difference by emoting Neytiri like a brain-damaged drug-addict (zing!), but nevertheless.

    Another issue is, nothing like Eywa could exist. Sorry, Greenshirts, but science puts paid to the Gaia Hypothesis. That planetary superconsciousness would never evolve, because any lifeform that was immune to it would have a leg up on other species. Sort of like how any political-economy that requires perfect selflessness is doomed to failure, because someone will shirk his duties for personal gain? Yes, just like that, appropriately enough.
  • To defend the wrongly accused, again, though, many people think it's stupid that there are explosions on Pandora, when it doesn't have an oxygen atmosphere. Only, you'll get a flame-looking plasma if you set off a hot enough reaction in any atmosphere, even if it's not "fire" strictly defined—you'll basically get what looks like a "fireball" in vacuum, actually. Besides, most chemical explosives (other than FAE ones) include an oxidizer, since in many circumstances (both naval and high-altitude) there may not be sufficient air for the explosives to work quite right.

    Besides, is there no oxygen in the atmosphere? Or is there something else, that happens to be toxic? Or something inert, that'll simply suffocate you? There's O2 bubbles in seawater, you know, but there's also freaking water; that's why fish, who breathe oxygen just like we do, need special equipment (gills) to get it.
  • One realistic thing about the spaceships in Halo, that partly redeems their otherwise straight-Hollywood design, is that they have armor plates at a distance from the hulls, since vacuum doesn't transfer force and the initial impact is likely to rob a lot of a projectile's momentum. It's a real part of spacecraft design, although we currently only use it for protecting space stations from meteors; it's called a Whipple shield or standoff shield.

    There are several variants, like multi-shock shielding, with multiple layers of plating, with vacuum in between them, or stuffed versions, with a shock-absorbing stuffing (often Kevlar) sandwiched between the rigid plates. It works just as well on bullets as on meteors; one fast-moving object is pretty much the same as another.
  • Thought of oxygen and inert gases reminds me, people often take hard-SF sport-spoilage too far, saying, for instance, that aliens and humans couldn't live on each other's planets, since even if the aliens do breathe oxygen, it's probably at a different pressure and concentration.

    The minor premise—"even oxygen-breathers will encounter pressures and oxygen-concentrations widely different from their native one"—is true, but since humans recreationally visit oxygen bars and hyperbaric chambers, with oxygen mixes and pressures (respectively) far in excess of the norm, I think we can discount the implied major premise, namely "organisms have a narrow tolerance for atmospheric composition." Then again it probably varies by species, and by things like mass—a bird's much better at using oxygen than you are, but carbon dioxide poisoning will get to a canary long before it gets to you, mostly because of the size difference.

    Did you know miners used to call CO2 poisoning "blackdamp"? It totally sounds like one of those made-up diseases from Skyrim, like Rockjoint or Mindrot—something you might catch from a skeever bite.
  • Space, it seems, both is and is not cold. It is cold in terms of temperature, but not in terms of heat (I think I'm putting that right?). As Winchell Chung said, a spark from a campfire is far higher-temperature than the frying pan on the fire, but touching the frying pan is more likely to burn you—because it can transfer a lot more energy to you, and therefore is "hotter". Space is a vacuum, and, though it's 3 Kelvin (or in layman's terms "3° Celsius above 'as cold as anything gets, ever, the very temperature of nonbeing, the chill of the final circle of Dante's hell'"), it can't suck the heat out of an object at anything like a quick rate. Hence why a major design difficulty with spaceships is cooling them—you can only do it by radiative cooling, since there's nothing to convect or conduct the heat away.

    Indeed, since most of your space-travel or mine would be in the near vicinity of a star, a bigger problem would be heat, not cold—sunburns are really bad in space, that's why spacesuit visors are big gold mirrorshades and astronaut sunglasses have dead black lenses. And, well, go stand outside in the sun—notice how hot it feels? And that's inside an atmosphere (less of one, for me—my town is at 2100 m above sea level, one of the very few cities in the US where you can get altitude sickness within city limits).
That picture is some twisted modder's addition to Skyrim, a Space Core you can put in your inventory (why you would, I have no idea). But how messed up is it that I can tell the background is in front of Candlehearth Hall, the inn in Windhelm? I always ask the bard-lady there to sing the Dragonborn song (so I'm egotistical, sue me). Except sometimes I ask her to sing "The Age of Aggression", just to rub the Stormcloak capital's face in the fact the Empire put down their rebellion. The fact she's a Dark Elf singing it just makes it that much more awesome (Stormcloaks are a nativist ideology, and Dark Elves in Windhelm live in a ghetto called the Gray Quarter).

I think I've been playing that game too much.