Sierra and Two Foxtrots III

Fantasy and SF thoughts. Less than half an hour to get it in this month.
  • Breath of the Wild is less troublesome than I thought it was going to be, and it's not that hard to get to all of the plot. I don't even mind the item-durability all that much. I do like a Zelda game where I get to craft potions, though I wish that if they were going to give us the item-durability RPG mechanic we didn't actually want, they would also give us the weapon shop mechanic that normally supports it. At the very least let me sell weapons I don't need.

    This is my least favorite Zelda, though. Not the game, the person: she's just not very sympathetic. On the other hand I don't actually find her unforgivable, and she does eventually grow on you. It helps that her being a terrible Zelda is literally what caused every problem in the game's story.

    All-in-all though, I think this may actually rank behind Skyward Sword for me. It just actually has very little you can do: you have only six items and a camera—and you get them all pretty much at the very beginning of the game; you can fight; you can cook; and that's it. Knowing "that's something I'll be able to reach with an item that I get later" gives you something to look forward to, "curates" the experience as 'twere, and that is actually something that improves the game.

    Props for a few (implied) mentions of Fi, though—the most underrated of all secondary Zelda girls. (Midna is better but everybody loves Midna.)
  • You know what is the absolute most common "I think everyone in the world is WEIRD" giveaway in modern fantasy? Having characters or cultures choose names because they like the way they sound—or worse, because the syllables have "spiritual meaning" to an individual. Thing is, that's not how most people are named. They're mostly named based on what their name means—literally, lexically, denotation-and-connotation, not "spiritually", means. Divine epithets, averting misfortune, profession names, toponyms, names chosen in hopes they will grant a blessing or inspire virtue in their bearers—those are what most of humanity considers when picking its names (some of those, admittedly, are more common as surnames than personal ones).

    Also? Speaking as someone with four teachers in his family...your idiot do-it-yourself spellings need to stop. You hurt everyone involved, from the child you saddled with your paean to your own narcissistic self-regard to the teacher who has to listen to your hellish drop whining that they didn't magically divine how, exactly, you were violating the principles of phonemic writing. Still worse (except I can tie it back to writing) is to name a character in fantasy a novelty spelling of a generic name (let's all pause to scoff at the evil king Jeff—clearly named after the Roman god of biscuits). Or worse than that (somewhere in genocide country, probably) is to name the character a novelty spelling of a trendy name at the time of the book's writing. That won't date it at all.
  • Though I can probably leave my service-rifle round alone, as I said at the end of that last one, my anti-materiel rifle's round is probably underpowered. Thought I'd base it on a couple of wildcat cartridges made by lunatics, that neck a 20 millimeter down to .50 BMG. I can't find the propellant load for the necked-down versions, but the typical 20 millimeter cartridge has 38 grams of propellant; that comes to 15.9664 grams of ONC, which has a volume of 7,750.68 cubic millimeters. Sticking a 60-millimeter-long 13 millemeter bullet into that gives us a "casing" 48 millimeters in length, sticking out from the bullet 3.7 millimeters on each side and coming up its sides 44.3 millimeters. So, "13×48 millimeter" is the anti-materiel round's designation.

    Incidentally, .30-06 is about as much more powerful than 6.8 Remington SPC as .357 Magnum is than 9 millimeter Parabellum—which was already how my pistols were set up. However, since a part of how a SLAP-type system works is a smaller round (increased sectional density means superior penetration), decided to make the pistol round as much smaller than its model as the 7 millimeter rifle-round is: this gives us an 8.16 millimeter bullet, comparable to the bullets used in the Roth-Steyr pistol adopted by the Austro-Hungarian cavalry in 1907 (the first auto-loading pistol adopted by any national military), and the 8×22 millimeter Nambu pistol used in Imperial Japan.

    The "hottest" load I can find for .357 Magnum (what you'd want for an AP round) is 1.5552 grams; with ONC that comes to 653.4454 milligrams. That has a volume of 317.2065 cubic millimeters. Assuming the dimensions of 8×22 Nambu (case, or rather rim, diameter 10.5 millimeters, bullet diameter 8.16), but the bullet-length of the 7.92 Kurz (which actually has an 8.22 millimeter bullet—Germans name their calibers slightly differently) of 25.8 millimeters, we get a "casing" 18.91 millimeters long, which comes up the side of the round 17.74 millimeters (total length is 26.97 millimeters). So, "8.16×18 millimeter".
  • I am unimpressed by the push for "representation" and "diversity" in fantasy, because the result always winds up looking like modern industrialized republics—and the acronym that describes those people is "WEIRD" for a reason, in case you think that doesn't make them basically worthless for "representation" or "diversity" purposes. I live in a place where not getting witched by a shape-shifter is not an unheard-of excuse for being late to work, your breathtakingly shallow (literally skin-deep) tokenism simply doesn't impress me.

    It's especially irksome because if you want to have African cultures in fantasy...you basically wind up with the Rohirrim, except infantry not horsemen. The only difference between most African chiefdoms and European feudalism is feudalism was less absolutist; you don't even have that difference if you're talking about New World ones like the Powhattan Confederacy. Meanwhile Mesoamerica is ancient Greco-Roman decadence, except the competitive spectator sport that winds up with people dead is a ball-game rather than direct gladiatorial combat. The same basically goes for most of the settled cultures of Africa, though the sport-resulting-in-death is less of an exact parallel—but in some African cultures (including possibly the one that built Great Zimbabwe?) some more ritualistic kinds of fighting can blur the lines between war-dance, martial sport, and death-game.

    Since any inclusion of something non-Western is going to bring accusations of "appropriation" (from people who don't object to many things legitimately described that way), let's just let writers stick to the forms native to their own culture. They're not going to be portraying anything actually different anyway.
  • Realized, I forgot to factor in that zled lasers are only 85% efficient (over 30% is unusually efficient for ours, though there are a few papers on achieving 71% or 57.7% efficiency, in a laboratory setting), when I was calculating how big their CNT springs need to be.

    At 9,991 joules per shot and 48 shots, the long laser requires 479,568 joules just to fire, but in practice, 564,197.647 joules. That's a spring with a mass of 1.881 kilograms and a volume of 165.94 cubic centimeters, which at the long laser's diameter of 8.58 means the spring is 2.87 centimeters long. The hand laser is 3,197 joules per shot and 16 shots, 51,152 joules for working with and 60,178.824 joules in total. That spring's mass is 200.596 grams, and its volume is 17.70 cubic centimeters, which given a hand laser has a diameter of 4.29 centimeters comes to a spring 1.225 centimeters thick.

    Of course, the springs have casings the same thickness as the walls of the laser (the springs themselves are the same diameter as the lens); since it's 5.85 millimeters, and on the top and bottom, that makes the long laser's spring cartridge a total of 4.04 centimeters long, and the hand laser's one 2.395 centimeters.
  • I do not, myself, care for the Dark Lord trope. Tolkien really did almost all that can be done with it. But because of him, people try to shoehorn it into all of fantasy, even things like Conan where it's ludicrously out of place. (Until people realize that Conan is like the Man with No Name from the Dollars trilogy, or Zatoichi—not someone who is directly involved in good vs. evil plots even when he's clearly the good guy—they will keep failing to make a proper Conan movie.)

    Personally, I prefer something like Slayers, or most RPG settings, where there are Dark Lords, plural, and they don't necessarily get along. (Even in Tolkien Ungoliant only sorta works for Melkor, and Shelob doesn't work for Sauron at all; it's less clear whether Durin's Bane does, or if he just got woken up by Sauron reaching out to every evil force in Middle-Earth.) It's just much more satisfying to have more than one possible villain.

    Actually the closest anyone ever came to involving Conan in a good vs. evil plot and having it work (other than Chronicles of Riddick, which doesn't count) was the animated show where the villains were the Serpent People of Valusia. It didn't actually work all that well even then; I'm just kindly disposed toward anything featuring the Serpent People. Ka nama kaa lajerama, mammajamma.
  • Why is it that, when people make heroines who fight alongside the dudes, they don't give them spears? Or even more, glaives or halberds? A naginata was a woman's weapon in Japan, for a reason; weapon-handbooks on both ends of Eurasia were agreed that that sort of weapon, the spear that can also cut, was worth three swords. Particularly if you're a woman—the leverage on a pole-weapon neutralizes most of a man's strength advantage, and the pole also undoes the reach advantage. Indeed, I think a pole-weapon might actually be an even better weapon for a woman than a bow, since (particularly before compound bows were invented) a bow actually requires significant upper-body strength to shoot more than a few times.
  • Mention of glaives reminds me, where did Warcraft get the strange idea that a glaive is a spinny blade-weapon, like a cross between a chakram and a hunga-munga/mambele type-thing? It's Krull, isn't it, and their stupid flying starfish weapon? Sigh. At least I can actually see the night-elves using it, since it's similar to one of the Predator's weapons and night elves, too, are hunters who can turn invisible (at least at night, and only if they're female).

    The throwing-blade version makes the fact that modern French uses "glaive" to mean "gladius" look sensible; at least that's actually what the word comes from—or at least it's the Latin reflex of the same Celtic root (cf. Welsh cleddyf, Irish claíomh—both of which end in a V sound, unlike gladius). (Apparently in the medieval period glaives may have been called "faussarts", related to "fauchard" and "falchion", incidentally. "Glaive" is only attested for them from the 1400s; all the earlier uses of that word refer to ordinary mostly-only-stabbing spears.)
  • Has...um...has anyone noticed that pretty much the closest thing to an actual science fiction movie last year, was freaking Independence Day 2? Which was by no means as bad as the first one, don't get me wrong; it's just that even when Roland Emmerich makes a good movie—for the first time in his life, as far as I can recall—he still has to give it the dialogue of a bad movie. Because if you take away trite cliché, what does Emmerich have? Characters staring at each other silently, I guess.

    It's actually a serviceable sci-fi action movie. It would've been better without the "we uploaded our minds to computers, allowing the production-design department to only have to re-use their alien-designs from the previous movie, rather than coming up with a new one" thing. It would also be better if, instead of the humans (who in this setting, remember, are so stupid, they shoot things the size of cities with air-to-air missiles) being the only ones who ever beat a mothership, the other aliens are just impressed humans managed it without any real space-travel capability to speak of, and decided to come give us a hand.

    Did you know humans don't have to be the best at everything? Especially when you can only make them that way by implying even species that can upload their minds to computers can't come up with a virus that could be uploaded from a PowerBook 5300.


As New as Foam

Poetry must be as new as foam and as old as the rock.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Because materials tech delights in making the SF writer's life more difficult, I've just discovered something requiring me to rewrite certain parts of my book. There's this stuff, called "composite metal foam" or CMF, consisting of beads of one metal suspended in a solid expanse of another, that can stop a 7.62 AP round cold—and even disintegrate it on impact. It also absorbs up to 68 megajoules per cubic meter. This, of course, necessitates rewriting certain parts of my book—but fortunately, less than it might seem.

First order of business is that the VAJRA armor now consists of an over-suit of a thick layer of CMF sandwiched between boron carbide and high-density polymer (which is how they're talking about using it for armor), over the same softer magnetorheological fluid armor as before. Call it CMF-MRF. This probably lightens, and thus speeds up, VAJRA wearers. The more typical PK armor is now thinner CMF plates over a sheer-thickening fluid suit, instead of thicker sheer-thickening panels over a thinner undersuit—say CMF-STF. I think, then, that the special-ops armor, which before had just been the sheer-thickening fluid undersuit, will now be the undersuit with thicker panels of magnetorheological fluid over it—that one would be MRF-STF.

The second order of business is to change the main rifle round my Peacekeepers use. I think that a 7 millimeter round with performance on par with a .50 BMG saboted light-armor penetrator (which uses a 7.62 millimeter bullet in a necked-down cartridge) would probably be sufficient for anything short of the VAJRA armor, since SLAP rounds have superior anti-armor capability to .50 BMG and nobody seriously proposes that CMF armor would be much use against even regular .50 BMG. Apparently the propellant load for the SLAP round is 17.8197 grams, which, converted to octanitrocubane, would be 7.4843 grams. That has a volume of 3,633.16 cubic millimeters. If we do the old trick of treating the 7 millimeter by 31 millimeter bullet as a cylinder, then subtract its volume from a cylinder with the same diameter as a 6.8 Remington round, 10.7 millimeters, we get a propellant "casing" 53.67 millimeters long, and since we were preferring the propellant only stick out 1.85 millimeters past the end of the bullet itself, the propellant would go 20 millimeters past the end of the bullet. Base it on the .30-06, maybe instead? That gives us a propellant "casing" 42.67 millimeters long, and since it sticks out on the edges fully 2.5 millimeters...it still sticks out 9 millimeters in front of the bullet. Maybe just "telescope" the round all the way in, with the 6.8 Remington dimensions, for an overall length of 53.67 millimeters, 3.7 millimeters shorter than 5.56 NATO. Presumably they use a combination of the Tkachev Balanced Automatic Recoil System and some sort of shock-absorber, to account for the recoil of this beast on full-auto.

It occurs to me they probably still use the old size of ammo for non-armored targets; since the magazines would almost not be compatible, you could have loading a magazine for one or the other automatically, and purely mechanically, switch the gas-system (and so on) to accommodate one or the other. I also think you can only use the purely-mechanical AP system against the normal troopers CMF armor; against the much thicker VAJRA plates, you probably need something like HEIAP rounds.

Considering doing something similar with their handgun rounds, but not sure what.

It's not a problem for the zledo, of course, because their lasers put about 10 kilojoules into a dot a few millimeters in diameter, or smaller—which, at a depth of tens of centimeters, comes to tens or even hundreds of millions of megajoules per cubic meter, so it'll go through VAJRA armor like the proverbial hot knife through butter. I am shifting the precise nature of their adaptive armor, though: against ballistic attacks it shifts its structure to be a composite foam more advanced than human materials-science can create, and against energy attacks it becomes a superconductor, spreading the energy throughout its entire structure. Of course, a powerful enough laser—or an explosive—from close enough can still punch through it before it can conduct all the energy away, but it's a vast improvement over purely mechanical armor technology.

Late Addendum: Discovered that, supposedly, the 7.62 NATO saboted light-armor penetrator round has performance against armor that's comparable to more conventional .50 BMG armor-piercing rounds, while the .50 BMG rounds of that type are comparable to 20 millimeter. "Since 7 millimeter, except based on .30-06" is quite a bit like 5.56 NATO from 7.62 NATO , maybe I don't need to so drastically re-interpret the rounds, especially since the AP ones can just use osmium or iridium (ultra-dense, ultra-hard metals being easy to acquire for a spacefaring civilization). Good, that saves on re-writing.