Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Classic Ideas in Fantasy and Science Fiction: First Contact

The biggie. The most important trope in science fiction...after guys in red shirts getting killed, of course. E.T., War of the Worlds, Close Encounters, Contact, Star Trek XXXIV, and on and on.

The Mote in God’s Eye, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
"A Martian Odyssey," Stanley G. Weinbaum
“First Contact,” Murray Leinster
"The Helping Hand," Poul Anderson
The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury
2001, A Space Odyssey, film, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke
Close Encounters of the Third Kind, film, Steven Spielberg
The Day the Earth Stood Still, film, 1951, Robert Wise, Harry Bates, Edmund North
ET, film, Steven Spielberg
The Man Who Fell to Earth, film, Walter Tevis, Nicolas Roeg
Solaris, Stanislaw Lem
Contact, Carl Sagan
A Signal From Space, Will Eisner (graphic novel)
His Master's Voice, Stanislaw Lem
The Hercules Text, Jack McDevitt

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Industrial Revolution Mark Two

So I was watching the Olympic opening ceremonies. I was a little puzzled. These are the first opening ceremonies I've seen, so I don't have a yardstick. But...flying Mary Poppinses? A nod to the NHS?

I did like the ending, though. Forging the rings...hmm. Tolkien reference.

Still, I can see it appealing to the Steampunks among us. IKB rules!

Cause and Effect

Waiting on the Hyperspace Pizza Nexus
Science fiction isn't about causes. Cause is a "how," and ultimately, "how" is not as important as you might think. Do we need to know exactly how the warp drive works? No. We just need to know what happens when it does. We need to know the effect: How will we react when the universe is open to us? Will we be humbled by the majesty of creation and become more enlightened beings? Will we push our edge in interstellar travel to build the Terran Empire? Will we use it to make faster pizza deliveries to Glornak 7?

Or telepathy. Does it really matter just how humanity develops this mental power? What's interesting is how the "normals" react to the espers...or whether the entire race becomes telepathic. Then what happens? Well, for one thing, speech pathology is no longer the go-to career for former actresses.

The importance of effects over causes is one of the big reasons to be wary of the "info dump" - the deep-seated urge to explain your entire world to the reader in one or two bloated, digressive paragraphs. Pay more attention to what happens next than what happened before.

Of course, even though causes aren't sufficient, they are necessary. They determine the limits of the effects we describe. If our spaceships can reach other star systems, but only have Bussard ramjets, and not hyperdrives, the empire we create would be much, much different from one based on faster-than-light travel. If our telepathy comes in over-the-counter pill form, the effects will be radically different from a future of rare genetic telepaths.

Causes define our stories; effects are the reasons we write them.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The best science fiction

The best science fiction isn't about causes; it's about effects.

More on this in the next post....

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Original Wild and Crazy Guys

So yesterday, I threw up a little Minka Kelly on the blog in a fan service-y, not-much-content kind of way. Not the worst sin in the world, but I think maybe it's time we go back to future. Well, the future if you're a citizen of Imperial Rome. If you're not, it's more like the past. I'm going to get all medieval on your asses with a new bit o' history that some of you may not know:


Monday, July 23, 2012

Yet More Wheatons! And Fillion, Too!

It's right here.

In Which I Admit To Being Like Every Other Blogger

IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a blogger seeking to improve visitor statistics must be in want of a hot topic on the Web. However tedious Google Analytics may seem to such a person, he is widely and cynically believed to be mining search engines in search of crowd-pleasing nuggets of infotainment.

Alas. It is totally frikkin' true.

Minka Kelly. 
Minka Kelly! 
Come to me, oh webcrawlers and searchbots! Heed my summoning words! MIIIINNNKAAAA....KKEELLLLLYYYY....

Oh, all right. There's got to be some way I can connect Minka to some nerdliness to make this legit. 

Well, there is a longstanding tradition of nerds panting after gorgeous women in the media. Absolutely. Fan service! 

You're welcome.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

TV Boston

This isn't really nerdy, but...

What the hell is it with Boston and TV music? Apparently TV composers believe that every last resident of Boston is Irish. Case in point, Rizzoli & Isles. (It was three in the morning. I couldn't sleep.) Rizzoli? Italian. Isles? Boston aristocracy. There's one Irish character on the show, I think.

So what's the music they use?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Evil Wesley!

Can I say how much I like Wil Wheaton these days? I mean yes, ur-blogger, gamer, teen nerd celeb, etc. But he's revived his TV career as a go-to actor for smarmy jerk roles - Evil Wesley lives! Check him out in Leverage and The Big Bang Theory.

Go, Wil Wheaton, Go!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Granddaddy Nerd

Ah, the Emmy nominations for 2012. Notice what's on there? Game of Thrones. The young folks may now shrug their shoulders. "So what?" they say. "It's a good show." Yeah, it is. But I'm not young folk. I'm a Granddaddy Nerd.

And that means I remember a time when a series like GoT could have been the love child of I Love Lucy, All in the Family, and Roots, and it STILL wouldn't have gotten an Emmy. Hell, it wouldn't even have been financed. And a bunch of Entourage types in Italian suits would have rolled their eyes if you'd dared to suggest it.

In the last thirty years, an amazing thing has happened - science fiction, fantasy and graphic novels have been mainstreamed. When I was in college, I would have bet heavy money that this was as likely as, well, as likely as a Columbia grad being elected president. (Yeah, I'm looking at you, Barry.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Provigil, the new "Limitless"?

I love science fiction. And I love it when science fiction becomes science fact - the Roomba (Heinlein), communications satellites (Clarke), Dick Tracy radio watches. But Provigil...it sounds way creepy. We need to keep an eye out for people with exploding heads, I think.

What do you think? Speed, by prescription? Or a bold new frontier in five-hour energy?

Lastday, Capricorn 29s!

Yes, today is the last day to pick up some funny fantasy for less than a buck!

The Wrong Sword is available on Amazon.com for only $0.99. Buy it now, or kick yourself tomorrow morning, when the price goes back up to $4.99.

Buy it now!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mermaid Body Found, Part Two

Can't find a mermaid? Make your own.


It's the Mermaid Body Swimsuit, y'all. Only $245.

Marissa Mayer, Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher

So Marissa Mayer is now the CEO of Yahoo - excuse me, Yahoo! - and is out to make her mark. Only problem is, I think the job is cursed. That's right. I said it. CURSED. Just like the Defense Against the Dark Arts Chair at Hogwarts.

Yahoo has had six CEOs in five years: Marissa, Ross Levinsohn, Scott Thompson, Tim Morse, Carol Bartz, and Jerry Yang. Obviously, somebody wants the CEO job for themselves, and has made sure that No One Else Can Have It Until They Return.

But who could it be? Who could be so powerful, and so evil? Well, it's California, and Yahoo is pretty much an entertainment company now, so my bet would be a Hollywood producer of some kind- wait a minute.

Who was the chief before that crazy run of revolving CEOs? Terry Semel. Who spent 24 years at Warner Bros, backed the first Batman flick and The Matrix trilogy, and was chairman and co-CEO before he left for...yeah...Yahoo. He spent six years at Yahoo, and then they booted him. Seems like there's a media wizard out there who wants a comeback.

So what's an incoming CEO to do? Marissa, I'm sorry - but I think you're going to have to find Terry Semel's horcruxes and destroy them. Start with Matrix: Reloaded.

Monday, July 16, 2012

TWS 99¢ Two Days Only on Kindle!

Yep, my publisher is doing a 99¢ sale on July 17 and July 18. That's tomorrow, you yahoos!

So if you've been hesitating about buying The Wrong Sword...on the fence about it...my goodness, you can't get more low-commitment than this.


Mermaid Body Found. Again. And Again. And...

The Discovery Channel traveled a little farther down PT Barnum's "egress" by airing a fake mermaid documentary. Personally, I don't get the appeal of mermaids - for anything romantic beside posing on a rock, mermaids seem spectacularly ill-suited. Ahem.

And yet "mermaids" have been a flourishing industry for centuries:

1. The manatee. You'd have to be at sea a long time to confuse this

with this

but apparently sailors used to do it. Imaginative peg-legged bastards.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Evil Overlord List

Once a year, it is incumbent upon us - Aleinu, as my people would say - to print a link to that classic of fantasy, the Evil Overlord List.

So there it is.

PS - Some of you more alert readers may notice that my own evil overlord, Geoffrey Plantagenet, has committed some of these faux pas - notably, numbers 26, 30, 36, 53, and maybe sorta kinda 8 and 98. But six out of a hundred? That's not bad, faithful readers!

Thursday, July 12, 2012


For those of you who don't know, Manhattanhenge is the two days a year when the sun sets directly through the gaps in the Midtown street grid. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist whom I generally like, coined the term and directed people's attention to it about ten years ago. But as someone who grew up in New York and remembers trudging east to the bus stop as a kid with the sun directly in my eyes for the winter/sunrise version of this thing, all I can say is "Mneh."

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Friday, July 6, 2012

I want this on a t-shirt

Particle tracking from the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider. Nerd Word.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Classic F/SF Ideas: Extreme Environmental Tales

These are stories in which physical conditions are so difficult or bizarre that they become characters in and of themselves. Once a staple of hard science fiction, they have decreased as our knowledge of other planets has increased.

However, with all the astounding exo-planet data we've been developing in the last five years, we might just be set for an EET renaissance. That would be kind of cool, I think.

Photo by Sunafterrain under Creative Commons
Dune, Frank Herbert
Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
Dragon's Egg, Robert Forward
"Surface Tension," James Blish

"A Pail of Air," Fritz Leiber
The Integral Trees, Larry Niven

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Bad F/SF Waters the Garden of Mockery

So I was at a very nice F/SF meetup here in the City That Never Sleeps, and we were watching a "behind the scenes" doc of Joss Whedon's late, lamented Firefly. And up on the screen, there's an actor whom I've always taken to be an urbane, polished pro. But he seemed to be talking with barely controlled condescension about how he tries to "quarantine" himself from science fiction. (I may have misinterpreted. I hope I did, because this fellow has a good rep.) Anyway, aside from the noblesse oblige that should guarantee that no actor mocks a genre or audience that has written checks for them (you won't catch Dave Tennant doing it) it made me think once again about the levels of quality we demand from our F/SF entertainment.