Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Music of Sumer, Akkad and Points East

So a British musician has tried to recreate - or used as an inspiration - music of Ancient Sumer. Ur of the Chaldees rockin' the house...

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Three Simple Ways to Build Human Capital at the Syfy Channel

So. Human capital.

In my last post, I busted Syfy's ass for not having enough human capital - writers/execs who understood both the science and the habits of thought needed to create good science fiction. But the truth is, developing human capital in science fiction isn't easy. [NB - I was going to put a photo of one of Syfy's major content VPs here, but it was a professional headshot, and the guy STILL looked like a complete douche. It would have been unfair, so instead, you get a pic of the beautiful Andromeda galaxy...with which we're going to collide in just four billion years. Enjoy!]

A good science fiction writer is someone who can ask a significant "What If." What if we develop a technology that's mind-shatteringly dangerous, but also economically crucial? What if people live to be 180 years old...but only a few of them, and only because of family genetics? What if old age is actually a crucial stage in human evolution? In other words, What if the conditions of the world become different - how would we respond?

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Syfy Channel, Real Science Fiction, and Human Capital

Sharknado isn't science fiction, and neither is Syfy.

That's why the Science Fiction Channel changed its name to Syfy in 2009 - so that it could walk away from a commitment to the genre, and instead program low-grade monster movies, WWE wrestling, and reality shows where Tracy Morgan tries to make people wet their pants.

Now that they've become a textbook case of Fail, they're trying to walk it back. They've started production on The Expanse; they've shot Ascension; they're mounting series like Defiance. Lots of spaceships and aliens. It's even possible - just barely - that they understand why so many science fiction fans were offended by their rebranding.

But there's a problem: The people running Syfy aren't fans, they're TV execs. They know a lot about the complicated craft of creating stories for television, but they don't realize that creating science fiction stories that are compelling, surprising, and logical is just as complicated - and wildly different.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ascension Does Not Improve; We Stop Watching [SPOILERS]

So the psychological inconsistencies mentioned last time get worse. Much worse. Much dumber. It's just on the cusp of possibility for the show to explain them, but it's too late for me. Disbelief is no longer suspended.

If you've watched even a bit, you know by now that the starship Ascension is a giant 1963-themed version of The Truman Show, with all 600 crew members enduring the ultimate fake-out; instead of two lightyears from Earth, they're living in a giant basement somewhere, monitored, poked and prodded by a second generation of spooky government lab freaks.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

So...Ascension. [SPOILERS!]

A while back, I wrote that Syfy's production of S.A. Corey's Expanse series would be the marker for how well the channel is changing direction. Judging by the first episode of their preliminary attempt, the in-house mini-series Ascension, that change in direction is sincere...but not necessarily successful.

Ascension's premise is charmingly insane: In addition to setting up the Apollo program, JFK also launched the human race's first interstellar probe. Ascension is a slower-than-light multigenerational colony ship heading toward Proxima Centauri, with a design based on the old atom-bomb powered Orion-class starship model. Inside the ship, it's still 1963. Mad Men in space. Lena Horne is playing over the PA system and the captain's wife wears pearls (and pimps out a string of attractive "stewardesses" to powerful men on the ship, but that's another storyline).

Monday, December 15, 2014

Medieval Recipe Day - Let's Make a Syllabub!

So, three things:

Number One: I'm posting this one mostly because I like the name.
Number Two: Strictly speaking, this is more of a Renaissance England than a Medieval recipe - or at least, our best records on syllabub "only" go back about five hundred years.
Number Three: You can find dozens of recipes for syllabubs. This is just one.

Syllabubs were a kind of custardy, frothy desert, served cold (or cool - this is pre-refrigeration). They were also a combination of ingredients that not too many modern cooks might think of...so if you actually try to make it, let me know how it tastes!


One Quart of Cream
One Pint and an half of Wine or Sack
Juice of two lemons with some of the peel
A branch of rosemary.

Sweeten it very well, then put a little of this liquor, and a little of the cream into a basin, beat them till it froths, put that froth into the syllabub pot, and so do till the cream and wine be done, then cover it close, and set it in a cool cellar for twelve hours, then eat it.
(from Hannah Wooley, The Queen-Like Closet, London 1649)

Friday, December 12, 2014

War Machines!

If you're obsessed with ancient ways of killing people and destroying cities, then Happy Holidays! The good folks at the British Library have a present for you: They've digitized Burney MS 69, a collection of Greek manuscripts on siege engines and other modes of making war. The documents range from Hellenistic engineers to Byzantine generals. Of course, they're written in Greek of various ages (so sucks to be me and probably you) but they also include illustrations. He-he.

This is part of a larger digitization of Byzantine manuscripts that include sermons, hymns, prayerbooks, letters, and an "Historium Romanae" by Appian.