Archive for December, 2013

Sideways To Zero

Posted in Fanfiction, Personal, Science, Speculation, Writing with tags , , on December 29, 2013 by davidnm2009

I don’t think I’ve written anything about StZ yet, have I?

The funny thing is, the asari are one of my less-favourite aliens in Mass Effect. I’ve never tried ranking the various aliens by how interesting I find them, but I suspect they would be somewhere down the list. Certainly not at the bottom, but not very high up either.

(In case you’re wondering, the winner is the krogan. Headbutting FTW! Also I think krogan armour looks better than any of the others, with some of the turians as a close second. And the krogan have such a wonderfully tragic and compelling backstory, as well. Epicness and all of that.)

So, how come I’m trying to write a fic focused entirely on the asari?

Well. I do have something of a feeling of missed potential with them in the ME universe. There are interesting-sounding things we hear a lot about, but never really see. Asari democracy – just how exactly does it work? How do the various factions and interest-groups – Justicars, matriarchs etc., the various cities – all interact? What about asari science? We get told a lot about it, but never really see that much, even with Liara.

Instead, in ME1, the asari do sometimes feel a little bit like Fanservice: The Species. I often get the feeling that I’m some sort of six-sigma outlier as male gamers go, but actually, I would have preferred it if Liara had talked less about sex and more about her research. In fact, throughout 1, Liara is actually fairly vague about what it is she does. To be fair, this gets redressed a bit in ME3, particularly if you have the ‘From Ashes’ DLC. (Also, a minor grammatical gripe … shouldn’t that be ‘From the Ashes’?) I found this odd, as most real-world academics have a very hard time shutting up about their specialist subject.

The only asari world we see in detail is Illium, and the whole point of that planet is that it’s a freak. Its society is presumably entirely-abnormal, as are its governance arrangements. It is presumably relatively little of a guide to the more ‘normal’ asari lifestyle. Again, in fairness, one bit I did like was the conversation with the Tracking Officer on Illium, about Samara. The attitude she describes toward the Justicars did feel like something that had come out of an alien culture and an alien society, what with her evident surprise that anyone might consider the Justicars’ actions questionable and so forth.

The Thessia mission in ME3 is more frustrating than enlightening. The implications of the Prothean beacon on Thessia are staggering; perhaps the real reason that Liara is having trouble with her career in 1 is actually because real asari ‘science’ actually consists of going and asking questions of the magic beacon, and interpreting the results? A sort of glorified tea-leaf reading, or a 40K-style intellectual cargo cult. One can imagine a scenario where the senior matriarchal academics are quietly laughing at all the young grad students and post-docs, who are running around trying to do that ultimate oxymoron, original research… But again, this is only explored to a limited extent. (Also, the Thessia mission turns into yet another annoying Cerberus event – it was never really about the asari, it turns out. Rather it’s just another platform for the dreadful Kai Leng to put on a performance, and for TIM to be irritating/tedious in public once more. Sigh.)

Also, how exactly did a supposed direct democracy manage to keep a secret like this for so long? It does seem to imply some sort of fundamental contradiction, lurking somewhere inside asari society. And where are the Justicars in all of this? Do they have an opinion? Would they have an opinion? Or would they consider something like this ‘above their paygrade’? We never get told.

All of these things have bugged me.

Plus, I have a mental image stuck in my head. (I kind of wish someone would paint it.) When the first asari came onto the Citadel, and they found the Relay Monument, how did they react to that? What did they see? What did they say? How did they feel? (For that matter, relatedly, when the Reapers harvested the Protheans, how come they didn’t recognise the Relay Monument for what it was? They of all people have no excuse for not recognising a mass relay! Bad cuttlefish, no biscuit.) None of these things get developed in any detail.

So these questions are a lot of what’s driving ‘Sideways’. In addition, I also have an interest in the more general theme of ‘science and society’. Here in the Real World(tm), our whole attitude toward science and technology is a contradictory mess. We seem to want the shiny consumer toys, but not the theoretical knowledge under them. Except when we do, in the sanitised ‘gosh and wow’ form that TV documentaries pretend to give you. And then there’s the whole confusing, festering mess that is the collision between scientific and religious ideas. Being a former scientist, I’m interested in exploring this theme. And the asari, with their purported technological advancement and supposed super-consensus democracy, seem to offer one means of doing so.

So yes; these are the ideas that are going on underneath ‘Sideways to Zero’. I hope that I’ll be able to develop them further over the New Year. I’ll probably fail – when was the last time I finished anything? – but it’ll be a fun process 🙂

And (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?), here’s the link to the fic. If any of this sounds interesting, please feel free to have a look!

Sideways To Zero, Chapter 1: A Failure of Funding.


Schemes of the Reapers

Posted in Fanfiction, Writing with tags on December 28, 2013 by davidnm2009

I was supposed to be working on ‘Sideways to Zero’ earlier.

StZ is proving to be a rather tricky project. I like thinking about it. I have plans. I know roughly where the story ends. There are revelations to be made and surprises to be had. I like chatting about them with friends. Sometimes there’s even a real buzz of energy. I even have a couple of tweaks on how eezo works, that would arguably make it consistent with General Relativity (and a very nice, if rather diabolical, explanation for where the canonical theories come from).

Then I find myself sat in front of the keyboard, and …


Anyway, today’s procrastination took an unexpected turn. It came in the form of 4,000 or so words of something else entirely.

So here are the Schemes of the Reapers. Or one of their schemes, anyway.

I was toying around with what hypothetical ‘smart’ cuttlefish might do. I wasn’t at all impressed with the StarBrat in ME3, and honestly feel that there’s quite a bit of lost potential with the Reapers. Ideally, an encounter with the Reaper collective consciousness should come off something like (for instance) Peter Watts’s Blindsight. (If you haven’t encountered that novel, it’s somewhere along the lines of 1984-meets-hardcore-neuroscience. Elsewhere on the internet, I’ve seen it described as an indictment of consciousness. It is, and a scarily-effective one.) An exchange with the Reapers should be a philosophical gut-punch, a sort of existential crisis; instead StarBrat is just irritating. Plus also Synthesis makes zero scientific sense. (What does ‘add your energy to the beam’ even mean? The chemical energy of Shepard’s body? The equivalent mass-energy? The weak electrical fields associated with the brain? Or just shallow, cliché-driven writing? Plus, depending on your choices, you may have already conclusively-disproved StarBrat’s ‘eternal recurrence’ thesis.)

I don’t claim to bridge that gulf here. (Can it even be bridged at this stage? The well has been pretty thoroughly poisoned.) However, it was interesting to have a look at some ‘alternative’ possibilities for Reaper behaviour. I like the idea of scheming cuttlefish, plotting against the galaxy and moving their chess-pieces slowly across the board.

I had a lot of fun with this story; it fell onto the page pretty much in one go. I only had to make a few minor edits before I had something I was willing to post. It was fast, too. I began typing after lunch today, and I was basically done by dinner.

I may write some more; I have vague ideas for two more stories, and possibly a third one beyond. We shall see.

Now, back to ‘Sidways to Zero’…

Oh Dear

Posted in Fanfiction, Personal with tags on December 28, 2013 by davidnm2009

Well, that’s an awkward discovery.

It would appear that my main email provider has been eating emails. I’m not sure precisely when this started, but it seems to have been since at least July. It may have been earlier. The funny thing is, I did think my inbox had been a bit quiet recently. Unfortunately this year has been rather chaotic – to put it mildly – and it simply hadn’t occurred to me to investigate any further.

When I finally discovered what was going on, I recovered about 40 lost emails. Those are just the ones that I’ve been able to recover; as it’s a webmail service, I believe they get auto-deleted after 90 days or so.

So, if you see this and you believe that you should have had a reply from me, you’re probably right. My apologies!

Breaking Quarantine

Posted in Art with tags , on December 23, 2013 by davidnm2009

This year I decided to take part in the annual gift-exchange on the LiveJournal Mass Effect community. I’m glad I did; having a project to work on was good, and it also made me go a little bit out of my artistic ‘comfort zone’. It also felt good to be doing something generous.

I can probably break quarantine on these now, as they’ve been posted to the community. I ended up working on two of the prompts that I was given. (I actually had a go at all three, but one of them was, uh, not any sort of success, shall we say!)

First off, here’s the Normandy with the Citadel, and some rather-badly-fluffed shadows:

Secondly, here’s a portrait-piece of one of the giftee’s incarnation of Shepard:

The gibbous-phase background moon/planet, unfortunately, looks a bit weird. It’s arguably accurate astronomically, but a crescent or a half-phase would probably have worked better from a visual point of view. Another one for the learning curve, and all of that…

Methane Giant

Posted in Art with tags on December 3, 2013 by davidnm2009

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

But here’s a new painting:

(There’s a high-res version available at my dA page, right here, as usual. Download for the fullest full-view.)

Firebase Condor Strikes Again

Posted in Personal with tags on December 1, 2013 by davidnm2009

Those of you who are also Mass Effect fans will probably wince at the mention of the name ‘Firebase Condor’. The notoriously-glitchy multiplayer map does have a bit of a bad reputation, from ammo boxes that do nothing to any number of stuck spots where your character just can’t move, to the dreaded ‘Hazard Condor’ frozen-at-the-loading-screen error.

For what it’s worth, I actually think it’s quite pleasing visually – moonscapes FTW! – although that said, I think I speak for most people when I say I would’ve preferred ‘Firebase Palaven’.

However, Condor does seem to be a place where weird stuff happens. Earlier I was hosting some Gold matches, and the PUG roulette wheel landed on Menae. Halfway through the match, this happened:

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