Archive for the Speculation Category

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.

RGB And Wait, What’s This?!

Posted in Personal, Speculation with tags , , , on June 27, 2012 by davidnm2009

So, I’ve blogged about my views on the Mass Effect 3 endings before. Consequently now that I’ve been through the Extended Cut, it’s probably time to air my views there too. (Because of course computer games are Serious Business, amirite?) Needless to say this post will be a soup of spoilers.

I’ll put a quick, non-spoilery TL;DR summary up here: the Extended Cut is much better. Well done to Bioware! They did the sensible thing, owned the mistakes and dealt with them in a reasonably satisfactory manner. Having seen the Extended Cut I feel a lot happier about the endings, and feel that I better understand what was happening.

Now, in more detail…

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The Old FTL Problem

Posted in SF, Speculation with tags , , , on May 10, 2011 by davidnm2009

One of the big draws of SF as a genre is the whole ‘exotic places’ thing. You know, pretty double stars, masses of moons, deep-blue Rayleigh-scattering gas giants, that sort of thing. There’s a lot to be said for escapism, particularly given that the real world now seems to be getting more depressing rather than less (certainly here in Britain, anyway, where we now have clear empirical evidence that change for the better is apparently unpopular and politically-impossible).

But there’s a small problem, and that’s the distance one. Basically with regards to space travel, there’s a slight problem in that space is, umm, rather large. Even just the Earth-Moon system – a reasonably-compact arrangement, as these things go – is arranged so that the separation between the two bodies is such that you could line up 30-ish Earths, side-to-side, between here and the Moon. (Note that I need to check my maths on this … I don’t think that figure’s exactly right, but it’s on that order of magnitude…) Continue reading

Gravity, Pt. 3

Posted in Science, Speculation with tags , , , on April 1, 2011 by davidnm2009

I was going to be writing a post about the implications of differential gravity for the body’s, ah, excretory systems next. (There are plenty, as it happens.) But then it occurred to me that there was a much more basic and much more obvious problem that should be considered first. It’s called actually being able to move in the first place!

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Gravity, Part. 2

Posted in Space, Speculation with tags , , , on March 31, 2011 by davidnm2009

It’s all about the bones.

Your bones are a central part of your physiology. They hold your body up. They also help you to move, by giving your muscles something to push against. They also house the marrow that amkes your red blood cells. And, like all systems in the human body, evolution has optimised them for 1 g of gravity. How are they going to react to a hypothetical colony planet, with g=0.68? or 1.3? or 0.17 (if we’re talking about a Moon colony)?

I’ll be clear about one thing; at the moment, we don’t know for an absolute fact. But there is some evidence to suggest that there could be tears before bedtime…

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Gravity, Pt. 1

Posted in Science, Speculation with tags , , , on March 29, 2011 by davidnm2009

We’ve already talked – a bit – about the possible role air pressure might play in planetary colonisation. I didn’t do much more than dip my toe into what is by any standards a vast topic. You could loosely summarise it as ‘human beings function best at 1 standard atmosphere’ – surprise, surprise! However, there is also some flexibility – presumably, our pre-human ancestors did encounter big hills and mountains often enough for evolution to factor it in. Human settlements can and do exist at altitudes as high as ~5000 metres.

Gravity, however, is potentially a very different problem. It’s something that will be a fundamental property of any planet. It’s also something that isn’t amenable to human influence, short of some kind of completely-incomprehensible, borderline-magic type technology. But, irritatingly, it’s something that will have major health implications for any putative human society. So it can’t be ignored. One can imagine taking supplements to deal with chemical deficiencies in the local soil, one can imagine pressurised houses to deal with air pressure differences, one can imagine vaccines or perhaps genetic engineering to cope with local diseases – but you can’t really do anything about the surface gravity! (By the way, if you think I’m being absurdly glib in dismissing the other issues, you’re dead right! All of these would be major undertakings just by themselves…)

Now, a note before we go any further. Most of this series of articles will be me commiting the physicist’s cardinal error – speculating outside one’s own field! So, any errors you see in the medicine and the biology are most definitely not my sources’ fault, they are a consequence of my own faulty comprehension. (Incidentally, if we do have any biologists or doctors in the audience, I would be very interested in their views on this topic.)

First off, let’s start with a brief – and it will be brief! – overview of what gravity is from a physics perspective.

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Seeds for Optimism

Posted in Personal, Social Concern, Speculation with tags , on March 12, 2011 by davidnm2009

I’ve talked a lot on here about what I fear for our future. I thought instead, for once, it might be nice to talk about what I’d like to see instead. After all, whatever we do today, the future will arrive. And maybe having something to aim for will help. And let’s face it, I’m a bit too prone to glass-half-emptiness, so a look at more cheery possibilities is doubtless healthy.

So, I would like to see:

  • A lower population: It’s hard to see how our current numbers can be sustained for very much longer. Next year, the population is forecast to hit 7 billion. The typical population for a species of large mammals is something like 300,000 – 3,000,000. We’re too numerous by a factor of several thousand. A world with a population of (say) 1-2 billion instead still has enough people to support a decent quality of life, but not so many that it risks blue-screening the ecosystem.
  • Cleaner technology: There are all sorts of clean-tech ideas out there, and many of them could be implemented right here, right now. The reason why they’re not? A combination of vested interests who make money out of the status quo and also a public that seems to want to passively consume rather than seek out innovation.
  • And end to Big Oil: Let’s face it, the oil addiction is probably one of the worst mistakes we’ve made over the last century or so. The sad irony is, it was probably avoidable, too. Getting away from the rampant guzzling of petrochemicals would also do a wonder for the environment.
  • Democracy: should liberty simply be the privilege of the West? No, obviously not. There would be a lot to be said for a loose, democratic global federation. I say ‘loose’ and ‘federation’ as I don’t imagine it would a) be possible to establish a planetary unitary state or indeed b) actually a good idea. But one can imagine a future world existing as a confederacy of small-ish democracies, and being reasonably happy.
  • Capitalism: might be an interesting experiment to try. What we have at the moment resembles it in about the same way that a deformed moth resembles a dragon. (It’s fascinating how many advocates of Adam Smith haven’t actually read him – let’s not forget, folks, amongst other things he calls for a progressive wealth tax!) Also, commensurate with the above, we need to devise some effective means to build the ecological cost of goods into their economic one.
  • Colonies: I think colonies on other planets would be an experiment worth undertaking. The idea would be to establish self-supporting societies, rather than ‘cargo junkies’ permanently dependent on the next food-freighter from Earth, I might add. I would also like to see more progress in both human and astronomical space exploration.
  • Freedom of conscience and freedom of speech: things that exists today in places, albeit only in imperfect form. But I take it as perfectly obvious and perfectly reasonable that people should be free to practise their religious convictions (and indeed also not practise, if that is their choice) and that all people should be free to speak their minds as they choose. The only jusitifiable limitations on these are to prevent harm to others – and by that I mean physical harm. (Hurt feelings suck, I do agree, but none of us can expect to get through life without being offended every now and then. And it probably wouldn’t be healthy for us if we did.)

The funny thing is, I don’t see anything in that list that strikes me as inherently-impossible.