Archive for speculation

Unintended Extra Travels…

Posted in Astronomy, Science, SF with tags , on October 31, 2015 by davidnm2009

Just for once, I’d love to see a time travel story where the protagonists know their probe has worked because they see a starfield when it drops backward to 9,000 BC (or whenever).

This is a minor point that often annoys me with time travel stories: if you actually had a time machine or viewer, you’d better hope it’s a space machine as well. Why? Because the Earth (and the Sun) move.

And they’re actually quite fast.

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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.

Re-visiting Pern: Still Life With Dragons

Posted in Books with tags , , on November 25, 2013 by davidnm2009

Since handing in the corrections on the PhD, I’ve recently found myself managing a remarkably long commute. If I’m lucky, and all the connections are on time, I can do it door-to-door in 2.3 hours. If I’m not lucky – “if”! he says it like misfortune is in doubt! – then it can explode to any length of time you want to imagine.

The trains between Hertfordshire and Cambridge are truly terrible. I’ve been genuinely astonished by how bad they are. I suspect that one could swallow some rails and sleepers and vomit a better railway line.

Anyway, 4.6 hours of commuting per day has given me a lot of time to read. As well as new books, I’ve also been re-visiting old favourites. One of them is Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragonriders of Pern” series.

These books were one of the first serious, ‘grown-up’ sets of SF novels that I encountered as a child. As a kid they had a lot to recommend them. An entire alien planet. Dragons. Psychic powers. Dragons. Adventure. Dragons. Life-or-death meaningful epic struggles against an enemy that didn’t bother you with any annoying moral complexity (no, not R’gul, I meant Thread, of course). Oh, and did I mention that there were and are dragons? I’m sure you get the idea by now 🙂

But it’s been a long time since I looked at any of them – more 15 years, in fact. To an extent, I’m actually coming to them with a blank slate. Reading them again has proven interesting. Needless to say, there are some unorganised comments after the cut…

(I’ll note that I have the usual mix of squee and criticism. I should point out that the dragon books are a series that I like, hence I’ve thought them over quite a bit. Although I do have some points of quite sharp criticism, that’s actually a side-effect of being a fan of the series – if I disliked it, I’d have less to say because I would have dismissed it from my mind long ago. Anyway, now that disclaimer is out of the way, let’s proceed…)

(Also remember that these are just the opinions of another random person on the Internet, and this not to be taken too seriously.)

(One final note: I’m not dealing here with the Todd McCaffrey novels. Classical Pern or bust, dammit!)

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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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Ah yes, Mass Effect 3…

Posted in Personal with tags , , , on April 30, 2012 by davidnm2009


A larger version of this render is over here on my dA page.

So, I’ve now completed the Mass Effect trilogy – this means I can share my thoughts on the ending. The TL;DR version is that I was somewhat underwhelmed by it. (Needless to say, this post will involve spoilers.)

In fact, I’m actually half-seriously thinking about writing my own ending as replacement head-cannon.

Below the cut, I’m going to pick apart several of the narrative flaws, as they seemed to me. Before I start, I’d like to note that overall I’ve greatly enjoyed the Mass Effect series, and the ending issues to 3 don’t detract from the previous games. In fact, even within 3, the first 98% of the game is awesome-on-a-disk; but for the ending, it could easily have been the best game of 2012.

With that aside, let’s get going…

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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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