Images of New Wellington

New Wellington is the Imperial Capitol World in my Twin Stars setting, a gas giant with a temperate layer of breathable oxygen that’s been colonized by humans. Using gravity-manipulation technology, rocks from space have been lowered into the livable layer and then turned into artificial networks of floating islands.

Since I’m re-familiarizing myself with Bryce 5.5, I thought I’d do a few renderings of the setting to give a rough idea of how it looks.

Huston, we have a problem…

The worst case scenario in the Gulf Oil Crisis may in fact be the reality:

So what happens if this is true, and there’s no way to stop the leak? The Gulf will literally be a sea of oil unless they they find some way to direct the flow of oil, but if there’s multiple blowouts we’re just screwed.

Welcome to Cyberpunk, people!

Hard Science Fiction- the Silliest Kind

There has for some time been a movement in the Science Fiction genre called “Hard Science Fiction”, which wikipedia defines as:

“Hard science fiction is a category of science fiction characterized by an emphasis on scientific or technical detail, or on scientific accuracy, or on both.” Source.

(I’ve also heard it described as “solving the problems of tomorrow with the technology of today”, which is equally silly.)

Now the key words there are emphasis on scientific or technical detail, or on scientific accuracy, which is where everything goes horribly wrong. For you see, the problem with science is that it’s not set in stone, like everything related to human knowledge it’s constantly evolving, and what we know as “fact” today may be thrown out tomorrow. If I wrote “Hard SF” during the 1950’s, almost everything I wrote then would look horribly wrong and antiquated by today’s standards because it would be based on 1950’s scientific and technological understanding of things. Why do people seem to think that things are any different now? Are we really that much more “knowledgeable” because we have fancier computers now?

The moment you leave the present, and try to project yourself into the future in any way, you’re leaving reality as we know it behind. The future can and will be stranger than we can even guess at, and with the slightest little twist everything can be turned upside down. (“Oh, so that’s how you control gravity!”- bing! Instant potential for space colonies and space travel to other worlds.) It’s pure temporal arrogance that makes us think that “now” is the best time and that somehow it will be what we know and can do now that will be the template for the future. Rubbish! Even trying to extrapolate from what we know and can do now is a joke, for in 25 years (or less) everything will be so radically different we can’t even predict the outcome.

So, if that’s the case for 25 years, how do you write stories that take place in 250 years and claim they’re “hard science fiction”? Unless, by some weird quirk of fate, we really are the pinnacle of civilization (in which case we’re screwed!), anything you write is pretty much pure Fantasy. (Or “Soft Sci-Fi”, as the nerds like to call it.)

So the obvious question is- where did the  Hard Sci-Fi/Soft Sci-Fi dichotomy come from? If most Sci-Fi is really just forms of fantasy, why did these ideas and movements appear? As usual, the answer is human nature. Even if you’re a nerd, you want to differentiated from other nerds, and you want some label you can associate yourself with so that you can look cool in your social circles. (“Science Fiction? I’m not into the stupid stuff- I only read HARD science fiction man.” ) And to take it the logical step further, there’s now a movement called Mundane Science Fiction for the people who felt Hard Sci-Fi wasn’t “hardcore” enough. It’s like a bunch of nerds trying to compare street cred! (“Yeah, well my sci-fi is so mundane, I only read stories about technologies that were invented a decade ago!)


Now I understand the desire for them to differentiate styles of science fiction from each other, and to try to come up with labels like Hard SF to get the non-fans to try and respect what they were reading. (“There’s no aliens in this, it’s hard SF! Based on real science!”) But in the end, it’s just smoke and mirrors, the truth is Science Fiction, like Fantasy, is the realm of dreams and hopes, and trying to label dreams is just like like catching clouds- even if you catch them, they vanish in a puff of smoke.

This doesn’t just apply to Science Fiction, by the way. There is now “Hard Fantasy” and “Soft Fantasy” as well, which basically represent Fantasy settings with and without magic, respectively. At least there the label makes sense, after all, life in a medieval Fantasy setting without magic is indeed pretty darn hard!

Quotes about Audio Drama

Radio Drama Quotes from Radio Tales of the Strange and Fantastic

“Anyone who’s ever listened to radio drama will testify to the fact that a play you hear will (remain) in your mind – twelve years later you’ll remember it vividly. And the reason you’ll remember it vividly is because you’ve done the work… it lives in your imagination.”– John Madden, Director, NPR Star Wars audio dramas

“What secret ingredient does audio theater possess that makes it so seductive…? The answer…lies not in a special ingredient, but in the lack of one. Audio is blind. Audio is the most intensely visual of media precisely because of its sightlessness.”

– Yuri Rasovsky, The Well-Tempered Audio Dramatist

“I still think radio is probably the greatest entertainment medium ever invented. It made the audience work, and I think television audiences don’t have to work—that’s why they fall asleep half of the time.

“…what makes radio really exciting is the all-round creativity of it. The writer creates the original, then the director creates the ambiance for the actors, and the brilliant technicians who manipulate the tapes, dials, sounds and music create the atmosphere. But the most creative of all participants in the joys of radio are the listeners, the audience….The listener is set designer, costume designer, make-up man, and even the casting department. They ‘see’ the characters they hear, then put them into the drama quite literally, in make-up, into the set, the wardrobe, even the mood and atmosphere.”

– Vincent Price, 1970 interview

“Science fiction is perhaps the most important audio theatre genre in the 21st century and if one includes the related genres of horror and fantasy, these works of creative imagination, technical prowess and infinite possibilities are the most entertaining artists in this field have to offer.”

– David “Mark Time” Ossman, Firesign Theatre

Welcome to the United Corporate States of America

Who’s calling the shots in the BP oil spill? It sure ain’t the US Gov’t. The American gov’t is working hard at the leisure of the BP corporation to control the situation, and by that I mean the PR damage control situation, not the oil spill.

A week ago, NPR’s On the Media aired a piece about reporters trying to cover the spill and literally finding BP “contractors” sitting in seats normally occupied by public service employees telling them where they can and cannot go.

Now, after major denials in that piece about just who is calling the shots (“we do not work for BP”) we find a week later that things are in fact WORSE, not better. In fact, things are so bad Anderson Cooper and CNN are the ones leading the crusade, and if they’re on the case, that means it’s bad enough for the mainstream media to notice (sorry about the audio, but it’s worth the watch):

Of course, the real problem is that this isn’t a problem in and of itself. The problem is that this is just another example of how, with amazing speed, what semblance of control the US gov’t claimed to have is slipping away into the power of the corporate and wealthy interests. I personally think this control has been lost for a long-long time, but now they’re not even hiding it anymore.

A few year ago I read a Chinese diplomat remark that the difference between the US and Chinese gov’t’s was that the Chinese gov’t was more honest with it’s people. Well, Obama promised transparency and change- so that’s what the people of the US are now getting!

Oh, and just to end on a “positive note”-

Welcome to the Future of Spin!

This is one of those stories that was obvious from the beginning- if one (since Yahoo barely counts anymore) company controls how people seek information, then they also control people’s access to information. So why not make a profit by selling it for a buck? Or, even if they’re neutral, it creates a system that can be gamed by people who have the money to do so. That’s the sad truth of “One search engine to rule them all”- he who has the gold, makes the rules.

In their most tenacious effort to control the ‘spin’ on the worst oil spill disaster in the history, BP has purchased top internet search engine words so they can re-direct people away from real news on the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

BP spokesman Toby Odone confirmed to ABC News that the oil giant had in fact bought internet search terms. So now when someone searches the words ‘oil spill’,  on the internet, the top link will re-direct  them to BP’s official company website.

Full Article here.

Korean Period Dramas I Love

As many people already know, I have an unusual marriage situation in that my wife and I don’t share a common first language- hers is Mandarin and mine of course is English. (Technically, we don’t share a common second language either, since her second language is Taiwanese, and English comes up a distant third!) One of the results of this has been that while we both enjoy watching TV together while eating our meals, during the early days of our relationship it was a little tricky to find shows that we could watch together and both get equal enjoyment out of.

Eventually, one day while we were out buying DVDs to watch I picked up a set of a show I’d heard of called Dae Jang Geum, a Korean period drama that I’d heard good things about through the grapevine. I was even happier when I noticed that not only did the DVD have English subtitles, it had a Mandarin audio track as well as it’s original Korean one. What this meant was that while my wife could enjoy the show normally, I could just read the subtitles and we’d both be able to enjoy it in our respective first languages at the same time!

Well, once we got around to watching the DVD, I’d have to say it hooked me pretty fast. While I’d always enjoyed stories set in historical periods because I could both learn about history and be entertained at the same time, there was something special about this one. It was the story of the first female doctor to attend to the King in Korean history, a near legendary figure named Jang Geum who was an expert at not only herbal medicine, but cooking as well. The TV series is the story of her life, and it’s filled with gripping drama, palace intrigue, sumptuous displays of Korean cooking, and not a little romance as well. (Although being set in a strictly conservative setting the romance element is very subdued, especially since being a palace serving girl meant that if she consorted with a man she and her lover would be sentenced to death if discovered.) There are so many things to like about Dae Jang Geum, it was hard not to fall in love with it, and I’m not alone. Technically, it’s one of the most popular dramas in TV history, watched and adored by over a billion and a half people (including Iran, oddly enough)  but because they’re not white, and it’s not in English, it’s never gotten much attention in the English speaking world. I have to admit, while it had it’s ups and downs, it stole my heart as well.


After we finished with Dae Jang Geum, we naturally hungered for more Korean period dramas like it to continue the enjoyment we got from this gem. A little digging turned up a series called Ju-Mong: Prince of Legend, which we decided to give a go. Unlike Dae Jang Geum which is set about 400 years ago, Ju-Mong is set in 60 BC (or BCE for you politically correct types), and is the epic story of a young man who goes from being a cowardly minor prince of a city-state to uniting the disparate Korean tribes of the time into a single powerful kingdom. To do this, he must go against the man who raised him, and his own adopted brothers- all of whom he loves as a loyal member of the family. It’s one of the most epic stories I’ve ever watched in my life, and despite being 81 episodes long, I was sad when it finished because I grew to love all the characters so much. A testament to both the writers and actors.

Following a break from Korean dramas for a bit (we watched an excellent HK Drama called A Step into the Past for a while, which I’ll talk about another time) we returned to Korean drama with what could be called a spiritual sequel to Dae Jang Geum called Yi-San. It is a different story about different people, but was produced by the same writers and producers, and starred many of the same actors. I felt this was a hinderance, actually, since they spent too much time trying to recreate elements of Dae Jang Geum and recapture it’s popularity instead of just letting this particular story tell itself. However, that said, it’s also an extremely good show.

The premise of Yi-San is similar to Ju-Mong in some ways, an uncertain prince finds himself thrust forward into becoming a King while being surrounded by forces working against him. However, unlike Ju-Mong he’s not trying to build a new kingdom, but simply reclaim from within the one that should be his to begin with. Yi-San takes the political intrigue elements of Dae Jang Geum and dials them up to 10! For the first part of the series, the Prince is literally living in fear of being assassinated by unknown elements almost every minute of his life, and we’re carried along with him as he tries to survive in this deathtrap called an Imperial Palace. The opposition has also covered their tracks so well that everyone around him thinks the prince is insane while he works to outwit them at ever turn. The only people he can trust are two loyal childhood friends, a royal guardsman and an imperial painter, and when the story is about the prince Yi-San it’s a rollicking good tale. The areas the story falls down (for me), are when the story is about the artist, a young girl who is basically set up to be Jang-Geum 2.0 and the romantic lead. Still, when it’s about Prince Yi-San, it really really rocks.

And, most recently my wife and I have started to watch what is effectively the sequel to Ju-Mong called Kingdom of the Winds, which is the story of Ju-Mong’s grandson. So far, it’s pretty good, with much higher production values than Ju-Mong, and the same lead actor portraying the grandson as played Ju-Mong in the original series. It feels a little like home to hear all these characters and places referred to again, and already there’s been some seriously badass fighting and court intrigues. I think that’s one of the things I love most about the good Korean period dramas, the chance to see Machievellian politics practiced by skilled characters who know what their goals are and vye with each other to reach them. There’s little fantasy elements in the good ones like the ones I’ve been talking about, and they’re great examples of how interesting characters and stories can make universally appealing dramas.

Twin Stars 209 released.

I (finally) got the 9th episode of Twin Stars Book 2 out, two months behind schedule and broken into parts, but it’s finally hitting the feed! Originally the story was to be a single episode, but when the first eight scenes of the show alone clocked in at 24 minutes, I knew I was going to have to break it down. So TS209 is going to become TS209, TS210, and possibly even TS211! It’s meant to be an epic space battle, and while it’s still condensed and filled with shortcuts, it’s definitely too big a story to fit in a single half-hour of show. I don’t even think it will fit in 2-half hours, but we’ll see what happens. The finale for Book 1- Hammer and Anvil was about an hour and a half long, all told, and I think this show will easily keep that tradition going!