Category Archives: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Predictive Frameshift

I’ve been thinking a lot about Robert J. Sawyer’s Quantum Night the last few months. It links human cruelty, psychopathy, and mob behavior to the nature of consciousness, mostly focusing on the main characters but playing out against a global crisis brought on by a rising tide of xenophobia.

More recently, I’ve been thinking about Frameshift. His 1997 novel deals with (among other things) eugenics, Neanderthals, Nazis, and health insurance companies doing everything they can to avoid covering people with pre-existing conditions.

I can’t imagine why that keeps coming to mind….

Pixar, the Space Shuttle, and Kids’ Museum Memories

Went with the family to see Space Shuttle Endeavour and a Pixar-themed exhibit on computer animation at the California Science Center.

The 6YO loved the Pixar exhibit, which broke down all the steps to creating a computer-animated movie into separate hands-on centers where you could do things like…

  • Apply different textures and bump maps to an object.
  • Rig a character for movement.
  • Change the lighting of a scene (real or virtual).
  • Define a shape in a 3D grid and watching the computer rotate it (way too much time on this one).
  • Create your own stop-motion animation by moving an actual desk lamp.

The only way we got him out was to point out that the museum was closing, and we only had 10 minutes left to get to the touch pools he’d said he wanted to visit. As it turned out, the pools shut down about two minutes before we got there, but staff was willing to let him look at the starfish. And we did catch the last desert flash flood simulation of the day.

As for the shuttle…he wasn’t impressed. He insisted on taking the simulator ride, but the real thing? I guess it’s old news when the whole fleet’s already been shut down by the time you start hanging onto long-term memories. 🤷

Admittedly, a big aluminum hut isn’t as suitable a viewing area for Endeavour as open space in broad daylight, surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd. Though that might have been the fact that it was my first time getting up close. On the other hand, this time I could see both sides. Heck, I could walk under it!

There is a new building in the works, where they’ll be displaying it with one of the external tanks in launch position. I’m sure it will lead to plenty of cartoons and movies where someone goes to the museum, breaks into the shuttle and blasts off.

I couldn’t make the building line up with my memories of visits when I was younger, back when it was the Museum of Science and Industry. The only thing I could match up at all were the wall facing the Exposition Park rose garden, and some of the buildings by the parking lot (a sunken structure now, but I remember it being flat).

Then again, what I remember are specific exhibits more than the layout: a big math/physics exhibit, a chicken incubator, and a multi-screen cartoon about energy sources and engine types called “The Water Engine.” (Each screen has a character talking up internal combustion, flywheels, mag-lev, electric, etc. I still quote the Peter Lorre-inspired fuel-cell scientist saying “And then…we burn the hydrogen!”)

It turns out there’s a good reason nothing fit my memory: They tore down the whole building in the late 1990s, preserving only that one wall!

Rogue One (Star Wars) and Imperial IT (SPOILERS!)

I liked Rogue One: A Star Wars Story quite a bit. Despite having a very different tone from either the original trilogy or the prequels, it’s still recognizable as a Star Wars film, and successfully weaves in and out of the events leading up to A New Hope.

There’s a somewhat odd setup for where they actually find the Death Star plans, though. SPOILERS after the cut:

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Newsflesh: Worst Case Zombies, Best Case Survival

Feedback, by Mira Grant

While reading Feedback, it occurred to me that Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series features the worst-case scenario of zombie design, and yet humanity survives with civilization mostly intact. That’s impressively optimistic.

I mean, look at the parameters of how zombies work in this setting:

Everyone who dies becomes a zombie, regardless of whether they’ve ever been near a zombie. This is fairly common, but there are settings where you can keep zombies out with a quarantine. Not this one.

Direct contact with a zombie is extremely contagious. Bites and scratches, sure, but imagine a zombie with late-stage Ebola. (A modified Marburg is one of the component viruses). Zombie drool landing on an open wound can convert you. The blood spatter from the zombie you’re shooting can get in your eye and convert you. The body of the zombie you just killed, lying on the ground motionless, is still a high-level biohazard that can convert you.

Anyone who goes out in the field must go through decontamination. Showers include a standard bleach cycle and won’t let you out until it’s done. Outbreak sites have to be hosed down with bleach, burned, or simply condemned.

Any blood that’s been outside the body long enough will trigger conversion on exposure, even if the person isn’t a zombie. Even your own blood.

Sometimes people spontaneously convert. It’s not common, but it’s been known to happen.

The newly-infected can be as fast as a normal person before their body starts decaying. (Yep, fast zombies and slow zombies in the same ‘verse.)

Any large mammal can become a zombie. Dogs. Raccoons. Horses. Bears. Cows. Red meat is now a biohazard.

Mobs of zombies can plan ambushes. Enough zombies together exhibit just enough rudimentary intelligence to set a trap. Even across species.

There’s a really scary twist in the virus’ transmissibility late in the second novel that I won’t spoil.

The only factor that isn’t maxed-out is their indestructibility. A zombie in the middle of the desert or at the bottom of the ocean will eventually starve.

Eventually.

And yet humanity survives the Rising and is able to rebuild civilization in many — not all, but many — parts of the world.

That’s…well, that’s kind of inspiring.

Why Kilgrave’s Power is Scarier than a Jedi Mind Trick

With Jessica Jones and Star Wars: The Force Awakens both out, it’s hard not to compare Kilgrave’s power to Jedis’ ability to influence minds. But while we admire “You don’t need to see our identification” and laugh at “Republic credits will be fine,” Kilgrave is terrifying.

It’s not just that Jedi are compassionate and Kilgrave is a total sociopath with no regard for human life who would casually make someone kill or maim themselves just because he was having a bad day. Darth Vader is just as ruthless, but doesn’t bother with the technique (in the films, at least).

It’s that the “Jedi mind trick” is explicitly shown to be limited. It’s used rarely, and only for specific commands. The first time we see it used in A New Hope, Obi-Wan Kenobi describes it as “influence” rather than control and specifically says it only works on “the weak-minded.” Willpower is sufficient to guard against it. In Return of the Jedi, Jabba the Hutt even laughs it off when Luke tries to use it on him. The only time we see any sort of long-term suggestion it’s to “go home and rethink your life.” Presumably the dealer in Attack of the Clones will be in full command of his own faculties by then, having simply been prompted to start the soul-searching.

Kilgrave, however? His commands are absolute. No matter how hard you prepare mentally, no matter how strong your will, no matter whether your actions would go against your principles, or hurt you, or hurt someone else — even someone you care about — you do it. Immediately. None of the usual trying to stop your hand from moving that you see in a lot of movies where a mind-controlling character shows up. No apparent strain on his part to keep controlling you. Implanted commands can last for hours, and he can renew his control over and over as long as he wants to.

That’s scary enough right there. Putting that level of power in the hands (well, voice) of someone who sees other people as merely tools and playthings, and whose only behavioral boundaries consist in covering his own tracks? That’s nightmare-level stuff.

Think about it this way: Emperor Palpatine spent decades manipulating key people across a galaxy into putting him in a position of absolute control over thousands of worlds. Put him in a room with Kilgrave and he wouldn’t stand a chance.