Sunday Roundup

A series of varying regularity, wherein I point at things I’ve read on the internet. Some sci, some fi, some fantasy, some very random.

Elon Musk continues to be entirely serious about colonizing Mars. And now he’s pretty sure he can make money doing it, and business being what it is, that makes the whole endeavor a lot more likely to succeed. From NYT:

Speaking on Friday at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, Mr. Musk said he had figured out a workable business plan, although his presentation lacked financial figures to back up his assertions.

Mr. Musk has long talked about his dreams of colonizing Mars, and at the same conference last year, he finally provided engineering details: a humongous reusable rocket called the Interplanetary Transport System.

But he did not convincingly explain then how SpaceX, still a company of modest size and revenues, could finance such an ambitious project.

“Now we think we have a better way to do it,” he said Friday.

The new rocket and spaceship would replace everything that SpaceX is currently launching or plans to launch in the near future. “That’s really fundamental,” Mr. Musk said.

 

While we’re on the topic, if you haven’t already read Tim Urban’s incredibly in-depth post on Space X and Musk’s plan for a Martian colony, you really should set aside a while and dive in. It’s truly fascinating stuff. In fact, do yourself a favor and read his entire series on Musk and his businesses: you may not be as big a fan as Urban is (and, full disclosure, I am) but it’s worth your time to understand the man and what he’s aiming to do. He’s one of a few individuals, along with Bezos and Zuckerberg, who have the ambition, finances and staggering arrogance to fully believe they can change the world for the better–and who knows, might even be right.

Elsewhere, Luc Besson has written a script for a sequel to Lucy:

I’m a bit surprised simply because the original, which starred Scarlett Johansson as the eponymous Lucy, who gains super thinking powers after a weird run in with some superdrugs, didn’t leave much room in its ending for a sequel.

I thoroughly enjoyed the slightly trashy original, so I’d certainly give a sequel a look. Interested to see what direction he’s gone with it. ScarJo as God? With Luc Besson, you really never know.

Justice League meets Power Rangers! Friendship ensues! Aww.

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The British Fantasy Awards happened, which means there are even more books I should read that I won’t get to for ages.

And finally, Amazon continue to be a TV production company with some potentially mouth-watering SF adaptations:

It will adapt Neal Stephenson classic, neo-quasi-cyberpunk novel which introduces us to pizza deliveryman/hacker Hiro Protagonist, his business partner YT, and their adventures in a future divided between life in a grim corprocracy and in the Metaverse, a virtual reality that is being threatened by a terrifying virus.

I’d particularly like to see Snow Crash on TV, just to see a group of actors attempt to say ‘Hiro Protagonist’ with a straight face.

Have a good week, folks.

P.S. 2,100 words of the WIP written today!

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Sunday Roundup

The first in a series of varying regularity, wherein I point at things I’ve read on the internet. Some sci, some fi, some fantasy, some very random.

First up, the wonderfully titled ‘Middle-earth Cage Match: Bill the Pony vs. Shadowfax‘ over at Tor.com. The author has really put some work in to first articulate what in the heck the difference between a horse and a pony really is, anyway, and then who would win in a cross-discipline matchup between sturdy Bill and coiffed glamour boy Shadowfax.

Pound for pound, too, a pony can be stronger than a horse. Shetlands can carry a grown man with ease, though his feet may drag on the ground. Horses will lose weight-bearing capability as they get larger; a very large horse is challenged enough to carry his own weight around without also carrying a heavy rider. A really big horse is not what you want to carry your very heavy rider, especially if he’s in armor. You want a cob, a stocky, sturdily built animal in the mid rage between pony and horse—14.2 to 15.2 hands. The Welsh Cob is a great example, as is the Lipizzaner. Forlong the Fat, in my head, is riding a largeish Welsh Cob, and the Cob is rocking it.

Great stuff.

Also at Tor, a lovely retrospective on Gattaca, and why it ranks high in the sci-fi movie pantheon Worth a rewatch–it’s not on Netflix, unfortunately, but you can rent it HD from Amazon Video for a few dollars.

At io9, Tom Hiddlestone is surprised Loki hasn’t been offed yet. I’m not, given he’s the best character in the MCU in my humble opinion. As the author points out:

He manages to bring a dashing chaos to Loki, like James Bond doing a Joker impression.

(Time to dust off those Hiddlestone-replaces-Craig-as-Bond rumors, too.)

Oh my word. Adam at The Wertzone appears to have written at least a hundred thousands words ‘summarizing’ the history of Middle-earth in ten parts so far. Impressive, albeit intimidating. Warm up, stretch and hydrate before attempting.

Back in the MCU (kind of – MTU?), the trailer for the upcoming Punisher Netflix show dropped. And Frank… well, Frank is angry.

I’m very excited to see this, as John Bernthal is fantastic and his Frank Castle was the best part of a… let’s say uneven season two of Daredevil. I’ve a little catching up to do first though, as I’ve yet to finish Luke Cage (excellent), Iron Fist (slog) or even start The Defenders. Of the latter, I’ve heard good things, but apparently people aren’t watching it–perhaps more viewers than just me are struggling to keep up with all the other good TV on. (We’ve only just started Stranger Things and season two starts next month!)

Apparently there’s a TV adaption of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series in the works. The writers have decent resumes:

Writers David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman will be transforming the novels for the small screen. Goyer’s credits include Ghost Rider and Blade, while Friedman’s projects include the War of the worlds remake and Terminator: the Sarah Connor chronicles.

I’ve read all of the Foundation novels, and as well as being wonderful science fiction novels they’re all to an extent treatises on philosophy, psychology, sociology and politics. Whether that depth can be adequately transferred to a TV version is debatable–but I’m sure plenty of A Song of Ice and Fire fans were convinced that was unadaptable too.

Finally, in natural science news, ‘Sexual rivals can influence the size of a duck’s penis‘:

As study author Patricia Brennan, a visiting lecturer of biological sciences at the institution, told National Geographic earlier this week, she didn’t even realize until near the end of her graduate school work that birds could even have penises. In fact, 97% of them do not, she explained.

Male ducks are one of the exceptions, and unlike most species, they grow a new one each year. Most of the time, they are hidden, but you can convince a duck into showing you his by turning him over onto his back and applying pressure to his belly, Brennan noted. “If you know exactly where to press, you can pop the penis out. They’re quite cooperative.”

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‘They grow a new one each year.’

Have a good week, folks.

Scientists Thought They’d Proved Einstein Wrong, Hadn’t

Over at Gizmodo:

[Researchers] found instances where moving (but not stationary) atoms spitting out packets of light energy would bring into existence a tiny force that acted like friction, and published research on it earlier this year. A force that exists when an object is moving, but not when it is stationary, violates the core principles of Einstein’s (and Galileo’s) laws of relativity—there isn’t anything special about the laws of physics when something is moving at constant velocity versus when it’s at rest. So, had they accidentally spotted a tiny hole in the most well-accepted theories of physics?

Nah.

But the researchers thought, well, what if they redo all of the physics of this situation, but allow the mass of the atom to change, too?

This, it turns out, resolves the paradox—the moving atom loses a tiny amount of mass through the emission of energy, eliminating the requirement for a velocity-dependent frictional force. Essentially, they came across Einstein’s most famous equation, E=mc^2, demonstrating that energy and mass are proportional using the basic laws of physics.

Einstein: still the undisputed champ at all levels of mass or energy.

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‘Nice try.’

Jumbo Extended Captain America Trailer: Banter, Fighting, Scarlett Johansson’s Bum

Looking good. And in a trailer otherwise full of quick jump cuts between action scenes, it’s nice to see they took the time to spend a full four seconds on Black Widow walking away from the camera. As if the average guy in the 18-35 demo wasn’t already going to see the movie.

Meanwhile, Tor are disappointed that the upcoming Terminator reboot is going to, well, be a reboot, which doesn’t fit with the ontological paradox set up in the existing canon. I might also care about this, but it’s the end of a long week and half way through reading the article I decided to have a beer instead. (Of caring. I did finish the article. And now I need to go and research what a Nokikov self-consistency principle is.)

Surprising no-one, 300: Rise of an Empire may not be great, based on the scathingly sarcastic review over at io9.

Arrows and dead men and ship parts float past his head, in the gooey slow motion style that elevates the 300 franchise from mere war porn to aesthetically rich political statement.

Ha.

GODZILLAAAAAAAAAA! Etc.

Bryan Cranston? Check. Guy from Kick Ass? Check. Really, really big lizard? Check.

But a lizard so big that repeatedly being hit by nuclear detonations back in the 50s didn’t kill it? Really? I can get behind the idea of a thousand foot tall monster laying waste to Tokyo, but let’s be realistic.

In other news, NASA reported that they found a bunch of new planets. A big bunch. 715 more on top of the 1000 we already knew about. Only four are in the so-called Goldilocks zone–not too hot, not too cold, just right for us finicky humans–but that’s still quite a find. Now we just need a vast amount of money, resources and political will to go and investigate them, and we’ll be colonising the stars in no time!

Over at the Wertzone there’s a great list of female fantasy authors, who apparently Waterstones have never heard of despite being a major bookseller.

And there’s an interesting and well-written article on Tor comparing Sherlock, which I love, with Elementary, which I’ve never seen. Some really good points.

Last up: BATMAN VS. THE TERMINATOR.

30 years have passed since Bruce Wayne survived Skynet’s nuclear blasts in August of ’97. Iron demons now roam the planet, and without the requirement to defend the innocent against crime and injustice, Wayne has seeked refuge in the bomb shelter that saved his life; the Batcave.

Having scavenged the wasteland for resources, he discovers the radio of a dead soldier. There is static over a frequency. Flesh and blood is rising up to the west. With The Stinger; a riot control vehicular unit built before the apocalypse along with a refitted bomb blast vest, Batman makes his way across what remains of the United States to join forces with the man determined to neutralize the electronic menace – John Connor.

Fantastic.

Star Wars Episode VII: Grand Canyon

Mrs. Dan and I went to the Grand Canyon last weekend, which is surely the world leader in seemingly impressive names which turn out to be bald understatement when you actually see them. A bit like if Mount Everest was called Giant Rock. You get the idea.

When we were there I was pretty focused on being awestruck and constantly overwhelmed by how massive it is. But while reviewing my photos earlier today, with the grandeur fairly well diluted, a thought struck me almost immediately.

“They should totally film Star Wars here.”

IMG_0326Can’t you just imagine a squadron of X-Wings screaming across the canyon in the dawn light?

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Or Jaina and Jacen Solo sparring with lightsabers on a snowy clifftop?

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Or something involving this extremely wide panorama shot that I really wanted to shoehorn into this post?

I certainly can. And one of the benefits of Disney now owning the franchise is that they could probably afford to rent the entire Canyon National Park for six months to film there!

Man, I really hope J.J. Abrams or Kathleen Kennedy reads this.

Treadmill Desk is Go Go Go

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and be jealous!

IMAG0492_BURST002After about eighteen months of using a standing desk to work from home, and loving it, last week I took the final step in banishing the sedentary aspect of working on a computer all day. I’ve been following the trends in treadmill desking over the last year or so, and particularly the amazingly in-depth Treadmill Desk Diary. It was based on the recommendations there that I bought my desk and my treadmill. And the colours even match, which is a nice bonus!

So far I’m not walking constantly while I work, sometimes I just stand, but I’ve definitely been getting some good exercise. I’ve been keeping track of how many minutes I’ve done, and at what speed, and therefore my distance. The treadmill also has a calorie burn estimate, which is handy. From all of this I can say that in Week One A.T.–After Treadmill–I walked 36.1 miles and burned 5340 calories! Which is pretty badass.

If you’re interested in learning more about the terrifying dangers of a sedentary lifestyle, or ‘How Your Chair Is Killing You’, have a read of this report from the President’s Council on Not Being So Overweight And Unhealthy That You Die at Forty Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. If tl;dr, the headline is ‘Stand Up, Sit Less, Move More, More Often’. Which is really just common sense, but it does take a bit of effort to put it into practice. You don’t need to go the whole way and get the same setup as me–and that wouldn’t even be possible for a lot of people who work in normal offices, rather than at home–but try standing up to work once in a while. You might like it!

Dan’s New Year’s Resolutions for 2014

  • Take driving lessons. Pass test. Terrify other motorists with erratic and unexpected driving ‘skills’.
  • When visiting Grand Canyon in February, take at least one decent photo.
  • Exercise more. Remove squidgy bit of body hiding abs. (These may have disappeared since last sighting, though prodding suggests one or two still remain.)
  • Complete and publish third novel. Start fourth.
  • Blog more.
  • Read more.
  • Try harder to acknowledge dog owners before greeting dog.
  • Learn how to properly roast a duck. Also: goose.
  • Bring unruly sideburns under control.
  • Don’t use bulleted lists so much.

I’m Reading Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’ And I Have No Idea What It’s About

Yet, I should say. Grabbed you with that controversial headline, though, didn’t I? Hopefully some of King’s many fans rushed here to defend his work in my comments section. (Hi!)

But no–I’m talking about the rare and happy occurrence of starting to read, watch or otherwise consume a book, movie, TV show or other art with absolutely no idea of what the story is about. Because how often does that happen these days?

I’ve heard of The Stand, obviously. I know some people think it’s King’s best book, and that others insist it’s overwrought, overblown, and in need of a good editor. I know that my mum started watching the TV adaptation some years back and gave up a few episodes in.

And that’s all I knew when I saw a copy on the shelf of the second-hand bookstore two blocks away from the new apartment in Washington, D.C. into which Mrs. Dan and I recently moved, priced at what seemed like a bargain $3.00. (The book, not the apartment. They run a little dearer than that.)

Stephen King for three dollars? And it’s a thick one,” thought I. Thumbed it open. “Small print, too. This’ll keep me going for a while.” Closed the book again, looked at the cover. ‘The Complete and Uncut Edition’, it says, and the brief foreword promised 150,000 words, or 500 pages, more story than the already lengthy version that was originally published.

No blurb on the back cover, no clue to the story. Just a black and white photo of an unsmiling King from twenty-odd years ago. And on the cover, a figure on horseback wielding a scythe.

Well, people are going to die in it, I can tell that much.” And I paid my money, and I took my new book home.

It doesn’t actually matter what The Stand is about, and I won’t risk robbing anyone of the same experience I’ve had by describing it. But it did make me think a little about what we’ve lost in this age of constant, immediate, instantaneous media. We’re flooded with trailers, reviews, articles and blogs, each movie studio or television network desperate to shove their product in front of our eyeballs, and a million other internet denizens waiting to pronounce it good, or bad, or simply broadcast that it exists.

God forbid if you haven’t seen the latest episode of Breaking Bad because you’re planning to watch it later. You’d better stay off the internet until you do. (And just to be on the safe side, don’t go to work either.)

We buy books and movies because we read reviews, and plot teasers, and friends tell us “Dude, you have to watch My New Favourite Show. It’s about this geography teacher from Arizona who has Alzheimer’s but becomes a Mafia don in New Jersey before faking his own death and joining the Baltimore police force. It’s fantastic. Netflix it. I’m on season eight.”

I loved The Avengers. And I’m already pretty damn excited about the sequel. So far all I know is it’s coming out in May 2015, and someone or something called Ultron is in it, but I’m sketchy enough on my Avengers canon that I don’t know what that is. But I guarantee that by late April 2015, I’ll know exactly who stars in the movie, who all the new characters are, what Ultron is, and will have seen four different trailers containing 90% of the best scenes from the film. Because I’m weak, and I won’t be able to help myself.

But wouldn’t it be nice, just once, to not have those teasers, those tasters, the constant little dribbles of information that leak out and draw us in? To go back to finding out about a film by seeing a poster for it on the side of a bus stop two weeks before it came out? Or discovering a great new TV show by flicking through channels one night and being gripped by a great scene? Or discovering a new book not by browsing a list of what customers who bought that item also bought, but by wandering into a second-hand bookshop that you didn’t even know was there and just picking one up off the shelf?

You can still do that last one, at least. And you should, I highly recommend it. Because, you see, The Stand is about–