Science Blast: Black Holes Explained! (almost)

Slowly the great mysteries of the universe give way to humanity’s awesome powers of science!

The Mystery of How Black Holes Collide
and Merge Is Beginning to Unravel

Colliding black holes create space-time ripples that can be seen by the Laser
Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). 
Credit: SXS/LIGO

Last year, scientists announced that they had finally observed gravitational waves, the elusive and long sought-after ripples in the fabric of spacetime that were first posited by Albert Einstein. The waves came from a catastrophic event — the collision of two black holes located about 1.3 billion light years away from Earth — and the released energy undulated across the universe, much like ripples in a pond.

The detection by the upgraded Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Advanced LIGO), along with two subsequent gravitational wave discoveries, confirmed a major prediction of Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and heralded a new era in physics, allowing scientists to study the universe in a new way by using gravity instead of light.

But a fundamental question remains unanswered: How and why do black holes collide and merge?

Read more…

Caption This! week #11

While I was off consulting with timelords about to get them to fix my little title glitch, looks like Stephen J is our winner again!

 

 

Poor little kittens, they just wanted some yummy fish!

But now for someone who seems to be enjoying his day a little more.

3….2….1….. CAPTION!!

CASTALIA: Want Superversive Pulp? Try Eoin Colfer’s “The Wish List”

The superversive conversation at the moment has more or less centered around two topics (things tend to move in cycles; we’ll move on eventually):

  1. What makes a good “strong female character”
  2. The connection between superversive and pulp

I’m not going to rehash that conversation; if you want to see the relevant posts, try these, and click through the comments for discussion. Instead, I’m going to try to give you an example of a relatively modern superversive novel that seems like it would fit pretty firmly in the pulp tradition: Eoin Colfer’s “The Wish List”.

Colfer is best known for his Artemis Fowl series, which is a ton of fun (and pretty pulpy itself) but leans hard into feminism and environmental politics. And it’s not his best work; that would be “Airman”, which is a superb adventure novel that I may also write about one day.

“The Wish List” is something very different than both of those, and in some ways it’s a remarkable book.

Let me try and make my case in order:

1) It has a clearly and unashamedly Christian cosmology. I’m not sure if any other modern work by a mainstream writer is as overtly and clearly Christian as this one. I’m not talking about Christian themes here. I mean St. Peter and Beelzebub literally debate each other at the gates of Heaven (A brief note: the theology is occasionally fudged somewhat, but it’s still undoubtedly Christian):

Even though the archangel  and the demon came from different ends of the spectrum, theologically speaking, they had, over the past few centuries, established something of a rapport…

“So what’s the problem, Bub?” [St. Peter] grinned down the phone line. His opposite number would be spitting fire, but he’d have to swallow it if he wanted a favor.

“The Master is looking for a soul.”

“What about that lawyers’ convention?”

“No. A specific soul. I thought if you had her at the Pearlies, we might trade.”

Awesome. The coolest part of it is that there’s none of that universalist “All religions are true in their own way” crap. “The Wish List” is a novel with a Christian soul, and it tackles its fantasy elements from that perspective.

2) Evil is kicked in the face. In the earlier pulp conversation, Jeffro said this:

I mean the point of a pulp story is to have somebody punch evil and kiss the girl, right?

Good news! Evil might not be punched (Well, sort of, but not really…), but it is kicked in the face. And it’s amazing:

Belch wrapped himself around Meg’s torso. Insane gibberings leaked from between his slobbering lips.

“Finn,” he muttered. “Finn going down.”

That was it for Meg. She’s just about had it…

“Belch,” she screamed, raising down a booted foot, “You can go to Hell!”

She brought the boot down squarely on his wet nose, and the creature that had been Belch Brennan spiraled into the flames, with Meg’s name stretching behind him like a prayer. Or a curse.

3) Yes, the girl is kissed. Not our protagonist in this case, but the deuteragonist gets what surely must be one of the most spectacular kisses in all of fiction:

“Well, Lowrie,” she said, echoes of the teenager in her voice. “Why have you come here?”

It occurred to Lowrie then that he was probably on television.

“Lost love,” he said simply, and kissed her on the lips.

And the crowd went ape, especially when Cicely Ward draped a hand over the dapper old gent’s shoulder and kissed him back. It was fantastic, stupendous.

An ethereal ray of white light exploded from the point of lip contact…

Belch felt it too…”What the hell is that?” he growled, peering over his shoulder.

…”Good,” [Elph] said. “Pure, one hundred percent good.”

Meg felt a rush of blue in her aura.

4) Things get weird. In fine pulp fashion, we get this creation:

Someone, or something, was spinning along beside her. Canine features bubbled under a human skin, poking through like computer animation effects. It was horrible. Grotesque. Yet somehow strangely familiar.

“Belch?” said Meg uncertainly. “Is that you?”

…The dog-boy could only stare in horror as his fingers morphed from stubby digits to pit bull claws. Tears and slobber rolled down his face, dripping in large gobbets from a furry chin.”

Cool!

5) Genres are mixed. In the middle of the fantasy, we get bits like this:

The computer wizard grinned smugly. “No problem, Beelzebub-San, I can uplink him.”

…Myishi removed a nasty-looking object from his box of tricks. It resembled a small monitor on a metal stake. Without hesitation the programmer plunged it into the morass of Belch’s brain. 

…”The brain spike. I love this little baby. The brain’s own electrical impulses provide the power source. Ingenious, if I do say so myself.”

Pure science fiction, baby.

You can’t argue that this one doesn’t hit the pulp beats, right? Unashamedly Christian cosmology? Genre mashing? Weird imagery? Gals getting kissed and demons getting kicked in the face?

It’s all there.

But is it superversive?

You better believe it is.

Remember the infamous redemption story post?

Well, “The Wish List” is that story and more. It’s a redemption story, and it’s a resurrection story. It’s about not giving up, and living without regret, and making up for past wrongs, and all of that other stuff that’s corny when it’s executed badly and amazing when it’s executed well.

“The Wish List” is executed very, very well. It’s not just fun, it’s not just funny, it’s not just inventive, it’s also moving and inspiring. It’s incredibly superversive.

Is it perfect?

No, it’s not. The Chekov’s gun at the beginning is flashed rather obviously, and many of the plot beats are very predictable. The characters sometimes lean a little too far into the stock end. But you’re having so much fun when you read it that you hardly even care!

Isn’t that also the exact thing that folks like Jeffro have been talking about? Those supposedly “cliche” and “predictable” plot beats were used so much because they were incredibly effective?

“The Wish List” is the sort of book that we just don’t see much of anymore, and fans of pulp fiction or superversive fiction owe it to themselves to give it a shot.

The Pinching Shoe That Is Beauty and the Beast

When I wrote my Ruining Beauty post, there were folks who complained that I shouldn’t review a movie I have not seen. I felt they had a good point. Sometimes things sound bad in review, but work well in the actual story. But I also felt that I didn’t want to pay money to see a movie I suspected I might not enjoy.

A young woman I know works at a movie theater. This is her last week, as she is quitting, but she offered me one last free ticket to see the movie of my choice before she left. (Her job included a free ticket for a friend each week.) My daughter asked her for a ticket for me to see Beauty and the Beast. (She knows I love the cartoon version.) So, I decided to go.

Incidentally, my daughter saw the live-action Beauty and the Beast. She was bored. “You like that kind of romance and music,” she said, when she came home. “I don’t like.”  Not sure what to make of that, but even she talked about how beautiful it was.

It was going to be beautiful, right?

How bad could it be?

Imagine that you had been given a really handsome shoe. It looked like one of your favorite shoes from years past, but it was even more beautiful, more finel-made…only every time you took a step, it hurt your foot.

Watching the live action Beauty and the Beast was like that.

First, it was beautiful, utterly breathtaking. Almost every scene was a feast for the eyes. And certain things were really well-done. Emma Tompson as Mrs. Potts was spot on (even while washing a spot off), though a few of her lines were given to the feather duster. Lumiere also was wonderful, though not as funny because of changes they made in the characters around him.

I am not going to go through the film scene by scene, that would be far too painful—for both of us. Rather, I want to mention briefly the categories of errors I saw over and over:

I tried to find a picture to show how angry she looked much of the time,
but none of those shots are online.

 

 

1) Girl Power Rules—anything dainty, feminine, or gentle that Belle did, any time a male character might have been in charge, had to be removed or dealt with badly.

Belle could not handle Gaston subtly, while being amused and above the fray, as in the original. She had to be angry and bossy.

She couldn’t look lovely in a long skirt. She has to wear modern boots, which jarred me out of the picture every time I saw them—though it took me a while to realize what was wrong—and have her skirt pinned up to show off her bloomers on one leg in an outfit that the real Belle would never have worn.

Belle’s weird and unattractive (from some angles) dress.
compare with–look how long these dressed are, and no hiking boots:

She cannot give her word to stay in her father’s place (giving her father a reason to not immediately rush back to try to rescue her.) She has to not give her word, push her father so that he stumbles out of the cell and falls down, and then try to climb out a window.

So now she’s there because she’s tougher than an old man, not because she is a girl of integrity, who keeps her word until she is truly frightened. (Which also didn’t work. Live-action Belle just looked petulant and angry and like she is leaving the castle because the Beast told her to go, so she’s going! Not because she was frightened. So when she says, “You shouldn’t have frightened me.” The line doesn’t make sense.)

She can’t be cheerful and filled with joy. She has to be angry and petulant. Funny thing though—for all their attempt to make her top dog, the Belle who got angry and seemed resentful after Gaston expressed his desire to marry her seemed much weaker, much less in charge of her life, than the cheerful girl who just laughed off the foolishness of Gaston’s pretensions.

It was as if the scriptwriters were working from a bible that said: “The female character must have agency at all times,” which doesn’t make for good storytelling, especially about a young woman in an earlier age encountering a huge, scary beast.

Worse, when plot and feminism came into conflict, the plot always lost. (This is why we object to message fiction, folks. It’s not the message that is so bad, it is when the message shoves the plot aside and knocks it down the stairs.)

We can’t have a noble character, that would confuse the viewers!

 

 

 

 

2)  The Faramir Effect—Anyone here remember The Lord of the Rings movie, where they totally, utterly ruined the character of Faramir. Why? The reason given was, “To show that the ring was truly evil, everyone had to be tempted by it.”

This principle shows a lack of the subtleties of storytelling. But it was the ruling principle in the live-action Beauty and the Beast.

Belle couldn’t be odd and beloved—because the prosaic locals didn’t understand her love of books but still valued the pretty, cheerful girl. She had to be hated by villagers who sent all their boys to school in lockstep but made the girls sit in the town center doing laundry. Villagers who threw her laundry into the mud when she dare teach a girl to read! (Shocked gasp!)

Because she can be the only reader—no longer the only bookish girl—boys going to school were added, girls slaving were added, teaching another girl to read was verboten, and during LeFou’s song, he has to stop to make a crack about being illiterate because…if even a soldier like LeFou can read, it will take away from how evil the One Ring is…er, I mean how odd Belle is.

Gaston cannot be a vain man who is a little too taken with himself because everyone in town adores him. He has to be a bully, a lout. But!—ONLY when it doesn’t violate Rule #1. When he’s among other people he swaggers and bullies, but when he talks to Super Fem…er, sorry, Belle, he has to stand several steps below her and plead.

(It was the weirdest scene in the movie: Alpha male Gaston suddenly transforming into a whimpering beta wolf. Which made Belle’s petulance at his imploring seem all the more like an overreaction.)

Gaston cannot come up with a “cunning plan” to trick Belle’s father into agreeing to let him marry his daughter. He has to try to murder Maurice and then bully LeFou into lying about it.

He cannot be admired by LeFou and the bimbettes, who he treats with jovial good will. He has to pettily have his horse kick mud on the women and abandon LeFou at the end to be squashed by a piano.

Oh…and there there’s the bimbettes. They can’t be sweet, cute girls who swoon over Gaston and cry when they think he’s going to pick someone else. They have to be mean-spirited witches, like Cinderella’s stepsisters, totally unpleasant and not cute in the least.

Vs.

 

These are two cases, but there were many. Each time the plot, characters, etc. came in conflict with the Faramir Effect, the plot, etc. took a dive.

3) Mommy! Someone’s Mean On The Internet!—I know many people are fond of TV Tropes, but words cannot express the horror and dismay I felt when I first saw that such a thing existed, and time has only proven my fear to be well-founded.

Yes, it can be fun to glance at the website, but the first thing I thought when I saw it was: Oh, no! Now, people are going to start picking apart stories like corpses, and labeling them rather than enjoying them.

Tropes are like the tricks of the trade of a magician. If someone laid out every move every magician made, with arrows showing where to look at all times to see the trick, no one would enjoy the show any more.

When people stop and guffaw, “Oh, look! He used the Mom’s-Head’s-On-Backwards Trope!” (or whatever), they stop enjoying the magic.

But worse, far worse than anything I previously imagined, is when DISNEY starts worrying about the tropes.

The last several Disney movies I have seen have all had the same phenomena over and over—someone is so self-conscious about the tools of their trade that they have to stop and point a finger and try to be funny about it. It is as if they are ashamed at their storytelling, instead of caught in the magic.

The worst offender of this was Moana. The self-conscious pokes at their own tropes—breaking the fourth wall to do it—really took me out of the movie, (except for one—where they didn’t break the fourth wall, which I actually thought was quite funny.)

But Beauty and the Beast did this, too, though not as badly.

It’s not just tropes…one can see in these movies where they are painstakingly rushing to fill in things that they have been criticized online for not having. Instead of ignoring their critics and telling a good story, they rushed to fill in every single little thing that might not make sense.

Nobody stops in the middle of spelling their boss’s name in song to suddenly announce that they are illiterate, unless the writers are mocking the subject. That kind of mocking really draws the viewer out of the movie. (Not if it were Aladdin, where the genie did a lot of it, but when it happens out of nowhere. And so stupidly. Either have him spell the name, or leave that section out of the song. And the genie wasn’t embarrassed about what he did.)

The snow in the scene with Belle and the Beast in the original was just to show time was passing. Here it had to be explained.

The Beast was a selfish child who had temper tantrums in the original, and his servants were his loyal servants. Here, he had to be this way because of his wicked father (okay…how did the father come to be that way? Another wicked father? Is it wicked fathers all the way down?) and the servants had to be guilty of something.

Belle’s mother was dead in the original. Here this had to be explained—in a scene that did NOTHING for the movie.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a beautiful scene. Really beautiful and haunting. But it didn’t change Belle, alter her outlook or her purpose. It didn’t even help her connect with the Beast—who had also lost his mother as a young man. It had no effect because it was added in without the story being rewritten to support it.

And this, even though they did set up that she was curious about her mother—but there was no follow through, no result from this that altered her life. It was too important a thing to be touched on so lightly and was treated too lightly in the story to be worth the amount of time it took.

What it did feel like was: “People on the Internet have criticized us for not saying more about Belle’s mother…so here’s an Easter egg for them.”

But, as John said, it made the father look like a coward—fleeing rather than staying with his dying wife?

And many moments were like that…as if they were rushing to address every criticism rather than trying to write a good story. And, of course, by doing this, they opened the way for new criticisms.

If Belle can get to Paris and pick up a rose-shaped rattle with a magic book, why didn’t she use the book to instantly reach her father? (Which is kind of a bigger loophole than any in the original.)

Nor was this scene added without a price. By adding distractions, additional plotlines, they took attention away from the secondary characters. In the original, Cogsworth was the butler and in charge, and Lumiere was always going around his back.—which made him witty and clever and a delightful rogue.

In the live-action version, Cogsworth is just some kind of hanger-on who only has a few lines and never acts very pompous…and therefore is less endearing and funny. Much more time is spent developing the servants’s lives in the live-action, but somehow at the loss of character personality and wit.

 

In conclusion:

There were many, many more things—some good, many bad—that I don’t have time to mention. As a writer, I found some of the things that seemed wrong, the pinches in the shoe, a bit frightening. I wasn’t sure how their decisions differed from the kind of decision I make in my writing…and I wondered how a writer tells when they are overdoing something vs. making it clear enough.

And yet, the result was: that so many notes just seemed to be out of place, off key.

Overall, the feeling I walked away with was: This had been a marvelous movie that had all sorts of things arbitrarily stuck into it to fill out agendas other than “tell a good story”—rather like taking a nice leather shoe and stretching it to fit a donkey instead of a human foot and then trying to wear it.

 

 

Poor Walt.

He would have been appalled.

 

Superversive Stand For The Fans At OdysseyCon

I am pleased to make an announcement on behalf of several great authors in the Science Fiction and Fantasy community.That announcement is: fans, we care about you, and we want you to have a good time. We support your coming out to express yourself in fandom.

A couple of weeks ago, an invited headlining guest flaked on a convention, OdysseyCon. No notice was given, no accommodations were asked for, simply bailing two weeks before it happened, leaving the fans without an honored guest. The Con responded professionally and nicely, trying to work things out as much as possible, but that wasn’t enough for this person who took to social media, and got a cabal of angry virtue signallers to start swearing, berating and attacking anyone they could.

The people who are left in the dust are fans, innocent folk who just wanted to spend a weekend hanging out, playing games, talking science fiction, listening to some authors speak and having a good time in fellowship. None of these virtue signallers thought or cared about the fans. It’s frankly shameful and unprofessional. The fans are our sustenance, readers are our life. As such, I felt compelled to help the readers of OdysseyCon, and spoke with several award winning and bestselling authors to help their weekend, as their convention no longer has an author guest.

The convention did get some great guests to attend: Michael Butt, an independent horror film maker and Brent Chumley, an artist known for Magic: The Gathering and actually worked by my side on Doomtown: Reloaded. These are both stellar individuals, who are high energy, full of life, and amazing artists. What’s missing though is the literary component.

Not being local to Wisconsin, the best I could think of to help was to bring the fans more of what they love. This is a thank you to readers for being so faithful and dedicated, and my hope that this will bring the fun and good times that has made fandom so great. I present you, attending members of OdysseyCon, a group of free ebooks especially compiled for you, the fan and reader. Because there are authors that care and want you to have the most enjoyable experience possible!

Details of how to redeem this will be passed out at the convention, but here’s what you can expect. We’re bringing you great books by:

Nick Cole – Winner of the 2016 Dragon Award for his Dystopian fiction!

Jon Del Arroz – Your humble blogger and Alliance Award nominated author of space opera and steampunk!

Declan Finn – Dragon Award Nominee for his epic vampire fiction!

Marina Fontaine – Dragon Award Nominee for her chilling dystopian fiction!

Robert Kroese – Bestselling author, creator of eight successful kickstarter projects, and highly regarded Science Fiction author oft compared to Douglas Adams!

L. Jagi Lamplighter – An astounding YA Fantasy Author whose Rachel series reviewers say is better than Harry Potter!

John C. Wright – A true Science Fiction Grand Master, nominated for more Hugo Awards in one year than any person alive, and Dragon Award winner!

Also included is the mega-bestselling Forbidden Thoughts anthology from Superversive Press, featuring incredible stories by Baen Books authors Sarah Hoyt, Larry Correia,Brad Torgersen and more!

Holy cow. That’s about the most star-studded line up you could possibly find, and there may even be more to come. Check back for updates. All of the authors want to thank you, the reader and convention attendee, for your support over the years. We really couldn’t do it without you and hope that you have a great OdysseyCon this year!

A Doctor to Dragons is Launched!

A new hilarious collection of short stories by G.Scott Huggins has been released today by Superversive Press:

The Dark Lord’s favorite dragon is constipated. Dr. James DeGrande, veterinarian and orc-slayer, is going to have to deal with it.

This one could get messy.

“Everyone says it was better in the Good Old Days. Before the Dark Lord covered the land in His Second Darkness.

As far as I can tell, it wasn’t that much better. Even then, everyone cheered the heroes who rode unicorns into combat against dragons, but no one ever remembered who treated the unicorns’ phosphine burns afterward. Of course, that was when dragons were something to be killed. Today I have to save one. Know what fewmets are? No? Then make a sacrifice of thanks right now to whatever gods you worship, because today I have to figure a way to get them flowing back out of the Dark Lord’s favorite dragon. Yeah, from the other end. And that’s just my most illustrious client. I’ve got orcs and trolls who might eat me and dark elf barons who might sue me if their bloodhawks and chimeras don’t pull through. And that doesn’t even consider the possibility that the old bag with the basilisk might show up.

The only thing that’s gone right this evening is finding Harriet to be my veterinary assistant. She’s almost a witch, which just might save us both. If we don’t get each other killed first.”

If that wasn’t enough, here is a promotional video (thought up during a sleep-deprived creative frenzy) that inflicts my vocal stylings upon your ears, and I must warn you it shall not be the last such torture to accompany a book launch, so be afraid!

Click the image below to grab the book for yourself.

The paperback version can be found here

For those of you who want to subject yourself to the full song, see below:

Science Blast: The Future Is Here!

Been waiting for cool flying boards like in Back To The Future and a million other  stories? Wait no longer!

Hoverboard Daredevil Speeds Over Atlantic Ocean

The hoverboard flight was just under 7 minutes long and flew about 164 feet (50 meters) above the Atlantic Ocean.  Credit: Breitling

In a stunt straight out of a science-fiction film, a real-life, jet-powered hoverboard cruised over the Atlantic Ocean.

Franky Zapata, a hoverboard, took to the skies in a promotional video for the watch company Breitling. The Swiss watchmaker announced its partnership with the Flyboard Air project in December with an incredible video that shows Zapata flying on his hoverboard, reported The Telegraph. Zapata flew about 164 feet (50 meters) over the Atlantic Ocean for almost 7 minutes, The Telegraph said.

Breitling used the video to announce that it will be the main sponsor of Flyboard Air, with the partnership marking “a new chapter in conquering the