“Invisible Planets” & Chinese Sci-fi

Euro-centrism is something we should re-examine from time to time. In the same way that female empowerment and achievement is vital to society (50% of all humans are underrepresented in art, business, and political power), imagine dismissing the contributions of non-English writing to humanity’s literary whole. Yet that’s what we habitually do in the appreciation of Science Fiction. I’m definitely going to check out the Chinese Sci Fi mentioned is this prescient blog entry.


5156c3sbiolThere’s sometimes a tendency to think of science fiction as a uniquely or at least primarily Anglo-American phenomenon. During the 20th century, the most prominent sci-fi authors were either British or American. Moreover, they were, with a few exceptions, white males. Some writers, such as Ursula K. Le Guin, tried to incorporate non-Western philosophies like Taoism or Buddhism into their writing, but they were often the exception. Most sci-fi seemed firmly rooted in the Enlightenment. In the Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction, scholars discuss racial and gender diversity in the genre, but still tend to focus on British or American authors. With few exceptions, no non-English sci-fi story has made an appreciable impact on Western audiences.

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Ideas or the lack of them can cause disease!

I don’t read many books twice, but I recently pulled my worn paperback copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions off the old bookshelf and, flipping through the first few pages, I became convinced it was time to revisit it.

I love the quote in the title of this blog entry  from Vonnegut’s fictional alter-ego, Kilgore Trout, and it reminds me that I haven’t blogged in a good, long, time. Here’s to ideas, of which we have many! Let’s commit more of them to paper.

Tricorder about to become a reality?

Interesting news item from IEEE Spectrum reports on the first prototype of a Tricorder medical scanning device. I was unaware that a Tricorder X Prize competition (in the same family as Space X for commercial space flights) was in progress.


I love this kind of news because I enjoy thinking about how science fiction, and particularly Star Trek, inspires real life technical advances.

Lived Long, Prospered

Leonard Nimoy passed away yesterday at the age of 83. I could think of no better way to mark his passing than re-watching Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan. The film is a remarkably poignant and moving eulogy for arguably the most iconic TV character of all time.

Source: IMDb.com

From the film…

Kirk: We are assembled here today to pay final respects to our honored dead. And yet it should be noted that in the midst of our sorrow, this death takes place in the shadow of new life, the sunrise of a new world; a world that our beloved comrade gave his life to protect and nourish. He did not feel this sacrifice a vain or empty one, and we will not debate his profound wisdom at these proceedings. Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most… human.

and also…

McCoy: He’s not really dead. As long as we remember him.

Nimoy’s Spock is a giant among Science Fiction characters, and as an integral part of Star Trek’s legacy, he inspired us to look forward, to imagine (and create) a brighter future. He was also a good guy.

I remember the story that has made its viral rounds on the Internet recently, about Nimoy’s touching response to a biracial girl in a teen magazine in 1968: Spock Responds to a Young Fan

I also remember the story of Nimoy holding out from signing on to one of the Star Trek movies until Nichelle Nichols and George Takei got better deals. Nichols and Takei were offered considerably less than the other members of the cast.

Rest in peace, Leonard.

Favorite Star Trek Episodes… To Hate

There are lots of people who write about their favorite Star Trek episodes, but I thought I’d try something different. I’m going to list my favorite Star Trek episodes to hate. To loathe. To rip apart, piece by putrid piece, on the Internet or at the pub.

You see, this evening I watched the notoriously bad Deep Space Nine episode “Profit and Lace”. It features Quark in drag. Yeah. Here’s the trailer:

I have all of Deep Space Nine available on demand from the cable company, and even though I profess to be a total Trekkie, I am woefully incomplete in watching the entire canon. I haven’t watched most of Voyager, only watched about a third of Deep Space Nine, and missed the back half of Enterprise. I’m told that Deep Space Nine is the best of all these, so I dove right into Season 6 and intend to watch to the end, before maybe starting again from the beginning.

So my wife and I have worked through most of Season 6 (pleasantly surprised), and came upon “Profit and Lace”. Afterwards, I turned to my wife and said “Weird, but that was pretty entertaining.” She said, “What the hell are you on? That was a nightmare. Maybe the worst episode ever.” I thought it was a funny take on women’s rights (Ferengi woman were finally given the right to wear clothes!) and it was progressive given how backwards Ferengi were about gender. My wife thought the whole episode was sexist and creepy and just… just horrible.

I agreed it was bad, but at least it was entertainingly bad. If I were to pick a worst episode at this point, it would have been a bit earlier in the same season. The episode was “His Way” and featured Odo learning to woo Kira from a holographic lounge singer, Vic. That episode was INTERMINABLE for me. We had to watch the improbably sentient and inexplicably powerful Vic sing an entire song while Odo pretended (yes PRETENDED) to play the piano.

However, the online vitriol against “Profit and Lace” is far more intense. It brings to mind the concept of fans targeting an episode that is so tonally different from the rest of a series that it becomes legendary in its badness.

For Star Trek: The Next Generation, that episode is probably “Samaritan Snare”, where a bunch of… simpletons, let’s say… abduct Geordi and force him to fix their ship. “We look for things. Things we need. Things that make us go.” Cringe. Nonetheless my brother and I still quote lines from it to each other, to this day.

My wife says the corresponding episode from Star Trek (The Original Series) is “Spock’s Brain”. I haven’t seen that in a long time, so I’ll have to re-watch that to see if I agree.

What’s your favorite Star Trek episode to hate?

Freemium: Free to Play, or Pay to Win?

I’m (mildly) addicted to a few Freemium games. You know, like Candy Crush Saga, which I was into for a while. So was my Mom. And my elderly uncle who lives overseas.

But the current Freemium (Free Premium?) games that I spend a lot of time (but not a lot of money) on are Game of War: Fire Age, Clash of Clans, and a relatively unknown garage-built game called Galactic Empires (essentially an oGame space combat clone).

About the money part, I like finding games that are balanced enough such that paying for the upgrades or speedups is mildly appealing to me, but where I can still pride myself on spending nothing, or as close to nothing, as possible. It’s part of the challenge, really. It usually means I’m not ranked the highest on the leader boards, but I often find myself leading or being on the council of a influential alliance or clan, and getting lots of satisfying play and online interaction for free.

See, they call these Free to Play (F2P) games, but a lot of gamers derisively refer to some of them as Pay to Win (P2W) games. The latter are more specifically games that are balanced to benefit players who spend lots of money (“whales”). In other words, the only way to “win” is to buy the upgrades.

There’s a South Park lampooning the Freemium game concept. They have it pretty bang on, especially the mechanism of getting addicted to the game for free, starting to care about it, then agressively encouraging the purchase of upgrades and speedups. It’s funny, but I don’t share their wanton cynicism…

Over the course of years, I’ve spent, in total, $19.99 on Game of War, nothing on Clash of Clans, and exactly $1 on Galactic Empires (to remove the ads).

But these games can make a hell of a lot of money. Like serious, serious coin; some of the companies (King, Supercell) have valuations in the billions of dollars. Yes. Billions. Game Makers Valuations

As with gambling, there are people playing these games that have either too much money to spend or a serious gaming addiction. But also like gambling, if you have self control and aren’t susceptible to getting addicted, then you can have lots of fun sitting at the penny slots in Vegas, getting free drinks with pleasant frequency if you tip the waitress a dollar every time she comes back.

South Park does have a point, though. In fact, the controversy over Freemium games, and the true stories of young children spending thousands of dollars of their unwitting parents’ money, has prompted Apple to change their download buttons in the App Store to say “Get” instead of the potentially misleading “Free”. Free Vs. Get in App Store Apps

I think that’s a good change. But I also think Freemium games have been unfairly vilified. Non-gamers are afraid of the addictiveness and appalled at the idea of spending money on frivolous games. Hardcore gamers are snobbish about the whole casualness of it all, and prefer being encamped on their dedicated gaming consoles or super-charged PCs. They don’t want to be hounded to gift free lives to their Aunties and Grannies on Candy Crush Saga, or Pet Rescue, or Farm whatever.

What’s undeniable is that Freemium games are a force to be reckoned with, and have turned the gaming industry on its head. Some of these games have earned their success through balance, innovation and market savvy. They are just plain fun.

Why don’t you see for your self? Try it, it’s free. What could possibly go wrong?

Space Oddity

I absolutely love this video of Chris Hadfield on the International Space Station, singing “Space Oddity” by David Bowie. If you haven’t seen it, or haven’t seen it in a long time, well, go for it:

I watched this for the first time at the end of 2013, actually (not 2014). That marked a period in my life where I was super stressed, super overworked (like 80 hours a week), so I had not been following the great work Commander Hadfield had been doing on the ISS, tweeting with schoolkids and posting fun videos in Zero-G (This is how I brush my teeth in space, kids!).

So when I finally got around to taking the few minutes to watch this, I found it spellbinding. I even got a little verklempt.

It got me started devouring the rest of his videos on YouTube and I later read his book (not the best written biography in the world, but full of interesting details nonetheless). Inspiring guy, and he’s done a great thing for science education.

The Simulation Argument

Here is a philosophical argument that just about blew my mind, maybe 30 minutes ago. I had loaded up this academic paper on my iPad because it was referenced somewhere else, and I just read it.

It asks “Are you living in a computer simulation?” and argues that the answer, “Yes”, is highly likely. It uses math and logical, philosophical proof, to arrive at that conclusion.


Have a read, and let me know what you think. There is already a slightly humorous, somewhat serious debate and public discourse about this idea. I haven’t gone into all of it, but if you go to the root website in the link above, you can follow along as well.

It brings to my mind the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, an obscure novel called “The Jesus Incident”, and of course, The Matrix.