Pixel Scroll 9/28/18 Who Put Nineteen Great Pixels In That Itty Bitty File?

(1) ARTIFICIAL ARTELLIGENCE. Camestros Felapton has invented the “Space Opera Book Cover Maker”.

Ladles and Gentlebens, here it is: The Space Opera Book Cover Maker Thing!


First a word of warning. The images take a while to load and might be even slower depending on your internet connection. However, that speeds up as your browser caches some of them.

The basic idea is this. There are seven layers of images which you can control. The images load as thumbnails (actually the full image is loading into your browser’s memory hence it being a bit slow). You then press a button and all the images you’ve picked get stacked together into an HTML Canvas. If you right click on the canvas then you can save the combined image to your computer.

You can tell the output is authentic space opera because these covers have no tavern and no snow!

(2) ABOUT THAT CALENDRICAL ROT. Abigail Nussbaum’s latest column for Lawyers, Guns & Money is devoted to the Machineries of Empire trilogy: “A Political History of the Future: Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee”.

As Lee eventually reveals, the Hexarchate’s calendar relies on regular “remembrances”, in which heretics are ritually tortured to commemorate specific victories or the suppression of a particular heresy. In order to maintain their power and the empire’s technologies, the Hexarchate’s doctrinal authorities have to provide it with a continuous stream of rebels and heretics, which requires either a constant expansion of the empire’s borders, or a constant narrowing of the range of permissible behaviors. As weird as the calendar notion initially seems, I’m struggling to think of a fantastical device that so perfectly captures the pernicious trap of life under totalitarianism, the way that such systems feed themselves on their own citizens while sapping any survivors of the capacity for resistance.

(3) BEGONE, YOU HAVE NO POWER HERE. James Davis Nicoll invokes the magic number in his latest feature for Tor.com – “Five Worldbuilding Errors That Should Be Banished from SF Forever”.

Stars Move!

The stars in our part of the Milky Way (with some notable exceptions) tend to be headed in the same general direction at the same general speed, but not exactly in the same direction and not exactly at the same speed. Over time, the distances between stars change. Today, our closest known neighbour is Alpha Centauri at 4.3 light years. 70,000 years ago, it was Scholz’s Star at as little as 0.6 light years.

This error does not come up often. It’s a timescale thing: stars move on a scale marked in increments like time elapsed since the invention of beer. That is a lot slower than plot, for the most part, unless your plot covers thousands of years. Still, if your novel is set in the Solar System a billion years from now, don’t namecheck Alpha Centauri as Sol’s closest neighbor….

(4) FUTURE TENSE. Each month in 2018, Future Tense Fiction—a series of short stories from Future Tense and ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination about how technology and science will change our lives— is publishing a story on a theme. This month’s entry in the Future Tense Fiction series is “Lions and Gazelles” by Hannu Rajaniemi.

“Where do you think we are?” the young Middle Eastern woman with the intense eyes asked.

Jyri smiled at her and accepted a smoothie from a tanned aide.

“I think this is a Greek island.” He pointed at the desolate gray cliffs. They loomed above the ruined village where the 50 contestants in the Race were having breakfast. “Look at all the dead vegetation. And the sea is the right color.”

In truth, he had no idea. At SFO, he’d been ushered into a private jet with tinted windows. The last leg of the journey had been in an autocopter’s opaque passenger pod. The Race’s location, like everything else about it, was a closely guarded secret.

It was published along with a response essay, “Can You Replicate the Burning Desire to Win That Drives Superhuman Athletes?”, by evolutionary biologist Rowan Hooper.

 Take a random selection of athletes at any Olympic Games. No matter their discipline, they will have one factor in common: a burning desire to win, and a motivation to be the best in the world. Imagine if we could develop a short cut to that kind of passion.

(5) LIADEN ONLINE. Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s “Liaden Universe® InfoDump Number 121” is online, with news about things to come such as —

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller will be signing the thirtieth anniversary edition of Agent of Change, and whatever else comes to hand, at Children’s Book Cellar, 52 Main Street, Waterville, Maine 04901, on! Friday, November 2, from 7:30-9 pm. Hope to see you there!

(6) HOPEFULLY NOT ICE-9. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] LiveScience article: “Bizarre Particles Keep Flying Out of Antarctica’s Ice, and They Might Shatter Modern Physics”.

There’s something mysterious coming up from the frozen ground in Antarctica, and it could break physics as we know it.

Physicists don’t know what it is exactly. But they do know it’s some sort of cosmic ray — a high-energy particle that’s blasted its way through space, into the Earth, and back out again. But the particles physicists know about — the collection of particles that make up what scientists call the Standard Model (SM) of particle physics — shouldn’t be able to do that. Sure, there are low-energy neutrinos that can pierce through miles upon miles of rock unaffected. But high-energy neutrinos, as well as other high-energy particles, have “large cross-sections.” That means that they’ll almost always crash into something soon after zipping into the Earth and never make it out the other side.

The underlying paper(s) they’re reporting on are on the arXiv service:

—and before that—

Popsci articles reporting on not-yet-published papers can get a little breathless and further can just plain get stuff wrong. What’s being reported in the underlying papers is that 2 anomalous events from one of the flights of ANITA (NASA’s Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna experiment with uses a balloon to loft the experiment over the Antarctic) — along with some supporting data from the underground IceCube neutrino detector (also in Antarctica) — just might point to previously unseen particles not contained in the Standard Model. This would be Very Big News if true… but the scientists and/or the popular science writers may well be getting ahead of themselves on this one

(7) QUESTIONS ABOUT BOOKS. Paul Weimer covers “Six Books with Lauren Teffeau” at Nerds of a Feather.

  1. And speaking of that, what’s *your* latest book, and why is it awesome?Implanted, my debut from Angry Robot, is a cyberpunk adventure featuring light espionage, high-tech gadgets, romance, and hard questions about the future. The main character is a young woman named Emery Driscoll who’s blackmailed into working as a courier for a shadowy organization, and the book explores what happens when the life she was forced to leave behind comes back to haunt her after she’s left holding the bag on a job gone wrong.

(8) LOOKING FOR SOMETHING GOOD? Lady Business knows these are times when people need a break — “Short & Sweet: Comforting Stories”.

I don’t know about you but I’ve been finding the world a very stressful place recently. That can make it really hard for me to focus. So I thought I’d put together a list of comforting stories. Because sometime I just need to read something that reminds me of the good in the world. I learned from talking about hopeful stories that some of the stories I found bleak others found hopeful, so I suspect that not everyone will be comforted by these stories. There’s a lot family in these stories: both blood family and found family; a fair bit of food; and plenty of people being nice to each other and trying their best. Those are the things I try and hold on to when things are hard. I hope they bring you some comfort.

One example –

”Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon — This story about a young man who inherits a magic sword from his grandmother—but he just wants to be a farmer! I love this story because it’s about valuing feeding people and taking care of the land.


[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and JJ.]

  • Born September 28, 1897 – Mary Gnaedinger, Editor, from 1939 through 1953, of Famous Fantastic Mysteries and Fantastic Novels Magazine, plus two years of A. Merritt’s Fantasy Magazine. There is evidence that she was once a member of the New York Futurians.
  • Born September 28, 1923 – William Windom, Actor, known for playing Commodore Decker in the episode “The Doomsday Machine” of the original Star Trek series, a role he reprised in the Star Trek: New Voyages fan series. He also had numerous guest roles in genre TV series including The Twilight Zone, The Invaders, Night Gallery, Ghost Story, Mission: Impossible, and The Bionic Woman, played the President of the U.S. in Escape from the Planet of the Apes, and voiced a main character in the Sonic the Hedgehog series.
  • Born September 28, 1938 – Ron Ellik, Writer and Editor, a well-known SF fan who was a co-editor with Terry Carr of the Hugo winning fanzine, Fanac, in the late 1950s. Ellik was also the co-author of The Universes of E.E. Smith with Bill Evans, which was largely a concordance of characters and the like. Fancyclopedia 3 notes that “He also had some fiction published professionally, and co-authored a Man from U.N.C.L.E. novelization.” The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction says he died in in an auto accident the day before his wedding.
  • Born September 28, 1946 – Herbert Jefferson Jr., 72, Actor, best known to genre fans as Lieutenant Boomer in Battlestar Galactica (later promoted to Colonel when he reprised that role in Galactica 1980).
  • Born September 28, 1964 – Janeane Garofalo, 54, Actor, Writer, Producer, and Comedian who has had roles in odd genre movies, including Dogma, Mystery Men, and The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, and has done lots of voice acting in animated series and films including the Ratatouille movies.
  • Born September 28, 1967 – Mira Sorvino, 51, Actor and Producer whose genre credits include the TV series Falling Skies and Intruders, and the movies Mimic and Space Warriors.
  • Born September 28, 1968 – Naomi Watts, 50, English/Welsh Actor whose genre roles have included leads in the short-lived TV series Sleepwalkers and the movies Stay, King Kong (the 2005 remake), and Dream House, as well as the Divergent movie series.

(10) I FLOCK TO THE TREES. Steven H Silver celebrates one birthday in his daily Black Gate feature: “Birthday Reviews: Michael G. Coney’s ‘The Byrds’”

Michael Coney takes a look at mass hysteria in “The Byrds,” in which a Canada which is struggling with population problems sends out questionnaires to the elderly which encourage them to choose euthanasia. In one family, as Gran gets on in years, she refuses to kill herself and instead strips naked, paints herself like a bird, and straps on an anti-gravity belt before taking to the trees to the mortification of her family.


(12) ON FANTASY. In August Tor.com posted V. E. Schwab’s Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature, given at Pembroke College, Oxford — “’In Search of Doors’: Read V.E. Schwab’s 2018 J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature”.

I write fantasy to make cracks in the foundation of a reader’s expectations, to challenge the solidity of their assumptions and beliefs.

I write fantasy because I want to bolster the believers, and make the skeptics wonder, to instill doubt and hope in equal measure. To help readers envision a time, a place, a world in which fantastical concepts like magic, or immortality, or equality, seem within reach.

(13) FAILS. Oren Ashkenazi breaks down “Eight Absurdities We Force on Female Characters” at Mythcreants.

It would be impossible to list all the difficulties storytellers create for themselves, but here are eight of the most common….

The second on the list is —

  1. Separate Fighting Styles

I used to think it was strange how often I would see people online asking how to realistically write women in fight scenes. I thought, “Simple: pointy end goes into the other fighter.” But then I realized that people were actually confused and that the debates over which killing tools would work as “women’s weapons” are largely spawned by existing stories.

Every time a novel depicts a woman needing to find a special weapon or a film gives women a sexy fighting style, it furthers the idea that the way women fight is inherently different from the way men fight. This is nonsense – the physics of murder don’t change based on gender – but the idea persists.

Storytellers can free themselves from this problem by simply accepting that women in their setting fight the same way men fight. A sword doesn’t particularly care about its wielder’s pronouns. If a storyteller actually wants to know what tactics a physically weaker fighter would employ against a stronger opponent, they can ask that, but it should be decoupled from gender. If that level of detail is important to the setting, then it should be considered any time combatants differ in strength, not just when one of them is female.

(14) VASTER THAN EMPIRES. Another big dino discovered: “Bones Reveal The Brontosaurus Had An Older, Massive Cousin In South Africa”.

Millions of years before the brontosaurus roamed the Earth, a massive relative was lumbering around South Africa.

Scientists think this early Jurassic dinosaur was, at the time, the largest land creature ever to have lived. And unlike the even bigger creatures that came later, they think it could pop up on its hind legs.

They’ve dubbed the newly discovered dinosaur Ledumahadi mafube, which translates in the Sesotho language to “a giant thunderclap at dawn.” And the discovery sheds light on how giants like the brontosaurus got so huge.

(15) A DISCOURAGING WORD. “Hackers expose ‘staggering’ voter machine flaws” — even counters-of-paper-ballots can be hacked.

In August, the Def Con conference in Las Vegas ran a “Voting Village”, where participants were encouraged to uncover flaws in US election infrastructure by hacking into various computer systems.

The organisers of the conference on Thursday released a 50-page report on their findings.

They describe the number and severity of flaws in voting equipment as “staggering”.

(16) HE’S BATMAN. The new Nerd & Tie Podcast — “Episode 132 – Your Favorite Cartoon (That No One Remembers)” – shows there’s someplace you can hear all you want about that topic I banished here. (And no, it’s not the one mentioned  in the episode title.)

This episode of Nerd & Tie’s big topic is childhood cartoons we loved that hardly anyone else seems to remember. Trae, Gen and Nick all had different childhoods, so the list ends up being pretty diverse.

Before that though, we hit the news — where Telltale Games is shutting down, Disney is admitting that they’ve been milking Star Wars too hard, and DC showed everyone Batman’s wing wang.

We talk about that last one for waaaaaay too long.

(17) SHARE THE VISION. Engadget delves into the VR adaptation of a PKD story: “Philip K. Dick’s ‘The Great C’ for Oculus Rift arrives this October”.

The virtual reality adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s The Great C is now making its way to VR headsets after debuting at the Venice Film Festival. It will be available for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive as soon as October 9th, but PlayStation VR owners will unfortunately have to wait until 2019. Fans can expect to be thrust into a 37-minute immersive sci-fi adventure when they put on their headsets and fire up the experience.

The Great C is a post-apocalyptic story that revolves around the remnants of humanity under the rule of an all-powerful supercomputer called “The Great C.” Every year, a human tribe living nearby has to sacrifice a young person to the machine in order to appease it. The VR adventure by Secret Location focuses on a woman named Clare whose fiancé was chosen for that particular year’s pilgrimage from which nobody ever returns.

(18) LUCASFILM GAMES. Digital Antiquarian studies the history of the gaming sideline to George Lucas’ moviemaking activities: “Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (or, Of Movies and Games and Whether the Twain Shall Meet)”

Before there was Lucasfilm Games, there was the Lucasfilm Computer Division, founded in 1979 to experiment with computer animation and digital effects, technologies with obvious applications for the making of special-effects-heavy films. Lucasfilm Games had been almost literally an afterthought, an outgrowth of the Computer Division that was formed in 1982, a time when George Lucas and Lucasfilm were flying high and throwing money about willy-nilly.

In those days, a hit computer game, one into which Lucasfilm Games had poured their hearts and souls, might be worth about as much to the parent company’s bottom line as a single Jawa action figure — such was the difference in scale between the computer-games industry of the early 1980s and the other markets where Lucasfilm was a player. George Lucas personally had absolutely no interest in or understanding of games, which didn’t do much for the games division’s profile inside his company. And, most frustrating of all for the young developers who came to work for The House That Star Wars Built, they weren’t allowed to make Star Wars games — nor, for that matter, even Indiana Jones games — thanks to Lucas having signed away those rights to others at the height of the Atari VCS fad. Noah Falstein, one of those young developers, would later characterize this situation as “the best thing that could have happened” to them, as it forced them to develop original fictions instead — leading, he believes, to better, more original games.

(19) HEROIC PILOT. Here’s the extended sneak peek of Star Wars Resistance —

A daring pilot embarks upon a secret mission against the First Order… with a lot of help from his friends in Star Wars Resistance. Premiering Sunday, October 7 at 10pm ET/PT on Disney Channel.


[Thanks to Chip Hitchcock, Joey Eschrich, John King Tarpinian, JJ, Martin Morse Wooster, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, Carl Slaughter, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Kip W.]

44 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 9/28/18 Who Put Nineteen Great Pixels In That Itty Bitty File?

  1. (3) Heh. That is a fairly common mistake to make. Isaac Asimov missed this particular trick rather badly in his Foundation stories, for example.

    As it happens, I spent a big chunk of the last few weeks doing some intensive world-building for the series of space-opera stories I’m working on, including building reference maps of nearby space so I could keep track of where everything is. The fact that stars move over time forced me to revise my modeling at least once. (I knew that to begin with, of course, but I had to remind myself that the effect was significant over the time-scales I was working with.)

    In case anyone’s interested, here’s one of the maps in question that I’m rather proud of. Lots of research went into that one.

  2. 13
    Cherryh handled that in “The Paladin” – the master swordsman teaches all the formal moves that he can to the girl who came to him to learn, and then teaches her tavern-brawl fighting, which is more suited to her size and weight.

  3. Worldbuilding errors–one from that list was one of the bits of terrible science that bugged me about the The Expanse book Nemisis Games: Gur Rnegu-ohfgre nfgrebvqf jrer fnvq gb or guerr be sbhe zrgref fdhner. Rira ng gur zragvbarq 200xcf, gung vf zhygvcyr beqref bs zntavghqr gbb fznyy gb qb gur qrfpevorq qnzntr.

  4. I can’t think of a single story in the past five years that made the mistake of being set so far in the future that Alpha Centauri wouldn’t be one of the closest stars anymore.

    Asimov didn’t actually get this wrong, since his Foundation series is only set 20,000 to 50,000 years in the future (there’s some inconsistency in the dates in the stories).

    The mistake about assuming that aliens would come to Earth to get water (as opposed to just using the Kuiper belt) is common enough to be annoying. But more common (and just as bad) is the idea that humanity had to leave Earth because it got too polluted. It would take a lot before Earth was as bad as Mars would be even after centuries of terraforming. And if you had such great terraforming technology, why wouldn’t you apply it to fix Earth itself?

    Another depressingly common mistake is putting things like lakes of liquid methane on a planet where people walk around dressed in parkas but breathing the air. Never mind what O2 does to methane, it’s 250 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. Breathing the air is going to kill you.

    I’ve seen a few stories that had people on the moon watching the Earth rise. Or had other rotating bodies that just had to be tidally locked.

    And the one I hate the worst is the notion that a space ship will fall out of orbit if its engines go off. (Do these people think the moon has engines?) Closely related is the idea that a rocket that passes too close to a planet will “get trapped in its gravitational field.”

  5. Whaddya know, nineteen items exactly. *smiling nod of approval*

    ps: Item 14 is indented.

    pps: My eyes! The tickybox does nothing!

  6. Two Red Books: LOTR and Jung

    An interview with Dr Becca Tarnas about active imagination and Tolkien– active imagination is contemplating something until your imagination/subconscious starts adding movement and details. Art means making what your active imagination into something meaningful(?) to other people.

    Includes discussion of journeying in Tolkien and coming back with a story, also that everything is about sailing to the west.

    Tarnas is offering a course (unfortunately, for $150) of doing a reading of LOTR.

    Rune Soup is a podcast of interviews, mostly with occultists– sometimes it’s about sf as well.

  7. Greg Hullender on September 28, 2018 at 9:25 pm said:

    Another depressingly common mistake is putting things like lakes of liquid methane on a planet where people walk around dressed in parkas but breathing the air. Never mind what O2 does to methane, it’s 250 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. Breathing the air is going to kill you.

    Or the Lost in Space reboot, where it was a mere 60 below, but still the characters should have actually zipped their coats. (And their breath didn’t smoke.)

    As for tidal locks, Becky “Perpetual Motion” Chambers has an inhabited planet that is tidally locked to its star that has a moon that is tidally locked to the planet.

  8. James Davis Nicoll, yes, but wouldn’t it be awfully slow and hard to notice? (“Last week the Earth was half-obscured by Mons Glyer, but this week you can see most of it…”)

  9. Becky Chambers’ science makes me cry but couldn’t one have a situation where a moon in Planet-Sun L4 or L5 happens to keep the same face towards the planet, while the planet is locked to the star?

  10. @Cassy B: Yes, and there’s only a narrow strip of the lunar surface in which libration-induced Earthrises/sets will occur. The Wikipedia ‘Libration’ page has a nice map showing this.

  11. James Davis Nicoll on September 29, 2018 at 8:09 am said:

    Becky Chambers’ science makes me cry but couldn’t one have a situation where a moon in Planet-Sun L4 or L5 happens to keep the same face towards the planet, while the planet is locked to the star?

    Only L1 and L2 would be close enough to the minor partner (the planet in the case of a planet-star pair) to reasonably be described as orbiting it. (Even though technically all five Lagrange Points are orbiting both bodies.)

    L4 and L5, in particular, are found by creating equilateral triangles. Which means that a body at the L5 point for the Earth-Sun pair would be 1 AU away from Earth! I suspect most people would balk at calling that a moon. Heck, both Venus and Mercury routinely get closer than that! (L3 is even worse, since the body would remain on the far side of the sun–2 AUs from Earth.)

    I don’t think anyone describes the Trojan Asteroids (at the Jupiter-Sol L4 and L5 points) in our own system as Jovian moons. I’m not saying you couldn’t describe them that way, but I think people might look at you funny. And I think that would be true even if it were a much larger body occupying a planet-star L4 or L5.

    I think the situation Chambers describes could happen if the moon were situated at L1 or L2, though. But unfortunately, as you may already know, only L4 and L5 are stable orbits, so the situation would be quite temporary.

    Disclaimer: I am not a space scientist.

  12. @James Davis Nicoll

    Becky Chambers’ science makes me cry but couldn’t one have a situation where a moon in Planet-Sun L4 or L5 happens to keep the same face towards the planet, while the planet is locked to the star?

    Yeah, that doesn’t quite work. The requirements for a stable solution are that the large body be at least 26 times the mass of the middle one (no problem there for planets of stars) and the small body be insignificant compared to the middle one. That last is what kills you. Not only is the “moon” going to be 1 AU away, it’s going to be just a few miles across. No one on the planet will see it without a telescope.

    The first restriction is what keeps multiple-star systems from having planets at L4 and L5 points, by the way. An F0 star is probably already too short-lived to have useful planets, but it only has about 1.4 solar masses. Divide by 26 and you need a star with 0.05 solar masses. But below 0.075, you don’t get a star.

  13. There’s also the problem that if a habitable planet is tide-locked to its primary (which is presumably a cooler and dimmer star than Sol, therefore closer) then it’s hard to see how it could end up with a substantial moon to begin with. Much less keep one long enough for perturbation and tidal interactions to get it neatly into an L1 or L2 position.

  14. Another common gross error is the idea that “space is cold.” Space is a vacuum, and the whole idea behind a thermos bottle is that a vacuum is a good insulator. The big challenge for any human-occupied object in space (no matter how far from a star) is going to be getting rid of heat.

    Of course if you turned off all the power and waited for all the people to die, it would eventually cool down, but that would take quite a while. As long as you’ve got stuff in your vehicle/station generating heat, cold is going to be the least of your problems.

  15. @Jon F. Zeigler on September 29, 2018 at 12:27 pm said:

    Much less keep one long enough for perturbation and tidal interactions to get it neatly into an L1 or L2 position.

    It gets worse. 🙂 L1 and L2 (and L3, for that matter) are dynamically unstable. Even if you put a moon there by magic, it would eventually impact one of the two primaries or else be ejected from the system. Probably within a few thousand revolutions.

    Unless it were connected to the planet with a really strong cable. The instability is only along the vector connecting the planet and star. It’s what makes the idea of a moon base at Earth/Luna L1 cool; you could keep it in place with a long tether to the lunar surface.

  16. Greg Hullender: You and Space.com seem out synch about the consequences: What’s the Temperature of Outer Space?.

    So if you were in space, but shielded from the sun, you would radiate away nearly all your heat pretty quickly and cool to the cosmic background temperature. Step (or float) into the sun, and you’d be warmed. Either way you’d need lots of protection!

  17. @Greg: In one of the Foundation stories a character mentions that his maps are out of date because they are a couple of centuries old, and thus he wasn’t sure he was at the right star.

  18. Mike Glyer on September 29, 2018 at 12:37 pm said:

    Greg Hullender: You and Space.com seem out synch about the consequences: What’s the Temperature of Outer Space?.

    So if you were in space, but shielded from the sun, you would radiate away nearly all your heat pretty quickly and cool to the cosmic background temperature. Step (or float) into the sun, and you’d be warmed. Either way you’d need lots of protection!

    That’s an ambiguous (another way of saying “bad”) explaination. It is talking about an earlier mentioned hypothetical thermometer in space, not an object generating its own heat. Cooling in anything that generates heat, such as endothermic animals, power generation, propulsion, etc is a huge problem in a vacuum.

  19. This is the year Super Delta III and Alpha Centauri is still the closest star from our solar system.

    Of course, we have to thank the Kraght for that, an alien race that moved our solar system closer to their home planet. You see, like there are people on your Earth who only want to use vanilin made from vanilla plants, even if its indistinguishable from chemical produced vanilin, some Kraght only drink water from planets with sentient beings. And we are there no 1 tap. That is good for business, but bad for space travel, because the Kragh have a religious doctrine against Oberth maneuvers – and they dont tell us how their sneak drive works. We should be able to spot energy exhaust or see them coming, but somehow both is obscured by our own sun, which sort of works as a portal for their drive. Take that physics! Of course this also means we are in a constant threat of being exstinguished like the dinosaurs- by dropping a huge mass through mysterious sun portal. Why havent the Kraght done so yet? Well, if we are dead, their snobs wouldnt want our water anymore! No sentient life form, no water, remember? But who knows how long this fad lasts, so we can only hope to unlock the secret of their drive.
    And that was my message from the future.

  20. Help! Help! These people are sciencing at me!

    You guys do realize that this is one reason fantasy is getting more and more popular, right? Science fiction is HARD.

    Of course, I’m STILL laughing at the “sf” (not much s to the f) book I read a few months back, where the MC was panicking because he was afraid of his head being crushed by the vacuum of space. Yes, crushed.


  21. Having thought more about the topic, it might be possible to have the moon be tidally locked to the planet, but not to the star, and have the planet tidally locked to the star, but not to the moon. Then, if you were on the moon, the planet would stay (more or less) in the same place, but the sun would move around, and on the planet, the sun would stay in place, while the moon moved around.

    I think the full everyone-is-locked-in-place scenario would require the use of Lagrange points, as JDN suggested, and is thus impractical at best, but this partial-lock scenario might very well have a number of possible solutions.

    So maybe something not unlike what Chambers describes could work. I’m not completely sure. But then, the rigor of her science is not exactly the main appeal of her writing, so, I’m not entirely sure I care either way.

    /me wanders off humming the MSTK3 theme song. 🙂

  22. Peer on September 29, 2018 at 2:09 pm said:

    We should be able to spot energy exhaust or see them coming, but somehow both is obscured by our own sun, which sort of works as a portal for their drive. Take that physics!

    Heh, how about this: There’s actually no such thing as a variable star. What we’re seeing and misinterpreting is alien drives firing near those stars. The “regular” variables are simply places which have regular service–frequent commuters. 🙂

  23. Contrarius: I’m STILL laughing at the “sf” (not much s to the f) book I read a few months back, where the MC was panicking because he was afraid of his head being crushed by the vacuum of space. Yes, crushed.

    I’ll see your vacuum-crushing “SF” and raise you the “SF” by a purported NYT and International Bestselling Author, published by a major genre publisher, which opens:

    [the planet] rotated in the same direction as Earth, so sunrise was still in the East.

  24. My favourite worldbuilding issue came in a French SF novel – whose title I can’t remember, nor do I know if it’s been translated into English (I could just look it up, but I’d have to shift boxes to get at my untranslated French SF cupboard) – which involved some people travelling from Earth to Altair, and stopping off at Procyon along the way.

    Sure, Altair is about 16 light years from Sol, and Procyon is only 12, but if you look at the relative positions of those two stars… well, let’s just say they took a bit of a detour, there.

  25. @Darren Garrison: Well, gosh, nobody who’s anybody would come from a star that doesn’t have a proper name, now, would they? 🙂

    The other factor there, of course, beyond the hostile environment, is that those big, huge, bright stars are also very young–and very short-lived. It may have been “only” taken 500 million years for life to appear on Earth, which is pretty startling, considering the surface of the planet was still partially molten at that time, but that’s still around 50x longer than the complete lifespan of a star like Betelgeuse!

    And, of course, sapient life took another 4 billion years to appear even once life was established on Earth. It’s risky to extrapolate from a single data point, but I still feel confident in saying that there’s almost exactly zero chance a star-faring civilization will arise from a planet orbiting a super-massive star. Visitors? Unlikely, but not, I suppose, impossible. Natives? No. Just no.

  26. @JDN: it’s unclear from the Wikipedia page whether the Moon’s libration is enough to make Earth rise fully (~2 degrees apparent motion); libration makes 59% of the Moon’s surface visible, but that libration is in 2 axes. (Somebody here may be able to sort the math — is the ~6-degree inclination of the Moon’s orbit enough to make Earth move from fully below to fully above a near-polar horizon?) If not, can it be said to rise rather than lurk? In our high latitudes, after the sunless deep winter, do they say the sun rises if its full diameter doesn’t get over the horizon?

  27. @Chip: The Earth subtends about 1.9 degrees from the Moon (arcsin ( 7900 miles/239,000 miles)). If you stand on the North Pole of the Moon, you tip as far as 6.4 degrees towards the Earth at one part of the Lunar orbit, and 6.4 degrees away from the Earth at one-half an orbit later (according to this). So Earth rises and falls 12.8 degrees towards and from the Lunar horizon in the Lunar Polar region, from libration in latitude — plenty enough for a complete Earthrise to occur.

    From the same source, longitudinal libration is approximately the same magnitude (+/- 6.8 degrees), also enough for the Earth to oscillate completely above and below the Lunar horizon.

  28. (12) ON FANTASY.
    That’s like the Golden Age of SF is twelve, innit?

    I read Tolkien at an early age, at just the right time for it to blow my mind. Some of the classics that I didn’t get to until older came across as cliched. For example, I didn’t read Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” until I’d seen a few of the movies & read books written by more contemporary writers. It was an ok read, but I did struggle.

  29. Meredith Moment: current Kindle deals include multiple award nominee The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, which I just downloaded for next to nothing. (US $1.15 I think.)

  30. @Xtifr

    Having thought more about the topic, it might be possible to have the moon be tidally locked to the planet, but not to the star, and have the planet tidally locked to the star, but not to the moon. Then, if you were on the moon, the planet would stay (more or less) in the same place, but the sun would move around, and on the planet, the sun would stay in place, while the moon moved around.

    That’ll work. However, the moon is going to lose energy to the planet because it’s revolving faster than the planet is rotating (in the sidereal sense). So don’t expect anything bigger than a recently-captured asteroid (e.g. Phobos at Mars, which only has about 50 million years to live). Anything large would have been created with the planet, and hence would have collided with it long ago.

  31. @Mike Glyer

    Greg Hullender: You and Space.com seem out synch about the consequences: What’s the Temperature of Outer Space?.

    One way to think of it is that space is cold but it’s also slow. Yeah, if a spaceship has no internal heat source, it’ll eventually cool asymptotically to the background radiation temperature (absent exposure to a nearby star), but that’ll take a long time. I estimate a 25-meter-radius sphere of water in a black shell (which would have emissivity = 1) at 25 C would take 95 days to cool and freeze (assuming it’s kept stirred so has uniform temperature throughout). Use a brass shell instead (emissivity 0.03), and it’ll take 8.6 years.

    Heinlein mentions this problem in “Have Space Suit, Will Travel,” if memory serves. He mentions that the big challenge in space is removing heat, not staying warm. (Contrast on the surface of Pluto, where a super cold atmosphere plus contact with the ground injures the protagonist.)

  32. @ Greg Hullender:

    Thinking about it, I don’t think “temperature of vacuum” is a well-defined concept, but I may be wrong (something something, average particle motion, something).

  33. The closest you can come is the equilibrium black-body temperature. That is, what temperature would a body reach if exposed to a particular level of radiation? That works if you know how far the object is from the sun (or some other star). At the distance of Earth, it’s -21 C, so that gives at least a little color to the claim that “space is cold.” (Earth’s surface is warmer than that because of the greenhouse effect. This is also why it gets colder at higher altitudes.)

    If you just want the temperature of vacuum in general, then, yeah, I don’t think you can give that a meaningful definition.

  34. The vacuum isn’t what is hot, the sun is. Remember the three ways of transferring heat: convection, conduction, and radiation. A vacuum has one way of transferring heat: radiation. So the external heat transferred to an object in space comes from how much sunlight the object is exposed to. Losing internal heat is also based on those three systems. In a vacuum you will lose internal heat the slowest, standing on a cold atmospherless object you will lose it the mediumest (conduction is added to the mix) and standing on a cold object with an atmosphere you will lose it the fastest. So if you are on a spacewalk in Saturn orbit, you have to worry about overheating. If you land on Enceladus, you may have to worry about cold feet. If you land on Titan, then you are counting down to becoming a statue.

  35. Of course, space isn’t really a vacuum. It’s just extremely low-density. But there are vast areas of space–even intergalactic space–which can be (and are) described as extremely hot, because the few particles that are there are all moving extremely rapidly.

    Our everyday conceptions of temperature can break down in the face of conditions in some part of space.

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