Daily Archives: November 19, 2008

Man, If Blowing the Heads Off of Zombies With a Scoped Rifle is Wrong, I Don’t Ever Want to Be Right

Seriously, man. I’m doing them a favor. They’re zombies, after all. It’s not like they have rich internal lives. The time for book clubs and PBS has passed for them, you know? And anyway, there’s something oddly soothing about going to a high place with a scoped rifle and picking off their shambling asses. I wouldn’t say it’s a zen thing (it seems inadvisable to use the word “zen” with anything involving firearms), but it does get you into a contemplative frame of mind. At least until the zombies figure out where you are and swarm you. But until then: Bliss. I can’t think of anything better.

Oh wait, I can: If they were Nazi zombies. Yes.

(And no, I really shouldn’t be playing Left 4 Dead right now — waaaay too much stuff to do — but what can I say. Sometimes you just need to go after the zombie hordes.)

Why You Totally Want to Come to Loscon Next Week

So you can catch the live show of this:

Me, to Wil Wheaton, via IM: Confirming: We’re going to see you next week at Loscon?

Wil Wheaton: I haven’t been able to get anyone on the horn in an official capacity, but I’m still planning on crashing it, if nothing else. Do you have an e-mail address of someone I can pester?

Me: Yeah, I do. Hold on — (sends e-mail address) — That’s the head of programming. Tell him that if he doesn’t find something for us to be on, I will throw the hissy-est fit imaginable.

Wil: Of all the fits you can throw, the hissy is the most terrifying. That should get results.

Me: Oh, it WILL. They will live in fear of me.

Wil: Well, clearly they are wise, and have good survival instincts.

Me: I just want to burnish my credentials as an insufferable prima donna, you know?

Wil: Dude. Come spend some time with me. Learn at the feet of a master.

Me: “Fix me pot pie!”

Wil: Good, but try: “Are you fucking kidding me? Where’s my pot pie?”
“I came all the way here, and you can’t even make a fucking pot pie?”
Then you sort of shake your head, like you’re really disappointed.

Me: Actually, the line I will be using is “Are you fucking kidding me? Where’s my Double-Double?” Because I had as an actual condition of my attendance that I would have an In-N-Out caddy to keep me supplied with Double-Doubles.

Wil: You have to be prepared to throw whatever they bring you into the face of a hapless volunteer.
Can you do that?
ARE YOU READY FOR THAT?
Because it can make you legendary. You just have to be willing to go all the way.

Me: “What the fuck is THIS? I wanted it ANIMAL STYLE!!!! You fucking DWEEB.”

Wil: Yeah, then you open it up, and rub it in his face: “I’m sorry, maybe YOU can find the pickles in this for me.”

Me: And then stuff the remains down his pants. And give him a meat wedgie.
And thus I SHALL LIVE FOREVER.

Wil: WINNAR

Me: Excellent. So, wanna be my In-N-Out caddie?

Wil: How does that compare to: a) lackey and b) flunky ?

Me: They don’t get animal style face smearings.
Anyway, scratch that. You can be in my entourage.

Wil: OMG ENTOURAGE
That’s where I get to follow you around, and act like I’m really important just because I’m following you around!

Me: It’s like you’re rolling natural 20s, because I’m rolling natural 20s.

Wil: I’m an NPC!

Me: Really, is there anything better?

Wil: I’ll finally multiclass, and take some ranks in Insufferable Bastard

Me: You’re your own Expansion Pack, Wil. Live that dream.

Wil: I’m doing it, John. I’m really doing it.

The Big Idea: Dave Freer

There are a lot of stars out there in space — and as we’re constantly discovering, lots of planets around those stars. But how many of those planets are “earth-like”: that is, good for us? And what will it take to reach them? And what if we get there and discover the planet’s not as good for us as we thought? What then?

Eric Flint and Dave Freer considered these questions, and came up with a solution: chuck all of that and find a new way for humans to colonize the stars. What is that way, and how does play out in their latest novel Slow Train to Arcturus? Dave Freer, e-mailing in all the way from South Africa, explains the big idea for you now.

DAVE FREER:

“When we get there, the place stinks.” One of the underlying problems with slower than light interstellar colonisation has always been that it is a long, hard journey and, when we get there, the planet humans had hoped to settle on is considerably less habitable than we’d hoped (Larry Niven’s A Gift From Earth) , or even totally uninhabitable … or has occupants.

Which means we face up to doing all over again. It’s the elephant in room with all slower-than-light stories. Now the problem that my co-author Eric Flint has, is that his African-dwelling co-author still instinctively regards elephants as something that will either trample you or make a really big barbeque. I am not good at ignoring them and hoping that they’ll leave the room. So: when Eric suggested we should do a slowship story – if we could come up with something different, it was the elephant that got targeted. The big idea for Slow Train to Arcturus was born out of the idea that there are probably relatively few terraformable (let alone habitable) worlds out there, compared to the number of stars, and, if you’re going to keep trying star systems — you’re in for a very long trip, because unless you’re going to turn the organic content of your starship to jelly, acceleration and deceleration will probably treble the length of an already long journey.

So: what if the slowship didn’t ever slow down? What if it was a modular ship (like James White’s Grapeliner) that, once accelerated, just kept on going, dropping modules as it approached stars. The modules slowed down instead… and then the human colonists didn’t try to colonise a world at all: They were in a space habitat, designed to make more space habitats. They were colonising space, not worlds. All they need is sunlight and space-debris – something every star out there has. And there is a potentially habitable zone around every star. Of course space habitats or enclosed habitats have not yet been shown to be very long-term viable. This is an island biogeography problem – isolated population have serious issues with diversity and viability. The bigger the island, the less the problem. Or… the more ‘complicated’ the island…

Okay, so I am a fisheries biologist. I admit it. I go to regular fisheries biologists anonymous meetings. Besides complaining about how our wives don’t understand that a man must smell of fish, we talk about the effect of surface area on fish carrying capacity. And, if it applies to fish, it naturally has to apply to space habitats, especially as most people think of space habitats as an enclosed volume with people living on the inner skin. To increase that carrying capacity you have to increase size and volume hugely… but if we layered the habitat, you can increase surface area vastly without increasing volume. That’s a pretty big idea, let alone space habitat.

I’m a biologist. But my co-author is an historian. And any story is really about the people in it not the gadgets or biology, and people are the stuff of history. So we filled our isolated modules with people — the same sort of colonists who once had enough of life under Chief Big-Guy in the Great Rift Valley, who thought Attila the Hun was too liberal, who left Europe for America to chase dreams or to leave religious or state persecution. You know: the misfits, the dreamers, the hardline conservatives, the starry-eyed idealists. The rootstock of all colonisation, of humanity itself. The blokes who didn’t fit back home. The people who colonised America. The forefathers of just about everyone who doesn’t still live in the Great Rift Valley (and I wouldn’t bet on those either). So: What happens when you isolate those fragments for three hundred years. Do we need each other? Is isolation worth it? Who really are losers that society would be better without? Anyone? And how would an aliens species (especially one that didn’t have two sexes at birth) see them?

Now, I’ve written a lot of satirical humor, and some historical fantasy. This book was neither and both. I had to reign in the humor and get into the skin of a hero who was quite unlike me – a pacifist and a deeply religious traditional agrarian. I had to research the cultures of several of these groups and try to present a fair picture of their society. It did bring home just how complex such a seemingly simple society can be and how varied (and really human) the people in them can be too. Of course – I wrote a lot of it. There is humor and satire too.

Also, this is a hard-science book with minimum handwavium. And lets’s face it, in a lot of those the writers get so obsessed with the shiny gadgets and pretty lights that they leave you feeling mentally pummelled with it all. It’s great stuff but not easy reading. But… our society is full of quite complex gadgetry — that we take for granted. When your hero goes into his kitchen he doesn’t explain how the microwave oven he’s using works. He probably doesn’t actually know. And that is the key to writing accessible hard sf that I had to learn. I had to dig into the physics and mechanical side, with the help of some great and knowledgable people — and then let my characters live in the environment without explaining it. They don’t understand it. They just live in it. Heinlein did just this, and if it was good enough for him I guess Freer and Flint will just have to learn to do it too.

And that’s it. Face aliens with humans in a series of habitats – some of which are inimical. Put the species and cultures together. Mix. See what happens. It’s kind of about the future, vast dreams, and the past.

It’s a huge universe, and a long way to Arcturus.

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Slow Train to Arcturus: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Read an online excerpt of the novel here. Visit Dave Freer’s LiveJournal here.