Science Fiction Brewed Fresh Daily

Are You Evil Enough?

The Evil League of Evil, which recently welcomed Dr. Horrible into its ranks, is seeking new members.

Aspirants to new heights of Evil should submit an application video by October 11. Full details at the Evil League of Evil Website. If you want to rub shoulders with the likes of Professor Normal, Dead Bowie, Fake Thomas Jefferson and, of course, Bad Horse, now’s your chance to strut your evil stuff.

(Henchmen need not apply. Please contact your union.)

Posted in Movies & TV September 30th, 2008 by Chip
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Bullet Train to the Stars

Space Elevator

Riding silently into the sky, soon she was 100km high, higher even than the old pioneering rocket planes, the X15s, used to reach. The sky was already all but black above her, with a twinkling of stars right at the zenith, the point to which the ribbon, gold-bright in the sunlight, pointed like an arrow. Looking up that way she could see no sign of structures further up the ribbon, no sign of the counterweight. Nothing but the shining beads of more spiders clambering up this thread to the sky. She suspected she still had not grasped the scale of the elevator, not remotely.
Firstborn by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter

Japan has made the construction of a space elevator a priority in its long-term space development plans, and even though NASA doesn’t envision a working elevator until 2200, a group called the Japanese Space Elevator Association (JSEA) reports that one could be operational in a few decades and cost as little as $10 billion.

The sticking point, as usual, is the material for the cables. The JSEA thinks that carbon nanotubes are the answer, and speculates that the elevator could be powered using technology similar to that in Japan’s bullet trains. The JSEA team even brought a working model (made of Legos!) to the 2008 Space Elevator Conference in July.

Retired Software Engineer Ted Semon maintains a blog devoted to aggregating information about space elevator design and construction. His events calendar lists upcoming conferences, and he has a large list of reference sites. Definitely worth a look if you’re interested in beanstalk technology.

(via io9)

Posted in Space September 29th, 2008 by Chip
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Practice Makes Perfect

Japan’s newest Web sensation is “Webkare,” a site that’s part social network and part dating simulator. Girls (the site is targeted exclusively at females) try to win the heart of one of four male Anime characters through cut-scene “conversations,” and must collaborate with other Webkare members in order to advance their cause.

The site is immensely popular–it had 10,000 members and 3.5 million page views five days after its launch–with 52% of users in their 20s and another 18% 30 or older. The article questions whether “such an idiosyncratic way of curing loneliness” would work for a Western audience. I can think of a few thousand socially-inept geeks who might approve.

I can envision all kinds of add-on modules and personality packs: Ask the cute girl in Accounting out for coffee, then go home and spend the next few days practicing your moves with her simulacrum.

(Of course, if she ever finds out about the simulacrum it might be a little creepy….)

Link (via Posthuman Blues)

Posted in Computers & Internet September 26th, 2008 by Chip
2 comments

Fannish Vacation Destinations

Now that Las Vegas’ Star Trek: The Experience is closing, what’s an SF fan to do? Actual space tourism is beyond the pocketbook of most of us geeks, but fortunately there are plenty of other options.

Besides the Atomic Tourism we’ve mentioned previously, there’s the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, dozens of observatories, Space Camp, Dr. Who Tours, and loads more. Check out this list for places to spend your next vacation.

Incidentally, Shadow and I use WorldCon as an excuse to visit places we wouldn’t otherwise venture. The Other*Worlds*Cafe almost always has a few members present every year, and we always plan a meetup. If you’re a convention newbie and would like to meet a few friendly faces, drop us a line around convention time; we’ll be happy to show you the ropes.

Posted in Ephemera September 25th, 2008 by Chip
1 comment

This Makes Me Oddly Happy

Eye of SauronThe McFarland Memorial bell tower on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus has a rather arresting shape, which apparently put somebody in a Tolkienesque frame of mind. Last Sunday it was surreptitiously “enhanced.”

Link (via Museum of Hoaxes)

Posted in Ephemera September 24th, 2008 by Chip
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Concept Ships

Concept Ships

If you’re all about the hardware, this is the blog for you. Concept Ships is a “concept spaceship and experimental aircraft art blog,” devoted entirely to gorgeous artists’ renderings of spacecraft.

Some of it is the work of blog owner Igor Tkac, but the bulk is guest submissions in a variety of styles. There’s some really high-quality work, and there are loads of submissions to browse through. Check it out!

Link (via SF Signal)

Posted in Space September 24th, 2008 by Chip
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The Stormtrooper’s Lament

Stormtrooper's Lament

(via Movin’ Meat)

Posted in Humor September 23rd, 2008 by Chip
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Sound and Fury in SF Fandom

Author Richard Morgan was asked to write a guest editorial for the 2008 WorldCon Postscripts anthology. He wrote about loud, angry factionalism, elitism, and generally prejudicial ugliness within the genre. The article wasn’t published because it was deemed too negative, so he’s posted it on his site instead.

Here’s a funny thing. Skip across the tracks to the world of crime fiction for a while, and you don’t see this shit going on. You don’t get this gnawing, mutilative thread of self-hatred, this bulemic purging of whole sub-genres or readership sub-sections as somehow unworthy. A quick trawl through a couple of dozen crime writer websites and messageboards reveals no agendas or dogme-style utterances, no towering rages or griping about how the genre’s going to shit these days, how there’s all this generic pap being published, how this strain of crime writing is so much more valid than this other strain, how maybe we shouldn’t even be reading or writing crime fiction at all, how we need to Get Back to Basics, or Rip it Up and Start Again, or any other misbegotten Year Zero bullshit.

Dude. Don’t hold back. Tell us how you really feel.

I may have been out of the loop (Shadow would argue, well out of the loop) where various SF subgenera are concerned, but I’ve never encountered this level of bile regarding reading choices. The fans I know may occasionally poke fun at others’ selections (and, y’know, in the case of John Norman readers give them kind of a wide berth), but we’re mostly just happy that somebody else is reading our favorite genre. Is there some kind of SF culture war simmering beneath the surface of which I’ve been blissfully unaware?

Link (thanks, Shadow!)

Posted in Books & Authors, Conventions & Fandom September 22nd, 2008 by Chip
2 comments

She Blinded Me with…Videogames

Constance Steinkuehler, a “game academic” at the University of Wisconsin (and holder of the sort of job title all of us covet), was running large-scale raids in a game called Lineage. Most of her guild members were teenage boys, and even though many of the “bosses” they were fighting were extremely tough, they had a high success rate. She discovered that a group of them were loading all of the combat data into a spreadsheet and making mathematical models predicting how to beat each boss.

Often, the first model wouldn’t work very well, so the group would argue about how to strengthen it. Some would offer up new data they’d collected, and suggest tweaks to the model. “They’d be sitting around arguing about what model was the best, which was most predictive,” Steinkuehler recalls.

That’s when it hit her: The kids were practicing science.

She noted that many of the kids involved in this data modeling were the same kids who zoned out in school science classes. This led her to conclude that videogames might be a valid method for teaching science.

She wrote a paper, “Scientific Habits of Mind in Virtual Worlds”, about the phenomenon and argues that teaching science to kids “in their language” might help them muddle through problems in the real world as well.

It’s an interesting concept, although I think it’s a tad oversimplified: There’s more to science than just the raw scientific method. However, it might be an excellent way to induce kids to re-connect with science in the classroom. Then you hit ’em with the periodic tables.

Link (via Skepchick)

Posted in Computers & Internet, Science September 19th, 2008 by Chip
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Panic.

Eoin Colfer, Irish author of children’s books and something called the Artemis Fowl novels (never heard of him or them), has been tapped to write a sixth Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy installment.

…And Another Thing is due out October of next year, and will feature all of the old standards: Arthur, Ford, Zaphod, Marvin, blah, blah, blah. It will apparently have a shiny, happy ending, as the article quotes Douglas Adams as saying that he wanted the series to end on a more upbeat note.

Oh, goody.

Everybody who feels that Douglas Adams had a singular voice which can’t be imitated, raise your hands.

Yeah, me too.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to treat this book like the Matrix sequels, the three Star Wars prequels, and everything that happened after Aliens and simply pretend it doesn’t exist. La la la, nothing to see here, move along.

Link (via io9)

Posted in Books & Authors September 18th, 2008 by Chip
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