MA Thesis Presentation

Tomorrow, we’re meeting at the Taylor Room to give our MA thesis proposal presentations.  I finished mine today, and I have a nice Keynote presentation with several short clips from the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.  My presentation clocks in at about 11 minutes including the clips, so I’m ready to rock-and-roll.  I also have hard copies of my proposal along with a working bibliography/filmography.

As soon as we’re done with the presentations, I have to turn my attention back to my Utopias Module paper.  I need to read the remainder of Julie Phillip’s Tiptree biography, and I need to begin making notes on the Tiptree story and Gilman’s Herland.  I want to knock this out as soon as possible so that I can hit the ground running on my thesis.

Lots to do, and little time to do it all!

The Sky is Blue

The weather is wonderful in Liverpool right now.  Short sleeves, beach blankets on the lawn, and sunglasses.  Hold on–I don’t have any shades!  Luckily there’s a Sunglass Hut in the MetQuarter, so I stopped by there this afternoon after I spent a couple of hours in Special Collections and Archives at the Sydney Jones Library.  I chose these bitchin’ sunglasses by Oakley.

I’ve been working on my thesis presentation, which is scheduled for next Tuesday at 2:00pm in the Taylor Room.  I’m drawing a lot of pictures to try to figure out: 1) what exactly I want to talk about, and 2) what patterns are there in the multitudinous identities contained in Battlestar Galactica.

I finally found the Ultra Secret Workout Machine Room at the University of Liverpool’s Recreation and Sports Centre.  I will be getting good use of spot training my muscles after my morning run everyday!  Jean came along with me to check out the gym, but they wouldn’t let her pay for a day’s admittance.  The website indicates that you can do that without a membership, but the attendant told us that wasn’t the case.  Why can’t this place figure out a policy and stick to it?  The same is true for the movie theaters.  They seem to change their seating and pricing policies on a monthly basis.  Continuity and following established practices (besides a practice of being totally random) is a good thing in a consumer-business relationship.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been on any grand adventures besides working out and going on nightly walks, because I’ve been swamped with assignments and money’s going to be tight this month.  Though, I might go swimming tomorrow and teach Ardy how to tread water and float so that we can all go enjoy the beach soon.

Done With MA Seminars

Today, Christian and I finished up our formal seminars in the University of Liverpool’s MA in Science Fiction Studies with our final Le Guin class (Sunshine was understandably absent).  I enjoyed objecting to Le Guin’s attack on Superman as a sub-archetype (her shed must be full of axes).  Now, I have a thesis proposal presentation to make next Tuesday, and I have two papers due on 18 May.

I can see the thermal exhaust port and it’s only two meters wide!

Neil Gaiman’s “Goliath”

I’ve been considering writing a paper to submit to the 2007 Short Story Conference at Edge Hill University. This year’s theme is, “‘The Story Shall Be Changed’: Tales and Re-tellings in the Short Story.” I knew that Neil Gaiman had done this sort of thing with some of his novels such as American Gods and Anansi Boys, but I wasn’t sure where to start with his short stories. Luckily, Gaiman provides ‘liner notes’ in the introduction for each story and poem in his collections Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things. One story grabbed my attention in Fragile Things, called “Goliath.”

He originally wrote it after reading the script to The Matrix for inclusion on the movie’s official website (read it here). The story is set in the machine world future of The Matrix, and it’s about one human being selected to protect Earth from an alien intruder in nearby space. What makes this story special is that Gaiman inverts the David and Goliath story in his retelling of the tale. I’ve only just begun my research on this, but I think it will lead to a promising essay.

If you haven’t read this cyberpunk story, I recommend you check it out. Even though SF isn’t Gaiman’s modus operandi, it’s a well developed story that evokes the feel and detailed imagery of The Matrix.

Easter Dinner

I’ve found that Easter is a big deal in the United Kingdom. Liverpool essentially shut down on Friday, and it won’t reopen until Tuesday. Sure, many pubs and clubs are open, but even their hours of operation are augmented by the fact that it’s Easter. When I was in Subway on Thursday, the two girls in front of me were talking about what they gave up for Lent. Lent? No one talks about Lent back home, much less giving up something for it.

Today, I’m meeting up with Sunshine, Sunshine’s Mom, and Ardy at Jean’s place. Jean’s fixing a white sauce lasagna for dinner, followed by a chocolate cake explosion for dessert. I’m sure that it’ll be delicious and the company equally entertaining. Also, the only relationship our dinner has with Easter traditions is that a) it’s an excuse for a dinner party and b) bunnies like chocolate.

I didn’t make it to Eastercon on Saturday, but I’ll be going tomorrow to catch the Glorifying Terrorism and BSG panels.  Chester, here I come!

Eastercon Plans

Beginning today, Eastercon 2007: Contemplation opens in Chester and it runs through Monday. Andy and Farah both asked me to come out, and AP will be there too. I’m probably going to take the train there for Saturday and Monday. There is a presentation on Saturday by Dr. Guillaume Thierry titled “The Braintrix.” He’ll be talking about the way our brains construct reality. On Monday, there are two panels that I’d like to go to: Politics and Ethics in Battlestar Galactica and Glorifying Terrorism. Both of these will be useful for my MA thesis.

If you’re in the neighborhood, you should definitely check it out too!

Sunshine Review

Sunshine, my friend in the SF Studies program, won two tickets to see Danny Boyle’s latest effort, Sunshine (yeah, don’t ask). She couldn’t make it, because she was leaving earlier in the day for Dublin with her mom. That being the case, she gave Jean and me the tickets to see the film in her stead.

The film was shown at the FACT, and it was followed by a televised Q&A session with the director, Danny Boyle (Trainspotting and 28 Days Later). With a pint of beverage in hand, we settled in for the film.

There are some things that the director did remarkably well. And, there are other things that he did so badly that it felt like someone was poking me in the eye to the extent that I walked out of the theater in tears of blood.

First, the things that Boyle did well. Visually, the film is spectacular! He consciously
charges the color capacitor–starving the audience of color–and then unleashes torrents of held back color accompanied by gusts and punches of sound. The visual impact of the sun is part of his scheme, and it doesn’t disappoint. I can’t think of any star in SF that looks as great as the one in Sunshine.

The actors inhabiting the violent and bipolar shifting vacuum between the Earth and the sun are dead-on. Even though we don’t have any backstory on their characters, they all maintain a dynamic sense of self that feels much more real than many cardboard cutouts often found in SF films. If only the story and created world could live up to the performances made by the cast.

The film is weighed down by elements that detract from the overall movie watching experience–at least for those of us with a bit of science background. First, the movie is set 50 years in the future and the claim of the film is that our star is dying out. This is where I started having problems with this being a supposed SF film. This isn’t a logical extrapolation from the world and universe in which we live. The sun will continue burning for billions of years. In the Q&A, Boyle told the audience that there are two tracks for space movies: space fantasy (Star Wars, Star Trek) and NASA films (2001: A Space Odyssey). He also put his film into the NASA film group. For his lack of logical extrapolation in a key plot point among other issues that I’ll go on to detail, I find this film firmly placed in the skivviest section of sci-fi space fantasy and not in the harder SF that Boyle claims to be conjuring.

The next fallacy is humanity’s plan to help out our friendly neighborhood stellar object with a specially constructed bomb constructed bomb made of the total fissile material mined from the Earth’s crust. The bomb appears to be a large cube that’s approximately a few hundred meters across. Their plan is to drop the bomb down a convection ‘tunnel’ on the surface where it’ll make its way down to some depth and go off. This idea is completely bunk. From the simulated images onboard ship, it looks like they plan to drop the bomb down a sunspot. Granted, sunspots and convection points all over the surface of the sun are dark in comparison to the surrounding material. The reason for this is that those areas of material are at a slightly lower temperature than the material around it. It’s actually not black as in an absence of something like a cave, but it’s merely a difference in temperature which is shown as an extreme in comparison to hotter areas. For a description of this with pictures, go here.

Okay, let’s say that their silver bullet will do as it’s intended to do and make its way into the sun. Fusion reactions take place in the core of the sun, which is a long way from the surface. The diameter of the sun is 1.39 x 10^6 km, so the radius is 6.95 x 10^5 km. So, for this long trek, the bomb will have to withstand the heat and pressure of the sun’s interior as well as the increasing acceleration due to gravity. Even in Star Trek: The Next Generation the writers knew this was crazy, so they invented interphasic shielding to circumvent having to deal with the magnitude of those forces.

Assuming that in 50 years the Earth has genius materials scientists and engineers up for this task, then there is the issue with the make-up of the bomb. The bomb is made up of all of the fissile materials that humanity can mine from the crust of the Earth. Now, most of the fissile material in the Earth is down around the core, because those elements are very heavy and were drawn there when the Earth was forming (thankfully, because otherwise we either wouldn’t be here or we’d be a lot different than we are). Now, consider the size of the Earth in relation to the Sun on this site (scroll down a bit). For comparison, you can fit approximately 1.3 million Earths inside the volume of the Sun. Therefore, our entire planet is insignificant in comparison to the sun. And from our planet, we’re going to send out heavy metal fissile material encased in a bomb that will somehow reignite the self-regulating proton-proton chain fusion reactions within the Sun’s core. That bomb would elicit the tiniest of belches within, and there would be no manifestation of its effect on the surface of the Sun.

Finally, the design of the ship was the worst needle in my eye. One, Boyle’s idea of putting rotating antennae along the shaft of the spacecraft does not imply any kind of artificial gravity, unless the people are in pressurized containers at the ends of the rotating arms. Boyle said that he used artificial gravity because of the time and cost constraints of making the film, and he believed the rotating elements on the exterior of the ship would imply artificial gravity. No, they do not. In fact, putting antennae at the ends of the rotating arms makes no sense. Johnnie Cochran’s ‘Chewbacca’ defense makes more sense. He could have used a different ship design to make it more plausable, but his linear design doesn’t plan out. Other problems include no escape pods or shuttles that could have been employed in docking with Icarus I, and a ship that size would need more than one airlock. However, I did think his inversion of the old nuclear bomb propulsion system explored by NASA was inventive.

Other issues with the movie include: Why is it a manned mission (I realize this would obviate the purpose of the movie, so make a better movie that holds together a bit more rationally)? Where are the NASA redundancies and checklists? Why does the ship’s ‘AI’ allow any manual control if at one point it takes control from the crew, because at that point, and no other, it believes the mission in jeapardy? Who picked this crew and the crew of Icarus I, and how did so many nut jobs make it through psychchecks? Is this a horror film or badly made SF? I do think Boyle handles equalizing race very well, but there are only two female characters (three if you count the computer–but what does that say?) and they seem to fall into stereotyped roles. How does this fit into Boyle’s idea that space is equalizing?

My beef with this film is that it tries to be hard SF, but it falls flat. There is too much of the fantastic and lack of respect for the physical universe for it to fully explore just how futile humanity’s place is in the universe. Also, the director hedges his bets by showing the sacrifice of the crew, but having the project actually pay off for those back on Earth.

I do believe that the film will serve as a resource in future SF criticism–gender relations, narrative, personal experience vs. collective experience. Also, I do know at least one person that really enjoyed the film (Jonathan described it as a Jules Verne story, particularly with the gold EVA suits. And I will concede that it is very much a voyages extraordinaire).

If you want hard SF, you won’t find it in Sunshine. However, if you want a romp to the Sun complete with sacrifice and crazies illuminated by amazing visual and sound effects, then go check out Boyle’s latest.

Fuzzy Memory and Quantum Computing

Last night, I realized how little I knew about quantum computing when I was trying to explain it to my friend Ardy. Therefore, today I resolved to brush up on the architecture of our future computer overlords.

Quantum computers are based on the idea of processing quantum units of information (called qubits) instead of bits, which our classically based computers rely on. The power of the quantum computer derives from the quantum mechanical properties of the qubit. A qubit represents a 0, 1, or simultaneously a 1 and a 0, with each of these values having a corresponding coefficient that represents the probability of that state being “the” state of the qubit.

Also, quantum computers, as currently envisioned are a reincarnation of old analog computers that work on states representing real values instead of converting a value into rational numbers as opposed to real numbers (D-Wave’s first quantum computer is an analog system).

Jacob West’s The Quantum Computer is a good write up that explains more about quantum computers including how our classical computers can model quantum computers, but it wouldn’t be practical because of the overwhelming number of matrices modeled in the calculations!

Le Guin and Heinlein in the Sunshine

It’s absolutely gorgeous outside today in Liverpool. Blue skies, sunshine, and it’s not too cool. I’ll be set if the temperature cranks up a few more degrees soon!

I’ve been thinking about writing my Le Guin paper about the relationship between Le Guin and other authors in the Vietnam War era. Since I just wrote a review on Starship Troopers for SFRA Review, I figured that it might be a good piece to use as a contrast with Le Guin. Heinlein’s novel came out between the Korean War and the Vietnam War, but I’m sure that it had to figure into the way Le Guin chose to write The Word for World is Forest. Not so much with the technology, but with the way in which the narrative shifts between voices on both side and within sides of the conflict. Heinlein privileges one voice over all others, while Le Guin moves around so that the reader sees more than one biased viewpoint.

As I was reading in Le Guin’s The Language of the Night for material to use in my paper, I ran across a quote that would make a perfect intro to my Steampunk paper that I’m currently adding to in order to get it published. She writes:

I think it’s time SF writers–and their readers!–stopped daydreaming about a return to the age of Queen Victoria, and started thinking about the future (from “American SF and the Other”).

She’s not talking about steampunk, but she’s making the point that a lot of contemporary SF points back to the historical developments of the Victorian era. Steampunk is an overt exposition of this observation. I’ll use this quote to write a new and more involving introduction than my paper currently has.

Tonight, Jean and I are going to see the film, Sunshine. I think the SF quality of the film will be lacking, but it’s directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting and 28 Days Later), so I think it will at least be entertaining. Our friend, Sunshine, won tickets to the movie, and she gave us the tickets, because she’s on her way to Dublin with her mom in tow. I’ll report back on the film soon.