Graphic Novel Review: First Knife by Simon Roy and Daniel Bensen

FIRST KNIFE TP

A couple months ago, I reviewed Junction, the debut novel of Daniel Bensen. After I posted it, Mr. Bensen was kind enough to thank me for my review and to discuss our mutual interest in writing. He recently suggested that I also read a graphic novel he co-wrote for Image Comics called First Knife, about a post-apocalyptic future Earth. To be honest, I wasn’t sure it would be my thing, but I read it, and it was really well done. I can recommend it.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Be aware that this graphic novel is rated M for blood and violence.

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#14 – Robert Heinlein Part I: The Juveniles

#14 – Robert Heinlein Part I: The Juveniles A Reader’s History of Science Fiction

Robert Heinlein was one of the first major authors to write science fiction specifically for children. In this episode, we explore how he did it and what sets him apart from his contemporaries in this area, along with the other classic children’s sci-fi books up through the golden age. Book recommendation: Have Spacesuit–Will Travel Other books mentioned: The Tom Swift Series The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry The Chrysalids by John Wyndham Grumbles from the Grave, Chapter 3 John J. Miller on Starship Troopers Adam Gopnik on The Little Prince Farah Mendlesohn on children’s sci-fi Alec Nevala-Lee on Heinlein’s writing
  1. #14 – Robert Heinlein Part I: The Juveniles
  2. #13 – Isaac Asimov Part II: Robots
  3. #12 – Isaac Asimov Part I
  4. #11 – John W. Campbell and the Golden Age of Sci-Fi
  5. #10 – Stapledon and Lewis

Robert Heinlein was one of the first major authors to write science fiction specifically for children. In this episode, we explore how he did it and what sets him apart from his contemporaries in this area, along with the other classic children’s sci-fi books up through the golden age.

Book recommendation: Have Spacesuit–Will Travel

Other books mentioned:
The Tom Swift Series
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

Grumbles from the Grave, Chapter 3
John J. Miller on Starship Troopers
Adam Gopnik on The Little Prince
Farah Mendlesohn on children’s sci-fi
Alec Nevala-Lee on Heinlein’s writing

Check out this episode!

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20020: the Sequel to 17776

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b1/Pioneer-6-9.jpg
Pioneer 9

Three years ago, I reviewed a web serial/visual novel called 17776: What Football Will Look Like in the Future created by Jon Bois of the SB Nation blog, an absurdist tale about a far future where humans are immortal, and everyone plays ridiculous versions of American football.

Well, now, Jon Bois is back with the sequel, 20020. And with the surreal world we find ourselves in in reality, this one feels more timely than ever.

20020 is about the return of college football. Since humans stopped being born, aging, and dying in the year 2026 in this world, there’s not really any need for college anymore, but they revived the league, presumably for whomever wanted to sign up, for a new game designed by JUICE (the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer spacecraft), where 111 teams play on one huge field that criss-crosses the country—the usual 160 feet wide and 134,354 miles long.

Except it’s not really one field. The story so far focuses on two players from San Diego State, which alone of the 111 teams has a field that is cut off from the rest by the Mexican border. (The University of Hawaii was invited, but ultimately backed out.) They used a loophole in the rules to switch fields and have spent 2,216 years working on their master plan before finally getting a chance to make a play. (With immortality, automation doing all the work, and no science and technology left to solve, people have nothing better to do.)

20020 is just as good as the original and clearly had a lot of work put into it to figure out exactly how this insane game will work. It will update every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday through October 23, so I definitely recommend you check it out.

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New Year’s Resolutions Update

At the end of last year, I made a post talking about my new year’s resolutions for 2020. Throughout 2019, I had discovered that I do much better with my resolutions if, instead of once a year, I revise them every three months. You might say this is more of a way to refine my personal schedule, since (if you’re doing it right) it’s not something that ends at the end of the year, but whatever you call it, it works…mostly. I was going to do the same thing this year and update you every three months on my progress.

And then COVID happened.

As you may know, I work at NASA, and I’m grateful that NASA has been very supportive of its employees and contractors through the pandemic. They transitioned surprisingly smoothly to most people working from home, and they’re also being very cautious about Coronavirus, so the current setup will likely continue into 2021.

However, this did throw off my carefully-refined schedule, and it’s only been in the past two months that I’ve gotten back on track. So, here’s that update I was going to give you. (I should have done this on September 30, but I was busy this week, and I do my weekly tracking Monday through Sunday anyway.)

At the beginning of the year, my resolutions were:

Writing
—Write 5,000 words per week across all of my projects. Completion rate 85%.
—Write 500 words after supper on nights when I don’t have anything else going on. Completion rate 65%.
—Write 1 blog post per week. Completion rate 64%.

Reading/Entertainment
—Read 1 chapter each of one audiobook and one paper book per week. (This is just so I don’t fall out of the habit.) Completion rate 75%.
—Watch 1 episode per week from my TV backlog. (Hey, I’m a science fiction writer. This is serious research.) Completion rate 72%.
—Read 1 Bible reading per day from my custom chronological reading plan. (It sounds like a lot, but we’re usually talking less than 20 minutes.) Yeah, this didn’t get anywhere. And I think it’s because I tried to set it as a daily goal. (More on that in a minute.)

Publishing
—Um…this didn’t work out so well. Trying to get a book published is too complicated to break down into “do this every week” bits. I’m going to try to draw up a plan of what needs to be done month-by-month to get where I want to be by the end of the year. Also got nowhere.

I’m a little behind last year, although I feel like I’ve hit my stride now. I think I would have done better if it weren’t for COVID, partly because I chose less ambitious goals. It might not seem like it, but this list required less disruption to my lifestyle than before while still challenging me. My biggest pitfall, I think, was trying to do anything daily. I added that qualifier to the “500 words per night” thing for a reason. When I try to schedule things daily, I can’t reliably do them every day. My schedule changes, and not always in ways I can predict. With publishing, I had the opposite problem: when I try to schedule things monthly, it’s too much “out of sight, out of mind.” They’re not in my consciousness enough to motivate action.

With this in mind, I’m making the following changes to my “new year’s” resolutions for the remainder of 2020:

—Write 500 words of fiction after supper on nights when I don’t have anything else going on. (Since I started my podcast, my focus on that has interrupted my fiction writing, so I need to readjust.)

—Bible reading plan: dropped. I will think more on this.

—Send one query letter per week while I have them in the queue. Short story submissions included. (This is actually more ambitious than I’ve ever tried before, but weekly works better than monthly, so I’m hopeful.)

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#13 – Isaac Asimov Part II: Robots

#14 – Robert Heinlein Part I: The Juveniles A Reader’s History of Science Fiction

Robert Heinlein was one of the first major authors to write science fiction specifically for children. In this episode, we explore how he did it and what sets him apart from his contemporaries in this area, along with the other classic children’s sci-fi books up through the golden age. Book recommendation: Have Spacesuit–Will Travel Other books mentioned: The Tom Swift Series The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry The Chrysalids by John Wyndham Grumbles from the Grave, Chapter 3 John J. Miller on Starship Troopers Adam Gopnik on The Little Prince Farah Mendlesohn on children’s sci-fi Alec Nevala-Lee on Heinlein’s writing
  1. #14 – Robert Heinlein Part I: The Juveniles
  2. #13 – Isaac Asimov Part II: Robots
  3. #12 – Isaac Asimov Part I
  4. #11 – John W. Campbell and the Golden Age of Sci-Fi
  5. #10 – Stapledon and Lewis

We continue our exploration of the work of Isaac Asimov with a study of his Robot Series and an introduction to robot fiction in general, which he shaped in ways that remain important to this day.

Book recommendation: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.

Other works reviewed:
R.U.R. by Karel Čapek
The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov
The Bicentennial Man by Isaac Asimov
I, Robot (2004 film)

Check out this episode!

Posted in A Reader's History of Science Fiction, Science Fiction | 1 Comment

TV Review: Cosmos: Possible Worlds, Week 1

Cosmos Possible Worlds title card.jpg

During the previous season of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, I reviewed the series to discuss how it measured up to the original, and I wanted to do the same thing again. Granted, the new season, Possible Worlds, doesn’t exactly lend itself to this. A Spacetime Odyssey told many original stories, but it also spent quite a bit of time updating the material of Episodes 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 12, and 13 of Carl Sagan’s original. That does leave a few more that they could potentially draw on now. In fact, sight-unseen, I was at some point expecting an update of Episode 5, “Blues for a Red Planet,” which was all about Mars.

However, after reading the summaries, that turns out not to be the case—although Episode 8, “The Sacrifice of Cassini” does seem to parallel Episode 6 of the original, “Travelers’ Tales,” which was about the Voyager mission. Other than this, there’s only one other obvious parallel in this season. Episode 2 seems to echo Episode 11 of the original, “The Persistence of Memory.”

For the record, of the other episodes in the original series, Episode 4, “Heaven and Hell,” was about the twin disasters of asteroid impacts and the runaway greenhouse on Venus; and Episode 7, “The Backbone of Night,” was about our historical understanding of stars and the galaxy.

Anyway, last time, I reviewed four episodes at a time, but this time, since Fox aired two episodes last night, I wanted to get started now. It’s not clear if that schedule will continue. I know they’re only running one episode next week because of the Presidential debate, and the network doesn’t list their schedule further in advance.

I also need to note that this is not the order the episodes were aired on National Geographic Channel. At that time, Episode 2 of this run, “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors,” was switched with Episode 11, “The Fleeting Grace of the Habitable Zone.” The production codes reveal that the current airing on Fox is the correct order, and reading over the summaries, I think it feels more natural that way. (At least, I hope they won’t be making any more changes. I haven’t cared for how they’ve handled the series so far.)


Anyway, now that all that’s out of the way, what did I think of the episodes? Well, I thought they were solid. I took issue a little bit with the animated histories; I thought they played a bit fast and loose (a complaint I had about the previous season as well), but it was still solid storytelling.

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Cosmos: Possible Worlds Premiers on Fox Tomorrow

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/3/3f/Cosmos_Possible_Worlds_title_card.jpg

Back in March, I posted about the new season of Cosmos. This is Neil deGrasse Tyson’s second follow-up to Carl Sagan’s classic series. He already did Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey in 2014, which I enjoyed and reviewed extensively at the time. (See here to start.) So I was excited to see that he was doing a second season this year called Cosmos: Possible Worlds.

However, I wasn’t able to see the original run, which began airing in March on National Geographic Channel, because they made it nearly impossible to find for cord-cutters or even basic cable subscribers. And honestly, I and many other fans of the show have been really annoyed with Disney for how they’ve handled this because it’s bad marketing, and it sends a message that they don’t really care about the show.

A Spacetime Odyssey premiered on Fox Network, so I expected the same this time around. However, the original run aired on National Geographic Channel instead, and was only available on air or live-streaming to subscribers. From what I’ve read, it wasn’t even available On Demand for cable subscribers, or at least it wasn’t available for re-watch, which is pretty crazy. If you missed an episode, it wasn’t possible to find it again (legally) for any price in the United States.

If you care about educating the public—or for that matter, if you care about making money—this seems like a very bad move. And the advertising and certainly the hype have been a lot less for the broadcast run, at least online. I worry that this is going to lead to people either ignoring the show or pirating it, and I worry that it’s going to cut into the audience either way. It’s unfortunate that they moved the show from its original home on PBS, but understandable, but this is just shooting themselves in the foot.

But even so, Cosmos:Possible Worlds is finally airing on Fox, starting tomorrow, September 22, at 8 PM Eastern. I for one am still excited to see it, and I’m going to be analyzing it just like I did the previous season. If you’re with the 20% of US households who have cut the cord, or if you couldn’t fit it into your schedule in the first run, I hope you’ll follow along with me. Stay tuned.

Posted in Current events, Science, TV Reviews | Tagged , , ,

Life on Venus? Not so fast.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a9/PIA23791-Venus-NewlyProcessedView-20200608.jpg

The big (and I mean BIG) astronomy news of the day is the announcement of possible (and I mean possible) signs of life on Venus—specifically, the detection of the molecule phosphine (PH3) in the upper atmosphere. The researchers, a large collaboration, put out two papers about it today: the original Nature Astronomy paper and a 103-page supplement explaining why all the alternative explanations that they could think of don’t work.

Predictably, the media are running with it, but does it mean there is life on Venus? As cool as that would be, right now, I would bet against it.

The upshot: it is very possible, even probable, that phosphine on Venus could have come from some non-life chemical process we haven’t figured out yet. It’s also possible that it was misidentified sulfur dioxide, because their spectra look similar.

So, what’s going on here?

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#12 – Isaac Asimov Part I

#14 – Robert Heinlein Part I: The Juveniles A Reader’s History of Science Fiction

Robert Heinlein was one of the first major authors to write science fiction specifically for children. In this episode, we explore how he did it and what sets him apart from his contemporaries in this area, along with the other classic children’s sci-fi books up through the golden age. Book recommendation: Have Spacesuit–Will Travel Other books mentioned: The Tom Swift Series The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry The Chrysalids by John Wyndham Grumbles from the Grave, Chapter 3 John J. Miller on Starship Troopers Adam Gopnik on The Little Prince Farah Mendlesohn on children’s sci-fi Alec Nevala-Lee on Heinlein’s writing
  1. #14 – Robert Heinlein Part I: The Juveniles
  2. #13 – Isaac Asimov Part II: Robots
  3. #12 – Isaac Asimov Part I
  4. #11 – John W. Campbell and the Golden Age of Sci-Fi
  5. #10 – Stapledon and Lewis

Isaac Asimov was own of the most prolific authors of the golden age of sci-fi, especially when it comes to short stories. In this episode, we explore an overview of his work.

Book recommendation: The End of Eternity.

“The Last Question”:
Full Text
Narrated by Leonard Nimoy
A cool fan-made illustrated version I found.

Other books mentioned:
Foundation
Foundation and Empire
Second Foundation
The Gods Themselves

My analysis of Trantor.

Check out this episode!

Posted in A Reader's History of Science Fiction, Science Fiction

Could a Planet-Sized City Work?

Coruscant at night. Credit: Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

In Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, the planet Trantor is a single, huge city spanning its entire surface (also known as an ecumenopolis), an idea that was famously replicated with Coruscant in Star Wars. As a companion to tomorrow’s podcast on Asimov, I wanted to ask, could a planet-spanning city like Trantor or Coruscant actually work?

Surprisingly, the answer is yes, but not in the way they’re described.

Some basic mathematical analysis shows that a planet-spanning city could have enough resources to support itself, but it wouldn’t be a jungle of concrete and steel from horizon to horizon. It would actually be the greenest city you’ve every seen, full of hanging gardens and solar panels on every surface.

We can compute how many resources a city planet will need by simply scaling up from Earth and looking at the limits of possible technologies. We can assume minerals and other raw materials aren’t a problem since you can just mine whatever you need from asteroids. The main restrictions will be basic necessities for life: food, water, air, housing, and energy.

And we’re not going to do this on Easy Mode, either. We’re going to figure out how many people a “City Earth” can support at an American standard of living.

Important note: this is not a calculation of how many people Earth can support today. We don’t have the technology to get anywhere close to this. It also ignores the environmental damage of paving over the entire planet. This is strictly about how many people an advanced science fiction society could support if they wanted to.

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