Monday, February 19, 2018

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A glimpse from Capricon 38

The Artdog Image of Interest  

Paper sculpture by Jan S. Gephardt, as displayed at Capricon 38, in February 2018.

I'm in Wheeling, IL, for the weekend, at Capricon 38. So far, it's been fun. I'll probably have more thoughts about Capricon in future posts, but here's a look at my Art Show panel, as it appeared before the show opened.

IMAGE: I took this photo, in part for this blog post. If for any reason you re-post it, please do so with an attribution and a link back to this page. Thanks!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Challenging assumptions in science fiction: 2. Oh, the humanity!

This is the second post in a series that questions some basic assumptions that underly several classic science fiction tropes. To start from the beginning of this discussion, go back to last Wednesday's post.

Last week I took serious issue with the way the people running Ceres Station were doing their job in the must-read space opera Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey.

Apart from the abysmal law enforcement practices I discussed last time, I made a list of other outstanding reasons NOT to live on Ceres:
  • Human life is apparently cheap, and easily squandered with no penalty
  • Freedom of speech is nonexistent, and so is freedom of the Fourth Estate
  • The nutritional base is crap. Seriously? Fungi and fermentation was all they could come up with? Readers of this blog don't need to guess what I think of this idea.
  • Misogyny is alive and well, but mental health care is not.
I'd specifically like to take up the first point this week, because it's one of the great, universal "givens" in most science fictional universes: that humans will breed like rats, once we're finally unleashed like a plague on the universe, and that we'll mostly all live miserable, short, brutal lives under the heel of this or that authoritarian system. 

1973's Soylent Green created a what-if future (in this case, in New York City) overrun by excess population, as envisioned in both the movie and the 1966 book Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison, which inspired it. Realities have changed since then, but the trope hasn't.

Yes, life is brutal, out there in the Mean Future, but it makes a handy low point from which Our Heroes can rise up and conquer whatever their particular nemesis is. And I suppose if that's the story you're writing, it certainly has a long and--sorry!--storied history as a canon trope in sf. 

But seriously. This trope treats human life like detritus, and the vast bounty of space like a zero-sum game. I personally do not see either of these things as inevitable, especially not in an in-system situation such as what we have in The Expanse. Let me explain.

First of all, where are all these people supposedly coming from? Six million on Ceres Station alone? Really? If you are going to treat human beings as if they’re worthless, this implies that there’s an endless, inexpensive supply of them, readily available. But would there be? 

This tiny person (fetal development at 16 weeks shown here) would really have a hard time surviving and developing properly in a space environment.

It's not as if we're going to be growing them like having litters of kittens out there on the Final Frontier. I mean, pregnancy would be a really hard thing to support in a space-based environment. Yes, I'm going to talk about matters that concern icky lady-parts (note, that's any lady-part NOT being currently utilized by a protagonist for coitus). If any of you guys can't handle it, you can skip down a couple of paragraphs.

Like many physical functions, human pregnancy and childbirth have evolved in a 1-G environment. Heck, we can't even maintain muscle strength and bone density in micro-gravity. Not to mention what space radiation can do to sperm or growing fetal cells (yeah, it's a good thing the squeamish folk skipped this paragraph). Ceres Station supposedly has a gravitation of about 0.3-G, which means mamas ain't havin' no (healthy) babies there.

Yes, all that.

I know I'm probably not the only woman who daydreamed, when I was 8 or 9 months along, of floating in micro-G, where my ankles wouldn't blow up like balloons and my kid's head wasn't squashing my bladder into a 1-cc-capacity pancake. But so far the science isn't encouraging. studies on animals show viability levels are lower, and serious abnormalities can develop. Given that kind of outlook, I'd choose put up with football-feet and micro-bladder.

Also, birth rates fall, even without the environmental difficulties, in more technologically advanced societies. We’ve seen that industrialized nations with access to good birth control (which you’d absolutely have to have, in space) historically show birth rates well below the replacement fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman

Somehow, science fiction consistently misses this basic fact.


Thus, any model that assumes runaway population growth in an industrialized society is based on a seriously retro--and misogynistic--fallacy. Actually, I believe it's based on a flawed model promulgated in the 1950s-through-1970s. As far as I can tell, it has not been seriously examined in science fiction since then. I think it's time we did.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Amazon, for the Leviathan Wakes cover image; to The Ace Black Blog, for the still from Soylent Green; to WebMD for the 16-week-old fetus image; to MumBlog, for the "Pregnancy Symptoms" graphic; and to ValueWalk, for the fertility rate chart. I deeply appreciate all of you!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Improvisation on a classic

The Artdog Image(s) of Interest

Kehinde Wiley, Officer of the Hussars, 2007-Collection of the Detroit Institute of the Arts Museum

Today I get to feature one of my absolute favorite pieces by Kehinde Wiley, an artist I've been aware of, and admired increasingly, ever since I ran across one of his amazing portraits several years ago at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art. That painting was part of a traveling exhibition, I didn't retain the name in my memory, and I haven't been able to scare up information about it online.

But periodically I'd run across another Wiley--and, as you can imagine (if this is your first Wiley, God bless you, now you know!), once you've seen Wiley's work you don't forget it. Recently, the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art acquired another Wiley, his painting St. Adrian

Wiley's Officer of the Hussars is based on another painting I've known and loved for years, The Charging Chasseur, or An Officer of the Imperial Horse Guards Charging, 1812, by Théodore Géricault. You may remember seeing a reproduction of the artwork (the Wiley, not the Géricault), if you've watched the Fox TV Show Empire.

I'm a Géricault  fan, too, not only for his dramatic compositions and masterful renderings, but because he liked exotic places and people who didn't all look just like him. At his best, he portrayed many of those "exotic" people as individuals.

I do tend to think Wiley improved on the original--but you can compare, and decide for yourself.

The Charging Chasseur1812, by Théodore Géricault - Collection of the Louvre, Paris.

You'll see more Kehinde Wiley art from me in the months to come, if all goes well. He's got so many wonderful paintings to share!

NOTE: While researching this post, I also discovered that former President Barack Obama shares my enthusiasm for Wiley's artwork: he recently chose Wiley to paint his official presidential portrait. It will hang in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, alongside an Amy Sherald portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Deadline Detroit and Alan Stamm, for the photo of Wiley's Officer of the Hussars, and to Wikipedia for the photo of Géricault's painting.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Challenging assumptions in science fiction: 1. putting my foot in it

I'm probably going to get myself in trouble, writing this series.

Actually, I first began thinking subversive thoughts about the canon assumptions of sf decades ago.

But I wrote the basis-document for this series of posts last summer, while reading Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (the pen name of co-authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). It's the first novel in The Expanse series, which is the basis for the SyFy series of the same name.

First of all, let me say I enjoyed the book, and I do recommend it, although if I go into why the ending disappointed me, it'll involve spoilers--so I won't. Go ahead and read the book. Maybe what bugged me about the ending won't bother you.

In between the squees of delight and the nitpicks, however, I began to form a stronger and stronger opinion, the longer I read: I would absolutely hate living on Ceres. And I bet everyone else would, too.

Why? Because that is a massively dysfunctional, dog-eat-dog society. I’m looking at Ceres, as portrayed in LW, and seriously—that place is a hellhole no Chamber of Commerce PR campaign could pretty up! So why would anyone willingly choose to go there, see what a sorry excuse of a place it was, and then fail to either leave, or work to make it better?

This is not even close to being an exhaustive collection of all the corporations with their eyes on a profitable future in space.

That the cops are run by a corporate contractor is not a stretch, given that we already have corporations leading the way into space, private contractors covering security for more and more corporate and government entities, and for-profit corporations such as CoreCivic run many of our country's prisons, for well or ill.

GRS (Global Resource Solutions) provided security for the State Department in Benghazi; ACADEMI is better known by Blackwater, its former name; SOC works for the US Departments of State, Energy, and Defense, as well as corporations; Constellis is the parent company of the security firm Triple Canopy. CoreCivic is a private prison management company you might remember better as Corrections Corporation of America.

But the clowns and cowboys who pass for law enforcement on Ceres have no concept of professional law enforcement best practices whatsoever. They make some of our more troubled contemporary police departments look like models of even-handed social justice. Even worse for the good people of Ceres, no one in a position of leadership seems interested in requiring them to step up.

Other outstanding reasons NOT to live on Ceres?
  • Human life is apparently cheap, and easily squandered with no penalty
  • Freedom of speech is nonexistent, and so is freedom of the Fourth Estate
  • The nutritional base is crap. Seriously? Fungi and fermentation was all they could come up with? Readers of this blog don't need to guess what I think of this idea.
  • Misogyny is alive and well, but mental health care is not.

To paraphrase, Ceres ain't the kind of place to raise your kids--at least not the version of it we see in Leviathan Wakes.

Now, I totally understand that sometimes in a story things have to get pretty dark before they get better. The principle of contrast for emphasis is important in most art forms. But I also have begun to get eternally weary of the same not-necessarily-well-founded assumptions being trotted out without all that much examination in novel after novel.

How could such an epic fail of a so-called society as the Ceres of Leviathan Wakes sustain itself? I mean, outside of the canon tropes of SF? Realistically, not too well, in my opinion.

I'll get deeper into my reasons in upcoming posts. But people, please! We're writing science fiction, here. Can't we imagine anything outside of that same predictable rut?

IMAGES: Many thanks to Amazon, for the Leviathan Wakes cover art. 
I am indebted to the following for the logo images used in the Aerospace Logos montage: to Wikimedia Commons for the Spacex logo; to Stick PNG, for the Boeing logo; to LogoVaults for the Orbital Sciences Corporation logo; and to Space Foundation, for the Sierra Nevada Corporation logo. 
I am indebted to the following for the logo images used in the Security and Prisons Logos montage: to LinkedIn, for the GRS logo; to IDPA, the International Defense Pistol Association, for the ACADEMI logo; to SOC for its logo; and to Constellis for its logo. 
Finally, many thanks to Science Versus Hollywood, for the still image of Ceres Station from SyFy's The Expanse. 
I appreciate you all!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Celestial trifecta

The Super Blue Blood Moon did not look like this from the second floor bedroom of our Westwood, Kansas home. There were branches. There were other houses. It was setting (at totality) about the time the sun was coming up on the opposite horizon, so we only got to see the Frog eat the Moon, but then he ran away with it, below the horizon.

This moon looks way cooler than ours did--but I'm still glad we got up for it

It was still totally worth getting up for. For one thing, it wasn't cloudy! We had a total eclipse of the sun in the Kansas City area last August, and it was totally socked in and raining at totality, where we were. So we saw it get dark. We saw the 360-degree sunset. But we barely got to use our solar sunglasses at all.

Somewhere up there a solar eclipse was happening. Very frustrating.

The cloudy "wrap-around" sunset, mid-afternoon August 21, 2017, taken without the proper filter so it doesn't look as red as it did in real life.
I've been pretty busy, these past few weeks, but some things just must be taken time for. The main thing I've been doing is making a final push to finish my novel. If all goes well, I'll be done by Sunday with this part of the writing.

And presumably, the Frog will give us the Moon back tonight.

IMAGES: The gorgeous photo of a previous (September 2017) Super Blue Blood Moon, by real NASA-affiliated photographer Dominique Dierick, is courtesy of Sky News. Thank you! The two "Alleged Eclipse" photos are ones I took last August with my trusty iPhone 6, at my friend Marna's farm.