We Just Got Our ’30s Sci-Fi Plots Back

By now, you’ve heard that seven – count ’em, seven – terrestrial planets have been discovered orbiting the ultra-cool M8 star Trappist-1.  According to the paper that the research team released yesterday, all of them could potentially have liquid water on their surfaces, although only three are judged to be good candidates: the authors’ model considers it likely that the three innermost planets have succumbed to a runaway greenhouse effect and that the outermost is too cold.  But that still leaves three potentially habitable planets in a single system.

Those three – Trappist-1e, 1f and 1g – range from .62  to 1.34 estimated Earth masses, and as one would expect from a red-dwarf system, they’re  tidally locked and orbit close to their star with periods of 6 to 12 days.  Their orbits are also very close to each other.  The distance between the orbits of 1e and 1f is .009 AUs – about 830,000 miles – and 1f passes within 750,000 miles of 1g.  This is a system that, even according to its discoverers, shouldn’t exist – their model gives it only an 8.1 percent chance of surviving for a billion years – but as they point out, it obviously does.

There are many more fascinating details about the Trappist-1 system and still more that we have yet to learn.  The discoverers hope that further research, and the launch of the James Webb space telescope next year, will enable them to confirm the details of the planets’ atmospheres and possibly look for biological signatures.  But in the meantime, for those of us who write SF, the discovery of the Trappist-1 system means this: we just got our pulp-era plots back.

We’ve all read stories from the heady days of the 1930s in which the intrepid heroes travel to Mars or Venus in a few days, take off their space suits, breathe the air, encounter exotic life forms and interact with non-human societies.  As we learned more about our solar system, that all got taken away.  The jungles of Venus and the canals of Barsoom have long since been relegated to the realm of nostalgia, and if we want aliens in our stories, we have to cross impossible interstellar distances to find them.

But now, there’s a system where all that can happen!  Three habitable worlds with orbits less than a million miles apart, Hohmann transfers that can be done in a few weeks with inspired 1950s tech – we’ve got the ingredients for interplanetary travel that’s almost as easy as pulp writers imagined it.  And a citizen of Trappist-1f might actually find that Old Venus jungle world one planet in and an arid Old Mars one planet out, and generations of its people could watch their neighbors’ fields and cities grow and dream of one day visiting them.  All we need to do to make pulp stories into hard SF again is move them 40 light years.

All right, we’d need to do a little more than that.  The planets are tidally locked – and with zero eccentricity, they don’t have libration-generated twilight zones – so we’d need to model the day-side and night-side weather.  We’d need to account for the tidal and geological effects of so many worlds so close together, and the atmosphere had better have plenty of ozone to protect against UV and X-ray emissions.  But none of those constraints are deal-breakers, and within them, Weinbaum-punk is suddenly acceptable.

That may not last, of course.  By this time next year, the research team might have found that the Trappist-1 planets have reducing atmospheres or that there’s insufficient protection from stellar radiation or that some other factor makes pulp SF as impossible in that system as in our own.  But right now, it’s wide open to stories of the imagination.  We’ve found one spot in the universe where it’s the Golden Age all over again.

Highlander reboot? there can be only one

zeist

What would a guy really be like after 500 years of practicing sword-work? I’m still a stunt guy at heart. You want to reinvent gunfights, how do you do it? You want to reinvent swordfighting, how do you do it? And that’s where we are at now. I love the first Highlander and I think I’m in a pretty good spot. The creative team, the producers and the studio that’s behind it have kind of said, ‘It’s yours to play with.’ The trick would be coming up with an interesting way to introduce it to new audiences without stepping on what’s great about the original property. You don’t want to over complicate it. I think it speaks very simply: ‘There can be only one!’ ‘We’re immortals!’ ‘Don’t get your head chopped off!’ I think we all know what happened with the sequels.”
[…]
“When I came on, the property had already been developed for a couple of years and, as things happen in Hollywood, yeah, there was aliens, meteors, spaceships, uh, DNA mutations, terrorists. I mean, they’d tried to drag every plot into the Immortal world. My personal opinion, I don’t want to see any of that. I’m not interested. I have seen other movies like that. I haven’t seen the Immortal world.”

(grudgingly) fine, do what you want. but there can still only be one.

Still, how do you do an interview with a director for a Highlander movie, reboot or otherwise, and not ask about Queen? SMH

Jack is back – March 11

50 years into the future, time has not been kind to Jack. Aku has destroyed all of the time portals, thwarting the journey to travel back in time and stop him. Now, Jack is immortal (as a side effect of the time travel), but broken and lost. Aku, similarly, has everything he could ever want and is equally miserable. It’s a dark vision, not just in terms of the world, but in the personal despair.

more.

Episodic_Photo_Samurai_Jack_copy

the inevitably necessary political post

(if after reading this post you find yourself wondering, what the heck brought that on? then don’t worry. it’s not aimed at you.)

gb

I am not anonymous. It’s pretty easy to know my real name, and thus know where else I blog, and other facts about me, most of which are very strongly correlated with a certain kind of politics. From time to time I slip and that political bias leaks out here at haibane.info. Here, I am not interested in being publicly liberal like John Scalzi or alt-right like Vox Day or even partisan on niche issues but determined to link all sides fairly like Mike Glyer. I just want to write about stuff that I like.

In a few days, we enter a new political era, and this has certain people emotional for different reasons. That’s understandable. I like a good playoff game as much as the next guy, and I enjoyed the game so much more when Dallas tied the game – twice – and Rodgers only had 30 seconds left. The emotion I felt, and would have felt had it gone the other way, is real. Same thing with politics. I am allowed to feel what I feel, and so is everyone else. This is the Internet, however, and some people just don’t seem to grok this.

There are people I disagree with profoundly with whom I am able to have a perfectly civil conversation. That is because I consider respect to be the first and foremost responsibility of anyone engaging someone else. If you don’t respect someone, then don’t concern yourself with what they do or think or especially, post on the Internet. This is common sense and civility. Again, I am not surprised that some people on the Internet don’t seem to be able to understand this concept.

I am quite sure that I fit the definition of a SJW or moonbat or whatever other fancy buzzword du jour has all the cucks kecking. But to paraphrase a certain timeless truth, “to you be your way and to me, mine.”

and that’s enough said about that.

And yeah, the photo doesn’t have much to do with the post – apart from the obvious fact that there is only one Green Deity, and his name is Godgers.

Another year of awards

It’s nomination season again, and this year is an exciting one, because it’s the first in which I’m eligible to nominate for the Nebulas as well as the Hugos. Nevertheless, my nominations this year will be narrower than the last two: I’m planning to nominate in the short fiction categories only. Short fiction is what I write, so I feel more qualified to judge it than to judge novels, and I also didn’t have much time for book reading last year. Many SFF novels were published in 2016 and I have little doubt that some of them are great, but I haven’t had a chance to read enough of them to weigh the field.

I’ll start with novelettes rather than short stories, because that way I can start with my favorite story of 2016: Polyglossia by Tamara Vardomskaya (GigaNotoSaurus, March 2016). GigaNotoSaurus doesn’t usually get much attention from reviewers and critics, but this is a rich, multi-layered story that is well deserving of an award.

Polyglossia is a story of linguistics, cultural survival, family and resistance to oppression – not necessarily in that order – set in a low-magic fantasy world that suggests the early twentieth century. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of good world-building, and the world of this story is intricately detailed and plausible; more than that, the world-building is integrated into the plot and informs the characters’ actions such that no detail is wasted. The linguistics are also tightly integrated into the plot – the author is a Ph.D. candidate in linguistics with an interest in the philosophy of language, and it shows – and the politics of language and cultural preservation come to play a key part in its resolution. At the same time, the story calls into question what we call family, what duties we owe to our ancestors, and how to balance those duties against the exigencies of politics. Polyglossia is rewarding on several levels – thus far, I’ve never failed to get something new out of it with each rereading – and if I had to pick one story that defined speculative fiction for me in 2016, it would be this one.

Second on my novelette list is The Dancer on the Stairs by Sarah Tolmie (Strange Horizons, November 2016), the story of a woman from our world who is swept into another and who must learn to navigate and ultimately preserve its society. I hadn’t expected to like this story – tales of mannered societies usually leave me cold, and the palace world within The Dancer is exquisitely mannered – but here, the reasons underlying the manners and the way in which they shape the protagonist’s life are absorbing, and her slow process of learning, adjusting and ultimately realizing her role in that world are both fascinating and emotionally affecting. Again, my taste for world-building, and the intricate way in which the details of this story unfurl, made it one of my favorites of the year.

Rounding out my novelette short list are A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djeli Clark (Tor, May 2016) and Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed, Feb. 2016). The former is a lush, beautifully written mystery set in an early twentieth-century Egypt in which supernatural creatures have helped to throw off the colonial yoke but are dangerous in themselves; the latter, a story of music and discovery (recurring themes of Pinsker’s) set amid a post-apocalyptic landscape and seasoned with longing for companionship.

Turning to short stories, my favorite of the year and the first on my nomination list is And Then, One Day, The Air was Full of Voices by Margaret Ronald (Clarkesworld, June 2016). In the near future, Earth has received signals from an advanced and accomplished alien civilization… which then slowly fade, and we realize that the civilization died many years ago and that the records of its decline and death are only now reaching us. The breadth of time and space between Earth and the alien world means that we can do nothing to prevent their demise, and the story is about the spiritual effect that this realization has on humanity. The story is heartbreakingly human, the narration lyrical, and the resolution satisfying to the soul.

Touch Me All Over by Betsy James (F&SF, January-February 2016) is second: the story of a young woman exiled by a magical curse who must learn to turn it into a blessing. This story has been told before, but the way James tells it is intimate, lyrical, and emotionally affecting, and the story is told with a visual richness and an eye for small detail that takes it well above its subject matter.

Life in Stone, Glass and Plastic by Jose Pablo Iriarte (Strange Horizons, June 2016) is a story of memory: how it can be both painful and healing, and how what is lost might be regained at least temporarily. This is another intimate and compassionate story, dealing with dementia on the one hand and horror on the other: the trauma of memory and the trauma of its loss. This isn’t a lyrical story like James’, but it is a forceful one: its dialogue and description are contemporary, gritty and powerful, and its imagery is lasting.

Between Dragons and Their Wrath by An Owomoyela and Rachel Swirsky (Clarkesworld, February 2016) is an allegory of contemporary West Africa in which a refugee child earns a meager living by harvesting dragon scales, dreams of a better life in the capital city, and is both grateful and resentful toward the foreigners who provide aid. This returns to the lyrical style of storytelling, of which both Owomoyela and Swirsky are masters, and it tells of a haunting that is all too literal in much of the world. And Laws of Night and Silk by Seth Dickinson (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2016) is another lyrical and powerful story of the child of a fair-folk race who is stunted so she can be used as a weapon, and the effect of her awakening on her caretaker and ultimately her society.

Finally, my nominations will include three novellas, all from Tor and all, to some extent, out of character for me to like. Runtime by S.B. Divya (Tor, May 2016) is a cyberpunk story – a genre I usually hate – but Divya gives it humanity through the striving of the protagonist, the tense excitement of a cross-country race, and a satisfying conclusion. The Cthulhu mythos also usually leaves me cold, but The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (Tor, February 2016), set in 1920s Harlem, is a fortunate exception – the storytelling is a blend of Lovecraft and the Harlem Renaissance, and the irony of a black protagonist in that particular world isn’t lost on either author or reader. And A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor, October 2016) is a high fantasy that begins in a royal court – yet another thing that’s usually a turnoff for me – but which is set in a rich African-based world (something I’m a sucker for) and turns into a powerfully told romance. Again, I’m a fan of world-building, and this is what all three novellas on my list have in common: each of them will transport you as they did me.

Hopefully this year, I’ll have time to read a few novels between my writing, my day job and all that’s going on in the world.  But 2016 has still been immensely rewarding and inspirational – we’re living in a golden age of short SFF fiction, and some of the best of it was on display throughout the year – and with stories like those above, I have no regrets about my year in reading.

Which Leia was Leia?

leiabook

Right now, The Princess Diarist is the #1 book on Amazon.com. And it’s sold out.

Looking at Carrie Fisher’s other books that feature her in her Leia persona on the cover, namely Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic – I am struck by the fact that she always portrayed herself as Episode IV Leia. (Both are out of stock right now, too). Obviously, she wasn’t a fan of Slave Leia, but General Leia didn’t seem to be as iconic in her own mind.

In a recent Facebook convo about Leia’s image, a female friend of mine expressed that she thought General Leia in Ep VII finally redeemed Leia from the “degraded mess” the character had become in Return of the Jedi, presumably because of that bikini. Alyssa Rosenberg in the Washington Post writes a pretty comprehensive defense of Leia on that score. I largely agree that focusing on what Leia was wearing misses the point – Leia was kidnapped by a space slug, forced to wear something obscene, and then killed him with her bare hands in revenge. The bikini was a literal symbol of how women are oppressed, and it’s her resistance and revenge over the victimization by Jabba, not the actual victimization itself, that define Leia. Fisher herself colored outside the feminist lines – she once joked about not remembering who she slept with to land the Leia role, but hoped it was Lucas himself! That’s not exactly a female-positive sense of humor. Likewise, what Leia wore in one scene of one movie shouldn’t really degrade the character or define it. Leia was complicated, reflecting how Fisher was complicated.