Friday, February 23, 2018

The Brainiac that SyFy is bringing to Krypton is super cool.

SyFy channel is launching a new Superman-themed television show that takes place before his planet blew up, and it launches on March 21st. Naturally, it's called Krypton, and my original feelings were just kind of ho-hum about the whole thing. I'm kind of over-saturated with Superman stuff that's kind of built up over the years from Smallville, to Superman Returns, to a reboot of Superman in Man of Steel, and then to Supergirl and so on and so forth. But I'm kind of excited for Krypton, because the villain in it, a.k.a. Brainiac, looks sooo good. Below is a picture of Brainiac courtesy of USA Today (he kind of reminds me of a green borg from Star Trek, which is maybe why I kind of like him so much).
In the trailer (which I've embedded below so you can watch it), he looks absolutely awesome. He has a massive, kind of sprawling skull ship, and he's surrounded by all kinds of black cables and ropes that look like tentacles. I've never seen Brainiac look like that, and he gives off a decidedly evil (and very ghoulish) vibe that feels like it will make the story told in Krypton very interesting. The design of him is influenced heavily from a Geoff Johns's cover for Action Comics #868, which is shown below.
In watching the trailer, the only question I had was, "Why are they putting Kryptonians in ball caps and hoodies?" I haven't figured that one out yet, but maybe it was to appeal to Americans watching the show instead of trying to create a completely alien-looking race similar to how director Ridley Scott approaches things. Without the brilliance of someone like H.R. Giger, envisioning something "alien" is undoubtedly going to be based upon something of which we are undoubtedly familiar.

So who is Brainiac anyway?

He's been depicted in multiple television series several times, but I've always been underwhelmed by him in every single appearance. Supposedly (I haven't read the comics in which he's the biggest villain) he is Superman's archenemy, and he is responsible for shrinking and stealing Kandor, the capital city of Superman's home planet Krypton. The bottle city of Kandor is a pop culture icon, and features prominently in cartoons and the comic books. The fact that we might see this event happen in this new series gives me enough of a reason to want to watch it. Hopefully, it's darker and more serious than Supergirl. Not that I don't like Supergirl, but I sometimes enjoy a nice brooding switch from all the campiness that is on the CW. I think that dark and brooding is perfect for Krypton as it's literally a series set on a planet on the brink of annihilation. There's nothing quite like "impending doom" to light a fire under things.

Random thought: I wonder if there are going to be overt comparisons to Earth in Krypton, as many think that our own world is on the cusp of some kind of apocalyptic doom associated with climate change. Maybe like the Kryptonians that our fiction writers dream about, we'll all turn a blind eye to it until it's too late. That could be fun.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Facebook changed the social dynamic of the world by allowing people to ask for things from you without actually doing anything at all for you.

My brother was taken aback the other day when he trolled me and asked why my art has not made it onto Facebook. I told him that I didn't like Facebook and could care less about sharing it. His eyes opened wide with shock and surprise, but he decided (for once) not to angrily press me into sharing on Facebook. He has done this before with me, insisting that I post pictures and such of my house on Facebook so that everyone could see. When I said no, he pushed until he got his way. That's just our dynamic I guess. My brother says that he shares everything on Facebook to create Facebook memories. Again, I could care less about Facebook memories. I prefer the real ones. And should I ever be so mentally compromised that I can't remember the real ones, I doubt I'll remember how to get onto Facebook anyway. It all seems like unnecessary narcissism to me, if I'm to be honest. I feel like I know too many people on Facebook who are addicted to attention. There's actually a disorder for it called "attention addiction disorder." For those who don't know what this is, it's when a young person gets too much attention for one reason or another and grows addicted to it because it feels good (kind of like a drug). As they get older, they need to have that sustained input of attention and will do anything to get it, including risky sexual behaviors etc.

Side Note: For those that are legitimately interested in seeing my art, I will be posting a picture I've been working on for months here on my blog when I finish it. But it's a really slow process, and I'm about 90% done. There's lots of detail in it. Anyway, that's not what I wanted to talk about in this post.

What I wanted to talk about is that I've been really struggling with putting into words why I don't like Facebook, and why I try to stay off it as much as possible. And then it finally hit me, I think I dislike Facebook so much, because it changes the social dynamic that I was raised up knowing (into something that feels alien and different). Here's how: Facebook allows people to ask for things from you without actually doing anything at all for you. It makes it too easy for people to become takers in your life without giving anything.

It used to be that people had social contracts with each other. If you wanted to get to know someone, you would hang out with them in real time. You would go and visit their home. You would pick up the phone and talk with them for hours on the phone until parents told you to stop monopolizing the line. You knew what was going on with their lives on a daily basis because you invested in another person. Facebook has removed all of that. Now, all you do is check someone's feed of things that they post to your wall and that's your substitute for "catching up." There is nothing unique for you. Rather, it's like everyone is doing a "press release" for their avocado toast that they chose to eat in the morning. "Press release...I'm drinking O.J. from this cute kitty cup!" It's ridiculous and wrong on so many levels.

I suppose I'd be okay with it, but these same people that you somehow friend because you saw them once and they send you a friend invite will still come after you for favors (like a Go Fund Me account or a request to join a political activist rally), even though they haven't stepped one foot in your house and even though they never call. With as little effort as possible, these people still expect you to come to their aid, they expect you to extend levels of respect to them that you would previously only do to people you really wanted in your life, yet they will never do the same. The equivalent of "breaking out the fine China" for a new generation of people is to abide by all of the political correctness that they insist upon if you are to communicate with them beyond a "hello" and treat them with the respect of a visiting dignitary and not an average person. And I'm being serious here. I have barely met people and they have asked favors from me having to do with multiple personal pronouns, not using certain language (or to provide trigger warnings), and to respect them in ways that I was raised to believe that only "honored guests" received. There's been several times when I've paused, and asked, "who are you exactly?" and then gotten into a heated conversation about how that's not appropriate only to put that person resoundly in their place and they never speak to me again. In truth, it's a wonderful feeling, but it's also why I hate Facebook. People today seem to think that they can do so little, and then expect so much from someone in return. I come from a generation of people who believed that you treated everyone at a baseline, but extra-ordinary respect needed to be earned. Now (it seems) that people desire extra-ordinary respect to be the baseline, always, and without exception. I simply don't agree with this. There are plenty of reasons for people to be treated with no respect, either through their abhorrent behaviors or attitudes.

It's a curious development of the technology era, and I've been called a "luddite" by some who eschew my particular view on social media. I've never really considered myself a luddite. I know that I'm quite versed in technology and seem to have a solid grasp of how computers, mobile phones, and apps work. But just because I prefer paying in cash as opposed to paying for things using Facebook (yes there's a way to pay through Facebook) or paypal or Bitcoin shouldn't be a reason for a person to call me a "luddite" even if it is meant affectionately.

I see for me an odd kind of future, where I willfully embrace introversion over the complexity of trying to navigate friendships which are ultimately both meaningless and frustrating. Anyone else noticing these kinds of relationships and interactions cropping up in your life with more and more frequency? Do you blame Facebook? I look forward to reading your comments.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Soul Infinity Stone is not in Black Panther so where the hell is it?

SPOILER ALERT: I'm talking about Black Panther.

It's called the Soul Stone. It's colored orange in the comics, and it grants the user the ability to steal, control, and manipulate living and dead souls, plus it serves as a gateway to a pocket universe. At full power, you could use the soul stone to control all life in the universe. I thought we were going to see it in Black Panther, and I eagerly waited to catch a glimpse of it. But the family drama that played out on screen, although very good and highly entertaining, did not once show me the infinity stone. This is the last solo movie to be released before Avengers: Infinity War hits theaters later this year. So where the hell is the stone? How does Thanos find it?

Over the last decade or so, Marvel/Disney has bounced five of the stones around the movies. We know the space stone is in Loki's hand, and from the ending of Ragnarok we can almost surely guess it gets turned over to Thanos in short order. The other was entrusted to the Nova Corps at the end of the Guardians of the Galaxy first film so getting it from them should be short work for a titan the likes of Thanos. Then there's the reality stone, which was in the possession of the Collector. Again, it shouldn't be hard for Thanos to get his hands on that one either.

Maybe the heart-shaped herbs are formed in proximity of the soul stone? But if so, they certainly weren't orange. However, I probably shouldn't get so caught up on color. It's possible that the soul stone could have been trapped inside the vibranium meteor that crashed in Wakanda millions of yars ago, and it created the spiritual plane that T'challa goes to when having conversations with his father.

Or could the soul stone be in an entirely different place? Some people online think it could be in Heimdall's sword, which is why his sword could power the Bifrost Bridge.

It feels odd that the location of the stone hasn't been revealed. Leaving this task for a big reveal in Infinity War just makes me think that Infinity War might actually suck as a movie, because it already has a TON of stuff to fit into its allotted time. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

This photograph of a single Strontium atom is really neat.

This is a picture of a Strontium atom, which won the UK Science photography prize from over 100 different entries. It has been excited by a laser, which made this whole image possible.

Strontium has an atomic radius of 215 picometers, and people cannot see things whose size is smaller than the wavelength of light reflected back at you from "an object." The shortest wavelength of light humans can see is much larger than this atom (around 400 nanometers).

This atom in this picture is always giving off light, but as I've explained above, there's no way you could ever resolve that light with the human eye. It would be just like when you go outside at night and look up at the stars. When you do this, you can see a single point of light because it is so far away that its angular size is essentially zero. So how does something smaller than the wavelength of visible light, emit light that we can see?

Well, what's going on with this clever photography is that the photons its emitting have been excited. A little science here: electrons relax by emitting photons. We usually get lots of photons from across the surface of an object with appreciable size. But in the case of the Strontium atom, we're getting a bunch of photons from just one source (a single point) making it something that we could see with the naked eye.

I expect Pat Dilloway to say, "Neat" in the comments. But it is neat. At least, I think so.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Star Trek Discovery ended a great first season by taking a stand for Federation values.

There are spoilers for this post for Star Trek: Discovery's first season and the season finale, which aired last night.

Last night amid the Winter Olympics broadcast on NBC, I took the time to watch Star Trek: Discovery's season finale called, "Will You Take My Hand?" I know consensus on the episode will probably be all over the place, as Star Trek's new series is controversial. Among its fan base are die-hard Trekkers who are very conservative and were attracted to Star Trek because of its "family values" and "patriarchy," which made Star Trek TNG, ToS, and Deep Space Nine popular, but which I reason made Voyager a "dog" as far as the different series go. Much like how I think modern day racists don't actually realize that they are racist, I kind of feel that many modern day people don't possess the self-awareness to realize that they like something because it supports their old-fashioned ideas of patriarchy and traditional family values. It's one reason why I think Star Trek: Discovery failed to capture the love of those "die-hard" Trekkers, who have become firmly rooted in the past by touting favorite episodes from the early nineties and insisting that they can't watch the new series because it isn't Trek.

But what Star Trek: Discovery did do was please people like me, who always loved Trek, but who like fresh new things and don't revisit or grow nostalgic over the old. And more importantly, it attracted new blood, new people, who got excited for it because it had a lot to offer story-wise and performance-wise. Last night's season finale was a great finishing cap to a very strong first season. The production design and costume design people delivered as if it were a movie, Sonequa Martin-Green carried the episode, and it effectively book-ended her story arc wiping the slate clean for a completely different second season. Of course, Michelle Yeoh was incredible. I kind of love her as the tough-talking Federation Emperor now in exile in this new universe. I feel like we're not done with her, and that she's going to come back for more guest spots in the future.

Assorted Musings:

1) They are going to Vulcan to pick up a new Captain for the Discovery. I wonder who it's going to be. Are we going to see a Vulcan captain or someone else?

2) I really enjoyed Saru's strong engagement with the Federation Emperor. She alluded strongly that they ate kelpians in their universe, and I half-expected his threat ganglia to emerge but they didn't. He kept his cool and stood up to her bullying rather well. Saru has been a delight all season long.

3) The set on the Klingon home world looked fantastic. Orions, Klingons, and other races intermingled with so much to view that i felt like I was missing stuff. There were really interesting tattoos being placed, local cuisine being grilled, and a solid mix of amorality that made it come together as a Space Vegas.

4) Standing up for Federation Values. Was this a message to the people of America? I kind of thought it was, as Burnham and the Discovery crew threatened mutiny to the face of the Federation admiral if they didn't alter their plan to completely torch the Klingon home world. And the Federation backed down. I really liked that...the whole idea that not toeing the line and speaking up against injustice is a moral value that people need to hold onto, even in the face of great adversity.

In the end, I loved this first season, and I love this series. I love that the ending left time for a medal ceremony, for a fantastic speech by Burnham, and a scene that reminded me a lot of J.J. Abrams direction in the first Star Trek. I guess it has been renewed for a second season, but in the meantime I'm going to save some money and cancel my subscription to CBS All Access. I think season two is going to be at least a year away as no timeline has been announced for its reappearance.

Friday, February 9, 2018

I wonder why more die-hard Star Trekkers are unwilling to give Star Trek Discovery the time it needs to sew its storyline to the original series?

There are spoilers in this post for Star Trek: Discovery's first season.

I'm not sure why people have such trouble with Star Trek: Discovery. I absolutely love it. One such person, my friend Jake, said that he has a problem with all of the timeline disagreements. He doesn't understand how a series that starts ten years before the original series could feature such advanced technology (the spore drive) and no one has heard about it. He also doesn't understand why the Klingons look the way that they do in this series. He wanted them to look like Worf.

I tried to explain it to him, because everything has an explanation in the Star Trek universe. The reason we don't know how this story, how Michael Burnham's character was never mentioned by Spock or Sarek, or anything about the spore drive is because they haven't given the show time to explain it. Have a little faith. They got ten years to sew the threads of Discovery together with the original series. Jake replied that, unlike me, things need to make sense right away. This coming from a person who read The Wheel of Time series, which is (as far as I'm concerned) the biggest waster and offender of going nowhere that I've ever seen.

As for the other questions, they've kind of answered them. Why do the Klingons look different? Well it's one of dozens of tribes of Klingons. Undoubtedly, the ones that look like Worf are out there. The ones that this series is dealing with have a more primal and barbaric, hairless look. That's just the way it is.

Really, there's nothing that doesn't actually make sense in Discovery if you step back from it and consider it within the broader context of the canon. And the fact that it's about a black ops ship is amazing. The story they are giving us is so fresh, so exciting, and unlike anything I have ever seen in Trek before. As the first season draws to a close next week, here are the highlights that have captured my heart:

1) The overarching storyline. The first season of Discovery dared to go where no Star Trek series ever went and repeatedly did so time and time again. The first half of the season was one storyline that led to the mirror universe. The second season finished off the mirror universe and took us to a place where the Emperor of the Federation in the mirror universe is now going to show the Federation how to win this war versus the Klingons, a war that is pushing the Federation to extinction. This is fascinating stuff, and what a way to shine the character of Philippa Georgiou.

2) The action is non-stop. Every single episode is crammed full of special effects, incredible battles, and emotional acting. The main character, Michael Burnham, is not a captain. The captains always took center stage, so this is a departure from that cliché. And Michael Burnham is a great frickin character. Her emotional range is so powerful that Sonequa (the actress that plays Michael) continuously draws me into this spectacular role.

3) There is a gay character. I'm not too happy with the storyline of him losing his partner to a senseless murder, but I'm still happy that there is one in the series. Finally. I just hope he can get over the loss of his partner and find someone new.

4) They killed the main captain off. Seriously. Captain Lorca was revealed to be a mirror universe spy and traitor and they killed him off by hurling his body into a miniature spore-drive star that incinerated him. That's a great ending.

5) The captain of the Discovery is now an alien. An alien? Yes, you heard me right. When has that ever been a thing in Star Trek? For as long as I can remember, Federation starships that were part of a series have always been human. And it's a cool alien too, ala Doug Jones who played the fish monster in Shape of Water (nominated for a best picture academy award).

Star Trek: Discovery is a bold reinvention of what it means to watch Star Trek, and even though it may not be clear how it connects to the original series, I'm willing to give the creators faith that they can sew those two ends together.

I wonder why more people are unwilling to do the same. This series is really really good, and if you aren't watching it, then you are missing out. Sigh.

If you have theories, please put them in the comments.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Speculative Fiction is the funnest genre in which to write.

Time flies, and January was the second warmest month on record here in Utah. So it's time to spread all that warmth and love (Valentine's Day is on its way people) by doing yet another installment of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Started way back when by Mr. Alex Cavanaugh, the IWSG is an online movement, participated in by thousands of people who have one thing in common: writing. Long ago, I opted to start answering the monthly question rather than come up with any kind of writing advice (there are so many articles on writing out there that I can think of nothing that I might add that hasn't already been covered in triplicate). If you too want to participate, then you'll need to sign-up HERE. Now, onto the February question.

What do you love about the genre you write in most often?

My genre is called speculative fiction, and I love that it's so huge. It throws a shadow over such things as science fiction and fantasy, and it groups together urban fantasy, dark fantasy, and things like "silk punk" and "cyberpunk." I think the thing I love the most about it, to be honest, is the art. There is so much speculative fiction art out there from people who paint worlds and cities and envision movies that are able to seize people by the jugular and take them to a place that feels alien and exciting. If you watch the Marvel movies and come out of them feeling like you've had a lot of fun, then that's what I love about speculative fiction: its ability to just be fun. I don't think it's quite like any other genre. All speculative fiction asks of its writers is to be imaginative and coherent. If you accomplish those two things, you have achieved at least a modicum of success.