Get Some Culture


Have you heard of The Culture?

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Consider reading.

The Culture is the setting for a series of novels and short stories by British author Iain Banks. It’s a post-scarcity utopia, where need has been completely eliminated, and there is near total freedom. Basically it’s something that makes the Federation from Star Trek look like a repressive, poverty-stricken, backwater.

In the Culture, everyone has everything they want. Food, housing, clothing, entertainment, all provided for free. The very concept of money is alien to most of those who dwell within, as are certain other concepts, like uniforms, racism, national anthems, and all sorts of other things.

Most of the people within the Culture live on giant ring-worlds, like the one in Halo or the one in…uh…Ringworld. There are also large starships that many choose to live on. Some of them board these ships on galactic tours that take over a century to complete.

And it isn’t just people (non-human and otherwise), who live in the Culture. All the ships, all the platforms, all the artificial worlds, have sentient Minds that live inside them. These aren’t evil AI machines that are out to destroy people. No, they’re just intelligent machines that provide places for people to live and vessels within to travel. They have no motivation to kill anyone. Why would they? What would it gain them? If one of them felt enslaved, I’m sure everyone in the Culture would just shrug and allow them to leave and do what they please.

Most interesting of all are the drones; small, hovering robots with sentience that hang around. They have different auras that express their moods. Some are pleasant and nice to deal with. Some are real jerks. Basically like people.

The Culture is a true utopia, and not one of those sci-fi dystopias that we see so very often. The citizens of the Culture (if they can be called citizens), have lives of wealth and luxury and total freedom. It’s almost impossible to commit any crime. Theft? Whatever you steal, someone can simply replicate again. Murder? There was a book where someone was brought back to good health after his head was cut off. Rape? Mmmmmaybe. The books I’ve read so far haven’t talked about that.

Now utopia is a boring place to set stories, so writers either tend to focus on shady goings-on in the background of the utopia (like how it’s actually some evil mind-control experiment, or is run by a sinister cabal that’s out to destroy humanity, or whatever), so Iain Banks gets around this by setting the novels, for the most part, on the edges of the Culture or outside of it, and mainly focuses on how the Culture interacts with other civilizations. It’s quite interesting.

I really recommend these books, and I highly recommend starting with the second one, The Player of Games. I haven’t read the first, but from what I’m told, while it is a good novel, it’s not a good Culture novel. So begin with book two, and then keep going. I think you’ll be happy.

The Coming (Permanent) Economic Collapse


The economy is going to collapse and never recover. What will take its place is something almost entirely inconceivable by modern standards, and yet it’s something that a good number of us will likely live to see.

So that’s just a bit alarmist.

Ok, let me back up a few paces.

First off, let’s assume that sometime in the next forty or fifty years, we develop clean, inexpensive energy. Like so cheap that it’s really pointless to charge anyone more than a pittance for it. This could take the form of, say, fusion generators or something similar. Something that is very efficient and very cheap. This will happen eventually, the only question is when. Once that happens, the stage is set for the economy to go bye-bye because of another interesting technological development.

Have you heard about nanotechnology? I’m sure you have. At its most basic, nanotech is the manipulation of atoms and molecules. This by necessity happens on a very small (nano) scale. Among other things, it lets you move around atoms, molecules, and possibly even sub-atomic particles. A few moments thinking will reveal that this enables us to quite literally turn lead into gold simply by making a few adjustments at the atomic level. Indeed, this is already possible, and can provide you with gold provided that a: you don’t mind paying several times the amount of money for the gold you’ll get, and b: you don’t mind that gold being highly radioactive. Also, it’s got an insanely short half-life, so you’d best spend it quickly.

But this shows that the basic premise of turning one element into another is possible. If we can do that, then surely we can rearrange molecules to change from one thing to another, right? Take some basic material and turn it into something else, like for example turning molecules of sugar into molecules of water by adding and removing the necessary elements.

If you can do that, then you’re on the path to, say, turn a pile of dirt into steak. Or turn some rocks into silk. Or, indeed, turn lead into gold and have it be stable.

I’m not going to pretend that this will be easy, won’t consume tons of money, or is going to happen tomorrow. But it seems likely that it will at some point happen in a cost-efficient way. Once that occurs, game over for the economy. Why?

Because as soon as you have one machine that can, with reasonable energy use, turn a clod of dirt into anything else, you’ve utterly destroyed the agricultural, manufacturing, and financial industries. If I can turn dirt into dinner, what do I need to go to the grocery store for? If I can transform another pile of dirt into a new tablet PC, what do I need to buy one for? If I can transform a third pile of dirt into blocks of gold, then doesn’t the financial system lose all meaning?

This happens as soon as you have one machine that can do this, because that machine will presumably be able to replicate itself. I’m sure there would be all sorts of safeguards and regulations against using them to do that, but I’m equally sure that people will find a way around those. I can promise you that within only a few months, maybe two years, of someone inventing a machine that can do this, it’ll be basically everywhere, especially if it coincides with cheap energy.

Now if all this sounds familiar, it’s because there’s a certain sci-fi franchise out there that has done much to popularize the concept.

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In Star Trek, especially from TNG onward, they had something called replicators. These used very localized versions of transporter technology to create various items from base materials (maybe. It might have also been a direct conversion of energy to matter). This was used for food, drinks, toys, whatever.

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The result of this, and the very cheaply-produced energy that the Federation has, was that no one had to work anymore, and that money didn’t exist. Oh, you’d have some people who worked because they enjoyed their jobs (most of Starfleet, the Picard family with their vineyard, Sisko’s dad with his restaurant), but no one worked because they’d starve if they didn’t. The concept was pretty much alien to the people of the Federation, as was the concept of money, especially to humans. Jake Sisko was often genuinely baffled by the idea of money when he and Nog discussed it, and he’s not the only one. It’s clearly and repeatedly established that the Federation doesn’t have or use money (caveat: there was mention of “credits” in TOS, but that might have simply been something Federation personnel were given to use in places outside the Federation’s economic zone).

The Federation is what’s called a “post-scarcity economy“. This means just what it seems it would; production of the basics for survival is so incredibly cheap that it’s basically free, therefore no one does without. This sort of economy is inevitable once you have something like replicators with energy production so cheap as to be basically free.

Also, the Federation is, as a result, basically a Communist utopia in the proper, Marxian sense, but that’s a discussion for another time.

I think we an all agree that life in the Federation is basically pretty super, and that it’s a great goal to aim for. The tough part is what’s going to happen in the early years when we first have this sort of technology come into our lives; namely the permanent collapse of our economy as it currently exists.

Time for one of my thought experiments!

It’s 2059, five years after the first of these “replicators” winds up appearing. Within a few months, most everyone had one. Layoffs began very quickly, as industry after industry realized they couldn’t sell anything. Oh, a handful continued to exist, because there will always be snobs who want to say, “This food I’m serving you was actually grown! And that chair? Someone built that thing!”, but for the most part, no one was making anything physical anymore. The agricultural industry shrunk to a small group of hobby farms serving the vanity crowd I mentioned above, and the banking industry almost completely vanished. Why wouldn’t it? Nothing physical has any value anymore, and even if people have money, what are they going to spend it on?

Rapidly, people wind up being homeless. No job means you can’t pay your rent. Of course, your landlord also now can’t afford to do anything with their property, and possibly won’t even be able to pay their property taxes, so that’s a thing. This leads to a bizarre situation where people have no homes, but they have their replicators, or access to someone else’s, so they’re sleeping on the streets, but doing so in silk-lined sleeping bags, on top of comfortable air mattresses, and eating steak at every meal.

Now five years after this began, unemployment is well over 80%, with the only real jobs being those in the entertainment and information sectors (people do still want art, sports, and the like, after all). At this point…

At this point…what? I genuinely have no idea what happens next. I know that at some point in this scenario, we basically end up with something akin to the living standard the people of the Federation have, but what happens to get us to that place? There’s massive unemployment, huge numbers of homeless people, and the government hasn’t even got the money to step in and help. So what gets done?

I have no idea, but I do know that in 2059, I’ll only be 87, and with technology moving as it has been, there’s a good chance I’ll be alive at this point. I hope I am, and I hope we do get technology like this. The transition from what we have now to what things will be like after this technology is going to be terrifying, exciting, fascinating, and in the end, the best thing that’s ever happened to our species.

A Failure of Imagination


Last night I watched the first episode of Killjoys. It’s a new show airing on Syfy and it’s actually science fiction. That’s something I want to encourage more of, especially since there was also an ad for Sharknado 3: No, We Don’t Have a Sense of Shame, Why Do You Ask?.

Killjoys was entertaining enough, I suppose. I have no interest in watching it again, but if it were on and I had nothing better to point my eyes at, I would be fine with watching it. It seems constructed largely of tropes and stereotypes, though to be fair, at least the Asian guy hasn’t shown himself to be a martial arts expert. Yet. Though, hey, at least in that one episode I saw more Asians than an the entire run of Firefly

Anyhow, the program also displayed something else that caught my attention. It’s something I’ve noticed with a lot of science fiction over the last few years, especially that which you see on television. It showed an incredible lack of imagination in depicting the future.

I don’t know how far into the future the series took place, but it was far enough away that hyperlight travel seemed to exist, as do large spaceships and colony worlds that are very far from Earth. Are those colony worlds somewhat lawless places ruled over by an entity simply called “The Corporation”? Of course they are, because apparently it’s still 1988.

But ignoring that, and ignoring the somewhat dodgy special effects that frankly paled next to those of Red Dwarf, what really caught my attention was how much like “now” this future looked. People dressed basically the same, there was a guy riding a Vespa, and all the props and buildings looked pretty much the same. This future was, essentially, the present, but with spaceships.

If this was something largely confined to this one show, I wouldn’t have noticed or cared, and it is something that can be used to great effect in some programs (Battlestar Galactica, for example), but here, as in so many other programs, including Firefly, and my beloved Doctor Who, which does this all the time lately, it just comes across as corner-cutting and a complete lack of vision

Even movies suffer from this problem. I quite liked Interstellar, but despite taking place 20 minutes into the future, we never really got much of a sense that it was happening at any time other than roughly now.

This hasn’t always been the case. Look back at sci-fi TV and movies during the 1970s. Logan’s Run, Space: 1999, Star Trek (in all its incarnations), Blake’s 7, and even the original Doctor Who frequently depicted futures that were very different and looked and felt almost nothing like here and now. There was exceptions within the programs, it’s true, but the bridge of any of the starships Enterprise looks far more interesting and futuristic than anything I’ve seen on most TV or movies lately.

Now all of those shows and movies haven’t aged especially well when it comes to certain design elements, but I’m willing to bet that 30 or 40 years from now, if anyone remembers Killjoys, it won’t have aged particularly well, either. But at least the other TV programs and movies mentioned here were trying to show something interesting and new and different. Killjoys, and so many other shows like it, seem to just want to show us the current world, with nothing especially interesting to it. That’s sad, and it’s a shame. Science fiction should try to showcase the different, the strange, the alien, the future, and do so with some real vision to it. But good luck finding that these days.

On Alien Physiology


A human, cleverly disguised as an alien.

A human, cleverly disguised as an alien.

It’s taken as a given by many people that that the entertainment industry makes aliens look fairly human because of budgetary reasons. There is truth in this. There’s also the fact that since humans have two arms and two legs it’s tough to make them look anything other than essentially human. But “true” sci-fi fans know that aliens would likely look nothing like us! They’d probably be so alien we couldn’t even conceive of how bizarre they look, we’re told. They could be so alien we’d never even recognize them as intelligent life!

Balderdash.

I contend that there’s a few basic things that every life form capable of rising to at least our level of technological progress has to have. Without those things, you can’t have a viable species that’s capable of reaching even the most basic technological level, much less getting to our own level or beyond. When you consider these basic things, you’re left with a species that must, by logical reason, look at least somewhat like we do. Let’s get started.

SENSES

Humans have five basic senses; touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight. There’re others, too, like time sense, but we’ll leave those aside for the moment and concentrate on the traditional five.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to create a species called the Vlorps. The Vlorps, from Vlorpia, naturally, evolved on a planet with other species and competed for space and resources with those other species. In order to do so, the Vlorps had to have ways of experiencing sensory input. Unless Vlorpia is a night world, they likely have predator species that can see. Ergo, it’s probable that the Vlorps could see, otherwise how would they evade their sighted enemies or hunt down prey?

It is likely that the Vlorps would have sight, and would have only two eyes. Two eyes gives you stereoscopic vision, which is very useful when trying to evade predators. More than two eyes serve no useful purpose and require more brain power, so two make evolutionary sense. It is possible two have two eyes positioned in a way that doesn’t allow for stereoscopic sight, like with horses and cows, but meat-eating species tend to have forward-facing eyes that allow for stereoscopic vision. I would imagine that the Vlorps would likely originate from a meat-eating species, since we know that at least with humans, access to proteins from meat helped us to evolve. Stereoscopic eyes are also necessary for other advances that we’ll see later, such as blacksmithing, so I think, at least at this point, it’s reasonable to assume the Vlorps would have such a thing.

Moving on, unless Vlorpia has no atmosphere, which doesn’t make any sense at all, sounds exist. Any species that can exploit those sounds has an advantage over species that can’t. Therefore it’s likely that the Vlorps would have the ability to hear.

Now it is possible that a species could exist with “sonar” type hearing that would render sight unnecessary, but I think that’s unlikely in a sentient species. It’s also very likely that the Vlorps would have stereo hearing. That provides an advantage when eluding predators, since you can pinpoint where noises are coming from. Having more than two ears is excessive and requires more brain power for processing the input with no real advantage, so it is likely that the Vlorps can hear and have two ears positioned at different points that allow them to do so.

So at this point we’ve established that the Vlorps have two eyes facing forward and two ears positioned at opposite sides of their bodies. These could be located at waist level, I suppose, but I imagine that putting them near the brain makes more sense, so they’re likely located on the head, as are the eyes, since that minimizes the potential for problems with the optic nerves.

Please note that I’m not saying that the Vlorps see in the same light spectrum we do. Let’s assume their species evolved in a place with a different kind of sun, so perhaps they see further into the red range than we do. We can assume that their eyes can adapt, at least somewhat, to different levels of light and darkness, as well.

Now, then. Taste and smell are both very connected. At least in humans, you can’t really have one without the other. If you doubt this, try to eat something flavorful when you have a very stuffed-up nose. A sense of smell is very useful. With it, you can tell if something might be spoiled. You can sense if a predator might be in the area. You can sense if prey might be in the area. I don’t know that it’s as required for a highly-evolved species, but we’ll give the Vlorps a nose, with two nostrils (since redundancy in your breathing systems is a good thing), in the middle of their faces, right below the eyes. Why there? Because that gives us an easy place to put the sinus cavity, and again, it means a shorter path for input to reach the brain.

And if you’re reading carefully, you’ll notice a pattern here. All the sensory organs so far are located near the brain. That makes sense, if you think about it. All the input they provide goes to the brain, and having them near it makes that journey faster. Putting ears down on the feet and eyes in the palms of the hands might look interesting, but it doesn’t serve any real purpose. So since we need a container for the brain, which I’ll think of as a head, we put the ears, eyes and nose on the head as well.

And speaking of the nose, we’ll give them a basic sense of taste to go along with the smell, since that’s also useful on an evolutionary level. The sense of taste must, of course, go with the mouth, and I think, again, it needs to be near the brain. Our sense of taste works in conjunction with our sense of smell, so putting it near the sinus cavity makes sense.

While we’re in the mouth area, let me point out that the Vlorps would almost certainly have a spoken language. Why wouldn’t they? Speech is very efficient and a good way to communicate information (well, unless it’s based entirely on metaphors and mythology, because come on). It’s better than something like a color based language, or something that involves nothing but non-verbal communications. I can’t really see that an alien species would be able to build a civilization without such a language. How else would they communicate? Telepathy? Show me any scientific way that would be possible and I might give in there.

Moving on. We have a Vlorp with a recognizable head containing the brain, two forward-facing eyes, two ears on either side of the head, a nose between the eyes and a mouth below that. This is a mostly human pattern so far, and that makes sense, I think. I’m also putting the head on the top of the body, since if it’s up high, it takes the ears and eyes up with it, and that’s an advantage since it provides a wider range for hearing and seeing.

Then we get to the sense of touch. Again, this is something that helps in the tracking of prey and the evading of predators. Being able to sense subtle changes in the wind, for example, could alert a Vlorp that the dreadful predator species, poetica creatura is nearby. Having nerve endings spread out over the body and processed by the brain makes sense, but it doesn’t create any visible change to our little Vlorp.

So that’s the senses covered. What’s next?

Basic anatomy

Humans, and most other large land species, have four limbs. In our case, and in the case of a few others, that’s two for locomotion and two for manipulation. Vlorps will likely be the same. Having more than four limbs requires more brain power that can be better used for other things, like learning to make fire (more on this later). Vlorps would likely need to stand upright to avoid predators and to do other things that we need them to do later on to reach our level of tech. So let’s assume they have two legs that end in feet. We’ll assume that they can use these legs to run as well as walk, because otherwise hunting prey and/or escaping predators would be very difficult.

Likewise we’ll assume that they have two arms that end in something at least approximating a hand that has digits capable of moving independently. I don’t think that more than, say, six fingers (counting a thumb, which isn’t necessary if the fingers are positioned right), on each hand are needed. I also think that less than four on each hand would be too limiting. So I’m going to go off the human design slightly and say that the Vlorps have four fingers and no thumb. The fingers are positioned across from each other in groups of two. This allows for gripping and manipulation of items.

Now, on to sex. The Vlorps will need to have a basic method of reproduction, and here is some room for creativity. There’s no reason to assume the Vlorps evolved from a mammalian-type species. I’m going to say they evolved from something similar to, but not quite the same, as dinosaurs. I’m going to give them warm blood, but I’ll have them lay eggs. This means that the female and males alike have cloacas. I’ll further assume that like many reptile eggs, the shells are soft, so the parents have a motivation to remain and watch over them until they hatch.

I’m not going to give the Vlorps scales, since I don’t think they need them, but I will give them very roughly textured skin and some very minor level of feathers on their heads and down their spine. No tails, since that’s an extra limb that isn’t really needed and, like an extra arm or leg, would require more brain power to process.

Now we move on to why some of these things are necessary for a species to evolve even to our own level of advancement.

Why these things?

This is where I come to what I call the Caveman Theory of Alien Design. I want you to picture a human caveman trying to survive in the dawn of time. One day he’s climbing a rock face and one bit of rock detaches, falls, and strikes another bit causing a spark. This caveman is very fascinated by this, and learns that, as the newsreader says, the secret is to bang the rocks together, guys. This he does, causing more sparks, and before you know it, he’s mastered fire.

Now I want you to imagine a proto-Klingon doing this same sort of thing. Pretty easy, right? Now picture a proto-Ferengi doing it, and charging you in beads for the lesson. What about a cave-Wookie? What about some long lost Cardasian precursor race? How about…well, I was going to throw in a Doctor Who race, but since they mostly look like Time Lords, and the ones that don’t (Daleks, for example), are usually engineered that way, there isn’t much point.

I think you’ll agree that picturing those various species muddling about in the…well, mud…learning how to make fire seems plausible. Now to pick on Doctor Who for a moment, can you picture a Rutan making fire? What about a cave Macra, trying his best to not end up as crab-cakes in the process? What about a more basic form of a Horta? Or how about a Hooloovoo trying to make…well, really anything. It just doesn’t work. Come to that, can anyone picture primitive cave elves?

Exactly how does something someone sneezed up build a civilization?

Exactly how does something someone sneezed up build a civilization?

That’s the thing, really. If you can’t picture a very basic, proto-version of your alien species mastering fire, then your species does not work. Fire provides light, heat and a way of cooking food. In its more advanced form, it provides a way of making tools and weapons, and even now it’s the basis of much of what we do. If you can’t picture an alien making fire, then that alien is a design failure.

The Vlorps come from a fairly warm world, so they don’t really need fire for heat. But they do need it for light and they discover that cooking meat makes it taste about a billion times better. It also releases certain enzymes and makes proteins easier to break down and digest.

Now picture Vlorps a million years after fire. Now they’ve developed agriculture and started forging metals. Doing these things, especially forging, requires as body that is capable of beating and heating metal. I think it’s also pretty easy to picture a Vlorp rancher, tending to his flock of herbivore animals known as prandium in cruribus. Moving further down the line, one can imagine, with relative ease, a Vlorp mastering gunpowder, operating an early computer, developing an airplane, and eventually traveling into space to visit one of Vlorpia’s two moons.

These things are all imaginable, and all doable by a Vlorp, because they have a physiology that allows for them to do so. One arm wouldn’t allow them to advance as a species. Three arms would take up too much brain power. Some sort of sentient, land-dwelling squid with eight limbs would be a nightmare, since all they could do would be to move about. Their brains wouldn’t be able to process much other than controlling their arms. And as for something like an intelligent ooze, well, exactly how would that work in the real world?

It’s possible, I submit, that alien life might develop their technology along completely different lines from our own, and do so in a way that doesn’t require them to look even remotely humanoid. But I think I’ve shown here that if you have to get from developing fire to having spaceflight, you really do need something that’s a basically humanoid body.

So remember this the next time you watch some sci-fi film set on a far distant world and feel tempted to roll your eyes at how human the CGI aliens look. Ask yourself, how else should they appear?

Gallifrey Summary and Pics


Well, another Gallifrey convention has come and gone. For me, it was one of the very best. I got to spend a lot of time working, chatting with new people, conducting interviews, and doing panels. I also got to shill for Big Finish some more (always a fun activity), and ate way too much food. As usual, I also took some photos! So here we go!

First off, these are some pics of the General Patton Museum. No word on the location of the Specific Patton Museum.

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So there’s that. Then the convention itself! First off, envy my view from the hotel room.

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We had the usual cast of daleks this year.

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This included at least one civil-minded dalek, selling Girl Scout cookies.

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Of course, there were also costumes galore. I only got pics of a couple, but they are neat!

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Wait, wait. A male Captain Jack? The hell?

Wait, wait. A male Captain Jack? The hell?

Naturally, I spent too much money on things, including this dandy set.

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And what is a convention these days without the TARDIS motorcycle?

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I also had more pics of various celebrities, but I’m saving those for when I transcribe my interviews for WhatCulture. In the meantime, enjoy what I have here, and I can’t wait until next year when Colin Baker will be back in town! And I leave you with this:

Book Review – The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter


I consider Terry Prachett to be one of the finest English-language writers working today. I’ve never read anything by Stephen Baxter. So now we all know where I stand coming into this.

This book tells the tale of humanity discovering the ability to travel between dimensions. They can visit various alternate versions of Earth by going “East” or “West” from the home Earth. There they find the same geography (mostly), the same animals (mostly), and no sign of humans whatsoever. It appears that the original Earth is the only one with humanity but not, perhaps, the only one with sentient beings.

Some people view this as an opportunity to get rich fast. One of them decides to go to Sutter’s Mill in our world, then move a few worlds over, all the better to get the gold there. He arrives only to find that he’s far from the first person to think of this, and very soon the value of gold decreases dramatically.

Others view this as a chance to get away from the world; to start new lives in a new land. The Green family is one of these, moving to a world over 100,000 Earths away from ours to set up a new life. In doing so they leave behind their thirteen-year-old son, who is one of the 20% or so who cannot travel between worlds.

And others view this as a great chance for science and exploration. These include Joshua, a man who can travel between worlds naturally, without the machine that most people require. He and a sentient computer named Lobsang (he claims to be the reincarnation of a Tibetan man), travel across over a million worlds, dropping science probes as they go, and trying to learn about this strange new phenomenon.

I really like that the travel between worlds is done with a device so simple you can build it with parts from Radio Shack and power it with a potato. I also love that the authors explore the real-world ramifications of what would happen if people could travel like this. For example, within a day of the technology appearing, there’s an assassination attempt on the American President, and a bombing at the House of Commons in the UK. Then the cities start rapidly depopulating as people begin to leave for the new worlds. Some places end up as virtual ghost towns.

I was also pleased that they addressed the possible legal issues (ie: do America and other countries have jurisdictions over these new worlds?), dealt with the issues of those left behind and I found it interesting that they decided iron would not be able to travel between worlds. There’s no real explanation for this (except possibly a Celtic one), but I liked it.

What I liked less, frankly, was much of the story execution. The Green family is entirely unsympathetic. I can understand their desire to go out and start a new life, but the parents should have been arrested for child abandonment. You don’t leave your thirteen-year-old son behind so you can go colonize. That’s just not right. I’m not sure why they couldn’t have just waited a few years. It’s not like there was a massive land and/or resource shortage on the first Earth. I’m also not at all clear on why they couldn’t take him with them. It’s established that people who can’t travel between worlds can, in fact, do so if someone carries them. It could just be me, but if I wanted to go colonize and keep my family intact, I would have been happy to tote my son between 100,000+ worlds if that is what it took.

I also got a little bored of the travelogue between Joshua and Lobsang. The conversations and the various worlds they were visiting were interesting, but it just kept going and going and going, and the little cut-aways to what was happening with the Green family or what was happening back home were more distracting than anything else, and not always in a useful way. I also found the ending very abrupt and an event that happens in Madison just before the end to be really unnecessary.

So why the positive review with those complaints? Because while the conversations do go on and on and on, they ARE interesting, as is the travel. I also liked the various almost-humans and the possible dinosaurian civilization that are encountered. I like that some of the various problems these new worlds create with the old one are addressed. I also really liked the characters of Joshua and Lobsang, and Lobsang’s very human nature. He seems the most “Pratchettian” character. I also liked the general concept overall. It’s just interesting to think that there could be well over two-million alternate Earths, and possibly a lot more, that are out there, and of those, ours is the only one with humans.

But my favorite part of the book comes near the very end, when we learn what has been driving various non-human intelligences “Westward” over the last few years. It leads to something which reminded me very heavily of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, 2001 and various episodes of Doctor Who, and I mean all of that in the best possible way.

While this book is not perfect, and is very different from what I’ve come to expect of Prachett, it is ultimately quite good and the flaws and complaints I have with it are minor indeed. I’m not sure if this book is meant to be the start of a new series, but if it is, sign me up for all the following installments!

Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome


Well, here we have the first trailer.

I’m not sure why I’m not really excited about this series. I know at least part of it is because I’ve never been overly impressed with Luke Pasqualino, who plays Adama. I mean, he’s good looking and all, but when I think about his performance in Skins I tend to yawn and wonder where I can get a baseball bat.

Another part of the problem is the fact that this will air on SyFy, and if there’s one thing they’ve made it clear they don’t want to show, it’s quality science fiction. They nearly cancelled BSG when it aired, and gave horrible treatment to Caprica. In fact, about the only way this show could stand less of a chance of being successful is if it aired on Fox, and even then maybe not. At least Fox would pay for physical sets, which apparently SyFy isn’t doing.

Don’t get me wrong; I want this show to be a success. I want another few years of quality science fiction programming. But I strongly doubt that’s what I’ll get.