Friday, November 27, 2015

Aliens on this Planet

Tardigrades are weird. As in really weird.

They can survive anything. They're eight legged, multicellular water critters who can survive in space. Literally - they can handle the temperature extremes, the vacuum, the radiation, they can go without eating or drinking for ten years. Oh, and they can handle pressure far higher than happens on Earth.

(Maybe they actually are aliens).

It turns out tardigrades have comic book level adaptability. When under extreme stress, their cell walls break down...and they absorb DNA from the critters already there. 17.5% of their DNA comes from external sources (compared to less than 1% of ours). Bacteria do this kind of thing all the time. Complex animals (tardigrades are fairly simple, but they're still not bacteria) don't.

Then the genes that are useful become incorporated into their DNA.

Highly complex animals like humans can only do this by mating with other species, which restricts the external genes which can be included.

I think there might be a story seed in here...

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving and Weekend Sale!

Because, apparently, it's traditional in this country to offer massive discounts on things for Black Friday:

The ebooks of Transpecial and The Silent Years: The Complete Collection are reduced to 99 cents with a Smashwords coupon until Monday.

So, get your discounted copies (in all formats with unlimited downloads here:

Transpecial - coupon code HJ92F

The Silent Years - coupon code AE23S

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thinking About Doctor Who

Last week's episode had quite a few people wanting to throw things at Stephen Moffatt (The episode, perhaps surprisingly, was written by Sarah Dollard and was her first Doctor Who episode - which makes me think we have not seen Clara Oswald's final appearance - would Moffatt hand her real exit to somebody else? I think not).

We have two episodes of season 9 left - Heaven Sent and Hell Bent. But Face the Raven contained something the new series may or may not have seen.

The death of a Companion.

(I say may or may not because some people consider River Song to be a Companion, and she "died" in Forest of the Dead. I would argue that the Doctor's wife is not a Companion).

And, as a lot of people reacted, the "senseless, meaningless" death of a Companion.

To which I'd answer:


Clara did die stupidly. She died because she took a risk.

But more than that, she died because she tried to be the Doctor.

And I realized that this is now something of a theme.

Donna Noble's exit happened after she mind melded with the Doctor - and he had to wipe her memory of him to save her life. In Journey's End, we are explicitly told that a human/Time Lord fusion cannot happen. She could not be the Doctor.

Clara was trying very, very hard to be like him. She impersonates him in Flatline, briefly, and she has to act as him while he's trapped in a broken TARDIS. It's partly his fault. In Kill The Moon, the Doctor ducks the responsibility for a terrible moral quandary by pushing it off onto her.

For the entire of season 8, though, Clara was trying to build her life. Then, she loses the man she loves.

And throws herself into trying to be the Doctor. "Clara Oswald never existed" is a chilling line, but so is "Perhaps this is what I wanted."

Clara tries to become an extension of the Doctor. She dies because she does what she thinks he would have done; and because she insists on doing it without telling him.

It's a stupid death. But it fits the theme.

Moffatt has been saying to us since he took over "The Doctor is not somebody you want to be." The Doctor is somebody you want on your side, somebody you respect, but also somebody you fear. He's walking the line between hero and monster.

And Clara's last act is to keep him on the right side of that line, reminding us that the Companion serves an important purpose in the Doctor's life. He's not human. He needs humanity - and again, because he's not human, he can only get it through somebody else.

The Mayor is a chilling reminder of that in her own way; no longer human (by the Doctor's act), with memory problems (remember Donna), and losing touch with her own conscience (which is why, rumors aside, I don't believe she can be the next Companion, as much as Capaldi apparently loves working with Maisie Williams. Who is, in any case, busy).

Don't be the Doctor. Appreciate him, value him, but if you think about this: The Companions that had the best lives after him were the ones who tried to be the best them they could be.

Martha Jones is a classic example, although she had her own "be the Doctor" moment in Journey's End when she bluffed as beautifully as he ever has. But Martha Jones doesn't try to be the Doctor. She tries to be a really good Martha Jones.

I think that's a pretty good message to send. Don't be your heroes. Let your heroes show you how to be you.

Finally, my theory as to the identity of the next Companion. (I know, I'm going on and on and demonstrating why I always have to be moderated on Doctor Who panels).

First of all, it's not Ashildr/Me/The Mayor. Nope. That rumor appears to have come from Peter Capaldi saying how much fun Maisie Williams was to work with. For one thing, Williams is still busy working on another show. For another, the Doctor himself has said they'd be bad for each other.

But I do have a theory as to who it is.

Face the Raven starts when Rigsy calls the emergency TARDIS phone, a number Clara gave him after they worked together in Flatline (the first time Clara tries to be the Doctor). He was her Companion.

The Doctor materializes the TARDIS in Rigsy's home and there we see a baby in a cradle.

Now, one character trait of the Doctor is he treats children with every bit the same respect as he treats adults. Including babies.

But his reaction to little Lucy is...interesting. His comment that she's "Brilliant" might, on the face of it, appear to be the Doctor's normal disgust with people who call babies cute, but there's a look of realization in his eyes when he looks at her. And he actually suggests bringing her along, then thinks better of it.

Clara doesn't take Rigsy's place for Rigsy. She takes it for Lucy, so she won't have to grow up without a father.

My theory is:

The next companion is Lucy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Review: SPECTRE (Spoling obvious plot points)

(Forgot to post this yesterday).

Supposedly, the latest Bond movie will be Daniel Craig's last. (He claims he is bored with the character). The ending may give some credence to that idea.

It's not one of the best. It's not as terrible as some people have made out, but it's not one of the best - and the problem is that this movie has a split personality.

Part of the movie is typical Craig Bond, which veers dangerously close to Christopher Nolan's Batman. Craig's Bond is brooding and broken, battling PTSD and admitting that the answer to "How much do you drink?" is "Too much." And Craig's Bond also has to be relevant. He's fighting global surveillance and the risk of men like him becoming obsolete.


They got the rights to SPECTRE back.

So they needed to make a SPECTRE movie - a movie that's all about crazy chase scenes and blowing up Blofeld. We had the first really good, big supervillain base explosion in a while. We even had the cat (Who, as everyone knows, is the real leader of SPECTRE).

The two parts of the movie didn't go together. They would, I think, have been better waiting for the next Bond and doing a complete tonal break, a shift back to Bond's pulp days.

They didn't - and it ended up being a missed opportunity. (Another missed opportunity - how could we go to a clinic high in the Alps and not have a ski chase?)

That said, the movie did have some awesome highlights.

Their Blofeld was awesome, although I could have done without the entire "Blofeld and Bond were foster brothers" bit. Still, Christopher Waltz played the role well.

Naomie Harris remains an awesome take on Moneypenny and while Fiennes is not and doesn't try to be Judi Dench, he was still pretty decent as M.

It was awesome to have Blofeld put Bond in a good, old fashioned death trap, and the dialogue echoed the classic "You expect me to talk? No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die."

This time, it was "I came here to kill you." "And I thought you came here to die."

And it did certainly add another line to the repertoire of truly classic Bond oneliners:

M: "A license to kill is also a license not to kill."

Monday, November 23, 2015

Okay, so...

Habitable ringed planets are a science fiction trope that some people laugh off as impossible.

Except, apparently not.

The math indicates that Mars' moon Phobos is doomed. In 20 to 40 million years it's going to get too close to Mars and break up...

...and turn into a spectacular ring that will last for up to 100 million years.

However, it would be bad news if this happened on an inhabited planet, as some of the debris would no doubt hit the surface in a meteor storm you wouldn't want to be under.

On the other hand, Earth life recovered from the impact that killed the dinosaurs in far less than 100 million years. So, maybe?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Dead Galaxies and Dark Matter

Triangulum II is a tiny little galaxy. It's only got 1,000 stars and it's not producing any new ones. It's probably dying.

But, for some reason, it has much more mass than it should. Scientists are hoping that's caused by a dark matter cluster. It could also be a bad measurement. Or, it might be that the galaxy is so tiny because it's too close to the Milky Way, which is stealing mass from it.

Who knows? And if there is a lot of dark matter in a galaxy that's mostly dead, is that a coincidence?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Galaxies That Shouldn't Exist

Oops. We're wrong again.

A survey intended to locate more galaxies in the early universe, at the fringes of our current observable range, certainly found what they were looking for.

574 massive galaxies. Monsters. All formed about 1 billion years after the Big Bang.

Apparently, the math we have says they shouldn't exist. Which just means we got it wrong yet again. Ah, the fun of physics.