Friday, December 29, 2017

Twice Upon A Time reactions

Don't read if you haven't watched it yet. Actually, if you haven't watched it yet, go - I'll be waiting.


First of all, my initial reaction to Whittaker's Doctor is entirely positive. We only see a few moments of her, but the look on her face carried within it echoes of Ten, Seven and, dare I say it, Six. She's clearly done her homework and I can already see that she understands the character. But she's also going to be the anti-Capaldi. No more grumpy, cynical Doctor. Which I think is a good thing. A swing back to goofiness is good and the sense of wonder at herself and the universe she was showing. Yes, I'm very hopeful. (Although having watched an episode of DiP I'm no longer nearly as anti Marshall as I was. Maybe we can snag him in the future).

Chibnall's part of the episode showed a distinct difference in set up and camera work from the first part. Not bad, just different.

On the rest of the episode.

This is really the closest the creators have come to admitting that the Doctor is a fairy. (Because come on, they are - people travel with them and come back older and changed, they show up when least expected and most needed, and chaos travels in their wake).

And "There's no evil plan. I don't know what to do if there's no evil plan" is now my favorite Twelve line.

Goodbye Capaldi, you did great.

Hello, Whittaker, now show us what you can really do.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Merry Winter Holiday of Choice

...because I don't want to list them all in the blog header.

Last post from me until December 29 as I'm going to be spending time with family and such. Have a bunch of stuff to write in the new year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

It's not aliens...

I was holding out for aliens, but no, the much more plausible theory has won out. Extensive studies of 'Oumuamua have revealed no sign of signals or technology.

Instead, it appears to be a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) - from another solar system, but closely resembling ones found in our own. The unusual shape may be the result of dust bombardment from high speed travel (IOW, it's a pebble).

Oh well.

I wanted aliens, but...

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

So, apparently, supernovae affect our weather. Here on Earth.

The mechanism is that cosmic radiation affects atmospheric ionization and thus both temperature and rainfall. Supernovae change the level of cosmic radiation.

Of course, our local sun has much more of an effect, but some of the climate cycles the Earth experiences appear to be connected to the galactic orbit.

Food for thought.

Monday, December 18, 2017

It's Adorable...

...and it's not extinct after all.

That is a crest-tailed mulgara, and I kind of want one. It's...maybe the size of a rat. Tops. Look at that nose...

And they found some still surviving in the outback. Hopefully we can keep them around.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Used Rockets Work

Even NASA now agrees - SpaceX used a used rocket and Dragon capsule to resupply the ISS. The rocket successfully landed and will be ready for use again after normal turnover.

The development will greatly reduce surface to orbit costs, and puts SpaceX ahead until a replacement for rockets goes commercial. Blue Origin is also working on reusable rockets.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

What a pain

Pain is essential to life. For sufferers of chronic pain, however, it can be destructive. Chronic pain is pain which continues after the injury has healed or pain from issues that cannot be healed.

Not being able to feel pain, though, is a problem. Marsili syndrome affects a single family in Italy. They simply cannot feel pain. They've identified the mutation.

Which might bring hope to that family - but it also may let us come up with new, non-opioid treatments for chronic pain. I have friends with FM and other such problems - they need this.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Rising Dawn Print Version Released

It's now available on Amazon here.

I will also have copies of all three books with me at Farpoint in February, if you want to avoid paying for shipping and get a bit of a discount.

And the first words of book four have been written. Assuming they don't go the way of the original opening of book three...

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Supergirl - Doing Gay Breakups Right

So, I'm slightly behind on Supergirl, forgive me (I have a lot to watch and limited time).

The departure of Floriana Lima (Maggie Sawyer) from the show set us up for another 100 situation - the inability to think of any way to get rid of a romantic partner other than to kill them off. Given the history of the portrayal of same sex couples in television (dating back to when such relationships could only be portrayed negatively), it's even worse than doing it to a straight couple.

So, when rumors of Lima's departure circulated, I was worried. Although I was rather hoping the character would stay around in the background, the producer promised that whatever happened, Sawyer would not be killed off...

...and kept the promise. Part of the goal was to allow for Lima to return if she could be persuaded to do so.

But the way they did it was one of the best ways to handle an enforced romantic breakup I have ever seen in TV. Actors quit. It happens. Sometimes the show survives, sometimes it doesn't. In this case, the character was nowhere near important enough to tank the show, but she was important enough that she deserved a good write out.

For those who don't watch: They split because they couldn't agree on whether to have kids.

Reproductive incompatibility trashes thousands upon thousands of relationships a year. It's a real issue that affects real couples.

By doing it this way the writers emphasized two things:
1. Same sex couples have kids.
2. Same sex couples have all the same problems het couples do.

And, above all, they treated it the same as any other relationship. And avoided the stupid tropish breakup reasons (I need to protect you being top of the list).

It almost (almost, mind) makes up for the stupid Kara/James breakup so they could bring in Bland-El...uh, I mean Mon-El. (I won't say I anti-ship them because of the behavior of certain so-called fans, but...)

But I have to give them points for this one. I am, though, disappointed that we won't be seeing Alex and Maggie as a Battle Couple. Because I love Battle Couples and the writers actually said they wanted to keep both characters past the wedding. Maybe I'll get it with Barry and Iris instead? I hope... (No spoilers, please, I've heard enough already).

Monday, December 11, 2017

Watching ‘Oumuamua

Or rather...listening.

The cigar-shaped object has some very strange qualities. Apart from anything else, if it's an asteroid, it's spinning fast enough to fly apart. Unless...well, unless it's made of metal. Oh, and it's shaped almost perfectly to be a probe. Of course, it's also not showing any sign of being under power.

Which is why Breakthrough Listen, part of an organization that's looking for extraterrestrial life, will be watching it for ten full hours with the Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia. Which can detect signals the strength of a cell phone.

If they find something...well...the world changes, doesn't it.

But they're realistic. It's more likely ‘Oumuamua is simply a strange astronomical object of a type we haven't managed to detect before. It's not spinning fast enough for artificial gravity.

Here's another possibility, though, one we might never be able to prove.

'Oumuamua may be a probe after all...a dead one. A derelict...drifting through the stars.

And that may be the most depressing possibility.

Friday, December 8, 2017


The earth is singing. Or, rather, humming. No, that's not the right word either.

The Earth is...ringing.

And we don't really know why. The Earth's hum, caused by oscillations and vibrations, is far too low a sound for us to hear and can only really be detected by instruments on the ocean floor. It's not a particularly pretty sound either.

It might be caused by the movement of the oceans themselves, but we aren't sure. Fortunately, it doesn't indicate anything wrong with our's quite natural and normal.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Rising Dawn released!

Print will be a day or so yet - I'll put it on the website then, but the book is now available through Smashwords and Amazon (it should be on B&N and iTunes by Christmas).


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Santa's Bones?

Well, not really, but they did determine that a pelvic bone purported to be a relic of St. Nicholas dates to about the right time. Which is weird, because if it's a real Medieval relic, there aren't many of those.

Lots of fakes...

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


It's kind of a fantasy trope. The warrior with the unbeatable sword made of "starmetal" - which usually gets mundanely described as meteoric iron.


We've now confirmed that every single iron item made during the Bronze Age was, indeed, made of "starmetal" - because meteoric iron doesn't need to be smelted.

Now, imagine that we're talking about the only guy (or gal) with an iron sword when everyone else has bronze...

...and it all makes sense, doesn't it.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Womb transplant successful

It's not the first - that was in Sweden some years ago - but the first fully successful uterus transplant in the U.S. is still important.

Fully successful in this case means the birth of a healthy child. The recipient (who hasn't been named) was born without a uterus (whether the child is from her eggs or a donor's hasn't yet been revealed).

It's an important development for infertile women - and possibly even for trans women.

Friday, December 1, 2017

MCU - A Few Things I Want

I've been thinking about this because of the Infinity War trailer dropping this week.

I have to admit? I was disappointed. The trailer to Infinity War is not nearly as good or intriguing as the one for Black Panther. I'm not saying anything about the quality of the associated movies and much of it is that the Black Panther trailer is really, really good.

So, what do I want moving forward?

Evans, Ruffalo, Hemsworth, Johanson, Downey and Renner are all only contracted through Avengers 4. This doesn't mean they are all leaving the franchise, but likely at least some will. Ragnarok sets the stage for Hemsworth departing as a regular character - Thor is now king of Asgard, after all. Steve may be replaced by Bucky as Captain America or, as happened in the comics, by Falcon.

Marvel has explicitly stated that the franchise will change significantly after the end of Infinity War.

So, what do I want to see?

Avengers has always had a rotating roster, and there are a number of characters I would like to see show up.

1. Namor - He's an interesting character, if morally conflicted. And given all of the other changes I'd like to propose a radical dream cast - John Boyega.

2. A new Hulk. If, IF Ruffalo is really leaving the franchise, we have two equally intriguing possibilities to replace the Incredible Hulk. The first, of course, is She-Hulk (Jennifer Walters). If Karen Gillen wasn't already in the franchise, she'd make a great Jen. Hayden Panettiere, though, has the delicacy required. The other alternative for Hulk #2 is, of course, Amadeus Cho. This would be a great opportunity to have an Asian actor in a major role, something that Marvel has been repeatedly criticized for. I'm struggling to find a good dreamcast because of the lack of prominent young Asian actors.

3. Valkyrie replacing Thor. They made it very explicit that Thor is not "whoever holds Mjolnir," locking the door on Lady Thor. The end of Ragnarok, though, also means it's unlikely Thor will be, shall we say, free to go adventuring. I loved Thompson's portrayal, and would love to see her as a regular Avenger.

4. Sam, not Bucky as Cap. Although I'm fairly sure I won't be getting this one, I don't know that MCU Bucky has the ability to be the Avengers' moral compass the way Steve is. I love Bucky as a character, but I'd rather see Sam with the shield.

5. Kamala Khan. Come on, she's an insanely popular character, has powers that aren't duplicated by anyone else on the roster (I have to admit that I don't like her powers, even though I like everything else about her). Another one I can't dreamcast - somebody give me some cool young Pakistani actors? They could slide her in in one of the Spider-Man movies - perhaps she meets Peter at a science fair? (Alternatively, she could show up in Inhumans, but that show isn't impressing me at all).

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Earthquake alert

How much warning do we get of an earthquake? Seconds.

A minute would make a much bigger difference - and pretty soon we may have it. Techniques developed for gravity-wave astronomy have now been used to pick up on gravity changes associated with large movements of mass before a quake. This moves at, ya know, light speed, giving as much as a minute for people to dive for a doorway.

It might not be much, but it could save lives.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Abominable Snowman?

So, it appears that the lead theory about the nature of the Yeti has been confirmed...

...and yes, it's real.

Surprise surprise, most of the Yeti relics DNA-tested came from Himalayan or Tibetan brown bears. A couple came from Asian black bears and one tooth turned out to have come from a dog (likely a Tibetan mastiff to be large enough to be mistaken for a Yeti tooth).

In other words, a "yeti" is just a bear that's climbed a mountain. Ah well. No wise mountain apes.

On the other hand, it might tell us more about bear populations in the area and with both the Himalayan brown bear and the Asian black bear being endangered...

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Cover Reveal: Rising Dawn!

So, it's almost here - the third book of Lost Guardians, that is!

And here, courtesy of the amazing Starla Huchton, is the cover.

Looks like she's up to something, doesn't she. I wonder what...

Monday, November 27, 2017

Finally saw Thor

The third Thor movie was, to be blunt, fun. It wasn't high cinematic art, but it was good entertainment - and sometimes that's all you need.

I'm going to mostly do this by character. The plot was pretty predictable, but...

Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie. How often does a woman get to be Han Solo? The only other example I can think of is in the abysmal Italian Star Wars rip off Star Crash (which is fun in a terrible way). To see a woman in the Solo arc was surprising and delightful. (Gamora also comes pretty close, but the difference is that Gamora was brainwashed to be a villain. Valkyrie ran away from her duties after a tragedy and comes back to be a hero). Thompson is a talented actor I hope to see more of.

Loki. Loki is different in this movie, much more like the actual Norse Loki. He's not declaring himself the fascist ruler of Earth - he's taking over Asgard and being benevolent and stuff. His betrayal of Thor seems almost a habit he can't break, and in the end...well, let's say somebody actually read a version of the Ragnarok prophecy.

Oh, and the romance between Valkyrie and the Hulk was entertaining (and might lay to rest the entire Bruce/Nat stupidity. Maybe. Sorry to those who actually sail that ship).

Then there's the villain.

I have seldom had more mixed feelings about a character. Cate Blanchett does evil beautifully. Irredeemable evil in the CCA mode (the rules used to be that villains had to be all villainous) yet with reasons and motivations. The movie gave us a villainess you loved to hate.

Unfortunately, she's supposed to be the Norse goddess Hela.

I haven't read enough Thor comics to know if she's as bad in the comics, but this is the worst thing Marvel has ever done to Norse mythology, the most offensive to modern worshippers of the pantheon...

...and utterly cool.

See. Mixed feelings.

I'm torn between wishing she didn't exist and wishing I had the craft chops to cosplay her and it sucks.

But if you haven't seen it yet, go ahead while you still can. It's not the best movie, or even the best superhero movie of the year, but the opening scene is worth the price of admission.

A fight scene set to "Immigrant Song."

In Muspelheim.

"We come from the land of the ice and snow"

I almost fell out of my theater seat.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Speciation In Action

So, in 1981, a single male cactus finch got blown to the Galapagos...

...and became foundation sire of a new species. His offspring were larger than the other finches on the island, and found a new niche - and now their songs are different enough not to interbreed.

This happened in two generations. Hybridization triggering speciation is known, but hasn't been observed directly.

Two generations. More evidence in favor of the idea of punctuated equilibrium? Speciation happening only when needed...but very, very fast indeed.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving

Go ahead, eat too much - we all do it ;).

Thankful for, well...everyone who's taken a chance on my writing. I hope you all enjoyed!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Science fiction... full of stories about chasing down objects. Alastair Reynold's Pushing Ice comes to mind.

Unfortunately, we're not going to be able to catch the most interesting - cigar-shaped 'Oumamua, which came from another solar system and is darting through ours at high speed. We just don't have the technology yet.

Which sucks. It could teach us so much about planet formation, but maybe by the time the next one shows up?

Let's hope...although let's hope any chase attempt goes better than Pushing Ice.

(Of course, another famous science fiction object was also cigar-shaped...)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

If it...

...wasn't reality? In one of those "Drat, now I can't write this" moments...

...a 61-year-old flat earther actually plans on trying to launch himself into the sky.

In a steam rocket.

The worst part, is I can make this stuff up, but...

Oh, and if he survives, he's going to run for Governor. (Of California).

Not that he expects to reach space - but as a flat earther, he probably doesn't believe in it anyway.

I really wish I'd come up with this one.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Pirates & Ghosts!

I could have sworn I posted this - but I apparently didn't. The Pirates & Ghosts book is now available from Flame Tree Publishing - containing contributions by some awesome authors and in a beautiful (I haven't got mine yet, but I've seen other books in the series) hardbook format to show off.

It is shipped from the UK, so I suspect US shipping is going to be a little on the pricy side, but you can order a copy here:

Friday, November 17, 2017

Caves of Steel, Asimov, and the City of my favorite books of all time is Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel. For those not familiar with this classic - it's a fairly typical police procedural. A detective is assigned to a tricky case with an out-of-town partner that he initially doesn't get along with - pretty much a mystery trope.

Of course, this being a science fiction book, the out-of-town partner is a robot. R. Daneel Olivaw (who became a large part of the inspiration for a robot/android we are all familiar with - Data). It is set in a future New York City that has become a giant underground arcology overtaking most of New Jersey, in which people live a hive-like existence.

I won't say more because there may be people reading this who haven't read it. If so, get thee to a bookstore or a library. And send your mystery fans there too - The Caves of Steel is a great gateway drug to get mystery lovers into science fiction. It also has two equally fascinating sequels, The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn.

This summer I finally made it to New York City, a trip I'd been wanting to make for years but somehow never got around to. Isaac Asimov was a New Yorker, and I decided to reread The Caves of Steel and its sequels with the current, present day city in mind.

Those who know anything about Asimov's background know that he suffered from a crippling fear of flying and never traveled far from the city of his birth. His hero, Elijah Baley...suffers from a crippling fear of leaving the underground cities, which he has to overcome in the sequels in order to solve the crimes. He has an ambiguous relationship with the City, which is sometimes called a womb to reflect the fact that it is a comfortable, safe space...which one must eventually leave. Earth and it's Cities are shown as a dead end.

That ambiguity of love and the desire to escape struck me far more in this re-read, but what hit me the most was that this could well have represented Asimov's own relationship with New York. His love for his city tempered by the fact that his fears would never allow him to be free of it. And this weaves into a larger fear that extreme urbanization could become a dead end from which humanity cannot escape.

Whether you agree with Asimov or not (and be aware, some of the population figures in the book seem laughable to us now, as do the 50s-esque gender relations), my extended reaction to this book reminded me of something:

There is something of the author in every character we create. There has to be.

But there is a lot more of Isaac Asimov in Elijah Baley than I thought.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Phoning ET

A while ago there was a Probability Zero in Analog entitled "The Ears Have It." In it various civilizations gave up on searching for intelligent life...because they were all listening.

Hence METI - Messaging Extra-Terrestrial International - SETI's cousin. And they just sent their first targeted message.

The target is a super earth 12 light years away. The content? Mathematical data (It's very likely music is a universal).

If anyone's there, we could get a response as early as 2042...

If anyone's there and they're advanced enough to hear it and respond, that is.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Gene Editing

...inside the living body. It's being attempted for the first time. The subject suffers from Hunter's disease - which is incurable and, in the US, costs a ridiculous $100,000 to $400,000 a year to treat (I won't start on our health care system).

They're using a viral vector - a domesticated virus - to insert a good gene into his liver, allowing him to make the enzyme he hasn't been able to make. If the trial is a success it will give hope to the parents of children with the disease, who seldom survive to adulthood.

Let's keep our fingers crossed.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

In News Which Surprises No One...

...archaeologists have pushed the invention of wine back to about 5,980 BC in the Caucasus. Or rather, they've found evidence people were drinking wine then.

I suspect the actual invention was even earlier. And probably by accident. Somebody ate rotten grapes, got drunk...

...but humans do have this habit of making alcohol. We can't seem to resist the stuff.

Monday, November 13, 2017


First, thanks to everyone who bought books. I was vending, so didn't get to do as much con stuff as I'd like.

Thanks to everyone playing Cards Against Humanity too. You all rock.

Next year is still up in the air (I may not be able to manage both Philcon and World Fantasy) but we'll see what ends up happening.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Fashion Police!

Come arrest the Doctor, stat!

Look at that - objectively it's soooo awful. Suspenders? Skants? I don't know if I want to cosplay her after all! (Esp. as I have no idea where I'd find skants like that and ya know, I can't sew).

On the other hand, there's something amazingly meta about the Doctor wearing TARDIS socks.

And the more I look at it, the more I hear Jodie Whitaker saying "Jelly baby?"

All of the new series Doctors have had fashion sense. It's kind of refreshing that Thirteen clearly doesn't. I think we're getting goofy, which the show could use. (And it also does neatly evade "I'm a woman now, I care about FASHION. Or subverts it"). The other thing I'm noting is that while Whitaker is obviously *wearing* makeup, it's natural makeup - indicating the Doctor *isn't*, which I like.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017


...can identify human faces, a feat also shown by horses and dogs.

I would reasonably assume that the same ability is also shown by cows, cats, pigs, water buffalo, camels...IOW, at this point I think we can safely say all domestic animals have developed the ability to recognize a human by their face (they used the same photograph test previously used on the other species).

Knowing which humans are nice and which are nasty (and the vet is automatically nasty) is an important survival value if you're going to hang out with humans.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


...NASA has learned nothing from the "Boaty McBoatface" scandal.

New Horizons reached Pluto with plenty of fuel, so they redirected the probe to another KBO. Now they want a nickname for the new world.

So, what are they doing?

Of course they're crowdsourcing. Because humans don't learn.

Thankfully, the lead name right now is fairly sensible - Mjolnir. Z'ha'dum is another suggestion that's coming in strongly.

And fortunately, they do seem to have learned a little bit - they filtered the nominations to remove the stupid ones.

This also most likely won't be the formal name, which will presumably be the name of a deity (mostly Greco-Roman, but they seem to be choosing Hawaiian names for one class of CBOS). This will just be what NASA people call it instead of "2014 MU19"

If you want to vote - go here.

Monday, November 6, 2017

RIP Dudley Simpson

I don't often write an obit for a musician, but this one deserves a mention.

He wrote incidental music for no less than 290 episodes of Doctor Who in the 1960s and 1970s. (He also did a cameo in The Talons of Weng-Chiang.

He also wrote the theme music to Blake's 7 and The Tomorrow People. also credits him for music in multiple Shakespeare movies.

We often forget people who aren't actors, directors and (sometimes) writers, so I figured I'd stop a moment to honor a composer who made a great contribution to my favorite show.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Just when...

...we think we know everything about this planet, we find a species of ape that's been hiding from us in the Indonesian jungle.

What's next, Yeti?

Thursday, November 2, 2017


Because I keep forgetting to post this - I will be at PhilCon this month.

I will be selling books at the Rantings of a Wandering Mind booth and participating in the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading (4pm on Saturday).

And, of course, the costumes are coming for party time ;). I'll be at the booth a lot if people want to track me down.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

This Planet... too big to be explained by current planetary formation theory. It's not so much that NGST-1b is that big. It isn't. It's 1.33 the radius of Jupiter, which is big, but...not beyond the bounds of possibility, and it's light, only 0.88 percent of Jupiter's mass.

No, the problem is that its primary, NGST-1, is rather on the small side. It's an M-dwarf, half the size of the sun. Which means this is a planet almost the quarter of the size of its star.

By our current theories, that just can't happen. So now we have to find where the theories are wrong.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween!

Sorry - I suppose I could find some virtual candy ;).

Happy Halloween to everyone, and enjoy something spooky for me.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Because...'s Halloween tomorrow, NASA did something real spooky. Go check it out:

NASA Halloween Playlist

Friday, October 27, 2017

We had a visitor...

...from another solar system.

Before you get hugely excited, the object, which streaked past the sun at a speed and angle that indicated it was not orbiting the sun (or going to be captured by it) is most likely somebody else's comet. Or asteroid. The most likely scenario is that it's a KBO from another nearby solar system that got ejected.

It is, however, the first object that shows strong signs of being from, well, way out there. It isn't confirmed yet, but if it is then it proves that space rocks can switch solar systems. Which is more interesting than you think. Especially if it's a comet, as comets carry a lot of the chemicals needed for life.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Single letter editing...

...of RNA. Yes, it just became possible. The advantage of this method is that it could allow the correction of a genetic defect without affecting germ line DNA (of course, how desirable or undesirable that is...)

The big thing is that RNA editing is potentially reversible. Which opens up all kinds of doors - some good and some bad. Octopi do it to themselves all the time, though...

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


...stop insulting people by calling them Neanderthals.

We don't really know how Neanderthals lived, but we do know:

They took care of disabled members of their community, allowing individuals with profound handicaps such as congenital deafness to survive and thrive.

They invented glue and used it to make weapons.

They may have built boats - we aren't sure on this one.

They had childhoods as long as ours - possibly even slightly longer.

Regardless of what may have happened to them, I suspect they were as human as we are. So, not a legitimate insult (I prefer "pre-hominid" myself :P).

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Saving the Orcs from Sauron

I'm doing a lot of RPG work lately and somebody just said something which started to trigger a rant I realized I hadn't posted here.

Evil races.

Of which the archetype is, of course, the orcs. (Trolls, too, but we see fewer of those).

Orcs are "a twisting of elves" and created by Sauron in his image. They are born evil. This isn't the concept of original sin (which really means "Human nature is flawed, try to do better" IMO), it's Orcs Are Evil And Always Will Be.

Because I dance around in both fantasy and science fiction, I have a desire for my fantasy races to make sense.

Inherently evil only makes sense if you're dealing with, for example, literal demons. And the inherently evil orcs are also, well. Problematic.

The idea that a sentient species is "inherently evil" is not dissimilar from primitive ideas about race, when you think about it. Tolkein portrays his orcs as scrambling for power, as not dissimilar from the demons in C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters (A classic Christian apologetic if you enjoy that kind of thing) - although The Hobbit precedes The Screwtape Letters in publication by about five years.

But demons aren't inherently evil either, in Christian thought. Demons are evil because they rebelled against god, not because they were created by Satan.

Story wise, the orcs serve a purpose. They go up alongside zombies, actual World War II Nazis and Storm Troopers as "Things the PCs can kill without feeling bad about it." Or, in game terms, "monsters." In a classic dungeon crawl, everything you find in the dungeon is inherently and irredeemably evil or else bestial (e.g. bears). By making the orcs evil, it confirms the main characters in their goodness. They kill evil things. It avoids going into the nuances of "Well, murder is wrong, but it's a war" - and Tolkein knew plenty about war. The Hobbit was published in 1937, right before World War II. By the time he finished The Lord of the Rings, World War II had happened - and the veterans had returned (There's a lot about the difficulties of the returning veteran in the otherwise gratuitous epilogue "The Scouring of the Shire").

He knew all about dehumanizing the enemy - and he had already laid the ground for a literally dehumanized enemy.

So, is this a problem? Orcs aren't people...

...except they are. Individual orcs get names and personalities. Unpleasant ones, true, but personalities nonetheless. Tolkein, perhaps because of his time, perhaps because of the two major wars he lived through, failed to touch on something important.

The orcs are Sauron's chief victims.

Yes, victims. They are created twisted, short-lived, and raised in a culture that values only personal strength. And then even their ultimate creator brands them "inherently evil." Missing the fact that Britain's enemies in the war were big on branding people inherently bad.

Not one single orc is ever redeemed. Not one single orc is acknowledged as a victim of Sauron's manipulation. We never find out what happens to the orcs after Mordor falls - we're led to assume what? They all die?

And this problem spreads through D&D. Orcs appear in 5th edition only in "Volo's Guide to Monsters" - with only half-orcs being presented as a playable core race. Many players and GMs still see orcs as "an evil race."

Yet orcs, in the source material, should reasonably be reframed as victims of Sauron. Victims that the great and the good don't care about enough to save. Saruman's fall is in part represented by acquiring orcs - although we never find out from where.

It's time to unpack the evil race idea (and I say this as a fan of Tolkein's work) - to unpack it and understand that at its heart it is a weird kind of socially acceptable fantasy racism. (And as a note, The Force Awakens reframes storm troopers as victims of the Empire).

If nothing else, we can create fantasy worlds in which orcs are not evil - maybe just different. The reframing of orcs as primitive or barbaric which people commonly use to get around this problem can also lead to trouble.

It's time to save the orcs from Sauron - and perhaps to envision an orcish race that was indeed born in evil but has since risen beyond it. Hrm. I don't need any more ideas...

Monday, October 23, 2017


So, one of the things about Doctor Who that has been annoying me more and more as the years go on:

The lack of south Asian representation.

People from the Indian sub-continent form the largest ethnic minority in the UK at 4.2 percent per the last census (2.3% Indian and 1.9% Pakistani, so this may be a low ball as they seem to have forgotten about Bangladesh). This is compared to 3% African descent (counting Caribbean blacks).

Doctor Who is over sixty years old.

It says something, and not a good thing, that in over sixty years the show has not had a single major character of Indian or Pakistani descent. (And very few bit parts, for that matter).

And it's finally changed.

Meet Mandip Gill

The only thing we know about her character is the first name: Jasmin. Gill herself has only played one significant extended role - Phoebe Jackson in a soap opera called Hollyoaks. Essentially, the only option for Asian British actors is: Be in a soap opera or go to Bollywood. It's been this bad for a long time. I found a clip of her and she's at least as solid as Pearl Mackie.

But finally Desi kids watching Doctor Who will get to see a Companion who looks like them... No pressure, Mandip.

...except, there's more.

Chibnall has apparently decided that he likes the idea of a more crowded TARDIS. It's not like there isn't plenty of space. Gill will be joined by:

Bradley Walsh

He's playing "Graham" - and will be the oldest companion we've seen in a good while (Nardole is older, but doesn't look it). More of an Ian type, maybe? I've not seen this guy act, but I've seen him as...a quiz show host. Which is why I thought the rumor was wrong - he seemed to be busy, but apparently he's been a fan longer than I've been alive. Which is a frighteningly long time.


Tosin Cole as "Ryan"

Lt Bastian in The Force Awakens, btw.

So, Chibnall decided to settle the argument as to whether the new Doctor should have a male companion or a female one...pretty much the way I would have.

The only information about the three new characters we have so far is their first names.

Oh, wait, and there's more, in a major Doctor Who infodump. Sharon D. Clarke will be joining the series in "a returning role."

A returning role? So, not a new character? The obvious (and thus probably wrong) conclusion to jump to is that that might be...the new face of the Master.

The bad news? We won't see them until fall 2018, and the series will be shorter - one 60-minute episode and only nine 50-minute episodes (a net loss of 30 minutes of air time. I suspect the delay and the time cut are related - it's a lot of work taking over something like this and Chibnall might not have got as much put together as he hoped).

Friday, October 20, 2017

Feeding Wildlife...

...might be a bad idea. Because, apparently, the British fondness for attracting birds with feeders is actually causing evolution. Specifically, British great tits (which aren't very "great" at 4.9-5.5 in long unless you compare them with other tits) have a longer beak than those in the Netherlands, where people aren't as inclined to feed them.

Maybe it has to do with bird feeder design? (They're still adorable, though).

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Uh oh... come our AI masters.

AlphaGo Zero has taught itself to play Go (An Asian game more complex in its iterations than chess) - from scratch - and well enough to beat its predecessor 100 games in a row. Humans already have no chance.

No, this isn't really our AI masters - AIs have proved to be better at these kinds of games than mere humans before - but it's still...interesting. And perhaps slightly unnerving.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Mapping the universe

Google Maps has left Earth - using NASA images they've added half the solar system, or so it seems. Including Pluto.

Might be a useful tool if you're writing in-system science fiction. (I know I've written with Google Earth on the other half of my screen's insanely useful).

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

We live in a golden age...

...of astronomy that is.

Things might not be great here on Earth, but we're doing everything from getting close-ups of Pluto to reading gravitational waves to discovering that exoplanets are more common than, well, not.

We've actually observed dark matter.

We've discovered gold is made when stars collide.

And we still have yet to work out what the is going on with Tabby's Star.

What next? I don't know, but when I get depressed all I have to do is pull up some of these discoveries and remember that no matter how much we might mess up...we all look at the same stars.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (Spoilers)

I have to admit - I was offended by the existence of this movie - and the cast list. The last thing we needed was a Blade Runner sequel. Especially one that appeared to answer "Are you a replicant?"

Well, they dealt with that with a very small retcon...

...and created a movie that, well, I've already said. If you liked the original, watch it. If you didn't, don't. Villeneuve (Arrival) was an excellent choice to direct. It had pacing issues - the same pacing issues as the original, so I was okay with it. Ana de Armas was particularly brilliant as Joi.

The thing I liked the most was they didn't try to "fix" it. Instead of trying to say the Blade Runner future is our future, they just went for being consistent with the original and had fun with it - ads for Atari and Pan Am, for example. They went for full retro futurism - and I loved it.

Did it have issues?


There is no excuse in 2017 for the line "No two humans have identical DNA" - twins, anyone? (An easy fix - the two identical DNA signatures were showing up for a boy and a girl, so they obviously weren't identical twins unless one of them was trans, which...wouldn't be in their birth records).

I personally could have done without the creepy hooker-AI threesome which was apparently supposed to be sexy and just came over as kinda...yeah. Just creepy.

Another thought I had wouldn't have worked with the storyline they were going for, with questions about parenthood and identity (which led, sadly, to my brain screaming "I am your father, Luke" right as two characters had a moment. If it hadn't been Harrison Ford, I would have been fine), the strong undertones of race in the story would have been far more powerful if "K" had been black. John Boyega might have been a good choice, or Michael B. Jordan. They had to match him to Ford and Sean Young, though, so it wasn't workable. But it would have made this not just another "Conventionally attractive white guy deals with pseudo-racism" movie, which I know black fans are somewhat tired of. That said, they did weave in issues of race and issues we might have to deal with.

Which brings us to the question.

Blade Runner asks "Are you a replicant?"

Blade Runner 2049 answers "You are human."

The answer to the question in the end is "It shouldn't matter."

Because we're all human.

Friday, October 13, 2017


Decided to do a full post because the hysteria is back.

1. We are not "overdue" for an eruption of the Yellowstone super volcano.

2. The discovery that magma changes preceding an eruption may be in "less than a human lifespan" is actually a good thing! It doesn't mean it will erupt within our lifespans. It means that when it does we'll get a few decades warning, and we can come up with an action plan now so if it does blow in the next few centuries...

3. Oh, and it's not likely to blow in the next few centuries either. More likely the next few millennia, if we're unlucky.

4. Even if it does erupt, it won't destroy all life on Earth. It would be bad, particularly for parts of the midwest, but it is not a world-ending event, it won't cause a mass extinction (we're doing good on that on our own) and it probably won't even end human civilization. Certainly it won't destroy our species.

So, please, stop.

Even if you secretly want it to, Yellowstone is not destroying the world in the next decade.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Scam Alert

I'm not famous enough to have gotten one of these - yet - but apparently some crooks have taken to impersonating editors from The Atlantic and soliciting articles. They're then sending out fake advances or taking other measures to get bank account details. (And yes, they're using the names of the editors).

This kind of thing isn't uncommon, but they're usually more subtle than this.

If you get an out of the blue offer to write something, verify it. Just in case.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Taking Offshore Wind Further

Turns out our entire civilization could be powered by the winds over the open oceans.

Of course, there's a number of problems with this:

1. We'd need to cover an area the size of Greenland with wind turbines.

2. We don't have the technology to build wind turbines right out in the open ocean.

3. It would cause, yup, more and different climate change.  Harvesting that much power would affect wind speed, temperature, etc.

So we can't actually do it.


(Oh, as a side note, if you saw the stuff about how Yellowstone is going to erupt again and we might not get much warning - no, the tabloids are wrong, Yellowstone blowing its top would NOT destroy all life on Earth. It has never triggered a mass extinction before. It would cause economic problems, particularly for the US, and probably a few years of not much in the way of summer, but it wouldn't destroy all life, our species or even our civilization).

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Welp, We Found It...

...dark matter!

Hideki Tanimura (Institute of Space Astrophysics) and Anna de Graaff (University of Edinburgh) have found hot filaments of gas linking galaxies. And those filaments amount to...all the missing mass. At least until we discover they were wrong. But they weren't working together - they were working separately - which makes it more likely that they got it right.

Are these filaments the glue which holds the universe together?

Monday, October 9, 2017

Capclave Roundup

Awesome convention. (This post is so late because my hotel room was less than awesome - too hot to turn the a/c off so the noise kept me awake).

Great to finally meet Julianna Rew of Third Flatiron Publishing. (She's purchased a couple of my stories and edits great anthologies).

Always good to hang out with the usual suspects - great conversation with Bud Sparhawk in particular. Tom Doyle, you rock and so do your books! (I already started American Craftsmen).

Broad Universe reading went well. (Next year, if I make it to the con, I will try and bring some books).

Panel highlights were Inge Heyer's presentation on Pluto and the Alternate History panel, which was pretty much star studded.

Great con!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Off to Capclave!

Heading off to Capclave in a couple of hours.

I'm not on programming (and thus will not have books for sale, although if you have something I will gladly sign it). However, I will be participating in the Broad Universe Rapid Fire (reading from Falling Dusk) on Saturday at 11am. (Opposite Ken Liu, which is unfortunate, but somebody had to be).

And I'll be around at various parties if anyone wants to track me down. Even bringing a new costume *evil grin*.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Is The Universe a Simulation?

Right now, scientists

Basically, they can't come up with a system that could simulate the universe. Of course, who knows what's hiding behind the scenes. They haven't disproved it...

...just said it's very, very unlikely. Which is probably a good thing. I mean, we don't want somebody accidentally pulling the plug, right?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Did life on Earth...

...come from out there? The "Starseed" theory is something which has been debated - and no, it doesn't involve intelligent aliens. At least not the version seriously considered by scientists.

The version seriously considered doesn't even involve microbes. It involves the precursor molecules for life being dropped on Earth by meteorites. In just the right conditions, they rapidly create RNA - which then becomes DNA and thus our kind of life.

If this is true, then it makes it more likely that extraterrestrial life will be based on DNA or something similar - good news if we ever want to expand beyond this planet (although bad news if worried about biocontamination).

The alternative is that life started spontaneously near hydrothermal vents.

Here's one thought, though:

Does one of these actually prevent the other?

I would argue that RNA forming in ponds hit by meteors and RNA forming by hydrothermal vents don't cancel each other out and an even more intriguing possibility is life starting by both methods and then combining. If both methods happened to produce the same chemicals, then we would never know.

Or did life, even at the start, compete with each other and are we descended from the winner?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Willing to Take a Bet?

Some guy at SETI apparently thinks we'll find intelligent aliens within 20 years - and is willing to bet coffee on it.

He wasn't specifying WHO he'll buy coffee for if we find them, though. Of course, if we find intelligent aliens, who knows...

...he might be able to buy us all cups of raktajino.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Orphan Black Finale (Spoilers)

Okay, so, I finally finished watching - bittersweet, although I'm hoping to see Maslany again. In something. In almost anything.

And...welp....I couldn't even call this blog post what I originally intended because it would have been a spoiler. If you haven't seen the finale yet, go away, watch it, and then come back when you have.











......still with me?

My first reaction: The bastards.

Because they pulled one of the best examples of the unreliable narrator trope.

The structure of the show leads you to believe it's Sarah's story and if I had an idea for who the narrator was other than Sarah, I'd have to go with Felix. Alternatively, as there's no actual narration, you could just go with Third Person Omniscient.

All of these options purport that what we see on screen in Orphan Black is the actual story of the Leda Sisters and how they broke free. Reality. The truth.

...and then on come the brakes.

...because it might not be.

See, it turns out that the entire show is in fact a journal. Written by...Helena.


The least sane of the sisters. The one who was raised to be an avenging angel and assassin. The one who represents the fragility of womanhood. The abuse victim. (Rachel is also an abuse victim, but in a different way).

Helena is not a reliable narrator.

Unlike the normal use of the unreliable narrator trope, though, we are never specifically shown that anything in the show is unreal or untrue.

Instead, we are simply given the reveal: "Helena told the story" and left with that. Literally left with that - it's all but the last scene of the show, the lasting image being of her with her sisters and the book titled "Orphan Black."

So, instead of being told "The narrator lied" we're just told "Hey, this was all written down by the madwoman. You decide how much to believe."

And the genius of it is that it made the show make more sense. Was there really a skeleton in the Hendrix garage, or did it represent something else? Do Helena's twins have a healing factor? Who do we believe?

And the truth can also choose to believe Helena, to trust her. Which means believing the victim.

And all of the Leda Sisters are the victim.

So perhaps ending the show with the question of "Do you believe her?" brings in a theme of agency that was hinted at but never shown.

Are we people or things is a question women have often been forced to ask in this society.

"Do you believe her?" is a question society asks too often.

Especially of those who have been ill-treated and abused, of those who have been raped, of those who have been beaten, of those who's wombs have been used as a commodity.

So, it was brilliant, and the more I think about it, the more brilliant it becomes.

And the only answer for myself is:

I believe you, Helena.

It was all true.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Help Do Science

NASA is looking for some help again. If you have a bit of time and don't mind spending it on a slightly tedious task - NASA needs help labeling and tagging thousands of images from the ISS so they can be made searchable. And no, they can't just have an AI do it.

If you'd like to help head over to CosmoQuest and launch the Image Detective. And you get to look at pretty pictures...

Thursday, September 28, 2017

RIP Hugh Hefner

You've probably already heard that Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy, died today at the age of 91.

You're probably also wondering why the heck I, a science fiction writer, care.

Well, I care because...

...Playboy published science fiction. Yup, in amongst the girlie pics, and also in a number of tie-in anthologies.

And it was a surprisingly good fit - because neither science fiction nor pornography were considered real literature.

Except, of course, a lot of men (and probably quite a few women too) read Playboy - 7 million subscribers by the 1970s - and that meant a larger audience for science fiction than...well, almost any other outlet, at the time, before, or since.

Hefner hired a series of fiction editors - Ray Russell, A.C. Spectorsky, Robie MacAuley, Arthur Ketchmer and Alice K. Turner all played a role. (Why yes, yes, a woman). And Playboy ran stories by Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Arthur C. Clarke...and by some authors you definitely wouldn't expect. Ursula K. LeGuin? Margaret Atwood of Handmaid's Tale fame? Doris Lessing? (Feminists writing for a girlie mag?) Playboy stopped producing a lot of science fiction after Turner retired in 2000, but who knows - maybe they'll get back to it.

And then there was a little story called "The Crooked Man" published in 1955. Hefner got hate mail for this story. It was a science fiction story where most people were gay and heterosexuality was punished - I believe the original of the classic reversal trope to heighten awareness of persecution.

See, Hugh Hefner was an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights and same sex marriage. Oh, and racial equality. Oh yes, and he called himself a feminist, although some people question that. In fact, on that front his legacy is distinctly controversial. He challenged prudish norms and fought for sexual liberation, but he's still seen as a pornographer. And he did have a harem.

I'm not going to hold him up as a feminist, because I don't know that he was one.

But he was in favor of gay rights.

And he published some dang good science fiction.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

LIGO is doing science..with a bit of help.

The first detection of gravity waves made by LIGO and Virgo combined has been recorded. The addition of the third (Virgo) detector means that scientists can now determine where in the sky the gravity waves are coming from.

The event observed was a collision between two huge black holes (31 times the mass of the sun and 25 times respectively). Being able to identify the source of the waves puts us a step closer to actually understanding gravity.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Get your shots!

Just a reminder - now is the perfect time to get your annual flu vaccination - if you can be vaccinated, get vaccinated. Especially if you plan on going to some of those wonderful fall conventions...

(We'll see how good a job they do at guessing strains this year...)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Orphan Black and Exercises In Genre

Orphan Black was the best show nobody watched - although it sustained enough of an audience to last four seasons, its appeal has always been niche. One of the reasons is the uncertainty about the show's genre. It's undeniably science fiction - the storyline is dependent on human cloning, and as far as we know there aren't any clones wandering around. Of course, you don't talk about Clone Club. But what kind of science fiction?

Wikipedia calls it a "Science fiction thriller" - which might work. Techno-thriller might be closer - except that they don't excessively explore the technical details. So, it's not a techno-thriller, even if it does focus on near-future technology.

But that opens the question of whether Orphan Black is a thriller. There's certainly plenty of suspense, there's a lot of crime (a fair amount of it inexpertly executed by Alison Hendrix. But is it a thriller? In a thriller, the entire point is the hero fighting for their life against insurmountable odds. The question of a thriller is "Do they live?" (The answer is almost always yes, but the thriller viewer does not care).

Is the central question of Orphan Black "Do they live?" It's certainly a question, but it's not the question. The question is "Who controls the future of humanity?" but with the distinctly feminist twist, in part, of "Who controls our children? Who controls our wombs?" That's a deeply science fictional question and it's too deep for a typical thriller.

Unpopular opinion: It's not a thriller.

It's also not a superhero story - although there are some superpowers in the story, they're minor. It could be the prologue to one, though.

And it's set in a completely unaltered real world in which the changes are secret. That would make it urban fantasy except, of course, it's about science. Maybe it's science realism? (A real world story with subtle changes to science that flavor the story).

Hrm, how about another approach? What science fiction show is Orphan Black most like? And the answer is "The X-Files." (Disclaimer: Although I loved the original, I've been too scared to watch the revival - it's one of those things I'm afraid re-visting would ruin). But what? Isn't that about...aliens?

Yes, but it's also about the real world going on with its life while the protagonists face their struggle essentially alone. Orphan Black is better as science fiction.

Wiki, though, doesn't help us with this, calling The X-Files a "science fiction drama" which...isn't a sub genre. It does bring in a possibility: Is Orphan Black "science fiction horror"? I'd say no, it's a bit lighter than that. And Wiki also takes us back to the thriller question.

So, what is Orphan Black? I think it makes its own sub-genre. Or, perhaps, it inhabits a sub-genre "The X-Files" created and which is also occupied by Sense8, Torchwood and even, to a degree Warehouse 13. That sub-genre is supernatural fantasy with the magic taken out and replaced by science. It has the same secrecy, the same idea that things "man was not meant to know" are right there, just hidden by the wits of the few privileged ones who know the truth.

But what do we call it? Contemporary science fiction just means anything set in the real world that focuses on scientific development.

I'm stumped - anyone got any thoughts?

Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday Updates

Posting early because I'm off to a National Gallery of Art writing salon.

I just discovered - because I'm busy and not as anal about checking as I might be - that my vs. Ghosts Adventure "The Lights of Sand Island" got a five star review. The one criticism was that no maps were provided (given it's a real life location, I don't personally feel they're needed).

Rising Dawn is still in edits. I've made the decision that if I do a trilogy or short series again I'm getting them all ready so I can release on some kind of schedule ;). I haven't started book four yet because I'm working on some gaming stuff.

Hoping for more actual news next week - I have a lot in the pipeline.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Herbivorous Dinosaurs Liked Their Seafood

In one of those discoveries that's surprising until you think more about it, the fossilized dung of herbivorous dinosaurs was found to contain quite a lot of...shellfish.

Why would plant eaters eat shellfish? While it's possible that they ingested the molluscs by accident, it's actually pretty likely they did it on purpose... help make egg shells. Herbivorous birds do the same thing today to supplement calcium before laying.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I Have A Confession...

...I'm rather fond of calamari. Also octopus. Yes, including the tentacles.

Unfortunately, well. I've had to give it up.

The squid-based aliens in Arrival (likely from a gas giant, although it's never stated) and their completely alien intelligence and language...

...may not be so different from cephalopods on Earth.

Captive octopi have been known to turn off lights from a distance with a well-aimed water jet, raid nearby tanks for food and deliberately cause their tanks to overflow. One individual (I honestly can't remember species), after feeding time, escaped from its tank, slithered to the researcher's office and threw a bad shrimp at him. Like dogs and horses, they've been demonstrated as capable of telling humans apart.

The guess researchers make is that they're about as smart as dogs, but there's more to it than that. They are literally alien. They have multiple brains, in their arms. They can rewrite their own genetics in real time.

Maybe they are only about as intelligent as a pig, and I am not giving up bacon, but there's something about the fact that we don't understand their intelligence that is giving me pause. And their behavior seems more like that of ravens...or of chimpanzees. And I'm not eating a chimpanzee either. (I suppose we all have to draw our own lines, right?).

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Nerf Gun Safety

If you use airsoft, you know to use eye protection - but apparently people are getting eye injuries from nerf guns too.

If you use a nerf gun as a cosplay prop, then PLEASE don't point it at somebody's face or eyes. If you use them for simulated fire, then I really think you should wear goggles. Just in case.

The problems are worse with guns modified to fire harder or with off-label bullets or darts.

Stay safe, esp. with Halloween and the fall con season.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Emmys

...and as usual, nothing I watch won anything. I feel quite sorry for the connections of both West World and Stranger Things with 22 and 18 nominations respectively and not a single win.

Most of the awards went to mainstream shows, but The Handmaid's Tale took three - I want to watch that but not enough to pay for a Hulu subscription...

Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday Updates


I'm confirmed for RavenCon in 2018 - looking forward to going back to Williamsburg.

What I'm working on:

Unannounced projects for Avalon Game Company and Grey Matter Games.

Also hired for a project (also unannounced, I'm afraid) with Rite Publishing.

And some short fiction work you'll hopefully see eventually.

I'll be attending SPX this weekend if anyone wants to track me down ;).

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Elon Musk Blooper Reel... here, as a reminder that you can't make real progress, especially in rocket science, without sometimes having to blow some things up.

...with circus music as a bonus *laugh*.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Oh great...

There are now headlines saying getting the flu vaccine can cause a miscarriage.

No, there's a study that indicates women who get vaccinated for the flu regularly are more likely to have miscarriages. It's more likely showing that women with high risk pregnancies are more likely to get vaccinated.

Please, please get your shots *grumbles about how the anti-vaxx crowd don't need any more ammunition*

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

It makes a better mirror than a...

...window. Researchers at Imperial College London have created something which can change between a window and a mirror at the touch of a button - simply by applying voltage. And it's reusable as many times as required.

Makes one a little more wary of bathroom mirrors - but could also be very handy for the home of the future. They're working on dimmable windows, too.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Cassini's End

On Friday, after almost 20 years of amazing pictures and great science, the Cassini spacecraft will be intentionally crashed into Saturn. The probe, which is almost out of fuel, is being intentionally destroyed to ensure that it does not cause biological contamination of Titan or Enceladus.

Thanks to Cassini, we know a lot more about the Saturn "sub system" than we did when it was launched back in 1997....which makes me feel old. But all good things must come to an end and spaceships can only carry so much fuel. (Of course, some future probes may fly out using a solar sail...much more efficient!).

Friday, September 8, 2017

To Those... risk from Hurricane Irma. Stay safe, stock up, know whether to leave or stay. It's going to be a nasty one.

It already is - the storm has flattened most of the buildings on the island of Barbuda and done a lot of damage to St. Martin island. And some parts of Puerto Rico may be without power for six months.

I suppose we were due after the last two very light seasons :/. But please, everyone, stay safe.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

"Class" canceled

In a move that surprised nobody, the Doctor Who spin off "Class" has been officially canceled. It had some very good moments (and some great characters), but was apparently plagued by poor show times and arguments between the show runner (who quit some time ago) and the network.

I'm mostly disappointed because the ending of the last episode was worse than the ending of Angel. Worse, because in addition to being a cliffhanger it actually...kind of annoyed me. There were some utterly unnecessary deaths.

It's a shame - it had a lot of potential. Now I'm hoping extra for a Desi companion on Dr Who. Chibnall, you listening?

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Ill Winds...

When I came back into the US there were a bunch of signs about zika - the mosquito-borne virus that has been much in the news of late.

Zika is in the news because it can cause severe birth defects. Congenital Zika Syndrome includes microcephaly (in some cases including partial skull collapse), decreased brain tissue, eye damage, limited joint motion and excessive muscle development prior to birth. Pretty nasty - microcephaly can lead to seizures, vision and hearing problems (vision problems are particularly common here because there may also be damage to the eyes) and developmental disabilities. And the rate is high, at least 10 percent.

So, evil horrible virus, let's wipe it out like we did smallpox.

Brakes on.

Apparently, zika is more like one of those toxic plants - it can poison you or, in the right dose, used the right way, save your life.

The reason zika causes all of those defects is because it attacks stem cells in the brain. Pretty bad if you're an infant.

If you're an adult, though, then you shouldn't have many stem cells in your brain. If you do, then that's bad - because it means you have aggressive brain cancer.

So, apparently, we may be able to infect somebody's brain with zika to kill the stem cells that create tumors, probably when we do surgery to remove the big ones.

(It's worth noting that one of the most potentially useful viruses to insert genes into human cells for gene therapy is...HIV).

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Spirit of Shakespeare

The original globe was built in 1599 and burned down in 1613 after a cannon malfunctioned.

In 1997 - the year I graduated from college - Sam Wanamaker built a replica. I've been wanting to see a play there ever since.

And I finally did it. The performance was King Lear (not my favorite of Shakespeare's plays) - with Lear played by Kevin McNally (Gibbs from Pirates of the Caribbean) and an excellent cast.

It some ways it was the second best Shakespeare I've ever seen. In others? It was the best.

See, what I was expecting was that the performance would match the theater - that it would be Elizabethan-styled.

That isn't what I got.

The actors wore costumes that looked like they went thrifting. The stage swords were sticks with painted-on hilts. On a number of occasions, actors were pushed onto and off the stage in a cage cart. Special effects combined the theater's electric lights...with drums being played by the cast.

And the casting - the casting was what happens when the director stops caring about anything but who is right for the part. Gloucester, Cornwall and Cordelia were black. France was south Asian. Everyone else was white, regardless of how much sense it made. Kent was a woman - because. Just, as far as I can tell, because the director wanted Saskia Reeves. In the grand tradition of principal boys, the Fool was played by a woman but still called a boy. (And I'd give something to see Anjana Vasan, their Cordelia, do Juliet while she's still young enough to pull it off).

My verdict was not "This is the best Shakespeare I've ever seen" so much as "This is the most authentic Shakespeare I've ever seen."

Because, see, people take two approaches to Shakespeare. Either they try to do it the way they envision the Elizabethan theatre - 'the way Shakespeare did it' - and put everyone in fancy Elizabethan outfits, use the best props that look Elizabethan, etc. Or they put it in a different era.

This is the only time I have ever seen a Shakespeare company do it the way Shakespeare would do it now. The hotch potch casting was not only interestingly diverse and genuinely using talent, but also recalled a small traveling company who had to cast the people they have (and don't you dare tell me there was never a black man or boy on Shakespeare's stage - maybe there wasn't, but there were certainly black people around in Elizabethan London, and some of them could have been actors). The only reason Shakespeare didn't use women on his stage was because it was not done - but the gender flipping, including the female Kent disguising herself as a man is exactly the kind of thing he would have done.

And it wasn't done as high art. That's the thing.

It was done as popular entertainment. It was people standing around the stage and actors running off stage right through the crowd, actors calling out into the audience (sadly, too many people were wearing their best theater manners). The audience was a little bit too sober, but this is what the Elizabethan theater was. It was popular entertainment, performed by players who often struggled, who cast the talent they had and developed that talent until it shone. Nancy Meckler, with the ability to pull talent (many top actors want to do Lear) for this performance chose to cast in a way that honored that.

And it was brilliant.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Back - and Updates!

Okay, so I'm back - and have news.

My short story "Salvage" was accepted for the Pirates & Ghosts anthology, to be produced by well-regarded British publisher Flame Tree Press.

I am absolutely thrilled to be part of this project - here's the official announcement.

(This puts me at three pro sales but, due to my short story sweet spot being a little, well, short, I still have to sell 2,800 words worth to be eligible for active SFWA membership, but that particular little career goal is getting closer).

If you're waiting for Sisterhood of the Blade - release has been slightly delayed because two authors were forced to drop out for personal reasons. This means we had to find two more writers who are now, well, writing away ;). I'm impatient too.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Out Of Here

Yes, because I'm an idiot and missed the memo on the eclipse - I'm going to be in Europe visiting family and vacat...ahem, doing research for the next two weeks. I won't be posting on this blog (the other blog has posts queued).

When I get back I'll be going right into edits on Rising Dawn (Lost Guardians #3).

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Next Frontier

NASA has selected six missions for further study as part of the Explorers Program.

The three full Explorers missions are:

1. Arcus - an X-ray spectroscopy mission to study the gas around stars, galaxies and galaxy clusters.

2. FINESSE - an infrared spectroscopy mission to study planet formation.

3. SPHEREx - a near-infrared imaging program that should tell us more about the beginning of the universe and evolution of galaxies.

Three more missions, called "missions of opportunity" are also being studied.

1. COSI-X - a gamma-ray telescope mounted in a balloon to study antimatter and radioactive elements.

2. ISS-TAO - an X-ray detector that will be put on the ISS to look for supernova shocks, neutron star bursts and neutron star mergers.

3. CASE - fine guidance detectors for the ESA"s exoplanet survey.

I think I'm most interested in SPHEREx and of course the exoplanet survey is important. Most likely - they're out there...

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

One step closer... being able to 3D print replacement organs (I think we can all agree that not having to rely on donors is a good thing).

Researchers at Oxford and Bristol universities have come up with a high resolution scaffold that puts individual cells right where they need to be. The organs could be made using the recipient's own stem cells (or a donor's if there's some genetic reason not to use the patient's - but the patient's are better because it eliminates rejection).

Wouldn't it be great if everyone who needed a new liver or kidney could get one?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Acknowledge Them

The death of stuntwoman SJ Harris while filming Deadpool 2 is a highly tragic accident.

Harris was a professional stunt rider and road racer - something went wrong and it is likely her death was simply that. An accident.

This one was high profile, but in early July John Bernecker fell from a balcony while doing a stunt for the TV show "Walking Dead" - he also died.

Stuntmen (and women) have been risking their lives for our entertainment since the start of visual entertainment. Olivia Jackson lost her arm while doubling for Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (this was also a motorcycling accident). Harry O'Connor was killed in a parasailing accident while doubling for Vin Diesel in XXX. And, surprise surprise, a stuntman, Art Scholl, was killed filming the flight sequences for Top Gun.

Actors have also been injured doing their own stunts, but when a stuntman is injured or killed, much of the time no mention is ever made of it. We don't even know their names. (Whilst a lot of us remember Brandon Lee's death - he was shot with a blank, which is why they're very careful how they use blanks now).

So, I'd like to dedicate to SJ Harris a mention to all stuntmen and the dangerous work they do so we can escape reality for 90 minutes or 2 hours.

Monday, August 14, 2017


...really hope that the celebrity deaths in threes isn't going to become awfully specific.

Victor Pemberton both acted in Doctor Who (in the 1967 episode Moonbase) and wrote precisely one Doctor Who arc.

So, why is he important?

Because in that sadly mostly-lost story, Fury From The Deep, he introduced something that is now one of the symbols of the show: The Sonic Screwdriver. (He also wrote one audio adventure and wrote the novelization of Fury from the Deep himself). He had a lot of experience in radio as well as TV. Oh, and he created the Lighthouse Keeper in Fraggle Rock, which Americans probably won't understand the importance of.

Pemberton died today at the age of 85.

Friday, August 11, 2017

British Fruitcake

....has to be one of the most inedible creations ever made by man. It's even worse than American fruitcake.

So when somebody said they found 100-year-old fruitcake in Antarctica that was "almost edible" I knew it had to be British fruitcake. (It was, it was dropped by Scott's expedition). Because fruitcake is only almost edible anyway.

(Why yes, I am ribbing on my own country. You're allowed to join in. Ugh, fruitcake).

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Shooting Stars

If you're planning on observing the Perseids this year, the fireworks show will peak on August 12 at...1pm. In other words, you want to be out the night before or the night after. The recommended time is before dawn on August 12.

Unfortunately, the moon will be full, which won't help for meteor viewing - you need to get out of the city to get a good view.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Largest Land Animal... some kind of brontosaurus, right?

Actually, it's now Patagotitan mayorum - weighing in at 152,000 pounds. That's ten times the weight of the largest elephants.

Scientists believe this is close to the maximum size for an animal in our gravity. (And likely land animals could not get this big right now due to the lower oxygen compared to the Cretaceous).

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


The signature Japanese monster was introduced in 1954 as a cautionary tale about nuclear weapons.

And he rapidly became an international phenomenon. In fact, Godzilla movies are still being made today - there's one scheduled for release in 2019. Kaiju - the Japanese word for monster - has developed a specific meaning in English and we talk about kaiju movies.

In 1954 there was no CGI and not really any animatronics. So, how did they do the monster?

The answer: A stuntman in a suit. And the man they hired was Haruo Nakajima - who had four credits as a stuntman in Samurai movies at the time. He was given no briefing on how to play the monster - so he spent hours at the zoo, looking at elephants, bears and other creatures to create the distinctive gait (and, of course, the distinctive victory dance).

Most people who aren't serious monster movie fans don't even know Nakajima's name (a common fate for stuntmen) - even though he played Godzilla 12 times and also took a turn as King Kong, Baragon, Matango, Rodan...basically, he played monsters (and on occasion swordsmen). He retired from acting in 1973, no doubt exhausted from all of those rubber suits. His last outing as Godzilla was in Godzilla vs. Gigan.

Nakajima died this week at the age of 88 after a struggle with pneumonia. I'm going to go attempt that dance now. Doesn't work as well without the rubber suit.

Monday, August 7, 2017

And a followup...

...on the eclipse glasses thing. Here's another great way to safely get an interesting look at our sun during the eclipse.

It's called a pinhole viewer and you can make it out of an old cereal box.

Please don't ever stare directly at the sun with your unprotected eyes. Please.

Friday, August 4, 2017

If... are not, like me, the idiot who planned a trip ages ago and didn't hear about the eclipse until you'd already planned on being in the other hemisphere...

Then be very careful about viewing the eclipsed sun. Apparently, some companies are selling eclipse glasses that don't meet proper safety standards.

The correct standard is ISO 12312-2 - it'll be printed on the glasses. This is for US - other countries will have their own standards. Also, don't look at the sun for too long anyway.

Let's not have anyone go blind, okay?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

All Creatures...

...Great And Small.

Those who know me know I keep my funny bone in an odd place. The majority of comedies do nothing for me...or, worse, are just plain annoying. The rare exceptions tend to be British.

British sit coms just aren't like anything made anywhere else. And British sitcoms that come with cute animals, well...

All Creatures Great And Small ran from 1978 to 1990 and starred Christopher Timothy, Peter Davison (Yes that Peter Davison) and Robert Hardy.

The last is probably better known to readers of this blog as Cornelius Fudge. Hardy was also well known for playing Winston Churchill (in Churchill: 100 Days That Saved Britain, Agatha Christie's Marple (The Sittaford Mystery), the mini-series War and Remembrance and another mini-series Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years. Talk about being typecast. For sci-fi fans, he also showed up in The Lost World TV movie, a Gulliver's Travels mini-series, a Frankenstein movie (Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in 1994) and an episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

He was active for over 70 years.

Robert Hardy died today at the age of 91.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

One step closer... the first genetically modified humans. Scientists at Oregon Health & Science University were able to edit out a disease causing gene from viable human embryos.

The technique is not yet ready to try on embryos intended for implantation (the success rate was only about fifty percent, although none of the successfully edited embryos showed other changes) - but the ethical issues are already being raised. Is it okay, for example, to change somebody's genome without their consent? (I would argue that yes, if it's done to save their life or prevent them from developing an unpleasant disease. Maybe my friend with cystic fibrosis can weigh in on this).

Of course, some people think it should be made illegal because, well, it's apparently worth having dead kids to prevent designer babies. (I think you can tell where I stand).

I firmly believe that yes, we should pursue this, but with appropriate care and consideration for, above all else, the health and welfare of any children that result.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Houston, We Have A...


The historic Mission Control room from which the Apollo missions were monitored is in an abysmal state. It's been left to decay (and looted by souvenir seekers).

So, NASA has responded with, no joke, a kickstarter.

They've already met their goal of $250,000 - but I'm sure they could use a little bit more cash.

(And you can get the t-shirt).

Everyone's crowdfunding these days...

Monday, July 31, 2017

Feminism in Unexpected Places

I don't talk about being a feminist much - mostly because, unfortunately, some people have taken it away from my own definition of feminism (for example, I honestly despise some aspects of "radical feminism"). But the truth is, I am one. And I've been thinking this weekend about finding feminist messages in strange and unexpected places in media.

The Deadpool movie is a recent example - complete with non-sexualized teenagers (and female villains) and a guy in the exploitative "bearskin rug" pose.

But right now I'm thinking of a much older work that has a feminist message most people miss:


Yes, I do mean the musical based off of a silly poetry book about a bunch of cats. Which I finally got to see on Broadway (the current revival closes December 30, so if you happen to be in New's an excellent performance). I already knew the plot, I knew and had sung most of the songs, but nothing compares to seeing it on the stage.

Yes, that musical. That's basically a series of song and dance numbers with a thin plot as a framing mechanism.

Most, but not all, of the songs are taken from T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. The musical's signature song, Memory (covered over 150 times) is not, however. And the character who sings it, Grizabella, was cut from the original book for being too sad, with only a fragment of her poem surviving. The message behind her, thus, is entirely the work of Andrew Lloyd Webber and the director, Trevor Nunn, who wrote the extra lyrics.

The framing device used for the songs is that the leader of the Jellicle Cats, Old Deuteronomy, is selecting one cat to go to the Heaviside Layer (i.e. Heaven) and be reborn. At the Jellicle Ball, the case is made for various felines.

One of them is Gus the Theater Cat. Gus is the old, washed up actor, who mostly has only stories of his glory days but is, nonetheless, respected and adored as he talks at the stage door.

And the other, of course, is Grizabella the Glamor Cat. Who is shunned and despised by all of the cats. Why?

Because she's not beautiful any more.

Even as a child I sensed the unfairness, but I had to get into my twenties to understand what the unfairness was.

Gus is the old actor, respected even though he can't really do it any more.

Grizabella is...the former leading lady. Cats was first staged in 1981 - 36 years ago. And yet, we still see it going on. Harrison Ford looks fantastic, Carrie Fisher looked old and tired and sad. Women in Hollywood simply aren't allowed to age...once they do, they're put on the shelf and forgotten.

And yes, sometimes despised and hissed at.

Webber was, of course, a theater person. He had been writing musicals since 1965, although his first effort wasn't published until 2005. But he saw success in 1968 with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He must have known theater.

And he must have seen women pushed aside because they were too old. He must have seen the focus on looks.

So in Cats he takes Grizabella from a fragment of a poem, puts her center stage, shows us how she is treated and then literally sends her to heaven to be reborn.

But people still think it's a silly musical about cats.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Heading Out

Heading out of town for a small trip to New York to celebrate my 20th anniversary (and probably, because it's me, get in some research).

A couple of updates before I leave:

1. I've been confirmed as a guest for Farpoint Convention next February. The writer Guest of Honor will be, once more, Timothy Zahn - who's well worth seeing and hearing from.

2. The Equal Opportunity Madness anthology conceived a couple of years ago at Balticon is finally available as an ebook. Print books should be available soon. It contains my story "Golem." If you are coming to Farpoint and let me know well ahead of time I will take pre-orders. (I'm trying to save most of my luggage space for Lost Guardians books).

3. Lost Guardians #3 is progressing well. I don't have a launch date yet but am trying to get it done and available for, you guessed it, Farpoint.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Alternate History and This Thing With The Bad Guys Winning

Alternate timelines in which the bad guys win are starting to turn into the new vampires - the trend we've all seen enough of but which people are jumping on the coattails of nonetheless.

Unless you hide under a rock and avoid social media you'll have heard about the controversy of the new TV show Confederate, set in a world in which, ding, the South won the Civil War. And the explosion about it indicates just how done people are with it. (It doesn't help that the show is going to be run by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who's handling of GoT has not exactly been the best in terms of gender or race).

But it's not just that "Two white guys are making a show about slavery" - it's a symptom of the fact that people, right now, simply don't want stories in which the bad guys won. Even if it's alternate history. Agents of SHIELD experienced a 15% drop in audience three episodes in to their Agents of HYDRA arc, where the bad guys virtual reality.

And again, you'd have to be living under a rock not to hear just how done a large proportion of the Marvel fanbase are with Secret Empire...and were before it even started.

It doesn't help that the bad guys that keep winning are white supremacists, when a lot of people are starting to fear that they may be winning in real life too.

And maybe, just maybe, people are a little tired of dystopias in general? I don't know. But I do think that if you're considering writing a story in which the bad guys won (most especially an alternate history in which the South won the Civil War or Hitler won World War II) you might want to put it on the shelf right next to the novel I started about the Second Great Depression...right as the Great Recession started. Oops.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Is European Fantasy "Done"?

...well, in some ways it's more popular than ever, given the Game of Thrones TV show. But a lot of readers complain that all fantasy is set in Europe.

Truth is, what they actually mean is it's all influenced by Tolkein. And there's nothing wrong with that - the work of Elizabeth Moon, for example, shows that northern European fantasy can still be good. It can, however, be a little bit boring.

Lately, the push has been to go outside Europe for inspiration, but that then runs up against (in my mind stupid) arguments about cultural appropriation and stereotyping.

Well, back in 1992, Lois McMaster Bujold (better known for the Vorkosigan Saga) wrote a book which shows there's still plenty of space in Europe.

The Spirit Ring is a true historical fantasy - it's history written as if magic was real. And it's set in...Renaissance Italy.

This is a brilliant choice. Southern Europe seldom shows up in either historical or secondary world fantasy. Take note, kids - and consider Spain, Italy or even Greece as setting or inspiration.

On top of that, Bujold's female lead, Fiametta, is...

She's black Italian. Her mother came from Africa - but was never a slave, and Fiametta is treated no differently from other women of her class. She's also a nice, strong female character who never, at any point, comes off as a "guy with breasts."

I got my copy second hand at a convention, but I've checked, the book IS available, although the hardcovers available are mostly in only decent condition, so I was glad to get mine.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Deborah Watling

I'm not happy to be talking about Doctor Who again - not happy at all.

One of the things I've missed about the new series is the avoidance of multiple Companions. When we did get them, we had lovers (Amy and Rory) or characters who barely seemed to know each other (Bill and Nardole).

The first Doctor had no less than three Companions (the word assistant was also used, but fandom dropped it a lot more quickly than many people think).

The second also had more than one, and, for 40 episodes in 1967 and 68 (remember, 25 minute episodes), he had two - Jamie and Victoria.

Deborah Watling played Victoria Waterford, the girl of the pairing (she was only 19 at the time, and the character was 14-15 years old). She was "rescued" by the Doctor after her father was killed by Daleks. The dynamic between the three was very close to a family. She returned to 1960s Earth to live a normal life - leaving Jamie bereft of his "kid sister."

Oh, and she was from the 19th century (another artificial limitation of NuWho is the lack of companions from the past, unless you count Me). Like a lot of early Companions she had a bad habit of screaming a lot (a tradition I'm glad NuWho has dropped).

She was the Companion hardest hit by the BBCs policy of not keeping episodes - only just over half of her episodes have been found so far.

In addition to Doctor Who Watling (who was the British equivalent of a high school dropout) also played Alice - as a nod to that Who established that Vicki was, at one point, photographed by Charles Dodson) and was prominent in The Newcomers in 1969. She was originally a child actor, making her first TV appearance at the age of 9...and her last in the Five(ish) Doctors in 2013.

She was only 69 years old.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

If you...

...have more time than I do, NASA just did one of their infamous mass uploads. This time, it's hundreds of historical aerospace videos. 500 videos of experimental flight including early space shuttle type. I think I'm going to have to walk away now.

The videos are coming from the Armstrong Flight Research Center. And they include blowing up a Boeing 720.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017


A Republican Congressman asked NASA if it was true there was a civilization on Mars thousands of years ago.

I realize he's a Republican but really, Dana Rohrabacher, do your basic research before asking scientists stupid questions in public. ;) (Okay, at some levels, there's no such thing as a truly stupid question, but...)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Because I did promise.

So, I saw it this weekend. And it wasn't the best superhero movie I've ever seen.

What it was, was the best young adult superhero movie I've ever seen.

And that matters, because the superhero universe, on the whole, caters poorly to the middle grade and young adult audience. Kids grow out of all ages comics and seldom have anything to grow into. Ms Marvel is without a doubt the best YA comic right now, but it has very little competition.

Homecoming was a true YA movie. I've complained in the past about "YA creep" - the tendency to classify anything with a protagonist so much as a day under 18 as YA whether it is or not. Hunger Games being a classic example.

Peter is fifteen - and looks and acts fifteen. He has to deal with teenaged problems - being teased and bullied, sneaking out of the house, finding a date to Homecoming. Being neither a child nor an adult. Not being taken seriously.

He's also fighting bad guys. But the superheroics is spliced in neatly with what closely resembles a classic 80s high school comedy. (Watch for the mascot). It's a fun movie. You get to see Spidey learning to be a hero and learning to improve his classic banter. And getting things dropped on him, of course.

I have to give this movie kudos for knowing what it needed to be.

I also have to give them some major diversity points - and not just for casting Zendaya to play MJ (she actually looked great except for not being ginger).

No, this movie did background diversity right in a world where so many movies are doing it wrong. The kids in the school looked like I would expect kids at a magnet school in New York to look - a great mix of white, black, Asian, etc. It felt right and looked realistic rather than the checklisting that's becoming sadly prominent (claims of "forced diversity" are 99% BS, but some people really do make their diversity look forced). And, of course, we didn't have the "There's one black kid in Smallville and it's Pete Ross" phenomenon.

Oh, and it's full of easter eggs - the black guy on the bad guys' team is Miles Morales' uncle (which I missed because I've never tracked Morales that much). Two Deadpool jokes - one in dialog and one in the end credits. And if that white haired girl seen a couple of the times in the background isn't Felicia Hardy they're wasting the actor.

So, yes. A lot of fun.

Watch for the mascot.