Word A Day: Androgyne

Today’s word is…..

Pushes button

Androgyne

 Definition: An hermaphrodite

I wonder how long it will be before I get a word I don’t know.

This is a good word, though I haven’t seen it used so often. Mostly I see ‘androgynous’ instead, used to describe something or someone without sexually defined features, but not necessarily having both sex organs. I would think androgyne could be used in this way too–as a word for someone who is androgynous in the sense that they don’t appear female or male–not that they necessarily have both sex organs.

I think that in the future humanity may become androgynous. By which I mean there will no longer be any strict sexes.

Being transexual is slowly getting easier, and in the future it may become trivial. Switching between sexes may become something that people do on a whim. There may even be an ‘undecided’ state or middle state that is neither male nor female. I wonder what new norms would evolve in such a society–what stereotypes would there be for ‘birth males’ and ‘birth females’? Wanting your lover to be someone who has always been the sex they were born as may become a niche fetish.

Would you try being the opposite sex, if it was an easy and reversible transition?

Floating city seen by thousands over China

An interesting mirage has been catching the attention of thousands of people, presenting as what appears to be a towering city in the clouds. This is apparently caused by light rays bending through layers of atmosphere of different temperatures, and is a sort of mirage I’ve never heard of before.

My first response was ‘what the hell, how is this possible?’ and although finding out how it is possible is pretty interesting, I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed. I don’t know what I expected it to be… certainly not really a city in the sky, or a spaceship or doorway to a parallel world… but, the idea of something so shocking and amazing being actually real is a powerful hope in the minds of many humans.

Maybe one day we’ll discover life in the universe, and that hope will finally be satisfied… or, would it? When confronted with actual, real alien life, would it become mundane? Once explained would the awe and mystery be removed, no matter how amazing the fact of it is?

I hope we find out soon!

Word A Day: Interlace

In an effort to blog more thoughts and not just constant movie and TV reviews, as well as also learning some new words, I’m going to attempt to blog once a day about a new word each day.

I’ll be getting the words from this random word generator. The word generator contains 90,000 words, so that should keep me occupied for a couple hundred years at least. I do not plan to skip any words, even the never-used medical ones, or the uninteresting articles or conjunctions–they can still provoke thoughts, after all!

So, here goes, I push the button and the first word is…

Interlace

 Definition: To unite as by lacing together; to insert or interpose one thing within another; to intertwine; to interweave.

This is not a new word to me, of course. It makes me think of space, and science for some reason. Maybe because I read lots of sci fi and am thinking of interstellar travel.

I do think that technology is becoming more and more interlaced with biology. I wonder if one day they will become indistinguishable. Maybe our technological advances will not be adjustments to our environment or tools exterior to us, but advancements in our own bodies. That would be something more than interlacing, though, that would be a melding, a blending, not two distinct things twisted together, but two becoming one. Two things changing into one, separate other thing.

But interlaced threads can become one rope… where do you draw the line? When do two things mix enough that they become one?

I would say it’s when you can no longer separate them without destroying both. I could see the human race’s relation to technology becoming that way in the not to distant future. To me, though, that seems exciting!

See you tomorrow with the next random word thoughts…

The Three Body Problem, by Liu Cixin

Winner of the Hugo award for best novel this year, The Three Body Problem is densely packed with interesting ideas–so densely packed that some may find it hard to read. ‘Some’ does not include me.

I think this is the most I’ve enjoyed a book since Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun series. The prose is definitely not on that level, nor are the characters. But I found myself constantly thinking about what was going to happen next, and my curiosity never got a break through the whole thing. The ideas are definitely the star of this one.

The story explores the consequence of contact from extra terrestrials, and the effect such an event would have on society. Even if the aliens are many light years away, just knowing they exist would have powerful consequences in our world.

The idea that there would be traitors to the human race, in such a scenario, is one I had never considered, though I suppose its obvious when you think about it. Certain people believe humanity deserves to be destroyed, and decide to help the aliens in coming to Earth and taking over. Others come to view the aliens as deities, and build a cult-like following. And all this with virtually no communication from the E.T’s.

There is so much interesting stuff in this book that I could ramble for pages and pages about it, but I’m restraining myself. Anyone who is interested in science, and the sort of ideas-based sci fi that Asimov wrote, and isn’t too turned off by thin characters who are often just there for the purpose of showing off a neat idea, then I can highly recommend this book.

There are two more in the series, and I’m into the second one now, and it is just as–if not more–packed with interesting and new ideas as the first.

Very recommended, one of the favorite things I’v read (listened to) in a long time!

The Martian (2015)

Ridley Scott’s The Martian is an accurate, thrilling survival story that for ONCE portrays scientists as normal human beings (even cool, likable ones!), instead of amoral villains, sociopaths, socially crippled nerds, or emotionless robots.

Problem solving is the hero of this edge-of-your-seat thriller, and realism is king. I don’t have degree in any of the many fields of science featured in the story, but I have seen a lot of sci fi movies, and the usual Hollywood nonsense for the sake of drama was nowhere to be found. The laws of physics are followed, meaning communication takes time. Travel takes time too, it takes MONTHS to get to Mars, and this is not glossed over but is a major factor in the plot. The precision and timing of orbits and their effect on launches is taken into account as well.

Not only is the science great, but the acting and the excitement is right there as well. You might worry, hearing how accurate everything is, that the actual story and characters would suffer. Well, they don’t. I will admit that the Watney character’s quirkey sarcasm is a bit groan worthy at times, but that matches well with the character of the book–and what should we expect from a NASA botanist, anyway?

Damon’s performance is really good, considering he rarely interacts with anyone else in the film, and has to do a lot of monologues which could have easily gone awkward. The others are great as well, a really strong cast of well built characters, which it is clear some time went into creating even though they weren’t the focus of the movie.

The space scenes looked amazing, on a level with Gravity, and the Martian landscape was perfect. Just the right level of otherworldly meshed with the familiar red dunes and rocks that we all know.

This is not your regular action movie. There are no villains besides nature, and there is a lot of science and not much traditional action until the very end. But if you are a fan of hard sci fi, or realism, or just good, thoughtful action movies, you definitely have to give this one a shot.

This is close to being my favorite movie I’ve seen this year, but I think Mad Max still beats it out by a hair.

Check it out!

The Fold, by Peter Clines

I listened to this sci fi thriller recently, and while the premise was promising at the start, in the end it ended up being more frustrating and annoying than enjoyable for me.

Our story starts with the protagonist, Mike Ericson, highschool teacher, getting a request from his old friend at DARPA to do a special top secret task. Why would a highschool teacher be needed for this, you ask? Well, it turns out Mike has an eidedic memory, meaning (in the novel, anyway, this has never been demonstrated in real life) that he can recall anything he’s ever seen or read with perfect clarity. Why is someone with this super-power like ability working as a highschool teacher? Because he’s a Mary Sue. More on this later.

Mike’s friend Reggie has been trying to get him to work for him for a decade, but due to Mike’s Mary Sue-ness, he refuses to take any job or do anything with his powers. This time though, he agrees to take a look at the project, because Reggie’s level of secrecy intrigues him. His job is to investigate the ‘project’, whatever it is, and use his super mental abilities to decide of its worth continuing to fund the project.

When he gets to the meeting they’re having, he finds out that the project is run by a group of scientists who are trying to teleport matter. And here is where I first knew I was in for trouble.

The scientists go on to describe their many failed attempts at teleporting matter, leading to the eye-rolling of our protagonist and him whispering things to Reggie like (paraphrasing) “You brought me here for teleportation? Of course it failed, are you an idiot?” This sounds like a reasonable way to react. Except.

The teleporter didn’t fail.

This is what the scientists considered failure: They teleported some test blocks, which dissintigrated to dust immediatly after coming out the other side. They also teleported a dog, which came out the other end inside-out and dead.

Yes, you read that right. They successfully teleported matter, and consider it a failure worth abandoning the project over. As does every government, business, or military entity in this meeting.

What???

I actually had to go back and re-listen to that part before writing this to make sure I wasn’t misunderstanding something. But nope, it’s right there. The team of scientists seeking funding for their project SUCCESSFULLY TELEPORTED MATTER THREE SEPARATE TIMES AND CONSIDER THIS A FAILURE AS DOES EVERYONE IN THE ROOM.

Can you imagine what world these people live in where they are not instantly having money shoveled toward them? Where the government isn’t locking down everything until the technology is perfected? Who cares if the matter ‘crumbles to dust’? If you can actually teleport instantly even one atom, you’ve just invented instantaneous communication.

Anyway, the scientists describe how they’ve moved on to another project, where instead of teleporting, they make a portal through space-time between two locations. A door that can be stepped through. They use the tired analogy of folding a piece of paper to shorten the distance between two points to explain how it works.

And, this door works.

Yes, a portal through space and time that works. You can step through one end, and come out the other side in another room a kilometer away. Yet they are still somehow worried about funding. And people are still hesitant to fund them. I don’t know what world this book is based in anymore.

But anyway! Mike observes with his video recorder eyes and so on and there is a bunch of filler and slow lead-up to

SPOILERS START HERE:

us eventually learning that the door they made isn’t actually leading to another room, but to another universe where things are mostly the same, but little things like someone’s hair being a different color or your office being on the opposite side of the hall start cropping up. People think they are having memory problems at first, but really, once you go through the portal, you’re in a different universe and who knows what else is different about the world and your life.

This is a really cool and interesting concept. And I started to realize why the author gave Mike his super memory power–so he’d be able to tell when he’s in a different universe! All kinds of creepy things could happen. It would be unsettling to never know what details of your life were real anymore once you stepped through the door. You’re friends might not know you anymore, plus there is the philosophical weirdness of, say, your wife not ‘really’ being you’re wife (who am I really sleeping with?).

Except it never really went that direction. Mike never goes through the doorway until the very end, and its not even hinted at that he may have ended up in a universe that is not his own. The other characters change from going through, sure, but it’s never a major plot point except to make one of the woman scientists sleep with Mike. She was cold, and now she’s screwing him! What a twist! But our Mary Sue has to get laid.

We also find out that the reason Mike is a school teacher instead of doing literally anything he wants to, is because he ‘wants to be normal’. Yes. It’s the tortured super hero who’s gift is really a curse trope, and it just makes you role your eyes so hard it hurts. He never reads books because he’ll remember everything and become too smart. He purposefully ‘kept himself dumb’ so he could have an easier time interacting with all the ‘normal’ people around him. Are we supposed to like this guy? He’s an asshole, too, and is read that way by the narrator very clearly. Is it some huge temptation for authors to make their leads arrogant dicks? Why?

So Mike has all the benefits of perfect memory, and none of the downsides of being unable to interact with people normally. He has ‘quirks’ which people supposedly find ‘annoying’. Like rattling of strings of facts that aren’t related to anything. That’s supposed to be his fault, I guess.

Anyway, this whole thing with the door leading to other parallel universes that you get stuck in because the odds of you ever returning to your own are so small with an infinity of universes, it’s a pretty cool concept. A lot could be done with it. But guess what the climax of the story is? Think of the least interesting thing you could do with the concept of a portal to parallel universes…

The door opens to a bad universe with monsters who come through, and they shoot the  monsters with guns and have to blow up the door with bombs.

Yep. That’s the climax. Fighting ‘bug men’ who make clicking sounds like the predator. (why do aliens always make clicking sounds these days?)

There’s not much else to say about that.

It’s very clear that the author is a thriller writer, and not a sci fi writer. He went to great pains to avoid even trying to explain the science of anything, which is fine, I’ve done the same in my own work at times. But, some of it is just too ridiculous to accept.

We find out toward the end of the story that the scientists don’t actually understand how the door works. They just built the thing, turned it on and it worked and they’ve been spending the intervening years trying to figure out why it is actually working at all. I liked this idea, and was thinking it was going to turn out that it didn’t actually work at all in their universe, but that someone had built the door in an alternate universe where it DID work, and that door had opened into their universe.

But it turns out that they had input some formula from a mysterious old book written by some Victorian mad scientist, and that is what made the door work. What?

Sigh.

END SPOILERS.

I don’t usually rant this long about any books or movies, but this one was just so close to being interesting and good, and kept letting me down, so I guess it had a bit of an effect on me.

It’s clear the author knows how to write a page turner, so I wouldn’t be surprised if his other non-scifi books were much better. But this one was quite frustrating to read.

I would not recommend it to well versed scifi fans. If you just want an exciting thriller and don’t really care if things make sense, then you may enjoy it.

The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber

I recently discovered that my favorite movie in recent years, Under the Skin, was based on a novel by Michel Faber. I’d never heard of him and decided to try this unusual, sci-fi drama.

The plot centers around a Christian Missionary, Peter, who is traveling to a distant world to minister to alien creatures. This sounds comical almost, and quite naive, but it fits the character well. The story is written in a very serious way, despite what the plot might make you think.

When Peter arrives on the alien world, after going to sleep on a ship and ‘jumping’ with some kind of space bending technology, he finds his task of spreading his religion to be easier than he imagined.

This part of the story, though, however interesting, is not the focus of the writing. The plot comes to center around Peter’s relationship with his wife and the world he left behind back on Earth. His focus on the things at hand on this new world, and the distance, both physical and emotional, are separating him from everyone and everything else.

I’ve said many times before that characters are vivid. By this I mean I can picture them clearly in my head, that I can imagine mannerisms and hear voice with ease. But these characters Faber has created are something even beyond that. They are so real that it feels they must have been based on actual people that Faber knew intimately. The personalities are so rich and deep, I found pieces of myself in almost each one.

The alien world, and the aliens themselves are also quite detailed and creative. I was able to imagine them quite clearly, which is often a problem for me in these kinds of stories. But even though the faces of these creatures were completely inhuman, Faber was somehow able to paint a clear image of them in my head.

This was a beautiful and deep story, and I very much enjoyed listening to it. The narrator did a great job as well. I love finding sci fi stories like this, where the focus is on characters and story, instead of action or explosions or war.

Despite my great enjoyment of this, the end was not very satisfying. Though many questions were answered, I felt it lacked a certain force, or meaning. But maybe that fits with the theme of the story. Its not about any specific event or struggle, but about life. Life goes on, and on, and things fall apart. And then they stop.

A great story and I recommend it to sci fi, or literary fans. Check it out!