Friday, October 15, 2021

Wave? Particle? Ray!

Thomas Young showing the nature of light

You probably know that light is both a stream of particles, and a wave.  This not being a physics blog, that's probably all you want to know.  And that's all right.  I won't get into all the details or pretend to be a quantum mechanic.

Before I go further, let me just mention that Thomas Young—who also made a major contribution to deciphering hieroglyphics, by the way—showed the dual nature of light in 1801 with his double-slit experiment.

Where I'm really going with this, though, pertains to really old science fiction.  Stuff from the 1920s and 30s.  When they wanted to show some advanced technology, they didn't talk about waves or particles.  They talked about rays.

Here's are a couple of brief examples, and not from some hack, either.  Both are from E. E. Smith's 1934 novel Triplanetary:

Nerado would not allow the Terrestrials to visit their own ship—he was taking no chances—but after a thorough ultra-ray inspection…

Their heat-rays boiled the water for hundreds of yards before them…

Why, you are no doubt thinking, would writers then talk rays and not wave-particles?  (Or maybe you're wondering why I even care, but I'll get there, stick with me.)  The answer, I believe is a couple of linked discoveries long after Young's.

Radio (waves) were discovered in 1886.  More influentially (on those early sf writers), x-rays in 1895.  (What links them together grew out of James Clerk Maxwell's proposal in 1861-62 that light was electromagnetic.  But I digress.)

X-rays seemed amazing to those early writers.  No one really understood how they worked, only what they did—some of it, anyway.  Modern, up-to-date sf writers (of the 30s) seized on x-rays to extrapolate from.  What other rays might exist?  What might they do?

Well, we know pretty well what those other "rays" are and what they do, from making astronauts nervous about solar flares to heating up your breakfast burrito.  Which might make those early sf authors and their works look pretty silly.  Or outdated as hieroglyphics.

But hey, a century from now people will be laughing at our sf notions.  (If you like, you can laugh now.  Spacecraft whooshing by in a vacuum?  Banking to turn?  Hahaha.)

Just keep in mind that every generation is as modern and up-to-date as they can be, at least till a century goes by.  So enjoy learning about science or reading science fiction.  Just don't think what we know now will hold up forever.

Our knowledge will turn out wrong, though no doubt with a particle of truth.  Some future wave of discoveries will demonstrate it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Unconventional Writing Exercise #6

 See what you think of this bit of dialog:

"Well, you know what I always say, Chang, a man's home is his castle.  I mean, live and let live, right?  'Cause that's the last straw, you know, your goose is cooked if you don't watch your step, 'cause a house is not a home unless home is where the heart is.  You know?

"So watch your mouth and don't go stepping on his toes, or you'll be in a world of hurt.  He's trouble with a capital T.  Because it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.  So just let sleeping dogs lie.  You know?"

Do you think this is okay, or needs improvement?

My views in the comments later.

Monday, October 11, 2021


You've no doubt seen or heard of social media users prominent enough that others follow them.  These users have enough reach that companies seek to have them promote their products.  I shouldn't say reach.  I should say influence.

You've also no doubt heard of some of them promoting health misinformation, including about vaccination.  They'll unfortunately try to influence you not to get vaccinated, when vaccines are our best defense against disease.

In their lack of understanding, they just might get you sick.  I call these people influenzers.

It's one thing, of course, when someone gets you to buy beauty products or some such.  It's another when it's life or death.  And people are dying from failing to vaccinate.

An estimated 675,000 people in the US died from the 1918 influenza pandemic, which was a little over .6% of the population.  Meanwhile, Covid-19 has killed over 700,000 so far, per Google, about .21% of the population.

That might look favorable—about 1/3 the 1918 percentage—until you consider that we are a century more advanced in medical technology, and have a vaccine for this pandemic's cause, which they didn't in 1919.  All they could do then was treat symptoms, where we can prevent the disease outright.  Which makes the comparison atrocious.

So to anyone looking online for health advice, go to people who might not be flashy or exciting, but know what they're talking about.  The CDC, Mayo Clinic, someone like that.

Someone who's earned their reputation by what they've done, not who they've drawn in.  We don't need to return to the days of smallpox, scarlet fever, yellow fever, polio, mumps, whooping cough, and all that.

Influence is a form of power.  "You must use this power only for good."  "With great power comes great responsibility."

Even comic books know what to promote.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Ten Ways Steven Moffat Was the Best Doctor Who Showrunner

Disclaimer: The only showrunners whose complete runs I've seen are Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat.  So this isn't truly the most fair comparison.  I should probably have been less clickbait-y and titled this Ten Ways Steven Moffat Was a Superlative Showrunner.  But hey.

Meanwhile, if this comes across as a swipe at Davies, well then I've failed.  I love RTDWho, and even though I consider Moffat's version superior, it isn't by much.  As much as anything, this entry is just a reminder to those who didn't like Moffat's Who that he has his fans, and always will.

10.    Convoluted Seasons  I know a lot of fans didn't like how complicated Moffat's season-long arcs could be.  But the protagonist has a time machine.  How can it not be convoluted?

9.    Humor  Moffat made his name early on running sitcoms, and it showed in his Who.  He had a deft hand for comedy, and it really livened up his seasons.

8.    Reset Button  I'm not a big fan of "everything goes to pot, then we hit the reset button and put it all back."  But, that said, again it's time travel.  At least his reset buttons made some narrative sense in the context of the show.

7.    Fairy Tale  Davies brought soap elements to the show, their successor Chibnall at least started with an after-school special vibe.  Moffat went for a fairy-tale sensibility, and I thought that worked best with a show including time travel that's aimed at families (and children).

6.    Narrative Subversion  Not everyone likes when one kind of story seems to be coming, only for another to be shown as preferable.  (See A Good Man Goes to War and Hell Bent.)  I can see why not everyone likes it.  But I do.  Too much television is too predictable.  Throw me some curve balls, please.  Smart ones.

5.    Stinkers  Doctor Who isn't the easiest show to produce, and not everything goes to plan.  A couple of Moffat's worst episodes were made with him correcting scripts at his mother's death bed.  RTD put himself in the hospital, if I remember right.  Given all of that, some stinker episodes are inevitable and forgivable.  But Moffat had fewer of them.

4.    Season Finales  As excellent as Davies was, his season finales weren't his greatest strength.  I give him A's on his first two, B's on the other two.  Moffat, however, gets all A's except I give Hell Bent a B.  Davies tended to go overboard on grandiosity, sometimes to the point of being almost silly.  Moffat's just needed a rewatch or three to pick up all the details.  And I like re-watching.  (A good novel takes several hours to take in, why shouldn't good TV?)

3.    Companion Departures  Both did this really well.  But Moffat avoided any non-consensual mindwipe—twice.

2.    Audacity  Playing it safe = playing it predictably.  Keeping things comfortable means not pushing the premise.  Some people are fine with that.  I admire audacity.

1.    Inventiveness  Davies did wonderfully.  But I give Moffat the edge: as good as Davies' season arcs and companions were, who else would think to combine arc and character together (Clara/Impossible Girl)?  And Moffat's monsters, like the Silence, Headless Monks, and the Veil were even more creative than cat nuns and rhino-headed Judoon.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Dual-Purpose Dialog

It's easy to use dialog to advance a story somehow.  Chatting to establish characterization, palavering to advance the plot, examining something to provide exposition—all worthwhile purposes.

Better, of course, to do two at once, if you can.  I'll show you with an example from my current first draft.  The characters are at a fork in the road.  I could have done it as pure exposition:

"Can't go Ocean-ward," I said, "we've been warned off."
"So we either head sun-ward or go straight ahead," said Nigel.
"Sun-ward to the Hollow Mountains," said Ariella, "straight to Meetpoint."
Nigel said, "Let's compromise and go straight till we find the Mountains-Meetpoint road.  Then we can decide for certain."
Ariella said, "That works.  Have you been on that road, Nigel?"
"No," he said, "only heard of it."

But instead I combined it with characterization:

"Can't go Ocean-ward," I said, "we've been warned off."
"So we either head sun-ward or go straight ahead," said Nigel.
"Where do those lead us to?" Mandi asked.  "I don't know enough still."
"Sun-ward to the Hollow Mountains," said Ariella, "straight to Meetpoint."
"So, which is it?" January said.  "I'm game either way."
Nigel said, "Let's compromise and go straight till we find the Mountains-Meetpoint road.  Then we can decide for certain."
Ariella said, "Oh, smart!  Have you been on that road, Nigel?"
"No," he said, "only heard of it."
"I have too," she said, "but only from when I was in the Hollow Mountains.  How did you know of it?"
"I go to taverns from time to time, ply traders with strong drink, and ask them leading questions."
"Oh, I never would have thought of that," she said.  "I just flirt with them."
"You can flirt with me," Nigel promised.
"I know," said Ariella.

I'm not suggesting anything stupendous here.  It's obvious.  At the same time, when faced with information the reader needs to know, it's always tempting to just dump the info on them, try to keep it short enough not to lose them, and then move on.  And sometimes that's best.

But sometimes it isn't, and if this entry helps remind you of an alternative, it's certainly served its purpose.

For me, this dialog served three, since I got both a blog entry out of it too.