from the humaninty-in-spaaaace dept.
When I visit a poorly electro-mechanical engineer, we often watch two episodes of a television series. Indeed, my friend often watches fiction in two episode chunks because this is similar to the duration of a short feature film. Previous visits included the first two episodes of Breaking Bad , the next two episodes of Breaking Bad, the first two episodes of Continuum and the first two episodes of Dark Matter . To indicate the quality of The Expanse , we watched four episodes in one sitting. This is unprecedented for us.
The Expanse, which airs on the SyFy channel in the US, is set in a future where most of the solar system is colonized with ethnically diverse people who retain their languages, customs and fashion. One character has a notably heavy Afrikaans accent. A Martian captain has a distinctly Chinese appearance. However, people remain tribal; mostly Earther, Martian or Belter. This is a future where your gravity well means more than your genes. Belters provide water and minerals. Mars has its own industrial base and technology. Unfortunately, like the Philip K. Dick story The Crystal Crypt, Earth and Mars are on the brink of war and any random event could be the catalyst. Mars is resentful of Earth's squandered resources. Earth tortures Luna dissidents. Terrorists and sympathisers are widely suspected.
This is very much a lower-tech version of The Outer Limits , Alien , Firefly and, in particular, this is Babylon 5 without jump-gates. Plot threads don't initially connect but center around a gumshoe with heavy Nordic features investigating a disappearance, a baby-faced junior officer on a mining ship and an official of Indian appearance with an unclear rôle and questionable ethics. The gumshoe has a very contemporary hipster style but this is lampshaded as retro Earth fashion.
The scenic shots are beautiful. Inside a geodesic dome on Mars. A space station at Ceres. A clunky mining ship in the asteroid belt. And each scene is beautifully captioned like something from a designer catalog. As someone with first-hand experience of industrial-scale rendering, I can reliably speculate that anyone who worked on Babylon 5 effects will be agog and thinking "That's what we were trying to achieve but we didn't have the processing power!"
Fans of Kerbal Space Program will appreciate an attempt at kinetic realism. In one notable sequence, a craft has to make an emergency turn. "HIGH-G MANEOVER!!!" shouts the navigator over the intercom. People slam to the floor as thrusters angle the ship. Everyone straps into chairs and then blue diamonds fire from the four main engines. The whole ship groans and shakes. An external gantry goes crashing. It is all crisp yet gritty at 1080p. And so it should be when commercial productions can afford to simulate every fleck of paint in a debris field.
Even if the series gets consumed by the characters' politics, this may broaden appeal and increase its relevance. Fiction, and particularly science fiction, has an indirect manner of handling delicate issues. Star Trek and Alien Nation often handled issues of racism with tact. Babylon 5 covered surveillance and a shift to totalitarianism which foreshadowed the Department of Homeland Security. The Expanse may provide a similar view of the collective id. In 20 years, the visual style of The Expanse will look hilariously quaint but, as speculation from its era, the message will endure longer than the effects.
The BBC reports that sperm quality continues to drop. Specifically, researchers "found a 52.4% decline in sperm concentration, and a 59.3% decline in total sperm count in men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand." While alarmist publications tout this as a 60% drop, the decline is accelerating and the researchers are concerned that inaction may lead to species extinction despite the effect not being observed in regions with high machismo, such as South America, Asia and Africa.
The study "aggregates 185 studies between 1973 and 2011, one of the largest ever undertaken." It supposedly overcomes selection bias occurring from patients attending fertility (virility?) clinics and selection bias of null results not being published in journals (churnals?). My intuition is that insights can be gained from studying transsexualism. Practitioners claim patients increase at the rate of 15% per year (doubling every five years), over many decades and with no end in sight. This is akin to Moore's law, Kryder's law, Butters' law, Hendy's law, Rider's law, Carlson's law or any other exponential halving or doubling. So, it doesn't take a genius to understand that it will become an increasingly widespread issue.
Regardless, masculine medical problems are vastly under-represented. By some estimates, spending on male medical problems is about 1/4 of spending on female medical problems. For example, when a man seeks help for a legitimate medical issue, such as declining testosterone, a patient at the lower end of the "normal" range may be denied treatment even if he is constantly exhausted.
Well, take care of yourself. Eat properly. Drink properly. Rest properly. Stay active. And if healthy food and exercise won't fix accumulated problems, consider hormone replacement. You may also want to watch two films which seem to be mentioned with increasing frequency and seem to predict our era with some accuracy: Children Of Men and Colossus: The Forbin Project. Children Of Men is the second bleakest film I've ever seen and the film I've seen most during its initial cinema release. It explores the scenario of global infertility leading to economic collapse. In addition to a nexus of cast and crew, the seamless plot and astounding compositing, the film is a fantastic example of mise-en-scène which is best explained by example.
Anyhow, enjoy the films and get your medical problems addressed.
Without checking copyright dates, it was more accurate to describe the Ware Tetralogy as two pairs of books. The compendium begins rather ominously with a family tree and I was concerned that I might have to keep notes of 22 clones or suchlike. Thankfully, this was not the case and it would be easier to describe the story as being centered around one AI researcher and his descendants. However, character names can be quite bizarre. Ralph Numbers is one of the more moderate examples.
The researcher, Cobb Anderson, is a very strong character. From the afterword, it is explained that Cobb Anderson is based upon Rudy Rucker's father. Overall, Rudy Rucker writes exceptionally good father/son or master/apprentice relationships. Despite descriptions to the contrary, I imagined Cobb Anderson and Stan Mooney to be more like the disgraced Walter White and the youthfully impatient Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad. This was re-inforced by a particular incident which could have influenced an episode of Breaking Bad.
In addition to write strong relationships, Rudy Rucker writes some of the scariest antagonists. Mr. Frostee is particularly creepy. In the afterword, Rudy Rucker apologises for some of the technical details around Mr. Frostee. No apology is required. The rôle of cults is largely unexplored. Likewise, comic relief is vastly under-used. (Tuthmosis Snooks is particularly under-utilized.)