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posted by martyb on Sunday August 14 2016, @05:47PM   Printer-friendly
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.

[Continues...]

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.


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Book Review: Ware Tetralogy by Rudy Rucker 12 comments

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.)

Sperm Count Drop 'May Lead to Human Extinction' 109 comments

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.

Disclosure: People in my family are affected by virility and hormone problems. I have a professional interest in film, media encoding and art education.


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  • (Score: 2) by Snotnose on Sunday August 14 2016, @05:54PM

    by Snotnose (1623) on Sunday August 14 2016, @05:54PM (#387911)

    Read Leviathan Wakes, which is the first book in the series and the one The Expanse is based on. Author is James S A Corey, which is a pseudonym for 2 fantasy writers.

    I'm up to Cibola Burn, which is the 4th-5th book in the series. Warning, these books have a very strong "just 1 more page" aura, you'll find yourself reading 2 hours after you should have gone to sleep.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by frojack on Sunday August 14 2016, @07:22PM

      by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Sunday August 14 2016, @07:22PM (#387936) Journal

      Or skip Leviathan Wakes and just watch The Expanse

      Many say the tv Series is Better [huffingtonpost.com]

      People often complain that a movie or TV series isn’t “as good as the book.”

      With SyFy’s The Expanse, the opposite is true: the writers have improved a dull, sometimes amateurish novel. ...
      it’s a long-winded novel that never really lives up to the clever premise of fierce rivalry between Earth and its smarter, classier, richer colony Mars.

      The show brings this rivalry out very well.

      --
      No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by theluggage on Sunday August 14 2016, @08:48PM

        by theluggage (1797) on Sunday August 14 2016, @08:48PM (#387965)

        My only real disappointment c.f. the books was Avasarala. Her TV version seemed weak compared to the potty-mouthed, scheming, puppetmaster (with a secret identity as a loving wife and granny) character from the books (one of the best characters, I thought). When I read the books I mentally cast Meera Syal in the role - presumably she didn't return the call :-)

        Otherwise, I can see why they brought her in early in the TV version & made the other plot changes: you don't copy/paste a novel into a TV script.

        I think books 2/3/4 got better (haven't read 5 yet - the reviews are a bit disappointing) although they might as well have re-named the Rocinante as Serenity (but with guns) and done with it.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 14 2016, @11:02PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 14 2016, @11:02PM (#388005)

        Leviathan Wakes sets the universe for the other books. The series gets better. It's like a cross between Firefly and Stargate.

      • (Score: 2) by Snotnose on Monday August 15 2016, @01:00AM

        by Snotnose (1623) on Monday August 15 2016, @01:00AM (#388028)

        I read Leviathan Wakes a couple years ago, it didn't make an impression. While watching The Expanse last year I kept thinking "I've seen this before". Read Leviathan Wakes again, it filled in a bunch of stuff. Then started unraveling the series, a book every 3-4 months so I don't burn out on it. Each book seems to get better, probably because the dynamics between the characters is getting pretty solid and the authors are feeling nice and comfy in the universe they created.

  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 14 2016, @06:06PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 14 2016, @06:06PM (#387916)

    Somewhat off-topic, and for that I apologize. However, I am weak of stomach. I can't handle graphic violence. I literally become violently ill at the sight of gore. It wasn't much of a problem until about five-ten years ago. Before, I would just avoid most R rated films, and any television program rated TV-M. Lately though, more and more television programs rated TV-14 are becoming gory. Decapitations, severed heads, ripping out of eyes... So now I wait at least two months after the premiere of a television program that looks interesting, and check a couple of web sites that measure the graphic violence in television shows before I decide to watch it.

    However, I'm getting mixed readings with The Expanse. One web site says that the violence on the show is fine... one guy loses part of a limb, but nothing is shown. However, the other web site I use states that the show is frequently bloody.

    For those that have watched The Expanse, what have you found?

    • (Score: 2) by Snotnose on Sunday August 14 2016, @06:10PM

      by Snotnose (1623) on Sunday August 14 2016, @06:10PM (#387917)

      There's a pretty effective scene where Holden and friends are in a ship or escape pod and a gauss round goes through and takes a guy's head off. Takes it off as in it ain't there no more, not as in it's floating around the cabin.

      Other than that I don't recall it being very violent. Sure, people get killed. But it's not like Game of Thrones or anything like that.

      • (Score: 2) by Valkor on Sunday August 14 2016, @08:29PM

        by Valkor (4253) Subscriber Badge on Sunday August 14 2016, @08:29PM (#387960) Homepage

        That episode as a whole is probably the most gore-filled of them all. The rest of the series (that I've seen) is much more tame.

      • (Score: 2) by Fnord666 on Monday August 15 2016, @04:29AM

        by Fnord666 (652) Subscriber Badge on Monday August 15 2016, @04:29AM (#388094)

        There's a pretty effective scene where Holden and friends are in a ship or escape pod and a gauss round goes through and takes a guy's head off. Takes it off as in it ain't there no more, not as in it's floating around the cabin.

        I was like "Yup, that's exactly what I always pictured a gauss cannon round would do."

      • (Score: 2) by tibman on Monday August 15 2016, @02:29PM

        by tibman (134) Subscriber Badge on Monday August 15 2016, @02:29PM (#388186)

        Yeah, it was almost like someone vacuumed up the mess or something? :P

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    • (Score: 2) by theluggage on Sunday August 14 2016, @08:05PM

      by theluggage (1797) on Sunday August 14 2016, @08:05PM (#387955)

      It's not "Game of [squelch] Thrones" but there's a fair bit of violence. There's also a potentially squicky body-horror element that comes in later in the season (and will get a bit worse if they follow the books) - can't say more without spoilers.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 14 2016, @07:30PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 14 2016, @07:30PM (#387941)

    Two friends watching two episodes together. Palpatine was poorly too. Cool story Vader.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 14 2016, @09:46PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 14 2016, @09:46PM (#387981)

    Agree. The grafics are awesome. It is what i noticed first, then i was thinking "hmmm, i hope it is going to last. Can't be cheap doing that." and then crossed my fingers ...

    Sure, grafics isnt everything but its TV. If you dont make TV with grafics might as well make books with no words.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 14 2016, @09:48PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 14 2016, @09:48PM (#387983)

    My only complaints about the television rendition are pace, casting choices, and character dynamics. Pace can not really be helped due to the medium and overall was still handled well. Casting was done poorly, Spacers should have been cast as they were described in the books, tall/lanky. They introduced significantly more conflict between the characters than put forward in the books, I presume to pull in more viewership.

    But watchable, even more so if you have not read the books.

  • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Monday August 15 2016, @05:45AM

    by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Monday August 15 2016, @05:45AM (#388104) Journal

    I just finished episode one. The plot? Not real sure yet, but the cinematics are good - and better yet, I've not seen one thing that was glaringly stupid. Many authors get microgravity so very wrong, and even when they do get it right, Hollyweird always screws it up badly. As I go on, I may find some things that I believe to be wrong, or not right, but basically, they've got it down in the very first episode.

    Someone asked about blood and gore above. I'd say don't sweat it. No spurting arteries or anything. Any well designed space suit is going to shut off the escape of gases and liquids, all you see is a guantlet and forearm of a spacesuit floating away. There may be worse to come, but so far, it's nothing.

    Great find, Cafebabe. I'll probably watch the rest of the series.

    What are the odds that the missing woman from the one thread of the story was on the destroyed mining barge? I got bad eyes, and slow to catch names, but the chick who caught the distress signal might have been the missing woman?

    --
    This broadcast is intended for mature audiences.
    • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Monday August 15 2016, @08:04PM

      by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Monday August 15 2016, @08:04PM (#388369) Journal

      Episode 5, and not one crazy stupid mistake yet. Alright, actually, I've stopped looking for any stupid. The story has captured me, and I'm just trying to figure out who the bad guys are. I think it's some kind of Holy War, but I may have let myself be tricked by a couple of scenes. For a TV series, this is really awesome.

      --
      This broadcast is intended for mature audiences.
  • (Score: 2) by GreatAuntAnesthesia on Monday August 15 2016, @09:14AM

    by GreatAuntAnesthesia (3275) on Monday August 15 2016, @09:14AM (#388131) Journal

    I watched this earlier in the year on Howard Taylor's recommendation ( http://www.schlockmercenary.com/blog/the-expanse-it-is-just-that-good/ [schlockmercenary.com] ). I didn't enjoy it quite as much as Howard apparently did, but I thought it was a strong first season. Once it settles into its groove I expect it to be a favourite. I haven't read the books it is based on, maybe that helps. Decent characters, a well-fleshed out background, interesting plot, lots of politics. Imagine a less military-centric Babylon 5 in a more hard sci-fi setting, add a bit of film-noir-P.I. in spaaaace and you're most of the way there.

    TFS talks about the kinetics and attempts at realistic depictions of life in space. I was a little disappointed at how they didn't seem to make any attempt to have people walking / moving differently in low grav environments (admittedly this would have been tricky) but one detail that I liked that was almost a throwaway was when a character casually pours some water from a caraffe aboard a habitat with "spin" gravity - the water follows an odd spiralled path to the glass due to the coriolis effect. I believe this was exaggerated for the screen, but it was nice that they made the effort.

  • (Score: 1) by kai_h on Monday August 15 2016, @11:08PM

    by kai_h (1524) on Monday August 15 2016, @11:08PM (#388463)

    I thoroughly enjoyed it, both watching the series and reading the books.
    The first season is mainly the plot of the first 2/3rds of Book 1 (Leviathan Wakes) along with some characters that don't get introduced until Book 2 (Caliban's War) and weaves in a sid story that is a separate short story set in the same universe.
    Despite this sounding like a ham-fisted mix-up, it actually works well for the series. My main gripe is that the big reveal at the end of Book 1 isn't in the first season, however if you have not read the books, this probably won't be an issue.

    They do a good job of depicting microgravity and high-G situations (e.g. space combat) - the only minor point I could nitpick is that the design of the space ships seems to follow the design of aeroplanes, that there's a front in the front, and down is at 90 degrees to the front, whereas in the books the ships are described (more realistically) as being designed like a tower building where down is either towards the rear of the ship when they're under thrust or doesn't exist when in freefall. The reason it's a minor nitpick is that it's not explicitly spelled out in the TV series that the ships are designed horizontally instead of vertically, however the interior shots of the Roci have the feel that it's a wide space, not a tall space. The only reason I even feel a need to point this out is that so many other things are done so well.

  • (Score: 1) by oldmac31310 on Tuesday August 16 2016, @02:03AM

    by oldmac31310 (4521) on Tuesday August 16 2016, @02:03AM (#388504)

    I just watched the first few minutes of this crap and it is awful. Your taste is way up your ass.
    Fuck. What a douche.

    • (Score: 1) by steveg on Tuesday August 16 2016, @09:03PM

      by steveg (778) on Tuesday August 16 2016, @09:03PM (#388829)

      I admire your ability to discern the quality of a multi-hour TV series by watching a few minutes.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 21 2016, @09:50PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 21 2016, @09:50PM (#391263)

        ... not to mention the eloquent way the GP described his dissatisfaction with the entertainment. After that in depth review, I must admit, I'm fully convinced of the ineptitude of the series producers to create an insightful and compelling translation of the books to a visual medium.