from the reviewing-the-internet dept.
What if Earth was an unusually volcanic and hostile planet? What if an unusually bright sun and unusually high gravity made humans unusually compact and strong? What if religion kept humans sane and striving in such a hostile environment? What if apex predators were the exception rather than the norm? What if 30,000 alien abductees had been taken for medical research and the Interspecies Dominion had no qualms with indigenous flora and fauna (and especially meat-eating fauna) being taken in this manner? These are not new ideas but rarely have they been expounded so thoroughly.
The Jenkinsverse begins with Kevin Jenkins caught in a bureaucratic trap. The Canadian barman with a prominent crucifix tattoo was abducted by Alien Grays, forcibly given an experimental translator implant and dumped at an interstellar trading post. He is unable to assert citizenship, get a job or go home. Where is Earth, anyhow? Many bureaucratic systems refuse to register sentient life from a planet similar to Earth and some bureaucrats think he's a liar. After being pushed around for six months, he saves numerous lives when marauding cannibal spiders attack a space-station. He becomes famous throughout the galaxy - although he is deemed insane after he mentions religion.
The warrior cannibals are not pleased with defeat. An advance party attacks Earth. They foolishly decide to attack a televised ice hockey game in Vancouver. They are quickly beaten to pulp with ice hockey sticks. Many humans think that the event was a hoax to gain television ratings. The alien technology recovered from the attack leads to the formation of SCERF [Scotch Creek Extra-terrestrial Research Facility] in Canada. A Private Investigator, Kevin Jenkins and a bunch of other abductees descend on the facility (much like Close Encounters Of The 22nd Kind). They arrive with a sketched catalog of alien species and it is promptly leaked on the Internet. Despite this, Kevin Jenkins gets a job running SCERF's café and bar where his input to casual conversations is pivotal. The Private Investigator encounters misfortune - and so does the police officer investigating the Private Investigator.
The police officer wants a fresh start and this allows the reader to follow one of humanity's first colonies. The police officer is assigned a small hut in a small settlement. He sees the first school, the first church, the first park, the first restaurant, the first gymnasium, and eventually the settlement develops into multiple cities with major agricultural exports to the galaxy. This may be quite enjoyable for anyone who likes computer games such as Settlers, Civilization or SimCity. Due to a personality quirk of a minor character, the main city is called Folctha - which is Irish Gaelic for bath-tub.
A clever device is used to keep the story in the immediate future. Specifically, all dates are given as years, months and days AV [After Vancouver]. So, for example, a scene may be set 1y2m3d AV and some are set in Folctha, Planet Cimbrean, The Far Reaches. The story is written in chapters from 2,000 to 180,000 words (sometimes split into five or more pieces), is heavy with dialog and often switches focus at pivotal moments. It is normally in a style similar to a soap opera but often makes interesting observations, such as the difference between investigative journalism and clickbait churnalism. However, the story may also follow one character for 50,000 words or describe a battle in detail.
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This space opera has a large cast. Each region of the galaxy has a loose federation of species. Each major species has multiple planets. Each planet is held by a differing mix of species and political factions. (Given that herd species are common, interplanetary politics often resembles a stampede.) Each political faction has one or more representative characters. For humans, the factions are a mix private consortia and military alliances. (Ceres is run by an asteroid mining consortium. Folctha is nominally British but the local garrison is staffed by AEC [Allied Extra-solar Command], presumably based upon AAC, ALC and AMC.) The sorta dog/bear/raccoon ambush predators are feudal. The unified Clan Of Females mostly live in communes and mostly maintain a selective breeding program. There is also Clan StoneBack (logistics and civil engineering), Clan WhiteCrest (officers), Clan FireFang (fighter pilots), Clan LongEar (tele-communications), Clan StraightShield (justice), Clan GoldPaw (merchants), Clan StarMind (priests) and numerous other clans and clanless who live in communes.
The Alien Grays sometimes appear as comic relief, sometimes as antagonists and sometimes advance the plot with a MacGuffin. While the Grays are motivated by fame, fortune and flashy research with a quick pay-off, the plodding sorta mammoth species of the Guvnuragnaguvendrugun Confederacy spends decades or centuries working through the details. As expected from fiction which is similar to Babylon5 or StarWars, there are numerous species and individuals with dubious motives. However, the characters are excellent.
There is Jennifer Delaney (formerly IT support in Dublin, currently self-styled space-babe pirate queen), Adrian Saunders (former Australian soldier, currently "The Human Disaster"), Kevin Jenkins (barman and bagman), Drew Cavendish and Drew Martin (spacesuit designers), Moses Byron (billionaire rocketeer), Adam Arès, Legsy and Owen Powell (commanding officers of the space marines and their oft forgotten technicians), Admiral Knight, Captain Bathini (wears turban, drinks tea), Ava Ríos (Mary Sue, chaos monkey and occasional journalist), Julian Etsicitty (part Native American wilderness expert shamelessly modelled on The Mighty Buzzard), Allison Buehler (Mormon runaway), Xìu Chang (Chinese-Canadian linguistic expert, martial artist, dancer and aspiring actress), Wei Chang (3D printing expert), Amir (pilot and devout Muslim who has difficulty facing Mecca to pray until he gets a Mecca-detector), Lewis (geek), Zane (megalomaniac), Krrkktnkk A'ktnnzzik'tk and Vedregnegnug (alien bureaucrats with names that will trip any text-to-speech system), Daar (big oaf from Clan StoneBack), Ragaari (Clan WhiteCrest), Gyotin (Clan StarMind), Mark Tisdale and Hayley Tisdale (hippy scientists), Vemik ("Cavemonkey scientist"), Yan (tribal chief), the Alpha Of Alphas (warlord), the Alpha Of The Brood That Builds (geek) and at least as many more.
The serialized story is currently 1.5 million words (excluding the non-canon fan fiction) and is currently increasing by more than 30,000 words per month. Installments are published monthly or slightly more frequently. This fiction has been ongoing for about five years and the plot has advanced by more than 15 years. Therefore, senior characters retire, junior characters get promotion, children become adults and new characters are born. Despite the wide cast, the sheer volume of words creates an emotional investment and it can hit hard when a character is suddenly killed. This can realistically happen to any character at any time. One of the funerals has made me cry on at least four occasions. It was more emotional than StarTrek 2: The Wrath Of Khan or StarTrek Continues, Episode 1: Pilgrim Of Eternity. However, within 500 words, I had cause to openly laugh. Indeed, the story is such that it is common to cry then laugh.
Although it is not strictly a military saga, more than 20% of the writing depicts the space marines and some of the action is quite intense. This includes Operation Nova Hound, Operation Empty Bell, Dark Eye and multiple reconnaissance and extraction operations. For anyone who plays GURPS table-top rôle playing, Hello Kitty 40K or similar, there is plenty of source material for a campaign. It is also gratifying to see the technology advance over the 15 years (so far) of the story. As much as possible, a 900,000kg salvaged vessel is stripped of untrusted "alien space magic", fitted with keel and hatches to space navy standards, fitted with triple redundant 0.5GW fusion reactors (don't dare imitate Doc Brown and say "One point twenty one jigawatts!!!"), bus-bars to super-capacitors (reverse engineered by SCERF) and 90% efficient solid state inertial drives. In a burst, it can accelerate to 3g while dumping 3GW of heat. On a smaller scale, an EM rifle with 90 DU rounds per clip has a RS-485 bus on the Picatinny rail integrated with the suit HUD. There's also an RFG which is not to be confused with a VLM or a BFG.
A quirk of the Jenkinsverse is that the primary author was initially unaware of its success. Therefore, multiple story-lines gained considerably more chapters before characters were brought wholesale into the main spine of the story. Additionally, the primary author has written a prequel, looped off repeatedly and maintains a secondary story-line. Contemporary serialized fiction is decidedly collaborative and non-linear.
The final three chapters of the eight chapter prequel are quite amusing. The five chapter fan fiction, Wounded Rabbit, is particularly good and made me cry. Similar fan fiction covers the daily life of a human adopted by aliens. In addition to difficulty with language and cuisine, attempts to teach self defence are hindered by differing proportions.
I ignored the recommended reading order and read through the main spine of the story skipping parts required for continuity with fan fiction. This works very well with the exception that a batch of additional characters are introduced in Chapter 19. It is otherwise the most effective method to see improvements in writing quality. This is notably more flowing and candid every 10 chapters or so. From Chapter 20 or so, adult themes are covered. Swearing occurs from Chapter Zero and gets significantly more prolific from Chapter 12. Military characters swear like troopers but this is typically with British regional accents. "Well, fook me" is a typical example.
Adjusting for inflation, the primary author, Hambone3110, earns less money per word than a 1950s science fiction author. However, the author does not write to length and is certainly not restricted by it. Donations (per chapter) are almost US$3,600 and this is likely to grow considerably. Multiple levels of sponsorship are available up to and including product placement and naming characters.
DeathWorlders has a mix of gung-ho abandon, peril and consequences which is preferable to much commercial output. The major downside is the time required to read 1.5 million words. (It took me three months to get to Chapter 48 while doing graphic design.) A reader may incur increased swearing and a general feeling of invincibility which could be dangerous in some circumstances. However, before DeathWorlders obtained its own website, much of the work was placed in a section of Reddit.Com called Humans, F*ck Yeah which is an invigorating mix of factual and fictional accounts of people overcoming adversity. DeathWorlders will similarly raise spirits.
A Cornell professor whose buzzy and accessible food studies made him a media darling has submitted his resignation, the school said Thursday, a dramatic fall for a scholar whose work increasingly came under question in recent years. The university said in a statement that a year-long review found that Brian Wansink "committed academic misconduct in his research and scholarship, including misreporting of research data, problematic statistical techniques, failure to properly document and preserve research results, and inappropriate authorship."
Wansink, a marketing professor at Cornell's business college who was the director of the university's Food and Brand Lab, will retire at the end of the academic year, the school said. The move follows the recent retraction of six of Wansink's papers by the American Medical Association's JAMA Network, including those about how serving bowl size affected food consumption, how fasting changed people's food preferences and how action-packed television programs increased food intake.
Wansink emailed The Washington Post on Thursday a news release of his retirement, which included statements attributed to a university trustee saying that "Cornell and Professor Wansink mutually have decided that Professor Wansink's research approach and goals differ from the academic expectations of Cornell University, and they have decided to part ways accordingly." Wansink said he is leaving his position June 30, 2019.
For years, Wansink enjoyed a level of prominence that many academics would strive for, his work spawning countless news stories. He published a study showing that people who ate from "bottomless" bowls of soup continue to eat as their bowls are refilled, as a parable about the potential health effects of large portion sizes. Another, with the title "Bad popcorn in big buckets," similarly warned about the perils of presenting food in big quantities, according to Vox.