Sunday, 30 August 2009
Thursday, 27 August 2009
Like The Time Traveller's Wife, The Host uses science fiction concepts as a way of exploring relationships: here the Stockholm-like relationship between Wanderer and her re-emergent host personality, Melanie; their feelings for other humans as well as Wanderer's relationships with her own race and with humanity - a version of the double agent's dilemma. The novel centres on the love triangle that develops between Melanie, Wanderer and Melanie's former lover, and as you would hope the book has a lot of fun with the emotional chaos that results.
Tuesday, 25 August 2009
Saturday, 22 August 2009
Architeuthis sylvaticus, like it's deep sea relatives and this octopus, is a master of disguise:
- that's why you rarely see one. (This is an amazing youtube clip but there's no sound from halfway through). Currently I'm simulating camouflage by just making my Architeuthis part-transparent except for the eyes. It's almost right but I'll try a couple of other solutions and possibly animate the camouflage. It also needs to cast a shadow onto the plane behind it but so far Blender is refusing to render the shadows. On the plus side I'm learning as I go - but it was so much easier doing this with sand...
Thursday, 20 August 2009
Tuesday, 18 August 2009
For Lovecraft science has kind of the opposite meaning. The role of the scientist in his fiction seems to be firstly to prove by scientific method that the protagonist is not simply mad, at least at the beginning - being driven mad by exposure to horror is a common theme; and secondly to prove by failure that the phenomenon is not explicable in scientific terms, usually as it originates from another planet or dimension where our physics does not necessarily apply. So, while for Wells there is no supernatural, for Lovecraft the supernatural must be proven.
Whether they are actually scientists or not Lovecraftian protagonists tend to be sceptical until faced with insurmountable evidence of the awful reality. A typical Lovecraftian plot is basically the gradual realisation that the horror is actually real, with the gradual revelation of the complex vision - for example the pivot that changes The Call Of Cthulhu from a good old yarn into something more powerful is the moment where the protagonist connects all the simultaneous events around the world.
Lovecraft's horrors vary from the intangible creeping liquid or gas (The Colour Out Of Space) through creatures never quite seen but hinted at by mysterious footprints, through complex conspiracy scenarios and alien encounters (The Call of Cthulhu). Creatures tend to combine elements of different known Earth species, although scaly wings capable of traversing the ether are a frequent adaptation. The creature (or intangible) is only the start - the horrors extend heavily into locations which are utterly overgrown by evil auras, lead to subtle or not so subtle mutations in the landscape, plants, animals and people around them (The Colour Out Of Space, The Shadow Over Innsmouth), cause psychological mayhem through dreams, hallucinations and unexplained dread; and supernatural horrors are surrounded and augmented by horrific human cults.
Saturday, 15 August 2009
This is a good book and within it you can see the beginnings of Mieville's later masterstrokes - familiar environments in London are seen from new angles and rendered threatening, while other imaginary or fantastic locations are brought to life and made familiar; whilst the origins of Mieville's fantasy characters are made clear at the end, they remain original and captivating creations. Saul is a little more shaky in the beginning - there are lots of reasons he might have decided to distrust the authorities and go on the run following his father's mysterious death, but his motivation at this point seems too vague. Saul's rat-like tough-guy character is gradually fleshed out as he learns to free-run and survive and uncovers his own past.
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Before H.G. Wells, time travel was something spiritual - the ghosts of Christmas Past or Future in A Christmas Carol - or accidental, as in the blow to the head of the Connecticut Yankee. Wells introduced the mechanical Time Machine, bringing time travel into the realm of human control. These trends continue in more recent sci-fi - mechanical Time Machines include the garage physics experiment in Primer, while accidental time travel includes the genetic disorder described in The Time Traveller's Wife. The blow to the head method is also alive and well in Life On Mars, a series heavily inspired by the Mark Twain novel. There are less spiritual time travellers these days. However it makes perfect sense, for example, that Nick Hornby's Sam might be sent back to revisit key moments in his life by his Tony Hawk poster as it represents a kind of father figure/guardian angel.
The bizarre series of committee meetings that led to the creation of the Tardis has been well described. However I think it's also reasonable to think of the Police Box as an authority image, which along with the Doctor's title, is consistent with Doctor Who's interventionalist themes. Another telephone box time machine features in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, perhaps as a reference to Doctor Who, but this time the process of time travel becomes a comic search through a telephone directory and network.
Monday, 10 August 2009
Saturday, 8 August 2009
I don't want to call for a particular outcome from the trial - I feel I don't know the facts well enough, and also don't believe in trial by media. However I do want to express the wish that he has access to a fair trial wherever it takes place, and if it is the case that he has Asperger's syndrome, as has been reported, that this is taken into account and the trial is carried out in a way that does not place him at a disadvantage.
McKinnon has stated in a BBC interview that he was able to access military computers as many still had their default password settings. He has also appeared on a discussion panel at an Infosec conference - you might remember, that's the organization that carried out surveys giving out free pens to London commuters in return for their passwords - the most common was "password" in 2002 but this had changed to the much safer "admin" by 2003.
Mr. McKinnon seems to have stirred up a real hornet's nest within the Vast Machine: I can't help wondering, what did he find?
Asperger's syndrome is also a theme of this upcoming film which I might just go and see:
Wednesday, 5 August 2009
The film is essentially a two hander led by Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell, the sole occupant of a lunar mining base, and Kevin Spacey as the voice of his assistant robot GERTY. Sam is coming to the end of a three year contract and preparing for his return to Earth, and his family. However the stress has been getting to him, and with only a few weeks to go, a rover accident leads to a series of events and discoveries that completely undermine Sam's understanding of his world.
Monday, 3 August 2009
I'm reviewing two java mobile phone games by FishLabs: Galaxy on Fire and Deep Submarine Odyssey. Both use the same 3D graphics engine. The former is a space combat sim with Freelancer style missions - follow the waypoints and shoot down the enemy ships, although there is some mission variation - shoot down mines, junk or asteroids, carry a passenger/cargo to a waypoint, defend or attack a freight convoy, disable a cap ship. The game is set in an endless war between the humans and the alien Vossk, with some pesky pirates thrown in for good measure. Arrr. Storyline missions are linear however when you complete them the game opens out, allowing you to explore the galaxy, continue trading ships and upgrading weapons, and take on further missions. If you travel far enough you can switch allegiance and fly missions for the Vossk, attacking the human convoys, fighters or cap ships, and trade your ship and weapons in for Vossk equivalents. Flying and fighting are simple and playable, and happily the game features some really corny dialogue.
Galaxy on Fire seems to be an attempt to code a space-based exploration game with some freedom of play. Deep is a direct descendent of Galaxy - the graphics and interface are almost identical but the gameplay is much deeper. Elite, the original freeform space game, inspired both space and submarine-based sims (UIM ring any bells?) and this game is set on a submerged world, where submarines travel between floating colonies. Once again you are placed in a war between two factions and have to complete missions similar to those in Galaxy, however a key gameplay element has been added - fishing. Using a kind of tractor beam you can hunt down about twenty different kinds of fish and algae, as well as picking up cargo from downed subs.
As the game progresses you can either sell your cargo, or earn money from fishing missions, or take your catch to processing stations where you can create and sell other products. This time you have to actually travel from place to place using portals, and approach stations to dock (auto-only, Elite fans!) Ship upgrades are more complex - in addition to weaponry and the harpoons you have to equip your ship with radiation shields to reach the high-altitude stations, or hull reinforcement for low-altitude. And while I still think only Frontier ever really got the ship upgrade system right, Deep comes close as you can opt for heavy and slow ships with a huge capacity or small fast multi-weapon subs depending on whether you are a fisher or a fighter or to suit different mission types. One more feature of the game stands out - as you progress through the story missions, the political map changes as stations switch alliegance.