Book of the week: The Martian

July 27, 2014

Science fiction has appealed to me ever since childhood. One of my favourite authors ever is William Sleator. Interstellar Pig still holds a special place in my heart. I’d love to see a movie done for that one, but Jumanji has already been done. (The original book is beautifully illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. Look for it.) Creating something similar with space aliens and beach front property probably won’t tickle the bank accounts of any producers right now. Someone did go through the trouble of posting the game rules, though, should a game board ever find its way into this dimension from somewhere else. It would probably look something like Merchant of Venus.

But I digress.

The Martian by Andy Weir was a speed read and very engaging. (Wikipedia notes a film version of this has been optioned. Of course it has.)

An unfortunate accident befalls a crew on Mars and they have to evacuate. One astronaut, Mark Watney, gets hurled away from their space vehicle by debris. He’s presumed dead so his team leaves him behind. Turns out he’s fine and surprisingly not that pissed off at getting left behind. He’s a logical guy and knows it was the best call for his commander to make. “The needs of the many…” if I may borrow from a different sci-fi film.

Watney is an engineer and botanist. Most of the story is told through the log entries he makes each day, explaining what he’s decided to do, what he’s had to fix, and how many times he just about killed himself doing something risky, dangerous, or slightly stupid. And at the time he has no way to contact Earth and NASA due to what led to the evacuation so nobody knows he’s alive.

Fortunately, someone monitoring the satellites around Mars notices some action and gets the ball rolling in terms of rescue options. (Some are better than others.) They notice that Watley’s driven one of his rovers in the direction of the old Pathfinder mission site and soon realize his intention: to get the radio pieces functioning again. With that, they make plans for his pickup at the site where the next mission was supposed to land. Part of that project is already there: the launch vehicle, slowly harvesting atmosphere to make enough fuel to reach orbit. If Watley can get to it in time, his old crew on the Hermes can do a fly-by and collect him. Of course, it wouldn’t be as entertaining a story if it all went off without a hitch…

From what I heard about the book before starting it, Weir made a point of sticking as close to the real science behind potential Mars missions as he could for plotting out Watney’s chances of survival with supplies on hand.

Also, from the Wikipedia page about the book:

Having been rebuffed by literary agents, Weir put the book online for free at his website. At the request of fans he made a Amazon Kindle version available through Amazon.com at 99 cents (the minimum he could set the price). The Kindle edition rose to the top of Amazon’s list of best-selling science-fiction titles where it sold 35,000 copies in three months. This garnered the attention of publishers: Podium Publishing, an audiobook publisher, signed for the audiobook rights in January, 2013, and Weir sold the print rights to Crown in March 2013 for six figures.

The book debuted on the New York Times Best Seller list on March 2, 2014 in the hardcover fiction category at twelfth position.

I wonder if this method is becoming a standard in the publishing industry these days. Don’t risk money on a new author until it’s established that his/her writing appeals to a big enough digital audience to justify selling to the paper lovers. I’m a paper lover. I don’t know if I’ll ever own a tablet and can’t see the point of trying to read a whole book on my iPod. I’m not much for audio book versions either, although I’ve listened to several entertaining ones that are like listening to plays with musical scores and sound effects and everything fun. I’m happy with the hard copy generally.

Another book I quite enjoyed and now own (a withdrawn library copy) is Wool by Hugh Howey.

Howey first began the series in 2011, initially writing Wool as a stand-alone short story. He published the work through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing system, choosing to do so due to the freedom of self-publishing. After the series grew in popularity, he began to write more entries for it. Howey began soliciting international rights in 2012, and has since signed with Brazil. Film rights to the series were sold to 20th Century Fox; Lionsgate also expressed interest.

Howey signed a print-only deal for around $500,000 with Simon & Schuster to distribute Wool to book retailers across the US and Canada.[when?] Howey retains full rights to continue distributing Wool online himself.

The book copy I have was available for sale by March 2013 and the rest of the trilogy has been published and released. I’d recommend that set, too. Look at that, six book recommendations for the price of one. Lucky reader or what?


How can anyone back Ken Ham?

July 22, 2014

Back away from him, yes. Back him? His brain baffles me with its illogical pronouncements.

Creationist Ken Ham, who recently debated Bill Nye the Science Guy over the origins of the universe, is calling for an end to the search for extraterrestrial life because aliens probably don’t exist — and if they do, they’re going to Hell anyway.

“You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe,” Ham wrote on his blog on Sunday. “This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation.”.

And

Jesus did not become the “GodKlingon” or the “GodMartian”! Only descendants of Adam can be saved. God’s Son remains the “Godman” as our Savior. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we see the Father through the Son (and we see the Son through His Word). To suggest that aliens could respond to the gospel is just totally wrong.

And

The search for extraterrestrial life is really driven by man’s rebellion against God in a desperate attempt to supposedly prove evolution!

The rest of his screed is here but it’s not worth the clicks.

I don’t think there’s any desperate attempt to prove evolution, either. It happens. Ken Ham and his ilk are wasting their time, energy and money promoting their very silly alternative.

It’d be interesting to find out if life happened on other worlds, or is happening on other bodies in this solar system.

And it’s good that humans have the drive to discover. Speaking biblically, it turned out to be the wrong move for Adam and Eve because apparently God really wanted them to stay obedient and stupid. In the real world, that ambition to know is what moves us forward and keeps us fed, watered and housed. That drive to know is why we also have so many gods and religions — for some of the bigger questions, our ancestors had no way to find the answers so put gods in as placeholders. And people like Ken Ham want to keep them there rather than find any real solid answers. It’s a shame, really. The world, the universe, and our place in both is far more fascinating when taking the science into account than it is just blowing it off with “God did it!”

My mind is blown by the very idea that we’re all star stuff. I trust those who say it’s so. I’m just blown by what that means.. it’s so big and fantastic and wild. No god invented by man can beat that, in my mind.


Morality Movie Monday: When Worlds Collide

July 21, 2014

As soon as this movie started, I knew I should blog about it.

The very first images after the credits feature bible verses (Genesis 6:12,13):

And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

A pilot named Randall arrives at an observatory in South Africa, hired to deliver a top secret package to a New York observatory. The New York observatory confirms the other place got their math right and the UN or something like it meets to discuss the findings. According to the scientists, two worlds are indeed going to collide in eight months. Bellus is a star that’s on a trajectory in line with Earth. Its planet, Zyra, will be close enough to the Earth by that point to try something pretty bold. They hope “with god’s help and guidance” that humans should be able to put together rockets (modern Noah’s Arks as it were) to escape the Earth’s destruction and land on the new planet even though they have no proof it’d be at all survivable.

(This film came out in 1951 when rockets to other planets were still part of a “dreamworld,” and one guy in the meeting considers them crackpot doomsayers. He’ll soon find out he’s wrong. They all will…)

The ones putting the rocket ideas into motion have to deal with the issue of who to take, who to leave behind and how to decide. They figure between 40-50 people will fit on each rocket. A rich guy named Stanton grumpily puts money into this endeavor in the hopes he’ll be more likely to get a seat on one.

This'll work..

This’ll work..

I don’t know enough math. Will their slide conserve enough fuel to launch this puppy? I don’t know…

A montage of front page headlines and footage of prayers in the streets of the world is added. Massive evacuations have been going on to get people out of the coastal areas although if a star really was going to smack into this planet, it wouldn’t matter if you were in New York City or Montana…

The planet makes it scheduled approach near the earth and rumbles happen, bridges fall, volcanoes erupt, glaciers shed icebergs, homes and forests burn, the seas boil with tidal forces unfamiliar to the planet before this time. I don’t know what their budget was, but they use an impressive series of images.

floodwaters

floodwaters

high tide

high tide

They opt to run a lottery. Joyce, the daughter of one of the scientists is a sure bet to go for the ride. Randall doesn’t think he should go and didn’t get a number, but “she wants you, Dave” — but he’s insistent that his space should still be given to someone else. And they’re all running out of time. Doc Tony (who had loved Joyce and wanted to marry her) convinces him he should come, though, because they may need another pilot to take over flying in case the first one doesn’t survive.

Once the lottery results come out, just before it’s time to leave, people are starting to go a bit nuts, those leaving and those staying behind, but everyone on board gets out okay and they step right into a painting pretending to be another world.

worldsnew

In terms of disaster movies, it’s not the best I’ve ever seen, but it was short. There are a few scenes in there where they show families having to be split up and romantic partings and kids being rescued and a dog, too. There’s also a part near the end where Joyce’s father sees the mob coming toward the rocket intent on raising hell before take off and rather than board with Mr. Stanton, he sets the rocket in motion and the two of them stay behind. Stanton’s pretty pissed off but the father reminds him that the future is for the young. And, really, he won’t have to be pissed off for long. Either he’ll get beaten to a pulp by an angry mob or they’ll all disintegrated by the solar disaster.

I don’t recommend this film unless you like bad science in your science fiction, though.

I didn’t remember watching it EVER but the Man has laughingly reminded me that he and I had watched his VHS copy a while back and poked all manner of holes into it. My memory really sucks…


Atheist Scruples: do your (jury) duty

July 19, 2014

Today’s question:

You are interviewed for jury duty. It will be a long and tedious trial. Do you pretend to have opinions which will disqualify you?

I’d say I don’t have to pretend. I wouldn’t say this to avoid jury duty, though. It’s part of the system to assess a level of guilt but it’s a flawed system and doesn’t always work to actually put the right person behind bars.

I would be honest and I would say that I know eye witness testimony is too unreliable to use as proof of someone’s guilt. There have been so many studies done illustrating just how crappy we are at remembering things that happened.

Our eyes only see what’s directly in front of us. The rest of the details are peripheral and I think the brain pretty much makes the world up as our eyes flick around. Isn’t there thought that peripheral vision evolved to keep us on our toes so we’re aware of what’s around us even if we don’t have a clear view of exactly what it is? Is it dangerous, or merely a tree branch waving during a sudden gust of wind?

I know a car just drove by and I noticed the brake lights were on. It looked kind of black and maybe was an SUV but there’d be no way in hell I’d want to go up on a witness stand three years from now and declare that yes, indeed, that was the killer’s car. “I remember it so clearly, like it was yesterday…”

Like hell.

We don’t even recall our memories, matter of fact. All we really do is tell ourselves a story about the story we think we told ourselves the last time. Our brains are very good at inventing detail and over time will add more to the story than was actually there to begin with. That black SUV I mentioned earlier? It totally was full of teenagers and their music was super loud and I know that because I remember there was some thunder.. and I’m just bullshitting the audience and myself at the same time. Nothing but the truth, your Honour.

I’ll have to hunt for a link to this and update later because I can’t find anything at the moment. Memory is shit but I don’t think I made this up:

I recall reading about a teacher who, the day (day after?) the towers fell in New York, had his students write essays about where they were, who they were with and what they were doing the moment that happened. The teacher took the essays and filed them away for a while. A few years later, he asked the same kids to write down where they were, who they were with and what they were doing at the time, and then compared the new essays with the old ones. Many kids thought the old ones were made up. They’d already convinced themselves of a different inner memory of those moments.

Apparently it’s also possible to doctor an image and have people recall being in a hot air balloon even though they’ve never been off the ground. I can’t find the link to that one either, unfortunately.

There’s this though. Look into something called change blindness. If patrons don’t even notice the person who was serving them at a counter just switched shirts or gender or skin colour, I can’t honestly put much faith in someone else’s faith in their observational skills, or their memories.


10 questions for every atheist part 2

July 17, 2014

I found out about the list here and the original set of questions. I haven’t even read the answers given at maasaiboys because I didn’t want to look like a copy-cat.

Answers 6-10: Read the rest of this entry »


10 questions for every atheist part 1

July 17, 2014

I found out about the list here and the original set of questions. I haven’t even read the answers given at maasaiboys because I didn’t want to look like a copy-cat.

I wound up writing quite a lot for the answers so I’m breaking this into two parts. Questions 1 through 5: Read the rest of this entry »


Dear Billy Graham: I tried cocaine

July 15, 2014

I don’t know about you, but I’ve missed Billy Graham. I’ve been reading his mail for years. I fell off while I wasn’t blogging, but now that I’m back in the swing of things, I thought I should look up the old guy and see what advice Billy Graham’s ministry is giving away these days. I’ve gotten this from his answers website:

I don’t know how it happened, but I’ve gotten hooked on cocaine. My wife is threatening to leave me if I don’t stop, but I don’t know where to turn. You’ll probably tell me to turn to God, but what good will that do?

A blogger friend of mine once noted the likelihood that these questions are posited by Graham’s staff rather than actual people is very likely, but let’s pretend this is an actual guy in this situation.

“I don’t know how it happened..”

Well, I expect you must have tried some and liked the feeling you got because of it. Same goes for me and Doctor Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Pick your addiction.

Graham’s “advice” in this case: Read the rest of this entry »


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 124 other followers