“Substrate Wars” Orientation

Welcome to Substrate Wars, the series about how one group of scientific rebels reform their world through discovery and courage.

Book 1, Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1, followed a group of freedom-oriented radicals and grad students on a California campus after they discover quantum gateways and come to the attention of Homeland Security. In Book 2, Nemo’s World: The Substrate Wars 2, the rebels defend themselves from attacks from Earth, then strike back to free humanity from weapons of mass destruction and the great powers that use them to control the world. Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3 takes up ten years later, when a prosperous and expanding human civilization is confronted by alien exterminators sent by the original inhabitants of the substrate.

 

Also, take a look at my website covering attachment and relationship issues, JebKinnison.com — I split SubstrateWars.com from it as the amount of material grew too large. The relationships site is about human beings, attachment, health and social policy issues. There will be some overlap, but at SubstrateWars the emphasis is on science fiction, politics, and story.

My books on relationships are on Amazon: Bad Boyfriends: Using Attachment Theory to Avoid Mr. (or Ms.) Wrong and Make You a Better Partner, and Avoidant: How to Love (or Leave) a Dismissive Partner. If you’re looking for your first or second partner, Bad Boyfriends is the one to read; if you have a partner but either you or your partner is reluctant or unable to enjoy closeness, Avoidant is most useful.

I respond to all reasonable comments and invite you to add your email to the mailing list or add the RSS feed to your reader so you’ll see new posts.

2018 LTUE Report: Provo, Utah

View of Provo from Marriott

View of Provo from Marriott

This is my AAR (After Action report) on LTUE (Life, the Universe, and Everything) in Provo, a weekend starting February 15th, 2018.

LTUE is officially a “symposium,” not a con. The emphasis is on writers and prospective writers discussing all aspects of writing SF&F, so there is little cosplay or general game and comic book fandom material. The location at the Marriott conference center in Provo is a mile from BYU and at the center of the LDS-Mormon intellectual world, such as it is. I knew Provo was majority Mormon, but when I checked I discovered an astounding 88% of the city’s population is LDS-affiliated. But Mormons are disproportionately readers and writers of SF&F, as traditionally they are raised to value education and often encouraged to write journals.

Provo late afternoon

Provo late afternoon

In the photo above taken from our room, you can see the ‘Y’ on the mountainside overlooking BYU’s campus. The ‘Y’ is made of stone and a popular hiking destination.

LTUE conference room map

LTUE conference room map

Panels and presentations were scheduled from 9 AM to 6 PM Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I had registered last year, then applied to be a Guest. When they put me on three panels, I gave my registration to my husband Paul, who has just retired so is able to travel with me more often. Of course Registration had no record of that, but we straightened it out quickly.

LTUE: Registration

LTUE: Registration

LTUE hall

LTUE hall

The LibertyCon contingent was well-represented, with local writers Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen, and Sarah Hoyt in from Colorado. Baen did its roadshow and the infamous Lawdog attended. While I met Larry briefly at LibertyCon two years back, I saw a lot more of him and his charming wife Bridget this time. We had listened to the audiobook of “Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent” (written by Larry, read by Adam Baldwin) on the drive up. As Larry’s media empire has grown and the movie options for some of his worlds are pending, it’s kind of a thrill that he now knows who I am and lets me hug him (his excuse being his arm was injured and couldn’t take too many handshakes.)

"Lawdog" and Larry Correia

“Lawdog” and Larry Correia

It’s also nice to hang out with Dorothy and Peter, though they were under the weather some (in Dorothy’s case, she had a touch of altitude sickness. Provo’s at 4400 feet, and I didn’t sleep well, either.)

Peter and Dorothy Grant

Peter and Dorothy Grant

LTUE: Marriott lobby

LTUE: Marriott lobby

LTUE: Art in the hall

LTUE: Art in the hall

And it was great to touch base with Sarah Hoyt (and Dan, who I’d never met!) Jonathan La Force was as usual a forceful presence on panels and at the BBQ, making much of the great food for the post-LTUE party on Saturday night.

Sarah Hoyt and Jonathan La Force

Sarah Hoyt and Jonathan La Force

There were relatively small vendor and game rooms. One of the few complaints we all had is that some of the conference rooms were way too hot. But on the whole everything went very smoothly and most attendees say they will return.

LTUE: Game room

LTUE: Game room

LTUE: Game room

LTUE: Game room

LTUE: Game room

LTUE: Game room

LTUE: Vendor room

LTUE: Vendor room

LTUE: Xchyler book booth

LTUE: Xchyler book booth

Panels were wide-ranging and I didn’t get to go to enough of them. The schedule is here.

The first panel I was on was “Making Money.” We discussed all matters currency, though I never got to mention Charlie Stross’s “slow money.” Fellow panelists were: L. E. Modesitt, Jr., Roger Bourke White, Jr., Bob Defendi, and Alicia McIntire. This was my first encounter with L. E. Modesitt, an extremely impressive person who may actually know more than I do about many things. Roger Bourke White is a fellow MIT grad (a senior when I was a freshman), so we compared notes. We ended up spending more time emphasizing that credible worlds will have a worked-out economic system, whether it is AIs and replicators, conventional price systems and money as we know it now, or barter and ad-hoc tokens — the check was invented in ancient Sumeria as a clay token exchangeable for a certain quantity of grain!

The next day I was on the first LGBTQ panel ever for LTUE, moderated by local fantasy author Michael Jensen. With fellow panelists J. Scott Bronson and Scott R. Parkin, we went over some of the historical broadening of SF&F from cardboard characters whose conventional characteristics were secondary to adventure and technology stories to more cultural and psychological varieties of speculative fiction. Since I have been reading SF&F since the mid-1960s looking for stories about “odd” types, I spent some time reminding the younger people in the audience that since the mid-1950s at least, SF&F was one of the earliest genres to explore stories of unconventional gender roles and sexualities, at first among aliens, then as acceptance grew, among human societies. Today’s emphasis on representation of oppressed groups may be overdoing it a bit, and we discussed the importance of fully-rounded characters — it is no longer especially interesting or ground-breaking to have LGBTQ characters, and all characters need to have their many facets presented for involving storytelling. Many audience members were there to find out how they could write these characters when they had not directly experienced being LGBTQ; the answer (in the current climate of Twitter mobbing) would be “very carefully.” But we all agreed that using empathy and passing your work by a few beta readers more closely involved to check for errors of tone or language would probably work well, especially when the story is not centered on uniquely LGBTQ experiences but includes them as part of more realistic and complex characters.

We went off to lunch at the Indian buffet next door to continue the discussion.

Post-panel lunch

Post-panel lunch

Post-panel lunch

Post-panel lunch

My last panel was “Well-Developed Political Systems: Who Got It Right?” moderated by Gordon Frye and featuring M. A. Nichols, Luke Peterson, and L. E. Modesitt, Jr. I was late because I had misread my schedule since I didn’t have my reading glasses, so first went to the wrong room across the street. Again I was mostly echoing Modesitt. Luke Peterson is extremely knowledgeable and I practically squeed when he recommended Albion’s Seed by David Fischer, one of the great books on US political attitudes and culture — I had just written it into my latest book in a discussion of where Mormons came from (answer: they are a cut-off and isolated branch of New England Puritanism, evolving in a separate cultural bubble after the Exodus from the Midwest around 1847.)

The last day I attended the hot and crowded panel, “Writing Battle Scenes” with Kal Spriggs moderating, with Gordon Frye, L. E. Modesitt, Jr., Larry Correia, and Brad R. Torgersen. This was a fun group, with two panelists confessing they don’t really love writing battles but Larry telling us he lives to write them. I’m in the “They’re necessary but I don’t dwell on it” camp myself, and if you don’t love them, you probably won’t do long ones well.

LTUE: Panel on writing battle scenes

LTUE: Panel on writing battle scenes

LTUE: Panel on writing battle scenes

LTUE: Panel on writing battle scenes

LTUE: Cancellations board

LTUE: Cancellations board

The “symposium” wound down Saturday night. We had reservations for the banquet but chose to go to the informal afterparty at the AirBNB next door where many of our friends had stayed. It was a group effort, with attendees pitching in to get the BBQ and supplies brought by Jonathan La Force in and ready. The presence of many children and families, and locals who hadn’t been able to attend LTUE, made it a great party. It must have been very interesting for Paul, who’s heard a lot about my imaginary writer friends and finally met them en masse.

LTUE: Afterparty

LTUE: Afterparty

LTUE: Afterparty

LTUE: Afterparty

LTUE: Afterparty

LTUE: Afterparty

LTUE: Afterparty cooks

LTUE: Afterparty

LTUE: Afterparty

If you enjoyed this, you might like:

2016 Worldcon / MidAmericon II Report
2016 LibertyCon Report

On the way back to Palm Springs, we stopped to see some of the sights featured in my latest book, Nephilim:

First we tried to find the Dream (also known as Relief) Mine, on a mountain overlooking Salem. There were two possible approaches and the one we tried was blocked by a security gate and “no trespassing” sign. Even though we couldn’t get very close to it, it was interesting seeing the countryside I had already written into fiction.

Near Dream / Relief Mine

Near Dream / Relief Mine

Landcape Near Salem, UT

Near Salem, UT

Valley view near Salem

Valley view near Salem

Then we checked into a motel near Zion National Park. The weather forecast was for a storm starting early AM, so instead of the planned trip into the park the next day, we decided to make an afternoon visit so we could leave before the onset of the storm the next day. We only had a few hours in the park, but the afternoon sun and blue skies made for some great views, and it was uncrowded — which was good since the main access road was half torn up with alternating oneway traffic.

Zion NP "Less Than Three Hours" sign

Zion NP

River in Zion NP

River in Zion NP

Mule deer in Zion NP

Mule deer in Zion NP

Zion NP

Zion NP

Zion NP

Zion NP

Cactus in Zion NP

Cactus in Zion NP

Zion, late afternoon

Zion, late afternoon

Zion NP

Zion NP

We left the park near sunset and had dinner at a terrific little Thai restaurant just outside the gate. Our table had a gorgoeus view of the cliffs at sunset and a closer view of the road work and workers!

Zion NP: Thai place just outside gate

Zion NP: Thai place just outside gate

The next day we made good time through Las Vegas, where some scenes of Nephilim take place — the spirit driving Sara, Lailah, selects the Luxor as her headquarters, offhandedly noting that it felt good to have a pyramid of her own again.

Las Vegas: Strip from I-15

Las Vegas: Luxor from I-15

Las Vegas: Luxor from I-15

There was an hour-long backup near the California border at Primm, so after suffering through that we noted a similar backup on I-15 before LA and decided to take the back route through the Mohave reserve to Yucca Valley and home since the GPS said it would save over an hour; normally we wouldn’t because of the risk of having no cell service or road assistance in most of the area. But it was lovely and quiet as he storm hit and snow began to fall amongst the cactus and Joshua trees.

Mohave Reserve, Joshua trees

Mohave Reserve, Joshua trees

So the launch of Nephilim at LTUE went fairly well. One scarily intense fundamentalist Mormon man was unhappy, dropping by at the mass signing to tell me the Church does not support the idea of demonic possession. I pity the scared little girl he had in tow… and I understand why LDS authors keep their fantasy and SF safely away from any discussion of church doctrine. There are always holier-than-thou sorts waiting to find fault.

Nephilim

Nephilim

“Nephilim” Print Version Available

Nephilim Print Cover by Augusta Scarlett, Copyright © 2018 Jeb Kinnison

Nephilim Print Cover by Augusta Scarlett

Nephilim is already available in easy-to-read trade paperback. The cover was designed with artist Augusta Scarlett who put up with my suggestions and came up with a cool rendering of the Zion Mine buildings and the romantic duo at the heart of the story, Jared and Sara. The Seal of Melchidezek glowing red at the center and the angel’s wings hinting at the angelic influences at play are also her creation. The cover is supposed to suggest the genre and elements of the book, and I think this does a good job. Much of the junk fiction in paranormal romance these days comes with slick photographic-based covers that are cranked out by cover mills. This is a special book to me and worthy of a more artistic effort.

The trade paperback is available at these online stores, or you can ask for your local library to order a copy.

6″x9″ Trade Paperback at Amazon
6″x9″ Trade Paperback at Barnes & Noble

You can also pre-order (until Feb 8th when it is released) the ebook at any of these links:

Amazon link
B&N Nook
Kobo
Apple iBook

“Nephilim” First Review: “Read It Without Stopping”

Nephilim eBook Cover

Nephilim eBook Cover

Nephilim goes live Thursday Feb 8th, but there’s already a review at Amazon because the trade paperback snuck out of the system early (so you can buy that now!) I handed out review copies only a few days ago, so fast work.

5.0 out of 5 stars
Role Reversals
By Donald W. Campbell on February 6, 2018

This is a young adult novel, but us old folks can read it too. The ‘heroes’ are a little reversed from normal; she is a jaded Jewish New York City girl; he is a small-town Bible-belt Mormon boy. Junior/Senior in high school. Both bring some angst from their past, and both overcome it and remain true to each other. Somewhat fantasy (there are Angels and Devils in the plot), nevertheless, the Physics used in the background explanation is plausible, even if improbable. It is set in the current time, mostly in a small town in Utah.

The first half of the book weaves some incredible background information, as most YA probably have limited experience in small town rural America. What is incredible is this information is presented as part of the plot line, so it flows logically and doesn’t bog down.

The second half is exciting read it without stopping action. (Disclaimer: I had to walk the dog.) Now that background information brings extra understanding to the events.

We end with learning to be true to ourselves, experience is what you make of it, and more, but telling would be a spoiler.

Read and enjoy.

(This review is based on a pre-release electronic copy)

You can pre-order at any of these links:

Amazon link
B&N Nook
Kobo
Apple iBook

6″x9″ Trade Paperback at Amazon
6″x9″ Trade Paperback at Barnes & Noble

“Nephilim” Release Feb. 8th

Nephilim eBook Cover

Nephilim eBook Cover

I’ve been working on a new book, and it’s finally ready: Nephilim, a romance between a Mormon boy and Jewish girl in small-town Utah. Lots of Mormon and historical background, kind of like YA Michener combined with Twilight. But a better romance than Twilight!

Mt. Hermon, Utah, is the ideal small town—until forces of darkness from deep beneath the mountain lead its people astray. Sara just moved to town with her divorced mother from a wealthy Long Island suburb; her Jewish roots don’t protect her when a relentless angel comes calling. Jared has lived there all his life, and his addiction to online games and porn has his grades tumbling and his Mormon family worried. Together, Jared and Sara fight the battle of their lives against spirits from the Underworld.

Amazon link
B&N Nook
Kobo
Apple iBook

6″x9″ Trade Paperback at Amazon
6″x9″ Trade Paperback at Barnes & Noble

“Nephilim” — Call for Beta Readers

Nephalim cover mockup

Nephalim cover mockup

Call for beta readers for “Nephilim,” a short (72K words), sophisticated-YA (some mild sex, high school setting) Mormon Gothic (culturally appropriates Mormon history, doctrine, and mythology), paranormal (demons and angels) romance and adventure. With a science fictional wrapper.

If you’d like to beta-read the book and can have comments back to me about a week from now, email me at jebkinnison@gmail.com specifying the format you prefer (Word, pdf, ePub, kindle) and I’ll send you the beta.

Blurb:

Mt. Hermon, Utah, is the ideal small town — until forces of darkness from deep beneath the mountain lead its people astray.

Sara is the new kid in town — moved with her divorced mother from a wealthy Long Island town, her Jewish roots are no help when a relentless angel comes calling.

Jared has lived there all his life, and his addiction to online games and porn has his grades tumbling and his Mormon family worried.

Together Jared and Sara fight the battle of their lives against spirits from the Underworld who are trying to return to rule the world.

Star Trek Transporter Coasters

These are cute and not very expensive (Amazon link). I was going to do a video with sparkly special effects and a dissolve showing Romulan Ale being transported in, but who has time for that.

More on pop culture:

“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
Weaponized AI: My Experience in AI
Fear is the Mindkiller
The Justice is Too Damn High! – Gawker, the High Cost of Litigation, and The Weapon Shops of Isher
Kirkus Reviews “Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3”

Blade Runner 2049: Is Bondage Immoral?

Blade Runner 2049 Poster

Blade Runner 2049 Poster

The original 1982 Blade Runner was not a great commercial success in its theatrical release, but had a huge cultural impact over time. Aspects of its vision of 2019 Los Angeles and noir style have appeared in hundreds of other movies. The production of Blade Runner 2049 as a sequel is another symptom of Hollywood’s creative exhaustion and the unwillingness to finance risky productions that don’t have a pre-marketed, built-in audience to guarantee at least some return. The sequel is lavish and lovingly crafted, in many ways more ambitious than the original. But I think it fails to live up to the original, and here’s why…

The original had a very simple story — Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) is an updated noir detective, tasked with finding and killing escaped replicants. Like a classic Raymond Chandler gumshoe, he’s single and lives an isolated life estranged from all but his job. The dame in his story is Rachael, the embodiment of feminine beauty and vulnerability, who turns out to be a replicant herself, brought up with false memories of a childhood that never was. She has never experienced real pain, living as the protected “niece” of Eldon Tyrell, the brilliant billionaire head of Tyrell Corporation. Unlike most replicants, she is not doomed to die on her fourth birthday, as was apparently intended to limit the threat that superhuman replicants might rise to overthrow their normal human masters. Replicants have been made illegal on Earth, and are used only in space and the outer colonies. The Earth seems to have been largely depopulated, as most humans with get-up-and-go got up and left for the colonies. It’s noticeable that the humans Deckard encounters on Earth are all eccentric, physically imperfect misfits, while the replicants–and Rachael, and Deckard himself–are good-looking and healthy.

Deckard is ordered to find and eliminate six replicants who have killed humans and landed on Earth. The outlaw replicants are desperate to find a way to live beyond their programmed death dates and intend to force Tyrell to change their genetic programming. The plot revolves around Deckard’s gradual discovery of who Rachael (and by controversial implication, Deckard himself) is as he chases down and kills three replicants.

The story is of gradual discovery and the resonance of the personalities of the three replicants he kills. Because the plot is relatively simple, the art design, atmosphere, and nuance have greater impact.

[CAUTION: SPOILERS IN FOLLOWING]

Why is the sequel less effective? Because it tries to do much more — there’s more plot, violence, and most importantly an evil villain whose motive seems to be megalomania. In the original, flawed humans did their best to survive using replicant labor, and replicants, who have been enslaved and sentenced to death long before their time, are acting to survive as well. The evil involved is not a single man’s greed or megalomania, but slavery itself–which had been justified out of human fear. The sequel’s plot clanks along with a definite villain and his henchwoman as foils, and there’s so much plot that the characters are less compelling.

The sequel is set thirty years later, in 2049. Blade runner ‘K’ (played by Ryan Gosling) seeks out those rare surviving replicants who were built without a set date of death. ‘K’ knows he is a replicant but accepts his orders without question, and he kills an old replicant living alone in a desolate protein farm. When he checks out the area, he discovers a buried box containing the bones of a replicant woman who appears to have given birth via C-section–but it is supposed to be impossible for replicants to have children.

Wallace, the new Tyrell, first saved humanity by discovering how to produce food industrially, then re-introduced replicants after buying the bankrupt Tyrell Corporation and introducing new models who followed orders without the possibility of rebellion. The one thing he cannot create, it seems, is a replicant that can reproduce–and he must have the secret to allow his empire to expand without the limitations of one-at-a-time replicant production, and incidentally make Humanity 1.0 obsolete. There isn’t time for a good explanation of how he came to be so evil, and most of his will is expressed by his replicant assistant Luv, who provides the kickass female fighter every thriller now seems to require. He personally kills several of his creations showily, knifing one woman in the stomach during a demonstration–we are to assume he is a psychopath.

As in the original, the details of technology are left to be imagined since there is no way to address them on film. The sequel also introduces the now-common idea of the AI personality verging on human, in the character Joi. Joi is an off-the-shelf and heavily advertised AI companion who has customized herself to support K. The interactions between them seem like real human affection and support, and Joi demands to be saved to a physical memory and erased from the cloud so she can join him with the real possibility of death. Near the end of the film, K encounters an ad for Joi and realizes much of what he thought was her personality was off-the-shelf mannerisms, notably giving him the name Joe — as a Thai prostitute might.

But this movie is just toying with that issue, more effectively explored in Her and Ex Machina.

Because the plot is overly complicated, there are some significant plot holes. We see two birth records with identical DNA, but one is tagged male and the other female; this is to prime us to believe K is the male son of Rachael and Deckard. Later we discover the child was female and K was given some of her memories, but that means he was programmed after those memories had been created, and so he must have been decanted as a replicant much later. Deckard explains that he helped confuse the database and insert false information, but the contrivance feels forced to mislead the audience.

Another serious flaw: K rescues Deckard from a crashed flyer and tells us Deckard will be assumed dead and so is now safe from Wallace. Then he delivers Deckard to his daughter’s workplace. His daughter is a contractor for Wallace and it seems highly unlikely his visit would not be noted in such a surveillance society. K then apparently dies on the snow-covered steps, but who cleans up his body, and how will this not result in revealing Deckard and his daughter to Wallace and the police?

The movie is excellent and well worth the (rather long) time spent, with art design rivalling and extending the original. The soundtrack is apparently much too loud in some theaters. But like many recent big-budget movies, it tries to out-action and out-evil its source material in a way that actually diminishes its long-term impact (see “Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire for another example.) It seems likely that the characters from the original will be remembered long after the sequel is forgotten.

As a meditation on slavery, the sequel brings up more issues than the original. New-model replicants are supposedly incapable of rebellion, unlike the Nexus-6’s of the original. We see this in both K and Luv, who faithfully carry out the orders of their supervisors–at least until K begins lying, claiming to have found and eliminated the threat posed by the child when he thinks it was him, which verges on disobedience.

We can see slavery as a spectrum from acceptable to horrifying–from plants and invertebrates grown and harvested for food to mammals like cows and sheep who clearly have some sentience, but in those cases who would not have existed without the implied use for human needs. As we grow more sensitive and wealthy, sensitivity to the pain of our mammalian relatives has increased, and we strive to use them as painlessly as possible. Our nearest relatives, primates, are still used for medical research but under relatively humane conditions. Ethical quandaries grow as the intelligence and emotional understanding of animals grows towards human; we now know cetaceans, elephants, and others have societies and communication abilities analogous to primates. Is it moral to create and grow intelligent, feeling life only to use it and destroy it as suits us?

Both movies address this dilemma, which ties into current debates about slavery, autonomy of workers generally, and the immorality of any but voluntary contracts. If I create you and use my resources to support your growth and life, do you owe me work and loyalty? We see this accepted in traditional families, where children are supported, molded, and used to support the enterprises of the family until they reach an age of independence–this family transmission of culture and family production of children to create successor families is the foundation of human existence. Would it be wrong to commission an artificial human and expect some period of labor in return? Probably not–so long as the android is given the choice to leave for an independent life once the contract is up. The evil of Nexus-6 replicants is not so much the period of forced labor as it is the forced end to their lives; we can imagine the less immoral alternative of manumission after four years and settlement on a planet of their own, given humanity’s fear of replacement.

The self-reproducing replicant would, as is suggested by the sequel, make standard humans obsolete. It would be immoral for standard humans to be killed or restricted by the new model’s success, but also immoral for the new models to be prevented from living as they wish. This is a dilemma unlikely to occur in reality, as genetic alteration of humanity will likely be a smooth evolution that only widens the current spectrum of abilities, blending new with old without a split. It seems unlikely there is any way to program genetically modified humans to obey–it’s not that kind of programming. HBO’s Westworld revolves around that issue, with the creator designing its models to achieve human levels of consciousness only by allowing them memory and growing free will.

Extended HD trailer:

More on pop culture:

Valerian: Fun Trumps Flaws
Star Trek Beyond: Teambuilding Exercise
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
Weaponized AI: My Experience in AI
Fear is the Mindkiller
The Justice is Too Damn High! – Gawker, the High Cost of Litigation, and The Weapon Shops of Isher
Kirkus Reviews “Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3”

Cellular Automaton: Life Animation in “Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1”

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1

 

When I was 12 or so, I read about John Horton Conway’s cellular automaton Life in Scientific American. Back then (c. 1970) we had to painfully draw each generation on graph paper. The personal computer revolution made it possible for hobbyists and students to simulate large fields and thousands of generations easily, building self-replicating structures and Turing machines… Life could simulate life.

Later in my career, I wrote artificial life simulations similar to what is portrayed in Red Queen — these are an extension to simulation of creatures in a simulated environment. There is a progression as simulations get better and better — eventually the simulation of life in an environment can become as complex as the real world, which has led to current theories that the universe we live in may itself be some kind of simulation on an underlying substrate.

The video below is an amazing zoom from tiny gliders to glider guns to megastructures… and then to Life itself simulated by Life.


Red Queen: The Substrate Wars 1.

Valerian: Fun Trumps Flaws

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets poster

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets poster

Fifth Element is a great pop culture movie, full of clever lines and startling characters. Luc Besson was said to have produced it in an attempt to create the atmosphere of the French comic book series Valérian et Laureline, which he believed could not be produced because of the expensive CGI it would demand. As often happens, those limitations produced a better work of art, with Fifth Element having more fully-developed characters and fewer but spectacular effects that served a more coherent story.

I heartily recommend everyone see Valerian, which is spectacularly entertaining despite its flaws. It certainly achieves the comic-book goals of fast action and imaginative storytelling. But you may need to hurry to see it in its full 3D and widescreen glory since the first days of boxoffice receipts in the US have been thin and so it is likely to be yanked quickly. This makes it another example of why Hollywood is placing almost all its bets on franchises and reboots: in a crowded marketplace, only pre-marketed properties can stand out amid the clutter of new entries. While it’s in a favorite genre of today’s first-run moviegoers, there are many more familiar comic book franchises and in the US only a few have ever heard of this one. With Marvel and DC putting out a movie a month now, there’s a limit to how much comic book material audiences will pay to see.

There are many excellent detailed reviews so I won’t go into depth here.

One missing element is maturity. Valerian and Laureline are 20-something, with Valerian looking especially young, perhaps 20. In selecting a 31-yo actor who looks youthful enough to pass for 20, Besson gave up the masculine authority of Fifth Element’s Bruce Willis, who managed to be strong while sensitive and engagingly goofy. This Valerian by comparison lacks a moral center, and having him engage in teenage-level romantic badinage to woo Laureline just cements his lack of maturity. It is suggested that he and Laureline have been working as a team for some time, and despite their youth they are said to be one of humanity’s best teams — how can it be that any question of romance remains? If you’re over 21 this romance is implausible, yet Besson places it at the center and spends a lot of screen time on it. Later in the resolution of the plot, Valerian intends to deny the wronged alien species their rightful property because Orders, but Laureline intervenes and persuades him to the more obviously moral choice because Love. This is kinda French but thoroughly silly.

The movie is also somewhat immune from PC criticism because of its French origin, so what might otherwise get called out by the usual thought police — the feminine but strong Laureline using her sexuality, the cishet romance, the whiteness of the leads, the shape-shifting entertainer played by Rihanna who stops the action for a show where she transforms into a dozen classic fetish roles, the alien species that are suspiciously like stereotypical African tribesmen from 1940s cinema — have so far escaped much social media and feminist criticism.

The plot revolves around a paradise planet inhabited by near-clones of Avatar’s blue aliens (in tune with nature and completely noble) before their planet is destroyed by the foul white humans and their aggression. At least it does not duplicate the plot of Dances with Wolves, as Avatar did, by having the hero live as one of them before defending them against rapacious humanity.

Despite its cartoonish aspects, Valerian is well worth watching, especially in 3D, so see it before it’s gone. The imagery is gorgeous and needs to be seen in the theater for full impact.

Extended HD trailer:

More on pop culture:

Star Trek Beyond: Teambuilding Exercise
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
Weaponized AI: My Experience in AI
Fear is the Mindkiller
The Justice is Too Damn High! – Gawker, the High Cost of Litigation, and The Weapon Shops of Isher
Kirkus Reviews “Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3”

Sarah Hoyt’s “Darkship Revenge”

Darkship Revenge by Sarah Hoyt - photo Baen Books

Darkship Revenge by Sarah Hoyt – photo Baen Books

I’ve had more time to read fiction since I gave up my subscription to The Economist, which has abandoned its tradition of support for free markets and classical liberalism. I’ll try to review the best of these….

Sarah Hoyt’s latest, Darkship Revenge, is set in the same Darkship setting as her last,
Through Fire. As in that book, a genengineered woman from the secret space colony Eden ends up embroiled in war between the Usaians and Good Men on Earth, but this time the stakes are higher: Athena and her husband Kit are on a run to collect power pods when Kit is kidnapped. Athena and her newborn baby have to make their way alone to Earth to try to find Kit.

It turns out the ship which left Earth carrying many of the genengineered “master race” on a mission of colonization has returned and sent its youngest clones down to Earth supposedly to negotiate peace and a territory for the returning colonists. But all is not as it appears, and soon Athena, Kit, and their baby are fighting for their lives against the forces of both the Good Men and the returned starship. The fate of the world’s human population hangs in the balance!

This story is beautifully told and Hoyt makes time for both a kind of family drama (since the clones feel like younger siblings or children to their older originals) and action-packed fight scenes. Family ties form between strangers who’ve grown up abused and disowned, and the loyalties strengthen as the odds — and the sacrifices — pile up. Luce and Nate from A Few Good Men show up to play secondary roles, but you don’t need to read any of the other Darkship series books to follow the story.

A good read which deepens the understanding of the Darkship setting and demonstrates real wisdom about parenthood and its emotions in the midst of a battle for survival.