The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Posts Tagged ‘science’

Considering the Sun

Posted by BigWords on April 2, 2016

It is rather surprising where, precisely, the thought process behind an idea begins. Not just the usual nonsense trotted out every so often when someone asks “where do you get your ideas” (which is superbly pierced by “There’s a P.O. box in Schenectady…”), but instead the dot-to-dot of process. It is most like hitting YouTube to watch Voyage Voyage by Desireless, and somehow – two hours later – you are watching, mouth agape, as someone does parkour with a perilous drop one missed footstep away.

Here’s a challenge: find a jaw-dropping WHAT THE HELL, DUDE video which doesn’t have the standard YouTube comment how the fuck did I get here added beneath it. Go on. I’ll be waiting.

That is pretty much the best way I have of describing my thought process. I start at point A and work through multiple strands until I end up somewhere unexpected and surprising even to myself. Which is how a conversation about something entirely mundane ends up with me dropping an idea which raises more questions than answers: how the hell did I, of all people, come up with a plausible answer to why the surface of the sun is so hot? I mean, c’mon.

The before part, where I was in my thoughts before, is not important. It has been so long that I’m not sure if I’ll ever come up with the steps again, but the idea seems “not dumb” in a way that many other answers… Just don’t. Before we go much further, I’ll explain the idea here.

The material ejected from the sun – the constant push of material off from the surface, in the form of light and matter – is only as effective as the speed it can attain. Whatever is not fast enough to escape the mass of the sun, what is trapped by gravity, can’t fall “back to the surface” because there is no surface. Gas, remember. So there’s this chaff, whatever waste that is being pushed on from below, and is being heated, while not attaining the necessary speed to be blown off into space.

I’ll admit that I haven’t probed that notion at all, mostly for fear of finding a flaw, but as an easy answer to the problem I am incredibly pleased with myself. Does it work? I am not entirely sure I want to be dissuaded from the answer, as it is awesomely simple. The sun is crusty. There was a couple of weeks that I actually considered writing it up with diagrams and in a far more technical language, but I don’t want to spend the next decade getting into serious science.

Despite the story which that was going to appear in being… less than stellar (hey, a joke) it stands as a neat reminder that when I put my mind to something I can come up with surprising answers. Even if they are half-baked (two jokes for the price of one, kids) and not necessarily correct.

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AW Blog Chain – Fire And Ice

Posted by BigWords on August 23, 2012

This blog hasn’t been updated in a while (though you don’t need me to tell you that), and I thought that getting back into the swing of things was a good idea. Even better, using the blog chain gives me ample reason for mass linkage to some of the awesome blogs out there – and you really want to start clicking on these linkies if you haven’t visited the blogs before. So… linkage first, madness second.

orion_mk3 – (link to this month’s post)
Ralph Pines – (link to this month’s post)
areteus – (link to this month’s post)
Catherine Hall – (link to this month’s post)
bmadsen – (link to this month’s post)
pyrosama – (link to this month’s post)
meowzbark – (link to this month’s post)
BBBurke – (link to this month’s post)
writingismypassion – (link to this month’s post)
wonderactivist – (link to this month’s post)
SuzanneSeese – (link to this month’s post)
randi.lee – (link to this month’s post)
Proach – (link to this month’s post)
magicmint – (link to this month’s post)
tomspy77 – (link to this month’s post)

The prompt for the blog chain is “Fire and Ice”.

Image by Frank Frazetta. Go buy some of his paintings.


Fire and ice are at opposite ends of the thermal spectrum, and so aren’t linked by many things. Except volcanoes. Yup. You read that right – freaking awesome volcanoes at that. Sometimes it seems that the universe looks at our laws of physics and says “Fuck that, check this out” and does something outlandish. Not that, y’know, we should be surprised or anything, given that reality has already laid the smack-down on our understanding of life on our own planet. As a voracious reader, such things crop up surprisingly rarely in fiction because… Well, you simply wouldn’t accept being told about ice volcanoes, would you? It would be like those Kemlo books where the brat could breathe in space and had awesome adventures just because. Looking at the differences between fire and ice also brings up another question you are probably not going to give a damn about, but which gave me an unbelievable boner when I discovered it – you most likely know about absolute zero (−273.15°C), but you probably didn’t know that there’s an equivalent for fire as well. Unfortunately, some genius thought that “absolute heat” sounded good enough a name for this limit (where reality loses its shit and starts to break down), so scientists are forevermore doomed to say something which sounds like a bad eighties action film whenever they talk about this phenomenon.

Aren’t you glad I skipped over Gliese 436 to bring you all this other stuff?

There are a lot of myths about both fire and ice which are as fascinating for me as anything that reality throws at us – the phoenix, rising from the flames is an image not easily forgotten, and places such as Niflheimr (literally a land of ice) are as potent as any Greek He-Man wannabe. I spent rather too long a while back hunting down the origins of a rather more modern myth, concerning a Russian submarine which picked up a “corpse” on a chunk of ice only to find that the body (when defrosted) wasn’t as dead as imagined. The various tellings differ slightly, though the impossibilities of the repeated information make me think that somewhere along the line someone was having waaay too much fun propagating this piece of cold war nonsense – the life span of an iceberg isn’t that long, and to believe that the woman was recovered in 1988 and nobody has spoken about being on the sub which pulled her in beggars even the most credulous mind.

Those of you who know of my slightly (snerk) obsessive nature will no doubt be wondering when I’m gonna break out the inevitable reference to Fire and Ice from the Justice league, but… that would be too easy. And boring. Lets try something a little more highbrow.

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Robert Browning, 1920.

It is interesting that fire is linked to hate there. Written before the horrors of World War II, he couldn’t have imagined just how potent it would become for future generations. The notion of repeated apocalypses – apocalii? – has been a staple of myth for probably as long as there have been people. the Hopi believed that there have been three apocalypse events already. Handily, they occurred in the order of fire, ice, then the flood… I find this endlessly fascinating. Firstly, how the hell did they work all this out, and (more importantly) how did they come to that order? it fits with the scientific knowledge that a planet smashed into the earth, turning the surface into a molten goo. Then the massive ice ages (of which we are currently in the middle of a rather minor one), and… Hell, they nailed the fact that the last major ice age was followed by flooding when the sheets of ice covering giant chunks of the planet thawed. It is eerie. And that’s before we get into what the Mayans came up with, in between games of soccer with the heads of their enemies. It seems that no matter where you turn, there is another apocalyptic myth which begs investigation.

For everyone who knows anything about the universe, this is gonna be boring as hell, but for those of you who didn’t pay attention in school, it is important – there are currently two ways the universe is going to end. Go on – take a wild guess as to what those two ways are… Yup. Fire and ice. Again. Shit, it is almost as if the universe likes deliberately messing with us. Either everything spreads out to the extent that the skies will turn dark, and the end comes in a slow, freezing nothingness, or the universe pulls back on itself like a giant rubber band and contracts into a fiery point of everything, where the next universe will be born from a big bang. Like hitting reboot on your computer, though without any of the information being saved. Kind of a bummer. And don’t fret – mankind will be long, long gone by that point. Oooh – we might all be ghosts, watching as the shit hits the fan. That would actually be kinda awesome.

Aaaand that’s as far as I thought ahead for this. I suck, I know. I’ll leave you with a suitable song.











If you are wondering how the hell I got through this entire post without mentioning George R.R. Martin, then join the club.

Posted in Misc., Over The Line, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Origins Of A Story, or The Science Of Writing

Posted by BigWords on June 13, 2010

There have been a few writing related posts recently which have addressed various parts of the writing process, though the process of coming up with ideas is rarely – and justifiably – examined in great detail. It’s very difficult to describe the ways things (often completely unrelated) come together to make narrative. Being the type of person who likes to buck trends, I’ll lay out the way in which I came up with one of my current WIPs, for no other reason than I need to keep this blog active or else people will think I have died.

This is a kinda weird post, mainly because I’m attempting to marry two contradictory things together in one idea – the concept that writing (art) can have similar rules to physics (science) if you know what you are looking for. The belief that there is an elaborate set of hidden rules interspersed throughout stories only came about because I was looking for a way to describe how narrative is infused with a life of its’ own. It is, in a roundabout way, the partial answer to the stereotypical question “Where do ideas come from?” As a clear answer would be impossible, I rephrased the question in my head to “Are there analogies to science in writing?” The answer, surprisingly, was a resounding yes. It may sound too complex for words, and possibly contains too little of the former question for some, but it is an interesting thought process which led me here. Lets start with this:

The throwaway character at the beginning of “Dangerous” Calhoun (a superhero story) was meant as a homage to Indiana Jones, though through the Butterfly Effect became a much more important character. As a partial deconstruction of the main superhero tropes, I had set the world around the characters ten years after the outlawing of powered individuals from most of the US (with Nevada – for complicated reasons – the only safe haven left on US soil), so he had to be from elsewhere. Russia seemed a good place to have him come from, and yet, as I was writing, I realized there was an opportunity to tie him closer to the island where most of the action takes place. He was meant to die in the caves honeycombing Bali Ha’i, and through a combination of luck and inspiration I decided to have him eaten to death by tiny translucent spiders (which I had great trouble resisting having come from Mars as a tribute to David Bowie).

Only… It didn’t exactly work out as I had planned. If Calhoun, the hero, had to become involved, then I would need to tie the Russian into his back story. Having the missing Russian be an archeologist didn’t make sense once I tried tying it all in a nice bow. What connection could a superhero have with an archeologist? Much better that he goes in search of the means of his destruction – a xenobiologist. That, at least, gives him a karmic death. It also occurred to me that he needed a very low-level power, merely to remind people that I was playing with the stuff DC and Marvel present as great powers. Thus I decided that he could talk to animals – which makes his murder by the little white spiders all the more horrific, as people will hopefully come to the conclusion that he is listening to their thoughts all the while he is being devoured. By the time I had finished with him, the simple sketch of a Russian archeologist dying in the caves had transformed into a talking skeleton whose musculature and ‘skin’ had become the insects who had eaten him – a living skeleton to act as a guide for the hero to consult on his travels. This had an effect on my eventual choice for the villain as well, but I’ll come to that in a moment.

With the throwaway character now positioned where he can assist the story along better, I needed to explain the spiders. It made the caves too dangerous for my original idea of a standard supervillain’s lair, so by changing one tiny aspect of the story I had to substantially alter everything which came after. The spiders, though cool, were out of place. It made sense to have them somehow belong, so I needed to come up with an answer to the existence of the island. It was originally meant to have been created by a powered character as a “New Atlantis” – the floor of the sea risen by a combination of abilities to create a homeland for the people who were no longer welcome in America. If the spiders were meant to be there, they would need an existing ecosystem, which a newly created piece of land didn’t have. By substantially adding to one (very minor) character’s story, I had broken my story’s logic. The change from “new land from the sea” to “ancient uninhabitable island” came from that – the only characters tough enough to survive there being the very people whose powers made them too dangerous for US soil.

That brings up the other problem. If it’s a harsh environment, then my concept of a “mutant paradise” is screwed. There would be more chance of the dwellings being a shantytown, or ghetto, than anything approaching paradise, so the perception of the inhabitants as a major threat would be diminished enough to make the end – where nuclear missiles fall from the sky onto the island – completely implausible. It was only when I set about justifying the spiders that I realized they were, in every way possible, parasites. It wasn’t just that they had co-opted the body of the man, but their place in the cave had to have some sort of parasitic significance as well, otherwise they would merely be a plot point – and I dislike things cropping up simply for the sake of plot. If they are there, then they need to have a reason to be there. It wasn’t until I connected their actions to that of microbes on the human body that I got my answer – the island had to be “alive” in some way.

Ignoring how dumb a sentient island is for a moment – and I’m not going to even bother explaining Ego or Mogo to non-comic-readers – I needed something less stupid. Hence having the island be merely the shell of a Gamera-type cosmic horror. This would explain away the spiders in a more logical way, and move the end of the story away from man-made destruction to the birth of a greater threat. Having though that through, no longer was the idea of an intelligent, cultured villain whose super-powered apartheid goal relevant – I needed a more substantial menace to balance the increased danger of the island. A character whose life wouldn’t be threatened by the horrors lurking in the caves beneath the island meant that a more substantial power than strong suggestion was needed – and telepaths are overplayed in superhero fiction anyway. It soon became clear that there was a way to mock X-3‘s inclusion of Madrox at the same time as filling out the population of the island.

I had stated there were 1,696 powered individuals in existence (a nod to Soon I Will Be Invincible) after the Power Wars, so a substantial proportion of them would have ended up on the island, but that isn’t many people at all. A few small villages near me have more people that that, and they look so unimpressive as to be immediately forgettable. The changes I had made to the nature of the island – a “fix” for a minor character, remember – had meant that I needed to create another fix for the number of people on the island, a place too dangerous for normal people to live. Having dismissed most of the original text for reasons of credibility, I was now back to blank pages again. Thankfully I had the insight to watch the third X-Men film whilst in the middle of rewriting the scenes where Calhoun needed to face off against the villain, and a self-replicating enemy seemed too good to pass up.

Butchering an SF film script I wrote a few years ago, I took the enemy out of that story and dropped him onto Bali Ha’i as a more formidable foe – altering the basic Midwich Cuckoo variance to accommodate the new horror tone. Not only does the character replicate itself by touching others (overwriting people’s minds to act as an extended being), he now loses some functionality each time he does so. As the villain takes over more bodies, he loses a little more critical reasoning each time he does so – eventually becoming more animalistic as his consciousness is spread over thousands of individuals. It also acted as a neat analogy to the spiders earlier in the story. As an aside, it should be noted that for every minor alteration to the story, at least a dozen things had to be changed to fit the changes.

I’m not sure if this is an example of The Butterfly Effect, or if it comes under Newton’s third law. Whatever the science behind the rewriting process is, it is a pain in the ass when it is so complete as to turn one story into something else entirely.

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The Year Ain’t Over, So Stop Mourning It

Posted by BigWords on December 22, 2009

There’s a lot of posts being written at the moment which seem to lament the passing of another year. Somehow I’m not feeling the motion towards a new year yet, though I’m sure there are people who have been planning their December blog posts for a while now. It is, after all, the final chance to comment on all of the news stories, to bitch about the way we’re all a year older, to state defiantly that next year will be better (c’mon – it can’t be worse, right?) and to place their spin on the current state of the world. That is all fine and well, but there are still some days to go before I have to retrain myself to write the correct year on stuff. I hate the time at the start of a new year when I always get the date wrong.

When people write up their summations of the past year, and the past decade, they will try to confuse you with stories about personal growth – the need to show off and explain how they’re somehow a better person is one of the (many) things which still eludes me. If I had a personal growth I’d be making an appointment for my doctor to immediately get it removed, but that’s just my opinion. If you like your growths where they are, then by all means show them to the world. I’m not gonna pretend that I’ve mellowed any. Hell, if anything I’m even more bitter and twisted than ever (I watched Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen), still as impulsive… Maybe even less sociable than ever.

And why, now of all times, do people suddenly come over all sentimental – as if the year which has just kicked them in the ass never happened? I’m beginning to wonder if there is something I’m missing out on. Is it just me, alone here, mocking the frivolities of an arbitrary date we are held in thrall to? It isn’t as if there is a rule that we have to enjoy the “season of goodwill to all men” and be merry. Merry. Hmmm… Merrymerrymerry. After a while it isn’t even a word anymore, yet it is everywhere at the moment. It doesn’t really inspire goodwill in me rather than an uncontrollable urge to punch somebody. Anyone. The next person who says ‘Merry Christmas” perhaps.

One thing the last twelve months has taught me, in the particularly annoying way that only time can, was that I shouldn’t make plans. I really shouldn’t make plans. Three of my big ones were utterly ruined by unforseen events, so I can only surmise that there is some weird universal constant which determines that the making of plans is a Very Bad Thing. That sits just fine with me. I was planning on (maybe) sending out some Christmas cards this year, but haven’t. No biggie… The world hasn’t ended, there are no impending problems, and I doubt anyone will really notice.

I am, of course, going to use the fact that I’m not sending out cards as a way to appease the global warming nutters – never passing up an opportunity to make myself look good will remain a personal goal, though it hardly counts as a positive thing.

Oh, and if you, dear reader, happen to be one of those global warming nutters advocates, tell me this: Why am I freezing my balls off under a blanket of snow here in Scotland? If the planet is getting warmer, which I doubt, where have the sunny skies gone? I’ll concede that there isn’t as much of the white stuff (well, the other white stuff anyways) as there used to be, but it hardly constitutes proper scientific proof to the very, very debatable theory we’re screwing up the planet. Answer me, science bods.

2009 was the year we put war behind us and… Oh, wait. No, we’re still at war. How the hell are we still at war? Did anyone sign anything? I seem to remember some vague promises about decreased involvement in Iraq, but a promise from a politician is as good as supermarket credit- you’ll get screwed in the end, it’s only a question of how hard you want it. The endless reporting is one of the reasons I try not to watch BBC News 24 or Sky, because they seem to revel in the misery and human despair. With video footage. Lots of video footage. It’s a good thing nobody else seems to be watching, or they’ll wrangle a way to keep the war going longer for good ratings.

We didn’t disappear into a giant black hole when the Super-Collider was plugged in, which disappointed and overjoyed an equal amount of people. I guess that the naysayers had a point about dangerous experiments, but their massive knee jerk overreactions were a personal highlight of the last year – one particularly good commentary claimed it might open up a hell dimension and plunge us into the game Doom for real. Seriously. That shit is hilarious, and I am really disappointed that it didn’t pan out as expected – man, I really, really want a FBG. More than I want peace on earth. More than I want to find an agent.

2009, huh? Bit of a let-down. At least we managed to move some ways into the future, with bionic limbs being advanced, a robotic eye that seems to hold promise, advances in robotics, tweaks to the way the internet works… Soon (prob’ly not in my lifetime) we’ll actually have spaceflight on a regular basis. No, wait a sec – Richard Branson is getting all hot and bothered about a plane/spaceship thingy which might, possibly, precluding problems, actually deliver on that promise from the pages of The Eagle comic. We’re still waiting on proof that it won’t develop a problem on its’ inaugural flight, requiring Superman to bring it back to earth safely (okay, so that reference is asking a bit much of you).

I should mention Obama somewhere here, as that was a highlight – as was the redneck KKK fuckers who were caught with guns, then were stupid enough to admit they were going to kill the president. Jeez, Darwinism in action. I bet their parents are proud. Politics… I really don’t think anyone comes here for insights into politics, but I have to say this – 2009 was the year we discovered just how low, underhand, scumbaggy (is that a word?) and compromised some leaders were. Gordon Brown betrayed the UK every few days, The Italian government flip-flopped like a dying fish, the Chinese and Aussie governments tried to choke the life out of the internet… Bad year for politicians.

Oooh, lookee – I made some political commentary and managed to conveniently neglect mentioning how badly British politicians have been working the system to line their own pockets. Or how one of their number was caught with an illegal immigrant working on their staff. Or how we had reports of the stupid lengths some MP’s were willing to go to screw over their constituents.

Somehow it doesn’t seem like anything ever changes, no matter which year we are in.

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