Month: July 2017

REVIEW: Freefall (9/10 STARS)

Freefall is about an alien Sqid (not a misspelling) named Sam Starfall who has a robot cohort named Helix, and a wolf who has been uplifted (made sentient) named Florence Ambrose.

Sam’s race is mostly preindustral. Steam power is new to them. He sort of sneaked onboard a human scout ship and was taken by accident. He made it to the human colony Jean and has since bought a ship with a dream of becoming a famous captain. Sam himself is a petty crook who is more interested in the act of stealing and being known for stealing then using or selling what he steals. He gets really annoyed when his police record leaves things out.

Florence is his engineer, and is one of only 14 Bowman’s Wolfs in existence. She wants to be helpful, make the world a better place and make sure that the company that made her sees her people as more then just a test of concept for uplifting.

It is set on and around Jean, a planet that is being terraformed. The air is good but the ecosystem is being expanded and they are dropping comets and putting a new moon in orbit.

The science is very good, they have FTL but it is limited, taking a year to transit from Jean to the closest system.

The story is optimistic in ways you rarely see, it does have people who act selfishly but most people do not and are at least able to learn and grow.

The story deals with the rights of robots and what should be done to fix a problem when you no longer have legal recourse. Despite taking on such heavy themes it stays funny and optimistic and I enjoy reading it.

PS use the speedreader if you want to read the whole comic, it is another reason to love freefall, only comic I know of that has anything like that.

Alien invasions

While not as common as you might think, alien invasions are still a staple of science fiction. One of the reasons they are not done often is that they are really hard to do right.

In large part this is because if the aliens just wanted to kill off the human race it would not be much of a story. All that would happen is the aliens enter the sol system, then toss a few large rocks at earth. Even if we (somehow) manage to divert one or two, it would be very easy for them to toss more rocks down the gravity well and very costly for us to divert them. We would be hit eventually, and one hit with a rock big enough could render the earth uninhabitable for centuries.

Before I go on I will say that one thing they would NOT be here for is raw materials. If you want metals, water or anything else you would find in the earth’s crust it would be easier to get them from the asteroid belt or from a comet. There are a few things that you will only find in large planets (like uranium) but Mars would be a much better place to get them.

And as stated, if you want to kill all of us humans off all you have to do is drop a few asteroids.
So you want to have an invasion anyway, what do you do? As I see it there is one good practical reason; the aliens want to keep our biosphere functional. They would have to lack the ability to make an effective bio-weapon against us of course. There are any number of good reasons they would lack that ability.
If they want to keep our biosphere functional, the aliens would probably want to move in. Note that this would only apply if the aliens were short on time. If they could wait long enough they could just kill us off with asteroid drops then wait a few hundred years for things to clear off.

Say our aliens arrived and had to be on earth in less then thirty years. They are not really the sharing type so they plan to kill us all, and won’t drop rocks because they like the earth as is. And let us also say they got in without being spotted (hard but maybe not impossible). Their technology level is about fifty years ahead of ours.
The first thing they might do, beyond studying us, is to crash our economy. There is something like $1.2 trillion US dollars in circulation. What would happen if the aliens arranged for $10 trillion to find it’s way into the hands of a large number of random people? Ideally people would just start running around spending. If the counterfeits were good enough their would be no way for anyone not at the treasury to tell if they were fake.
After this I see a few options. First you could do a large number of assassinations. You would want enough that you would start to break the chain of command. In the US what would mean the President, VP, Cabinet, and all of both houses. You could do the same with other countries, the goal would be part confusion, part slowing down any reaction to further moves.
The first step of the invasion itself would be to take out all of our satellites as well as any launch facilities. You could then put your own satellite network in place, ideally with some Project Star Wars type lasers to stop ICBM’s.
After that you have the choice of either creating a beachhead and expanding from there or staying unreachable in orbit and taking out one city at a time until the human race can no longer field a military. At this point so long as you keep a presence in space large to recover from if everything on earth is lost you could not lose. The only way to lose would be for humans to get to space which would be between very very hard to impossible.

Wiping out Humanity

A common plot point in science fiction stories is that the human race is on the verge of being wiped out. However really threatening the human race with extinction is much harder then you would think.

When I say humanity being wiped out I mean that the human race would not last another generation, not just that a lot of people died. Wiping out 99.9999% of humanity would not by itself wipe out our viability as a species.

Depending on who you talk to you would only need between 15 (see the island of Tristan da Cuhna) and 200 people to start a large population. That is reproducing with no scientific help (stored eggs, sperm and DNA tests to help with incest).

Contrary to what zombie movies would have you believe diseases won’t do it. The problem is that the faster and more deadly a disease is the easier it is to contain and diagnose. The slower it is the more it is the more time you have to stop and cure it.

Even if you have a disease that hits the happy (or unhappy really) middle there are too many places it would not get to, outposts that are very rarely visited. The arctic or antarctic, ships at sea ect.

Even if you had aliens engineer the perfect disease and drop it over all major cities and towns at once it would not be enough if they wanted to kill us all off, way too many people would be missed.

If they somehow saturated the earth’s atmosphere with it there are people who would live (submerged submarines for example) even with no warning. After that they would have to do it the hard way, use boots on the ground (or robots or whatever) to dig out the humans that were left.

Nuclear war is used sometimes too, although its not the goto it was during the cold war. However it would leave huge swaths of the world unaffected. And remember that after about 110 years the irradiated soil radiation level would be back down to background levels. That is if you don’t replace it or do anything other then wait. Short of placing nuke’s in a grid pattern over the entire earth they would not be enough.

If you really wanted to have humanity being wiped out on the table the threat would need to drastically effect the earth’s biosphere. This is the only thing that could kill everyone everywhere on earth.

The biosphere change would have to huge. If there was any possibility of being able to survive in a dome someone would be able to throw it together.

There are only a few things that come to mind, first would be a comet or asteroid. Contrary to what Hollywood would have you think short of a best case scenario we would probably all die if we were hit if they were big enough.

Worse case is a large comet because we could have as little as a week warning. Comets only gain tails and become easy to find when they get past Jupiter’s orbit. Given they have long orbits (thousands of years for most) we will probably not know about the one that kills us before it’s tail lights up. They move fast enough that we could have as little as one week from seeing it to dying. There would be nothing whatsoever we could do in that situation.

Best case is we its a solid (rather then a collection of small rocks and gravel) asteroid and we have several orbits as it slowly gets closer to hitting us. If that was the case over several years we could divert it at perigee or apogee with minimal effort.

You could also change the sun’s output. It would not take too much in either direction, although remember the supreme efforts that would be put to survival if that were to happen. Raising the average temperature by say 20 degrees would not be enough, or even close. The change would have to be enough that even with the collective efforts of mankind we could not survive.


I liked the first two Spiderman movies (although I don’t think they aged very well) I did not like the latter three (although not all for the same reasons).

I do like Spiderman as a hero. His powerset is in that sweet spot between “Not as good as seal team 6” and “Can’t be threatened”. It also lends itself to taking people captive rather then killing them, the writers don’t have to come up with convoluted reasons why he does not kill.

Very minor spoilers ahead

That background out of the way I really did like Spiderman: Homecoming, much more then any of the other Spiderman movies.

It does not waste time with much of an origin story, nor should it. I certainly do not need to see yet another Spiderman origin story movie.

They also had Peter act and look like a real teenager. He made some big mistakes, as you would expect. But he did mean well, and he did learn to be better.

As you can’t fail to know by this point Iron Man is in the movie. Beyond the sheer joy of seeing Tony Stark chew the scenery, we also get to see him be the responsible adult. But most importantly he was in the movie what I would consider an appropriate amount. He did not steal the thunder from Spiderman. All the really important fight scenes he was absent for good plot reasons.

In a lot of ways it’s more like the Netflix marvel series then the MCU movies. The bad guy was not acting like a comic book bad guy who was trying to get revenge or take over the world. He was just a black market dealer trying to support his family (not saying he was a good guy, he was still a murderer). He was very careful and I could believe that he could go eight years without being caught.

While good there were still two things that I think held the movie back:

The first is that he had no spider sense. His super agility plus spider sense are what really sells Spiderman to me as a hero who can play in the big leagues. Without it I find it harder to believe that he can dodge bullets and such.

The second are the teen antics, I came to the theater to watch Spiderman, not a teen rom com. While to both Peter’s and the writer’s credit Peter does not take look to take school seriously when compared to this outings as Spiderman it still drags the movie down slightly.