Archive for February, 2004

Dark Matter Mafia

Tuesday, February 10th, 2004

Link of the day: The Aether - A Reasonably Complex Guide To Special Relativity

I’m not sure whether I mentioned before that I don’t believe in dark matter. The Dark Matter Skeptics came out of the woodwork to challenge the Dark Matter Mafia at Slashdot. My favorite comment was about the Dark Matter Zombies, but the most useful one pointed me to the MOND pages.

According to the FAQ, MOND stands for MOdified Newtonian Dynamics. It is a modification of the usual Newtonian force law hypothesized in 1983 by Moti Milgrom of the Weizmann Institute as an alternative to Dark Matter. That is to say, there’s no dark matter out there. What’s actually happening is that gravity behaves differently at very small accelerations. So far it’s mostly ad hoc, but no more so than filling the universe with dark matter no one has ever seen.

Which would you rather have, variable gravity or heavy aether?


Monday, February 9th, 2004

Quote of the day: We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. –John Adams, 1798

As you may know, our own Senator Kerry, the non-Irishman, has come out against gay marriage. The legislature is working on that Constitutional amendment to define marriage. I’m thinking it’s time to move to a state where they already know what marriage is. Then again, the gallantry would probably follow me there.

Yenta Sue

Sunday, February 8th, 2004

I’ve been following a kerfluffle about a writer who mentioned an unfavorable review to her fans, who in turn went forth and challenged the review. The kerfluffle itself is fairly simple - I’d never tell my mailing list about an unfavorable review. I think it’s iffy enough telling them about contests I’m entered in (because the implication is go and vote for me), but I figure that if they like my fic they’d like similar fic. It’s a public service announcement.

The kerfluffle led to a couple of discussions of what a Mary Sue is. Everyone can spot your basic Flaming Mary Sue: purple eyes, flowing locks, super powers, beloved by all, saves the ship, dies tragically at the end, etc., etc. But other definitions of Mary Sue are more controversial. To some people, any OC is a Mary Sue (or if male, a Marty Stu) by analogy, because all OC’s detract from the canon characters to some extent, just as Flaming Mary Sue supersedes the canon characters in all respects.

To me, canon characters can themselves be Mary Sues: when Seven saves the ship without needing anyone else’s help, she’s a Mary Sue for Brannon Braga. He didn’t want to deal with an ensemble show, so he tossed Seven in there and everything after that happened in relation to her. Likewise Wesley Crusher, to whom Gene Roddenberry gave Marty Stu superpowers so that eventually he had to ascend to a higher plane of geeking. And that’s just in canon - fanfic writers can also take the canon characters and turn them into authorial insertions.

Speaking of which, I don’t consider “authorial insertion” to be the primary definition of Mary Sue, and for that reason I don’ t think Yenta Sue (the name is from Rana Bob’s Field Guide to Mary Sues), the matchmaking Mary Sue of slash fandom, is a Mary Sue at all, unless she befriends all and saves the ship while she’s matchmaking. I’ve written too many matchmakers into my fic (both alien and canon characters) to disown them now as Mary Sues.

Yenta Sue is clearly an authorial insertion. My purpose in writing schmoop fic is to match up two characters (of opposite sex, but I don’t think the slash case differs in any important respect). Anyone who participates in the matchmaking activity, be it Tom Paris or Seven of Nine or Q or a convenient planetful of matchmaking aliens is acting transparently on my behalf as author. Calling Yenta Sue Crewman Pereira or Jemiminika the Alien doesn’t make much difference.

You might say that Jemiminika the Purple-eyed Alien is an authorial insertion while Tom Paris is not, but I don’t have purple eyes or superpowers and I don’t save the planet on a regular (or even semi-regular) basis. Real authorial insertion isn’t that common in fandom, though you do find the authorial narrative voice in those annoying inline notes (i.e., Isn’t Legolas SO cute!!!) and author-turned-character in I’m Janeway’s Teenage Daughter fics.

So there are three different sorts of Sue here:

  1. Flaming Mary Sue: the impossibly perfect character
  2. Yenta Sue: the character who acts on the author’s behalf
  3. Me Sue: the direct authorial insertion

I don’t think they overlap nearly as much as they’re made out to. Of all of them, only Flaming Mary Sue is prima facie bad writing, because the character is by definition all out of proportion to the milieu and genre. Yenta Sue is merely a stock character there to push the plot along. Me Sue could be anywhere - how would you know? Do you know the author so well that you can tell when she appears in her own fic? I don’t.

Roma Eterna, The Worthing Saga

Saturday, February 7th, 2004

After I got it home, I was looking at the title of Roma Eterna by Robert Silverberg, trying to figure out what was wrong. Eventually, it hit me. The word is aeterna, from aeternus. I could understand if the publisher was scared off by the ligature (æ), but ae without the ligature is perfectly correct. For a title that was supposed to be in Latin, this was a bad sign.

Matters did not improve from there. Roma Eterna is a collection of short stories set in an alternate history in which Rome never fell. Harry Turtledove could have done wonders with such a premise (and for all I know, already has), but Silverberg never seems to take full advantage of his world.

Nor does he do well with the genre. Alternate history is difficult to read when you don’t know the real history - it’s like reading a fanfic AU without being sufficiently familiar with the universe of the show. If you have the background, alternate history is rewarding. You don’t need the background to read Roma Eterna however, and even a slight knowledge of history may prove to be an obstacle when reading this otherwise entertaining collection.

Rather than take advantage of the possibilities before him, the author tends to repeat himself. Two stories deal with dissolute younger Imperial brothers who make something of themselves. One of these, “With Caesar in the Underworld,” isn’t bad. In two or three stories, good men slaughter hundreds of nobles in order to reform the Empire - part of a focus on the nobility, and in fact the relatives of the Emperors, that makes the novel more soap opera than alternate history. “An Outpost of the Realm” is part and parcel of the soap opera, though it’s a good story and the only one with a complex female character.

Two stories deal with speculation on “what would have happened” if circumstances hadn’t allowed the Christian or Islamic religions to arise. Said speculation is, of course, impossibly accurate, so that it comes out sounding like a silly trick on the part of the author. Two other stories handle ventures to the West. In one, the Magellan-analogues act more or less like Magellan’s men did - what ever happened to this being alternate history? On the other hand, seven Roman legions sail for Nova Roma (America) and are slaughtered by the natives of the Yucatan. The excuse for this turn of events is unconvincing; most notably, the Romans bring no noticable diseases to the new world. The author doesn’t explain this huge historical lacuna either.

The novel ends with a story about the Jews planning an Exodus to space. (Yes, that’s a spoiler but I read it on the flyleaf and the rocket is front and center of the cover art.) From the blurbs, you’d think this plot accounted for more than 20 pages of the book - no such luck. I found the outcome surprising, but disappointing.

Back in the “what would have happened if Christianity had never arisen” story, we found out that the Jews never made it out of Egypt - Pharaoh cut them off at the Red Sea and brought them all back. However, later in the book Jews are spread around the world, following their own peculiar laws which don’t differ in any notable respect from non-alternate history. Where did they get that law? If Pharaoh recaptured them, then there was no trip to Sinai and therefore no Law. Yes, it’s a minor point, but the world is full of Christians and Jews who know what order the Red Sea and Sinai go in. If you’re writing alternate history, you can’t be that careless. I was hoping for an interesting treatment of religion - something you almost never find in sci-fi - and instead I got some crazy people in a desert with no feeling of history behind them and an uncertain future in front.

So, to be briefer, The Worthing Saga by Orson Scott Card is also a collection of stories set in a single universe. Some of them he wrote quite far apart, having forgotten (and lost, to boot) the earlier stories. His internal inconsistencies manage to give the book a real sense of the passage of time that Roma Eterna lacks. This being science fiction, OSC can get in much grander moral themes, but then that may just be OSC. He’s a great writer all around.

The book isn’t perfect - some of the stories in the middle were too medieval and mystical (which is to say, obscure) for me - but it started out strong and ended strong as well, and that’s more than enough. Besides, I’m a sucker for a moral theme. If you’re interested in the danger of helping people too much by making life too easy, pick up The Worthing Saga.

WIP Amnesty Day

Friday, February 6th, 2004

I’m not quite sure what WIP amnesty day is all about, but here’s a UFO (that’s unfinished object - I make no claim that it’s in progress) I’ll probably never finish. I issued a Leatherclad Challenge at some point, to get Chakotay back into his Maquis duds. Somehow this AU set in first season was supposed to accomplish that.

The Nines by Jemima (VOY, UFO, Season 1/”Survival Instinct”) 7/03

No one would have guessed they were drones by looking at them. Yes,
there was an eerie coordination to their movements as they strolled
down the wide thoroughfare of Llan Station, but theirs was not the
flesh-defying mechanical precision of the Borg. The unity of the four
humanoids was more like the discipline of an elite military squadron.
A passer-by might notice an almost decorative flash of metal on a neck
or hand, but the Collective’s callous disregard for the humanoid form
was nowhere in evidence.

As the figures turned aside at the entryway of a shop, the Human’s
motions were not quite human, nor the Bajoran’s exactly Bajoran. A
member of Species 571 would not have claimed this quartet, nor would
the former comrades of the fourth humanoid have recognized their own.
They disconnected the credit register with swift, accurate motions
that could as easily have belonged to a ring of thieves as a crew of

Their oddness did not disturb the inhabitants of the space station,
who were mainly members of species 482, 390 and 207, with a smattering
of 133, 797, the ever-popular 218, and unidentified visitors. To the
locals, they were merely four more aliens employed to service the
station’s decaying infrastructure. It would take a human to spot
Seven’s inhumanity, and a purported Bajoran to call Three spiritless.



Thursday, February 5th, 2004

Warning: When I say gruesome, I mean gruesome.

Morbidity is a lovely double entendre. Today on the morbidity watch I found a report on the avian origin of the Spanish flu, the 1918 epidemic that killed more people, faster than any other disease, including the Black Death. Estimates range from 20-40 million people, 1-2% of the world population at the time.

If you want something even more gruesome, take a look at
this teratoma or parasitic twin. You can find some interesting info on conjoined and parasitic twins at, if it’s up.

The B Word

Wednesday, February 4th, 2004

While writing a story I stumbled across a local term I’d never known was local. I know the basics like grinder, bubbler, johnnycake and you guys, but sometimes I just don’t know whether people say scrod in other parts of the country. And not for one moment did I suspect the b word of being a regionalism.

Apparently, coastal New England dialect, also known as Eastern New England regional dialect, isn’t restricted to coastal New England. Like so-called Hawaiian sweet bread (actually Portuguese sweet bread, known in Fall River by the Portuguese name, massa, from massa sovada), the coastal dialect got around with the whalers and can be found in other coastal cities.

But back to the words. Reading through the Wicked Good Guide to Boston English, I found plenty of words and phrases I’d forgotten or never suspected of being regionalisms. I’ll add some Southern New England ones to the list for regional interest: directional, down cellar, So don’t I, elastics, wicked frickin’, Hoodsie cups, hub, jimmies, kegger, killer, cabinet (milkshake), rotary, quarter of (the hour), on account of, packie, quahog, Southie, T, tonic, and whole ‘nother.

None of those are the b-word. I found the b-word at, which also claims that angry in the sense of red and inflamed is a New England regionalism. Who knew? And the b-word is… bulkhead, those doors that lead down cellar. Apparently nowhere else in the English-speaking world do these things have a proper name. Bulkhead is a regionalism - who knew?

Quantum Mirror III

Wednesday, February 4th, 2004

As you may have noticed from the screenshots in my previous quantum mirror entry, the controller for the quantum mirror changed between the two QM episodes. Since they’re two different controllers (one from our reality, one from Samantha~’s), that’s not much of a problem.

However, in the process of trying to use the little gold doohickey on the quantum mirror, I noticed that the mirror itself changed between episodes. Since it’s supposed to be the same mirror in both eps, that is a problem. Mirror #1 (in “There But…”) is more rocky and irregular in shape. Mirror #2 (in “Point of View”) is smoother and has much more regular border around the reflective surface. Compare the first mirror shot and the beach planet mirror shot in my previous QM entry to see what I mean.

The big problem for me was that the doohickey went away in Mirror #2, but I really wanted a doohickey for technobabble purposes. But then I figured out that the doohickey was just a label, like the other artifacts had. Now I have no doohickey at all.

Sam and Jack Awards

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2004

I can’t believe I read the whole thing - not that I did, but I tried. Voting in the Sam/Jack Fanfiction Awards closes tomorrow. You can find links for the fics on the nominations page - quite a few of them are broken, but you can track those down with Google. I’ll link some of my favorites, though.

Categories never work for me. I came up with ties in a couple of them, where the two best stories have very little in common besides the categorization. So I’ll just forget the categories and talk about the fics according to size or other notable similarities.

When given a choice between long fic, episodic fic (to be explained later), and vignettes, I prefer it long. At least, it impresses me more if it’s long, since it’s much more difficult (for me) to keep a big plot going. So first off, the notable long stories: “Sleepers” by Alli Snow, which I’d read before, “Counterbalance” by Sally Reeve for mini-me action, and “Skipped Stones” by TereC, a three-part story under series which had some interesting AU action before the h/c got out of control. “4+1=5-2″ by Jo R. had a good plot, “Retribution” by Suz Voy was long for her, “Until the End of the World” by Ruth M. King was only partially marred by the pervasive evil bad guy h/c subplot, and “Future Imperfect” by Sally Reeve isn’t bad for angst.

By episodic fic I mean little freestanding vignettes strung together into a story. Like the reams of h/c, the proportion of episodic fic was a surprise for me as an ickle newbie SG fic reader. I prefer something with a bit more cohesion and subplot, but I still enjoyed a few of these. My favorite was “Veils of Reality” by SelDear, an AU series of twelve or so vignettes from different AU’s - though I never really picked up on the thread that was supposed to hold them together. The “Dark and Stormies” series by Michelle V. and Jojo was a hilarious parody. For the more standard romantic episodic series, I liked “Remedied” by Suz and “A Matter of Tact” by Jojo. “Spoken” by Suz Voy also had that strung-together feel for me, despite being all on one page and having a good plot twist.

Of course actual episode additions and revisions abounded. Most notable were “Once in a Lifetime” by Michelle V. (2010), “Surface Tension” by Sally Reeve (Beneath the Surface), and “Opportunity Lost” by Jojo (Window of Opportunity). If that’s not enough, there’s also “Passing the Test” by Alli Snow (Entity), “Shattered” by Claira (100 Days), “Vigil” by Nanda (Metamorphosis), and “Trust Me” by Wendy Parkinson (Message in a Bottle).

And then there were the real short stories, like “Light to Dark, Dark to Light” by CGB, “Together” by splash_the_cat, “Things We Can’t Say” by Suz Voy and “Swinegate” by Sadler and O’Neal. See also “Chronology” by AJ, “Rules of Engagement” by splash_the_cat, “Squee!” by Suz Voy again, and “Noticing” by Claira.

There were a couple of metafics that I loved, as well. They weren’t metafic proper but short stories that played with language: “Euphemism” by splash_the_cat and “Miscommunication” by Michelle V. All that reading was worthwhile to find those two. The list above is not everything I finished, or even everything I liked, just the top of the heap by an unscientific measure. Now I can go forth and vote.

Quantum Mirror II

Monday, February 2nd, 2004

Last entry, I was curious what had become of the quantum mirror. Jerie reminded me that There But For the Grace of God was the first QM episode; Point of View was the second and last to date. So here’s what I discovered by rewatching them:

[Warning: Spoilers for quantum mirror episodes]
In “There But…,” SG-1 find the quantum mirror in an alien lab on P3R-233.
Daniel touches the mirror, transferring himself to an alternate reality. The mirror flashes white for a moment. He describes the sensation: “When I touched the mirror, there was this…this surge, it was like getting an electrical shock, just for a second.” Daniel brings the controller through with him.
QM controller

[gratuitous controller shot]

The controller gets blown up, either with the conference room or with the SGC on the alternate Earth. The mirror is still on and pointed at the correct universe when Daniel returns to P3R-233, and he makes it home.

In “Point of View,” we see that the quantum mirror from P3R-233 has made its way to Area 51. It appears to be off when we first see it, but it flashes on when Samantha~ points her controller at it from her reality. She brings the controller through. She and Kawalski are caught and brought to the SGC, where it becomes apparent that Samantha~ is suffering from entropic cascade failure at the cellular level because there’s already a Sam in this universe. Entropic cascade failure sets in after 48 hours.
cascade failure

[death by technobabble]

Samantha~ must be returned to her own reality, so we get to see the controller in action. Since the mirror was turned off, it lost its place and Daniel needs to find the correct universe again. This involves a lot of grimacing at the controller and noticing small differences like where your last hand grenade blew up or Carter being a captain instead of a major.
controller close-up

[another gratuitous controller shot]

There are supposed to be a nearly infinite number of realities, for each decision made in each reality. Daniel ought to have an infinite amount of work to do, but the controller senses nearby realities. (Hey, I don’t write ‘em.)
Another important technical point we see during Daniel’s exploration is that the mirrors don’t have to be in the same place. In the correct universe, the mirror has been brought to a small room with nothing in it and a wall outside the door. In Samantha~’s universe, the mirror is in a crowded storage closet with a direct view down the hallway. Daniel even comes across a beach planet in his grimacing:
uninhabited beach planet

[uninhabited beach planet]

All’s well that ends well, but what happens to the mirror afterwards? General Hammond gave an order: “…upon your return I want that quantum mirror destroyed.” In “There But For…,” Daniel speculated that the mirror might be made of naqahdah, so it’s not entirely clear how it could be safely disposed of, if it was.

What happens to the controller? There’s no sign of it when Daniel is captured by Jaffa, but the mirror appears to be off. It fails to show up at any point later in the episode. Who dialed the mirror to get SG-1 home? If you ask me, Daniel looks guilty as he leaves the alternate reality. There are all sorts of big pockets in his BDU’s and backpack…

[What has it got in its pocketses?]