Science Fiction Round 37: What If?

2014/10/09 1 comment

Randall Munroe of XKCD wrote a book called What If?, based on the same segment on his website as well as a number of questions not posted on the web.

And it is amazing.

It’s also a little difficult to classify.  It’s being sold as non-fiction, but I’m putting it under our local sci-fi listing, in large part because it has a lot of segments that start with absurd, impossible proposals before attempting to follow them to their logical (and frequently world-ending) conclusions.


Apocalypse How

There are a surprisingly large number of ways for everyone to die horribly.  Munroe focuses on the planetary-level destruction and smaller, for the most part.

The options range from global windstorms to near-lightspeed baseballs to turning off the Sun to draining the oceans using a magic portal between Earth and Mars.

Read more…

Slush Pile 2: Sandbox

2014/10/05 Leave a comment

Here’s the part 2 to my previous slush pile post.  This one is titled Sandbox, and looks at the universe-in-a-box idea from the other side.


Miriam wanted some time to herself.
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Fantasy Round 29: Dwarf Fortress

2014/10/01 Leave a comment

Dwarf Fortress is a computer game, made mostly by Tarn Adams and his brother Zach.

It is a truly notoriously challenging computer game.  And, once you get past the steep learning curve (which generally requires looking at the extensive wiki) very addictive.

It’s even been notable enough to go on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in a video game exhibition, right next to SimCity.

So, let’s have a look.

An image from Dwarf Fortress.  You'll note the carpenter's workshop, the mason's shop, the craftsdwarf's shop, and the little smily dwarf wandering through the hallway.

An image from Dwarf Fortress. You’ll note the carpenter’s workshop, the mason’s shop, the craftsdwarf’s shop, and the little smily dwarf wandering through the hallway.  Also the many menus in the middle panel.

What did I just blunder into?

This is not SimCity.
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Slush Pile 1: The Universe in a Box

2014/09/18 1 comment

This is going to be my first entry into what is likely going to be a long series.  I’ve written a number of sci-fi and fantasy short stories, and I have been putting some effort into getting them published… but at some point, I run out of potential venues to sell them to.

Thus, when I give up on a story, I’ll go ahead and put it up here for your entertainment.  Of course, since these are stories that have been rejected a few times, I’d love to have some feedback on where they have gone awry.


This particular story, “Universe in a Box,” exists in several forms; I’ve also written (and had rejected) a related story called “Sandbox,” which I’ll be posting later.


She was reading a paper on the latest techniques in miniaturization. She was fascinated by the description of improved methods for controlling the dynamics of a solar system compressed to the size of an atom.

But her time of quiet reading did not last. As usual, once she had finally found a moment to catch up on the literature, she was interrupted by a chime at the door. She pushed the holographic text aside and said, “Come in!”

The doors slid into the walls, revealing her newest student. He seemed worried and embarrassed at the same time. He pulled nervously at his whiskers, and a few tufts of his fur stood on end. “Uh, professor? Do you have a few minutes?”

“With that kind of face? I think I have a few more than a few minutes.” She resigned herself to finishing her reading at another time, and gave the command for a seat rest to emerge from its place in the wall.

The student was too nervous to take the rest. Instead, he paced, rattling his fingers against the walls whenever he wandered close enough to reach them. In her small office, this was often. “I, uh, made a mistake with one of the boxes. I set some of the constants wrong. Well, a lot of them wrong.”

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Science Sidebar 4: Skulls and Gastralia

2014/09/14 1 comment

While visiting Chicago for a wedding (congrats to Amanda and Nick!), I had a chance to visit the Field Museum.  It’s epic, and the group I was with only able to go through a small section in the time we had.

But!  While we were there, I learned a few things I hadn’t previously known or realized about tetrapods.  Which I will now inflict on you.


Your skull, less several hundred million years of modifications.  (via Wikipedia, synapsid skull)

Your skull, less several hundred million years of modifications. (via Wikipedia, synapsid skull)

A Tale of Skulls

Paleontologists like skulls.  They can tell you a lot about a critter — what kinds of things it ate based on its teeth, how big its brain was, how strong its jaw muscles were, and so forth.
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