Friday, May 31, 2013

The Eastern Roots of Western Democracy

A few weeks ago, I briefly looked into 16th Century Chinese history for a future project. I quickly learned that in order to understand Chinese society of that era, I had to understand the government bureaucracy that appears to have been a mainstay of that civilization since time immemorial.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Abrams' Trek Into Darkness: The End of the Star Trek Philosphy

When I accompanied my friends to see Star Trek Into Darkness last Friday, I knew it was against my better judgment. I grew up watching the 1979 motion picture, The Wrath of Khan, The Voyage Home, and the later films as they reached theatres. Part of my family’s Sunday ritual was to sit down and watch that week’s episode of The Next Generation. When Deep Space Nine aired, we added that series to our retinue as well, and I followed Voyager through the bulk of its seven-season run.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Monday Links: Xbox One, Propaganda at the British Library, and Racism at Harvard

I have found two articles of note from The Economist this week, one of which is sure to be close to gamers’ hearts. Or perhaps not: the article notes that Microsoft’s Xbox One announcement heavily de-emphasizes games, ostensibly due to falling console sales. Time will tell whether the device will garner any appeal for its more conventional multimedia use.

The second article form The Economist addresses the more sobering topic of propaganda. An exhibition at the British Library, called “Propaganda: Power and Persuasion,” aims to expose the subtlety and prevalence of propaganda, as used by governments, businesses and individuals. The subject of propaganda, and the Propaganda Model of mass media, have been the focus of some of my earlier posts on this blog, and the matter remains as relevant as ever. I highly recommend you check out The Economist’s article.

Lastly, for the strong of stomach, ThinkProgress delves into the case of how a Harvard doctoral candidate, Dr. Jason Richwine, earned his degree through a sloppily composed and blatantly racist dissertation, to the shock of many. The article is long, and the sheer illogic it reveals in Dr. Richwine’s dissertation made me throw up my hands in disgust. Nonetheless, the ThinkProgress exposé itself is a worthwhile read, if you have the patience.

With the Rosaria of Venice Kickstarter campaign launch last Friday, we now return to full updates. You can see what’s in store for this week here. So please stay tuned! And also please consider backing Rosaria of Venice, my forthcoming alt-history steampunk novel of the Italian Renaissance, on Thank you!

This Week on Runicfire: May 27th – June 2nd

Monday's links include the announcement of the Xbox One (and Microsoft's de-emphasis on games), an exhibit about propaganda at the British Library in London, and the disturbing case of how a racist paper of poor scholarship earned one man a Harvard doctorate.

Wednesday shall feature a review of Star Trek Into Darkness—as well as the case for why we should care more about the quality of our entertainment.

Friday's post explores the surprising link between Chinese philosophy and the genesis of the European Enlightenment.

Stay tuned!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Monday Links: The Health Industry's Big Lie, Atmospheric CO2 Thickens, and the DSM's Dangers

I recently discovered Patrick Mustain through a guest piece on Scientific American. He’s also written a more in-depth piece on how the consumer fitness industry disguises the actual causes of America’s problems with obesity. I recommend giving it a read.

On Scienceblogs, alarm over our contribution to global warming increases. Earlier this month, the amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere passed 400 parts per million. This is nearly one and a half times the CO2 density of the atmosphere in pre-industrial times, just over 200 years ago. And according to Peter Gleick at Significant Figures, CO2 levels haven’t been this high since three to five million years ago—before humans even evolved. For those of you inspired to political action, Greg Laden has a letter template you can modify and send to your congressman, senator, or other state or federal representative.

Finally, the Economist runs an article with a brief critiqueof the psychiatric profession, arguing that reliance on only one book (the DSM-V) to diagnose mental illness is a dangerous game.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Schedule Mishaps, and Kickstarter Things

As I have been busy getting the Rosaria of Venice Kickstarter campaign ready to go, I did not manage to get yesterday's post up. I do apologize.

In order to keep this from happening (as there are no signs of me getting less busy in the coming weeks), I will be scaling down my posts for a while. I will still try to keep to my Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule, but expect more reposts and shorter comments. I will resume long-form essays—including the one planned for yesterday—as soon as things begin to clear up.

On the bright side, I'm starting to update with some much-needed content. A dedicated page for my forthcoming novel is up, and that will be the main page for the project until the Kickstarter begins next Friday, May 24th. If that interests you, please check it out and keep an eye here for updates. I will also be adding a section which consolidates other fiction and goodies I post here, and just generally rounding out the site as much as I can.

And lastly, as consolation, an awesome picture someone posted on Facebook:

And with that... I will be seeing you next week with Monday's usual links. Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Steampunk: A Modern Throwback to Classic Science Fiction

As I again delve into the various genres of fiction with which my current writing intersects, I discover surprising gaps in my knowledge—and more books for my reading list.

This is hardly a bad thing. Writers are fed by writing, and not always their own. Indeed, one would hope that much of it is not their own—we learn our craft first and best by reading the works of others. That is where we discover what we like, what we don’t, and in our various reactions develop the biases that inform our own voices and styles.

Monday, May 13, 2013

This Week On Runicfire: May 13th - May 19th

Monday's links: Colony Collapse Disorder, the recent history of famine, and pictures from the International Space Station.

Wednesday's post delves into the world of Steampunk.

And on Friday, a look at the world outside of Europe in the 15th Century.

Monday Links: The Secret History of Colony Collapse Disorder, Graphing Famine, and Photos from the ISS

So, one kind of business (finals) ends, and another begins. I’ve been busy getting the Kickstarter for my novel going, and thus these Monday links are up late. But do not fear, for they are here at last!

A guest post on Bug Girl’s Blog talks about how Colony Collapse Disorder—that worrying trend of domestic honeybee hives spontaneously dying off—is older than the name, and how the press and the scientific community have overlooked and obfuscated the actual issue.

On the sobering front of human mortality, the Economist hasa graph showing the history of world famine.

Lastly, a set of fifteen photos taken from the International Space Station on Bad Astronomy.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Alternate History Fiction, Fiction History Fact

It is an odd feeling when you discover how little you know about a subject.

I first learned of the alternate history genre at around the age of 10. Or at least, I think it was the age of ten. I might’ve been two or three years older or younger. All I know is that I was in a cool and musty used book store, and I found this hefty paperback with a picture of Stalin, Hitler and Truman standing in front of a ray gun straight out of the Golden Age of science fiction. The blurb on the back said this was “alternate history.” From what I remember of my emotions at the time, I found the whole idea silly. Still, the notion of playing with past events stayed with me, despite my skepticism about the genre.

At the time, I believed alternate history—fiction taking place in a history divergent from our own—to be a new sub-genre of science fiction. That is not accurate. Alternate histories have been around for a long time. According to Wikipedia, one of the earliest works in that category is Tirant Io Blanc, a 1490 epic by Joanot Martorell that tells a version of recent history in which the titular hero repels the Turkish invasion of Constantinople. According to the same article, alternate history novels and stories appeared in the mass market in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with the 30’s being a pivotal decade for the genre. During World War II, alternate history tales also served as a means of propaganda for Allied countries. (Wikipedia, 2013)

For that matter, while alternate history can overlap with science fiction, it doesn’t have to. The earliest examples, mentioned above, were written before science fiction became a discrete entity. Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds is an alternate history, and has no science fiction elements to speak of. (It does, however, feature idiosyncratic, Tarantine dialogue.)

Oddly enough, when I conceived of the idea for my forthcoming Rosaria of Venice, which is an alternate history, I hadn’t read or seen much in the way of alternate history. I still haven’t. The only work I have seen and can honestly categorize as such is the animé Full Metal Panic. It is a lack of experience that I ought to fix. The idea for Roaria, however, didn’t come from that animé, despite some odd parallels. It came from a little device called the antikythera mechanism.

The antikythera mechanism, as the Wikipedia article explains, is a mechanical computer designed to calculate the positions of heavenly bodies at particular places and times. Such a device would be invaluable for navigators in the 1st Century BC—when it was likely developed. Comparable machines would not appear for another fifteen hundred years. (Wikipedia, 2013)

Learning of this device led me to wonder, much as Carl Sagan did, what might have happened if the civilization which produced this machine—that of the Greeks and Romans—had survived past the 3rd Century AD. From this thought, the first prototype of Rosaria of Venice arose: a version of the 5th century (or thereabouts) AD where, after the fall of the Roman Empire, Greece nonetheless survived as a burgeoning technological remnant. They had steam power, more advanced computers, and all sorts of useful mechanical devices. My protagonist, at that time, was a former slave boy applying for an education in Athens who became caught up in some intrigue involving the government. There was also a time-travelling girl from our version of events who popped in and out, and was somehow connected to the whole intrigue bit.

While the premise held some interest for me, the characters felt too bland, and so the idea went underground. It stayed there for several years. Then, while listening to the latest album from my favorite band, an idea struck me. How about taking the “musketeer” archetype and gender-swapping it? That idea quickly merged with the antikythera-inspired scenario. I switched the setting to Renaissance Italy (but with steam power!), dropped the time-traveling girl, and switched my protagonist to a swordswoman and scientist of that era. Rosaria was born. The character stuck with me, and so I stuck with the story.

It is an odd feeling when you discover how little you know, but it soon becomes fuel for the imagination.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

When Did Science Fiction Begin?

It is a more difficult question than it seems. We all know what science fiction is, right? Ray guns and space ships and aliens? So we just go back in time, look for the earliest instances of these elements, and presto! We have the first literary work of science fiction.

But what about a totalitarian regime using technology that was but a stone’s throw away at the time it was written? Or a sexist dystopia with identical technology to the present day? What if the people with the ray guns, space ships and aliens can move things with their brains? Is this still science fiction, or are we going someplace else entirely?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Runicfire Recap: April 25 – May 6

I've been crunching for finals the past few weeks, and have slipped on my Google+ and Facebook announcements. My apologies. I have, however, been continuing to pump out content here on Runicfire, and I'd like to catch up any readers who follow me on Facebook or Google+ on what they might have missed. Recap begins beneath the jump:

This Week on Runicfire: May 6th — May 12th

Monday's links discuss the definition of time, the difficulty in measuring the human mind, the launch of SpaceShipTwo, and Northern Ireland's new schism.

On Wednesday I delve into the history of science fiction, in the first of a series of posts on the genre and its sub-categories. On Friday I delve deeper into the subject with a look at the alternate history genre.

With the Rosaria of Venice Kickstarter launch approaching, you can expect more updates on the novel as well. Please check back throughout the week for these and the Wednesday and Friday articles. I believe you'll find them an interesting read.

Monday Links: Defining Time, Neurology's Limitations, SpaceShipTwo Launches, and Northern Ireland's New Schism

Chad Orzel at Uncertain Principles did not have time to enter this year’s Flame Challenge—a competition in which science writers and communicators explain a part of scientific knowledge in 300 or fewer words, and in a manner understandable to an 11-year-old. This year’s subject, very appropriately, is time, and although he didn’t have enough to enter the competition, Chad blogs about time anyway.

On Science Based Medicine, Harriet Hall reviews a new book by neurologist Robert Burton. The subject at hand is the difficulty in drawing conclusions about the mind through the study of neurology. The review offers only a glimpse of Mr. Burton’s arguments, but they do provide some food for thought.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo launched successfully on April 29th. The Economist has the story.

Also from The Economist: Northern Ireland’s conservative Catholics and Protestants have forged an alliance in defiance of growing acceptance of homosexuality, women’s rights, and other non-traditional matters. This conflict between more progressive and more reactionary ideals apparently resembles the American culture wars, according to The Economist.