Star Trek Countdown: Taking the Science out of Science Fiction

Anticipating the new Trek movie out next month, I picked up the prequel comics that set up the movie. Trek’s good, right? Lots of real SF writers have written for the various Treks. I know that ST is based on stuff that may not be possible in reality, like faster than light travel and teleportation, but I’ll give them that much.

Sadly, the writers for Star Trek Countdown don’t just use common SF tropes to tell their story, but ignore BASIC science. It is disgusting.

The set up: A star goes supernova unexpectedly, threatening the civilizations of known space.

Supernovas are deadly, deadly things. You don’t want one going off in your GALAXY, much less in a local system. A supernova in our stellar neighborhood, within a hundred or so light years, would cleanse every system of all life through sustained hard radiation, and possibly take other systems to death with it as new stars eventually form from its remnants.

But if a star a hundred light years went supernova, we wouldn’t know about it or feel any effects from it for — wait for it — one hundred years. We wouldn’t see the light from its explosion for a hundred years. If we had faster than light travel and witnessed its explosion from close by and then instantly traveled back and looked back at it, we would see what that star looked like a hundred years ago, fat and happy and non-explodey.

There’s also a question of volume. If you took our Sun and exploded it so that it swallowed up every bit of matter in the solar system, the Sun would be so diffuse that it would be hard to tell you were inside the star. It definitely couldn’t sustain fusion. It would just be a fairly small and easy to miss cloud of gas. Our Sun’s fate, by the way, is to eventually become a planetary nebula — a shell of gas with a white dwarf star at its core. We don’t get to become a supernova. But moving on —

Page 12, volume 1: Supernova defined as a star that increases its volume without losing density, enough to swallow nearby SYSTEMS. Um, no. Supernovas destroy nearby systems with hard radiation, not by expanding to swallow them up.

Page 17. Spock and Nero observe the supernova in real time through a common telescope. No. Your ships may travel faster than light, but light only travels at the speed of light — that’s why it’s CALLED the speed of light.

Page 49. The distant star’s surface expands enough to touch and destroy Romulus.

Thought experiment. Let’s say you have one pea. This is your galaxy-killing star. You have a pea-inflating machine which can blow the pea up to any size, but without adding anything into it as it expands with one exception: If, while expanding, it comes across any other pea, then it can add that pea to its mass. A pea plant, cans of peas in a store, pea soup, all our fair game. It can take as many peas as it can get, but only peas.

Question is, will this giant, but incredibly diffuse, pea be any danger to a city a hundred miles away?

The eventual solution the good guys come up with is to trigger the supernova into becoming a black hole, which will suck all the evil supernova stuff into it but won’t suck anything else in. Also, apparently, all the hard radiation which is the real killer. Their magic bullet — and that’s what it is, by the way, a small bottle of something called Red Matter which turns supernovas into black holes — turns the ex-star into a pit of blackness which will tear apart and swallow any matter in the universe that should orbit too close to its event horizon, except star ships, which can pass through safely. Matter-ripping singularity in space for most, but a portal to — wherever? The movie will show us — for star ships.

I dunno. I’m sure it will be a fun movie, but do science fiction movies really need to show such contempt for science? Would it have killed them to have taken the basic effort to actually have SOME real science in the movie?

Of the towering science fiction franchises in the last fifty years, Star Wars and Star Trek, we didn’t expect science in Star Wars. It’s a space opera, it was always meant to be an adventure story with magic and wizards. But Star Trek? The show that had Harlan Ellison, David Gerrold, Theodore Sturgeon and many other respected names for episode writers? The show that at least nodded now and again in science’s direction?


Web log 4/20 — Special Contest Edition

I am SO EXCITED today! Last week, KingsIsle, developers of the wonderful MMO, Wizard 101, asked if I would be interested in participating in a little contest to help promote their new player housing. Players will be able to buy homes based on themes from each of the five worlds in game — Wizard City, Krokotopia, Marleybone, Moo Shu and Dragonspyre. The vendors for these homes are going to be industrious builder turtles, who will exchange piles of gold for the keys to your new home. The names of these turtles will be determined by the players, and the readers of West Karana who also play Wizard 101 will be naming the turtle for Marleybone, which is my personal favorite world.

I couldn’t be more thrilled! If my blog works correctly, you should see a post with the contest details appear magically at around 11AM EST. The contest will run for ten days, so you have plenty of time, but get your votes in early :) Everyone who chooses the eventual winning name gets a prize, and the first one to send in the name that eventually gets chosen gets something even cooler!


Must be something in the air, because suddenly, everyone is talking about — FONTS. Yesterday, Todd Klein told us about the dangers of using Microsoft’s Comic Sans MS font face, today, Bryzon at Bryzon’s Blurbs points at some videos of cartoons translated to animated text, and science fiction problog io9 takes us through a baker’s dozen fonts for alien languages.

Words are GOOD. MBP over at Mind Bending Puzzles wonders if today’s kids could get excited about the sort of text adventures we all used to play in the 80s — and finds that they can!

Russian-American mathematician Tanya Khovanova examines how the major prizes in the field of mathematics are stacked against woman. Tanya’s blog is an inspiration and often quite a lot of fun besides.

Syp over at Bio Break, whose every post I love, has a theory why gamers just don’t pick a MMO and stick with it! Seven theories, in fact. Beau at Spouse Aggro wonders if it’s just because we’re really bored. TERMINALLY bored.

That’s it for today. Check back later and enter the W101 contest — turtle isn’t going to name itself!

Save the Middleman!

Rumor has it that The Middleman, probably the best SF/comedy on TV this season, is in danger! Not of cancellation, but of being restricted to just one season. Creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach writes on The Middleblog that despite stellar network support, ratings haven’t been great, and they have decided to end The Middleman at episode 12, and to go out with a bang.

If you don”t watch The Middleman, you should. And if you DO watch, but via torrent or something, well, watch it on TV (I do, now), or watch it online — ABC Family streams each show after it airs, and people watching via the web in that way definitely support the show.

It’s way better to support these shows while they are still on the air, than to discover them on DVD years later and ask, plaintively, why they don’t make shows like THAT anymore! Just what I have to say about Firefly…

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

If you actually CAN watch this, then I guess their servers have managed to recover from yesterday’s crush. After trying for awhile, I just got the first episode of Joss Whedon’s “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” through a torrent.

Neil Patrick Harris is Dr. Horrible, a struggling mad scientist hoping one day to join the supervillain group, “The Evil Society of Evil”. He occasionally does a video blog where he discusses problems like how his transmat ray is going, what his nemesis Captain Hammer (Firefly’s Nathan Fillion) did to him last week that really hurt, how his evil laugh is coming along (he has just gotten a vocal coach), and how nervous he is about talking to a girl he sees at the laundromat, Penny, played by Buffy’s Felicia Day.

This leads into the song “Freeze Ray”, about a gun he wants to invent that will freeze time, so it would be easier to talk to her. He’s interrupted by his friend Moist, who has the power to make stuff damp. He’d been on a date last night with the super-villainess Bait and Switch. At the end of the night, he’d been hoping to go home with Bait, but… oh well.

Among the sopping wet pieces of mail he delivers is a letter from Bad Horse, the evil equine leader of the Evil Society of Evil, which leads right into the song, “Bad Horse” (and where did those cowboys with the painfully fake mustaches come from?).

The thing is hilarious. It’s short, has four fantastically funny songs (the other two are the one Penny sings as she tries to get signatures on her petition to convert an old building to a homeless center, and the song that ends in a three-part harmony between Dr. Horrible, Captain Hammer, and Penny, “A Man’s Gotta Do”).

I won’t spoil anything — but watch it. There will be two other “webisodes”, and even though all three together will likely be only half an hour — I’d buy the DVD.

edit — link to Joss Whedon’s post about Dr. Horrible, how it came to be, and what will become of it. Next episode is up THURSDAY and after July 20 they will no longer be free to watch, though it’s well worth paying.