Saturday, June 23, 2012

Life as a Venture Capitalist

KickStarter is such a brilliant service: intelligent, clean, elegant, simple.  It's exactly the sort of thing that makes me envious I didn't come up with it myself.  It's real genius lies in making us feel connected to the projects that inspire us.

I started out perusing it just to understand it from a technical standpoint, but it quickly became part of my daily routine.  Frankly I'm obsessed with it.  I can start out exploring for new ideas in games or technology and quickly end up with a nearly unmanageable number of tabs open in my browser.  Suddenly I discover I'm not just surfing - I've become a low-stakes venture capitalist - listening to investment pitches with the willful abandon of a Hollywood casting director.

I've built a small but growing portfolio of projects I'm backing, and I've always got a bookmarks folder full of potential projects I'm currently following.

Here are just a few of ones I'm proud to support:

Amanda Palmer's Theatre is Evil

Drifter - A Space Trading Game by CGS

And here are a few that, although successful, I'm horribly upset I didn't get to them quickly enough to be a supporter myself:

Phil Tippett's "MAD GOD"

The Banner Saga - by Stoic

Consider how weird that is ---I actually feel badly that some internet supplicant panhandled from the masses but didn't get to me in time to scrape my wallet too.  I feel left out.  Successful projects tend to re-enforce the idea that we're not just supporters, we're participants.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Kepler 22b

A mere 600 light-years off lies a planet within that sweet-spot known to allow for liquid water.  Since the telescope used can only detect planets with orbits directly across our plane-of-view, and we've only been able to carefully observe a handful of stars -it stands to reason that there are many more such planets.  Of course this says nothing about whether there's actually any water, let alone a magnetosphere capable of sustaining an atmosphere and/or hydrosphere. 
N = R^{\ast} \cdot f_p \cdot n_e \cdot f_{\ell} \cdot f_i \cdot f_c \cdot L \!
Looking at Drake's equation we've got rough estimates for only the first two terms (rate of star formation, number stars with planets) and we're now struggling to define the third - planets that could potentially support life.  The rest of the terms are still complete unknowns.  But it's nice to see were making progress.

NASA's Ames Research Center earns credit for the find, but since nobody has stepped up to lay a claim to the planet itself; I hereby claim this planet as my own.  (That was easy.)  Now let's hope there aren't any pesky natives to interfere with my new acquisition.  Anybody want to buy a continent?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pulling 180

Nonfiction writers imagine.  Fiction writers invent.  These are fundamentally different acts, performed to different ends. 
Unlike a fiction reader whose only task is to imagine, a nonfiction reader is asked to behave more deeply: to imagine, and also to believe.  Fiction doesn't require its readers to believe; in fact, it offers its readers the great freedom of experience without belief - something real life can't do.  Fiction gives us a rhetorical question: "What if this happened?"  (The best) nonfiction gives us a statement, something more complex: "This may have happened."

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Free Lunch

Artwork by CB Brown
For years now, I've been a fan of Cheeseburger Brown stories.  Like many others, I jumped right from the Vader Blog into the surreal Simon of Space and have been hooked on his stories ever since.  If you're a fan of Sci-fi and have a few spare moments to kill online, I'd recommend jaunting on over to his Free Stories section.  Dive right in - start anywhere, it doesn't matter.  Many of the stories are loosely connected to one another, so once you've started you'll find yourself pulled into other narratives as well.  It's a wonderful motley mess of Sci-fi goodliness. 

And although I don't read his blog as often as I should, I loved this short tale about his Time Traveling Son.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Exception

It occurred to me after reading what I last wrote.  Although, Sci-fi writers quietly eschew the impossible task of creating the truly alien (while pretending to do otherwise) the one glaring exception is H.P. Lovecraft.  Instead of politely ignoring the problem, he reveled in it.  He took the impossibility of it, built a gilded frame around it, and shined his spotlights into the abyss.  (Of course, for Lovecraft, it wasn't so much the impossibility of creating the truly alien that he found vexing, but rather the impossibility of being able to cope with it.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Despite its implied pledge, Sci-fi is always more concerned with distorting the familiar than presenting the alien.  How could it be otherwise?  It fills itself with overly (yet necessarily) anthropomorphic aliens, impossible/implausible (and occasionally visionary) technologies, and entire planets that resemble one tiny fragment of our own multifarious Earth. No matter where they take us, writers can only deliver recognizable elements - mixed-up and blended through the kaleidoscope of their craft.

Many would fault Sci-fi for this limitation, for not being able to deliver the very object of its focus, but this too misses its mark.  At its core, Sci-fi is always about facing the consequences of (inevitable) change.  (At least all Sci-fi worth reading is.)  At its best, Sci-fi somehow illuminates those unpredictable, dreadfully wondrous contingencies within our impending, impossible future.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Usurper of the Sun

Perhaps my favorite sub-genre of Sci-fi is contact stories. Tragically, these stories inevitably fail to deliver satisfying resolutions.  The art is always in the build-up - the suspense surrounding an unknown alien intelligence.  Anticipation ever heightening towards the unveiling of something universally epic and transformational.  It's the narrative equivalent of painting yourself into a corner.  Once you've hooked an audience with the promise of revealing the 'great mysterious other' - no description, no matter how artful - can possibly manage to fulfill expectations.  It's failure by design.    

It's no wonder there are relatively few great contact stories.  Carl Sagan did the seminal Contact,  Arthur C. Clarke - Rendezvous with Rama (which was actually earlier.)  Both and had the good sense to make their aliens  disappear, at least partially managing to maintain some of the mystery (and in Clarke's case, prompting sequels.)  Yet even these award-winning novels conclude with the inescapable aftertaste of disappointment.  We always want more.

I appreciate these flawed constructs.  Most Sci-fi simply invents its artificial elements and tosses them in.  Introduced as exposition, we readily accept them and move on.  It's so much more powerful when a writer confronts the magnitude (and impossibility) of describing the truly alien.  Willing to - fearlessly or foolishly - push the narrative forward, all the while inwardly aware that what lies beyond the great wall of the unknown can never be adequately described, they try anyways.

So it's with a special reverence when I announce Usurper of the Sun, by Housuke Nojiri, is a great contact novel.  Its premise: an alien intelligence (or unknown force of nature) is building a ring around the sun, indiscriminately threatening Earth.  It presents an alien intelligence so different that any communication with it (or understanding of it) is very likely impossible.  Set in the very near future, told from the point of view of a Japanese scientist over a lifetime, it at times carries the weight and feel of an important historical autobiography, the chronicle of an obsessive quest to communicate with something  incommunicable.  In the end, the novel does make the fatal mistake of showing us the builders - effectively destroying any sense of plausible realism and landing us squarely within the realm of lighthearted Sci-fi.  *Sigh*  But such is the fate of contact stories.  And Usurper of the Sun remains among my favorites.

Housuke Nojiri is the author of several Sci-fi novels.  Usurper of the Sun won the Seiun Award for best Japanese Sci-fi novel of 2002.  Nojiri possibly deserves to rank among the pantheon of great Sci-fi writers, but most distressingly only Usurper has been translated into English.  Another of his older novels, Rocket Girls, is slated to be published in English soon.  I'm already in line.