Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thoughts on "Primary Inversion"


"Primary Inversion" by Catherine Asaro (1995) is the first of many novels in the Ruby Dynasty Saga (or Skolian Saga). Asaro has written 13 novels in the series to date.

This novel introduces the Skolian universe. Human beings long ago left Earth and started building empires that span many solar systems. There are three different empires that have emerged over many generations: The Skolians whose ruling class are psions (who have empathic and sometimes telepathic powers). The Eubian Concord is the Skolian’s polar opposite, their ruling class are called Aristos and they derive pleasure from making psions (who they call providers) suffer. They keep these providers as slaves and torture them. The third empire is the Allieds, which are the ancestors of original humans and have found themselves in the middle of the ongoing intergalactic war between the Skolians and the Eubian Concord.


The main character of the novel is Sauscony (Soz) Valdoria. She is an Admiral in the Skolian military and she is a member of the Skolian royal dynasty and possibly next in line to be Imperator.

Valdoria is not your typical princess; she is more of a tough-as-nails action-heroine type. At the start of the novel, she is on a neutral planet for a little bit of R and R before her and her fellow Jagernauts go back to fighting the war with the Eubian. Jagernauts just seem really bad-ass, they are all dressed in black, big boots, black leather. I picture them as a military version of the Beatles early look in Germany. A Jagernaut’s main side arm is called a Jumbler, it’s a hand-gun sized partial accelerator that can only be fired by its owner.

Because of their psionic powers, which most people don’t really understand, the Jagernauts have kind of a bad rap in the popular culture of this universe. A lot of people believe what they see in the holomovies that most Jagernauts are really close to going crazy and going on a violent killing spree.

I didn’t understand how with a rank of Admiral, Valdoria is only in charge of 3 other people. I know the book explains that the human mind can’t take input from more than 3 other minds so 4 is the maximum squad size. And I understand that the Skolian advantage is their speed because of the Kyle web so the squads have to be autonomous. But the fact remains that she is an Admiral that means she has a lot of experience and training. You can’t ever win wars by sending your best officers to the front lines to die. Valdoria should have been directing troops from the safety of a battle ship or she should have been in contact with other troops using conventional communication. Basically it seems like her skills are wasted by being in such a small unit.

Here is an explanation about psions and their Jag ships, “Warfare had evolved terrifyingly beyond the abilities of humans to fight it. Although drones with EI pilots couldn’t match the human mind when it came to innovation, no human could survive against the light speed processing abilities of a drone or its ability to endure immense accelerations. Except a Jagernaut. The enhanced link between our brains and our ships boosted our minds into the ship’s EI. Add to that the advances in the stasis technology that protects humans from g-forces and the end result was a weapon with the speed and endurance of a drone and the creativity of the human mind.” (p 83 of the Baen E-book)

I liked how the Jags had the advantage of speed over the Eubian but they also had disadvantages such as feeling the pain of the people they were killing because of their empathy and also being more susceptible to the endless taunting the Aristos spewed at them.

Overall I thought the main space battle in the novel, was exciting, but I never really understood what was happening; I just had to kind of go with it. I still not sure I know what was going on in the battle or how inversion is supposed to work.


The Aristos are definitely something that you’ve got to just accept/suspend your disbelief about in order to enjoy the novel. I know that some people disliked the novel because the idea of reading about torturers who get off on their torture is an absolute no-go for them and I can completely understand that because obviously it wasn’t pleasant for me to read about that kind of subject matter either. But the more difficult hump for me was to accept that these two cultures that are such polar opposites really both existed. I mean for the whole novel I just kept thinking these two cultures would always be at war. It was just too convenient. It would be like if aliens landed tomorrow and it turned out that humans were a “superfoodfor them. And I know that the backstory of the two cultures is that a scientist was trying to come up with the ultimate psions and he created the Rhon but he also created the Aristo, but that didn’t help it make sense to me.

Also, the Aristo are just too evil to be believed, it’s been my experience that governments and religions and organizations go bad, but people in general are basically good. The cold war ended because like that Sting song said, “the Russian loved their children too.”

Plot and Characters

I thought the first hundred pages or so of the novel were amazing. The whole thing takes place in about a 12-hour period and so many things happen. It was like watching half a season that TV show "24," only more interesting then that show ever was.

I really like Valdoria. Even though she is one of the most influential and powerful people in the universe, she has still managed to be the down-to-earth type. Since I cared about her and what happened to her I got invested in the story and I think I enjoyed the book more because of it.

There were a couple of characters I wish we got to see more, Valdoria’s brother Kurj the Imperator. He just sounds strange, his skin has a metallic sheen and his eyes have inner lids, plus personality wise he’s got a lack of a sense of humor and general un-sunny disposition. He sounds kind of like a bore, but he was absolutely fascinating.

The other great character was Valdoria’s father Eldri. He only shows up at the end of the novel, but by that time you’ve heard so much about him from Valdoria that you feel like you are meeting an old friend. He is such a study in irony. A salt-of-the-earth type from a backwards planet with little technology who by some quirk of nature turns out to be a powerful psion of the highest order (a Rhon) and a natural at powering the Kyle Web even though he doesn’t understand the technology and still hasn’t even learned how to make a long distance video call. It is a really touching scene when he tells Valdoria that he thinks she’d make a great Imperator. You see on his planet a female would be passed over for such leadership, but despite not learning more about technology he has not held on to his prejudices.

I was disappointed that we never really got to meet Valdoria’s other two brothers in this novel. But I’m guessing they’ll play a bigger role in some of the other novels in the series.

One thing that I found hard to believe in this novel was that the members of the Ruby Dynasty like Valdoria were able to remain anonymous. Valdoria is one of 3 people in line to be Imperator and yet her face is not known to the general public. This was kind of hard for me to believe in the age of celebrity that we live in where the whole world seemed to be focused on Britain’s royal wedding for about the entire week leading up to the ceremony.

There were lots of memorable scenes in the novel. Such as the scene where Valdoria wakes up after a night of sowing wild oats with a young lover to find her mother waiting for her in her living room. Or, the scene in the bar where Valdoria gets depressed and drinks too much and starts to talk to the musician and puts her Jumbler to her head.

Alternative (In)versions

This novel was the first published in this series, but several novels take place before this one within the chronology of the overall series. Asaro has jumped all around in the timeline. This means that as she wrote more she ended up changing certain details. The free online e-book I read is not the novel in its original form it has been partially rewritten by Asaro and re-released in 2008. One of the members the Classic Science Fiction Message Board has been kind enough to agree to sent me a copy of the original novel so that I can do a little bit of compare and contrast. If the novel contains enough differences I’ll do a follow up post.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Doctor Who "The Doctor's Wife"


The latest episode of Doctor Who, "The Doctor's Wife" was written by Neil Gaiman. It is the first episode he's written and I hope it will be the first of many.

The episode examines the relationship between the Doctor and his TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension(s) In Space). This is a relationship that has gone largely unexplored in this long running series.

The TARDIS was first said to be a living ship way back in the 1964 serial "The Edge of Destruction"

I primary watch the new series, so it was in "The Rise of the Cybermen" that I first started to appreciate that the TARDIS was alive. In that episode the TARDIS ends up traveling into another dimension and dies, but the Doctor saves it by giving it some of his Time Lord energy, "I've given it one year of my life."

Throughout the course of the new series the Doctor has commented on several occasions that he only sometimes/somewhat controls where the TARDIS goes. He implies that he has it set to travel to pivotal points in time, sort of space time tipping points. Though it had never been specifically mentioned my theory was that the Doctor only goes to points in time where the TARDIS senses evidence of other time travelers or alien technology where it should not be.

I think it's funny that the Doctor will often assure his companions that they are going to go somewhere nice a relaxing, such as when the Doctor takes Amy and Rory to Venice. But the TARDIS only travels to tipping points, so in Venice they encounter Aquatic alien vampires. The Doctor has also said things like he doesn't like to go to boring times so he never lands on Sundays.

This episode is a first for two reasons. 1) the TARDIS is truly personified for the first time when it's essence is put into the body of a women named Idris and 2) The TARDIS tells the doctor that she/it is just as much of a thrill seeker as he is and that's why he's always finding himself on adventures.

I found this to be truly refreshing and long overdue, because though "The Heart of the TARDIS" was said to be a living entity and though the Doctor has been known to sometimes sweet talk it or "rub bits of it" as Sarah Jane mentioned in "School Reunion," the TARDIS has never been shown to have a personality of its own.

Up until this point it's been more of a vehicle. I thought the Doctor was fond of it because it took him from place to place. He loved it the way some guys love their sports car. This episode puts a whole other spin on their relationship. In essence it is a symbiotic relationship the TARDIS wanted to see the universe and so did the Doctor and as Idris put it, "you were the only one (Time Lord) crazy enough to give me what I wanted."

This episode is a bit tragic because for the first time the Doctor gets to actually have a conversation with his fellow adventurer of some 900 or so years and he learns that the ship choose him as much as he choose it, but it is only for one brief adventure and when he returns the energy into the shell of the TARDIS he knows that they won't be able to speak again. (Don't ask me why the Doctor can't make the TARDIS capable of speech, he just can't).

I think the episode is called "The Doctor's Wife" because the relationship between the Doctor and his TARDIS is the defining relationship of his life. He constantly fills his ship up with people he calls companions, but his real life-long companion is the TARDIS itself. It is his best friend, his most trusted ally, his greatest defender, and a constant believer that the work he is accomplishing is for the greater good. If that doesn't describe a wife's role than I don't know what does.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Uh-oh! Somebody’s Actually Reading This.

First Problem

I have two problems, the first problem is that I just discovered has all sorts of statistical data about how many people view my blog, how they found the blog, what browser they were using, where they were from, etc.

I know everyone else that has a blog through this site probably realized this long ago, but I somehow missed it until now. This is a problem because I can be a bit obsessive sometimes so it’s not a good thing that I can go in at anytime and see if anyone is reading my blog and then press the little button that says refresh and see if anyone started reading it in those last two seconds.

I now know that I’ve had over 100 page views from such foreign countries as Germany, Australia, Brazil, France, Italy, and Netherlands and Spain. And in the last week I’ve had visitors from New Zealand, Denmark and the United Arab Emirates.

I can’t even get my best friends to look at my blog, but I have readers in Indonesia?!

It was also interesting to see the different web browsers and operating systems people are using to view my site because I’d never heard of many of the more obscure ones.

For instance people have viewed my site with the web browsers Ubuntu (a Linux browser), SeaMonkey, Novarra-Vision, and PBSTB (which is so obscure the only thing I found by searching Google for it, was a link to another blog where she asks “What is this browser?” and even though there are many replies no one seems quite sure).

My blog has been viewed by such devices as I-pads, I-phones, I-pods, Blackberry, DoCoMo another mobile phone operator, (but it didn’t say whether it was the Indian or Japanese DoCoMo) and Playstation Portable.

It just amuses me to no end that someone manages to get their Playstation Portable to browse the Internet and they end up at my blog of all places. Plus, it’s just a portable video game console, Game Boy sure as heck couldn’t surf the web.

My question is how come no one using an Android or Nook Color has been to my blog?

Second Problem

My second problem is that people are actually looking at my blog. This blog wasn’t created so that people could read it, it was started so that I had a place to put the various articles I’d post on message boards. I’d post them and then I’d want to find them months or week’s later and I’d have to struggle with that particular site’s search engine to find it. Also, as I got more layout savvy I got frustrated with message board limitations; I wanted it to look just so.

And so,"One Geek’s Mind" was born, a storehouse for all of my brain-droppings in one convenient location.

Up until now I was working in a vacuum. I only have five followers of my blog so I figure no ones looking except for my wife that faithfully reads it, but does admit to skipping over the boring parts (love you Babe!). But, according to the stats I’ve had over 8,000 page views.

My most read book review is “Childhood’s End” it's had 534 views since I posted it on Oct. 29, 2009. I just looked st the review tonight for the first time in who knows how long and I feel like I have to apologize to all 534 readers for never bothering to fix up the text. It was double-spaced and the heading weren’t bolded. Now I know why girls get so embarrassed when someone comes over to their house and it’s “all a mess.” I also have no idea why this particular review is so popular. It’s blowing everything else out of the water; the next most viewed book reviews are “Contact” (93 views) and “Fahrenheit 451” (89 views). Is it just that good a review? Is it a popular book?

At Jim Harris’ suggestion I sent one of my articles “How Many Hugo Nominees and Winners can you get for free?” to a popular Science Fiction blog, SF Signal. They linked to my blog and it was a successful experiment, I got 67 hits because of SF Signal’s link. The article is my fifth most popular overall receiving a total of 223 views so far. The rest of the hits are probably a result of people searching Google with phrases like “Hugo winners, free.”

My third most viewed article with 253 views is, “Some Details in Back to the Future.” It’s just a quick article I threw together after watching the movie again. Most of the things I mentioned are found in other various articles around the blog-o-sphere. It’s just the things I happened to pay attention to that viewing and decided to look further into.

The other five top-ten articles are all comicbook reviews. Comics were one of the original focuses of the blog, but they’ve kind of been eclipsed by some of my other interests lately. The last time I wrote one was last April.

The number one most viewed article is, “What if Spiderman had rescued Gwen Stacy?” (604 views). It’s a well written review for what it is, but my theory on it’s popularity is that since I used the title of the comic for the title of the article, my blog comes up first itf you search the title in Google. And since I used a big scan of the cover with a high resolution, it also comes up first in image searches for both the title and “What If 24” (that’s what I named the image file).

The other popular comic articles are "Daredevil Part 3, The Romita Era" (175 views) and "Not so Mellow Yellow- Daredevil the Early Years Part 1" (132 views), I have no clue why people are skipping Part 2. Daredevil is kind of the "red-headed step-child" of the comicbook world, it's weird to me that his articles would get more then my other Spiderman reviews or Thor or Ironman.

Then there are, "Musings on the Incredible Hulk Part 2" (131 views) and Part 3 (122 views). These figures really confused me because you’d think people would start with Part 1, which is my personal favorite of all the comicbook reviews I’ve ever done. In it I purport that the Hulk is a modern day Buddha attempting to reach a form of nirvana by finding an end to his suffering. I guess it was too out there for most people.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Chinese Space Program

China has a space program. Sometimes it seems like it's all just a bunch of talk, but while America has basically scraped its space program and Russia is content to use the Soyuz for "taxi flights" to the International Space Station, China is putting real money into their program because they want to prove themselves as a 21st century superpower. They are playing a very long-term game and as you will see, they are making the first of their goals on time.

According to Wikipedia, so far there have been 3 manned space flights by China. It might not seem like much, but it seems like China's theory isn't repetition, it's getting it right the first time.

# Shenzhou 5 – 15 October 2003 – 14 Earth orbits carrying Yang Liwei
# Shenzhou 6 – 12 October 2005 – 5 day mission with Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng (In the space suit in the above picture)
# Shenzhou 7 – 25 September 2008 – three-man crew with Zhai Zhigang (who conducted China's first spacewalk), Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng

Here are their plans for the near future. Only time will tell if they stay on schedule or get delayed.

# Tiangong 1- October 2011 unmanned mission (Target Vehicle)
# Shenzhou 8 – 2011(?) – unmanned mission, will rendezvous and dock with Tiangong 1.
# Shenzhou 9 – 2011(?) – manned mission, will dock with Tiangong 1 and Shenzhou 8.
# Shenzhou 10 – 2012(?) – manned, will dock with Tiangong 1 and Shenzhou 8 and Shenzhou 9 to form a space laboratory.
# Tiangong 2- Launched 2013-2015 (Space Laboratory)
# Tiangong 3- Launched 2014-1016 (Space Station)

Let's check if China is meeting their schedule. This is according to an 2004 China National Space Administration (CNSA) schedule

Goal 1- Orbit a satellite around the Moon before 2007. (Lunar orbiter Chang'e 1 was launched on October 24, 2007 from Xichang Satellite Launch Center and entered lunar orbit on November 5. The spacecraft operated until March 1, 2009, when it was taken out of orbit and it impacted the surface of the Moon. Data gathered by Chang'e 1 was used to create the most accurate and highest resolution 3-D map ever created of the entire lunar surface.)

Goal 2- Phase two involves sending a lander before 2010. (Chang'e 2 was launched on October 1, 2010 to conduct research at a 100km high Moon orbit as the preparation for a soft landing by Chang'e 3. Chang'e 2 is similar to Chang'e 1 with some improvements, including a better camera with a resolution of one meter.)

Goal 3-Phase three involves collecting lunar soil samples before 2020. (In 2009, the 2013 launch date was confirmed for a landing craft and rover named Chang'e 3. It will use variable thrusters to make a vertical landing on the surface. After landing, the rover will leave the Chang'e 3 lander and work on the surface for three months. If this happens it would be 7 years ahead of their 2004 schedule.)

Goal 4-In September 2010, it was announced that the country is planning to carry out explorations in deep space by sending a man to the Moon by 2025. China also hopes to bring a moon rock sample back to earth in 2017,

Goal 5- The first unmanned Mars exploration program should take place between the 2014-2033 period, followed by a manned phase in 2040-2060. (Yinghuo 1 is a joint Russian-Chinese Mars-exploration space probe scheduled for launch in 2013)

You can argue that they haven't done much yet, but you can also argue that so far they have done everything they said they were. We live in interesting times!

I can't wait to see if China continues to meet all it's goals. Maybe there will be some space excitement in the world after all. After watching NASA's decline for year's I'd started to lose hope. Maybe I won't even care that it's not my country that's generating the buzz.

Meeting the Angry Video Game Nerd

This past weekend I got to meet the Angry Video Game Nerd. For the uninitiated the Nerd is a foul-mouthed, beer drinking nerd who tortures himself by reviewing the crappiest video games in history. His reviews are so entertaining because James Rolfe who created and stars as the Nerd is a really talented guy. He directs, writes, acts, and owns his own production company Cinemassacre. (I guess that's a quadruple threat?). The humor in his videos is mainly of the scatological variety, but that's part of it's draw; he says what some of us might think, but most of us would never say.

There's definitely a nostalgic element to the videos. I and much of my generation grew up playing, Atari, Nintendo and other early video game systems. But those days are far behind us. I don't even think Atari is compatible with digital televisions.

Rolfe, who has basically been a director since he could carry a video camera, is the ultimate movie buff and so he fills his videos with endless tributes to popular culture. One of my favorite episodes is his review of Star Trek video games which features an homage to the original series' absurd fight scenes.

And Rolfe is no one trick pony, in addition to the Nerd he does other series such as Board James, You Know What's Bullshit, and Over Analyzers. He's done short film work like The Deader the Better and Legend of the Blue Hole. He does movie reviews, examines the history of movies and video technologies and has documentaries about visiting the locations featured in movies.

The one common thread is that you feel like you get to know the real James Rolfe. I know it's the Johnny Carson syndrome and I don't really know him, but I feel like I do.

Rolfe attended the Too Many Games Convention in Oaks, PA (about a 5 minutes drive from my apartment) and my wife and I went to the convention just to see the Nerd in person.

First there was a screening of some of the Nerd videos. Then there was a Q and A session during which it struck me is how good Rolfe is to his fans, no matter what kind of a loaded questions people asked or no matter how socially awkward the questioner was, he just rolled with it and was always polite.

I had all these things I wanted to talk to him about. I wanted to tell him about my experiences writing screenplays and filming short films from way back when I was still in High School. I also wanted to ask his advice because I'm thinking about doing some filming in the ghost town of Centralia, PA, but there was such a tremendous crowd to see Rolfe, even at this tiny suburban convention that I didn't really get the chance. Basically all Rolfe had time for was to sign my stuff and let me snap a picture with him.

Don't get me wrong, It was neat to meet him and shake his hand and tell him I was a fan, and I appreciate him signing my SNES and the ET Atari Cartridge (that might be worth something in the future because ET will be the featured game in the upcoming Angry Video Game Nerd feature film) and I love having the picture (though I wish I'd put down my bag). It's just like I said before, I've watched so many of the videos I sometimes feel like we're already old friends and it's disappointing when that false image is shattered. He doesn't actually know me and probably never will.