Thursday, May 17, 2012


I haven't been this excited about a new movie since Black Swan.  Or Jackass 2.  Seriously though, it's marked on my calendar, which I never do with movies.

My fear:  I hope it's more than just "aliens came to Earth long ago, put some heiroglyphs around as a message, and use our ability to travel in space as a marker to exterminate us!"  That's been done, many times.

Maybe it's just that this theme has never been done well in a film.  And that's a problem of the medium itself that even Maestro Scott can't overcome:  to communicate complex and/or novel ideas, you need lots of exposition, which you really can't do in film, unless you have a Star Wars style crawl that lasts 20 minutes or an Ayn Rand type info-dump.  Of course when you're watching a movie, the satisfaction is much more in the presentation.  Giger contributed, but the alien itself (the big one, not the face-huggers) will not make an appearance.

I will leave my high expectations in place.  Dammit, this is the prequel to Alien.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Stephen King's Dreamcatcher is Pretty Good

This Stephen King novelization was widely panned but I submit it isn't so bad.  Note that I did not read the novel.

1) It features actually alien aliens, with a life cycle more suggestion of actual animals (complete with weaknesses, e.g. sensitivity to cold).  This is much much better than the humanoid aliens which low-budget TV shows can at least blame on their budgets, but which bigger-budget films can only blame on lack of imagination, or a desire to insult their audience.  Also for some reason those humanoid aliens always seem to want to offer us brotherhood in the great galactic civilization where we can sit around in deep intellectual exchange all day long.  Just like Europeans did with Native Americans.  And that was within the same species. (For some mealtime deliciousness see below.)

2) The plot is actually well thought-out and contains (largely through Morgan Freeman's grizzled war stories) tantalizing hints of back-stories, placing humans as one species in a whole ecosystem.

3) There is no black and white morality, no heroic portryal of humans, just a struggle for survival.  This includes less-than-rational self-interested elements in the human defense force, Morgan Freeman's character prominent among them.

4) There is local New England color invoked in the poetry the alien chooses to recite.

Legitimate complaints:

1) The mind-reading/occupying metaphor is taken a little too far.  You could cut out all the mental warehouse scenes and the movie wouldn't suffer.

2) From a science fiction concept standpoint, the idea of a universal parasite is a little too easily believed (see Alien or the sure-to-be-awesome upcoming Prometheus).  Think about it:  yes, we have an alarming amount of effective parasites here on this planet, but even after a billion years of practice to evolve ways to invade and assemble copies of themselves within organisms with whom they share basic building blocks, there still isn't a universal parasite.  There still isn't a worm or virus or bacterium equally at home in any vertebrate or even any mammal.  Yet here come these guys from across the galaxy, using D-amino acids or a carbohydrate genome for all we know, and they find the human colon completely hospitable the first time they visit one.  (I think there's an argument to be made from first principles that if we do encounter parasites that have spread outside their ecosystem of origin, they are likely to be both simpler and more universal than other alien parasites we might encounter.  But this is just silly.)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Autocatalytic Systems

Hordijk, Steel and Kauffman move toward a generalized (i.e., substrate-independent) theory of autocatalytic systems.  This has implications for the likelihood of natural selection appearing elsewhere in the universe.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Terrestrial Planets Smashed to Bits Around Their Parent Stars

This happened within a few hundred light years. Because we're seeing the left-over crumbs in their final orbits, it also must have happened recently.

This could be either the natural death-throes of planets circling a spent white dwarf, it could be the decompiled planets of a post-singularity civilization, or it could be a civilization-exterminating alien force on its way to Earth right now!!!!!1!!!1111

It's probably the first one, but singulatarians should be looking for evidence like this in surrounding star systems. In particular, since we should expect this phase of an old system's evolution shouldn't last long, we shouldn't see it very often. If we do, something else is going on. So do we see more of these kinds of systems than we would otherwise expect to?