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There's science in my science fiction!

I've moved on from Crest of the Stars to Banner of the Stars. Observations: more battles, less character; OTOH, there are more characters, so the development is spread beyond Jinto and Lafiel. The Baronh opening voiceover doesn't change much -- the same for 8 episodes, then switched to a different sameness; this is vs. continually new information in Crest. There's a lot of countdowns from 10. A few episodes have overly-long recaps, of course that's aggravated by watching the episodes back to back, not separated by a week. Still, I'm liking it, and excited to watch it, as in "eeee I'm going to go home and watch Banner."

But some scenes of note, relevant to the subject:


* Evolution. There's a dinner party featuring Jinto, human with Abh noble title; the Baronness, whose human grandmother was ennobled, but whose father was already born, so the Baronness and her brother were the first generation of genetic Abh in the family; Lafiel, who descends from the original slave population 1000? years ago. Paraphrased:
Jinto: "Look at us! We're a model of evolution!"
Lafiel, in her oft-used "how can you be so stupid" tone: "That's not evolution. We're adapted, not evolved. You can't evolve through adaptation. And we just have an extra sensory organ and longer lives."
Jinto, who is in love with someone who'll look 20 a century after he's dead of old age, to himself: *Isn't that an achievement, though?*

Commentary: In my idiolect, Jinto is technically correct: evolution is change, and voila. In common use, Lafiel is correct (taking 'adapted' to mean 'engineered'): evolution is conflated with the process of natural selection, and the Abh aren't naturally selected; nor is there differential survival in normal modes, just the imposed uniformity of the Abh ruling class. Lafiel's dismissal fits Abh sociology, where they're all pretty but they don't put much stock in that, since their parents design their looks. Jinto's silent retort needs no explanation. It does raise the question of why the genetic tweaks involved aren't more widespread; this hasn't be solidly answered, but Crest did show us a human from a planet which used the longevity tweaks, who were discriminated against by the United Mankind (the biggest polity opposing the Abh). So the answer would seem to be "widespread bioconservatism authorially handwaved into place to keep the Abh special". Lois Bujold doesn't do much better.


* Alcohol Lafiel turns out to be wrong about the list of tweaks. Human Samson is having drinks with the Abh senior pilot. (Subtitle uses 'aviator' but they never touch air.) Pilot says the Abh can't get drunk, then immediately qualifies this to they can get a little drunk, if they drink a lot.

Intermediate thoughts: becoming immune to drugs seems non-trivial. Most of them, after all, like opium or cannabis, work by resembling natural transmitters in the brain; you can't just make opioids have no effect without re-working major brain systems. Alcohol, AFAIK, works by being a low-level general metabolic poison, as a partly-digested remnant of glucose. In theory one could increase the selectivity of the blood brain barrier, to keep ingested substances out of the brain, though that might be hard for something that resembles the key molecule glucose. Other points of attack are the liver, taking alcohol out of the blood (too late), and the stomach, where enzymes get a head start on digesting alcohol, and lack of such enzymes is linked to alcoholism. Most people don't know this.

Senior pilot that makes an off-hand joking comment that "of course, if you injected alcohol into our bloodstream, that'd be different". As a piece of dialog among people with ordinary lack of medical knowledge, this is kind of weird. To me, it points directly at the stomach enzyme hypothesis.


* Coolant. Coolant sometimes shows up in space SF, usually because the ship is damaged and leaking. Blood for machines. In Banner, coolant comes up in a pre-battle planning meeting: officers are worried that given plans to fight in real space instead of hyperspace, the ships don't have enough coolant. Exactly why isn't explained (the drives are different in the two locations; I could make up reasons for one or the other being more heat-accumulating), nor is whether the coolant is internally cycled, or used as a heat dump in lieu of the non-existent masses of radiators a real spaceship might need, or used as a liquid drop radiator.

But, anyway, they want more coolant, and the admiral from a brilliant but oft-insane family figures water can be used, and they're in orbit around and Earth-like planet with lots of... water. But for certain reasons that planet hasn't surrendered yet, and can't just be ordered to ship up water. So: PILLAGE! "The Abh Star Forces haven't pillaged in a long time, let's pillage some water!" He goes on about that for a while, until a staff officer points out the planet suffers from dense atmosphere and a steep gravity well (compared to what Abh spaceships are meant to deal with, i.e. none, not compared to Earth), so the plan is stupid. Admiral has a second idea, perhaps they can steal it from the atmosphere. "We don't have the equipment. "Could you build it?" "Sure. I can't guarantee it'd be ready in time, though." "How long?" "A year." "..."

They don't actually resolve the question: do they loot ice from asteroids? (not even suggestion, and given somewhat real rockets, probably impossible to get over interplanetary distances in 50 hours) Do they fall back to the boring suggestion of just asking HQ to have more coolant delivered, which got sidetracked by the admiral's attraction to pillaging oceans? Not said.

Observation: SF almost never discusses heating issues, or radiators, and if they do it's only because there's a crisis and something's overheating, not because it's a major constraint. So props for it coming up at all. And then "coolant? Water! We can get water!" "No we can't, we can't fly, dumbass. Sir."

*Cat hair
Samson tells Jinto to stop bringing his cat to the bridge, the hairs will get into equipment. Sounds reasonable, right? Jinto passes this on to Fanservice Girl, who also likes his cat, and who retorts that human hair is just as bad for machinery, which is thus designed with hair-resistance in mind. Jinto gives his emabarrased laugh, says he'd wondered about that, and speculates Samson is just protective of the equipment. (Me, I'd worried about scared cat piss.)

Observations on the last two, and overall: there seems to be a pattern of scenes where nothing ends up happening, but a reasonable idea goes up and then gets shot down by more accurate criticism. In the alcohol case, it's more the Pilot making a statement then refining it himself twice. We get realistic portrayals of people thinking and arguing amongst each other; it also smacks somewhat of the author showing off not just his thoughts, but his second thoughts (and/or second-guessing common SF ideas.)

But it's Tolkieny in its subtlety. The alcohol thing would just be weird, except that I've read about stomach enzymes, so it makes sense to me. But the enzymes aren't mentioned, I'm providing the educated context that explains why injected alcohol could make Abh drunk when ingested doesn't. This could be seen as "well-done, they're not explaining every little detail implausibly" or "bad, insufficient context, look you're still not even sure what's up with the coolant." But I like it. It does make me think that these series aren't the Hobbit and LotR, they're the Tale of Beren and Luthien, with the same hints of background detail in elvish language and history. Romance, with space opera backdrop, but the backdrop has real thought in it, which would be unnecessary for the romance by itself.

Come to think of it, the romance is pretty damn subtle itself; I'm being kind of meta. Based on observed evidence so far, Jinto and Lafiel are just close. No kissing, no worries about confessing feelings, or misplaced angst about her being a princess. Maybe later.

* Space coffin
Another hairpin turn. The Baroness's brother, earlier killed by Lafiel, is mentioned as drifitng (well, his body) toward the center of the galaxy. Ship had stellar escape velocity, I guess. Drifting slowly, of course. Only it turns out his will wanted his funeral sent *out* of the galaxy. Oops, and no one's inclined to go chase down his derelict ship to turn it around. He's got a really expensive coffin, though: a decadent noble's fancy spaceship.

Space battles
On a separate note, I'm not sure how these are. I think I previously noted there's high verisimilitude: the FTL is magic physics, as is artificial gravity, but everything else (weapons, armor, fuel) is stuff that seems to make sense. Ship trajectories sometime seem suspiciously aerodynamic, without side rockets being obvious to justify curves. Lasers are 'visible' or at least drawn, and space is full of "pew pew" and "boom". OTOH, visual drama. There's a pre-battle scene where ships stop in front of a hyperspace gate, they almost ostenatiously are shown firing retrorockets like good little Newtonians. And Crest had a scene of "I can stop faster than you so you overshoot, and now I plummet into the atmosphere before you can come back."

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Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Jun. 4th, 2009 11:00 am (UTC)
On Coolant
Coolant was a mistranslation of propellant.
(Anonymous)
Jun. 29th, 2009 07:10 am (UTC)
Someone posted a scathing critique of the anime sub, which has a few _really_ obvious mistakes, like "the body of clasbul was floating in its coffin."
He mentioned that the word translated as 'coolant' is normally used to mean "propellant," which would make more sense in the context of "not being able to move your ships much." Apparently they use regular reaction engines (+ on the hardness scale) with a readily available propellant.
mindstalk
Jun. 29th, 2009 10:46 am (UTC)
Huh, don't remember that clasbul line. Don't remember offhand was clasbul is... oh! baron, right? Hmm, doesn't seem like an obvious mistake, taking the ship as his coffin like his sister does.

Propellant (reaction mass) would make sense as well through that whole scene, and makes clear why not fighting in plane space would hurt them (plane space motion not being Newtonian). OTOH, the scene mostly worked as is, and worrying about coolant would have been hard as well.
(Anonymous)
Jul. 4th, 2009 05:46 am (UTC)
Nah, Clasbul (or some spelling of that) was the planet they crash-landed on. The line (after their ship blows up) was basically "hey, this is like the time we were in that coffin in orbit around Clasbul," but the line makes no sense unless you saw 'crest,' and the subbers probably hadn't.
PS, found this blog randomly, but it's a great source for sf news. I knew Card was an ass, but he's taking it to new limits these days...
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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