Not better, different

I moseyed over to the Gaylord Convention Center last Saturday to do my traditional one day attendance of Escape Velocity, the best little sci-con out there. ‘Mosey’ best describes it ‘cause I didn’t get there until about noon. Slowing down in my old age. Dagnabit, you young whippersnappers, get off my lawn.

I stumbled into the ends of a presentation called The Quantum Revolution, which may as well have been held in Klingon for all I understood of it. Guess I shouldn’t have missed the first 55 minutes or so. I did learn that quantum computers are not better computers, they’re just different computers. Good to know, especially since I have no idea what a quantum computer is. They are a tool for certain purposes, much like using a saw instead of a hammer to cut things. You can cut things with a hammer but the saw is much easier. See?

That certainly clears things up.

The next full presentation, the one I was most looking forward to, was from Dominique Tipper.

You know her as Naomi Nagata from the Expanse and I figured this would be along the lines of Cas Anvar’s presentation a couple of years ago, a discussion of how the show incorporates  science and the techniques for so doing. Well, no. This was more a Q&A, with the enthusiastic Tipper taking questions from the audience the whole time. Of course, you know what that means: several members of the audience vying to prove which of them are the smartest, with long preambles designed to establish credentials and/or superiority before getting to an actual question. We had an hour, and I think a total of six questions got asked, along the lines of “What scenes from the Expanse best illustrates my cutting edge, highly advanced and rather enlightened view of (pick your favorite social or physical science)?” Much virtue signaling, there was.

But it wasn’t a complete eye roll fest. Tipper announced that yes, indeed, there will be a Season Four, something which everyone but me already knew and which everyone dutifully applauded but I dunno. I think Season 3 ended on a good note and maybe it’s best to go into the long good night before the desperate need to keep the franchise going causes Holden to jump some protomolecule shark.

Yeah, I’m gonna watch it.

Tipper has been acting for only three years. Before that, she was a backup dancer in London and, yes, that is a genyoowine Cockney accent ‘cause she’s from East London.  Which gave her an empathy for the Belters, because she knows what it’s like to be the underclass. And no, she does not speak Belter so stop walking up to her and asking for a demonstration. A linguist created Belter and they have a language coach on set but she doesn’t speak it. She goes full on Cockney when she’s with her Mom or drunk, so watch it.

She was working some bit parts in Australia when she heard about the Expanse auditions, and was like, “What’s this shit?” but sent in a tape anyway. A job is a job. She had to tape it again and again and did some tests and what’s this shit and surprise, she got the part. “Honestly, I took the job for the money,” but now it’s turned into something bigger than she expected.

James S. A. Corey is in the writers room during every shoot, but she doesn’t really want to know what’s going to happen because she wants to be surprised. She has no idea what the plans are, if any, for Seasons 5 and 6. After all, the show was canceled once already.

She regards the show as a cautionary tale, that human behavior repeats itself, no matter where we go and what we try to do. Quite validating, that. One of the show’s main authenticities is its willingness to throw hard punches at the silly scifi trope that we’re all getting better and better as science advances. The Belter, Martian, and Earth societies in the Expanse are as venal, cruel and ruthless as any prior medieval group you’d like to mention. Because of that, she has no enthusiasm for going into space herself. Things don’t really change, so why add the complication of space survival? There’s a real effort to not “pretty up” the show, and she doesn’t mean in the special effects department. Human behavior remains as crappy as it ever was.

Dance training helped a lot with the zero g scenes because she could pose her limbs in float position without a lot of discomfort or distraction. They use a lot of green screen devices, like a chair that makes it look like someone’s floating. The special effects guys paint the chair and wires and whatnot out later. She admits to being a bit “particular” when taking direction and others may call her difficult, but she wants to get it right. And be true to Naomi, who is the moral compass of the group. So we all took group photos with her and I got to say, she’s quite personable, Down to earth, if you’ll forgive me.

I then stumbled into the Mars as a Home for Past or Present Life seminar, put on by NASA peoples who know what they’re talking about. We earthlings have a soft spot for Mars because any backyard telescope can bring up its features and we see dark and light and things moving and it’s gotta be like here, with oceans  and canals and Deeja Thoris running around. So a lot of the science history involving Mars has been filled with wishful thinking, right up to 1964 when Mariner IV showed us that Mars was deader than a doornail, a lot like the moon, at least that portion of Mars that Mariner photographed, which turned out to be a crater strewn area and not really representative of the topography.

Still dead, though. Even then, we could not let go of the myths: Carl Sagan thought Mars went through periods of being wet. It doesn’t. It’s dead. No Deeja Thoris.


Because they’re gonna go look. There’s all kinds of Mars missions planned for 2020, and not just NASA: the Euro Space Agency, the Chinese, even the UAE has got something in the works. Is that because we still can’t let go of the myths? No.

It’s because there might be something there.

We know a lot more about life, its possible forms and developments and conditions. You need water and nutrients and a form of energy. Not that the presence of all three means you’ll find life, but when milk and flour and an egg beater are sitting on the counter, there’s a potential for pancakes. Water flowed on Mars before: one of the Rovers shows rocks that have been moved by water. There’s sedimentary levels and river deltas, and there is the sun, although a weak sister of itself at this distance. Nutrients? Well…maybe. There’s perchlorate in the soil which is toxic to plants as we know them. Besides that problem, nutrients have to be biologically available and, on Mars, they ain’t. But, still, something’s there. Could be Deeja Thoris.

And it’s not like we’ve done the whole place yet and know for sure. There’s a lot of Mars to look at. Mars has no plate tectonics so the soil doesn’t go through the sifting and mixing that it does on Earth. Martian rocks are older than the ones we can find on Earth so they contain a clearer snapshot of what was going on in the solar system 3.5 million years ago, when life on Earth started. We can see things in them we can’t here, and since there was water and nutrients and energy on Mars back then, who knows what awaits? A Deeja Thoris skeleton,perhaps?

Yes, yes, I know, let go of the myths.

They designed Curiosity to assess a local region as a potential habitat, which gives us a backhanded way of assessing any past habitats but that isn’t the main mission. Other Rovers are necessary, including one extraordinary project where they intend to drill core samples, launch them back into orbit, retrieve them and bring them back to Earth. Wow.

I love the 21st Century. Everything that enthralled me as a kid is coming true.

I then moved onto Space Opera, arriving about fifteen minute late because a technical glitch in the Mars show held us over. I wish I hadn’t missed the beginning because apparently they had outlined a definition of Space Opera to which I do not subscribe. Has to have aliens and melodrama. What? As one very astute audience member said to me, what about Foundation? Yes, Space Opera mavens, what about it? Nary hide nor hair of aliens yet it’s space opera at its finest. The panel included Stargate under the category, if you can believe it. So let me help you out: Space Opera is galactic wide movement and intrigues of empires and civilizations, not necessarily alien ones, and not necessarily melodramatic. Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series is a good example. Stargate isn’t. How ‘bout The Expanse? Well, given the most recent events, it is now.

I then went through the displays:

Look at this: Deckard’s gun.

Star Trek stuff:

A stillsuit, among other stuff:

Had a sudden hankering to smack people with a jawbone.

And that pretty much ended it. There was another panel about the supernatural in scifi but I had misread the description and thought N. K. Jemison was going to be ON the panel and was all atwitter and had brought some books for her to sign but, no, it was a panel ABOUT N. K. Jemison, among others. Never mind. And, speaking of stillsuits, there was a chance to play the original Dune game against the original designers but I’d have to stay later, like a whole day later,  and I was too tired.


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