Monthly Archives: April 2013

Grasshopper Flight Test

Watching this, I had to wonder what it would have been like had NASA done something like this with a Saturn V first stage back in the day…

What I find especially interesting and useful about SpaceX’s Grashopper effort is the applicability to Mars landers and (later on) surface-orbit shuttles – which is probably the long-term point of the exercise, given Elon Musk’s interests. If you picture this vehicle spread out at the base a bit more into a conical shape, you’ve got the Ares Project ERVs. Scale them up a little bit more from there, and you’ve got the MDA’s surface-orbit shuttles.  Add an Orbiter-sized payload bay, and you’ve got the new cargo shuttles which will make their appearance early in Ghosts of Tharsis.

Of course, the obvious problem this technology poses for In the Shadow of Ares is that this testbed is actually a better pilot than Daniel Martinez. Granted, he had no alternative under the circumstances but to deactivate the autopilot and land Odysseus himself (and succeeded), but his accuracy was somewhat less impressive than what’s shown here.

Ideology (and Ideological Rot) in Science Fiction

Vox Day has an interesting dissection of the problems with “mainstream” science fiction and fantasy nowadays – The Cancer in SF/F:

One need only look at the increasingly mediocre works that have been nominated for, and in some cases even won, science fiction’s highest prizes to realize that the genre is dominated by the ideological left and is in severe decline from both the literary and revenue perspectives.  When six of the top 10-selling SF books in 2012 are either ripped off from an Xbox game or were first published more than a decade ago, it shouldn’t be difficult to observe that there is a very serious problem with the science fiction that is presently being published…

But even if one dismisses me, the problem is that I am far from the only former Asimov and Analog subscriber who no longer bothers to even pirate, let alone buy, The Year’s Best Science Fiction collections because so little of it is worth reading anymore. As an SFWA member, I have a vote for the Nebula, but at least in the case of the Best Novel category, there is simply nothing for which one can credibly vote.

It is simply impossible to call any of the novels presently up for this year’s Nebula or Hugo the best novel in SF/F with a straight face. And if one of them truly does merit the description, then the genre is in even worse shape than I have observed.  It should not be controversial to suggest that it is highly unlikely that anyone from this year’s class will one day be named a Grandmaster of Science Fiction.

I’d have to agree with him. I still look over the new releases at Barnes & Noble or Amazon every couple  of weeks, hoping in spite of experience to find something promising and worthwhile and not larded with left-leaning cliches, but almost always come away disappointed…and have for the past 15 years or so.

He follows up with a discussion of comments Sarah Hoyt made on a similar subject (part of her own ongoing exploration of the theme). And to expand it into other media, this week J. Michael Straczynski of Babylon 5 fame made some related observations on TV SF.

I do like Sarah Hoyt’s take on the problem as self-correcting – the emergence of alternative distribution channels like Kindle spells doom to those traditional channels increasingly controlled by a single exclusionary ideology, if they are unwilling to change. In other words: the free market works, and competition has benefits.

Advanced Robotics

So, who thinks Carl and I were too sporty with the diggers and other robots in In the Shadow of Ares?

The humanoid robots are a little creepy in an uncanny valley way, but quite impressive for what they can do if even part of it is autonomous (it looks to me like the Petman demo involves someone driving the device in realtime, possibly by mean akin to motion capture, yet still with autonomous responses/reflexes at work in maintaining its balance). I found the robotic pack-mule the most impressive, probably because it (and the hexapod thing near the beginning) appears to be the most versatile and mature design – one can already imagine a production version being used in the field for a variety of applications (with or without cinder-block-tossing appendages). Or, imagine a future Mars “rover’ based on a similar platform, able to wander into more interesting areas of the planet’s surface than the current wheeled designs can reach.

The hexapod device really caught my attention, partly because Carl and I dreamed up a similar device a few months ago for Ghosts of Tharsis – more sophisticated of course, but something that is recognizable as a 40-year evolution of the device shown, augmented with the wholly-fictional (?) simulacrum intelligence technology. And if you thought the diggers were dangerous…