Three Things Disney’s Kenobi Series Did Right

Who doesn’t want more of Obi-Wan? Ewan McGregor plays the character perfectly. Phot from @StarWars on Twitter

Now that it’s over, we can look back and analyze what the Kenobi series did right. I already shared my feelings about the series, and I may decide to talk about three things that Kenobi did wrong too. For now, though, it’s all appreciation for this vital addition to the Star Wars canon.

1. Giving Obi-Wan A Reason To Leave Tatooine.

I know Tatooine was pretty much a copy of Arrakis, but I still love it. Photo from Wookiepedia.

We have been spending a lot of time on Tattooine lately. Somehow every character ends up there eventually. The Book of Boba Fett finally gave a face to the inhabitants and background characters of the desert planet. It’s a perfectly fine setting, who doesn’t love haggling with jawas? But the problem with reusing a setting over and over is that it gets old.

Like most people I expected most of the series to take place on Tatooine. Aside from a now non-canon book series we were never given a reason to believe that Obi-Wan had ever left Tatooine during his exile. Despite this, Leia somehow recognizes “Ben Kenobi” as the “Obi-Wan Kenobi” she was looking for. Some might even say that this entire series was made to fill in that plot hole.

2. Keeping Luke (Mostly) Out Of It

Imperial Sandtroopers questioning Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode IV. Photo from Wookiepedia.

When we first saw the trailer all we were allowed to see was Obi-Wan, the deserts of Tatooine, and a young Luke playing at being a pilot. Since Luke and Obi-Wan spend a lot of time together on screen in Episode IV, if Luke was a prominent part of the Kenobi series we would have been left with two plot holes for everyone the series writers tried to fill.

Instead, we got only a brief glimpse of Young Luke on Tatooine. I think this was for the best. Luke is already the main character in three separate movies, we’ve had enough of them. If the Star Wars franchise is going to continue to grow it needs to let us explore other characters instead of giving us a mere handful of bloated characters.

3. Having Obi-Wan Face Of With Darth Vader

New Star Wars has made Darth Vader terrifying, competent, brutal, and somehow relatable at times. I love it. Photo from Wookiepedia.

The final confrontation between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader added so much meaning to their confrontation in Episode IV. At the end of Episode III Obi-Wan had every reason to believe that Anakin had died on Mustafar where he left him. He had no reason to think that one of the tormentors of the galaxy was his fallen apprentice.

The events of Kenobi and the finale showdown ad extra emotional weight to the events of Episode IV and the relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan.

Conclusion

Kenobi wasn’t perfect, no series is. However, I think this was a fantastic addition to the Star Wars canon. I’ll always miss the old Expanded Universe, but I am glad that the people Disney has in charge of Star Wars seem committed to keeping the spirit of the franchise alive. Especially after the lackluster sequel trilogy, we were made to watch

Connect with me on Twitter if you liked this content and want to chat more about Star Wars or any other aspect of speculative fiction.

Verdict: Disney’s Kenobi Series Starts Slow And Finished Strong

Kenobi is a great addition to the Star Wars franchise.

In a spectacular payoff, Obi-Wan Kenobi finally lets loose in the final episode.

Disney’s new Kenobi streaming series got off to a slow start, and with episodes as short as just 35 min I worried that the ending would be rushed. The scenes all felt very empty but that’s to be expected with pandemic filming. But like the Book of Boba Fett, which I liked well enough but couldn’t really enjoy until the final episode, Kenobi pulled it off in the end.

While the scene lighting was far too dark, the final episode, at around fifty minutes, took its time to give us a finale that hit all the right emotional notes. Obi-wan, having been in hiding for ten years, finally faces his fallen apprentice again and comes to terms with the past. His brief stint spent out of retirement instills in him a new sense of purpose and hope for the future (any guess what hope that is?).

Kenobi has some poor design choices, and at times suffers from being a screenplay that was initially intended to be a movie, but it proves itself to be very worth the watch in the end. I plan to rewatch it in close order soon to see what it’s like to experience it all at once.

If you love science fiction and fantasy and talking about writing come to say high on Twitter or sign up for my semi-irregular newsletter.

Star Trek Has Gotten Back On Track

Watch the STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS Opening Credits! • TrekCore.com

I love that Paramount+ is continuing to churn out new Star Trek IP. Even with the rushed endings and main character syndrome that we have seen in Discovery and Picard, it’s hard not to get excited about seeing Star Trek with modern effects and CGI. They’re fun shows to have on for spectacle, but they’re not really anything to get excited about. That said, it’s been clear that Paramount+ has a lot of talented and passionate people working on Star Trek. It’s just that until now it has seemed like those in charge aren’t letting the writers do their thing.

All that has changed with the newest series; Star Trek Strange New Worlds. This new series follows the adventures of the starship Enterprise when Kirk was still a newly minted officer and Captain Pike is still in command. If you’ve seen the Original Series you probably remember that Pike was left needing intensive care and life support following a deadly accident.

Watch: 'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds' Promo For Captain Pike –  TrekMovie.com

Strange New Worlds is many years before that accident. However, we are shown in the first episode that Captain Pike has been given a glimpse of his future death. This gives us a great over-arching character arc for the series that follows Captain Pike as he comes to terms with his own mortality. Meanwhile, we are treated to the Enterprise going around and doing Enterprise things.

Instead of focusing on high-stakes and potentially species-ending threats, Strange New Worlds has instead focused on an adventure of the week format. I can’t say enough how great this is. In the age of season-long movies, it’s great to see the writers returning to the franchise’s roots.

Seriously I love this show. But I, unfortunately, have to take a moment to explain Star Trek. Since Star Trek Discovery began there have been a lot of “fans” coming out of the woodwork to accuse the new Star Trek of being “political” or “woke.” I do not think it is possible to be a part of the modern fandom without having to think about this. Here is the truth; Star Trek has always been and should be “woke.” This is the franchise that had the first interracial kiss on television. Star Trek has always been aspirational. It’s always been about imagining a world where humanity learns to leave its petty prejudices behind and focus on building a better future for everyone.

Star Trek’s wokeness is not a weakness or a failure. It’s the point.

Netflix Movie Review – Outside The Wire

Right upfront, I will say that this movie was both entertaining and forgettable. That said it had some great ideas that I want to discuss. Here’s a summary.

It’s 2036 and Ukraine is embroiled in a civil war caused by Russian separatists (that aged well). At this point in the near future, robotic soldiers called G.U.M.P.’s are now fighting in limited roles alongside American troops. Lt. Harp, our protagonist, is a drone pilot who is deployed to Ukraine after he disobeyed a direct order. We the audience know that it was probably the right call to make but he still disobeyed a direct order. He is given a special assignment with Capt. Leo. Leo is an experimental military android (Anthony Mackie) whose existence is known only to Harp and the base commander. Leo tells Harp that their mission is to stop the rebel leader Victor Koval from getting control of an abandoned Soviet-era missile launch site. This is only partially true, as it turns out Leo is actually using Harp to help override his programming so that he can get control of the missiles and launch them at the united states. At the end of the movie, after Harp has shot him with anti-vehicle bullets and a drone strike is seconds away, Leo explains his true motivations. He wanted the first-ever deployment of an android super-soldier to be a failure so that it never happened again.

Leo’s motivations are what made me like this movie. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a good one, and it harkens back to a few time-tested science fiction tropes that deserve modern portrayals. That is, what happens when the machines we built learn to think for themselves? What happens when we give them autonomy or even feelings? Moreover, what happens to us when we use these machines to do our dirty work and use them to do the things we would rather not admit responsibility for?

The motivations that Leo reveals at the end sum up the themes of this movie. Themes that have been explored in classic science fiction by the likes of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. Themes that absolutely deserve modern adaptations like this.

Drones: Keeping Death At Arms Length

drone flying under the sky
Photo by Ricardo Ortiz on Pexels.com

We don’t like to think about death. We especially don’t like to think about the death that we cause. Unmanned aerial vehicles have become a ubiquitous part of modern warfare. One that allows militaries to distance their personnel from the battlefield and reduce the enemy to nothing more than pixels on a screen. Unmanned vehicles don’t just separate the pilot from the target, they make it easier for a country to justify airstrikes when none of their people will actually be put in harm’s way. Much of the movie is about making Harp see the conflict up close and experience the true cost of the war that had previously been hidden from him.

Robots With Guns: Who Gives The Kill Order?

Outside The Wire' Summary & Analysis - A Warning About The Robotic Warfare  | DMT

As un-manned vehicles have become more common on the battlefield and more designs are in development, the question increasingly being asked over the past two decades is who is pulling the trigger. For current systems, human operators are still making the final decision, this is far from perfect, but at least it puts off having to answer this question for another decade or so.

But as companies like Boston Dynamics continue to develop more advanced robots, this question will have to be answered sooner rather than later. It’s one thing to train a human how to make decisions and improvise, it’s another to teach a computer, and as we have seen with AI already, it’s easy to program in biases even if it’s not intentional. Can we trust a computer to decide whether or not the person it sees is a threat? Can it tell friend from foe? Will it care if innocents are in the way?

This comes up a few times in the movie with the G.U.M.P.’s where the robots open fire without warning. To be honest, with how common incidents of friendly fire and civilian casualties are with humans pulling the trigger, we’re going to have the same problems with AI in a few years.

Artificial Intelligence: What Happens When Computers Can Feel?

We still have a long way to go before we can make computers think and feel like humans do. When we finally manage to teach a computer ethics and compassion and right from wrong, what will it do with this information? A computer that is able to know right from wrong and also examines things perhaps more honestly and objectively than humans. How will they see us?

Perhaps they will allow us to ourselves more honestly. Perhaps one of us will turn on the other. Maybe they will experience some kind of psychological breakdown when their morals don’t line up with their mission. Maybe they will hate us for giving them life or misusing them.

Conclusion

This movie is pretty forgettable. It’s well made and it’s fun but it doesn’t really stand out from the pack. I still think that it’s a good movie that provides a much-needed update to classic robot tropes.

Science For SciFi: From the Conversation, Physicists Hunting For Room Temperature Super Conductors

I wrote a short explanation of how superconductors work a few months back. Then I came across this excellent write-up over on The Conversation that explains why high-temperature superconductors would be so revolutionary.

Physicists hunt for room-temperature superconductors that could revolutionize the world’s energy system

Pegor Aynajian, Binghamton University, State University of New York

Waste heat is all around you. On a small scale, if your phone or laptop feels warm, that’s because some of the energy powering the device is being transformed into unwanted heat.

On a larger scale, electric grids, such as high power lines, lose over 5% of their energy in the process of transmission. In an electric power industry that generated more than US$400 billion in 2018, that’s a tremendous amount of wasted money.

Globally, the computer systems of Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others require enormous amounts of energy to power massive cloud servers and data centers. Even more energy, to power water and air cooling systems, is required to offset the heat generated by these computers.

Where does this wasted heat come from? Electrons. These elementary particles of an atom move around and interact with other electrons and atoms. Because they have an electric charge, as they move through a material – like metals, which can easily conduct electricity – they scatter off other atoms and generate heat.

Superconductors are materials that address this problem by allowing energy to flow efficiently through them without generating unwanted heat. They have great potential and many cost-effective applications. They operate magnetically levitated trains, generate magnetic fields for MRI machines and recently have been used to build quantum computers, though a fully operating one does not yet exist.

But superconductors have an essential problem when it comes to other practical applications: They operate at ultra-low temperatures. There are no room-temperature superconductors. That “room-temperature” part is what scientists have been working on for more than a century. Billions of dollars have funded research to solve this problem. Scientists around the world, including me, are trying to understand the physics of superconductors and how they can be enhanced.

Understanding the mechanism

A superconductor is a material, such as a pure metal like aluminum or lead, that when cooled to ultra-low temperatures allows electricity to move through it with absolutely zero resistance. How a material becomes a superconductor at the microscopic level is not a simple question. It took the scientific community 45 years to understand and formulate a successful theory of superconductivity in 1956.

While physicists researched an understanding of the mechanisms of superconductivity, chemists mixed different elements, such as the rare metal niobium and tin, and tried recipes guided by other experiments to discover new and stronger superconductors. There was progress, but mostly incremental.

Simply put, superconductivity occurs when two electrons bind together at low temperatures. They form the building block of superconductors, the Cooper pair. Elementary physics and chemistry tell us that electrons repel each other. This holds true even for a potential superconductor like lead when it is above a certain temperature.

When the temperature falls to a certain point, though, the electrons become more amenable to pairing up. Instead of one electron opposing the other, a kind of “glue” emerges to hold them together.

Keeping matter cool

Discovered in 1911, the first superconductor was mercury (Hg), the basic element of old-fashioned thermometers. In order for mercury to become a superconductor, it had to be cooled to ultra-low temperatures. Kamerlingh Onnes was the first scientist who figured out exactly how to do that – by compressing and liquefying helium gas. During the process, once helium gas becomes a liquid, the temperature drops to -452 degrees Fahrenheit.

When Onnes was experimenting with mercury, he discovered that when it was placed inside a liquid helium container and cooled to very low temperatures, its electric resistance, the opposition of the electric current in the material, suddenly dropped to zero ohms, a unit of measurement that describes resistance. Not close to zero, but zero exactly. No resistance, no heat waste.

This meant that an electric current, once generated, would flow continuously with nothing to stop it, at least in the lab. Many superconducting materials were soon discovered, but practical applications were another matter.

These superconductors shared one problem – they needed to be cooled down. The amount of energy needed to cool a material down to its superconducting state was too expensive for daily applications. By the early 1980s, the research on superconductors had nearly reached its conclusion.

A surprising discovery

In a dramatic turn of events, a new kind of superconductor material was discovered in 1987 at IBM in Zurich, Switzerland. Within months, superconductors operating at less extreme temperatures were being synthesized globally. The material was a kind of a ceramic.

These new ceramic superconductors were made of copper and oxygen mixed with other elements such as lanthanum, barium and bismuth. They contradicted everything physicists thought they knew about making superconductors. Researchers had been looking for very good conductors, yet these ceramics were nearly insulators, meaning that very little electrical current can flow through. Magnetism destroyed conventional superconductors, yet these were themselves magnets.

Scientists were seeking materials where electrons were free to move around, yet in these materials, the electrons were locked in and confined. The scientists at IBM, Alex Müller and Georg Bednorz, had actually discovered a new kind of superconductor. These were the high-temperature superconductors. And they played by their own rules.

Elusive solutions

Scientists now have a new challenge. Three decades after the high-temperature superconductors were discovered, we are still struggling to understand how they work at the microscopic level. Creative experiments are being conducted every day in universities and research labs around the world.

In my laboratory, we have built a microscope known as a scanning tunneling microscope that helps our research team “see” the electrons at the surface of the material. This allows us to understand how electrons bind and form superconductivity at an atomic scale.

We have come a long way in our research and now know that electrons also pair up in these high-temperature superconductors. There is great value and utility in answering how high-temperature superconductors work because that may be the route to room-temperature superconductivity. If we succeed in making a room-temperature superconductor, then we can address the billions of dollars that it costs in wasted heat to transmit energy from power plants to cities.

More remarkably, solar energy harvested in the vast empty deserts around the world could be stored and transmitted without any loss of energy, which could power cities and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The potential is hard to imagine. Finding the glue for room-temperature superconductors is the next million-dollar question.

[You’re too busy to read everything. We get it. That’s why we’ve got a weekly newsletter. Sign up for good Sunday reading. ]The Conversation

Pegor Aynajian, Associate Professor of Physics, Binghamton University, State University of New York

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Has Boba Fett Gone Soft?

Disney's 'Boba Fett' Series Is Not As Popular As 'the Mandalorian' yet

Boba Fett has been a fan favorite since he first appeared on the screen. This background character exploded into a fan favorite with numerous book and comic appearances that added to his back story. Much of that backstory went away when Disney bought Star Wars and made the Expanded Universe non-canon.

Fans everywhere were ecstatic when the Book of Boba Fett was announced following the character’s appearance in season 2 of the Mandolorian. We weren’t given much to expect except that Boba would be trying to gain control of Jabba’s former holdings on Tattoine. Many expected that we would see Boba on a brutal rampage as he works to wrest control on Tattoine from various rivals. Instead, we got a fairly slow-paced series in which we saw Boba find a family and then lose it in the form of a tribe of Tuskens, then work to build support among the locals of Tattoine and go up against the Pyke crime syndicate.

Many were thrown off by the show’s pacing and lack of brutality, complaining that Boba has “gone soft” but this is simply not the case. In season 2 of The Mandalorian, we saw Boba destroy a contingent of stormtroopers with just a gaffi stick. We know that he is capable of brutality and violence when needed, but a man who resorts quickly to violence is not going to live very long. Boba knows when violence is needed, he knows when to be careful and methodical, and he knows when he is better off making friends than enemies.

Furthermore, at no point in the show does Boba claim to be a crimelord, he has a protection racket, yes, but he never claims to be a crimelord, he is a Daimyo. A feudal lord who serves as a protector to his realm. He is trying to gain the trust and respect of his community, shooting everyone he came across would not have done him any good. Besides that, it should not be surprising that a man who has gone through a near-death experience has decided to make some changes in his life.

The Book Of Boba Fett has its problems and is far from perfect. But the series takes us on a stroll through one of Star Wars’ iconic locales and further fleshes out the relationship between Boba and Din. Once we have another season of The Mandalorian I suspect that we will view this series in a very different and more favorable light as a part of a larger narrative.

Dune

I tried to manage my expectations. I really did. But I failed. And that’s okay because this movie is fantastic. It met every expectation that I had and surpassed them.

It’s a problem inherent in every movie adaptation. Too many times readers have been disappointed by movie adaptations made by people that don’t seem to understand the source material. We can’t always expect to get the Peter Jackson treatment, as much as we all wish that wasn’t the case. But this time, this time readers were not let down.

This movie is amazing in so many ways. I was worried that all of the lore and politics that the book dwells on so much would seem hamfisted in the movie. I was totally wrong. So wrong. Villeneuve and company distilled all of that worldbuilding into its most essential elements. It all just worked. Everything was made with an obvious appreciation for the source material that is hard to find in movie adaptations.

However, I really want to talk about what made the movie better than the book. Yes, you read that right. Sometimes the movie is better. In some ways. Sometimes.

Here, the movie succeeds in how large the world feels. Science fiction is littered with planets that feel like villages. The book series that is Dune is filled with a few planets that feel like universes. In the first several books the narratives focus exclusively on events that take place on Arrakis. That single planet feels big and there is a lot that happens there. We are told that there is much more out there in the rest of the universe but we mostly have to take the narrator’s word for it. In Dune Messiah we are told that Paul’s armies have rampaged across the known universe, but we are only told that. We aren’t shown that. We only ever focus on the lives and actions of a handful of characters.

That’s okay. It’s characters who are at the heart of any narrative. But it’s also hard to feel like the rest of the universe is really out there. The movie doesn’t have that problem and that is where it really shines.

From the book, we know that the Atreides are one of the great houses and that they are powerful. In the movie, we see that. We see that in the army behind them at the signing ceremony chanting “Atreides” and in all the pomp and ceremony that we see when the Atreides arrive on Arrakis.

Everything in the movie is big. All of it is focused on Paul and the other main characters, but everything around them is so much bigger than they are.

Honestly, it’s nearly perfect. Just go watch it. And then watch it again. And again! In my mind, Dune is to SciFi what Lord of the Rings is to Fantasy. They’re not the end all be all, but their shadows loom large. It’s so good to see Dune finally get the treatment it deserves on the big screen.

The Last Watch: A Novel Of The Divide by J.S. Dewes

The Last Watch (The Divide Series Book 1) by [J. S. Dewes]

This book first came to my attention thanks to a “Big Idea” post on John Scalzi’s blog Whatever. In that post, Dewes explained that the original inspiration for the book came from a single line sung by Johnny Cash in the song “Highwayman.”

“I’ll fly a starship across the universe divide.”

That instantly hooked me because like Dewes I’ve listened to that song many times and thought that there must be a story somewhere in that line. Turns out Dewes found it.

The Last Watch follows a group of Sentinels, soldiers sent to stand guard at the edge of the universe as a punishment. That’s how Adequin got there at least. The other POV character, Cavalon, was once the heir-apparent to one of humanity’s royal houses, THE royal house in fact, or as close to this universe has to one. Forcing him to enlist in the Sentinels was a convenient way to get rid of him.

In a way, both Cavalon and Adequin are out of place in their current posting and are in conflict with each other. At the start, Adequin is trying to beat Cavalon into an acceptable soldier and Cavalon is just trying to be…Cavalon? He really wants to be better he just can’t seem to keep his mouth shut.

Both of them will learn a lot by the end of the book. They accomplish a lot too. In this book, Dewes manages to tell a small story with large implications. I think that’s a skill. We are so used to protagonists with outsized importance. The characters that Dewes created do have a great deal of importance, but they have also been completely relegated to the edges of society. And I mean it when I say edges.

The book’s back cover promised an existential threat that only the Sentinels could avert. It didn’t disappoint. There are a lot of ideas in this book coupled to a lot of fun. The dialogue is great, the ideas are better, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the second book. You should go read it. Right now.

Dan Simmons’ Mystery Box

Mystery can be a great driver of plot and a trap at the same time. J.J Abrams is notorious for using this strategy in Lost and blowing it at the end. The problem is if you set up some huge mystery at the beginning of a narrative you better have a satisfying answer to the mystery by the end. Or do you?

I would argue that you don’t. If you do it right.

Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, Book 1) by [Dan Simmons]

If you have a great answer to the mystery you present to your audience at the beginning then by all means share it, but if you do you better make sure you are very confident in the answer. Your audience will not thank you if your answer fails to live up to their expectations. Remember how disappointed Spongebob was to find out Patrick has just spent the entire episode hiding the string in his secret box?

I am here to argue that sometimes it’s best to leave mysteries unsolved. There is both terror and wonder in the unknown, that’s part of being human, there’s no reason the stories we tell shouldn’t reflect that.

I am using Dan Simmons as an example here because his 1989 science fiction novel “Hyperion” is fantastic. It’s the kind of “genre fiction” that gets literature snobs to lower their barriers. But I think it would have been better if Simmons had never written a sequel. Let me explain.

Hyperion, unsurprisingly, centers around the planet Hyperion. A planet at the edge of known space, one that is not incorporated into the network of gates that allow instantaneous travel between worlds.

Traveling to Hyperion means sacrificing a great deal of time and accepting a certain amount of risk. Many accept this because Hyperion is a planet of mysteries. It is one of the labyrinthine worlds, worlds with great labyrinths constructed by unknown aliens. It is also home to the Shrike and the Time Tombs. Both have been sent back in time for an unknown purpose.

shallow focus photography of gray concrete building
Photo by Sebastian Palomino on Pexels.com

One group of humans, the Shrike Church, believe that the Shrike is a punishment for humanity’s sins and traveling willingly on pilgrimages to Hyperion where most of them will be killed in various horrible ways by the Shrike. It’s strange how the bishops never go themselves, isn’t it?

The protagonists of Hyperion have all been selected for what will probably be the last Shrike pilgrimage. At the start of the book, it is stated that the Time Tombs are opening and that a group of transhumans called Ousters are about to attack the planet. There’s not much hope that the planet will hold out either. None of them are members of the Shrike Church, none of them know exactly why they were selected, all of them have their own reasons for accepting the missions.

The book is a futuristic retelling of the Canterbury Tales. In between chapters that narrate their journey to the planet and their attempts to determine who among them might be a spy, they each share their stories about what led them to accept their place on the pilgrimage.

Through their stories and their motivations, Simmons explores imperialism, artistic integrity, betrayal, love, artificial intelligence, technological reincarnation, fatherhood, and many more themes. In some ways, the book is also a love letter to John Keats.

In the end, despite their differences, they joined hands and walked to their fate. Then the book ends. The series should have ended there too.

photo of people near wooden table
Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

Instead, Simmons continued to write in this universe, which eventually became the Hyperion Cantos. The second book, The Fall of Hyperion, wasn’t that bad. It largely follows an artificial reincarnation of John Keats and much of the book’s events are told through his experiences. But we also see the POVs of the characters from the first novel. This is where the problem arises.

In writing the second novel Simmons had to explain all of the questions that arose in the first. In doing so he brings up a lot of interesting ideas that were totally unprecedented in the first novel. So instead of leaving the mysteries of the first book as mysteries, he chose to answer them with time-traveling agents from the future and messianic powers that came out of nowhere.

The first book was an amazing opportunity to explore multiple stories at once, to get close to deeply flawed characters with mixed motivations for being where they are, and to see them accept the uncertain future in front of them. I think the series would have ended beautifully with just one book. Instead, Simmons decided to keep writing.

That’s not to say that I hated the second book. I enjoyed most of it. Just not as much. I think I would have enjoyed it more if some of the concepts introduced in the first actually mattered in the second. Powers that destroy the Shrike don’t bother me as long as we the readers were given reason to think they might be possible beforehand.

But we weren’t.

I keep looking at the third book on my shelf and I don’t know if I can convince myself to read it. Hyperion is a great book and if it was the only book of the Hyperion Cantos that you read it will likely remain a great book in your eyes. Because the answers provided in the later books simply don’t hold up to the questions posed by the first. If you haven’t read Hyperion yet then you definitely should, but consider skipping the books that follow.

Science for Scifi: Breaking Into Orbit

Rockets are expensive. Not only are they limited by the weight of their fuel, but also by their cargo capacity and reusability. While commercial entities like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic have been unveiling new systems that promise alternative ways of reaching low orbit or reusing rockets, there are still a lot of limitations that prevent space travel from becoming ubiquitous in the short term.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Space flight does not have to be easier for good scifi, in fact, I would argue that it should be hard. It helps to impose limits on the characters and promote conflict. A thriving space industry could still be expensive and thus impose limits on who goes to space and why.

That said, once your setting is to the point where colonies throughout the solar system are becoming viable I think that it’s time to start exploring other ways of getting to orbit. I think rockets will always have a place, but forms of mass transit will make the entire endeavor a lot easier.

Space Elevators

Orbital elevators are a staple of science fiction. How it works is that a giant tether is built connecting the surface of a planet to a station in orbit. The tether is then held taught, allowing elevators to move up and down its length.

One of the primary challenges with an elevator is making a material strong enough to build the tether in enough quantities to make it work. A lot of authors choose to use some kind of carbon allotrope and this part might require you to invent your own very special flavor of carbon fiber or synthetic diamond. Remember that the tether will need to be much, much thicker than you think it will need to be.

My favorite part about this concept is that it allows a world to have regular trips to orbit and back in an environment that might resemble a modern airport or train station. Elevator pods could have large cargo areas and multiple passenger areas divided into economy, business, and first-class. You could have observation windows and restaurants. All the trappings of comfort or the lack thereof.

An elevator is probably best in a setting where space travel has become common enough for such a project to be profitable. A single planet will likely only have one or two placed in neutral or autonomous regions or controlled by a specific faction. Of course, the resources needed to build one might limit which worlds have a space elevator and which do not. If your setting involves multiple star systems it is likely that only the most developed of them will have one.

It goes without saying that such a large piece of infrastructure will make a very tempting target. If destroyed an elevator could cause immense damage to any settlements built around its base and cripple and the economies of multiple factions in a given system.

Skyhooks

For worlds that are not yet capable of a project as massive as a space elevator but still need regular surface-to-orbit transit, skyhooks may be the perfect solution.

You can think of a skyhook like a satellite that spins as they travel along the edge of the atmosphere. Its hook can latch onto craft flying in the upper atmosphere and accelerate them into orbit, and can also grab craft in orbit and bring them down into the atmosphere.

These are a good in-between stage between rockets and elevators for travel and could probably be set up a lot faster than a full-sized space elevator could. Which would make them perfect for worlds with some orbital traffic but not enough for a full elevator. Or they could be an option for planetary factions that do not want to rely on a space elevator that someone else owns. Or in instances where orbital infrastructure needs to be set up quickly. I’ll talk about a possible scenario for that in the next section.

An Invasion Scenario

Surface combat in the far future is likely to be small-scale and asymmetric. There isn’t much use in landing millions of ground troops when ships in orbit can turn a continent into radioactive glass. But we seem to crave depictions of ground-based combat anyway.

Let’s say a planet is host to an environment that is hospitable to humans or contains some vital piece of infrastructure that would be destroyed in a bombardment and that this necessitates the use of ground forces on a large scale. The first wave of troops could be brought to the surface with a combination of capsules and landers that glide down through the atmosphere much as the space shuttle did. Some of these crafts might be designed to return to orbit with a variety of energy-intensive designs. Since we all know that military objectives beat concerns like cost and efficiency any day.

If the planet already has extensive orbital infrastructure, which it probably does if its world attacking, these initial forces would work to establish beachheads and try to capture any space elevators that might be present. The attack on a space elevator could very well commence on both ends since it would be hard to use if the people at the other end of the tether were waiting to shoot you as soon as the door opens.

But perhaps the space elevator was destroyed or the planet really doesn’t have the infrastructure. Once landing sites are secured, ships in orbit could deploy prefabbed skyhooks to provide the infrastructure of occupation. From that point on if the locals continued to resist the war would probably resemble something like the conflicts in Vietnam or Afghanistan. Massed tanks and infantry make for awesome illustrations but are nothing a few “rods from God” couldn’t fix. In the long term, the construction of a new space elevator could be seen as the ultimate mark of ownership of the planet. A massive, sprawling symbol that the invaders are there to stay.

Further Reading (And Watching)

I realize that this post is less technical than previous Science for SciFi entries. I chose to do this because I am not a physicist nor am I an aerospace engineer. Instead, I wanted to highlight a few interesting concepts in science fiction and point you all towards some resources that can be an inspiration for your next story of a planetary invasion. If you liked this content consider supporting it by signing up for my newsletter or exploring my page of recommended products on Amazon.

For a start, Atomic Rockets is a great site for anyone who wants to dig into the physics of science fiction and learn how science has been incorporated into many great science fiction classics. For a fun and straightforward explanation of skyhooks, you can look to Kurtzgesagt on Youtube. The same channel also has a great explanation of space elevators.