Saturday, October 25, 2014

Why the current comic book movie craze is a good thing

Films with comic book roots, tie-ins or obvious inspirations that have enjoyed or am looking forward to since Blade kicked off the new "comic book movie" era in 1998:

2020
Cyborg
Green Lantern (2020)

2019
Avengers: Infinity War Part II
Justice League Part 2
Shazam!
Star Wars Episode IX

2018
Aquaman
Avengers: Infinity War Part I
Captain Marvel
The Flash
Godzilla 2
Inhumans
2018 Star Wars film
2018 X-Men film

2017
Black Panther
The Fantastic Four 2
Guardians of the Galaxy 2
Justice League Part 1
Lego Batman
Pacific Rim 2
Star Wars Episode VIII
Thor: Ragnarok
Wolverine 3
Wonder Woman

2016
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Captain America: Civil War
Deadpool
Doctor Strange
The Sinister Six
Suicide Squad
X-Men: Apocalypse
2016 Star Wars film

2015
Ant-Man
Avengers: Age of Ultron
The Fantastic Four
Star Wars Episode VII
Terminator: Genisys
2015 James Bond film

2014
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Big Hero 6
Birdman
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Godzilla
Guardians of the Galaxy
RoboCop
X-Men: Days of Future Past

2013
Iron Man 3
Kick-Ass 2
Man of Steel
Pacific Rim
Star Trek Into Darkness
Thor: The Dark World
The Wolverine

2012
The Amazing Spider-Man
The Avengers
Chronicle
The Dark Knight Rises
Django Unchained
Dredd
John Carter
Skyfall

2011
Captain America: The First Avenger
Limitless
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Thor
X-Men: First Class

2010
Iron Man 2
Kick-Ass
RED
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
TRON: Legacy

2009
Sherlock Holmes
Star Trek
Watchmen

2008
The Dark Knight
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man
Speed Racer
Wanted

2007
300
Transformers

2006
Casino Royale
V for Vendetta

2005
Batman Begins
Serenity
Sin City

2004
Hellboy
The Incredibles
Kill Bill Vol. 2
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Spider-Man 2

2003
Kill Bill Vol. 1
X2: X-Men United

2002
Blade II
Spider-Man

2000
Unbreakable
X-Men

1999
The Iron Giant
The Matrix
Mystery Men

1998
Blade

And there are probably some more good ones that I just haven't seen or become aware of yet. So DC and Marvel fan-boys, stop the flame wars. Everybody is winning right now. We are living in a golden age of action and special effects. Pray that it doesn't end any time soon.




Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The blood

 
Hey everybody, I found some blood
 
Does anyone want to share the blood?
 
I’m gonna take and steal the blood
 
I’m gonna touch and feel the blood
 
I’m gonna make a meal from the blood
 
I’m gonna dip my heel in the blood
 
I’m gonna strike a deal with the blood
 
I’m just tryin’ to be real with the blood
 
I’ve got so much zeal for the blood
 
I’ll get a bag to seal the blood
 
That way I can conceal the blood
 
I’m gonna kneel before the blood
 
I’m gonna love and adore the blood
 
I beg and I implore the blood
 
Open my mouth and pour the blood
 
All you fools abhor the blood
 
I’ve got to get some more of the blood
 
Find somewhere to store the blood
 
All I do is for the blood
 
My pure and precious whore, the blood


—with Jason S.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

History of the universe

Here are some timelines to illustrate the scale of the history - past and future - of our universe.


Our universe is in its infancy. To illustrate just how long the lifespan of the universe is, I showed the four major stages that it will go through. Fittingly, each of these eras is so ridiculously longer than the period before it, by orders of magnitude upon orders of magnitude, that there is no practical way to make the earlier ones visible. (A logarithmic scale works to some extent, but even there you have to cheat.)

We are currently in what scientists call the "Stelliferous" (or star-making) Era. This is the time period where the universe will be familiar to us and life as we know it will be possible. The universe is approximately 13.798 billion years old, and if that entire time were reduced to one millimeter on the timeline, the entire Stelliferous Era would be 7.25 meters long.

The next phase will be the Degenerate Era. With no new stars being formed, the last stellar remnants will slowly decay, and then matter itself will decay. Life may exist in some form throughout part of this era, but it will become increasingly difficult, and the universe will be a dark and lonely place. If we use our same timeline (the Big Bang to present day equals one millimeter), the Degenerate Era would occupy a timeline some 72.5 billion light years across.

For reference, the diameter of the observable universe is currently about 93 billion years, so we would need most of it to make our timeline - again, only one millimeter of which has happened yet.

I'm not going to bother doing the math on the remaining two phases of the universe (the Black Hole Era in which nothing but black holes remain, and the Dark Era in which nothing but decaying particles remain), because our human brains just can't handle it. (Believe it or not, the timescale gets even more ridiculous.)

Better to concentrate on that first breath that our universe has already taken, as I have done below. While time is normally divided into geological subdivisions, I have attempted here to divide it into historical ones. where intervals of the same level (Super-Eon, Eon, Era, Period, Epoch, Division, Stage or Age) are all of roughly the same duration. Each chart shows an increasingly narrow period of time. For more details, see the complete Alien Robot Zombie Secret History of the Universe.






(Note: I am aware that some of the events referred to on the timelines above are considered "fiction." Again, see the complete Alien Robot Zombie Secret History of the Universe to see where I stand on that. Also, I trust if you're reading this blog, you're smart enough to know which is which. Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Lost '50s B-movies...

...that don't exist but should.


Killer Bettie

A Saucer Full of Rage

My Baby Is a Martian!

Queen of Monster Island

Race to the Moon

Doom! She Cried

Zargon Six

The Scream Out of Space


Image: The Alligator People (1959)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Live-blogging my flight

It's been several months since I last flew. Here are my observations.

Getting through security is not as unpleasant as I remember, but it takes longer than I remember.

They now let you keep small portable electronics turned on during take-off (as long as cellular service is turned off). This is incredibly helpful for me, as I get noise-induced migraines and my noise-canceling headphones are my lifeline on an airplane.

Also, I'm typing this on my cell phone.

During her pre-flight speech, the head flight attendant pronounced "placard" as "plaque-card," and "carry-on" as "carrion." She also called turbulence "rough air." Do people not know what turbulence means anymore?

Still taxiing...

The Great Lakes are stunningly beautiful. Part if me wishes the camera on this phone still worked, but the rest of me realizes that I couldn't do them justice and there's a big plane wing in the way anyway. [Not-so-mental note: find a good photo and insert it here.]

We can use laptops now. That's funny—I already responded to six emails on my phone! (Of course, the recipients still won't realize that for another two hours and twelve minutes...)

Was I saying something about lakes? Nothing but clouds above and clouds below now. Sort of a nice effect, really—two white, fluffy canvases with a little patch of daylight in-between.

And now it's completely white—no open patches save for the plane wing. And it's gotten turbulent. This time, the flight attendant said of the turbulence: "We're experiencing some weather right now."

I don't mind the turbulence, though. Give me a roller-coaster ride all day long. I just wish the engines weren't so noisy. Why is it that airplanes give me a migraine, but loud music doesn't? Must have something to do with the structure of the sound. (I do get a migraine if two TVs are playing simultaneously, for example—even if they're playing quietly.)

I am grieving the loss of the word "turbulence" from the lexicon. (And also, the fact that "weather" now apparently only means "bad weather"?)

At this time every morning I get a cup of coffee. I see that they have theirs in first class already. Grumble.

Kudos to the pilot. Not only did he use the word "turbulence," but he used a numeric infix: "We're at thirty-six fun-filled thousand feet..."

Coffee! And a gluten-free snack: peanuts!

I forgot my rule: always wear a shirt with a front pocket on a plane. That pocket comes in useful when you have limited space. Like right now: I really don't want to put my tray down, so it would be nice to have somewhere easy to put my peanuts. Oh well.

Peanuts and coffee aren't really a great mix, but I'd recommend it over weak black coffee by itself.

I just spent the past hour going over branding research. Somewhere along the way, the turbulence stopped and we now have sunny skies over the Great Plains.

I could use another cup of coffee. But I'll take the sunshine.

That's a lot of farmland.

I am impressed by the immense size and scope of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, the great state of Texas and our nation as a whole.

Yee-haw! We've touched down. Cell phones—activate!!!

Crap, I got a lot of email in two hours...

Post Script—On the return flight, the flight attendant again called the severe turbulence "some weather." Sigh.

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, September 8, 2014

How much does King Kong weigh?

King Kong appears to be a giant mountain gorilla. In real life, male mountain gorillas average 195 kg (430 lb) and an upright standing height of 150 cm (59 in). The 2005 movie version was said to be "25 feet" (300 in) in height. Since mass grows exponentially compared to height (because width and depth are also growing), a 25-foot mountain gorilla with the same proportions as a regular-sized one would be around 25.6 metric tonnes (28.3 short tons).

Note, however, that most fan sites list Kong's weight as being in the 6-10 ton range. (For comparison, a large T-rex may have reached up to about 8 tons.) This indicates that Kong's biology is not simply a scaled-up version of a mountain gorilla. Instead, it appears that his species has made some evolutionary adaptations as it has grown to magnificent proportions. While these differences are not readily apparent on the outside, they have given him the mobility and the edge he needs to fill an ecological niche on Skull Island.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My MCU Predictions for Comic-Con 2014

Comic-Con International opens tomorrow night. In advance of that, here are my predictions for the titles of the Phase Three films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (Prepare for most of these to be completely disprove within the next few days...)

Next year, Marvel's Phase Two will conclude on May 1st with Avengers: Age of Ultron. So far, we know we are getting Ant-Man, Captain America, Doctor Strange, Thor and Avengers films in Phase Three, but we don't know the other four, nor do we know the titles for most of these. We know the release dates, but we do not know the order.

Here, then, are my predictions:

July 17, 2015
Ant-Man
An aging scientist (Michael Douglas) helps a thief-with-a-heart-of-gold (Paul Rudd) pull off a heist to stop the bad guys and save the world.

May 6, 2016
Captain America: The Secret Empire
Captain America is back, along with a host of his B-list Avengers friends (Falcon, Hawkeye, etc.) as they unravel a mystery going back to the 1950s. This film introduces us to Black Panther's Wakanda and also gives us more of the Winter Soldier.
10/28/14 UPDATE: this film will be titled Captain America: Civil War and will pit Captain America and Iron Man against each other - which is even more awesome than I could have imagined. I assume it will also carry forward the Winter Soldier thread in some way, and we have been assured that Black Panther will in fact make an appearance.

July 8, 2016
Doctor Strange
The origin film for Marvel's master of magic shows us the formerly smug surgeon Stephen Strange finding humility and a new purpose in life through sorcery. But behind the magic there are dark forces at work, and he realizes he must wager his own soul to save our universe. Look for head trips and Lovecraftian horror elements, as well as the typical Marvel humor.
10/28/14 UPDATE: the titled was confirmed, but the date was shifted to November 4, 2016.

May 5, 2017
The Incredible Hulk: Days of Rage
Bruce banner wrestles with his inner demons, and with threats that neither he nor the Hulk can defeat alone—but maybe they can by working together. I'm thinking that "The Leader" is the big bad in this one, and there will be a ton of other heroes and villains besides just the Hulk. Could we possibly even get a Tony Stark cameo?
10/28/14 UPDATE: we did not get a solo Hulk movie. Instead, this date will be filled by the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel, which as of now is titled Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Director James Gunn has hinted that Peter Quill's father will play a role, and it can be assumed that Thanos will continue making his presence felt as well. Also, there have been some rumors that the Hulk may make an appearance in Guardians 2, so there's an outside chance I may still get my gamma-fueled rage fix in May 2017 after all...

July 28, 2017
Black Panther
Mainstream comics' first Black superhero finally gets his own movie as we delve into the fascinating backstory of the tiny, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda and its mysterious king, the "Black Panther," T'Challa. This is seriously one of the most bad-ass superheroes in existence, so I'm really hoping Marvel does this and does it right.
10/28/14 UPDATE: this date will be used for the third Thor film, which will be titled Thor: Ragnarok as predicted. Kevin Feige pointed out that Ragnarok is "the end of all things."

November 3, 2017
Thor: Ragnarok
The stakes are ratcheted up, as the Jane Foster subplots are dumped and Thor has to deal with the possible end of Asgard itself. He finds himself in conflict with a host of big Asgardian villains like Surtur the fire demon, the Enchantress, and of course his "brother" Loki. Oh, and Thanos makes an appearance as well.

10/28/14 UPDATE: this date will be used for Black Panther. Woot! Chadwick Boseman (42, Get on Up) has been cast in the title role.

July 6, 2018
Guardians of the Galaxy: Annihilation
Now we really get into Thanos. This sequel loops in some more cosmic characters, including Nova and Adam Warlock. In the end, there is a small victory, but Thanos cannot be stopped and is headed to Earth. All hope is lost. Sorry.
10/28/14 UPDATE: this date will be used for Captain Marvel, Marvel's first female-led superhero film. Think of Carol Danvers, who has also gone by the alias "Ms. Marvel," as a cosmic version of Wonder Woman.

November 2, 2018
The Inhumans
The Inhumans are a secret race of augmented humans with special powers, and they tie into a bunch of loose threads already established in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including the Kree (an alien race seen in the first season of Agents of SHIELD) and most likely the "miracle twins" Wanda (Scarlet Witch) and Pietro (Quicksilver) Maximoff from Avengers: Age of Ultron. They also could have ties to Thanos. Most of all, though, there are some incredibly groovy characters here that I can't wait to see on the screen: most importantly Black Bolt, one of the coolest cats Jack Kirby ever created. And I think this film could also be the perfect vehicle to introduce us to Ms. Marvel / Captain Marvel, if Guardians of the Galaxy doesn't beat it to the punch. Kevin Feige has hinted that an Inhumans movie could eventually come our way, so here's hoping...
10/28/14 UPDATE: Inhumans confirmed for this date! Vin Diesel has been rumored for the role of Black Bolt. That would be perfect. Although he already has a voice-only role in the MCU as Groot, Black Bolt doesn't speak, so this would be an everything-except-voice role.

May 3, 2019
Avengers: Infinity
This is it, the final battle with Thanos. By now, he has all six infinity gems and absolute, unlimited power over everything in the universe, so there's nothing the Avengers can do. Oh well.
10/28/14 UPDATE: The third Avengers 3 outing will actually be split into two parts. We will get Avengers: Infinity War Part I on May 4, 2018 and Avengers: Infinity War Part II on this date, May 3, 2019.


7/23/14 UPDATE: Marvel Studios just announced a third film for 2018 on May 4 of that year. I'm going to guess that means they've come to some kind of agreement with Robert Downey, Jr. and that Iron Man 4 will factor into their Phase Three plans after all. There are a ton of other possibilities, though: it could be Nova, Namor, Miss Marvel, a Black Widow/Winter Soldier team-up, the long-rumored Runaways, or even the Thunderbolts movie that James Gunn has been wanting to make. Hopefully, they'll make an announcement soon...

10/28/14 UPDATE: It was three months later than expected, but Marvel finally announced their full Phase Three movie schedule.

May 6, 2016 - Captain America: Civil WarNovember 4, 2016 - Doctor Strange May 5, 2017 - Guardians of the Galaxy 2July 28, 2017 - Thor: RagnarokNovember 3, 2017 - Black Panther May 4, 2018 - Avengers: Infinity War Part IJuly 6, 2018 - Captain MarvelNovember 2, 2018 - InhumansMay 3, 2019 - Avengers: Infinity War Part II

How did I do? Well, I got the easy ones. And I nailed that Inhumans release date, for what that's worth. (Hint: not much, really.) But the schedule was full of surprises, and I bet there are a lot more to come. I am absolutely thrilled that we will get Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Captain Marvel and the Inhumans in Phase Three. WOW! My only disappointment was the lack of solo Hulk and Black Widow movies, but studio president Kevin Feige gave assurances that we would see them co-starring in other Phase Three movies, along with Hawkeye and other supporting characters.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

What time is it… in Asgard?

In my last post, I demonstrated that the ancient pantheon of deities known in Scandinavian mythology as the Vanir are actually one and the same as the group of powerful beings called the Valar in J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings about Middle-earth. The Valar were not only the first inhabitants of Asgard (which is also known as Aman in Quenyan Elvish), but they helped create it, along with the entire, alternate universe that it resides in, which is called Eä.

(Note that in Tolkien’s writings, Eä appeared to be the name for our universe, but I don’t think Tolkien fully grasped the nature of the multiverse. As I have stated before, my goal is to reconcile actual history with every cool fictional narrative in existence and make them all work in one universe. Occasionally that means reinterpreting a few things to make them fit.)

According to Tolkien, time for the Valar was measured in something called “Valian years.” The definition of this term was a little fuzzy, but at one point, Tolkien stated that a Valian year was equal to 9.582 standard Earth years. If you do the math, you’ll see that this equals 3,500 standard Earth days.

In the very early history of Asgard, time was measured in 12-hour “days” – half the length of a day on Earth. Before Asgard had its own sun and moon, it was lit by the Two Trees, the Golden Tree of Laurelin and the Silver Tree of Telperion, and they would alternate giving off light. The sun of Asgard was made from the last fruit of Laurelin, and the moon was made of the last flower of Telperion. Both were set in special vessels crafted by the Vala known as Aulë and placed in the sky. At first they were guided back and forth across the sky, but eventually they were set to orbit Asgard, rising in the east and setting in the west, just as on Earth. (In Tolkien’s writings, these were actually said to be our sun and moon, but that doesn’t jibe with science, so again: multiverse.)

In those early times, a Valian year consisted of 7,000 days of 12 hours each, divided into “months” of 500 days each. The length of the month was chosen based on the cycle of the moon, which having come from a flower would “blossom” from a closed (new) moon to an open (full) moon and back again. The length of the year was chosen by assigning one month in honor of every one of the 14 original Valar.

The days of Asgard have now been the same length as Earth days for tens of thousands of Earth years, long before the Asgardians joined the Vanir in Asgard, and so a 24-hour day is now standard. The length of the Valian year, now known as the Asgardian year, has remained the same by halving the number of days in each month from 500 12-hour days to 250 24-hour days.

The current year of the Asgardian calendar dates from the end of the Æsir-Vanir war, c. 7000 BCE. By a happy coincidence, July 29, 1954 (the date that the first volume of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was published) fell on Asgardian New Year in the Year 932 of the Peace. Extrapolating backwards and forwards from that allowed me to figure out what day it was on Asgard at any given time.

As I mentioned, there are 14 months in the Asgardian calendar, each with 250 days, and those days, by design, are exactly the same length as Earth days. The months, in order are as follows:

1. Moon of Winds (named in honor of Manwë)
2. Moon of Stars (named in honor of Varda)
3. Moon of Waters (named in honor of Ulmo)
4. Maker's Moon (named in honor of Aulë)
5. Moon of Fruits (named in honor of Yavanna)
6. Moon of Flowers (named in honor of Vana)
7. Hunter's Moon (named in honor of Oromë)
8. Dancer's Moon (named in honor of Nessa)
9. Judge's Moon (named in honor of Námo)
10. Dreamer's Moon (named in honor of Irmo)
11. Merciful Moon (named in honor of Nienna)
12. Gentle Moon (named in honor of Etsë)
13. Weaver's Moon (named in honor of Vairë)
14. Strong Moon (named in honor of Tulkas)

Asgardians don't commonly use names for days of the week, but when they do, they follow the Earth calendar. However, they are likely to refer to the days using their traditional Germanic names:

Sunday: “Sun’s Day
Monday: “Moon’s Day
Tuesday: “Tyr’s Day
Wednesday: “Odin’s Day
Thursday: “Thor’s Day
Friday: “Freyja’s Day
Saturday: “Bath Day

Every Asgardian year begins on a Thor’s Day (Thursday) and ends on an Odin’s Day (Wednesday). The 125th day of each month is a Full Moon feasting holiday. The last day of the Asgardian year is known as “Night’s Day” and is a time of reflection and reminiscence – and feasting that carries into New Year’s Day.

Asgardians are notoriously bad at paying attention to clocks. They dislike telling time by numbers and are more likely to tell you roughly what time of day it is. Here are some common terms, but keep in mind that individual usage varies:

Midnight (12:00 AM – 3:00 AM)
Foremorn (3:00 AM – 6:00 AM)
Daytide (6:00 AM – 9:00 AM)
Quarterday (9:00 AM – 12:00 PM)
Midday (12:00 PM – 3:00 PM)
Dayfade (3:00 PM – 6:00 PM)
Evenfall (6:00 PM – 9:00 PM)
Suppertide (9:00 PM – 12:00 AM)

Here are the first days of each month for several Asgardian calendar years, converted to our calendar. From this (and a little counting), you should be able to figure out the Asgardian date on any given day. By the way, today (June 14, 2014) is day 121 of the Maker’s Moon in the year 938 of the Peace between the Æsir and the Vanir.

Year 930 of the Peace
Day 1 of the Moon of Winds: May 30, 1935
Day 1 of the Moon of Stars: February 4, 1936
Day 1 of the Moon of Waters: October 11, 1936
Day 1 of the Maker's Moon: June 18, 1937
Day 1 of the Moon of Fruits: February 23, 1938
Day 1 of the Moon of Flowers: October 31, 1938
Day 1 of the Hunter's Moon: July 8, 1939
Day 1 of the Dancer's Moon: March 14, 1940
Day 1 of the Judge's Moon: November 19, 1940
Day 1 of the Dreamer's Moon: July 27, 1941
Day 1 of the Merciful Moon: April 3, 1942
Day 1 of the Gentle Moon: December 9, 1942
Day 1 of the Weaver's Moon: August 16, 1943
Day 1 of the Strong Moon: April 22, 1944

Year 931 of the Peace
Day 1 of the Moon of Winds: December 28, 1944
Day 1 of the Moon of Stars: September 4, 1945
Day 1 of the Moon of Waters: May 12, 1946
Day 1 of the Maker's Moon: January 17, 1947
Day 1 of the Moon of Fruits: September 24, 1947
Day 1 of the Moon of Flowers: May 31, 1948
Day 1 of the Hunter's Moon: February 5, 1949
Day 1 of the Dancer's Moon: October 13, 1949
Day 1 of the Judge's Moon: June 20, 1950
Day 1 of the Dreamer's Moon: February 25, 1951
Day 1 of the Merciful Moon: November 2, 1951
Day 1 of the Gentle Moon: July 9, 1952
Day 1 of the Weaver's Moon: March 16, 1953
Day 1 of the Strong Moon: November 21, 1953

Year 932 of the Peace
Day 1 of the Moon of Winds: July 29, 1954
Day 1 of the Moon of Stars: April 5, 1955
Day 1 of the Moon of Waters: December 11, 1955
Day 1 of the Maker's Moon: August 17, 1956
Day 1 of the Moon of Fruits: April 24, 1957
Day 1 of the Moon of Flowers: December 30, 1957
Day 1 of the Hunter's Moon: September 6, 1958
Day 1 of the Dancer's Moon: May 14, 1959
Day 1 of the Judge's Moon: January 19, 1960
Day 1 of the Dreamer's Moon: September 25, 1960
Day 1 of the Merciful Moon: June 2, 1961
Day 1 of the Gentle Moon: February 7, 1962 (Note: this is the Asgardian month that Thor debuted as a modern hero on Earth.)
Day 1 of the Weaver's Moon: October 15, 1962
Day 1 of the Strong Moon: June 22, 1963

Year 933 of the Peace
Day 1 of the Moon of Winds: February 27, 1964
Day 1 of the Moon of Stars: November 3, 1964
Day 1 of the Moon of Waters: July 11, 1965
Day 1 of the Maker's Moon: March 18, 1966
Day 1 of the Moon of Fruits: November 23, 1966
Day 1 of the Moon of Flowers: July 31, 1967
Day 1 of the Hunter's Moon: April 6, 1968
Day 1 of the Dancer's Moon: December 12, 1968
Day 1 of the Judge's Moon: August 19, 1969
Day 1 of the Dreamer's Moon: April 26, 1970
Day 1 of the Merciful Moon: January 1, 1971
Day 1 of the Gentle Moon: September 8, 1971
Day 1 of the Weaver's Moon: May 15, 1972
Day 1 of the Strong Moon: January 20, 1973

Year 934 of the Peace
Day 1 of the Moon of Winds: September 27, 1973
Day 1 of the Moon of Stars: June 4, 1974
Day 1 of the Moon of Waters: February 9, 1975
Day 1 of the Maker's Moon: October 17, 1975
Day 1 of the Moon of Fruits: June 23, 1976
Day 1 of the Moon of Flowers: February 28, 1977
Day 1 of the Hunter's Moon: November 5, 1977
Day 1 of the Dancer's Moon: July 13, 1978
Day 1 of the Judge's Moon: March 20, 1979
Day 1 of the Dreamer's Moon: November 25, 1979
Day 1 of the Merciful Moon: August 1, 1980
Day 1 of the Gentle Moon: April 8, 1981
Day 1 of the Weaver's Moon: December 14, 1981
Day 1 of the Strong Moon: August 21, 1982

Year 935 of the Peace
Day 1 of the Moon of Winds: April 28, 1983
Day 1 of the Moon of Stars: January 3, 1984
Day 1 of the Moon of Waters: September 9, 1984
Day 1 of the Maker's Moon: May 17, 1985
Day 1 of the Moon of Fruits: January 22, 1986
Day 1 of the Moon of Flowers: September 29, 1986
Day 1 of the Hunter's Moon: June 6, 1987
Day 1 of the Dancer's Moon: February 11, 1988
Day 1 of the Judge's Moon: October 18. 1988
Day 1 of the Dreamer's Moon: June 25, 1989
Day 1 of the Merciful Moon: March 2, 1990
Day 1 of the Gentle Moon: November 7, 1990
Day 1 of the Weaver's Moon: July 15, 1991
Day 1 of the Strong Moon: March 21, 1992

Year 936 of the Peace
Day 1 of the Moon of Winds: November 26, 1992
Day 1 of the Moon of Stars: August 3, 1993
Day 1 of the Moon of Waters: April 10, 1994
Day 1 of the Maker's Moon: December 16, 1994
Day 1 of the Moon of Fruits: August 23, 1995
Day 1 of the Moon of Flowers: April 29, 1996
Day 1 of the Hunter's Moon: January 4, 1997
Day 1 of the Dancer's Moon: September 11, 1997
Day 1 of the Judge's Moon: May 19, 1998
Day 1 of the Dreamer's Moon: January 24, 1999
Day 1 of the Merciful Moon: October 1, 1999
Day 1 of the Gentle Moon: June 7, 2000
Day 1 of the Weaver's Moon: February 12, 2001
Day 1 of the Strong Moon: October 20, 2001

Year 937 of the Peace
Day 1 of the Moon of Winds: June 27, 2002
Day 1 of the Moon of Stars: March 4, 2003
Day 1 of the Moon of Waters: November 9, 2003
Day 1 of the Maker's Moon: July 16, 2004
Day 1 of the Moon of Fruits: March 23, 2005
Day 1 of the Moon of Flowers: November 28, 2005
Day 1 of the Hunter's Moon: August 5, 2006
Day 1 of the Dancer's Moon: April 12, 2007
Day 1 of the Judge's Moon: December 18, 2007
Day 1 of the Dreamer's Moon: August 24, 2008
Day 1 of the Merciful Moon: May 1, 2009
Day 1 of the Gentle Moon: January 6, 2010
Day 1 of the Weaver's Moon: September 13, 2010
Day 1 of the Strong Moon: May 21, 2011

Year 938 of the Peace (note: this is the current Asgardian year)
Day 1 of the Moon of Winds: January 26, 2012
Day 1 of the Moon of Stars: October 2, 2012
Day 1 of the Moon of Waters: June 9, 2013
Day 1 of the Maker's Moon: February 14, 2014
Day 1 of the Moon of Fruits: October 22, 2014
Day 1 of the Moon of Flowers: June 29, 2015
Day 1 of the Hunter's Moon: March 5, 2016
Day 1 of the Dancer's Moon: November 10, 2016
Day 1 of the Judge's Moon: July 18, 2017
Day 1 of the Dreamer's Moon: March 25, 2018
Day 1 of the Merciful Moon: November 30, 2018
Day 1 of the Gentle Moon: August 7, 2019
Day 1 of the Weaver's Moon: April 13, 2020
Day 1 of the Strong Moon: December 19, 2020

Year 939 of the Peace
Day 1 of the Moon of Winds: August 26, 2021
Day 1 of the Moon of Stars: May 3, 2022
Day 1 of the Moon of Waters: January 8, 2023
Day 1 of the Maker's Moon: September 15, 2023
Day 1 of the Moon of Fruits: May 22, 2024
Day 1 of the Moon of Flowers: January 27, 2025
Day 1 of the Hunter's Moon: October 4, 2025
Day 1 of the Dancer's Moon: June 11, 2026
Day 1 of the Judge's Moon: February 16, 2027
Day 1 of the Dreamer's Moon: October 24, 2027
Day 1 of the Merciful Moon: June 30, 2028
Day 1 of the Gentle Moon: March 7, 2029
Day 1 of the Weaver's Moon: November 12, 2029
Day 1 of the Strong Moon: July 20, 2030

Future Asgardian New Years...

  • Year 939: August 26, 2021
  • Year 940: March 27, 2031
  • Year 941: October 25, 2040
  • Year 942: May 26, 2050
  • Year 943: December 25, 2059
  • Year 944: July 25, 2069
  • Year 945: February 23, 2079
  • Year 946: September 23, 2088
  • Year 947: April 24, 2098
  • Year 948: November 24, 2107
  • Year 949: June 24, 2117
  • Year 950: January 23, 2127

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Whither the Valar?

For years now, I’ve spent a good deal of my spare time untangling the Secret History of the Universe from clues scattered throughout the writings of mad geniuses and the rambling, obsessive data-dump of fan-boys throughout the infosphere. Others have done this before, but usually for the purpose of creating what-if style fan-fiction, which tends to come off as forced. For me, though, it is an exercise in discovering patterns and overlaps that have existed all along and just haven’t been seen before. One such example is the connection between the Valar, the god-like powers of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, and the Vanir, a pantheon of gods in Scandinavian mythology of whom very little is known.

Tolkien’s Middle-earth borrowed heavily from Germanic mythology, and so there are already many parallels to begin with, and that makes it easy to reconcile the two. For example, one of the nine realms of traditional Germanic cosmology is “Midgard” (Earth), which is translated “Middle-earth” or “Middle-enclosure.”

Tolkien also said that the history of Middle-earth occurred at some point in our own distant past. For numerous reasons, I have made the argument in my timeline that Middle-earth history predated the Thurian and Hyborian Ages of Robert E. Howard’s writings (the times of Kull of Atlantis and Conan the Cimmerian, respectively).

One of the interesting things about Tolkien’s Valar is that he never gives us their actual names, only a variety of titles by which various peoples of Middle-earth referred to them. In fact, most of the titles that we know from Tolkien’s writings are in the Elvish tongues. That means that if the same beings did appear at a later point in human history, we might not immediately recognize them as such because they might be called by different names.

Thus, in my timeline, I made the argument that the primary gods of Atlantis in Kull’s time were actually the Valar known by different names. And still later, they would be known to other peoples by yet other titles. This is not surprising given the great lengths of time (tens of thousands of years) and variety of peoples and languages who revered them.

The Valar first came to Earth around 80,000 BCE. By the year 23,000 BCE, the Elves had left Earth and the Elvish names of the Valar had been all but forgotten. By the year 7500 BCE, the influence of the Valar had waned and their memory was kept alive only by a small band of followers in the northern kingdom of Vanir. The name “Valar” itself had been forgotten by this time, and the beings were known collectively as “the gods of the Vanir.”

Around 7000 BCE, the Vanir and their gods went to war with the neighboring kingdom of Æsir and their gods. This Æsir-Vanir war is spoken of in Norse mythology. It ended with a truce, as the gods sent representatives to dwell in each other’s kingdoms. According to legend, the Vanir sent a sea god named “Njörðr” and his “sister” (who was also his wife and later the mother of his two children, Freyr and Freyja) to dwell among the Æsir.

The sea god of the Valar was Ulmo, and so I propose that “Njörðr” was simply another title for Ulmo. The wife’s / sister’s name is sometimes given as “Nerthus,” and I propose that this would be Nienna, the only other unmarried Vala. In fact, it has been speculated that “Njörðr” and “Nerthus” are masculine and feminine forms of the same name, so it may be that “Njörðr” was simply a title given to Ulmo for being the husband of Nienna, or Nerthus. Another Vanir name mentioned prominently in Scandinavian mythology is Ull (or Ullur), which certainly sounds like another name for Ulmo.

According to my timeline, after the Æsir-Vanir war, the gods of the Æsir were granted a homeland on the great world of Aman, where Tolkien said the Valar and Elves lived. If we match up the realms of Aman, as described in Tolkien’s writings with the traditional nine realms of Scandinavian mythology and the modern interpretation of those realms as seen in Marvel’s Thor comic books, we see that a clear picture emerges:

  • The world of Aman in Tolkien’s writings (also known as the “Undying Lands” or the “Blessed Realm”) became known as Asgard by the new arrivals. This name was applied by to the continent-shaped world as a whole and to the towering city where the Asgardians (the gods of the Æsir and eventually of all Germanic peoples) made their homes.
  • Valinor, home of the Valar in Tolkien’s writings, became known as Vanaheim (“home of the Vanir”).
  • The realm of Eldamar (“elf home”) was called Alfheim (“elf home”) by the Asgardians.
  • And the underground realm of the dwarves was called Nidavellir (“dark dwelling”).

Today, the Asgardians get all of the press, mostly thanks to Thor, while the Vanir have mostly receded into the background. Following the Æsir-Vanir war, the Vanir decided to withdraw from interfering directly in the affairs of human beings. Instead, they chose a young boy on Earth to be their representative. This boy, who would eventually take the name “Shazam,” would spend the next 3,000 years as their champion, granted extraordinary powers by them in the battle against evil. Whenever he uttered the magic word “Vlarem,” composed of the first letters of six of the names he knew them by, he would gain an extraordinary gift from each of them: the strength of Voldar, the wisdom of Lumiun, the speed of Arel, the power of Ribalvei, the courage of Elbiam and the stamina of Marsosh. He would spend the next 3,000 years as their champion battling evil, and then thousands more searching for the right successor.

In 1939, a young American boy named Billy Batson inherited Shazam’s power and now battles evil-doers as Captain Marvel. However, because no one knows who the Vanir are these days, he tells everyone his powers come from the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury.

The 14 original Valar / Vanir are as follows. Their oldest known names (the names given to them in Middle-earth in the Quenya Elvish tongue) are listed first, followed by all known alternate names.

  • Manwë Súlimo, Lord of the Winds, King of the Vanir and husband of Varda Elentári (alternate names: Mānawenūz, Aran Einior, Amân, Manweg, Honan*, Honen*, Ribalvei***)
  • Varda Elentári, Queen of the Stars, wife of Manwë Súlimo (alternate names: Elbereth Gilthoniel, Tintallë, Airë Tári, Fanuilos, Gimilnitîr, the Moon Woman*, Elbiam***)
  • Ulmo, Lord of the Waters, husband of Nienna and father of Freyr and Freyja (alternate names: Ullubōz, Ylmir, Nûron, Ulu, Guiar, Gulma, Njörðr**, Njord**, Ull**, Ullur**)
  • Aulë the Maker, husband of Yavanna Kementári (alternate names: Aȝūlēz, Óli, Mahal, Tamar, Hotath*, Marsosh***)
  • Yavanna Kementári, Queen of the Earth and Giver of Fruits, sister of Vána and wife of Aulë (alternate names: Ivon, Helfara*)
  • Vána the Ever-Young, Queen of Blossoming Flowers, sister of Yavanna and wife of Oromë (no known alternate names)
  • Oromë Aldaron the Huntsman, brother of Nessa and husband of Vána (alternate names: Arōmēz, Tauron, Béma, Araw, Arel***)
  • Nessa the Dancer, wife of Tulkas (no known alternate names)
  • Námo, Judge of the Dead, Master of Doom, brother of Irmo and Nienna, and husband of Vairë (alternate names: Mandos, Bannoth, Badhron, Zukala*)
  • Irmo, Master of Visions and Dreams, brother of Námo and Nienna, and husband of Estë (alternate names: Lórien, Olofantur, Fulmur, Losfan, Glurim, Lûriel, The Strange God*, The God Which Is Unknown*, Lumiun***)
  • Nienna, Lady of Mercy, sister of Námo and Irmo, wife of Ulmo and mother of Freyr and Freyja (alternate names: Nyenna, Heskil, Núri, Qalmë-Tári, Fui, Nerthus**)
  • Etsë  the Gentle, wife of Irmo (alternate names: Îdh, Eord, one of the Star Maidens*)
  • Vairë the Weaver, wife of Námo (alternate names: Gwîr, one of the Star Maidens*)
  • Tulkas Astaldo the Strong, Champion of Valinor, husband of Nessa (alternate names: Tulukhastāz, Tulcus, Valka*, Voldar***)
(All of the above names are from J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings, except as noted: *Robert E. Howard’s writings, **Norse mythology, ***DC Comics.)

The cool thing about this is that it gives some added depth and background not just to the Vanir, but to all of Asgard - which as we know from the Thor comics and movies is still thriving in our modern world.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

How many James Bonds have there been?

There is a popular theory floating around the Internet that "James Bond" isn't a name, it's an alias - a false name used by all of Britain's MI6 secret agents in the Double-O program (i.e., licensed to kill) to be assigned the number 007. This theory is supposed to explain two things: 1) why James Bond has been able to have such a long career, and 2) why his appearance keeps changing (from actor to actor).

Seeing as how the movies definitely build into a continuous narrative, the longevity question should concern us. Also, there are certain plot points that can only be explained in one of two ways: either the "Bond" name changes hands, or the franchise has been rebooted at some point without anyone realizing it.

So I tend to agree with this crazy Internet theory. However, I do not agree that each actor who has played Bond has played a different agent. In the Eon Productions movie series, six different actors have so far played Bond, but I think the timeline works best with just four agents having used the alias during that span. Here is how I would break it down:

1930 - The original James Bond is born. (This is his real name.)

--- Note: this is the year Sean Connery was actually born.

1937 - Simon Templar is born.

--- Note: Roger Moore is actually older than Connery, but always appeared young for his age.

1947 - James Bond is recruited into British Intelligence.

1953 - The man later known as "Remington Steele" is born. As a child, he is known only as "Harry."

--- Note: this is the year Pierce Brosnan was actually born.

One: 1956-1972

1956 - At age 26, James Bond is assigned to the Double-O section of the British Secret Service and granted a license to kill.

1962 - Dr. No (Sean Connery as James Bond).

Meanwhile, debonair thief and amateur detective Simon Templar (age 25) begins operating as "The Saint" in London.

--- Note: The Saint was the television role that made Roger Moore famous and made everyone liken him to James Bond.

1963 - From Russia with Love (Sean Connery as James Bond).

1964 - Goldfinger (Sean Connery as James Bond).

1965 - Thunderball (Sean Connery as James Bond).

1966 - On Her Majesty's Secret Service (George Lazenby as James Bond).

Bond marries Tracy di Vicenzo, but she is murdered by Ernst Stavro Blofeld shortly after the ceremony.

--- Note: On Her Majesty's Secret Service was released in 1969, but continuity errors actually seem to place it before You Only Live Twice.

1967 - You Only Live Twice (Sean Connery as James Bond).

1969 - Sophisticated thief Simon Templar is offered a job working for British Intelligence.

Note: this is when The Saint ended its run on television.

1971 - Diamonds Are Forever (Sean Connery as James Bond).

1972 - James Bond marries Tiffany Case (the Bond girl from Diamonds Are Forever) and retires to Skyfall, his estate in Scotland. There, for their own protection, they live under assumed names.

Two: 1973-1985

1973 - A son is born to James Bond and Tiffany Case; they name him James.

Meanwhile, former-thief-turned-agent Simon Templar becomes the new 007. Because of his past criminal history, Templar decides to adopt Bond's name as well as his number.

Live and Let Die (Roger Moore as James Bond II).

--- Note: Daniel Craig was actually born in 1968, but this birth year makes more sense for our timeline.

1974 - The Man with the Golden Gun (Roger Moore as James Bond II).

1977 - The Spy Who Loved Me (Roger Moore as James Bond II).

1979 - Moonraker (Roger Moore as James Bond II).

1981 - For Your Eyes Only (Roger Moore as James Bond II).

1982 - A British thief and con-artist who went only by the name "Harry" adopted the alias "Remington Steele" and began working for private detective Laura Holt in Los Angeles.

--- Note: Remington Steele was the television role that made Pierce Brosnan famous and made everyone liken him to James Bond.

1983 - Octopussy (Roger Moore as James Bond II).

1984 - Private detective "Remington Steele" is recruited into MI6 after his associate Laura Holt is killed by the KGB in Ireland.

--- Note: By all rights, the television series Remington Steele should have ended in time for Pierce Brosnan to be the next James Bond. By speeding up the Remington Steele timeline a bit, we can achieve what we need.

1985 - A View to a Kill (Roger Moore as James Bond II).

The second "James Bond" (real name Simon Templar) retires after this mission.

Three: 1986-2002

1986 - After showing remarkable aptitude, the agent known as "Remington Steele" becomes the new 007. Like his predecessor, he decides to leave his former alias behind and use the alias "James Bond."

The pre-title sequence of Goldeneye (Pierce Brosnan as James Bond III) happens soon after this James Bond joins the ranks of the Double-O's.

1987 - The Living Daylights (Timothy Dalton as James Bond III).

1989 - Licence to Kill (Timothy Dalton as James Bond III).

1995 - Goldeneye (Pierce Brosnan as James Bond III).

1996 - The son of the original James Bond joins MI6. He's using an assumed name at this point rather than his real name, but the higher-ups know who he is.

1997 - Tomorrow Never Dies (Pierce Brosnan as James Bond III).

1999 - The World Is Not Enough (Pierce Brosnan as James Bond III).

2002 - Die Another Day (Pierce Brosnan as James Bond III).

The third James Bond was killed in action later this year.

--- Note: Sorry, Remington Steele, but Die Another Day was atrocious, so you don't get to retire.

Four: 2006-present

2006 - The son of the original James Bond earns his license to kill and inherits his father's old role as 007.

Casino Royale (Daniel Craig as James Bond IV).

2008 - Quantum of Solace (Daniel Craig as James Bond IV).

2012 - Skyfall (Daniel Craig as James Bond IV).

2015 - Title TBA (Daniel Craig as James Bond IV).


So there you have it: there have been four James Bonds. Two of them (father and son) have actually been named James Bond, and two have used the alias in the role of 007 because they couldn't legitimately use their own names.

On screen they have been played by:

I. James Bond, Sr.: Sean Connery (6 films for Eon Productions) and George Lazenby (1 film).

II. Simon Templar: Roger Moore (7 films and 1 prequel television series, The Saint).

III. "Remington Steele": Timothy Dalton (2 films) and Pierce Brosnan (4 films and 1 prequel television series, Remington Steele).

IV. James Bond, Jr.: Daniel Craig (3 films thus far, with at least one more on the way).

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Random top 10 list: best movie trilogies

To qualify for this list, each of the entries in a given trilogy had to be a top-notch film in its own right. Many franchise have yielded a fantastic first film, only to be followed by so-so sequels (Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, The Matrix, and The Pirates of the Caribbean, just to name a few). Some have even spawned a sequel just as fantastic, only to fall utterly flat in the third film (Alien, The Godfather, X-Men, etc.). But a few rare franchises manage to get all the way to the magic number. Here, then, are the best and most consistent of movie trilogies in history:

#1. Original Star Wars trilogy
Star Wars (1977)
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)

There's really no debate here. Others may try to argue, but for pure entertainment value and excellence, the original blockbuster movie trilogy has yet to be beat. Sure, the third installment wasn't nearly as good as the first two, but it was still first-class. All three of these could be watched ad infinitum without any sign of fatigue.

#2. The Lord of the Rings trilogy
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

If any trilogy has come close to Star Wars, it is Lord of the Rings. Damn close - in fact, it is arguably better on artistic value alone, and just as strong in terms of the overall story arc. But where the Star Wars trilogy soars into pure joyful escapism, at times Lord of the Rings gets bogged down under the sheer weight of its own story. Completing the cycle on this trilogy is a commitment of patience! Still, that is only to say that it falls slightly short of Star Wars and far ahead of everything else.

#3. Original Indiana Jones trilogy
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

The second installment is a prequel, and it is not quite up to the other two, although it is still fun. That being said, this trilogy is what movies are all about.

#4. Trilogy of the Dead
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Day of the Dead (1985)

The original zombie apocalypse film was followed by two sequels more than a decade later. Each installment was different than the one before - darker, more cynical - and that turned off some people. Even ones who liked the first movie, or the second, may not have liked the entire trilogy. They're even a little tame compared to today's zombie movies, but don't let that fool you. They certainly aren't for everyone, but they are brilliant: claustrophobic, increasingly nihilistic, smart and stimulating.

 #5. Iron Man trilogy
Iron Man (2008)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Iron Man 3 (2013)

The placement of this trilogy on this list will probably be the most controversial, as the Iron Man movies have divided fans. Everyone loved the first movie universally - it's without a doubt one of the best superhero movies ever made. However, more than a few people were disappointed with the second and third installments, even though commercially they were even greater successes. While the latter two movies may have had their flaws, however, the main problem they had was that they couldn't live up to the shadow cast by the first movie. Taken on their own, they were still incredibly entertaining. They still had Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark, which may be the best casting ever for a superhero. And they still had cool Iron Man armor and gadgets, special effects and action sequences, memorable (although not always likable) supporting characters, and solid stories. Again, in terms of pure entertainment, this series is hard to beat and deserves every dollar it made at the box office.

#6. Original James Bond films
Dr. No (1962)
From Russia with Love (1963)
Goldfinger (1964)

Nobody did Bond better than Sean Connery, and the first three films were nearly flawless. Released in three successive years, they can be considered a trilogy, even though there have been 20+ Bond films since then.

#7. Original Bourne trilogy
The Bourne Identity (2002)
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

And just when Bond seemed to be getting stale, the spy-thriller genre was reinvented by the Jason Bourne series. The three films to star Matt Damon as Jason Bourne were a thrill a minute and never let up.

#8. Evil Dead trilogy
The Evil Dead (1981)
Evil Dead II (1987)
Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness (1992)

This is a weird trilogy: supernatural  horror action with amazing practical effects and tongue-in-cheek twists and turns. The second movie was actually a bigger-budget remake of the shoestring first film - but you need to see them both regardless, because the low-budget effects are just as impressive. The weakest link is the third film, but it makes up for it by being off-the-wall enough to work.

 #9. Dark Knight trilogy
Batman Begins (2005)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

This wasn't the perfect Batman trilogy: too much of the mythology was changed to fit director Christopher Nolan's vision. However, it may have been the perfect Christopher Nolan trilogy. The second film was especially good, and Heath Ledger's portrayal of the psychopathic Joker was haunting. The third film had too many plot holes, but was still great. And the cinematography was some of the best I've ever seen.

#10. Dollars trilogy
A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
For a Few Dollars More (1965)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

This trilogy jump-started Clint Eastwood's career and made it OK for western films to be "gritty." Eastwood's "Man with No Name" (he actually goes by a different name in each film) is the ultimate Wild West badass, and the archetype for many "loner" characters who've followed.

 Honorable mention: original Die Hard trilogy
Die Hard (1988)
Die Hard 2 (1990)
Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)

This is the poor-man's action trilogy, and Bruce Willis pulls it off wonderfully. The second film doesn't quite hit the heights of the first and last, but all three are pure entertainment.

Honorable mention: Back to the Future trilogy
Back to the Future (1985)
Back to the Future II (1989)
Back to the Future III (1990)

The second film is a little too dark, and the third is a little too light, but the first is flawless and overall this is a great series. It's not easy to do time travel right, but the Back to the Future trilogy makes it look easy.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A scientific analysis of Space Sector 2814

According to Green Lantern lore, billions of years ago the advanced alien species known as the Guardians of the Universe moved from their home planet of Maltus to the planet Oa "near the center of the universe." (Technically, the universe has no center, but we'll let that go.)

From Oa, the Guardians divided the universe into 3,600 "Sectors," each one touching Oa and radiating outward from it. There has been some confusion about the size and shape of these Sectors over the years, so I will explain. A two-dimensional circle is easy to divide into 3,600 parts -- each 1/10th of a degree wide -- and so it has been rumored that the Guardians simply divided the universe into very thin wedges. However, this is impractical for a three-dimensional universe, and it is not the method used by the Guardians. It has also been stated at times that each Sector is one degree by 18 degrees (18 square degrees). However, this adds up to 64,800 square degrees, which was apparently arrived at by multiplying 360 degrees by 180 degrees. In fact, a sphere has approximately 41,253 square degrees (the proper formula is 360*360/π), so the math is off. Each sector should cover approximately 11.46 square degrees of Oa's sky.

Here is a rational way for the Guardians to have divided up the universe into 3,600 Sectors. First, they would have divided the sky of Oa (and, extending outward into infinity, the sphere of the universe) into eight equal segments. This would have essentially given them the spherical equivalent of an octahedron. As you can see below, an octahedron is constructed of eight equivalent sides, each of which is an equilateral triangle. Likewise, we have divided our sphere into eight equivalent, triangular wedges.


Now, it is a fact that you can divide an equilateral triangle into n^2 smaller equilateral triangles of equal size, where n is any whole number. For example, here is an example where we divide one equilateral triangle into nine (n = 3):


 If use then use this technique to divide each of the eight faces of the sphere into 900 smaller "rounded triangles" (n = 30), we will end up with 7,200 roughly triangular sections. (These will, of course, not be actual equilateral triangles due to the curvature of the sphere, but the principal should still hold true enough for it to be a convenient method of dividing the space.) Combine two of these subdivisions into a roughly diamond-shaped area, and you have your 3,600 Space Sectors. Here is an example of a small cross-section:


Note that these Sectors start out small where they all come together at Oa (which is considered "Sector Zero"), but because they grow wider with distance, at the "edge" of the universe they will be more than 2.7 billion light years across. (We'll talk more about scale in just a moment...)

At first, the Guardians of the Universe tried to live up to their self-appointed name by patrolling these 3,600 sectors themselves. Then they built a robot police force to do so, which had disastrous consequences. (The robots, known as "Manhunters," congregated and tried to eradicate all intelligent life in one of the Sectors.) Finally, they began appointing an organic police force to do the job, which they dubbed the Green Lantern Corps. Due to certain limitations on the Guardians' power source, at first there was only one Corpsman per Sector. There is now an average of two per Sector. That is still not much, as I will explain below, so the universe is barely guarded, but I suppose every little bit helps.

One of the facts that has been established in the lore is that the Milky Way is part of Sector 2814, while its neighboring galaxy Andromeda is in Sector 2813. If you know anything about the scale of the universe, you know that this is highly unlikely. The two galaxies are only about 2.5 million light years apart. In a universe that is at least 93 billion light years across (that's just what we can observe of it - more on this in a moment), 2.5 million is insignificant. To put it another way, the Atlantic Ocean is about 3,000 miles (4,800 km) wide between New York and Ireland. If the observable universe were that wide, the distance between the Milky Way and Andromeda would be 425 feet (130 m).

Of course, we do draw political boundaries like that all the time, so it is possible, however improbable. And the closer the two galaxies are to Oa, the more likely it is that they would be split down the middle like that, since the Sectors would not be as wide.

Looking in our immediate area of the universe - within one billion light years - a perfect location emerges for Oa: the Boötes Void, also known as "The Great Void." The Boötes Void is what is known as a "supervoid." It is 250 million light years across and contains almost no galaxies. Its center is roughly 700 million light years away -- ridiculously far in human terms, but comfortably close in cosmological terms. Placing Oa in the middle of a supervoid makes great sense, as despite their mission, the Guardians remain somewhat aloof from the universe. It makes sense that "Sector Zero" would be somewhat isolated and not part of a normal cluster of galaxies.

Additionally, the Boötes Void appears to be at nearly the correct angle to place a dividing line perfectly between the Milky Way and Andromeda. (Of course, in a few billion years, the two galaxies will merge anyway, and the Green Lanterns will have a much harder time figuring it all out, but for now we can make it work well enough.)

If Oa is 700 million light years away, that would mean that Sectors 2813 and 2814 would each be approximately 44.4 million light years across in the neighborhood of the Milky Way. With that knowledge, we can safely predict some of the nearby galaxies that belong to each of the Sectors. The map at the top of this article shows the approximate dividing line, as does this view:



Within our Local Group of galaxies, Sector 2813 would include Andromeda (home of the Skrull Empire and the now destroyed planet Krypton) and its many satellite dwarf galaxies, the Triangulum Galaxy (home of the Shi'ar Empire), and the NGC 3109 Subgroup. Other nearby galaxies in the Sector would include the M81 Group (including the well-known galaxies M81, a.k.a. Bode's Galaxy, and M82, a.k.a. the Cigar Galaxy), the M101 Group (including M101, a.k.a. the Pinwheel Galaxy), the IC342/Maffei 1 Group, the NGC 55/300 Group and the Ursa Major (M109) Group.

Sector 2814 would include the Milky Way (our home), the Large Magellanic Cloud (home of the Kree Empire), the Small Magellanic Cloud, and the Milky Way's many other satellite dwarf galaxies. It would also include the nearby galaxies in the Canes Venatici I Group, the Centaurus A/M83 Group, the NCG 1313 Group and part of the Virgo Cluster (although the cluster's core would lie in another Sector - probably 2815).

These nearby galaxies would just constitute a small cross-section of these two Sectors, however. As I mentioned before, the universe is a big place. Even if we count just the observable universe - that is, the part from which we can hope to observe data from Earth with the most powerful telescopes we could ever create - we are talking about a scale that will baffle your imagination.

Our Sun is one of 400 billion stars in the Milky Way. It is one of 1.5 trillion stars in our Local Group of galaxies (which includes Andromeda, Triangulum, the Magellanic Clouds and several dwarf galaxies). It is one of 200 trillion stars in the Virgo Supercluster, which includes the large Virgo Cluster and several smaller groups of galaxies, including our Local Group.

There are about 100 million similar superclusters of galaxies in the observable universe. Here is a rough map of the structure of the observable universe, showing threads of superclusers alternating with voids. (The Virgo Supercluster is at the center, but not even visible at this scale.)


Those 100 million superclusters equal an estimated 170 billion galaxies and 300 sextillion stars. (How big of a number is that? This big:300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.)

Furthermore, a recent NASA study estimated that 22% of stars had planets in their habitable zones. That doesn't mean that they could support life, just that they are in the right location to do so under the right circumstances. Assuming that everything else is equal, that yields 66 sextillion potentially habitable planets.

We don't yet know what percentage of those planets actually does support life. According to my sources (science fiction books and films), it is nearly 100%. However, I will be conservative and predict that 5% contain an ecosystem that has developed beyond microbial life. That yields 3.3 sextillion flourishing worlds in the observable universe. I will further estimate that one in 1,000 of these has developed life forms with a higher level of consciousness and intelligence comparable to or greater than humans. That yields 3.3 quintillion fully evolved worlds. Of those, I will predict that half of them have already destroyed themselves, leaving approximately 1.7 quintillion inhabited planets remaining.

If we divide those numbers by 3,600, we get the following:

  • Almost 27,800 superclusters per Sector.
  • More than 47 million galaxies per Sector.
  • 83,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars per Sector.
  • 18,000,000,000,000,000,000 potentially habitable planets per Sector.
  • 900,000,000,000,000,000 planets with primitive ecosystems per Sector.
  • 9,000,000,000,000 inhabited planets per Sector.


That's 83 quintillion stars and nine trillion inhabited planets per Green Lantern. And again, that's only in the universe that we can observe from Earth. The actual size of the universe is currently unknown. there are some who believe that it may actually be just slightly smaller than the size of the observable universe, which if true would mean that we could determine the true size of the universe just as soon as we have a telescope powerful enough. However, most astronomers believe that it is at least slightly larger, with one popular estimate being 250 times larger (by volume), and another plausible estimate being that the totality of the universe is 300 sextillion times larger than what we can observe. Because of the cosmological constant, we know that stars and galaxies are present at the same density throughout the universe, so we can easily extrapolate our numbers.

We are already in dangerous territory as it is, so I am not even going to bother with the higher estimates, but I will acknowledge that the universe is slightly larger than what we can observe. If we estimate that it is 50% bigger (by volume), that would make its total diameter just over 106 billion light years, and each Sector's numbers would increase by 50%:

  • Almost 41,700 superclusters per Sector.
  • More than 70 million galaxies per Sector.
  • 125,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars per Sector.
  • 27,500,000,000,000,000,000 potentially habitable planets per Sector.
  • 275,000,000,000,000,000 planets with primitive ecosystems per Sector.
  • 13,500,000,000,000 inhabited planets per Sector.

Spending an average of one hour on a planet and working eight hours per day, 200 days per year, a Green Lantern could visit about 1,600 planets per year. At that rate, it would take over 8.4 billion years to visit all of the inhabited planets in a Sector. (Or more than 4.2 billion if there were two Green Lanterns working each Sector.) It is safe to say that there are a lot of planets that are not part of the regular beat of these space cops.

It is likely that the Green Lanterns stay close to home: giving highest priority to the galaxies closest to Oa, and only venturing further into deep space when something truly odd is happening. In fact, the Milky Way was probably somewhat out of the way and on the very border of the Corps' patrol when the Guardians gave the Psions the Vega System. They probably never expected that the great Abin Sur would one day crash-land on a remote world in that border galaxy and bequeath his ring to an Earthman.

Or that the Earthman would spend 90% of his time driving around America with his pal Ollie while the rest of his Sector went untended. No wonder no one likes Earthmen.