Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Future In Space Has Just Been Gutted

Go HERE for the full article in the Orlando Sentinel. basically, the Obama administration has decided to kill ALL aspects of the Constellation program and hand over most if not all manned space operations over to the private sector.

I didn't have too much problem with the current administration refocusing space efforts. Just about every administration for the past 50 years has done the same when they took office. But this isn't just turning it in a different direction, this is clubbing it on the head and dragging the body off for disposal.

This is not a 100% done deal, but without the executive branch's support, which appoints and oversees NASA's administrators, its doubtful NASA can go any way except the way the White House wants, no matter what Congress may decide.

With this decision, the United States ceases to be a nation of explorers. There will still be US citizens who explore, certainly. But as a matter of national will and direction, we have decided to abandon our outposts, anchor our ships, and just huddle by the hearth fire.

I understand there's an ongoing recession, that one out of six Americans are out of work. But space exploration has always been long-term investment, one whose seeds you plant today to reap the rewards decades down the line. No matter how hungry you are, you don't eat your seed corn. We need investments for the future--investments that go beyond shoveling cash to already affluent corporations. We need an investment that we, as a nation as a whole, can believe in and wholly own part of. Our space program was always that. It was OUR space program. The People's space program.

WE launched men into space. WE step foot on the Moon. WE sent probes to the far reaches of the solar system. WE built most of the ISS and assembled it in orbit.

But now its going to be THEY. THAT company, THAT corporation, THAT foreign country who ferries our astronauts into space.

Yes, there are other space agencies and organizations in the world, but even if they're willing, it will be a decade or more before they can catch up to what NASA is capable of...WAS capable of.

I think, when historians decades hence look back, they will mark this as the end of the First Space Age.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Liquid Diamond Seas on Neptune and Uranus

Scientists theorize that seas of liquid diamond--yes, you read that right, liquid diamond--may exist far beneath the clouds of gas giant planets like Uranus and Neptune. For the full story, check out THIS article from

As I've gotten older, I'm always afraid I'm going to become bitter and jaded. But then I read about something fantastic like this, and I once again feel the stirring of that all-important sense of wonder about the world and universe that we live in. Liquid diamond oceans? Cool!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Confessions Of A Xenophile

(Warning: This article will touch upon some mature subject matter, more so than my usual posts. Rated PG-13. Also, I talk here from the male's POV, but a lot of what's discussed can be applied to female scifi fans as well.)

A few weeks ago, Conan O'Brian was interviewing James Cameron on The Tonight Show and mentioned something I found interesting: He said that he thought the lead female Na'vi character in Cameron's movie Avatar was pretty hot. Andy Richter, sidekick extraordinaire, chimed in almost immediately to agree.

What's significant about this is that the Na'vi are definitively not human. Oh, the Na'vi are humanish, as in most of the 'important' parts that humans require for a female to look sexy are there. Yet they're packaged in a way that leaves little doubt that the Na'vi are not members of the species homo sapiens.

If, like Conan O'Brian, you found the Na'vi girl Neytiri to be hot, all I have to say is: welcome to the club. Some of us have actually found alien and other non-human girls hot for a long time now, and maybe its time we started speaking out.

The term is 'xenophile,' someone who is open to, and holds affection for, the alien and foreign. It also has a sexual/romantic connotation, as in someone who is attracted to foreigners, or, in this case, non-human people. Its not as unusual an affectation as most people think.

Science fiction fandom, to no surprise, boasts a very large percentage of potential xenophiles, and of course that genre has had no shortage of sexy non-humans to appeal to fans. With SF so popular nowadays, xenophilia seems to be more popular than ever, and I would even dare say it was close to being mainstream, especially with hugely successful properties like Star Trek and Avatar showing sexy aliens and humans having liaisons with them.

My first inkling that I may be a bit of a xenophile myself came in pubescence, with a fascination for Orion slave girls and Vulcan women in Star Trek and for Frank Frazetta's cover paintings showing the crimson-skinned, egg-laying Dejah Thoris in Edgar Rice Burroughs classic John Carter of Mars series. I grew up and of course discovered real girls, but even through dating and all the other romantic hijinks, a curvy alien woman was sure to rivet my attention pretty strongly, even to this day.

Of course this caused some friction with some girlfriends, but most were pretty understanding it. In fact, the ones that were into SF or fantasy themselves usually saw no problem with it, though sadly I have never been able to get one to dress up in green body paint and an Orion slave bikini. Someday....

Friends have also confessed similar attractions over the years, so I know I was far from alone: Athaclena from The Uplift war by David Brin; Aslan and Vargr characters from the Traveller RPG; Klingon women from later Star Trek incarnations; Delenn from Babylon 5; Twi'lek girls from Star Wars; Orcs and Night Elves from World of Warcraft; Dadward's alien pin-up girl Xixa, illustrated to the left. Even the Beast from Disney's Beauty and the Beast, who my girlfriend (27 at the time) would have much preferred not turn back to human at the end of the movie. Attraction toward the inhuman seems to be a very common theme in our modern culture.

So is it all the result of some deviant mutant behavior? Naw.

First of all, people who seem to have at least some xenophilia in them actually seem to be pretty high in number. From my own very unscientific polling, I'd say at least about 25% of my friends, family, and coworkers could be considered to have xenophilia tendencies. What it is in the general population I couldn't say without a real study, but about a quarter or so of the population sounds about right, and of course the percentage is probably significantly higher among scifi fans.

I also think xenophilia derives from a very basic facet of human behavior: outbreeding instinct. It doesn't get as much press as its scandalous cousin inbreeding, but outbreeding is very important to any species' long-term survival, and is responsible for so-called hybrid vigor. Its the instinct to introduce as much variation into your offspring's genes as possible to ensure better overall survival. To do this, one seeks mates who are as much unlike oneself as possible but still recognizable as viable breeding prospects. In other words, the more exotic and foreign a date appears to you, the more attractive he or she will likely be.

Most of us have experienced at least a touch of this at one time or another. If you ever found a foreign accent sexy, it was likely your outbreeding instinct at play. It explains also why asian women are so popular as sex fantasies among guys in the North America, and why blond women are the same to males in the Far East. Its all a matter of what is familiar to you, and what you will find exotic.

Some people have a much more highly developed outbreeding instinct than others. So much so that apparently it can extend to imaginary characters who aren't technically human. As long the character is relatively human in shape and the specific "parts" (do I really have to spell out which ones?) which we tend to focus on for attraction are there, other details don't seem to matter as much. In fact, these tertiary characteristics, if made slightly non-human, only add to the characetrs' exotic nature and in some ways will make her (or him) more attractive in that outbreeding kind of way.

There also seems to be different sub-classes of xenophiles that have sprung from different scifi subcultures and genres. These include fantasy-philes (likes elves, hobbits, elves, orcs, etc), otaku (anime girls in all their big-eyed weird haired variations), furries (human-like mousegirls, catgirls, etc), monster-philes (vampires, werewolves, ghosts, etc), technophiles (cyborgs, androids, fembots,) and more.

But of course this is all just fun fantasy. Non-human people don't exist, and if we ever did meet any, the chances are very huge against them ever being romantically or sexually compatible with us. (Unless we eventually genetically engineer some that way, but that is another whole can of ethical worms...)

But that doesn't stop scifi fans from fantasizing, and in fact, capitalizing on their xenophilia has become big business. The Twilight series, about a human girl with very non-human would-be suitors, shows just how much money can be made from tapping into it from the female side. Avatar's runaway popularity also seems to stem at least partly from the sexiness of its non-human characters, especially in a way that appeals to males. Both properties take different approaches as to target the different genders, but they both tap into the same desire we have for the sexually exotic. And because they've made so much money, it only means that Hollywood and others are sure to tap more of this xenophile desire in the coming years. So I suspect this is only the beginning of a wave of xenophile works we'll see in the next decade or more.

So if you've ever had a tingle in your trousers from watching ten foot blue-skinned cat-eyed people jumping about in skimpy loincloths, relax. There's nothing wrong with you. You're not alone, and in fact belong to a fairly large group of like-minded indivduals. Welcome to the club.

(Neytiri copyright James Cameron. Other illustrations by Dadward, used with permission. Check out his WEBSITE and all his cool swag at his CAFEPRESS SHOP!)