Monday, July 2, 2012

If Man Should Invade Space!

Thanks to reddit, I ran across the above, a great illustration/inforgraphic from a children's encyclopeida ('Our Wonder World') in 1918.  Just click the image for a larger view.

'A race for sun, moon, and planets at the terrific speed of two miles a minute!'

My Favorite blurb: 'Mercury: 54 years.  News of Lincoln's Death due there soon.'

These kinds of pics are great fun, but I think they also serve two important purposes:

1) It reminds us that what may seem impossible today may not seem so insurmountable in the future.   In 1918, any mechanical vehicle traveling at two miles a minute (120 mph) that wasn't plummeting out of the sky would seem utterly astounding and just barely in the realm of the possible.  Yet today, almost any mundane road vehicle can achieve that speed.

We reached the Moon in 3 days, not 83.  The Voyager 2 probe reached Neptune in 12 years, not 2,571.

Millions of years to the stars?  By our best estimates using realistic technology we now have that down to merely a few tens of thousands of years.  Ninety four years from now, the time between that encyclopedia and us, who knows what it will be?  Perhaps they will look back on what we write today,a nd chuckle at how limited our thinking could be at times.

2) It reminds us just how awesome the world we live in can be.

We take a lot of things for granted.  We get so caught up in our every day struggles and work and problems that we forget to take in the wonders of the world around us.  Space travel and probes to other planets and computers and intercontinental jets and so on seems pretty mundane to us nowadays.

But I can imagine taking a ten year old boy who may have read that old encyclopedia in 1918 and showing him all the things we take so for granted to day.  He would be utterly astonished and overcome with wonder.  Real pictures of other worlds!  Airplanes that can fly faster than sound! Thinking machines!  Wireless telegraphs that can talk around the world!

We would complain that men haven't walked on the Moon in 40 years.  He would be have trouble just getting his head around the fact that men walked on the moon at all.  We may be inconvenienced by technical difficulties with our computerized communication networks; he would be amazed that we even had such a thing to be inconvenienced by it in the first place.

We live in a world full of wonders that would utterly astonish almost every generation that came before us.  I think sometimes we just need to step back, take a deep breath, and realize just how awesome that is.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Next Great Fantasy Franchise Is... Ponies!?

As a life long animation fan, I've seen a true phenomenon emerging in the past year unlike anything I've ever seen around an animated TV show. The show is following a pop culture trajectory very similar to that of Spongebob Squarepants, starting out as a small but well done kids show that nonetheless quickly gained a huge adult following, especially among college students. Only this new show is doing it faster and with far greater numbers. After only two seasons, we've already seen over a dozen conventions dedicated to it springing up around the country, and what could only be called a massive following online. I've been struggling to put it all in proper perspective, so here are my thoughts about it:

One thing that always struck me about many of the great fantasy franchises is how they started off as lowly underdogs. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos and Robert E Howard's Conan the Barbarian had their origins in the pulp magazines in the 1920s and 30s, and floundered there in obscurity for decades. Tolkein's Lord Of The Rings suffered a similar fate by being lost in the small press, cherished only by a small population of enthusiasts and collectors, for nearly as long. Harry Potter? Written by some out of work mother of two and consigned to the children's books section. Who could possibly take any of them seriously?

And now we may be witnessing another great fantasy franchise emerge, one with an even huger underdog disadvantage than any of the others. Yes, I'm talking about the unlikely but undeniable cult phenomenon My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.

Why its such an underdog goes even beyond its status as a G-rated animated show. The franchise's earlier incarnations really were the trite, sugary pap that many associate with girl-centric cartoons. They were shows that only five year old girls, and practically no one else, could really enjoy. Even in the dubious pantheon of saturday morning cartoons, My Little Pony was considered the bottom of the barrel.

But master animator Lauren Faust, who had helmed Power Puff Girls and created Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends, expressed an interest in reviving the show. Not because she was impressed with the cartoons that had come before, but because she had played with the toys as a kid and had always had a fondness for the characters. Hasbro, owner of the franchise, decided to give her a shot, and even more amazingly, gave her almost free reign to reinvent the franchise according to her vision. She and Hasbro both brought in much additional great talent, and the current show was born.

The series focuses on the magical world of Equestria, inhabited by Ponies as well as many other magical and mystical creatures. Here, 'Pony' doesn't mean an immature horse, but a trio of inter-related equine-like fantasy races: Unicorns, who can use a variety of magic powers; Pegasi, who can fly and manage the weather; and Earth Ponies, who have the least magic but who seem to grow all the food and run all the cities. The land is ruled by a pair of immortal sisters, Celestia and Luna, who embody traits of all three races and are powerful enough to control the rising and setting of the sun and moon.

The main character of the series is Twilight Sparkle, a nerdy, book-obsessed unicorn and introverted student of Princess Celestia. Her first adventure lands her in Ponyville, a small town that's the series' main setting, where she makes five unexpected friends while searching for the legendary Elements of Harmony during a crisis. After the danger passes, she moves to Ponyville permanently to be with her friends. Many adventures, some small and some epic, ensue as the former lonely geek learns the importance of friendship.

The earlier episodes, especially the two-part pilot, were very uneven in many places. But eventually, the stories became more polished, the characters became sharper and more three-dimensional, the humor became more sophisticated, and their former cookie-cutter fantasy world became shaped by a number of very interesting ideas. In many ways, its evolution writing-wise has mirrored Star Trek: The Next Generation, in that both series started out with middling pilots, lurched through a number of episodes that were obvious awkward growing pains, but eventually found their strides and elevated themselves up to the top of their respective genres. While many episodes of MLP are still merely fair with a peppering of a few stinkers, when MLP is good, it can be amazingly good.

Case in point was its recent popular and well-received two-part season ender. In fact, I think 'A Canterlot Wedding' may be the series' 'Best of Both Worlds' moment, to take another comparison from TNG; the episode that not only shattered all previous expectations about what the show could be, but made the rest of the world sit up and notice just how good it had become. Reviewers compared the episode to Disney animated features; in the animation world, there's little higher praise, and certainly almost unheard of for a TV cartoon. For me personally, I have to confess that Part 2 of "A Canterlot Wedding" was probably the single funnest half hour of TV I've watched all year.

I think what makes the show stand out so much is not any one thing, but a mix of all the creative elements firing on all cylinders. There's also the show's evolution in sophistication. It clearly started out being aimed exclusively at a younger audience, but its quality and smart writing attracted a sizable adult audience, so teh creators began catering to them as well. Hasbro recently claimed that the show's intended audience is now children between 5 and 11 and their parents. I think that "...and their parents" part makes all the difference. Its still very much a kid-friendly show, with occasional Looney-Tune jokes and Scooby-Doo chases and a lesson to be learned at the end of every episode. But its stories and characters are smart and savvy enough that adults can find a lot to enjoy as well.

A good example may be the character of Rarity. The main six characters are all young adults, so Rarity owns her own small dress maker's shop and dreams of becoming a premiere fashion designer. On any other kids' cartoon, or even on many live action adult shows, she would be the shallow, snobbish fashionista, most likely even an antagonist. But on MLP, she is portrayed as a struggling artist and businesswoman (er...businesspony) who is often harassed by clients and struggles to get her business noticed. She does have a touch of vanity and selfishness, but is also generous in many things. Despite being the most 'girly' of the main characters she's almost always portrayed as smart and strong-willed. I believe she is the most complex and mature of the main characters, and likely the one most adults will most easily identify with. The fact that a show like this even has a character like Rarity points to the amount of thought and care that goes into the writing.

Another aspect of the show I really enjoy is how unabashedly American it is in tone. I know some reading this are groaning that I may be segueing into shallow flag-waving, but hear me out. So much of fantasy--G-rated or R-rated, adult oriented or for kids, animated or live action--is derived so nakedly from European models or, more recently with the advent of anime, from Japanese or eastern traditions. Even great new shows like Game of Thrones is based loosely on the medieval european model.

While MLP has a location that does have a traditional fantasy feel--namely Canterlot, where the ruling Princesses reside--the show's main setting, Ponyville and much the rest of Equestria, has very much an American small town character, despite its mishmash of architecture. There are bowling alleys and family farms, old-fashioned school houses and a roller rink, beauty spas and yellow taxis (pulled by ponies, of course) and more. Equestria even has its own version of the Wild West and New York City ('Manehattan.') While this mash up can seem a bit awkward at times, its very refreshing to see a new approach, especially one based on American settings and traditions.

All in all, I do think that we're seeing a great new fantasy franchise emerging in My Little Pony:Friendship Is Magic. One more family-friendly and filled with more whimsy than the others I've noted, but that can be as much a source of uniqueness and strength as a liability. Will it fulfill such a promise? We'll have to see if it can keep up the quality of its stories. But I do think it has the potential. And I'll be one of the ones cheering for it.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Updates, and a New Novel

Broken links for Laser Firearms and Lightsabers have been fixed.

Please DO NOT ask when new articles will be posted or what they might be, or what they are, because I don't know specifically myself. But harassing me about it--and more than one polite inquiry is what I do consider harassment--will do absolutely nothing to help, and in fact will likely delay new updates even further. Orbital Vector is a hobby, something I generally enjoy doing, and if that enjoyment's going to be sucked away by people demanding things unreasonably, I may delay or abandon updating it altogether.

Please understand that I'm still very busy, and my being able to update Orbital Vector and the Blog here means that things have gone from overwhelming to merely nearly-overwhelming. I'll update when I can with what I can, but it will be on no set schedule, as I still have to prioritize things that go into making a living over this site.

That being said, I do have a new ebook novel available co-written with my occasional collaborator, Phillip Velasquez. Its called DRYAD, a science fiction adventure novelette. Details below, so check it out and buy a copy or seven if you'd like.

Marooned on an unknown planet, xenobiologists Kendra Ling and Mona Favre must confront the mystery of bizarre alien 'dryads' if they are to survive. A fantastic tale of alien contact and transformation.

DRYAD for the Amazon Kindle

DRYAD for other E-Readers and the PC

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

...And We're Back!

Sorry this took a few months longer than I anticipated, but I've finally been able to turn my attention back to Orbital Vector. I just put up a new article on the main site ( Advanced Atmospheric Diving Suits ) and hope to put up a new article about once every two weeks or so from this point on. I have enough material in terms of half-finished articles from the past year (some examples are Spin Gravity, Artificial Gravity Fields, FTL Missiles, Manned Mars Mission, and more), I just need to buy a day here and there in my schedule once in a while finish them and put them online.

I'm still very busy trying to keep financially afloat, and one definitive thing I will be trying to emphasize with Orbital Vector is what commercial opportunities it can afford me, especially for advertising both my novels and freelance commission services. That will take the form mostly of banner ads I'll do up sometime in the next few weeks, so you'll probably see them dissemination through the site as I go along in months to come.

I know that's going to make some of you moan, but think of it as helping to keep me engaged in upkeeping the site that goes beyond just my uber-nerdy interest in awesome futuristic technology. Right now OV makes just enough from google ads to pay for its own webhosting. If it can make the webmaster a few extra dollars beyond that, all the more reason for me to keep updating it. Plus I doubt the changes I'll make toward that goal will have any major impact on the site itself beyond just one or two more banner ads per page.

But as I said in the last entry, one thing that will definitely suffer will likely be this blog. I'll still use it for updates, to promote a new book or such from me, or to point out some neat science or tech article I've read, but I'll be lucky to update it once a month or so.

Of course donations to help keep the site running and healthy are always welcome, and there's a button right on the main site's main page ( ) for those who'd like to help that way.

But if possible I'd rather have potential donors get something substantial in return for their money, so I'd like to offer the ebooks I currently have online as also a means of donating to OV. Buy the books, all reasonably priced, and you not only get some good stuff to read but also help keep Orbital Vector updated and its webmaster occasionally fed. They're listed below.


A full-length epic science fiction novel. One hundred thousand years in the future, on the vast ruins of a shattered Dyson Sphere, a young Myotan woman's complacent life is forever changed by the arrival of advanced human explorers. Soon plunged into an odyssey of love, terror, and wonders beyond her imagination, she must decide the fate of her people...and perhaps of all humanity as well.


THE SHATTERED SKY for other E-Readers and the PC


A fantasy romance novelette. In 1870s Italy, misplaced French actress Helen Mauvant finds herself penniless and abandoned. Taken in by a traveling puppeteer, she falls in love with the kindly but frail craftsman. But can even slmed down enough for me to more fully turn some much-needed attention back to Orbital Vector. For everyone who has commented or emailed with their support and concerns during my downtime on the site over the past year, thank you!


MARIONETTE for other E-Readers and the PC


A science fantasy novelette. In a future Earth where magic has returned, Aileen was a hard working but quiet student, hoping to earn a degree and make a decent living as a licensed wizard. But when a classmate's jealousy entangles her in demonic magic and transformations, Aileen is catapulted into the adventure of her life.

SELKIE for Kindle

SELKIE for other E-Readers and the PC

I also work as a freelance writers (typically ghost writing novels, stories, articles, academic papers, resumes, and so on for clients) and a freelance illustrator (specializing in character and story illustrations, and lately book covers) so if anyone need something like that feel free to contact me at

Anyway, hopefully things have calmed down enough that I can more fully turn my attention back to Orbital Vector like it deserves. For every one who commented or emailed me with their support and concern during my down time from the site, thank you!

P.S. I will also address some of the broken links that have been pointed out to me recently.