What on Earth is Ocean Seeding?

It seems like, as of late, I tend to open posts with some commentary about the relative superluminal passage of time but it's actually more than just introductory banter this time around! Even though it's crazy to think that Gen Con is already some two weeks gone and fall semester is right around the corner, these remarks are to set you up for something we've chatted about in fictional theory, but not in real-time practice. Let's get ready for some science! Here in the northern hemisphere we're approaching the "last weekend of summer", a label which I firmly refute and instead adhere to the autumnal equinox as the official transition to fall. New England autumns are lovely, but there's no need to curtail our already too-short summer.

The equinox is also the traditional endpoint assigned to several major climatological indicators, not least of which is a measure that has received a fair amount of press in the past week: the area of the Arctic Ocean covered by ice. For the past few years, between now and the onset of calendrical autumn, we've been peppered with reports concerning the Arctic ice shield that tend to pose the same questions. How fast is it melting? How many square miles/kilometers remain as ice by mid-September? How quickly or slowly does the shield reform after melting? This year this icy layer reached a record low of 4.10 million square kilometers (1.58 million square miles)[1] with a whopping three weeks remaining until the equinox (the endpoint of the 'melt' season). This mark surpassed the previous record low set back in 2007 when the Northwest Passage opened for the first time in human memory[2]. More distressingly, what little ice remains is not the solid cap seen at most other points in the year, but is a permeable mélange of icebergs, flows, and heavy slush. This composition will impede the reformation of the cap in colder months and is only one of several positive feedback loops associated with climate change in the Arctic.

Just a few years ago there would have been no water in this shot

I study this stuff as part of my graduate school curriculum and I often seek to check the ever-encroaching, highly isolating bubble of academia by discussing these matters with people who don't read about  thermohaline circulation for kicks. These conversations almost always immediately take on one of four tacks:

-         We don't know enough about this stuff yet/the science isn't conclusive.
-         Climate Change has happened before and will happen again with or without human intercession.
-         OMG! This is monstrously terrible! The polar bears are drowning! We have doomed ourselves to a steamy, insect-filled fate.
-         Yeah, that's bad and all, but what can we really do about it? Even if I change my habits it's not going to make that big a difference right?

That last would-be argument, I feel, best captures the sentiments of the majority of people observing the changes that are going on around us. Even cursory Denialists will concede that even if climate change is upon us and humans have a hand in it what can really be done about it at this point. Most of us have an idea of what's going on and what it would take to be a good global citizen, but it's hard not to be skeptical about the ameliorative properties associated with recycling a can of Mountain Dew or remembering to turn off the lights as you leave a room. This is not to say that the contributions resulting from mindful action on the part of individuals is insignificant, far from it. We all do need to do our part to keep this planetary ship afloat and habitable, but you'd be correct if you said that all our composting and use of compact fluorescent lights wouldn't be enough to dial down the Earthly thermostat. Studies attempting to quantify and qualify exactly what and how much we would need to do are inconsistent at best, as the rate of change is continually in flux, making the creation of a viable model extremely difficult.

None of this sounds good in the slightest. Surely someone has to have come up with something by now!

You would, once again, be right.

Potential ideas for the mitigation of or adaptation to the processes and effects associated with climate change have sprung up from a myriad of sources, from university researchers and corporations to municipalities and single inventors. Many of these innovations are still in the experimental stages or are mired in the lengthy process of securing protection for intellectual property. So what is out there that works?

One promising but controversial technique is Ocean Seeding (aka Ocean Fertilization or Micronutrient Fertilization). Though there are several ways go about seeding the oceans, the majority of these methods hinge on the same mechanic: stimulating aquatic primary production to act as a giant carbon sink. Say what now?

We all know that we inhale gaseous oxygen and plants (primary producers, or the base of the food chain) do the same with carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is the most plentiful of the greenhouse gases. Anything that can capture and sequester carbon dioxide can be termed a 'carbon sink'. Hence, plants can act as a carbon sink. Unfortunately, agriculture, industry, and climate shifts, among many other things, have limited the quantity of land-based plant life. The plants do a great job of vacuuming up carbon dioxide, there just aren't enough of them to take up the amount of carbon dioxide that gets pumped into the air every day. So we need a lot of space that can bear plant life but currently doesn't. Well we have this giant series of salty, watery things that cover the vast majority of the planet that could support primary production but currently lack the nutrients to do so.

That's the premise behind Ocean seeding: introducing nutrients into the ocean to support the growth of phytoplankton which, in turn, sequester carbon dioxide via their vital processes. When the phytoplankton die their bodies continue to hold onto the carbon dioxide (think bark on a microscopic tree) and descend to the ocean floor or are incorporated into the tissues of whatever creature ate them. When the carbon is eventually released (centuries later), it likely will not be gaseous, but in a form and on a timetable that the planet can work with.

The pictoral gist of how this should work
 So…why are we not doing this again?

One of the reasons we don't see ships heading off to dump tons of minerals into patches of ocean right this minute is that the jury is still out on the best nutrients for the job and the quantities that would be required to produce the desired effect. Pulverized phosphorous, urea, and iron are the current favorites, as these effectively simulate the particulate matter that gets blown into the sea from the land every day. Only this past summer did scientists release evidence that iron may be the most effective at fostering colonies of phytoplankton, as the carbon-to-iron ratios in the plankton are far higher than any other than any other such carbon + other element combination. Fertilization with iron has been estimated to translate into up to 0.29W/m2 of 'negative forcing', essentially the equivalent of removing 1/6th of current carbon emissions from the atmosphere.[3] Further studies will need to be conducted to confirm this, but the potential applications would be just the kind of mass attenuation that the Earth needs right now.

Oceanic nutrient levels (dark blue is low levels, red dots are experiment sites).

Other variants of ocean seeding include cultivating large quantities of phytoplankton or algae in large holding pen devices on land or ship, then lowering these into specific areas of the ocean, or developing strains of phytoplankton that emit sulfate aerosols to help boost the reflective power of the atmosphere (thus sending more solar radiation back into space). Both of these methods are, as you can imagine, a bit more involved than direct marine mineral application and few organizations are currently endeavoring to conduct large scale experiments, so it will be some time before we can get an idea of their efficacy.

Of course, geo or hydroengineering on such a large scale is not without consequence and those effects are largely our best guesstimates at the moment. Some of these could be positive. Aside from ostensibly sequestering carbon dioxide, ocean seeding has the potential to help regulate marine pH (reversing some of the ocean acidification that has occurred as a result of climate change), replenish phytoplankton stocks, which have been in decline since 1950, and introduce food stores to largely lifeless areas of the seas. However, ecologists worry that cultivating mass quantities of phytoplankton could create harmful algal blooms (like red tide), deplete deep water oxygen levels, or send unintended ripples through the food chain. Furthermore, many scientists believe that a cocktail of several nutrients (most commonly silicic acid) and very specific oceanic conditions will be required for seeding to function as intended. The actual monetary costs of effective ocean fertilization are also a source of contention, as supertanker-sized quantities of minerals tend not to come cheap.

We have a lot of work to do before the applications and feasibility of ocean seeding/fertilization can be truly discerned, but don't be surprised to see it pop onto your news feed in the near future. It's far from perfect, but it may be a start.

[1] National Snow and Ice Data Center. (2012). "Arctic Sea Ice Breaks Lowest Extent on Record." http://nsidc.org/news/press/20120827_2012extentbreaks2007record.html
[2]  National Snow and Ice Data Center. (2007) "Arctic Sea Ice Shatters All Previous Record Lows – Diminished summer sea ice leads to opening of the fabled Northwest Passage"
[3] Lenton, T. M., Vaughan, N. E. (2009). "The radiative forcing potential of different climate geoengineering options". Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss. 9: 2559–2608. doi:10.5194/acpd-9-2559-2009. http://www.atmos-chem-phys-discuss.net/9/2559/2009/acpd-9-2559-2009.pdf.
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Gen Con 2012 Recap!

Whew! It's uncanny how a convention can be so jam-packed with epic fun times that afterwards you may feel like you need a vacation from your vacation, but I'd argue that this sensation is the best possible kind of exhaustion.  Gen Con 2012 was a glorious whirlwind of dice, costumes, comics, and laughs studded with exciting developments from several different gaming companies. It's truly breathtaking what the organizers are able to fit into a mere 3.5-5 days and is a wonderful evolution of Gary Gygax's original vision incepted exactly 45 years ago. In that spirit, you can bet that this is going to be an information-packed post. It's like you're there! (minus the Eau de Indianapolis)

Rewind just a tad. Speaking of the convention organizers, it was very clear that they were making every effort to improve the con-going experience while simultaneously seeking to trim waste wherever possible. One great example of the latter was the lack of 'swag bags' traditionally distributed to con-goers just before the opening of the vendor hall. Our swag was instead proffered via a coupon book and it was up to attendees to collect the freebies up for grabs at individual booths; this worked brilliantly and the bags weren't missed for a minute. The Great Recession, in conjunction with a lawsuit from LucasArts, hit Gen Con LLC extremely hard in the not-so-distant past and it was encouraging to see the convention beginning to bounce back from those doldrums. Official attendance numbers are still being tabulated, but I'd be very surprised if there were fewer than the 36,000+ nerds that hit the turnstiles last year. 

As mentioned above, the convention was a sounding ground for major developments  and disappointing setbacks. I've grouped these by company for simplicity's sake.

Fantasy Flight Games (FFG): These industry heavyweights have had a sizable presence at the convention for the past few years and 2012 was no exception. In addition to offering a number of demo tables in the heart of the dealer hall, the company offered gamers a thorough preview of their pipeline in their "InFlight Review". Though this seminar bore a strong resemblance to a presentation for equity analysts, CEO Christian T. Petersen managed to keep attendees at the edge of their seats as he unfurled the line of games slated for release in the next six months. The major themes in FFG's pipeline are 1) reimaginings of obscure/niche games, 2) active partnerships with other game developers, and 3) Star Wars. Mr. Petersen kindly provided details for the following games:

- The company's resurrection of the cult classic Living Card Game (LCG) Android: Netrunner was undoubtedly the biggest hit of the convention. How big are we talking here? FFG sold out of their entire stock of the game, meant to last for the duration of the con, in a mere 10 minutes after doors opened. In an attempt to get more product into the halls, an FFG employee drove all night to escort a second shipment of the game to Indianapolis. Unsurprisingly, this second shipment also flew off the shelves in a matter of minutes. Those of us unable to get our fix of cyberpunk dystopia at the con will only have to wait until September before the game will be released to the larger market.

- An expansion for the board game Descent titled the Lair of the Wyrm.  Lair will introduce new side quests, 2 new playable heros/monsters, and the new game mechanic "rumors". The expansion should hit stores in November of 2012.

- Demonstrations for all Star Wars related games seemed to be constantly wreathed in lines of eager geeks and a spot at the Star Wars LCG table was one of the most hotly contested seats at the con. Designed for 2-players, this head-to-head card game will be available for purchase in late 2012.

- FFG, in conjunction with Stronghold Games, will release a reboot of the classic economy-management-in-space game, Merchant of Venus. The joint venture will feature elements from both Richard Hamblen's original game as well as the later Rob Kouba edition. Merchant of Venus is scheduled for release in September of 2012.  

The epic Death Star board for the X-Wing minis game
- 4 new models will be sold for Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures. The new minis include an A-Wing, a TIE Interceptor, Slave I and the Millennium Falcon. All models will be to scale with the minis presently used in the base game. (which was incredibly fun, but the majority of this enjoyment was derived from the custom resin playscape FFG had on hand; subsequent playthroughs on the actual base game were less thrilling)

- A product of FFG's now 4-year-old collaboration with the legendary Games Workshop will be Relic, essentially a new rendition of the best-selling Talisman set in the Warhammer 40K universe. Look for Relic in late 2012.

- Borderlands, a game featuring the complexities that FFG is renowned for (diplomacy, backstabbing, resource management and territorial conquest) will be amongst the first releases of 2013.

- As the sole license holder for games related to all avatars of the Song of Ice and Fire series, Fantasy Flight looks to plumb that property for all it's worth. In addition to its earlier Game of Thrones-based releases, the company will debut a new LCG centered exclusively around the HBO series. The LCG is a stand-alone rendition of FFG's existing living card game, assumes the standard 2-player head-to-head playstyle, and features stills from the television show. This LCG will be available for purchase in the next two months or so.

- Fall of 2012 will see an expansion to the much-beloved Blood Bowl. This expansion, titled Sudden Death, will feature a new playable league, novel game mechanics, new payouts and 3 new teams: Vampires, the Undead, and Dark Elves.

- The last entry on the LCG release front was the planned expansion to the Lord of the Rings living card game. This expansion, the Heirs of Numenor, will build upon the core game and simultaneously set players up for future cycles of story arcs. Heirs of Numenor will be available in November of 2012.

These announcements were promising, but nothing that we didn't already expect from a major developer like Fantasy Flight. Mr. Petersen seemed to sense this and, with the panache of someone who's clearly practiced at this sort of thing, built up to a reveal that elicited gasps and a standing ovation. What could this possibly be?

Star Wars: the Role Playing Game (RPG)

You read that right. Even if you'd only just heard of FFG from the above list you can quickly ascertain that these guys know a thing or two about obtaining and retaining some serious licensing rights and their relationship with LucasArts is the crown jewel in that brilliant repertoire. They've put an enormous amount of time and other resources into developing a comprehensive RPG that seeks to treat the Star Wars universe with the complexity and respect for the source material that FFG is renowned for. The game will be released in three successive content-specific installments:

- Edge of the Empire: Focused on the Outer Rim, bounty hunters, smugglers and those living on the fringes of the galaxy (Early 2013)
- Age of Rebellion: The inverse of its predecessor, this chapter of the Star Wars saga will be devoted to those individuals in the Core worlds on both sides of the Galactic Civil War. (2014)
- Force & Destiny: As the title suggests, the final third of the series will detail the stories of Force users, both Light and Dark side, throughout the galaxy (2015)

I received a copy of the rulebook for the beta of Edge of the Empire and will be making my way through it in between assignments for school (how we can have homework before the semester even starts is still beyond me). A full review on Edge will be forthcoming. If you want to get in on the public beta, feel free to check out their webpage and indicate your interest. They'd love to hear from you. Bonus: FFG will offer an application for both iOS and Android smartphones that will assist with interpreting/converting the custom resolution dice required for the RPG until the company releases physical versions of said dice.

Wizards of the Coast (WotC): Like Fantasy Flight, WotC has a lengthy history and a typically sizable presence at Gen Con. Given that they are the current caretaker of founder Gary Gygax's seminal invention, Dungeons & Dragons, there's a certain onus on the company to outperform in Indianapolis. If anything, 2012 was to be the banner year for Wizards, as they were to deliver the convention's keynote address on the heels of their January announcement that a fifth edition of Dungeon's & Dragons was in the works. The address disappointed some attendees, as lead developer Mike Mearls admitted that the playtesting process for 5th Edition, also termed "D&D Next", was taking far longer than WotC had anticipated, and the company released nearly all subsequent news in a series of muddled, occasionally contradictory information leaks. The guys over at Forbes do an excellent job of splicing these leaks together into a coherent narrative (summary: lots of Forgotten Realms). Still, the giant booth, enormous Drizzt and Lolth statues, and flashy new play terrain were shiny but left con-goers bewildered and uncertain where their beloved games were headed.

Mayfair Games (MG):  Another titan in the gaming realm, MG offered Gen Con attendees a chance to preview its new Star Trek themed iteration of its blockbuster hit, Settlers of Catan. Not terribly surprising for tabletop aficionados, but what did raise eyebrows was the caveat tacked tacitly onto Star Trek Catan: that the game would be sold exclusively at Target. Gaming purists are still trying to wrap their heads around this, raising some of the same questions of authenticity that we chatted about earlier. The next few months, specifically the holiday shopping season, will speak volumes as to the future of Mayfair, Catan, and perhaps even tabletop gaming as a whole.

Asmadi Games:  The creators of We Didn't Playtest This At All and Fealty came into Gen Con with proverbial guns blazing. The company had an offering for each of the two gaming subcategories that they've come to build their reputation around: clever, rapid fire party games and substantive strategy-based adventures. Representing the former was Flower Fall, a spatial awareness and placement game that could appeal to nearly all ages. The latter, Consequential, was probably my favorite playtest of the entire convention. A cooperative hybrid role-playing and strategy game, Consequential introduces an entirely novel gameplay mechanic: blending physical play on the board with interactive downloadable content. The game is the late stages of development and is scheduled to premier at PAX East 2013. In the meantime, check out its Kickstarter for a full description of this unique offering.

There were a number of individual games I sampled over the course of the convention that weren't mentioned above, but these will be the subject of future reviews. The con also played host to the first ever Yu-Gi-Oh World Cup and Settlers of Catan North American qualifier. Other Gen Con highlights included not one, but two hilarious shows from the Damsels of Dorkington (proving definitively that Gen Con audiences are the best to be had), lots of noodles from Noodles & Company, and mindblowingly amazing costumes. Check out our albums on Facebook, G+ and Pinterest for pictures and more notes on the con.

On the topic of costumes Kel, how'd Aayla Secura turn out?

Short answer: just as I hoped it would. 

The finished product
 Longer answer: While I didn't place in the Gen Con costume contest and my body paint was less cooperative than I would have liked, I met a lot of incredible cosplayers, posed for a ton of pictures and had all sorts of fun. I liked being a jedi so much that I might just reprise the costume at PAX East in the spring. You can never really have too many lightsaber battles :-)

Darth Revan's got NOTHING on me

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Nerd Life: So You're Going To A Convention...

We nerds may have an intrinsic tendency to refuse certain trappings socially associated with adulthood, but few things elicit wide-eyed, little kid excitement quite like a convention. For a precious few days, we get to shuck any and all pretenses of run-of-the-mill responsibility and frolick in a precious microcosm of games, costumes, and fellow nerds. No deadlines, no meetings, no commute, just dice, dealer halls, and the kind of freedom normally limited to college campuses.

The premise alone induces 5-year-old-on-Christmas-Eve levels of anticipation, so it's incredibly easy to get caught up in the THIS IS HAPPENING FOR REALZ sentiment and ignore the less grin-inducing, but still important prep work that can ensure an excellent con-going experience. It might seem strange, but I actually love going through the process of preparing for a convention, akin to the way I enjoy decorating the house for the holidays each December. Not only does it accelerate the momentum that may have been building since the doors closed at last year's convention, but puts to rest any logistical concerns and allows my brain to be that much more at ease so I can get my game on.

The following is a compendium of tips and tricks to assist in your convention-attending preparations. These tidbits are divided into two sections: one for all con-bound nerds and one for cosplayers. The first section assumes that you're about 1-7 days away from actually walking the dealer hall, so you won't find advice on how to get cheap flights or bargain pricing on hotel rooms (since those differ heavily depending on what con you're headed to). This is more of a reference guide of stuff we tend to overlook or forget when faced with the prospect of a few days of unrestricted geeking out. Thus, without further ado…

Convention Ahoy! (So You're Headed to a Convention…)

-         Basic easy safeguard: a few days out, make physical hard copies of all itineraries, driving routes, tickets, addresses of critical locales, and confirmation numbers.  Keep a set of these copies for yourself and give another set to your parents/significant other/emergency contact not attending the convention. It seems semi-Luddite, but having this information on hand can be enormously helpful in the event of just about anything electronic going ka-put.
-         Make copies (electronic or hard) or have a backup document that lists your badge information and any ticket data for events occurring during the con. Keep these separate from your actual badge/tickets. Nothing would suck more than travelling for umpteen hours only to realize you left your badge on your desk at home or to spill coffee on your event tickets on your way to the convention. Not all conventions will replace a lost or ruined badge/tickets, but having copies on hand can facilitate the process if you're at an event where a replacement is an option.
-         Pack layers. Though you'll almost assuredly be corralled into a convention center with thousands of your nerdy brethren, these structures tend rival small countries in the quantity of square footage covered and the climate inside tends to overcompensate for the amount of thermal output we’re capable of. Having a hoodie or similar layer-able article readily available can spare you from breaking down and buying a grossly overpriced sweatshirt after shivering through the first few hours of the con. Or you can just pretend to be a hoodie ninja!
-         Grab/download a map of the convention center and an event catalog ASAP. As mentioned above, these shindigs tend to be held in some seriously sizable buildings. Chances are you're going to have an event in a specific locale and it'd probably be nice to know how to get there and approximately how long it's going to take you to do so. This brings us to our next point...
-    A little planning goes a long way. Even if the building hosting the convention is the most straightforward, logically configured structure (which is frequently not the case) the sheer quantity of your fellow attendees is going to skew your walk times considerably. After you've wandered the dealer hall for a bit, take a moment to figure out approximately how long it takes you to get from one end of the hall to the other with peak crowds. Similarly, you may want to guesstimate your walk time between the entrance to the dealer hall and the entrance to the convention center itself. Keeping this in mind can help prevent being late to or outright missing an event, which is usually akin to setting money aflame since most event tickets are purchased in advance.

-     Hydrate and Refuel. It seems super remedial, but anyone who's been to a convention before will tell you that taking in the long-awaited spectacle does funky things to the space-time continuum. You'll think you've been demo-ing a game for 15 minutes when a quick glance to your watch or phone reveals that 2.5 hours have passed since you sat down. If permitted, bring a water bottle with you (water; not coffee, not soda) and maybe a few easily stored snacks. Not only will doing so help prevent fatigue and crankiness, but it'll likely save you money as convention centers food prices tend to reflect just how captive their audience is.

-     Carry only what you need. Once you get into the convention, you're probably not going to want to leave for several hours. Given that, it may be tempting to try and cram every imaginable thing into a backpack or messenger bag just in case. More often than not, doing so will result in a sore, curmudgeonly con-goer who leaves a froth of peeved geeks in his or her wake. The dealer hall is rarely not crowded and your overstuffed backpack is a viable hazard/annoyance device for everyone around you, not to mention a very literal burden on yourself. Unless you're participating in an event that calls for special items, all you really need is your badge, camera, water bottle, small snack, event tickets, phone, and hotel key (and even some of these can be dispensed with if necessary). Stick to just these basics if you can. Your fellow attendees and your back will thank you.

-     Be prepared to wait. It may not be true of all conventions, but the vast majority of such events involve a certain amount of waiting in line. This could be something as simple as passing time until the dealer hall opens or as grinding as navigating a series of lines to obtain someone's autograph or playtest a game. Though most cons provide attendees with "swag bags" of free loot that can help kill an hour or two, it's a good idea to gauge just how long you're going to spend waiting before heading out to the convention center and prepare accordingly. In conjunction with the above point, you'll want to bring something light and highly portable to provide distractions. A DS, eReader/iPad, or small book are all great options here.

Cosplay Ahead! (So You're Headed to a Convention AND You're Going to Cosplay...)

-     Prepare as though Murphy's Law is on in full force. We've talked before about how this seems to be the case for cosplayers, grant writers, and those composing term papers, but the best possible way to combat this is to be more prepared than is likely necessary. This translates into having tools and materials on hand to make spot repairs on the fly, having work-arounds in mind in case something breaks, and knowing if there are stores in the vicinity of the convention center that carry items that may prove useful if things take a turn for the worst. Ideally, you want to walk a balance between keeping the constraints of your mode of travel in mind and having essentials at your ready disposal. My version of this compromise is a shoebox-sized plastic container. It's waterproof and reinforced to withstand a fair amount of stress. When flying, I limit myself to only as many tools and materials that can fit in this box. It's proven to be not only tough, but sufficient to tote everything I've needed regardless of the costume I'm wearing.

-     Finish your stress tests at least 2 weeks out from the convention. In a perfect world, we'd stress test each piece of a costume immediately upon completion (do this if at all possible) but, of course, we often can't go to such lengths. At a minimum, you want to do at least one full run-through of your costume, minus any one-shot items, two or more weeks prior to the convention. Two weeks is usually enough time to make adjustments, conduct repairs, or track down a replacement for non-critical components. This is also the time to do your spot tests and time trials for any makeup, paint, or adhesive that you'll be using at the convention. It's not the most glamorous or fun parts of cosplaying, but these steps will prevent a lot of heartache at the convention itself.

-     Designate a Cosplay Lieutenant if at all possible. You may have the most simple, uninvolved costume imaginable, but having a friend on hand to act as your Cosplay Lieutenant can drastically improve your cosplay experience. The Lieutenant can help keep you on schedule if you've got a regimented day, can act as an extra set of hands for any props or bags, or just assist with crowd control. Having a friendly face there beside you can help break up any awkwardness or share in any hilarity you may encounter.

Above all, respect your fellow con-goers, let your imagination run free, and HAVE FUN!!
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Book Review: 2312

Wow. Just wow. The past week has been chock-full of excitement in almost as wide a variety of disciplines as one could imagine. Of course, we have the Thirtieth Olympiad providing an almost overwhelming, if certainly heart-stopping, display of athletic mastery. The Games in themselves have been such a pleasure to behold, but we were treated to an additional stirring development as the folks over at NASA successfully guided their Curiosity lander to the surface of Mars. If you haven't seen the replay of the landing, it's definitely worthwhile to go check it out. Watching that cadre of scientists explode into what must have been unparalleled joy elicited serious goosebumps. Once again, I'm in awe that the breakthroughs we've borne witness to in 2012 are occurring during the course of our lifetime, nonetheless in the past eight months.

As these advancements unfold around us, and the boundaries of what is possible are contorted and drawn taut, it's almost tantalizing to try and imagine what might come next.  What are we, as a species, truly capable of?

Though we'll have to wait and watch as the answers to that question become apparent in real time, we can indulge our imaginations with 2312, the latest title from Mars Trilogy author Kim Stanley Robinson. Not only will this book present a plethora of responses to the above question, but it will sate your scholastic curiosity in a way that's unfortunately uncommon in the realm of modern fiction.

Beginning around the incept of the titular year, the story opens on the planet Mercury and we're immediately thrust into a universe that we, in this era, can recognize but simultaneously struggle to envision. Technological progress is such that almost the entirety of the solar system has been colonized and those celestial bodies not actively being used for human habitation are treated as conglomerates of valuable resources. Interplanetary travel is commonplace and terraforming is a critically important amalgam of science and art practiced by an elite few.

The would-be protagonist, Swan Er Hong, is one of said illustrious planet-crafters. (I say 'would-be' because though there is a discernable plot, the actual story being presented by Robinson is that of the human species and our latent potentiality. More on that in a minute.) The tempestuous, volatile Swan is a literal embodiment of all that it means to be mercurial, including being a native citizen of Mercury. A famed virtuoso amongst both ecological and artistic circles, Swan finds herself torn abruptly from the comforts of her privileged existence after the death of her mentor and grandmother, the Lion of Mercury and de facto ruler of the planet. When signs point to the death stemming from less-than-natural causes, Swan embarks on what begins as the execution of her grandmother's will but what quickly morphs into an adventure that is a smattering of murder mystery, a pinch of love story, a heap of interplanetary diplomatic jockeying, an AI conspiracy that echoes of Asimov, and a race against time to save humanity from itself.

That alone would be sufficient fodder for just about any thriller or work of science fiction, but the plot we're presented with is only the lead line that allows us to be dawn though breathtakingly expansive universe that the author has crafted. Though 2312 is not a prequel or sequel to the Mars Trilogy, fans of the latter will take comfort in knowing that Robinson brings his same unique scope to world building, simultaneously unfathomably large and microscopically minute, to his latest effort. That being said, 2312 was designed to be a stand-alone book and no prior experiences with Robinson's works are needed to enjoy  it.

So what are we talking about that makes this literary universe so gobsmacking that I'd go on about it for paragraphs at a time? Asteroids can not only be succesfully terraformed, but transformed into biomes that either went extinct eons ago or never previously existed. Cities skate along, monorail-like, on titanic tracks. We know that humans have figured out how to traverse the solar system, but they've also unscrambled most of the human genome. A person's DNA can be reconfigured at will to undo the harmful effects of radiation or prompt the body to grow or shrink to better withstand non-Terran gravity. Perhaps more tellingly, a denizen of this far-flung century can have their vocal chords altered in order to purr like a cat or grow an additional set of genitalia in order to experience what an orgasm is like for someone of the opposite gender.

Due to this facility with our own bodies, humanity has transitioned to a post-gender society. This, in conjunction with our successful slowing of the aging process (the average non-Earthbound person lives to be more than 200 years old), allows for a degree of unprecedented experientialism. With a lifespan more than double that of their predecessors, humans living in Robinson's universe can spend years honing arcane skills or experimenting with various hobbies. However, while the individual thrives, the species teeters on the brink of self-destruction. Earth is a desolate quagmire of political bickering and environmental disaster, seemingly at odds not only with what its inhabitants believe are profligate "spacers" (off-planet natives) but with itself. Those selfsame "spacers" quibble as to whether or not Earth is even worth saving. Where does humanity's fate lie?

 The science is deeply, truly satisfying. There are several points during the course of the book where you may wonder Why aren't we doing this right now?  Robinson's dedication to presenting an accurate, if not entirely cost-effective, explanation for the phenomenon and technology in his universe is painstakingly clear and one of the most enjoyable aspects of the text. Furthermore, the author's facility with prose is exquisite. Meiville fans may rejoice and the rest of us can enjoy a good workout for the old neurons.

Overall Grade: A-

Bottom line:  Have you gone out for a meal with friends and still have fond memories of the evening, but can't recall for the life of you how the food was? That's pretty much this book. It's a read for those who A) love a challenge B) adore science C) both A and B. The plot itself is trite, drags on occasion, and the ending is more than a bit "convenient" on a number of levels, but the overall experience is such that these don't really matter. You read this one to go along for the ride and you won't be sorry you did.
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The Do's and Don'ts of Convention Cosplay Encounters

As the last two weeks before Gen Con 2012 tick away (as predicted, now taking their sweet time in doing so, though the Olympics have been an excellent distraction) it seemed particularly appropriate to post the companion piece to my earlier entry concerning the intentions, motives, and edicts that many other cosplayers and I operate under whilst meandering the halls of a given convention. While it's our job to be thoughtful, considerate cosplayers, it's the task of all other attendees to be mindful convention participants. Most of the below is elementary, but you'd be surprised…ok, if you've been to a con you're probably not surprised, that some of our geeky compatriots will find the contents of this post to be entirely novel. Head-shake-worthy as it may seem, the juvenile and often creepy behavior enacted by our geeky peers during conventions is not only unfortunately common, but remains a driving force that dissuades lady nerds from attending these events.

So. True.
If I had even a modicum of artistic talent, I would have drawn the entirety of this post as a series of Goofus & Gallant panels because that's all I could envision while drafting the text. Anyhow, these are just a few basic reminders and/or not-so-subtle hints to all you con-bound nerds out there in the event that you encounter your costumed brethren.

The Do's and Don'ts of Cosplay Encounters (a.k.a. How Not to be That Guy or Gal)

Do…feel free to ask us for pictures. We're well aware that this is a staple of the cosplaying experience and don't mind in the slightest. Furthermore, taking a moment to explicitly ask for a picture will ensure that you get the full effect of the costume, as we'll break out any and all accoutrements and/or assume a fitting pose. You want a good picture? We're more than happy to oblige. Just ask.

Don't…skulk around leering at us and/or following us around the convention. We're more than happy to pose for pictures but also understand that many nerds are a bit bashful and aren't comfortable requesting a picture. If the latter holds true then just wait until someone else stops us and snap a photo then. It's awkward and more than a bit uncomfy when we realize that you've been trailing us for the better part of an hour and have yet to take a single picture despite having had couple opportunities to do so. It's ok to be shy. It's decidedly NOT ok to stalk cosplayers about the halls. We see you there. Despite your best efforts you do not, in fact, have stealth abilities or a cloaking device. While I can't speak for all of us, I can assure con-goers that the vast majority of cosplayers are very chill, amenable individuals. Just come over and say hi. We don't bite (well…most of us anyway) and if we do it's only because you have delicious delicious BRAINS.

Do…ask us questions about our costume.  As mentioned in a few previous posts, our costumes are often the product of weeks or even months of work. Getting to walk the convention halls in the fruit of our labor is akin to running a long-trained-for race, debuting a painting/sculpture, or sharing your novella with your first crop of readers. (If none of those strike you, think of presenting a school project that you loved working on). For many of us, the costume is at least part homage to a favorite character or property. And, keep in mind, we're fellow nerds! Interacting with fellow fans is usually rewarding for everyone involved. So go ahead, chat us up.

Don't…point out every single inaccuracy in the costume. Most of us have a thorough understanding of the audience amongst whom we're walking. We get it; you have each facet of our character seared into your cerebrum. That's awesome! What's not awesome is being called out on minute inaccuracies or non-canonical material choices. While the majority of cosplayers go to great lengths to try and match the source as closely as possible, we are still normal people with jobs, school, and life occasionally interrupting our costuming and it simply may not be possible to capture every nuance of a character. More often then not, cosplayers have to make do with a less-than-ideal material either because it's easier to work with, more cost effective than utilizing higher grade items, or a combination of both. Instead of calling someone out on the perceived inaccuracy, try turning your observation into a suggestion. "Have you ever thought about casting your lekku in latex?" will be better received than, "A real twi'lek would never have lekku like that!" Similarly, "I know of a great online wig vendor if you ever wanted to upgrade," will go over better than, "Lightning's hair is pale pink, not magenta!"

This way, you'll probably get the rationale behind the cosplayer's material choices, maybe learn a thing or two, and avoid looking derpy at the same time. Everybody wins!

Do…honor the Rule of the Halls. While most cosplayers are prepared to be in character and/or stopped for pictures for very long stretches of time keep in mind that we are still humans. We need to eat, to rest, and to visit the little cosplayer's room on occasion. Please try to restrict all picture-taking to the actual convention halls and/or spaces devoted specifically to cosplaying. You're exponentially more likely to get a better shot and will simultaneously earn the gratitude of your cosplaying peers.

Don’t…turn a quick picture into an ordeal. An uncooperative camera, getting caught unprepared to take a picture, and inconsiderate con-goers meandering through your shot are all totally understandable reasons why you'd need to take more than a couple pictures. We sympathize. Most of us have experienced similar circumstances when we're not in costume. What's less understandable is conceding to a dozen pictures, being forcibly posed, waiting around for extended periods so your friends can get in the shot, or enduring attempted commands to follow individuals around the con. Be aware of your fellow attendees who may also want a picture or who are just trying to pass by. While we're more than happy to make every effort to get you a good picture, we'd also like to try and do the same for everyone else.

Do…ask permission before touching a costume or a cosplayer. Basic common sense here. Again, we're humans, just humans in costumes. You wouldn't just reach out and grab someone on the street; same applies in the convention halls. Aside from being personally invasive, making unwanted or unanticipated contact can produce disastrous results for both you and the affected cosplayer. You may think a costume is as solid and structurally sound as your street clothes, but that's frequently not the case. More often then not, the costume you see is held together with a mélange of wire, tape, epoxy, and hot glue and wasn't built to withstand more than the slightest abuse. Furthermore, a cosplayer may be wearing body paint or delicate makeup that is liable to smear and/or stain. Last thing you want to have happen is to be slapped with the housing of a set of wings that came apart at your touch….or just straight-up slapped.


Seems almost silly to have to include this, but the vast majority of unpleasant encounters I've either heard of or experienced myself were derived from the fact that con-goers felt they could say or do anything that sprung to mind in the presence of a fellow nerd simply because the latter was wearing a costume. For the most part we're not deaf; we'll hear whatever unpleasantries you cooked up to make your friend laugh or because you troll chat rooms and treat reality identically. Yes, we're aware that this sort of thing is one of the hazards of cosplaying, but there's no reason for it to be. It wasn't ok when you got made fun of as a kid, it's not ok for you to do the same because someone's costume/body/appearance doesn't align with what you think it "should" look like. A few acerbic words could ruin someone else's convention. We're smarter than that. Don't be that guy/gal.

Since most of us are not only considerate, but also mindful beings most of the above won't even factor into our conscious thought process. We, as a collective, are responsible for the type of experience a convention can render to those in attendance. Let's strive to make it the best convention possible every time we walk the halls.
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