Tag Archives: Science

The Inheritance Cycle is informed by Science Fiction

I finally finished listening to the audio books for the Inheritance Cycle, the 4 books starting with Eragon by Christopher Paolini. You can watch his skill as a writer and his world grow and develop through the books, as well as getting deeper as you see more of the cultures and locations in the world as it goes along.

I’ve been trying to think how to write about these books, and a review of each one is probably in order. However, there’s also talking about them as a whole, and for Science Fiction Saturday, it seemed right to talk about just how much science fiction informs these books.


It’s definitely fiction with an understanding of science, that’s for sure. It has all the trappings of fantasy, yes – elves, dwarves, magic, a medieval setting, and a hero’s journey. However, it’s this fantasy world that has a clear underpinning in the laws of our world, and where the magic is different, it’s a highly defined and explained magic system.

Really, the magic system and the way it works and is used in the story is one of the main reasons to read these books, one of the main unique features. Also probably some of the harder parts to adapt into film! (I never saw the movie adaptation, short of a few painful moments caught on TV). And it’s the magic system that both allows for that view into the world of science, and which takes this world and matches it to the definition of science fiction that I’ve worked with here on the site.

Well, matches somewhat. When magic itself is called out as a difference, it’s hard to get past. However, the magic system in Inheritance is all about ingenuity, cleverness, and out-thinking your opponent. It’s a magical language with the names of things, and where the mages have to commit to the spell they have spoken. So what happens with magic is based mainly on the knowledge and imagination of the magician.

Mainly on knowledge… and the rest is about energy. It takes as much energy with magic to do something as to do it in the mundane way, it just happens faster and perhaps differently. But that means the magician expends all of that energy at once – to, say, dig a ditch or descend a mountain. It’s dangerous.

So a lot of the science in this series is about energy – how much it takes to do a task, how much the magician has available. And the distance from a target (it’s harder to do something far away), or the weight of things, or these other physical aspects of the material world.


However, there’s also a mental aspect to the magic system – magicians are telepathic, they can read minds and speak through minds. And through this open mind experiencing the world around him, Eragon discovers a great deal about the natural world – following the lives of ants, for instance, like in The Once and Future King.

There’s all kinds of great scientific discoveries peppered throughout the series, for instance when Eragon discovers the fact that the world is round, or when he hears theories that we are not solid, but mostly empty with small particles holding us together. Lots of information about animals (as well as the invented biology of dragons, of course). About human anatomy as well, ways to kill them for sure, as well as some of the concerns Eragon starts to have about protecting himself or others. His magically calloused knuckles for punching, for instance.


Paolini also worked in plenty of war, and politics, and other problems that are common in science fiction. And the modern world. And fantasy too, I suppose. It mostly just ends up genre-bending, with so many aspects of the world thought out and explored and explained. It’s modern, I suppose, with so many things we know today being an exciting discovery in the medieval world of Inheritance. It has a science fiction feel, with so much focus on science. It’s fantasy in its outer shell, with the races and places and magic. It has elements of horror, of war.

It’s good stuff. I had remembered liking it, but was not disappointed in the re-read (listen). It was quite good.

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Hidden Figures – Comparative Opinions Episode 31

Welcome to the Comparative Opinions podcast! This week, hosts David and Holly made it out to theaters to see Hidden Figures, and they break down this uplifting and excellent movie for you! Definitely one to see, probably one to read the book for too!

Comparative Opinions is a weekly half-hour-ish podcast hosted on ComparativeGeeks.com. Subscribe for new episodes every Sunday!

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Music is by Scott Gratton: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Scott_Gratton/Intros_and_Outros

Science Fiction Today – Scientific Knowledge

On Sunday, I got two chances to be thinking about scientific knowledge. About the things we’ve learned, the things that are true, the things that might be. My thoughts on this subject tend to go back to Foundation by Isaac Asimov. The era of change in those novels is all based on a period in the future when we stop advancing, stop exploring, stop innovating. Stop learning for ourselves, and instead rely on the collective knowledge of the past, the great experts of the past. Because everything worth knowing had already been discovered.

The end of science.

And every once in a while I run into situations where I feel like our collective knowledge is already flagging. Like with food. We have been cooking even more dishes that are combinations of the food groups, combining them all, feeding them to the Geek Baby and to ourselves. But often I think people just make or buy foods because we like them and not for other reasons. I’ve heard just about every kind of food defined as “comfort food” by someone…

But on Sunday, it was lawn care that got me thinking. Why do we even have lawns? Sure would be easier without all this grass, and the related mowing. And if the grass was already going to be there, why do I need to mow it? And if the grass is transplanted, why keep it? Why not kill it and replace it with more indigenous growth? And why deal with the weeds instead of just letting them go?

I can imagine reasons. Something with soil erosion. Wanting to have a yard for the Geek Baby one day (although we literally live next to a park). Having it all just in case we want it later… Because we’re not doing anything with it now. And that’s here, in a rainforest. What about somewhere in a drought? California???

Through the vagaries of my past, I didn’t grow up with a lawn or doing lawn care. It’s not like it’s particularly a school topic. It’s just kind of known… or not. Or else, it’s just kind of done… or not. And I was thinking of how it’s a small look at the sorts of knowledge that we can lose to time, to assuming it’s true or everyone knows it.

Then we watched this.

And that’s almost the exact opposite problem. New studies and new findings, constantly, always. Always innovating, always trying to carve out some new, interesting, click-bait worthy results. And not doing the secondary testing – the third and fourth. The repeatability that makes science what it is.

What’s scary with having too much scientific innovation without enough grounding like he’s talking about, is exactly the Al Roker quote. The post-modern moment of just taking a look at a bunch of studies, and finding the one that feels right to you. Holly and I didn’t even know what to say at that point. That’s just so not at all even a little bit what science is.

So what does the future look like? Do we have the old findings that we’re leaning on, and we don’t question them? Lawns, lawns as far as the eye can see… Or will we have a glut of information, contradictory, and providing no helpful guidance in life? Discredited and useless?

Thanksgiving and Cooking Geekery

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In honor of Thanksgiving, I wanted to talk about something that everyone will be doing a lot of today – cooking and eating.

I’ve had a lot of free time lately, and Netflix has also started to carry collections of Food Network and PBS cooking shows. I’m obsessed. So I have some recommendations for fellow cooking hobbyists and geeks;

Barefoot Contessa’s Back to Basics is on Netflix, with only a 25 or so selection of episodes. They’re amazing. I’d never gotten super into Ina Garten’s show when I tried to watch it before, but now as an adult who hosts parties and cooks dinner for more than just myself, it’s one of the most helpful shows I’ve watched. She really does go back to basics, and shows a lot of common cooking tips that a lot of shows assume you know instead of explaining them fully. Most of the episodes close with her answering viewer submitted questions as well, which cover lots of questions like how to peel garlic and how to temper chocolate. Incredibly useful, especially for beginners.

America’s Test Kitchen has some too, and oh wow is it a really fun show. I love that they go through and try so many different things with each recipe, even classics that we all basically make the same, and they figure out what the easiest, perfect way is to get the results wanted from the recipe. I watched their episode on the Julia Child method of making turkey, and while I couldn’t bring myself to break tradition and try it, there’s a chance if I host Thanksgiving again I will. They break it down and it seems incredibly easy.

My absolute favorite though is Good Eats. The mixture of science, skits, and cooking make it one of the best shows I’ve ever watched (and yes, I’m a Whovian. I have a high standard.) I think I love it because he explains why we do what we do with cooking; why do we sear meat? Why do we let yeast work on rising bread for so long? Why and how do flour and water make gluten? Once you understand how some of the basic scientific principles of cooking work, you understand where you can take shortcuts in cooking, what you can modify in recipes, and what things you absolutely should not mess with ever. Plus, humor makes everything better and the show can be hysterical as well as informative.

There’s my Thanksgiving cooking geekery. I hope everyone is getting to chow down on their favorite holiday meals, watch some TV (ours is currently playing Kung Fu Hustle, because it’s amazing and hilarious), and spend time with loved ones, whether friends or family.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Edutainment For Everyone

The popularization of edutainment is not new. I remember learning all kinds of helpful things from TV shows like Sesame Street, as a kid. When I had children of my own I even ordered a set of School House Rock DVDs. I’ll assume at least a few people still remember that program. They were single subject cartoons (history, times tables, etc) that ran between kid’s shows, almost like a commercial. They had catchy tunes, and singing one of that show’s songs is still the only way I can remember the preamble of the US Constitution. And I’m sure the School House Rock people should get full credit for me passing Pol-Sci 101 freshman year of college. My professor never once tore off his polyester tie and broke into song.

Someplace between Mr. Rogers and National Geographic reruns, innovative people discovered most adults want to learn new things too, as long as that teaching moment fits into our frenzied lifestyle. With the aid of YouTube, more single subject short videos are coming out everyday, and they feature a host of fascinating topics.

Here are some of the shows I think everyone should be watching.

Periodic Videos:
The creation of the School of Chemistry at The University of Nottingham, this show makes understanding the periodic table of elements a brain party! Using controlled laboratory experiments and slow motion video, these guys are willing the blow the crap out of their laboratory, so you don’t have too. Want to see what happens with Hydrogen meets flame in a Hindenburg inspired pairing? Of course you do! And these fine people have got you covered.

Recent video: Underwater Sodium (Yes, there will be a BIG pow!)

Minute Physics:
Using lots of colorful cartoons and slick one-liners this show is half stand up comedy routine, half smart pill. Best of all, it really is a one to two minutes time commitment, not counting the massive sponsor messages at the back end. With Minute Physics around, you no longer have a valid excuse for telling your kids you have no flipping clue why the universe is flat.
Recent video: The Counter-intuitive Physics of Turning a Bike (Dull name = interesting physics.)

8 Bit Philosophy:
This show (and the next one) are from one of my favorite YouTube channels, Wisecrack. As far as geek chic shows go, this is the grand prize winner. Old school 8 bit video games and graphics re-purposed into 3-4 minute shows that distill complicated philosophical concepts down to their core. The shows are easy enough for kids, but thought provoking for adults too. One of my kids used Plato’s Allegory of the Cave the explain something to his 4th grade class and rocked his teacher’s world.
Recent video: Is Batman JUST? – 8-Bit Philosophy

Earthling Cinema:
The tagline for this show is “Your favorite movies get probed by aliens.” Movies represent this century’s mainstream cultural art form, as well as our dominant entertainment source. This show is all about seeing these creations and what they say about our society through the wide eyes of a future alien race. The show’s narrator reads and misreads all the movie’s social cues in brilliant and often humorous ways.
Sort of recent video: The Shining (over a month old, but I really liked this one)

The divine search for knowledge and trivia consumes me, or maybe I just like YouTube. I’ve come to the conclusion I’ll watch anything. Once! Except unboxing videos because those are just weird. With all the shows currently available, if you don’t know enough tidbits and factoids to impress your family and resemble a modern day Renaissance Man/Woman/Person, you have only yourself to blame.