The Science of The Descendants
I love science. The only reason I’m not a scientist is that I don’t also love math (I’m actually pretty good at math, I just don’t enjoy it). Unsurprisingly, where a love of science and a lack of ability to actually do science intersect, speculative fiction blossoms.
But what might be surprising is that even in the midst of all the magic and superpowers of the Descendants Universe, I’ve managed to slip you guys a healthy dose of Vitamin SCIENCE! Along the way. And I mean actual science that is a thing right now in our day and time, not just a theoretical concept that I extrapolated for the purposes of setting the story in the near future.
In fact, as I’ve pointed out before, if it wasn’t for how corporate R&D, patent law, and profit-driven development work, almost all of this stuff would be part of our live right now. Things like…
I’ve talked about this one before, but in order to cover a typo in last week’s quick post, I feel the need to talk about something ‘spacial’, so here we are.
During Waylaid, and again during the Sky Hard arc, there is a brief mention of the asteroid Apophis having been captured and brought into Earth’s orbit in order to be mined. The reason I even brought it up was because at the time, scientists were talking about doing just that. In fact, the general consensus is that we have the tech to do such a thing right now; just reach out as a species and grab one of the leftovers from the crucible that gave rise to our planet.
Why do such a thing? Well because asteroids are chock full of mineral wealth, especially iron and likely many so-called ‘rare-earth’ elements, which, as the name suggests, are rare on this planet (and mostly owned by China). In theory, depending on what we find on a given asteroid, it would be far, far more economical to capture it and mine it with robots than find new and destructive ways to punch it out from under out own feet.
Plus, there’s the fact that we’ll eventually have no choice. Surprisingly enough, the Earth isn’t infinite and eventually we’ll be out of iron to mine here anyway.
It’s also in our best interest to mine the Moon because there’s helium up there. Why is that important? Because the US government has been pissing it way because some idiots think the government shouldn’t ever turn a profit. Meanwhile, we’ve recently discovered that helium is a lot more useful as a coolant for things like MRI machines and other medical scanners instead of using it to fill balloons. Oh, and another group of idiots has been convincing people to get unnecessary scans to make money, further depleting the helium reserve.
So we better mine the hell out of everything as soon as possible.
Luckily, one visionary is stepping up to lead us into this brave new world of strip mining the solar system: James Cameron. Yup, the guy that did Terminator is the savior of humanity.
“Mine with me if you want to live.”
Of course, we might not need iron as much in the future thanks to a material science that has been a staple of The Descendants from the very beginning…
The Miracle of Ceramics
Some of you (and I’m not going to name names or point fingers) probably think that every other object in the DU is made of ceramics because I’m a lazy asshole, unwilling to admit that giving Warrick metal-bending powers made him too powerful.
As it turns out, a ceramic future is one of the most realistic things about the series.
There are many reason why, at this moment, scientists are putting so much time and effort into ceramic engineering. For one, most metals used for material engineering is very good at conducting both heat an electricity, which you might notice is bad if you’re trying to build something meant to operate at high temperatures or with high voltage electricity. This is where ceramics have stepped up in the modern day: heat tiles designed to allow spacecraft to survive reentry as well as the nozzles of rockets and components on transformers are all made of specialized ceramics. Many high-performance cars also use ceramic (silicon carbide in this case) brake discs because they resist the wear and tear of friction heat better.
But, you might says, plastics are also awesome at this kind of thing. And you would be right. The problem is that plastics are produced using oil, which you might recognize as the cause of a LOT of trouble in the modern day world from political idocy and actual war, to massive destruction of the environment, to oil speculation increasing the cost of our food. More plastics means more oil, means more strain on an already near-snapping geopolitical situation. Plastics, in short are an even worse plan than metal in terms of the problems relying on them cost.
Conversely, you know what ceramics are made of?
Dirt. Dirt and sand carefully mixed with catalysts that are themselves relatively cheap, then baked. No one is going to go to war over dirt, even if it’s awesome dirt that can be turned int Terminator bones. There will, granted, be environmental problems because, if the cruelty of the universe has taught us anything, the elusive ‘stronger and lighter than steel’ ceramic making dirt will be located under a baby panda habitat.
The bulldozer is just off-screen
Cuddly corpse piles aside, the other big advantage of ceramics is weight. You might not think about this, but weight is one of the biggest factors besides materials when it comes to how much goods cost. That’s because the more something weights, the more energy it takes to move it and energy costs money (damn you, physics!).
And while we have yet to encounter the most super-strong of the theoretical ceramics, we have a lot that are strong and light enough. Eventually, manufacturers will realize there’s no good reason to waste perfectly good steel on a shitty IKEA desk when ceramic legs will survive the same amount of punishment those legs will ever run into and cost them less to ship.
The end result is that metal will simply not be as prevalent in everything as it is in our modern lives. And yes, I totally took that into consideration waaaay back then.
Since we’re talking about light materials, let’s discuss…
This one came up a few times in discussion of insulation, especially when I was describing Steampunk’s suit in Liedecker Institute, but they’re strongly present in the DU even if they’re mostly unseen.
Aerogels are, for the lack of a more pithy description, solid smoke. That’s not artistic writing either. Aerogels are 80% or more air with a very precise matrix of particles holding It in place as if a plume of smoke suddenly crystallized.
The practical upshot of this is twofold. The most important being that this ‘solid smoke’ structure means that it is a horrible conductor of heat.
Not a photoshop.
The second is that aerogels are incredibly light. This will be very important for, say, launching badass space stations we expect people to live on (launching stuff into space costs $10,000 per pound.), but the relative thinness of the material also means something here on earth. Imagine camping out in a tent with aerogel walls, laughing with open contempt are nature’s attempts to make you cold—or more importantly, having cheaply shipped insulation shipped to poor countries so they can laugh with open contempt at nature.
Much more selfishly, aerogel solved a lot of problems with having Steampunk as a character, namely that a person with a core temperature hot enough that their pores shoot out steam is going to be impossible to be around because they would be surrounded by an aura of killing heat. The aerogel n her suit means that the only place where she radiates heat is from her face, where the heat is easily dispersed by convection. You still wouldn’t want to kiss her, but then again, she’s sixteen you pervs.
Alexis’s New Goggles
I think we can all agree that ‘black heat’ is easily the most bullshit thing I’ve ever included in the series. It makes less than no sense. The fact that I wrote it at all mght have lowered the world’s aggregate IQ enough that it might have retroactively created those people who were pissed that Miss America was Indian-American.
It was probably little consolation that I then did use scientific thinking to explain that Alexis becomes blind when using black heat to bend light (!) because the light doesn’t enter her eyes. And then came Shadow of the Kurounagi, where I gave her infrared goggles that allowed her that let her see while invisible.
This issue is actually what inspired me to write this post, because once I established that the goggles are part of Alexis’s loadout in Turmoil Returns, (not linked because I haven’t collected the issue yet), I got a few emails asking how the hell this even works.
There are two issues her: One, if Alexis is bending light to go invis, one might quesiton how infrared light even reaches her. That’s a pretty simple one and all you need to look at to understand it is your window. A piece of glass is transparent to the visible light spectrum, but to varying degrees, it is not transparent to radiant heat or light in non-visible spectrums. You an even get tinting that blocks UV while still being largely transparent.
The second issue is one that kept me from using this device earlier in the series. Namely, one might wonder how the goggles can detect anything while wrapped in ‘black heat’, which should be hotter than anything the goggles could pick up.
What I learned (while doing yet another round of writing research that I’m sure landed me on some government watch lists) is that contrary to what I (and probably many others) think, modern infrared goggles aren’t special lenses that let you ‘see’ in heat vision. In reality, they’re more like little televisions playing back a digital readout of what special sensors are picking up.
These sensors are more advanced now than ever and include things like ‘field depth’ (distance from the viewer) in their calculations. Older models had trouble in, say, steamy jungles, because they couldn’t pick out ambient heat, but modern versions have onboard computers that can filter out the ‘noise’ of a nearby heat source. So Alexis’s goggles would have to be specially calibrated to ignore her black heat, but once that’s done, she should have no problems unless she intensifies her heat for some reason.
Some Things That ARE Bullshit
I’ll probably make another post like this sometime in the future (a lot of the transportation stuff is real, so maybe there will be a planes, trains and automobiles edition), but I will leave you with some of the stuff in the series that might sound like I did some research on them, but I totally didn’t. They’re not even based on fringe science, they’re complete, fun fabrications:
Standing Field Generators – Yup, they’re forcefields and I have yet to see credible science that suggests you can make ‘nothing’ solid.
Photosynthetic Mass – Well… as it turns out, something similar has been discovered, but when I conceptualized it so long about (back during high school in the late 90’s), it was just an idea I had based on the relationship between matter and energy.
Orihalcite – It sounds like a super material science could make, but as far as I know, any super material matching it is going to be carbon-based, not metal. Someone suggested once that it could be a tungsten alloy, but heat did partially destory it, so probably not.
Astral physics – I know I present it as an actual science in the series, but no, I don’t believe in the astral plane or something like that in real life. The whole thing exists because I wanted to play with Kareem’s powers.
Tesla Arcs – Mythbusters pretty much put the nail in this coffin. A lighting gun would have to be massive in order to work, not to mention capable of firing a laminar stream of water. Aiming and firing lightning through the air with SCIENCE! Probably ain’t gonna happen unless you could somehow fire concentrated bursts of heavily ionized air and keep it from dispersing in the atmosphere.
And that’s it for now. Next week, I’ll be talking about mook, minions, thugs, goons, heavies, pawns, flunkies, lackeys and other assorted cannon fodder.
Not coincidentally, you know what book has a LOT of mooks dying horrible deaths?
Evil Unto Evil (Rune Breaker, #4), the finale of the Rune Breaker series is available today for $3.99 (USD) at Amazon and Kobo. It will be available on DriveThru Fiction, Apple and Barnes & Noble in the next few weeks! (Why yes, this post was a half hour late while I waited for the Amazon link to resolve >_>)
Questions, comments, verbal abuse? Please post them below in the comments, or the forum.
You can check in on what Vaal’s working on or just what’s on his mind by following @ParadoxOmni on Twitter, checking out his new (incomplete) Facebook Page or using the hashtags #TheDescendants or #RuneBreaker. Sign up to learn about new book releases by Vaal by clicking here.
Vaal now has many of his books available in multiple platforms in his bookstore.
Bookmark the permalink.