Category: TV/Movies

Comic Con 2012

By Phil Plait | July 17, 2012 6:43 am

Oh, Comic Con.

The San Diego Comic Con is the largest pop–culture (scif, fantasy, and so on) convention in America, and one of the largest in the world; over 130,000 people attend. It’s actually a madhouse (A MAAADHOUSE!), with a packed exhibit hall and hundreds of amazing panels and talks.

[At the bottom of this post is a gallery of pictures I took while I was there.]

This year, I moderated a panel called "The Science of Science Fiction: Canon Fodder" – we talked about keeping the science straight in a pre-existing universe when you’re writing a prequel or sequel. I asked top-notch A-listers to be on the panel, and man, they came through. I had Jane Espenson ("Buffy", "Firefly", "Battlestar Galactica", "Torchwood: Miracle Day"), Dr. Kevin Grazier (science advisor for "Battlestar", "Eureka", and the upcoming show "Defiance"), Ashley Miller (who cowrote "X Men: First Class" and "Thor" with panelist Zack Stentz), Jaime Paglia (co-creator and producer of "Eureka"), Jon Spaihts (who wrote the original screenplay for "Prometheus", and Zack Stentz (cowriter with Ash Miller).

The room was packed, and the panel itself was a lot of fun (if you don’t believe me, read this io9 review and another on Physics Central). I cannot praise the panelists highly enough, and I really hope someone got video. It was amazing. And I must thank The Science and Entertainment Exchange for sponsoring the panel. Without them it literally wouldn’t have happened, and Marty Perrault did the vast majority of work making sure this event happened without a hitch. She’s amazing too.

I also sat on a panel myself for io9’s Science Fiction That Will Change Your Life, where I plugged my friends John Scalzi’s and Rob Reid’s books. That was fun, and I clearly need to do a lot more reading given the other panelist’s recommendations.

So much else happened it’s hard to list it all. I did a video interview with Neil Tyson for his Star Talk radio show, I went to fabulous parties, I went to w00tstock and The Nerdist shows. And Holy Gallifrey, I got into the Doctor Who panel (thanks Lee!) and sat in the eighth row, close enough to feel the wind when Karen Gillan flipped her long, silky, red hair. Sigh. See the gallery below for some great pictures from that panel!

But the best part, really, was meeting up with old friends and catching up. If I thanked them all individually this post would be twice as long, but they know who they are.

Comic Con is insanity, it’s a mob, it’s a non-stop sprint of nerdnitude for four days, and I loved every second of it. And you bet your lump of glowing green kryptonite I’ll be there next year – I have even bigger ideas for panels and guests. If I can pull off even half of this, it’ll shake the pillars of heaven. Stay Tuned.

Here are some of the pictures I took from my time at Comic Con. Click the thumbnail to go to a slide, or use the arrows to navigate.


"How the Universe Works" Season 2 premier tonight!

By Phil Plait | July 11, 2012 12:00 pm

I’m very pleased to let y’all know that the second season of The Science Channel’s show "How the Universe Works" premiers tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time. Check your local listings, etc. etc.

I’m pleased about this because I’ll be in all eight episodes! I did some talking head stuff for the first season, and the producers contacted me last year and kindly asked if I’d do more. I agreed, and we had a lot of fun filming them. I traveled to a lot of fun places like Big Bear and San Diego, California. We also went to Yuma, Arizona where it hit — no kidding — 55° C (130° F), and I thought a couple of our crew members were going to die. The most fun was probably filming in Estes Park, Colorado, an hour from my house. We were at 12,000 feet, which is righteously high up. In fact, we were above 1/3 of the atmosphere there, and lugging the equipment to the top of the pass was… interesting. But talk about a dramatic background!

The first episode, "Volcanoes", is airing tonight and should be fun. If you want a glimpse into the show, here’s an episode about black holes from the first season that features a familiar face…

You may need to refresh this page to see the video. And the next few videos have more of the black holes show too.

I hope you’ll tune in tonight and give it a look. Let me know what you thought!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Science, TV/Movies

Come see my panels at Comic Con!

By Phil Plait | July 3, 2012 7:00 am

<Farnsworth>Good news, everyone!</Farnsworth> I’m going to San Diego Comic Con!

Better news: I’m doing two panels!

Better-than-that-news: I’m moderating one of them, and it will be awesome.

Comic Con, for those of you who have never watched Big Bang Theory, is one of the largest nerdfests in the world. It happens in San Diego every summer, and while terrifyingly huge and crowded is a lot of fun. I’ve been several times, but missed it last year. I swore I’d go this year, and even though my mom told me never to swear, it worked this time. I’m going.

The first panel I’m doing is The Science of Science Fiction: Canon Fodder — and yes, of course I came up with that name. The panel is Thursday, July 12, at 6:00 in Room 25ABC in the convention center. I’ll be moderating the panel of some of the biggest names in Hollywood and TV writing:

  • Zack Stentz and Ashley Miller (Writers ‐ Thor, X‐Men: First Class)
  • Jon Spaihts (Writer ‐ Prometheus)
  • Jane Espenson (Producer/Writer ‐ Battlestar Galactica, Caprica, Torchwood, Firefly)
  • Jaime Paglia (Producer/Writer ‐ Eureka)
  • Dr. Kevin Grazier (Science Advisor ‐ Battlestar Galactica, Defiance)

How about that? Like I said, awesome. I’ve known most of these folks a long time and consider them friends. We’ll be talking about maintaining science continuity in ongoing series of movies and TV shows. When I was putting the panel together I was looking over the folks participating, and it seemed like a fun topic. It must be tough for a writer to have to know what the canon is and stick with it… or is it? What if you can bend the rules? It’ll be a great conversation.

I’ll note this is the fourth time I’ve done this panel, twice as a panelist and twice moderating it. I hope we can do it every year! It’s a lot of fun – last time, we were turning people away at the door. If you want to see it, come early! This year, the panel is sponsored by my good friends at The Science and Entertainment Exchange, and they’ve done a great job putting this together. Thanks, SEEx!

The other panel I’m doing is also going to be fun: SciFi That Will Change Your Life, and it will be on Friday July 13 at 5:00pm in Room 7AB. On the panel:

  • Annalee Newitz
  • Cyriaque Lamar
  • Charlie Jane Anders
  • Me!
  • Deric A. Hughes
  • Sarah Kuhn

"That's just how it is."

By Phil Plait | July 2, 2012 7:19 pm

Speaking of climate change, my pal Bill Nye doesn’t let a CNN anchor run over the facts.

"The two sides aren’t equal here." Love it.

Via Jason Major on Google+.

Singing the praises of Carl Sagan

By Phil Plait | June 28, 2012 7:00 am

One of my favorite quotations of all time is by Carl Sagan: "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the Universe." The poetry and lyrical nature of that line are wonderful, and the sentiment… well. He was exactly right. Sagan was one of many people who influenced me, and of course so many of us who promote astronomy to the public owe our careers to him.

That’s why I was so pleased when I found that Kenley Kristofferson, a music teacher and composer in Canada, wrote a lovely choral suite in three movements based on Carl Sagan’s words! He has put all three on Sound Cloud, so you can listen to them for free. Each uses quotations from Sagan and weaves them into a tale of discovery, beauty, and astronomy. They’re performed beautifully by the Antiphony Music Ensemble, a group of ten young singers from Winnipeg. On his website Kristofferson has the three movements downloadable as MP3s, and also has the lyrics written out as well.

This is a very pretty piece, and I hope some choral teachers out there pick it up and perform it. I think it sends a great message, and it does so in a beautiful way.

Addendum: Producer/writer/actor Seth MacFarlane — yes, from "Family Guy" — helped the Library of Congress acquire Sagan’s personal papers. MacFarlane is a science nut, and as you may already know, is working with Neil Tyson to update and bring Sagan’s "Cosmos" back to the TV. I think this is great, and it’s fantastic to know that there are folks out there like MacFarlane willing to put their money where their brain is. Good on him.

Tip o’ the elbow patch to the wonderfully named blog It’s OK to be Smart.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Science, TV/Movies

Bodies in space

By Phil Plait | June 25, 2012 10:22 am

The door to the airlock closes behind you before you can stop it. You turn slowly to face the outer doors, and with growing dread you realize you are face to face with the worst fear of every astronaut since the dawn of the space age: when the outer doors open, you’ll experience explosive decompression. You’re about to be introduced to the hard vacuum of space.

What would that be like? If you watch movies, you might get a somewhat confused view of this. Your head will explode like a balloon full of pizza ("Outland"), your eyes and tongue will bug out as you choke to death ("Total Recall"), you’ll freeze instantly ("Mission to Mars").

The problem is that none of these things is right.

Artist Nathan Hoste got as tired as I was of Hollywood’s depiction of getting tossed out the airlock, so he decided to draw a series of comic book-like panels showing the fact and fiction of breathing vacuum. He’s calling the series Bodies in Space, and the drawings are really cool.

This one is called "Radiation". I love the retro feel to it, and his caption is great: "Another thing that happens in space, away from an atmosphere or space ship, is being bombarded by cosmic rays. Many many years after he dies of oxygen deprivation, he will die of cancer." Ha!

The other drawings are equally excellent (though some are arguably NSFW). His science is good, and he plans on doing several more in the near future. I can’t wait! I love stuff like this, and it’s great that he’s using this medium of comic art to show real science… which in this case is both scarier and more interesting than fiction.

If you want to know more, I’ve written on this topic several times, including my reviews of Mission to Mars and Star Trek (the reboot), and twice on my old website: in a short article as well as answering a reader’s question.

I also talked about this in an episode of Q&BA:

So there you go. The bottom line: stay out in the vacuum of space and you’ll die, in a horribly unpleasant way. Just not in the horribly unpleasant way shown in movies!

Tip o’ the space suit visor to the good folks at io9. Art by Nathan Hoste, used by permission.

The Milky Way and the Mashed Potatoes Mountain

By Phil Plait | June 18, 2012 5:09 pm

Photographer Randy Halverson — whose pictures and time lapse videos have been featured here on the BA Blog many times; see Related Posts below — just posted an epically cool picture he took just last night: The Milky Way looming over Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

[Click to closeencountersofthethirdkindenate.]

He and his son (who also got a nice shot of it) were to the northwest of the gigantic butte-like structure; the night started out cloudy but it cleared after midnight. I’m glad! I love pictures like this for many reasons. Obviously, the Milky Way itself is amazing; the central bulge of our spiral galaxy is obvious, studded with stars, gas clouds, and dark bands of dust.

But the icing on the mashed potatoes is that silhouetted against it is such a recognizable landmark — and one that plays an essential part in one of my all-time favorite movies. Devil’s Tower has a fascinating geologic history, and I plan on visiting sometime. It’s a long drive from Boulder, but I swear, it would make my fanboy (of both Hollywood and geology) heart sing to be able just to stand there and soak it in.

Image credit: Randy Halverson, used by permission.

Related Posts:

Temporal Distortion
Reflecting on the ISS
Gorgeous aurorae
A meteor’s lingering tale

Con and Prometheus

By Phil Plait | June 18, 2012 1:39 pm

So a week or so ago I went to the movies and watched Prometheus. While I didn’t hate it unequivocally as a lot of people seem to, I didn’t love it without reservations either. On the Alien sliding scale, it was better than being attacked by a face hugger, but worse than listening to Hudson complaining about being a space marine.

I think there were some really good things about the movie, including many of the over-arching themes, but the problem wound up being in the details. And by "details" I mean "science", for the most part. At some point though, the details are the plot, especially when the movie revolves around those points.

So I wrote up some thoughts and sent them over to the good folks at Blastr, who added some pictures from the movie and let me rant. After my first draft, I edited it, and then again, and it was still 1300 words — it’s hard to do a good/bad analysis of plot points without racking up quadruple-digit essays, so I left a lot of stuff out that I thought was cool, as well as stuff that — haha — bugged me. Think of the article as an analytical sampling of the movie science.

Of course, there are spoilers flying as furiously as pressurized acidic blood there, so if you haven’t seen the movie, you might not want to read it. And if you have, feel free to leave comments there! The discussions I’m reading about the movie are actually pretty interesting, so I’m curious to know what everyone thought.

Related Posts:

Asteroid, mine
Blastr: In which I vaporize the Moon
Blastr: Invasion Earth!
Blastr: So, you wanna blow up the Earth?
Blastr: My Favorite TV Scientists
Blastr: Other than that, Spock, how was the movie?
Blastr: I Was A Zombie For Science
Big budget movies that got their science right

MORE ABOUT: alen, Blastr, Prometheus


By Phil Plait | June 5, 2012 10:30 am

[tl;dr: Go buy this book and read it.]

I don’t read as much as I used to, which makes me unhappy. I love to read, but somehow finding the time this past year has been difficult. And I prefer to read novels in big chunks, not snatching a few pages here and there when I can. I want to devote the kind of quality time a good novel deserves, but finding that time has been increasingly difficult.

So when I say that I read John Scalzi’s novel "Redshirts" over the course of two days — blowing off a great deal of work to do so — I hope that conveys just how good this book is.

OK, full disclosure: John is a friend of mine; we’ve known each other for a few years after first meeting in 2008. But one of the reasons I wanted to meet him in the first place is because his writing is so damn good. It speaks of an intelligence and understanding of how to communicate that’s pretty rare. I also tend to agree with him on most issues, so obviously he’s a man of fine taste and subtle reasoning.

John writes a blog called Whatever, and a little while back he mentioned that his new book "Redshirts" was finally done. Having read his amazing "Old Man’s War" science fiction series, I immediately pestered him for an advance copy. Probably more in an effort to keep me from endlessly annoying him than out of friendship, he sent me one.

And I sat down and did something I almost never, ever do: I read the whole thing through. I mean it; I found myself voraciously consuming the book. It’s a science fiction novel that in many ways is a parody of "Star Trek", but to think it’s just that is pretty unfair. It’s even true to say it’s a parody of the entire SF TV genre, but again, that falls well short of what this novel is. Certainly, you can read it that way, but you’d be shortchanging yourself if you did. Scalzi dabbles in a lot of philosophical ideas here, using a Star Trek-like framework to ask questions about the nature of what fiction is, and what writers do. Even, I dare say, the nature of existence.

Not that "Redshirts" is some ponderous tome future schoolchildren will dread reading in literature class. It’s a light, funny, and in some cases even breezy read. That’s Scalzi’s style. His books are fun, even while they tackle serious issues (his blog is a paradigm of that style of writing).

I’m not going to give you any details about the plot of the book, though. I loathe spoilers, preferring instead to be surprised at what I find when I read a book (or watch a movie/TV show). I will point out, though, that Scalzi tackles an issue I used to think about when I was younger (and still do sometimes): does a TV show exist in the history of the fictional TV show universe?

In other words, imagine The Doctor uses the TARDIS to travel to our present day. If he turns on a TV, will he be able to watch "Doctor Who" on the BBC? It’s a weird thought, isn’t it? In the fictional universe of any TV show, the TV show itself must not have happened, or else the characters in the TV show would know it. Wouldn’t it be odd if the future Star Trek timeline actually unfolded (I know, a lot of it can’t now because it’s already in the past and didn’t happen, but bear with me) the real Captain Kirk, in the 23rd century, found out his exact life was broadcast on TV and he was played by some guy named William Shatner (and later, Chris Pine)?

It’s fun to think about, and Scalzi tackles this problem in "Redshirts". His solution to the problem is fascinating, and had never occurred to me. And my favorite thing when reading a novel is being surprised… and my favorite thing after reading a novel is finding myself thinking about it long after I’m done reading it.

OK, I’m done blathering about it. Just go and buy "Redshirts" because it’s really really good.

And who knows? It may just save your life. You certainly don’t want to wind up like this guy:

Related Posts:

Tales of DragonCon: Scalzification
There Huge again
The call of duty

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, SciFi, TV/Movies

WANT Part XIV: Citric acid for blood

By Phil Plait | June 4, 2012 12:56 pm

Of course I want one of these!

It would give me something to eat while crawling through service corridors looking for the cat.

Tip o’ the sawed-off shotgun — for close encounters — to Wil Wheaton.

Related Posts:

WANT Part XIII: Moon throw
WANT Part XII: Earth Globe Fire Pit
WANT Part XI: To boldly slice
WANT Part IX: Levitating TARDIS edition
WANT Part VIII: Zen and the art of Apollo maintenance
Want: Part 6
Want: Part V, lunar furniture edition
Want: Part IV
Want: Part III
Want: Part II

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Geekery, Humor, SciFi, TV/Movies
MORE ABOUT: Alien, Pez, want

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar