August 2nd, 2015

tropes, WARNING: TV Tropes

The Hoard Potato: of Ants and Men

Your Obedient Serpent quite enjoyed Ant-Man, particularly since it suggests that the hot mess that was Avengers: Age of Ultron is an outlier and not a harbinger that the grand experiment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has finally followed Mr. Fonzarelli's motorcycle over the infamous elasmobranch. However, I must agree with Mr. Taylor's assessement that the core conceit that the Ant-Man technology changes SIZE but not MASS was handled with a distracting inconsistency.

I will note, for the moment, that said inconsistency was handled pretty much exactly as it is in the comic books.

DC's Alternate Company Equivalent, The Atom, possesses full control over both his size AND his density -- and, of course, this was spelled out in dialogue, editorial footnotes, or both, in every single one of Dr. Palmer's Silver Age adventures. However, Dr. Pym, Ms. Van Dyne, and their assorted successors have never explicitly been granted anything but size control -- and usually, they are portrayed as no stronger than their insect associates at those scales.

A possible explanation of the Tiny/Heavy Paradox that plagues the movie occurred to me this morning. It's nonsense sci-fi technobabble, but no more than any other instance of Comic Book Physics, but it's sci-fi technobabble of impeccable pedigree.

Edward Elmer Smith, PhD, known to fans and friends alike as "Doc", was the author of the seminal Lensman saga, scribed back in the 1930s and 1940s. Lensman was the trope codifier for pretty much the entire genre of Space Opera, including Star Trek, Star Wars, and everything else of that nature, and had no small impact on another comic book franchise that didn't involve tiny people at all [digression] other than the occasional superintelligent alien virus.

A key piece of fictional science and technology in the Lensman saga is the conceit that later developments of relativistic theory divorced inertial mass from gravitational mass; in the epic, of course, this allowed for the faster-than-light velocities needed for star-spanning adventure.

I find myself wondering if this might prove the key to bringing some level of consistency to what the movie portrays: when Ant-Man is just standing, gravity only affects him as if he were the size and mass of an ant. When he falls, or hurtles into something, or socks someone in the jaw like a proper superhero, he has the momentum and kinetic energy of an 80-kilogram man, concentrated in the volume and surface area of one a mere centimeter tall.

(This works better if we discard the movie's explanation that the Pym Particle "reduces the distance between atoms" and return to the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe's assertion that the mass of the shrunken person or object is "shunted into another dimension".)

It suggests that subtle variations in angle and trajectory could produce a wide range of "effective" mass and momentum. As just one example, he can match velocities with his formic steed because the ratio of his surface area to his gravitational mass allows him to control his descent, but if he jumps off, tucks in, and minimizes his surface area, he can hit that hapless mook with all the force of a full-grown man dropping a meter onto his back. (Ow.)

It's no less nonsense, but it might be the hand-wave that "fixes" the movie; I would have to watch it again with Bergenholm Physics in mind to see if it really does mesh with all the delightful, preposterous things we see on the screen [spoiler] except for that damned keychain.

Magnum Opus

RST: Introducing the Rune Star Tapestries

Okay, I'll bite. What's the Rune Star Tapestries?

It's the blanket title for the Sword & Sorcery Magnum Opus* I've been tinkering with on and off since the early 1980s. It stars several of the characters I played in godhi's Corongond Campaign, the first big, ongoing tabletop RPG campaign I was ever involved in.

Yes, characters. It was the Dawn of the Nerd Age, before Dallas Egbert was lost in the steam tunnels, in the days of the Great Dice Famine. In those days, playing more than one character at a time and having characters who jumped from campaign to campaign was still fairly common. Game mechanics have matured and evolved a great deal over the last four decades, but in that cusp between the Seventies and the Eighties, between Carter and Reagan, between Eldritch Wizardry and the Player's Handbook, gaming culture was equally embryonic, and many of the customs and conventions now taken for granted had yet to emerge. Many off-the-cuff, ad-hoc decisions made in a convention hall's game room about how a fantasy world might function went on to shape not only game settings but fantasy literature as a whole.

(Had we known we were setting precedent as binding as the Common Law, we might have made different decisions.)

I have dithered around with these ideas and these characters for almost four decades, developing and discarding settings that just didn't work, haring off after misguided attempts to write a "proper" Quest Fantasy Trilogy despite a set of decidedly improper protagonists. After the untimely demise of my friend, Jim, who was an important part of that antediluvian tabletop chronicle, and who never stopped encouraging me to bring my characters to a wider audience than the gaming table, I realized that it was well past time to get serious about this saga.

For the last few months, in fits and starts, jotting down notes at work and in the evenings, I have striven to do just that ... and I'm ready to start sharing.

That's ... informative. But what IS the Rune Star Tapestries?

Well, let me tell you what it *won't* be:

It won't be a Trilogy Quest, where the protagonists have basically One Big Adventure to overthrow One Big Bad, and that's it, they're done. That's the end of their story.

It certainly won't be an Everlasting Gobstopper: those Neverending Series of Thousand-Page Doorstoppers, which drag characters through tragedy after indignity without ever really *accomplishing* anything. [Cue Portentious Violins over Clockwork Maps.]

It won't be a Grand Epic about Destined, Prophesied Chosen Ones.

I plan a throwback to the classic days of Sword and Sorcery: an episodic, picaresque collection of short stories and novellas about a trio of well-meaning troublemakers, three misfits seeking their fortune in a world of magic and high adventure. I feel no obligation to write them in chronological order, any more than Howard or Lieber did. It will be character-driven and setting-driven: the core theme will be exploration and discovery, as Our Heroes seek out interesting and exotic locales and interact with them.

And those ad-hoc decisions I mentioned, up above, that turned "Dungeon Fantasy" into its own subgenre? It just might be a chance to play with some of the eccentric, off-the-wall wildness that didn't wind up as Common-Law Precedent for the ISO Standard Fantasy Setting.

The most quintessential fantasy cliche is the tale of a Heroic Knight-Errant who rescues a Fair Princess from the clutches of a Wicked Dragon.

The Tapestries begin when a Plain Servant Girl rescues a Noble Dragon from the clutches of Errant Knights and would-be Heroes.

They take refuge with a band of Goblins, and that's where their adventures *begin*...

*Yes, that icon is Opus with a Magnum. Thank you, Derrick Fish.