Worlds & Time

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The End of the World Sucks

There is a giant asteroid headed toward earth. What do you do?

I'd probably complain about the impending destruction of the Earth for a while and then go check some S.M. Stirling books out of the library.

I mean, seriously, if it's about the size of Texas, we're basically all doomed. Some people may be able to survive if they're:
  1. In the right place at the right time (i.e. where the asteroid doesn't impact the earth)
  2. Capable of finding the mythical twinkie factory to feed them.
  3. Unaffected by Seasonal Affective Disorder.
  4. Important enough that people who can arrange for 1 and 2, and find a psychologist that specializes in 3 (i.e. the government) wants you to survive.
I'm not one of the above people, but if I check the S.M. Stirling books out of the library I can probably fake 2 for a while. I'm certainly not a member of 4.

Seriously though, both of the movies on the subject suggest that nuclear weapons are the solution to this scenario. They're not. By the time we detected the asteroid (granting that we detected it before it hit us) it would be much to late to blow it up or change its course substantially. Do you remember how the asteroid split and went just around the Earth in Armageddon? Unfortunately there's this thing called gravity, which means that an asteroid that big and a planet the size of Earth are unlikely to just drift away from each other, especially when they're so freaking close together.

And that's not even counting the momentum of a Texas sized object.

The funny thing is that I'm not a math guy. I can't prove any of this mathematically but it isn't even logical to the most unsophisticated rational mind.

I think the worst thing is when writers (or editors, or producers) say something that sounds good but doesn't make the least bit of sense. There was an episode of Star Trek: Voyager that included a throwaway line about how a certain species' technology allowed them to exist on the surface of a neutron star. Then they fought them with hand phasers. I don't care what the hell the premise behind a phaser is, if these guys can stand on the surface of a neutron star, then no Federation technology is going to be anything more than a pretty light. As I understand it, the energy present on the surface of a neutron star is like standing in the middle of a series of nuclear explosions at the rate of a million megatons per second. Or something like that. As I said, I can't do math, but no one is going to convince me that phasers output more energy than a million nuclear weapons a second.

A neutron star is so powerful that there is no such thing as atomic structure on it. No iron. No lead. No oxygen. A thimble full of neutron star material would be enough to poach the planet Earth. And probably all of the other planets in the solar system too.

Don't get me wrong, I don't hate Star Trek: Voyager, but when I watch episodes like that one, I just have to cringe. Mistakes like that force anyone with the slightest bit of knowledge out of a willing suspension of disbelief, and the whole episode or movie is completely ruined.

Don't even get me started on "The Core." Some movie executive must have turned to a producer and said "Hey, end of the world movies are popular! Come up with another situation in which the world ends that involves nuclear weapons!" and then they must have hired a hack writer to churn it out in two days.

Good Omens is the best Armageddon story that I've ever read. I desperately wish that I could write something that funny, but I'm more of a dark writer. I fear for the presumed upcoming movie, because it doesn't involve nuclear weapons or hellfire, just a lot of really funny, quirky characters, and I'm worried some idiotic producer is going to demand a Keanu Reeves playing the part of the mindless American savior of the world. You know, like the Matrix. Or Constantine. Or Little Buddha.

The point is, that things that are engaging and well written do better. It's not a sure fire way to make money, but the better that a movie or a television show or a book is, the better the chance it has of making a lot of money. Remember, having a Keanu Reeves style actor isn't a surefire way to make money any more, either.

That's why the Star Wars prequels sucked, incidentally. They were horribly, horribly written, but unfortunately none of the movie executives cared. They knew they were going to make fist fulls of money anyway, so they thought it didn't matter. And, in that specific situation, it didn't.

It saddens me that there isn't a lot more effort put into narrowly averted catastrophic destruction, but today America seems to be infused with the idea that if something is sufficient it is good enough. Really though, we should be reaching and doing our best on every single ounce of demolition, destruction, and apocalyptic horror that we produce.

And that's why I'm voting for Obama.

(Yeah, I'm in a really strange mood today.)

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