BAN #273: The sci of scifi, Fractal Wars, 12 Monkeys is worth a binge

23 November 2020   Issue #273

[Spiral Galaxy M81 image credit: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona]

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Upcoming Appearances/Shameless Self-Promotion

Where I’ll be doing things you can watch and listen to or read about

On 12 November 2020, I moderated a panel called “World-Building: How Science Sculpts Science Fiction”, featuring the panelists John Scalzi, Mary Robinette Kowal, Becky Chambers, and Simon Guerrier — fabulous and award-winning scifi writers all.

The idea was to ask how the fact-based science of exoplanets has affected the fiction-based stories these bards tell. Along the way we made fun of some bad scifi, talked aliens, and generally had a lot of fun.

And now the talk is online! So I present it here for your enjoyment:

My thanks again to my friend and fellow astronomer Jessie Christensen for organizing this and asking me to fill in for the wonderful Moiya McTeir, who had something come up at the last minute and couldn’t participate. Also thanks to Caltech, the Keck Institute of Space Studies, and the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center for producing the panel.

Blog Jam

What I’ve recently written on the blog, ICYMI

[GALEX + ground based ‘scopes image of the Blue Ring Nebula… which isn’t really a ring. From Friday’s article. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/NASA/JPL-Caltech/M. Seibert (Carnegie Institution for Science)/K. Hoadley (Caltech)/GALEX Team]

Monday 16 November, 2020: On Friday, a small asteroid passed just 400 km from Earth!

Tuesday 17 November, 2020: A near-Earth asteroid passing us in December may actually be an old Moon rocket

Wednesday 18 November, 2020: What created this eerie blue eye in space? Stellar cannibalism.

Thursday 19 November, 2020: The giant Arecibo radio telescope to be decommissioned due to damage

Friday 20 November, 2020: Perseverance is humming along to Mars… and you can (literally) hear it!

Random Thoughts

Stuff I think about in the shower, typically

I cannot believe no one has thought of this yet.

[Credit: Disney / Phil Plait]

This took me a long time to make but I did it in between writing bouts and I giggled a lot while doing it.

I don’t usually like to explain jokes, but in this case I’ll make an exception.

That is the way.

I recommend

Something I think you’ll like

I was perusing SYFYWire and came across an article from a year or so ago about 10 cerebral high-concept genre shows to binge watch. One of them was Fringe, which I quite liked when it came out. I decided to rewatch it and enjoyed it, though it had a bit of a bumpy arc over its five seasons.

After I finished it I was jonesing* for another time-travel series to binge, and realized that maybe it was time to rewatch 12 Monkeys.

[Cover of the 12 Monkeys Blue-ray.]

This series is loosely based on the movie, but takes it much, much further. I won’t give away any spoilers (I hate spoilers) but the time travel is amazingly complex and pretty well self-consistent, an achievement that is rarely attained in the genre.

It’s excellent binge fodder, as the storyline is complex enough that, once you’re in the later seasons, it helps if you’ve seen the previous episodes recently. I found I caught a lot more detail binging than I did when it originally aired on SYFY.

The time travel is key to the whole thing, of course, but it’s the characters that’ll keep you going. They feel fleshed out: real, complicated, flawed (oh, so very flawed), and just human. It helps a lot that the acting is so good.

A lot of shows run past their time, kinda phoning it in after a few seasons. This show is the exact opposite of that. Showrunner Terry Matalas had a plan the whole time for how the show would play out, and how it would end; in fact clues are there early on in the first season! It’s not often you get to watch a series finale really pay off, and this one does. P.S. Terry is the showrunner for season 2 of Star Trek:Picard, so I’m really looking forward to that.

Full disclosure: In 2016 I was asked to moderate a panel about the show for the Smithsonian’s “Future Is Here” series, and on the panel were Terry Matalas, and actors Aaron Stanford, Amanda Schull, and Emily Hampshire (who was also doing Schitt’s Creek at the time). I had a blast, and still think of those folks as friends.

[Left to right: Terry Matalas, Amanda Schull, me, Aaron Stanford, Emily Hampshire. Credit: Phil Plait]

And funny thing: They all got along really well; even after all that time together they still went out to get dinner as a group, and liked to hang out. I have seen that in some shows, and you can sometimes tell when you watch the show. Parks and Rec was that way; the actors all loved each other. Same thing here. That comes through on the screen.

Anyway, the point of this disclosure is I don’t endorse stuff I don’t actually like. I did the panel because I really liked the show, and I’m telling you to watch it for the same reason.

So, if you’re looking for a really solid show to binge that has plenty of action, thoughtfulness, time travel, and yes, romance, 12 Monkeys is your go to.

Amazon has the box DVD set for $25 right now (affiliate link). It’s also on Amazon Video but uou have to buy it. [Update: I’ve been told it’s on Hulu, too!] There’s also The Word of the Witness podcast, which I haven’t heard but a lot of folks seem to like it.


* This is a pun, given one of the main characters.

Et alia

You can email me at thebadastronomer@gmail.com (though replies can take a while), and all my social media outlets are gathered together at about.me. Also, if you don’t already, please subscribe to this newsletter! And feel free to tell a friend or nine, too. Thanks!