Creation of the Universe in Norse Mythology: A Speculative View

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In researching Norse mythology, and being entranced by astrophysics, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between these two subjects. Once I understood the mythology, these parallels became all the more apparent. This is merely my insertion of the knowledge into the mythology but the more I looked at the idea, the more it seemed to make sense.

It is rather far-fetched to believe the Norse had such intimate knowledge of how the universe was created but perhaps there is a possibility they had basic ideas about it much in the same way we had not so long ago — the very ideas that led to our current understanding of the beginnings of the universe.

I’m not saying this is what they believed or that this, is in any way or form, the ideas the Norse had. This is merely my observations regarding the concept of creation in Norse mythology and the parallels gleaned from studying it.

From Energy to Matter

In the beginning, before the Big Bang, there was nothing except energy. This is probably so, though we cannot say for certain just yet. This “void” or singularity can be thought of as the Ginnungagap in Norse mythology.

Muspelheim and Niflheim are suggested to have existed at around the same time of each other, which makes the idea of cosmogony in Norse mythology interesting. From what we currently accept as the “birth” of the universe — the event known also as the “Big Bang” — heat must have occurred first. The early universe was a hot and dense place and this can likely be attributed to Muspelheim.

Niflheim probably only existed milliseconds after this point, as a contrast of Muspelheim, being inflation. In the creation of Norse mythology, rivers flow from both Niflheim and Muspelheim. The rivers from Hvergelmir (a fountain in Niflheim) might be referring to dark energy which has a lower density compared to matter. Dark energy’s density remains pretty much the same across the universe, a likewise constant in the twelve rivers that continue to flow long after the creation of the nine worlds in Norse mythology.

As we know from particle physics, with enough energy and the right fluctuations, particles are created. From Muspelheim flowed rivers as well, ones of fire and poison which might be connected to the rapid creation and annihilation of particles in the first instances of the universe. The poison fire rivers from Muspelheim may have been the first matter created after the singularity — likely quarks. These rivers in the mythology are described as forming a solid mass, perhaps a reference to the forming of hadrons and later neutrons.

When the rivers of Niflheim met with those of Muspelheim, a layer of frost covered over the solid mass. This freezing of the mass may allude to the dramatic decrease of temperature and density after the creation event from the singularity.

From Matter to Galaxies

Norse mythology also mentions that the heat of Muspelheim blew over the frozen poison mass. This heat may be that of the rapid annihilation before the domination of matter over antimatter.

At this point in time, the early universe was essentially a quark-gluon plasma and it can be likened to Ymir, the primordial giant. Audumla, the cosmic cow who also existed at this point, may be associated with the forces — electromagnetic, weak, and strong — which provided the life-sustaining milk for Ymir.

Audumla is said to have nourished herself with the ice mass. Her licking of the ice and the warmth of her breath — possibly radiation from the forces — sculpted Buri in Norse mythology who may be associated with proton-electron recombination. Buri birthed Bor, or rather the neutralising of the universe.

It is said in the mythology that Ymir fell asleep shortly after being created and the heat of Muspelheim made him sweat. This sleep can be likened to the recombination event that made the early universe neutral. The sweat could be the falling density of the universe, and this resulted in the birth of Thrudgelmir and Bestla — helium and hydrogen respectively. Lithium was also created after this and can be likened to Mimir who was created by Ymir’s feet.

The giant Bor married with Bestla and from them were birthed Odin, Vili, and Ve. These three brothers — grandsons of Ymir and Buri — can be seen as quasars, the first stars, and the early galaxies.

From Galaxies to Life

Odin, Vili, and Ve rebelled and killed most of the giants, likely the way these early objects radiated energy that reionised the universe. These early objects in the universe began the process of making heavy elements from the light ones, in a way the sons of Bor killed the giants — hydrogen, helium, and lithium.

The blood of Ymir became the seas and this can be seen as the universe after reionisation which was once again plasma. Ymir’s body was thrown into the Ginnungagap and became Midgard. Midgard is practically referred to as Earth or as the middle of Earth. In this context, however, it can be seen as the universe in the change from the Dark Ages of creation into the next epoch.

Ymir’s skull became the sky that kept Muspelheim’s sparks from escaping, which may be the lessened density and temperature of the universe at that point. The low density allowed for the formation of more galaxies when matter collapsed, along with stars and quasars, and these could be the eyes of Ymir scattered across the universe. After this, the basic ingredients for life were created in the universe, leading to the formation of planets and other objects as well as organic material, which were perhaps Ymir’s teeth, brain, and hair.

Wait, What?

More than probably, Norse mythology described the creation of terrestrial objects as observed by the early civilisation of the time, amended with influences from other cultures through the expansion of the people. My perspective of the creation above is merely a speculative view on how the mythology could possibly be adapted to our current understanding of how the universe came to be.

As with the early universe, the chronology of events within Norse mythology’s creation might have existed only after time did as a result of the singularity.

The views expressed here are not to be taken as any sort of fact or truth regarding Norse mythology, and are simply the result of an active imagination coupled with fascination and some burning desire to make more sense of matters.


The links in this speculative article are for educational purposes only, leading to Wikipedia pages on the subjects. They are not meant as citations to back up arguments made, as this article is purely speculative and for entertainment purposes only.

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Speculative Futuristic Warfare: Combat-Melee Weapons

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Given the choice, a soldier, warrior, predator, prey, a casualty of war, etc will reach for a ranged weapon over a melee weapon. But there may arise circumstances that make melee weapons the default or preferred choice, if not the only. This is for the situations that a character might find themselves in and what their options might entail. Ever wondered just how plausible those far-future weapons can be? Let’s take a look at the types of C.M.Ws that can possibly exist.

Combat-melee weapons (C.M.Ws) are often the centre-stage in fantasy and historical fiction but are nevertheless prominent in futuristic speculative fiction. Before the Chinese used the first combustive weapons, the fire lance, melee weapons were the standard of all warfare. Even with our ever-increasing technological progress, some 1000 years after the fire lance, we still employ and actively develop combat-melee weapons for war. As such, it is not difficult to imagine a futuristic scenario utilising these close-combat technologies.

When establishing a futuristic world, readers and critics have an expectation of the stereotypical futuristic tropes that provide the setting for the story, these are generally D.E.Ws and M.D.Ws. But say you want to make your battle scenes more intense and realistic, you’re going to need a few C.M.Ws to complete the picture. Here are some examples of futuristic combat-melee weapons:

Slice And Dice

These are weapons with long thin blades, the more common types are swords and daggers, perhaps the symbol of melee weapons. They are still relevant today, seeing use in culture and sports more than war1, but might become more used in a speculative future. Primarily bladed weapons are ideal for stabbing and slicing, so their enhancements need to accentuate those traits.

Chop And Change

Axes are meant for bludgeoning and dismembering, causing serious damage to a body. These weapons have short to long thick blades, some with beards and others without. They don’t have much use in combat anymore but remain relevant to other aspects of civilisations such as foraging, forestry, construction, etc2. When altering axes with future technology, their strength and purpose must be remembered.

Space Invaders

Pikes, spears, halberds, lances, and so forth are pole-arm weapons, excellent for keeping enemies at a distance while simultaneously invading personal space. Their use as weapons has also fizzled out as technology progressed, keeping a stubborn existence within culture and sports3. Their purpose is to stab and pierce, designed for defence lines and against cavalry. With this in mind, a pole-arm’s potential with enhancements for futuristic melee combat is great.

Bam Bam

As simple as a club or as difficult to master as a flail, maces come in various forms, designed to deliver blunt-force trauma using gravity and sometimes sharp points. Maces have little to no use in today’s society aside from in ceremony4, either in war, sports, or daily life, but that does not mean a possible futuristic civilisation won’t bring them back into the spotlight. A mace’s purpose lies in its weights, often as a solid ball of solid mass, with various enhancement choices to convert this weapon into a futuristic bludgeoner.

Use Protection, Kids

While often depicted as use for defence, shields are as much a combat-melee weapon as they are a wall of protection. Used for bludgeoning and dismembering, the shield can be fashioned in any shape or size to cater for its intended purpose. These weapons still enjoy great use in modern warfare and stand a highly probable chance of being kept well into the future5. Enhancements on shields can serve to strengthen protection as well as strengthen its weapon capabilities, making it the most versatile of the C.M.Ws.

It’s A Trap

Whips and nets, while improvised weapons and now not actively used in war, remain prominent in sports, culture, and everyday life6, 7. These weapons were intended to capture and immobilise enemies, sometimes delivering damage at the same time. They create distance between the wielder and the target, its purpose to shift an advantage to the wielder over their enemy. The enhancement possibilities for these weapons are wide, able to adapt to any of the featured futuristic enhancement options below.

Assimilate

And what are these enhancements? Well, anything, really. Here are just a few suggestions for plausible and practical adaptations to C.M.Ws.

First, we have static electricity enhancements. Using devices like the Van Der Graaf generator, obviously adapted to install into a weapon or build a weapon around, this enhancement delivers shocks to the target, immobilising or stunning them, depending on their body’s limitations. This enhancement is perfect for a futuristic setting, capable of damaging or destroying electronics and cybernetic foes. Any weapon can carry the static electricity enhancement, though there may be restraints from its power supply.

Which leads us to the next option: electronic enhancements. Fitted with an incomplete circuit, weapons for this enhancement are best served for stabbing or bludgeoning to make contact and complete the circuit, delivering potentially fatal currents to biological and cybernetic targets. Similarly, a button to complete the current is sufficient. As above, the power supply may potentially pose a limitation on the weapon with this enhancement. (See: Taser Sword).

Of course, one could always just alter the weapon to use electricity instead of delivering it. I’m talking chainsaw enhanced C.M.Ws, adding a tearing and dismembering attribute. Any weapon with a blade can be fitted with this enhancement, provided the blade is strong enough; think axes and broadswords. Yet again, the power supply can be a weight that may hinder the wielder. (See: Chain Weapons in Warhammer 40k)

While still on powered C.M.Ws, take a look at the vibroblade enhancement. Using a power supply, with the same possible limitations as above, the electricity (or whatever power used instead) vibrates the blade of a weapon, delivering an intense blow to the target in the form of a more powerful bludgeoning and dismembering attribute and, in some weapons, a tearing attribute. (See: Vibroweapons in Star Wars Extended Universe)

Those are all good and well enhancements, but what if the setting calls for something more ‘futuristic’, so to speak? The answer: heat. Weapons can be enhanced to produce intense heat, either through a chemical reaction, electricity, or friction reaction. This enhancement burns and melts into or through the target, damaging or destroying it. It delivers a slicing and immobilising attribute to the enhanced weapon.

Lest we forsake combustion enhancements. As mentioned last month, combustion weapons probably won’t fizzle out of use for a very long time, so why not take advantage of it? Combustion enhancements can be installed on far-reaching weapons like pole-arms or close combat weapons like swords, using single-direction explosions. This enhancement, however, is a one-time use alternative, opening the door toward disposable weaponry. Combustion provides a weapon with attributes a C.M.W would otherwise not possess, such as explosion and incineration, along with immobilising and dismembering attributes.

Superheated options are another, more stereotypical possibility for futuristic C.M.Ws. I’m talking plasma weapons. Not quite in the form of lightsabres, but more along the line of a weaponised flossing comb. In weapons with this enhancement, a beam of plasma streams from a solid point at either end of the weapon’s damaging part/s to contain and maintain the beam. Plasma enhancement adds slicing, dismembering, and immobilising attributes to a weapon and can be used in field emergencies as an improvised medical tool.

As with anything speculative, the options can be endless, limited only by one’s imagination. I do hope you enjoyed this series of futuristic speculative warfare and found some use for these captivating and awe-inspiring takes on the weapons that may shape the structure of war in an imagined future.


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Speculative Futuristic Warfare: Mass-Driver Weapons

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There is a good chance that the weapons of the future will still be projectile and/or combustive and there are ways to make them terrifyingly awesome in fiction, where often the idea of a highly advanced weapon creates a deeper impact on the psychology of both the reader and the characters within the story. Perhaps it is the advancement of current technology in the form of Mass-Driver Weapons (M.D.Ws), instead of a highly advanced weapon like D.E.Ws, that create a more realistic setting for the reader.

Ever wondered just how plausible those far-future guns are? Let’s take a look at the types of M.D.Ws that can possibly exist, some of which already do:

It’s Electric

Predictions and hope of the future tend to move toward eco-friendly solutions and applications, it is without surprise that our weapons should follow along with the same thought. While not entirely green, electromagnetic weapons provide an alternative to chemical combustion, using fewer fossil fuels and leaving less harmful pollutants, depending on the content of the projectile.

Railguns

You’ve seen them in Battlestar Galactica and on the news with the U.S Navy1, their applications certainly appeal to the imagination. Railguns work with electromagnetism, using rails along the barrel to propel a projectile. An eco-friendly alternative in weaponry. So how does it work?

Along the barrel are two conductive rails in parallel. These serve to push a current down one and up another, allowing a sliding conductor (an armature) to accelerate the projectile down the barrel. The armature carries current and generates an electromagnetic field (EMF) and once the projectile is loaded into the base of the barrel completing the circuit, the railgun can propel it at a high velocity (~3km/s).

Railguns can propel explosive and non-explosive conductive projectiles, whichever suits your needs, making it a powerful weapon. Its drawbacks include requiring a power supply to keep the current, a pulsed DC for our current level of technology, and the gun itself its bulky, heavy, and large, not to mention the wear-and-tear on the rails themselves. Of course, these can be remedied in speculative fiction and futuristic technology.

Coilguns

Like the railgun, a coilgun’s name explains a lot about how it works. Also called a Gauss rifle (though the barrel is not ‘rifled’), the coilgun uses wire coils connected to an electromagnet powered by a battery. The coils can be one or multiple in a barrel, using a system to maintain the precision required for the switching of coils to propel the projectile. Such systems can be programmed electronics or simpler methods such as the spark gap.

A coilgun can be designed to use magnetic projectiles (ferromagnetic in our current chemistry) or non-magnetic projectiles with the installation of an armature that acts as an electromagnet instead of the projectile. While coilguns tend to last longer in regards to friction wear-and-tear, they are not the most energy efficient option currently, with superconduction coilguns reaching around 30% efficiency in current technology2. Once efficient, however, it can launch projectiles faster than chemical combustion weapons of the same size.

They’re Exhausting

Let us not discard gas weapons. While less ‘green’ than electromagnetic guns, gas-propulsion provides an effective and practical alternative to chemical combustion weapons. Such an example is the light-gas gun.

Light-gas guns utilise a piston to force the gas from its chamber into a more narrow barrel which contains the projectile. The force of this pressure propels the projectile through the barrel, much like an airgun. What powers the piston can be anything from combustion weapons like cannons, through to motors or gas compression. It is a highly versatile weapon that uses light gases such as hydrogen and helium, or even air if you so wish, as fuel.

The projectiles it fires can reach very high velocities as well, a non-explosive projectile can potentially create sufficient damage to the target3. However, the friction causes significant wear-and-tear to the barrel and the projectile’s speed is limited by the sonic range. The speed of sound limit, of course, can be increased by heating the light gas either with chemicals or electricity.

Utterly Explosive

Don’t be too quick to rule out combustive weapons, they remain the more reliable and practical choice after centuries of warfare. One such futuristic weapon, highly destructive and rather intimidating, is the pulse detonation gun. First created by Nazi Germany during World War II to fire large projectiles across the sea into England mainland, this pulse detonation gun has been dubbed the London Gun.

Using multiple charges along the barrel, a projectile is propelled by timed explosions to increase its speed and range. At 1,5 km/s, it could fire at a rate of 300 projectiles an hour however, this gun was immensely large and fixed in one position. Not quite the most practical, but definitely intimidating and potentially highly destructive, a candidate for ground defense weapons against invading ships entering the atmosphere.

Tension’s Rising

Maybe chemicals and forces aren’t your idea of a fun time and you’re looking for something more economic and quick to build? Enter the ballista. While not as impressive as its futuristic counterparts, the ballista is by far a cheaper and more eco-friendly alternative, easier to build and deploy. This versatile weapon uses tension to propel its load at potentially high velocities.

Projectiles can be explosive or non-explosive, organic or inorganic, and of various sizes, if you so wish it to be. Ballista can be mounted to vehicles or fixed to a stationary position, and its structure built from any material capable of handling the immense energy it generates and releases4. The limits on its muzzle velocity and range of fire depend on gravity and the size of the weapon, the sky’s the limit, so to speak.

These are only a few examples of mass-driver weapons for the speculative future and one need not only look to the future to find them; the past, as seen above, can be a great source of inspiration. Next is the third and final part of speculative futuristic warfare, looking at melee weapons and their applications.


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Speculative Futuristic Warfare: Directed-Energy Weapons

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There is a good chance that the weapons of the future will still be projectile and/or combustion, and there are ways to make them terrifyingly awesome in fiction, but often the idea of a highly advanced weapon creates a deeper impact on the psychology of both the reader and the characters within the story. Enter directed-energy weapons or D.E.Ws. These are the weapons associated with science fiction in the form of lasers, phasers, and deadly tasers.

Ever wondered just how plausible those far-future guns are? Let’s take a look at the types of D.E.Ws that can possibly exist, some of which already do:

Weapons That Matter:

These are the guns that use and manipulate matter to create deathly ejections at near-instant speeds. Some are more plausible than others, but that doesn’t stop a story. We’ll be looking at particle accelerators, lasers, and plasma D.E.Ws.

The main purpose of particle beams is to overheat the target. This is accomplished by using atomic or subatomic particles that disrupt the atomic structure of the target. The U.S.A has an antiballistic missile system which uses such beams to destroy missiles by fluctuating the atomic structures, making the warhead unstable and causing a premature detonation.

Particle Accelerator Systems:

Particle accelerators (P.A), used today for scientific purposes, control a beam’s intensity through electromagnetism (E.M). The E.M field of the accelerator charges the particles in the air and directs these charges into a concentration, creating a beam. D.E.Ws with PA systems do not need ammunition; the air is the ammo. They’re even effective in space!

P.As accelerate charged particles using “dees” ― two D-shaped electrodes in a vacuum chamber ― to create a high-frequency voltage. The “dees” are positioned to face each other, divided by a narrow gap where the magnet is inserted, at the poles of the magnet (one “dee” at the positive/north and the other at the negative/south pole). This force gathers particles at the centre which are held by static magnetism then accelerated, forcing the particles to bend to a circle perpendicular to their direction of motion.

The “dees” must be as wide as the magnet to create a uniform field. It should look like the description below:

A circle magnet is placed horizontally, with its widest surface facing up (the widest surfaces being the poles) in a vacuum. One “dee” rests under the magnet while the other “dee” is on top of the magnet. The “dees” are then connected to a device that generates a voltage (a battery).

The voltage of the battery does not determine the intensity of the beam, rather, the diameter of the “dees” do. The mass of the particles and the strength of the magnet affects how much voltage is needed and the speed at which the beam travels. Ferromagnets aren’t powerful enough to eject the beam to light-speed but it can potentially travel at incredible speeds.

The magnets’ strength, thus the beam’s speed, increases the longer the particles are being accelerated. With that, a beam can potentially only travel around 15-20% the speed of light. If accelerated for long enough, in a large enough P.A, the beam can reach near light-speed velocity. For a gun-sized P.A, a realistic beam speed will be perhaps 0.002% the speed of light, which is about 6000 metres per second.

In practice, ionised hydrogen is used in prototype weapons today. Hydrogen is abundant in space and not so much in an Earth-like atmosphere, but nitrogen can also be ionised and used. However, excited nitrogen is very unstable, especially when exposed to excited oxygen and hydrogen which may make the weapon blow up. There will also need to be a neutralising mechanism that can de-excite ionised particles. For ionised nitrogen, the mechanism can be an ultra-violet (U.V) light. This mechanism, however, causes radiation and will present as a blue luminescent glow which may compromise the position of the wielder in a battle.

Excited particles cause a lot of friction due to their charges and are contained within a vacuum chamber of the P.A. If this friction escapes, an electrical charge will occur, shocking the weapon’s user. The particles must be able to feed directly into the P.A system to prevent reactions with particles in the air. Once the particles are charged, the vacuum is opened and the beam is expelled from the system, into the barrel, and towards the target. The beam’s expulsion retains the vacuum of the P.A. At a proper charge, the beam will travel and hit target quick enough that the excited nitrogen doesn’t have enough time to react with other particles that would affect the beam itself. At the release of the vacuum to expel the beam, the gun may jerk forward instead of recoil.

D.E.Ws can use, according to currently tested and used instruments, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen as ammunition. Each has its own properties on de-exciting. Hydrogen is de-excited by grounding the atoms (reducing the atomic orbital to its lowest, which can occur spontaneously or by inducing photons), oxygen de-excites by air pressure, and nitrogen by U.V or infrared light (it needs to expel a photon to de-excite). Hydrogen is the most stable, some isotopes more than others, because it doesn’t cause radiation and has few electrons and therefore generates far less static.

Magnetic storage rings will run along the barrel past the electromagnet to bunch up particles in what’s called “beam cooling”. This serves to keep particles from waywarding. Because the bunched particles in the storage rings travel at high speeds, the negative feedback (beam cooling) occurs instantly in relation to the speed of the charged particle beam ejected. Each ring will have a detector and kicker. The detector will note the deviation of particles and communicate it to the kicker, which provides voltage in order to bunch the particles.

The conductivity of the metal used for the electrodes should be in ratio to the magnetism of the material used for the magnet. The gas chamber has a limit on how many particles can be kept. It’s a vacuum and too much will cause a pressure explosion upon trauma or puncture. To monitor the tank, a gas meter needs to be present on the weapon.

In P.A weapons, the connective material between the battery and the electrodes can be a vulnerable point in the weapon, making it easy to damage with trauma, for instance, if it is dropped, but other measures can be placed to secure the connection and withstand trauma. Equally important in the construction of a P.A gun is the weapon’s material. It will need to be an insulator and nonstatic, which eliminates metals and plastics. Carbon fibre is a flexible, non-conductive, nonstatic, strong, and lightweight material.

Laser Weapons:

These can be a gas laser or a chemical laser.

Gas Lasers:

Gas lasers use compressed gas, that is allowed to expand, and heated either by free expansion, as with helium, or by combustion. The heated gas is led through a sub/supersonic nozzle which lowers the temperature until an equilibrium to vibrational state is achieved. It then flows through a tube of a certain length for a certain amount of time, this allows lower vibrates to relax while high vibrates remain.

The gas flows through a mirror where photons can meet with excited electrons and the energy level drops in the E.M field, allowing the creation of new photons that are identical but opposite and thus, the photons reach high energy levels. This gas returns to equilibrium (stated above) and heats up. This is when it is expelled as a laser. Such a D.E.W will need a gas chamber, a combustion chamber along with combustive material, an electromagnet, mirror/s, sub/supersonic nozzle, and the exit barrel.

Chemical Lasers:

Chemical lasers are achieved through, you guessed it, chemical reaction. The laser is fed with gaseous chlorine, molecular iodine, and an aqueous mixture of hydrogen peroxide and potassium hydroxide. The aqueous peroxide solution undergoes a chemical reaction with chlorine, producing heat, potassium chloride, and oxygen in an excited state. The excited oxygen transfers its energy to the iodine molecules, which are injected into the gas, through a rapid collision of the particles. The excited iodine then follows the same steps as the gas laser.

Lasers require extensive cooling (such as liquid helium) which can make it difficult to construct as a weapon. Chemical lasers also create products that must be cleaned out regularly. Lasers require a large amount of fuel which means that

  • the weapon has very few shots, or
  • the user must wear a fuel pack.

To prevent blooming (when energy is rapidly lost and creates a fog/glow that can compromise the wielder’s position), the laser must be pulsed with fast emissions.

Lasers and particle beams can be absorbed or scattered by natural visual obstructions such as rain, fog, snow, or dust. A laser’s wasted energy can also disrupt the immediate atmosphere around it, which can either work for or against the wielder. Laser beams run at infrared and cannot be seen with the naked eye, a handy aspect for sniping.

Plasma Weapons:

The beams in plasma D.E.Ws are created by exciting matter until it turns particles into a plasma state (superhot). Plasma guns use electrodes made of high conducting metal, such as copper. These electrodes form an arc of electricity between them when connected to a current. This creates thermal plasma as the gas is fed into the system. The gas can be nitrogen, oxygen, argon, helium, air, and hydrogen. These gases can also be fed in liquid form, though that might be cumbersome for the average human. The plasma will be accelerated and compressed with an electromagnet until it is dense and hot enough to cause a nuclear reaction then ejected in a short-lived but lethal shot.

Weapons of Sound Quality:

Maybe particles aren’t your thing and you’re more attracted to waves, if so then sound is the way to go, like noise guns that emit a high-frequency blast. This weapon is nonlethal but highly incapacitating. It bursts eardrums, causing the target a great deal of pain. At high enough frequencies it can cause heart issues. In mice it has shown that at a high enough frequency can be lethal; the intestines explode. Along with the sound generated by whichever means, radio frequency can be applied as a double-measure to ensure incapacitation.

Of course, in science fiction, anything is possible and anyone can dictate how plausible their story will be, and one can create a weapon out of anything (think antimatter, dark matter, and dark energy D.E.Ws). For me, the more plausible, the better so next I will be exploring mass-driver projectile weapons to balance things out and because there are some amazing concepts.


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South Africa: Science Fiction in Conquest

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As mentioned in Strange Horizons magazine: 100 African Writers of SFF: Part Six


This beautiful country of South Africa has seen much in the way of disaster1, 2 and atrocities3, 4. It is a nation of colour, vivid and diverse, but tainted with the blotches of our history5. Healing is a slow process, hindered by the fear of change and acceptance, and we as South Africans constantly seek mediums through which we can express our discontent in the crippling social matters of the past that yet bleeds through to our present after decades of democracy.

One medium speaks out, its voice growing louder the longer society stifles. Still, in its infancy, science fiction (and speculative fiction in general) struggles to make its voice heard. That is changing. We have seen the reemergence of the genre over the last decade and a burst of interest hitting the public in the recent five years. And why shouldn’t it be a major genre? Science fiction, the genre of inspiration and of warning, allows for the critique of social issues and current events within possibilities and solutions. Through it we can escape, not to a utopian fantasy realm, but to hope, understanding, and reason.

It starts, again, in 2009 with the release of District 9. Neill Blomkamp’s alien film hit the world with a fury which glimpses at the rage from South Africa’s Apartheid era. Packed with not only action but blunt, loud social critique on racism and discrimination, it was a pioneer in New South African science fiction. The success and sentiment are followed shortly by Lauren Beukes in 2011 when she won the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke award for science fiction with her novel Zoo City. From then we started to see a rise of science fiction literature in South Africa.

Over the following five years, several sci-fi authors emerged from the dark, screaming their message through their works. From racism, sexism, and transgender rights, South African science fiction fights for equality and liberty. It pleads and threatens for a society free from persecution, injustice, and discrimination. A voice in the crowd deaf to any genre outside of the dictated . We cannot change the world with our words, but we can change their hearts.

The Authors of Our Future

We South Africans have so much to say, so much to warn about. We see the future of society. We remark on current events, directly and indirectly influencing social discourse. We look to the past and speculate on its future outlook. We are South Africans; rich in story, rich in wisdom, rich in change. At least that is what we wish to accomplish. Through literature, we step closer to reform.

AfroSF is a science fiction anthology of authors across the African continent, catering to speculative fiction as well. It was established in 2012 with the release of the first volume featuring Nnedi Okorafor, S.A. Partridge, Chinelo Onwualu, Nick Wood, Tade Thompson, Cristy Zinn, Ashley Jacobs, Sarah Lotz, and Tendai Huchu. Edited by Ivor W. Hartmann, AfroSF helped break in South African science fiction to the world, followed by the second volume, AfroSF v2 in 2015.

Another major player is the Science-Fiction and Fantasy South Africa club. Established in 1969, it has been a contribution of great influence and to sci-fi authors in SA. SFFSA holds an annual short story competition for SA writers, called the Nova Short Story Competition. Winners of which have their stories published in their long-standing magazine, Probe; a great source of SA sci-fi.

South African science fiction is not quite like any other, involving elements of African technology and medicine, fears and superstitions different from the more widely known Western elements. As such, science fiction in SA often veers into other genres of the speculative fiction range. Our plausible covers a wider spectrum.

South African science fiction veers into other speculative genres; our plausible covers a wider spectrum.

What is African Science Fiction?

Science fiction as a genre is commonly defined as:

  • “…fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component.”6
  • “…an imagined future, especially about space travel or other planets.”7
  • “…a form of fiction that deals principally with the impact of actual or imagined science upon society or individuals.”8

While most of the aspects are relevant to and feature in African science fiction, the standards are lacking and exclusive of the various cultures in Africa and how they influence African technology and society. In sum, science fiction is plausibility within a speculative format.

African sci-fi, however, has a broader sense of what is plausible, often blurring the line between science fiction and fantasy. One could argue that the plausible rests within reality (I.e chemistry, physics, astronomy, etc) but reality comprises psychology, sociology, politics, and philosophy as well, all of which are equally fundamental elements in sci-fi. For many South Africans, the tokoloshe is as much a part of reality as gravity is. Whether or not the creature exists according to physical science is up for debate, but within the social sciences, its existence can be seen much in the same way as we observe dark matter: through its interaction with the observable.

For the instances as above, African science fiction has been broadly classified as speculative fiction; the encompassing genre that includes sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc. The world is yet to recognize African sci-fi within its ranks of hard or soft (social) science fiction, without the inclusion of sub-genres such as cyberpunk or biopunk as quasi-scientific explanations of the elements considered as fantasy within African fiction.

Because sci-fi, in general, is already difficult to define, African sci-fi struggles to have its voice heard or regarded as “real” science fiction. Among other countries throughout the continent, South African science fiction helps to illuminate the importance of African sci-fi as an aspect of the genre, through fiction markets both local and abroad.

Publications

There is more, another side of the literary tale: the worlds of literary magazines, journals, and anthologies. AfroSF and Probe were mentioned as contributors to SA sci-fi but they are not the only gateways for local emerging and established authors.

AfroSF is an anthology by StoryTime: African Publisher, formed in 2007 to combat the lack of African literary magazines. Another anthology they produced was African Roar, from 2010 to 2014. StoryTime continued in a weekly fiction magazine of the same name.

Probe, the magazine by the Science Fiction and Fantasy South Africa club, being the more established and prolific, has been able to adapt the change of times and technology, releasing their magazine in digital format since 2006.

Something Wicked Magazine, established in 2006 (ending in 2012), curated pieces of science fiction and horror short stories from authors across the globe. It was one of the markets for South African speculative fiction and the entry gate for several local authors.

FIYAH Literary Magazine is a new initiative aimed at promoting African speculative fiction, giving a voice to people of colour in and from Africa. Founded in 2016 and based on FIRE!! Magazine, FIYAH has released a few issues and are working on many more.

Omenana, launched in 2014 with their first issue, is a thriving literary magazine for African authors of speculative fiction in a paying market. With nine issues already published, Omenana opens doors for more sci-fi from South Africa and the entire continent.

Chimurenga is a Pan-African journal of the creative arts platform, promoting the arts in various themed issues since the journal’s first publication in 2002. From comics to non-fiction, to literary and genre fiction pieces and poetry, the magazine has published several South Africans and their science fiction along with many large African authors.

JungleJim Fiction was a colourful literary magazine for African speculative fiction. From the release of their first issue in 2013, they have published another twenty-five by 2016, opening the door to local sci-fi authors.

Short Story Day Africa features an anthology of short stories from across the continent, allowing the voices of Africa to tell their tales and opening the door for science fiction and other speculative genres. The non-profit organisation launched its first prize competition in 2013. They have released several anthologies since, featuring South African sci-fi.

PEN South Africa, the local branch of Pen International, while not dedicated to speculative fiction, has published South African science fiction pieces in anthologies comprised from submitted pieces to their literary prizes. The organisation also encourages local talent and authors.

And The Authors?

For a (near) complete list of published South African authors with literature in science fiction, see here. By near, I mean that I may have missed someone. A list of local authors of short and stories published in literary magazines, journals, and anthologies across the world from the last decade with the reemergence of sci-fi in South Africa, can also be found in the above link.


With much appreciation and thanks to the African Speculative Fiction Society for their list of African authors.


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The Undead: History, Legend, and Evolution

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The undead have captured the hearts (or brains) and imaginations of the world for centuries; creating cultures and challenging what we know about life, death, and anything in between. The fascination with the unknown and supernatural is a psycho-social phenomenon occurring throughout history, crossing the cultural, religious, traditional, and geographic boundaries that separate people.

Pop culture of the 21st Century has integrated the undead into various genres from the classical horror setting, through fantasy and science fiction, and into romance and drama. Perhaps the undead have created a bridge between sub-cultures, unifying genres and peoples of various preferences as they have the bridge between life and death.

What Are The Undead?

An undead creature is a previously-deceased being who functions as the living and imitate life. They are animated by:

  • possession: demons, spirits, interdimensional beings, or aliens,
  • viral infection: such as the t-Virus in Resident Evil,
  • parasite/s: like those in the series The Strain,
  • magic: such as necromancy,
  • bioengineering: like with Frankenstein’s monster,
  • chemistry: where chemicals are fed to the deceased body and re-animation occurs, or,
  • mechanical control: such as with the Servitors in Warhammer 40 000.

Re-animation can include a combination of animation types in some scenarios.

In folklore, what makes the undead “undead” is often philosophical through social hypotheses. One could argue that when a person dies but the body remains alive, the subject is undead. Such an example is found in rural Haiti where persons with mental illness, disabilities, or brain damage were adopted into grieving families as a “returned” lost loved-one, and those with the above conditions who are found wandering are thought of as zombies1.

Social anthropology has explored the link between schizophrenia and the cultural view of the psychological aspects of zombification2. The search for a cure for the undead, cited throughout literature and media, suggests the definition of being undead lays in psychology, where the personality is what qualifies someone as being alive. Cures, like those explored in I Am Legend and Resident Evil, aim to revive the victim to their original, living self.

Does this make the undead merely a functional and socially acceptable undead being, or does it resurrect the person as well as the body?

Types Of Undead

An undead being can take both physical and immaterial forms; incorporeal and corporeal. Incorporeal undead are beings without a physical body. This type of undead include but aren’t limited to ghosts, wraiths, ghouls (although these could be considered corporeal as well), the Grim Reaper, banshee, the Boogeyman, bogies, poltergeist, revenants, and spectres.

Corporeal undead are beings with a physical body. They include creatures such as vampires, zombies, skeletons, liches, mummies, nightmares, golems, homunculi, and wights.

Origin And Evolution

The term “undead” is largely attributed to Bram Stoker and his use of the term “un-dead” in his novel Dracula (1897) to describe vampires. The novel also cites “nosferatu” as an “Eastern European” term for “undead”. The broader meaning of “undead” later expanded to include other forms of life-imitating and previously deceased beings. “Undead” was used in English before Dracula but was in context to the literal “alive” or “not dead” as opposed to “living dead” as we assign the term to today.

The undead are found throughout mythologies and folklore, dating into antiquity. The most commonly known undead in folklore are vampires, ghosts, wraiths, the Grim Reaper, and golems. Modern undead appear in literature as early as 1818 (Frankenstein, Mary Shelly) and further through Ambrose Bierce and Edgar Allen Poe, who influenced the stories of H.P Lovecraft and paved the foundation for undead cult and culture. More recent appeals to the undead surfaced through romanticism into young adult fiction, targeting and opening a new market for the culture, for instance in the Harry Potter series with the character Lord Voldemort.

The undead of folklore in antiquity stemmed from the lack of knowledge on diseases, both physical and mental. Stories were created to explain phenomena people once could not understand; gods to explain weather occurrences and supernatural entities to explain medical conditions. Ghosts, zombies, and vampires were the first undead to arise and consistently remain the popular types. Superstitions fueled the concept of the living dead; sinking graves from the settling of the soil or disruption by animals was believed to indicate that the deceased would return to life or already have. People afflicted with disorders such as porphyria and diseases such as rabies were thought to be vampires, while people suffering from mental disorders were thought to be zombies or wights.

Through the Middle Ages, these folklore creatures were used as a means to instill fear in the populations and were presented as examples of an evil present in the world. Hysteria led to witch hunts and Inquisitions in attempts to purge the evils. With the rise of the scientific method and psychology, the diseases and superstitions that once breathed life into the myth were shown to be natural occurrences and not of a supernatural origin. Tales of the undead slowly disappeared into children’s stories, fables, and published as fiction. Science, in turn, introduced new ways to possibly explain the undead and science-fiction moved from the stars back down to Earth. More and more authors and artists began exploring the scientific means of the undead’s existence, whether they could exist, and how.

Science has directly influenced the evolution of the undead in modern fiction. Examples include:

  • vampires that were originally cursed beings of evil, but are now victims of viral and parasitic infection or genetic mutation;
  • ghosts, the once-supernatural apparitions, have become electromagnetic and atomic phenomena;
  • zombies evolved from the damned and unsettled people who returned, into victims of biological and mechanical engineering or viral, bacterial, or parasitic infection.

As science progresses and accessibility to media through the internet becomes more prominent, the undead continues to haunt and captivate our minds as the possibility of their existence becomes all the more plausible. Were the myths of old warning our future selves of the horrors that lurk between life and death? Will our future selves make those very myths become reality as we continue to explore the limits of life and death?

We will just have to wait, read, and find out the fun… Err, hard way.


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Ghosts: The Horror Of Light

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For centuries the incorporeal undead were classified as the collective “ghosts”, with variations and synonyms depending on the culture. It was with the rise of fiction in literature and film that a distinction of the incorporeal undead was made. A common attribute of the collective ghost is in its materialisation as a misty air-form likened to that of its previous living body.

  • Wraith: a Scottish term for “ghost” or “spirit”;
  • Revenant: Latin for “returning”;
  • Spirit: Latin for “breath”;
  • Spectre: French for “image” or “ghost”, derived from the Latin “spectrum”;
  • Banshee: a Gaelic word meaning “woman of the fairy mound”.

What separates wraiths, revenants, spirits, spectres, and banshee from ghosts? Are they different at all? To determine this, we need to go back to folklore and factor in various forms of ghosts throughout cultures and fiction:

Some pre-literate folklores believed that the soul/spirit of the deceased could not leave the Earth until there was no one left alive who could remember them. Apparitions of the deceased would naturally manifest as they wandered the Earth. These were mostly benevolent ghosts, and rituals and rites were performed at death to prevent malevolence in the deceased’s soul, which would otherwise create revenants who envied the living. This belief was generally held in cultures of animal or ancestor worship, as those ancient China, Japan, Egypt, Rome, and Africa.


Egyptian Book of the Dead:

Originally called the Book of Going Forth By Day, it is a compilation of texts written regarding death, the soul, and the afterlife. The Ba are the free-range spirit aspect of the deceased, portrayed as a bird with a human head that could roam outside the tomb during the day. Likewise, the Shut being the shadow aspect of the deceased.


Classical antiquity remade the collective ghost into conscious entities who could speak to the living and, in some cultures, foretell the future. The majority of ghosts were benevolent and hardly ever encountered without a summoning. Classical Greek ghosts became haunting entities, though some benevolent ghosts remained, who were believed to linger close to their corpses. The Classical Roman belief held that people could use ghosts to exact revenge onto the living by a ritual of scratching on lead or pottery and placing it into a grave.


Homer’s Odyssey:

Composed in the 8th Century BC, The Odyssey is a poem about a Greek hero named Odysseus and his adventures and tribulations. During his quest to return home to Ithaca, Odysseus reaches a harbour in the western edge of the world (his journey into Hades) where he sacrificed to the dead and encountered the spirits of a crew member, prophet, his mother, and famous men and women including that of Agamemnon and Achilles. Odysseus’ encounters with spirits were through the practice of summoning (necromancy). The spirits told Odysseus about the affairs in the present and the future in vague dialogue. The spirits in the poem were benevolent, although some were at unease, and could only visually manifest and communicate with the living.


The fall of Rome and birth of the Middle Ages saw ghosts again in a new light. Ghosts were believed to be souls in Purgatory who would occasionally manifest on Earth to ask the living to pray for them to end their suffering, or demons who existed solely to torment the living. The ghosts of Medieval times took on a new attribute: the material world could physically interact with the incorporeal undead. The living could restrain ghosts and some reported to have wrestled with them. Ghost knights challenged living knights to combat in England. The ghosts of the Middle Ages were pale versions of their living selves, always dressed in tattered rags. Some cultures were the exception in their pre-Christian beliefs. Norse folklore, for example, made distinctions between the ghosts that wander and wraiths who were cursed to cause dread and misery.


Eyrbyggja Saga:

Written sometime in the 13th century, the saga tells of the transition of religion in Iceland over two decades. The saga’s main character is a chieftain named Snorri Goði, who ruled over an area called Snæfellsnes. Most ghost stories within the saga consist of animals rising up through floors and of revenants with animated corpses warming themselves by the fireplace in people’s houses. One story tells of a shepherd who died and haunted a house at Frodis-water. Thorir Wooden-leg encountered the ghost, became ill, and died. Together, the ghosts of Thorir and the shepherd haunted the area and four more people got sick and died one after the other. A seal’s ghost started coming out of the floorboards in a house while the town’s inhabitants gathered. Many guests tried to hit the ghost back down but with every strike, the ghost rose higher up from the floor until a young man named Kiartin hit the ghost back down into the ground using a sledgehammer. Thorir and his ghastly followers began throwing mud at the living during dinner by shaking out their clothes in the house, killing servants along the way. Snorri eventually banished the ghosts from Snæfellsnes with rituals.


Culture and the arts boomed at the turn of the Renaissance, and the undead with it. Ghosts were once again re-envisioned into romantic concepts; the souls of the dead yearning for release or atonement from living loved ones. In the romantic era, ghosts could take on the complete appearance of a living man and interact with the living without suspicion. Ghosts became both corporeal and incorporeal as they willed and, strangely, they remained mostly benevolent with this ability.


Fair Brow, by Thomas Frederick Crane:

Fair Brow is a short fairy tale published in 1885, about a merchant’s son who helped settle the debts of a dead man with his father’s money, intended for merchandise. The merchant’s son, Fair Brow, then purchased a slave woman and married her. She turned out to be the Sultan of Turkey’s kidnapped daughter. Fair Brow and his wife were chased from his father’s home, and his wife was captured by Turks. Fair Brow later encountered a fisherman and helped sell the man’s fish. A storm carried them to Turkey where they were enslaved. After reuniting with his wife, Fair Brow escaped with her and her maidens but returned to rescue the fisherman before leaving again. The fisherman claimed half of all the wealth they now possessed, including Brow’s wife. Brow relinquished some of his wealth to the man if he could keep his wife to himself. The man then revealed himself as the ghost of the dead man whose debts Brow had paid off in order for his body to be buried, then he disappeared.


The Modern Age branched out in specialisation, separating the types of incorporeal undead through works of fiction: ghosts, spirits, revenants, spectres, banshee, wraiths, etc. The distinctions being as small as the manner in which the person died. Ghosts are shown as the incorporeal likeness of the deceased who died unexpectedly. Spirits generally refer to the souls of the deceased who have attained ascension of some form such as being pure, good, or Holy. Revenants, much like ghosts, died unexpectedly but in a more troublesome manner which leaves the soul of the deceased at unease. Women who have been dealt an injustice or died pure and denied the indulgences of life often rise again as banshee; scornful and angered at the living. Spectres and Wraiths occur when the soul of the deceased is risen through necromancy and commanded to perform hauntings and terror against the living; wraiths being able to manifest and interact with the physical world, where spectres use magic or energies to perform their master’s will.


The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R Tolkien:

First appearing in 1954, in The Fellowship of the Ring, the Nazgul made a terrifying and dark entrance into fantasy literature. These nine creatures, also called Ringwraiths, were once the leaders of men before their downfall that led to the disintegration of their physical bodies and eternal servitude to Sauron. Tolkien portrays them as ghost-like creatures who stand as men, shrouded in black robes that gave them physical form. The Nazgul are otherwise invisible to the mortal eye. They mainly use physical weapons (some with curses), though they also have an aura of death called Black Breath which can cause unconsciousness, nightmares, and eventual death in beings who remain in close proximity or get too close to them.


Is there a difference between the variations of ghosts? Yes, and no. While the variations are distinguished from each other, they are in essence still ghosts: the incorporeal undead who haunt and help us, the physical beings.

 

 


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