Sunday, February 15, 2004

ah, fan critique

BravoRomeoDelta at Anticipatory Retaliation links to a hilarious and insightful disembowelment of Paul Verhoeven's 1997 "Starship Troopers." What makes the review so cool is that the reviewer obviously knows something about tactics and training. One thing he hints at, but doesn't really cover, though, is this question of the Bug meteor-- the one that smacks into Buenos Aires and kills millions.

The Bug home planet of Klendathu is located almost all the way across our galaxy, which if I remember correctly is something on the order of 100,000 light years wide (a light year is about 6 trillion miles; it's a unit of distance, not time). The bug meteor takes only one year to arrive at Earth, which means it would have to have been travelling, oh, about 60-70,000 light years per year, which would therefore be 60-70,000 times faster than the speed of light.

[UPDATE: Maybe I'm wrong about our galaxy's diameter. In fact, maybe scientists are wrong, too. Here's an article suggesting that the Milky Way's size has been overestimated.]

Let's ignore, for a moment, the temporal problem posed by Einsteinian relativity-- questions of time dilation and such, and concentrate on the question of the meteor's mass. I can't claim to have a firm grasp of relativity theory in its general and special forms, but isn't it true that an object's mass approaches infinity as it approaches the (theoretically asymptotic) speed of light?

So what we have is a huge meteor traveling far, far faster than the speed of light, with infinite mass...

...and all it does is flatten Buenos Aires?

The ability to accelerate huge rocks and fling them at distant targets with such scary accuracy would make the Bugs worthy of some of the more grandiose villains in the Star Trek universe, let alone the "Starship Troopers" universe. The impact of that meteor should have been at least analogous to shooting a cue ball with a .357 Magnum.

But here's another problem. Go back to that moment in the film when the Rodger Young is on its training mission to Jupiter. Remember that it encounters the Bug meteor and loses its communications array?

Given what we know about the meteor's frightening speed, the Rodger Young's encounter with the meteor shouldn't have gone as it did. The scene, as filmed, only makes sense if the Rodger Young were flying backward, facing Jupiter but in fact moving toward Earth, because the ship's position relative to the meteor was, in cosmic terms, relatively static.

Anyway, go read the review. Oh, it's cruel. But the reviewer's a fan of the movie's special effects, as was I. So it's not all darkness and desolation.

NB: An interesting paper on both Heinlein's and Verhoeven's Starship Troopers can be found here.

I'll lump in another fan critique, this time of Harry Potter. Two things:

1. In Book Two, doesn't Percy take five points from House Gryffindor? And in Book Five, don't they make a big deal about how prefects aren't allowed to take points away?

2. In Book Four, when Harry's foot gets trapped on the trick stairwell (after he's lost his golden egg, the clue to the second task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament) and the Marauder's Map has fluttered down out of his reach, why doesn't Harry use the "Accio" summoning command, which he learned in order to get through the first task?

Anyone with answers to these burning questions for our times, please write in.


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