Thursday, June 15, 2017

Martial Arts in Science Fiction

Chad Huskins is the EVVY Award-winning author of sci-fi novels such as Zero Star and The Sol Ascendancy.  He is also a martial arts instructor in the arts of Jeet Kune Do, Filipino kali, the Keysi Fighting Method, and Southern style Shaolin kung fu.

So, recently a martial arts buddy and I started talking about the reality of certain martial arts in science fiction and fantasy, which brought about this fan series.  Just for giggles.  First up is Teras Kasi from the STAR WARS universe:

And now from Steve Perry's "Matador" series:

Monday, February 20, 2017

Best Opening Lines of Books Ever

Chad Huskins is the EVVY Award-winning author of Zero Star and The Sol Ascendancy.

I got inspired recently to write up a list of the opening lines in novels that have stuck out to me be the most.  So here they are, in no particular order, with an explanation of why these are so great.

1.  "Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet." - Robert E. Howard, The Phoenix on the Sword (the first Conan story)

This one is famous among fans of the "sword and sorcery" genre.  It sets the stage perfectly for the story that is about to unravel, a story told by Howard's brutal imagery, his wondrous worlds, and his driving narrative that revealed barbarism as something potentially redemptive in Man, and not something to be shunned or hated.  Howard had a strong belief in the masculine, in the iron will to forge one's own path, as Conan does.  This opening line basically says, "Here comes a badass, and you'd do well to get out of his way."

2.  "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."  - Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice

From the masculine, we go to the feminine...and the witty.  Like any good opening line should do, Austen's presents a general premise without trying to divulge plot-plot-plot all at once.  Some people miss the humor in the opening line, thinking Austen is dead serious.  Far from it.  She means it in the sense that people have accepted that a single man who is rich must be searching for a wife, particularly in the world she's established.  The people in her story (and of the Age she lived in) care for nothing more than to have their daughters married well off, hopefully to the advantage of the rest of the family--i.e., her husband is rich and can help pay everyone's bills.

3.  "Call me Ishmael.  Some years ago--never mind how long, precisely..."  Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Though I don't have the room to thoroughly go through Melville's entire opening, it all stems from this line, which immediately establishes a familiarity between the reader and the narrator.  And yet there is also great ambiguity right off the bat, for Melville basically says "Just call me by my first name," doesn't bother with a last name, and then just says "this happened a while back, but it doesn't matter just how long ago."  Familiarity coupled with ambiguity...kind of like an old friend you've not seen in a while, returning to tell you about a thing that changed him forever while he was gone.  The reader is invited in.  We've been invited to the pub, where a lonely man named Ishmael sits, perhaps alone, with ale in hand, to tell us a story.  Let's have a seat with him, and hear what he has to say...

4.  "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."  - George Orwell, 1984

This one is haunting because...well, we the readers happen to know that that's NOT how clocks work.  This begins the story of a world that has gone terribly, terribly wrong.  In this book, which famously created the terms "Big Brother" and "double-think," we find ourselves in a world where lies are truth, truth are lies, the government controls the narrative strictly, the freedom of the press has been dismantled, and Big Brother is always watching.  If it is not the original dystopian future novel, then it is, without a doubt, the reigning champion by which all others are judged.  And from the opening line, we already know that something is wrong...

5.  "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."  - Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Dickens decided to put the reader into the mood of his setting, but, like he says at the end, the "time" he's referring to is EXACTLY like whatever era the reader happens to be in when they're reading it.  He suggests that nothing ever changes, in that all times can be described as the worst, or the best, and that people will often describe whatever era they're living in as both.  It depends on where you are in life, what privileges or station you have.  These things determine how good or bad you view the current era.  And, as he says, the "noisiest authorities" seem intent to only be able to make their arguments for their current period being the "best" or "worst" by using comparisons.

6.  "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."  - Stephen King, The Gunslinger

This line cuts right to it.  It says "Here's your story."  Of course, there's still plenty of mystery.  We don't know who either of these men are, or why one is chasing the other, but we're immediately fascinated.  An old adage among writers is to "Start your story in the middle."  Kind of like how the first Star Wars movie begins with us seeing the Rebel starship already being chased by the Imperial ship.  We're learning who Darth Vader is while the story is on the move, almost like we came in the middle of a TV series and missed the whole first half.  It's an excellent way to get readers invested right away, and have them salivating for the details that explain why these characters are doing what they're doing.  Much better than describing them at length at the beginning, and then getting us to the chase around Chapter 4.  Stephen King himself has expressed that he believes this opening line is his most solid work.

7.  "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents."  - H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulu

H.P. Lovecraft is considered by most people to be the greatest horror writer of all time, and he never even wrote about an ax murderer, or described the sight entrails overly long.  No, Lovecraft made a career by inventing a new style of writing--he would describe all the things that the "monster" DIDN'T look like, or would be so vague in his description, and yet all the while summoning imagery, that he encourage the reader to think up something even more dreadful on their own, something that defied all known geometry, physics, and biology.  The true horror for Lovecraft was the idea that some things might be forever beyond the ken of Man, and what might happen if a human being witnessed, with their own eyes, the things that they were never meant to see?  That's what this opening line is all about.  Lovecraft would consider it a "mercy" if the human mind could simply go on not understanding all the horrors it had seen...especially after the narrator of this story reveals to you the truth terrors he has witnessed.  He wants to forget.  More than anything, he wants to be oblivious again.  Ignorance is bliss...

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Expanse, and Why You Should Be Watching It

Chad Huskins is the EVVY Award-winning author of Zero Star, a sci-fi novel now available.

The Expanse is a series of sci-fi novels that have now been turned into a TV series on the Syfy channel.  I could give you a rundown of all the reasons you should be watching it, but a fellow who runs a YouTube channel called "Spacedock" has already done an amazing job of it for me!  I am a supporter of his on Patreon, and if you like his videos, I hope you'll support him too.  Check out his video below.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

AMAZING short sci-fi film! You'll wish it was longer!

Here's an amazing short film called Wanderers, click the link or watch it below.  If you're like me, you'll wish it was feature-length.  Let's chat about it in the comments below!  Also, check out my new sci-fi novel Zero Star if you get a chance!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Zombie Autopsy

Chad Huskins is the EVVY Award-winning writer of The Sol Ascendancy.  His new novel, Zero Star, debuted at #2 on Amazon Kindle.

For whatever reason, there has been a resurrection (pardon the pun) of interest in zombies over the last decade.  Though filmmaker George A. Romero is usually credited with creating our contemporary understanding of zombies with the 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead, tales of zombies have been around since about 1918, and of course stories of general resurrection predate even that, but those are religious tales, the more supernatural kind.

We won't be talking about these zombies.  We'll be talking about Romero-style zombies, and/or The Walking Dead-type zombies because, well, I have a lot of questions when it comes to exactly how someone could be technically dead, yet still walk, exhibit enough strength to sometimes rip and tear flesh like a grizzly bear, yet continue to show obvious signs of decay.  How could they (conceivably) work?

I'm a writer, and as a writer I have an interest in research.  The tricky part for a writer is doing all the research and then burying it, so that it doesn't interfere with your narrative, so that you have a story and not a how-to manual.  But, in the interest of exploring this concept, doing our research (even if it's just exploratory and maybe for posterity's sake), and because it's almost Halloween, here we go.

I present to you...drumroll please...

Zombie Autopsy!

The Resurrection Process
All right, so, we'll start from the start.  How can a person return from the dead, move about like they're alive, see with their eyes and hear with their ears, yet still have necrosis (decay) taking place in almost all important skin, muscle, and other tissue cells?

As it happens, this has been explored in actual, real-world research before, because, believe it or not, there were supposed zombies in real life in Haiti, at least as far back as 1980, when a man walked into a village and claimed to be Clairvius Narcisse, a man that had died in a hospital in Deschapelles, May 2, 1962. He had memories of Narcisse's life that even close relatives had forgotten.  Other Haitian zombies have materialized through the years.

Dr. Wade Davis, an anthropologist and ethnobotanist, conducted extensive research and came to the conclusion that the "Haitian zombie" phenomenon was caused by a rare drug, called tetrododoxin, which comes from the puffer fish. Combined with toxins from a native tree toad and other chemicals, it could be made into a powder that could put people so close to death that it was difficult to determine whether or not they were alive.  They could also be brought back, and while most suffered long-lasting effects, some fully recovered!  But a few returned and, while cognizant, had lost some fine motor skills.  This powder could kill someone, yet keep them in a rare state where resurrection was still possible, and place the living in a condition where they lost many motor skills and had only faint life signs (like a zombie).

But zombism is obviously brought on by a pathogen, not a powder.  So, from here one, we shall refer to this pathogon as "Z-1" for simplicity's sake.

Bites from zombies, such as those in The Walking Dead, show that zombism is communicable and therefore lend more credence that this is a pathogen.  It causes tremors and terrible fever.  Z-1 probably behaves much like malaria, first hiding within the liver, where it multiplies and grows stronger.  Then, once it has marshaled enough forces, it invades the bloodstream, where it infects red blood cells.  Now come the symptoms: fever, shivering, anemia, vomiting, and convulsions.

After that, Z-1 obviously shuts down the higher brain functions but leaves the most basic sensory perceptions.  But Z-1 shows how diverse it is by not only affecting brain and motor functions, but also damaging other major tissues separate from the brain.

To attack humans so specifically, and not other animals like dogs and cats, Z-1 is probably either a single- or double-stranded DNA virus.  This means it actually has DNA as its genetic material and replicates using DNA-dependent DNA polymerase: an enzyme that acts as a catalyst.  Z-1 therefore probably shares a morphology not unlike Herpesvirales (the herpes virus).  And, like herpes, you can catch it from a bite.

While a bite accelerates the infection we are all carrying the Z-1 virus, just as 1/3 of us are carrying tuberculosis around without any ill effects (for the most part).  This is why those dead from natural causes or accidents also succumb to Z-1, which indicates that Z-1 is lying in wait for the immune system to "switch off" so it can have its day in the sun.

Necrotic Skin and Bone
Flesh sloughing off, turning blue and gray, and generally remaining damaged long after wounds ought to have scabbed over; all of these indicate that Z-1 has a unique effect on human skin.

Oxygen blockages to skin cells causes necrosis; that's the premature death of cells in living tissue.  Necrosis can happen to the living in various ways, including snake and spider bites, which indicates that Z-1 lives very, very well in human saliva, and, like the bite from a brown recluse spider, it begins a slow process of killing tissues.  But that doesn't mean it has to kill muscle tissues--only skin and flesh tend to decay, at least initially.  When zombies are injured by stupidly running into things or getting shot, the wound never heals because skin cells are dead, and the immune system, rocked by the other effects of Z-1, cannot address the problems of infections by other organisms, which only increases decay.

Given enough time, Z-1 causes necrosis of bone cells, which brings on symptoms similar to osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease), of a Type IV kind or above.  In this phase of zombism, bones are easily fractured.  This is why "older" zombies (those who've had Z-1 the longest and have gone through all the major cellular breakdown stages) are mushier, easier to hack into pieces, almost exactly like a corpse.

The Brain
Like many viruses, Z-1 must mutate in order to survive.  Otherwise, it would be easy to catch and kill.  Therefore, after Z-1 has grown strong in the liver and successfully invaded the bloodstream, it quickly mutates into a whole new strand, known as Z-2, and migrates into the brain to live out the rest of its days.

The fact that zombies can still see means that Z-2 does not have much of an effect on the occipital lobe; the visual cortex.  Gray matter in the brain is obviously influenced in a very special way (gray matter controls sensory perception, muscle control, emotions, speech, hearing and memory).  A condition known as "gray matter heterotopia" can cause seizures, loss of higher brain functions, and mental retardation.  Z-2 imitates these symptoms by "slushing" the brain, causing severe swelling and thus moving portions of gray matter around, exactly as heterotopia does.

Z-2 shuts down most of the brain's other regions.  The frontal lobe, which controls the ability to recognize future consequences of current actions, is almost completely shut down.  In most sufferers, Z-2 shuts down the parietal lobe, too, which means they cannot manipulate objects at all.  However, some zombies do show the ability to figure out simple objects, such as doorknobs, which indicates Z-2 doesn't always attack the parietal lobe so aggressively.

As far as motor functions go, Z-2 initially behaves much like Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS).  GBS is an acute neuropathy, which is a disorder that affects the peripheral nervous system.  In short, you lose control of your limbs.  Even after a body recovers from GBS, coordination is extremely difficult, survivors can't run as fast as they did before (at least, not without rehabilitation).  This would explain why zombies usually can't run as fast as they did when they were alive, yet can still stand and move about.  They've "survived" the first initial shock of Z-2 on their brain, but the communication between brain and muscles has been damaged forever, causing a lack of coordination.

Zombie Strength
Zombies often show that they can pry a person's belly open just with their bare hands.  How is this possible?

Well, under extreme circumstances, normal human beings have been known to exhibit incredible strength not thought possible.  This phenomenon is called "hysterical strength."  (Is there anything more hysterical than a zombie?)  Hysterical strength most commonly occurs when someone is single-minded, not caring about the consequences.  It happens in torn muscles and damaged joints: of course, sufferers of Z-2 have lots of damages to their bodies.

The brain (which we covered above) controls everything in the human body, including limiting the number of muscle fibers the body can use at once: this prevents you from overexerting and hurting yourself.  The brain also motivates the processes that create lactic acids, which also factor in.  Since Z-2 shuts down so much of the brain, it not only leaves the zombie without lactic acid production, it also allows a zombie to use its maximum strength (practically every muscle fiber in its entire body) to rip and tear and rend.  Jaw muscles are affected, just like everything else, so this gives the zombie the ability to bite so hard it can tear off huge chunks of human flesh in one bite.

This is why, while zombies appear flimsy, clumsy, and sometimes mushy, they can demonstrate incredible power when they've got their hands on a victim.

Insatiable Hunger
Back to the brain for this one.  Z-2 obviously affects the hypothalamus region of the brain in a very unique way.  There are two parts of the hypothalamus that control eating and hunger.  The lateral hypothalamus gives the signal when it's time to start eating, and the ventromedial nucleus gives the signal when it's time to stop eating.  Human beings only feel satiated when the ventromedial nucleus is functioning properly.  Z-2 sufferers often have this part of their brain operating at such a low level that it's practically dead.

Real-world evidence shows that people who have had their ventromedial nucleus injured are unable to determine when they should stop eating.

Incidentally, this region also helps control fear and sexual activity: the fact that this region of the brain is nearly dead shows just how much humanity Z-2 robs of its victims.

Inhuman Growling
"New" zombies typically only moan or hiss.  But over time, necrotic damage to the esophagus and vocal cords cause many zombies to begin pushing wind through nothing more than a leaking pipe.  Their throat and lungs begin to fill with liquid, and they are now gurgling more than growling.  This creates an unpleasant gurgle/growl in "older" zombies.

However, if their lungs are filled with liquid, we get some interesting questions.  How do zombies continue to move when the brain depends on oxygen and blood delivered to it from other parts of the body?  How can Z-2 survive in the brain at all, since the brain must surely and eventually die due to asphyxiation and ischemia?  That is, without the lungs functioning, or the heart, how does the brain receive air and blood?

The answer: It doesn't.

Z-2 sufferers still take in ample amounts of flesh (human flesh is their favorite), and this provides incredible energy for the brain to continue to function, replacing the need for oxygen and steady bloodflow altogether.  Z-2 is therefore not just a virus, but a powerful new agent that transforms the body's normal processes and ultimately serves as a very specialized life-support system for the brain, and the brain alone.

Because of this, Z-2 is able to sustain itself a very, very long time, as long as it remains in its comfortable "cradle" inside the base of the brain.  As long as nerves and connective tissues remain intact, Z-1 can keep the brain going enough to send the basest commands to its limbs.

It is not yet known how long it would take for Z-1 to die on its own.

Origin and Final Analysis
It's possible that Z-1 was manmade, as many have hypothesized. One clue is that, as stated above, it targets the human hypothalamus, making it yearn for sustenance, but does not affect the brains of other animals. And while zombies will feast on other animals if they have to, they obviously prefer a fresh human meal, yet do not often feed on each other.  They care not for their fellow dead, they show no sign of loss when one of their own gets shot or decapitated, and they lust only for flesh from the living.

Perhaps Z-1 only makes its victims "dance," makes of them puppets.  If not...

If not, then it indicates that when everything else is stripped away, when all pretenses of society and community are removed, and when human beings are laid bare and left with only their basest desires, they have only one craving, one thing that they want more than anything else: the destruction of one another.  Not to hug or make love, not to make picnics or hold hands.  But to devour that which they hate most.  Themselves.

A pathogen that causes humans to target humans.  Certainly sounds manmade.  Or else, the wrath of Nature.

For a more detailed autopsy, please see below:

Autopsy of Z-1 Sufferer

Office of the Chief Medical Examiner
Fulton County 2nd District
Atlanta, GA

Male Subject - Daniel William Egleston

Case No.  886670T

Approximate Age:  31 years

Height:  70 inches

Weight:  189.8 lbs.

Sex: Male

We hereby certify that on this day, October 20, 2012, pursuant to Statute 49.25 of City Code, an autopsy on the body of Daniel William Egleston was performed at the Fulton County Medical Examiner's Office in Atlanta, and upon investigation of the essential facts concerning the circumstances of the death and history of the case, we are of the opinion that the cause of death was as follows:

I. Sudden death associated with:

   1. Exsanguination – Bleeding to death from gunshot wound to the sternum and intestines

   2. Hypoxia by pneumothorax – Deprived of adequate oxygen

   3. Heart failure (HF)

   4. Traumatic brain damage (TBI) – degeneration of brain cells

II. Perforating injury

Ill. Hepatomegaly (weight = 1695 gms) with mild fatty metamorphosis

IV.  Prostatic hyperplasia, mild

VI.  No evidence of dehydration or electrolyte imbalance:

     1.  Postmortem vitreous chemistry non-contributory

     2.  Blood furosemide (Lasix) negative

VII. Postmortem toxicology:

     1.  Cardiac blood fluoxetine = 2.72 ug/mL

     2.  Femoral vein blood fluoxetine = 0.778 ug/mL

     3.  Gastric fluoxetine = 4.2 ug/mL

     4.  Liver fluoxetine = 61.4 ug/mL

VIII. Postmortem blood 20 heavy metal screen negative

IX.  Postmortem blood mercury negative (below detection level)


Daniel William Egleston was 31 years of age at the time of his death.  He was a sales clerk, shot in Centennial Olympic Park, where he was apparently discovered unresponsive, along with his wife.  The exact downtime is unknown but could be as much as 20 minutes or more before he was discovered unresponsive.  The ambulance arrived at 11:08 p.m. and he was transported to Columbia Metropolitan Hospital, where immediate life support protocols were instituted.  However, he was pronounced [sic] dead at 12:01 p.m.


Signature Chenzira A. Tefni, M.D.

Signature Susan Ludner, M.D.




I. CLOTHING AND PERSONAL EFFECTS: The body is presented to the morgue secured in a body bag and clad in:

1. White button-up shirt

2. Black pants (cut)

3. Pair of white socks


Except for the gunshot wounds, the body WAS that of a normally developed, well-nourished and well-hydrated, adult Caucasian male appearing somewhat older than the given age of 31 years, with a body length of 70 inches and body weight of 189.9 pounds. The body was well-preserved, unembalmed and cool post refrigeration.  Rigor was not fully developed.  Lividity was developed, posterior, dependent, purple and slightly blanchable.
The scalp was covered by short, straight brown and occasional gray hair with slight frontal, sagittal and occipital pattern baldness.  The face was shaven.  Body hair was male distribution and average.

Subject began showing signs of Z-1 and Z-2 infection at 12:53 p.m., approximately 52 minutes after death was declared.  The body began to show a fever, despite having been dead and cold to the touch for almost an hour.  Temperature was taken, showing 109.4 F (43 C), until finally it began to "cool" to around 101.2 F.

Subject's body began twitching at 1:04 p.m., not terribly uncommon in the recently deceased.  However, the eyelids opened at 1:27 p.m. and moved about, showing definite signs of awareness.  Subject moved his lips, pushed air out from his mouth four times, and reached for Dr. Brewer, feeling of his labcoat, as though he was familiar with the texture.  At 1:35 p.m., after generally reaching about at other objects around the table he was laid on, subject suddenly went into convulsions and closed his eyes again.  Subject inert at 1:37 p.m. 

2:02 p.m.: Z-1 infection has completely morphed into Z-2.  Subject's body temperature suddenly plummeted.  Within the span of a few minutes, the temperature dropped from 98.6 F (37 C) to around 71.6 F (22 C).  Though liver, heart and lungs have all ceased functioning, the eyes have once again opened, and the arms are reaching out, this time not just to Dr. Brewer, but to others in the room, as well. 

2:09 p.m.: subject has gone inert again.  I enacted Z-ready protocols and advised medical team to maintain a three-foot distance from subject, as Z-2 sufferers are known to be erratic.

At 2:17 p.m., subject suddenly became very animated, and reached out to grab hold of Dr. Sanderson (despite my instructions, Dr. Sanderson chose to examine the subject's eyes).  Sanderson was bit; a large section of flesh was removed from her right wrist and forearm.  Subject on the table appeared angry and violent.  Dr. Sanderson was removed from the room. 

At 2:32 p.m., I contacted the other chief medical examiner, Dr. Peter Fong, and asked him how we ought to proceed.  Dr. Fong advised close adherence to Statute 50.21 of City Code, and asked me to contact subject's family. 

3:15 p.m.: The Egleston family arrived.  Two younger brothers (Darryl and Ernest) and the older sister (Pamela) to the subject.  At this point, as per my instructions, the body had been restrained by four male nurses, and strapped to the table.  Upon seeing their brother lying there, writhing, angry, and snapping at them whenever they tried to go near, the Egleston family signed the papers and determined that the subject's time of death was indeed 12:01 p.m. 

At 3:38 p.m., under the watch of the subject's surviving family and Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Peter Fong, myself and Dr. Brewer performed the final immobilization:  we used the captive bolt pistol, in accordance with state law for Z-2 sufferers, and placed the nozzle on the right temple of the subject's head.  The firing pin penetrated the skull and destroyed the brain.  We performed this procedure twice more, from the left temple and from the base of the skull, to make absolutely sure that the subject was not able to move again. 

At 3:52 p.m.,  in accordance with the No-Reanimation Law recently enacted by the POTUS, and the rules and guidelines set down in the U.N. Z-2 Emergency Summit, subject's body was moved to the incinerator without any further public viewing. 

Blood and toxicology tests performed on minor necrotic cells and blood samples gathered before Z-2 onset.




ATLANTA CENTRAL                                            TERRY BREWER, PH.D., DABFT



M.E. CASE NUMBER: 886670T                           M.E. TOX NUMBER: 7780333T-XX

BLOOD  ETHANOL                     NEG

URINE  ETHANOL                      NEG

URINE  COCAINE                       NEG


GASTRIC CYANIDE                    NEG

BLOOD  CYANIDE                      NEG

URINE  CYANIDE                       NEG

URINE  OPIATES                       NEG

BLOOD  ABN (HEART)                POS    FLUOXETINE           2.630 UG/ML

BLOOD  ABN (FEMORAL)            POS    FLUOXETINE           0.779 UG/ML

URINE  ABN                              POS    FLUOXETINE           0.771 UG/ML

GASTRIC ABN                           POS    FLUOXETINE           4.100 UG/ML

LIVER  FLUOXETINE                  POS    FLUOXETINE           61.310 UG/ML

BLOOD  ABN (FEMORAL)           POS    NORFLUOXETINE        0.607 UG/ML

BLOOD  ABN (HEART)               POS    NORFLUOXETINE        1.850 UG/ML

URINE  ABN                             POS    NORFLUOXETINE        2.260 UG/ML

GASTRIC ABN                          POS    NORFLUOXETINE        1.077 UG/ML



[Dr. Samuel P. Brice]

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Friday, February 10, 2017

The Future: The Law of Accelerating Returns

Chad Huskins is the EVVY Award-winning author of sci-fi books such as The Sol Ascendancy.  Check out the first reviews for Zero Star

The future has always held an allure for us.  Raymond Kurzweil, a top modern researcher, has said that the entire function of the brain is to predict the future.  If, ten thousand years ago, you were walking alongside a river with spear in hand and saw a lion on the other side, walking in the same direction as you, you would have to imagine what would happen if you continued on your present course (you would intersect and be eaten, therefore, it's best to go in another direction).

So you see, predicting the future is essential to our survival.

We gravitate towards those who say they can take us to a better tomorrow, and campaign slogans such as "Forward Into Tomorrow" or simply "Forward" are obviously meant for us to look ahead.  The advent of science fiction, and its modern proliferation, clearly shows just how much we want to speculate.

In this article, we will be discussing the future, what it holds, and exactly how we can know what it holds.  We will start with the Law of Accelerating Returns, and how it allows us to know (not guess) what's next for us.

The Law of Accelerating Returns
The Law of Accelerating Returns is a term coined by futurist Raymond Kurzweil, a man so knowledgable and accurate with his predictions on technologies of the future that Bill Gates makes sure to read everything the man writes, and listens to every lecture he gives.  The Law of Accelerating Returns goes something like this: the rate at which technology is advancing is growing exponentially, never slows down, is not impacted at all by wars or economic recessions or depressions, and it is so predictable that it allows us to know precisely where we'll be technologically in the future, almost to the year.

Part of it is just doing the math.  It took the human race 400 years for the printing press to reach a mass audience.  It took us 50 years to get the telephone to a mass audience.  It took 7 years for the cell phone to reach a quarter of the population.  Social networks (blogs, wikis, Facebook-style sharing) took only three years.  Kurzweil shows clearly with his research that the rate at which technology grows in power is never--that's right, never--going to slow down, it's never going to plateau (it never has), not as long as human beings exist.  In fact, barring a world-ending asteroid smashing into the Earth, the rate at which technology grows in power and capability is only going to accelerate.

This is one of the reasons that the human genome was mapped so much faster than anyone (even those involved with the research) predicted it could be.  It took researchers seven years to get just 1% of the genome mapped, and they pretty much said, "See?  We told you so.  This is going to take about a hundred years or so to complete."

Meanwhile, Kurzweil was saying, "Nope.  If you're at one percent, then you're almost there."  This confused many, but his notion of Accelerating Returns quickly moved past theory and into the territory of Law when his point was made for him.  You see, if it took seven years to reach 1% of the genome, then the next seven years would yield about 2-3%.  Then, the next seven years would yield another 4-9%, so on and so forth.  (This is what he terms a "doubling".)

And viola, we now have the genome mapped!

This has to do with the compounding of technologies.  Advancements made in, say, information technology, allows for greater communication between biologists, pathologists, virologists, botanists, zoologists, and all the other "ists" of the world.  A single discovery in any of these fields almost immediately bleeds over into other fields of study in surprisingly beneficial ways.

Also, the discovery in one field of study can have multiple applications in various other fields of study: just as an example, advancements in metallurgy allowed for the Watt steam engine to revolutionize travel across waters, which revolutionized trade and travel by speeding it up, which brought goods and services more quickly to places that needed it, which stimulated the economy, which allowed for more funding of other projects, just one of which might be even further developments in metallurgy...

On and on and on it goes, never stopping, never slowing down.  A modern example of this would be how we use present-generation computers to create the next-gen computers, which are always more powerful, with superior computational power.  And, of course, we use those to build the next powerful thing.  (This, by the way, creates an interesting philosophical thought: If computers can essentially conceive of a more powerful computer, albeit with our help, then can we conceive a computer or organic lifeform that's better than us?  The answer appears to be an unqualified yes.  We'll get to that below.)

Back in the 80s, Kurzweil developed a chart that showed how quickly technology was spreading to a mass audience.  He was a little surprised to find that no matter what was going on in the world, no matter how good or bad things were, the level of technology on Earth and the rate at which it was spread across the planet doubled at the same predictable rate as the previous doubling.

Nothing affects it, nothing slows it down, nothing stands in its way.  The future is coming, and nobody can stop it.  This is evidenced by the fact that almost always, whenever a new innovation comes along, multiple people have it.  Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz both invented calculus at nearly the exact same time, though they had never met.  We've all heard about the rush to make social network sites on the Internet, Mark Zuckerberg just stuck his flag in it first.  It was the next logical course of action considering the knowledge and technology of the time.  Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan both invented the light bulb separately.  Lists such as these go on and on.

(Here's a short video showing quantum levitation)

How This Works, and What This Means
The Law of Accelerating returns means we can now predict, quite accurately, where we'll be from year to year, from decade to decade, from century to century.  Kurzweil's predictions have been so spot on in the past that today's leading inventors, businessmen, and researchers all follow his every article, his every prediction.

Kurzweil predicted, to the year, when a "world wide web" would reach the people.  He accurately predicted the mapping of the human genome.  He has said that when he first set out to gather this data, his expecation was that no one can predict the future, that it's far too random.  However, he found that if you measure the underlying properties of information technology, such as the power of computers per dollar, instructions-per-second per dollar, and other such factors, it produces a "remarkably smooth exponential trajectory" that one can follow.  Again, a trajectory that never slows down, never wavers in the good times or the bad.  Nothing has an impact on it.

The future...just...keeps...coming!

Information technology has become the main reason behind exponential growth.  After all, knowledge is power, and that power has to be communicated.  For instance, it's very common now for people to diagnose themselves from the Internet (and yes, while this can't always be trusted, it's still helpful), and many times doctors are finding that their patients now know much more about their own rare disease than the doctors themselves because of constant research on the Internet.

We know more, about ourselves and the universe around us, than we ever have before.  We're living longer, and so therefore we can contribute more to the world in one lifetime.  Advances in dental care, for instance, has greatly decreased infection that once came into the body through cavities and gum disease, which in turn has lengthened lifespans considerably.  These advancements came both in technology and understanding--this is important, because it's not just the tech that's advancing, but our understanding of our bodies, what we are, what we're made of, and what we're capable of (predicting the future) that has advanced us.

It has been said that the future of science is born first in science fiction.  This, at least, makes a strong argument for it.  Our need to predict creates fantasy, and we literally make our fantasies come to life now.

I, for one, am a self-published author, a thing not possible just five years ago.  It's an entirely new set of rules for my career path now.  And yours, too.  And it's only going to keeping changing, so you had better learn to keep up.

(An hour-long video where Dr. Michio Kaku discuesses the next 15 years or so)

Kurzweil points out that there have already been nanomachines that go into the bloodstream and, in the near future, blood cell-sized devices will be created that can go into the bloodstream and perform therapeutic functions, and will be able to cure diabetes (one scientist actually cured Type 1 diabetes in mice and they're gearing up for human trials soon).  It lets insulin in, and blocks antibodies.  He also says that it could address limitations in your own white blood cells, and could attack cancer problems much sooner because your white blood cells don't attack cancer (they think it's you).  All of this, he says, is coming in the 2020s.

Kurzweil also demonstrates how we are less than 10 doublings away from producing 100% of the world's energy needs through solar energy alone.  There is 10,000 times more sunlight bathing the Earth every day than we would need to give the entire planet 100% of what it needs, and solar panel technologies are doubling every year (just like everything else).

Researchers now believe that by 2040, most cars on the road will be automated.  Just this year, GM's Cadillac division started on concept cars that are partially automated, and Audi and BMW are slated to do the same.  Google, meanwhile, is pushing for legislation in Nevada that would allow self-driving cars on the road, while at the same time manufacturing a group of autonomous Toyota Prius hybrids.

As for AI...well, we already saw the computer "Watson" defeat various intelligent champions on Jeopardy!, which Kurzweil points out is significant because Jeopardy! is a game show filled with word games, puns, and various plays on words.  This is one of the steps necessary to pass the Turing test (a test of a computer's ability to exhibit human-like intelligence), and it's a key one that Watson and other computers have already surpassed.

Right now, "Watson" is comprised of dozens of computer towers, so many that it fills a large storage area.  However, if you know your history, then you know that the first calculators used to fill a warehouse, and now calculators are just one of a thousand apps on your cell phone.

Questions Raised
All of this, of course, raises boatloads of ethical and philosophical questions, not the least of which is what will our role be in society once technology takes on so many roles once filled by humans.  Will there be job loss?  Some futurists say that there will actually be plenty of jobs, only we can't imagine or describe them now, just as you couldn't describe the job of a computer engineer to a factory worker in the 1950s.

Regardless, I'm reminded of a song by Gorillaz.  "The comin' on, is comin' on, is comin' on, is comin' on..."

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

My Top 10 Favorite Modern Video Games

Chad Huskins is the EVVY Award-winning writer of the new sci-fi novel Zero Star, please support indie writers like us by going to the link:

So, what are the greatest games to play?

We all know that if you include classics such as Super Mario Bros., we could be here until Doomsday debating where it falls on the list of greatest games of all time.  Pac-ManZeldaGalaga, all of these games are like the Citizen Kane of video games, the progenitors that developed various new concepts--for example, Zelda kind of brought console users RPGs--and therefore will always hold special crowns.

However, in this article I am going to list only the video games I feel are the best out of the "new slew" of games that have come out since PlayStation and the N64 literally changed the way we approached video games, and how video games were primed and ready to keep gamers for life.  In other words, the kinds of games that have been around since video games "matured".  I'm going to list the best of the best, and explain why I feel they deserve their places on the list.

The criteria I'm going to use is as follows:

-  The game must be a GAME and not merely a story you follow along with amazing graphics, its developers must have kept the concept of interactivity in mind and not focused SOLELY on story (though I love a good story), because the difference between a movie and a game is that a game is interactive.

-  The game must be tremendous fun and engage the player, not just a time waster.

-  The game must have re-playability.  This is incredibly important to me, because games cost $60 while going to a movie costs $15 and DVDs cost, at most, $50, and that's with special edition stuff shoved in.  Therefore, a game had better be diverse, and present new experiences and challenges with at least ONE additional playthrough.

-  The game must not rely on online gameplay to "make its case" for awesomeness.  It must be playable by someone that doesn't have access to the Internet.  This is because I believe a game should be playable by oneself, not dependent on others logging on with you.

-  And finally, the game must not be just for idiots.  It doesn't have to be as mind-bendy as Inception, but it has to at least make you think and/or engage the player's imagination, if not with the story then with the gameplay, preferably both.  I'm not trying to be elitist, just talking about quality here.

With all that said, let's get to it:

10.  Assassin's Creed II
Yes, I am including this game here and not its predecessor because, while the first one was innovative for its time, it still had tremendous flaws that held it back.  Flaws such as repetitive investigation steps in order to advance a mission, having to listen to Al Maulim every single time you died or turned your game back on (and not being able to skip through his spiel).

In Assassin's Creed II, though, everything changed.  The world grew larger, the story more engaging, and the investigations more involved.  There was also more interactivity with the world around you, and tons of puzzles and side quests to keep even the most jaded gamer (me) involved.

The re-playability of this game is obvious: all you have to do is go around and play the game as you see fit, as any sandbox game should be.  However, Assassin's Creen II and all in this series still suffer from one little problem, which puts it low on my list, and that is the tendency in these games to guide the player along each mission, essentially "base-touching" on one's way to kill a target.  Examples include waypoints that one MUST touch in order to proceed in the story.  There were many times that I and my friends found another way into a castle than what the game's developers had intended, but we COULD NOT initiate the target because we HAD to go through the EXACT window that the developers intended for us to go through.

This is a big no-no for me, as I am not allowed to truly figure out these assassinations on my own.  I feel like I'm being held by the hand, and if it's truly a sandbox game, then take your hands off of me and let me play.

9.  The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
Never heard of this game before?  You're not alone.  But this game was the progenitor to Prototype, Infamous, and other such interactive games where you can run around a city and destroy anyone and everything around you.  Obscure as it is, the game is a game changer.

This game is still incredibly fun, listening to the Hulk grunt and rage as he smashes into buses, tears them apart, and then bends them around his hands to create steel boxing gloves.  Also, the player is able to unlock numerous kinds of Hulks from all throughout Hulk mythology, including my favorite, Grey Hulk, otherwise known as "Joe Fixit."  This Hulk came from an era in the comics when Bruce Banner was able to control the Hulk somewhat, diminishing his strength a little in order to gain more intelligence.  This Hulk took on the personality of Joe Fixit and got involved in the underworld a little.

In Ultimate Destruction, the player gets to smash up a city while helicopters rain down hell on you, and you get to listen to Joe Fixit grumbling, "You're messin' up my suit!" and "Extra power to!"

The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction also had a pretty good storyline for a comic book video game, which is much welcome in these types of games where so little time is spent on such matters.  Banner has exiled himself in the American badlands, where he's attempting to finally cure himself of the monster.  His cabin is destroyed by a missile launched by the NSA and a black ops sector known only as the "Division."  The Abomination gets involved eventually, and there are some terrific knockdown, drag-out fights.  The story never gets in the way of the fun of smashing up the city and evolving into new Hulk powers.

But despite its fun story, destructible environments, and openness, Ultimate Destruction was relatively short.  However, as long as you partake in the re-playability of this game, you can make it last and, in my humble opinion, it's well worth the money spent.

8.  Journey
This game is brand new this year, and comes from a relatively obscure company called simply Thatgamecompany.  The developers have been behind two other indie games that have defied contemporary video game tropes, starting with Flow, where the player plays as a small, multi-segmented worm or snake-like creature that swims through an aquatic environment, and there are no menus or guidelines, and the game begins immediately.

With Journey, they've created a very similiar experience, where the player exists only as a cloaked stranger, some sort of alien in an alien world, where there is no possibility of communicating with anyone or anything else...unless you use online play, where you can meet one (and only one) other traveler such as yourself.  There is no chance of dying in Journey.  There are no boss fights or enemies to kill, only exploration and puzzles.

There is no real context for the journey given to the player.  All you know is that you exist and you're there.  The environment is kind of like the planet Tatooine in Star Wars, all sand and sun, but gorgeously rendered, like you're playing inside a movie made by Miyazaki.

In this modern era where online gaming is dominated by either angry gamers screaming "Hacker!" at one another in Call of Duty-style games, or crying about losing ranks/levels in World of WarcraftJourney is a welcome respite.  It's relaxing, beautiful, mysterious, and another game changer.

It's very short--you can beat it in about 1 1/2 hours--but it has great re-playability, and for only $15 you just can't beat that.

7.  Grand Theft Auto...IV...maybe III?
Though the series as a whole has been innovative, re-playable, extremely fun and incredibly interactive, I would mark GTA IV as the first in the series that combined story, interactivity and sandboxing seamlessly, and took it to a whole new level.  Each one has gotten better and better, and the developers have made stronger storylines each time, ensuring that we the gamers don't get tired of just running over pimps and stealing cars without some kind of context.

With GTA IV, Rockstar Games made decisions matter within the context of that story and the gameplay.  There are tough choices to be made, including choosing between loyalty for a gang member set to change his ways, and another one that's had your back for a long time.

The re-playability speaks for itself: it's a sandbox game, perhaps the original sandbox game, at least in our modern understanding of the genre.  It isn't necessary to play online, although they added this feature with this game, and if the gods are good, this series will remain this way, always available as an exhilirating single-player game.

6.  Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
This series probably kick-started the need for good storytelling in video games with the first one on PlayStation, but the original was just getting "revved up" with the concept and its sequel was hampered by a weak sauce main character (I'm sorry, but I just can't stand hearing Raiden whine about how much life sucks all emo-like while he tries to save the world).

With Snake Eater, Hideo Kojima and his company amped it back up with a complex story set in the Cold War, a powerful stealth system set in the wilderness, and some of the most enjoyable boss fights in video game history (the battle with the sniper known only as "The End" is still the focus of a great many video game tall tales amongst me and my friends).

In the fourth installment of this series, the graphics increased, as did the action sequences (some pretty fancy ones, too), but...*sigh*...we got the return of Raiden.  Not as a playable character (thank God) but as a whiner in every facet of the story, doing feats so incredible that one has to ask, "Why does anyone need Snake when Raiden can stop an aircraft carrier...WITH HIS ARM?!"  His presence weakens the story, and the cut scenes...

The cut scenes in MGS 4 are tooooooooooooooooo looooooooooooong.  Way, way too long.  I've always enjoyed the colorful characters and story that the MGS series brings to the table, but when a cut scene goes on for 25 minutes, you have to ask yourself, "If they want to make movies, then why are these developers making video games instead?"  They forgot the cardinal rule of video gaming: let the player play through the story.

This is why Snake Eater, in my opinion, is still the best of the series.  It also has one very key re-playable feature that I and my friends discovered: you can play through the whole game several times with a different experience each time if you start the game with one kind of camouflage and challenge yourself to play through the whole game with that one camo.  HINT:  The red brick camouflage is the hardest, and the funnest!

5.  Batman: Arkham City
Wow!!  Talk about a fun game.  I mean a really, really fun game.  A really, really fun game with a story, too?  Get right outta town!

Arkham City is the sequel to Arkham Asylum, and while the first was fun, there are no words to describe just how fun City is.  Not only are you constantly fighting bad guys in the streets and on rooftops, not only are you using forensic detective work to solve the mysteries, not only are you fighting Batman's greatest enemies, and not only are you constantly solving the Riddler's amazingly fun puzzles, but you're also Batman!  And I mean, Batman!  Like never before, gliding around the skies, and kicking ass!  You are Batman in ways that no other game has ever allowed you to be.

The best part is, you don't even have to be a Batman fan to enjoy this game.  Just forget that you're Batman.  There is a variegated assortment of challenges for all players, from using new techniques to fighting off multiple opponents to finding innovative solutions to the Riddler's puzzles.

This game had a story but never forgot what it was:  a game!

4.  Goldeneye
There isn't a gamer under 35 years of age that doesn't have a ton of stories about this one.  Yes, it had a story.  Yes, it had multiplayer.  Yes, it was one of the greatest party games of that era in video gaming.  But I mentioned above that I was judging the games on this list on an important criteria: it could be played alone.

Goldeneye followed the story of the movie by the same name, and it did it pretty well considering the time and the graphics available at the time.  It introduced modern first-person shooting to millions of console owners, 3D enviornments (not just the old side scrollers), and enemies coming out from behind every corner, literally jumping out at you.

The various levels and various kinds of environments granted it the re-playability, and it ignited the possibilities in future gamers' minds, as well as future game developers (the list of how many modern developers list this as one of their most inspiring games from their youth is endless).  This is key, because I feel that all art should inspire the next generation of artists with possibilities, and attempt to lay groundwork for the next up-and-comers to stand on.

3.  Mass Effect 2
You're crazy if you don't like this game.  There, I said it.

The first Mass Effect was a pretty strong start.  Mass Effect 3 was very cool but a bit of a disappointment.  But Mass Effect 2 was pure perfection in RPG gameplay.

The series started off with great promise, like Assassin's Creed, but, also like AC, it didn't fully take flight with what gamers wanted and needed out of an RPG series until that second installment.  Complex characters, very complex decisions, gorgeous art direction, a vast galaxy to explore...what more could a gamer want?

Mass Effect 2 also had great re-playability thanks to the fact that the player can make different decisions each time, accomplish goals in a different order, and alter the outcome.

2.  Shadow of the Colossus
This game is either unknown to you, comes recommended by every friend that's played it, or it's one of your top five games of all time.  Much like JourneyShadow of the Colossus doesn't force a story on you.  It presents you with a character and a beautiful world, allowing you to fill in the blanks yourself, and all you do is wander this gorgeous scenery and explore...and, oh yeah, defeat sixteen massive colossi.

This game is nothing but boss fights.  There is no leveling, no fighting of underbosses and minions, and no gaining of any new skills besides your "grip gauge" going up and allowing you to climb higher and longer.  You use that increased grip to climb each colossus and find its weak points, meanwhile they buck and try to fling you off.  Epic music, epic fights, and epic times ensue.

It's simplicity matched with spectacle.

The art and design of this game is stupendous, and quite honestly makes the most powerful argument for video games as an artform.  Personally, this one would be at my number one spot, but we'll discuss why it's not down below.

1.  The Elders Scrolls V: Skyrim
I know, I know, most of you probably think I'm following the bandwagon, but I'm not.  Actually, I would put this a little farther down the list...if it weren't for the criteria I set above.  Up above, I said that an important part of this list had to do with re-playability and getting your money's worth out of a game.  Welp, you won't ever get much more fun-per-dollar than this one.

Hundreds of hours of gameplay if you want it.  That's right, hundreds.

So much to see, do, and experience.  It just never ends.  It just...never...ends.

I flipflopped with putting Skyrim at number one or number two, since it's sometimes hard to play, depending on whether you got it on computer, Xbox, or PlayStation, becuase of lag and bugs.  Sometimes the game suffers from extreme lag, to the point that PS3 players find it absolutely unplayable.  It's been somewhat fixed since then, thanks to downloadable patches, but trust me, it can still have problems that hamper gameplay.

But I still put this game ahead of my personal favorite, Shadow of the Colossus, because of its re-playability, which is absolutely unmatched in modern gaming.

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