Salvation Episode Two: Another Trip Around the Sun

Well, here we go again.

There was very little recognizable science, some political intrigue (almost unrecognizable too), and a crap-ton of relationship building (and well, this would only be recognizable if I was still in my twenties).

Let’s start with the goofy science and get it out-of-the-way: This was early in the show so unfortunately set the tone for my opinion of the rest of the episode.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Björn Jónsson/Seán Doran

Introducing Ugly Plan B:  A fallback plan after the failure of the government’s “Goliath-II” rocket booster.

The government/military proposes taking the “Io Probe” and ramming it into the asteroid to deflect it. (Uhm, yeah, sure).

An interplanetary probe that could have gotten out to Jupiter, would be fairly small.  There is one steadfast truth in spacecraft design: the farther you’re going to send it from home, the smaller it has to be. Heavy lift rockets can send a small probe fast enough to get there, or they can get heavy satellites or ISS components into a MUCH lower place in the solar system.  That’s all there is to it (loosely speaking).

Given that limiting principle, the Io Probe would be no more than ten-thousand pounds, and that would be generously huge for a probe that far out.

Now let’s look at the size of the asteroid.  Based on the calculations for a 560 meter asteroid known as 1999 RQ36, (which isn’t really a planet killer, more of a continent mangler), scientists estimate its weight at 66 million tons. So it’s VERY safe to assume that any chunk of space rock big enough to be a planet killer (whatever we imagine that to be) would be in the range of several hundred million tons (probably more…lots more).

Just imagine hurling this Io Probe against the side of the asteroid … even if we skip the math, this is like a piss ant crawling up an elephant’s leg with lascivious intent.

Then to make it worse they start discussing whether this minuscule fleck of space hardware hitting the side of a flying mountain, is going to SHATTER IT?

Their own dialog on this goes like this:

Darius Tanz: “Throwing rocks at an oncoming train, a bold strategy. I’ll stand right behind you …” (wonderful sarcasm, but he is right, that idea is farking hopeless)

Then in the very next sentence Tanz goes on with: “… a high velocity kinetic impact could just as easily smash our asteroid friend into several pieces …”

WHAT?!? 

Is it a train or an egg?  Make up your mind people!

(My brain started melting at that point.)

After that moment of complete absurdity, they go back to the gravity tractor (remember that from the previous post?).  But this time it will be so much better because they plan to get it out there with (wait for the handwavium) … the EM DriveThe Em Drive is the miraculous not-yet-invented technology that someday may revolutionize space travel by putting “the moon within hours and Mars within days.”

Of course there is no EM Drive in their world (or ours).  It hasn’t REALLY been invented yet. (Yes, at one G continuous acceleration the moon is only three hours or so from Earth, but with the current state of the art for the EM Drive development, we’d need an improvement of MANY orders of magnitude to get that to happen.)

Though if you just give Mr. Tanz two-billion dollars and 100 kilograms of weapons grade uranium, he will invent it by next Tuesday.

I literally fell out of my chair.

Grace: Are you crazy?

Darius: Why does everyone keep asking that?

Liam: Because you kinda are…

Yeah, that’s what I said!

But here’s the kicker: Even assuming this story is set in the future and so maybe there’s been some progress made, to get the gravity tractor out there sooner is still not going to help, when it’s already YEARS too late for that approach to do any good.

Give it up PEOPLE, a gravity tractor would have been off the table even before they started.

As to Plot:

Beyond this one HUGELY horrific scientific blunder, the rest of episode leaned heavily on the conspiracy angle.  Rather than turning the story all dark and sinister with the pursuit of whatever secret ATLAS is, I think they’d be better served focusing on the challenge of trying to defeat the real antagonist at hand. The Asteroid.  Obviously they’ve decided to make this whole series more about shady characters double-crossing each other.

The moral problems that come from clashing viewpoints on how to handle a global crisis are far more believable than this very cliche and phony feeling conspiracy.

There were also some heavy-handed tropes in other areas (LOTS of them in fact)

One of the biggest of these was when Darius Tanz sleeps with a female investor to close a deal and get this woman’s money into his company (so he can develop that EM Drive by Tuesday).

Over my many years running a private lab, I’ve worked with investor types in the real world (real venture capitalists).  There is this thing they ALL do called “Due Diligence.”  It doesn’t matter if they plan to invest $10,000 or $10,000,000, they’re going to check out the facts and figures before they climb into bed (in a business sense).

It doesn’t work the other way around, no matter how hot and sexy Darius is, he’s not going to seduce a female billionaire into schlepping him a gigabuck investment for a good … uhm … proposition. Rich people DON’T make billion dollar deals based on pillow talk.

And finally, the death of the last straw of credibility for this episode:

Remember that weapons grade uranium Tanz needed?  Well, he got Grace to steal it for him (without unveiling his apparent billion dollar penis to do it). She lifted the access codes needed to get the uranium from her lover’s biometrically locked briefcase by using a very cool laser scanner to get his fingerprint off a wineglass, and then beam it back onto the lock. I’d forgive her for this betrayal of Harris, because he’s the lying dickhead from the first episode. He deserves to get screwed, even if she doesn’t realize it yet.

Ok, so stealing the codes that easily might be a bit far-fetched, but then when she goes to use them, she bluffs her way past a gate guard at the facility, and with a Humvee (and a driver and a couple of guys to load the barrels of uranium) she gets the goods and gets out (barely … courtesy of more way cool, but improbable, tech).  What this does leave unanswered to me though, is how she explains to these soldiers she has with her, that they’re delivering this uranium to a TANZ INDUSTRIES loading dock.  What the hell did she have to do to get these grunts to NOT tell anyone. I mean she isn’t cutthroat enough to have killed them and hidden the bodies, so that leaves me wondering … (can you say PLOT HOLE???)

Even more troubling to me here is that we’re talking nuclear ordinance. The best protected possession of the entire United States.

Seriously???  If our country’s nuclear stockpile is that easily hacked, I think I’m moving to Mars.

So after Episode Two is all said and done, that 4/5 star rating is slipping.  The cast is holding its own and delivering fairly believable performances, but the story is rapidly dissolving into a level of implausibility that’s destined to doom them all. The science is still hanging at a 3/5 star but that’s entirely because in that Ugly Plan B scene, they manage to mention some things in a briefly tossed-off bit of technobabble that do sorta relate to the science behind the EM Drive (Pilot Wave Theory and Quantum Vacuum Fluctuation for those that want to go deeper).

Of course, tying either of these concepts to the EM Drive is not really accurate, but hell, I didn’t expect them to get that shit right anyway.

Still hoping, and still an optimist for future episodes, but starting to waver.

Episode Three: “Truth or Darius” (air date: 7/26/2017)

Salvation Episode One: Pilot

Let me jump right in here before I get to my review of the first episode, and say that before this series started I had read a lot about it.  Everything I could in fact. Someone had called to my attention a few days prior to its premier that there were a LOT of similarities between this story and my own works, so I was doing my homework to see if there was any truth to that idea.  Along the way I noticed that the producers called Salvation “real science fiction,” so I’ve decided to will use that as the first yardstick to see how close they come. (I’ve included some links as references below.  Check them out to learn a bit more on asteroid science.)

And so it begins: “Pilot”

In the opening prologue scene we find Neil Degrasse Tyson delivering the line that foreshadows the reality of our earthly situation with regards to asteroids and meteors. It carries a gut level punch of truth when played against scenes that show real footage of the Chelyabinsk meteor that blew up over Russia on February 15, 2013.

“We just don’t even know they’re out there until it’s too late.”

He’s right, we don’t, and maybe we won’t, until it IS too late.

From there we cut to our main characters who are immediately put on a collision course. Darius Tanz, a wealthy entrepreneur/engineer who is clearly styled after Elon Musk (except obviously much prettier … Sorry Elon) and Liam Cole, a brilliant young astrophysicist who can’t set an alarm early enough to get out of bed on time to attend a TED type of talk that is being hosted at MIT, for brilliant scientist types.

At this talk, Tanz delivers the next most important line of the story:

“All our eggs are in one cosmic basket. If the Universe decides to plant it’s big old ass in that basket … we’re toast.”

Sounds a little like a slightly more crude version of something Musk said in an article I read a couple weeks ago, but hey that’s probably why it rings true isn’t it?

At this point the story picks up from what could be a pretty good Hard SF set up, and shoots into the miasma of interpersonal parenting angst that belongs in a YA drama on the CW network.  (What?!?  Well, ok maybe.) The mom in these scenes is apparently some high-power press type for somebody in Washington.  It takes about thirty seconds to catch the whole family thing – the ex husband – the ex husband’s girlfriend – the fact that mom is having an affair with her boss. Oh and the daughter is also flexing her independence muscles.

After a detour through a bog of thickly applied human drama, we find ourselves faced with a whack-ton of geek flirting, interspersed with scientific sounding handwavium, as Liam meets a cute girl in a bar. She turns out to be a science fiction writer and is obviously turned on by technobabble since they fall passionately through the door of her apartment in the next scene. (Who knew that science was such a turn on???)

Later in the night, Liam (who can’t be awakened by his regular alarm) jumps out of bed when his computer texts his phone to tell him … you guessed it … there is a killer asteroid coming at the earth.

He immediately runs to his advisor/professor and dumps the news on him.  And from here the story gets interesting….

Image credit: CBS

The following morning we end up with a missing professor, and a big Black SUV full of bad guys who chase Liam across the MIT campus on his bicycle (well actually they chase him a half block before he skids off on a sidewalk and they give up).  Needless to say he’s freaked out.  So, rather than go to the police, he somehow manages to get himself into an elevator with Darius Tanz where he blurts out, “The world is going to end in 186 days.” Or something to that effect.

So other than finding out that the government already knows about this asteroid, that’s the set up for the series.

One of the things that annoyed me most about this episode is the idea that the dialog, although quick and witty (when not sappy and angsty), is shot through with attempts to speak science.  “There is a 97.2% probability that this is a planet killer.” WHAT!?!

97.2% sounds very precise, and obviously represents a LOT of meaningful information that comes from tons of complex calculations … but then it is followed by a fuzzy-fluffy-bullshit term like “planet killer.”  How can you give me a calculation that’s accurate to one part in a thousand, and then try to make me swallow a “planet killer.” Can you even tell me what a planet killer is?  Exactly? Is it a one cubic mile asteroid? Is it a ten cubic mile asteroid?  Is it one that hits on land, or in the ocean, or near a super-volcano?  WTF is it?

“I don’t know, but somehow I can precisely tell you this asteroid has a very accurately determined probability of doing SOMETHING to earth that is kinda, sorta bad.”

My brain shut off at that point.  The mental circuit breakers kicked into protection setting and I went into disbelief mode.

Sigh.

By disconnecting from the idea that this might be a science fiction story, I realized it was still potentially a cool science fantasy.  Ok.  I can live with that.  I can even ride that a long way (after all I enjoyed Star Wars).

Image Credit: FIAAA / B612 Foundation Illustration / Dan Durda

I stare mindlessly at the far too frequently hot bodied cast, until I get to the point that they’re planning to use a gravity tractor to deflect the asteroid.  Here again that’s a real idea proposed to deflect asteroids.  The hint of science baited me out of my protective mode and my brain began to slip back into functioning. They even got the idea that you can’t blow up an asteroid to save the world correct … thus the need for a gravity tractor.

But it was a trap.

About three whole seconds later I remembered that a gravity tractor takes a lot longer than six months to deflect an asteroid that is big enough to be a planet killer (whatever we decided that was). And then I realize that they hadn’t launched it yet. There was no way they’d get the necessary hardware out to near Jupiter (which is where the asteroid is) without taking more than the 189 days they’ve got left. And then it’d need to work for YEARS to get enough deflection  … so the brain went back into hiding again.

God, would somebody give these guys a book on orbital mechanics?  Please?

Now with my brain safely protected UNDER the cushion on my recliner, I sat and watched the last half of the pilot episode with little reaction (other than an occasional moment of pure open mouth confusion).  In the last half hour they spent most of their time deepening the characters and making you really NOT like the guy in charge of the Government’s mitigation plan. Bad stuff happens and more bad stuff happens, and all he does is lie to the people on his team, especially the woman he’s having his affair with.

Come on do I have to hate him? Apparently the answer is, yes.

I think there is so much potential in Salvation even though the first episode spent way too much time diving in and out of the muck of emotional angst.  Sure, the idea that in 186 days there might not be a world left is enough to ruin anyone’s day, but it doesn’t mean we have to spend the time we have left slogging through the emotional goo of a Gilmore Girls episode (nothing against the Gilmore Girls … it just wasn’t meant to be science fiction).

This was the first episode of the series, so I understand the producers want to get the audience on board with the characters as quickly as possible, but in my opinion they tangled things so badly with interpersonal drama that the real story got lost in the fog.  There were some really good scenes where you can profoundly feel the characters coming to grips with their changing reality, and the acting in those moments was strong enough to show some serious depth.  But if they’re hanging this story together with snapshot images and not paying attention to the bigger picture, they’re going to be creating a pixelated version of the concept at best.

For all that it sounds like I am panning the show, I’d give it 4/5 stars on the story and acting, and 3/5 on the science because I KNOW what might be ahead, at least in theory.  I’m an optimist so I’ll be back to keep watching in the hopes that it grows into something good.

A Uniquely Qualified and at Least PARTIALLY Unbiased Review of Salvation (on CBS)

First off let me jump right in here and say that CBS’s new sci fi series Salvation feels MORE than a little familiar to me. (Here is the official CBS website)

Considering that I wrote the original version of a very similar story, Atlas and the Winds, starting in 2005 and then published that epic tome (325K words) in April of 2012, I have to say that the similarities between this series and my original novel, are rather profound.

To give an idea of how close the stories are, I’ve actually been contacted (unsolicited) by people who have read Stormhaven Rising and Prometheus and the Dragon, asking why I didn’t announce that I had sold the rights to CBS.  (Unfortunately, I didn’t.) In the case of one of these people, she was able to describe coming events in the story to other people who were watching it with her, well before they’d played out on the screen.

In its original incarnation, Atlas predates the development of  Salvation by more than a year.  I left that book up on Amazon while I re-edited the story and split it into the two novels that are now Book One and Two of the four-novel series I am still working to complete. I did not remove Atlas from publication until I re-released Stormhaven Rising in its current form. (You can get the current version of the story by following the links to the right >>>)

Interesting how that works isn’t it? Anyway, before I go too far down the merry path of potential litigation, let me give a bit of background …


Salvation is a story about a massive coverup of an asteroid coming to wipe out mankind. The American government is afraid of panic if word gets out, so the whole idea of a coverup makes some sense. This is based on a fairly common trope with just a bit of the paranoid conspiracy mentality thrown in to give it spice.

Where this story gets its legs, is when one of the asteroid’s discoverers gets word to a rich and eccentric entrepreneur who then starts playing out his own plans to save humanity (against the government’s wishes).  There’s a lot of political machination behind the scenes, and even the threat of war between the world’s superpowers.

After the first US mitigation effort tanks out in a violent explosion, the best hope to save the world is the wealthy entrepreneur and his miraculous improvement on the EM drive (if you don’t know what the EM Drive is, here’s a link).


So there you have the basic premise of Salvation in a nutshell (and the basic premise of Stormhaven Rising and Prometheus and the Dragon in a slightly less well-known nutshell). For those who’ve read my books, feel free to scream, rant, and jump up and down to your heart’s content!

To write my books I did years of research on asteroid impact, orbital mechanics, political dynamics, and then I had the advantage of coming from a background of science and engineering where I actually built prototypes of a technology very similar to the EM drive.

I think it’s fair to say that I might have a bit more insight into the story, and the science behind Salvation, than your average critic.  So I’ve decided to spend some time going over the good, the bad, and the flat-out ugly things that they’re calling “Hard Sci Fi” as Salvation plays out in its first 13 episodes (I’ll post a couple reviews a week until I catch up with the current episode).

  • Sadly, I don’t think Salvation stands much of a chance to get picked up for another season, because it has done so many things wrong with what was a great concept. So far its ratings have slipped steadily (from 4.9 Million viewers down to 3.1 million last week), so even with a lot of sexy bodies to help sell it, you can’t make up for not understanding the core principles of the story. There is so much potential there if they can just figure out what to do with it.

Give it a watch, and then let me know what YOU think.

I am an Optimist, hiding inside a Realist.

I have had this blog for several years now, but you couldn’t tell from the amount of content I’ve put up here. I know in order to have a successful writing platform you have to have a continuous running series of engaging posts, but I’ve honestly been torn between what I want to write, and what I should write.  I’ve stared at these blank pages and filled them with words, only to throw them all away in frustration … literally hundreds of times. It’s not that I didn’t write, nor is it that didn’t like what I wrote … it’s simply that it didn’t set a tone that I felt was right for what I needed to say.

Let me explain a bit what I mean. Lets start out with this:

I write disaster novels.  Realistic, world-ending, disaster novels.  Ones that are scary because they really might happen.

But without being a spoiler, it’s important to point out that the VERY LAST WORD of Prometheus and the Dragon is HOPE and it is the fuel that drives the next two stories in the series.

I think that even in the face of a world ending disaster, humanity’s greatest strength is that hope dies hard. Very hard.

When I began my research for the first two books of Atlas and the Winds, I spent a lot of time staring into the dark.  I had to come to grips with the reality of what realistically WOULD happen, if humanity faced its moment of destiny. And it wasn’t something that let me sleep well at night (in fact there were days in writing these books that I didn’t sleep at all).  What got me through was that I knew there was a path… illuminated by the flickering light of hope, even if it was never easily seen.  (Well, that and a LOT of caffeine)

Sometimes hope is a feeble glow, and the darkness is overwhelming. Sometimes we have to stare directly into the blackness for a long time before we can even find the faint spark of hope, so that we can get our bearings and begin to navigate.  But when mankind faces troubled times, hope becomes the beacon we use to plot our course through the shadows.

Yet, to me this isn’t a Pollyanna idea.  It’s based on watching mankind crawl out from under one disaster after another, to rebuild (ok maybe sometimes we might want to be more careful with WHERE we rebuild, but we always do it, over and over  again). Humanity is more stubborn than the cockroach, but instead of hiding in the shadows, we climb back towards the light with a single-minded determination to see another sunrise, regardless.

The reality of tomorrow may be a tough road to tread, but I choose to remember that in spite what may come, hope gives us a certainty of purpose, and the strength to keep standing up when we are knocked down.

The Earth may abide, but so do we, because hope dies hard.

Which brings me back to why this blog was so hard for me to write.  I want this to open a discussion of the potential problems of the future, but I don’t want to present just the ominous side without remembering that no matter what, The End … seldom is.

From Altered Instinct: Prometheus and the Dragon

“This book really takes up the gauntlet cast down by the opening book in the series and runs with it – it’s an absolute thrill ride full of hard decisions and harder consequences.’

“More than a few times I cursed at the book as I turned pages filled with moments that bit deep. Then against those there are moments where you punch the air – such as when the Flight Infantry deploys in a skirmish on the Moon, tumbling out of the back of the vehicle carrying them at hundreds of miles an hour. It’s the kind of kickass moment that reminds me of the Orion Ship in Niven and Pournelle’s Footfall – a spaceship propelled by dropping nuclear bombs underneath it.”

“Science kicking ass.”

Stephen Hunt – Alteredinstinct.com   February 11, 2017

Check out the full review here.

From E.M. Swift-Hook: Atlas and the Winds

“One of my favourite authors, I can recommend these books to anyone who enjoys good writing in the science-fiction genre – and the Atlas and the Winds books are going to appeal to those who enjoy a thundering good thriller too! From the same stable as Michael Crichton, Eric has the science background and the human insight to bring that extra convincing depth to his stories.”

Review of Stormhaven Rising
“There is no doubt about it – this is a very well written book. The use of language is fluent and appropriate throughout. It is very easy to read and attains that essential threshold at which the words almost slip from conscious awareness leaving only the story they are telling in their wake.”

“All in all, this is a book that is going to be enjoyed by most science-fiction enthusiasts. It is also a book for everyone who loves well-written, taut, action thrillers and political drama.”

Review of Prometheus and the Dragon
“This book has insight and insanity, humour and horror, courageous feats and catastrophic fiascos, it shows humanity at its finest and its most feral. And as with all good literature, it turns the mirror back on those who are its readers, challenging them to consider where they would stand or how they would fall.”

“This is a very well written and compelling book and if you enjoy political thrillers, near future dystopias, apocalyptic sci-fi – or seek a thought provoking and plausible insight into one way humanity could react in the face of such an extreme crisis, I would recommend this book wholeheartedly.”

E.M Swift-Hook – One of Fortune’s Fools February, 2, 2017

Check out both full reviews here.

 

From BookPleasures: Prometheus and the Dragon

“Eric Michael Craig does an excellent job providing characters who represent the multiple perspectives and widely differing agendas of a number of nations, scientists, political and military leaders, as well as religious groups.”

“Without giving anything away, the concluding chapters include so much emotional punch that readers may well be breathless … If you’re like me, you’ll want to go beyond these two novels, read book three, and look forward to the rest of the series.”

“To me, Eric Michael Craig undeniably deserves to be lauded as an important new voice in science fiction.”

Dr. Wesley Britton – BookPleasures.com January 23, 2017

Check out the full review here.

DrWesleyBritton.com

From Altered Instinct: Stormhaven Rising

“If you want a book with all the feeling of a blockbuster, then this hits the spot.”

“This is Big science-fiction, with a capital B, spanning a host of characters around the globe and beyond.”

“This is a blockbuster in the style of Niven and Pournelle hits such as Lucifer’s Hammer or Footfall, where the life and death of the world hangs in the balance, and wrong decisions made along the way put everyone in peril.”

Stephen Hunt – Alteredinstinct.com  September 26, 2016

Check out the full review here.

Be sure to check out and follow Altered Instinct on twitter too!

From BookPleasures: Stormhaven Rising

“The concept of the destruction of earth because of an asteroid crashing into our planet can be traced back to 1933’s When Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer.   Since then, sci fi novels and high-octane Hollywood films have used the idea for a number of cinematic thrillrides from Armageddon to Asteroid to Deep Impact. Still, Stormhaven Rising is far more complex and believable than its literary ancestor.”

“Stormhaven Rising, an epic on its own terms, sets the stage for an epic series in its wake. If this sort of sci fi is your cup of tea, you too will likely dig into this saga in short order. It’s a ride well worth taking as Craig breathes considerable fresh air into a well-established tradition.”

Dr. Wesley Britton – BookPleasures.com January 17, 2017

Check out the full review here.

DrWesleyBritton.com