Old School Dungeons and Dragons: Part 21

Hey, you know what I haven’t done in a while? Compile my old school Dungeons & Dragons twitter threads into a post! So here we go…

Undermountain: Stardock (1997), by Steven E. Schend. I bought this one specifically because I thought I might adapt it’s plot into one of my own campaigns in the future!

This adventure has a very dubious distinction: according to DriveThruRPG, it was the last RPG product published by TSR before their bankruptcy! (Though Wizards of the Coast would publish more adventures under the TSR label for several years.)

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Sinister Barrier, by Eric Frank Russell

Writing a book about the history and science of invisibility has led me to read things that I would otherwise never have encountered, including a whole slew of science fiction tales about invisibility and invisible creatures. I thought I would blog about a few of them, especially considering not all of them will be commented on in my final book!

The first one I want to share is Sinister Barrier, published in 1943 and written by British author Eric Frank Russell. I read the 1985 edition, shown below.

The “sinister barrier” of the title is the boundary between those frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum that we can see, that we call visible light, and those frequencies beyond, where who knows what may be lurking? (Technically, we can image in all those frequencies in modern times, but in 1943 this was a reasonable premise.)

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H.G. Wells insults the entire human race (1924)

Most everyone knows the name H.G. Wells: he is one of the founders of science fiction as a popular and accepted form of literature, thanks to his brilliant novels The Time Machine (1895), The War of the Worlds (1898), and The Invisible Man (1897), among others.

H.G. Wells in 1920.

I’ve been researching Wells for my next popular science book on the history of invisibility, and was interested in finding out where the inspiration for The Invisible Man came from. Obviously, it is influenced by the discovery of X-rays in 1895, as Wells practically says in the story, but was there any additional impetus?

Wells appears to have been quite reticent in talking about the inspiration for his tales, and through multiple interviews I could find no discussion of the topic. My last hope was to look at the Preface to his collected works published around 1924, which was written by Wells himself. I did an interlibrary loan of the Preface of the volume containing The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds, hoping to learn more. The preface didn’t tell me anything about his writing process, but it did give some hilarious insight into Wells’ disappointment with all of humanity, so I thought I would share it here.

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The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories, Volume 1

Having a quiet night at home and realized this would be a good time to catch up on some book blogging! I finally started getting back into reading, after a long pandemic-depression hiatus, at the start of the new year, but am way behind in writing about the books I read.

Let’s start with The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories, Volume 1, which came out in December of 2020.

Edited by James Jenkins and Ryan Cagle, the founders of Valancourt Books, this volume collects a bunch of horror stories, never translated into English, by authors from around the world. As they put it in the blurb for the book, there’s a whole world of horror fiction out there that most of us in the United States have never explored, and we’re missing out on some wonderful work.

This is a good time to review volume 1, as volume 2 in what will presumably be a series is already available for pre-order. And I’m glad they’ve evidently found success with the concept, because they’ve demonstrated that there are a lot of wonderful stories to be found around the world.

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Me on This Week in Science!

I’m having a lot of fun doing video chats on science shows lately! A few days ago, I happened to see that This Week in Science talked about some optics that I am familiar with, and I jokingly complained to them that I should have been consulted. Well, that turned into me appearing to talk about optics, invisibility, and cat physics this week! You can watch the interview and discussion below:

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Old School Dungeons and Dragons: Part 20

Wow, have I been doing these threads forever? Yes, yes I have! The first one was in August of 2019!

Anyway, here are some more old school Dungeons & Dragons posts, compiled from my twitter threads.

Night Below, an Underdark Campaign (1995), by Carl Sargent. This one is a truly epic D&D product!

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Personally Speaking… about Falling Felines!

Hi all, I’ve been rather busy with work lately and haven’t had much time to blog. I’ve got a lot to write about, and no time to do it! In the meantime, however, I gave a talk at my university about my Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics book which, thanks to the pandemic, will be about as “official” as a book tour event as I will have.

The event was a lot of fun, and the video is available below for anyone interested in watching! The talk itself was about 1/2 hour, followed by another 1/2 hour of Q&A with the virtual audience.

More bloggy stuff to come!

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Old School Dungeons and Dragons: Part 19

Have I really done enough twitter threads of old school Dungeons and Dragons to fill 19 posts? Yes, I have, and there’s more to come!

Let’s jump right in…

The Book of Lairs (1986), by Jim Ward and Michael Breault. This next product was a big deal when it first came out, as I remember!

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Row, row row your boat, James Clerk Maxwell (1841)

Another short post inspired by my work on my upcoming book on the history of invisibility physics!

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) is rightly regarded as one of the most important physicists of the 19th century, and indeed of all time, thanks to his work on a variety of subjects: color vision, statistical mechanics, and electromagnetic theory. It was Maxwell who found the “missing link” in electromagnetic theory, a previously unknown factor in the interaction of electricity and magnetism that, when included, predicts electromagnetic waves that travel at the speed of light. From this, Maxwell correctly concluded that light is an electromagnetic wave, revolutionizing our understanding of light, electricity and magnetism all at once.

James Clerk Maxwell.png
James Clerk Maxwell, later in life.

I always enjoy stories that humanize such powerful figures, and the 1882 book The Life of James Clerk Maxwell goes into some detail about the curious and intelligent child that Maxwell was. Throughout his childhood, his repeated question about any new object was, “What’s the go o’ that? What does it do?” If the answer was insufficient, he would add, “But what’s the particular go of it?”

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Posted in History of science, Optics | 1 Comment

Thomas Young sees the light (1800)

A post inspired by work I’m doing on my next book, on the history of invisibility! Also will help me get my thoughts in order to write the book chapter.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, humanity’s understanding of the nature of light underwent a dramatic transformation. For about a century, the study of optics had been dominated by the views of Isaac Newton, who published his classic work on the subject, Opticks, in 1704. Newton did rigorous experiments, testing the properties of light in every way imaginable in his era, and concluded from his work that light consists of a stream of particles. Newton’s work seemed to put to rest an argument that had raged in his time — is light a stream of tiny particles, or a wave, like water and sound? In 1800, however, the British scientist Thomas Young published the first of several papers arguing that light does, in fact, have wavelike properties, and his research would be the start of a new era of wave optics that continues (with some important modifications) to this day.

I’m not sure how many people are aware of the work of Young. I think most scientists have heard about his most famous contribution, now known as Young’s double-slit experiment, but even most of them may not be aware of the fascinating story of how Young came to his conclusions. This post is an attempt to rectify this.

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