This past week I gave a virtual talk to the Charlotte Amateur Astronomy Club about a fascinating development in wave physics and imaging called “superoscillations,” and I thought I would record a version that I could share here!
Hopefully the video makes sense — I throw in a little history about the wave theory of light in addition to the discussion of modern developments.
So Halloween may be done, but I’m not quite done with Halloween! I was sitting around thinking about horror-themed video games, and decided that I wanted to put together a list of some of my favorites!
Such a list is, of course, a personal one and is not intended to be some sort of list of the “absolute” best, as I haven’t played many of the most well-known. I wasn’t gaming during the early PS “Resident Evil” era, so I missed a lot of those classics.
So don’t yell at me that I didn’t include your favorite! However, feel free to share your thoughts on your own favorites in the comments!
The Lurking Horror (1987). Let’s start with one of the earliest games that can truly be called “horror,” in that it told a creepy narrative story! The Lurking Horror is an interactive text adventure released by the famed Infocom back in its heyday, and written by Dave Lebling. For those unfamiliar, “text adventures” were just that: stories told entirely through text, and with the player giving commands in the form of sentences, such as “go east,” “eat the spider,” and “hit the tentacle with the sword.”
The story is set at the fictional university G.U.E. Tech, modeled after M.I.T. and its name an allusion to the “Great Underground Empire” of the original Zork games, that started Infocom and the whole text adventure industry. The player is trying to finish a term paper in the computer lab while a fierce blizzard rages outside. While working, however, the paper gets corrupted with data from the Department of Alchemy, sending the player in that direction hoping to recovery the missing pages. With the storm outside, the player must navigate the steam tunnels below the university as well as its abandoned halls, and along the way finds evidence of a sinister and otherworldly force at work on campus. After surviving numerous perils, such as carnivorous rats and a murderous inhuman custodian, the player must finally put a stop to the evil and recover their paper in the process!
I almost forgot to do one of my oldest blog traditions: sharing a series of classic ghost and horror stories to celebrate Halloween! The list of past post is too long to share these days, but you can search “Halloween Treats” on my blog page to find my past posts.
This year, I thought I would go with a theme for my stories. At first, I thought about doing a theme of “disease,” but… that is a bit too topical! So my second choice? Horrors of the sea! So many creepy stories are set at sea or feature the ocean prominently in some way, which is not surprising: the ocean is ancient and vast, and can produce a visceral fear even without adding supernatural threats to it.
So without further ado, here are a list of nautical-themed horror stories, with links!
The Shadow over Innsmouth, by H.P. Lovecraft (1931). One of my favorite horror stories of all time! When a young man opts to take a sightseeing tour of New England, he finds the cheapest route requires a stop at the sinister seaside town of Innsmouth, where the locals appear very unhappy to see him. Innsmouth holds an ancient secret, and as the sun sets in the town, the narrator finds himself hunted by residents determined to keep that secret. (Incidentally, the story of Innsmouth was made into one of the best horror games of all time, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, which came out in 2005. You can still buy and play the game, but sure to seek out the unofficial patch for the PC version!)
The Derelict, by William Hope Hodgson (1912). Derelict ships are always creepy as heck (see, for instance, the real story of the Mary Celeste), but Hodgson creates a derelict like none other in literature! When the crew of the Bheospsé come across an ancient and abandoned ship off of the Eastern coast of Africa, they send a small boarding party to investigate. But none of the boarders are prepared for what they find, and for the true nature of the nameless vessel.
The Upper Berth, by F. Marion Crawford (1926). Simply one of the most effective ghost stories ever written, with one of the best closing lines of any such story, as well! When the sailor Brisbane takes an Atlantic voyage on the ship Kamtschatka, he is assigned the lower berth in room 105. Soon he realizes that his chamber may be occupied by something not quite human.
The Sea Raiders, by H.G. Wells (1896). Wells is most known as a science fiction author, but his short fiction could be quite horrifying! A quite town on the coast of England finds itself the target of a monstrous invasion of beings that are decidedly hungry for humans.
MS. Found in a Bottle, by Edgar Allan Poe (1833). Though some speculate that it is a satirical tale of nautical horror, Poe’s story nevertheless manages to chill with eerie and incomprehensible happenings. When disaster strikes a cargo ship heading from Indonesia, only the narrator and an old sailor are left onboard. From there, things get stranger and stranger as the pair are sent towards what seems to be an inexorable doom.
I hope you find these stories entertaining, and happy Halloween!
I’ve been a little quiet on the blog lately thanks to a combination of lots of work, lots of D&D games during the week, and just stress about the world! Hoping to get back to a more regular schedule in the near future, but in the meantime, I wanted to share the news:
Fellows are members of the Optical Society that have been recognized for their accomplishments in the field. I have been recognized “for contributions to coherence theory, singular optics, and the intersection of these disciplines.”
It’s quite an honor and I wasn’t sure that I would ever be made a Fellow, to be honest. From the OSA website,
OSA Fellows are an important part of our community and we greatly appreciate their on-going support of OSA and our field. The number of Fellows is limited by the Society’s bylaws to be no more than 10% of the total OSA Membership and the number elected each year is limited to approximately 0.5% of the current membership total.
Just wanted to share this bit of happy personal news — I’ll be back soon with more science, horror, and D&D posts!
My apologies for the long delay in writing — the chaos in the world and the busy nature of life has left me rather drained! But I have managed to start reading some fiction again, and I thought I would share thoughts on one of my recent reads, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock (2016), by Paul Tremblay.
One night Elizabeth Sanderson awakens to the call that every parent fears: her son, 13 year old Tommy, has disappeared into the wilds of a Borderland State Park while hanging out with his friends, Josh and Luis. A search is immediately launched near the landmark nicknamed Devil’s Rock, a place where local folklore says the devil was trapped ages ago. As the days pass and the search area expands, fruitlessly, Elizabeth and her daughter Kate struggle with feelings of helplessness and terror. But, unexpectedly, they begin to find pages of Tommy’s journal lying on the floor of the house in the morning, with no idea how they got there.
The journal pages begin to shed light on the circumstances of Tommy’s disappearance, even as the family struggles to understand where they are coming from. But none of them are prepared for the final revelation of what happened that night at Devil’s Rock, and why.
Okay, so I did a video presentation at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences tonight on “Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics!” Due to COVID restrictions, it’s the closest thing to a book event I’ll be doing for a while, so I’m grateful to have had the opportunity.
Watch the video for a fun walk through the basic history of the falling feline problem in science, as well as a couple of brief demonstrations by me on a spinner, showing how angular momentum works! Along with, of course, a discussion of Marey’s classic 1894 sequence of images of the falling cat:
Side view of a falling cat, by Marey. Images chronological from right to left, top to bottom.
Hi all! For those who might be interested in watching, I’ll be doing a live presentation about the history of falling cats and science, based on my Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics book, as a Science Cafe for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences! You can read about the event, and find the YouTube link to it, at this link.
I assume that there will be a recording, and I will also post the link to it when it becomes available!
Time for another round of Fake Book Titles that I’ve done, compiled from twitter! You can see compilation 1, compilation 2 and compilation 3 at the links. Been struggling a bit more with inspiration the past few months, but let’s see how I did…
As always with these, content warning for language, innuendo, and politics!
The author of Skulls in the Stars is a professor of physics, specializing in optical science, at UNC Charlotte. The blog covers topics in physics and optics, the history of science, classic pulp fantasy and horror fiction, and the surprising intersections between these areas.