November 30, 2009

Digging up the past

It amazes me sometimes the things I find in my refers. Usually bizarre refers turn out to be spam, but sometimes they're legitimate. Like this one. My first bemused reaction was, "Why would someone at be linking to me?"

But it was perfectly legitimate. Turned out to be a link to three articles I wrote once about how dragons would get slaughtered by modern military equipment. I wish I was a member there, because I wanted to respond to this:

RE: Dragons - have you seen what dragonfire does to a predator missle?

No, can't say I have. Dragons are in short supply in Oregon right now.

The Predator is a UAV, not a missile. The Predators in Afghanistan and Pakistan been firing Hellfire missiles, but that's air-to-ground and wouldn't be used for intercept.

(There is also a missile called "Predator" but it's a shoulder-launched short-range fire-and-forget anti-armor missile, like the Javelin. I'm sure that's not what this guy was thinking of.)

Air-to-air would be more likely, and the AIM-9 Sidewinder would be king of this battlefield. The Sidewinder travels at Mach 2.5, two and a half times the speed of sound (which is 340 m/s). Which is to say, the Sidewinder moves 850 meters per second. Even if a dragon saw one coming, there's no way it could get its head turned around in time to breath towards it before it struck.

And it wouldn't matter if it did. You know how you can pass your finger through a candle flame without even feeling the heat? That's because your moving finger carries a sheath of cool air around it as long as it's moving. You only get burned if you stop in the middle.

The Sidewinder would only be exposed to the flame for a few milliseconds and wouldn't feel any heat at all. It'd heat up far more just from air resistance between the firing platform and the target dragon. (Air resistance at Mach 2.5 is non-trivial.)

AIM-120 AMRAAM could also be used. They travel Mach 4 (1360 meters per second).

The point being that these missiles are so fast that they go from "What's that speck on the horizon?" to "Ouch! Dammit!" in just a fraction of a second.

The original poster who linked to me made this point:

The problem is that most of our mythological creatures were invented when we were far less advanced, and they were given enough weaknesses that the heroes of the day could take them down in a fair fight. We've advanced, but our myths haven't.

He's right. And that's why non-campy modern science fiction horror stories create new monsters instead of trying to update traditional ones.

UPDATE: Ah, yes, the bad old days.

UPDATE: I don't like to think of myself as being a quitter, but I guess it's true.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Weird World at 07:49 PM | Comments (10) | Add Comment
Post contains 475 words, total size 3 kb.

1 Granted, you *can* have monsters that'll be legitimately threatening even in a modern setting. . . they just need upgrades.  A dragon from an anime series, is probably not the same as a dragon from classical myths.  Hell, a european dragon and an asian dragon are different enough. . .

I suspect this is why a lot of stories take the easy way out:  categorical immunity to mundane damage.  If a piece of metal travelling at velocity simply can't hurt the boojum because it doesn't have any magic to it, regardless of how fast or how big it is. . .

( which looks *really* bizarre, if the magical heroes who can take down a critter that shrugs off tank shells, somehow can't seem to do more damage than ordinary small arms in any other circumstance. . . )

Posted by: metaphysician at November 30, 2009 08:38 PM (vM63Z)

2 Heck, a Sidewinder would LOVE a fire-breathing dragon.  They are heat-seekers, after all...

Posted by: Wonderduck at November 30, 2009 08:43 PM (C32SO)

3 As soon as you invoke what amounts to magic, it ain't science fiction any longer.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at November 30, 2009 08:53 PM (+rSRq)

4 *headslap*  Doh!  Should have read more carefully.

Posted by: metaphysician at November 30, 2009 09:44 PM (vM63Z)


As one of my many pointless mental exercises (aka "daydreams") I imagined what it would be like if our universe was actually n-dimensional, with our particular solar system being three-dimensional, and thus evolving life forms that generally see and think in only three dimensions. The other dimensions contain nothing but void for light years in all directions, not too surprising when you consider how much of the universe in the observable three dimensions is vacuum. The gravity of the Earth and Sun holds us strongly to the same three dimensions they occupy, with only the most energetic of particles in supercollider collisions being flung off the particular three-dimensional volume we occupy (appearing to be "annihilated"). That wouldn't explain how they release bursts of energy instead of absorb them, but then more fundamental laws of physics get handwaved on a routine basis by better science fiction than I've ever written.

Anyhow, Earth at one point in the story gets visited by a sixth-dimensional spaceship from Alpha Centauri, a sort of "cosmic ark" that includes among its residents quite a few dragons. Dragons on Earth have their most dense volume-section, which is heavily armored and does not include any vital organs, pulled by the gravity well into the same third dimension we occupy, while their light yet strong "lift wings" and vital organs are kept off-volume and thus untouchable to any Earth-built weaponry. They lose the ability to fly on Earth (having no multidimensional atmosphere to support their off-volume lift wings), but are still terrifying foes seemingly made entirely of ultradense steel that can continue moving and fighting even after their visible bodies are shredded nearly down to the bones.

It's just another pointless update to a legend, but I thought it was at least semi-plausible.

Posted by: Tatterdemalian at December 01, 2009 05:56 AM (4njWT)

6 I would fly a dragon the way a helicopter is flown these days: use the terrain to your maximum advantage against fast movers.

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at December 01, 2009 07:34 AM (/ppBw)

7 Tatterdamalion- an interesting take.  I'm pretty sure Lovecraft played with that basic concept, albeit with creatures a good deal less aesthetically appealing than dragons.

Posted by: metaphysician at December 01, 2009 12:43 PM (vM63Z)


"The great thing about modern science is that anything can be science fiction. True, some people who really want to be 19th century materialists get hung up on the idea of things being unlikely; but all reasonable people know the difference between unlikely and impossible, especially in entertainment."

I dunno, I've never been able to master it. Personally I try to create an internally consistent set of natural laws, not necessarily the same ones that exist in the real world, whose stretching and/or breaking only occurs at moments of narrative tension. Maybe that's where I'm going wrong, but then I grew up with Star Trek as the "Prime Directive" of science fiction, in which declaring anything "impossible" is the cluebat the writers use to tell people "this is what's actually happening, now we get to see how long it takes the crew to realize it."

Posted by: Tatterdemalian at December 01, 2009 12:48 PM (TaHHC)

9 For an example of magic that turns out to really be science, see Jack Chalker's Soul Rider series.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at December 01, 2009 01:02 PM (+rSRq)

10 Actually, I would say "a consistent set of laws" should be required from *any* setting, whether science fiction or fantasy.  Magic that doesn't have any coherent rules is just an excuse for the writer to have random stuff happen ( which isn't *necessarily* bad, but its an easy crutch ).

I suppose what would distinguish "magic" from "science" in my mind is whether the rules are 'physical' or 'symbolic.'  The more metaphors and analogies have an effect on the world, the more I'd say the world is magical rather than scientific.  But that's just a rough approximation.

For an example of what I consider a good magic-based cosmology that has consistent rules, see the Chalion books by Bujold.

Posted by: metaphysician at December 01, 2009 01:35 PM (vM63Z)

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