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Press Release: Stross Uncloaks Secret Media Project

Greetings. The financial agreements having been finalized, I am now at liberty to publicly announce my big new media project for 2013 — my first movie deal!

Many of you have asked me, "when are we going to see a movie of one of your books?" Secrecy and a non-disclosure agreement have forced me to evade and misdirect callers, but I can now reveal the surprising truth; it could well be on a screen near you as early as fall 2014! However, it's not going to be based on one of my existing novels. My existing long-form fiction has always been problematic from a cinematographic perspective; plot complexity is not an obstacle, but too much introspection and time spent inside my characters' heads is, and unreliable narrators are notoriously hard to convey in film — especially with today's pressure to deliver an action-packed adventure for the short attention span generation. Films are made or broken in their first weekend box-office receipts, and I see no reason to make my first movie my last. So I'm determined to start my new career as a producer with a property that is so hot it glows in the dark.


Yes, I'm going into production. Scriptwriting is not my strong point, but thanks to a happy accident of fate I have connections in the financial sector (notably former colleagues from Datacash PLC who now operate the fund processing infrastructure for online casinos based in Cyprus. These businesses are bankrolled by the offshore asset management vehicles of Russian investors, who are now urgently seeking opportunities to realize a return on their assets that take them out of the reach of the Cypriot banking sector). I have the ideas, and I have entered into a strategic partnership with Machinima/CGI special effects house Strange Company to leverage our business synergies in pursuit of this project.

The success of "Iron Sky" demonstrated that kickstarter assisted low to medium budget SFX-dominated movies with a largely unknown cast can achieve cult success and a decent ROI via streaming download distribution without access to the usual studio-dominated theatrical release cycle and retail DVD channels. The existence and enduring popularity of the low-budget gorefest horror sector with plausible non-supernatural monster threats also suggests an option. My analysis of the sector, conducted with the assistance of my agent and production associates, suggests that one particular area is oversubscribed and ripe for creative disruption.

There is a glut of Shark-related wildlife horror on the market at present, from "Megalodon" to "Shark vs. Giant Octopus" and "Sharktopus", not to mention the immortal "Sharks vs. Tanks". Why sharks? Well, they have teeth, and they inspire primal fear of being eaten — especially when accompanied by a John Williams score. So I'm not going to produce a shark movie; instead I'm going to go back to basics, with another popular wildlife phobia. Take a primal threat, inflate it to massive proportions, riff off a parasitic life-cycle that Ridley Scott used to great effect in his most enduring horror creation, and add a high concept. I present to you ...



At a shadowy genetic research lab in the corn fields of Arizona, white-coated scientists are tampering with nature. Bees are dying out, so what will pollinate our crops? The researchers, including idealistic whistle-blower Amanda Powers (performed by [TO BE ANNOUNCED]) are transplanting bee genes and useful growth factors into another flying insect species in the hope of allowing their corporate employer to continue to profit from their GM crop line after the bees it is killing become extinct.

(The researchers are unaware that the evil CEO of their employer, the Mandrake Corporation, has other plans for his genetically modified wasps; he is working on a fat DARPA contract to develop wireless-controlled cyborg insect predators to use as drones in the War On Terror and to patrol the Mexican border to keep wetbacks out.)

Amanda makes covert contact with ruggedly handsome undercover EPA Agent Garrison Ambrose (played by [TO BE ANNOUNCED]) who is also, unknown to his employers, a deep cover Greenpeace mole inserted into the US government agency a decade ago to uncover evidence of corporate corruption of the civil service.

Mandrake Corporation is, unknown to everyone else, working with DNA samples stolen from Jurassic Park. They're building some really big wasps — wasps the size of pigeons — with turbocharged biology that enables them to fly (and sting).

A Greenpeace sympathizer at the EPA leaks word of the experiments to a group of idealistic PETA activists, but the message gets mangled: they think Mandrake Corporation are trying to breed GM beagles for medical research. They organize a night-time break-in and open the containment airlock on the dome that holds the wasps before realizing their mistake — in a very terminal manner.

At this point Ambrose is called in in his official capacity, along with local good ole' boy Sheriff Bill O'Rourke, who is in the pay of Mandrake Corp (with a remit to hush-up the leak). Ambrose wants to spray with insecticide to kill the feral wasps before their queen starts laying eggs; O'Rourke is more concerned with protecting Mandrake assets and finding the source of the leak. Powers tries to warn them about the danger posed by the wasps but O'Rourke isn't listening. She and Ambrose hole up to try and work out where the wasps might be nesting.

Meanwhile: a hitch-hiker is found dead by the roadside, bloated up and stabbed repeatedly. "Looks like a pack of rattlesnakes," observes O'Rourke.

A helicopter circles around the research station, spraying a proprietary experimental insecticide. Wasps fly through it and fail to die. Instead, they begin to grow, shedding their exoskeletons and metamorphizing into a new, larger, deadlier instar.

Spraying completed, O'Rourke begins to hunt down the source of the leak. He works out that it's probably Powers, and sends his men to arrest her. Ambrose remonstrates with the small-town cops while Powers escapes; they arrest and beat him instead.

CUT TO: A mini-bus full of protestors from the GOD HATES QUEERS church are found stung to death, with horrible gaping wounds. (A stinger has punched right through the windshield and impaled the driver through his fricking face.)

O'Rourke holes up to interrogate Ambrose. Ambrose warns him: "you have no idea how bad this is going to get." O'Rourke beats him up.

CUT TO: a twin-engined airliner flies into a swarm of giant wasps, loses both engines, and makes a successful crash-landing ... only for the traumatized survivors to be stung to death and eaten as they crawl from the wreckage.

Meanwhile, Powers escapes into the desert. She sees wasps, in the distance. With her camera, she photographs one of them chewing off a tree branch to carry back to its nest. She uploads the photo to the internet: SOMETHING TERRIBLE IS COMING.

Next morning, a Gulfstream full of men in black from the EPA lands at the nearest airfield and heads for O'Rourke's jail. They spring Ambrose, haul him off to their HQ in Phoenix — then tell him he's suspended pending an investigation. He tries to warn them. His boss, Schaeffer, tells him that the USAF is lending them a surveillance asset to track down the wasps' nest.

CUT TO: A predator drone being bitten in half by a wasp with a 20 metre wingspan.

CUT TO: Gigantic wasps peeling back the roof of the Mandrake Corporation research center, picking up their screaming victims, stinging them into paralysis, and flying them back to the nest.

Powers is trying to drive to Phoenix. Her ipad is filling up with frantic questions from journalists, over the breaking story; but O'Rourke has sent his men after her. A Highway Patrol officer on a motorcycle pulls her over and is about to haul her out of her car when she looks in the rear-view mirror and sees a squadron of giant wasps hurtling towards them. She warns him to take cover just as the first wasp roars overhead and spears the motorbike on its stinger. The cop dives into the back seat, and a car chase of a different kind ensues. Powers finally reaches town, driving on her front wheels after a vexatious vespulan has bitten the back half off her car. She's met by a national guard unit armed with stinger missiles who shoot down the insects ...

The men from the EPA reveal to Ambrose that the national guard have found the nest and are about to douse it with insecticide. Ambrose warns them that it won't work, that they need Powers' special insight into how to kill the wasps.

CUT TO: Another Predator drone firing missiles, trailing clouds of gas, at a WASPS' NEST THE SIZE OF A SKYSCRAPER CLINGING TO THE EDGE OF THE GRAND CANYON.


Powers explains to the EPA that the wasps are breeding up a new batch of super-queens, which will be invulnerable to anything short of nuclear weapons. A crack team of special forces will have to abseil into the giant nest, find the encysted, paralysed, still-living human victims in whom the eggs have been laid, and incinerate them with flame-throwers before the nest's Guards can stop them. Otherwise the problem will arise again.

The President has taken an interest by this point and is ordering the spill-ways on the Grand Hoover Dam to be opened, in hope of flushing the giant nest all the way out to sea. There is therefore a forty-minute deadline in which to accomplish the mission.







You may hate my project, but the Russian Cypriot casino owners who are backing it like it. So it's going ahead, unless you contribute to my innovative KickStopper campaign! You see, we anticipate a net profit of £1.34M after residuals, DVD releases, games tie-ins and spin-offs (giant plush velour baby-friendly wasps with realistic ichor-dribbling stinger action), and providing our backers with the return on investment they expect deserve. So if you want to avoid being subjected to two or three years of WASPOSAURUS REX saturation media bombardment — if, say, you happen to suffer from sphexophobia — all you have to do is pay money into the KickStopper campaign. Once the pledged funds exceed £1.34M, we promise to stop production immediately, return the seed capital to the investors, burn the script, and go on a long vacation while we plan our next crime against decency.

(The KickStopper site is currently under construction. In the meantime, all enquires should go to Frail Pool Productions. You know where to find us.)



All hail our Wasposaurian Overlords and your Russian Cypriot backers!

... and all cheques to Frail Pool?

I approve.

Dave :)


I've already ordered the popcorn and insect-suits!


Awesome! You need laser beams in there somewhere, too. And Jennifer Lawrence. The quality of your writing shines through this screen treatment, the plot doesn't have enough holes for a Hollywood production. I'm sure the narrative structure will suffer critical damage during the rewrite process.

I'm so disappointed to have to wait two years for this to come out - I'm assuming you're aiming for a very early April 2015 release? Can't wait!

When will the first storyboards be up?




Happy April from zone GMT +8. And to you, too, Charlie.


Definitely want the action figure. Nice one, Charlie.


The romance angle is kind of perfunctory -- can you work in Ambrose's estranged teenaged daughter who happens to be a vampire with a boyfriend in the AZ National Guard? (Teen Paranormal Romance for the trifecta!)


Is it bad that I'd watch that? It is isn't it? Such a shame. I'd actually pay quite good money to watch a film which included (verbatim) the line "They're building some really big wasps". I can hear Harrison Ford saying it. The only thing it feels like it's lacking is a proper "hacking" scene. You know, fast typing, 15k lumen screens, some apps that are quite clear disk space analysers.


I've always wanted to exercise my inner Ben Burtt. Tell me when & where and you'll have Wasposaurus Rex sound effects to curdle your blood.


What, no unicorns this time? Enjoy your vacation!


Do you think you could include Fox News deciding to cover actual news for once, and turning up onsite?

Bill O'Reilly getting chased down the street before falling down, head first into shot, with a stinger through his chest, and to camera saying "can't explain that" - has got to add $2m to the take (would play well in the trailers).

Otherwise, I think you have a great career ahead of you as a screenwriter, once you've stopped putting so much coherent plot into the story.


What's Scots for "Michael Bay"?


Welllll kinda like to see a treatment of Accelerando first - without gratuitous wasps. The Wunch rather than wasps - The Wunch are seriously off putting, the wasps are merely scary. Would happily put in money to stop those bloody shark shows.


Well done. You deserve this opportunity. Here's hoping it all pans out well.


Huzzah! It's been years since there's been an insect-based creature feature out. Well, unless you count Cloverfield --- but compared to that, you've got better science, more convincing characters, a greater variety of locations for interesting shots, and a vastly more sensible plot. (I trust you've seen Jim McDonald's evisceration of Cloverfield on Making Light?)

Not at all sure why you went with the unconventional financing here. Go Hollywood for real. They know how to do this sort of thing right!


Ah foolish me. It's April 1st.


Am I the only one who conflated Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise to get Iron Sky?


The sad thing is, an actual studio could produce an actual Hollywood summer blockbuster exactly as described here and nobody would bat an eyelash. It's really getting difficult to parody the genre.


It's not April 1st where I am so this has to be true, right? Anyways, was along for the ride till the bit about funding from your former colleagues and Cypriot hosted on-line gambling...ha ha ha...

I would love to see one or more of your works translated into film one of these days--thinking an Eschaton novel or Halting State, maybe even Accelerando. Heck if Cloud Atlas can be brought to the screen (somewhat successfully) then just about anything can.

Happy April Fools everyone!


Is there any way.... we can pay them... not to make another Transformers?


Having seen this, this project might just possibly work.

(Hello from UTC +12)





Well done. It took me most of ten seconds of brain-freeze after reading the project title to remember the date. You tease.


Have pledged 30 roubles, a case of Obolon and six bottles of Pervatsch. This movie will happen.


What, you're not getting financing from Family drug money?


Nicely done. Sounds better than most of Hollyweird's actual output, so I wouldn't be surprised if you get some offers...

(That's the trouble with satire these days)


Don't forget the real money maker:

Angry Wasps iOS games


Ah! I knew this was a fake when you didn't mention that it was essential that the video game tie-in should support Oculus VR glasses.



I thought 'Unicorn School: The Sparkling' had much better legs than this pile of Nargle dung.


Wasp! Well, a few got stung :o)


Hmmm ... it should be fairly easy to generate some buzz for this project.


Not only is it 1st April, but the copyright for this movie already exists. Charlie will have to approach the "Estate of Keith Roberts" for permission to (re)-use the plot of THE FURIES.

Oh dear. Russian Cypriot backers indeed!


I hope there's a book tie-in with a foreword by Sir David Attenborough.


Admit it, the Russians are just a front for the lobsters.


Yo, ho, great project!

A sort of pre-post-ironic counterpoint to the famed giant ant horror fest that was THEM!

Perhaps call it THOSE! or THESE! (which rhymes with BEES! and so would be a literary in-joke).

Maybe use code name 401 for both the date of the launch and the meta-commentary HTTP code for something that cannot be found.

Hive up and buzz off!


Well, if you must talk about prior art, then you have to note that The Wasp has a giant form, and Marvel comics had authorized a movie, written by Joss Whedon.


You don't have to mention that the turbocharged metabolism turbocharges their aggression, because you've shown in in awe.



Here's the Strange Company press release describing our no-doubt-fruitful (and fruit-maggot-injecting) partnership!

Yay for cross-media synergies in pursuit of a rosy future for monetizing our distributed platform intellectual property portfolio!


Indeed! I look forward to continuing to add stakeholder value through monetizing our collective demographic - on a going forward basis.

And should anyone be interested (and free from ferrous metal implants) in enduring - erm, enjoying - our MRIScan preview technology designed to ensure WASPOSAURUS REX injects just the right amount of fun maggots straight into your eyeballs, do let us know!


Ahem. This is Hugh of Strange Company, btw :) Darn Internets.


If you're thinking of product placement, the phone your good guys should use is the Wasp T-12 Speechtool. It's well weapon.


Charlie @ 38 You do know that the "Strange Company" picture shows a HORNET, not a WASP, don't you?


Hornets are just scaled up wasps with added rage. Right?


In the A/B test, the hornet was found to have a terror rating of 1.22, compared to the paper wasp (1.16), the yellowjacket (.99), the bumblebee (0.65).

Technically it was only the second most terrifying creature we split-tested, as thanks to some communication problems with our outsourced testing department they also tested a wide variety of WASPs for the key poster image. Those tests resulted in Donald Trump leading the field with 1.44 rating, but negotiations to use Mr Trump's image have so far proved fruitless.


Added Rage? Hmm. We need to talk to Danny Boyle's people about a sequel tying in with the "28 Days Later" franchise.

The only thing scarier than wasps... are ANGRY ZOMBIE WASPS.


Man, the cosplay from this one will be stupendous. Think of waspy girls with strap-ons, er, stingers. Yeah.

I assume you're planning for the mandatory musical reboot in 2023?


Garrison Ambrose

Must be the Manly Man Hero™ --he has two last names. And I'm sure his friends call him Buck. Though I guess he's also a Sensitive New Age Guy, with a heart of gold.



This couldn't happen to a more deserving chap.

-- MrJM


More heroic insect related puns/lines needed...

"Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home. Your house is on fire..." (cue flamethrowers)

There also needs to be a restaurant scene so we can have a "fly in my soup" line.


YES! Hornets and wasps are exactly the same (except for rage issues) so those giant thingies will love Al Hirt:

Or, at least, his Hornet theme.


Since it's April 1 and this is a just a joke that will never be made anyway I will take this semi-script and make an actual movie from it for free download on the net.


Right indeed. Hornets are a large species of wasp, of the genus Vespa (which makes the Italian Vespa Spyder a slightly confused vehicle). They're not of the particular species Vespula germanica, but nothing above says they are.

(The number of species of wasp that exists gives me the feeling that whenever God gets bored with beetles, he quickly whips up a couple of new types of wasp. Thank goodness some are almost too small to see.)


And how will you stop the SiFi channel from just making it on their own?

We are doomed I tell you, DOOMED!


And Hornets prey on "normal" wasps, IIRC.

Of course, some wasps are harmless, including the Great Wood Wasp Uroceras gigas usually found in mountain district valleys with pine trees .....


Am I the only one who thinks Laundryverse would work fine as a BBC series a'la Sherlock? I concede that Stross + Hollywood is probably an unholy union that should never occur.


This is not the day to be jet lagged and sleep deprived while reading the internet. I flew from the West Coast to the East Coast (US), and thanks to a delayed flight, landed slight after midnight EDT. Thanks to a demolition site next to the place I'm staying, I was woken up at 7am EDT on the dot.

This means I made it all the way to "There is a glut of Shark-related wildlife horror on the market at present" before the BS detectors railed and caused a "hey, there was something odd to remember about today... wasn't there?" interrupt.

Congratulations. You had me for a couple paragraphs. I am ashamed I made it past Machinima and Russian Gambling Magnates thinking "this is °€☭©☢£☢∞ brilliant!"

I need some sleep.


f* ! I believed you, it took me 18 posts to understand. I hate you ! I will steal your next book for revenge... grrrr! and next year, when the picture is released, is a hit and you got no money 'cause someguy stole your idea, I'll laugh. and grrr again.


Apparently it's two first names? Though most of their examples also look like last names to me. I had the heroes of Left Behind in my head. I would have to be paid very generously to read that dreck.


We don't really do corn in Arizona... you might be thinking cotton.


I think Charlie was filching from the first X-Files movie.


It really needs some kind of nanotechnology in there. Like maybe the wasps have nanobots that give them their super-strength and speed. And I hear that there's this hip singularity thing that everyone's into these days, maybe that's what the super-queens are building?


Nope, I was just doing to American geography what Hollywood routinely does to the rest of the world.

(Also: the Hoover dam is downstream from the Grand Canyon; opening the spillways will do nothing to the WASPOSAURUS nest. Thank you for playing!)


Pish, there's so many physics violations for giant flying wasps to exist that making water run uphill is nothing.

Oooh, you could probably tie it into the Laundry books that way, and give yourself lots of money optioning the rights to your own books!


You missed the biology violations (for example, insect book wings lungs (edit: I blame jet lag and typing on an ipad ...) simply don't scale up well enough to support a flying insect weighing more than a couple of grams in our current atmosphere, where the partial pressure of oxygen is pegged at around 21%; back in the Cretaceous era the pO2 was considerably higher, although it never gets above 30% -- at which point, even waterlogged biomass, like your flesh, will burn happily in air). Also, the plot continuity violations (just who strapped fricken' lasers to the wasps' stingers? Dr Evil?).

And, as noted upstream, the basic idea was exploited by Keith Roberts in his novel "The Furies", 3-4 decades ago (an English "cosy catastrophe" SF novel of much the same era as "The Day of the Triffids", featuring metre-wingspan wasps as the embodiment of alien invaders). I think WASPOSAURUS REX is a better fit to the contemporary zeitgeist, though.


Biology is a subset of physics here :).

Frankly, if you've got wasps the size of a small plane, why wouldn't you attach frickin' lasers on their frickin' heads? I know I would.


I'll go along with it but only if the giant insects emit laser beams from their antennae.


Good one :)


The genes for them could have been found by the Martian Rovers (see Siths in the Barsoom novels) and a government cover up was in place whilst the CIA used their poison to develop weapons of mass destruction.


You didn't say how we finally defeat the Wasps!

Take away their country club memberships? I'm here all week folks, try the veal.

Now, about the sequel....


Perfect idea for a sequel:

"Carboniferous Park"

DNA taken from the dead wasps is used by a secret lab on a remote island to resurrect creepy crawlers from the age of giant insects.

Think of the money from the toy merchandising alone.


You missed the biology violations...

I didn't. But who can explain the square/cube law to Hollywood? If you look at biology problems in films actually made, the violations in Waspasaurus Rex fade away into the background.

And Hollywood wouldn't even understand why you have a geography problem. Canyon, dam; problem solved.


You didn't say how we finally defeat the Wasps!

Well, they're sitting seventh in the Aviva Premiership - and have been beaten recently by Saracens, Northampton, and Worcester...



I think you forgot the "cute kid" Tm JMS.

And as the leads called Amanda presumably you are going for Helen Tapping for the lead :-)


Sharks v Tanks - well funny you may say that :-)

In the Traveller RPG there was the D class battle dress for (Uplifted) Dolphins and those packed a Plasma or Fusion gun as the main armament.

I am sure that an ONA featuring cute dolphins in power armor in the style of Catshit One aka Apocalypse Meow woudl work :-)


DARPA is actually working on wirelessly controlled insects. It was a project at MIT and some other schools in 2009: A Pulsed UWB Receiver for Insect Motion Control. Less technical overview here: Insects of Doom. They glued a tiny chip to the back of hawkmoths with tungsten wires that went into its wing muscles, and then tried to fly it inside a wind tunnel. I happened to meet the prof in change and asked him "Really? Why?" and he said "Above my pay grade."


Charlie, don't be surprised if the SciFi channel contacts you. You have come up with a perfectly good outline for their Saturday Night movie. Having produced such august works as Mansquito and Sharktopus, yours looks to be a perfect fit.


Actually, I'm kind of sad this is just an April Fool joke.

What constantly amazes me is how much money is thrown at Hollywood productions that are crap. And the reviews! There were many who loved the recent Hobbit. I found it a tragic waste, especially when the same director was able to do so much better with the previous trilogy. Skyfail was bad even by Bond movie standards and I'd heard such glowing reviews going into that.

Iron Sky, by contrast, was pretty damned entertaining but the professional critics who lauded those other films saw fit to pan it.

Sadly, market evidence shows that these movie makers don't have any lesson to learn: if these movies I call "bad" are making a billion dollars at the box office, that's a mistake they're happy to repeat and the audiences are happy to pay for.

I'd like to see a Strossian tale on the big screen. If it's an original tale, so much the better.


When you're so out of step with everyone else, perhaps you ought to consider the possibility that it's you, not everyone else.

A good review is one that explains why something is crap, or is good. Just saying something is crap is a tedious waste of everyone's time.


OFF TOPIC but important .... Something we wish was an April Fool but, horribly is not has just broken news ... This is horrible - & on a side-note: wasn't he supposed to be a GOH @ Loncon, next year, too?


Well, as already said, bugger, though he seems to take it with some humor ("be my widow").

If you want some (likely false) hope, ever since I read the quips by Stephen Jay Gould on his prognosis and the statistics involved, I take those survival rates with some caution...

He eventually died of cancer, but 20 years later.


Sadly, I understand liver cancer has a pretty low survival rate anyway, and since it seems to be non-operable and has gotten to his lymph glands, I think this means that Iain will be leaving the party a trifle early. I don't believe he'd want us to hold onto a false hope.


Yes, he is supposed to be a GoH, and their website has been updated with the news.

I don't believe he'd want us to hold onto a false hope.

I agree, the diagnosis is grim, and the case is advanced; especially problematic is that the tumours at the blood vessels are making removal of the tumours difficult, if not impossible. AFAIK one possible treatment is liver transplantation, no idea if that's an option.

But than, if one went for some logic borrowed from Chesterton, hope (as courage) makes only sense when in opposition to the odds, else it's no hope (or courage); so, if you're really strict, there is only false hope to speak of. Distinguishing between the healthy and the unhealthy variant is nontrivial, though.

In a less rabulistic vein, there is this article on survival rates in the US (not UK):

where median survival rate for intrahepatic bile tract is 5.6 month, e.g. by this time 50% are still alive. Survival rate after one year is 27.9, after two 14.5, after three 8.5 and after five years 4.8%, after ten years we have a survival rate of 3.2%.

Which fits somewhat with the numbers mentioned by Banks.

Also according to the article, 70% of those afflicted are 65 years and older, where the median survival for those is only 5.5 months. Banks is in the 50-64 group, where median survival is 9 months; but than, survival rate after 5 years is only 15% in this group, too.

Aside from trying to keep a positive but realistic outlook, which might be important for survival itself, number jumbling might be important when looking for treatment options.

There is also one quite interesting article about strategies in biliary tract cancer:

It seems like Banks is thinking about radiation and chemotherapy at the moment; if we go with this study

median survival for chemotherapy was about 8.0 for each of the agents alone, and 11.7 for cisplatin-gemcitabine combined. Which might not look much, and you might subtract the time in chemotherapy (read: nasea, pain etc.), but it might be interesting to see survival after 5 years, to pull some numbers out of my ass, 5% vs. 0% is a difference. As for radiotherapy, it might shrinken the tumour somewhat, not really eradicating it, but making surgery possible.

Personally, I would ask about a liver transplantation, with survival rates of over 80% at 5 years; pancreas is a real bugger, though it seems it's not certain there any tumours there. Still, any treatment option has to be weighted in with loss of life quality.

Sorry if that seems uncaring, biologist here, that's my way of dealing with bad news in the medical sector.


I wasn't going to clutter the blog with a long and off-topic rant. But I think this is hardly going to be the venue to argue that being out of step with mainstream tastes means we're missing something.


"being out of step with mainstream tastes means". But movies om the SF Chanel have been to dumb to stand. IF YOU BRAIN IS NOT FRIED.


Put that whisky down. You've now reached incoherency level 2.

You missed the biology violations

Err, I can't remember the exact quote, e.g. if it was biology, history or physics in SF that was the kid lying in an unmarked shallow grave next to the never reassembled truck, the oil drums and the piles of matches (the red phosphorus for reducing ephedrine to meth is only in the striking surface, as those into "Breaking Bad" know), compared to its more lucky sibling that only turned up with bruises it couldn't explain. And who coined that one, anyway. Not that it is necessarily true.

for example, insect book wings simply don't scale up well enough to support a flying insect weighing more than a couple of grams in our current atmosphere

Hm, sorry to be something of a anally retentive pedantic jerk here and ask, but did you mean "book wings" or "book lungs"? For the first, I found no mention of the term, for the latter, book lungs are found in arachnids, not insects:

In insects, there are trachea

where there is a hypothesis the size of insects is limited by passive diffusion of oxygen:

There are quite some experiments that might mean that is true, though AFAIK not in hymenoptera, but in coleoptera, and tracheal respiration is quite complex,

with examples of a more active respiration:

So there might be some reason to some informed scepticism about this oxygen diffusion limit for insect size, though one would have to go through the physiology with some of those modifications. Where, alas, this branch of physiology means you have to be good at biology (anatomy, developmental, evolutionary), chemistry, physics and math. Which, well, isn't that common as a trait.

Please note that IIRC, the one-way system in grasshoppers mentioned in the last page is something we synapsid losers suck at, though it is known to work in some Archosauria, especially birds, there are some indications in dinosaurs, crocodiles not so much, but please note crocodiles are not primitive but derived, with some indications their ancestors were endothermic, so it might be a "never had them", but more of a "lost them later":

Maybe one could tweak the insect trachea system to a similar efficiacy.

Short side note for avian/very modified insect intelligence, I have no idea how such systems might scale for further development compared to the human pneumocardiovascular system, and how this is related to the limits of brain size or intelligence:

(I originally wanted to bring this one up with regards to your cloud(AKA language) theory of the limits of human intelligence)

As for passive diffusion systems, diffusion is somewhat dependent on temperature, if I go with

there is a factor of (temperature in Kelvin)^(3/2) for gases, e.g. going from 30° to 50°C gives you a factor of about 1.1.

Back to insect size, there might be other factors, e.g. the limitations of exoskeletons, though that one is not clear:

And an highly active breathing apparatus like in birds might depend on endothermy, which might depend on a certain size, which currently is not attainable for insects thanks to the mentioned size limit, let's call it non-overlapping evolutionary phase spaces. With higher oxygen though, that might change, and please note that especially social insects are endothermic to some degree:

On another note, it might just be that at the moment, there are no ecological niches for really big insects. Just as there were no niches for synapsids bigger than a wolf in the Mesozoic.

And the size limits for terrestrial trachea breathers are something else, myriapoda are similar to insects in this regard, and the biggest one in the carboniferous, Arthopleura, is at the 2 metre mark.

TLDR, I'd say you could violate the insect size axiom with some handwavium.

back in the Cretaceous era the pO2 was considerably higher, although it never gets above 30% -- at which point, even waterlogged biomass, like your flesh, will burn happily in air

Err, have I told you already that there is some nontrivial overlap between ADHD and the high-functioning part of the autism spectrum, AKA Aspergers before the recent DSM overhaul said HFA and Aspergers are more or less the same? Err, no idea why I'm mentioning this when the nerdgas is venting up, err... Just to say, please don't think this is some form of intimidation or aggression, err, sorry, just some memories about discussions about German rocket fuels in WWII, where explaining H2O2 doesn't dissolve human tissues, but the fluoride oxides (or oxygen fluorides?) does got me some nice comments, err, no, I don't think I qualify for PTSD, err...

Well, I did a google search for oxygen concentrations for spontaneous combustion, and found this discussion on past oxgen levels:

where they mention a paper:


where the pdf is interesting reading, besides cruelty to animals of the entertaining kind (hummingbirds and bees in 80% He/ 20% O2 Heliox, they wanted to see flight performance in a medium less dense than air) it mentions a 35% limit for oxygen concentrations leading to spontaneous combustion of the biosphere, with two references:

WATSON, A., LOVELOCK, J. E. AND MARGULIS, L. (1978): Methanogenesis, fires and regulation of atmospheric oxygen. Biosystems 10, 293–298.

(yeah, it's those Gaia guys and gals)

and, more recent

KUMP, L. R. (1989): Chemical stability of the atmosphere and ocean. Global planet. Change 1, 123–126.

Both papers are more concerned about the question of stability of oxygen concentration, where, according to the latter abstract, it might be somewhat more indirect:

"There appears to be no strong relationship between oxygen level and oxygen consumption. However, oxygen production may be a function of oxygen level; the burial rate of organic carbon (oxygen production) in marine sediments may be sensitive to bottom water oxygenation levels. Also, combustion may be an effective mechanism of transferring nutrients (namely phosphorus) from efficient, terrestrial ecosystems to less efficient, marine ecosystems. When O2 rises, fires become more frequent and P is transferred to the ocean, stimulating marine organic carbon burial but depressing global burial rates. Global O2 production rates decline, as does the O2 level: a negative feedback."

More on these feedback effects later.

For the first one, there is a reference to the work of Watson in 1978, where his list of publications

gives us quite a lot, but for 1978 only his PhD Thesis and little else:

Watson, A. J. (1978): Consequences for the biosphere of forest and grassland fires. (U. Reading).

Searching for this work gives one quite a lot of the latter work on the issue.

There are some problems with this work, e.g.

"These are old data from Lovelock, and were based on experiments burning strips of paper with various water contents in various partial pressures of oxygen. Vegetation (both living and in the form of forest-floor debris) turns out to be much harder to burn than damp paper: partly because living tissue contains more water than it's possible to soak into a piece of paper, partly because of the lignin and silica content of plants (all of which is carefully removed when making paper). Subsequent tests on real vegetation showed a pretty flat response up to 30% oxygen or more. This is borne out by newer data showing that the oxygen partial pressure sat between 300 and 350mb for the duration of the Carboniferous and into the Permian. There is evidence of recurring, hot forest fires (in the form of charcoal beds within the coal seams), but no evidence of a global conflagration of the sort Lovelock envisaged."

BTW, if you think about it, it's quite clear that there is not that much spontaneous combustion with oxygen levels above 35%, since higher concentrations are used in medicine without the patients going up in flames immediately:

There might be subtle damages by oxygen radicals on the cellular level, though then, superoxide dismutase and like can be amped up to eleven.

The problem might be more severe fires after they are ignited, or some subtle effects on plant biochemistry, since oxygen is not that benign to life, just ask the anaerobes.

Problem is that in some recent experiments

the relation of flammability and oxygen concentration was somewhat sigmoidal, e.g. there was a high rise between 19 and 22%, but after about 24%, it levelled of, since everything is burned. They talk about the effects of about 35% oxygen later of, though.

BTW, more humidity might mean less flammability, but also more lightnings and thus more fires. Let's just say modelling this is hard.

As for feedback effects on carbon burial in the oceans, there is this paper, again by the A. J. Watson from above:

If I remember my stints with aquatic ecology, one of the problems with lack of oxygen in lakes is that with oxygen, iron and phosphate are sequestered to the sediment, thus limiting life. AFAIR, this changes with little oxygen, as both become liberated. Which means more photosynthesis. But that was some time ago, and after fast reading some articles, P is more of a limiting factor in freshwater, N in Oceans.

TLDR, I guess a biosphere with more than 35% oxygen in the air might work. Especially if there are effective oceanic ecosystems, my guess would be on shallow inland seas with much mineral influx from the continents.

just who strapped fricken' lasers to the wasps' stingers? Dr Evil?

Err, what about "a wizard did it"?

More to the point, any mechanism big wasps are going to take off, e.g. more oxygen, higher temperature, active transport in trachea, means those buggers will have a hyperactive metabolism. Which means two things:

a) need of more food (good plot point, humans are quite large, quite frequent animals).

b) lots of metabolic energy to work with, some to spare.

And for the latter, beware of the living laser:

Attaching those things to the stings makes sense, both biologically, we already have a targeting system there, and dramaturgically.

You see, hymenoptera stings are evolved from female sex organs, which is why only the females have them. Oh the sexual symbology...

Err, just some musings, I guess heteromeles is already going to flay me alive. Or cover me in a mixture of honey, fruit cakes and cheap beer next to a hornet nest.

BTW, please remind me that when redoing this more or less train wreck of my master thesis, I should not only look at the genomes of some lophotrocho, err, molluscs and annelids besides the usual ecdyzoa and deuterostomia, but also in the latter, include some cetaceans. The reason? Wearing a t-shirt saying "I'm a whale biologist, I just tell it as it is".


Which reminds me of something. There have to be some explosions. LOTS of explosions. Explosions of hypercharged hymenoptera metabolisms. Explosions where Teal'c from Stargate SG-1 does not understand why everything in the script must inevitably explode.


I have about 3,000 geniune Greek Drachma that I'm willing to commit to this project, on the condition that you change the setting to the Peleponnese...I'm seeing the mutant wasps diving into the Aegean...


The Waspasaurus Rex proposal is actually less implausible than the headline Robot hornets become British Army's latest weapon.


Also, giant goldfish plague Lake Tahoe, a vacation site on the California-Nevada border. What the hell?



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on April 1, 2013 9:00 AM.

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