Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Werewolf No Man Has Gone Before

David | Flickr

A brief survey of the viability of lycanthropes as a starfaring species.

It was a goofy throwaway line in a 2008-2013 BBC 3 series.
“If we lived on other planets, do you think the moon would still affect us?”
“If we lived on the moon, do you think we could be werewolves all the time?”

- Allison Larkin & Tom McNair, Being Human
Being Human had the kind of lighthearted pitch and at times astoundingly heart-wrenching premise anyone could expect from the channel that made an entire spinoff about Doctor Who’s immortal pansexual companion: A vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost all try to live together in a flat in Bristol and play at being human. (Get it?)

But much as the comedic conceit of the show belies the emotional content its character can impart to the viewer over five season, it’s the silly throwaway lines that are stuffed with meaning. How does lycanthropy function? By what mechanism does the full moon transform a person into a werewolf and, extrapolating from that, could this create some boon or detriment to afflicted astronauts?

The Traditionalists

The classic interpretation of werewolves is that transformation occurs by light of the full moon, so let’s start there. Whether they turn back at dawn or cloudy skies, the instigating trigger for transformation of a werewolf is usually depicted as being cast in the light of the full moon itself.

As the moon is not a burning deathball of gas slowly roasting us like an inverted rotisserie, most people are aware that it is not a star. Its light is merely a reflection of sunlight properly angled at the Earth. The moon is in fact tidally locked, meaning its rotational rate and orbit around Earth are almost precisely equal, and the same hemisphere is always facing us. (The ‘dark’ side of the moon actually gets plenty of sunlight; we just never get to see it.)

Since werewolves aren’t running around in the day, it seems safe to say pure sunlight — any type of light, for that matter — isn’t a direct cause of lycanthropic transmogrification. And since the full face of the moon is always facing Earth, that cannot be a factor either. Account for the lack of transformations during daytime full moons, and we’re left with a singular conclusion:

The werewolf transformation is a result of an interaction between the sun’s light 
reflected by the moon, back at the Earth, at night.

There are two courses we can take from this point. Either the reaction is physiological or psychological, and psychological would be the easiest to test: Surprise a werewolf with what they think is the real full moon and see if they transform. If they do, it’s all psychosomatic hokum and frankly rather uninteresting, so let’s skip that.

If the light causes a physiological change, now we can get into some fun experiments. Do digital recordings save the proper wavelengths of light? What about analog film? Is a CRT TV too low-tech to cause a transformation? Could 4K Ultra-HD do the trick? The reflective moon equation is actually more complex than Light + Moon.

Light is emitted as both particle and wave by the sun, traveling about 92 million miles past the Earth to the moon, where it bounces off that body and (partially) back at Earth, where it travels through several layers of atmosphere down to ground level. Somewhere along that path, between sun and Earth, something happens to only the photons which are reflected off the lunar surface, and only in sufficient quantity at a full moon, and only during the night.

Since normal sunlight doesn’t create werewolves after passing through the atmosphere, it stands to reason that the key factor is the reflection. Earth’s moon is covered in regolith, the loose dust, rock, and grainy particles of, well, moon that’s broken off and melted and re-solidified and been kicked up my meteorites and rained back down on the lunar surface. Almost exclusively, this is composed of oxygen, iron, silicon, aluminum, calcium, magnesium, and titanium. About 1% comprises of manganese, sodium, potassium, and phosphorus. (Interestingly, around 40-45% of the moon is actually oxygen!)

All of these elements are common on Earth (we’re made of mostly the same stuff, after all), so it stands to reason that the specific reflectivity of these elements and their various chemical combinations in concert is what causes a werewolf to transform. But why only at night? The full moon can still be seen in the daytime, under the right circumstances, and we don’t see werewolves out and about at their office or the park. Clearly, there are mitigating factors.

The simplest explanation would be that the quantity of solar photons directly reaching the werewolf somehow counteracts the amount of lunar reflected photons experienced during a daylight moon sighting. This gives us our next big clue as to the mechanics of transformation:

A full moon at night is the only time werewolves can see enough reflected moonlight
without sunlight to block their transformation.

It’s nearly impossible to get a sunburn from moonlight. (“Moonburn” is only ever mentioned jokingly by dermatological professionals.) The reason for this is that — aside from being about 400,000 times less bright than the sun — reflected moonlight lacks much of the UV-B wavelength light that causes sunburns. UV-B is about 500 times less prevalent in sunlight than UV-A, and penetrates skin more deeply (so consider zinc-based sunscreen).

It is distinctly possible that the precise reflective spectrum of regolith, coupled with low-doses of UV-A light devoid of UV-B wavelengths is the precise trigger werewolves need to initiate their transformations. If that’s the case, Lycan-Americans should have no qualms about signing up to be astronauts. Outside of Earth’s atmosphere, it’s unlikely they would encounter the precise mix of visible and UV wavelengths responsible for such a specific biological event.

Back to the daytime argument, an excess of sunlight and a dearth of moonlight both cause the transformation to fizzle before it’s started. The need for highly attuned conditions is also bolstered by cloudy nights delaying transformation: clouds both obscure and diffuse /refract moonlight. Whether in the confines of a spaceship, station, or on the surface of the moon itself, there’s simply too much light — from both the sun and the moon — to create the conditions necessary for werewolves.

The New School

In Being Human, werewolves are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon. The Earth tugs on the moon far more than the converse, so every Earthrise a werewolf on the moon would probably transform into some kind of uberwolf.

Then again, they were a curse from the literal devil, so we’ll let the BBC address microgravity.

…And We're Back!

I'm writing again!

Well, to be clear, I've been writing and editing pretty much daily for the past 4 years. My day job doesn't typically allow me to spend hours researching the physics of fictional universes, though, so here we are again.

As before, I'll be posting postculture dissertations and deep-dives into the nitty-gritty of pop-culture tropes, hallmarks, and minutiae.

Posts will be sporadic, but more uniformly styled and lengthier. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

CW's Flash Just Hit the Reset Button Again – Here's What You Need to Know

In the wake of last night's Flash finale, the writing team behind the series has once again declared that continuity is for the weak. Depending on how you look at it, this actually marks the fifth major revision to The Flash's timeline. So where does that leave Barry and the gang?

Spoilers to follow, obviously.

Timeline Alpha


Friday, April 15, 2016

All the Best George Foremans, Ranked

  1. George Foreman
    World Heavyweight champion, entrepreneur–and fellow "George" enthusiast–George is the quintessence of what it means to be a George Foreman. Utterly. That said, I did considered bumping him to the #2 slot as his grill is a complete bitch to clean.

  2. George Foreman III
    A boxer like his father, George III "Monk" Foreman finished his heavyweight career 16-0. Sixteen-and-oh. Fifteen of those? K.O.s. The sixteenth? Unanimous decision. That's a hell of a record. Basically, he's George 2.0, which makes George III my George #2.

  3. Georgetta Foreman
    Georgetta is a television producer. She spent ten years on Divorce Court and the last five on Let's Make a Deal, all following her stint on the six-episode Foreman family reality series Family Foreman. Heck yeah.

  4. George Foreman Jr.
    Parlayed his father's grill empire into a successful business career for himself, despite "never [taking] math in college." Neither did I, Jr. Neither did I.

  5. George Foreman IV "Big Wheel"
    Publicist for the Foreman clan. He also manages the George Foreman Youth Center in Houston, TX where he teaches boxing to kids. He is by far the best looking of the Georges.

  6. George Foreman VI "Little Joey"
    I mean damn if this kid wasn't George Prime's Mini Me. If someone were casting for the Foreman Kids Mysteries, Joey'd have my vote for the role of George. (Shut up, I know that's not how casting works.)

  7. George Foreman V "Red"
    I lied. George V is the looker of the family. However he was also arrested in 2014 for choking his wife. This makes him the undisputed worst George Foreman ever. Didn't mean to end on such a reprehensible down note. I'm … starting to think this list should have been a countdown.

 Let's just remember the happier days.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Metropolis (AP) - Doctors declared Krypton’s Last Son dead at 7:24 a.m. Sunday, citing the official cause of death as multiple organ system failure, resulting from metastasized cancer.

The declaration came after a four month period in which Superman's body was meticulously studied and observed for even the minutest signs of life, following the several instances in which the "Man of Steel" had previously been declared dead but then later wasn’t anymore.

"We’re pretty sure this time," said S.T.A.R. Labs' professor Emil Hamilton. "Activity has ceased on the cellular level. The solar batteries in his cells are dry and, frankly, he has begun to smell a bit. I’m afraid this time it’s the real thing."

Superman dropped out of the spotlight last May, announcing his illness in a press conference only just recently. "I didn’t want people to know," said the Man of Steel. "I didn’t want them to lose hope. I didn’t want criminals to think they could just wait me out, that they could hide from the unstoppable forces of Justice. Recently, however, it has become clear that I am no longer capable of being such a force."

Superman entered treatment at S.T.A.R. Labs last Christmas, after he collapsed during a minor scuffle with low-level criminal The Shadow.

"I hit him and he just went down," said The Shadow. "It wasn’t right. I mean I'm not super strong, you know? So I called for an ambulance and waited with him until they arrived. I was worried. That's just … that's not Superman, you know?"

It wasn't for many weeks yet that the diagnosis would become public. Dr. Hamilton first broke the news to a shocked public:

"It is not inoperable, but with Superman’s dense cellular structure, it might as well be. We will be starting an intensive chemotherapy regimen immediately."

In their announcement yesterday, S.T.A.R. Labs assured the public that every course of treatment had been exhausted–sunlamps, red-light operating rooms, even Green Lantern’s attempt to fly Superman directly into the sun–until Superman finally passed gracefully in his bed.

Scientists believe the cancer was originally brought on by prolonged exposure to Kryptonian insulation at the Fortress of Solitude, similar in its atomic structure to Earth-based asbestos.

"Kryptonite has been known to cause cancer in prolonged doses," said Hamilton. "Luthor lost his right hand to his Kryptonite ring back in the '90s. We are currently working under the theory that part of the Fortress of Solitude’s Kryptonite naturally degraded over time into green Kryptonite, and small quantities of this built up enough to affect even Superman’s exceptional physiology."

Metropolis socialite and on-again, off-again criminal mastermind Lex Luthor hosted a memorial service at Lex Corp.'s downtown headquarters Saturday.

"He was a worthy adversary. I’d thought us destined to quarrel until the end of time. As much as we fought, it is only now that I come to realize that my single greatest regret will not be that I did not kill him myself, but that my life will not end with his, though it might as well have."

Luthor followed this stirring eulogy by bursting into tears and hurling himself into the memorial grave site in Metropolis Park, reportedly shouting, "Why can’t I quit you?" several times.

Moved just as much was reporter and long-rumored Superman paramor Lois Lane. "I knew something was wrong, but he refused to say anything," Miss Lane said after the ceremony. "I knew something was wrong when he forgot to pull out and it didn't shoot a hole through my back. I should have said something!"

Professor Hamilton was on hand, to attest to the relative impossibility of attempting to give Superman a prostate exam. "His sphincter was just too powerful, my dear. There was nothing you or anyone could have done. Especially not with hands as large as yours."

Smallville yokel Martha Kent, in attendance, had this to say: "He was my son! I made him his cape from a blanket he came wrapped in as a baby in a rocket ship that my late husband and I kept at our farm until our son took it away with him! He was a good son! He didn’t deserve this!" Mrs. Kent, just one of many claiming to be part of the Superman Estate, burst into tears when Professor Hamilton pointed out the shear impossibility of sewing an indestructible cloth.

Thousands of Metropolis residents are expected to pay there respects over the next few days, as millions more mourn around the world. Dozens of Powers were on hand for the ceremony at Lex Corp., including the JLA, JLU, TTs E and W, as well as Aquaman. Only Batman was not in attendance, though several eyewitnesses reported seeing a dark shadow skulking around the rooftops of adjacent buildings despite bright, clear weather all day.

All spoke words of deep sorrow at the world's loss. Green Arrow chose to highlight Superman's accomplishments in the fields of humanitarian aid and world peace–despite being a capitalist dog–while Wonder Woman focused on the inadequacies and faults of the male-dominated society that led to faulty Kryptonian-Terran hybrid architecture.

The Last Son of Krypton is survived by Supergirl, Power Girl, several Superboys, Bizarro, Eradicator, Braniac, Faora, Zod and several other Phantom Zone Kryptonians, Earth-2 Superman, Pre-Crisis Superman, Composite Superman, multiple future Supermen, the Superman Robots, Krypto, and Streaky the Super Cat. He will be missed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"Entry Level" No Longer Means "Entry" Level, and We Are All of Us Unqualified

I've worked at the largest chain book store in the country for the past four years. As a writer and a person, it's been good for me. I learned better how to interact with people–specifically strangers who want things I may or may not be able to give them, and how to handle myself when I can't. Additionally, it introduced me more thoroughly to the landscape of e-books, e-readers, and digital publishing. Last year I self-published my own book because I could. I got tired of shopping it around to agents with just a proposal for a work that was essentially done. I knew design, I knew editing, I learned the software, and I poured over copyright law and production costs. I created a finished product orders of magnitude beyond some of what I shelve on a daily basis. This job has been very, very good for me.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Fan Theory Turns THE FLASH Season 2 into 'The Empire Strikes Back'

Fan theories speculating about the identity of Season 2 Big Bad "Zoom" have been brewing for a while now, and the approaching mid-season finale might bring some of the speculation into canon.

Possible spoilers ahead, if I'm as smart as I think I am….