Category Archives: reviews

Meet Fl4k, the non-binary robot

Gearbox announced the release of Borderlands 3 for September and ever since I’m a passenger on the hype train. I love the entire franchise, it’s a first person shooter looter, for its incredible story, its wit, its sarcasm, its humor, its surroundings, its characters… Basically I love it a lot. And when the four vault hunters were introduced, I called dibs on Fl4k. I knew nothing about the character, only that they seemed to be a robot and has animals with them, according to the nickname Beastmaster. The siren, soldier and not sure yet character are cool too, but I’m going to start with Fl4k.

Fl4k

picture credit Gearbox

Diversity in the game

It’s not really a surprise. With Borderlands 2 I was instantly drawn to Zer0, still my favourite. He’s a 4 fingered assassin, probably an alien. Nobody knows for sure. With the pre-sequel I played Claptrap, the annoying one wheeled robot. Don’t be fooled by his reputation, he’s ace. I also love Wilhelm. Sure he’s a baddy but he’s addicted to metal augmentation, which turns him into half human, half machine. Choosing a character in the original game was a lot harder. They’re all human after all. So of course for Borderlands 3 it had to be Fl4k. But what I didn’t know, Fl4k has an additional bonus. A huge bonus.

The franchise introduced Fl4k as non-binary and use the pronouns they and them. Fl4k is an AI roaming the planets (and looting and killing wherever they go) searching for themselves and their only companions are three beasts which they care dearly for. So, they aren’t just metal and unsocial, they’re also non-binary (and unsocial) like I am! Of course this is a match made in heaven, them being a hunter class is even an bonus to the bonus!

Sexual innuendos

Borderlands has a great history of not giving a shit about gender roles and sexuality. Characters such as the soldier Axton are openly bisexual. Moxxi is as well, as she discusses her girlfriends and husbands alike. Sir Hammerlock is gay, as is professor Nakayama who has a major crush on the main villain Jack (and is rejected as well). Zer0 is also rumoured to be non-binary after all, even though he’s always been assigned to the he/him pronouns. The creators of the game have spoken of Zer0 as they/them recently. The thing is, even though Zer0 sounds male, we don’t know whether he/they/she is.

With all the innuendos flying out and about, the characters sexual preferences are not an issue anywhere in the game. Janey openly flirts with vault hunter Athena but not with the other characters (spoiler, they’ll end up together, not in the game perse but in canon). It’s all treated normally, just like it should be. As long as the media represents the LGBT+ community as something to emphasise on, it’s never going to be treated as natural. But Borderlands is doing this. And so is Star Trek Discovery by the way. It’s refreshing and it is needed as well. Normalisation is one thing, representation is everything.

The critics

One may argue why they made the robot non-binary and not a human being. It’s also something some people complain about and I do get it. It would of course be nicer to have a human representation of non-binary people in the game (Zer0 isn’t human either but unassumingly he/they/she is flesh and bones). But I have to compliment the people of Gearbox. To have an AI as your non-binary character is the kind of humor you expect from the franchise. And they speak normal about it, use they/them, treat them as an equal to the other vault hunters. I think it’s great.

This is the gaming community of course. And gamers come in all shapes and sizes. Even in an open-minded franchise such as Borderlands, bigotry lives there too. Of course people (probably white males living with mammy) are complaining that the gender agenda has now shoved into their faces in the gaming world as well. Why oh why do they need to deal with this shit in there as well. Well, because you little shit, and I quote Mr Torgue, Reasons! The world isn’t all white and the world isn’t all male and the world isn’t all straight.

Representation matters

This is what Borderlands does a really good job at: representation. And that doesn’t please everyone. For the first two Borderlands games, you could choose between three males and one female character (if you count Zer0 male). The pre-sequel vault hunters were 2 women, a (male assigned) robot and a man. And with Borderlands 3 the choice is two women, a man and a non-binary robot. The baddies are twins (brother and sister) and what is new in the game is that they enemies are male and female. Before that the enemies that were giving you XP were all male and I get that because it’s easier to program and design that way. But now you have male and female enemies and it just is a whole lot more realistic that way.

Borderlands remains an absurd world of shooting looting, with crazy guns (guns on legs everyone?), absurd humor, funny dialogues, and amazing design. I would have started with Fl4k regardless of their gender. But just the fact that they are non-binary makes me love the franchise just a little bit more. Everyone is welcome in Borderlands. Well done you people at Gearbox, you are amazing and never change that.

The best science books I read in 2018

It’s the end of another year and we all know what that means. Indeed, it’s time for year lists! Here I want to mention the 5 science books I enjoyed reading most this year. If they haven’t been published in 2018 I will mention this as such. I’m not using any particular order, other than the order I have read them in. In case you haven’t read one or more of them, I hope I will inspire you to do so. Except perhaps the first one, if you don’t speak Dutch you have an excuse. But that’s probably the only one.

Verstoppertje Spelen Met Aliens by Jean-Paul Keulen (nov. ’17)

The title means “Playing hide and seek with aliens”. It is a scientific approach on why we haven’t heard from the aliens, and also why we haven’t found the aliens and why this might take a while. Keulen has a very pleasant way of writing and a great sense of humor. The book is a great even without a scientific background. He takes the search for aliens pretty far without getting into the questions whether extraterrestrial intelligence exists. This book is about the scientific possibilities and not about the existential question. A shame it’s not in English. 

The Order Of Time by Carlo Rovelli

Time. What is time? It flows in different speed in different places. Gravity has a big influence on time. And Quantum Theory has a lot to say about time as well. Rovelli has a very enthusiastic way of telling. Be aware that you need to stay focused. This book is written with inspiring people to get into Quantum Theory in mind (worked on me) but he also easily trails off. This is interesting but if you are listening to this book like I did rather than reading, you need to focus on every word he says. Flipping back the pages because you lost the plot temporarily isn’t that easy when listening.

Chasing New Horizons – Alan Stern and David Grinspoon

Warning: if you have accepted that Pluto isn’t a planet (like I had), this book will likely change your mind. Granted, this book is written by Mister Pluto himself but isn’t propaganda on why Pluto is a planet. The whole matter is discussed only briefly. No, this book is all about how the mission was created. The struggle that followed. The dedication of the people involved. All the setbacks. You know that New Horizons will become a success, otherwise you’re reading expecting a disappointment. The book tells a fascinating story of determined people who want nothing more than explore space. Also, Pluto is a planet.

Endurance – Scott Kelly (oct. ’17)

Scott Kelly spent a year in the International Space Station. How did he made it to that special assignment? Turns out that this is an inspirational story of someone who had some odds against him but never gave up. Even when he believed it wouldn’t happen he kept on that path. The story of how he became an astronaut are mixed with his year on space. A story of success and a story of loss. No matter where you are in life yourself and what your goals are, this book will inspire you in one way or another. I listened to this book and it was read by Kelly himself which gave the audio book an warmer feel.

Brief Answers to the Big Questions – Stephen Hawking

I have reviewed this book on my blog recently but it belongs in this list. If you were to read only one science book, make sure it’s this one. Hawking writes brilliantly and with a lot of humor. He possessed the ability to explain the even most complex things in a way that leaves you understanding even a black hole. His brief answers are really explaining the big scientific questions. We still have a long way to go understanding the universe though. It was in the making while he was still alive. By the time it was published it wasn’t just a great science book. It’s a last testimony of the most gifted scientist of our time. He will be missed.

Stephen Hawking – Brief Answers to the Big Questions

This collection of thoughts and essays by the late Stephen Hawking looks like it’s been put together after his dead. As to show one last time what kind of genius he has been. Even if that was the case, there is no shame in that because his ideas have been wondrous and highly influencing. He’s arguably the best theoretical scientist of our time. However he was already working on this book, collecting his thoughts and essays about the Big Questions and it has been carefully wrapped up after his passing in March 2018. His unexpected passing however have given this book even more power.

 

Star Trek

What we get is a private look inside his life. We read about his family, his time in university and the struggle with his illness. He also speaks about the doors that have been opened. And although he doesn’t say it, his pure determination has made him stand out in more ways than just his remarkable mind and gave him parts in series such as Star Trek – The Next Generation and The Simpsons. All these aspects are mentioned during his essays which give them a personal touch. Also his sense of humor shines through and I admit to have had a loud chuckle when reading through this work. He isn’t just a physics genius but knows what goes on in the rest of the world and is not afraid to speak his mind about them.

This book, it essentially being a theoretical physics book (in the popular science category), is surprisingly easy to read. You may want to avoid skipping parts or you may lose the plot. This book gave me the ultimate description of a black hole and I will not shy away of using it when I’d ever get in the position where I want to explain what makes a black hole. He is famed for his work on black holes but the book also tackles AI, time travel and aliens. And he explains how he got to his ideas, and how other things just aren’t possible. He doesn’t force you to agree with him but then, it’s hard not to with the explanations he gives. Also, his essays are highly scientific.

Legacy

As these are all collected essays and other small publications, some topics are mentioned more than once and the one anecdote will appear twice as well. This isn’t annoying or anything. The subjects don’t feel disconnected from each other either, even though they are written separate from each other. It’s a whole and that’s quite an accomplishment.

If theoretical physics is your thing, you need to read this book. But even if it’s not and you’re just curious about the world, you will enjoy this book as well. I recommend this for everyone who has the ability to think. I’d nearly go as far by saying that this is essential reading. Stephen Hawking contributed greatly to science and has inspired many in his life. His legacy will live on forever, his contribution to Earth and the Universe and especially to Black Holes are in-erasable. What a mind and we must be grateful he defied all odds and lived for as long as he did. But no one is more grateful for that than Stephen Hawking himself and if anything, it’s that what shines through the entire book. An absolute must-read.