Some of the themes in my almost completed Young Adult ScFi work in progress Hovergirl (currently looking at around 120k words)
(in alphabetical order)
o advertising o AI o alien physiology o biological robots o bullying o class oppression (including indentured servitude) o cliques and subcultures o conspiracy theories o consumerism o cyborgs o drones (the small hovering sphere type, not the unmanned aircraft or little rotor toy types) o environmental crisis o existential threats o fake news o friendship and loyalty o gambling o holograms (aesthetic soft scifi TV tropes type) o human genetic engineering o hedonism and puritanism o kaiju o legal and illegal drugs o longing for adventure o mallcrawling o mechs o militarism o overpopulation o racism o reality TV o rebellion (whether teen, political, or space opera) o refugees o religion o school (of the most dysfunctional sort) o single parent o social control and totalitarianism o social media o space habitats o spaceships (very briefly) o sport o xenophobia
As the series progresses, more themes will be introduced, as well as some of these themes revisited in more detail.
Update. I haven’t posted for a while because I’ve been waiting for something definite to write. So, here is the current status of the project
There is now only going to be one universe, the Alcioneverse. Much as Starsiders would also be a fun universe, I want to focus on a single setting. The current scenario is as follows
Synopsis (of Book One, Hovergirl)
It is the far future. Humanity continues, scattered amongst the stars and the rubble of earlier civilisations, and, as always, its own worst enemy.
On the giant space habitat of Tarkron-B, one of many such habs in the theocratic-totalitarian Kalasteran Empire, 15-year-old hoverboard girl Freedai Moda shares a cramped apartment with her mother Racha and Racha’s petty crim boyfriend Wade. Her home, school, and social life is taken up with hanging out with her gang of friends or “sibs”, obsessing over the “bafest” boys, and dreaming of a spacefaring life among the stars.
All the while, Tarkron B’s environmentals are failing as the systems struggle to cope with the constant increase in thermal pollution, infestation by genetically engineered alien monsters, and a regime that, for all its big brother qualities, is struggling to cope with increasing social tensions.
When Freedai befriends a bullied reffie girl, she soon finds herself in a schoolyard war against the Shora Gang and their minions.
Humanity endures, scattered amongst the stars and the rubble of earlier civilisations, and, as always, its own worst enemy.
Humanity is divided into the following broad categories (there are also alien races):
Habitat dwellers – who live in huge, rotating, O’Neill Cylinders in which conditions are closest to those of Old Earth. They represent the bulk of humanity. Each habitat is a distinct polity, with its own laws and regulations, although some may be autonomous and others part of a larger empire such as Kalastera, Teviots, Salharb, or Asmari
Planetsiders – who live on terraformed planets, where environmental conditions, gravity, atmospheric pressure, length of day or year, etc may differ greatly, and in which travel offworld is the province only of the wealthy elite
Homesteaders – who live in small, isolated, fiercely independent communities on asteroids, comets, or Kupier or Oort bodies, often genetically modified for microgravity and other conditions. Politically they are the protectorates of the larger nearby Hab or Empire, although for all intents and purposes they are independent, and more closely aligned to other honmesteaders than to the habdwellers.
Shipsiders – who spend their whole lives, indeed whole generations, on ships, moving from star system to star system
Monsterdwellers – who live as squatters or opportunists in huge alien structures, whether abandoned or still inhabited. Hugely genetically modified, they may still trade with the outside universe
Civilisations are built on the rubble of earlier civilisations, spaceships are often grimy and old and look like the Sulaco, or else they’re alien bioships, most sentients are slaves, the regime can barely keep the peace, human alien sex is forbidden by the Church, the psychophanics of FTL means every hyperjump has a chance of driving you insane, and the fabric of space-time is falling apart due to paradox pollution. The protagonists however hear of a crazy scheme to repair creation; this is what distinguishes the Alcioneverse as Hopepunk from standard Grimdark.
The series follows a group of young people as they come of age and try to succeed in a grim-dark universe where FTL travel and other advanced tech is slowly causing the fabric of spacetime to unravel, while self-proclaimed messiahs and chosen ones run scams based on their claim to find the magic artifact that will restore creation.
Think a YA version of Bladerunner meets WH40k.
Book 1: Hoverboard girl Freedai Moda, the head of the Sibs, who lives with her mother and her mother’s petty crim boyfriend, and imagines a life of adventure among the stars. (This will incorporate some of the material previously intended for Madverts)
Book 2: Ardie the high school hustler, struggling to support his dysfunctional family with various schemes and scams. Circumstances bring him and Freedai together (they’re at the same school), and soon one drama leads to another.
Book 3: Dione, a shy daydreamer with none of Freedai’s feistiness or Ardie’s quick wit, but is befriended by them at Spacer University, where they are all training to be apprentice journeyman for the mighty Bechtor-Verrol Corporation
(more to be introduced later)
Work in progress:
I’m hoping to get Hovergirl (Book 1 of the Alcioneverse) ready and published on Amazon by end of November. Whether I will is another matter.
It’s been a while since I’ve last posted, so I thought an update is in order.
Of my two projects, the STL hard science one (tentatively titled Starsiders, but will probably change that title) and the FTL space fantasy one (Paraspacers, or Freehauler Alcione), I’m going to focus on the latter one for now, as I’ve written more for that universe. Even though the literally the same material and characters could be used with both universes. So in committing my characters to the FTL universe, I’ll have to come up with different characters for the STL universe.
I’m hoping to finally get the first book, Madverts, epublished this year. Being an autistic pantser, I simply am unable to come up with a complete (or even incomplete) storyline in my head the way plotters can. I can create universes, and characters, but plots elude me. For the most part, I don’t have a pre-planned story to tell, even though I have characters and a universe to put them in. Well, two universes actually.
So my current plan is an episodic approach, like a soap opera, in installments. My inspiration here is Hugh Howey who bypassed traditional channels by publishing his post-apocalyptic story on Amazon com in 60 or 100 page episodic installments.
Madverts introduces the two fifteen old protagonists, Kam and Marcinay. It sets the scene for by Mechacross, which follows the same characters one or two years later, and which actually does have a complete story plot, amazing enough. Then comes another plotless pantser installment, and then a story with something of a plot (Up the Well), and finally all my characters find themselves on board the Alcione.
I’ve just revised the design of the Alcione, shown above. I’ve gotten rid of the spiny mace thing, which really didn’t do anything, and the weapons module behind the cargo section, which made her too nerdish-military, and extended the cargo section. The cargo modules are build around a central backbone; it may even be possible one day to model the interior of the ship, although that would be a huge amount of work, and beyond my still rudimentary blender abilities.
If each square in the above graphic represents 50 meters, that gives a total length, excluding the forward struts, of 1600 meters, or one mile. This is about the length of a soft-scfi Star Wars Imperial Star Destroyer. But the long modular shape means the average width or diameter is only 60 to 80 meters (say equal to a large modern aircraft carrier like the Nimitz), and the crew spend most of their time in a 70 by 100 meter module. Most of the ship is dedicated to propulsion, cargo, and things like hanger space, biospherics, the machine shop, etc. In terms of popular space opera, crew space isn’t that much bigger than in Joss Wheddon’s Firefly Class, but for ten times as many crew (although cargo space is another matter). I would suppose an overall weight of half a million tons, because of the tower like design.
Real spaceships of course wouldn’t be anywhere as big as this. Arthur C Clarke’s 140 meter long Discovery One, by which I mean here the non-cinematic design with fuel tanks and thermal radiators is quite probably the most realistic interplanetary vessel ever envisaged in science fiction. I’m certainly not a fan of the grotesque skeletal movie version, either aesthetically or for any practical reasons. See also the excellent Atomic Rockets website for more on realistic interplanetary spacecraft.
If I wanted to go full-on munchkin I could always double the size; making each square in the above diagnostic 100 meters rather than 50. That would give a length of over three kilometers and an average width of around 130 to 150 meters, which would make it closer to the Nostromo in size (except much longer), and weight would now be about 4 million tons. I don’t know if there is any reason for such giant ships, apart from nerd appeal, but settings like Star Wars, Halo, Banks Culture, Reynolds Revelation Space, and Warhammer 40k do feature enormous, multi-kilometer-long ships, powered purely by handwavium. A simple rule of thumb: the larger the ship, the less realistic the universe.
In any case, the real center of my story is the human (and other sophont species) one, how a bunch of characters relate to each other and to the vast and dangerous universe they explore. No matter how amazing the tech, it is always in the background. That’s why I try to minimise info-dumps, and show the protagonists concerns to be no different to those of people today. I greatly enjoyed reading Becky Chambers’s book The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet for this reason, even if the science is pretty cartoonish.
The Alcione therefore will only come alive through the adventures of her crew, even though the ship, like all ships, has her own personality. For good science fiction it’s necessary to balance epic adventure, amazing technology, and the sense of wonder at a vast and beautiful yet uncaring cosmos, with the microcosm and warmth of the adventurers at the heart of the story.
After two and fro-ing for a while, from Hard Science Fantasy cross-over to pure Space Fantasy to pure Hard SF, I finally realised I couldn’t just have one postmodern space opera universes and one set of characters. The ambience of each is so different, due to the implications of the contrast between a STL (slower than light, hard SF) universe with its rigorous hard science and more limited handwavium, and FTL (faster than light, more conventional space opera) universe that combines hard science with pure fantasy, surrealism, satire, and magical realism, that I decided on two, even though both will share certain features, such as space punk, and adventure.
Some influences: Chthulu Mythos, Star Wars, Traveller, Roadside Picnic/Stalker, Battletech/Mechwarrior, Schizmatrix, Firefly, A Fire Upon the Deep, Revelation Space/Galactic North, Terminal World, Orion’s Arm (Sephirotics), Rogue Trader (WH40k), Bel Dame, “Red Space” (Scorpio Rising), Boadicious Space Pirates, Symbiosis
As my first story, Madverts, is almost finished, I started worrying about what setting I should really go with. I was faced with a worldbuilding dilemma, which could be summed up as a simple query, paraspace or lighthugger? Or in other words, Science Fantasy or Hard SF? Because once it’s published, that’s it, my characters are locked in that universe and I can’t retrocon.
By Science Fantasy, I mean being able to go faster than light, which I present as moving through another universe where FTL is possible , hence Fantasy and low realism. The story would then take place in a normal timescale (say twenty years), but include other dimensions, magic, etc. The story revolves around Interstellar empires, the galaxy is just the Earth writ large. This is Star Wars, Star Trek, etc, or in other words, Lord of the Rings but in space. Numerous plot devices are needed to explain why Technological Singularities don’t convert the universe to computronium, or why nanotech doesn’t eat up the universe . Although this can be answered if it’s assumed rigid/diamondoid nano can’t translate into higher dimensions. There is mostly uniformity and limited evolution. But as there are also other universes and, if I want, elves, orcs etc (as in WH40k but more rational). I can also put in as much esotericism and metaphysics as I want.
By Hard SF (lighthugger) I had the idea of a reactionless drive vessel which travels so close to the speed of light that time dilation comes into effect, so the story takes place over thousands or even millions of years (deep time) although to the characters time passes normally. In this high realism, hard science scenario, there is interstellar trade, and interstellar civilisations, but no empires (because of times needed to cross the distance between stars) , the Galaxy is very different to Earth writ large. There is much more isolation and much more evolution, and limited uniformity. Every colonized star system re-visited is a new and sometimes dangerous surprise, because who knows what happened since the ship last visited, centuries ago? Metaphysics here is more limited, science more rigorous, time is deep, and the story takes place in realspace.
I asked my friends on facebook which one they preferred, and the two answers were: whatever suits the story (in this case the story can fit with either) and Hard SF.
Initially I was disappointed that no-one had opted for Science Fantasy, as I’d created quite a fun theosophical-magical universe, with all sorts of new weird stuff. But thinking about it, the essential underlying theme of my storytelling is Sri Aurobindo’s message of the transmutation of this world of matter into divine consciousness, while retaining its material status. And if the universe is already a magical place, the tension and the message is blunted. Whereas if the universe is a grimdark, crapsack world of oppressive laws of matter, it makes more sense.
Next up was checking out the Orion’s Arm page on Reactionless Drive, which gives a good coverage of different types of Reactionless Drive using “void bubbles”. These are like the classic Alcubierre warp drive, and are presented in a way that make them look like a plausible and elegant option for hard SF worldbuilding.
In the end I decided to go with a slightly less advanced (relative to the Alcubierre drive) and less complex ship design, the Conversion Drive . (The name Conversion Drive refers to the conversion of matter to energy with 100% efficiency, like an amat drive without the danger of the whole thing going critical if magnetic confinement fails)
The Conversion drive will feature in the Shummanite, the ship in the main setting of my story (The Alcione will be a larger, diametric reactionless drive ship that appears later in the series). All the hard science technical details are provided by the Orion’s Arm folks, this being is the update of my original 100% handwavium “Singularity Drive” in the early Orion’s Arm.
This being a reaction rocket, and more specifically a torchship, there can be some nice Star Trek ambient background noise effect when the engine is firing (whereas a reactionless drive I expect would be totally silent other than the hum of the machinery maintaining it). I suppose for a ship with limitless range you could have a dark-matter or photino ramscoop or some equivalent handwavium tech at the front, but I want the Shummanite to be more of a tramp spacer with less bells and whistles rather than a top of the range model.
Orion’s Arm meets Spacepunk
While I’m returning to my Orion’s Arm hard science worldbuilding roots, the Alcioneverse has a very different ambience, one that, for sake of a better word, I call Spacepunk. It’s a more fragmented and hostile universe, with a much longer time line (several hundred thousand or even several million years, with cultures built on the ruins of other cultures, I haven’t yet decided on an actual timeline), yet also with more human (and alien) agency.
Posthuman cultures and civilisations are more limited and not as long-lived (this is a plot device to prevent the entire universe being converted to Computronium), transapients and transingularitan beings are not invulnerable, as they can be killed even by simple nukes. And, in contrast to the Banks-type post-scarcity utopia, higher toposophics basically see lower civilisations as equivalent to cockroaches, if they notice them at all.
And, yeah, I still don’t have an answer for the Fermi Paradox, so I’m not sure how that will play out.
When I set up Orion’s Arm in June 2000 with a few friends, I had in mind the juxtoposoption of mythopoetic space opera (actually I didn’t know the word “mythopoetic” then) and transhuman-based hard science. The problem is I couldn’t create a human-relevant, mythopoetic narrative. It’s a fact that nerd scifiworldbuilding is much easier than human-centric creative writing, especially if you are somewhat autistic (as I am). Also, I no longer hold to Transhumanist memes. It seems to me that Transhumanism, with its promise of singularitan technorapture, and emphasis on mind emulation uploads in place of the Afterlife, to be just another secular religion. This is not to discount a lot of transhumanist ideas which I still consider valid, just that it’s not what I want to write about (and many people who have written about it or made movies about it have the problem of scenarios that seem naive and simplistic).
So what I am trying to do now is (a) balance the hard science worldbuilding (of which Orion’s Arm is still the most encyclopaedic and imaginative example) with humanistic centric storytelling, (b) replace the more optimistic scenario with one slanted more to grimdark, (c) at the same time incorporate an overall aurobindonian narrative as the grand story that underlies this, (d) have lots of philosophy and metaphysics within the narrative, and (e) scale down the magic nano stuff by having nanotech more biological (this is also the way real nanotech has developed anyway).
Most of my first book Madverts is already written. I just need to finalise the worldbuilding details. The actual “Young Adult” story (about a teenage professional shopper) would be the same, regardless of whether the worldbuilding is science fantasy, medium-hard, or ultra hard science. It’s like how Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings could very easily be retold as a space opera (it would be very like the original star wars). I often think about this, how the story remains the same, and only the details of the setting change
The last few days I’ve been working on a major update of the Freehauler Alcione website. The idea is that this site will have a three-fold purpose: as news announcements for my scifi epic in progress, both writing and graphics, as a minipaedia for worldbuilding the Alcione-verse, and as a collection of interlinked essays, comments, opinions, and reviews, on everything to do with science fictionstorytelling and mythopoesis. So I’m currently adding pages behind the scenes, and will also mirror some essays, or parts of the essays, I’ve written for Omni.
Currently I’ve given myself the deadline of to the end of this year to see if I can get the manuscript of the first book in the series, Up the Well, ready by then. Up the Well is a rather intense Young Adult story that follows the 17 year old Freedai Reynofar as she tries to get off the dystopiancity planet of New Old New Yearth and make it into space. I don’t want to say more because of spoilers and also it’s only half written. I was originally going to have another book, Madverts, first but decided to go with Freedai’s story instead
This last one and a half months or so I’ve been writing essays for Omni magazine on scifi movies, especially those with a space operatic theme, storytelling, mythopoesis, and pop culture, which I’ll be double posting here, along with any additional thoughts I have.
I’ve always been interested in scifi movies for their mythopoetic power, despite the lack of realism and story consistency, and indeed often inferiority next to most print science fiction (or “SF”). The reason I like movies is because cinema brings so much more to the table: special effects, music, actors. and so on.
Also, even though I write in text, I always think in pictures. It’s as if I have a cinema playing my own scifi movie in my head. Hence I always look for inspiration to movies, the visuals, the music, and so on.
I envisage there’ll eventually come a time when any creative person will be able to make a complete movie on their desktop quantum computer (and you’d need a quantum computer because of the rendering and computing needed for movie standard special effects!). In the meantime, we have to make do with either print stories or TV/movies (with some hybrid media like graphic novels, and new emerging independent movie and CGI film-making)
I’m going to be writing less essays anyway, not because I don’t enjoy writing essays (I do), but because I really need to focus on getting my first novel finished in six months.
Oh, and I still can’t figure put how to do realistic hair in Blender.
Lately been writing essays for Omni. Working on my latest one on The Matrix and Gnosticism really got me thinking about metaphysics, worldbuilding, and scifi, since The Matrix is probably the most metaphysical movie (and trilogy) I have seen. That’s not to deny there isn’t metaphysics and Gnosticism in other scifi as well, even the silliest, e.g. some Marvel Comics and their Guardians of the Galaxy (their version of Star Wars essentially) with concepts like Celestials and Infinity Stones. But I’m interested in a more serious approach to metaphysics, and achieving this in a similar way to how Tolkien incorporated pagan nordic (Viking, Beowulf, etc) mythology in Lord of the Rings. I’m less interested in the Silmarillion because it’s too mythology heavy. I’m interested in creating an adventure story, a road movie but in outer space, not a mytho-theology.
As I explain in my essay, the Wachowskis failed to incorporate the gestalt of Gnosticism. They got the paranoia, the underworld, the spirits trapped in matter perfectly. Essentially, they created a very Philip K Dickian form of Gnosticism. But they totally left out the transcendent element, the Pleroma, the Aeons or supra-mundane spiritual archetypes. They also only included half of Philip K Dick’s gnosis; his Black Iron Prison (negative), but not his Palm Tree Garden (positive) (see The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick).
Essentially then, The Matrix Trilogy is a long meditation on the world of what Rudolf Steiner calls Ahriman, the anti-divine power and the god of materialism and mechanism in matter Interestingly, it’s also a space opera, albeit one set on a post-apocalyptic Earth. I say this because it features a classic small spaceship, the Nebuchadnezzar (above), directly comparable to the Millennium Falcon of Star Wars, Serenity of Firefly, and Milano of Guardians of the Galaxy, Even though the story is set on a future, post-apocalyptic Earth, the trope of a grimy ship with its rag-tag team of plucky rebels is identical
My interest however is in a space operatic story arc that incorporates both the lower, ahrimanic and lovecraftian dimensions, the middle imaginal and aetheric dimensions, and the highest, pleromatic and transcendentalist ones. Stories dwelling on the lower worlds are common, those concerning the higher are rare. Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey for example ends with the sort of transcendentalist aspect that one would expect to find, but was lack in, The Matrix Trilogy
The obvious, and easiest, way to incorporate metaphysics is through mythic concretism: the various planes of existence are portrayed as actual regions of space. This is the case of traditional mythology such as Jain, Buddhist, Nordic, and Dantean (Divine Comedy) cosmology for example, and even I suppose in esoteric systems like Kabbalah and Theosophy. But this approach, which I do use, also lacks a certain subtlety. So I’m also striving for something more, though I’m not yet sure what for it will take. Anyway, we’ll see how things turn out.
Here’s the newest version of the Zoneship Alcione. The term “zoneship” is used, rather than the equally appropriate “starship” or spaceship, because the Freehauler Alcioneverse assumes that reality consists of zones, which can be traversed in order to attain FTL (faster than light, hyperjump, whatever) travel. Most “space opera” science fiction uses the basic plot device of some sort of magic FTL drive to span the vast distances between the stars, but the rest of the story is pretty mundane, basically like society and politics on Earth today, or like a technological space-based version of a High Fantasy Earth, but with spaceships instead of naval vessels or freighters, planets instead of cities or countries, and alien races instead of cultures or nationalities. There’s nothing wrong with that, inasmuch as science fiction is often more about the present than the future (attempts to predict the future generally end disastrously anyway, e.g. we have smart phones but not moon bases). But I other worldsthought it would be interesting to incorporate different zones of existence into the story and worldbuilding.
So rather than normal/realspace propulsion and FTL (as is standard e.g. impulse drive and warp drive in Star Trek), I’ve got a magic/handwavium realspace reactionless drive propulsion (because there’s no way to realistically move a twenty million ton starship otherwise) using negative matter/mass/energy/unobtanium, plus hyperspace rotation, plus at least two distinct FTL propulsions, one for paraspace and one for aetherspace.
The spikey mace thingie was originally going to be used to generate the huge amounts of energies needed for the reactionless drive field, and based on Ken Burnside’s torchship design in his Attack Vector Tactical space-based wargame, but when I looked at the illustrations again I noticed they were an open grid. Since I like the medieval feel of this mace thingie, I decided to go the full science fantasy Art Major School of Physics and make it into a propulsion unit for paraspace.
Originally I was going to have paraspace propulsion based UFO disks, a sort of large spinning thing, perhaps attached to the diametric drive ring, or else separate and either at the middle or the end of the ship, but no matter how I drew it, it just didn’t look right.
It seems like UFOs and space opera spaceships are such incompatible tropes that any attempt at synthesis looks ridiculous (well, there’s Star Trek spaceships (saucer on a rocket) and Stargate Atlantis mythology, so maybe it’s not). This is because UFOs are a paranormal, interdimensional, ultraterrestrial phenomenon, possibly some sort of plasma or magnetic field effect when temporarily materialised in realspace, whereas spaceships are a mythological, symbolic representation of modern day things like giant machinery. As I’ve elsewhere explained (on Omni), space opera is just the modern form of epic mythology, and vice-versa. It’s meant to describe this world, only in epic poetic form. Whereas UFOs simply don’t fit with our concept of reason or how the universe works, and in any attempt to explain them rationally is likely to drive you crazy. See for example the works of French astronomer and ufologist Jaques Vallee, specifically Passport to Magonia and Messengers of Deception.
In a sense, but having crazy paraspace universes co-existing with realspace, not just metaphysically but physically, so a ship can transit between the two, I’m “cheating”, in that I’m describing the universe how I’d like it to be in a story, as opposed to how it really is (it may well be that interstellar space is simply too vast to be traversed by physical technology, and this is the reason for Fermi’s Question: where are they?
But that is what story telling is, not so much cheating as creating or rather re-interpreting myths. Other zones of existence then become simply another type of otherworldplace, like other planets, parallel universes, alternate timelines, dreamscapes, and the rest. What makes science fiction, and especially space opera, so cool is precisely its settings and hence the ease it can be used to tell myths, because all myths and archetypes by their very nature require some sort of numinous, imaginal setting; something that is not of this boring, mundane, quotidian world. People who love scifi and fantasy, whether reading it or writing or drawing or otherwise creating it, are those who love and need and crave these other worlds, as an alternative to their everyday stifling boring world.
Which brings us back to the above design. Here I’m incorporating ideas and deckplans I drew up 18 months ago. Since this version of the Alcione is much larger than the original, there’s heaps more space, so the deckplans will only include a small part of the ship.
Originally the Alcione was going to be unarmed, to get away from the repetitive cliches of a lot of military scifi , but I felt she needed some sort of weapons, though I’m thinking of toning it down a bit Make the battle module smaller, or simply a part of another module. That’s why this is called a work in progress.
Science fiction worldbuilding and creative writing works in progress: Freehauler Alcione, is a science fiction space opera,, to be published in installments