Freehauler Alcione, my initial Blender version
Above is my first posted image of the Freehauler Alcione, as modelled in Blender.
When I started, I found Blender extremely bewildering. It was a huge learning curve . My original rough attempt at modelling the Alcione was simply a series of shapes put together to represent the general outline.
After about a month of study, I started really getting the hang of it, focusing mainly on the 3d modelling side. Without a high-end graphics card it’s not really worth my while doing a lot of rendering and attempting movies and so on, assuming I even had the time to put into the latter.
While now much more familiar with the interface, I still found 3d modelling tedious because of all the details.
There’s a number of youtube tutorials and guides that show you step by step how to model your own spaceship, beginning with a simple cube, although some familiarity with the Blenber interface and shortcut keys is required.
With a few exceptions, all these blender spaceships, while beautifully built, follow the traditional design of a wet navy ship in space; bilateral symmetry (distinct up and down and front and rear) and small (equivalent to jet) engines.
Here the confluence of the design team George Lucas hired for Star Wars, and science fiction writers using the Space is an Ocean trope, have created the naval analogy that is now de rigour for space opera covers, self-published military SF, and nerd ship art nowadays.
The breakthrough idea with my modelling the Alcione was to download creative commons licensed models of spaceships in Blender format, and copy and paste parts of them to wrap around my rough outline, along with giving acknowledgements. After downloading several scifi spaceships it became evident this wouldn’t work; either they were too hard to convert to the scale and symmetry I was after, or they were too detailed (which normally would be perfect, but it means they take too long to render).
In the end, the only one that turned out to be appropriate is an awesome free for use collection of hulls, parts, and greebles, called “Shipyard” posted on Blend Swap. Although I still had to modify many of them to get the extra axis of symmetry I’m after, though I couldn’t resist sticking a big gun on the central hull section!
As this is 3d software so I can show the Alcione in any position, but in comparison with earlier images I’m posting it in right side view. This is very much a work in progress; I still have to add things like airlocks, hanger doors etc. As I develop this design more, I’ll post further updates.
On a scale of realism (if you’ve followed my realism in science fiction gradations; latest version here) this would be about a 6 out of 10; if Star Wars is 2, Kim Stanley Robinson is 9, and the postulated Alcubierre FTL drive is, I dunno, 7 1/2. I’m deliberately not writing hard SF though because I want to go crazy with my imagination. I also don’t use the Alcubierre Drive because (a) it’s still problematic at FTL speeds (tho works just fine as a STL (slower than light) reactionless drive), and more importantly (b) my story and worldbuilding combines FTL and Theosophical planes of existence.
There’s a lot in this new design that’s tied up with my worldbuilding. I’ve replaced my previous ideas of Torchship (not viable at more than 5,000 tons or so) and NegMass drive (really awesome cool idea but technological problems I expect would be insurmountable) in favour of good old handwavium, the fallback of every serious science fiction writer.
To briefly explain this vessel, I assume a new type of reactionless drive is discovered which uses negative energy like the Alcubierre drive, but doesn’t have such a gigantic power requirement (although still pretty intimidating). In my universe I assume economics of scale make it practical to create gigantic reactionless drive ships. The only reason is because I love giant spaceships, but even so they still have to be justified in-universe.
The spiky ball in the illustration is the fusion generator for the (slower than light, realspace) reactionless drive field, the spikes are heat radiators (this particular design is inspired by Ken Burnside of Ad Astra Games, whose spaceships designs (see this page for 3D modelled screenshots) are as realistic as you can get, and whose Attack Vector Tactical, is perhaps the only hard science space combat games ever written. David Pulver’s GURPS Transhuman Space also features equally rigorous and realistic space combat, but the emphasis is still on roleplaying rather than specific wargaming.. Mr Burnside’s radiators are obviously a more realistic design because they are an open framework; an enclosed sphere would instantly vaporise. (hence the need for copious amounts of unobtanium and handwavium in even the most realistic scifi universes). In my less realistic universe, this chamber only functions for a very brief period, which is luckily enough to generate the reactionless field
Surrounding the super fusion reactor it is the quasi Alcubierre ring, (see also the cute Kerbal Space Program version); which, thanks to the magic of handwavium and the eloquence of technobabble, is able to create a partial warp in spacetime by using negative energy to generate a repulsive gravity field. I can’t call this the Alcubierre field, because it’s not that; I’ll have to invent a fancy name for it. Diametric Field, whatever. Essentially, as a plot device, I wanted something like Negative Mass but without the need to generate it and exactly balance it with the positive mass.
Behind this are the scifi gizmos which generate the actual reactionless field. Actually these greebles are too ordinary, this part should be more crazy looking. I’ll probably have to completely model my own design here.
For those wondering what “greebles” are, they’re the irregular bits of tech that have been stuck on the outside of spaceships ever since George Lucas’s Star Wars. Presumably, greebles must serve a purpose, but the purpose is never defined, it’s simply part of the huge complexity of a starship, which, paradoxically in most space operas can easily be managed by a crew of only about six or seven, including a single engineer. I read somewhere an idea that adventure space opera is inspired by WWII bomber crews as by the tramp steamship, as they have the same number and similar roles, but infuriatingly haven’t been able to find the reference. Most likely this is just convergence, but the parallels are still intriguing,.
I was even considering a totally smooth version of Alcione, but when I sketched it, it didn’t look right. So I’ve stuck with greebles.
Returning to the design here, in front of the reactionless drive complex, the icosohedron module contains the unobtanium gyroscopes that rotate the ship into the hyper-spacial dimensions where FTL is possible. I’ll need to stick a fusion reactor somewhere in front or behind this to power the rest of the ship’s systems; this is different to super fusion generator in the spiky sphere and will have normal thermal radiators.
Then the middle assembly with engineering, and more modules, including the machine shop. Actually there’s plenty of space for the fusion reactor which will be pretty small, say 500 megawatts I’d guess, which being enough to power a small city, should be more than enough for any lasers and gauss guns. Then in front of that cargo, biospherics, the crew quarters and bridge. Then there’s the thermal radiators (which being edge on aren’t clearly visible) and the crew and habitation modules.
The structure at the front marks a divergence from the earlier Alcione designs. This has aetherspace thingies and chionic generator at the front. The idea is it’s part mechanical, part organic. The long branch like things which carry the ship forward in aetherspace. The original inspiration was plankton, such as echinoderm and crustacea larva. I was actually at one point thinking of revising the Alcione as a bioship, so it looked like a giant organic plankton creature (and the comparison between microscopic plankton and floating in space, while not scientifically accurate, is still quite evocative and mythopoetic) , but the idea of a giant hunk of metal and fullerene is just too appealing, even if it does have organic components
The overall length of the Alcione in-universe is a bit over a mile, say 1.8 kilometers from tip to tip. To give a sense of scale, the large ring is about 600 meters in diameter.
After this, my next Blender project will be a portrait of Freedai, the protagonist of my first novel (in the currently rearranged series), who later (after some dramas and adventures) finds herself as a junior crewmember on the Alcione.