Tag Archives: scifi


Freehauler Alcione,, by M Alan Kazlev. Lateral view
Freehauler Alcione,, by M Alan Kazlev. Lateral view. Each square in the background grid represents 50 meters

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’ve been working on the Alcioneverse for some five years now, each new revision adding a further layer of complexity (as well as false starts and wrewrites). It can be disheartening since I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever finish anything. However I’m certainly not alone in this; there are other scifi enthusiasts who have been working on their own epic projects for 9 years, 16 years, 26 years… An epic project cannot be rushed.

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.

Writing essays on space opera and pop-culture

Scene from the upcoming science fiction movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, directed by Luc Besson
Scene from the upcoming science fiction movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, directed by Luc Besson, adapted from the French comic book by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, and starring Dane DeHaan as Valerian and Cara Delevingne as Laureline. A classic, special effects rich, action adventure space opera, similar to Star Wars, Mass Effect,, and Guardians of the Galaxy

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.

The Alcione modelled with Blender

Freehauler Alcione, initial Blender version

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.

General update

I haven’t posted anything in a while, because I’ve been working on the deck plan of the Alcione.  Then I started writing a start featuring the crew of the Alcione.  Now I’m going back to the previous story.  I’ve scrapped the idea of novellas and will have a full length story

My current writing plan is this:

Book 1, Mech Cross, featuring the two teenage protagonists Kam and Shymarc.   Madverts will be part 1  (as well as writing the book i need to draw a plan of the mech)

Book 2, Spacefreighter Alcione.  Introduces the Alcione and its  crew (also will have deck plans).  Freedai joins the Alcione.

Book 3. Kam and Shymarc join the Alcione, along with a corporate AI that’s been helping them but has its own agenda

Various further developments and  sequels.

The whole story will be one series, although each novel will be self-contained