Tag Archives: space opera


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.

Paraspacers and Starsiders

Spaceship Stern Tiger by Ptitvinc
Spaceship Stern Tiger by Ptitvinc. Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Through its development, the Alcioneverse has varied in realism as I tried to decide whether to go with Science Fantasy or Hard SF, and FTL or STL.  On the sliding scale of hardness, I started around 7 (hard science with FTL and some weird elements), went down to 6 (Science Fantasy), and  with the latest reboot it’s around 8 to 8.5 (exotic matter but no FTL).

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.

The two universes are described as follows:

Paraspacers (aka Freehauler Alcione – The Alcioneverse)

Space Fantasy Adventure 


Hard SF Spacepunk

  • Central protagonists: misfit prospectors
  • genre: hard science fiction
  • secondary genres: space punk, postmodern space opera, space horror
  • universe: physical universe, the galaxy
  • sliding scale of hardness: 7 to 8
  • interstellar travel: STL only, plus a few wormholes
  • main ship: The Bathsheba, a conversion torchship, length about 300 meters. magnetoplasma shielding
  • Ambience ( the sliding scale of bleakness): Punk/Gritty – Crapsack –  Medium Grimdark (however this universe is not completely grimdark, because, first, and contrary to the ethos of the grimdark genre, moral actions do count, and second, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.)
  • Some influences: Of Men and Monsters, Roadside Picnic/Stalker, Neuromancer, Firefly, The Matrix, Alien/Aliens, Orion’s Arm (tech),  Revenger,
To do List

Now I’ve got my worldbuilding straightened out and the ambience decided on, I can back to writing.  There will still be a lot more worldbuilding, but I’ll mostly wait until I’ve published something.

To do list includes:

  • Finish Madverts (Book 1 of the Alcioneverse)
  • Work out the crew of the Bathsheba (the classic ragtag band of motley misfit adventurers) for the Starsiders universe
  • Once that’s done, work out opening story of Starsiders



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 Zoneship Alcione – work in progress

The Zoneship Alcione - work in progress.
The Zoneship Alcione – work in progress.

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.



Freehauler Alcione, rough diagnostic sketch

Freehauler Alcione, rough diagnostic sketch.
Freehauler Alcione, rough diagnostic sketch. Concept and illustration by M Alan Kazlev (c) 2015

Here’s a revised sketch of the eponymous space freighter Alcione. Overall length about 1300 meters, dry mass about 400,000 tonnes. From left to right, meteor shield, lasers, forward reactor and radiators, forward manoeuvering rockets, forward hyperjump node and paraspace units, small freight containers, habitation rings with radiators, shuttle hanger and shuttle fuel depot, large freight containers (15 & 20 meters each), hyperspace, paraspace, negmatter drives (multiple FTL modes), short range fusion thrusters, reactors, and reaction mass, rear manoeuvering rockets, main reactors, large tanks for fusionable material, main radiators, blast shield, handwavium-enhanced variable thrust orion/daedalus type drive