Children of a Dead Earth

So, the other day I was reading the Tough Scifi blog, a blog dedicated to Realistic Space Combat (a subject longtime readers will know I’m fascinated by) and there was a reference to a new game called Children of a Dead Earth, which I clicked on out of curiosity. What I got surprised the heck out of me.

For years, I’ve searched for a game simulating realistic space warfare using actual physics, weapons and tactics that make sense based on what we know of how the universe and space combat could actually work. (No shields, no FTL, no space dogfighting, etc.) Mostly I wanted a game to simulate the actual physics involved, just to see how the whole thing would play out.

Well, Children of a Dead Earth IS that game.

The title comes from the idea that in this setting (which is our own solar system in the future) the Earth has been rendered lifeless, but not before Elon Musk and friends managed to get us out to Mars and colonize space. So it’s a conflict simulator between system powers, and there is a single player campaign all about this very topic. (Although primarily the game is meant to be a “Sandbox” game where players set up scenarios themselves, build their own ships and weapons, and blow the crap out their enemies.)

Now, one of the things about realistic physics is that it involves a lot of math and advanced concepts, which is why this is a very niche product. However, the game has done a great job of making it all very playable, reducing the math to mostly visual sliders and readouts and keeping the game fun instead of tedious. In fact, they’ve made it so playable it might just reach a wider audience than you’d expect, which manged to get it a Very Positive overall rating with 79 reviews on STEAM, which is where you can buy it. You can watch a playthrough here to decide if this is something you’d be interested in:

I have to say, they managed to make it as visually appealing as they could while staying realistic as well. The ships aren’t ships as in the Starship Enterprise, but structures with a cone of armored plate around them. Lasers are invisible, but railguns and coilguns are quite visually impressive and just plain cool to watch in action. And I find the strategic elements that physics brings interesting as well, since it’s primarily orbital combat and you have limited fuel for maneuvering. (Basically, if you don’t think ahead, you’re in deep trouble.)

This game really ups the Space Combat genre in a new way, and provides Scifi authors with a new tool to see how the battles that they’ve got in their books would actually play out. In fact, it shows just how complicated and interesting space combat really can be, which can add whole new layers to tales of future conflicts.

Rob

A little perspective change on science fiction writing

I’m currently listening to an audiobook of Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi, and while enjoying it a thought occurred to me. We often say that Science Fiction is based on the phrase “What would happen if?” and then extrapolate out the story from there, but I think that’s wrong.

Listening to that excellent novel, it occurred to me that “What would happen if?” actually encourages writers to think in terms of events and plot. If I say “What would happen if Giant Bugs from Arcturus dropped from the sky?” You’ll get a picture in your head of giant purple bugs raining down from the sky to eat all of our Frosted Flakes. (Or maybe that’s just me…) Which is fine, and very dramatic, but also encourages the writer to think in terms of big visual elements based around the thing that’s different.

On the other hand, if I change the question to “What would it be like if?” then that encourages a complete different kind of thinking. Saying “What would it be like if?” forces the writer to think in terms of a person or character’s point of view instead of an abstract idea. This makes the writer begin to think the situation through, and reflect on how they or a character would feel going through that situation. This, in turn, produces a better and more relatable story because it’s being drawn out of subjective human experience rather than based on something more objective and less tangible.

Let’s look at a few examples so you can see what I mean. Think about how each pair produces a different idea in your head.

What would happen if the dead came back as zombies to eat the living?

vs.

What would it be like if the dead came back as zombies to eat the living?

 

What would happen if dogs could talk to people?

vs.

What would it be like if dogs could talk to people?

 

What would happen if we found a gate to the stars?

vs.

What would it be like if people found a gate to the stars?

See the difference? One is asking you to think outside yourself, and produces plot-based ideas and stories where you have to rethink how to base it around a character. The other makes you think in character terms right from the beginning, and then work out to view that situation from a personal perspective. And, when I think about it, I think most of the better Sci-Fi has actually been based on similar lines of thinking because it comes out from the human experience rather than being based on lofty ideas.

Just my take, anyways.

Rob

 

R’ha


“Now here’s the kicker: German director Kaleb Lechowski is only 22 years old, and created this short over the course of 7 months on his own time. Needless to say, his insanely impressive short has already caught the attention of quite a few movie company execs, and Kaleb will be making his way to Hollywood later this month. Not bad for a first year project.”

via Awesome Robo!: R’ha.

Space1970

As a child of the 70’s, I grew up watching all sorts of weird attempts at Science Fiction, from Battlestar Galactica to Space 1999. Now Christopher Mills has set up an amazing blog dedicated entirely to 1970’s Science Fiction in all its forms!

This blog is dedicated to the science fiction films and television series of the 1970s – give or take a few years (say, 1969-1983) – including such nostalgic favorites as Star Wars, Space: 1999, UFO, Space Academy, the original Battlestar Galactica, Jason of Star Command, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Logan’s Run and many others.

But be warned: I still love these productions with all the enthusiasm I held for them as a kid, and they will be treated here with affection and respect. If you’re looking for someone to snarkily denigrate “old” movies – or like to do that yourself – you’ve come to the wrong site.

So journey with us back to the days when special effects were created by skillful hands and spaceships were detailed models, when robots were obligatory comedy relief, when square-jawed heroes and cloaked villains battled among the stars — and the future was fun!

So check out Space1970!

How Old is Sci-Fi? – Atomic Rockets

There are sites on the internet that one can easily spent a whole day lost in, for some it’s Pinterest or Wikipedia, and for me it’s Project Rho (aka Atomic Rockets). A whole site dedicated to helping writers get their science fiction spaceships right according to physics, and doing it in the most entertaining of ways. I find reading the comments, clips from books, and “laws” endlessly fascinating when I’m thinking about sci-fi stories.

Today, what caught my attention was this little gem, which I thought I’d share here:

“And all you young whipper-snappers who think that science fiction was invented in 1977 with the first Star Wars movie, I have to inform you that you are sadly mistaken. SF was old when your great-grandfather was born.

  • “Blaster” dates back to 1925 in Nictzin Dyalhis’ When the Green Star Waned.
  • “Disintegrator ray” dates back to 1898 in Garrett Serviss’ Edison’s Conquest of Mars.
  • Needler” dates back to 1934 in E.E.”Doc” Smith’s The Skylark of Valeron.
  • Stunner” dates back to 1944 in C. M. Kornbluth’s Fire-Power.
  • Isaac Asimov invented “force-field blades” in his 1952 novel David Starr, Space Ranger, which was the father of the light-saber.
  • There was a form of “virtual reality” in Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s 1956 novel The City and the Stars, and a more limited form in E.E.”Doc” Smith’s 1930 story Skylark Three.
  • Zero population growth is discussed in Walter Kately’s 1930 story “The World of a Hundred Men.”
  • Power from nuclear fusion appears in Gawain Edwards’ 1930 story “A Rescue from Jupiter.”
  • Atomic bombs are found in Sewell Wright’s 1931 story “The Dark Side of Antri.”
  • A “tiny computing machine about as large as the palm of a man’s hand” (Palm PDA?) is featured in R. F. Starzl’s 1931 story “If the Sun Died.”
  • And an unprotected man exposed to the vacuum of space but did not explode appeared in Nathan Schachner and Arthur Zagat’s 1932 story “Exiles of the Moon.”
  • “Attractor” and “Pressor” beams appear in E. E. “Doc” Smith’s The Skylark of Space (1929). The term tractor beam appears to originate in E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Spacehounds of IPC (1931)

via Preliminary Notes – Atomic Rockets.

The point here being that science fiction stories and ideas are part of a continum that extends back a long time, and are not a recent invention. It’s likely that the grandfathers of the people reading this read more sci-fi than most people will today, although admittedly most of it was pulp adventure. (Then again, isn’t most of it today as well?)

Rob

The Roundtable Podcast (on Writing)

This week I started listening to The Roundtable Podcast after hearing about it on the Dead Robots’ Society writer’s podcast. The premise is simple enough: each the two hosts and one successful writer help an aspiriing guest writer brainstorm their current project to improve it as best they can.

I’ve listened to the first two roundtables (J. Daniel Sawyer and Nathan Lowell), and I have to say that I haven’t gotten much from the actual roundtables themselves- in both cases the guest aspiring writer really hadn’t thought through their story enough before coming on the show, so things lacked focus. They ended up spending most of the time trying to find a story and not much on getting into the actual creative side of things.

On the other hand, the “Twenty Minutes With…” sessions they do with the published writers are author gold! The two hosts spend twenty minutes grilling the writers on their approaches to writing, and it’s fascinating to hear them talk about what works for them and how they go about crafting their novels. We learn what works for them, and what doesn’t work, and why they write the way they do. I would definitely recommend any aspiring writer to give these a listen.

I plan to continue to listen to both parts, and hopefully they’ll get a couple of writers on with more solid ideas in the next couple shows.

Authors I Wish I’d Read As a Teenager- H. Beam Piper

Today I finished reading Four Day Planet by H. Beam Piper, which is the fourth of Piper’s novels that I’ve read. He was a pulp sci-fi writer who wrote prolifically for the magazines back in the 50’s and 60’s and I have to say he’s probably one of my favorite writers of the period, so much so that I wish I’d read him much earlier in my life.

There are a couple reasons I say this.

The first reason is because his stuff tends to be of a young adult vein, and is sincerely focussed on helping to really bring the wonders of the universe and its possibilites to the reader. Piper is great at bringing his settings to life, and really revels in detailed characters and settings. Four Day Planet, for example, is essentially a story about a whaling village set on a world that’s largely oceans with a single large port-city. The details he goes into are exquisite, and while many things now seem quaint (he was writing in an age before computers were a part of daily life) it all seems very logical and functional. Not only does he give you the life on Fenris in incredible detail, he makes you the reader a part of it, and makes it all alive and interesting.

I think if I’d read Piper back when I was a teenager, I would have developed a love for science fiction earlier than I did. To me, science fiction was TV Sci-Fi, and the stuff not on TV or in movies was boring. It was actually anime and manga that opened me up to other possibilities, and Piper would definitely have cured me of that idea, and made me read a lot more of the sf classics at an earlier age.

Another reason I wish I’d read Piper earlier was because I didn’t know how influential he was on the stuff I was reading and involved with! Back as a teenager I was really into Role Playing Games (the pen and paper kind) and while I ran and played some of the science fiction games like Traveller, Star Frontiers, Spacemaster, and Mekton I had no idea just how much of what was in them was right out of Piper’s works! Mekton (which was an anime-style giant robot game) was actually less anime than it was H. Beam Piper! Piper is mentioned as an influence in the rulesbook, but now that I’m reading his works I can really see how the whole setting in the book is really based on Piper’s Federation setting more than it is any anime world.

Now, not everything is rosy in Piper’s work, he does have his issues from my perspective.

1) Piper is a gun fetishist. Not a fanatic. A real fetishist- you get the feeling that if he didn’t have multiple weapons within reach he’d feel completely naked. He worked guns into everything, and did it with the loving detail some authors devote to swords, or cars, or whatever their hobby of choice is. So his stories tend to have a real space western feel to them because everyone is packing heat, and there’s always some shootouts. Not lasers, either, always ballistic firearms.

In fact, he even wrote a whole murder mystery novel called Murder in the Gunroom, which sounds like it should be about a killing aboard a ship, but refers to a gun collector’s room. The book, which I’ve read, is like a course in gun history and gunsmithing and gun collecting all rolled together and bound up by a murder mystery plot which actually isn’t interesting enough to hold the whole thing together. I wouldn’t recommend reading it unless you like guns a lot, or you’re really curious.

2) Piper definitely has issues about women. (If you read the wiki entry I linked to above, you’ll quickly see they were major issues.) I wouldn’t say he seems to hate them in his work, it’s more like he ignores them. I’ll give an example from Four Day Planet, he gives us the names of pretty much every man we come across in the story, but when there’s a group of women at one point in the story he literally just told the reader they were the wives and girlfriends of the men and that was it. A lack of female characters seems to run through his work that I’ve read so far, which is neither good nor bad, but it can get a little odd sometimes when it seems like the whole worlds he builds are all composed of men. It may simply be that he’s a man of his time, and that I’m looking at it from a modern perspective (both of which are definitely true) but even Asimov and Heinlein had female protagonists.

Despite these two odd points, I really do have to say the quality of his work really outshines anything negative I could generally say about it. His science fiction books are just pure, well-written fun and I do wish I’d read them earlier. Four Day Planet is a good read, but his best I’ve read so far is Space Viking and I can’t recommend that one enough. It’s about a man seeking the killer of his wife in the ruins of a collapsed space federation. (Interesting note- the main bad guy’s ship is called the Enterprise, and the story has many Trek-like elements despite having being written before Trek aired!)

Piper’s works are almost all public domain now, and available at Project Gutenberg, so go check them out!

So, what authors do other people wish they’d read as Teenagers or discovered earlier in life?