My very first novel, based on the Parsec Award Nominated Podcast (which has had over a Quarter of a Million Listeners) is now up and available for Amazon Kindle. Check it out!
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)
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?)
As anyone who knows me, or reads this blog knows, I’ve got this thing about Space Combat (as in, I’m fascinated by it) and have often wondered what a realistic space combat simulator would look like. Well, today I got a message from John Gillespie, who has a kickstarter project to create exactly that!
This isn’t your grandpa’s space fighter. You’re not looking out a grimy cockpit window using a joystick to kill an enemy a kilometer away who flies like they’re an airplane in an atmosphere.
You are the captain of a TorchShip – powered by a Gaseous core fission / nuclear thermal reaction drive and armed with nuclear missiles, laser cannons, and a kinetic lance. You will maneuver in 3-D space in a crowded gravity well and engage hostiles at ranges of up to 20,000 kilometers.
- 3-D combat & UI – space is not flat, and neither is TorchShips.
- Newtonian physics – your ship maneuvers in 3-D space using a reaction drive.
- Damage & Systems control – detailed damage model and systems control – you’ll have to manage heat build up, fuel, and reaction mass levels.
- Weapons include your own reaction drive, kinetic lance, missiles/mines, and laser cannons.
- Procedurally generated single and multi-player campaigns against human and non-human opponents.
- Fast set up skirmish modes.
- Crew development
- Customize your ship, name and weapon/system load-out.
- FTL is used to link scenarios and battles. (yes… we know Faster Than Light travel is handwavium – but it allows us to add many more masspoint systems and environments to the combat scenarios without bogging down in multi-year transit times…)
- A rich background with hundreds of human cultures and dozens of alien races.
Time to build that generation ship!
Astronomers have confirmed the existence of an Earth-like planet in the “habitable zone” around a star not unlike our own.
The planet, Kepler 22-b, lies about 600 light-years away and is about 2.4 times the size of Earth, and has a temperature of about 22C.
It is the closest confirmed planet yet to one like ours – an “Earth 2.0”.
However, the team does not yet know if Kepler 22-b is made mostly of rock, gas or liquid.
Words cannot express how beautiful this video is. What an amazing world we live on.
Watched the first hour of NOVA’s documentary The Fabric of the Cosmos today- what a completely mindblowing experience. I knew a lot of it, but some of the science is really amazing stuff. If you have the chance to see this documentary, I highly recommend it. Although be prepared for a total mind-warp when you hit the last ten minutes of the first episode. O_o!
This is interesting. If we really can induce controlled hibernation in humans, then the stars may not be so far out of reach after all.
Can humans hibernate?
The answer, remarkable as it might seem, is an unequivocal “yes.” In fact, until relatively recently the idea of humans sleeping through most of the winter wasn’t even seen as uncommon. There are stories of peasants effectively hibernating as late as the 19th century in both frigid Siberia and the comparatively temperate French countryside. From what we can tell, this wasn’t strictly hibernation – the peasants’ core temperatures didn’t drop, and they still woke up once a day or so to eat a small biscuit before going back to bed. Still, they changed their lifestyles to use just a fraction of their normal energy requirements, which is essentially what hibernation is.
And there are even more dramatic individual examples. Consider the case of the then 35-year-old Japanese man Mitsuka Uchikoshi, who in 2006 spent over three weeks unconscious on the freezing Rokko Mountain before making a full recovery. Writing for Discover in 2007, Alex Stone recounts the remarkable story:
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?
I have to say, Neil deGrasse Tyson is rapidly becoming one of my favorite people in science, if for no other reason than how darn cool he is. Watching the pressure slowly build on his face as he listens to things he doesn’t agree with is entertaining in and of itself, and when he finally speaks…BOOM!
I totally wish Dr. McKay (David Hewlitt) was in the audience for this one, that could have been the most entertaining question period ever!
A poster on Reddit named Nodisc asked:
Let’s assume our technology continues along a predictable path and let’s assume that simply existing in space is still the ridiculously dangerous affront to god it is today. Would it be single fighters swirling in pew-pew dogfights? Railgun platforms sniping things from unimaginable distances away? Would there be any weapons at all, or would it be more like trying to fry the enemy in your thruster wake? I really don’t know much about space, and I’ve been wondering for a while, so I turn to you.
Oh, and please feel free nitpick the tiny technical details, as those are what I’m most interested in.
The discussion he got was many pages of interesting discussion, the first being the best:
The most “realistic” space combat I’ve ever seen was in a long space opera series by Peter F. Hamilton. He makes some convincing arguments as to why pretty much everything you see in modern sci-fi wouldn’t work.
The basic argument goes something like this: Humans are limited to accelerating at only a few g’s, while your weapons can tolerate accelerations of many times that. In the book, I seem to recall antimatter drones accelerating at 40 g’s or so, which isn’t as sci-fi as it seems since we have already created antimatter in the lab, just not in very large quantities.
Now, by analogy with modern warfare, why don’t we use swords anymore? Because rifles have longer range, and a sword-toting army would be decimated by a basic infantry long before they ever got in range. Well, lasers and railguns are the swords in outer space. Once your target is even so much as a light-second away, it’s pretty much impossible to hit them (assuming they are maneuvering, which they should be). Let alone light-minutes or light-hours.
Basically, future space combat will take place between ships that are incredibly far apart, exchanging salvos of self-guided missiles at extreme ranges. Because anyone not adopting this strategy will be destroyed long before they get into range.
You can see this trend with modern naval combat already. All naval guns are pretty much obsolete, having been replaced with missiles. We don’t operate any battleships anymore, and destroyers operate more than anything else as screens for our aircraft carriers, which use planes to strike targets thousands of miles out. There’s no reason space won’t be any different.
But the rest also makes for interesting reading, if like me you’re into such things. 🙂
This forum thread has some interesting stuff too: