Month: July 2017

Things Not Done

A common idea I see quite a bit is that all the good ideas in science fiction have already been done. The idea that you can’t write a book or tell a story because it won’t be about a new idea.

For such people I am going to put forth a few ideas that after reading science fiction, written from the forties to now I have rarely, if ever seen done.

First is the Afterlife, I am not taking about your brain being uploaded I am talking about the idea that your soul is real and it goes somewhere real after you die. I can only think of a few stories that have really dealt with it at all.
The Riverworld Series, and Traitor To The Living, both by Farmer, and The Night’s Dawn Trilogy series by Peter Hamilton are the only ones I know of that really deal with it. Kiln People by Brin dealt with the idea of souls but did not really touch much on the idea of an afterlife.
I am sure there are a few more but its not really an idea that you see explored much. Considering how profound any revelation of the afterlife could be there is a lot of room for interesting stories.

The Second would be having humans native to a place that is very much not like earth.
For example what if you had a planet the size of a large gas giant but had conditions like earth? It would have roughly two orders of magnitude more surface area then the earth.
If you were going to write such a story you would have to first figure out how the planet came to be and what would be different about its people because of it. In addition to that you introduce a problem for the main character to solve, and suddenly you have the makings of a good story.
You could also go really big and have people live on a Dyson Sphere around a star. While this has been done before it has not been done often.
Something I have toyed with is the idea of having a Dyson Sphere around several stars. One that is close enough to have real gravity for people living on it. At that close a range however any puncture would be.. very bad.

When you look at the history of armor and weapons during the middle ages one pattern you see is that weapons start to become more powerful relative to the armor of the era. Then you see the reverse where armor can stop any weapon. This repeats itself several times
Today weapons have won for the most part (fire enough bullets and they will in fact go through “bullet proof” glass eventually).
What if that changed? What if we had personal shields that could stop any projectile cold before it hits you? What effect would that have on society?
For example, what if the shield absorbed the impact of anything that hit it and distributed it across your entire body and, that it worked against any kinetic weapon.
This would completely change the kind of weapons people would use. You might have police lug around lasers that could only fire a few shots off per battery, or lasers that would almost certainly be fatal. You could have people make weapons that are made to transfer inertia and knock you on your ass so you can be tied up.
And of course nothing says that these shields have to be available to everyone. What if your ruling class was literately untouchable?
There is plenty of space for new Science Fiction the ideas here are just the tip of the iceberg.

Technology You Won’t See In The Future

Flying cars
While not as common as in sci-fi of the fifties and sixties you do still sometimes see flying cars in fiction today. The sad fact is that they are not something I think we will ever see in heavy use.
First, whatever was keeping them in the air would have to be way more reliable then modern car’s engine. After all think about how often people run out of gas on the road or have their engine stop without warning, instead of being annoying it could cause a major accident. You would need to have a back up system that would take you from cruising height and speed to the ground safely, this could double the cost of the car.
Second there still would be places your flying car could not go, a large flying hunk of metal would be a major security concern after all. This would limit the usefulness of your flying car.
Third the cars would have to at least share a good amount of information between themselves. This would mean they would be vulnerable to hacking, and that would be really bad. A hacked flying car could cause a lot of damage.
And of course there is the question of if they are needed. The only two situations I can think where they would be really useful would be over very long distances or during really bad traffic. While there certainly are places where traffic is bad, that is not the norm. Even over most of the US they would not get you where your going much faster. Certainly not enough to justify the much higher cost.

Perfect non lethal weapons
What I mean my perfect non lethal weapons is something like phasers set to stun, weapons that can knock someone out with no risk of serious pain or injury.
Even tasers can cause major injuries under the right conditions. They can cause eye injuries, seizures, even collapsed lungs. And of course even if they cause none of these problems directly smacking the pavement when your knocked out is hardly going to be healthy.
The fact is that humans are not made to be turned off easily. Even in a hospital during surgery, under ideal conditions, you have an anesthesiologist. Someone who is there to make sure you stay under just the right amount. Think about that, you have someone who is only to make sure you don’t slip too far under or start to wake up. They would not be there unless it was a hard thing to do.
This leads to the real problem, anything that can knock you out can kill you if used just a little too much. It’s hard to imagine any effect that would knock you out, and do nothing more even after being hit with it again and again.

Review: Spin

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spin is a high concept novel. It starts with one idea then extrapolates from there.

The idea is that suddenly a sphere surrounds the earth, and the stars go out. We learn that time passes much faster for us then the rest of the universe, so much faster that in forty or fifty years, were the barrier to fall (it was providing us with normal sunlight, tides and such) we would all die because the sun would no longer be able to support life on earth.

More then anything, it’s a disaster story. Its told from the point of view of a person who is adjacent to people who are studying the spin, and making decisions, even though he is not. It takes place over a long period of time. It starts when the main character is ten and ends when he is fortyish.
It is a very intelligent, if pessimistic, projection of how people would react and how the world at large would react.
I will say that its not big on character arc’s. There are some but its not a focus of the book. It reads more like the diary of the best friend of a important figure.

While the book did drag on a bit it is a very good story, I am looking forward to reading the sequels.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Space Battles

Battles in space are of course quite common in science fiction. While they can take many forms, when dealing with hard sci-fi there are a few things that need to be kept in mind.

The big one that almost all movies and TV shows get wrong is distance.

On earth because of the horizon, two targets have to be fairly close to attack each other directly (4 miles or so). The atmosphere also causes a good amount of uncertainty in even the best computer over enough distance.

Neither of these is a factor in space. The closer you get to the target the less options you have. There is no reason not to be light seconds (at least) away if you can manage it.

Acceleration or delta-V (delta is change, V is velocity) is one of the most important factors in a warship.

It is limited first by the ship itself, by its power generation, ect. This you have to determine for yourself.

The other limitation is that of the human body. We can only take 5-10 G’s for any length of time (and anything close to 10g is really pushing it). For very brief periods of time we can take more. Even at only 2 G’s it would start to be dangerous to walk or climb a ladder.

That said one workaround I have in my novel’s setting (I doubt it will come up in the first book, may not even in later ones) is that the top of the line military craft use a liquid atmosphere. Since the lungs are the first organ to fail due to high G’s, a liquid atmosphere takes care of that. A craft like that could go up to 20G’s or more.

Even though there are ways to work around the problem, it is still important to be aware that the problem exists.

Weapons, naturally are also important.

Probably the first thing that comes to mind to most people when I say sci-fi weapons is lasers. While being very cool, as a large scale weapon they leave much to be desired. Thanks to the inverse square law you have to be on top of whatever you are targeting for them to do any good. They also take a lot of power and generate a lot of heat.

I can see them used as a point defense weapon like shooting down missiles and such as they approach you, but as a main weapon I doubt they would do much good.

Plasma weapons (heat and ionize a gas until it becomes a plasma then fling it at your enemy) suffer most of the same problems, if for different reasons. Plasma also has the problem of being much slower then light. Again cool, but I doubt very useful in practice.

Rail guns and missiles are what I would expect to be the weapons of choice.

The main limitations of rail guns are the massive power they take and of course ammunition. While they would probably be little more then slugs of some tough alloy, having neither guidance nor explosives, they could still cause massive damage.

The main two advantages of missiles would be that they could course correct and that they take little to no power from your ship to launch. Depending on how easy it is to make power this could mean that all small ships are missile carriers.

One final thing; detection

The main way you could detect an enemy ship would be it’s thermal signature.

It may be possible to make a ship that is invisible to radar, and so black its effectively invisible in the visible spectrum. Hiding your heat would be much harder.

Radiating heat will be a major problem for any ship, let alone a warship. I am not saying that you can’t have a ship hide it’s heat signature but again be aware of the problem.