Tag Archive: space opera


Upper deck detail of the Latent Pulse, showing crew related features.

Upper deck detail of the Latent Pulse, showing crew related features.

I find that designing deck plans for imaginary spaceships to be a meditation into pseudo-engineering. At its most basic level, it draws us further into the imaginary world of our creations, encouraging us to think about aspects of it we wouldn’t do otherwise. As a writer and game designer, I’m able to visualize the action of my stories, or the progress of a player, or the inhabitants of this imaginary environment. At the other end of the spectrum, it is an exercise of applying all kinds of reasoning to its imaginary function, strengthening a concept and bringing change to it to make it feel more… real, though it is unlikely any of these exercises will be made into real things.

There is no real methodology for the process of creating one – our approaches will be entirely different based on our purpose for hashing the design out from thin air. It may be about visualizing the environment, so one can describe a single room; it may be the act of arranging obstacles or furnishings to provoke game play strategies, it may be to stage an action sequence in a novel, or an encounter in a tabletop RPG.

Copyright Ken McCulloch 2012

Latent Pulse development Concept sketch

What is going to be put forward here is a collection of points for the Starship designer to consider while planning their decks, in the hopes of drawing about a deeper sense of accomplishment and rationality within the design. Regardless of the actual result of the process – whether a “realistic” design is achieved or not, since how can we prove it one way or another – the most rewarding aspect of it is the thoughts that arise from it. Just as in meditation.

These thoughts are what came to me as I designed the Latent Pulse, a medium sized FTL freight/trading vessel from my WIP novel, Pan Spectrum Analyzer. Each one forced me to move elements about, rethinking their placement, use and relevance both to the design and to the narrative of the novel.

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Karyss_Prologue

Karyss aboard the Hegemony ship, Respondent.

I’ve posted a lot about my science fiction novel in progress. I’ve talked about the illustrations I’ve done for it and plastered them across this site. I’ve blabbed about the processes I’ve used to get my head in its reality. I’ve mentioned the spacecraft and its denizens, and blah blah blah…  but I’ve never actually shown anything from its pages.  I guess its about time, eh?

Like all things, there are reasons for that.  Creative types can be insecure about their work, especially their “favourite child.” But a protective father needs to let their sweetheart out of the house to live her own life, so here we go.


Pan Spectrum Analyzer (working title)

“We all aspire to take upon ourselves a Great Journey, but only a few of us ever do.”

Prologue

Mbali Sector, deep space, T + 65 days (Starship Sequential/Chronological Time)

“Collision imminent!”

Karyss was only dimly aware of the vacc-suit’s alarm klaxons insistently sounding off, somewhere deep under layers of her ragged, forced breathing. The shrieking rush of blood in her ears was far clearer than the proximity warnings and victimized screams leaping from the comms. Too much was happening, too fast to follow. Overwhelming. Soul crushing. She needed to focus and figure out what was important.

“Collision imminent!”

Deep breath, girl, deep breath. She clawed air into her lungs, bringing brief clarity. She shrugged around in the stiff vacc-suit, glancing around as much as she could, snatching glimpses that brought her situation into an even starker reality.

Incandescence surrounded her – the dying breaths of a hundred spacecraft exhaled as violent flowers of burning vapour miraculously blooming from their hulks: volatile gas spilled from shattered starships shocked to ignition by radiant, prismatic showers of sparks. They rapidly boiled away into the void, eerily silent, their passage illuminating skeletal wrecks, scattered bodies of crew, faint zig-zag plumes of lifeboat burn motors; the embers of a once proud navy.

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green lantern movie

Are you telling me this ISN’T Science Fiction? Aliens, robots, weird things, futuristic cities…

It’s at times like this I had much deeper roots in the Comic industry than I do right now (Hey, Josh!), as the last few weeks have seen some interesting developments that made me jealous of whoever might step in to fill this role: DC Comics’ Geoff Johns is retiring from his position as chief writing peep on the Green Lantern comics, which may mean the titles associated with GL may be about to undergo a massive change in direction.

For the record I should state that I’ve never been big on superheroes, whether Marvel or DC. Growing up in the rural parts of the southwest UK meant that I had limited access to decent comics and I was weaned on a steady supply of Eagle and 2000AD – making me a staunch fan of Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, Rogue Trooper, ABC Warriors, just to name a few. As a result, superheroes were always hokey to me. Sure, I read a few comics, watched some movies, but by the time I was out of young-adulthood, say 25-28, I could only say that a tiny handful of superhero oriented comics I had read were of any real value to me. Marvel’s Elektra: Assassin and DC Comic’s Marshal Law. It would be another five or six years until I read Watchmen and a few other guilty pleasures, such as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And of course, all these are largely critical of the superhero genre and its tropes. Yeah, me and Superheroes don’t get along much.

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TBRSRKR1979he Berserkers have been around a very long time – and not just in the fabric of its own universe. Fred Saberhagen published his stories of planet-sized robotic killing machines gradually extinguishing all life wherever they encountered it in 1963 and ever since, its been a strong contender: Berserker stories were still being published in 2005, with Rogue Berserker as its most recent title.

Its hard to say whether Saberhagen created the original race of robotic killing machines, but in the wake of Berserker, there are an awful lot of similar creations expounding upon the concept and not just in SF Literature circles – the Inhibitors of Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space series, the Necrons of Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 and the Reapers/Old Machines from Bioware’s SF RPG video game, Mass Effect and these are just the most notable ones. Aliens and their robotoc creations have always been rather opposed to human life (and life in general), so as a concept they have attracted the imaginations of many an author.

vintage-sf-badge

The Vintage SF Not-A-Challenge over at The Little Red Reviewer

Berserker has been sitting on my “Reading List” shelf for nigh on eight years now, ever since I kicked off my own “vintage SF reading spree”, though it was a very hard task to actually find a copy. Eventually, I buckled in to online stores and got myself a nice paperback version. It sat there for quite some time, as my reading list is well over fifty books and never seems to go down at all, but Berserker got fast tracked when the Little Red Reviewer announced her Vintage SF Not-A-Challenge.

Berserker is an anthology of short stories connected by the common thread of their subject matter – the Berserkers, and described by one of the Carmpan, a race of telepathic aliens that almost saw extinction at the hands of the Berserkers, if they hadn’t have allied themselves with good Ol’ Humanity.  The Berserkers are the left over weapons of an ancient war between two technological advanced races, the Builders and the Red Race. When the Builders perfected their doomsday creations that would later be called “Berserkers” by the children of Earth, they weren’t to know that they would take their programming to incredible lengths and continue their destruction well after the last of the Red Race was to fall, or that they’d be the next and definitely not the last, civilization to fall prey to them. Since then, the Berserkers have roved the galaxy, exterminating any semblance of living sentience – learning about their enemies, understanding their defences and taking them apart piece by piece until nothing is left. They are pretty much the biggest kick in the teeth Asimov’s Laws of Robotics ever received, I think.

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Rival Ideas

di_fate_niven orbitsvillen370The Science Fiction and Fantasy genres are largely idea driven. A story can dangle on the end of a good idea and experience a sort of half-life without the need for full characterization and even a terrible plot – if the idea is good enough. There is then, a race for the best ideas – the most ambitious, the most interesting, the most realistic, the most prophetic. Most authors won’t readily admit to this, but it’s there all the same. Its a guilty pleasure to follow a nice new idea and mine out a seam of something related to it, perhaps spring boarding into another sub-genre entirely – space opera, steampunk, urban fantasy, victorian SF…

We are, of course, excited by ideas. If  the idea wasn’t there, it wouldn’t be science fiction of fantasy, it would just be… fiction: stories about people in a world we are familiar with. Even then, there needs to be an idea, right at the center of it all, driving the whole thing.

Author’s covet their own ideas, of course. An idea does more than just belong to an author, it is part of them, so they’ll always be special. But – what happens when someone else has the same idea?

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