Tag Archive: spacers


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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Karyss-shade3a-FX

Karyss, drawn in 2013

Karyss is the protagonist of “PSA”  the Science Fiction novel I’m currently writing for what seems like forever. Young and unassuming, she lives a life defined by the everyday, never questioning the world beyond that she sees, but a brave, yet foolish step toward her dreams casts her adrift amongst the stars, on a journey she could never imagine, let alone understand.

But my story of her is a little different than the novel’s.

Karyss entered my life back in 1997. She didn’t know it was going to happen and neither did I. I had logged onto an online text-based MUD (I was addicted to them at the time) and was spontaneously asked the odd question “Character Name?”   I knew this question was going to come up at some point while starting a new character on a new MUD, I just wasn’t ready for it then.  Really, without thinking, I typed the word “Caryss” and hit enter. I think I had thought of a strange version of “Chris,” then “future-ized” it. About 30 minutes later, I left that MUD never to return – but I took Caryss with me.

Caryss

Early version of Caryss from 1999.

Since then, she has bobbled to the surface of my imagination quite frequently. I found myself having to write glips and glops for this and that, and she kept stepping through the brain-idea barrier every time. Here, she is a bounty hunter, there an inadvertent terrorist, and over here, a co-pilot of a starship. These versions of Karyss were obvious nods to the pulpy SF I’ve absorbed and desired to write ever since I was six and seeing Star Wars that fateful summer. Then, she was lithe, sexy, full of attitude… In other words, a stereotype and not much else. She needed depth.

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In the first two articles of this series, I have put forward some thoughts for what life might be like for freelance, civilian space workers as a sort of thought-exercise and the foundation for some of the characters and events in my novel in progress, codenamed “PSA”  With this episode, I describe the main elements of the idea.

My spacers started out as good-natured, friendly, heart of gold types, but I needed an edge, or something that I felt like I could call them mine. So I made them superstitious, stressed out drug addicts trying to make their way in a cruel, unforgiving universe. I think they’d be  a little… “touched” to put it nicely.

Copyright Ken McCulloch 2012

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spacer [ˈspeɪsə] n,  3. (Astronautics) a person who travels in outer space

Mechanismo Spaceport, by Jim Burns

The humble spacer. Possibly one of the most enduring of science fiction/space opera character archetypes. The Han Solos and Chewbaccas, the Malcolm Reynolds, Pyanfar Chanurs, Ace Garps, Commander Jamesons, Baltechs, Ellen Ripleys and many others while not always heroes they seem to capture the imagination more than most. Average Joes doing their average work in extraordinary ways and with exceptional skill. They know what a hydro-wrench is (and isn’t) for and won’t take shite if someone says otherwise. They can repair a hyperdrive assembly in a few minutes with paperclips, but can’t fix a coffee machine worth a damn.  They know what they know well and thanks to them, they’re responsible for many an SF novel or story.

A worn-out, semi-shady, yet good natured space freighter crew is almost a cliche to me. It occurs frequently as a plot facilitator or lynchpin of the story. There’s been as a many variations on the theme as there are authors. Out and out smugglers, like Han Solo/Chewbacca, borderline freedom fighters like the crew of the Serenity, grungy truckers like the Nostromo crew in Alien, even socially deranged peeps on Red Dwarf. For every story there is a slight variant with a schtick.   But why? You’d think that in the far future, when we have reliable and frequent space travel, there’d be far more interesting jobs out there to do. So why does it, at many times, come back to the “spacer?”

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