Tag Archive: Traveller


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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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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Work continues on my in-progress novel, the first part of which mostly takes place aboard a space freighter. I find my best “world building” comes from writing about things and letting the ideas fall out as I go along, as I have previously written about here. I have found some of that very challenging during the course of the novel, mainly as I felt it required some aspects of knowledge that I didn’t have immediate access to and dealt intimately with the spacecraft the action takes place in and around. Its one thing to conjure up an image of what it might be like, but to “realistically” write say, an action sequence that is logically consistent with the layout, furnishings and equipment  one might find in such an environment took a whole lot more planning.

By the time I reached that point, I was still wrestling with “issues” of how the overall ship was laid out internally. I felt that I needed lots of answers in a very short time and because of this, progress became stunted and slow. I found myself in a mire of technical details that I might not really need.  The best constructed worlds aren’t full of intricate details of everything, they are full of the right details of the things that are important.

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Sources of any kind can help visualize what doesn’t exist

Anybody who knows me has probably heard me reference the Traveller RPG and anyone who’s read a few articles on this site must be sick of the references to it by now. There is a good reason for it, however, I do believe that Traveller is the best one-stop shop for figuring out science fiction worlds (and it will get better with Traveller 5, due at the end of the year, by virtue of its comprehensive creation system for anything you can think of: characters, ships, worlds, weapons, vehicles, items, etc.). Whenever I’ve needed a place to start in describing a future setting, I think of Traveller. Traveller is rather open in terms of the universe that comes out of the box – everyone has their Own Traveller Universe (OTU), which always seems to drop down from whatever SF books they read, movies they watched. They read the Traveller rules and see their own universe emerge as they digest them.

So it should come as no surprise that now I’m writing my own SF novel and stories (as opposed to other people’s SF projects), that I come back to Traveller for that cornerstone to build from. In this case, it has been for spacecraft construction.

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The Human-Centric Universe

Human beings seem to be very important in science fiction, or indeed, any kind of story that we create.  Just look at how many of them are in our stories! They’re all over the place.  They must be very important!

At face value, this is perhaps simply because we are human and need other humans to relate to. The closer you come to our “Real” world the more likely you are to have humans in your story. However, science fiction (and to some degree fantasy and horror) has more of an excuse to venture further away from this idea, but even with possibility of strange alien life forms being taken for granted, the pervasiveness of humanity, or species directly related to humanity, seems inescapable.

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