Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Twin Suns: The Technology

Well, it's finally out. My first book, Twin Suns, is available as an ebook from Double Dragon. It's also available at Amazon, and for Nook and Kobo. To celebrate (and you know, try to sell more books), I've decided to write about it. As much as I love talking about myself, and writing about writing, I actually don't like writing about my writing. But here goes.

With Twin Suns, as with any other work of science fiction, the technology is an integral part. Star Wars without light sabers would be less exciting, Old Man's War without BrainPals wouldn't work, and Starship Troopers without the super-advanced battle armor would be, well, the film version of Starship Troopers. In any work of science fiction, the science is important (whether it's done realistically or not) the whole world is built around it.

The technology in Twin Suns is done just about as realistically as I could. I opted to use nuclear pulse propulsion, which is theoretically possible. A ton of research has been done on it, and we'd probably be using it now if not for a certain international treaty prohibiting it. Karl Sagan once suggested it as a use for the world's surplus nuclear weapons. The idea behind it is simple; blow up a nuke behind the ship and ride the wave. Obviously this requires a special shock-absorbing plate at the back, which has to be made out of a material that can withstand the heat. Thick copper works. Radiation shielding is less of an issue as space ships are already shielded from radiation. Then all you need is a device to shoot nukes out to the appropriate distance prior to detonation. According to one source, coca-cola was consulted about their design, as dispensing delicious canned beverages and nuclear bombs works on basically the same principle. Nuclear pulse propulsion lets us travel at around fifty percent of light speed. Theoretically, if we use a matter-antimatter explosion, rather than a standard nuke, we can get up to about sixty-percent. All the distances and times in Twin Suns were calculated based on realistic estimates.

Even at those speeds, it'd still take a pretty long time to make the journey from Earth to the Twin Suns solar system. For that I combined real medical technology with those little exercise-for-lazy-people devices on infomercials. You know, the ones that send electrical impulses to your muscles to expand and contract them so that you can get "exercise," while watching TV and eating cheetos. My version of suspended animation was simply an induced coma, while attached to those things.

I also tried to make the fighters a bit more realistic than most. As cool as X-Wings are, the way they move in space is completely ridiculous, and the wings themselves are completely superfluous. In space, you don't need to generate lift. I went with a spherical design, and gave them gyroscope-like rings around the main sphere that move and rotate to apply thrust in any direction.  The controls, as I envisioned them, are a slight variation of the Xbox 360 controllers (I added a loop on the thumb-controlled joysticks so that you can move up, instead of just clicking down.) Admittedly, it still took a few rewrites to get them moving like-space ships rather than atmospheric fighters.

In the initial draft, that's about where the realism stopped. As much as I hate to admit it, I even had "magical" artificial gravity. Fortunately, one of my critique partners pointed out that if you could manipulate gravity at will, that would make more sense as a propulsion system than nuclear pulse propulsion. As it originally read, it was a bit like having computers on a steam ship. That's when I got to research and write about spin-generated gravity. I still have spread-sheets with which I analyzed the necessary rates of rotation and dimensions required to produce different amounts of gravity. It also required a complete redesign of the ship, and left a lot of problems to address. How do you try to pilot a ship when the room you're in is rotating? How do you shoot from a rotating turret? Should some sections be immobile? How does one move between the moving and non-moving sections? I like to think I handled those questions well, and in later parts of the story, some of those details even became important to the plot.

In the early stages it did mean rewriting a lot of the first part of the book, but I must say it made me glad to be a science fiction writer. All writers occasionally have to make large global changes and do some rewriting. Sometimes you've got to take a character out of a few scenes. That's part of the job. But what other kinds of writers have to rewrite scenes in order to cut gravity out?

Overall, it was a pleasure to write and I hope that you enjoy it (and review it on Amazon). Next week (or whenever I get around to it,) I'll write more about it. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. You can always comment here, or contact me via email, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, phone, text, fax, mail, telegraph, courier, carrier pigeon, message in a bottle, smoke signals, or shouting very loudly.


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