Orbital Plaything

The allure of space is strong with me.  When I was thinking about stories, I was playing out a scene within my alternate space history story, where a woman, whose father was involved with Soviet Space program from the mid-50’s until the early 1980’s, is recollecting watching Valentina Tereshkova and Irina Soloviyova prepare to lift-off on Vostok 6.

That time Tereshkova flew and became Seagull, but her recollections covered two more important memories.  The first was standing at a launch pad two years later and saying goodbye to Tereshkova and Soloviyova as they prepared to lift-off on Voskhod-5, and how she felt a year later after Yuri Gagarin did everything he could to keep his best friend Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov from flying Soyuz 1, where upon he suffered the same fate his friend suffered in this reality.

Where is this taking me?  Yesterday I became interested in a program I downloaded last year, a simulation program named Orbiter.  The person who created set it up so that it would be as realistic a space flight simulator as possible, and given the number of times I’ve already crashed, I’d say, yes, it very much is.

While most of the simulation is taken up by the space shuttle Atlantis, and the ISS, there are a few fictional craft that will let you experience things that you might not ever do in real life.  One craft, the Dragonfly, allows you to take off from the ground, fly into orbit, and even fly off to and land upon the Moon if you so desire.  There is another craft called the Saturn-A that is used on the Moon and Mars, but last night I managed to lift-off from Earth and fly into orbit–for a little bit, that is.  I did something bad, and I ended up putting the ship into an uncontrollable flat spin (or, in the vernacular, I entered an excessive yaw-right maneuver, and exhausted my RCS fuel trying to correct) and reentered the atmosphere somewhere beyond Africa.  One moment you’re trying to fix your situation, and the next thing you know there’s all this glowing red mist just outside your window . . .

Trying to figure out what you’re doing is half the battle.  I’ve gotten good enough that I can figure out how to get into orbit without burning too much fuel (I’ve still gotta learn those angle of attacks so I don’t rocket straight up and out), but I’m still learning the fine points of trying to go from the Earth to the Moon.  Tried that today, and ended up getting to the moon’s orbit–only the moon wouldn’t show up at that point for a couple of weeks.  Oops.  It’s that sort of “accident” that leaves you gasping for air, wondering what the hell happened.

The best part of this:  addons.  There is a very large community out there that’s constructed all sorts of simulations, from historic flights to flights that are happening today.  But if you prefer, there are modules that’ll let you fly craft that exist only in your imagination . . .

I’ve already got my eye on a few adons, but first I’m going to figure out how to fly better than I am, ’cause these ships cost a lot of money, and I don’t want to spend my time crashing them, or ending up lost in space for eternity–

Hey:  Lost in Space.  Sounds like a good title.  I wonder if I can do something with that?


Ah, the weekend.  That transitional period where you go from one miserable week to another, usually stressed out from catching up on all the stuff you didn’t get to do during the week.  Mine are like that from time to time, and then there are moments when it’s all about relaxing and playing with something new.

First off, there was this writing thing I do, and what I was going to do next.  I thought and thought and thought–okay, maybe I only thought a little, but drama, people–we gotta have it.  I’ve decided that my story Replacements, which I wrote for consumption on another site, is a good little project to edit, then format, for self-publishing.  The last thing I had published was back in May, and I should get something else out and up before the end of the year.

Since Replacements isn’t a novel in search of a home, or something that’s a continuation of one of a couple of series that are ongoing, it’s made a good candidate for finding a home at Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon, as well a some points in-between.  It’s also twelve thousand words, so there’s room to expand the story, maybe go into a little more detail on some areas–like how the new Olivia fell into her role as mistress–and not blow this up into another novel.

It seems to be the best way to go:  editing, with a little rewriting, as well as getting something new out in the end.  All for the low price of $2.99!

But wait!  There’s more!

I’ve been playing with some 3D modeling programs the last week.  Blender has been one, Hexagon has been the other.  Mostly I’ve been playing with things in Hexagon, which is an easy program for one to learn the basics, then trying to create the same things in Blender, which is far more powerful a program, but–as everyone tells me–has a extensive learning curve.

One of the things I’ve played with is modeling space ships–in particular, one I ran for a game called Diaspora.  The ship my players “owned” was named The Divine Comedy, and the idea was to make the ship look as “realistic” as possible.  I knew what I wanted it to look like, but all I had, up until now, were sketches and a few notes.

But now, I have this:

Divine Comedy 03

What do we have here?  Up front you have the main docking port.  The big round thing is a centrifuge, and inside are modules that change position depending on which way “Down” is for any given moment–meaning, if the drive is burning, down is towards the back towards the engine, and if they are coasting, down is towards the short, outer wall of the centrifuge casing.  On top you have the comm tower.  There are two cargo doors between the centrifuge and the radiators–those wings on either side of the ship, which are used to get rid of heat.  On the girders you have the fuel tanks, then a large and thin shadow shield to keep pesky radiation away from the crew.  Then you have the reactor, and the engine nozzle.  Not how we often think of space ships in science fiction, but this is a lot closer to reality than anything you will see on television, or in the movies.

After that, I wanted to try my hand at something else from another story idea.  It’s sort of a alternate history/future history that could end up being very Rocketpunkish (you can look that up here), and one that’s been bouncing about for a few months.  One of the key moments in the story is involves the construction of a very large space station which acts as a transfer station to the Moon and points beyond, and what my characters do to make this happen.

What does this station–which I have imaginatively named Station One for now–look like once it’s built?  Like this:

Station One 01

It’s a huge assembly.  From one docking center to the other, it’s 210 meters long, or 688 feet if you’re not into the whole metric thing (even though you should be), and from one set of solar panels to the other it’s 170 meters, or 558 feet high.  This thing would need a couple of football stadiums to sit inside, and even then it’d pop out of whatever sort of roof you have over those joints.

At the one end are a couple of very rough models of ships that I’d use in the story.  At the center, before the solar panel towers, are four living modules, each one 38 meters high by 16 meters in diameter, set upon a centrifuge producing .3g gravity.  About the only thing missing are circular tunnels that allow people to walk from one module to the other without needing to climb up to the center, then head down to another module.

To give you a sense of scale, there is something below the station that looks like a fat goose flying in formation.  That’s Skylab, the one and only.  As big as it was, it’s miniscule compared to what I’m thinking of creating in my story.  Actually, one of the ideas in my story is that Skylab is saved and used as a work shack for the people putting Station One together–at least until they can get large living modules in place.

One of the things that’s nice about doing this sort of thing is being able to take a vision you have for something that could end up in a story, and give it a sort of physical presence.  Yes, it’s still fantasy, but now it’s a fantasy that one day may just show up as an illustration inside a story.

Just give me time, ’cause neither of us knows where this is going.

That’s always fun.

At Home in the Darkness

Things are moving along, plans are coming into focus.  With a long weekend ahead–well, three days, which is almost long enough, especially since there are Daleks on Saturday–this is giving me some time to really get into my ideas.

Those ideas are kicking around now, coming from a lot of different directions.  I spent some time chatting with people yesterday afternoon and evening, but at the same time, I was running one idea through my mind . . . which is either an indication of how much it’s grabbing me, or that the conversation was sorely lacking.

The idea for one of the stories The Muse is pushing on me–if by “pushing on me”, you mean, “shoving a USB data stick in one ear while muttering, ‘What’s my name?  What’s my name?  Say it!'”–concerns an alternate past where there was never a space race–or, at least, it never got to the point where either side decided going to the Moon was a worthwhile endeavor.  Enter into the vacuum left by a lack of interest in flying into the Big Black a person who has dreams about rising above it all . . . well, you can guess the rest.

One of the things I was thinking over last night was how one would, if you had the sort of ships that I’d use for the story, go about establishing a permanent presence in Earth orbit.  Putting my mind to work, I sort of figured out what I would need to do, or my characters would need to do–or maybe I was bored with the conversation, and my mind mine was trying to conjure up images of my Muse dressed like Black Widow.

Funny how that happens.

It was a very gratifying exercise, because I spent about ninety minutes running numbers and ideas and concepts, and was even visualizing some of these things.  This is where I need to get a better understanding of using a modeling tool like Blender, because I could actually make these images become real, and perhaps even do a little movie of the events.

The flow of the scene, the imagery . . . it was great.  There wasn’t a sense of struggling as I’ve had in the last few months.  Rather, it was point, click, go:  I was off and running.  It felt good to know I was back in business.

Now, to do the same with my other stories . . .

The only issue I run into with this story I was thinking upon yesterday is that it will involve a lot of–here it comes, drum roll, please–research!  I already knew this, but it’s the sort of research I love.  It will likely drive me nuts, but I still love this.  But there it is; I’m setting myself up for some work.

I need to begin making notes; I need to get this stuff sorted.  I said that yesterday, but my Muse flashed me with visions of space ships and low Earth orbit, so I was distracted.  Blame her, the crazy wench!

It’s gonna be fun enjoying writing again.

Welcome to Bay 17-B

Memories of what I did in the past–damn, but those can really mess with your mind.

I got into Diners at the Memory’s End last night, and I took my time writing.  As in, it took me like three hours to get 992 words in.  Oh, I had thing going on.  I had to plot a polar orbit, which was not all that hard:  just bring up a program, plug in a few numbers, and there you have it.  I was surprised to see the orbit of my ship coming within seven thousand kilometers of a moon’s, but given that the orbit I plotted has a twenty-two day period, no need to worry about getting too close.

Not that seven thousand kilometers is all that close . . .

And I had a hell of a time getting started.  It was one of those, “Shit, man, how do I start this chapter?” sort of issues.  I had someone on Facebook tell me that I should walk away for a bit–Ha!  I don’t walk away!  I write!  I sound like Keanu Reeves yelling at his dad now!

So I did something I like to do:  I wrote something very short at the head of the part, then had it go to a flashback.  When I return to writing, I’ll bring it all up to current time.

It was the flashback that was hard, though.  See, I’ve been to this place before, where one of my main characters keeps his, well, space ship.  Yeah, he has one; yes, he used a cheesy line on his friend Meredith when he told her they were headed to the craft.  So the flash back of Part Seven was going to the ship–

I realized that I didn’t have a very good image, in my head, of both the spaceport, and the ship.

Allow me to explain:  when I wrote the first draft of Transporting a very long time ago, there was a very long scene where someone was walking through the bowls of the spaceport on the way to where Albert keeps his ship.  I had the image down, and I even had a pretty good idea of what the ship looked like at rest.

But that was back twenty years ago, and even though I have these images in my head about what things are like at the spaceport, I didn’t actually see them.  If I can’t see them, then I can’t show them very well, can I?

So I picked my way through the literary mine field that is, “I gotta see this and show it,” and did it.  Got the underworld of the spaceport down, and not only came up with a good description of the space ship, but came up with some reasoning for why there are certain things about it that show Albert is not who he seems . . .

Writing this story is hard.  It’s hard digging back into something I did so many years before, trying to remember what was written, and giving it a polish that wasn’t there before.  But I am a better writer now, and this story–it makes me think, and that, in turn, makes me even better.

It is true:  if you remember the past, you won’t repeat it.

But you damn sure will improve upon it if you give it a shot.