Monday, May 30, 2016

A Hard (SF) Look at Star Trek: Scope III, The Search for Plots

From Orion's Arm:  SF world building turned up to eleven
Welcome back RocketFans, to another look at the Star Trek universe re-imagined through the lens of Hard(er) Science Fiction.  For those of you just joining us, you can read the previous posts starting here.
In our last look at the subject of Star Trek’s epic scope being able to fit in a much smaller setting,  I proposed the idea that our solar system, all by itself, was the perfect size in which to tell tales from the final frontier, provided we added a couple of suns and maybe cleared away two or so gas giants cluttering up the outer system.  Because stellar engineering is less fantastic than faster-than-light travel or artificial gravity.

No, really.
The thing is, it may very well be less fantastic.  According our favorite wizard/mad scientist, Dr. Robert Forward, shooting Jupiter with a stream of muons would theoretically increase its density enough to collapse into a star.  Where you get the stream of muons is left as an exercise for the student.  I haven’t really given the muon thing a lot of thought, having heard of it not too long prior to post-time, and because I had already worked out a good sounding solution for myself, using a substance the setting already required.
I am speaking of one of Dr. Forward’s other favorite supplies of unobtanium: Negative Matter.
NegMat will be necessary to the setting already, so we can assume it exists for purposes of stellar engineering.  According to Dr. Luke Campbell, who was kind enough to explain to me just how Lovecraftian an existential threat the stuff is, one could describe the effects of Negative Matter the way Ipa Sam did in my short story, A Gentleman’s Duty:

When pure negative matter is exposed to an electrical field - any field, so much as a single photon, it will cause a runaway reaction where the energy is amplified continually until it vaporizes the ship and everything within direct contact.  Then the individual particles will repel each other in the direction of the purest vacuum at the speed of light - maybe faster.  And each of those individual, subatomic particles will amplify any energy they come into contact with.”

So...what if a sort of negative matter bomb was dropped into Jupiter’s atmosphere? Designed to lose containment once the terrible pressure of the giant’s interior crushes it?  I propose that the runaway reaction would be enough to turn the protostar into a true stellar object.  It wouldn’t be very bright, it wouldn’t be all that long lived, but for a species like ours, it would be more than enough to make terraforming the multitude of moons around old Jove worthwhile.  
You may need to modify people to live there, however.  Jupiter is famously radioactive and unshielded humans tend to wither under such conditions.  Perhaps modifying baseline humanity into a species with enhanced protections - say, metallic plates around the brain and spinal column?  They’d look different.  Probably have pronounced brows and forehead ridges.  What - that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Pictured:  A Klingon Jovian
Anyway, if you repeat the process at Saturn, you’ll end up with a nice trinary system with dozens of moons-cum-planets to terraform.  Instant setting.  I’ve mentioned a few times before that The Jovian system could become it’s own nation and how that would work out, so seeing Jove as the birthplace of a Hard SF analogue of the Klingon Empire is not that much further a jump.
As for Saturn, logically I’d use that system for my Not-Romulan Empire.  In regular Trek, the Romulans are ethnic Vulcans who left their homeworld because they didn’t want to convert to the teachings of Surak.  With not too much trouble I can come up with a reasonable facsimile of this schism for my setting, This is a cultural thing, however, so it will be discussed in later post.
Sufficed to say, If we’re turning planets into stars, terraform Mars and Venus will be a cinch.  The inner planets will be the core of the UFP.
The last thing we need to establish in order to define the scope of our Hard SF Trek setting is warp drive.  Yes, there will still be warp drive - despite not having faster-than-light travel.
It’s like this:  The Alcubierre Drive, which if you already have Negative Matter lying around from solar injections is not that hard to develop, has been lambasted as impossible, impractical and generally a bad idea because all of the particles of interstellar media that get pushed along the bow-wave of the warp bubble will do a fair imitation of the Death Star once you reach your destination.

Wrong universe...
But you’ll never be able to stop at your destination because once enclosed inside the warp bubble you cannot turn it off.  Moving FTL, the electronic signal to stop will never catch up to the receiver.  But you won’t care, because the bubble will fill with lethal amounts of Hawking radiation and cook you alive.  Sounds fun, right?
The thing is, if you use the Alcubierre Drive to travel slower than light, most of those problems go away.
Most, not all.  The radiation is still an issue, requiring frequent stops to let the stuff disperse.  But you’ll be able to stop, you won’t destroy your destination, and most importantly for us, you’ll have interplanetary travel times comparable to the interstellar travel times seen in Star Trek.  Even better, good ‘ole fashioned radio can be used to communicate with starfleet command, which will send messages and rarely, if ever talk in real time.  Just like on TOS.
So now we’ve established our scope, RocketFans.  We have a setting that meets our initial criteria of travel time, communication times, three multi-world polities, and lots of empty space.  Also we have rubber-forehead "alien" species that can interbreed with humans!  Bonus!
Next time, will start tackling the timeline of this setting, and see how we can add classic Star Trek touches like the Eugenics Wars, Zephram Cochrane, and the Earth-Romulan War.  Good times.  See you then!

Friday, May 27, 2016

5 Ways you can Add Factions to your Starship Campaign

     And now for something completely different, an article that is actually on Science Fiction Gaming!

     One of my dreams is to be able to run a mega-dungeon based on a gigantic starship, such as the classic mile-long dreadnought .  The allure is obvious - Starships are inherently awesome, and mega-dungeons IN SPAAACE! are even more so.  What's not to love, right?

     In practice, running an adventure that takes place inside a starship for more than a session or to can get monotonous in a hurry.  There are many reasons for this.  The compartments can be too similar to provide exciting exploration, for one thing.  A look at the standing set for the original starship Enterprise is a perfect example - the entire ship could shown by building a single stateroom, corridor, and briefing room. Another problem with Starship-as-Dungeon is the enemy-to-ally ratio.  Basically, either you're an invading force on the ship, in which case everyone is against you, or you're part of the ship's crew, in which case everyone is on your side.  Many of the classic scenarios for big-ship dungeon crawls involve boarding actions, with results ranging from the heroically unrealistic to the suicidally plausible.  And neither add that secret ingredient to the dungeon that spices up multi-session play:  Factions.

     From the Caves of Chaos in one of the earliest B/X modules to the most recent mega-delves of the OSR, big dungeons have multiple factions for the players to interact with.  These faction are often uneasy allies at best, and openly at war often enough for enterprising parties to pit against one another.  the concept of factions breathes life into a dungeon by introducing multiple agendas, points of view, and - most importantly - multiple varieties of reactions to strangers.

An example:  Say you're playing a fantasy game and are ass-deep in some dungeon and run into a pair of Orcs.  If you're playing in a dynamic setting with multiple factions you don't know what the Orcs will do. Sure, they'll probably attack, but it's possible you can bargain with them, bribe them, trade with them make a deal to gang up on the Drow in the next level - much, much more than just hit-with-sword and repeat.  When you run into a pair of Stormtroopers on Deck forty-seven, they will probably react the same way as the troopers on deck twelve.

For obvious reasons...

    With all this in mind, I have assembled a list of five suggestions to add extra factions to an otherwise monotonous starship crawl:

How much extra duty for beating the XO at craps?
1. "Criminal" Elements: This could be as benign as a floating craps game played by lowly ratings, to the production of engine room hooch, to the guy on deck nine that can get anything you need, even after months in space.  This faction is not anti-establishment per se, but  they are motivated by a strong desire to not get caught, and this can be use to a party's advantage.  The criminal element are also useful for getting one's hands on illicit items - anything form pin-up holos to the contents of the captain's safe, depending on how corrupt the system is.  Likewise, the criminal element may be restricted to that one rating that get busted down to able spacer for smuggling contraband every time they get a promotion , to the ships supply officer, to the CO.

Clockwise from top: plain-crazy actor, diplomat/assassin,
military-hating scientist family member, military-hating scientist
space hippy, and rescued con-man.
2. Passengers: Star Trek has used this faction to great effect since the first season of the Original series.  Actors, foreign dignitaries, scientist that despise the military, and space hippies all give GMs an opportunity to introduce conflict on their otherwise well running starships. Such visitors outside of the chain of command allow for interactions not normally permitted in military or quasi-military organizations, namely fraternization.  If your party is more into violence than sex, the introduction of any unknown group allows for the injection of spies, saboteurs, assassins and the just plain crazy.  Family members of the crew - especially PCs, make for interesting visitors.  Finally, rescued spacers have any of a number of different backgrounds, from honest folks to con men.  The nice thing about bringing groups of new people aboard your ship is that the PCs never know what they're going to get.  The disadvantage is that the PCs will automatically assume - quite reasonably - that the new people are where the plot/adventure is. 

Pictured:  The Death Star's
Political Officer
3. The Political Officer:  The Political Officer is a real-world crew position used in the naval forces of totalitarian forces to insure that the military is firmly under civilian control.  They make sure that the captain toes the party line, the officers are shining examples of party orthodoxy, and the crew isn't poisoned by such toxic memes as "sense of adventure" and "fun".  Obviously, the Political Officer is almost universally hated by all aboard.  Many depictions of Polits show the frustration of Naval personnel with advanced tactical training having to justify their actions to a bureaucrat with little or no military training.  This is not always the case, however.
    The advantage of there being a Political Officer on a ship you're infiltrating is that pretty much everyone hate them, from the Captain on down. Their fear of the Political Officer is probably strong enough to counteract that hate.  A well connected Political Officer can have you arrested court-marshaled, imprisoned, executed, and could even go after your family.  The biggest obstacle for a party when faced with a Political Officer is that they are pretty much exactly the people the Polit is trying to ferret out.  They are as a general rule as suspicious as they are arrogant, and when you have one like the guy on the left, they may be able to read the treason in your mind.

4.Mutineers: This is arguably the easiest way to introduce different factions into a starship-based campaign, because it...introduces factions into a starship.  It kinda really is that simple - a faction of the crew, often led by a senior officer but not always, is engaged in a conspiracy to take over the ship.  They may wish to kill or maroon the loyalists, they may be switching side in a civil war, taking sides in a coup, or turning pirate or privateer.       Campaigns have already been built out of the idea of having mutineers aboard ship, but the sheer variety of ways you can use this idea in new ways warrants inclusion on this list.  For example, what if a part of the crew were possessed by alien parasites? A religious conversion of a senior officer to a sect that is against the established political system could lead to a mutiny.  The instability of the commanding officer, who is a high-ranking noble, could require drastic measure to contain.  I could go on, but I'm sure all of you could too.  A mutiny could lead the ship dead in space, unable to call for help - and then the game become one of survival as the warring factions fight over the engineers need to repair the ship, even going so far was to kill them and sabotage the repairs in order to prevent the vessel from falling into the wrong hands.
     One final thought about mutinies.  In setting where many if not most of the crew are conscripts, expect a third faction of spacers who will sit out the mutiny, waiting to see who prevails.  While they may not enjoy life in the Navy, the punishment for mutiny - death - is enough of a deterrent to prevent many from joining the mutineers.  Getting the support of this "swing vote" could be the key to a mutiny's success or failure.

Pictured right:  Admiral Rittenh -uh, Marcus
5. Coup: Our final way of adding new and interesting factions into a starship-based campaign is to stage a coup.  Similar to the mutiny, a coup is when the ship's commander, or someone possibly higher up, decides to overthrow the entire government or possibly strike out on their own to form a new star nation with a sizable portion of the Fleet.  Realistically, a military junta taking over a civilian government is the number one danger facing most nations with a strong military in the world today.  Unlike mutinies, which are often bottom-up affairs, many of which are spontaneous, a coup attempt is usually the result of long term conspiracy and is instigated be senior and command officers.  These officers have an advantage on their assigned ships - being in charge, their orders are often unquestioned and their rank affords a level of privacy that crew do not enjoy.
    An excellent example of the coup used in a science fiction setting is the Star Trek novel Dreadnaut! In this novel, Starfleet Admiral Rittenhouse is in charge of the construction of the titular ship class, which he and a small fleet of co-conspirators intend to use to start a war with the Klingon Empire and take control of the Federation "for the duration of the emergency". If this sounds familiar, it was shameless ripped off to for half of the Frankenstein plot of Star Trek: Into Darkness. The movie borrowed so heavily form the novel, that the crew of the USS Vengence even have their own uniforms instead of Starfleet ones, just like in the book.
     Don't get me started.

     While it is certainly possible to run a mega-dungeon in an O'Neil Cylinder or a large passenger ship (I'll cover both in a future post).  Not all of us want that.  For myself, I wanna run a campaign in an actual, military starship, the bigger the better.  I have plans on how to map one, and I intend to map smaller capital ships as well.  It's been an axiom of strategic thinking since the dawn of dawning that knowing your terrain is key to victory.  That's one of the reasons why I want to see starships become more than plot devices or abstract locations.  I want to see them become more real. See them come alive.

      Anyway, RocketFans, I hope you enjoys this list, and I look foward to writing more game-based articles in the future.  Enjoy!


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Starmorphs Geomorph #1 Combat Information Center On Sale Now!

Buy Now!
Thanks to the enthusiastic support of all of my RocketFans, Starmorph Geomorphs #1 is on sale now!  Just a reminder: Our $2.50 Patreons get this for free, and all the future installments as well. $5.00 Patreons get to use the maps in their own commercial work! 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

New Feature: Mini Maps

I started drawing these on a lark and the response has been more enthusiastic that I could have imagined.  So, for the benefit of everyone not following me on Google + (and really, why aren't you :)) I decided to put these on the blog.  These are sci-fi geomorphs, inspired by our Star Trek discussions of the last few days, and there are more to come.  There will even be, due to popular demand, versions for sale that include colored maps, blank maps (walls and doors only) and battle-damaged maps.  Enjoy!
Bridge and surrounds

First color pass of a B&W map.
I usually start and finish in color, so this in encouraging.

Block of Crew Quarters, two single staterooms share a central bath.

Deck one of our Jovian-class frigate for Starships and Spacemen

Labs, for to do SCIENCE!

People guessed that these were anything from nightclub dancefloors
to power stations to brigs before I filled in all the details.
But no, it's a pair of Teleporter rooms with attached Decon chambers.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Part Two out Today!

Buy here!
   We just released A Gentleman's Agreement, part two of our Gentleman Abroad series!  It's nearly twice as long as the first installment (which surprised me) but still just $2.99, and free on Kindle Unlimited.  $5.00 Patreons will be getting free copies, of course, but because of the Kindle Unlimited contract, they'll have to wait until August when the exclusivity agreement expires.  For those of you who saw that the first installment, The Gentleman Scoundrel, was removed from sale on, that's why.

Anyway, now story!  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Hard (SF) Look at Star Trek: Scope II, The Wrath of Sol

Welcome back, RocketFans! I'm thrilled at the response so far We've had new visitors, new Paetrons, new comments - it's been gratifying to see so much interest in the stuff we put out. Thank you!
Image here

In my last post, I ended on something of a cliffhanger - namely, saying I could re-create the essentials of the Star Trek universe using Hard SF elements in our own little solar system.  I meant it, too.  It will take a bit of doing, I admit.  But on a project such as this, world building is half the fun.

In that post, I suggested that Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets didn’t need to be as big as it is to tell the stories Star Trek tells.   To start us off today, I want to show why the Federation can’t be as big as it is.  To do so, I am going to have to inject some actual science into the situation.  Please forgive me.

First of all, the size of the Federation:  According to dialogue in the movie Star Trek: First Contact, the UFP is over 8,000 light years across and has a hundred and fifty member worlds. Bernd Schneider, who I've mentioned before, tells us why that’s unlikely in terms of Star Trek’s own warp drive and it's established capabilities.  The only way such a vast amount of territory could be traversed by a spacecraft is at the speed of plot.

Make no mistake RocketFans, 8,000 light years is big.  Assuming Sol is in the center of this, a starship patrolling the border that happens to spot our home star in a telescope is looking at the same light that shown on China at the start of the Bronze Age.  This is the same time that the Egyptians were experimenting  with a new substance known as leavened bread.  And this is not a flat plane of territory either.  Though never mentioned, it is understood that the polities in Star Trek occupy most if not all the space above and below their colored blobs on the map.  That’s a thousand light-years on average, right there.  A 4,000ly radius and a thousand ly depth gives us a cylinder of space roughly fifty billion cubic light years in volume.

With a hundred and fifty member planets.  

I feel ya, bra.
After consulting that most valuable of resources, Atomic Rockets, we find that such a volume of space should contain about thirty-five million stars with human habitable planets.  This suggest that the Federation should actually have many, many more member planets than it does.  Even if we assume there are a hundred colonies per member world, they’re only using 0.04% of the real estate available - without terraforming.  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, seems to indicate a need for quick and easy terraforming, considering the resources spent on Project Genesis.

All of these points are moot, in light of the equations on colonization, which at their most optimistic - meaning huge birth rates on colony worlds and forced emigration - the volume of space  we could occupy between now and the time of the movie First Contact is only a hundred light years in radius and .  That’s 0.06% if the supposed volume of the Federation.  That volume would contain 2200 habitable systems, with a colony-to-member ratio of  14.6 to 1.

That’s...wait, that’s actually reasonable.  Have we found a happy medium?  Is this smaller size just right without resorting to my radical solution of confining our setting to the solar system? In the old system of reckoning warp speeds (WF= x*c³), you can traverse that entire space, core to rim, in about two and a half months at Warp 9.  In TNG reckoning,you could make it in a couple of weeks at the max cruising speed of the Intrepid-class explorers.  Again, that’s pretty reasonable.  Has anyone else thought of making the Federation this size?  Am I the first?!


But, I’m still committed to making a Hard SF Star Trek setting the size of our solar system.  Wh, you may ask?  Because I'm making Hard SF:  You can’t travel faster than light. Silly.

Anyway. Solar System.

The two main objections to putting a setting as epic in scope in a place as...local as the Solar System are that the it's too small and there's only one decent planet in the bunch. Fair enough - or is it? I admit that there are no aliens in our star system...for now...and only one habitable the moment. But is the Solar System too small? After all, it is our backyard, right?

If this is your backyard, maybe.
The Solar System, from star to Oort Cloud, is 1.87 light years. The heliopause, the point where solar wind is canceled out by interstellar gasses, is a thousand times closer, but still a hundred AU away, which is 9.3 billion miles from Sol. That's just size - the number of planetary bodies is also suitably enormous. While there are only eight planets in our system - half of which are gas giants and lack real estate all together - There are a whopping 182 moons, nineteen of which are large enough to be planets or dwarf planets in their own right. That's comparable to the size of the Federation in terms of numbers. Granted most of those locations lack certain amenities, like atmosphere and water and heat. But that is actually a solvable problem in a couple of different ways.

Remember we mentioned terraforming earlier? I'm sure you all figured out that terraforming would play a big part in my setting, but perhaps not to the extent I'm thinking about. However, this post is long enough already, so we'll discuss how terraforming will give us a large enough Star Trek setting next time. As a bonus, we'll have rubber forehead aliens that can interbreed with humans presented in a way that is not only plausible, but likely.

For now, RocketFans, we'll leave you with this: Wouldn't our system be a lot more habitable if we had three suns instead of just one?

*Thanks again to Bernd Schneider for making his site, Ex Astris Scientia. Also, shout-outs to Masao Okazaki at The Starfleet Museum, and as always to Winchell Chung, Jr. at Atomic Rockets and, as we mentioned today, 3-D Starmaps. I stand on the shoulders of giants.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Guess Who's on Kindle Now!

Get your today!
That's right, RocketFans, The Gentleman Scoundrel, our first serial nano-fic story, is now available on Amazon Kindle for free with Kindle Unlimited! The kindle book copy is revised and expanded, correcting many of the issues and smoothing out the choppy bits and breaks that are unavoidable in serial nano-fic.

 If you get a copy, please leave a review.
I'm so excited!

Also, to all those other burgeoning writers out there:  I made this cover myself.  If you like what you see, I am available for commissions.  Contact me at

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Hard (SF) Look at Star Trek: Scope

Full sized version here.  Notice how few planets there actually are?
“Space, the final frontier”-

Actually, I better stop there.  After all, I don’t want to get sued

But that ‘final frontier’ is arguably the main character of the Star Trek franchise.  We’ve seen Star Trek done without the original crew, without the Enterprise, without the known universe, and without the Federation, but space, the endless unknown of opportunity and danger, is the one constant that always remains.  Today, RocketFans, we will be looking at the setting of Star Trek and wondering how the setting be different with we adhered to Hard SF technology, and how big does the setting need to be to make something that feels like Star Trek?

Star Trek, for those of you who may not be aware, was the first prime-time science fiction television series to have a regular cast.  Before Trek, you had shows like the Twilight Zone where each episode was a self-contained vignette.  The logistics making a television series with advanced special effects - and make no mistake, the visual effects on the original series were among the most advanced of the time - made airing episodes in a set order impossible. Post- production on Star Trek was so time consuming that there was a real possibility that the show simply couldn’t be made on a weekly basis.  Star Trek was also ruinously expensive, so much so that it would be hard for any level of ratings to make the show worth the expense in terms of the advertising you could sell during the program.  And that’s before several sponsors dropped out due the controversial nature of the show’s treatment of sexism, racism, and other hot-button topics.

What does this have to do with the “scope” of the Star Trek setting?  By itself, not much, but it helps to explain why most of the aliens look human, and most of the planets look the same.  You see, my dear RocketFans, for all that Star Trek is meant to be set in a vast galaxy with a huge Federation, the scope of the franchise is surprisingly narrow.

Naturally, a lot of criticism has been leveled at Trek and other SF shows and movies for showing us so many so-called “rubber-forehead” aliens who otherwise appear and act human.  The whole “planet of hats” phenomenon is another example of narrow scope.  In order to disguise the re-used sets and props that television production made necessary, most of the “strange new worlds” visited by the intrepid crew of Enterprise were made unique and easily recognizable by making everyone and everything on said planet an example of an easily recognized cliche.  I mean, do you remember the planet Sigma Iota II?  How about the planet of gangsters from “A Piece of the Action”?  They’re one and the same.

Besides mono-cultures and human looking aliens, Star Trek used - and help codify - the trope of technology doing whatever the plot required.  Nowhere was this more apparent than speed of a starship at warp and the speed of interstellar communication.  While the Starfleet’s supporting government, the United Federation of Planets, was meant to be an enormous collection stars covering a vast swath of the galaxy.  In practice it wasn’t all that big.  I won’t go into the reasons why - that ground has been covered extensively and by better scholars than I.  But sufficed to say, a science fiction setting may often say that it’s vast and epic in scope, but in practice focus on a handful of planets and alien species.  Just look at Star Wars - galaxy-wide Republic/Empire, yet everything seems to happen on Tatooine…

So, let’s put a little thought in how big a universe we actually need to tell Star Trek stories, in terms of travel times, communication times, and number of worlds we can make contact with, and “evil empires of space-commies” lurking in the shadows of space.

  • A multi-word government that sponsors our protagonists. While arguments have been made that such a government would be communist in practice, its leaders are democratically elected.  It is idealistic to the point of being Utopian, depending on what generation you prefer. In any case, it would be multicultural, tolerant, and egalitarian.   An important point is that it this government be supported by an economic system that eliminates or vastly reduces poverty, and a technological base that eliminates or vastly reduces mortality from accident and disease.

  • The setting needs to be home to several alien species of intelligent life,  while a couple can be starfish aliens or hyper-intelligent shade of blue, most should be close enough to humans that interbreeding is possible under certain circumstances.  Many will live in mono-cultural societies.  Often on single biome planets.
Can you hear me now?

  • The setting needs to be big enough that our hero ship is the only one in the area, far from assistance.  They need to be able to communicate with Command, but have such communication be delayed and/or delivered in messages, not real-time.  Civilization should oftentimes seem to be no more than a radio channel.

  • The setting should have many - several dozen in fact - settlements on the frontier that are a) isolated colonies, b) frontier forts, c) un-contacted aliens, or d) home to elder gods and/or ancient aliens.

  • A couple of multi-planet governments that are ideologically/militarily opposed to our protagonists’ government.  Traditionally, they have been dominated by a single race/culture.  Their borders should be close to those of our protagonists’ government, and they should all squabble over neutral colonies and unoccupied planets in the border region.

The above list seems to require a large volume of galactic space in order to contain it. Perhaps a quarter of the galaxy - the size of the actual Star Trek setting - or at least the volume of the Local Bubble.  This means we need FTL drives and radios and other physics breaking technology, and some sort of explanation for why aliens are so similar and planets so monotonous.  In other words, everything that’s already been done.


This is not a Hard SF setting by any far stretch of the imagination.  FTL?  Single biomes?  Interbreeding aliens?  This are the realms of space fantasy.  Hard SF rejects them all.  But that’s okay - in our next post I’ll show you all how we can have everything on the above list, from Federations to forehead aliens, in a Hard SF setting.

By putting it all in our own solar system.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Hard (SF) Look at Star Trek

Because anniversary.
Before anyone asks, I do indeed plan to finish the Stargosy stories I began during the April A-to-Z Blog Challenge.  The story that evolved from my daily nano fic turned into something a lot bigger and more complex than I had time to develop during the Challenge.  As for these first two weeks of May, My lovely wife Debra has changed jobs, which as anybody knows is stressful and tedious and makes keeping up with things like blogs harder than normal.

End of excuses.

This will be the first in a series, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Star Trek.. The title of this post kinda says it all - I intend to look at this most venerable of American SF franchises in various levels of detail and then attempt to re-imagine it in a hard SF sort of way.  I will examine the technology of Trek, obviously, but also the aliens, the timeline, and the general themes of the original show, and if they can be recreated in a more realistic setting.

I want to do this project for a couple of reasons.  First, I love Star Trek, and the scientific inaccuracies make my teeth itch.  It doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of the show, mind you - I fell in love with TOS and TNG at the same time back in ‘87 and haven’t looked back - but anything that makes a setting more plausible, in my opinion, is worth doing.  It is my contention that you can tell a story that is in the best, most worthy tradition of Star Trek without negative space wedgies, technobabble, handwavium, and technology that is only limited by the needs of plot.  Remember Ray’s Rule of Science Fiction:

Soft Science Fiction tries to make technology fit the imagination, and Hard Science Fiction tries to imagine what fits the technology.

So...gauntlet thrown, I guess.

Another reason for wanting to re-imagine Star Trek is more personal and less objective. Namely, I don’t think that the current offerings given us by the owners of the Star Trek intellectual property are worthy of the franchise.  I think the stories could be better, and better done.  The current Star Trek movies, while spectacular eye-candy and rousing action stories, are plots that seem to follow the “average guy bewildered by the future” sort of story.  Those are fine stories, I enjoy them and they capture the feeling many of us have in the face of rapidly changing technology.  

But it ain’t Trek.

Star Trek, if I may be arrogant enough to analyze, tells classic “competent expert using technology to solve a problem” stories.  These types of plots used to be the norm in science fiction, back when ‘Merrica worshiped progress and believed in the technological messiah.  Now, we don’t trust our politicians, our scientists, our teachers, certainly not our bankers, and technology is changing our lives far faster than we are comfortable with.   But for all the chaos of our modern lives,  Star Trek was hardly produced in a time of peaceful living and stable societal institutions.  In the late sixties, when the original series was on the air, things that cause national outrage today were not only commonplace, they were the status quo. And there was Star Trek, breaking social conventions by presenting women and minorities as competent, professional and hin positions of power. The crew of the starship Enterprise treated the unknown like a mystery, not an enemy.  They solved problems without violence more often than not, and the most common conflict was cultural misunderstanding.

So when I watch the current crop of Trek, with it’s whitewashed villians, all-male Admiralty, protagonist that glorifies ignorant instinct and fisticuffs over training and expert knowledge, and faces the unknown with phasers drawn,  I have to say that it is not the Trek I’m looking for.

And because I’m some species of science fiction writer and artist, I can take what I think is important, file the serial numbers off, and make my own damn science fiction setting that has what I love about Star trek without the stuff that makes my teeth itch. Over the coming weeks, I’ll show what I mean.

Our first foray into this world of re-constructed Star Trek will be to establish the scope of our new universe, and decide how we can tell Trek-like stories in a setting that doesn’t flat-out violate physics.  See you then!