Monday, February 28, 2011

Whence Black Desert?

So I've been asked, what are the works of fiction that most inspired The Black Desert? Seemed like a good topic to me...

...The truth of the matter is, I can't site many works of science fiction that influenced the design of The Black Desert. SF has always been a big part of my entertainment, but unlike most people that work on the “Hard” side of the SF scale, I'm not generally annoyed by the “Soft” end. For me, fiction is fiction, and I like fantasy, SF, and...did I mention SF?

The Black Desert got it's start in 2007 or '08, when I first discovered Winchell Chung's Atomic Rockets website, and from there the Rocketpunk Manifesto. I had always been a fan of Star Wars, Star Trek and other softer SF and had almost always gamed in those types of settings. That being said, the idea of making spacecraft that could actually exist began to grow on me, especially since I was a fan of TSR's old Buck Rogers RPG. So I began to doodle some rockets and do some research. The earliest of these efforts was a recreation of the Rolling Stone from Heinlein's fiction, if I recall.

Yeah, this one.
At some later point, I stumbled upon that photograph of a Martian that had been going around the Internet. I loved that pic, veracity aside, and my mind immediately began to theorize how Martians could survive, would have evolved, and all that jazz. I was in school for Biology at the time; and was taking Organismal Bio and Mammology at the same time, so I was constantly getting ideas for the native Martains.  I also was interested in Primatology, and began to wonder what other sentient primates were like.

Between the two, rockets and Martians, I had enough Zeerust-y old Rocketpunk bubbling in the back of my mind that I did begin to flesh out an actual setting. I was thinking at the time of maybe writing some stories, or doing a webcomic (which I did do, briefly). The idea of making an entire universe was fun, albeit daunting, and I amused myself with the project in between work and classes. That right there is where is pretty much how The Black Desert got started.

There's much more too it, of course; after all, The Back Desert is a lot more that Rockets and Martians. I would have to say, once I decided to make a Hard SF setting, that most of my inspiration came from research on future tech and the like. Physycist Michio Kaku's TV series Sci-fi Science: The Physics of the Impossible was a big help, as was his other work. I studied videos, documentaries and other info from NASA on current space technology, especially the ISS. Info from the Mars Society help flesh out a lot of the ideas for Mars (obviously) as well as details for the Conestoga Rover. The Destiny Foundation was inspired by the efforts of Bigelow Aerospace and Space X; two space companies founded by billionaires that got rich just to develop space access. Personally, I think the influence of this kind of filthy-rich idealist hasn't been exploited enough in Hard SF, which is a shame.
My ideas for AI come from my own studies of the Human brain and neurology, once I discovered the unlikelyhood of consciousness evolving from current computer technology. The Dysonites and Trans-humans in general were simply products of wanting to do post-singularity fiction without making all the characters totally outre. The ideas for fabricators and their economic impact comes from the work of the Rep-Rap people and logical extrapolation.
The settings background history is pretty much stolen from the Interbellum period of the early 20th century. The American Expatriate movement, with Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein, et al. Is an exciting time from a social standpoint, and it's easy to make a future analog of the original Art Decco Rocketpunk aesthetic, once you scrape off the zeerust. A lot of the details are provided by a mixture of logic and lack of faith in human nature.

As for actual fiction, the idea of Brazil becoming one of the world powers I got from Heinlein, as well as a general love for Hard (if dated) SF. My original concepts for virtual worlds and their uses came from William Gibson. Surprisingly, not from his Sprawl series; from his anthology Burning Chrome and the Virtual Light series. I also did a lot of looking at the open-source universe on the web, Orion's Arm, which is Post-post-post-singularity SF. The sad thing is, there is not a lot of Hard SF available out there; most of the classics aren't sold in the popular stores anymore, and there are no used bookstores anywhere near where I live. I could order more books online, but at this point, I really don't have the time to read them!

While I'm not above stealing borrowing ideas from anywhere, these are the influences and inspirations that most easily come to mind. Hope you enjoy the links!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a PDF to finish! See you tomorrow, RocketFans!


  1. I swear those folks at work...
    Anyway, I read a lot and I see other works with some similarities to BD.
    First, if you haven't read Charles Sheffield's Cold As Ice and Ganymede Club please do so. There are some similarities there with the devastation of Earth by a war and the changes to the politics as well. Granted, its focused on the Jovian system, but still...
    Another good one is Accelerando by Charles Stross. At least some of the early to mid segments of it. The later pieces with the Vile Offspring (uploads and AIs) disassembling the solar system for a Dyson cloud sounds about right. Similarly look out for "Jury Duty" and "Appeals Court" by Charlie and Cory Doctorow have some pieces there as well.
    One piece that might explain why humanity hasn't gone screaming to the outer system is Saturn's Children also by Charles Stross. Granted the viewpoint character is a robot and humanity is extinct, but he does go on a bit about how long distance space travel does suck and this is for a bot that can change its perceived time rate and doesn't need a life support system...
    Daemon and Freedom™ by Daniel Suarez might be sources of some good ideas, particularly about robots, augmented reality, drones, why autonomous vehicles can be really freaking dangerous, how a distributed criminal network can dangerous and what you can do with replicators and or small manufactories. Plus, a reputation economy as well.
    Hmm. What else?
    Rule 34 by Charles Stross might be useful when it comes out with its look at future crime and how replicators might tie into that.
    Maelstrom by Peter Watts, might be useful. Why? Well, the view he paints of the internet in there is disturbing with out of control virii, ads, etc., etc. Its its own little ecosystem. And the war damaged networks of Earth might fit the bill.
    Blindsight, also by Peter Watts, is where he takes the leap into orbit. Again, replicators play a major role. So does a teleportation based drive. No, not stutterwarp ala 2300, but teleporting antimatter to a ship at light speed. Combine with a very high end replicator and the ability to skim matter from the tenuous gases of space and gas giants and you have some idea of what Theseus is capable of. Add in a crew of transhumans - a linguist with surgically created artificial personalities, a biologist so cyborged he can barely feel his skin and others - and it might have some bearing on BD. Plus there are arguments on the utility of consciousness there that the post-humans might make.
    Wired for War by PW Singer. Its non-fiction, but it gets into drone warfare and where it might go. Even if it does read like a overlong Salon article.
    Then there is the ludography. Transhuman Space went first and biggest. Of its supplements, I suspect that Deep Beyond, In The Well, High Frontier, Broken Dreams, Toxic Memes and Space Craft of the Solar System are the most applicable of the lot.
    Eclipse Phase also has some neat bits, but most of them are in Sunward and the good news those are legitimately free.
    Fourth Millennium might have some application with its resistance against the trans-human Psaikailhou. Plus, the authors at least tried to make it fairly hard SF.
    And that's all I got.
    Time to go give your local librarian a work out with inter-library loan Ray...

  2. One more FAB: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop--From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication by Niel Gershefeld. Neat little book about the possible impact of fabbers and their history.


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