Thursday, December 31, 2015

Nano-Fic: The Gentleman Scoundrel (9)

“I've lost two pumps already, Zag.” Ipa Sam’s voice sounded thick under the effects of microgravity. “We cannot accelerate any faster. We won't be able to keep this up much longer.”
    “Distress message sent.” Ruku said from Navigation. “Any Imperial forces near the Janus should get it, but they won't be able to do anything to help us.”
    “They can smash these damn locals for us.” Sagkal responded. “We've burned the last of the missiles out. Capacitors for both turrets are charging. That ship out there probably has twice as many lasers.”
    Zag grinned, “If this works, it won't help them. Hey, new soph, How's Vakh?”
    “Name's still Kura.” Canto came to the door that led to the Master's Cabin. “I wouldn't play cards against his luck. He should have a broken neck; as it is, he'll miss...whatever's about to happen.”
    “He strapped down?”
    “On a backboard. Secured to the bunk.”
    Zag nodded. “Then get yourself strapped in. This could be bumpy.”
    The key to Zag Essuru’s plan was actually simple.   The Gentleman Scoundrel, powerful as his engines were, could only move his mass at a single standard gravity - or two, with Ipa Sam in the Pump House on Deck Nine personally nursing the propulsion mass through opposing gravitational fields and repairing the inevitable damage.  The Scoundral could realistically accelerate no more.
    His Boat, at a svelte 130 tons, could accelerate its mass at six gravities.
    The plan that occurred to Pilot Zag Essuru was inspired by her upbringing on a planet similar to this one.  A planet where fossil fuels were in widespread use.  A planet where rockets use boosters, are disposable, and missiles are the primary weapons.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Nano-Fic: The Gentleman Scoundrel (8)

    “Can't we go faster?” was all the greeting Acting Master Essuru received when she stepped into the cockpit.
    “We're maxed at 2 Gs,” she said, “Ipa's already floating down there; any faster and the pumps fail. What do we have?”
    Ruku piped in, “There are six missiles inbound, moving at 5 gravities. Vector suggests they're sub-orbital rockets; should be easy enough to zap once they're in range.”
    “Well, that's something, anyway.” Zag said.
    “Just stay on the following vector at max acceleration and they'll be ballistic by the time they're in range.”
    “Wait,” The crew of the Gentleman Scoundrel looked as one at the floor, where Canto tended Master Vakh.
    “What happens if we slow down?”
    Sagkal shot Canto a strange look. “Why would we do that? It would give those missiles time to hit us before we could burne all of 'em.
    “Where does this vector we're on take us, exactly?”
    “Out of this shit-planet's orbit, that's where!” Zag Essuru answered. “Sorry uh, Kurto, but you'll have to forget about us heading back into that mess.”
    “It's Kura,” Canto corrected absently, “But is our vector towards or away from the Janus? Or Leviat? It's the system's only gas giant.”
    “I know that!” Zag spat. “Now do you mind? I have actual work to do.”
    “We're vectored away from the Janus.” Said Ruku Mat. “Night side always faces the Janus. Levait's far enough away that it doesn't matter, we could just shape an orbit.”
    Canto stood and moved to the unoccupied console – Vakh's. “What's out there?”
    “Who the Hell do you think - “
    “Zag,” Sagkal's voice couldn't help but interrupt. “I got heat. A lot. Patrol Cutter at least.  Look's like it just came out from behind the Moon.”
    Canto swore and so did Essuru. “How did you know?” she asked.
    “The fire pattern of those missiles.” Canto said. “They're too fast for us to avoid an intercept, yet they can't maneuver once in laser range. But they can force us to accelerate at max on a specific vector.”
    Sagkal growled. “They bracketed us!”
    Canto nodded. “Can you change vector before that Cutter's in range?”
    Ruku left her seat at Navigation.  There were three doors in the cockpit; the hatch that led to the lift, one to the Master's cabin, and a third next to it that Ruku went through, to the Computer Room.
    “We can't go back down, can we?” Sagkal asked.
    Zag Essuru scowled. “Scoundrel has to land in water or on a prepared surface. Why did they fire on us, anyway?”
    “I could guess,” Canto said. “This planet is mostly at the fossil fuel stage. Internal combustion, chemical rockets, that sort of thing.”
    Zag shrugged. “So? My homeworld's like that and we don't fire on Traders!”
    “They don't actually have any fossil fuels anymore. They have to get them imported from some moons in the outer system. Transported by Gravity Drive.”
    “So the Imps are selling the locals their own gas?” She asked.
    Canto nodded. “There have been rumors - Rebels in the interior, locals doing nothing to stop them. This is only Imperial affiliated port on the planet, and that Cutter up there could've been the only Naval asset in the whole system."
    “You think the locals hijacked an Imperial Cutter?”
    It was at that moment that Ruku returned from calculating their options. Her face made it plain that they would find out about the Cutter soon enough.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Nano-Fic: The Gentleman Scondrel (7)

     Ipa Sam wiped water from her eyes and considered her options. The water was not falling from her sopping hair; it was pooling and breaking, like oversized beads of sweat. This close to the Drive the paragravity was becoming weaker as Zag increased the acceleration. In the center of the open compartment,  X-mat, the negative mass tha drove the ship, pumped from the upper tanks to the lower, pushing the Scoundrel further into space. The Power Deck was surrounded by feed pipes and valves, pressure gauges and pumps. Each one a finely tuned assembly. Each one a potential disaster.
    Ipa looked around and again shooed a ball of water from her brow.             “Well, girls, it's just us for now, isn't it?”

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Nano-Fic: The Gentleman Scondrel (6)

     Canto heard the word even two decks away, and didn't hesitate to throw himself down. The entire ship, some 1400 tons, moved several meters starboard. Canto rolled painfully into the dining area's anchored chairs but avoided serious injury. Old skills, practiced until they reached the level of instinct, began to make themselves felt. A glance around the passenger deck had shown that the ship's infirmary was across from where he had stood for his interview. He crawled across the deck, mindful of more sudden shifts, until he reached the sealed hatch. Canto stood and slid inside, one hand on the safety handle next to the hatch. It took only a moment to find the intercom, a moment more to signal the
    “Deck three: No damage, no casualties.”
    Canto heard an unnaturally deep voice. “Who's that? Wait - You the new Medic?”
    “I suppose I am. Seeing as how we’re in the air and all-”
    “-Then grab a bag and bounce up here, we've got wounded.”
    Master Aru Vakh had neither been strapped in nor braced when the Gentleman Scoundrel was hit. The slight man had been tossed like a rag doll into the viewport above the control stations and came to rest in a crumpled heap between Sagkal and Ruku.
    “Hey, Zag, you're in command.” Sagkal spoke into the intercom.
    “Then where the Hell's my damage report?” She demanded.
    Ipa Sam joined the conference on the intercom. “We took a hit in the cargo bay. The gastights are locked between decks 4 and 9. I'm cut off down here for now, so I can't assess the damage. We may have a fuel leak.”
    Canto tuned out the chatter. These sophs would either fix the ship or wouldn't; they would either be shot out of the sky or they wouldn't. Canto had no control over these things, so he put themout of his mind. Master Vakh was unconscious and bleeding. This Canto could do something about. He put on gloves and began working. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Nano-Fic: The Gentleman Scoundrel (5)

     “-be that as it may,” Vakh all but sneered, “I would hardly equate the duties of a restaurant manager with the duties of a Ship's Steward. A Hotel manager, perhaps, but – what is this?”  The Ship's Master half-stood in alarm as the deck began to vibrate. The unpleasant sensation of being on a rolling sea while at the same time still made Canto Kura frown for the first time.
    “We've raised ship. We're in the air.”
    “Obviously. Wait here. Do not leave this lounge.”
    Aru Vakh was livid by the time he floated up to the cockpit. “Why under heaven are we in the air! I gave no order!”
    Ruku huddled into herself. “I tried to tell you...”
    “Hostiles on the surface, sir.” Sagkal turned in his oversized chair. “It was lift now or not at all.”
    “Nevertheless, I must be informed first. We still have a local on board!”
    “They have tanks, sir.”
    “Zag Essuru overstepped her authority”
    “And rockets, sir.”
    “Why must I constantly remind you all that I am Master of -”

Monday, December 21, 2015

Nano-Fic:The Gentleman Scoundrel (4)

“Whadda ya mean, you didn’t tell him?” The voice rumbled from deep within, like the growling of a great cat made of stone. It was an apt description, for the creature Sagkal.
“He kicked me out!” Ruku pleaded. Even at her height, barely 155, Sagkal had to look up slightly to meet her eye. Since he was nearly a meter wide, and all of it blocky muscle covered with a hide that was more metal than skin, Sagkal had no problem with dealing with those taller than he. Especially the shrinking Navigator, Ruku Mat.
“Kicked you – just get in the Chair!” Sagkal all but tossed the diminutive woman into her control seat in the cockpit and lurched into his gunner's Station. “Zag, you there?”
          A burst of static crackled from the intercom. “I'm hooked in from down here. You got my six?”
          Sagkal resisted the urge to smash his fist on the thin metal console while waiting for the CRT monitor to warm up. When active, the screen showed a near panoramic view from the starship's dorsal quarter, as seen from the wide lens of of the Scoundrel’s top laser emitter.
         “That's not good,” Sagkal muttered, louder than some people shout. “I'm looking at about a thousand ground pounders and maybe five tanks. If I can see them, they can see us. And if the infantry has anti-tank rockets, we won't be able to shoot 'em down this close.”
         “I've got another four or five tanks on my side.” Zag Essuru said. “Boss give clearance to raise ship?”
         “Ruku didn't even ask 'em.”
         “He kicked me out!” Ruku protested.
         The intercom crackled again. “Well, I'm not going to die because Mat's too polite to interrupt his Holiness. Get Ipa out of the shower; we boost in two.”

Friday, December 18, 2015

Nano-Fic: The Gentleman Scoundrel (3)

Canto Kura had numerous faults, from a certain point of view. He smiled too easily, stood too proudly erect, and spoke in a manner that was far too relaxed, in the mind of Aru Vakh.
    “The first order of business,” Vakh said, “is your Certs. Unless they are current to at least Imperial standards, there's little point in continuing the interview.”
    Canto smiled yet again and produced a plastic card from his shirt pocket. He was far from elegantly dressed, but even in plain clothes the man managed to look sharp.
    Vakh took the card with a sniff and examined it. “Janoi certification?” Such accreditation allowed its bearer to practice anywhere accessible by a Janus, which was essentially anywhere a ship could travel.
    “Yes, sir. I was in the Diocese Navy briefly.”
    “Did military life disagree with you, Kura?”
    “I was discharged after an injury, sir.”
    “I see.” Aru Vakh leaned back in his chair at the First Class dining table. The fact that lounge – indeed, the entire passenger deck – was empty was not lost on Canto Kura. Unfortunately.
    “The realities of private enterprise mean that many of a ship's crew must perform in multiple positions.” Vakh began. “For example, a ship's Medic is rarely needed, but nonetheless required by Janoi shipping regulations.”
    “Which would leave said Medic plenty of time to act as Steward to any First Class passengers aboard.” Canto finished the line of reasoning with another smile.
    “Yes,” Vakh scowled, “exactly.”
    The door to the lift tube opened with an unnecessary hiss, getting the attention of the two men.
Vakh's Navigator, a slight and timid female, floated out of the tube and onto the deck with a slight stumble.
    “Uh, excuse me, Captain?”
    “Ruku Mat,” Vakh said, “I have given explicit orders not to be disturbed during interviews.”
    “But, sir-”
    Very explicit.”
    “Yessir, but -”
    “Get out, Mat.”
    The young lady disappeared into the lift with a squeak.
    Vakh sighed and absently smoothed an eyebrow. “Where were we?”
    “I believe you wanted to know if I had any experience with taking care of guests.” Canto Kura offered.
    Do you?” Vakh asked.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Nano-Fic: Gentleman Scoundrel (2)

“Halt! Who goes there?”
    The voice blared through speakers on the outside of the Gentleman Scoundrel. They addressed a young man that stood on the upper deck of the landing pit – already twelve meters off the ground – and stared
at the massive Trader before him. Enormous bay doors stood open, exposing the interior of acavernous cargo space some four storeys tall. Mechanical cranes continued to load containers into the
guts of the ship. But there were no porters, no dock hands, and no officials from the starport present.  With the exception of Kura, the landing pit was deserted.
    “Up here,” The speakers blared again.
    The young man craned his neck up to see a small glassed-in cabin fifteen meters over his head. He could just make out a waving arm behind the glass.
    “Just talk normal; I got a mike aimed at you.”
    “Uh, Canto Kura – here to interview for the Ship's Medic position?”
    “You're late,” The voice almost sounded amused.
    “I barely got past the XT line. There seems to be a riot or something at the gates-”
    “Whatever. Lift tube's on the aft bulkhead. Head up to Three; the Boss is waiting.” The owner of the voice, Ship's Pilot and First Mate Zag Essuru, switched off the exterior comm and leaned back in her seat
on the Quarterdeck. Riot at the gates?  Zag tuned her console into the Port Authority’s main band, and received nothing but static.  Switching to the intercom, Essuru called the crew deck.
“Mat, Sagkal, somebody get eyes on the XT line, would you?” There was a brief acknowledgement, far too high-pitched to be Sagkal, and then silence.  Zag Essuru was not inclined to fret, but neither was she patient.
The same squeaking voice sounded on the intercom a few moments later.  “Uh, Zag?  We’re gonna want to leave soon...there’s something serious going on.  Like, tanks serious.” 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Nano Fic: The Gentleman Scoundrel (1)

I haven't fallen off of the face of the Earth, RocketFans; In this one month period, we have three birthdays, Christmas, and over a dozen holiday clogging performances (my daughter's in the Nutcracker!).  In addition, we've all five of us had the annual holiday stomach flu.  So no, I haven't been working on the blog too terribly much.

But I have been working.  Here is a little sample of some fiction I've done in the Hard SF Space Opera univese I've told you all about.  Hope you enjoy.

“How can you call this ship clean when it smells like this?”
    The Master of the Gentlemen Scoundrel, a sometime-trading ship, had a nasal voice that graded on the nerves of his Engineer, one Ipa Sam.
    “It smells like this because the scrubbers need to be replaced. They should have been replaced a thousand hours ago.”
    Master Aru Vakh looked down his thin nose. “Those scrubbers are rated for indefinite use, with proper maintenance. You have been performing proper maintenance, yes?”
    Ipa scowled and collected her tools from the vestibule floor. “As much as I can on your budget. We should have another tech for this. And we have to get a medic before we can carry passengers again.”
    Vakh dodged a suspiciously tossed grease rag and glared. “I don't need the plumber to tell me how to run my ship. It just so happens that I'm interviewing a prospect today. Probably the only decent prospect on this rock.”
    “Then I'll leave you to it.” Ipa Sam stood up, too close. “Permission to bathe, sir?”
    Vakh dismissed his Engineer with a wave and strode from the Airlock vestibule, past the lift tube and into the First Class Lounge. Nearly the whole of deck three, the part not taken up with the fuel scoops and the docking cradle for the ship's boat, was set aside for first class accommodation. A half-dozen staterooms, all single occupancy and including their own ‘freshers, a full service galley, and a medical bay formed a ring around the central lounge. The air here was musty and still with disuse. A single long table with eight chairs, perfect for formal dining, sat empty in the center of the lounge with a pair of comfortable couches flanking. None had been used for far too long. Each trip, the empty deck lost Vakh a hundred and twenty thousand in potential revenue. A Medic, especially one not above doubling as a cook and steward for First Class, should only cost a small fraction of that. If one could be found that met Aru Vakh's standards, that is. Given the conditions of this benighted planet, The Ship's Master could be able to hire a decent prospect for a good deal less than standard wages. Finally, Vakh allowed himself a thin smile.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Hard SF Space Opera: The Story Part

We now continue with the process of creating a Space Opera setting that doesn't completely insult the intelligence of all the physicists out there.

In our last post, we discussed my rule of science fiction, which states that the harder the SF is, the more the story is influenced by realistic technology and the limits of natural law. That being said, in order to capture the romance of no-medieval grandeur and adventure you have to include tropes associated with medieval grandeur. And decide what you mean by “medieval”. And “grandeur”.

You have to start from scratch, in other words.

I'm going to get a wee bit meta for a moment, as one of the discussions I'm having to make involves selecting a type of rule system I want this setting to be powered by. Even if I was just planning on writing fiction, I may have included this step, as it can give me a consistent framework for designing spacecraft, planets and systems, and all sorts of incidentals. This can be more important than you think; consistency, after all, is just as important to good SF as realism. People are usually more forgiving of bending the laws of physics, especially when it gives them FTL and whatnot, but if that FTL moves “at the speed of plot” then you're going to get emails...
Weapon of choice.

Anyway. I've chosen the rules for the Traveller RPG, by Mongoose Games, as my framework. Despite being a hardcore D6 fan from back in the day, and more recently a publisher of White Star/OSR material, I chose Traveller for good reasons. First, The design sequences, for planets, starships and trade, are some of the best for an RPG. In this case, “best” means, “detailed enough to get the job done, strict enough to provide consistency, and simple enough that I don't have to spend days making the damn ships' stats”. Another reason I chose Traveller is because the games' official setting, the Third Imperium, is well thought out and specifically designed to create a certain “feel” for the universe while maintaining consistency. That's important – by studying the nuts and bolts of the Imperium, I can get a feel for how to develop my setting with the balance of structure and romance I'm looking for. Now, the reason I chose the Mongoose edition of Traveller is in fact because I want to release this setting as a game, and the Mongoose edition of the game is OGL. I would actually, had I my druthers, use the orginial, as-old-as-I-am Classic edition, because it more closely captures the feel I'm looking for, but I can't publish for that.

Having selected that rules system, I can now move on to the more literary inspirations I would love to incorporate into my new Space Opera setting. Not all of my literary inspirations are actually literary, of course, but, know. Anyway, here are a just a few of the works that have elements I would like to add to my setting:
Bad.  Ass.

  • The Third Imperium: I mentioned this one once before, but to go into detail, I like how the FTL technology was made to create an empire that had a lot of lawless frontier but could field massive numbers of well-disciplined fleets.
  • Space Skimmer: This empire runs on pragmatism and the free flow of information. Or did, until it collapsed. Space Skimmer explores ideas such as the “ungovernable galaxy” and pantropy.
  • Space Viking: H. Beam Piper's opus starts with a desire for revenge and ends with rebuilding interstellar civilization. Its got a lot of good fluff, on uplifting primitive civilizations back up to space faring levels.
  • Star Wars: Well, duh. But not like you think; when it comes to world building a galactic empire, the supplemental information about logistics, the ratio of barren, strip-mines systems verses populated ones, and the actual size of sectors in space make for fascinating reading. Works like the Essential Atlas, the Essential Guide to Warfare, and the website Star Wars Technical Commentaries provided much inspiration.
  • Dune: Again, not for the reasons you may think. The organization of the Padasha Empire – a tripod with the Great Houses and Emperor, the Spacing Guild, and CHOAM all in balance against one another is what is useful to my work. And the idea of a monopoly on interstellar travel.
There are also a lot of real-world historical backgrounds that I want to explore, partly for the added realism they can offer my setting, partly because I've been fascinated by the ideas for awhile:

  • The Punic Wars: The first clash of the Whale vs the Elephant. Which is ironic, considering Hannibal's trek across the Alps.
  • The Norman Invasion: Basically its the first development of Feudalism in the British Isles, and it was fairly well documented. Gold.
  • Life in Chaucer’s EnglantoThis is a book I got that goes into extreme detail on life in...Chaucer’s England. It even lists the approximate numbers of nobles in England prior to the Plague. Its a good spring board for building up my own aristocracy.
My list of inspirations for my Space Opera setting looks, at first blush, pretty white. I suppose its understandable – I'm pretty white, when you get down too it. On one hand, I've got a wealth of information already in my library that is very Euro-centric, and I understand it and am comfortable with it. On the other, if I'm not careful, my setting may look like retro 1920s SF where the future looks bleached. One of the main reasons my setting has such a western European bias is (apart from my fictional inspiration having such a bias) that I'd like to include a Monolithic Church-type organization that has helped preserve the more counter-intuitive knowledge needed to resurrect space travel. Such an organization, with its potential monopoly on space tech if not space travel, offers intriguing story ideas.

Anyway. I have some strategies for countering the trend toward “King Arthur in SPAAAAACE!!!” that I hope will work. For one thing, I have no interest in using Euro-centric terminology to describe my nobles, setting or what have you. To the extent that is possible, I want to give the impression of convergent evolution, not copying the mythic past. Another thing I plan on doing is making not one new empire, but many. There will be many opportunities to include different cultural influences that can be felt and explored. This is especially important to me because there are a couple of central themes that one can build a space faring civilization around, and they all need and deserve equal time. Finally, I'm going to try my best to avoid implying, as much as possible, that one culturally inspired polity is “good” and a different culturally inspired polity is “bad”. In my opinion, all governments are morally ambiguous to a certain degree, do things both shameful and noble, and generally get on the nerves of the average citizen.

And what's the point of designing a bitching space fleet if you don't have another equally bitching fleet to fight against?

Next time RocketFans, we'll tackle the opposite side of the story – technology equation. That'll be sometime next week, probably.

Also coming out soon is another pair of White Star products! Some of you (especially my Patreons) will remember my first forays into Space Opera products: the Monarch Courier and Starwell tanker. These two ships are soon to be available with all new White Star stats! Each PDF has full deckplans, detailed descriptions, and adventure seeds available, so those of you White Star fans that haven't gotten a chance to use my starship products before should be in for a treat.

But that's next week. Until then, enjoy!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Hard SF Space Opera?

I fully realize that it has been quite sometime since my last post.

You may think by the title of this post that all the work I've done lately on star fighters and pulp aliens have made me finally cross over to the Soft Side of the Fiction and abandon my Hard SF pretensions once and for all. I admit, the upcoming premier of a new Star Wars movie does have me pretty exited, but I assure you, I'm not going totally off the shallow end of the Mohs Scale anytime soon. I've actually tried, as in writing for D6 Star Wars, to do something more science fantasy than SF, and I just can't do it. I mean, the entire reason I got into Hard SF in the first place is because I notice the inconsistencies of mainstream sci-fi and couldn't stop from formulating my own theories. So why, if I'm going to challenge the basic assumptions of a universe, don't I just make up I own? You may have noticed my doing just that once or twice, but until now, I've been reluctant to make up my own Space Opera universe.

The reasons for this are many. First of all, I wanna make the tech as real as possible, but also preserve a few of the more sentimentally persistent tropes of Space Opera. You may remember my opinion on the relationship of technology and story, also known (to me, anyway) as Ray's Rule of Hard Science Fiction:

Soft Science Fiction tries to make technology fit the imagination, and Hard Science Fiction tries to imagine what fits the technology.”
The Conjuction setting, my most successful foray into world building to date (in my opinion, anyway) is built around this principle. Every part of the universe, beyond a couple of arbitrary assumptions, is purely an extrapolation of the available technology and its implication. I have big things planned for Conjunction, big enough that I want to get some more writing under my belt before I attempt them.

The problem with most Space Opera, is that it is all story, with the technology kind of pasted around the edges to make for VFX eye-candy/cool descriptions. I can't work like that. Even when doing fancy starships for White Star and D6, I have at the very least the rules of those respective games available to guide me. That is one of the reasons that I haven't done any more work with the Diaspora RPG; The FATE rules system is too open-ended and free form for me. You may remember that I was trying to work within the Diaspora framework to make a Star Wars homage – that's why I haven't gone further.

Well, one of the reasons. Despite the fantastic work the Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven did with A Mote in God's Eye, it just doesn't feel like Space Opera to me without Anti/Paragravity. Fortunately, Winchell Chung's Atomic Rockets website as come to my rescue again, giving me the missing piece of the puzzle I needed to make a Space Opera setting of my own that didn't rely on pure magic.

So that's what I'm gonna do. I am going to sketch out my version of a classic Space Opera setting that does not violate my own rules for Hard SF too terribly badly. We'll start out with my basic goals for my setting, and then tackle the problems with making them happen in a plausible fashion one by one. Naturally, I've been doing some of the preliminary work, and even started developing (surprise!) some spacecraft. So stay tuned, RocketFans! 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What's Out Now and What is Yet to Come

While the White Star compatible version of Technical Readout: Fighters was published on time, it lacked a cover.  The Open D6 version had even more growing pains, and did not get released until this afternoon.  But that's all in the past, everything is out now for sale.

Of course, both versions were available to my Patreons since the 23rd, for half the cover price of one of them.

Just sayin'.

Anyway, This post is about the future of Blue Max Studios and what we have in store for you.  If you are a fan of the White Star RPG ( and according to, a lot of people are, the book has been in the top five since it came out in March) then you are in luck.  My wife, author Debra McVay, is interested in developing a new product line with me we're calling Species Spotlight.   These will be smallish supplements featuring a single alien species, a single class for that species, and a spacecraft (with deckplans) used by that species.  We hope to have the first one, Species Spotlight: Abhorrans up for sale as early as next week.  We also have two more already on the drawing board, so the series is off to a great start.
Gratuitous WIP teaser. 

In addition, we're still planning on releasing Techical Readout: Freighters  before the 24th of November.  Like Fighters, it will feature a half-dozen transports for use in either an Open D6 or White Star game.  Beyond that, we hope to offer a Space Opera bundle in December to celebrate a certain movie's premier.

What lies in store for next year?  Probably more Species Spotlights, and I fully intend to release the much anticipated Star Morphs game, for both the Open D6 and White Star systems.  I also want to do my first capital ship deckplans.

But that's all space opera stuff.  Those of you who have been RocketFans for awhile know I can't stay away from Hard SF too long, or I get intellectually constipated.  But that's okay, because I have lots of topic to cover, including finishing Building a Space Navy series, nano-fic for Conjunction and even (gasp) some new designs for Black Desert.

2016 is going to be a busy year for us at Blue Max Studios.  As always, we hope you enjoy.

Friday, October 16, 2015

My Back Door...

So...yeah, that happened.

Our home is a trailer built in 1993.  Before it was sold by the original owners, they spruced up the place as cheaply as possible - "flipping" it, in other words.  Among other things, they replaced the back door with a standard one from a big box store.  The thing is, trailer walls are too thin to hang standard doors in without extensive modification.  Long story short, the door didn't fit and consequently leaked every time it rained.

It rains a lot in southern Alabama.

So, when we decided to replace the damage door molding, we discovered the sub floor was rotted out.  And the associated insulation.  And the cross beams.  And the wall studs.

This has led to the eight-by-eight foot hole in our home you see above.

I mention this to explain where I've been and what I've been doing lately, as well as explain why our upcoming book, Technical Readout: Fighters is delayed.  Hopefully, the book will go live on the 24th, but honestly I cannot guarantee a date right now.

...Forecast calls for rain in a few days, and it's getting down to 41 tomorrow tonight.  So, I gotta go.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Tall Ships and Trading Posts: Economics and MacGuffinite

Apologies for such a long pause between post, RocketFans, but I have had an appalling number of Doctor's appointments in the last week.  Next week is just as bad, but that doesn't mean I can't squeeze in a post about our lovely Tall Ships in between long waits without wi-fi.
My week.
Anyways, to return to the topic at hand, I have played with the specs of my Tall Ships and Spacecoaches a little bit more, in order to get numbers I like better.  Mainly, I've manipulated mass ratios, altered the number of thrusters, and other minor tweeks in order to get designs I, as a writer, would like for an interplanetary wagon train to Mars:

Tall Ship with Star Destroyer for scale.  Just to put thing into perspective...

Tall Ship:
Dry Mass: 2164 tons
Wet Mass: 6656 tons
Mass Ratio: 4
Delta V: 13600 m/s
Acceleration: 0.005 m/s^2
Travel Time to Mars: 7.1 Months

Dry Mass: 794 tons
Wet Mass: 3176 tons
Mass Ratio: 4
Delta V: 13600 m/s
Acceleration: 0.007 m/s^2
Travel Time to Mars: 13.6 Months

Yes, the Spacecoaches take twice as long to travel despite having a higher acceleration.  These are just basic figures; the burn duration on the Tall Ship, for example, is almost three times that of the Spacecoach.  I justify the excess this way:  The Tall Ships trim their burns to keep pace with the Spacecoaches, and use the extra propellant for emergency burns, space taxi service from the fleet to the showboat, and emergency remassing of damaged craft.

They are perfect for my needs.  We have a wagon train to Mars, that will get there in a bit over a year, allowing for stories in SPAAACE! about life in a constellation to Mars and whatnot, and having a central Tall Ship that is the center of all the action, like a Miss Kitty's in the Dodge City of space. 

But. I am a writer of Hard science fiction, and therefore need more justification for my spacecraft designs that "it fits the story I want to tell"  Let's all 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, If I want to keep my Hard SF street cred, I must justify such robust spacecraft in the hands of middle-class starry-eyed pioneers who sold off their meager assets to Go To Mars.  If you'll bear with me, I'll provide just such a justification, and as a bonus give you those L5 colonies they talked about in the 70s free of charge.

Okay, as a first step in our journey to make Tall Ships realistic, let's put them into context by reviewing our basic assumptions:

1. The cost of natural gas from Saturn's moon Titan is less than the cost of oil drilling on Earth, when you factor in the cost of wars over oil bearing territory.
2. A future war between China and the United States will result in Kessler's Syndrome from the  destruction of the US satellite network.
3. Nuclear Pulse Propulsion vehicles will be the best equipped to go into space and establish a manned communications network of heavily armored space stations.
4. A NPP Spacecraft has enough Delta V to go to Saturn.
5. An NPP expedition will be dispatched to Titan by nations that cannot afford to fight for oil sands but can afford a spacecraft.
6.Once Kessler's Syndrome thins out enough to allow regular space travel, there will be a demand for it from the general public.

That last is an assumption based on the idea that we really want what we can't have.  This seems like a decent bet - just look at the current furor over the defunding of the commercial crew program.

So, how do we translate those assumptions into a wagon train to Mars?

First of all, the cost of the spacecraft must be reasonable.  The most likely method of obtaining a reasonably priced spacecraft, for my money, is to obtain them second-hand.  There's ample precedent for this; the 747, $300 million per aircraft new, goes for about the cost of a new Ferrari right now.  At that kind of price schedule, a family could easily afford to replace their house with a Spacecoach and fly off to Mars.  Unfortunately, In order to have Spacecoaches' price drop as dramatically as the 747, They would have to make as many Spacecoaches as Boeing did the 747.  Optimist that I am, I don't see the Martian Run ever needing that many Spacecoaches.

So I consulted the numbers for my two ships, both written on their own index cards, hoping for inspiration.  I thought about their Delta V, they could go all the way to Ceres if you had the patience.  I figure the demand for single-family spacecraft to the Belt will be even less than the same to Mars, so that was no help.  Next, I concentrated on the engine type I chose, the Microwave Electrical Thruster.  I love these engines!  They are perfect for the mission of a Spacecoach - no moving parts, the ability to double as mining drills, and an absurdly small mass flow.  Seriously, the mass flow for a 400 engine array is only one kilo per second - an infinitesimal 2.5 grams per thruster.  I had to check these numbers more than once before I believed them.  Because the output is low pressure steam, not liquid water, the entire array can get away with small mass flows.  With the propellant mass of the modest Spacecoach design 2.3 million kilos, you can have a burn duration of over a million seconds before flip-and-brake.  That's a burn for days...

That's when I realized, for a trip to Mars the Spacecoach may use a long, slow burn, but for a trip to the Moon, it would be a constant boost rocket.

The Bachristochrone Duration for a trip from LEO to Luna's orbit at the Spacecoach's acceleration is only 414,039 seconds - well under half the maximum burn duration of our example. Our example also has a massive payload capacity, as a pioneer's wagon, so we can convert some into passenger accommodation. So, the Spacecoaches I'll use for my theoretical trips to Mars were originally meant Luna Express ships, carrying passengers cheaply into lunar orbit.

As cool as a second-hand Lunar Express sounds, we're only half-way done, RocketFans.  We've made our ships economical, but only if there's something really important in Lunar orbit that requires a substantial human presence.  In other words, we need MacGuffinite.

Remember when I said you could have the L5 colonies of old as a bonus?  I meant it.  If you followed the link above, then you may have noticed that "Petroleum Mining" is already listed.  See, the megatons of Titanian methane have to end up somewhere. The most logical place would be the two stable LaGrange points in lunar orbit, because anything at those points will stay there until you're good and ready to go fetch them.  You could try to put the methane shipments directly into Earth orbit, but after having suffered through Kessler's Syndrome once,  I doubt anyone will be willing to try.  So that's the "really important stuff in lunar orbit" part.

 And while Saturn is far enough away to be nearly imaginary to some people, you can see the Moon, and just knowing that all the oil you would ever need is right there will be more than enough incentive to go get it.  But not everyone will want to pay the Titan Oil Co. for the privilege of getting orbital oil.  There will be nations that just want to take it. Which means the oil will be defended.  There will be nations trying to sabotage the oil recovery of their rivals; they must be stopped. The powers that be on Terra that stand to lose billions as their petroleum becomes too expensive to compete may also try to interfere. And the UN, whose Security Council has two of the original sponsors of Titan Oil as members, will be on hand to make sure everyone plays nice.

That's the "substantial human presence" part.

So Spacecoaches were the cheap express ships to L5 and Luna, and Tall Ships were the overpowered, over remassed versions on hand for search and rescue, mass transits and charters.  As power stations were built to support the colonies, beam-riders replaced the gigantic solar sailers, which became less economical to run. These were bought up second-hand by settlers moving rimward, toward Cape Dread, Mars, and the beyond.  With colonies from L5 to around Saturn already, anything in between seems possible.