Category: Concepts

May 21 2011

They were moments from death as their eyes met. A last brief need touched them both as they hurriedly lent in to kiss.
They ray struck her before they could, disintegrating her into a cloud of expanding dust. Forever after he would remember not being kissed by her lips but by the still body-warm soot that enveloped him.

Feb 22 2011


Just thinking of how many super heroes and super villains purport to have had that defining moment where they became one or the other. Some moment of supreme stress, anguish or rage.

I can’t think of a villain who was kicked off on their career of mayhem by being dumped by their boy/girlfriend. But in the worlds various court systems, this level of emotional distress can be enough to plea someones way out of a murder charge just as much as the death of a loved one can. As can so many other unbeleivable defences.

Though you must admit it would be piss-easy to cast someone as a villain if their moment was “gay panic” or seeing a woman expose her ankles.

Of course, whether they see themselves as the villain is another matter completely.

Aug 31 2010

Writing: Disposable FTL premise

The matte funnel-shaped device sat dead out in front of the ship while it’s backdrop of stars spun around and around. The ship was spinning up for jump gyro-stabilisation. Putting the spin on the ship was the only way of keeping the course at FTL speed reasonably straight. The slightest discrepancy in mass had lead to the early Hoppers being flung wildly off their path, tumbling and tearing themselves apart. It was far more reliable to rifle the ship for handling the unpredictable gravitational eddies that buffeted the ships protective field as it hit midpoint.

The rest of the crew had all headed off to their duty stations now, or secured themselves for flight. A few hours ago the observation deck had been packed in nervous silence as the updates had trickled over the intercom. People were attentive as one of the Pinches had been unloaded from the rack, and watched with silent fear as it had been fuelled up with antimatter. The SS Boseman had been lost that way; a slight fluctuation in the magnetic containment of the transfer line. A single atom tearing the line open, obliterating the ship. The “Black Bit” quantum-entanglement data feed told mission control everything.

At one point the ensign had halted his words for a second, and the whole room had bodily stiffened to a fearful acceptance that death was an instant away.

But now it was out there. In a few minutes time the antimatter would annihilate with it’s matter half, destroying the intensely charged field coils and creating a precisely focussed funnel of gravitational energy, pulling two distant points in space together for a few seconds.

Hundreds of sensors had us placed to within fractions of a millimetre of our set distance from the Pinch device. Close enough to be pulled into the correct portion of the gradient, far enough away not to be destroyed by the radiation blast or it’s monatomic debris. If the dispersing field around the ship didn’t fail, it would still overload at the other end, with the rhythmic popping of capacitor banks being jettisoned before they too exploded. And with luck we would find ourselves within 5 Au of our destination, still with enough time to correct for insertion into the target star-system. If not, then we’d have to pick another system and try another Hop. These things don’t work for short journeys yet.

Hopping so far in an instant only to spend the following couple of years coasting on the final leg seems an insult to some. Trust me that you need that rest to regain your witts. But it’s still a better option than spending an extra 70 years coming the scenic route, or arriving too close to correct your delta-V and passing right past your target.

The blast shields are closing. Next the forward 30 decks will be evacuated of personnel and air. The magic time’s coming up fast now. Wish us luck!

Aug 31 2010

Star Trek meets Firefly

Last year I think it was, someone suggested that the USA could soon use a “Z-pinch” device to create the needed energy gradients to allow a spacecraft to exceed the speed of light.

Aside from the frankly terrifying thought of interstellar expansion being sponsored by Starbucks and Disney, it’s a nice idea. But you still need a power source.

In Star Trek the whole ship’s powered by a massive anti-matter reactor. Oh, it has several small fusion power sources dotted around the ship, including some dedicated for the Impulse Engines if I remember rightly. Yet the anti-matter plant, the “warp core”, runs 24/7.  Before this gets too long-winded, I have trouble with how much power the ship requires. Okay, the warp drive bends space-time to extreme degrees, the transporters are essentially managing very controlled atomic annihilation and reconstruction, the replicators also do the matter-energy conversion as does the holodeck to some degree. It’s quite frivolous, but expected in an apparently “free energy” future.

Within our lifetimes though, the economy of having a sustained annihilation reaction seems questionable. However if I understand it, the Z-pinch concept is to create a sudden burst of energy, that would somehow flip the vessel across great distances. To be able to do that continually would need something like the Trek reactor. But since the Pinch seems to be a one-shot concept, you’d only need a single burst of energy.

Antimatter is a terrible thing, and controlling such a fundamentally unstable substance would be very tricky. However it does go bang very nicely. So if you need a sudden intense burst of power, such as for energising a Z-pinch device (possibly explosively in a similar method to an EMP device*) then a bottle of antimatter may be just the battery you require.

I recall hearing that the interstellar engine on Serenity, in Joss Whedon’s Firefly, was planned to be the sort of drive that wasn’t casually used, but that everyone held on for dear life and hoped it wouldn’t explode when turned on.

An annihilation-powered-Z-pinch would probably be a similar, terrifying experience.

* I wonder if any sci-fi writers have yet considered the use of a one-shot disposable FTL drive?

Jun 30 2010

Disaster fiction premise – fuel-air hurricane bomb

Pseudo-Manitou on LJ just mentioned that tropical storm “Alex” has missed hitting the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and that there’s only 10 or 20 more such storms to come this year (the period of concern of course presumes the oil spill will have been dealt with this year).

Now the worrying idea has been put about that the higher than usual methane content of the oil (30% rather than 5%, IIRC) means there’s giant methane pocket down there, and the new leaks appearing through seabed cracks could mean the seabed is going to disintegrate, releasing the 50,000psi methane pocket in a gigantic explosion big enough to send a supersonic tsunami several hundred miles inland in a few minutes. And it throws in a secondary tsunami for free as the ice-cold deep-sea water meets hot and now empty underground cavern in a huge steam explosion. And of course there’s the added bonus of the giant methane death-cloud to wipe out any survivors and those beyond the waves reach.

But it occurs to me that we’re missing out another possible bit of disaster porn here; What if a huge tropical storm does hit the oil slick? Right through the middle where the oil concentration is at it’s highest? Well it’d suck up a lot of the oil into it’s high-speed winds, tearing it up into tiny particles. And since hurricanes have a wide range of pressure gradients, somewhere in that hurricane it’ll have the perfect ratio of fuel to air for combustion.

One flash of lightning and a fuel-air bomb the size of Texas explodes.

If you wanted to up the anté a bit furthur of course, consider the wild possibility of the hurricane passing directly over the leak site and igniting. Fresh fuel being pulled up at it’s least diluted source, 70% oil, 30% methane, a constant supply of cold air being pulled down the centre of the funnel from the upper atsmosphere. Why specify cold air? Because cold air is more compact, and contains more oxygen. And with the fire adding to the heat, the convection could well anchor the hurricane on the fuel source.

This could plausibly be the first time in history we see a hurricane catch fire. Or explode.

Of course, the ratios for effective fuel-air explosive mixtures are apparently pretty precise, so it’s far more likely it’ll simply rain burning oil across the southern 3rd of the USA.

Pretty decent premise though.

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