Tag Archives: star wars

Let the dead rest?

This post is going talking a bit about Rogue One and will be veering a bit into spoiler territory but since it has now been out for a few weeks I’m assuming you’ve either seen it or aren’t interested in seeing it.

What I’m going to be talking about is the appearance of dead actors in new films, something that has become topical with the sad passing of Carrie Fisher. As well as appearing in 2015s The Force Awakens, Fisher had apparently signed up to appear in two more Star Wars films, I’ve heard that her filming for the next film was already done but according to media reports Disney – the owner of the franchise – is now in line to receive an insurance payout of perhaps $50 million. Which rather hints that she was due to have at least a reasonably significant presence in the third of this series. The question is will Disney write her character out or will Fisher appear anyway because recently we’ve seen there are options. Now those of you who have seen Rogue One will be aware that the film has seen the return of the character of a young Princess Leia and much more significantly Grand Moff Tarkin, as originally played by Peter Cushing. Since Cushing passed away more than twenty years ago and Fisher was no longer a teenager, these roles were fill by CGI ‘actors’, which has raised a few eyebrows.

Now in some respects Rogue One brings nothing new, in others it breaks very new ground. There is a long record of deceased actors appearing in new works via clever editing, smoke, mirrors and body doubles. If an actor dies during the course of a shoot – like say Oliver Reed during Gladiator – it is pretty reasonable that directors use what they have to fill in the blanks. Equally it doesn’t seem wrong reuse and modify clips of older work to do something new with an older actor/character combination – an example of this was a Doctor Who episode of a couple of years ago where with some careful editing the then current Companion was shown interacting with the Doctor’s various incarnations, the actors being in many cases being long dead.

Where Rogue One breaks new ground is with Grand Moff Tarkin, who supporting character with a significant speaking role. This is not old material being reused or a double being used to fill in few seconds of film, but instead new material wearing the mask of a diseased actor. Now in my opinion the digital Tarkin did not look entirely convincing but that’s just a question of technology and sooner or later we are going to get CGI character indistinguishable from flesh and blood. What will happen then. Will we see old favorites digitally rise from the grave to act again? In the case of Tarkin, I would imagine Cushing’s original contract allowed for his image to be used (pretty much the reason all those thousands of Star Wars toys could be produced) although I doubt anyone in the late seventies was thinking terms of digital actors.

I’d be really curious to know what the legalities of using someone’s appearance actually are. I know there have been court cases in regards merchandising, so I assume that if someone decided to make a new John Wayne film, agreement with his estate would have to be reached. As I write this the thought crosses my mind that I’ve been focused on actors and actresses but there are biopic films – there’s one on Jackie Kennedy this year – could movie studios choose to not to use an actor at all and instead have the image of the actual historical personage? Could we see digital actors that were never real people star in what are at least nominally live action films – an idea which know films have at least brushed against already.

The answer I suspect will, as if is so often the case boil down to this stuff:

Here's Johny!

Surprise!

Certain actors are inherently ‘bankable’, their appearance in a film guarantees a certain return. There is an entire secondary industry revolving around the private(ish) lives of celebrities. Would audiences be as attached to a collection ones and zeroes? Ultimately the entertainment industry will follow the money. If it makes sense on the profit and loss account it will happen. If it does not, then no matter how good the technology gets it will not.  In end it will be tastes of the majority that make the decision.

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Democracy deficit in SF&F

So the US election – wow, what a long drawn out painful affair that’s been, one that we sincerely need a break from. Okay so let’s talk about democracy in science fiction and fantasy.

Democracy isn’t actually all that well represented in SF&F, instead it’s fair to say that empires and other non-democratic governments are staple of both, sure there are exceptions but that’s what they are – exceptions. Where they do appear it’s particularly noticeable in SF they appear on the heroes side, although often poorly defined, while the opposition will be often described as as an empire or some other less than benign term. In fantasy the difference between the heroes and villains tends to be even more wafer thin, with the goods guys getting the wise and fair king, the bad the blood thirsty despot. Either way they’re usually the absolute ruler.

Fantasy’s default setting is a version of Medieval Western Europe. Now I’m not a scholar of medieval history but I do know a reasonable bit about English history of the period. In the case of the English kings of the medieval period, even the strongest of them were not absolute rulers. In theory they were but in practice below the monarch were the various nobles, these were people that had to be kept on side. Kings who failed to do so found themselves coping with either a lack of cooperation or outright rebellion – King John of England 1199 – 1216 being a case in point. Certainly it isn’t a democracy as we would recognise it but is still well removed from the idea of one-guy-calls-all-the-shots. The medieval or ancient period did see more formalised democracies, notably in ancient Greece. These would be more recognisable for us although the franchise would still be limited to people who were: male, free, wealthy, middle aged and landing owning – a franchise that was only exceeded in Britain in the late nineteenth century.

So if fantasy often takes its cues from a perceived version of history what about the future? Well if science fiction is a guide, empires and other non democratic forms of government have a fine future ahead of them. Obviously there are a few science fiction democracies, Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets is probably the best known although is pretty weakly defined in the films and television episodes. It also has the very underused Romulan  Star Empire, which despite the name was also described as having a ruling senate (which was wiped out in a virtual after thought in the underwhelming Star Trek Nemesis). There is also the Expanse Book/TV series that does portray both Earth and Mars as being democratic governments – at least on the face of it. Earth in particular elected officials appear to be borderline figureheads with the real power wielded by a tiny number of un-elected officials.

So why does SF&F have a problem with democracy? Three reasons I think 1) due process, 2) personalities 3) removal of ambiguity.

Even allowing for the excitement of 2016, politics is often a dry affair of committees, budgets and the various checks and balances, the more robust that democracy is, the more road blocks there will be between intention and action. Possibly this explains why in the Star Wars universe the first Death Star seems to have taken twenty odd years to build but the second, once the imperial senate was ‘swept away’, was banged out in a couple of years – no funding committees for the project to bog down in. Score one for for the totalitarian regime, yeah sh*t gets done!

Only problem is if we take a look at one of the most famous regimes – Nazi Germany – what you find is one that was horribly inefficient. Hitler had the final say so everything revolved around getting his ear, if you could manage it, then all kinds of pet projects could be authorised. Projects that ranged from mere duplication of effort to full on droolingly crazy. The same has proven true of various other despots, the top guy has a notion and there’s no one there to stop them. The really is that a lot of that due process, committees, going to tender and all the rest of it are in the name of efficiency and effectiveness. True out in the real world democratic governments have managed some massive screw ups but non-democratic governments have done the same and more. Where they manage to match democratic nations it has usually only been because standards of living being massively lower.

The other thing about democracies is elections, constant bloody elections, one that can see the sudden removal of leaders for reasons that have little or nothing to do with their actual performance. Take for example President Barack Obama, he has apparently a high approval rating but he will gone within weeks because that is the process within the USA. From a story telling view though it would be a pretty horrible way to deal with things if half way through, the established character disappeared to be replaced with one the writer and reader would have to get to know. Which brings us to our next area.

Now I write military science fiction, many years ago I remember reading someones comment that if you wanted to do a scientifically accurate space war, then your story would be about the life and times of Z-571 the nuclear tipped interplanetary missile. While you could certainly write it, finding someone to read it would be tricky.  So by extension a realistic democratic political system will see political figures removed with resulting changes in policy. Imagine Return of the Jedi, with the Alliance about to launch their attack on the second Death Star, only to hear that the Emperor has lost a vote of confidence and the new administration is proposing peace talks. That would be the point where you’d either walk out of the cinema or wing the DVD out the window.

Stories are about people. Writers create and develop characters then tell stories via them; generally there is limit to how many major characters a story can successfully support. In reality democracies tend to have a lot of people involved in the decision making process – even one like America where there’s a strong single executive officer. Trying to realistically portray this is likely to burn a lot of word count on an area that the reader might regard as secondary to the alien invasion, robot uprising, zombie apocalypse or whatever is the main point of the story.

If having a portraying functional democracy is tricky then doing two steepens the difficulty curve significantly. It is probably no wonder that the opposition side so often is described as an empire, if they’re a empire and the side the protagonists are on isn’t, then the implications are clear who are the good guys.* Sometimes this is the right decision – for the like of Star Wars (the originals) this worked because it went for the tropes. It needed the lack of ambiguity. For others it can be a missed opportunity for some real grey morality and added depth. Personally I’ve always felt that an author has to decide where the core story is going to be and to this the majority of the word count is dedicated, still that doesn’t mean the subordinate sections need default to cliché. I’ve only really touched on the various forms of government but history provides plenty of possibilities for those who go looking for them.

* I wonder a bit whether the preponderance of fictional empires can be traced back to the dominant role in entertainment that the USA has – a country formed when it successfully fought and broke away from an empire?

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Blood, guts, gore and women?

I’ve recently been reading Tank Men by Robert Kershaw which covers tank warfare during the two world wars; not the mechanical details or grand strategy that saw these machines sweep across the battlefield, but instead it is about the people inside them and I’ll say now that for anyone with an interest in the topic, it is well worth a read. Primarily for it’s visceral portrayal  of the results of combat.

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World War Two tanks were not easy to get in and out of at the best of times (I doubt they are much better now).  If you were a crewman in a tank when the armour was penetrated, if you were lucky you were unhurt and could get out. If you were slightly less lucky you were dead and never felt it. If you were unlucky you were hurt or trapped and couldn’t get out when it began to burn. It was a fear common to all tankers, regardless to which country they belonged to. I did a battlefield tour of Normandy a few years ago, which obviously included visiting a number of military graveyards. In the British, the gravestones are laid out in neatly spaced rows, except some gravestones are place pressed up with no spaces between them. Usually two to five graves, generally the bodies within are airforce or armoured regiments. It is to signify that while they knew who was in a particular tank or plane, when the bodies were recovered from a burnt out wreck, there was no way to know which body was which person. All pretty horrible stuff. In fact – speaking as someone who has never served in the armed forces – I would say probably impossible to imagine or even properly describe by those who have seen such things, but as a writer of Military SF I have to try.

At 5 am, the first wounded came back, cheerful, optimistic.  We splintered fractures, covered wounds with sterile dressings and relieved each other for breakfast at 6.30 am.  As the day wore on, sunny and scorching hot, the tide of casualties rose.  Dozens and dozens were carried in.  Our treatment centre always had 3 upon the trestles being attended to and soon the approaches were lined with a queue.  Hour after hour we worked and evacuated and still the flow continued.  Ghastly wounds there were, of every type and state of severity.  Heads with skulls so badly smashed that bone and brain and pillow were almost indivisible; faces with horrible lacerations; jaws blown completely away leaving only two sad eyes to plead for relief from pain.  Chests pierced through with shrapnel and lungs that spouted blood from gushing holes.  Arms were mangled into shapeless masses left hanging by muscle alone and waiting the amputation knife.  There were abdomens pierced by shell splinters and displaying coils of intestine, deadly wounds.  Buttocks were torn and in some cases spinal injury had followed bringing paralysis.  But the leg wounds!  Thigh bones splinted; knees without knee caps, legs without feet red, mangled flesh and blood flooding the stretcher.  And others trembling uncontrollably, sobbing like children, strapped to the stretcher and struggling to be free; screaming and, when a shell landed near the ADS (Advance Dressing Station), shouting, ‘They’re coming again, O God they’re coming again.’  Not heroes, but sufferers nonetheless.  We ate our lunch of biscuits and corned beef with bloody fingers and when relieved by 9th Field Ambulance at 6 pm we had treated 466 British soldiers and 40 Germans.  

Private Jim Wisewell, 223 Field Ambulance, RAMC, describing the carnage wrought upon 185 Brigade of 3rd (British) Division during 8th July, 1944 in operation Charnwood.

Film and television, even at its grittiest, is never going to match that kind of brutality, in fact sometimes when it tries, the effect can come off as more comical than anything else. The fact they we know what we see is the product of the makeup artist’s craft renders even the most realistic effects unbelievable. In fact one of the most realistic and disturbing depictions I’ve seen is the 1965 pseudo documentary The War Game, where the effects were by today’s standards primitive but the use chilling*. So it is probably now wonder that most film and television prefers to depict battlefield casualties as people who fall down nice and neatly. While I was writing the Nameless War I did try to cover this, which has lead occasionally to the question ‘is there any characters you didn’t kill?’ To which I joke ‘yes, the ones I maimed instead’. But in all seriousness it was an attempt by me to convey, without over doing it, the awfulness of war and making it back doesn’t mean coming back undamaged.

I now while I was considering this post – and procrastinating – I came across a article We Have Always Fought – Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative

As somebody with more than a passing knowledge of history (All the Thing That Came Before Me), I’m passionately interested in truth: truth is something that happens whether or not we see it, or believe it, or write about. Truth just is. We can call it something else, or pretend it didn’t happen, but its repercussions live with us, whether we choose to remember and acknowledge it or not.

When I sat down with one of my senior professors in Durban, South Africa to talk about my Master’s thesis, he asked me why I wanted to write about women resistance fighters.

“Because women made up twenty percent of the ANC’s militant wing!” I gushed. “Twenty percent! When I found that out I couldn’t believe it. And you know – women have never been part of fighting forces –”

He interrupted me. “Women have always fought,” he said.

“What?” I said.

“Women have always fought,” he said. “Shaka Zulu had an all-female force of fighters. Women have been part of every resistance movement. Women dressed as men and went to war, went to sea, and participated actively in combat for as long as there have been people.”

I had no idea what to say to this. I had been nurtured in the U.S. school system on a steady diet of the Great Men theory of history. History was full of Great Men. I had to take separate Women’s History courses just to learn about what women were doing while all the men were killing each other. It turned out many of them were governing countries and figuring out rather effective methods of birth control that had sweeping ramifications on the makeup of particular states, especially Greece and Rome.

Half the world is full of women, but it’s rare to hear a narrative that doesn’t speak of women as the people who have things done to them instead of the people who do things. More often, women are talked about as a man’s daughter. A man’s wife.

The rest of this article can be found HERE and again is well worth a read through; I came to is via a forum I occasionally glance at and before it became an argument, the point was made that we don’t see women killed very often in military type film and television and see them maimed even less often. Literature does better but film and television haven’t made much forward motion in decades. As far as I can remember the recent Force Awakens had a token female X-Wing pilot – assuming all alien pilots were male – and she made it back. The various imperial stormtroopers and pilots are assumed to be male (with one exception). While women were visible on the Star Killer base/planetoid if they were killed, it was off screen unlike the waves of Stormtroopers that got gunned down. Now you might be thinking ‘does this guy want to see women dead or maimed? What kind of sicko is he?’

Well let me put it like this. As We Have Always Fought points out women have always been a feature of warfare. In SF a man’s main advantage, his on average greater physical strength, is far less important. Flying a fighter doesn’t make the same physical demands as say fighting with a sword. To refuse to put women onto the fictional battlefield, the fictional casualty dressing station and fictional battlefield grave as uniformed personnel, is to write them out of the narrative completely. I have heard that in the first of the original three Star Wars films an actress was filmed as a rebel pilot, complete with fireworks behind her and the usual comment on the X-Wings combat performance – I’M HITTTT!!!!……. but it was cut from finished film.

Sure you can point to the occasional named hero or villain but where is the female faceless goon or red shirts? As a society we are still reluctant to see women getting killed or hurt in defence of their society** or subjugating the galaxy which does inevitably diminish women by default. For literature in particular it is a relatively easy one to start to address, a handful of hers instead of hims will give a sense of a more inclusive world and something on which we can build.

As ever thoughts and comments welcome.

* The film being a depiction of Great Britain is the aftermath of a nuclear strike.

** although crime drama is quiet happy to kill them by the bucket load.

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Don’t break your universe or responsible use of FTL

NOTE: During this post I’m going to be mentioning plot points from number of books, films and television series, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens and New Battlestar Gallactica.

Introduction

Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

In fact space is so big that trying to express it in any units of distance that you as an individual can have personal experience of, will rapidly result in a figure with an unworkable large number of zeros at the end. On a day to day basis this isn’t too much of a worry but if you are a science fiction writer or scriptwriter, then in presents something of a problem. Unless you’re prepared to limit the story to a single solar system or spend years or centuries getting between stars, you need to have some kind of Faster Than Light (FTL) travel system. While not completely impossible, trade, warfare or even exploration become a damn-sight more difficult without an FTL system. The problem however is that currently as far as we know traveling faster or even at light speed, is flat out impossible. While real world science has offered some small crumbs of comfort – wormholes, quantum tunneling, the recent EMDrive, etc – basically crossing interstellar distance in anything less than years is off the table. So FTL is often given a pass within stories that otherwise are attempting to be Hard Science Fiction, a fact that can often leaves the most dedicated Hard SF writers guilt-ridden.

There are basically two forms of FTL in science fiction, the Star Trek style, where ships fly through… something and can change course, speed and even potentially fight other vessels. The alternative is the Jump model, where a ship jumps from point A to point B, not interacting with the space in between the two points. Sometimes this is due to the engines carried by the ship, in other settings it is fixed ‘jump points’ through which the ship travels. The important thing to remember about both models is that scientifically they are both baloney, basically they run pure Handwavium – a substance obtained when the writer waves their hands and says ‘don’t ask awkward questions, just accept it and move on’.

Establishing limits

Okay so if we’re willing to break the laws of reality once, we might as well not worry, the FTL drive will do whatever the plot needs it to do any any given moment. That’s okay right? No, no, it is not. Breaking internal consistency will break any story, even one outside the genre of science fiction or fantasy. Imagine watching a police drama where the lead character is established as overweight, over-the-hill, smokes like a chimney and drinks like a fish. Where early in the episode he attempts to chase a suspect and wheezes to a halt after twenty yards. But when the plot requires can suddenly run like a cheetah. That lack of consistency will see the viewer reaching for the remote.  Within fiction internal consistency is sacred, figure out what can and can not be done then once the rules are established keep to them!

But more insidiously, the writer needs to consider the implications of those rules.

Now viewers of New Battlestar Gallactica might well remember this scene from season three episode four. To get around the enemy ships guarding New Caprica, Galactica jumps into the upper atmosphere launching fighters during free fall to destroy the enemy positions, before jumping back into space.

INCOMING!

INCOMING!

Visually there is no doubt that this is really, really cool. However it also blasts a massive hole in the internal logic by making planets completely impossible defend. Think about it for a moment, if this is possible then why not strap an FTL drive onto a nuclear bomb or even a big rock? Orbiting starships can provide no defence when a projectile only appears a few hundred meters above the target. A few scenes later we see human ships jump out after lifting off only a few hundred meters from the surface, which begs the question why do these ships need space engines? Why not an interstellar helicopter, one that can take off from the ground, then jump into space, jump to where it wants to go, then jump into the atmosphere there and lower itself back to the ground.

Elsewhere in science fiction new Star Trek invented transporters capable of beaming an individual from one solar system to another, again rendering the central premise of the setting un-workable. While during the recent Force Awakens film we saw the Millennium Falcon being used to penetrate the shields of the Starkiller base by only emerging from FTL within the atmosphere of the planet. Which again begs the question if this is possible why not simply pound the target with nuclear ( or whatever ) weapons until the problem goes away? Sure a percentage, maybe even a large one, will fail but if one got through, then others will also manage it.

Now to a certain extent film and television has the advantage that the narrative keeps moving, the viewer doesn’t have the time stop and immediately think about what has been shown and the possible implications. Literature doesn’t have that advantage.

Those of you who have read my Nameless War Trilogy will be aware of something I called the Mass Shadow, an area of gravitational effect around planets or other large space bodies. Within a Mass Shadow a ship could neither jump in or out and would instead have to travel to the edge at sub-light speeds. Now I didn’t invent this just to torture my characters ( not just ) I did it to make it possible to have a war in space. Without it the basic setting would not work, because enemy ships would be able to appear above a planet and nuke it vigorously before anyone of the ground could say Whoops Apocalypses. With it ships were forced to jump well clear of a planet and with that I was able to explore all kinds of tactical difficulties and options. Most space based science fiction literature that I have come across makes use of similar mechanisms for the same reasons. The only one that I have come across without a limiting factor is John Scalzi‘s Old Man’s War setting; in this it is possible for space vessels and armed drones to jump in above a planet and immediately be able to fire on the surface. In essence it is possible for a planet nuked out of existence before it knows it is under attack. However Scalzi has made this workable, the life supporting planets are the prize being fought over, rendering weapons of mass destruction unusable.

Conclusion

Science Fiction allows us to break the rule if we are unwise but what we should seek to do is change them but only once and consider the implications. Whatever the rules, they offer both limitations and opportunity and we must consider both. If the question is asked ‘why don’t they simply do X’ then a solid answer has to be given, ‘because I say so’ is not going to cut it. There can be the great temptation break or bend the rules to get characters out of an difficult situation but to do so leaves a setting with no substance and if you find yourself writing you way into such a scene, then time to step back and be responsible in your use of FTL.

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The end of the line… and pauses along the way

I don’t know what proportion of science fiction and fantasy novels are part of series as opposed to stand alone but it is fair to say that they are far from uncommon. Now it should be pointed out that there are different kinds of series. There those like say the Chronicles of Narnia which use the same setting and have some character overlap but are basically stand alone books that can be read in any order. Then there series like Lord of the Rings in which there is a single grand story arc across two or more books, all of which need to be read and read in one fixed order. It is the latter category I want to say a little about.

It isn’t hard to see from where the lure of the series comes; creatively it gives more room in which to develop and flesh out a story, this is specially important for science fiction and fantasy since we have to burn so much word count on world building. Since an individual novel is limited to between forty and a hundred and fifty thousand words(1), while even a short series can be multiples of that, the extra words allows the writer to avoid having to make compromises to keep the word and page count acceptable. From business standpoint it looks even better, sell one large book for twelve Euros (dollars, pounds, shillings, rubles, yen, goats, whatever) or two for nine, ninety-nine. If the reader wants to get the complete story, they have to fork over for each and every book. In fact on that later point occasionally publishers have split into two books that were intended as a single volume. But in doing so a new problem is introduced.

The ending of any story is the pay off, regardless of genre or style, a bad ending can completely undo any good work that has been done up to that point. The ending needs to resolve the major plot threads and if the reader is left unsatisfied or feeling cheated, well then that’s a reader who won’t be looking that writer up again. But for a single arc series it can’t tie everything off, it needs to provide a satisfactory close and at the same time provide a launchpad for the next book of the series. What is needed is a sub-ending.  The writer Shantnu Tiwari makes an impassioned case that the very worst sub-endings are cliffhangers. While I can’t get quite as worked up, thinking back across my own reading history I can think of a few cliff hanger ending I’ve read and while they didn’t make me throw the book across the room, they didn’t make me rush out and buy the next book either because there was that lack of pay off. The other problem with the cliffhanger is that there is likely a gap between the publication of individual books, of between months to years (20+ and counting in the case of one series I know of). Will the reader still have excitement to pick it back up, will they still remember what was going on? The best sub-endings I seen are the ones that felt like they could have been the end of the series, for my money Juliet E McKenna‘s first series nailed this perfectly.

So, if you are sitting out there somewhere idly considering writing your own series what am I saying? I’m saying you need to plan ahead (2). You absolutely must know where each book is going to end. Even if the big finish at the end of the series is absolutely amazing, it’s going to count for nothing if most readers abandoned ship at the end of the first book.

While we’re on subject of endings, lets move onto big ones, not just the end of a series but the end of a setting. It’s a personal belief of mine that all setting have their limits. Regardless to genre or even medium, each setting has its limits. Now quiet where those limits are depends on the nature of the setting. It is hangs off a single character then the limit will be reached fairly quickly (3) while one based on a large world or universe in which individuals can come and go will have more legs (4) but even there are limits. I suspect it’s one of the reason I never got into comic books, by now Batman should have either cleaned up Gotham City or be dead, either way as a story without a final end holds no attraction to me. Obviously there is a damn good reason why the likes of Batman, Star Trek or any other property keeps soldiering on:

Here's Johny!

Here’s Johny!

Be you an individual author or a good old fashioned soulless corporation walking away from an cash stream is going to be difficult to do at best and often impossible. Search the internet on any particular established series or franchise and it won’t be hard to find someone somewhere who feels its gone off the boil, the glory days are gone, it’s now just ploughing the same furrow. The solution to this if a solution is needed is in the hands of the consumer. We need to be ready to pursue to new and original. While we can continue to enjoy the glory days of our old favorites we should be ready to abandon them if they don’t come to an actual end.

FINAL THOUGHT: I say all that as someone who is very much a hobby writer. I don’t rely on my writing to pay the bills, just pay for the luxuries. I’ve certainly not had anything like a huge hit which I’ve continued to milk. Obviously if I do I may well turn into a huge hypocrite but at least if that happens, I’ve given everyone some good material to work with.

 

 

 

 

 

(1) Ref SFWA Award FAQ and Writer’s workshop.

(2) Yes I do know what I said in a previous blog entry about my tendency to do more winging it than planning. I did know where the Nameless War and Last Charge were going to end when I started them, the Landfall Campaign it was figured out while WIP, which is a writing technique I call ‘making life difficult for yourself’ [patient pending].

(3) Say a few books, two or three of films or a television series

(4) Example Star Wars or Star Trek

 

I can now be found on Twitter.

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Ships of the Fleet – Aellr destroyer.

An Aellr design that pre-dates contact between the Confederacy and humanity, the Psirtas class (named after towns on the colony worlds of the Confederacy) was one of the workhorses of the Defence Fleet. The first human sighting of this design came in the calamitous days running up to the First Battle of Earth. The smallest of four ships that approached the planet, with its prominent missile launcher mounted to one side of the jump drive, Psirtas class was immediately categorised by the human defenders as a destroyer. Unfortunately this misinterpretation was one of a pattern mistakes made by both sides that would see the Confederacy and Earth blunder into the profoundly avoidable Contact War.

 

NOTE Given the ongoing political tensions between the Confederacy and Earth background have come from secondary sources and may not be entirely accurate.

Aellr destroyer 1

BACKGROUND

 

The Psirtas class originate approximately fifty years before first contact; as with most Aéllr designs the class was intended to provide the Defence Fleet with a multi-role platform capable of performing search and rescue, personnel transport and internal security. As with all Aellr ‘warships’ of this period, any military role was of very much tertiary importance and little more than a fading relic of the Aéllr Reunification War of more than a century earlier. Intended to compliment the much larger Hinhle (Province) class cruisers, the Psirtas placed emphasis on acceleration over range.

 

DESIGN

 

The design can be divided into three main segment. The forward-most section, mounted the jump drive, main bridge and the two hard points for mission specific equipment. When serving in the military or internal security role, these would mount a turret, each one carrying a single plasma cannon. Alternatives to these fittings were shuttle hangars, high definition sensor arrays or docking arm. The point defence guns – primarily intended for anti micrometeorite duties – and the probe/missile launcher were permanent fixtures.

 

Mid ships was the centrifuge with two large pods. It is believed a small secondary bridge is housed within one pod but for the most part this space is given over to crew facilities. Several members of the class, usually when de-militarized have been observed with six secondary pods fitted to a large circular ring that connects the two primary pods. It is believed that like the forward hard points this a mission specific fitted when more living space is required.

 

Astern is the engineering section, protruding from the ventral and dorsal surfaces of which are the engine nacelles. The length of these is to allow the engine plume to clear the centrifuge during breaking manoeuvres. The decision to extend the engine pod in the vertical axis appears to be to facilitate the class’s search and rescue role, allowing the ship to come closer along side another vessel while maintaining the same deck orientation. A side effect of this choice of orientation is that the ship’s profile in the broadside arc was considerably larger than would have been the case if the nacelles had been side mounted. This provides another clear indication how low a priority the class’s military role was. The ship’s radiator panels are housed in the broadside circular assembly which when deployed resembled paddlewheels, leading to the class’s human nickname ‘pedalo’. Physical protection was limited to anti-radiation shielding while sensors systems took the form of small clusters scattered across the main hull.

 Aellr destroyer 2

Overall the Psirtas class with its emphasis on adaptability was very much a conservative design, following with standard practice of the time. The only significant break from previous practice was the absence of a raised bridge, a feature of Aéllr government ships since the Reunification War.

 

SERVICE

 

By the time of first contact between Humanity and the Aéllr, the Psirtas class were in their middle years, with the expectation of at least another three decades of service. While an exact number constructed is not known, it is believed to be in excess of thirty, although by first contact the earliest members of the class had been withdrawn from service. When the Aéllr taskforce was dispatched to earth a single member of the class was included to act as a scout ship. The decision to include this vessel with the ships that directly approached Earth, seems to have been born of a genuine belief that the force would face no opposition. In fact the Psirtas was to prove very much a weak link. An early direct hit to the ventral nacelle rendered the ship virtually uncontrollable while the two point defence guns left a large blind spot astern. The taskforce’s attempts to support the ship meant that it neither closed on Earth nor retreated out of range between waves of human fighters.

 Aellr destroyer 3

In the aftermath of Earth the casualty averse Defence Fleet appears to have come to the conclusion that the class was too fragile for front line operations. For most of the rest of the war the class remain within the Confederacy’s borders, covering for the Hinhle class ships that were being used to prosecute the war against Earth. The Psirtas would see direct combat when the cruiser Onslaught entered Confederacy space in the last year of the war, the Battle of the Three Systems being the most notable event of this campaign.

 

Post war it would appear that the remaining members of the class were returned to their civil role. It is believed that at least a dozen remain in service with the Defence Fleet with perhaps half as many again now owned either privately or by individual colony worlds. However sources indicate that the Defence Fleet no longer rates the class as part of it’s fighting strength.

 

 

Author’s Notes: As the first alien race humanity  encountered, with the war between them being the background event that did the most to shape the Battle Fleet Universe, the Aéllr are a very large part of the setting which I’ve wanted to explore for a while – especially since describing in Volume Two of Ships of the Fleet the human Contact War cruisers. Most of my ship designs are fairly brick like, in part because it is how I imagine then and in part because with the software I have access to, they’re a damn-sight easier to make. But I wanted to explore the possibilities of a design using much of the same basic technology but with a very different set of priorities at least as far as the limits of my talents and my computer processors capabilities.

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