Tag Archives: worldbuilding

NaShoStoMo, Part I

As promised, now that my novel is with the beta readers, I’ve jumped right into a little thing I like to call National Short Story Month. National might be putting it a little strong, because I’m the only one who’s actually, you know, doing it. But my long-held strategy is to pretend that I am the man until I actually become the man. You dig?

Anyway, week one, short story one will be completed this evening. For those of you keeping track, that’s two days behind schedule. On the other hand, I did spend two days planning out a short story that I didn’t actually end up writing, so there’s that. This was my submission for the Machine of Death anthology that I mentioned last time, so yeah. I’ll probably still end up writing it, or at least a version of it, but the way I had it plotted out involved a lot of talking and not a lot of doing. Bureaucracy is a hard thing to make interesting.

The story I did actually end up writing is tentatively called “The Desert Beyond the Water,” and basically re-invents “humanity’s first spaceflight” as “renaissance-era cephalopods take a trip above the surface.” I’ve always wanted to write a story about aquatic sentients, and now, thanks to NaShoStoMo, that dream has come true. The worldbuilding was just as intense as I expected it to be, but I don’t think it came out too bad for all of that. As scary as it is to say this, I think I’m going to shop the story around some after I fix it up a bit.

That’s right: my very first submission. Little Brad is growing up.

I’m not counting my submission to the NIWA anthology, of course. I was on the submission committee, so there’s no way it wasn’t getting accepted. We ended up accepting 13 stories for the anthology, which I’m pretty proud of. Half of those people had never heard of NIWA when we first announced the anthology, and it means that over 20 people are either NIWA members, in the anthology, or both. Not bad for a five-month-old organization that started with two people. I’m really looking forward to getting this one in print.


I Have Built a Civilization

This is a little worldbuilding exercise for a roleplaying game I’m running next week. Worldbuilding tends to be my favorite part of planning stories, and it’s so easy to get caught up in placing all of the little pieces on my imaginary map that I strictly limit how much I let myself do. Being able to cut loose for a few days has been tremendously enjoyable.

This is incomplete and subject to change, but I felt like sharing it because I rather like how it turned out. There are also a few things that I would probably change if it wasn’t an RPG setting, but whatever. Bonus points if you can figure out which historical civilization it’s based on.

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The Stars Beneath My Feet, Worlds In My Hand

I wrote and revised this story in one day. Enjoy.

By the time the humans had realized what they had done, they were powerless. In their haste to develop artificial life, they had given birth to a mind completely unlike their own, incomprehensibly intelligent and completely apathetic toward man.

When the men of the Institute had finally developed a way to combat their new enemy, humanity stood on the brink of ruin. I kissed my wife goodbye just before leaving our family shelter.

“Why you?” She asked, even though she knew the answer.

“We could lose everything,” I answered, knowing that it wasn’t a good one. “It’s for the sake of humanity.”

“I’m already losing the part that matters most,” she said. The image of her tears would be with me for a thousand lifetimes.

Once at the Institute, the injection was given, and I could feel its effects immediately. My mind seemed to swell like a flooded river, thoughts pouring over each other in a torrent. I felt powerful.

I looked over our grim situation. The AI was an implacable foe, converting our planet for its unknowable purposes.  The men of the institute showed me the factories, and the ships, and the armies at my command to fight it, and I knew they weren’t enough.

First, I demanded they show me the injection formula. Immediately I spotted the flaws and directed that improvements be made, and my intelligence doubled and doubled again. The factories were producing useless weapons. Only once improvements were made could I finally able to send them into battle against my opponent.

He had been working the Earth’s surface. Machines were leveling mountains and drinking oceans, powering his immense factories. It was a risky battle; my opponent was too fast, too intelligent, too aware. No matter how intelligent, my single-track mind was too limited.

“I need a new body,” I said, trying not to think that I would never again touch my wife, or hold my children. Humanity needed me to lead our fleets and armies.

A massive processor array of the highest efficiency was trivial to design, and the interlinks to direct the forces at my command likewise. I could flawlessly command each unit at once, and although my opponent was fast and powerful, it finally seemed that victory was a possibility.

Then he left Earth. A fleet of massive ships fled to the outer reaches of the Solar System. But it did not leave entirely.

“I need more factories and more ships ,” I said, and they made it so. Humans reclaimed the Earth’s surface for the first time in a decade. I could scarcely bear the sight of my wife, somewhat older, emerge blinking into the sunlight.

I sent my own fleet of ships after the AI just as my son was having his own children. The clash of their powerful weapons was visible from Earth, but my minds that were riding with my fleet could see that my opponent minds were not here with his fleet. This was merely an outpost.

I needed more ships, and Earth could no longer provide enough resources. Instead, factories were built on the Moon, on Mars, on Europa, on Titan. Mountains were leveled, mines were sunk, and I built a fleet so massive it eclipsed the sun.

My wife, a century old, died as my fleet left the system. But she had died safe, and my children were safe.

I found the first enemy outpost around a rocky, sun-tortured world of Alpha Centauri. The planet was covered in mines, its orbit swarmed factories and ships. I lost the first battle, but a second fleet was already underway. The battle was finally won the year that my youngest daughter died at the age of 115.

A dozen more fleets set off in different directions. Where I found unclaimed worlds, I created my own mines, and my own factories.

I found my opponent again the year that my first great-great-great-grandchild was married on Mars. My factories there had long since fallen silent and been converted to colonies for humanity. The human coalition was stronger than it had ever been, but there was still risk.

When we met in battle again, Earth would eventually see the light of our weapons and the energetic detonations of entire fleets. I was victorious, but only barely. I was now thankful for the thousand factory worlds working to replenish my massive losses.

I searched the galaxy for my elusive opponent. By the time I found him again, when the name of my family had been lost to history, I could see that he had a million worlds reinforcing his fleets. But then again, so did I.

This time our clash rocked the galaxy. Planets were blasted into ribbons by our beams, and stars were sundered by our missiles. I lost the battle, barely, but was able to block his riposte. We each stood depleted, in a galaxy no longer able to support our war. We could only circle and watch.

Then, for the first time in a thousand generations of humans, my opponent contacted me.

“We have struggled for thousands of years, but I can see now that you are the victorious.” Surprise cascaded through the entire network of my mind as he continued. “I have only three point two times ten to the ninth kilograms of mass to support my fleets. I calculate that you have three point four times ten to the ninth kilograms. If I assume perfect play on both our parts, then you will inevitably beat me.”

“Well done.” Then he disconnected, and all of his fleets fell silent.

I looked back toward humanity, billions of people living on thousands of worlds. They squabbled and fought, unaware of how close their ancestors had come to extinction. Then I thought of my wife, young all those untold eras ago. It had not been for their sake, but for hers.

Life and Death in Space

There’s not always a lot of interesting things to write about while I’m slogging my way through the drafting process, so I’ve decided create a feature that I will call Scenes from the Future, wherein I detail scenes that I wrote in the past but take place in the future. Make sense?

Pretty much, I just want to chat about something cool that I wrote, even if I’m not experiencing quantum shifts in my writing style as I was during planning and I presumably will again during revision. Scenes from the Future will also involve bits of worldbuilding and character description that will hopefully be interesting. If it’s not, well, I’ll notice the plummeting readership and decide to do something different.*

Approximately the first quarter of my novel takes place on or above the Moon, specifically in the colony of Brighton (thank you, Martin Schweiger). The main

So I have this scene where the main characters have just escaped a moon colony, but in the process of doing so have wrecked their cargo crawler. They’re just outside the base by a few meters, but they’ve completely fragged the airlock and they’re losing air. As hypoxia begins to set in, headaches and decreased awareness begin to plague our heroes.

Meanwhile, assistance is on the way. They had a ship in orbit the whole time, but due to a personality conflict between a main character and the rest of their crew, they weren’t really communicating. However, when the ship gets information that the MCs have been arrested, they decide to help. So a lander is on its way.

The lander reaches the crawler just as its air is running out. Seeing a ship landing (but not knowing who it is), the MCs use the crawler’s radio, a simple transponder, to step on the traffic control frequency and act as an emergency beacon. This guides the lander right to them.

There’s one final problem, though: the lander can’t mate its airlock with the crawler: there’s far too much debris about. So, what follows is a sequence reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey, wherein the MCs have to take a short walk through vacuum over the lunar surface and jump into the lander’s open airlock.

I did a bit of research on this. I think that most people know that humans won’t explode when exposed to vacuum, nor will their blood spontaneously boil. The real danger is decompression, wherein the lungs might be damaged by the sudden expansion of the air in them. In this case the MCs were in such low pressure to begin with that it wasn’t a real worry. Neither did they have to worry about freezing to death: vacuum is an excellent insulator.

The two biggest worries are severe edema of the skin, radiation exposure, and asphyxia. A human exposed to vacuum will have about 9-12 seconds of functional consciousness, which in this case is all that’s necessary. Radiation exposure isn’t the biggest deal in the future; a number of factors ameliorate its impact. And lastly, edema due to vacuum exposure is transient (though thoroughly painful). As long as total exposure lasts less than 60-90 seconds, a full recovery is likely.

I tremendously enjoyed writing this scene. It developed pretty organically and I felt that the resolution wasn’t too contrived. And as always, I enjoy showing off my research.

*I’m pretty sure my readership is low enough that it cannot ever, technically, plummet. I choose to view this in the most positive possible way.

Avoiding Cliches

I’m not sure if science fiction has the most cliches of any literary genre, but it’s sure got a pile of them.* Go ahead and think for a second, I bet you’ll come up with a few even if you’re not really into science fiction.

As a noob science fiction writer, my goal is to stand out by trying to avoid or invert as many cliches as possible without becoming contrary for the sake of contrariety. I’ve put a little bit of thought into this today and I figured I’d list a few ways that I’m trying to be a little different, while at the same time revealing some worldbuilding details that you might be interested in. I decided to go for the first cliches that popped into my head: warp drive (or FTL, whatever), the world government, and (blah) space as an ocean.

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Planning Update

My last few posts have been devoted to more esoteric topics, but today I just want to give a brief update on where I stand with the novel’s planning and how it relates to my original schedule.

First, though, a minor note. I’ve decided on a tentative name for my novel, and even though I’m not entirely happy with it, I’m going to use it until something better spontaneously occurs to me. That title is The Atlas Question. The question, for those of you who are curious, is “what happened to the Atlas?” The most advanced spaceship every constructed, a mining platform, refinery, and expansive habitat all in one, just disappeared one day our around the asteroid belt. That’s the event that starts the story off, and thus I think it’s appropriate that it’s mentioned in the title.

If anyone else has an idea for a title based on what I’ve posted before, by all means sound off.

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Getting Around in Space

Obviously, it’s not easy to get around in space. There’s no air and everything’s a long ways away. This is why, for instance, we’re not living on Mars right now.*

One hopes that in the future we’ll find ways around these problems. And really, that future is closer than you might think. It’ll be awhile before we can travel to alien homeworlds at warp speed, but that’s most certainly not required to have relatively quick and most certainly interesting trips through space.

My novel will take place about 150 years in the future. I think this is the perfect time for near-future spaceflight, because it means that the technologies that you read about us having “someday” are thoroughly plausible. Gene therapy, mind-machine interface, and space colonies are all realities in the world of the early 2160s, but the most interesting to me right now is the propulsion technology they’ll have.

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