UNDER THE HOOD

Fantasy and science fiction serve as powerful antidotes to the normality of our regular, everyday world. I’m sure that that’s why those genres persist in their popularity: they offer,Image in short, great escapism. But have you ever considered how much gubbins – how much complex, churning machinery – there is under the hood?

Let me explain: when I wrote Macao Station, it was important to me that the setting was believable. After all, if it isn’t believable, then the reader can’t escape there – the illusion is broken by doubt and the story itself becomes irrelevant. I didn’t want the actual science behind the station and its workings to intrude into the telling of the story (not too much, at least) but I did want it to be as correct as possible. Hence, when I started on the story of Macao, I had already built the machinery that would run it. I knew that, if I did that, then I could close the hood and just forget it was in there. I didn’t want some technical error to crop up and catch me out later, possibly stalling my progress. For those who don’t believe me (scepticism is healthy, yo!) here are some examples:

First, some notes about the Soros system:

Planet or Body

Distance from Soros (millions of miles/km)

Relative Length of Year

Year in Earth Years (1 EY=843 units)

Orbital Velocity

Planet (or Body) Diameter (km)

Hantii

40/

253 units

0.3

 

4202

Pallos

64/

512 units

0.61

 

12224

Viking

82/

743 units

0.88

 

10761

CET-11

135/

1569 units

1.86

 

6878

Lillias

326/

5886 units

6.98

 

118004

Macao Station

740/

20130 units

23.88

 

 

Yuwan

766/

21200 units

25.15

 

155629

Vagar

2128/

98165 units

116.45

 

2235

Our sun is 3.58 times further from earth than Yuwan is from Macao. Our sun is 8.944 times larger in diameter than Yuwan. So from Macao, Yuwan appears to be 0.4 times the size of the sun in the sky from Earth. (Earth is 150million km from our sun.)

For the life of me, I can’t work out now why the year lengths were calculated in those arbitrary-looking ‘units’, and I clearly never did complete the ‘orbital velocity’ column. But there you go.

Seems a bit extreme, right? There’s all sorts of grimy, rusty stuff under the hood, you see? Here is a brief extract from my notes on the asteroids themselves:

Belt is analogous to ‘main belt’ in our own solar system, but much denser. Lies between Yuwan and Lillias. Rocks – irregular in shape, pockmarked by collisions, huge variety of sizes from dust to several km across, composed of a variety of materials – from worthless rubble (‘dog-rocks’) to mixtures of silicates and metallic elements. Nearest to Soros they are coal-black and carbon-heavy C-types (C is for Carbon). Over 70% of all roids are C-type, but Soros system is unusually rich in metallic roids. Further from Soros the roids are grey, low in carbon, mostly made of silicate compound rock (S-type). Both types do contain metals. But the valuable rocks for mining are almost entirely composed of metals (M-type), mainly iron and nickel, despite the miners still referring to them as rocks. Some asteroids are in ‘doubles’. This means that they are two similarly sized asteroids that have drifted together gently and now orbit around each other, sometimes even touching, as they share a path around Soros. A tiny minority are D-type (dark), composed of water ice/frozen carbon monoxide mixed with rock.

Soros system is rich in MM or M+ type roids, unusually high in iron ores.

Albedos: C: 0.03-0.09 /// S: 0.10-0.22 /// M : 0.10-0.18 /// D: 0.05

I can’t claim to have extracted all the relative compositions and albedo ratings for the different (real-world) classes of asteroids from my own mind – wikipedia/NASA/ESA may have to share the blame/honours. But you can see that thought went into it. And I have pages and pages of this stuff from my Macao Station notes.

Here are some handwritten calculations of the station’s required rotational rate and the relative artificial gravity effect at different points inside:

Image

I have pages of that stuff, too, including maps of Macao’s floor-plan that I even considered drawing neatly enough to include in the ebook (but never did). My point is not that I’m some sort of genius – I’m not, and any real mathematician/scientist will be able to see that from my hideously-scrawled calculations. My point is that I’m pedantic and thorough, as I suspect all my fellow fantasy/sci-fi authors are. We have to be.

 So next time you’re reading a book set in some fantastic, fictional place, just remember that somebody has painstakingly made that place or that system of magic or that futuristic technology, and they’ve made it with the power of pen, paper, computer and imagination. Oh, and possibly Wikipedia.

If that hasn’t put you off, you can find Macao Station here:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Peace.

Mike.

 Image

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2 comments on “UNDER THE HOOD

  1. Great post, Mike. I’m just in the process of planning my next epic fantasy…no mathematics or worries about distance to the sun, but I’ve got to think out a social structure and a religion or two. If anyone doesn’t believe how much work goes into speculative fiction, just grab one of Mr. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series and take a gander at the 80 page appendix at the back (and that’s just the lineage of the different houses) or track down the debates that still rage over whether Larry Niven’s Ringworld could really exist.
    By the way, Mike…I thought you were British. Shouldn’t you be writing about what’s under the bonnet?

    • Haha, yeah I did consider the hood vs bonnet thing, but I didn’t want the majority of people to think I was talking about one of those frilly Victorian hats…

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