Saturday, February 14, 2009

Going dark

I'm pulling the plug. I started this blog with the intention of putting an edge back on my extremely-rusty writing skills, as I have a fiction project that I wanted to work on, but hadn't written a word of fiction in over a decade. So I thought doing a blog would help me get into a routine of writing something every day. However, the blog has failed dismally at its intended purpose: firstly, I haven't written a blog post a day, not by a long shot. Second, this blog isn't fiction, so the skills I was hoping to hone a little bit remain rusty. Third, it's just been a distraction from writing fiction - when I have written anything, it's been here.

So, this blog needs to go dark for a while so I focus. If I'd written a page a day of fiction, I could have finished by now! This blog has become an excuse for me to procrastinate, nothing more.

Bah-bye, folks, it's been... meh. Only a handful of people were reading this anyway. Thank to those of you who did tune in. Everyone else will regret their actions when the insect overlords descend from Dimension Ten, enslave the planet, and appoint me Overlord.

As a parting gift, here's a draft excerpt from my fiction project.
The Triumphant was a Bussard ramjet: a ship powered by scooping stray hydrogen atoms from the almost-complete vacuum of interstellar space with an electromagnetic net six thousand kilometers wide, and forcing them through to the ship’s engine, where they became fuel for a continual fusion blast. Pending the birth of the genius who would solve the final dream of mankind, to soar among the stars with the ease and swiftness of birds, the ramjet was the best answer available to the vast distances between stars: self-fueling, economical, capable of continuous acceleration to a maximum speed governed by the velocity of the engine fires.

It had drawbacks. A ramjet was an enormously difficult craft to pilot. The electromagnetic fields that formed the scoop were half the diameter of the Earth and bone-shatteringly powerful; they would tear apart any matter in their path and reduce it to its component atoms. Ramjets did not maneuver well, were easily slowed by solar winds, and needed to sail dangerously close to their destination star in order to decelerate. The ship could, in theory, decelerate simply by turning off the fusion motor and letting the drag of the interstellar hydrogen particles collected by the ramscoop fields slow it, but that was definitely the slow way to apply the brake and was rarely used. It was far more effective to sail the ship close to a star, risking annihilation in a myriad ways, scoop up the vastly greater number of free hydrogen atoms in the corona, and apply the energy to the braking thrusters.

Threading a ramjet’s path at thousands of kilometers a second, through the violent storms of a star’s corona, to achieve the correct velocity and vector for insertion to the target planet’s orbit, without damaging the ship or its cargo, was a feat to be attempted only by supermen or madmen. Solar flares – storms of searing radiation millions of kilometers long – could inject themselves into the flight path arose with no warning. To fly near one – let alone through – would destroy the ship. To avoid disaster required the best of AI predictive modelling, combined with human judgment and the reflexes of a jungle cat.

Aaron Stanisic thought he knew his craft. A captain could only pilot a craft once; the sheer length of interstellar voyages meant that each captain was simultaneously the best that could be found to pilot the craft, and an utter novice at actually doing it. Oh, extensive training was undertaken, all ancilliary nano was embedded, any remotely useful software was uploaded, and hundreds of hours of simulation was performed before a captain would set foot inside their ship. But all the preparation was a guess: no-one would ever return from a successful voyage to tell what was actually useful as training, and what was complete dross. Thousands of hours and millions of dollars was spent on training that could, quite conceivably, be totally irrelevant. What were conditions like in the fathomless blackness between stars? How were the fuel-atoms distributed? How did the solar winds blow? Were there pockets of total void where a ship could find itself becalmed? Quite simply, no-one on Earth knew, and no-one would ever know. Not without captaining a ship themselves; and in so doing, to never return.

The captain knew their ship completely and utterly. No lover ever knew their paramour so well. The captain knew the location, designation, tensile strength, manufacture, flex, and every other physical property of every component – every bolt, every plate, every wire. Every other part of their training was conjecture, supposition, myth and fancy.

So armed, Aaron Stanisic led the Triumphant, loaded with the data-engrams of five thousand, three hundred and sixty-one colonists – mind and body, soul and DNA – across a hundred light-years of cold and dark. Every shipboard event – equipment malfunction, decision point – was met rapidly, calmly, professionally; analysed, a plan developed, enacted; the issue wrestled to submission, and quietly entered as another simple entry in the captain’s log.

He did well (and more than well) when the ship itself was the problem. Why not? He was prepared for any eventuality and armed with all the armamentarium the enormous shipyards of Earth could offer. Aboard ship, he was a god: omniscient, omnipotent, and (arguably) omnibenevolent. He floated weightless in the command womb, so intimately linked and embedded into the Triumphant so that where he ended and the ship began was a meaningless distinction. It would be as well to ask where your blood begins, where your breath ends, and what your colon has to say about it all.

So, needless to say, when it came to the actual crisis, Aaron Stanisic fucked it up massively.


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