Monday, December 04, 2006

Faster-Than-Light — Yet Another World.

Goto for free stories. And check out my songs.

News first: Pyran’s Dilemma, the last book in The Rodan Trilogy, is now out at in both print and ebook versions. Here is the cover:

Print is $US 13.92 and GUESS WHAT?!!! The ebook version is only $US3.00. THAT’S RIGHT! In fact, all my ebooks are now $US3.00.

“Why?” you ask? I can’t help myself, I’ve finally been brainwashed by all those stupid ads selling cheap rugs or cheap bedding or cheap.... I think you get the point.

Actually, I just thought that a lower price might lure more people to buy it. $US5 as roughly $6 - $7 Australian which is really cheap compared to a paperback ($28 - $35) but I realize that in the US the price can be down to ~$US7 so the risk of buying an ebook novel from an unpublished author might seem greater. Just think of this as risk management.

I’ve also put out another song on lulu: Run Away. Like all my songs, it costs US 79 cents. It’s an upbeat song about overcoming fear and has a mix of ballad and rock with a trumpet and tuba and strings. I like it, but then I’m prejudiced.

And so ... to the subject at hand.

Last time, I wrote about the FTL technology I used to help define the world building in my Rodan trilogy. This time I’ll discuss the FTL technology I’ve developed for my Zhivar trilogy and how I’ve used it to help define how the societies work in that universe.

In trying to think up a new FTL strategy, I pondered Einstein’s Special Relativity. When I was in high school and university (all those centuries ago) I was fascinated by it. One thing that’s often attributed to Special Relativity is that it says that except for light, nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, but that’s not strictly correct. Special relativity says that nothing travelling at a velocity less than the speed of light can accelerate to the speed of light. What stops this from happening is a little mathematical term with big implications: the square root of (1 - (velocity/speed of light) squared).

Say you’re observing a spaceship accelerating away from you. Some things that you observe, like length, are multiplied by this factor and you see their values go to zero as they approach the speed of light. The object appears to shrink along its direction of travel. On the other hand, values like mass and time are divided by this term and their apparent values increase. Each tick of a clock you see will go slower and slower until it seems to freeze and because the spaceship’s measured mass increases to infinity the energy required to keep accelerating it tends to infinity as well. And that means a spaceship can never accelerate to the speed of light.

But what about if there were particles or forms of matter which already travelled at velocities (v) greater than the speed of light (c)? The term becomes what is called an imaginary number — it contains the square root of -1. The physical implications of this have been generally dismissed as being meaningless, although scientists have hypothesized FTL particles called tachyons, but they have never been observed.

But imaginary numbers and complex numbers (real plus imaginary numbers) have been used to describe physical systems such as the workings of electrical circuits.

So why can’t there be a physical equivalent for some kind of FTL space where the above factor isn’t meaningless? Where there are forms of matter, which can’t decelerate to the speed of light? Maybe it could be an inverse of our real universe, but not the fabled sub-space or hyperspace. I’ve called it high-space for higher than the speed of light, but maybe I should call it dark-space since dark matter and dark energy are all the rage amongst cosmologists at the moment. Dark energy is supposed to be a repulsive energy that is supposed to be causing our universe to expand at an accelerating rate and dark matter is supposed to surround our galaxies with a negative gravitational field that allows our galaxies to rotate at a rate where they would be expected to fly apart.

In my high-space, I envisioned an equivalent universe where the high-matter had negative gravity and our stars and planets had equivalent negative stars and planets. And where Einstein described each star and planet being in a gravitational well, in high-space they were on top of antigravity mountains and hills.

Okay, it’s not quite dark matter, but it does give rise to some interesting possibilities. Let’s suppose that in this scenario our human civilization has developed a drive that can switch a bubble of space into this high-space, but there is no warp drive or hyper-drive. How does this bubble then accelerate to hundreds or thousands of times the speed of light? I decided that if a spaceship switched when close to a star, its bubble could slide down the high-stars’ mountain slope, like a skier racing down a ski slope, and then the bubble could coast across the plains between stars until it run up the slope of another star, where it then switched back.

This now gives a means of travelling from Zaccarus IV to Beligro Minor via a network of stars if they aren’t in line of sight of each other. In this world, space travelling consists of taking a ship close to a star, aiming for a distant star and then switching to high-space. Its final velocity depends on how close to the star it gets, ie how high up the mountain it will start from. For the sun, I decided on a typical switch distance of twenty million kilometres, which would result in a speed of ~1200c on the flat plain. This meant that trips ranged from a few days to a month or so.

All this sounds great, but it can’t be that easy can it? There must be some downsides that can be used to help drive the plot.

As I thought about it, one thing was clear: there was a large difference between velocities in normal space and high-space. Aha! Momentum. Mass times velocity. It’s a simple an elegant equation, much beloved by those who love it (physicists, I suspect), but it can have a dark side. Put your foot down on the accelerator and you can feel the change in momentum push you back in your seat. It’s great! You revel in that rush of adrenaline, but if you slam into that oncoming truck at a hundred kilometres an hour, the change in momentum in going from 100 to 0 kilometres an hour will really hurt. Big time.

As in dead.

Unless you’re wearing a seat belt and have a fantastic airbag.

Momentum was my answer. In switching to high-space there would be an instantaneous huge change in momentum, but the bubble would, to a certain extent, act like an airbag, but only so far. Travel too close to the star’s surface and the momentum change could injure you and destroy your ship. And conversely, switching far from a star results in too little acceleration and trip times go from days or weeks to years at just above the speed of light. That’s plenty of time to die from starvation before the power runs out.

Basically, that’s interstellar travel defined. There are a few other perks to consider — the plain is more like travelling through a cave since space is three-dimensional and won’t be smooth. Planets add hillocks and asteroid and comet belts add ruts and cobbling, which can make travel uncomfortable, and nearby stars and nebulae can create humps that intersect your travel vector. And then there is the problem of passing slower ships and avoiding oncoming ships.

But what about within a star system? Fuel is the defining factor. A spaceship needs a lot of fuel to launch into space and then it needs a lot of fuel to maintain a reasonable acceleration to make travel between planets and the star a feasible idea and ideally only a few days.

In the Rodan trilogy I have ion spaceships travelling in convoys for up to two weeks and using the exhaust from one ship to fuel the following ship. In the Zhivar trilogy, I have ships refuelling and also taking on additional fuel tanks that have been refueled and parked around fuel depots at Lagrange points around the planet. In the solar system a ship would take three days to travel from the Earth to Mercury’s orbit, where twenty or so fuel depots orbit. The ship drops off its surplus fuel tank, refuels and dive toward the sun before switching. At the other end of its trip, it switches back and climbs out of the stars gravity well to a fuel depot where it refuels, links up with an extra fuel tank that it either owns or rents, and then travels out to the destination planet or whatever. This can limit stars to where a ship can travel to as not all stars have planets, however, a ship can travel to a star for the sole purpose of aiming for another star and just passing through.

So now we have a universe where interstellar travel is via a network of stars with fuel depots, which can be supplied from as far afield as comet belts out on the edge of the star system. Where there are fuel depots there can be maintenance workshops for services and repairs, spaceship dealerships, freight depots and a host of other businesses and other industries and the space can be quite busy in a thriving commercial environment.

And suddenly worlds come alive. Throw in a host of alien races, all more advanced than humanity; stir in the relics of an old federation, each with their own political agendas and limit just where humans can travel on the pain of something worse than death and there might just be an idea for a novel or three....

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Faster-Than-Light — Use It To Build Worlds

News first — I’ve released a new SF short story: Thief. Have you ever wondered what happens when the last galaxy burns out?

Spaceships — where would SF be without them? But so often, they are treated as an afterthought, especially when it comes to FTL or faster-than-light travel. We’ve all seen Star Trek with warp drives, or hyperdrives as in Star Wars, Stargate and a myriad of SF movies and novels, and which are essentially the same in that the passengers hop into their ship, flip a switch or press a button and hey presto! They’re suddenly traveling faster than light to amazing new worlds.

Except for the time it takes to travel from Zaccarus IV to Beligro Minor, say, the only other way they affect the plot of a story is if they run out of fuel or the engines break down. Other than that, little interest is given to how FTL flight can affect world building and thus the plot in general. Oh sure, you get the occasional TV plot where some genius modifies an engine, or a new experimental engine is tried out and something goes wrong so that the intrepid crew is stranded light-years in the middle of nowhere or in some strange dimensional space or a parallel universe and have to find some way to get back.

But these are all about the unexpected happening and the characters reacting to that. They are not the everyday experiences that one might expect.

Which brings us to me. I like to think up the technology and science behind the drives in the spaceships in my novels — both sub-light and supra-light drives. The reason I do that is because I want to know how the technology works and hence how it affects everyday life in the universe I’m building (and besides, I have nothing better do with this useless grey matter in my head.)

In The Rodan Trilogy, (back before it became a trilogy) when I first started thinking about writing a novel, I actually had the idea of a spaceship that transfers from one location to another before I had any idea of plot or characters. I was just letting my mind ramble and I had half an idea about a cop character chasing a terrorist/gun-runner type of bad guy who managed to smuggle weapons to restricted planets by using a side-effect of the drive to embed them in the ship’s structure so that it could pass checkpoints, and then extract them somehow at their destination. Note: this was before 9/11.

To have this work, I had to come with some kind of mechanism to allow this to happen and I came up with the idea of a ship that transfers from A to B via a dimensional transfer that requires the solution of a complex matrix of equations, but that a perfect solution wasn’t desirable and an approximate solution was needed. That way, the gun-runner could manipulate the solution so that the transfer could still take place, but some of the ship’s information was scrambled so that the weapons were embedded in its superstructure. And then — tada —! with a fiddle of the solution, another transfer would extract the weapons.

Well, as is often the case, the idea for the story got trashed, but the idea of the transfer engine stuck and the need for an approximate solution then affected how this society worked. Add to that the idea that the approximation of the solution affects how far a ship can transfer and how long it takes (relative to an observer in the normal universe) and suddenly, a whole new structure falls into place. So the three basic ideas I had were:

1) The interstellar ships could only transfer for a small range of approximate solutions, but that the closer a solution was to a perfect solution, the further a ship transferred, ie the farther it went.
2) The closer to a perfect solution that the approximate solution was, the longer the transfer appeared to take in normal space.
3) For a perfect solution, the ship transferred but never arrived anywhere because it was now in a stable configuration.

For the world I was building, I decided that the range of acceptable solutions allowed transfers over distances between 30 and 70 light years, with 50 being the optimal distance, and the times for transfer ranged from femtoseconds to about a minute. But since this wasn’t a linear relationship, as the approximate solution neared a perfect solution, the distances went up rapidly as did the time taken. For example, a distance of 200 light years would arrive several months in the future, while one of my short stories has it taking forty years to arrive at a distance of 4000 light years.

But what is this transfer solution, I keep talking about? How else can it affect my world building?

To transfer from Zaccarus IV to Beligro Minor, you really need to know the local conditions at both places, because the transfer equations are a real pain. The last time I counted, there were a million equations, each with up to a billion variables. Mind-boggling, I found. Now usually, to transfer to a brand new destination, it must first be studied with huge astronomical arrays before it is visited by special explorer ships that can collect additional data to refine the equations. Unlike normal ships, they, like warships, also have the extra computational power required to calculate a transfer solution.

The real problem with calculating an approximate solution is that it is so finicky. There is always a minute uncertainty in how approximate it is and this can result in a ship arriving anywhere up to several million kilometres from its expected arrival point. In any direction! Which means its destination must be far enough away from planets, asteroid and comet belts to be safe. Somewhere where there is lots of empty space.

To complete the scenario, I had to think up how a ship transferred — how its transfer engine worked. For this, I came up with the idea of combining the large with the small, after all why should an engine be small? In essence, I have three micro-black holes that need to pass each other for an instant so their event horizons graze each other, just as they are bathed in intense beams of subatomic particles and electric and magnetic fields.

Now even though they are micro-black holes they each have masses equivalent to a fair sized asteroid and as such need a large volume to move in. To make life easy, I set the engine shape and size as a one-kilometre diameter sphere. In this configuration, the black holes pass each other every six hours or so, which means that transfers need to be planned ahead. And since the calculation of the solution is so difficult and time consuming, normal interstellar ships don’t have the computational capability to calculate a transfer solution on their own, although they may be able to invert the solution to roughly go back to where they came from, provided the solution hasn't been interfered with.

Follow me so far? No one said space travel would be easy, so why make it?

So how does this affect the society?

For starters, it means that travel is restricted to destinations within a spherical layer around the departure point. You can’t just hop in your ship and shoot over to the next star system for your weekly spiritual enema with Zowlkon, Diarrhetic Master, Fourth Grade in the Church of the Dyspeptic Coming. To go from A to B, you need to travel via C, D and sometimes E.

Next, because the departure and destination conditions are known, transfers must be scheduled to minimize the uncertainty in the arrival location. This makes interstellar travel akin to mass transport systems in which schedules are strictly adhered to. Just imagine how that affects warfare. And because the interstellar ships must depart from and arrive at locations well off a star system’s ecliptic, there is travel time required by ion-or-some-such ships to ferry passengers and goods to and fro. I picked a couple of weeks for ion ships travelling a few billion kilometres at a constant acceleration around one gravity. That solved the problem of having to coast in zero gee for many months, but also required a unique refuelling strategy. It was quite clever, I thought.

So, what do you do on what is essentially a four week cruise? Why, have a party!

Or a really long quiz night. Speaking of which, here’s a question you could include if you’re setting one up:

Q: What do you call a cat that likes to eat pussy?

A: A cannibal.

(I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

Next time I’ll write about the FTL method used in my Zhivar trilogy, which I’ve finished the first draft of the first book last year and I’m dying to get back to. Or, what the hell, I might talk about my private life and the tragedy of Mandy, my inflatable doll. It’ll depend on the emotional state I’m in. It brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it....

And Remember check out my novels. Please, please, please...

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Check out My Site for info about my novels and songs — oh, and there are free stories!

Monday, October 16, 2006

English - the Bane of My Brain

Just got back from a short holiday on the planet of Verruca IV. I thought I'd struck it lucky with a couple of the locals until I found out they had wierd tastes. Me! That's what you get when you don't read the fine print in the brochure and try to travel cheap. I astral-travelled third class in Economy. Anyway, since I had a lot of time on my hands I got to thinking....

As an aspiring writer, I've often been faced with the conundrum of which English to write in--British or American? As an Australian I also have to consider colloquialisms. Those little words and phrases, which mean something peculiar to someone in one country, but are meaningless babble to someone living in another country.

And it got me thinking ... about this hot, buxom blonde in a short skirt with--er no, I mean after that. As I lay there in my disappointment, I asked myself the question that many a writer must have pondered.

What idiots came up with all those stupid rules for English?

I must admit, I prefer American English. Its spelling is more phonetic and it gets rid of some of those pesky Frenchisms that litter English, like 'ou' as in honour and armour, and 're' on the end of some words, like theatre and centre when the pronunciation is 'er'. Then there are the annoying little differences like one l or two when putting 'ing' on the end of a word, eg travel. British is travelling, American is traveling. All in all it means less typing and hence the less chance of a typo.

So why is American spelling different to British? Is it out of spitefulness? Did the genteel intellectuals of the day, say just after the American War of Independence, decide to foster this feeling of indepence by thumbing their noses at King Gorge and saying, "By George, we shall not speak the King's English in this fair and free land!" (I really should have done some research on this to back up my argument, but hey, after all these years who can teach an old dog new tricks?)

Notice also that I used double quotes here. American publishers use double quotes in novels, short stories and magazine articles. UK and Australian publishers use single quotes for novels and short stories, BUT newspapers use double quotes. That's the real pain in submitting to both markets--switching to and from single and double quotes.

I know english is a mish mash of other languages and it absorbs words like a sponge soaks up water, but why does it have so many arcane rules?

There is the silent but deadly k in front of some words (knife comes to mind), and its pal the silent p as in psycho. Add to this are the rules like i before e, except after c (unless you are weird). And then there's the use of 'ph' in place of f--pharmacy, phone, phoney! Was this a prank? Was someone trying to be phunny in a phutile attempt to be clever? This beggars my imagination, which, admittedly, isn't much to beggar. Frankly, it's buggered and you can take that any which way you like. Personally, I think it's ph@#*king crazy, and you can quote me.

Then there are other oddities, like whether to use 'ize' or 'ise', as in brutalize and centralize, which can also be brutalise and centralise respectively. And yet there is no advertize.

It's no wonder I sometimes feel the urge to go and bang my head against a wall. How must it be for all those poor suckers whose (whose or who's? yet another crazy conundrum) first language is foreign and who have to learn english? Just how many have broken under the stress and have been locked away in psychiatric instutions because there are no wonder drugs to help them? I bet there are no statistics. But there should be, because statistics can lie and where would any politician be without a good statistic?

And yet, as I thought about it, the answer came to me--I am the world's dumbest genius after all!

There is a third english. We have Britsh, American and ... Pigeon. Yes! Pigeon English.

And it's so easy to learn. There's only one word: coo! Okay there's also coos, cooing and cooed, but that's just splitting hairs. There's only one main word. It's incredible, when you think about it, that the humble pigeon has its own version of english. Apparently it was big (and may still be in some places) through the pacific islands and New Guinea. I doubt if they may have even seen a pigeon and yet its influence has spread far and wide.

I have no idea how it arose--maybe a pigeon fancier came up with it. Perhaps he--it would have to be a he, women aren't that stupid (hey, how come, when I suck up like that, I still can't get laid?)--spent too much time alone with them and after awhile that murmuring sound of theirs began to sound like a word: coo. He was probably nuts by then. But he spread the word and it caught on. Wherever english explorers went, like rats, cats and terrible diseases, pigeon english followed too.

In Australia we have a variant in our own vernacular: cooee. It's yelled out by people lost in the bush and who want to be found. Originally it was straight pigeon english and those early immigrant ornithologists, who found themselves lost in the great outback while looking for new and wonderful species of pigeon, would yell out 'Coo!' for days on end since it was the one word that they knew everyone was familiar with.

But, as was the case, they would either run into bands of outlaws out hunting pigeons for the nights main meal of pigeon pie and damper, or they ran into marauding bands of angry natives, mad at the sudden drop in the numbers of native pigeion species, due to them being shot and sent back to Ol' Blighty to be stuffed and mounted for public display along side kangaroos and koalas.

Either way, as these misfortunate pigeon fanciers staggered around in circles, slowly dying from thirst as they kept calling out 'Coo!' they would be shot or speared. Now, as is the case with being shot or speared, the usual exclamation is 'Eek!' which is a subtle but more succinct way of saying 'Ow! That hurts!' And so, as these wounded pigeon fanciers staggered away, they kept yelling out 'Coo eek! Coo eek!' The 'Coo' because they wanted to be found and the 'Eek' because it hurt so much each time they yelled out 'Coo!' But, because we know the k is silent, it became 'Cooee! Cooee!' And with the passing of time, this seeped into the Australian vernacular, long after the last pigeon fancier had bitten the dust.

So it begs the question. If pigeons have their own english, why don't other animals? Why isn't there a turkey english? After all they have their own word: gobble, and it's more complex and sophisticated than coo. What about cats and dogs? So much for being man's best friend.

And why is english the only language to have an animal variant? Why isn't there a pigeon french? Or pigeon chinese? What have they got against pigeons? Or is it only because I don't speak any other language that I've never heard of these versions? (Or it could be because, once again, I haven't done any research.)

I'll end here before I get started on the whacky spelling of foreign words that are nothing like the way their phonemes would be spelt, otherwise, I'll be ranting for days.

Oh by the way, my second novel, Rodan's Enigma,

is up on lulu (print and ebook), as are thirteen songs for download as mp3s at 79c US each. Check my website for details. The first chapter, it can be downloaded for free from there or from lulu: ebook.

Monday, September 11, 2006

My first novel is now available

At last, after a lot of of frustration, I've got my site up at although I still have to sort out my domain name. I purchased three at and just thought I could point them to my website. Me has discovered how naive I am. After all, isn't that what you normally want to do? All the help and all the articles I googled implied it was all straight forward.

But no!

It's what they don't tell that's the important stuff. So it looks like I'll have to host on godaddy. My internet provider kindly told me I wnneded to transfer my domain names to them and it would cost around $200 AUS for a year. Well they can go get ***expletive deleted***

Excuse my french.

On the music front, I'm still sorting out where to host my songs and what mp3 settings I should use. Again, the various sites I've looked at don't give a great amount of help. Then I have to find a friend or relative with broadband (I'm on dialup) I can suck up to to load up my mp3s. I've got sixteen (soon to be eighteen) which comes to around 50MB to upload. I plan to have this done in the next week or so.

And finally ... ta da!!!!

My first novel, The h'Slaitiarr Conspiracy which is also the first in The Rodan Trilogy, is up on as both a paperback and an ebook. I did my own ebook format especially for landscape viewing as most screens are wider than they are high and with a bigger and better font for a screen. Check out the first chapter, it can be downloaded from lulu: ebook or from my site

I did the cover myself:

And coming SOON!!! or as soon as I can do the front and back covers is the second book in the trilogy: Rodan's Enigma.

So until we meet again....

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Welcome to my blog.

Hi there. This is my first entry while I get all my stuff together to put my own site on the net. When it's up, I'll add a link.

Basically I want to sell my science fiction novels and songs on the internet (novels as ebooks and as print on demand books, and songs as downloads, and possibly as a CD). But to do that I have to entice you first. So, I will publish a SF short story monthly (starting with two, plus three literary short stories) and hopefully, I'll have a poll so you can tell me what you think of them. What's holding me up is the cover artwork. I'm not an artist and photoshop has a huge learning curve. I'll also offer a free download of the first chapter in the ebook format I've come up with. It will be a pdf file and I've set it up in a landscape format for viewing on the screen.

My first novel is the first in a trilogy. It's a hard SF/adventure/romance set several hundred years in the future. The three books are The h'Slaitiarr Conspiracy, Rodan's Enigma and Pyran's Dilemma. I plan to publish them on ('cos it's free) with all three up by the end of the year. I've actually written four novels complete, well almost. I just have to give them a final revision based on a slight shortcoming in my style that was highlighted in my last manuscript assessment for The h'Slaitiarr Conspiracy (it was my first novel after all). The problem wasn't so pronounced in the second and the third and fourth should only require minor revision.

Songwise, I have fifteen songs completed, a new one in progress and an old one that I'm rewriting the lyrics (a major rewrite). The music is good, but the lyrics didn't work. I work with a local Adelaide musician who is also a producer. He was my guitar teacher, then I moved to songwriting and kept up the lessons, more as a hobby, but in the last few years I've gotten more serious. He casts a very, very f*$%^g critical eye over everything I do, right down to individual words and notes in my mixes. Mostly my songs are pop/rock/ballad songs with a few other styles. Once I've selected some suitable sites to put them on and that offer mp3 downloads, I'll put the links here and (hopefully) if you like the 30-45 second snippets, you'll buy some.

I admit this is basically a marketing tool, but I'll comment on whatever takes my fancy in the world of writing, music, science and technology, and just maybe it might also be funny, witty and entertaining. Well at least as funny, witty and entertaining as an old fart and the world's dummest genius can make it.