The Cronian Incident – Halfway Done!

According to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a work needs to be over 40,000 words long to be classified as a “novel”. This is just one standard, but right now, it’s an important one as far as I am concerned. Why? Two reasons: one, its what the SFSWA uses to classify books when considering them for a Nebula Award. Since science fiction is my chosen genre, I got to think these people know what they are talking about.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, it is because my WIP, The Cronian Incident, just passed this milestone. At present, the novel is 22 chapters and just over 43,000 words in length. And I’m only about halfway done! Problem is, this is where I begin to feel the crunch with most novels. Halfway is a bad point to be in when you’re me, because you’re feeling the weight of all that you’ve created so far, and are really aching to get to the finish line!

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In the meantime, I am busy exploring the various aspects of Part III of the book, otherwise known as “Jovians”. In this part, the story’s MC, Jeremiah Ward, has traveled to the Jovian moon of Callisto (the fourth large moon of Jupiter) to meet his associate in the investigation. It is also here that he meets an old contact of his from his police-work days, and tries to learn more about the people he is working for.

One of the things that makes this challenging is that I spent the past few months developing characters and the settings of two different worlds. The story began on Mercury, moved to Mars, and now, its in orbit around Jupiter. From the surface of a cratered, hostile world, to a space elevator in orbit of Mars, and now to a frozen moon around a gas giant. Gah! I think I’ve officially OD’d on setting!

A possible base on the surface of Callisto. Credit: NASA
Artist’s impression of a possible base on the surface of Callisto. Credit: NASA

But I shall persevere. I’ve put too much into this idea to abandon it halfway, and this is one novel that I am determined to see through to completion! So – and I apologize in advance for this – expect to hear me blab a lot about it in the weeks and months to come. And you can bet I will be blabbing non-stop about it once its finished. Thanks to all those who are still paying attention 🙂

 

New Idea: The Cronian Incident

terraform_MarsA friend and mentor once told me that you shouldn’t be too worried about people stealing your ideas. To paraphrase what he said, you’ll have thousands of ideas, and no one can steal your work unless you’re careless. Those words rung true to me, mainly because I have far too many ideas, and not nearly enough of them are developed. Case in point, I’ve got four projects in the works, and none of them are near to completion.

And yet, I find myself once again adding an idea to the mix. It came to me over the course of the last few months while working for Universe Today and trying to refine my ideas on science fiction. Basically, I have been thinking for some time that any piece written by me should focus on the paradoxical issues of Climate Change and technological change, and how these will play out to shape our near, not-too-distant, and distant future.

And then an idea started forming. I would have filed it in the “not now, maybe later” column, but I think it might be something that could really work. And given the way I’ve been bugging people constantly over the past few months with it, asking their opinions, soliciting thoughts on the first few chapters, I clearly have become emotionally invested in it. So I thought perhaps it was time to commit to it, as I always do, by sharing the idea, and thus ensuring that there’s a record of it somewhere so no one can steal it! 😉

Jupiter-and-Io2
The Cronian Incident:
It is the late 22nd century, and humanity has grown to colonize almost every corner of the Solar System. Earth is now recovering from the worst aspects of “The Anthropocene”. Temperatures are dropping, species extinctions have stopped and are being reversed, and the population is stable, with over 13 billion people living in its cities, arcologies, and orbital habs. Over 1 million people live on the Moon, in cities built in lava tubes beneath the surface.

Mars and Venus are also home to humanity. On Mars, the Martian people live in domes that crisscross the surface, a Space Elevator brings people to and from the planet, and a constant flow of shipping to and from the Asteroid Belt and Solar System keeps the place busy. On Venus, the Cythereans live in cities that float atop the planet’s extremely dense atmosphere, harnessing carbon from the clouds to create graphene and diamond-based materials.

On all these worlds, humanity exists as a series of factions that know no national boundaries, and are collectively referred to as “Extros” – short for Extoprian. Thanks to over a century of runaway technological progress, diseases and disabilities have been eliminated, implants and embedded machinery allow for constant connectivity to the Nexus (future version of the Internet), and all vestiges of life are assisted by sentient programs and algorithms of various complexity.

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Meanwhile, the Outer Solar System hosts an entirely different mix of people. On the moons of Jupiter (the Jovians), Saturn (the Cronians), and Uranus (the Uranians), people enjoy a simpler existence. While they have access to plenty of advanced technology, many types of nanotech, biotech, and embeddadles are eschewed in favor of organic living, portable machines, and non-sentient computing.

Despite the fact that the Jovians, Cronians and Uranians are made up of countless peoples and factions, collectively, they are often referred to as “Retros” – a pejorative used to refer to their regressive lifestyle. But whether it is for religious reasons, personal reasons, or because they fear that Earth and the Inner Colonies have become consumed by runaway change and progress, the people who call these moons home prefer to maintain a balance.

Whereas these colonies were established in the latter half of the 21st century to ensure that humanity would have backup locations in case Earth died one day, by the 22nd century, they became dedicated to the preservation of something else. In this day in age, it is no longer about ensuring humanity’s physical survival, but rather preserving its spirit or a certain way of life.

Callisto_baseThe Plot:
Enter into this universe Jeremiah Ward, a disgraced former-detective who developed a drug problem as a result of his stressful work and the pace of life in the Inner Colonies. After an incident where two witnesses were murdered – which was attributed to negligence on his part – he is given a hefty prison sentence, which he decided to serve out in a penal colony on Mercury.

On this planet, where the day-side is hellish and unlivable, and the night-side is freezing and unlivable, mining crews live in the northern crater known as Prokofiev. Given the planet’s slow rotation (which takes 58 days to rotate once on its axis), mining crews go out to the night-side, spend days harvesting ore, and then transport it back to Prokofiev, where it then processed and fired off into space.

After a few years of this miserable existence, Ward is approached by a faction from Mars. Known as the Formists, this well-connected and powerful faction has a very strong standing on Mars. And they have a problem. One of their prospectors, who was traveling to the Outer Colonies to investigate their resource extraction operations, has gone missing. Worse yet, this prospector apparently had “sensitive materials” on his person that the Formists don’t want falling into the wrong hands.

titan_surface
These materials, they claim, detail a plan to convert Mars into a livable environment over the next few generations. Consistent with the Formists long term plan to terraform Mars into a new Earth, they are hoping to expand their contracts with the Outer Colonies for the vast amounts of resources they will need to do so. If these plans are made public, they worry that one of the rival factions – the Dysonists, the Habitationists, Settlers or Seedlings – will try to take advantage.

In exchange for finding their colleague and obtaining this information, Ward will have his sentence reduced to time served. He is told that his experience as an investigator makes him well-suited to the task, as well as the contacts he made in the Outer Colonies during his many years of service. But of course, he knows the real reason why he was selected: as a convict, he will be well-motivated to get the job done, and will be less likely to ask questions.

His journey takes him from Mars, to Jupiter’s moons of Ganymede and Callisto, and eventually to Titan – Saturn’s largest moon and the last stop of the prospector before he disappeared. When he finally comes to the end of his investigation, what he finds is far more than he bargained for. Rather than simply being a case of kidnapping or a hate-crime perpetrated by angry Retros, the prospector’s disappearance is part of a conspiracy that goes right to the heart of the Formist’s agenda.

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More than that, it goes right to the heart of an ongoing struggle, one which humanity has been preoccupied with for over a century. For in the end, the issue of humanity’s long-term survival has not been settled. And the solution to this problem just might mean sacrificing the few to save the many. In the end, Ward will be faced with a terrible decision: expose the agenda and spend the rest of his life on the run, or complete his mission and let things fall where they may?

***Of course, I can’t say what the big “conspiracy” is, for that would be spoilers galore! But suffice it to say, I have that worked out and its where the story gets particularly detailed, and brings up a lot of the intricacies of terraforming and space colonization.***

So that’s the idea. How does it sound? I’m five chapters in and quite hopeful that it will turn out to be something “magnum opus-y”.

Retweeted by NASA and Inside Space!

Our watery Earth. Credit: NASA
Our watery Earth. Credit: NASA

Good news everyone! After about two months of working for Universe Today, it appears that some of what I say is actually being read by the big names in the bizz! It started three days ago when NASA Earth retweeted an article I wrote entitled “What Percentage of Earth is Water?“, which was part of UT’s Guide to Space section that deals with general knowledge questions about astronomy, geology, the universe, etc.

The second came yesterday when Inside Space retweeted an more recent article I did about the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, and how scientists anticipate that they will be able to view it for the first time in the near future. They were doing a list of the top ten recent news stories of space in recent days, and apparently, my story made the list (I was number 9).

All in all, it’s been a pretty cool week! 🙂

New Articles and Apologies

solar1Let’s start with the apologies. I’m very sorry for the prolonged absence of late, and I trust that people actually noticed I haven’t been around 😉 But both my day and my side job have both been very busy and have left me mentally and physically taxed by the end of the day. However, I do have things to show for it, mainly in the form of a new list of articles that were recently published on both Universe Today and HeroX.

I’ve taken to posting the new entries on their respective pages (over on the right there). However, if you’re like me, you don’t bother to check these out much and would rather be notified if something new is happening. And the way I see it, a post now and again that contains the links to all the latest is something people won’t mind hearing about (as opposed to being notified every time one does!)

So here they are, in order of publication:

  • Small Spacecraft Ejected from ISS Will Provide Same-Day, On-Demand Delivery – Basically, the ISS is getting a small fleet of return vehicles that will allow them to deliver samples back to Earth in less than 24 hours. This will help research and experiments quite a bit, and could also open the way for commercial use of the ISS’s National Lab.
  • Make a Deal for Land on the Moon – This one was not only fun to write, it contains a cautionary tale worth sharing. No matter what some realtors may tell you, there’s absolutely no way to buy land on the Moon… yet! However, given the way that commercial aerospace and space industries are heating up, this may soon change.
  • HeroX News: The Promise of Solar Power – This is probably the longest article I’ve written for either publication of late. It deals with recent innovations that are causing solar power to break its own the efficiency limits and usher in an age of renewable energy. And none too soon either!

First Article Published at Universe Today!

bigelow-expandable-activity-moduleHey all! Just wanted to let people know, my first article for Universe Today just went public. The subject of the article was the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, a new type of space habitat that is being shipped to the ISS next year. Researching and writing the article itself was not unusual for me. It’s pretty much what I do here every single day. However, the real fun came in speaking to NASA and Bigelow Aerospace themselves via phone and email.

Interviewing the people behind big ideas and technological innovation is something a humble blogger like myself doesn’t get to do!  While I’ve really enjoyed talking to luminaries like Andraka and Makosinski in the past, this was a first for me. Looking forward to doing more of it in the near future!

In any case, follow the link below to check it out and don’t forget to comment and Like us on Facebook… no pressure 😉

www.universetoday.com

Writing for HeroX and Universe Today!

good_news_farnsworthGood news, everyone! My services as a freelance writer were recently enlisted by the good folks who run HeroX and Universe Today. Thanks to my old friend and mentor, Fraser Cain (who consequently got me started in the indie publishing bizz), I’m going to be bringing the experience I’ve garnered writing my own blog to a more professional format – writing about space exploration, innovation and technological development.

As you can imagine, this means I’ll be doing less in the way of writing for this here website. But I promise I’ll still be around! After all, I’ve got lost more work to do on my stories, and there are always articles and headlines that need to be written about that I won’t get a chance to cover at those other sites. So rest assured, storiesbywilliams will be in operation for a long time to come.

XPRIZE_GooglePlus_Cover_2120x1192For those unfamiliar, HeroX is a spinoff of the XPRIZE Foundation, the non-profit organization that runs public competitions intended to encourage technological development and innovation. It’s directors includes such luminaries as Google’s Elon Musk and Larry Page, director James Cameron, author and columnist Arianna Huffington, and businessman/ philanthropist Ratan Tata, and more. In short, they are kind of a big deal!

Fraser Cain, founder of Universe Today, began HeroX as a way of combining the best of the XPRIZE with a crowdfunding platform similar to Kickstarter. Basically, the site brings together people with ideas for new inventions, finds the people with the talent and resources to make them happen, and funnels contributions and donations to them to bankroll their research and development.

big_bangUniverse Today, on the other hand, is kind of an old stomping ground for me. Years back, I did articles for them that dealt with a range of topics, including geology, natural science, physics, environmentalism, and astronomy. In both cases, I’ll be doing write ups on news items that involve technological development and innovation, and doing interviews with some of the people in the business.

If possible, I’ll try to link articles done for these sources to this page so people can check them out. And stay tuned for more updates on the upcoming release of Flash Forward, Oscar Mike, and my various other projects. Peace out!

The Future of Space: Smart, Stretchy, Skintight Spacesuits

biosuitSpacesuits have come a long way from their humble origins in the 1960s. But despite decades worth of innovation, the basic design remains the same – large, bulky, and limiting to the wearer’s range of movement. Hence why a number of researchers and scientists are looking to create suits that are snugger, more flexible, and more ergonomic. One such group hails from MIT, with a skin-tight design that’s sure to revolutionize the concept of spacesuits.

The team is led by Dava Newman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems at MIT who previewed her Biosuit – playfully described by some as a “spidersuit” – at the TEDWomen event, held in San Fransisco in December of 2013. Referred to as a “second skin” suit, the design incorporates flexible, lightweight material that is lined with “tiny, muscle-like coils.”

mit-shrink-wrap-spacesuitSpeaking of the challenges of spacesuit design, and her team’s new concept for one, Dava Newman had the following to say in an interview with MIT news:

With conventional spacesuits, you’re essentially in a balloon of gas that’s providing you with the necessary one-third of an atmosphere [of pressure,] to keep you alive in the vacuum of space. We want to achieve that same pressurization, but through mechanical counterpressure — applying the pressure directly to the skin, thus avoiding the gas pressure altogether. We combine passive elastics with active materials.

Granted, Newman’s design is the first form-fitting spacesuit concept to see the light of day. Back in the 1960’s, NASA began experimenting with a suit that was modeled on human skin, the result of which was the Space Activity Suit (SAS). Instead of an air-filled envelope, the SAS used a skin-tight rubber leotard that clung to astronaut like spandex, pressing in to protect the wearer from the vacuum of space by means of counter pressure.

SAS_spacesuitFor breathing, the suit had an inflatable bladder on the chest and the astronaut wore a simple helmet with an airtight ring seal to keep in pressure. This setup made for a much lighter, more flexible suit that was mechanically far simpler because the breathing system and a porous skin that removed the need for complex cooling systems. The snag with the SAS was that materials in the days of Apollo were much too primitive to make the design practical.

Little progress was made until Dava Newman and her team from MIT combined modern fabrics, computer modelling, and engineering techniques to produce the Biosuit. Though a far more practical counter-pressure suit than its predecessor, it was still plagued by one major drawback – the skintight apparatus was very difficult to put on. Solutions were proposed, such as a machine that would weave a new suit about the wearer when needed, but these were deemed impractical.

mit-shrink-wrap-spacesuit-0The new approach incorporates coils formed out of tightly packed, small-diameter springs made of a shape-memory alloy (SMA) into the suit fabric. Memory alloys are metals that can be bent or deformed, but when heated, return to their original shape. In this case, the nickel-titanium coils are formed into a tourniquet-like cuff that incorporates a length of heating wire. When a current is applied, the coil cinches up to provide the proper counter pressure needed for the Biosuit to work.

Bradley Holschuh, a post-doctorate in Newman’s lab, originally came up with the idea of a coil design. In the past, the big hurdle to second-skin spacesuits was how to get astronauts to squeeze in and out of the pressured, skintight suit. Holschuh’s breakthrough was to deploy shape-memory alloy as a technological end-around. To train the alloy, Holschuh wound raw SMA fiber into extremely tight coils and heated them to 450º C (842º F) to fashion an original or “trained” shape.

mit-shrink-wrap-spacesuit-3 When the coil cooled to room temperature, it could be stretched out, but when heated to 60º C (140º F), it shrank back into its original shape in what the MIT team compared to a self-closing buckle. As spokespersons from MIT explained:

The researchers rigged an array of coils to an elastic cuff, attaching each coil to a small thread linked to the cuff. They then attached leads to the coils’ opposite ends and applied a voltage, generating heat. Between 60 and 160 C, the coils contracted, pulling the attached threads, and tightening the cuff.

In order to maintain it without continually heating the coils, however, the team needs to come up with some sort of a catch that will lock the coils in place rather than relying on a continuous supply of electricity and needlessly heating up the suit – yet it will still have to be easy to unfasten. Once Newman and her team find a solution to this problem, their suit could find other applications here on Earth.

Image converted using ifftoanyAs Holschuh explained, the applications for this technology go beyond the spacesuit, with applications ranging from the militarized to the medical. But for the moment, the intended purpose is keeping astronauts safe and comfortable:

You could [also] use this as a tourniquet system if someone is bleeding out on the battlefield. If your suit happens to have sensors, it could tourniquet you in the event of injury without you even having to think about it… An integrated suit is exciting to think about to enhance human performance. We’re trying to keep our astronauts alive, safe, and mobile, but these designs are not just for use in space.

Considering the ambitious plans NASA and other government and private space agencies have for the near-future – exploring Mars, mining asteroids, building a settlement on the Moon, etc. – a next-generation spacesuit would certainly come in handy. With new launch systems and space capsules being introduced for just this purpose, it only makes sense that the most basic pieces of equipment get a refit as well.

And be sure to check out this video of Dava Newman showing her Biosuit at the TEDWomen conference last year:


Sources:
gizmag.com, motherboard.vice.com
, newsoffice.mit.edu