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Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

Hello friends and harsh critics. I have been busy the last few months and have not annoyed you that much. Now, I'm starting to come back. My goal is to commit to Mizal's call to action with a long (100k word plus) sci-fi epic. To motivate me, I'm posting my prologue here. It will be the first page of the story game, but isn't the start of the story. There will be a bit of background info first. Please read and give me feedback or criticism on it!

For starters, should I jump into the story first, or if this bit of information intriguing? The game is meant to follow actual science as close as possible (while fudging things to make it work) from the perspective of an actual aerospace engineer. With that in mind, let me know if this reads too boring.

***

Icarus was a star too far away from Earth to be seen, even with the assistance of a telescope. Nine billion light-years, that is how far Icarus was from our humble oasis of life in the Milky Way Galaxy. Yet we discovered Icarus because of gravitational lensing. A galaxy cluster bent the light from Icarus, like a space magnifying glass, and allowed us to study the furthest recorded star in the universe. Even then, light from that star was nine billion years old when it reached Earth. All we could study was a distant echo from the past of a star that was probably long dead.

Still, with humanity depleting Earth's resources like locusts, scientists turned to space for salvation. They created the Deucalion, an experimental deep-space vessel, and manned it with a crew designed to maximize humanities chance of survival in an unknown environment. You were put in charge of this band of survivalists as the captain. Life, or even an inhabitable planet, had yet to be discovered. Without a haven to send the Deucalion to, they used simple logic to pick a preset course for the ship. A spiral galaxy, which is the most likely galaxy formation to be capable of sustaining life, was selected. Also, there would be more chances to find an inhabitable planet on a longer voyage. Therefore, they took their chances and set a course for the furthest observed star--Icarus.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago
Commended by mizal on 11/18/2020 4:25:42 AM

A hard science CYOA through outer space could be very promising, though I have a few concerns, or at least things that need to be addressed.

The first is that voyaging through space in a tin can doesn't offer a lot of new territory to explore, within the confines of your environment. You can push buttons and cause havoc, or look at neat astral phenomena through the Superscope, but ultimately, the experience of actually traveling space is very linear. There are only a few major things you can do:

1. Talk to crew members and passengers to develop character. For a long time.
2. Drift through space on-course until you finally get there.
3. Cause havoc and drift through space off-course, dying either sooner or later.
4. Avoid space problems over and over, fix machine and handle crazy passengers.

It would take degrees of skill I couldn't put on paper to keep that interesting for 100,000 words. I'll assume there's going to be something to cut short the time of the journey itself. Either the mode of transportation involves a wormhole and everyone makes it to Icarus in their lifetime, or more likely there is some kind of cryosleep in use.

There's a bigger issue, though: why Icarus? It's nine billion light years away...we could explore much closer systems than that, which we've surely seen potentially habitable planets in. I haven't checked the NASA maps, but if Icarus is the furthest star in the observable universe, then any planet closer than it which could be habitable is a more reasonable choice to save the last of humanity.

If you go this route, I hope you have quite a lot of highly interesting forks available. You'll need to use all of them, from corrosive nebulas to computer mishaps and shady passenger sub-plots. I'm guessing you also plan on having planets along the way, which would be good. I'd suggest starting with a prologue of the journey where you could introduce the crew members "from a distance" as they're going into the ship. Then develop their personalities on the ship and get everyone into cryo. Have an automated thawing routine that wakes them up, then continue from the point of Icarus. There the player can choose planets to try, work on establishing and possibly maintaining a colony, and dealing with malignant native life. That could span 100k words and remain interesting. The "winning" scenarios should stop where everyone is ready to start settling, or just after they've settled -- I wouldn't go further than that.

One last thought, if you rely on having multiple planets to provide a lot of the story, be careful to avoid having each one follow the same formula, or be too skinny on options (a deep fork is much more satisfying than many relatively shallow ones). In any case, good luck and I hope this works out.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

Thank you for the response. You brought up a lot of great issues. Some of them I have thought about and some I have not.


The plan was to make a lot of choices available and utilize cryosleep. It's not exactly accurate, but my cryosleep was going to be a massive time-skip to the destination after choosing one of three options in the beginning: go to Icarus, explore space and stay awake, or return to earth. Returning to Earth would be a sort of post-apocalyptic survival with my own take on it. Going to Icarus would be exploring a few planets and colonizing one (hoping to have successful colonization vary based on choice with each planet being different). Exploring space would be a lot of mishaps in space without ever colonizing a planet. We don't have another habitable planet that's accessible very close to us. A lot of this would be choices on what type of thrust to use, where to go, and what to observe.

Actually, there isn't really a place where it's likely to find a habitable planet from the parts of the universe we can observe well. Part of going so far away is to stretch reality. The new galaxy would be so far that I could make up whatever and still be in the realm of possiblity. Of course, I have to break other parts of reality to get there. Even in Cryosleep people wouldn't last that long, but I thought it would be a small price to break that rule for the excitement of exploring a galaxy so far away that we can't observe anything about it from here. There are closer galaxies that have similar qualities (like that we can't see what's happening there), but I thougy this concept of going to the edge of the known universe would be fun.

I think there is a misunderstanding about the possibility of habitable planets (not trying to bash you, just in general). It's more complicated than "every star has a "habitable band around it. Any planet in that band could support life!" You have to factor in a lot of things. Size of the orbit, size of the star, distance to the next closest star, size of the planet, spin of the planet, etc. Perhaps I am over thinking this, but to me, exploring the next galaxy over has too little of a chance of success based on real scientific evidence. If breaking that logic would be more appealing than a 9-billion light-year time skip (less if you account for relativity), then I can certainly change my destination and prologue without a problem.

Also, I was going to try to come up with a realistic passive sensor that could wake you up if a habitable planet was detected along the route (as well as avoid flying into a star, planet, or black hole). Therefore, setting the course for as long a distance as possible increased the chances of finding something, even if it was well before the final destination. This would be a sort of catch all excuse to automatically wake up near a habitable planet without haveing yo be fussy about where it is. 

I guess let me know. Most of my story doesn't have to change if the destination changes because I'm making the planets themselves up.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago
Commended by mizal on 11/18/2020 4:25:35 AM

Really cool, looking forward to this. Though choosing the furthest star put me immediately off. Since you are talking about earth, I take it that humans are not a galaxy spanning civilization, so I expect the technology level to not to far ahead of today. There must be one of the 100 billion stars in the milky way that is a more attractive target.

Of course everything depends on technology: Probably the most important thing in SciFi, is to decide what exists and what not early and then work out the consequences. (Alan Garner calls that the "What If Corral") One way out of the above would be if you have a technology where distances don't matter. Perhaps there is a mode of transportation that can get you to any place in about the same time, but humanity has only resources for a single shot. Then it would make sense to establish a second base as far as possible away.

If you want to go less far out in terms of technology here are some thoughts: To make any interstellar travel a thing you need a good source of thrust. Once we got thrust sorted out our crew needs to survive the acceleration. Unless you have artificial gravity technology (which is a big big big step beyond current technology) the likely choice is to accelerate with 1g for have the flight then break with one 1g for the rest of the flight, which has the benefit of giving you de-facto terran gravity on the ship.

Now here is some math: Suppose we want to travel a distance d by accelerating to the midpoint with acceleration 'a' and then breaking with acceleration 'a'. The total time needed will be twice the time needed to the midpoint. So we can ask how long do we need to accelerate with acceleration a to cover the distance d/2?

If we accelerate with 'a' the the velocity at time t is v(t)=at and the distance covered is s(t)=at^2/2 . We can now solve for t which gives us t=sqrt(2s/a). Now recall our acceleration is a=1g, the distance is d/2 and we actually need twice the time because the braking phase will take as long as the acceleration phase. So in summary the time needed for the trip is 'T=2 sqrt(d/1g).

So here are some travel times:

  • Alpha Centauri: d=4.367ly, Time needed: 4 years
  • Barnard's Star: d=5.9ly, Travel time 4.8 years
  • Cassiopaia (most distant visible star) d=4000 ly, Travel time: 123 years
  • Icarus d=9 billion ly, Travel time: 183917 years

Note that we actually seem to be travelling faster than light during these flights. Don't we have to take relativity into account? My PhD in Physics says you can do the calculation in this way and the result is the correct travel time experienced by the travelers. Relativity comes into play if we want to ask how much time passes on earth during the trip. The answer for Icarus is unsurprisingly that 9 billion years pass on earth before the travelers arrive on Icarus.

Regarding the writing: I would avoid long exposition at the start. Rather depict normal life of the travelers and reveal the necessary information that the reader really needs through their conversations.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

I love this post. You have indeed found some flaws with my plan. Relativity was going to be taken into account on a basic level to explain away some of the travel time. The rest was going to be hand waved away. Basically, I'm stretching the limits on cryosleep and what it can do to get there with a time-skip. The thrust on the ship comes from three possible sources: Solar sails, ionic thrusters in deep space, while rocket boosters are available for landing only. This gives an infinite source of thrust if there is light, higher thrust as long as you don't exhaust all of the xenon gas, and a one time landing when you pick a destination. There is no artificial gravity, but the thrust shouldn't be enough to make lethal accelerations. These are low thrust devices.

The intro might be too boring. I was worried about that. The prologue was supposed to just lay the premise without being so boring everyone quit reading. My actual plot starts with interactions between three awake crew members. Thirty other people are already in cryosleep only to wake up after you pick a planet to colonize. I wanted to avoid introducing too many characters right at the start, but it seems like I should now. I can adjust.

I can also pick a closer target to avoid having to stretch cryosleep so far. However, I'm not sure that there is a great candidate in the Milky Way Galaxy. A galaxy is a huge area, so there are definitely ways to fudge some sort of undiscovered habitable planet, but we haven't found a planet that humans could drop down on and just live yet. Terraforming was not a planned part of this because I'm not sure I could make that believable.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago
Kind of just repeating what was already said, but it's a stretch that a star in another galaxy would be the goal of the typical 'find a new planet because Earth sucks' type of plot when there's much closer possibilities we already know about, besides the possibilities of Mars itself right next door.

I just went and read a little about Icarus, and that's all pretty fascinating. But if you could come up with a different reason for the trip itself (privately funded ship and a grand experiment?) that would remove the thing that's likely going to trip a lot of readers right out of the gate. It'd be interesting exploring the psychology of such a crew. I imagine a mix of dreamers with impossibly big ideas about the future of humanity and exploration for it's own sake, and people recognizing they're on a suicide mission and leaving everything they cared about behind forever, but who still signed up for their own reasons.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

A private exploration/colonization team might be more fun. It would axe my "go back to Earth" branch, but that was probably the least exciting one anyway. I'm not sure that there is a great place to choose to move humanity to, since no other planet have have studied is habitibale as is, but I can also switch my target location.

My reasoning is listed in the above posts for what I was going to do, so I won't rehash everything, but you are right about the crew. So far it's just three people, but there is going to be an optimist and pessimist that argue about if this is a suicide mission or not. The plan was for one of them to want to go back to Earth (a more practical engineer), while one wants to go into cryosleep and wake up at a new destination to find a planet to colonize (a doctor who is more of a dreamer). I'm hoping to make the main character lean one way or the other based on previous choices, but I'm not quite sure how that will work out yet. 

Thank you for the input! I'll readjust the plan a bit to see if I can come up with something that keeps the same mystery/exploration while being more realistic. Let me know if you have any other thoughts.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago
I enjoyed the introduction up to this point. Although, as a first page, it felt real short. Where the previous section breathed life in your universe, evoking wonder and eagerness of exploration, this section feels like a sum of facts.

"You were put in charge of this band of survivalists as the captain. Life, or even an inhabitable planet, had yet to be discovered. Without a haven to send the Deucalion to, they used simple logic to pick a preset course for the ship. A spiral galaxy, which is the most likely galaxy formation to be capable of sustaining life, was selected. Also, there would be more chances to find an inhabitable planet on a longer voyage. Therefore, they took their chances and set a course for the furthest observed star--Icarus."

I get you wanting to use desperation to jumpstart the story, but this paragraph only details the cold reasoning behind, as others have pointed out, a suboptimal solution. It doesn't add crucial new information and doesn't make me imagine an interesting situation.

Now, and apologies if I'm rewriting your entire story, as others have pointed out the billion years travel time as a serious drawback, you could turn it around as a serious benefit. If there's an active threat against humanity, scouring the galaxy for signs of life, a ship traveling the black void in between the stars would both be practically invisible and act like a time-capsule, safekeeping the human race in case other plans of survival go awry. Nine billion years would be enough for a serious change in the situation, giving humanity a second chance. This threat could be an AI singularity gone rogue, alien contact, parasites, or something more Lovecraftian, depending on what kind of sci-fi/fantasy (Sent!) you want.

In any case, the ship itself would be quite huge as it's intended for colonisation. I imagine it to be more akin to a small city than a more typical star-wars transport with only a dozen crew. A small city is enough to offer a real personality and mystery. It could possibly even offer a horror experience like Pandorum, or a creepy love story like Passengers. You have the setting, and it'll be up to you what kind of plot you want to incorporate in it.

In the end, it'll be quite interesting to see how you'll implement the balance between skeleton crew and cryosleep. Unless you want some sort of FTL travel, this voyage will span many generations, necessitating either a large human reserve to wake up for crew duties or some sort of developing human society.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

No suggestions are bad right now. The story is still early in the process. Even my planning phase is not complete yet. I appreciate the breakdown of my first page. I can expand it and try to maintain the sense of wonder and adventure throughout. Maybe I can bring in the crew to add to that. This was originally planned to be a list of facts to give the reader a starting point before the story even begins. Perhaps I'm being lazy, but I didn't want to have to describe the ship, objective, etc in the actual story. This was the info dump at the begging before jumping to the action. As per usual, that doesn't seem to go over well.

I like your ideas to explain why they might go so far. Maybe there are ships sent to different locations and this one is the long-term/last-chance ship sent to a less than optimal location. My intention was to not have aliens (or an AI or whatever) attacking Earth or anything, but it could be easily added. 
 

The plot was going to change a bit depending on choices. It is a massive ship, but the design is for mostly cryosleep and having what they need to travel a long distance. My cryosleep was going to be exaggerated in its effectiveness. Most of the plot is not about life on the ship, but that can be easily added. There is a branch that was the "just explore space" branch where I can have them wake up the crew and start city life on an enclosed ship. My original idea was to have 30 people (33 if you decide to put the active crew into cryosleep) in cryo sleep that woke up once the ship arrived at a predetermined destination. This would allow me to focus on colonizing rather than traveling for one major branch. I might incorporate some of your ideas in one branch, while leaving another branch more to my plan.

l'll do more research into closer targets that could have habitable planets. I need a location that is largely unknown to work in realistic fantasy, but there should be some closer options. The better we can look at any area in space, the more likely we have determined a reason that life can't be supported there. Space is a pretty... uninviting place. The goal was to go so far away that I could begin to fill in gaps with logical/possible solutions that made things work for my travelers. I would rather stretch my travel times and the possibility of making it somewhere then pick a place that someone could look at with a telescope and determine it's not possible because of X to keep the sense of mystery and wonder, if that makes sense. 
 

Oh, I also have my crew and ship description if people would be interested in looking at them and picking them apart. I'm new to writing sci-fi, so I don't know what will be acceptable to readers and what won't. These two options are very much a list of facts that are given as an option off of the first page. You can skip them and go right into the story, but they tell you what's on the ship and what the crew is like.

 

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago
It may be my peculiar taste, but I think the info dump to start a story gets an unreasonable amount of hate. After all, what storyteller did not start at the campfire with some infodump like this:

"Gather 'round, and allow me to tell the story of a man searching for a new place along the stars. Driven away by devastation and an existential threat, he entered..."

Because that's essentially the part of your introduction I enjoyed. It set the mood and built up a world to get lost in. As long as your information dump builds up the mood and either character or setting, there's nothing wrong with it. In any case, I enjoy that more than seeing writers twist themselves and their story in weird turns to follow the dogma of 'show, don't tell' blindly. Of course, this first sketch of the world should be separate and shouldn't replace the more lively descriptions of the ship itself as those'll be the actual surroundings of your characters.

Going more in-depth into the cryosleep. My question would be mostly about the ship itself necessitating an active crew. 9 billion years, or 90 million lifetimes, is a hell of a long time. What machinery has a life expectancy of that long? Random malfunctions in the drives, life-support, sensors, generators, or even automatic repair systems all are more than likely to occur, maybe even slow accumulation of damage due to dust eventually tears at the hull. Even if you bring hundreds of thousands of 'sleepers' along for the eventual colonisation, randomly drawing lots to wake three people each 100 years to monitor critical functions, you'll still be several million lifetimes of work short. Of course, you could handwave it away with several automatic processes or intelligence that are failsafe if you really don't feel dealing with that.

If that's the case, and you just want to deal with the damned ship arriving instead of the earlier voyage, you could always simply skip it, starting the story with a disorientated captain waking up in another galaxy, several billion years of rot and cold eating away at his memories and his vessel.

Because, yeah, if you want hard science fiction, with everything based on real-life facts as much as possible, a lot of creativity is taken away. If you want more freedom to present exotic systems with multiple possible habitable planets (who are all uniquely suited to colonisation in a way that's not simply a choice between volcanic rock or ice rock), you'll be stuck with that long voyage.

And hey, if you want more feedback, I'll be happy to provide it. Sci-fi is uniquely difficult to write as it balances real-life facts and theories and creative freedom to tell a story. It differs from fantasy as you can't throw up a smokescreen of mystical origins and magic, especially if you want the sci-fi as hard as you want. But, of course, we can't all be an expert in every field, requiring either shortcuts and research, or lots of feedback.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago
Pfft, sci fi is easy.

First, you put on your nano robe and laser hat....

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

Yes, I was planning on having the characters go into the observable details. What the rooms look like and such. This information part is just to cover big picture things that don't come up in natural conversation, like what types of thrusters does this ship have? I don't want to go back to show people deciding to send the ship into space, and I don't want a dry conversation about "Why they sent us into space" because it seems like something the crew wouldn't need to discuss. I'll see if I can find the correct balance.
 

This is another flaw I was hoping to just hand wave away. People don't seem to ask questions like "when do they go to the bathroom? The author never shows the main character peeing!" Likewise, I was hoping readers just didn't ask, "What about routine maintence of the systems and parts!" Perhaps that was too much of a stretch. Everything would fail at least once over that long of a time. Again, my magical time skip was intended to bypass this and focus elsewhere. Of course, a shorter trip might be more doable/believeable without maintence. The active crew could also be away for, let's say, a thirty year voyage to maintain the colonists. At that point, they could die off or just be "the elders."

I considered this, but I want to have the choice for a space exploration branch. My thought was that it could be fun. I'll see if I can make both work, or I can narrow my scope to protect believeability.

Exactly, the long voyage seems like the best way to shed a lot of science without breaking its laws. I can create a new galaxy that happens to be perfect without and evidence to refute it. That was the logic anyway.

i would love more feedback. Maybe I'll post the other segments of info after work for feedback. My break isn't long enough to copy it all over. Any tips, criticisms, thoughts, or observations will be appreciated and considered.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

My two cents... which probably overlaps with some of the feedback already provided.

What you have written so far is more the premise of a story than an introduction, which is fine. But before you proceed much farther I think you need to answer a few questions to your own satisfaction about what this story is going to be:

1 - "Hard sci-fi" or "space fantasy"?

If you are going for something like "hard science fiction," then yes 9 billion lightyear thing is working too hard to impress your readers. In reality, traveling within our own solar system would be difficult. In theory, we could send a probe the size of a basketball to the next nearest star with today's technology, and get results back in 40 years or so. Getting a full-sized, crewed ship into interstellar space would require amazing technological feats, and there is no way around the fact that the speed of light is a hard, inviolable ceiling... no way around it in this universe.

Also, the current science suggests that (a) Earth-type planets represent a fine balancing act in terms of size, stable orbits, and right-sized stars; and (b) even if life is common in the universe, most of it is probably microbial. Indeed, life on Earth was nothing but microbe for over a billion years, and the vibrant biome we had today required a long string of amazing achievements: cells and mitochondria merging, cells merging into multicelluar organisms, development of DNA, development of organs and basic body plans, etc. etc. Had certain environmental events not occurred, such as the oxygenation of the Earth's atmosphere, then life might have been permanently arrested in the microbial stage. Or if any of these developments had occurred differently, the results on all subsequent evolution would've been profound.

So if you want to do "hard sci-fi," there is a lot of literature on all this; adding a factual background can add a level of believability, and this is what "science fiction" was intended to be anyway.

If you're more inclined to write a Star Wars style "space fantasy," that's fine too. Just be upfront about it. And in this case, your only limits are your imagination.

2 - Is your story about the "Big Idea" or the characters?

Lots of sci-fi stories begin with the "big idea," which is whatever plot device the story revolves around. Then the story itself is populated with whatever archetypal characters are required to execute that plot: the scientist, the soldier, the government functionary, the boy genius who cracks the code, etc.

The alternative is to imagine the future as a lived-in environment that matters to the people who inhabit it. In this case, you begin with the characters and their personal motivations; the "world" is revealed organically as they interact with it.

3 - Is this about the journey or the destination?

From what I've read so far, it looks like your story begins on a ship, but the destination planet is where all the stuff happens. Not that this is a "hard" rule, but my advice is this: if the action happens on the planet, then begin there. An exception might be if the crew of the ship is highly anxious about what they're going to find when they arrive. Otherwise (and speaking just for myself) long prologues bore me; I find them pretentious and off-putting. A good story opens with a problem/situation that requires resolution. Having the details of this fictional universe (i.e. how it is governed, who lives there, how the tech works, etc.) explained to me upfront in a block of exposition strikes me as bad writing, in a way that transcends issues of grammar and spelling.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

I very much appreciate this advice as well! My story is barely started, so I'm going for early feedback before I'm halfway through and have to change everything.

1. I'm going for hard science fiction. Something that blends real-life possibilities with a touch of fiction to make it work. This is not starwars. There won't be laser guns and jet packs and hyper-space jumps. Even trips through black holes and wormholes are going to be avoided if I can. Perhaps a wormhole will be fun to include if they accidentally get caught in one, but some kind of calculated worm hole jump is beyond what we can manage. 

The plan was to use some existing technology, but perhaps have it work better than what we can currently do. Solar sails and ionic thrust are proven on a concept level. They are hardly used now, and certainly not for manned flights yet. They also only work in deep space situations because they can't overcome gravity. Since I'm starting in deep space (with the systems already built), they should be able to function in a realistic way. They won't be able to do starwars type maneuvers, but this isn't a space dogfight. It's a simplified slow voyage in hypersleep. Again, my cryosleep works better than it should. It's based on real life technology, but I take out the real life to jump to a time skip. As stated before, I can lessen the time skip with a closer destination without too much issue.

Yes, life supporting planets are not easy to find. There is a lot of debate over the habitable zone. This is why I wanted to go to an area that can't be studied. The galaxy could look like whatever I want. As I'm sure you are aware, any choice in our galaxy for a "habitable planet" could be heavily refuted based on a lot of things. Of course, I could also pull the facts and arguments for why these known plants could possibly support life to lend credibility. There are a lot of uncertainties and probabilities that I could twist in my favor. It's something I have to look into more if I'm going to pick a planet to go to from NASAs list of planets in the habitable zone. What life will be like there also might have to vary greatly based on  what the environment is thought to be like on any given planet. My plan was to take all of this into account to use facts woven into my fiction to create a believable experience based on reality. Again, I might stretch some truths, but I don't want to just break all of the laws of physics and such.
 

2. I want to focus on the characters, and their experience in space or on a new planet. The goal is to make the reader feel as though they are searching for humanities new home through the eyes of relatable characters. That will be a challenge by itself. My science and data just has to be good enough to hold the world together and make it believeable or plausible.

3. My goal was to give readers a choice here. Do you want a space adventure focused on the journey, or a colonization story on a new planet? The time skip could happen early to give the latter, or they can stay on the ship and fly around knowing that they can't ever reach their final destination. A third branch was going to include going back to Earth and experiencing the collapse of society. Perhaps showing up after that and living on a desolate and destroyed version of Earth. Basically, I wanted both of these concepts to be two main branches of the story the reader chooses between. It sounds like a lot, but that's why it's planned to be a big story. 

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

Okay, here is the ship explanation. Again, this is more info dump than part of the story:

This experimental vessel was named after a greek myth similar to Noah's Ark. It looks like a giant cylindrical drum with a small cone on the top. Crew members were each built a living space in the cone at the front of the ship, which also contains a biodome with edible living plants and running water. These plants serve as food and an oxygen source to reduce the draw on stored oxygen. All of the water on the ship (yes, including waste) is collected and reused through an enhanced Sabatier system that recycles oxygen from water using electrolysis.The cylinder part of the ship is a large tank that contains oxygen, water, and Xenon gas. This part of the ship was designed just to hold large amounts of those precious resources. The exterior is covered in solar panels to recharge the ship's batteries whenever light is present.


The Deucalion is capable of traveling long distances in deep space, utilizing two separate propulsion systems. Firstly, a solar sail was attached to capture the sunlight from nearby stars and slowly propel or steer the ship. This requires no fuel or resources to run; however, it is a giant, thin structure that is easily damaged by space debris. Essentially, it is a 2,500 ft square mirror assembly that is retractable and made from aluminized Mylar. Putting it up will slowly accelerate (or decelerate) the ship as long light is reflecting off of it. Secondly, there is an ion thruster on the back of your ship. This uses electricity and Xenon gas to create propulsion. Xenon gas is stored in a highly compressed state, since it is inert, and charged by the electricity before being accelerated out of the ship by a magnetic force. Generating a small thrust that can't overcome gravitational forces, ionic thrusters are highly efficient and use very little fuel to operate. There is a limit to how much Xenon is on the ship, so there is not an unlimited amount of ionic thrust available.

Of course, neither propulsion system can be used outside of deep space due to the low thrust generated. There are rockets and rocket fuel aboard the ship; however, to use these the cylindrical part of the ship that stores your extra air, water, and Xenon must be jettisoned. Once that part of the ship is gone, deep space travel is no longer possible. The cone is designed to land on a planet one time and is not suited for traveling very far on its own or reentering space.

***
Crew information dump is below:

Staffing the crew presented an interesting challenge. Having fewer people meant that there was a higher chance of surviving the trip to the Deucalion's eventual destination since every person would require food, air, and space. However, a small population had a lower chance to repopulate humanity once the vessel found a new home. Of course, the rapid development of TorporPods™, a suspended animation device, solved this problem.

Your crew includes ten adult men, ten adult women, five female children, and five male children that are in a hibernation-like state known as Torpor. This state was induced by a mix of drugs that was described only as proprietary. Their bodies are kept in a heated room the size of your bedroom. If the room loses power, even momentarily, an emergency system will activate to inject everyone with a reversal drug to wake them. There is no way to put people back into Torpor, and your resources are not meant to sustain the full crew for a long trip. Waking the crew will force you to land to resupply within a few weeks.

Gregory, Tilly, and yourself are the only crew members awake on the ship. Tilly is an engineer who is highly knowledgable about anything electrically or technology-based but very little else. She performs maintenance and takes care of the ships critical systems. Gregory is a medical doctor and hobby gardener. He can perform complex medical procedures and prune hydrangeas at the same time: you've seen him do it. His job is to maintain the health of the entire crew and tend to the food supply. Lastly, you are awake to make sure the ship operates smoothly until it reaches its destination. There are three extra TorporPods™ available, should you decide to use them.

You can put everyone in Torpor if you set the ship to autopilot. The autopilot wake everyone up once you reach the destination you set. There is no way to change your course during that time, and you will seem to instantaneously reach your end destination.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

I think this is all well and good, but it's a terrible bore to read. Meant, of course, as constructive criticism:

For instance: I'm a life-long Star Trek fan, but even though I've seen every episode of every TV series, I haven't the slightest clue how the Enterprise flies through space. I know the ship is equipped with an impulse drive for sublight travel, and that the warp drive powers the FTL travel. The latter involves dilithium crystals and antimatter. In the franchise's 55 years or so, this is all anyone really cares to know about how the technology works.

The transporter beams are an even bigger mystery: they convert matter to energy and back again, and Heisenberg Compensators are involved somehow.

The functioning of a tricorder has never been explained. They just somehow provide lots of information, and tell you which direction the life signs are.

My point is that the technology is not the story; it's just the backdrop to the story. And to the extent I know anything at all about how the Enterprise operates, it's because that particular item played a role in the story at hand. A character didn't just stop in his tracks, face the camera, and give a 10-minute dissertation on how Starfleet recycles water aboard its flagship.

I'm not trying to discourage you from pursuing this story; I just think you're worrying about the wrong things. This passage tells me you've spent some time thinking about the environment of your story, which is great. But if the propulsion, autopilot, and water reclamation systems aren't vital to the story, then it's not information that I as the reader needs to know. Some people might disagree, but I genuinely regard infodumps as an assault against good storytelling; if you must do it, then this better be the most awesome infodump of all time. Otherwise you're simply committing the sin of telling instead of showing.

What interests me more is the story itself. You've hinted at it throughout this thread, and the premise sounds really intriguing. But it's the technical aspects of how the ship works on which you've been asking for feedback. I think it's great that you're keeping these details in sight. However, it's the human story that attracts me, not the technical specifications of the ship.

I encountered a similar issue in my "Eyes" story; I had a character on one planet who wanted desperately to get to another, and this at one point required me to describe her mode of transportation. So I made her cargo pod a character of sorts; she recalled how her father had acquired it at auction, how she had practiced for her pilot's license in it, and how one of employees had left his marks all over it. What I was trying to do was describe the ship not as the Omniscient Narrator, but has the main character saw it herself.

As far as your other ideas, I think the decision to write some hard sci-fi is awesome. Ultimately, though, the realities of interstellar travel are so daunting that you ought to allow yourself a few liberties. Maybe push the time farther into the future, mention a few technologies that may or may not ever exist — a time-honored tradition in even the best sci-fi.

Relying on technology currently available or theoretically possible, travel between stars is so difficult as to be prohibitive. Even an unmanned probe would have to be tiny and self-sufficient; once it reaches, say, Alpha Centauri the probe can't wait 8 years for an instruction from NASA on how to dodge an asteroid (4 years to transmit its signal back to Earth, 4 more years to receive the response). The probe would have to be equipped with an AI to deal with these scanrios on its own, and yet it would have to be tiny in order to reach high speeds with minimal energy. (Nevertheless, I've read if we lauch such a probe today, we might get useful data from it in about 40 years.)

For space travel, mass is an issue. Never mind the problems of escaping Earth's gravity. Even for travel within the solar system, mass is a major issue: the bigger your vessel, the more energy is required to move it — and stop it. To the best of my knowledge, NASA's interplanetary probes only have manuevering thrusters, used for making minor adjustments. There are no thrusters for propulsion. They build speed by making elliptical orbits around the Earth, building up more and more speed with each pass until they slingshot off into space. Deceleration is also an issue at the destination; a probe traveling at interplanetary speeds might overshoot Mars if it didn't use the planet's gravity to reduce its speed.

(If there are any JPL employees following this thread, please correct me!)

So, using your premise of a city-sized ship traveling between stars using technology that is already theoretically possible, the trip would be extraordinarily long even over a span of a few lightyears. And it would require an enormous expenditure of resources.

Someone else provided some math equations that supposedly prove you can travel 4 lightyears in slightly less time, thanks to relativity. I have no comment, except that I doubt these figures include time for acceleration and deceleration.

For instance, if your ship instantly jumped to near light speeds, the Newtonian laws of motion mean your biological passengers would be reduced to a gooey smear on the rear bulkhead. (The Enterprise is equipped with "inertial dampeners" to counter this problem.) Therefore you'd need to accelerate gradually… and that alone could take decades. Once you reach the other planetary system, you then need to decelerate gradually for the same reasons.

A smaller ship would be faster, and thus Interstellar had a crew of 4 people augmented by all those frozen embryos. Years ago I read a really cool story about an interplanetary ship whose voyage was about 300 years long; all of the passengers were embryos, and they were raised by robots once they reached the destination planet. (During that 300 years, humanity discovered FTL travel, and so the mission was obsolete before the embryos were ever born.)

So if you want to go with the city-ship idea, it might be better to gloss over some of the technical aspects of how this ship got where it did, and focus more on the human reaction of being far from your origins and having your entire hope for the future being predicated on a complete unknown. That story idea — heading to the unknown planet, with no way of turning back — is a great story premise, and it's this I want to know more about.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

I agree and appreciate the feedback! This was all going to be optional information for those who like to know everything. Some of the items would come into play on certain paths. The story itself will not include any of these details until they become necessary (like if you want to change the direction of the ship). Putting things a bit in the future and making up some technology would be fun. Several problems disappear, and I could base these future technologies off of the existing theoretical ones. I'll work on it.

This thread generated a lot of questions about the technology and such, so I'm answering them. The story will be more about the people. Obviously, the people will use this technology, but the focus of the story is their journey. I do struggle with what I feel are conflicting responses. Not anything against you or anyone in particular, but it's confusing when the comments include "well how will the machinery not break down? What is a system fails? You don't even describe the backup systems!" (Not a real comment just the spirit of them) and also say things like "no one wants to read about how the machine works! All that matters is the journey through space. We don't care how the engine works." I do understand both sets of comments, just pointing out something I think is ironic. I'll work on focusing on what matters and covering my basis for the important scientific facts that impact the story.

Maybe I'll start the story with them waking up from cryosleep somewhere in deep space and allow the reader to choose between becoming a star voyager that travels through space or finding a planet to colonize. I can also pair down the information given about systems and just focus on making them sound realistic with no explanation of how they work to make it seem plausible without getting boring. Then I can focus on that story using science to back up things when necessary. Perhaps something like a hundred years in the future will be enough time for rapid development of some systems without an overwhelming star trek type of technological jump. 100 years is a long time in terms of technology...

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago
A real short comment before I go to bed. Most of the contradictions in people's wishes are part of the genre you're writing in.

Science fiction is an extensive topic with countless subgenres. Some enthusiasts focus more on futuristic technology; others want to focus more on psychology and sociology under alien circumstances. Each group demands and seeks something wholly different, which eventually led to the delicate split of hard- and soft sci-fi. Then there's a whole slew of other subgenres, but they're not particularly relevant right now (unless you want other sources to shamelessly steal from/ draw inspiration).

Your previous mentions leaned more towards the hard side, emphasizing and stretching current (theoretical) scientific fields and technologies in a mental exercise to see how an intergalactic colony mission would look like in the near future under your set parameters. A hard sci-fi fan will then look towards your ideas expecting everything to be as airtight and realistic as possible. They would want to read your story and think, "Hey, I see that working, and it would be really cool. This author is smart!"
The soft sci-fi fan will then be put off by too much technical mumbo jumbo and would want the narrator's lens to be more focused on the crew and their psychology and relations, even more on what kind of society forms in their destination.

Of course, if the writing and theme are good enough, both will eventually enjoy the story. While everyone has preferences, and you could probably guess mine, nobody is pigheaded to stick to only a single genre. There's also nobody stopping you from mixing different genres. Hell, mixing styles, fields, and genres is what all the greats have been doing in literature, music, cinematography, sports, science, and all other forms of expression.

I guess I shouldn't start typing short responses expecting them to remain short.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

True. One story can't please everyone. I'm still leaning towards hard sci-fi, but I'm realizing that blending in some cool futuristic tech might help with what I want to do. A blend might be what I end up with. Ultimately, it will be what I think is interesting. Everyone's opinions are giving me things to think about that I haven't yet though. I like being challenged on some of these things.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago
I didn't think the infodump was too daunting, everything in it could probably be broken up into dialogue or given in bits and pieces while exploring the ship.

But yes I think the problem is going to come down to locking himself into into hard sci fi with believable tech on such an impossible long shot scenario. The mission seems doomed from the beginning, and it hardly seems like a future of humanity thing or a possibility of a viable colony even in a best case scenario with only thirty people on board.

I'd save realism for something like colonizing Mars. Going off into the great unknown where anything can happen might need a little more room for wonder and magic. But then it's hard to say anything definite without knowing more of what's planned for the journey. I just hope some really excellent characters and potential conflict are planned, and that the game is realistic about how unlikely it is for any of them to survive it.

This whole topic has led to some really fascinating discussion though.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

Yeah, the information is all dumped now, but I'm hoping to work it into the story naturally when it is actually used. People can skip these pages without consequence if they want. That's the idea anyway. I'll take a harder look at what I want to do in terms of realism vs impossible journey with future tech.

It has been good. I've also picked up a lot to think about and consider before I launch into my story. Hopefully, I can make something that blends reality and fiction to make a compelling journey to add to the sci-fi section.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

For fun, I thought I'd share the results of a bit of research and stylistic changes. I've been researching plants that are on NASAs list of potentially habitable planets, and decided to choose between a few of these for my colonization branches. Here is what I had so far:

Luyten B - This is probably the most likely planet to actually be habitable. It's estimated to be very Earth like in many ways. The big stats are that it is only three times heavier than earth (sorry people concerned about weight, but you will weigh roughly three times more here), has a similar surface temperature, and receives similar amounts of radiation/sunlight. This one is only 12.4 light years away (an improvement from 9 billion...) I plan to make this the best choice for colonizing the planet similar to a new Earth.

Proxima Centauri B - This is just the closest on the list to Earth at only 4.2 light years. Chances are this one is tidally locked and exposed to 2,000 times the solar wind and radiation of Earth. Not much is actually known about it, but survival would only be likely in small regions where the extreme hot and extreme cold faces of the planet meet. Even then, it would need a strong magnetic field to protect it from solar flares. Life might also have to exist underground because of the radiation on the surface. All in all, it's just a planet roughly 1.5-2 times the mass of Earth that is close and might be barely survivable. This choice will be a challenge to build a colony on, and will force the reader to build some kind of underground sheltered society along what's called the "terminator line."

Gliese 833 C - At 16 light years away, and not very survivable from what I'm reading, this one may get cut. It has something like 5.5 times the mass of Earth and might be more like Venus than Earth. What keeps it on the list is that it sees nearly the same amount of radiation and sunlight (starlight technically) as Earth. This one is also likely tidally locked. What's different and fun about this one is that it is a mini Neptune! That means that it has a thick hydrogen-helium atmosphere like a gas giant (but smaller). It would be an interesting take on my survival scenario because it would be so different from Earth. Again, you would have to choose to go further with less of a chance for success in order to even select this one compared to the other two, so it may get axed.

My new plan is to make these two or three planets the "logical choices." The mission is going to be switched from humanities last chance of survival to a billionaires pet project. He wants to colonize Icarus and hired a crew to give up their lives and go there in exchange for compensating the crew's family for their entire lives.

Shortly after getting into space, the crew will realize that the chances of making it to Icarus without the ship failing are basically zero. They talk about changing the destination to a planet that could be habitable and allow them to survive the journey (one of the above) since their sponsor can't communicate with them or check to make sure they are actually doing what he wants. Another idea that gets thrown out is simply wandering through space on this billionaires dime. The reader can choose the destination they want to go to between a more soft sci-fi at Icarus, hard sci-fi surviving one of the possibly habitable planets, or flying around space in a more middle ground exploration story. 

No one branch will be 100K words, but I think this gives me plenty to have some large and vastly different branches. I'm still working out details like what the crew will look like and what the plan for colonization is. I like the idea of a small-medium sized group of people in cryosleep, but I struggle with what to do with them on the space exploration branch (jettison? Wake them all up to enjoy it?). Perhaps the ship can have a bigger garden to allow them to build their ship into a city with its own conflicts and issues...

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

Many of the best worlds might not have been spotted yet, or may not ever be seen using the exoplanet-spotting techniques available to us. Also, a lot of the planets we have spotted have all turned out to be gas giants, which might have habitable moons.

I found this to be an interesting read.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

True, a lot of these planets listed have never even been "seen." They make a lot of assumptions based on what little data they have, so the predictions could be off by a bit. There could also be a better planet orbiting near any of these that we haven't noticed yet. I can't include infinite possibilities, but maybe I'll have them head for one of these and find something better when they get there. Perhaps my "mini Neptune" is a gas giant with a livable moon, and/or has an earth-like plant in its solar system for an additional choice.

I appreciate the link. If I get the urge, I'll check it out. The book sounds interesting.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

They're able to estimate things like mass, diameter, distance from the star, and length of the orbit using current methods, and with further refinement atmospheric analyses could be possible (through spectrography). When that day comes, it may be possible to detect chemicals in the atmosphere that could only result from biological processes.

But the exoplanet has to exist on a plane directly between its parent star and Earth for us to detect it. Planets that orbit on a tilted plane relative to Earth can't be detected.

And as it turns out, there are lots of ways a planet can develop in a way that wouldn't favor life. That mini-Neptune you mentioned would be an oddity, at least according to the book in that link. According to her, Earth is near the maximum size for a rocky planet; any bigger, and the planet becomes a gravity whore that continues to suck in matter until it becomes a gas giant (thus the huge gap in size between Earth and the next largest planet in our own solar system). Also, several of the known exoplanets seem to have relatively low masses, suggesting they have massive oceans. The problem there is that a planet with a 40-mile-deep ocean will have permanent ice on the bottom, thus sealing off all the geological activity. And tidal locking is apparently a frequent issue.

Anyway, a lot of this is probably irrelevant to a storygame, but it's fascinating to read about.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

Yeah. A lot of things rely on the relative position of the sun, Earth, the other planet, and that planets star. It's hard to observe anything with two stars between you and it... 

Yes, NASA automatically disqualifies anything that is likely more that 6 times earths mass because it's too massive to support life in any scenario. Earth is the perfect everything to support life, so no other planets compare that well when calculations chances of habitability. It's all interesting.

The short version is that no other planets we have found are more likely to habitable than not habitable though. There isn't one that has a 95% chance or something high. Most are summarized as something like, "Well, if these 17 things we can't measure are all perfect, then this planet might be able to support life under these tricky conditions." There is just so much that can go wrong. Tidally locking is one of those things. Even the term "habitable zone" is just a reference to the band around a sun where water could exist on the surface based on temperature. It has nothing to do (as a definition) with actually surviving on the planet.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

Part of the problem is that the heavier planets are easier to detect. As methods improve we will find much more Earthlike planets.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

This is true, but the planets are more likely to be Earth-size than Earth-like. What I mean to say is that a planet with the same mass as earth is not guaranteed to be more habitable than the ones we have found. There are still a lot of factors that would need to fall into a specific range to make it habitable. Some of these might be measurable with better technology/methods, and some might not be.

Either way, this makes me think that I should let the reader pick a star to travel to and either have these planets have idealized conditions to make them habitable (such as being on the smaller end of the predicted mass), or make up a new planet in the solar system that is more ideal.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago
Okay, I like this. Really the motivation for the trip from the beginning was the only major tripping point for me, and now you've fixed that. If we can assume things are getting shittier on Earth, this might realistically be the only way for some of them to ensure their family has a decent life, and hey going into space even on a suicide mission is still more fun than selling your kidneys.

If they're going to be hanging out on the ship for a long period of time, that would be the point to wake up some new characters and inject some interest and drama there I'd think, and trying to do something to make the ship more self sufficient and livable would make sense. They'll be living there for multiple generations.

The fact that you can at any time go to sleep and be woken up ??? years later and any number of things might've changed is something I hope the story explores now and then.


....this is all making me want to pick up my little Seedship clone again.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

A lot of these ideas also relate to that "Saints of Kaitoo" story I started last year but put aside (twice). The premise there was a group of most average joes who had decided life on Earth sucked for reasons x, y, and z. They obtained an old cryo ship that was mothballed anyway; secured rights to a world known to inhabit life through spectral analysis, but so distant from Earth that it had little commercial interest; and then bought up random human embryos on the open market to raise as a supplemental population once they got there.

I got about 41k words into it, but I realized I needed new ideas about the ecology of the planet, as well as to rethink some of the characters. There was also the problem that my original plot idea resisted my efforts to turn it into a storygame with actual branches.

But if you're looking for novel-sized stories (that don't involve Sonic the Hedgehog) in 2021, maybe this will have to be my focus.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

That sounds cool! We will have to bounce ideas off each other. I'm sure our stories will turn out very different because of our different styles, but it would be cool to have a second opinion on some things (for me anyway).

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

The subject of space colonization is fertile for storytelling, and I'm sure we could all come up with a number of good ideas without duplicating each other too much. The "Kaitoo" story was actually inspired by that succubus contest last year (of all things), and so I'm sure that particular element would be a key distinction.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

Wait, your story has a succubus too? Kidding, the anti-demon force field will be working on my realistic spaceships.

Enough is left open to the authors imagination that the variations are endless, but I like to have a sanity check against other scientific minds with different opinions. 

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago
Oh absolutely, that's almost broad enough to be its own sub genre.

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago

Yeah, that was a really good suggestion. It makes sense too. Bezos and Musk started the space race of the ultra wealthy, so my billionaire might just be competing with them. It makes things a bit easier to explain.

That is the plan! I might need to do some thinking for how they can realistically self sustain 30+ people on the ship for generations. My original plans might need to have some alterations as well. There is also the task of designing more interesting and well-developed characters. Up to thirty of them... It will have to be done eventually when the active crew gets to a planet to colonize anyway, but it'll take some time. 

I'll try. Especially if there is a choice to go to Icarus, I'll have to make sure a lot has changed. Heck, going anywhere in cryosleep will necessitate some level of it. We will see how it works out. I don't have all the details about it, but I also will include some level of grogginess and deterioration from laying down for X years without moving. Waking up the crew might involve some physical rehab (without dragging it out).

Do it!

Prologue to a Sci-Fi epic to be done this year

4 months ago
Hmm, why isn't there Seedship like CYS?