Friday, October 29, 2010

Art Imitating Life

Gemini 105Mc "Copernicus"
Some time ago, Laurie Green asked me whether I thought living aboard a sailboat impacted how I wrote about space ships. I had to stop and think. Up to this point in my books, I've been dealing with research vessels and military craft - completely different critters from privately owned (and maintained) boats. Sure. I use yachtie terms like 'head' when I mean 'bathroom'. I distinguished between having the helm of the boat and being in command of the boat. The Coast Guard doesn't equate the helm operator with the captain of the ship, so we don't either. That distinction spilled over into some of the interplay between the hero and heroine of Enemy Within. But for that book and for Enemy Games, that's about as far as the boating experience went.

That's changing in book three (as yet untitled). The heroine is a mercenary with her own space ship - one that more accurately reflects what it's like to live in less than three hundred square feet. She'll be conscious of the fact that a thin sheeth of metal alloy is all that stands between her and the vacuum. Her life hinges on her ability to maintain her boat and to fix whatever breaks (which happens, always at the worst possible moment...remind me to tell you about the time the head gave up the ghost on the fourth of July weekend...)
Boat living is already part scifi. The paint we put on the bottom of the boat to inhibit marine life growth is a chemical soup of wonderous and toxic technology. And it makes me wonder what sort of hull maintenance someone would have to do on a space ship. Would you get bacterial or viral slime mold growths? NASA has found bacteria in asteroid and comet ice. Could that extremophile life colonize a ship hull? Think of all of the space dust and rocky debris you'd likely come across - sure the vastness of space is mostly gaseous and bits of dust here and there - but that's not where most scifi stories take place, right? The interesting stuff (life forms, weird, wonderful planets, bad guys...) is around planetary systems, the spots in the galaxy where ancient planet-building materials still orbit the central star, where comets, asteroids and other hazards to navigation are concentrated. Edie may have a few dents to hammer out of her hull at some point.

One of the single biggest cruising delimiters modern boaters face is consumables. Boats carry finite resources. Depending on the boat, you can stray farther from shore based on how much food, water and fuel you can carry or make. Most science fiction assumes that space travel has solved the problem of consumables with things like replicators. But if you accept conservation of energy laws, you'd need massive amounts of power in order to suck in a bunch of space gas and rearrange the molecules to make your chicken kiev supper. On a small, personal space craft, you might not have that kind of engine capacity. You might not have the kind of money that would buy a high tech system like that. Then you're limited in range and in how many bodies you can reasonably bring aboard.

So. While my books haven't yet gotten into the details of life aboard a small craft, we're about to go there. Edie's bonus is that when she takes off into the hostile reaches of space while wrapped in a thin metal shell, she'll have a gorgeous, telepathic spy trapped in close quarters with her...


  1. What a fun blog post! There are so many what if's to consider when writing about space and within those you can find complications and conflicts to afflict characters. It's interesting and kind of evil. LOLOL!

  2. Great post, Marcella. It's these kind of details that fascinate me. Yeah, okay, I'm easily entertained.

    I recently read OFF THE PLANET, a non-fiction book by a former Astronaut/Cosmonaut onboard the Mir. Mir had a lot of challenges, but one of the more aggravating was what to do with all the accumulated garbage. After all, they couldn't just toss it overboard. They usually ended up packing any spacecraft that brought replacement astronauts, just to get rid of it it. Backatcha, Earth. :)

    Imagine a long range mission and the amount of garbage that would pile up over time. The Enterprise never seemed to have this problem. OK, maybe they just beamed it into orbit over uninhabited planets so it could eventually burn up in the atmosphere...provided Starfleet's environmental regulations allowed such disposal methods. LOL

  3. What an in-depth and awesome blog! Thank you, Laurie!

  4. Oh, thanks Nicole, but that was Marcella Burnard who wrote this awesome post. And pssst! Her SFR novel ENEMY WITHIN is debuting this week and has already garnered some fantastic reviews! (You can find it on our RT Top Picks widget pictured on the side bar.)

  5. You know, I always thought the Enterprise used their garbage as raw materials for the replicators - sort of taking recycling to a whole new level. Yes, it gets a little creepy if you think about it too closely. I mean really. That spaghetti you're eating...what *was* that? Do the molecules remember what shape they'd once had? Does it matter to your body on a nutritional or subtle energy level? Look at all of the new research coming out on vitamin supplements - humans thought they were so clever isolating nutrients - yet now, taking isolated nutrients actually seems to cause harm. ( So how many eons of perfecting will something like replicators require? Especially factoring in all of the varying nutritional requirements of different races. Phew...I so want to travel forward in time just to see some of this stuff.

  6. heh heh Good point, Marcella.

    "What's for dinner?"

    "Recycled induction filters."



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