Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Stars and Garters: Stellar Cartography in SFR - guest post by @ChristieMeierz

My education in science is on the light side—I took a number of intro courses in high school and college, but nothing in-depth. Armed with the received wisdom that a little knowledge is more dangerous than a thorough grounding, when I set out to write SF romance, the science part intimidated me.
You can get away with a lot as long as you keep the reader entertained. After all, you don’t need to know how an internal combustion engine works in order to drive a car, and you don’t even need to know that much to be a passenger. When the heroine of my first novel took a trip in faster-than-light ships from Earth to Beta Hydri IV, with a layover at Tau Ceti Station, she didn’t know how a Kline-Thompson-Nishida engine works.
And neither do I.
But I did need to put the destinations in the right places, or anyone with a little knowledge of astronomy would be bumped right out of their willing suspension of disbelief. I could, of course, have set my novel in a galaxy far, far away and not had to worry about any of this, but… Marianne Woolsey insisted that she was born in Casey, Iowa, and who was I to argue? Near-Earth space it was.Wikipedia will tell you almost everything you want to know about all but the most obscure stars. Beta Hydri, then, is about 24.3 light-years away from Earth; Tau Ceti lies about 11.9 light-years away.
But how far is Beta Hydri from Tau Ceti? Enter the Internet Stellar Database. I can do the math, but the ISDB saves me the work: I put the name of a star in the search field (Tau Ceti, say), and at the top of that star’s database page, click the button that says Find all stars within 25 light years. Voila! Beta Hydri is 21.5538 light years from Tau Ceti (N.B.—it only lists the first 100 results).
Space being 3D, these numbers didn’t give me a good mental picture of where everything was. For that, the 3D Galaxy Map is invaluable; at a glance—well, a glance plus some mouse-clicking—I can tell which stars are nearby. It didn’t take very long for me to get a very good feel for what’s where out there in our stellar neighborhood. But which stars might have habitable planets? Again, Wikipedia is a handy place to look, or you can use NASA’s archive.What color is a class K star, anyway? The two best sources I found to understand the information on those pages were Coursera (free! and there’s an app for that!) and The Great Courses (inexpensive when on sale, or check your local library). Both have excellent astronomy courses. I highly recommend them.

Award-winning author Christie Meierz writes space opera and science fiction romance set in an empathic civilization. Her published works include her PRISM award-winning novel, The Marann, its sequel Daughters of Suralia, both now available from Sky Warrior Books, and two prequel short stories published in Into Tolari Space ~ The First Contact Stories.
Christie now lives in Pittsburgh with her mathematician husband and an assortment of stuffies. When she’s not writing, she writes about writing on her blog, Meierz Musings, and Facebook, where she welcomes comments and friend requests.

Purchase links (latest work—Daughters of Suralia):

Blurb (Daughters of Suralia):
Three women, two planets, and a whale...
For Marianne Woolsey, linguist and tutor, being empathically bonded to the leader of the Tolari turns out to be a bed of roses - complete with thorns. Especially thorns.
With diplomatic relations severed and humans kicked out of Tolari space, the Earth Fleet ship Alexander is gone ... for now ... but Earth Central Command hasn't given up trying to get Marianne back. As she struggles with surprises, nightmares, and a bond-partner who can't be tamed, she just wants to figure out where she fits in a society that isn't quite human.
Laura Howard, the Admiral's widow, only desires to be left in peace to gather the fragments of a shattered heart, but Central Command has plans for her, too.
Meanwhile, the Sural's apothecary is a serene and gifted healer who knows what - and who - she wants. Circumstances have conspired to deny her the man she's always loved, but in the pursuit of his heart, she finds an unexpected ally.

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