Monthly Archives: April 2011

Star Map – WIP 6

I’m back from my short excursion to lands unknown (or rather, well known – I was just in Paris) and I spent most of my day off yesterday working on my near stars map. I’ve now added a total of over 300 stars (including multiple star systems) out of the 2600 on my list. It’s getting crowded:

Not all of that is connected to one jump rout network yet. To make navigating this map a little easier, I’ve also created the following relational map:

As you can see, there are two large chunks that are unconnected, plus a whole lot of smaller ones. Earth/Sol is on the larger group; it’s the square-shape fairly to the center of the image, on the lower-right “arm” of the left, larger, group.

And yes, I am creating this by hand. It’s an interesting exercise, and helps me “understand” the map. It’s kind of exciting work too, in a way, since with every star I place I hope to connect up more of these chunks, especially the second largest one.

I’m also happy about the 7.7 light years jump route limit that I picked (thanks to the 2300AD developers), since it does work out really well. In a few places, the stars are unfortunately just a little too far apart, but if I end up locking myself in, I can always fudge it (for example by adding “undiscovered” brown dwarfs, but there are other ways). I do love that space is being “structured” by the jump distance limit. It provides choke points and natural traffic routes – in short, a geography of sorts, and geography is great fuel for plots and conflict.


CD Cover Game #9: Cliffside

Here’s my latest entry to the CD-Cover game – I haven’t posted these in a while. And, before you ask: #8 is not missing, but the licensing of the base image I used changed so it’ll have to wait until I clear that up.

Cliffside: The Best Accessory
Cliffside: The Best Accessory

Original Art: Senales, by José María Pérez Nuñez; cc-by-nc.

From the looks of it, Cliffside is probably an “artsy” band…

My other CD-Covers:


Future History: Earth Population and Resources

One of the important decisions I need to make is Earth’s population growth. In the past, many science fiction authors have assumed that it would grow quite large, sometimes to the point that people would be stacked four high to every square meter (you will recall Heinlein’s description of India in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress). Even though some of this is probably hyperbole, the description of Earth as a nightmare of crowds is all over the genre.

Of course, while current population estimates are much less dramatic, they still predict 9+ billion people. And if all of those people want to have a standard of living comparable to what we enjoy in Europe or North America, then we’re going to run into severe resource issues. Oil is the most popular example of something that can run out, and this would not only affect the economy because of increased fuel prices. Fertilizer is oil-based as well, and if food production doesn’t keep up with population growth, then a whole lot of those nine billion people are going to go hungry. And food being a basic need, that would trigger conflicts than not being able to drive one’s kids to school in a SUV surely wouldn’t.

Food and fertilizer, however, I am not quite so worried about. Anything that is organic basically just requires carbon, energy, and a bunch of other elements. Throw them together, mix them around, and you can create pretty much anything you want. It’s all a question of technical expertise and cost effectiveness. But that wealth that those nine billion people crave requires metals. Just take copper – we need it for pretty much everything that keeps our society going. What do we do when copper runs out?

The answer is, of course, that we will mine more. Humans are an inventive lot and when we are faced with a serious problem, then we solve it. It may be a painful process, but I am convinced that we will come out on top. There’s a lot of untapped copper – mostly in the depths of the oceans. Extracting it is expensive, but possible, and at some point when copper becomes scarce and expensive enough, companies will begin to mine it. Alternatively, there is an entire solar system out there that we can use for resources. Again, this simply requires improvements in technology and practice and a slightly more “favorable” economic climate.

So, for my Future History, I do not predict any breakdown of civilization based on resource shortages. I also don’t believe in a large-scale nuclear exchange (regional, that is a different matter). For population, I’ll follow something along the lines of the UN “medium” prediction:

The green line is, until 2300 AD, the UN “Medium” projection (after 2300, I extrapolated unscientifically). The blue line is my version, which of course I may change if the simulation of Earth’s history shows up anything unexpected.

For this baseline, my reasoning is that towards the end of the 21st Century, we will feel the effect of peak oil and other resource shortages coupled with the effects of global warming. Food will be expensive and there might even be some regional famines, and things we take for granted – for example, personal transportation, i.e. cars – will become unaffordable (or remain so) for a majority of the world’s population. It will be a while before technological fixes kick in. AIDS and antibiotic-immune diseases are also going to take a minor toll (minor when compared with the total world population).

Many countries will follow China’s “One Child” policy, except they are going to use economic incentives instead of penalties. If for example, instead of raising five kids and barely feeding them, a family could raise one kid and send it off to college so that he can have a much higher income than those five kids without the education will have combined, and if this means the difference between going hungry and being fed for the entire family, then people are going to catch on pretty quickly. And college-educated women tend to have much fewer children, and have them much later, than less educated women.

A decline by 2 billion in 100 years may be a bit drastic, but the basic premise, I feel, is sound.

Wold population will slowly recover as technology catches up and new resources become available again, but it will never peak again at previous levels. After a minor peak in the 25th Century, it will slowly fall into sustainable levels just under 8 billion.

Note that I do not think interstellar emigration will make any difference whatsoever during this time period. In a Space Opera type setting, where massive transportation capacity is available, it might; but at these “reasonable realistic” levels the birth rate is always going to outpace the capability to ship people off to other planets.


Future History – Let’s Get This Started

“Voyagers” was the working title for the first iteration of my science fiction setting. To differentiate the second attempt, the revision, I’ll call it Future History because my approach will be different: Instead of just arbitrarily making up stuff as I go along, I will attempt to “simulate” the future until I get to a large interstellar society.

Matters of Time…

Of course Voyagers had a worked out timeline too. In fact it was quite thorough – about 14000 words. The problem with the timeline was that I created it before the setting’s map was really done. As a consequence, none of the events outside the solar system really had a “sense of place”. This is especially a problem for the “near future” events, that is, the ones from the early years of human space exploration. Now that my map is fairly well worked out, I’d have to go back and retrofit the timeline. And there are certain problems with the map, too. I have no doubt I can make it work with relatively little effort, but I have the feeling I would be chasing consistency issues for a long time.

.. and of Space

Then there is another issue with the Voyagers setting. It covers way too much territory. There is absolutely no way I could ever hope to completely map a couple of billion cubic light years of space. About the only way to do that is to do what Traveller did: They basically compressed their universe into a flatland and split it up into a 1×1 parsec hex grid. The Voyagers map didn’t depict the z-Axis either but I have always been keenly aware that it was missing. When you map out galactic distances, that’s okay to an extent – the Milky Way is 100,000 light years across and its disc is only about 1000 light years thick. But when you combine it with space ships that can only travel a fraction of that 1000 light years distance in one trip, well, then you have to have your third dimension.

Compressing a Setting

After mulling these issues over, I decided that a viable approach might be to scale things down. Sure, I won’t quite have galaxy-spanning adventures, but do I really need to? The design goal for Voyagers had always been “reasonable realism” – that is, cutting corners only when necessary for the story. This is a science fiction setting rooted in H. Beam Piper and Robert A. Heinlein fiction – it’s not Star Wars.

So what kind of scale do I need, anyway, at the upper end?

  • According to the Wookiepedia, the Star Wars Empire had 1.5 million member worlds, and 69 million “colonies, protectorates and puppet states”. Assuming that this averages to one system each, 71 million star systems in total, this is the number of star systems you’d realistically find in a slice of the galactic disc 6000 light years across. Sure, not all of the star systems in that slice will be inhabited or even have planets, but it still illustrates the point: The Star Wars Galaxy is a pretty empty place.
  • Traveller’s Third Imperium and its 11,000 member worlds – all of which are one system in one hex each, as discussed above, theoretically fits into a sphere with a diameter of 200 light years or so.

What this means is that you can have – in theory – a lot of diversity in a fairly small volume of space. Some other science fiction settings I liked never used more than a dozen or two worlds. Larry Niven’s Known Space comes to mind; the Wikipedia article lists 22 worlds and that includes Earth, the Belt and even Kobold. I don’t think I was ever bored by that setting.

So in the end I can use a much smaller setting. To make space exploration more interesting, I always intended to put a limit on jump drive technology. In my prototyping of a map of near space, I assumed a limit of <9 light years per jump. I quickly found out that 2300 AD, GDW’s “hard” science fiction role-playing game, found a sweet spot with the limit they chose: 7.7 light-years. More than this, and there won’t be much of a tree-like structure to space travel; much less, and mankind won’t be getting very far: There is a choke-point between Ross 154 and Lacaille 8760 where a 7.36 light-year jump is needed. In the end, I decided to stick to the same 7.7 light year limit.

Outline of History

I am a firm believer in having a purpose to a setting, a concept, before building it. I don’t have to adhere to it if things just develop differently but I like to know where I am going.

The science fiction setting will have several “stages”:

  1. “Near Future” – Earth-bound science fiction
  2. Interplanetary exploration and colonization
  3. Interstellar colonization

These are fairly straight forward. Now, I have also need for a stage where not all colonies have access to the same technology, and where they are not all governed by a central government. It must be possible for “adventurers” to come to a star system and discover a human colony on one of the worlds, one that may not even remember Earth. Clearly, this requires for a lot of time to pass – and for some sort of breakdown of or at least lull in central control.

  1. Time of Earthside wars
  2. Recovery and unification

During the Earthside wars, the power blocs of Earth slug it out for some reason. The war spills over into space, of course, and to the colony worlds. A lot of them decide that getting involved is not only a bad idea, they also don’t really believe in the war. So they eitherjust continue with business as usual, or even declare themselves independent.

After the war, Earth finally gets its act together and unifies under one strong alliance – or perhaps the more powerful colony worlds even step in and enforce peace. Be that as it may, after the dust has settled Earth is in control of only a core set of colonies. The edges of human space have frayed away – the worlds there are now independent, and colonization of new worlds continues without central planning, control, or even approval. Human space expands outwards at an unknown rate.

This could form the springboard to an Interregnum, to continue with the almost axiomatic course of human space exploration, or perhaps Terra just becomes complacent – if some outer colonies can develop for a few centuries without interference, the Empire could arise and become powerful and eventually return to invade Terran space.

So now I have a rough plan. Time to get cracking – there’s a Galaxy to be colonized.

Space Setting Map Sneak Preview III

Okay, this is the current version of my Voyagers map. It didn’t really change that much anymore – I’ve optimized some lines here and there, added some star systems, added names… This is probably the last version of this particular map for reasons I’ll detail in a later post.

Voyagers: Human Space
Voyagers: Human Space

There should be about 300 named systems on that map.