Tag Archives: Cyan

613. Cyan Remains

Late in 2015, I began this blog in order to drum up readership for my upcoming novel Cyan. ‘Upcoming’ turned out to be a long time, so I had placed quite a few excerpts by the time it was finally released. It received good reviews, 4.3 stars on Amazon and 4.6 on Goodreads, but it never found its audience.

Cyan is set in the near future and covers the discovery, exploration and colonization of a planet around a nearby star, portrayed as accurately as possible. In an age of novels about galaxy spanning wars, it is possibly out of fashion, but still an exciting, human, realistic story.

Here is your chance to find out for yourself why it deserved better. The opening chapter crowds in quite a bit of background before the excitement starts, but it will give you  a picture of what is about to happen.

Blatant plug — available on Amazon. You might as well get on with reading it, because I’m not going to stop talking about it

Chapter One:  A New Planet
CYAN
Standard Year 600
Anno Domini 2092

Driving in from the eternal night of interstellar space, the Darwin stood on its tail, chasing the kilometers-long plasma fountain of the Lassiter drive. Stephan Andrax and Tasmeen Rao had been working for weeks, and lately for thirty-one unbroken hours, to plot the orbits of Procyon’s planets and choose a course that would let their residual inertia carry them rapidly toward a favorable orbit. Now the torch was stuttering as they slipped deeper into the stars’ gravity well. Softvoiced exchanges between Stephan and Tasmeen were echoed by equally quiet observations by the other eight explorers.

Keir and Gus were manning the spectroscope, trying already to determine if Procyon A III’s atmosphere contained the gasses which would indicate life. Tasmeen’s husband, Ramananda, and Petra Crowley were canvassing the asteroid cloud that twisted its Möbius strip around the two stars, searching for any that might be mined for ice — fuel for the journey back. Above them the main viewscreen flashed successive visual reconstructions, multidimensional projections of varying parameters, and flashing strings of calculations as one or another of the pairs briefly preempted its use. Viki, Debra, Uke, and Leia stayed out of the way, watching the screen.

With a final shudder, the Lassiter torch cut out and, for the first time in over a year, they were weightless. In that same moment the masking effect of the torch ended, and Keir yelled, “We’ve got life gasses.” Overhead, unmistakable spectral lines showing hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon flooded the screen.

Spontaneous cheering broke out in the cramped control room.

Stephan switched to a display of the Procyon system. Much was still unknown, but the planets, moons, and major asteroids had already been mapped.

Procyon A, blazing with six and a half time the ferocity of Sol, was surrounded by three planets of her own. A torus of asteroids lay where a fourth planet would have been. Procyon B simmered, cold and shrunken by stellar standards, with half of Sol’s mass, three percent of its diameter, and less than one percent of its light. Snuggled in close were four tiny planets, all useless rock. A second torus of asteroids surrounded Procyon B.

The asteroid belts interpenetrated like two gears meshing, which excited Stephan no end. The prospect of seeing asteroids in collision was not merely likely, it was inevitable. Beyond the asteroids were five gas giants, none as big as Saturn, circling the paired suns in the frozen outer reaches of this complex solar system.

For a minute they looked at the system that would be their home for a year. Then Stephan switched to a real-time display of Procyon A III. It was only a faint disk, pulsing slightly as the computer worked to keep it in focus, but its pale blue color was unmistakable. Tasmeen, who had been too wrapped up in navigating to watch the unfolding story, said, “Keir, give us a quick update.”

“It’s a little bigger than Earth; a little higher gravity. It stands straight up in its orbit — less than a degree of inclination. Day, 40 hours; year, 1242 days — if you want to call it a year. There won’t be any seasons, so the equator and the poles will be uninhabitable, but the area about 45 degrees latitude should have good climate.”

Standing soldier-straight in its orbit, Procyon A III was a planet of small continents scattered across a huge, world-spanning ocean. The equator was chastely girdled with thick masses of steamy clouds, churning up continuous storms that would make a Terrestrial hurricane look like calm day. From ten to thirty degrees north and south, every island and continent was part of a world-spanning zone of desert, separated by hot, dead seas.

Uke asked, “What names did we draw?”

Ever since Neil Armstrong blew his lines, NASA had kept close tabs on what its explorers could bequeath to posterity. The computer contained several hundred “suitable” names for the planets they might find, but it would only give them ones matched to what they actually encountered. No one at NASA wanted a charred lump of rock to be named Eden, or for two planets to get the same name, and nobody wanted a planet named New Earth. Tasmeen keyed in a request, and fourteen names appeared on the viewscreen beneath the planet.

“What the…!” Debra began, then shut her mouth.

Gus chuckled. Petra said, “Someone certainly didn’t think much of our chances of finding an Earth-type planet.”

They were all the names of colors.

“Madder, umber, vermillion…” Keir read out in disgust. Then he stopped short, glanced up at the winking blue disk on the viewscreen, and said, “Cyan.”

“It’s the best of a bad lot.” Uke said.

“No,” Keir said, “it’s perfect.”

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610.1 Time Out!

When I wrote yesterday’s post, I thought it was probably more than most of my readers cared about. But what the hell, it was a continuation of a conversation, so why not.

Now I have more. Sorry about that, but I’m continuing to write Dreamsinger, and I keep running into ways in which out old time system just won’t let go.

Today I wrote a family reunion where Antrim and his sibs turned out for a party to celebrate one of their own graduating from flight school.

Family isn’t a word the Sirians use. They are turned out, eight at a time, from a DNA vat and raised in a creche by two professional parents, on alternating shifts. Sibs have a strong bond. Almost no one else does. If you were reading Dreamsinger, you wouldn’t know all that yet, since I am unfolding their culture slowly.

In a family reunion, you have to talk about age, and have people thinking back to childhood. You need the concept ‘year’, even if it just refers to human age, with no astronomical reference. I explained yesterday why YAR finds no favor, but I still need a big term.

There are 31,557,600 seconds in a terrestrial year (of 365.25 days) so let’s do what people do with grams when they need to measure something that weighs (sorry, masses) more — add a prefix, so that 1000 grams becomes one kilogram. That brings us to a kilo-det, which is about three years. Here is the small poster over in the corner of my screen, as it now stands.

SEC — 1 second — This is the same basic unit scientists have used for decades.

DEC — 10 seconds

DIN — 100 seconds — This is used as Earth dwellers would have used a minute.

DUR — 1000 seconds — This is about fifteen Earth minutes.

DEL — 10,000 seconds — This is just under three  Earth hours.

DAE — 100,000 seconds — A dae is 17% longer than a terrestrial day, which is close enough for human circadian rhythms to accommodate.

DET — 1,000,000 seconds — Used where Earth dwellers would have used week or fortnight.

KILO-DET — 1,000,000,000 seconds — About three  years.

As a writer, I would have been better off doing none of this, but I can’t help it. If my brain didn’t do odd things, I wouldn’t be writing science fiction.

I’ll leave this up for about a week and the append its contents to yesterday’s post. I don’t need three posts on one subject cluttering up the archives.

610. Time and Time Again

I love my jobs, both writing novels and blogging. Every new blog I write opens me up to new knowledge, often arriving in replies from the people who have read them.

Blogger and regular reader Thomas Anderson of Schlock Value replied to last Monday’s post on decimal time. I gave him a quick answer and then went looking for information because he referred to  Swatch Internet Time, and I had never heard of it.

Swatch Internet Time turns out to be a top down system, while the one the colonists of Sirius use is bottom up. No, I’m not talking about oligarchs and the people. Swatch Internet Time took the day and divided it into 1000 parts called beats. The Sirian system takes a second and builds up a system of terms from there. It turns out SIT was all about erasing borders, including time zones, to turn the internet into one endless, borderless day. It was more political (and marketing) than scientific.  After all, no matter what you call a time system, it is still daylight in India when it is night time here in California, and vice versa. Still, it’s a fascinating idea that I had missed out on.

Fascinating, but . . . there was already a universal time called  UTC, or Zulu, or military time, wherein you simply convert your local time to Greenwich Time, while pretending that Greenwich is never on Daylight Savings Time.

Further research showed that decimal time is a notion that has been tried occasionally, starting with the French about the time they adopted the metric system. It has never worked out, probably because we already have a system that works, irrational though it is. Our system won’t work so well once we are on planets with different day lengths and year lengths. It certainly wouldn’t be optimum in non-planetary colonies.

When the issue of decimal time originally came up for me, Swatch Internet Time didn’t exist. The internet didn’t exist either. It was, as nearly as I can calculate, about 1980, as a follow-on to several other things that had occurred in the particular universe I was writing about at the time.

I invented the Standard Year in Jandrax in 1976 with absolutely no thought, and had to flesh it out later in Cyan. It depended on the notion that Muslim countries would eventually refuse to let a Christian calendar stand for all mankind, so goodbye to BC and AD. The solution to that problem, in Cyan, was to reset year zero to October 12, 1492, the day that began the age of discovery which would finally knit the world into a whole. See 25. Columbus, King of Explorers. As part of the restructuring, months and weeks were dropped, and days were identified by the number of days since the beginning of the year, as in the opening words of Cyan:

From the Log of the Starship Darwin, en route to the Procyon system, S.Y. 594, Day 167

Cyan itself had a very long day and year, and it had no seasons. A Cyanian year meant little to the colonists, so people measured their ages by Earth years. The term day came to mean from sunup to sunup, and the human daily cycle of sleep and waking became known as a sleep.

Even these people, born on Earth and newly arrived on Cyan, had to make changes in the terminology of time. The colonists around Sirius would be refugees, fleeing the breakup of Earth after the Cyanian colonists departure, and living in space colonies. They made bigger changes. See last Monday.

These things occur by accretion in the real world, and also in writing. After I wrote last Monday’s post, but before any of you saw it, I had already had to add one more term, det, because my people needed a time unit longer than a dae to use in their everydae (not a misspelling) conversations.

Since then I have also come to realize that I have to also have to be able to put events into a deep framework.

On Earth, we would say something like February 12, 2019. On Cyan they use standard years and days for that, as in the quotation above. I decided that the colonists around Sirius would follow the standard year practice and set a certain dae as zero dae, then count forward. You could say:

Antrim was born on dae 348,278.

That is certainly clumsy for humans, but it is entirely suitable for computers which would be keeping all the records that far into a future world of ships and space stations.

To choose the zero dae, I will have to know how far in the future this story takes place. I haven’t decided yet, but once I figure that out, I’ll know how many daes ago they began to count time in daes.

There you go, simple. Clear as sunshine on a cloudless dae. Except in space, all daes are cloudless.

608. Decimal Time

Here’s something weird, but you guys are all weird enough to enjoy it.

I have a habit of writing novels that represent the future as I think it actually might happen. That may not sound imaginative, but I like making projections with a minimal number of new assumptions, and I find that it leads me to some very strange results.

Cyan was built that way. One group who showed up for a few chapters of that novel were a group of asteroid miners who preferred life in space. When Keir suggested they go with him to Cyan, they laughed at the idea. Their idea of colonization was a trip to Sirius, where there were no habitable planets, to continue living in space without the threats from an overcrowded Earth.

Shock and surprise, that called for a sequel — or rather a stand-alone novel moved sideways in the same universe. It will be called Dreamsinger.

I recently wrote a pre-prolog, designed to be placed just before the novel begins, which may or may not make the final cut. Have fun with it.

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Just for Nerds: Decimal Time

Some people like to jump into a story and have all the background come out piecemeal. If you are like that, have at it. Move on to the Prolog; you don’t need to read this at all.

Other readers like to know all about the backstory. This is for you.

If you can’t make up your mind which way to go, you can always forge ahead and come back here later.

Home Station is a gigantic torus in orbit of Sirius. The asteroid miners from the novel Cyan chose to emigrate to the Sirian system because it has no habitable planets. The planet which lies in the goldilocks spot has a Uranian tilt; it is called Stormking.

Perhaps life could never have evolved on such a planet, but it didn’t have to. For billions of years, Stormking stood upright like any normal planet, then a rogue body passing through the system tilted it and went on its way. Almost all life on Stormking was destroyed, but enough remained to evolve into a planet full of weird and fierce creatures.

The humans who colonized the Sirian system don’t care. They live in space stations situated wherever science or commerce requires them. Human culture centers on Home Station which lives happily in orbit of Stormking.

Since these people are not planet dwellers, ideas like month, year, or day and night have little meaning for them. If they had commerce with Earth, or fond memories of Earth, they would probably have kept Earth time. Instead they are bitter refugees, happy to leave everything about Earth behind them.

Consequently they have discarded all units of time but the second, and have built up a new, scientific set of units. (The metric system strikes again.) Only seven of these units are used in everyday conversation.

SEC — 1 second — This is the same basic unit scientists have used for decades.

DEC — 10 seconds

DIN — 100 seconds — This is used where Earth dwellers would have said a minute.

DUR — 1000 seconds — This is about fifteen minutes.

DEL — 10,000 seconds — This is just under three hours.

No decimal time unit is close to an hour, but between a dur and a del, the Sirian humans don’t miss that Earth unit at all.

DAE — 100,000 seconds — A dae is 17% longer than a terrestrial day, which is close enough for human circadian rhythms to accommodate.

DET — 1,000,000 seconds — Used where Earth dwellers would have used week or fortnight.

There is no decimal time unit that comes close to the length of a year, but there is also no need for one. No event in space or on Stormking has any resemblance to a set of seasons. Human age is measured in terrestrial years, if it comes up at all.

There is some pressure to add a YAR, consisting of 350 daes to replace a year, but that violates the rule of making all units multiples of a second by tens. And besides, nobody much cares.

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I wanted to do decimal time because traditional time is so screwy that I felt once people get beyond Earth, they are sure to dump it.

I remember the first time a student pointed to the wall and said, “Mr. Logsdon, what time is it? I can only read digital time.” What he was used to seeing on digital clocks was not decimal time, even though it looks a little like it. Take the world record for the thousand meter dash, 2:11.96. That’s two minutes, eleven seconds, and 96/100 of another second. Note that there is  a colon and a period/decimal place. That number eleven isn’t decimal because there aren’t 100 second in a minute — on Earth.

Let’s turn that record into fractions. One thirtieth of an hour, eleven sixtieths of a minute, and ninety-six one hundredths of a second. It’s crazy. The digital time on your microwave isn’t decimal either. Set your microwave for 65 and punch start. (Be sure to put a bowl of water inside so it doesn’t fry its circuits.) It will count down all the way to zero. Now try again, but this time set it for 105. It will count 104, 103, 102, 101, and then it will jump to 60 before continuing.

The whole thing is flat out nuts. No wonder kids are confused.

However . . .Now that I have begun writing the first chapters of Dreamsinger, I’m having a big problem. I can’t expect my readers to memorize this post before reading the novel so every time I say something like, “For nearly a del she fought for points,” I have to gently remind them what a del is. 

I think I may have just dug my own grave. Time will tell. (Pun intended.)

Oh, well, whatever happens, writing science fiction keeps you thinking.

605. My Life as a Beaver

First I thought, this is too much about me. Then I thought, it’s a blog, stupid, go for it.

I am not a hoarder. Hoarders buy and store things they don’t need. I’m a beaver. I build things, and they accumulate. The tools also accumulate. Also the raw material for the next project, and there is always a next project.

Normally I keep my home life out of this blog, but I have to admit that my wife is also a beaver. It’s a good thing, really, or we couldn’t have had all these happy years together.

I always wanted to be a craftsman, but I grew up as a farmer’s son instead. Farming is a make-do profession. If a nail will do the job, don’t use a screw, and certainly don’t cut a mortise and tenon. We built a few barns when I was home, but the test of a barn isn’t how well it is built. If It doesn’t leak or fall down, it’s good enough. But it wasn’t good enough for me.

I took a semester of shop in high school, where I built a mahogany gun case for an aunt and a maple book case for a family friend. It was quite satisfying, but I needed all the rest of my time to prepare for college.

Once in college, I started a classical guitar, working where and when I could find space. I didn’t have the skills to do it right, but attempting it taught me skills I still use today. It sits, half completed in a closet; maybe someday I’ll complete it. Every successful craftsman has a few failures along the way, which is all right if he learns from them. Some years later I completed a dulcimer and later still the expanded range guitar shown here. I have a few more instruments in pieces waiting their turn.

That seems to be a pattern. I’ve finished quite a few novels, but I have at least as many more in pieces, waiting their turn.

Over the years I’ve built bookcases, tables, workbenches, cupboards, a bed, a couple of sheds, and all the other wood-based things a person on a teacher’s salary or a writer’s non-salary can’t afford to buy. I’ve also built for fun — fancy canoe paddles as family gifts, a cold-molded rowboat for the frustrated sailor that lives inside me, and other things too numerous to mention — or even remember.

Beavers gotta build stuff.

My wife lends a hand sometimes, and sometimes we build projects as a team. We spent a year of spare minutes building an arch to commemorate our (redacted) wedding anniversary. Her father and mother were both craftsmen, and she learned well before I ever met her.

Sometime in the eighties, we discovered quilting, and that’s something we do as a team. We design and build both together and individually. Over quite a few years, we designed better than a hundred quilts, most of which were built by a charity group in her guild to be donated. We built the three shown here ourselves; the designs are one each of hers, mine, and ours.

Beavers gotta design stuff.

The image at the head of the post is another project of ours. We built portable stands that carry 24 of these mini-quilts, and provide them for display in rest homes. We designed and built the stands; the mini-quilts come from guild members, including us.

In 2015 I decided my scheduled novel Cyan needed some support so I started this blog. A thousand plus posts later, I’m still at it.

Beavers gotta keep busy. Life can be boring if you’re standing still.

582. Newtonian Nukes

Everybody who read the last generation of science fiction juveniles before Apollo knew Newton’s third law:

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The demonstrations in popular science books of that same era usually went something like this: imagine a person on a frozen pond wearing ice skates, throwing bricks. Every brick he throws will move him backward. If we could ignore the friction of skates on ice, it would be proportional. That is, if a hundred pound man  . . .

Okay, side issue. Most Americans back then, and even today, don’t think in kilograms or kilometers, nor distinguish mass from weight in everyday thought, so . . .

If a hundred pound man throws a one pound brick at ten miles per hour, it will propel him backward at one tenth of a mile per hour. 1 times 10 = 0.1 times 100. We are ignoring friction from the ice, the atmosphere, and probably a bunch of other things.

So, if you want to go faster, throw more bricks, right? If you throw a thousand bricks, you should be able to go pretty fast, right? Wrong, because the first brick your throw in the new scenario will have to move not only the hundred pound man, but also the other 999 pounds of bricks.

Increasing the amount of fuel carried quickly brings about diminishing returns. More fuel alone is not the answer.

In a Newtonian scenario, the faster the propellant leaves the rocket engine, and the more propellant you use, the faster you can go. LOX and LH are probably near the practical  maximum for propellant speed by chemical reaction. The logical next step would be to use a non-chemical energy source to activate our propellants, such as a nuclear powered rocket. Even that won’t get us to the stars, but it makes sense for travel inside the solar system.

Before Apollo, everyone who read science fiction knew that, which is why the Scorpius and her sisters in the Rip Foster book are nuclear powered. So were the ships in Bullard of the Space Patrol, a marvelous fix-up novel by Malcolm Jameson that no one remembers today. So were the ships in the Dig Allen series (1959 – 1962), six great but forgotten novels, and the ships of the Tom Corbett books, which were not so great and are not completely forgotten.

Star Trek put all these early concepts out of business. Warp speed was a necessity for roaming the galaxy, but it made nuclear rockets look old fashioned. I think that’s too bad. There is still room for them in science fiction, and certainly in real life.

I haven’t mentioned Heinlein yet. The Rolling Stone was nuclear, but he quickly moved on to torch ships, which had the capacity of total annihilation of matter. He never explained how that could be done, but the result would be “propellant” moving at essentially lightspeed. You can’t get faster than that without warp drive. His torch ships roamed the solar system and went on to explore nearby stars.

I stole that schtick for my coreships in Cyan, with a twist. See 23. Star Drives.

In a rational world — which we will probably never inhabit, but we can still write stories about — you would might use chemical rockets to get to LEO (low Earth orbit), nuclear powered rockets to zip around the solar system (fission powered if you were writing in the sixties, fusion powered if you were writing today), and “torch ships” to reach nearby stars. Beyond that, you would need FTL (faster than light) vehicles which, by our present understanding of the universe, are impossible.

Too bad about FTL, but why are we still using chemical propellants in the real world fifty years after Apollo? Fear of nukes, of course. There will be more to say about that on Wednesday.

514. Space Force

As a die-hard space fan you might think I would like Trump’s Space Force idea, but I’m too much wedded to reality. This is just another publicity stunt, although there is a real history behind it.

The Russians had an independent Space Force from 1992 to 1997, and again from 2001 to 2011. Then they gave it up and made it a sub-set of the Russian air force. That’s not as sexy, but it makes more sense. It is also the way we have things organized here in the United States.

The poor Air Force! They have made a career out of trying to make space their domain, only to be slapped in the face by bureaucracy. Do you remember project MISS? No? Nobody else does either. MISS (Man In Space Soonest) was a plan to put a man in a capsule and shoot him into space on top of a converted ICBM. Now does it sound familiar? It was an Air Force project that was handed over to NASA and became Project Mercury.

The Air Force followed up with project Dyna Soar, which would have put a winged vehicle on top of a rocket. It was cancelled because the money was needed for NASA. At the top of the post that is an artist’s impression of Dyna Soar landing at Edwards AFB after a mission.

Then the Air Force designed the Manned Orbital Laboratory, a black program which would have been America’s first space station. Cancelled; this time not by bureaucracy, but because of unexpected advances in unmanned satellites which made it obsolete before it flew.

The Air Force did provide input into the design of the Space Shuttle, and got to do some black missions. What were they? Beats me; they were secret.

The Air Force had a hand in several post-shuttle projects which never went to completion and finally got their own space ship in the X-37b. Sadly, it was unmanned.

As you can see, I’ve been writing a lot about all this. If you click on these four links, you will have a thumbnail history of NASA vs. the Air Force in a battle for space.

Now Trump wants to take space away from the Air Force altogether, but don’t blame him. He probably knows less about this than I do, and I am just an amateur enthusiast. Maybe he should click four times.

Enough of the latest publicity stunt. In Cyan, my explorers coming back from the Procyon system also faced a conflict that had been going on between NASA and a military space force while they were away. Here’s a quote:

All seemed well, on the surface, but something profound was happening to the people of Earth. They were waking up to reality. When interstellar exploration had begun, few had taken it seriously. Now the process was flushed with success, and that success carried the seeds of its own downfall.

Suddenly, all over Earth, people who had been indifferent to space travel, except to mutter about a waste of resources, became truly aware of what was happening. And they didn’t like it. In the vague common mind of the beast, numbers began to move in slow, painful calculations.

A few thousand colonists; billions of the rest of us.

They — the rich, the powerful, the smart, the educated, the lucky — they will go to the stars and walk the green valleys of paradise. We — the downtrodden, the ordinary, the workers, the plodders, the ones who really make things happen, the ones who always get screwed — in short, you and me. We will stay behind.

In the general elections of 2103, and in a hundred scattered elections and revolutions in 2104, the people of Earth turned on their leaders and said with a loud voice that the spacers who brought in the ore from the belt, and the workers of L-5, and especially those who were finding new worlds, were no longer heroic friends but dangerous enemies. They would no longer be given freedom to do as they pleased, but would be harnessed to the common good.

This was the Earth Darwin returned to in 2105. When Tasmeen signaled Ganymede Station, she received a taped reply.

“Welcome home, Darwin. You will find the language of this year somewhat different from when you left. When the Dog Star returned in 2088, we found that it would be best to train comtechs in the jargon of your departure year, and that is the reason for this tape.

“The biggest change you will have to be ready for is that NASA no longer exists … because after the general elections of 2103 the people of North America decided to combine all space efforts into one military organization. You are all now members of the Federated Space Service.”

Tasmeen said, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

Yeah, Tasmeen. Me, too.