Recently I’ve been bouncing around several story concepts, but none have lit a fire under me that tells me “I wanna write this now! Ooh…yay!”; it’s been more like “eeeh…maybe someday”. But then I started listening to “Earthbound”, a wonderful ambient piece by Dreamstate Logic, more often than usual, and that got me thinking about the ambience of spaceliners traversing the vastness of the cosmos, and then it hit me: why not center a story around that?
Sure, in my far-future space opera ships flit from anywhere in the universe to anywhere else in a minute or so through the use of wormholes, which ordinarily would make spaceliners much more like hopping in a car to go around the block than a voyage on the Queen Mary or the Graf Zeppelin…but, past a certain distance the automated navigation technology can’t make the jump with the accuracy required, therefore human (or alien) navigators are needed for the long-haul routes. The age of warp drive is the age of navigators.
Our Space is vast…
Enter my concept for this story: a male navigator (we already saw some female ones in another story, but they’re atypical) piloting a spaceliner full of passengers deep in the night, through a truly enormous distance of space, contemplating the geometry and higher-dimensional nature of the universe, wondering just how big the cosmos truly is. When I say “long-haul”, I mean long: think many orders of magnitude beyond even quintillions of light-years. It’s a new route too, meaning the path isn’t refined enough for computers to make the jump, at least not to the usual extent they can (which even then is rough and “good enough”, not an exact trajectory like a person can do). Think the sort of ambience seen in “Girls’ Night Out”, only from the point of view of the pilot rather than the passengers.
Set many millennia after “Warp Dawn”, it’s all very well-developed technology, and artificial intelligence has gotten about as smart as it’s ever going to get, a bit like the technological aspects of the “Dune” backstory speculated by Virgil Kurkjian in his thought-provoking post “Leto Among the Machines”.
What took me so long to lean into the Ion Drive Aesthetic?
I’m thinking to differentiate it from other vessels that have appeared so far, and to give it the cool and really spacey ambience factor, it’ll have a cool blue ion drive circular aesthetic thing going on. Think a circle a la the Stanford torus but with a glowing ion drive on one side of it like a huge Hall effect thruster.
NASA photo of a Hall effect thruster, a type of ion drive, at full power. Doesn’t that look like the coolest thing ever? Too bad it puts out so little thrust. But a similar-looking drive thousands of years in the future might be a different story….
Sure, ion drives and electric propulsion in general don’t have a lot of pep now, but with advanced reactors that run on antimatter or even something more exotic and powerful, who knows? Glowing plasma or some matter that’s similar-looking could be impelled out at extremely high speed, making it viable for sublight propulsion, and it’s so cool-looking it just might have significant uptake even if it’s not the very most efficient method, which it might be for all we know this deep into the far future. The people at the new colony would get a really good show whenever the drive of their midnight-express spaceliner lights up as it disappears into its wormhole once a month or whatever.
A Coral Reef World, Studded with Underwater Glass Yacht Homes
And what will that new colony be like? Well, I’ve got some ideas for that! For a while it seemed I had used every idea I could think of, but I’ve gotten a new inspiration! Much like how I thought of using Spadille and a gambling and playing card theme from a shadow on the light at a dance studio forming a shape resembling a spade (yes, really), I’ve been inspired by a piece of merchandise from Target: a new snuggly blanket I got that has thick weaving and a pinkish color reminiscent of coral. Coral as in coral reef. So that got me thinking: why not a coral reef planet? I’ve never done that before!
I’m thinking the planet is dominated by shallow waters, ringed by coral reefs spanning its circumference, where each homestead consists of slightly-underwater glass structures (think something resembling today’s underwater hotels) supplemented by just-above-water stargazing/skygazing platforms (functioning like maritime patios or decks), the whole rig being propelled by sails. Ooh…
In keeping with the advances in genetic engineering and biotechnology in general during this period, maybe these homes and structures, or boats and ships if you will, are not mechanical artifacts at all, but rather are grown from bioengineered derivatives of local coral reef, or perhaps from native creatures resembling glass squid…or a blend of both, such as a native glass sea anemone. Incorporating structures adapted from native animal skeletons, a la Utapau from “Revenge of the Sith”, might up the intrigue.
That would present a fascinating setting to explore in terms of the society, the characters who live there, the native environment, all from the perspective of one of the infrequent visitors who tours the place, with our very own navigator-cum-pilot protagonist being the ideal candidate for such a character. Think a sweet aristocratic romance type of thing crossed with a space-operatic sense of wonder.
It’s the One…er, the Two
However, this whole concept is flat-out incompatible with the space navigation vignette, since a sense of loneliness and vastness rooted in outer space is required for the story to work. The atmosphere and tone clash too much for them to be in one story; I’ve written some tales that are kinda like two kinds of stories melded together, but this would just be too much even for me.
So that gets me thinking: why do I have to even do both in one story at all, or choose one or the other? Why not a duology, a pair of stories, one story about the vastness and loneliness of space, the other story about the coral reef planet? They’d be connected via the planet and the protagonist: at some point the pilot decides to visit the place himself and comes down to the planet in the second story of the duology. More development work is needed to flesh everything out, but so far I’m really liking the idea; it just might be “the one” I need to get back into writing fiction after a couple months’ break!