Friday, February 17, 2017

A WEIGHTY TOPIC: THE BURDEN OF GRAVITY


For most science fiction writers who aim to send their characters into space the big technical hurdle is overcoming vast distances. We spend a lot of time thinking about ion drives and hyperspace and jump nodes and wormholes and the like, trying to decide how our starships are going to get around the galaxy. If you ask me, STAR TREK’s warp drive was just about the coolest idea ever. I just wish I’d thought of it.


We spend much less time thinking about something with which we have a lot more experience—gravity. Well, we can have a lot of fun with such toys as gravity boots, anti-grav sleds, spinning space ships or stations or the loss of artificial gravity when a ship comes under attack. Some of us can have even more fun writing scenes set in parts of the ship without gravity, for, um, various reasons.

But as a writer of science fiction romance (and most emphatically a non-scientist), I can’t tell you how the artificial gravity (AG) works on my starships. I’m not of the centrifugal spin camp—too clunky for smaller ships that might find themselves in a three-dimensional space battle at any time. I have to trust that some future genius has invented an electromagnetic field that can be generated within my ships to mimic gravity, the loss of which can sometimes be used to dramatic effect.  Sorry, all you real physicists out there. Just hold your noses and read on.

But Isaac Newton’s little darling can cause trouble in other areas of our stories, too, primarily because mass has a relationship with gravity. We send our characters to all sorts of planets in our adventures, and we envision exotic flora and fauna and alien creatures for them to interact with. But what about the size of those planets? Are they bigger or smaller than our Earth? If they’re smaller, our characters will tend to bounce all over. (Think Neil Armstrong on the moon.) If bigger, our manly heroes will be dragging and gasping within minutes. Face/palm!

The bad-guy aliens of my Interstellar Rescue series, the Grays, hail from a planet slightly smaller than Earth, which accounts for their short stature and slender limbs. That is also why they find Earthers of particular use as slaves—our larger frames and musculature developed on this planet make us good workers. However, we can be a physical danger to them, so they mindwipe us and use another large species as guards, the Ninoctins.

In my current work in progress, Follow the Sun, a group of human slaves escapes a labor camp and hijacks a Gray ship. Overcoming the skeleton crew of alien officers would not otherwise be a problem, but moving is awkward on board the Gray ship, where the AG is set for the planet of Minertsa. Let me just say the fight choreography for those scenes was challenging!

So, what about you? Met any good technical writing challenges lately?

PING PONG

Very bizarre weather you're having Down Under, Greta!  More evidence of the supposed "hoax" of global warming. Here in the mountains of North Carolina, we finished out another year of extreme drought in 2016, the warmest year on record. This winter has so far also been very mild, with very little snow (which I won't complain about) and close to record-breaking temperatures. Meanwhile, New England suffers under snowstorm after snowstorm. Welcome to the future, y'all.
 
Cheers, Donna






4 comments:

  1. AG is frustrating - I remember looking up current theoretical methods for generating gravity for a story and there aren't really any other than centrifugal (I can't even remember the details now - once I had enough info for the scenes I needed, I moved on. Nothing stays in my head anymore). But that's the only story where I've even mentioned it, and the effects of passing from gravity to zero g and back. That was the same story that had me researching what happens to a body in vacuum - gruesome fun!

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  2. The Outer Planets has artificial gravity but other than mentioning it's magnitogravitation (some theory I once researched about gravity generated by superconducting magnets and gyros) I don't go into detail. It's not important to the story other than that the crew moves about the ship by walking instead of floating. I think there's also a quick reference to a character having to be steadied as they turned a corner because the AG affects their body mass in a different way than Earth's natural gravity.

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  3. I have AG in my stories. The human body has to have gravity to work properly. But I also have scenes where the AG has failed, or in my latest, a scene on a moon. It's actually interesting to work out what size planet would make a difference to people's weight. I wrote an article called 'what would you weigh on an exoplanet' on just that subject on my own blog.

    As for climate change - I do not understand how people can believe it isn't happening. But I AM one of those people who believes there's not much we can do about it.

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  4. Yeah, climate change is definitely happening, it's just that some argue it's only part of the natural cycle. (Which may be true, but I think our species is definitely contributing to making it much more extreme.)

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