In the last snippet post, Baranar had just met a new recruit to the Death Rangers--a company of hardened men who patrol the ancient, dark and menacing forest nicknamed The Green Death.
Baranar and his peer, Gallin, wager about how long this new recruit will survive (not long) but the stranger counter-wagers them his sword that he'll survive the tasking.
Then something catches Gallin's eye...
The young man turned away
and made for the quartermaster stores to pick up his issued gear.
“Good wager.” I gave Gallin a smirk. “Tributes on your new sword.”
I turned toward the stores, but Gallin caught my arm, his voice like gravel in
my ear. “Did you get a look at it, Bara?” His eyes twinkled with greed...or was
I gazed at him, not answering. Not admitting my powers of observation were less
A slow, hideous grin crawled over his lips. “He carries a Blade of Duumarr.”
I squinted, then frowned. “Not possible. The Duumarrakhan were all destroyed, twenty
suncycles gone. And their swords with them.”
“Yet, no other would carry such a blade.” Gallin sank his teeth into his lower
lip as if he needed to keep from laughing out loud. “Good luck to you.”
I glanced in the direction the young man had traveled. If Gallin was right…
“Duumarrakhan?” The word surged from my mouth in a hoarse whisper. Most who
spoke that word followed it with a self-blessing to ward off harm. I wasn’t the
Gallin grunted and a chuckle rumbled deep in his throat.
Duumarrakhan. Such a man would have good reason to conceal himself in
the ranks of the Tahila Death Rangers. The Order of Duumarr had been hunted to
extinction by High Priest Tigus over a generation ago. Or near extinction, so
it now seemed. If one yet survived, his neck most certainly had a date with the
It might explain the confidence, the feel to the man. No man was more
deadly, not even a seasoned Death Ranger. Still, those of the Order were
trained to hunt and kill men, not farratora packs. Not the darkest of demons
that roamed the Green Death and polished their fangs on treasure troves of
I knew if the farratoras didn’t kill him soon enough, I could help them along.
I wanted to see nine seasons; I didn’t need an assassin at my back.
“My wager stands. First rush,” I muttered to Gallin.
I parked my hand on the hilt of my sword and followed the recruit’s path to the
I write science fiction – with an emphasis on the fiction
bit. However, mindful of the 'science' bit, I try to adhere to the basic tenets
of physics and what knowledge I have of astronomy. But let's face it, if you're
writing fast-paced space opera, you need to have things like faster than light
travel (FTL). And it has to be really advanced FTL, too. I think we tend to
gloss over the facts about how vast space really is, in much the same way that
politicians say 'one billion dollars' without batting an eye.
One billion looks like this in dollars. $1,000,000,000. Or
put it another way, one thousand million. That's eye-watering money. But it pales when you start talking about
numbers in space.
Even within our little solar system with its unpretentious
sun at the centre, the numbers are large. It takes about eight minutes twenty
seconds for a photon from the sun, travelling at light speed, to reach Earth. Light
travels at about 300,000 km per second, so that's about 300,000 X 500, therefore
150 million km – which is the average distance of Earth's orbit from the sun. In
comparison, light from the moon takes a bit over a second to reach Earth, a
distance of about 384,400 km. In this context, it doesn't sound like a huge
number – but it took Apollo11 76 hours to reach the Moon. It takes months for
(unmanned) spacecraft to reach Mars or Venus, years to reach the outer planets.
Once you start to talk about light years, the numbers are
mind boggling. One light year is a distance of 9.5 trillion kilometres.
If we wanted to visit Alpha Centauri, one of the closest stars to ours, we
would need to travel at the speed of light (which is impossible) for nearly
four and half years, so really advanced FTL would be a definite plus,
especially if it's a love story. Sexual tension can only go so far 😉.
The size of our Milky Way galaxy is hard to determine since we're in it.
Numbers vary from 100,000 to 200,000 light years or more in diameter, so if
Admiral Piett was right in saying that the Millenium Falcon could be on the
other side of the galaxy by now – that's one hell of an FTL drive. (Of course,
that galaxy far, far away might be much, much smaller than ours…)
Once we get outside our own galaxy, the numbers become…
astronomical?One of our nearest
galactic neighbours, the Andromeda Galaxy, is 2.5 million light years
That segues nicely (the distance, not the sexual tension)
into another astronomical fact. Whenever we look at any object in space, we're
looking into the past. If the sun suddenly exploded, we wouldn't know for about
eight minutes. Alpha Centauri may have exploded in a nova three years ago but
we wouldn't know about it for another year and a half. Fortunately for us, it's not likely to die a
supernova death, which would cause major problems for life on Earth. But Betelgeuse, the red giant star in the Orion
constellation, will do just that – if it hasn't gone already. It is 642.5 light
years from Earth and has been behaving erratically of late. Whatever that
means. It might have exploded centuries ago.
Whenever you look at the night sky, you're seeing an
And that leads us to constellations. Astrology is fun, but
it's hard to imagine how planets and distant stars can have any significance in
human lives. It's easy to see the planets move around the night sky. But stars move, too. We just don't see the motion because they are so far away.
Take Orion as an example. Perhaps Orion would look the same from other planets within our
solar system but over time the stars will move in relation to each other. This
short video will show how much.
"It all goes to show that while we take the stars
as unchanging guides, they are constantly shifting. Right now, if you want
to make sure you're headed in the right direction, you find Polaris (the end of
the "ladle" of the Big Dipper is helpful here). But in 3,000
BCE, the star Thuban was the north star. And if humanity hangs
around for another 13,000 years, we'll get a new North Star: Vega, the most
luminescent star in
the constellation Lyra, and currently the second brightest star in the
in the northern celestial night sky. Which means
our descendants 13,000 years from now (or about 500 generations
out) will have a much easier time pointing themselves due north. Something to
look forward to!" [source]
Outside our solar system, maybe from Alpha Centauri, the
constellations we know and love won't be visible.
And all of that gives lots of opportunities for space opera
plots – on the understanding that we have super-duper FTL drives, fantastic air
and water recycling systems, fabulous radiation shields, and artificial
gravity. (My ships have all those, of course.)
Eye of the Motheris based on the premise that an important
star in a constellation the alien Yrmak culture views as the mother deity in their
religion has gone supernova. Planets in systems closest to the
star can actually see it has exploded, while those further away can't see the
I've written another story which will appear in due course
where the changing shape of constellations depending on the viewer's location
is an important clue.
As much as I'm a Star Wars fan, I'd be among the first to agree the science in the shows is pretty ordinary. Star Trek is slightly better. Maybe. I'm happy to admit that I write a form of fantasy but I do my best to avoid magic in my books. That 'science' bit is important.
This year marks the 55th anniversary of the
modest beginning of a science fiction juggernaut, a phenomenon that spans not
only decades but generations; the full range of media from television, films
and animation to comics, novels, fan fiction and podcasts; and different
universes, different ships, and different crews over time. This is the vision
that creator Gene Roddenberry founded, and countless others have expanded upon,
of a “Wagon Train in space;” a franchise that almost died aborning, but, like
its most famous hero, would not accept the “no-win scenario” and thrived in
I’m talking about, of course, STAR TREK, which first aired on
NBC in September,1966, as what is now known as The Original Series and survives
today on the streaming service Paramount Plus as three separate ongoing series (with
more on the way).
Most of you already know I’ve been a fan of TREK since its
earliest days on broadcast television. I was already a science fiction fan when
Kirk, Spock, McCoy (played, of course, by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and
DeForest Kelley) and company appeared on my home TV screen. I had been reading
New Age SF for a couple of years by that time, and I loved THE TWILIGHT ZONE
and THE OUTER LIMITS. In fact, some of my favorite episodes of those shows had
starred William Shatner (“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “Nick of Time” on TTZ, “Cold
Hands, Warm Heart” on TOL).
So, I was inclined to love STAR TREK from the beginning. I
watched faithfully every Friday night before it was canceled (a time slot that
was normally a death sentence for such a show, but at my age, the only other thing
I might have going was a babysitting gig). A few years later, when the show was
in syndication, I watched with my college buddies in a beer-soaked lounge at
the Coughyhouse, a campus hangout, during Friday Drink, when all you could
drink could be had for a buck. You can imagine the intelligent comments that
accompanied each episode.
I was among the devoted fans who thronged movie theaters in
1979, when Paramount, owner of the TREK franchise, bowed to pressure generated
by Roddenberry and legions of fans at conventions across the country (plus the
glittering promise of big bucks inherent in the success of STAR WARS) and
released the first big-screen STAR TREK adventure, STAR TREK: THE MOTION
PICTURE. The film had all the elements of greatness: the original cast, other
well-known actors in supporting roles, a big budget for special effects, and,
best of all, a veteran Hollywood director, Robert Wise (of THE DAY THE EARTH
STOOD STILL, among many other films), behind the wheel.
But I, like many other fans, was disappointed with the
result. The film leaned heavily into the special effects and forgot what Star
Trek was all about—the characters, particularly the relationship between
that triad of Kirk/Spock/McCoy that had drawn us to TOS.
Still, so many fans were so desperate to see TREK again in
any form that they lined up to pay good money to see the film no matter how
slow it was. (All we’d had for years besides the reruns, after all, was two
seasons of bad animation and recycled plots in THE ANIMATED SERIES, which for
me was little better than Scooby Doo in Space.) The success of the first film
gave Paramount execs the financial incentive they needed to make more TREK
films. And the next ones—particularly STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, in which
Kirk’s nemesis Khan Noonian Singh, from TOS episode “Space Seed,” makes a
spectacular reappearance; and STIV: THE VOYAGE HOME, in which Kirk and the crew
must go back in time to 1980’s San Francisco to kidnap a pair of whales in
order to save the galaxy—are far superior contributions to the TREK canon.
My first Trek fanfic novella ca. 1991.
By this time I was watching old TOS episodes with a new
generation of my own family at home and becoming engrossed with the
professional novels based on the series published by Pocket Books. Those books
served as inspiration for my own writing efforts, and I wrote my first TREK
novel about that time. Pocket Books wouldn’t take it—presumably because it had
a strong female lead character and let Kirk take the daring step of showing
personal growth—but I found an underground fan fiction press that loved it.
Orion Press published four of my novels and at least six
short stories for sale to other fans online and at TREK conventions throughout
the Nineties. I started going to the Shore Leave Trek con in Towson, Maryland,
where I met my writing mentor SF author A.C. Crispin and Founding Fans Joan
Winston and Jacqueline Lichtenberg, as well as other lifelong friends. And I
learned the skills I needed to start writing my mainstream SFR novels a few
I’m suddenly unearthing and airing out all my stores of TREK
lore not only because of the 55th anniversary, but because I’m
auditing an online course called “Exploring STAR TREK,” taught by my old friend
and TREK con buddy Dr. Amy H. Sturgis at Signum University. Dr. Sturgis, a
recognized expert in SF and fantasy studies and Native American studies, has a
Ph.D. in Intellectual History from Vanderbilt University and can speak or write
at length on TREK or STAR WARS or Tolkien or any number of similar iconic pop
culture subjects. Another TREK con buddy persuaded me to take the class with
her, and we’re having a ball talking TREK with a bunch of other like-minded
Trekkers. Some are newbies, some are lifetime fans, but we’re all there to
share the love of this series that, as Dr. Sturgis points out, is both a
reflection of our society and a propulsion into the future as it could be.
Gene Roddenberry believed firmly that history was a
progression, an evolution of humankind in an upward direction. STAR TREK was
his manifesto, one all of us who became Trekkers came to hold in common with
him. May it live long and prosper.