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Intersolar – the Technology and my Rules December 7, 2013

Posted by Kenfucious in Intersolar.
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A week after NaNoWriMo ends, a week to think on its direction, and impact on my life already – and I’ve come to the conclusion that I want to see this through. This story deserves to be told, in all its weird twists and turnings already imagined, and for those yet to come. What really catches my attention on this setting is its rich possibility.

These people, this place is obviously advanced from the first words on the page – as one reader pointed out, a leaf that drifts past during the opening, while the rings of Saturn are visible overhead. (One interesting side note, Portswain is located in a position where Saturn is always visible in the sky, due to the moon’s synchronous orbital and rotational period. One side always faces Saturn, much like our moon always shows the same side facing the Earth.)

Past that first glimpse of the world, the action firmly spirals down to Lily, our protagonist; an unwilling, but not ungrateful, cyborg who is on the hunt for patching, repair. Something not readily apparent from the outset. The flavor is desperation, the theme perseverance.

The character of Lily is fascinating to me, because she begins in a very survival oriented mode in the beginning, her need is simple. Plain to see before you, with a not so clear path to see it through. Her body, her Host (as I started referring to it in the later parts of Book 1), is a technological marvel, something she appears to take for granted as well.

So, in turn, I need to sit and compose rules for myself, so that I don’t take this flexibility for granted. There is an unspoken agreement while writing that all things will make sense by the end of the story, even if there is still mystery left over. It’s the promise an author makes to the reader. Internally consistent rule set. Some break this, of course, but this is the idea.

In this setting, mankind has risen to the stars, has begun to master manipulation of the atomic, molecular. They’ve also began to master their environment, as the atmosphere-containing fields, with adjusted gravity levels, shows. I did not want the tiny, contained spaces that most Sci-fi uses.. very biosphere-like elements that require a lot of self containment, recycling. By this time, mankind has found a balance with that environment, in a sense – you won’t see too much trash drifting about. Service robots and a few conscientious caretakers are required, but the system has a required balance on a large scale.

.. at least in Portswain, for reasons best left for Book 2’s big reveals. πŸ˜‰

Here I would like to set a few ground rules, Β both for my own posterity as well as for discussion. The goal is simple; a hard sci-fi slant with imaginative elements/applications. Sure, some of it will stretch the imagination, but it’s my job to justify that stretch somehow, by setting logical rules in place and using it wisely.

RULE 1: All technology must make sense, and have some basis in scientific principle.

This rule has a lot of caveats, when you start breaking it down.. but that is the gist. Conservation of matter and energy is a requirement, as well as laws governing space, time, mass, etc. No timey-wimey explanations or hand-waving, if I can help it. That said, sometimes it’s best I don’t go into the reasoning for the story’s sake.. and can make a note of it to answer if it comes up. πŸ˜‰

Nano scale technology is one of many jumps I’ve chosen to examine, in order to make the story easier to tell (frankly), and because I believe our manipulation of the nanoscopic is not terribly far into the future. Give us 50-100 years. πŸ˜‰

Nanotech Rule: It must replicate function of larger scale machines now – nothing too outlandish. The Nanos can only build ‘simple’ parts, nothing too intricate in-and-of itself without a commercial-level modification. *note: this is why Gnarl’s set up is so sweet, he is able to manipulate complex materials and shapes.

It will not touch biological matter unless specific controls are in place (bio-certified). *note: This is why Lily needed the ‘torus shaped’ unit that she acquired in 1.8 – her nervous system has biological components to it.

Nanotech Uses: All nanotech is single purpose, created on-the fly by master control units. The bots are recycled after each use by other specialty bots. ‘Decomposition’ nanos are an exception: they are always available for the unit to break down materials at the atomic and sub-atomic levels. Β Due to it not working on biological material, it is reasonably ‘safe’ for consumer use. It’s like personal ‘maker’ stations. Need another button? pop in a disc of material, get it in the size and shape you require. Great for textiles, household tools and utensils, etc.

Next are large machines. Automatons with simple and repetitive functionality, robots with complex function, drones and remotes, ships. All are analogous to modern machinery, just with more features and ability, durability, longevity, etc.

Energy fields: this is the most hand-waving that I do, and will probably stay that way. There’s a forcefield for air and atmosphere, a forcefield for matter, energy fields for gravity, an energy field covering outer moons to focus sunlight by magnifying a radius around the distant star. It just is. Deal with it. πŸ˜‰ I don’t want to get too crazy with this, and will likely not use personal ‘forcefields’, unless I change my mind. :p

Star Trek does this, Star Wars does this, Dune, just about every sci-fi I can recall has some form of energy-field hand-waving to explain an effect. It’s a black box, and it gives us atmosphere (where is convenient for the author), and allows me to continue the story in exotic locations.

Moving swiftly on to biology and cybernetics. This will bring us full circle to Lily, and one of the ideas that needs to be defined the most clearly.

Cybernetics Rule #1: Cybernetics will mirror biology in function.

Much of the technology I’ve described in reference to cyborgs is directly analogous to biological function and sense, perhaps just an added layer to it. Gnarl has a probosces and fine filament sensors (think cat whiskers) all over his body, as well as a few other heavy modifications, but it still based in biology. Lily’s body mimics a super-humans, but she still ‘bleeds’, still feels ‘pain’ in a sense, still is limited by a need for oxygen and nutrient intake for fuel and internal maintenance. I think the machines of the future will mimics biology in more ways than we can imagine, some day.. augment ourselves with photosynthesis, extra-spectrum sight, hyper/sub sonic hearing, ‘super’ strength, speed, and agility. Extra toughness like an insect’s exo-skeleton, internal reserves of oxygen for deep sea dives, or space walks.

Plus, Lily’s got another few tricks hidden up her proverbial sleeve, which I am saving for another story. πŸ˜‰ But in all things, even cyborgs continue to live in a rough analogue of ‘modern’ sensibility.

Cybernetics Rule #2: Augmentations are possible, but limitations *must* apply. Strength comes at the cost of added weight and reinforcement, and extra intake requirements. Physical stresses on joints and materials still apply. Batteries can still run of juice.

Cybernetics Rule #3: High cost, high maintenance, high impact. More is possible, but more is required.


Story Rule : All things come at a cost, and all things have a balancing/opposing reaction. This will be a prevalent theme throughout the story, but in ways I can’t particularly put to words at present.

The Biggest Rule of All: Space is a dangerous place. Anything, literally anything, can happen.