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Author Topic: My problems with the story  (Read 6620 times)

PTTG

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My problems with the story
« on: April 03, 2012, 03:14:00 pm »

First off, I want to say I'm not exactly a professional writer, so I acknowledge that what follows is probably rather poorly written anyway.  Still, as a fan of hard science fiction, I would find it impossible not to complain a little bit. So here's what bugs me. The Outerra spacecraft was a giant ship built to travel between multiple stars in the near future and start several colonies, each of which failed, and then returns to earth and recolonizes it as well.

1.) One massive spaceship puts all eggs in one basket. Although, yes, there may be a marginal increase in efficiency as only one starship engine is required, there's a reason that Columbus had three ships (The Ninja, the Piña Colada, and the Santa Malaria).

2.) One massive spaceship going to multiple destinations is extremely inefficient. When you are traveling to the first star system on the route, you have to carry everything you are going to take to that system, plus everything you are going to take to every other system you plan on visiting! This might be excused if you plan to refill at each stop, but then you stay at each planet for decades! What's more, we know that that isn't the case- humans that visit earth on the return trip mention that they've remained in stasis the entire time. If they were loading and unloading people at each stop, they surely would have had need for a skilled doctor such as the one mentioned in the prologue.

3.) How can a colony fail? The ship carries enough supplies to start six or seven colonies! If they arrive at a planet they can't easily colonize, then they skip it, assuming they the mission planners were idiotic enough to plan a multi-system colonization attempt in the first place. If they settle a good planet and find that there's a bad harvest or something, then they just use some of the remaining supplies to cover the deficit. If a planet is good enough to try colonizing, it's good enough to try again.

4.) Perhaps the colony ship simply dropped a few million tons of supplies on a planet and left. While slightly sane- since the colony ship wouldn't even need to enter orbit or decelerate much depending on the destination star- but if that is the case, then EVERY ton of supplies would have been dumped on one of the destinations or the other; they wouldn't even be able to collect leftover supplies like tractors or pointless APCs or whatever.

5.) Good lord the reaction mass! I don't know what propulsion system your ships are using, but they need either fuel or reaction mass which gets consumed. You need enough fuel to accelerate the ship, then decelerate the ship, not once, not twice, but once for every single stop on the route! That is madness!

Now, the natural response to critique of a creative project is "Well, let's see you do better." Well, OK:

In the near future, following a chaotic few decades which featured some major political changes and, among other things, the development of functional fusion power generation, a newly unified humanity finally finds itself in the position to reach out to the solar system and the stars. While many commercial groups set about the colonization of the moon and mars, and the Jovian moons, the international space agency plans to send missions to the nearest star systems. These extra-solar missions will consist of three spacecraft using magnetoplasma drives to accelerate at several G to various nearby stars. Five such missions will be launched to likely nearby stars- Alpha Centauri b, Tau Ceti, 40 Eridani A, Delta Pavonis, and HR 7722.

The various missions travel for many decades. Besides the constant drone of the engines and the occasional footsteps of the operations crew down narrow maintenance corridors, all is silent. The Delta Pavonis crew arrives in system to a disappointing sight- despite all evidence to the contrary, the star system has no truly habitable planets. There is a plutonic body well outside of the system which has a great deal of ice- much-needed fuel.

Rather than risk the lives of the crew on traveling to some other system, the colonization mission leaders turn to the emergency plan- turning to broadcasts from earth, which should have updated star charts with good destinations. They set up the massive radio antenna- a huge wire mesh with an area of several kilometers which is stretched between the three vessels. They are confused, then shocked, to realize that they receive no communications from earth whatsoever. After months of waiting, they realize that earth simply isn't transmitting anything.

With few other options, they finish refueling and set out to return to earth.

Several decades later, Delta Pavonis Mission Vessel B and DPMV C arrive in orbit of earth- DPMV A suffered a faulty navigational thruster and was unable to rotate into deceleration position, instead ending up drifting out of the solar system after a failed attempted realignment. B and C look upon an earth that has been abandoned for centuries for unknown reasons.
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cameni

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Re: My problems with the story
« Reply #1 on: April 03, 2012, 04:07:40 pm »

Thanks for your opinion!

1.) One massive spaceship puts all eggs in one basket. Although, yes, there may be a marginal increase in efficiency as only one starship engine is required, there's a reason that Columbus had three ships (The Ninja, the Piña Colada, and the Santa Malaria).
Yes, that's true. On the other hand, we have only one ISS. Amount of resources a space program requires is enormous. If we are going to Mars, it will be one ship initially, to test it. And it will be bloody expensive. Technically, Outerra ship is an experiment of the same kind. But read below.

Quote
2.) One massive spaceship going to multiple destinations is extremely inefficient. When you are traveling to the first star system on the route, you have to carry everything you are going to take to that system, plus everything you are going to take to every other system you plan on visiting! This might be excused if you plan to refill at each stop, but then you stay at each planet for decades! What's more, we know that that isn't the case- humans that visit earth on the return trip mention that they've remained in stasis the entire time. If they were loading and unloading people at each stop, they surely would have had need for a skilled doctor such as the one mentioned in the prologue.
The ship gains speed initially and never really stops anywhere - that would take too much energy. It's been sling shot from our system, utilizing gravity of other stars to change the course after each POI. When approaching a POI, several (hundred) colony pods detach from the frame and eventually land on the planets and moons, while the mothership continues uninterrupted. I think it's quite reasonable way of doing the journey, if you don't count with some very futuristic engines and huge amounts of energy. On the contrary, I think it's much more efficient than sending 5 ships, similarly to the probes that visit several planets on their way.

Another thing is that as the ship approaches, it can measure and detect habitable zones better, and decide where and how many pods to deploy. It would all affect the planning of the whole journey, changing mass, recomputation of the trajectory and all.

Quote
3.) How can a colony fail? The ship carries enough supplies to start six or seven colonies! If they arrive at a planet they can't easily colonize, then they skip it, assuming they the mission planners were idiotic enough to plan a multi-system colonization attempt in the first place. If they settle a good planet and find that there's a bad harvest or something, then they just use some of the remaining supplies to cover the deficit. If a planet is good enough to try colonizing, it's good enough to try again.
This isn't actually a part of the Anteworld story, and here Shawn's got his hands more free. It's not very important if the colonies fail or don't: in fact, not all fail. But you ask: why would they fail? Science fiction hardly ever deals with the one most important factor: existence of other life forms, mainly the bacteria and viruses existing on other planets suitable for colonization (note, we aren't talking about terraforming naked planets here, the colony pods are way too small for it and it would take eons). It's expected that colony pods would live in isolation at the beginning for hundreds of years, adapting to the environment and biotesting etc.

There are other factors that could contribute to a fail - but these are more or less of artistic character.

Quote
4.) Perhaps the colony ship simply dropped a few million tons of supplies on a planet and left. While slightly sane- since the colony ship wouldn't even need to enter orbit or decelerate much depending on the destination star- but if that is the case, then EVERY ton of supplies would have been dumped on one of the destinations or the other; they wouldn't even be able to collect leftover supplies like tractors or pointless APCs or whatever.
Um, not sure what part of the story this addresses.

Quote
5.) Good lord the reaction mass! I don't know what propulsion system your ships are using, but they need either fuel or reaction mass which gets consumed. You need enough fuel to accelerate the ship, then decelerate the ship, not once, not twice, but once for every single stop on the route! That is madness!
Precisely! As explained above, it doesn't stop :)


That said, your story is pretty good as well, though it requires more of the futuristic essence. However, some weaknesses:
  • If the Mars and Jovian moons are colonized, the humanity wouldn't likely be wiped out. However, this may not be necessary, and the colonies may be just small and enclosed, and they can be used in the story as well
  • Communication with the ship that's several light-years away is quite .. delay-full, how to say it. They would be awaiting for the response much longer time. It could be incorporated into the story though. Another thing would be that such a ship would probably have antenna set up for communication for the whole journey, so no sudden shock from a late realization that Earth is not transmitting. But it may be timed accurately for the purpose of the story ...

« Last Edit: April 04, 2012, 11:41:07 am by cameni »
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C. Shawn Smith

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Re: My problems with the story
« Reply #2 on: April 03, 2012, 08:46:00 pm »

*Edit 2* And I concur with Cameni: Thanks for your opinion!!!  I don't mind a little criticism.  (You should have seen how much of the original story I had outlined that Cameni squashed :P)

Cameni's correct on all points :).

As much as I'm trying to keep things within the realm of reason, I like many other writers have taken a few artistic liberties to try and tell a compelling story that will intro the game.

Also, as Cameni said, the colonies don't have to fail.  The Outerra Initiative is told from the perspective of the crew, so once the Outerra leaves a system to get to the next one, the previous colony is only touched upon a bit, if at all (you can only do so much with a novella).  The failures become situations where a planet is not as suitable as once believed, or something goes wrong.  Perhaps the colony on Epsilon Eridani contracted a plague that wiped them out.  Or perhaps there is some sort of life form there that causes an issue.  Or perhaps .... well, that's a secret ;)

As for #4: When the Outerra drops its collection of colony pods at a particular world, EVERYTHING that is sent is utilized.  Everything.  Nothing is ever wasted or discarded.  Future RL colonies will have to be the same, since there is such a long window before more supplies could be sent.  For a colony around another star system, this is critical for survival.  You take only the necessities, and manufacture anything else you may need on the planet itself.  There's no need to "pick anything up" because nothing is discarded.  I've already wrote key notes on the first colony, in which even the waste is recycled (Humanity finally becomes 100% green).  Also note that some materials or supplies that are brought may not be what you think.  For instance, a single box carries dozens of DNA sequences and/or embryos that will be "grown" to maturity during the course of the colony's maturation.

And one last thing: As far as it being one ship and one ship only, that's not exactly the case.  Chapters one and two hint that the ISA isn't planning on just one ship, but perhaps dozens.  The problem is how long it would take to build and then crew such a ship, not to mention the resources and finances that would be necessary to do it again and again.  There is a very brief section in which the main character ruminates on Outerra's sister-ship going even further out, but that won't take place for another 10-30 years.

*Edit* ahh, forgot about the reaction mass issue.  Yeah, this is the worst part of the "science" here, and freely admit that.  Although the ship uses a type of fusion reaction to generate thrust, that's not all that there is to it.  I'm also adding a bit of artistic license to that fusion technology, though I'm not really explaining it in-depth in the novella.  Not much need to.  Ask yourself: Do you know how Rama actually moved?  What was its thrust mechanism?  It's not explained, although it is hinted at.  I'm not terribly worried about it (at least at this point, anyway).  If it becomes necessary, then I'll figure out a better way to do it.

I do like the story you put into place, however.

@Cameni: The last few factors you discussed (losing comms with Earth, and how they accomplish it) I worked out a bit a while back.  My current line of reasoning is that communication would generally have to be one-way.  Outerra -> Earth.  Earth comms would probably be short sequences, since Outerra would have to be entirely self-sufficient and self-governing due to the distance (Hey, Earth!  Guess what we found?  A Xenomorph living on Gliese 581b!  Please advise me on how to remove the face-hugger from my colleague.  K?  TYIA!).  However, I do make a case where the Earth broadcasts a short beacon sequence at regular intervals (taking into account Outerra's motion), so that Outerra can always "lock-on" to Earth for data-transmission.  If that beacon ends for whatever reason .... well, they just lost communication with Earth :)

*Edit 3 typos*
« Last Edit: April 03, 2012, 09:06:57 pm by C. Shawn Smith »
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C. Shawn Smith

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Re: My problems with the story
« Reply #3 on: April 03, 2012, 09:14:05 pm »

And one more thing to add:

One of the things that helps writers is critique.  Some writers prefer to work in writing groups, where other writers make suggestions to help flesh out a story.  Although it may not be used, it gets the writer thinking, and it may alter the way a story is presented.

Carl Sagan's scifi novel, Contact, was written from a scientific perspective.  But the original story was bad.  He turned to other scientists and writers to help him flesh it out.  Kip Thorne, Arthur Clarke, etc.  Although he used some of their suggestions, he didn't use them all, but it got him to thinking about more clever ways to do what he'd already written, making the final version the gem that it is.
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Fabo.sk

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Re: My problems with the story
« Reply #4 on: April 11, 2012, 06:44:08 pm »

Just a small thing.... Taiwan is not a city, Tai-Pei is...
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C. Shawn Smith

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Re: My problems with the story
« Reply #5 on: April 11, 2012, 06:55:56 pm »

Yeah, it was a holdover word from a previous incarnation of the Epilogue, and I just never noticed it was still there (I always read it as saying "country" instead of "city").

I finally caught that part back in mid-March and fixed it in the draft I'm currently working on.  I should update the epilogue PDF file though.
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The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be. -- Carl Sagan
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Fabo.sk

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Re: My problems with the story
« Reply #6 on: April 11, 2012, 07:07:55 pm »

All good then if you are going with Tai-Pei then.
If you want to go with Taiwan "the Country" then, I do have to warn you, this is a slippery slope and not correct.

Basically one can say that the official view is the same on both sides of the Strait: There is only one China, only the provinces on the other side of the strait are occupied..

e.g. PRC maintains that Taiwan Island (and surrounding islands) are a part of PRC, unruly occupied by an illegitimate government, whereas ROC(the Taiwan state) maintains that it is indeed a legitimate government of All of China, only the mainland is occupied by the communists. Well that is the official view anyway. (see I let my inner diplomacy minor speak too much)

So basicaly a Taiwanese Chinese would very unlikely refer to his home country as "Taiwan", but rather "China".
Unless, of course, you plan to write around this, but I feel it easier to just change the one line.
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C. Shawn Smith

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Re: My problems with the story
« Reply #7 on: April 11, 2012, 09:23:46 pm »

Hehe.  I thought the same things when writing this scene.  It is indeed writing around current history.  At the time the novel is set, the governments of the world have a more familial relationship, and work together in mutual cooperation.

There is a scene I have more or less solidified early in the novella in which Dr. Chu mentions his native Taiwan, and her relationship to China under this climate of cooperation.  In this future history, Taiwan has gained a level of independence again, for reasons I'm not quite ready to reveal.

Balancing current views with that history will likely offend a few people, but so will the reveal that Cuba is now a state in the US will likely raise eyebrows too :).

Let alone what I end up doing with the Middle East lol.
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C. Shawn Smith

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Re: My problems with the story
« Reply #8 on: April 11, 2012, 11:46:28 pm »

Realized I made more of a mess of that explanation than I intended.  Suffice it to say, "nationalistic" identity is much less important than identifying with the human race as a whole, by about 2053-ish.  I would have been more accurate to identify Taiwan (though still partially independent) as a protectorate state of China, rather than it's own country (the line now reads: not daring to envision that the proud country-state of Taiwan would one day be nothing more than a tropical jungle.  I'm still not 100% satisfied with it yet, however, so I'm looking closely at how some of the other parts of the novel mesh together before I put the polish on it).  However, it (Taiwan) has a level of autonomy that isn't seen in today's world climate, due to its importance to the ISA and United Nations ;).  Taiwan is responsible for the bulk of the computer and technological advancements in the novella, with the US, China, and some nations of the Middle East having the manufacturing power.  Hence Dr. Chu, Taiwanese native, being first officer and general scientific/computer specialist of the mission.

To put all that in perspective, one of the current "patriotic" songs of the US states "Proud to be an American."  By the year 2100, such a bold statement would be seen as isolationist and subversive to the world as a whole, as well as human progress.  It would be more appropriate to say, "I'm proud to be an American, and a participant in the human race."
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cameni

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Re: My problems with the story
« Reply #9 on: April 12, 2012, 03:01:15 am »

Heh, Shawn the Idealist :)
I don't see nationalism going anywhere. It's one of the low-level competitive evolutionary strategies, together with "we are the chosen" religions (that makes most of them), that give boost to groups that believe in their superiority. It's completely natural, in that sense. So if the nationalism is suddenly much less important, there must be something else that people identify with and fight for. As much as I'd like to believe it would be the reason, I'm not an idealist. Where would all the conservatives disappear? :)

Nevertheless, the Outerra Initiative is supposed to be an act of reason, an action by the humans to avoid potential danger of complete eradication of humanity as it's currently concentrated on a single lump of rock in vast space. An outer threat is practically the only way we could unite for a sufficiently long time anyway. However, as soon as the colonists start conquering the Earth back, they are preferably going to take over their original home lands first, and even cutting from the old neighborhoods while they can.
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C. Shawn Smith

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Re: My problems with the story
« Reply #10 on: April 12, 2012, 03:54:25 am »

Heh, Shawn the Idealist :)
I don't see nationalism going anywhere. It's one of the low-level competitive evolutionary strategies, together with "we are the chosen" religions (that makes most of them), that give boost to groups that believe in their superiority. It's completely natural, in that sense. So if the nationalism is suddenly much less important, there must be something else that people identify with and fight for. As much as I'd like to believe it would be the reason, I'm not an idealist. Where would all the conservatives disappear? :)

Nevertheless, the Outerra Initiative is supposed to be an act of reason, an action by the humans to avoid potential danger of complete eradication of humanity as it's currently concentrated on a single lump of rock in vast space. An outer threat is practically the only way we could unite for a sufficiently long time anyway. However, as soon as the colonists start conquering the Earth back, they are preferably going to take over their original home lands first, and even cutting from the old neighborhoods while they can.

LOL!  I knew you'd post this as a response. :) (meant as a complement).

I agree.  I'm an idealist and a Utopitiarian(sp) in every sense of the word, but you already knew that about me :).

Nationalism (or better said, patriotism) is a dead end road for the future.  It has its moments, and can be beneficial.  But on the whole it is lacking for progress.  For real change, and global cooperation, we need something more than patriotism.  Which is one of the things that is the forefront of the novella.  It is the Utopian idealism that drives humanity in the future ... things that may seem absurd at the start, but are well within our reach.  Heck, if we had the cooperation and funds, we could send a probe to Alpha Centauri today!  May take 10 years, but imagine the level of cooperation it would require, uniting most of the first world countries!  Holy Voyager, Batman!

I'm a little too loopy from lack of sleep to comment further.  :)  3 days of insomnia is practically deadly for forum postings, so I'll stop there :P.

Just don't get me started on my Utopian idealism, where humanity can be in the next 50 years, and what is wrong with society today. :D

Let's just say, we are all Homo Sapiens.  Nothing else matters.  When most people realize that, things will change.

</soapbox>

Gah! Should not post when sleepy!  Ignore me. :D



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What we think, we become -- Buddha
There is no spoon -- Neo, The Matrix
The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be. -- Carl Sagan
Outerra is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be. -- Me :)
- Yes, I'm still around ... just been busy with other projects ;)

cameni

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Re: My problems with the story
« Reply #11 on: April 12, 2012, 10:05:30 am »

Yeah, we are probably complementing each other as far as the idealism and .. "non-idealism" goes, hopefully it's going to bring the desired multifunction fruit :D

Humans definitely need a global cooperation to move things forward in a grander scale. But we also need a motivation for such cooperation. IMO, pure idealism simply does not work. An attempt for (someone's) ideal ultimately reduces the productivity, and at worst it reverts to a dictatorship. There were many social experiments that show it, and it's everywhere in the nature as well. I lived through the end of "socialism/communism" experiment  ::)
The basic premise of any utopian system is that individual members have to behave and basically to give up their individual goals and motivations in exchange for a common higher goal.

Apart from the problem of agreeing on a common goal with all the different groups, think fundamentalists vs. technocrats (or, pray imagine: idealists vs. cold evolutionists! :D ), there's a huge problem with the stability of such system. We would be basically creating a large potential difference, a difference between the current and possible individual benefits. That's another permanent source of instability. And I'm not talking just about small antisocial defects: the ruling class, initially the guardian of the great ideal, quickly turns into the biggest exploiter of the system, because the power corrupts.

The biggest problem with utopia is that the time would have to be stopped for it to work. But then, "to work" implies the time is flowing :D
Else, if a utopian system was superior to the current systems (in terms of competition), it would be here already, or the advantage would show up in smaller scale as well.

Of course, things are not black and white (except for the black and white idealists :) ), and the ideals are needed to get the society to a higher energy level, to make it capable of achieving greater feats. Just let's not forget that behind it all are the cruel principles of life. If there's a reservoir or just a niche of potential energy difference that can be exploited, it will be exploited. Life as a principle is just an entropy accelerator ;)
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DurMan667

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Re: My problems with the story
« Reply #12 on: April 12, 2012, 02:27:00 pm »

Humans definitely need a global cooperation to move things forward in a grander scale. But we also need a motivation for such cooperation.

Easy.  Aliens.

What better way to unite humanity than to threaten its existence with alien invaders?

And what do we do when we beat the invaders?  INVADE THEM RIGHT BACK!
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