Sunday, 25 September 2011

Science Fiction Weapons 2: Eden's Arsenal

A couple of weeks ago I asked other science fiction readers on Reddit Scifi for ideas on weapons for my third novel in the Eden Trilogy, called Eden's Revenge, so here is what I came up with (and thanks to many people for the advice!).

First, a bit of background: The Eden Trilogy charts humanity's entrance into a pretty hostile alien galaxy, where a multi-cultural alien hierarchy known as Grid Society runs everything, and what matters most is how intelligent each species is: there are nineteen levels, and humanity is rated Level Three, so we have to hit the ground running...

In the first book The Eden Paradox which is based mainly on Earth and Eden, I used the following weapons:

Fly-drones - these are nuclear warheads each on a highly mobile chassis so they can zig and zag the way flies and mosquitoes do - makes them almost impossible to shoot down. Used in WWIII on Earth. The only defense was a 'nuclear curtain', which did almost as much damage as if the drones had reached their target.

Neutralino Detonator: not intended as a weapon as such, rather a 'starter motor' for FTL travel, but used on Eden as a last resort. Sends out increasing busts of high energy particles, crystallizing vast areas of land.

Drone 'head can' missiles: used on Eden; the user is 'virtually' inside the missile, and when it reaches target or is destroyed, his or her situation awareness snaps into the next remaining missile. usually loaded with C6, an upgrade on current C4 explosives.

Pheromone homing darts: used by the assassin Gabriel, these home in on a human target's unique pheromone signature.

Nanosword: used by Sentinel Cheveyo, basically a laser sword with a cool fluorescent blue 'blade' - the only hand-to-hand weapon which can penetrate the Q'Roth exoskeleton. Okay, obviously a Gedi rip-off...

Hextrite: an explosive that causes a vertical decompression wave, collapsing buildings.

Pulse weapons: pistols or rifles based on high energy laser bursts. Can be switched into 'freeflow' mode, but this naturally burns out their power cells very fast (10-15 seconds).

In the second book in the series, Eden's Trial, the story moves off-world and out into our galaxy, where mankind encounters various other races, and then gets put on trial to decide if mankind is worthy to survive or should be eradicated.

Genetically-coded eradicator: used by the (Level 8) Ossyrian species, this weapon seeks out any life form within a certain radius which does not have Ossyrian DNA, and then the virus attacks such organic matter at the molecular level. Used only in defense in extreme circumstances, since the Ossyrians are a medical race.

Dark worms: huge creatures which dwell in space, whose biology is mainly made up from dark matter and energy. They annihilate anything they come into contact with at the sub-atomic level. They were kept out of the galaxy by the Galactic Barrier until Qorall (from the Silverback Galaxy) brought it down.

Kinetic weapons: when Qorall attacks the barrier, he does so with a massive battery of meteorites and planetary matter.

Liquid diamond drill: used to penetrate anything, creates a very small hole which the liquid diamond then widens, by forming a stent. Used by Qorall.

Leap-frogger: a little-understood gravity-based weapon used by Qorall to displace an entire defense fleet, pulling it into space behind it while his own fleet jumps ahead (Newton's 2nd Law). It's a weapon depending where the original fleet ends up...

Jump-space mines: highly illegal, used by the Mannekhi to mine areas of hyperspace. If one attaches to the hull of a ship entering hyperspace, it is destroyed inside, and never exits.

Mannekhi disruptor: a hand-held weapon with various levels from stun to vaporize. Used by the Mannekhi, a Level Five species, the only other humanoid-shaped species in the galaxy.

In Eden's Revenge, the last in the series, the stakes go up, as our galaxy becomes the battlefield between Qorall, the Tla Beth, and the Kalarash, all above Level Seventeen, with humanity caught in the middle. Most of the following weapons are 'Inferno Class'.

Black hole mines: micro-blackhole weapons used to penetrate any defense, or to implode a ship.

Planet-breaker: anti-matter weapon used by (Level 6) Q'Roth. Fires 'tendril-like' waves which lash around the planet, breaking through its crust, allowing magma to flow to the surface. Early experiments with this technology rendered the Q'Roth home planet almost uninhabitable.

Kinetic weapons: Qorall uses a worm-hole to send planets with de-stabilised cores to destroy one of the Q'Roth shipyards. As Q'Tor, one of the Q'Roth commanders remarks, basically a very large grenade...

Metastaser: a Tla Beth (Level 17) weapon which is fired at one ship in a fleet, and then radiates out to other ships bearing similar attributes. Basically a fleet destroyer.

Novator: Qorall uses these on systems which refuse to surrender, basically sending their suns supernova, wiping out life over a vast distance.

Galaxy-destroyer: referred to in Book Two, this is the one the Tla Beth and Kalarash are most afraid of, since last time Qorall was losing the war in the Silverback Galaxy, he unleashed it, annihilating all of its suns. As humanity will find out, it isn't actually a weapon - the destruction of a galaxy is 'merely' a side-effect of it's true function...

Various Beam weapons, torpedoes, pulse cannons, etc. are used by battleships and Destroyer Class vessels. I'm sure I'll add a few more as I work on Eden's Revenge.

More suggestions welcome!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Science fiction and terrorism

When I grew up the word 'terrorist' was not in use - it was 'freedom fighters' or 'rebels', later 'insurgents', and then, as communications allowed grievous acts to be spread globally and with a mouse or thumb 'click', terrorism became the accepted term.

Science fiction often looks at where we are today and extrapolates to where we might be in the future. It isn't always optimistic, but often there is hope. But terrorism is a difficult subject to write about, especially in the wake of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, which frankly at the time moved me to tears even though I was thousands of miles away, and after the awful tragedy recently in Norway. Still, I wrote a story, The Sapper, about terrorism, and what it might look like if we haven't managed to eradicate it, in a couple of hundred years.

Not much science fiction really deals with terrorism. I remember Star Trek Deep Space Nine addressing it over a couple of seasons, and tackling some nasty issues along the way, but then it reverted to the more palatable War with aliens.

My novel (The Eden Paradox) includes a terrorist sect (the Alicians) who actually have an alien agenda, and give rise to an almost equally nasty (and unaccountable) Interpol known as the Chorazin, set against a context where fundamentalism has gained a deeper hold on the planet. The characters live and operate in a world where terrorism is never far away. The recent 'uprisings' in Northern Africa, known collectively as the 'Arab Spring', have however given me new hope that we don't need to go down such a course. 

One man's terrorist may well be another man's (usually a far smaller minority) freedom fighter or martyr. That doesn't justify such deeds as terrorists commit. Some of them would no doubt say the end justifies the means. No way, if only for the simple reason that if you take the long view of history, there are no 'ends', since life goes on, and one corrupt government often replaces another after a coup, one bloody revolution follows another, and so on. In the long view there are only means. We will be therefore judged by our means, since that's all there really is. If you get blood on your hands, it doesn't wash off. Ask Lady Macbeth.

The Arab Spring gives me hope that we are changing, in this case aided by communications technology. Repression works best if people don't know better, can't form groups, and think things can't change. A major instrument of any despot or authoritarian government is ignorance and misinformation. Science fiction could explore where all this new social media is leading. Maybe somewhere better.

As for my latest story, The Sapper, it contains some gore, because it is about terrorism, and terrorism is ugly, and writers should paint it the way it is. But as I said earlier, science fiction is about hope... - short story The Sapper

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Science fiction weapons

I'm doing some research for my third book, which involves a technologically-advanced hostile alien species (Qorall) from another galaxy looking to destroy an old enemy hiding in ours. The question is what weapons such a species might have at their disposal as they slash and burn their way through our galaxy? In my short story 'Galactic Barrier', actually a chapter from my second book, I give hints on what they are capable of, e.g. destroying whole star systems by making their suns of nova, using 'black hole mines', etc.

At the moment I'm reading the Lost Fleet by Jack Campbell and he has a pretty good array of weaponry (from 'grapeshot' to 'hell lances' and 'null fields'), and am about to start Greg Bear's Forge of God/Anvil of Stars books, but I'm wondering what other types of weapon (and counter-measures) have been conceived.

I believe time travel would be the ultimate weapon, since (as in Star Trek Voyager's 'Year of Hell') with such a weapon you could simply go back in time and erase a competitor before they got too advanced. But I'm saving that for something else...

Answers on an intergalactic postcard, please, before they arrive...

Galactic Barrier is in stories
The Eden trilogy Book one: The Eden Paradox
Book Two Eden's Trial due out November

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Scifi heroes and real life heroes

September 11th is one of those dates which will be remembered for centuries. Like most people I can remember exactly where I was, at work in France, when I first heard via a telephone call that a plane had crashed into a building. By the time I got home from work, the towers had fallen. When I saw the images on TV I felt sick.

Like many writers of science fiction I have 'heroes' who do battle with nasty people or aliens, usually against almost unsurmountable odds. They are there saving others. But what impressed me about 9/11, and still does today, is how heroic normal people were. The firemen in particular - easy to say it's their job, but no one was ever trained for what they faced. And the people who downed one of the planes rather than let it reach their target... I work in safety in the aviation business, and I'm on a plane pretty much once a fortnight. Imagine normal people, sitting on a plane, just trying to get somewhere, having a normal day, then realizing what was happening, and, however they did it, having the courage to stop the hijackers, saving hundreds and possibly thousands of lives, and giving up their own.

Sometimes it's hard to write scifi, or any fiction, that matches up to how heroic humanity can be when it's pushed into a corner. I take my hat off to them, and though I didn't personally know anyone touched by the calamity that was 9/11, like millions of others, I'll pause tomorrow to remember them. True heroes.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Science fiction and corruption

I was just reading about Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's President, and her efforts to curb corruption in her own government by firing many officials, including high level ones. Corruption seems to be one of the major blights in today's world, and is pretty much endemic: maybe it's always been that way?

Fiction is, oddly enough, often about trying to show us truth, how the world truly works. Science fiction (even more oddly) is about trying to show us who we could be as a society given different circumstances, as well as who we really are individually, no matter what future situation presents itself. If fiction is about truth, science fiction is about hypothetical or abstract truth about ourselves. But it is also about hope.

So, where are the science fiction novels about corruption, or an end to it?

I searched on Wikipedia, and there's an interesting array of scifi novels linked to politics, probably George Orwell's 1984 being my favorite. But much of science fiction chooses a world far into the future, where either there is a 'Star Trekkian' general shift away from the bases of corruption (e.g. no one needs wealth anymore) or else more Dystopian environments where everything is bleak. A neat turn away from this was the series Stargate Universe, with a pretty dismal outlook on its characters. But despite its depressing view of humanity, I couldn't help think it was closer to the truth. But it got cancelled...

As a psychologist as well as a writer, what fascinates me is how corruption spreads like a virus in organizations and societies. In my own novel, The Eden Paradox, which is near-term science fiction, early on in the first chapter I try to project where we might be in fifty years time politically-speaking. This includes a rise of fundamentalism and terrorism, and as counterpoint a nasty Interpol, and a more or less complete collapse in trust in any form of government - but kept short of anarchy.

In my second book, Eden's Trial, the building of a new society on a new planet quickly founders via a leader who creates a crony-filled government and militia. In this respect, I was interested to see BBC's Outcast series, which has a similar plot, with one man trying to undermine the fledgling government and install his own. Although the series was (again) unfortunately cancelled, it portrays in a believable way how this one man weaves his way to corrupt people.    

Science fiction is often about the desire for a better world to live in, and a better society. Science fiction forums often deplore a lack of science in some science fiction literature, but what about political science or sociology/psychology? At the end of the day, pretty much any fiction - including science fiction - is about people, otherwise it's non-fiction. If we do want to move to a better place, we need to explore possibilities and how to overcome problems like corruption, how we could actually move past it. Otherwise, as in my short story The Sylvian Gambit, we'll just take our sorry baggage with us, and the aliens will end up the 'good guys'...

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Michael Crichton - keeping the angels enthralled

Believe it or not, I only just found out that John Michael Crichton had passed away, back in November 2008. I somehow missed this very sad news, and maybe just didn't realize it because books kept appearing. What a sad loss, a genuine person who could inspire and make us think about possibilities and choices that face us in the near future. He was one of my biggest influences, since I first saw and then read the Andromeda Strain, then later Westworld, then Jurassic Park etc. I was actually penning a novel about invasive nannites when Prey came out. I read it in a weekend and binned my part-started novel - no way I could compete. I still think about State of Fear, not only in relation to climate change, but generally - I'm sure if he was still around he would have pushed out a novel about the global economic disasters we keep hitting, and would show us what is really going wrong with our financial system - and make it exciting too!

I always thought of his books and films as 'techno-thriller' rather than science fiction, though the line between the two is hazy. But I loved the way he paced his novels, how they were sassy and well-researched, and how his central characters were always understated heroes - and most of all how he made it all seem so possible, vivid like a film, and so close to reality. So when I wrote my first novel, even though it borders slightly more on the Scifi side, I tried to do the same, and was 'chuffed' when someone wrote back to me saying how it reminded her of Michael Crichton.

I was also sad to hear he died of cancer - I have people close to me who have had it, some made it through, some not. All of them are heroes to me, as are those who look after them, and in the sad cases, survive them. So in my second book, due November, mankind finally finds a cure. Probably if I had one wish, that would be it - let us find a cure for this dreadful, often random disease.

So, a little late, I know, but I'd like to dedicate the book to his memory. No doubt he's up there with the angels, keeping them all enthralled.

© Barry Kirwan |
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