Saturday, 16 June 2012

Cool alien ships & design concept for Eden's Revenge

One aspect I love about science fiction is space ships, both human-designed and alien ones. I never got that enthusiastic about cars, but space ships, well, that's different. Some are deservedly iconic, whether Star Trek's Enterprise and Borg Cubes, Star Wars' Millennium Falcon and Death Star, or 2001's ship whispering HAL and its crew to Jupiter and beyond.

More recently, the ship scenes in Sunshine were just trippy. Some ships are not merely vehicles but alive, notably Farscape's Leviathan hybrid Talyn, with a character all of its own. And lets not forget Stargate Universe and its ship of the ancients, though the external shots were too few for my taste. The Vorlon ships in Babylon 5 are my favourite of all time.

 In books as well, from Iain Banks' Contact vessels and warships in Excession to Peter F Hamilton's Voidhawks, and not forgetting Alistair Reynolds, the images they conjure up are breathtaking.

For years books held sway over the imagination, but with the rise of CGI now even with a fairly predictable and played-for-laughs scifi film like Lock-out, one can sit back every now again and just admire the space art visuals. Ship art and concepts are particularly important for Space Opera, because the idea is to show how big space is, not to make us feel small and insignificant, but to make us feel wonder at the vastness of the galaxy, and the endless possibilities it offers when we can finally get a ride out of our solar system.

Some of the more dystopian series like Firefly, or the quirky film District 9, have ships which are less jazzy, where oil and grease and dirt grace the interiors, and the exterior of the vessel looks like hastily glued together bits of scrap-metal. Of course, it may end up like that, especially the way our global economy is going, although SpaceX's Dragon seem to be doing okay so far. Alternatively, we may have the luxury to have clean and cool ships like in the recent film Prometheus, where the ship was pretty much the only thing I found interesting during the entire film.

In my own writing, for example in The Eden Paradox, our first interstellar ships, the Ulysses and the Phoenix, are more in the Firefly vein, powered by dark energy drives but otherwise cramped, as in the ships and mockups at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington DC. But the alien ships, mainly in the sequel Eden's Trial, as well as Eden's Revenge which I am working on now, are intended to be much more cool. Here's a description of the StarPiercer, from Edens Trial...

Nobody spoke, they just stared. Micah had seen plenty of cool ship designs in vids and games, but this wasn’t just the latest fluidic-chip maxi-sense holo-vid: this was real. And it was much, much better.
            The approaching ship was somewhere between an elongated cone and a javelin, the sleek outer hull laced with metallic scarlet and purple shades rippling from the tip back to the aft section. Its texture reminded him of a moonlit lake, but its sleek lines suggested power, and above all, speed. It was hard to gauge the size, but as it approached Hannah filled them in.
            “It’s a Scintarelli Star-piercer, according to the onboard database, Level Eight design, about two hundred meters in length, minimal jump drive, built for inter-stellar non-Transpace flight. Crew complement two, registering as Mannekhi, a Level Five race.”
            Micah tore himself away from the screen to face her. ‘Two?’

So, for book 3, Eden's Revenge, I want to have a ship on the front cover, so there is no mistaking that this book is science fiction. Of the dozen or so alien ships in my books, I've chosen the Kalarash ship, whose entrance into another galaxy occurs at the very start of the book:

In the darkness of the inter-galactic void, at the edge of the Hourglass Galaxy, a ruby gash opened in the fabric of space. The tear widened to a bloodshot eye, an obsidian pupil irising open at its centre. A ship emerged, shaped like an elongated crossbow. Along its ten kilometer shaft, metallic hues of aquamarine and scarlet morphed characters from an ancient, forgotten language, as if the ship was reading aloud to a universe no longer listening. The eye blinked and was gone, space around it snapping closed as if the portal had never been there. Kalaran had arrived. 

Now I just need to find an artwork designer to do the front cover, one who doesn't cost the Earth...

At the end of the day, or at the end of an episode, whether Star Trek, Farscape, SGU, Babylon 5, or any other series, one of my favourite shots is always to see the hero(ine), whether Picard or Janeway, standing by a porthole on their ship, looking outwards, then the camera pans out slowly, revealing the ship, which then continues on its journey into space or hyperspace, the deep hum of engines (which in reality we wouldn't hear, but what the hell) taking the crew to their next adventure.

Would I volunteer to be on such a ship? Seriously, need you ask? In a microsecond.

The Eden Paradox is available in paperback and in ebook on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones and Ampichellis.

The sequel, Eden's Trial, is available on in ebook from Amazon.

Eden's Revenge is coming out before Xmas 2012.

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