Sunday, 11 January 2015

Drift diving and interstellar travel

One of my most popular blogs concerned scuba diving as inspiration for writing science fiction (read it here). Well, having recently finished and published Eden's Endgame, I'm on vacation and diving again, and this morning's dive reminded me of that original blog.

Three of us (all instructors) dropped down off a boat in pretty choppy seas and headed down into the deep blue into a strong current - around five knots - and began what is called a 'drift dive'. Because the current was strong, the visibility was good, at least thirty metres, and the first thing I saw was a shark resting on the sandy white bottom at round 30m, at the foot of  reef wall resembling a cliff. The current swept us along at a brisk pace as we descended, and I felt something like an astronaut floating through space, weightless.

The deep blue stretching to my left was devoid of fish, and so reminded me of space, but ahead were some large fish, and a six-foot black-tipped reef shark. I often use fish to think of alien space ships, and for me this type of shark remind me of a Q'Roth Marauder warship - sleek, elegant, manoeuvrable and deadly. As I drifted closer, the shark became more agitated, watching me, swimming more of a zig-zag (which is a dangerous sign, by the way, as it means it is getting closer to 'fight-or-flight' mode), then headed left toward the blue. To keep watching him (I decided it was a male for some reason) I first flipped upside-down then backwards so I was driftng feet first, eyes on the shark throughout. I finned to slow down but there was no way I could go against the current so I spun back around to face forwards again, and briefly reminisced about the film Gravity (or maybe it was just Sandra Bullock).

Next up was a large black stingray, stationary on the sand, no way to slow down for more than a second or two before being whisked past. This 'travel' made me think about two science fiction books I've been reading while on holiday - A Talent for War by Jack McDevitt, and the Forever War by Joe Haldeman (both excellent, by the way). In both of these they describe inter-stellar travel and the need to slow down, and just how long it takes to decelerate from near light speed, and how this can be used to tactical advantage in battle situations. I imagined the sting ray could easily have lifted off the sand and stung me, and there would be nothing I could do (I've been stung once before, not to be repeated).

As the current slowed down, a few 'deep space sharks' later, we drifted closer to the reef, which was like entering a planetary system, a menagerie of fish including electric blue triggerfish who seemed to be policing everything, and myriad other fish, like a flotilla of ships you might expect when entering a busy, prosperous solar system. We raced past columns of brown cauliflower coral and green table coral that stood out from the clffs like cities buzzing with life, small cleaner fish servicing the gills of the larger ones.    

The coral became less uniform with a wide range of hard and soft corals, and began to look like vegetation, wiry trees interspersed with mushroom coral that resembled alien dwellings. At this 'city-level' the different fish are busying themselves, eating and trying not to be eaten, and of course the coral is also alive, giving the inviting scifi idea of living cities that might need to feed at night...

Near the end of the dive we entered a cave where the fish littered teh inside of it, including the ceiling, and I thought, hell, why not have underground cities where towers hung like stalactites from the roof as well as growing up from the floor...

The most complex social system on our planet (besides our own) is underwater, yet we still understand relatively little of it. Down there, as in Haldeman's book, we can either think of the fish as alien, or else realise it is us who are the intruding aliens, ungainly in our scuba gear and less manoeuvrable than most fish (okay, we can out-perform a puffer-fish, but that's about it). But the over-riding feeling I have when diving is that I'm in another world, alien, deadly, beautiful.

And it gives me ideas for the next scifi novel that I'm planning, called Last Human. A maxim of diving is 'Never dive alone', but in this book, as given away by the title, the hero of the story will have little choice, and will be cast adrift in a galaxy full of alien life forms... 



  1. when alien life forms will come to Earth...goodbye religions and all its Lies

    1. It would change everything, but some religions will probably adapt


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