Showing posts with label Science Fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Science Fiction. Show all posts

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Book Review - Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds

Title: Inhibitor Phase
Author: Alastair Reynolds
Year: 2021
Pages: 496 pages
Print Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Audible Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Inhibitor Phase is Alastair Reynolds' fourth book in the Revelation Space saga. The war against the Inhibitors was not going well, leaving humanity with two options, fight and die or run and hide. We meet Miguel de Ruyter, a failed politician of the Hollow Sun. Miguel's days are numbered, he self-selected for a diabolical one-way mission. 

Hollow Sun is one of the last bastions of humanity as the Inhibitors have hunted down and destroyed all human habitats. To protect their home, to protect one of the last outposts of mankind, Miguel must destroy a light hugger loaded with sleeping humans. Hollow Sun has no capacity for more people, they are just barely holding on. As the ship goes down, Miguel suffers a bout of compassion and picks up a lifeboat. 

And the trap is sprung. Join Miguel on a grand adventure to destroy the Inhibitors hunting mankind across all of Revelation Space. 

This particular story plays fast and loose with the timeline of the prior 3 books, something that the author mentions in the introduction. Rather than a completion of the other three books, this is a mythological tale where some logic has to be put aside to tell. 

You can try a search for it on Abebooks. Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds on Abebooks.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Book Review - Aurora Rising (The Prefect) by Alastair Reynolds

Title: Aurora Rising (aka The Prefect) 
Author: Alastair Reynolds
Year: 2007
Pages: 428 pages
Print Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Audible Rating: N/A 

Welcome to the Glitter Band, a series of thousands of orbital habits around Epsilon Eridani. In the Revelation Space series, the planet Yellowstone is the starting point or key place for every novel. In the Prefect series, Alastair Reynolds skews the perspective by focusing on the myriad habitats orbiting the star and police force named the Panoply that is charged with keeping them safe. 

In the Prefect or Aurora Rising, as the title was renamed a few years back, Prefect Tom Dreyfus begins his quest to maintain the safety of the Glitter Band's rights by investigating polling fraud. The situation was more dire than Dreyfus understood as the investigation sparks to mass murder to cover up something entirely different. Dreyfus assembles a team of Prefects to get to the bottom of these heinous crimes. 

Dreyfus and the other officers from the Panoply have to dig deep to figure out what is happening and then how to resolve the situation. The novel dives and swoops through twists and turns, keeping the reader on the edge of their seats and flipping pages. It's very hard to set down. 

This is one part thriller, one part detective novel, and a third-part science fiction story. Reynolds does all three very well as he often investigates the consequences of the technology he uses while being very careful to create plausible limitations to that technology. There is a smorgasbord of wild and insane technology in these books, all operating together to create the 'verse where these characters live. The result is a very "lived in" feel to the characters' world which is reminiscent of Firefly and Serenity as opposed to Star Wars or Star Trek. 

This is a two-book series, Aurora Rising and Elysium Fire which runs alongside the rest of the Revelation Space novels. It's interesting because Reynolds loves a cast of thousands in his books and you can't help but notice when the characters reference each other. Oddly, there is no requirement to read those other books. But you should. 

The Revelation Space series verges on diamond-hard science fiction, where faster than light travel does not exist. I like it, but sometimes the whole thing can jump to body horror or technophobia as some of the threats enter the realm of "what would happen if you stuck an atom bomb in your eye" or "stepped into a running jet engine". Actually, both happen more than once... Crazy. 

You can search for it on Abebooks. 

Aurora Rising (The Prefect) by Alastair Reynolds on AbeBooks.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Science Phenomena to Pump Up Game Play


I am always a big fan of having realistic details of what is happening around my players to bring them into whatever world they are in. Each of these items is based on real-world technologies and phenomena. 

Real lasers are silent unless they hit something. But the power supplies are not. They can sound like a hammer on a metal garbage can. This applies to medical lasers. Talk about making a trip to the auto-doc scary. 

Industrial cutting and etching lasers are also loud, but more like a leaf blower because the beam is close to continuous. Again, it is the power supply and the drive required to move it around that is making the sound. This also ties into fashion. Characters messing with realistic lasers should always have goggles. If the tech level is high enough protective contact lenses would work nicely, too. 

Sun Outages can drive plot points. When a satellite delivering information to a ground station passes in front of the sun the information gets garbled. The ground station loses its a connection because the sun is such a powerful source of radiation. In the real world, this happens to cable TV satellites in the spring and fall. This is a consequence of their orbit's aligning Earth's tilt. For a week or so, the satellite's signal is garbled for about 10 minutes at a time. It can be described as sparkles, pixelated or fuzzy pictures, picture freezing, audio distortions, or even a total loss of the channel. 

Since these satellites are in high Earth orbit it only happens once a day. If the satellite was in a lower orbit, it would happen several times a day based on the period of the orbit. This is great for plots involving a bit of mystery on a semi-regular basis, say every 40 minutes but the duration would be much lower, as in a few seconds. 

Vacuum cementing is another phenomenon that can either stymie players or give them a power stunt. Two pieces of material will stick together in a hard vacuum as if welded or cemented together just by touching them together. This is a good way to force repairs using little-used skills to free moving parts. Alternatively, it can be used to add protective surfaces to objects to prevent or repair the damage with little or no skill and can use junk as a resource. Astronauts on the moon noticed this happened even to dust. 


By the way, lunar dust smells like spent gunpowder or cooked meat, which can be an interesting detail to freak out the players. Why this smell (and taste) occurs is a mystery today. It is transient. Lunar dust doesn't smell like anything on Earth. It could be the release of charged particles or a quick, short-term chemical reaction with water or oxygen. No one knows how or why it happens.  

I call another trick "Zinc-Clink". Zinc oxide sensors are used to measure the amount of oxygen around a sensor. If a sensor system gets some other material on it, say soot, it will believe there is no oxygen in the area and refuse to open the door. Again, players will have to resort to little-used or differently used skills to fix the problem. Say Vacc-suit or electronics. It's a handy way to slow the action down or pump up the drama because a hatch or door is misbehaving. 

In space missions, these zinc oxide sensors are used to detect damaging oxygen around the sensor, which is counterintuitive. Oxygen in space is bad for some equipment. 

I am also a fan of the idea of the Decadal Survey to land really sophisticated machinery in a small nook in the ship. In real life, the Decadal Survey is conducted once every 10 years and asks scientists to come up with very broad science questions to research. In ship terms, these research projects could place new sensors, small power supplies, and/or radios which are separate from the ship's normal operations. Think of it as an emergency lifeline for strange happenings on the ship. The crew would be versed in maintenance functions, so the equipment which is somewhat a "black box" would be understandable to the crew. 

One of the more interesting types of research could be atmospheric aerosol tracking, which could enable a ship to use an alternative method to track other ships. GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) was a mission to look for gravitational anomalies (dense, heavy items) on the Earth's surface. In a sci-fi setting, it could locate shipwrecks, crashes, and other hidden items under the surface of a planet while also creating great maps. 

Don't forget to put the "science" in science fiction. 

Friday, April 10, 2020

The Continuing Adventures in Inkscape - Rocket's Pale Glare

I have to tell you, I've been watching Disney videos again and it's effecting my style.



I wanted to keep the color pallet simple and stuck to 4 colors and two shades of purple, green and grey and blues.


It was kind of fun. I took the idea of rockets and skinned them off in the vein of it's a small world. I'm not sure what color background looks correct to me.


Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Stars Wallpaper and Heavily Hinting

I am putting together files for an upcoming project and wanted to share my stars wallpaper. This will be background art for this new project. I'm using Ubuntu 19.04, but it should be good form anyone. Sorry, it's not seamless or fractal in nature, so it probably wouldn't look good tiled or stretched.

Obviously, this new project is science fiction based and takes place in space. I can't wait to get more done so I can start sharing real details.

The image in the file below is 2560 x 1600. Click to download.


Another feature of this new project is a planet. I have wallpaper for that in 1024×576. It's meant to be blurry so I couldn't scale it up as the source was much smaller. Again, click to download.


Saturday, March 14, 2020

Modeling Multiple Shots for Skilled and Unskilled Combatants in a Science Fiction Setting

Skill using the logo, even though I will
likely change it.
Wow. That is a wordy title for a simple idea: "How are combat skills applied?" 

In this game, we have established that a target has a defense of 2-12 and an attacker must match this number on 1, 2, or 3 six sided dice. 

Technology in a science fiction game permits a character a ridiculous amount of attacks with a weapon. In a 10 second combat round, someone with a six shooter can shoot six times, no matter their ability or skill. Without any applicable skill, that person gets one shot with 2 six-side dice and 5 shots with only one die. They are shooting fairly indicrimatly, they aimed with the first shot then switched to random blasts. Without any skill, the aimed shot MUST come first subsequently followed by random shots. This is the penalty of not having a skill. 

When a person has a skill, they are entitled to more aimed shots at a rate of one attack per level of skill. When attacking one target once, they get to roll all 3d6. However, if they attack more than once or at more than one target, they may only use 2d6 per attack. Skilled persons may mix aimed and indiscriminate fire in the same round at will.  

For example, a marine with 3 ranks of skill is guarding 2 hatches with a 6 shooter. He sees 3 robot drones approaching from his front and engages them. He rolls 2d6 for the first attack. Then rolls 2d6 for the second. Before he can shoot at the third drone, the hatch on his right opens and he indiscriminately fires a shot at the person opening the door. He rolls a single 1d6. The hatch slams closed. 

He still has 3 bullets and one aimed shot, so he returns to shooting at the drones. He aims with the first shot using 2d6. Since he has 2 more bullets, he fires them indiscriminately at the robot drones for two more attacks made with a single die each. 

In the image, shots are numbered in order.
Red is for aimed shots and green is for indiscriminate.  
This combat does not describe damage resolution as it would occur in the game. It is merely an example of a single person shooting. In later examples, we will see that this marine would have plenty of time to reload and/or move.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Modeling Combat for a New Science Fiction Game

I had a science fiction game on the back burner of my brain for a while. The working title was Accretion Disk. I liked the style of the logo, but fell out of love with the mechanics and perhaps the title.

Based on my last post about Star Smuggler, I have been thinking about game mechanics with 2 and three six siders. Probably the most common or useful scenario is to consider a single combat roll. In order to do that, I need to think of a way to compare defensive skills vs. offensive skills. How big do I want my numbers and what does each number mean.

It's funny, but most games have a mechanic to strike a stationary object with a die roll. My game will have that too, but I think that hitting a bullseye painted on something is far different that hitting an active opponent.

How do I roll to hit? 


In order to hit a target, you have to overcome its defenses. In order to explain an attack, let’s look at a target’s defense. 


Every target has a situational defense. Is it close or far? Is it moving faster than the weapon you are using? Is it cloaked or obscured? And so on. Those situational defenses change from moment to moment and are worth 1-6 points of defense. A target may have a different situational defense for different attackers, even in the same combat round.


Next, every active opponent has a set of physical and mental attributes, also rated from 1-6. This is a person instinct for danger or a device's preprogrammed defensive measures. The player determines which attribute is used for defense, which will likely be their highest. Since each attribute can only be used once per round, there are consequences for picking the highest attribute. Devices don't get to pick.


These two numbers are added together to generate the target roll number. For stationary targets, that will automatically be a number from 1-6 for a situational defense. For people or creatures, it will more likely be 2-12. 


This number, 2-12 is compared to a roll made by the attacker.

The attacker receives one six sided die for simply making the attempt. They receive a second die for having an attribute which is applicable to the roll. Attackers who not have an applicable attribute of zero do not get this second six sided die. An attacker can also receive a third six sided die for possessing an applicable skill, such as marksmanship. This will generate a number between 3 and 18, depending on how many dice are rolled. No more than 3 dice can be rolled for each attack. 


In order to hit the target, one must match or roll higher than the target’s defense. 


Higher rolls are not necessarily better as the goal is to match the target’s defense exactly to be most effective. An exact match does damage, prevents the target from taking an action during that round, places them flat on ground and might cause them to lose consciousness. 

While every number over the target’s defense value is a hit, all pairs or triples which are higher the target’s defense are nearly as good as a matching roll. A pair (6 and 6) will do damage and stop an action. A triple (such as 3, 3 and 3) will do damage, stop an action and put the person on the ground. Neither will automatically knock the person out. 


Let me know what you think either in the comments below or by taking a survey. You can also go back and answer the first survey or poll here.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Generic Starship and Small Craft Deckplans

As promised, here are some generic deck plans for the Blockade Buster and associated Boats. The Orbiter Bay can hold a Hopper class boat, an Intercept or a Fast Boat, but the Boat Bay is limited to Hoppers, Interceptors and Fast Boats.


I designed these ship's boats with the idea that the Orbiter is 20% bigger than the Interceptor or Fast Boat. The Fast Boat has more fuel than the Interceptor, but the Interceptor is quicker and more agile than the other two.