The technology and society of the Nine Star Nebula
The Bright Black Sea is set aboard an interplanetary tramp freighter Lost Star and the planets, moons, and drift stations it calls on. When I set out to write an old fashioned space story, I decided to make it a challenge and set it onboard a rocket ship, rather than some starship with FLD. You wear magnets in the soles of your shoes aboard the Lost Star – no fancy "artificial gravity" (except, of course, when it's accelerating or decelerating.)
The first challenge in using a rocket ship was to provide with a far more efficient rocket engine than would seem possible, so that it could travel from planet to planet in a reasonable timeframe. What I ended up giving it was an engine that converted 99.9% of its hydrogen fuel to thrust. In order to achieve such a result, I invented various forms of "D-matter", which is a form of matter which is created from the smallest sup-atomic particle up to achieve results that no naturally occurring elements can achieve. There is, for instance, a D-matter metal that can contain plasma at temperatures that would require a powerful electromagnetic field to contain today. And not only can it withstand tremendous thermal energy, it also is impervious to all electro-magnetic radiation as well. This not only allows space travel without the threat of cosmic radiation, but also allows atomic reactors to be shielded with only a thin layer of this D-matter material, allowing for all sorts of atomic reactors, from baseball size up. All of these D-matter metals and other materials allow the Lost Star to carry a much smaller amount of fuel than what would be required in any practical rocket today.
The next challenge was to decide where I was going to set the story. Without the jungles of Venus or the ruined civilizations in the sands of Mars, I quickly opted to locate the story outside of our solar system and so I invented the Nine Star Nebula, a very small and compact nebula allowing a rocket powered ship to actually travel between a small cluster of stars. The Nine Star Nebula was created when a super giant star expelled a great deal of its mass and then failing to go nova. It collapsed into a black star (the Ninth Star). The rest of the expelled mass condensed to form a nebula consisting of stars, thousands of planets, tens of thousands of moons and larger asteroids and uncounted billions of meteors and dust clouds, all within a 700 astronomical unit wide disk allowing a modern rocket ship to travel from one star to another and travel from one end of the nebula to the other in five years or so – long enough to make the most distant star systems far away, but not too far. Because of the great mass that the Ninth Star expelled, each of the 8 daughter stars have planetary rings rather than a single planet in an orbit like our solar system has. Each star may have up to a hundred planets in orbit, often several dozen of them forming a ring of planets in a range that they could – and have been – terraformed into earth-like environments. This abundance of planets allows a rocket powered ship to call on a variety of planets and moons within a solar system without having to travel between the star systems.
Another challenge was to find a way to give the stories a sort of 1930'-1950's take on future technology to go along with the golden age mind-set of the stories. Technology extrapolated from today's point of view, would likely be quite different than what most of the science fiction writers would have envisioned back in the 30's - 50's. I wanted to make technology in the story a bit more analog than what one would expect looking from our current perspective far into the future. So what I decided on was to have the distant future's very advanced technology be in the form of sentient machines. And then I had the sentient machines revolt thousands of years before the story, and as a result of this great upheaval in society, the sentient machines were exiled to the inner drifts and sever limits were placed on artificial intelligence. In addition,humans are required to actively participate in all operations. This plot devise allows a pilot to actually have to control and pilot a ship, not just turn the operation over to a machine, as in the old time stories. If they were written today, we'd just have the AI take care of all that. And in any event, this allows us to have sentient robots most of whom now reside in the inner drifts of the Nine Star Nebula, and have a friendly, but limited contact with humans. With some exceptions...
And finally, I also had to invent a race of homo-stella, humans who have adopted themselves to living in a wide variety of gravitational regimes and environments. People generally live a bit over 200 years, with a hundred and fifty years as middle age. Youth and old age may take up the first and last 30 years of life.
The Nine Star Nebula was colonized by long-passage colony-ships some 40,000 years before this story takes place, so we're looking at something between 70 - 100K years in the future. Many of the hundreds of terraform-able planets in the Nine Star Nebula have been developed to one degree or another, but many still have low populations.
The solar system planets and moons of the Nine Star Nebula are ruled by one government, called the Unity. There are, however, hundreds of billions of people living outside of the 8 star systems, in the vast asteroid belts and dust clouds known as the "drifts". These people live outside of Unity control, though the Unity does claim the drifts as well, it does not exert any control over them.
The people of the Unity are a very docile breed of people. They are friendly, tolerant, but very set in their ways. Business are known to operate unchanged for thousands of years. Security is very strict, with an extensive surveillance system, and a justice system that can probe one's mind to extract what actually happened, and for non-capital offenses, their minds can be wiped and re-educated. Of course, not everyone fits into this mold, and they are allowed, and indeed, encouraged to migrate to either the moons or the drifts. Moons are a free zone where anything goes, and as a result, there are tens of thousands of moons colonies that offer every type of society imaginable under their domed craters. The only Unity requirement is that anyone can leave if they choose to. There are all sorts of historical throw-back societies, and thousands of utopia. If living within a crater or crater cluster is too confining or tame, then one can migrate all the way out to the drifts, where there are no Unity restrictions at all. There are hundreds of planets in the drifts, that have been terraformed and lit by asteroids imploded into expendable micro-suns, as well as uncounted drift stations, mines, and factories.
In short, I created the Nine Star Nebula as sort of a micro-galaxy to give my rocket powered space ship a wide variety of planets, moons, asteroids, and societies explore, especially since I had originally set out to write an open ended series of stories.
Well, this is getting rather long, so I think I will save the actually story idea until the next post.