A brief story of Science Fantasy


Image by sykosan

Earlier today, someone at the FB writers’ group to which I belong, asked (and I quote):

“I have long been assured that ‘Science Fantasy’ is a ‘thing’? So why can’t I find this genre in the BISAC fiction codes?”

It’s an interesting and fair question, moreover, because it is a discussion my publisher and I have had regarding under which genre list my novel at Amazon (ultimately, the distributor opted for Science Fiction, which well, might work, although I still argue it is Science Fantasy or Futuristic Fantasy).

So I replied the following. Bear in mind that this is what I recall from several consultations at the usual sites (Wikipedia, TV Tropes), The Complete Guide to Fantasy Subgenres by Best Fantasy Books, my recollections of Issac Asimov’s essay compilation and my own readings.

Currently, it is difficult to get a clear cut classification of Science Fantasy for two reasons:

1) As shown in the Complete Guide to… there are tons of Fantasy subgenres, and if you recall my previous posts on Science Fantasy, I see it more as a grading scale. So they often get mixed between them and with Science Fiction, that has become an umbrella term for the general public and thus, for several bookstores.

2) History. So sit down, grab a cup of coffee and listen to old uncle Ricardo explain it the best he can:

Originally Science Fantasy was published in the same magazines as Weird Fiction and original Heroic Fantasy (think Lovecraft for the former, Robert E. Howard for the later) during the ’20s and ’30s. Often got confused with straight fantasy, being fantasy an umbrella term for non-literary work or noir. That’s why you get things like the Cthulhu Mythos that mix horror, magic and science or stuff like Planetary Romances such as ‘John Carter of Mars.’

Science Fiction as we know it today was a counterproposal of that, encouraged by  John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction, who as per Asimov’s recollection, was adamant of having sound scientific knowledge behind every story he published (what we now know as Hard Science Fiction). It slowly pushed away from the mixture of genres and laid out the rules of what we know now as classic Science Fiction (Asimov, Heinlen, and Clarke). But if you read their older work, especially of authors like Bradbury, many of them wrote still a mix of Fantasy and SF.

With the advent of LOTR in the later part of the ’50s ( trivia time: incidentally helping to create the environmental movement), the division between Science Fiction and Fantasy became more entrenched. And the weird/horror part of the mix got separated into horror and the new weird (Charlie Stross for example). But if you notice, for example, some of the works of Stephen King go back to those roots (The Dark Tower, The Stand even It). But for many years, authors and readers tried to keep them separated, although there are stories that get them mixed.

You have cases where authors adamantly said their work belonged to one or the other, which was the case of Anne McCaffrey and the Dragonriders of Pern series (she might say it was straight SF, but they read like fantasy to me). Authors that started writing their sagas as fantasy and through connecting them with their other work or as result of worldbuilding created fantasy worlds in post-apocalyptic future Earth, like Terry Brooks and the Shannara series or The Book of Swords Series by Fred Saberhagen. Finally, the third group of authors never bothered with such divisions, instead of looking for the best mix of elements to tell the story at hand, like Terry Pratchett and the Discworld series or Roger Zelazny and his various works, like was the case of Creatures of Light and Darkness or Lord of Light.  And then you have authors such as Steven Brust of the Dragaera series that abide by the rule of cool as prescribed in the following quote:

“The Cool Stuff Theory of Literature is as follows: All literature consists of whatever the writer thinks is cool. The reader will like the book to the degree that he agrees with the writer about what’s cool. And that works all the way from the external trappings to the level of metaphor, subtext, and the way one uses words. In other words, I happen not to think that full-plate armor and great big honking greatswords are cool. I don’t like ’em. I like cloaks and rapiers. So I write stories with a lot of cloaks and rapiers in ’em, ’cause that’s cool. Guys who like military hardware, who think advanced military hardware is cool, are not gonna jump all over my books, because they have other ideas about what’s cool.

The novel should be understood as a structure built to accommodate the greatest possible amount of cool stuff.”

― Steven Brust

Personally, I abide by that rule too.

So as you can see, Science Fantasy hasn’t truly disappeared, just mutated, sometimes ignored, sometimes confused. The only place where Science Fantasy has been published continually since the ’20s as it’s own genre is in superhero comics (which started as pulp fiction), but now they have their own sub-genre in the literature (in part, thanks to Wild Cards by GRR Martin).

However, its existence has influenced our pop culture in ways are not that obvious. That’s why we have Star Wars and Saturday Morning cartoons from the ’80s (e.g. Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors or Thundercats), because Lucas and those other creative artists grew up watching old pulp serials, reading classic comics. For them, the mix of genres was obvious and useful. But the literary world -always influenced by commercial interests and marketing strategies- changes slowly. I recall as a kid, that fantasy was still considered SF in many places (and I’m an 80’s kid) and bookstores still tend to put fantasy books in SF shelves. I recall a bookstore chain in the UK that puts Patrick Rothfuss’Kingkiller Chronicles’ next to Star Trek novels. Because for the general public, they are the same.

There is however one country where Science Fantasy does have its own classification as a literary and cinematic genre: Japan. They do like their eclectic mixes and both their video games and anime show that. We don’t notice because when they get ported this side of the world, they get classified in our rigid system. For example, Dragon Ball started as fantasy (with super advanced technology) and now has aliens fighting deities and androids, with a not so healthy mix of time travel and multiverses. Or Final Fantasy, that started as a somewhat straight fantasy and by VII had megacities, modern tech, spaceships and schizo mix of magic and technology known as magitech.

With the advent of superhero franchises at the cinemas and book adaptations for modern sensibilities, I believe that Science Fantasy is on the rise again, but it will take some time to catch up in renown as its own subgenre.

A review: Your Name

Reviewing this movie, without spoiling it is hard, because of the mix of elements it has. So there is no way around.  Read only if you don’t mind SPOILERS.

Your name. The title doesn’t evocate much, but beneath it, there is one of the best time travel stories I’ve seen in many years. It is also an alternate history story, but one that works on the departure point rather than the future consequences of that. All thanks to the powers of a comet and a Shinto deity. It is also a story about changing fate for love (to your special one, to your friends, to your estranged family) and what connects people. But you learn all of that halfway through the movie in such heart-wrenching way that makes you cry.

The first half of the movie is an anime take on body swapping. A provincial girl, Mitsuha, who is a Shinto maiden, yearns to get away from her small village and her politician father. she finds out that every other day she trades bodies with a boy from Tokyo, Taki, who works as a waiter, is in love with the restaurant hostess -a nice person by the way- and dreams of becoming an architect. Only the Mitsuha’s grandma and sister realize what’s happening. Most movies would dwell in the hijinks of the trade, but not this one. Here, both characters soon realize what is happening and create plans so a to don’t disrupt their lives, leaving notes and journal entries in each other’s phones and basically trying to help each other through their weird experience and also improve each other’s lives. Soon they start to grow fond of each other, to the point they become in love and just when they realize it, an overbearing sense of sadness overcomes them and soon the exchanges stop happening. Taki, helped by best friend and his former romantic interest, the hostess, goes on a quest to find the town and the girl that has conquered his heart and they find it…

… obliterated by a comet’s fragment that crashed in the town three years before, killing everybody. This is where the story goes straight into alternate history and fantasy. Even if it feels a bit Deux ex Machina (there is a subtle but logical divine intervention for the rest of the plot to work), the story is cohesive. Soon everybody starts forgetting about the girl, but Taki fights back and with the help of the Shinto god of the temple where Mitsuha’s worked, a god of time and connection, travels back to her body in an attempt to convince the town to evacuate before they are killed by the natural phenomenon. Even if that leads Mitsuha’s friends to commit criminal acts and her father to dismiss her as crazy. During the golden hour, both souls exchange bodies again and see each other, finally meeting in person. But before they can exchange names (hence the title of the movie) she disappears. The town is still destroyed and Taki forgets about her. It is devastating. But you are treated with a ‘what happened after’ and you find if Taki’s efforts saved the town. You get a happy ending, but you have to work for it.

There is no way my brief description does justice to the movie. It is something you have to experience fo yourself. The message is clear, you can fight destiny, moreover if time is not as linear as we think it is, but you need a good reason to do so. Love and the desire to save others are powerful motivations. The closest referent I have for those that are not anime fans, in terms of similar feelings is “Somewhere in Time”, but with a happier ending. Hearts will find each other in time, against any obstacle, being an erased memory or a cataclysmic event.

Music wise, the main theme is beautiful, one of the best I’ve heard in years, and the animation is flawless, combining 3D rendered landscapes with traditional animation in a way I have not seen before. And the sequence following the broken comet’s fall is breathtaking.

The movie, I dare to say, is perfect. I can’t recommend it enough. You have to see it to believe it.

Watch it if: you enjoy good slice of life stories, character driven stories, romantic plots and Japanese mythology.

Don’t watch it if: if you don’t like anime or time travel stories where there is no science behind.

Grade: 6 out of 5.

Desirability: I will put it this way, since we watched it, my wife and I have been looking for the blu-ray. I loved it, my wife doesn’t have words for how much she enjoyed it.

A review: Power Rangers

Disclaimer: these are my personal views and I admit sometimes I don’t have the best taste in movies. This is for fun so if you disagree let’s keep it civil. 🙂

This was the other film I watched during the weekend and I have to say that I’m not only pleasantly surprised but it has become my favorite iteration of the franchise (even above my all time favorites TimeForce and DinoThunder). I guess I loved it for very different and personal reasons compared to others. Go Go into the review.

This movie is a retelling of the first two episodes of the original Mighty Morphing Power Rangers, with hints and elements of other seasons (such as Alien Rangers, Zeo & DinoThunder). However, instead of copying beat by beat such story with all the included cliches, it is instead a character driven story. And what characters.

Long gone are the squeaky clean ‘teenagers with attitude’ that had nothing close to actual attitude of the original show (when Tommy ‘Ph.D. & the closer thing to Superman’ Oliver is your rebel of the group you can’t say they had an attitude). I get it that being a kids show at the time they had to give a certain image of the ideal teenager but truth is that it was hard to identify with them and their perfection.

Most of the times teenagers show attitude because they are dealing with the turmoil of growing up and finding who they are. And in this new movie, the core of the story is the struggles that the main cast, one of the most diverse in cinema today) is undergoing and how unexpected friendships and challenges help them grow:

Jason: (the only white member of the group) while he was seen as the town hero due his athletic prowess and now is seen as a pariah, he is hiding a deep-seated anger and frustration at being stuck in this town and having the expectations and wishes of his dad imposed on him. But is his sense of right which makes him grow into a real leader.

Kimberly: (who seems to be British-Asian based on the ethnicity of Naomi Scott) used to be the queen bitch of the school and a bully that has learned her lesson and is trying to be a better person and treat her friends well. She is also the other leader of the team.

Billy: (African-American) genius who is also on the autism spectrum who is not only the one that reunites the team but the true heart and soul of it. Probably the overall best character of the movie who finds friends that love him and help him.

Trini: (Latina) the outlier of the team, the ‘new girl’ at school (despite being there for almost a year and a half already) and who not only has no friends but is also struggling with her sexual preferences (it’s more than implied that she is Lesbian). A tough girl unwilling to be labeled and who despite being the more likely to betray the team is the one that asks the fundamental question: are we just friends or just Rangers?

Zack: (Asian-American) is probably the less developed character, a jokester l, reckless boy and a slacker that hides the real fear of waking up one day and find himself an orphan in a poor neighborhood due to his ill mother. But he is also the most insightful of the team and the one more willing to accept others as they are.

Kudos in particular to Dacre Montgomery, who in his first job made Jason a likable character and to RJ Cyler for his respectful portrayal of a person with autism. Ludi Lin is enjoyable as Zack both as the comic relief and as the one that finds the key to become a team. But the best, in my opinion, are Naomi Scott as Kimberly and Becky G as Trini who portrays kickass girls that you go beyond the ‘chick’ stereotype of these movies and become powerful leads on their own.

Worth to note is that this Zordon is not the venerable mentor of yore but a resented former ranger that grows as well into his teacher role. Rita, a mix between the original one, the original Green Ranger and Divatox goes from creepy to chewing the scenery with equal glee. Elizabeth Banks was pitch perfect here. And Alpha 5 for once is not annoying but a helpful sidekick. This movie is full of nuisance and it’s better for it.

Because in this movie, the value of true friendship is hammered not in a heavy handed way but in a process that goes along their training as Rangers. This is not just a team but fire forged friends that discover that to unlock their true power they have to be willing to trust and open themselves to others as well as accept others as they are. In these times of segregation, this movie has the über important message of friendship, diversity & tolerance.

As well, I liked is that there is no idiot ball here nor with the heroes or the villain. Everything makes sense. And it’s a highly realistic take on Power Rangers, with the reality of that kind of battle ensuing but without falling into the pitfalls of a DCEU movie. If you saw ‘Chronicle’ this film will give you pretty similar vibes but with a more hopeful note and the occasional, well-timed humor.

In terms of visual effects, the movie shows the budget during the third act, with the Zords and the armors. Goldar looks clumsy but after all, it’s made of molten gold. The best looking Zord is the Tyrannosaurus and luckily they don’t suffer from the horrible issues that make watching Transformers a torture. Everything in this film feels real but relatable and amicably without resorting to cheesiness.

Music wise, the soundtrack is serviceable and a good listen but lacks the power of the iconic theme tune, unless you count the mournful rendition of ‘Stand by me’ by the Bootstraps. Thus when it’s played during the climax my skin got goosebumps. That would be my only complaint. This was the time for a proper cover of the original theme (just not in dubstep, please).

 And that is why I loved the movie even if the second act crawls. Because it took a simpler franchise and turned it into a character study of relatable people. An example of tolerance and diversity. When I was a solitary kid I dreamed with that kind of friends and adventures. And for that this movie, despite its flaws is one I loved it.

Bottom line, this is a highly enjoyable movie even with the lag of the second act. It’s even better thanks to its diverse cast and diverse characters that feel like actual people with actual problems.

Watch it if: you are a fan of the concept of Power Rangers but you are open to reinterpretations, like character driven stories, want a Chronicle-like movie but lighter in tone and more helpful, you are looking for a film with a positive, accurate portrayal of race and sexual diversity as well as that of disabilities such as autism. Or if you are looking for the ‘Breakfast Club with superheroes’ stories about friendship.

Don’t watch it if: you are expecting a copy of the classic show, don’t have the patience to allow the characters to grow or are you expecting ridiculous poses. Or you don’t like superhero origin stories.

Grade: 3.5 out of 5.

Desirability: I will be buying the blu-ray when it comes out.

What the hell is Science Fantasy? Part 2: A Sliding scale.

A few days go I was invited to a discussion in an FB group, regarding what or who determines if a story is science fiction or fantasy. Where the line is drawn between those two apparently distinct genres. The discussion evolved from whether it was an attribution of publishers to the boundaries between such genres to where the borders of one genre start and the other ends. Personally, I think it is a false dichotomy that while may be helpful for marketing purposes, or to attract a specific group of readers, can be very restrictive if we see it as a hard border.

Some of the oldest pulp stories and comics have this blend of science fiction and fantasy from early on. Doc Savage, The Shadow, John Carter of Mars and the first team-up superhero comics such as the Justice Society and the Invaders serve as examples of this.

Returning to the prime example, Star Wars is basically Science Fantasy. Why? Because The Force is magic by another name and yet it cohabitates in a world with lightspeed, robots and space stations.

I think the main confusion and mistake comes from seeing Science Fiction and Fantasy as mutually exclusive genres when in reality it is more like a sliding scale when you go from one color to another, gradually changing bits and pieces of the worldbuilding accordingly to the requirements of the story. Roughly something like this:

newsliding bartext

This, of course, is a theory in progress that I will keep revisiting in future posts. However the main point I think stands: it’s not a matter of hard borders between genres, but a sliding scale that is to serve the best interests of the story. Kinda like The Cool Stuff Theory of Literature by Steven Brust (the author of the Dragaera series):

“The Cool Stuff Theory of Literature is as follows: All literature consists of whatever the writer thinks is cool. The reader will like the book to the degree that he agrees with the writer about what’s cool. And that works all the way from the external trappings to the level of metaphor, subtext, and the way one uses words. In other words, I happen not to think that full-plate armor and great big honking greatswords are cool. I don’t like ’em. I like cloaks and rapiers. So I write stories with a lot of cloaks and rapiers in ’em, ’cause that’s cool. Guys who like military hardware, who think advanced military hardware is cool, are not gonna jump all over my books, because they have other ideas about what’s cool.

The novel should be understood as a structure built to accommodate the greatest possible amount of cool stuff.”

― Steven Brust

The worldbuilding should be in service of telling the story and as such if the author considers that is it has to be hard science fiction, fantasy or a blend of both, it is because that’s the way they feel is the best to tell that particular story. In genres, like in real life, hard borders, enforced by the whims of a few tend to stifle creativity and natural growth.

What the hell is Science Fantasy? Part 1: A definition

This will be the first part of many to come where I discuss what it is Science Fantasy, the genre I like to write the most.

By now, some of you have noticed that my stories have a weird mix of science fiction and fantasy, being more obvious in ‘Cosmic Egg’. Well, the thing is that today, having hard dividing lines between genres is something optional. Now is more common to have settings that blend magic and science and no one bats an eye.

We call that Science Fantasy.

But what the hell is science fantasy?

Rod Serling, the creator of Twilight Zone used to say that “… science fiction and fantasy are two different things. Science fiction is improbable made possible, and fantasy is the impossible made probable.” And by now you are well acquitted to that old adage from Arthur C. Clarke about how “any advanced technology is undistinguishable from magic.”

For me at least, parting from those definitions (the researcher in me is speaking, sorry),

My definition of Science Fantasy is:

“….a genre that blends fantastic and scientific elements into a coherent worldbuild to tell a story in a more interesting and flexible way.”

In summary, I believe that science fantasy is that melting pot of a world where magic and science walk together to give you stuff such as digital grimoires in the form of tablets, magical cantrips stored in mp3 players, giant robots moving to fight space dragons, wizards and nuclear physicists debating on why magic messes so much the wi fi signal. All of this in order to allow to tell any story you want the way you want

As I said before is the bastard child of too beloved fiction genres that grew slowly through the cracks to become a subgenre that now permeates our modern culture. You don’t believe me? Well, I have news for you: Star Wars is science fantasy. Think about it, you have a farm boy, alongside two scoundrels and two bumbling servants guided by a crazy wizard to rescue a princess from a black knight while stopping a menace that could destroy the world. It is one of the most basic plots of a fantasy story, but in Star Wars you have all that happening with spaceships, The Force instead of magic and lightsabers replacing magical swords. And like that, there are many examples, some more overt than others. The Shannara books, Dragaera, most of Discworld, John Carter of Mars, most 80’s cartoons, even Babylon 5 are science fantasy. You know what else is? Superhero comics. In a good day at the Justice League, an alien, a detective, a Greek demigoddess, a couple of scientist with superpowers, a space cop, a cyborg and a wizard gather to save the world and no one bats an eyelash. It’s the same with the Avengers. Thor talks about that on his premiere film about how in Asgard magic and science are one and the same and in the second film they use a quantum machine to analyze a soul. You don’t get more science fantasy than that. If you have player Final Fantasy, you have played science fantasy games. Actually, Japan had done quite well on the subgenre considering that most anime falls under it. As you see, there are plenty of examples on the topic.

A science fantasy story can veer a bit more towards one or another like any child can be more like either parent. The important thing is to have fun writing a story that resonates with the readers as much as with the author and allows to tell it in an imaginative way.

The technology and curious data of ‘Cosmic Egg’


Taking on the challenge raised by Leo McBride who depicted the amazing technology featured in his short story ‘Lazarus Soldiers’ in his blog, it’s my turn to do the same with my own story, ‘Cosmic Egg’. Now full disclosure, ‘Cosmic Egg’ is not exactly a pure, hard science fiction. It is more like science fantasy (if you have doubts what genre that is, think Star Wars or the classic cartoon Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors). That’s why some of the ‘science’ of the story veers more into fantasy/magic than hard science. That fact has made the story a harder sell, but what’s life without challenges? Also, the story is set in the same setting but a generation or so later to that my current work in progress – my novel Tempest Blades. Let’s say that ‘Cosmic Egg’ is a sequel of sorts that came before the actual story. With that say, let’s dive into the matter at hand.

A little context beforehand

‘Cosmic Egg’ features two of the three main species of my narrative universe: humans, which are more or less like you and me, with a few differences, and samoharos, a humanoid race of sentient lizard like people.

The samoharo are subdivided in two races that share common traits that allowed them to intermingle. The type A are larger beings, up to two meters tall, their reptilian features owing more to a humanoid iguana or gecko with long hair, long fangs and slit pupils. Their tails are strong enough to smash a tree. The type B is shorter, a mix between an iguana and a turtle due to the shell-like structure at their backs. They had also hair on their heads, but usually were shorter and traded the lack of long fangs with more humanlike eyes and blinding speed. Both types are warm-blooded. They have their own language (for which I’m inspired by Mayan), religion and are fond of humans, seeing the younger species as ‘younger siblings’.

There is a third species, the freefolk, who are near-humans (they can actually reproduce with humans), and whose genetically modified traits allow them to feel and manipulate the thaums (an elementary particle, akin to gravitons and bosons and that carry the force needed for quantum entanglements and other quantum effects) to manipulate reality in a way we would call ‘magic’.

Doing that alters their physiology and they don’t travel to space unless it is really needed because the methods used don’t sit well with their bodies.

The three species currently live (at least in the Tempest Blades universe) in a world named Theia (none of them are native of the planet by the way), a goldilocks zone planet, slightly bigger than our Earth and with a warmer climate. Its atmosphere is covered by a thick ionosphere, with a violent streak of electric storms that has posed challenges to both long-range telecommunications and launching ships to space exploration.

This is why a ship like the Firefox (renamed Fireraven in a new edition of the story) has certain characteristics that make it unique.

The Fireraven/Firefox: the titular ship of the story, one of the first of its class. It’s a long range exploratory vessel, built with the best technology of the three species. It was designed to explore the nearby galactic quadrants in an autonomous way, able to refuel itself without having to return home for years. It is powered by three massive energy cores, following samoharo design: the first two are fusion gravitational engines that provide power for the general functions of the ship as well as sub-light impulse. The third core is used mainly to feed the backup life support systems (which on their own have several redundant subsystems) and the Stringspeed device, ‘The Puncher’.

This core works through a system similar to a particle accelerator-collider of matter-antimatter. Its energy output is similar to the other two, but can’t provide it for extended periods of time, storing the surplus energy for the backup systems in regenerative batteries. The synergy of these cores provide the ship with modular artificial gravity for the crew (which is a good thing in case of a fire or to avoid ill effects from extreme g-forces) and to make the ship lighter than it really is when flying inside the gravity well of a planet – a sort of anti-gravity or repulsion system.

The propulsion is provided by ion thrusters (as in space inertia can get you anywhere with the right thrust), capable of moving the ship up to 45% of light speed. For FTL travel, there is the Puncher and the Stringspeed (see below). The hull of the ship is made of a series of alloys based on material modified at molecular level thanks to nanotechnology, roughly arranging the molecules of materials such as titanium into crystal structures similar to the diamond ones. Embedded in the hull, there is a wide array of sensory systems to provide the crew with as much information as possible of the surroundings, up to gravimetric waves and quantum interactions. The ship’s external form is modeled after the body of a giant raven with six wings (hence the name) and has no edges, everything is rounded. This is to avoid the internal atmosphere putting pressure on the structure.

The ship has a total mass of 500,000 metric tons, ten decks, and 187 rooms. It nominally carries a crew of 50 but can be operated with a skeleton crew of 8 and can carry passengers to a total of 200 very crammed beings in case of emergency. Among the rooms available are a cantina with a well-supplied kitchen, hydroponic gardens, meat growth vats, med bay (with equipment for both types of samoharo, humans, freefolk and near human races), a xenobiology lab, the Akash Archive storage room, a whole engineering deck, astrometry and physics observatory, viewing gardens, water and oxygen recyclers and generators, AI housing, crew rooms and living spaces to practice sports and other leisure activities. The command deck is in the upper levels, next to the captain and pilot rooms. It has as well four hangars: two for terrestrial and aquatic exploration, one for the midrange drones and one for the three combat fighters it has stored. It also has workshops and labs to give maintenance to all the equipment and the ship itself.

The Fireraven is a research and exploration vessel, but that doesn’t mean it is not capable of defending itself. Along with the combat fighters stored in it, it has a rudimentary cloaking system (can cloak almost everything but the third core signature energy residual radiation), railgun missiles with variable loads (ranging from thermonuclear to ions), coherent energy beam cannons and three main cannons that are for mining asteroids and planetary surfaces but under the right protocol can be used as a main weapon to obliterate most known materials. It also has a cryo-sleeping chamber for the whole crew and the main AI can be detached from the underbelly of the ship as escape means for the crew. Finally, it can deploy communication buoys to open a transmission channel to Theia. Its design is based on an earlier samoharo mining ship, modified for combat, named the Figaro (featured in the Tempest Blades novel), as well as the original generation arks of the samoharos. It adds all the combat features of the brand new human air fighters (as humans are more vicious warriors than even the samoharos who pride themselves on being a warrior race) and the advances in data storage and power coupling crystals of the freefolk.

Rumour has it that there will dreadnought class ships built by the time the Fireraven returns home to serve as a defensive armada for Theia. Just in case.

Stringspeed: this is the Faster-Than-Light method developed by the species in my story (it doesn’t mean there aren’t others though). Stringspeed parts from the idea that you can’t travel FTL in the regular universe due the well-known physical constraints. But the universe is formed by several upper and lower dimensions neatly folded and compressed like a napkin made of several planes. These dimensions or planes are the result of living in an N-string universe where the cosmic strings ‘vibrates’ at different frequencies. These planes, depending how high or low you go, follow similar but not identical physical rules and thus it is possible to transverse them to travel long distances in a few minutes. Accessing those planes however is tougher due the energy conversion and different rules.

What the Stringspeed engine in the Fireraven does is shunt the ship through a ‘puncher’, a device that punches a hole into time-space to allow access to what’s called the ‘travel plane’ while wrapping the ship in a bubble, similar to the Alcubierre cube with a portion of the local reality fabric. Since these planes are not exactly conductive to matter and lifeforms as we conceive them (but might possess their own version), generating the bubble is a necessity to ensure the viability of the travel, the integrity of the ship and the survivability of the crew. Once the ship is in the travel plane, which due to its proximity to our own plane of existence doesn’t differ that much in terms of rules, the ship maneuvers the bubble along cosmic string of lesser order, using them as tracks to reach point B from A, using the idea that quantum entanglement happens because these strings connect points of reality on the upper and lower planes of the ‘napkin’.

When the ship arrives at its point of exit, the puncher device uses the energy contained in the bubble to return the ship to our plane, reducing the risk of expelling gamma rays that are byproducts of the Alcubierre cubes. Traveling along these tracks is difficult due to the disorienting nature of the travel plane, the gravity shadows of massive objects such as stars and singularities and the quantum uncertainty properties of the cosmic strings that collapse once the pilot chooses one to follow.

There are navigational charts (generating new ones is one of the missions of the Fireraven) but most of the choices are carried out by pilots using their ‘hunches’ assisted by computers that do most of the logical, quantum calculations. To be chosen to be a pilot for stringspeed vessels means to have certain genetic traits that allow to ‘feel’ whether these quantum entangled cosmic strings end in the place one wants to go. Ships usually carry at least four or five crewmembers with such genetic traits. In the case of the Fireraven, Michael, Scud, Roanna and two more crewmembers possess such abilities. Still, doing it by feeling generates much stress on the senses of the pilots, thus the need for the Artificial Intelligences.

AI: The Artificial Intelligences used in the Fireraven are of two kinds: the regular ones that control most systems of the ship and are just highly developed software; and the main AI of the ship which  is a semi-empathic brain with quantum neural pathways of third generation. Sounds like a mouthful, even coming from Scud.

Basically, the AI is a quantum computer modelled after a human/samoharo/freefolk hybrid brain. The neural pathways are meant to emulate the way biological brains generate neuron connections.

This allows the AI to learn and improve, as well as to develop faster calculations than a biological brain in real time, while allowing it certain degree of ‘human guessing’. It makes it a more flexible AI than the ones used regularly for industrial purposes on Theia, as those more commercial ones are very limited in their applications (they are either limited in terms of usability and available actions or go mad, like the clockwork golems littering some parts of Theia after the Great War).

However, these features created an unexpected effect: the AI has personality. It acts similarly to what you would expect of a very schizophrenic brain trying to deal with multiple sensory inputs. In the case of the Fireraven AI, it has the personality of a child, a very eager child wanting to learn everything even if could get it into hot water, which is the crux of the dilemma posed by the story.

The first prototype of a semi-empathic AI was created by a human decades ago of the story, by mapping his own brain before passing away and the AI ended in the hands of a samoharo (both featured in my novel).

The samoharos used the concept and improved upon it with their biotechnology, mixing characteristics of human, samoharo and freefolk to allow the brain housing the AI to be able to process all the sensory inputs, mathematical calculations and other activities that a space travel might ask for. Developing these AIs is a long and expensive process, thus they are limited use only for space ships and special missions. So far, there are only five in existence.

Drones: the drones used by the crew of the Fireraven are not dissimilar to the ones we use today, except from a few differences. For starters, they are made of the same alloys of the hull of the Fireraven, with sensors embedded on their fuselages. They can measure and record different types of inputs, depending on the mission, including most of the full EM spectrum and under certain circumstances, quantum and particle interactions.

Housing all those sensors, the communication systems and the power source limit the capacity of data storage of the drone, reducing their range to that of a reliable transmission, as they broadcast their finding in real time to the mother ship. To allow for better handling, the drones are piloted through neural connections and feedback with the pilots. This means that the pilot, rather than controlling it with a yoke or a pad, controls the drone with thought. The pad used is only to register the intensity or the force needed for certain actions.

As a result, the drones are nimble and can improvise. However, this system has a drawback: the connection is both ways so if the drone is damaged or destroyed, the feedback is felt by the pilot. This doesn’t result in actual physical damage to the pilot, but can leave neurological and sometimes psychological trauma.

For example, there are documented cases where a drone lost a wing and the pilot reported losing all the feeling and response of the corresponding arm, as if it had been cut from his body, needing several years of therapy to correct that.

Stringspeed pilots in general and Michael in particular have showed higher resilience to block such feedback, at least to a certain extent, leaving them only with migraines and seizures. Drones can be used to attack too, but since the possibilities of destruction are bigger, to avoid injuring the pilots, their control is transferred to the regular AI of the mother ship, in extreme cases to the main semi-empathic AI.

Akash Archives: These are basically the compilation of all the knowledge and lore generated by the three species in Theia, compiled in data crystals through quantum engravings. In Theia, it’s usually resting in the Aethernet, the equivalent of our Internet. Since web connectivity in the far reaches of space is not exactly available, the Fireraven and similar ships carry a copy of the archives in the special databank.

This is all for now. I hope you liked this sneak peek to the world building I’m doing for the Tempest Blades universe of my novels and most short stories and may be be interested in more details about the setting. Thanks for reading. 🙂