The Strange Ship (free flash story)

(From time to time I participate in an activity at the  Sci-Fi Roundtable Facebook group, where we write flash fiction. This a sample of what I’ve been doing there. As an exercise, it is helpful to keep the imagination strong).


The Strange Ship

By Ricardo Victoria

When the Strange Ship appeared in their solar system, the untested early warning systems blared off. It threw the population of the blue planet into chaos, except for the Guard, as they had been ready for decades. The invaders transmitted a message, asking for surrender. But if the invaders expected an easy ride with this seemingly primitive planet, they were in for a nasty surprise. For its inhabitants had created a warrior culture and the idea of a planetary invasion was a theme explored by their media to the point it became part of their collective psyche. They were prepared for this and the Guard was their hope. Their smaller ships launched into space and intercepted the Black Ship.

The battle raged for hours, the damages to the outer planet’s colonies were many, the death toll too high. But they prevailed. The smaller ships damaged so bad the humongous invader that it barely escaped into hyperspace, leaving behind debris and dead corpses floating on the outer planets’ orbits.

When two pilots maneuvered their ships closer to the debris for better examination of the bodies of the dead, one couldn’t but wonder about the nature of their enemies with his fellow pilot.

“What the hell are these monsters?”

“If the translations of their message are right, I think they call themselves ‘humans’.”

Writing about bioethics in SPACE!


I recall a time when I was a kid, during the height of the ‘Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles’ craze (of which I’m still part of), that I wanted to study genetics so when I grew up, I could create my own group of mutant turtles. I was a lonely kid back then so I wanted friends. Never came through because I suck at organic chemistry (much to the chagrin of my parents, both chemists). So I became the second best option, a writer (well, technically the third option, as you might know, I’m an industrial designer transformed into lecturer/researcher by trade and writer by passion, but I digress).

Beware, this might end being a rant.

Now that my science fiction story about bioethics in space “What Measure is a Homunculus?” is being published and available on Amazon on the 19th of October, in the Quantum Soul anthology, I can discuss about the topic of the story. No, I won’t tell what’s about beyond the rights of artificial humanoids used as weapons/foot soldiers, you need to buy the anthology.

But I can talk about what inspired me to do so. First, there was this article that talked about how scientists were trying to create a living being from stem cells without a father and mother (in terms of DNA donors whose reproductive cells create an embryo, not actual parents). From there to the creation of synthetic living beings we could a few generations removed, but it is still a possibility. And that made me think about the lack of legislation to protect the rights of such beings (even if it is just an amoeba).

There are few times when I can mix my day job, my Ph.D. and my real job as a writer in the same thing, which is the case of this particular short story.

Most of my sustainable design students know that I loathe Monsanto, as the epitomize most of what’s wrong with our current economic system. And that loathing is supported by the fact that companies like that think is right to patent the DNA of a living being. But it is not. It might be legal, but that doesn’t make it right, even if is the DNA of a mouse or a fly. DNA is what makes a living being it. It shouldn’t be beholden a property of a faceless company. For me, personally is tantamount to creating the precedent for a new form of slavery. Look, I’m not against researchers patenting stuff (I work as one after all), but while I see the case for patenting the technology to create such advances, I still think that is wrong to patent the DNA of a living being just for coins.

This makes me think that there is a need right now in literature and other media, one asking for more stories that put in the collective consciousness, on the debate table the discussion about bioethics. We need to sit down and discuss what we are doing, if we should be doing it, who should be doing it and for what reasons, instead of just using economic excuses. I think it is the time we redefine what we consider life and its intrinsical rights.

This whole rant, if you want to call it that, makes me recall what Michael Crichton wrote in the first pages of Jurassic Park, how the technological development moved from governmental labs into private sector labs and moving at such pace that there is virtually no oversight about what we are doing with this technological might. We don’t stop to consider that the question is not ‘can we do it?’ but ‘should we be doing it?’.

It’s not a discussion on technological progress. I think that progress is needed if we aim for a better world. But progress for the sake of it or the sake of the purses of people that don’t give a damn about the state of the world is madness. Science Fiction has always been a window to our potential futures, good or bad. Just like there is a recent wave of climate fiction, there is a need for a resurgence in bioethics fiction. Let’s as writers raise awareness of the topic because it relies upon society to do the changes needed. Let’s bring bioethics to the debate table before it is too late.

Upsss. I think I went into lecture mode. Sorry for that. My point was to explain from where it came to the inspiration for this story, so when you read it you know where I’m coming from. In any case, I invite you to acquire this new anthology by the fine folks of the SciFi Roundtable: Eric Michael Craig and Ducky Smith. I had the opportunity of reading several of these stories and I can assure you they are a good option for the science fiction fans looking for new voices in the genre. So go, give it a chance and read it.

cover quatumsoul

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.

Top 5 badass mothers in science fiction & fantasy 

Since this May 10th is Mothers’ Day in Mexico, I thought in writing a top 5 list of badass mothers in science fiction & fantasy. Of course, every list of this kind is subjective but it is also a good icebreaker.

5. Lady Jessica (Dune): Bene Gesserit, mother of Paul Atreides, Reverend mother and possibly the only person that would try Voice on God.

4.  Sarah Connor: you have to be one badass customer if the most advanced AI ever created risk destroying the timeline over and over just so you don’t become a mom. John is a what he is because of his mom.

3. Molly Weasley: tell me that you didn’t cheer up with a raised fist when she offed Bellatrix Lestrange. Never mess with a mother’s children.

2. General Leia: granted Kylo is a brat but he takes after his grandfather. Leia is not just a rebel leader. It’s the embodiment of the Rebel Alliance. Luke might be the Jedi but Leia is the boss.

1. Daenerys Targaryen: seriously, you don’t earn the moniker ‘Mother of Dragons’ just for nothing.

Bonus: Martha Kent. It takes to be the mom of steel to raise and educate the most powerful being of the world, maybe the universe. Just imagine the temper tantrums.


Do you agree with the list? Suggestions? 

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.

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. 🙂