Tag Archives: Projects

Nuclear Fusion and Starship design – a few thoughts – part 1

I’ve been re-reading ‘The Sky Full of Stars‘ again, trying to poke holes (well, more holes than necessary) in the narrative, and thought I might blog a few explanatory notes behind my vision of the technology. Today’s subject is Nuclear Fusion as a means for providing the energy for a Starship Drive. This is nothing new. Fusion as a literary device has a long and venerable history. Nuclear Fusion, and the wealth of energy it could theoretically deliver is a goal (currently) beyond the dreams of Physicists.

Real world Nuclear Fusion ‘in the wild’ occurs when a sufficient mass of hydrogen atoms are sufficiently compressed to create the fireball that becomes a star. ‘Star nurseries‘, where this process has been observed are a well known astronomical phenomenon. It is also observable in H-Bombs, which are a relatively crude means of getting hydrogen to fuse in sufficient quantities for a multi-megaton yield explosive device.

With Fusion, the first trick seems to be to get plasma at sufficient heat, pressure and density into a single point to initiate a self sustaining reaction. The second is getting usable power out of such a reactor without melting the entire installation. Such is the potential violence from the theoretical energy release.

Creating a controlled superheated plasma has been achieved many times before, including actual incidences of fusion, but only sporadically. Part of the problem seems to be in the plasma streams themselves, which tend to ‘arc’ to earth quite readily like lightning bolts. Stopping the plasma behaving in this fashion is heavy on power input, because even with heavy duty superconductors, the amount of electricity needed for the required electromagnetic containment field outstrips any output many times over. Focussing a super powerful laser at a single pellet of hydrogen isotope has also been tried.

The only current means of achieving even partially controlled Nuclear Fusion require huge amounts of energy to spark off a reaction. This is the current reality of nuclear fusion technology. Unless some new fusion milestone has been passed recently, and skipped merrily under my radar.

In my fictional world, I have a vision of a controllable nuclear fusion reaction as a hybrid between the ‘Wiffleball’ or Polywell (WB-6, 7, 8 After the theoretical work of Robert Bussard, later Richard Nebel) and the more ‘conventional’ Tokamak based designs (ITER etc). A critical point of fusing hydrogen atoms (Forgetting the technicalities surrounding Isotopes of Hydrogen for the moment) is developed by focussing a number of plasma streams into a ‘pinch point’ at which the conditions for a fusion reaction become possible.

One of the phenomena that may make this vision possible is the ability of plasma to ‘self organise’ into helices if a sufficient charge of electric current is passed through the plasma itself (See this result from the RFP Experiment, Padova Italy in 2009). Thus reducing the propensity of the heated plasma to arc to the nearest earth. What I propose is arranging several lower power Tokamak type toroids on edge so they form a kind of ring doughnut shape with a pinch point in the centre, where all the plasma streams converge in a narrow central core; charging the plasma so it forms helices, then synchronising the helical plasma streams to create one or a series of hot spots where sustainable heat, pressure and plasma density for continuous and controllable nuclear fusion may be created.

Getting any power out, of course might prove a little tricky. Although a charged particle stream from a Fusion reaction should be enough to induce electrical current via a series of coil windings or discharge points, as well as some form of rapid heat transfer mechanism to create steam to drive an electricity generating turbine. Preventing those melting might prove an issue, but those are mere technicalities.

At the moment my conjecture is purely a literary device, rather like the use of the hypothetical realm of ‘subspace’ for faster than light travel, or ‘space warp’. Yet like so many literary devices, perhaps my version might give a real world physicist a second thought, which in turn might go some way to provide a workable solution for the dream of almost limitless energy. With Fusion, there is always the constant feeling that we are on the cusp of something great and powerful. Yet like so many other other inventions, like heavier than air powered flight and the mass mobility of the automobile, there are one or two missing pieces in the jigsaw before we have the whole picture.

Cerberus novella

Have been looking through my story notes and partial manuscripts for my ‘Cerberus’ series of Novels / Novellas. One of the thoughts occurs to me that perhaps it might be better if I kept the story length down to 20,000 – 30,000 words. At present I’m looking at throwing a couple out into the eBook market place at about $1-2.99 each. A serialisation. Like Stephen King originally did with the ‘Green Mile’.

Will be trying to follow Vonneguts eight rules for writing fiction:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Well, maybe I might play a bit fast and loose with rule 8.  A little suspense is no bad thing, and there’s nothing like a cliffhanger to spur the reader along.

Some notes on eBook formatting

Just had a story rejected as an eBook over formatting issues. Easily resolved, but a thoroughgoing pain to have to go over and redo work you thought you’d completed a month ago.

The trick seems to be that my specific eBook publisher needs the source document to have the story spilt into specific segments, like chapters. Now I find cutting up a story like this a bit limiting sometimes, as chapters can get in the way of a narrative flow by cutting it into distinct chunks. For some narratives they work, but for others, not. I find they tend to slow the flow of a story down too much, especially if you’re dealing with multiple related story lines.

For my Novella, ‘The Odd Machine‘ which is out as an eBook, I had to chop the story into fourteen distinct ‘chunks’ to satisfy the eBook criteria, with the factual story notes as a fifteenth section. As someone who can read at over twelve hundred words a minute when the mood takes him, I find chapters in this format are often too short and detract from the pleasure of reading.

When formatting, the simple rules to follow seem to be these,
Firstly; ensure that all indented paragraphs have no extra tabs in them. Always use the ‘Paragraph format’ tool with the ‘first line’ option selected. If you can get away with it, don’t use tabs in your manuscript at all.
Secondly; in the MSS file, the eBook title should be in ‘Heading 1’
Thirdly; the chapter headings should be in ‘Heading 2’ and any subsections in ‘Heading 3’. Anything else doesn’t seem to work.

Following these simple rules should ensure that your eBook gets out into the marketplace without any unwarranted and annoying formatting related delays.


Am doing a first proof on a partial MSS I last worked on five years ago. I like it, but even I can see why the project ground to a halt though. The plot is too weak. The story runs out of steam at around the 45,000 word mark. Paints a great picture of a post-anarchy South London though.

My major issue is that in spite of there being enough detail, drama, sex and violence in the narrative, there are too many loose ends. No definite direction. Apart from that its very well written and has lots to maintain reader interest, including some quite elegant character quirks. Despite that, the MSS is in need of a revamp to get the story successfully from A to Z.

I think that apart from a jailbreak, the storyline tells little of my lead characters motivations and objectives. That is the projects main weakness. He’s swept along by events and doesn’t really take control of his destiny. He’s a great Deus ex machina, but needs a little something extra. In the words of Hitchcock, a Macguffin.

Aside from that, a little extra thought will make ‘Shifting States’ ready for market. Fifteen thousand words and a cliffhanger ending, perhaps. Four to six weeks work in between putting the last volume of the Stars Trilogy together, and beginning work on Earth’s Night.

Literary festival?

At a neighbours birthday party last night I got talking to a neighbour of mine (Kenn Joubert) who writes historical fiction (Even won an award for it), and we fell to discussing the issues surrounding self published works. Issues like the difficulties associated with getting your product to market. Most of them to do with distribution. Problems like Book shops being highly reluctant to stock non mainstream books except on terms that significantly reduce author royalties. Some who won’t even talk to self published authors, as though self publishing was some kind of communicable disease.

One of the ideas we bounced around was a regular series of Literary events for local self publish authors, purely on a co-operative basis. Nanaimo is a tourist stopover for Cruise ships, and the thought occurs that perhaps if we synchronised our events with cruise ship arrivals we might act firstly as a point of sale for member self publishers, secondly as an attraction for those cruise ship passengers who are looking for something to read where they can guarantee to talk to an author.

While the idea is all very nebulous at the moment, I can actually see it working; providing we get the mechanics of who does what agreed, and everyone sticks to their part of the ship. A downtown location would work best to make travel easier for visitors. A deal done with a local hotel, something that provides a focus for visitors. Like the Hay-on-Wye festival in the UK. Perhaps something coupled with a regular web presence. Rather than hiding our collective laurels under a bush, perhaps with a little goodwill such a concept can be made to work, and not cost us a fortune.

Work, work, work….

Have elected to rewrite Cerberus as a series of shorter works, as opposed to the original trilogy. Paul Calvin is too good a character to limit in that particular fashion. Telempathic Cop turned rebel solving mysteries? Shades of Sherlock Holmes, but not quite so full of himself. 50 – 60,000 words apiece, which should allow a higher output if there’s demand.

The follow on to the Stars trilogy I’m going to call ‘Earth’s Night’. No idea why. I just like the sound of it, that’s all. Similar format to the Stars trilogy, set two hundred years on. There’s a whole slew of ideas already in note form. All I have to do is finish ‘Darkness’ on schedule and move on.