Brandon Sanderson’s Massive Kickstarter

Fantasy author Brandon Sanderson, famous for completing The Wheel Of Time series after Robert Jordan’s death, his writing classes at Bringham Young University, and his massive Cosmere setting in which the majority of his books take place trolled his fans on Youtube this week.

During his weekly update on Monday, he announced to his fans that he had a big announcement regarding his career that he would be making on Tuesday. Rumors abounded online. Some fans wondered if the author was ill, others suggested he might be stepping away from his sprawling Cosmere universe or bringing in other authors to help him complete it.

The truth was far more epic, far funnier, and a masterclass in trolling. Sanderson, already known for his insane level of productivity, revealed that the lack of convention traveling during the pandemic gave him more time to work on his side projects. He revealed that he wrote not one, not two, but five novels during the pandemic. For fun. He then went on to explain that four of these novels will be released in 2023.

Fans of Sanderson will be able to sign up to receive these books quarterly by signing up for his Kickstarter. The lowest tier includes just the ebooks. Physical books are available in higher tiers, as are swag boxed, and signed copies. Set up initially with a $1 million goal, it rocketed past $10 million in the first day and will probably exceed $20 million by the time it’s done.

Commentators like Daniel Greene and others have been quick to declare that Sanderson reinvented the publishing industry in a day with his Kickstarter. While other authors such as John Scalzi and Brian McClellan were quick to point out that most authors do not have a fandom large enough to pull a similar scheme off, Sanderson’s Kickstarter is showing the rewards that authors can reap if they put time into building their community.

Unfortunately, few authors have the time, resources, or Sanderson’s dedicated social media team. However, we can hope that his work will be an example for traditional publishing houses to follow as they continue to adapt to the changing markets of the 21st century.

As of this writing, there are twenty-seven days left to sign up for Sanderson’s Kickstarter. Best get over there before time runs out!

Understanding The War In Ukraine: Six Books To Consider Reading

Log in to Twitter and suddenly everyone is an expert on Ukraine. Let me begin by sayings that I am most certainly not an expert either. However, for several years now I have made learning about Eastern Europe one of my primary hobbies. This interest was sparked by a pair of courses I took in college, both of which involved travel to Eastern Europe. In taking these classes I traveled to the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Moldova. While much of what I have read does not directly concern the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, those books do provide a great deal of historical context regarding the region.

Us westerners in the 21st century like to pretend that our societies are guided by facts and reason, in reality, we are just as susceptible to patriotic fervor and nationalist sentiments as those who came before us. Now we are all watching in real-time as a land war in Europe, the thing we have spent 70 years avoiding, unfolds thanks to the imperialist sentiments of one man. The books I will list here will not make anyone an expert on these topics, but they will provide a glimpse into the history and culture of a region that has been both a part of western culture and held at arm’s length throughout history.

Read ‘Bloodlands’ For A Primer On Nazi And Soviet Attrocities Commited In Eastern Europe

Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands
A dark, depressing book and yet an essential read.

This book by Timothy Snider does not try to convince you of the righteousness of one cause or the other. It seeks to explain the war crimes, ethnic cleansings, and ideological pogroms perpetrated by both the Soviets and the Nazis in their quests for supremacy in eastern Europe.

Read ‘The Crimean War: A History’ To Learn About A Conflict That Took Place In The Same Region As Today

Russia’s desire to reassert ownership of Crimea is part of what led to the war in Ukraine today

By accident, this was the book I brought along with me to read while traveling in Moldova. It’s a solid account of the conflict in Crimea between Imperial Russia and the rest of Europe to determine the fate of the Ottoman Empire.

Read ‘The Romanovs: 1613-1918’ If You Want A Primer On Russian History Through The Eyes Of The Men And Women That Ruled It

The Romanovs: 1613-1918 by [Simon Sebag Montefiore]
For a human look at the history of Russia, this book can’t be beat

This book humanizes the autocratic rulers of Russia’s history. It provides an intense look at how personal rivalries, education and ignorance, and family squabbles can quickly become a nation’s problem. It’s also a poignant reminder that the movers and shakers of history are human just like you and me, and that we are all immensely failable.

Read ‘Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History’ For An Overview On How Russia Changed In The Twentieth Century

Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History by Orlando Figges. A good book for understanding Russia and Ukraine
We like to think that we are at the end of history, but the story of Russia and Ukraine is continuing to unfold

Another book by Orlando Figes for this list. In this book Orlando Figes looks at recent Russian history with the idea that the revolution did not end in 1923, rather it continues on to this day and that we are still seeing the ongoing effects of the Revolution of 1917.

Read ‘From Peoples Into Nations: A History Of Eastern Europe’ To Learn How People Craft Identities For Themselves

From Peoples into Nations: A History of Eastern Europe by [John Connelly]
A great primer on how the peoples of Eastern Europe discovered their identities

The map of Europe looked very different a century ago. Most of the countries there today had not been founded yet. Just a couple of centuries ago no one really knew what it meant to be Czech or Hungarian. This is a colossal and thorough book on how the many peoples of Eastern Europe found their sense of identity and belonging.

Read ‘Revolution 1989: The Fall Of The Soviet Empire’ To Learn How The People Of Eastern Europe Got Out From Under Soviet Rule

Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire by [Victor Sebestyen]
A great overview of the protest movements that led to the end of the Cold War

We’ll end our list with a book about the popular protests and resistance networks that saw the end of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. It was actually required reading for one of the classes I took in college. It is by no means an exhaustive account but it is a thoroughly readable one and a great primer on why Eastern Europe is the way it is today.


If you share an interest in history, reading, writing, or science, you can chat with me on Twitter. You can also subscribe to my newsletter if you want occasional updates on new posts and curated media suggestions. If you want to help the people of Ukraine make it through this terrible war you can find a list of organizations to donate to here.

Has Boba Fett Gone Soft?

Disney's 'Boba Fett' Series Is Not As Popular As 'the Mandalorian' yet

Boba Fett has been a fan favorite since he first appeared on the screen. This background character exploded into a fan favorite with numerous book and comic appearances that added to his back story. Much of that backstory went away when Disney bought Star Wars and made the Expanded Universe non-canon.

Fans everywhere were ecstatic when the Book of Boba Fett was announced following the character’s appearance in season 2 of the Mandolorian. We weren’t given much to expect except that Boba would be trying to gain control of Jabba’s former holdings on Tattoine. Many expected that we would see Boba on a brutal rampage as he works to wrest control on Tattoine from various rivals. Instead, we got a fairly slow-paced series in which we saw Boba find a family and then lose it in the form of a tribe of Tuskens, then work to build support among the locals of Tattoine and go up against the Pyke crime syndicate.

Many were thrown off by the show’s pacing and lack of brutality, complaining that Boba has “gone soft” but this is simply not the case. In season 2 of The Mandalorian, we saw Boba destroy a contingent of stormtroopers with just a gaffi stick. We know that he is capable of brutality and violence when needed, but a man who resorts quickly to violence is not going to live very long. Boba knows when violence is needed, he knows when to be careful and methodical, and he knows when he is better off making friends than enemies.

Furthermore, at no point in the show does Boba claim to be a crimelord, he has a protection racket, yes, but he never claims to be a crimelord, he is a Daimyo. A feudal lord who serves as a protector to his realm. He is trying to gain the trust and respect of his community, shooting everyone he came across would not have done him any good. Besides that, it should not be surprising that a man who has gone through a near-death experience has decided to make some changes in his life.

The Book Of Boba Fett has its problems and is far from perfect. But the series takes us on a stroll through one of Star Wars’ iconic locales and further fleshes out the relationship between Boba and Din. Once we have another season of The Mandalorian I suspect that we will view this series in a very different and more favorable light as a part of a larger narrative.

What Makes You, You? Memory, Identity, and Digitization In Fiction

I’ve been consuming a lot of science fiction lately and something that comes up a lot is the idea of mind uploading and even a digital existence. It’s even something that may one day be possible in our own world. Scientists have been able to simulate the entire brain of a worm already and many futurists expect up to one day to be able to copy and simulate our entire minds in computers. This would mean many interesting things for the future of longevity and space exploration. Why pay to ship an entire crews’ bulky, resource-consuming bodies when you can just upload their minds to a robotic probe and send them on their way? Entire populations could be digitized and live on in a simulated world where they would be safe from natural disasters and be able to persist long after their fleshy meat bodies would have decayed and consumed all the available resources.

Most narratives that incorporate digitization treat it as somewhat routine. Characters are able to move from one body to another as needed, create copies of themselves to act as messengers, and continue to interact with the world long after their physical selves are gone. Authors have explored a myriad of ideas relating to this concept but there are a few questions that keep gnawing at me.

What makes a person a person?

If you made a copy of yourself with all your memories and personality you could hypothetically sit in a room together and have observers unable to tell you apart. You both have the same memories, personality, appearance, and you both claim to be the real you. Which is it? Similar to how a transporter would kill someone and then reconstruct someone every time it was used, digitization coupled with discarding the original does the same.

The question then is what exactly makes a person. In this post, we’ll look at how several books deal with this digitation technology.

A Memory Called Empire

A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan Book 1) by [Arkady Martine]

We’ll start the list with the setting that uses digitization the least. The inhabitants of the remote Lsel Station, in an effort to preserve vital knowledge, record the memories of their most important citizens and implant those memories in the most qualified successors that they can find. This technology is kept secret from outsiders and Lsel Station is careful to prevent destabilizing individuals from being added to one of these imago lines. Basically, the people of Lsel have fancy Trill Symbionts.

Since very few people have these imago machine implants we mostly only see how the protagonist adjusts to her newly implanted memories. At times she has trouble telling her feelings and memories apart from her predecessor and she often struggles to explain to others that she is not becoming her predecessor, rather they are merging to become an entirely new person. Of all the entries in this list, it spends the most time contemplating exactly what it means to be yourself.

Old Man’s War

Old Man's War by [John Scalzi]

John Scalzi’s first novel was about an interstellar government that picks and chooses who gets to leave Earth. Out among the stars, humanity is at war with countless alien species. Meanwhile, on Earth, things don’t look much different from today. To get off Earth a person has to be either from a disadvantaged nation facing overpopulation or a senior citizen from one of today’s leading powers to enlist as a soldier with the Colonial Union.

By limiting Earth’s contact with space, the CU limits who can leave and creates an incentive for people from Earth to unknowingly sign up to participate in the CU’s constant wars of expansion. This all works because they map out all the structures of the brains of these older and wiser recruits and give them vat-grown bodies to fight the war in. When they’re done with their tour of duty they get a younger civilian body and a plot of land on some newly settled world.

Digitization in this setting is really only used to give soldiers useable bodies and saves the army time that would otherwise be spent fixing damaged bodies. But it doesn’t seem to be used to provide any kind of immortality. Once a person is discharged they don’t get any new bodies. The only deviation from this use case is when the recorded memories of a fugitive are implanted in a brand new body and this duplication of a living person seems to cause some issues for the clone that receives the memories.

In this way, the books avoid the thornier questions that other works explore when it comes to this technology. More specifically the fact that if such technology existed it would likely allow the rich who can afford new bodies to “live” indefinitely while the poor make do with just one existence. Instead, those who are able to take advantage of the technology normally die some kind of horrible battlefield death shortly after they get their new bodies. The problem pretty much solves itself.

Revelation Space

Revelation Space (The Inhibitor Trilogy Book 1) by [Alastair Reynolds]

Mind transference is a lot more common in this series and unlike Old Man’s War, there’s some disagreement among different characters whether a digitized person is actually a person.

There are two types of digitized people. Alpha Levels are simulations created by taking highly precise scans of a person’s brain. This scan tends to destroy the person’s brain in the process and the early attempts at digitization quickly went insane. The others are the Beta Levels, simulations created by an AI that has watched a person’s every move and use that data to predict how a person would act in a given situation. It’s important to note that a Beta Level will tell someone that it believes itself to be the real thing. That’s what the real person would do after all.

Beta Levels are generally implied to be an inadequate version of the digitization process and the first one we meet in Revelation Space begins by demanding to know what happened to their Alpha Level. It’s clear that the Alpha Levels are the ones considered to be truly sentient.

Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs Novels Book 1) by [Richard K. Morgan]

In Altered Carbon, every person is implanted with a stack at birth that records their mind every second of every day. The people who can afford to transfer in and out of bodies at a whim. To shorten travel times, to prolong their lives, to get fancy implants, or just because they felt like having a different look that day.

Those who can afford to treat bodies like outfits that can be discarded and it’s clear that most people view what’s stored on their implanted stack to be their actual selves. The only thing they have to fear about the death of their bodies is that they might not be able to afford a new one, or that if their new one is not a clone of their original that their family might not recognize them.

It’s also clear that at least some people in this setting have sat and thought about what it means to make multiple copies of a person, which is a crime in this series. There are also characters who have offsite backups so even if their stacks are destroyed they can reload from an earlier save.

Depending on how you envision the stacks to work all of this could mean constantly dying over and over again or just moving files from one place to another. It gets a little trickier if you start to think about double sleeving and off-site backups.

For the most part, these books seem to focus on matters of identity and inequality in a world where bodies are treated like outfits. Many of the “lizard brain” tendencies like nicotine addiction, muscle memory, etc stay with the body. So someone that re-sleaves frequently might find themselves suddenly saddled with a smoking habit or stay up staring into a mirror at a reflection that they can’t convince themselves is them.

The Culture

Consider Phlebas (A Culture Novel Book 1) by [Iain M. Banks]

Of all the books in this list, The Culture novels probably spend the most time on the ethical aspects of simulation and digitization. Including protracted discussions on whether turning off a simulated universe constitutes murder or not. Some characters are fine with making copies of themselves to send on trips or missions and then merging the memories the other gains, thus “killing” the copy, others see this as murder and allow their copy to continue once its purpose has been served.

What makes The Culture different from the other settings explored here is that the characters can actually afford to contemplate the ethical and philosophical questions that this technology requires. Citizens of the Culture live in a post-scarcity society where anyone who needs a new body or a new copy of themselves or a new backup made can have it in an instant.

Conclusion

If you think about the idea of digitized intelligence long enough the concept will probably begin to confuse you, amaze you, and maybe scare you. We’re not in a world where such a thing is possible yet, but it’s not much of a stretch to think that mind uploading will be possible in the near future.

But would it really be you? Sure, a digital copy might have your memories and act as you would have, but you won’t get to have the same experiences. You’ll be either somewhere else or you will be dead. This begs another question; does it matter?

Even if it’s not really you, digital copies would allow some aspect of you to continue on. It’s a way for a person to leave their mark and express their wishes long after they are gone. For their loved ones it could be a great source of comfort or it could veer far too close to the uncanny valley.

Ultimately I think it’s up to the individual and the peace of mind that their backups provide for them. What do you think? Let me know with a comment or on Twitter @expyblg. I can also now be found on Facebook @expyblg!

Fog of Love

My collection of board games is light on two-player games. I don’t mean games that allow just two players to play, I mean games built specifically for two players. Lately, I’ve been looking to change that, with special emphasis on games that look like I might be able to convince my fiance to play.

Fog of Love turned out to be exactly what I was looking for.

The box is easy to organize and has plenty of room for the expansions

Fog of Love is a two-player, RPG card game in which each player assumes the role of a person in a romantic relationship. The base game comes with several different scenarios of varying difficulty and complexity. During these scenarios, the two players take turns playing scene cards from their hands and react to those scenes by making choices. Different choices have different outcomes, and sometimes the outcome depends on whether you both agree or disagree.

We played the tutorial scenario, which begins with a Sunday morning first date. All of the cards in the box come presorted so that this is the first scenario you play with helpful tutorial cards inserted into the decks so you can play without ever having read the rules.

The traits you pick at the beginning are hidden and incentivize you to make certain choices throughout the game.

A challenge with any RPG is that if the players aren’t invested in the roleplay the game can get a little awkward. The scenes are basically story prompts and the players are free to invent the specifics. Not everyone is comfortable with that, especially if they are new to board games, what’s so beautiful about the game’s design is that it actively helps you roleplay.

A player’s trait cards, destinies, and secrets are all hidden from the other player at the start. All of these cards work together to tell the player what kind of relationship the character wants and what is basically the character’s ideal personality. The choices players make can force them to exchange cards, reveal cards, change their satisfaction score, or their personality attributes.

The personality attributes and satisfaction scores are out in the open, providing a record of choices and allowing the two players to get to know each other’s characters naturally. Right off the bat, the game provides an easy and intuitive way to decide how your character would behave AND it provides a way for your character to change and for you to change how you play them. Your choices could have made you bitter and quick to anger, or more sensitive and caring.

What does all this add up to? An elegant roleplaying game for friends and couples. One where you can work together to become equal partners in a fictitious relationship or selfishly work to only make yourself happy.

I really can’t say enough about how elegant the design of this game is. There’s tons of room for complexity while at the same time it remains very accessible for newcomers to the hobby. If you’ve been thinking about this game or looking for something new to do on date night then just buy it. You’ll be glad you did.

Designated Survivor: First Impressions

My first impression is I like that show. I was worried at first that it might suffer from West Wing Syndrome, where the writers feel compelled to pretend that Republicans act in good faith. Thankfully that doesn’t seem to be the case so far. I was worried at first that the Republican alternate survivor would be put in too good a light, but when she betrayed Kirkman in the third episode I felt a lot better.

Thankfully, the show does not seem to make the same mistakes as West Wing. It’s got a fascinating premise. A massive attack on the US Capitol during the State of the Union address leaves the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development as president. Oh, also there are about two surviving members of Congress.

My favorite part so far is the treatment of the probably Republican governor James Royce. The character James Royce, the Governor of Michigan, responds to the attack by ordering state police to infringe on the civil rights of Muslims living in his state. I’m actually very impressed to see a fictional president who is not only trying to create unity but also do the right thing. Like mobilizing the national guard because a state governor decides that civil rights don’t matter.

The biggest problem I have is the FBI subplot. It didn’t need to happen. The central narrative was plenty. Overall I like it a lot so far. I’ll get back to you in a few seasons when I have to eat my words.

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Like many, my first introduction to Altered Carbon was through the Netflix adaptation.

Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs Novels Book 1) by [Richard K. Morgan]

We’re all used to the adaptation being worse than the book, but aside from Eragon and Wanted I can’t think of a worse movie adaptation than Netflix’s adaptation of Altered Carbon.

The Altered Carbon of Richard K. Morgan’s imagination shows an amazing cyberpunk world where some of the secrets of the universe were unlocked by alien ruins on Mars. Where minds are cheaper to transport than bodies and the military trains psychopaths to inhabit premade bodies on remote worlds to brutally suppress insurrections. Where those same psychopaths have to come to grips with what they have done once they reenter the civilian world.

The adaptation did none of this. It combined huge chunks of Takeshi Kovac’s backstory into just a few bullet points. It took a soul tortured by his experiences as a cog in the machine and turned him into a lackluster failed freedom fighter. Now that I’ve read the source material I’m a little insulted by the Netflix version.

The Takeshi Kovacs of the book is a deeply flawed character with a deeply flawed past. He still does a lot of terrible things, but he has something of a conscience and he manages to find some kind of purpose in the process. The Takeshi Kovacs of Netflix however, was a starry-eyed idealist who got burned and as a result, he’s angsty…I guess?

I wish that studios wouldn’t do this. They get handed the rights to an amazing story and they decide to mutilate it. Unfortunately, it seems to be rare for the people adapting the source material to actually understand the source material.

I Lost NaNoWriMo

And it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.

From Pexels

To be clear, writing 50,000 words in just a month is a tremendous accomplishment, but 50,000 words in a month does not a novel make. In full disclosure, it’s almost a month since November 30th and I am at about 34k. That’s okay. Because I am here to tell you about the true value of NaNoWriMo.

The true value of NaNoWriMo is that it forces you to write. It forces you to think about what you want to write, plan out your writing process, and then execute it. If you can finish then great! If you can’t that’s okay! I would have loved to finish within a month, but I learned a lot about myself in the process and what I need to write effectively.

Here are a few of the lessons I learned.

  1. Planning is key. I’ve always been a pantser. For years I have told myself that if I make an outline I will get bored. I was so, so wrong. I never realized that writing off of an outline requires a huge amount of pantsing. We all outline in different ways, but for me outlining means knowing all the different plot points and naming the main characters. The pantsing comes when I am figuring out how to get there.
  2. I am a night person. The greatest thing about NaNoWriMo is that their website provides tools to track you writing. After every writing session you can tell it how many words you wrote and eventually it will tell you things like when you do the most writing. I get the most writing done between 11 pm and 12 am. Which makes sense, I’m a night owl after all, I just wish inspiration didn’t flow so easily at bed time!
  3. Writing every day is important. In order to reach 50,000 words in a month you need to write on average approximately 1660 words every day. I didn’t come close to that on a daily basis but on some days I surpassed it by several thousand words. No matter how quickly you write there is incalculable value in sitting down and writing every day. Soon enough you learn how to grind through the slower parts of the narrative that we all struggle to get through.
  4. Just write. If you are like me you’re always thinking about what to write next. Here’s the thing though, it doesn’t matter how much you think, you have to write. No matter how polished you think the idea is, no matter how unwork together the words do you just need to write. Write what you are thinking in the moment. Write the ideas you have now. As you write you will notice things that you could phrase better and you will probably realize that the plot needs some big changes. All of that can be fixed latter. The most important part of any first draft is that you get words on the page.
  5. It doesn’t need to be perfect. What you are writing now will probably not be the final draft. It will be the first draft, or maybe the pre-first draft (is that a thing?). Write waht you can now and know that you can polish it up later. Writing is about getting words on the page and then refining them. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

If you didn’t want to read that here are the spark notes. Outline in advance, be ready to improvise, write every day, write when you don’t want to, and be ready to write garbage. I’m no saint, I’m still working on all of these five points. Still, I’ve learned so much from participating in NaNoWriMo and I recommend it to any other aspiring writer.

I know I will be doing it again next year.

A Declaration Of The Rights Of Magicians by H. G. Parry

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians: A Novel (The Shadow Histories Book 1) by [H. G. Parry]

If you’re like me and you spend a lot of time therapy shopping in book stores you’ve probably come across more than a few books on the shelf that you keep stopping to consider but keep walking away. This was one of those for me. Over the past few years, it’s become harder and harder for me to get invested in SFF books despite my love of the genre. So lately I’ve made a rule for myself if I keep stopping to consider a book two or three times I’m going to give it a try.

“A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians” was one of those books for me. In a word, it’s fantastic, 5/5. It’s the first in a series called The Shadow Histories and the second book, “A Radical Act Of Free Magic,” just came out. Which for me is always a plus, I love it when I can get excited about a new series or author and immediately have another book to dive into.

From the title of both the book and the series, I think you can probably guess what it’s about. It’s a magical alternative history of our world that takes place during the French Revolution and follows the characters of William Pit, Robespierre, and others. The progression of events, so far, seems to closely mirror the events of our own history with some exceptions. The main difference is that there are millions of people all over the world who have some kind of inherited magical ability.

How is society not radically changed? Simple. A few centuries before we dive in, the Templar Church fought a war to eliminate Europe’s vampire rulers. Magic, after this was heavily restricted in most countries and commoners, were forbidden from using magic. Only the aristocracy was allowed to use their powers and an old agreement called The Concord forbids the use of magic in warfare.

But this is an age of revolution and the common folk of Europe of tired of not having their voices heard. With talk of freedom and liberty comes also freedom of magic. And there are forces fighting in the background, manipulating events as they happen. This leads to one of our protagonists, Prime Minister William Pitt, working to not only lead his nation through the horrors of the Napoleonic War but also to fight a smaller and more personal conflict in the background.

Like I said. 5/5, 10/10, A+. Go give it a read! You can purchase the book in physical format or on kindle here.

So You Want To Have A Space Combat – Part One

I do too. One of the great joys of science fiction on screen is watching giant capital ships pound the snot out of each other. I’m here today to talk about how you can make that happen in your own work!

A starry orbital nighttime sky above New Zealand. Remember that space is insanely big, everything happens at a distance.
A starry orbital nighttime sky above New Zealand by NASA Johnson is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

There are a lot of ways for space combat to take place in science fiction that depends heavily on technology levels and on how much you decide to treat space like an ocean. In a hyper-advanced setting like that found in the culture novels, combat will take seconds at most and will be handled entirely by AI. Then there’s the other end of the scale where ships pull up next to each other to exchange broadsides. I’m going to choose to talk about space combat in a setting like The Expanse or Revelation Space. Universes where there are some fantastical elements but are also grounded in reality.

Shootouts Across Space And Time

Space is really big. It’s had to really describe just how big it is. The human brain really isn’t designed to comprehend the sheer scale of space. And when I say big I mean big, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.

With the scales involved, it’s worth considering what distances combat between ships takes place at. It’s had to hide in space since space is very cold and ships are very hot surprise attacks are bound to be difficult unless the side doing the surprising has time to set a trap. In most situations, your characters will have advanced warnings of their attackers. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have tension though. Two ships could be barreling towards each other for days or weeks before they get close enough to exchange their first blows. And that’s where time and space come in.

With spacecraft moving as fast as they do it’s not enough to know where a target is, but where it will be. Remembering the fact that light does not travel instantly it’s important to keep in mind that a ship’s view of where its target is is actually where it was.

These distances and information delays mean that your characters might need to wait hours or days to find out if the missile they just fired ever hits its target. Or if shots have been fired in their direction.

Doing Damage The Conventional Way

There are a lot of possible weapons but I am going to focus on the three that the expanse uses; missiles, rail cannons, and point defense cannons (PDCs). Lasers are cool too and should be considered, I’m a fan of grasers myself, but a lot of the same limitations for the other three will apply to lasers too.

In the case of all three, it’s important to remember that humans will have very little to do with their aiming and firing. Humans will pick targets and perform maintenance, but it makes much more sense to leave the actual operations to computers.

Missiles

Missiles are going to be very useful, especially if they allow the warheads to be replaced with other payloads and come equipped with sophisticated targeting and guidance computers. Missiles have a few things going for them

  • They can survive a lot more gees than a human can so they’ll probably catch up to whatever they are fired at.
  • They can be programmed to take complex paths to their targets.
  • They can adjust course mid-flight.
  • Components can be adjusted to change yield or purpose (ex. makeshift sensor pod).
  • They don’t need to actually hit their targets, just get as close as the given payload requires.

Missiles aren’t perfect though. Their engines are probably going to create a fair bit of heat, although cold gas thrusters might be useful in some cases. Most of a target’s PDC’s are going to be aimed at them in an attempt to blow them up before reaching effective range. There are ways to get past this. But a lot of combat between capital ships is going to be either firing missiles at long range or trying to detect and intercept missiles at long range.

Rail Cannons

I know, I know. Shouldn’t these be outdated? Shouldn’t missiles be so much better? Well, yes, they should. But strangely, depending on the technological capabilities of your setting, a solid projectile fired at relativistic speeds actually works pretty well.

Compared to missiles they are going to give the users less control after firing, but they are going to be harder to detect and harder to hit. Sure the enemy can look at where your cannon is pointed, but with the speed of light considered will probably be a few minutes old. That’s a lot of time to adjust your aim. And on account of not having a tail of hot plasma or ions, it’s going to be a lot harder to detect.

Now, a great deal of how useful rail cannons are will depend on the technology available in your setting. Here are a few examples.

  • Energy is plentiful and components are compact. This allows a ship to have multiple cannons that are each able to fire projectiles at relativisitc speeds.
  • Energy is plentiful but components are bulky. A ship has one or two rail cannons that are large and obvious to attackers. May or may not fire projectiles at relativistic speeds.
  • Energy is not plentiful and components are bulky. A ship can only fire ocassionally. The one or two railguns on board need time to charge their capacitors between volleys.

Point Defence Cannons

Remember what I said about giving AI control of the weapons? PDCS are probably entirely controlled by AI. Missiles and rail cannons at least have humans picking targets and maybe picking approaches, but PDCs need to be much faster than that.

PDCs need to fire a lot of small projectiles quickly. The idea is to increase the odds that they hit the missiles or boarding shuttles that they are meant to be intercepting. The projectiles might be mildly explosive, the equivalent of flak shells, or simple solid slugs. And that’s really all I have to say about that. Here are some examples of different use cases.

  • In order to disable or indimidate another ship the crew manually desigates a handful of PDC bursts.
  • Where sensors are not able to track missiles in real time, the crew selects different interception algorithmns based on what parts of the ship they think are being targeted.
  • Dedicated to the mission above all else, the crew instructs the ship’s computers to prioritize the PDCs to cover only the most critical systems.
  • With limiting sensing and control technology PDCs are programmed to fire in a wide cone aimed by a human opperator.
  • Computers and sensors are advanced enough to track individual missiles and aim grounps of PDCs at them.

Adding Sci-Fi Flavor

Everything up until now has been very mundane (remember I said no lasers). Now I’m going to add some fun twists to the three weapons systems above, because if you can imagine a way to kill people, us humans will probably try it eventually. These will all be various degrees of scifi hardness.

Hydrogen Foam – I’m stealing this idea from a fantastic series called Revelation Space. Here’s how it works. Hydrogen is a gas and it really wants to be a gas. But under intense pressures hydrogen can form a liquid or even a solid. Because hydrogen wants to be a gas, if you compress it into a liquid it’s going to expand violently the first chance it gets.

Nanite Nets – if you make a net that is a few microns thick and spread it out in front of a ship moving at a significant fraction of the speed of light then the ship will have a bad time. At lower speeds, a wide nanite net could do a lot of mischief from subtle sabotage to dissolving through the hull to hack into computer systems and get the intel without ever risking a single member of the attacking crew.

Monomolecular Shards – imagine a lot of ultrathin graphite sheets broken into shads and released to form a dense cloud These could be dispersed in a cloud by a fleeing ship and wreak havoc for a pursuing ship that is not paying attention. A bit like futuristic caltrops.

Drones – there are a lot more things a ship could launch besides missiles and railgun slugs. One idea I particularly like is a cloud of autonomous weapons platforms that could carry their own PDCs, racks of micro-missiles, sensor equipment, maybe even boarding parties. These drones could maneuver around a target and potentially be harder to hit than a complete ship.

Up Next

In the next part, we’ll talk about armor, damage control, and what a destroyed ship might look like. Follow me on Twitter at @expyblg for updates!