The Stone Soup Novelist

I have a great idea for a novel. You know what would make it even better?…

Trailer for Doctor Who season 7. The guy with the really funny line is Ben Browder, aka John Crichton from Farscape.

Serious Science Question: How do you blow up a space monster using 18th century technology?

So, in this scene from my novel, the heroes are attacked by a horrifying creature, and they’re limited to ~18th century levels of technology to deal with it. The monster floats in air by means of a hydrogen bladder; its metabolism breaks down water into hydrogen and oxygen. I’ve devised a spear that lets them pierce the creature’s skin and send a spark into its hydrogen bladder to blow it up. I figure there would be no oxygen inside the bladder though, so the weapon sends a spray of saltpeter (KNO3) to act as an oxidizer.

My question for any chemistry buffs out there: how far-fetched does this sound? Okay, okay, I realize the whole thing’s pretty-blinking far fetched, but I mean specifically the way I’m blowing up the monster? Is there some basic fact about the combustion of hydrogen that I don’t understand? Is there some easier way? If you have any ideas, please drop them in the Comments below. Thanks!

If I haven’t said it before, thanks to Michael P for the idea of deepstaria enigmatica as a model for an alien life-form, and to novelist Michael R Wilson for the image of a cloud bank stretching across the horizon like a wall.  Those two images together formed the nucleus of this scene.

A Scene: Over the Cloud Sea

blimpThe airship Eclipse sailed east, over the Cloud Sea. A high bank of clouds, almost straight-edged like a wall, rose ahead.

Joshua called to his first mate, “I don’t like to see a high cloud, Franklin. Not in these skies.”

“Slow down and we’re dead anyway,” said Franklin. “Every ship in Cascay will be out for us by now.”

The ship sailed on, into the misty bank. Tendrils of cloud poured over the decks, and white fog surrounded them. Joshua kept the wheel while Franklin and Carsen manned the sails.

Clovis ran from port to starboard, peering over the side. “I don’t see anything,” he said.

Franklin shook his head and gritted his teeth. “You never do.”

The sweat had beaded on Joshua’s face, and his eyes darted side to side as he spoke. “Clovis, take the oilcloth off that barrel. Just cut through the cord with your knife. Now, take the spears in it and pass them out, one to each man.” Clovis took four wooden spears out of the barrel and carried one to Franklin and another to Carsen. He examined his own and saw that it was really two rods, one fitted inside the other so that it could slide. Fixed on the tip of the inner rod was an iron blade. At the top of the outer rod, next to the blade, was a flint. A bulb at the base of the stick kept the inner rod from sliding more than an inch.

Joshua grabbed his spear and held the wheel with his knee. “Stand behind me and watch,” he said. “There’s saltpeter packed inside spear. Hit the base hard enough, you spark the flint against the blade and make the powder spray out. If you ever have to use this, you want to raise it over your head and strike down with one hand. Make a fist with the other hand and hit this bulb as hard as you can. See?”

Joshua turned, and screamed in terror.

He saw behind him the headless body of Clovis, standing impossibly, its hands grasping out toward him. The ship’s wheel spun free, the mainsail swung around behind them, and the illusion was broken. Outlined against the black sail, the blue and white swirls still pulsing along its subtle skin, there appeared the billowing shape of the Hydra. Its tentacles twisted and searched out from its floating body, blending invisibly with the mists that surrounded them, and one wrapped around the head of Clovis, smothering him.

Joshua raised his spear over his head and ran toward the creature’s body screaming “One’s aboard!” A tentacle tripped his legs and he fell sprawling. The spear shot out of his hand and slid across the deck toward the monster. Joshua sprang after it, but he felt his leg jerked back. The Hydra had his right foot in its grip. He grabbed the planks of the deck with his fingernails and kicked desperately with his left boot but the Hydra pulled him back.

Joshua strained his arms till the veins stood out on his neck like cables. With his free foot he struck back at the trapped boot again and again, bloodying his right leg. The creature pulled again, but this time, the bloody foot came free.

He lunged forward, grabbed his spear, and plunged it into the body of the monster. The spear struck deep. Joshua drew his right foot up under his body, stood, and kicked the base of the spear with all his strength.

Inside the monster, the spark of the flint and the oxygen from the saltpeter met the hydrogen that kept the body of the Hydra afloat. The creature burst in every direction with a loud concussion, knocking Joshua back to the deck.

Clovis pulled the gray, dying tentacle away from his face. “Whuh! Was this . . . what I was supposed to use the spear on?”

Joshua, lying on his back, grinned. “I was getting to that!”

This short scene is for the Friday Fictioneers flash fiction meme.  Every Friday a bunch of online writers write 100 words on a given topic.  In this case, the picture above.  Then we link and comment on each others’ posts. Check it out here.  Links to other peoples’ fiction should start appearing in the Comments to this post as well.

Criticism is invited!  Tell me what you think of my prose.  How can it be tightened up?  I . . . sort of blew out the 100 word  limit on this one; sorry!

To read more about the novel in which this scene will be set, look under “The Story” tab at the top. If you’d like to contribute ideas for my book, just drop them into the Comments and I’ll work them in as best I can.

Android with the Face, Voice, and Knowledge of Philip K. Dick

In case I become famous after my death, I’d like to go ahead and request now: Never, ever do this to me.

Bill Murray as the Human Torch

Apparently they produced a radio program based on the early FF comics back in 1975, and someone thought that Bill Murray would be the perfect voice for Johnny Storm who is … known for his deadpan humor and … yeah, it’s pretty lame.

The New Doctor Who Companion Will Be Named Clara

Pictures from the set of the Fall Doctor Who series over at The Mary Sue.  The next Doctor Who companion will be named Clara, and [spoiler alert] will be a cute girl.

For the other half of my audience, Farscape star (and native North Carolinian!) Ben Browder will be in the 3rd episode.

A Scene: Something on the Horizon

Smoke rose from the top of the icy mountain as Joshua and Clovis reached the ridge.
“I have seen strange things,” said Joshua. “And I’ve been away too long. Watching an airship come into port would set my heart right.”

Clovis pointed to the eastern horizon, and Joshua followed his gaze to a gray dot hovering over the Cloud Sea. The speck dipped suddenly into the clouds, and reappeared. “Ships don’t fly that way,” said Joshua, “but it’s too big for anything else.”

The distant shape came closer. Joshua shook his head and whispered “They died a long time ago.”

This short scene is for the Friday Fictioneers flash fiction meme.  Every Friday a bunch of online writers write 100 words on a given topic.  In this case, the picture above.  Then we link and comment on each others’ posts. Check it out here.  Links to other peoples’ fiction should start appearing in the Comments to this post as well.

Criticism is invited!  Tell me what you think of my prose.  How can it be tightened up?

To read more about the novel in which this scene will be set, look under “The Story” tab at the top. If you’d like to contribute ideas for my book, just drop them into the Comments and I’ll work them in as best I can.

Government Employees on Starships: What Will Their Benefits Package Look Like?

Thanks to Cat over at Cat’s Liminal Space for a gracious link and for the notion that Government officials who spend their entire journey across the galaxy in suspended animation will probably want a crew (which I’ve taken to calling Employees) who stay awake for the long trip in case of trouble.

This is a cool story: An author who started self-publishing who is now in talks with Ridley Scott about the movie rights to one of his books.

The Weekend Writer

Sometime last month, I’d downloaded a sample of the popular Sci-Fi short story “WOOL” by Hugh Howey to my Kindle. It had been on my radar for a while, but I hadn’t gotten around to checking it out. The sample popped up on my Kindle in seconds, and I propped myself up in bed and thumbed the screen.

In just a few minutes, I was disappointed when the sample ended abruptly, just when things were getting good in the story. But it was a good kind of disappointment. I wanted MORE!

I purchased the WOOL omnibus that evening and am currently reading through the first 5 installments. It is rare that a sample hits me in that way, but exciting all the same. Author Hugh Howey’s method of storytelling is engaging, and draws the reader in early on (be on the lookout for more on this in a future post).

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The Light-Speed Barrier: It’s Hip

One of the first things that I decided when I sat down to write my own science fiction novel was that faster-than-light travel would be impossible. The book I’m writing isn’t “hard” science fiction, more planetary adventure, but the tropes used to get around the light speed barrier just seemed like magic wands to me, and I didn’t want to use them.

I became interested in having my characters traveling across the galaxy at near-light speed, and seeing civilizations rise and fall while they stayed more or less the same age (due to the time dilation effect). That gave rise to the notion of a galactic Government so vast that its bureaucrats take centuries to fly from one assignment to the next.

After a little thought and googling, however, I realized that even at ludicrous rates of acceleration – 5G, 10G – the subjective time for a trip across a significant portion of the galaxy could still take more than a human lifetime. More on this topic over at the World page.

So (here’s the funny part) I decided I would introduce some kind of suspended animation that allows the characters to “sleep” through the long journey in their starship. That is, of course, likely just as impossible as faster-than-light travel, for a whole host of reasons. It did not bother me one jot. I’m sure this says something about my psychology and nothing about science, but I’m glad to hear I’m not alone. Here’s an article on the trend toward obeying the light-speed barrier in SF.