Novel Concepts: #2 – After the Storm: Scientific Utopia

On a hill in Georgia there stands 4 monoliths of enormous size.  Lofted on them is a capstone which serves as the mechanism for a massive astronomical instrument.  Inscribed on the monoliths are rules to follow after the end of the world.

Sadly, that’s not an original concept that I just made up.  Life, as we all know, has a habit of being stranger than fiction and the monoliths are very real.  They have been standing, stoically, waiting for Armageddon, since before I was born.

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Earlier this month I began reading Christian Nation, a novel which is chilling in its vision of a Christian right triumphant in its desire to rule America and eradicate any non-Christian voices.  As I read, I began to think about what type of society I might set up if given free reign, just as the Christians in Rich’s novel were given free reign.  

My ideal society’s foundations would be built on scientific exploration and technological advancement.  I think we would do well to rid ourselves of the influences of organized religion, as well as forces which contribute to greed and irrationality.  The guidestones refer to an “Age of Reason” which I think is a good goal for any society, to embrace reason in all its forms.  

In a simple novel like the one I’m conceptualizing, it’s too complex to work from our own society as a basis to form the scientific megasociety that I’d like to write about.  Therefore I’m borrowing the idea of the guidestones for a premise.  Based on the fascinating and mysterious origin of the guidestones, (as told by Wired) I am assuming that they were built under the assumption that a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union would wipe out civilization.  Since that didn’t happen, I’m going to use as a premise (and a potential storyline) that those who commissioned the monument are continuing to prepare for an alternate doomsday scenario and that they will refine their methods.  A time capsule seems to have been intended for the site, but never installed.  In my story, the capsule will have been supplemented with a series of underground chambers in which are stored scientific texts and instruments.  This to me seems a logical extension that might be undertaken.

For this work, I would think that 2 or 3 competing storylines might be useful.  One could discuss the creation of the monuments and chambers, involving the intrigues of a secret society with insights into world-shattering events.  Another storyline could be the proto-society that forms in the wake of whatever disaster resets humanity.  

The final storyline would be the main focus though, and for that, I’m thinking of venturing off the usual path and having it be a serial-killer hunt within a reason based society.  A police officer would be our guide to this society as he would have views of the various types of people within it.  Our officer would have solved the only murder in his home territory in the past 20 years and is therefore brought in to investigate when a serial killing occurs.  

Through his investigations we would learn more about the society he inhabits.  For instance, the guidestones instruct humanity to stay under 500,000,000 to stay in harmony with nature.  With an eye for other continents, we would find humanity in smaller states of 100,000,000 each in North America (centering on the guidestones themselves in Georgia), South America, Eurasia, Australia and Africa.  Each of these states would be walled off from the outside world, likely with a collection of feral humans outside the walls.  The trick here is not to venture into Brave New World and see the savages as the voices of humanity.  My path here would be in contrast to this.  The citizens of this society would not be automatons, coldly calculating their way through the day, but would instead have a great respect for truth and beauty, while simultaneously anesthetizing their baser instincts and keeping passion from ruling them entirely.  (Think Vulcan but with better art programs and an openness to emotion.)

For all of their devotion to a scientific ideal, this new society would have reaped great rewards of engineering and technology.  Their resources would be harvested robotically.  Their forays into space would be bold and technically near-flawless.  They would have an overall goal of knowledge, perhaps embodied in a Compendium which functioned as a new wikipedia type of information storage, allowing for the accrual of knowledge to be measured and directed.  

Having built the world that I’d like to inhabit, it then becomes necessary to throw a stone into the pond and watch the ripples unravel what I’ve built.  

A serial killer would be the worst possible enemy such a society could face.  It’s the test of rationality against a coldly irrational yet calculating opponent.  The killer would be able to think like a rational person, but would embrace chaos and death.  I’m picturing the killer as one of the feral men beyond the walls who sneaks into the heart of the city to sew death and dispense God’s own justice to the unbelieving masses he encounters.

A simple cat and mouse game would not do for such an elaborate setting though, and so my killer would instead have a long-game in mind, which would conclude with him detonating a thermonuclear device within a major city in a desire to destroy the secular scientists with a holy light of fire.  At this point the leaders of this society would have to determine whether to respond with overwhelming force and exterminate the feral humans or to leave them as a kind of biological preserve to study and examine.  Such a debate would allow for allegories and historical references wherever useful.

This concept is still in its infancy, but I hope you’ll agree that it has merit and potential.  I look forward to exploring the concept further in future posts.

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Novel Concepts: #1 – Alternate History of NASA 1969-2001

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The last exploration of the moon took place in December 1972.  Apollo 17 lifted off from the valley of Taurus-Littrow with the vague hope that human spaceflight beyond Earth’s orbit would continue before the end of the 20th century.  Sadly, this was not to be.

Originally there were to be three more flights, Apollos 18, 19 and 20.  Beyond that, NASA had plans to continue using Apollo hardware through the 1970’s in an effort to build a fledgling lunar base.  There were several factors that prevented this from coming about.  This concept which I am currently developing is a novel that would explore what would happen if we’d continued on as NASA intended.

Stephen Baxter, in 1997, wrote Voyage in which he had John F. Kennedy survive his assassination attempt and use political pressure to have Richard Nixon back a Mars mission in the 1980’s, instead of the Space Shuttle.  He uses the framework of this story to retell the true story of the Apollo Program in the 1960’s, substituting various characters and missions in order to move the story into new areas.  As an aerospace engineer and a historian, the book was everything I could want; but Baxter’s position on NASA has always been negative and I couldn’t square his vision with the optimism that a story like that should possess.  

The inspiration for my new take came from a series of articles about the roads not taken by NASA and various other space programs.  False Steps and Beyond Apollo have been wonderful sources of information on the plans NASA had for continuing the Apollo Program into the 1980’s.  My plan with the novel is to explore an alternate timeline where NASA forgoes the Space Shuttle and, with considerable political support from a major player, continues lunar exploration as a stepping stone to the manned space program I’ve always wanted to see.

The first hurdle with any alternate history story is what’s known as the Point of Departure (POD).  This is the event (or events) which an author changes to redirect the flow of history in the way that is desired.  Often these changes are small and the ripples which lead from them are large.  (e.g. In How Few Remain a single copy of one of Robert E. Lee’s orders, lost in our timeline, is recovered in the alternate history and the ramifications of that single, small event, lead to a Confederate victory and shocking changes to the timeline.)  The point of departure I had in mind is slightly larger, but it too has great ramifications for change.

In early 1964, after departing from NASA, John Glenn, America’s first man in orbit and an extremely popular public figure, decided to run for office in his home state of Ohio.  In reality, Glenn slipped getting out of a bathtub, bumped his head and as a result of his injuries, could not campaign.  I’m choosing to center my POD around this moment and have Glenn be successful in his campaign for the Senate in 1964.  From there two very important things happen.  

Firstly, Glenn writes a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, encouraging him to reinstate the X-20 program which McNamara had cancelled in December of 1963.  The X-20 was the Air Force’s attempt to make a reusable spaceplane for orbital flight, nearly 2 decades before the Space Shuttle’s first flight.  I believe that if the X-20 program had gone forward, several of the problems with the Space Shuttle could have been foreseen and as a result the shuttle program would have either been cancelled, or pushed back much farther until a better design could have emerged with the computer revolution of the 1980’s and 90’s.  The costs and technical challenges which the shuttle developed (and which eventually led to it’s cancellation) are thereby mitigated.  

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Secondly, choosing to use the popularity of a national hero to unite the turbulent America of 1968, Robert Kennedy, who survives his campaign in California, chooses Glenn as his running mate against Richard Nixon.  Repeating the extremely close race of 1960, Nixon loses to Kennedy by a few thousand votes and retires from public life.  The newly elected President Kennedy ends the war in Vietnam as he promised to do in his campaign.  Riding the wave of national pride after the Apollo 11 landing in 1969, Kennedy, encouraged by Vice President Glenn, authorizes NASA to continue the orders for Saturn V rockets and create a lunar base.  

The story I am developing is not entirely the rosy side of a glorified NASA.  I intend to show an imperfect program with setbacks and failures.  I am picturing a framework for the first act of the story which revolves around a stranded Apollo 28 mission which has to use the LESS to escape the moon after the ascent engine of their lunar module fails to fire.  Other problems will certainly develop but I intend to take a more optimistic view of both NASA and America in the last half of the 20th century.

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In the final act of the story, after seeing a moonbase that fulfills the promise of NASA to use discoveries from exploration to benefit both Americans and mankind as a whole, I’ve been thinking about closing with either a mission to Mars following a variation on Robert Zubrin’s plans.  Or perhaps going further with the story and seeing the launch of a voyage to Jupiter of a spacecraft similar to Clarke’s Discovery from 2001.  

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I may expand on this concept in future posts.  

All images used here are not mine and were found through various Google image searches.  If they are protested in anyway, I will remove them promptly.

Game Concepts: #1 – Classic Baseball

Amongst other things, I’m going to use this forum to propose ideas I’ve had for video games.  I’ve noticed that most gamers have an idea for a game or two (Cracked.com has a pair of wonderful articles about them) and in a similar vein, I’m going to discuss my own game concepts.

Polo Grounds

Tagline: Classic Baseball

Game Type: Sports

Platform: Console

Basic idea: Baseball before the modern era.  You’d be able to pick your general timeline (1940’s, 1910’s, etc.) and start an expansion team or take control of a team that existed in that time.  I think an option for an expansion team would be best as there were no teams in the west before the 1950’s and there’s no reason to alienate that whole half of the country if they want to have a hometown team.

You could forgo all of the TV broadcast presentation they put into the modern MLB games and instead just show the action, maybe with radio presenters like they had in the old days.

It could have a challenge mode where you could replay old games and moments from the past (i.e. Ruth calling his shot, Bobby Thompson’s 1951 Home run, Willie Mays’s catch, the Brooklyn Dodgers win their only world series).

Instead of slick graphics displays on the menus, have something a little more primitive, and for other scores from around the league, have them in a newspaper.

Obstacles: I suppose the biggest challenge to this would be the licensing of all the old stadiums, rosters and logos.  It could also be a challenge to get accurate models of what everything looked like as many of the stadiums no longer exist.

You’d also have to be very respectful of minority baseball players and the historical ramifications of that subject.  I think making the default time somewhere after the game had been fully integrated wouldn’t be a bad idea.  As an alternate proposal you could somehow include the Negro Leagues.  For that matter, as cross-gender appeal, the Women’s League from WWII could be included as a bonus feature.

As another alternative, you could have various decades of baseball all throughout the twentieth century.

Concept Art: (stolen from internet sources)

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*This is one of a series of “classic” sports games which I think could be interesting.  I’ll elaborate on others in future posts.