noviembre 2014

I didn’t like Interstellar, the recent SciFi movie. I admit that for a hard SciFi fan who likes more nuts and bolts, not dragons and melodramatics, all the talk about love being such a force of nature, all those long scenes with lots of tears and sorrow were a little too much but, well, I am sure it is suitable for a part of the audience. Lets accept that.

However, what I do expect of a story is self-consistency. I tried very hard to be consistent within my novel, I re-wrote several parts to be consistent and I get really disappointed when I see such a ballyhooed movie fail so badly.

We’ve all seen small spaceships landing and taking off from planets such as tie fighters in Star Wars or shuttle craft in Star Trek. Interstellar has its own version of these, however, why did they need something that looked pretty much like a Saturn V for their first jump into space to join the rest of their ship which was already assembled in orbit? Either their craft can or cannot raise from planets with a similar gravity pull as Earth, either they need a Saturn V or they don’t.

They take 2 years to travel from Earth to Saturn via Mars, which is a reasonable time with current technology. However, once across the wormhole and in another galaxy, they are able to jump in between planets in different star systems in less than a lifetime. Are the stars in that other galaxy packed so close together that they allow travel in between them so fast? Because, if they are, it would probably be a chaotic place, dangerous and full of radiation from so many celestial bodies around hurtling big rocks at each other. Our star is a mild one located in a quiet spot on our galaxy. If you are looking for a safe place for humanity to live forever, you would hardly look at a place where too many star systems are packed so dangerously close together.

And why does it need to be in some other galaxy? If you can travel fast enough to go in between star systems, why not go to other star systems within our own neighborhood, in this same galaxy.

When they first reach orbit and are about to dock to the station everyone except, fortunately, for the pilot, jumps off their seats excited like children, to watch the show, at the worst possible moment to do so. Whenever a plane lands both passengers and crew must be seated with their seat belts adjusted but in Interstellar, frolicking around the cabin is normal procedure for docking.

Then, there is the scene where they stop the craft from spinning just because. As far as can be seen, only 2 of the crew of four are there present. And so, without warning anybody or, aparently, without any prior preparation, the pilot fires the attitude rockets to stop the spin. I hope that nobody was frying some eggs in the galley at that point or peeing.

The station was a very bad design. That ring with a single spoke was absurd. Imagine you had a bike with a wheel like that, with a single spoke. It can be done but, then, you know it is going to be a very heavy wheel because it has to be very robust to transmit all the forces around the rim and through that single spoke to the hub. A spinning space station is subject to the same principles. Whenever the crew meets in one place, the weight is shifted, the balance of all the structure is changed and it has to be robust enough to stay together. And, if your propulsion system is in the shuttle craft attached to the hub, that single spoke has to withstand incredibly strong forces. Moreover, if those shuttles are your escape pods, you want to have more than one access tunnel to reach them.

Then you have the boxy versions of R2D2, those two silly robots. Towards the end, when Cooper boards one of the shuttles with the robot in the back seat, it was just like Luke Skywalker and R2D2 boarding their tie fighter. They did away with C3PO by giving it some funny lines in the script.

At one point, one of the robots manipulates, literally; it uses a grip at the end of an arm, to do some maneuver by handling a joystick designed for a human hand. It seems that amongst the very many technologies lost to humanity in those days was Bluetooth. I mean, really, does a quite capable robot need actual physical manipulators to interact with the fly-by-wire system that controls the craft?

And why should it? If the computer in a former battle-capable robot, designed for robustness, mobility and, one would expect, lightness and low power consumption can do all the things it does in the movie, is it possible that nobody thought about adding some computing power to the craft itself, where none of those onerous restrictions apply?

Then we have the coded messages (sorry to be ambiguous, I don’t want to make a spoiler). How does anybody know it is a message at all? I remember from the days of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos that any civilization trying to communicate with an unknown intelligence would probably start any message with some sort of otherwise improbable sequence so that we do know that there is a message there. Sagan suggested the first few prime numbers, 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17 and so on. Because if you don’t have that leading information, you can’t even know there is a message in there. It would be like looking for shapes in the clouds, anything goes.

And a last ones, which include spoilers:

Spoiler: When the station is partially destroyed, it would end up unbalanced, much like a washing machine in the spin cycle when clothes are all on one side. The central hub where they attempt to dock would not simply spin fast or otherwise, it would wobble all over the place, drawing, in the best of cases, epicyclic curves. That is, of course, if the module where the single, vulnerable spoke joins the rim isn’t the one damaged.

Spoiler: if they were able to launch self contained space habitats for enough people to make it a viable population, why bother looking for a planet at all? Spare the cost of the propulsion system and fuel and build more habitats and save more people! How did they manage to keep whatever was destroying Earth from damaging the crops in those habitats? How did they manage to put together the resources to build those habitats in an otherwise technophobic society which rewrites history books to ignore earlier technological advances.

It was a bad movie.

“Initially the ribbons were curved in gentle spirals around the center but as they spread, they straightened out. The outer tips of each ribbon were tied to the tips of its neighbors which forced the ribbons to turn and lay all flat facing the sun.”

Deployment of a solar array is easy when you assume a flexible super-strong material as in the novel, but it can also be done if you have rigid solar cells as shown here:  

Origami Solar Array Prototype from JPLraw on Vimeo.

Banglion’s pool from one of the foot bridges, the residential part on the left, the industrial on the right, hidden behind a line of trees.

Not really, the picture is of the Quai du Port Neuf in Béziers, part of the Canal du Midi.Canal du Midi port by Beziers, France

“The bridge was an elegant slender structure made in concrete but was covered with the typical red brick of the region for decoration.”

When I wrote this I was thinking of this bridge, the new one in the background, in Albi, France where red bricks are used profusely. The foreground bridge is the original one, the one in the background (only one arch is visible in between the trees) is the modern one, build in concrete and covered in red brick just to match the surrounding area.

Albi: puentes sobre el río Tarn

Albi: bridges over the Tarn river

This is what I had in mind when I described Banglion’s downtown area, with the pool for the barges and the railroad station.

Banglion would be newly build and the pool larger with a couple of footbridges crossing both over the pool and the railroad yard.

I finally made it, the story that has been in my mind for several years now, with a bit written here, another one over there until I finally put it all together.

Now that I see it done, my first reaction is to apologize. It is probably not a good story and most certainly not well written. Without an editor or anybody to review it, it is probably awful. But I wanted to have the experience of doing it, making sure it all fits together and wrapping it up nicely. If you think it is an ego trip, indeed, you are right!

It was quite an experience. As I started to stitch together the bits and pieces, characters started to show up. Events happened on their own. I just had to write them down. The character who has the privilege of having the closing line of the whole book to her name had never been in my plans at all.

One reason I had no reviewers is that it is a science-fiction book, a genre that is not terribly popular. And I mean SciFi, not fantasy-SciFi, and I seem to be the only one around who cares for that.

And, it is in English It is not my native language and I live in Spain so it seems a strange choice. But, as it happens, most of the science-fiction I have ever read was in English and most of what I read related to science and technology is in English too so, as it turns out, I don’t have enough vocabulary in Spanish to say what I wanted.

Now, I am experimenting with this self-publishing thing. This page and this post are part of the experiment. If you are reading this, thanks for your patience.