Friday, December 31, 2010

The "Smaller" Departments

The smaller departments may seem unnecessary on a ship some days but large naval ships run so well today because every department works together to get the job done and make everyone as happy as possible. If one of the departments isn't on a ship then the other departments will need to step in or the mission will fail and/or moral will go down drastically. Here's a review of the smaller departments on ship:
Air Department
Deck Department
Administration Department and its rooms

Here's to hoping all of you have an amazing New Year's celebration and the best of luck throughout the new year.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Administration Rooms

As far as rooms needed by the Admin Department, the obvious one is a single office with many computers. Most departments have their own administration offices, often with a member of the Admin Department there to actually do the inputs of smaller awards and general secretary duties for the higher officers. The commanding officer has his or her own yeoman, or person from the Admin Department, to type up ship wide rules they wish to create, to keep the captain up to date on Navy wide rules, and to do things like input all the leave chits into the system that accounts for everyone on ship. A few of the officers may have their own offices, like the training officer who is in charge of helping people go to civilian colleges as well as military training and may want to discuss college planning with people in private.
Another part of the Admin Department is the public affairs people. The most visible part of this division are the photographers. Any official ship business done off ship has a photographer. Often photographers are present at any ship function such as drills, parties, morale boosters, and sometimes just everyday things. Their jobs are to take great pictures and tell the stories of those pictures in the way that will show those in them, the ship, and the Navy as a whole in the best light. They also stay up to date on events in coming ports, news articles that may pertain to the ship or its mission, and any possible stories from the personnel on ship that could be interesting enough to write articles on. As part of their job they also maintain any social media the ship deems wise to use, make sure nothing negative is put out about the ship, and write articles for Navy-wide publications.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Administration on Ship

We’ve looked at Engineering, Operations, Air, and Deck Department spaces, now let’s talk about your Administration Department. Before you can get into placing your rooms for this department you need to decide how paperwork will be handled on your ship. Modern Navy ships still use printed paper for most request forms on a ship. Things like trouble tickets that need to be monitored by more than just a single division are submitted by the local intranet on ship and many big Navy things, like service records, are now computerized. You may wonder what administration is needed on ship and my answer would be everything. Most shops on a ship, or the shops on shore that help maintain ships in a more specialized way than ship’s force should be expected to know, keep manuals on all their systems, many times having duplicate manuals or they forget to throw out the old manuals when their systems get updated. That can take a lot of paper in a time when Hollywood predicts paper will be scarce. Also, almost everything that is done on ship needs written request forms to start. Whenever a system needs to have all power removed, it needs to have the breaker turned off and that requires a request form and maybe permission from other shops if they share a breaker. Doing painting inside the ship you need approval that the space is ventilated correctly as well a request sheet to take paint from the paint locker. Borrowing tools from various shops on ship that keep extra tools or supplies occasionally needed by many shops, such as test equipment or protection gear for high voltages, requires written proof as to when it was checked out and by whom. When an award is given or someone is punished, it needs to be added to the person’s service record so everyone can see it. When someone wants any kind of schooling they need to route a “chit” up their chain of command, to the training officer for approval and back down the chain of command so everyone knows the decision. I believe a few of the Star Trek people mention “putting in for leave.” Have you ever wondered how that’s done? A person fills out a chit saying when they want to go, where they’ll be staying, and how they can be gotten a hold of for the requested period of time. That piece of paper is then handed and approved all the way up the chain of command to the commanding officer who must approve every leave chit. If approved it then goes to Admin Department to be put in the system and the person picks the chit up from the Quarterdeck to sign out on leave. If that person gets in trouble while on leave and doesn’t have a copy of the signed chit on them, they can be considered UA, unexplainably absent, and get in a lot of trouble.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Engineering Rooms on a Ship

Now that we're about halfway through the departments on a ship it seems like a good time to review the rooms we've thought about so far. Let's start with the rooms of Engineering Department:

Main Engineering
The Engine Room
The Log Room
Waste Management On Ship
Electrician's Shop
Emergancy Repair Shop
Other Specailty Shops

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Deck in Space.

The next department on a ship to talk about is Deck. Deck Department is rather the odd-jobs area of responsibility. In the modern navy Deck Department makes sure the hull of the ship is rust-free, both what’s visible above the waterline and any deck (floor) visible outside the ship as well as directing extra personnel needed from other departments in huge jobs such as mooring the ship or underway replenishments where supplies and fuel is transferred from a cargo ship to a working ship in the middle of the ocean. Deck Department is also responsible for the rails and lifelines that circle the ship to keep personnel on ship and most of the watches outside the hull of the ship underway. Deck members are the ones on rotating shifts watching for people that fall overboard or for ships or planes that are visible. Anything the lookouts see gets radioed up to the bridge and they react accordingly.
In the future Deck Department may disappear but if they don’t than Deck could be responsible for any repairs or upgrades needed on the hull as well as replacing deck plates inside the ship, maybe even doing any maintenance needed on the exits from the ship to space or other ships
(airlocks) and escape pods.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Attack Fighters: A Wing, Just a Few, or None Needed?

Another thing to think about when considering weapons on ship is if you have smaller attack ships onboard. Large ships could work as a modern aircraft carrier which is designed as a staging point for air attacks. Smaller ships that can’t carry as much fuel for long trips can be carried in larger ships and be deployed closer to the target with full fuel tanks so they can still maneuver without worrying about having fuel to get back to the planet or station they left. If you don’t have a huge ship but need a lot of protection, it may be smart to have small defense ships designed to go for short times out in space and deliver a powerful punch before returning to refuel and recharge. Such boats (vessels unable to support themselves long without assistance) would have to be single person cockpits, like an escape pod, or be remotely operated drones, which would save lives and could be expendable if a ramming was needed.
If you have a fighter wing or just a small group of pilots, they would probably fit under a different department. The Air Department, or whatever you want to call them, would be responsible for navigation on any vessel designed to leave the ship, making sure any weapons on the vessels are always ready, and any maintenance needed is always done on time. This department could also work on the escape pods, simply checking each month that they are perfectly useable, but that would likely continue as a Deck Department job, which will be discussed in the next post.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Weapons Training

Now you know what weapons your ship has and what weapons your crew uses, now you need to familiarize your crew with those weapons and make them proficient. Some of the big things in military life are the drills. When not working on maintaining the tools and systems people use or learning more about their jobs and systems, military members are drilled on what to do if disaster strikes. As far as ship weapons are concerned, that means running scenarios to prepare for any possible attack. Anything from an unnamed airplane flying too close to everything needed to keep the ship afloat after a torpedo is aimed at the ship and fired. Drill, review, maintain, train, and drill, that is what lower level military personnel do during the work day unless their job is purely to gather information to run up the chain of command. That schedule includes weapons. The military says that at a minimum military personnel need to test and qualify annually in able to carry a weapon on the job. Those that don’t qualify get sent continuously to test until they do qualify. To qualify they need to be on a military gun range supervised by specially trained military personnel. Even while deployed most people are sent to a place near where they can test and qualify. Even underway the US Navy has gunshots on the main deck of most ships to be sure all its personnel can defend the ship if something happens on the pier or if someone onboard gets a gun and tries to kill everyone. You will want to set up a training schedule for the ship wide drills and training as well as a recommended schedule for individual or divisional practice. Using energy weapons allows you to set up a fake system on ship where nondeadly lasers are used to practice and improve aim rather than the normal deadly ones. While ignoring holodecks as a lovely training environment, I can remember at least two scenes where Star Trek: The Next Generation practiced for close combat. In one scene Woorf and Guinan are practicing aim in a circular chamber with little dots that counted how many times a color of dots got hit, the other was Woorf training the crew in Klingon martial arts, rather similar to our Tai Kwon Do. In another scene in Enterprise, set closer to the current date, the crew was teaching some people how to aim and fire the weapons by aiming at floating balls in the cargo bay. As you can imagine there are hundreds of ideas on what the future can hold.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Armory

In my last post I spoke of how large weaponry will have spaces near the weapon to safely store the ammunition needed to reload the weapon. Now I’d like to talk about smaller weaponry, namely hand weapons. Does the crew of your ship prefer hand to hand combat, as many violent species do (think of the Klingons on Star Trek) or do they prefer long range weapons, as most do even nowadays, such as a pistol, phaser, or rifle. Once you know that you need to decide where those weapons are kept. If your crew always wears their weapons there is no reason to have a lot of extra weapons around, although having reload stations for energy or projectile weapons or safe rooms to protect your crew from any enemy boarding parties.
However, if your crew doesn’t carry their weapons at all times, or many of them don’t, then you need an armory. An armory is where weapons are kept ready so they are ready to stop any hostile threat able to board your ship. Someone is always nearby to help arm people in less than five minutes time and make sure none of the crew goes crazy and arm themselves for a murderous trip through the halls of the ship. The special thing about an armory is that it’s designed to be easy to defend: one or two doors and thick walls. It usually has only one door but if you use energy weapons that don’t require more than picking up the weapon and checking the safety is on after getting on the body armor it may be smarter to have an exit and entrance door near each other or easily defended to speed the arming. Another thing to remember is that bigger ships often have more than one armory. A ship of nearly a thousand crewmembers and officers probably has two armories and storage rooms called magazines. For every armory, there should probably be at least a small magazine of ammunition for the weapons in that armory. Most ships should carry enough backup supplies for five or six gun fights, just in case, especially for the space battles.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ammunitions Storage

Let’s see, you now know what weapons your ship has and where those weapons are fired from. By now I hope you have also decided where those weapons are located on your ship. Next comes storage. If your weapons are energy based, such as lasers, they will need a lot of energy. There is a scene in Star Wars where the Death Star fires its massive laser. The laser goes through a tunnel where it grows in power, likely from little energy packs or such that add more power and focus to the deadly laser. If you have a laser on your ship, I’d recommend a separate power source, or at least battery packs stored near the weapon so it doesn’t interfere too much with your main power while in battle. As convenient as it would be to have one power source on the ship, it wouldn’t be smart to have life support, engine power, and weapons all hooked up to one system. A single feed back pulse from the enemy and you’re dead in space or too much demand on energy and your captain may need to choose between taking life support off line for a short time, shutting down the engine, or not returning fire. None of those are very good choices so at least have rechargeable battery packs stored nearby for your energy weapons if you don’t want a whole other power source on your ship.
If you plan to do like the timeline of Firefly does and have large weapons that shoot bullets or similar things, you also need to plan where backup ammunitions will be kept. That space will need to be near the weapons to allow easy reload but in a place on the ship that a direct or indirect hit could explode the room and stuff around without losing things like engines, life support, or a lot of people.
Another thing to keep in mind when thinking about weapons are missiles. If you plan to keep missiles on board, which it’s always smart to have them when energy weapons don’t seem to work or your projectiles can’t pierce the hull of the enemy ships. Missiles are bombs that lock onto a target and don’t let go, unless confused by good defenses of course. Mines could be released to block an escape route or protect a find to be explored more at a future time. Either way, missiles and mines are explosives and will need to be sheltered from radiation or vibrations that could set them off on ship as well as radio waves. If you watch various science fiction shows or movies you’ll notice some have missiles and bombs carefully stacked together in a specific cargo hold designed to store weapons, but most have individual tubes where they stay ready to be loaded and protected from exploding unexpectedly.
Now that I’ve given you some ideas, where will your ammunitions storage be and how is it protected?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Weapons Control

Now that you’ve decided on what weapons your fictional ship is equipped with you need to figure out how they are fired. Many larger guns now a days are fired from a panel somewhere nearby or on the bridge. Smaller guns, such as hand guns and 50 cals, are aimed by hand just as they are fired. If you’ve ever watched a science fiction movie with a war in it you’re likely familiar with the firing system that has an individual sitting in a room with a large window manually aiming and firing the smaller space guns or sitting in a seat with a visor on and joysticks to work the guns. In theory weapons could be created to target themselves on a verbal command from someone or many someones. How do your weapons fire and where are those stations put on your ship design?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Space Weapons

Another major part of the Operations Department on a ship is the control of all weaponry, from small arms, like pistols or rifles, to large caliber weapons that need a few people working together to work smoothly to missile systems to defensive systems designed to distract or confuse the guidance systems of missiles.
Modern weaponry can generally be divided into three descriptions: deadly missiles which are often far range weapons, projectile weapons that are shorter range, and defenses that are radio waves sent to screw with computers on missiles. Future weaponry in space could have projectiles (in the movie Serenity they put a high caliber gun on the outside of their ship, obviously not equipped with lasers) but more than likely will consist of energy based weapons such as lasers or kinetic energy weapons which collide into objects at great speed to destroy. I read an article in that stated humans are already capable of kinetic energy weapons that could be shot from satellites to destroy something on Earth. At least the plans are theoretically there, treaties were created to prevent weapons of mass destruction in space so the systems have never officially gone operational or been tested.
The theory of space weapons and defenses has never been truly tested and thus leaves so much room for the artistic license of the fiction writer. Will your ship shoot missiles or mines or huge caliber bullets? Will they have their own propulsion systems or merely travel by momentum? Does your ship fire energy weapons that disable the computers to ease boarding or do your energy weapons blow enemy ships up somehow, an overload perhaps or a deep cut? Can your weapon shift space or does the debris in your universe just stay put to screw with other ships coming through? Are there garbage crawlers that salvage destroyed ships for scrap metal or to create new ships? What storage space is needed for your weapons and who takes charge of them and does maintenance to be sure they are always ready? These are all things to think about when dealing with weapons, a few of which I’ll go into in the next few posts.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Space Ship Navigator

The chart room is a room near the bridge that holds all the maps of the waterways, or charts as the navy calls them. From here the path is drawn and redrawn many times as currents change, harbors are changed by climate or humans, and designated ports are changed for political reasons or due to climate. The path of a ship is rarely what is planned as it leaves port and is a constant pain for those tasked to update the course.
Granted, on a space ship it may make more sense for a computer to plan the course and navigate the ship. After all, technology will advance a great deal and already we can put our cars in cruise control and not work so hard on the road. Why then has every show or movie I’ve seen show a pilot always at its station? Why does it seem like the ship barely moves without someone at the wheel, so to say? Even in space the ships would be pulled by different gravitational streams, it needs a conscious sentient hand to make it stay the course and not wind up hitting something or destroying the ship. Besides, even an AI would be unable to adjust the ship’s direction fast enough to avoid hitting things at the speed it would need to travel to make space travel in a single lifetime feasible. As to a computer setting the path and choosing the route a ship will take, I highly doubt we will ever reach the level of technology for me to trust a path laid in without any input given by the pilot other than the destination. At the very least I would hope the computer gave the pilot or captain a few paths to choose from and the sentient being made the final decision.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Quarterdeck

When the ship is underway, the brain of it is the bridge, when it is stopped in a port the brain is called the Quarterdeck. Ask any sailor and they will tell you that the Quarterdeck is a necessary evil. When the ship is in port there are one or two Quarterdecks, one for officers and maybe a separate one for the enlisted. To cross a Quarterdeck you need to ask permission at least once, show your identification card, and do a version of a salute, depending on if you are in uniform or in civilian wear. People also have to salute the flag at some time, depending on if they are leaving or returning and if it is light out. All this tradition is based around reminding sailors of the rich history in the navy but the Quarterdeck serves a purpose as well. With only one or two exit and entrance points to the ship, it makes the ship easier to protect. If the attackers get in the gate, they still have to climb the uncovered stairs and cross the open brow to get on the ship, giving people on ship (there are always a few people armed at all times in port) time to stop the attackers.
I don’t recall seeing a space ship with a Quarterdeck in any movies or television shows and I would imagine that a ship would have a few safeguards against attacks, such as that they can fire at any shuttle getting too close to them or shoot any attacker accidentally beamed up. (I seem to remember a number of times on Star Trek episodes that the transporter operator was armed.) However, if space travel takes its traditions from the Navy, I find it hard to believe that the Quarterdeck will be forgotten, though traditions may change. If space travel takes its traditions from the Air Force, the Quarterdeck will likely be forgotten as it is mainly a Navy tradition.

Friday, December 3, 2010

THe Pilot House

With the Engineering Department roughly described, let’s look at the argumentably next most important department on ship. (Every department thinks that they are the most important department on ship.) Operations Department keeps the ship going where it’s supposed to go while staying out of harm’s way and defending the ship if needed. The brain of this department would have to be the Bridge, otherwise known as the Pilot House. Here is where the navigator stands to control the rudder and change the speed of the ship. Here is where the captain stands in times of trouble and where there is always an officer on duty to make quick decisions if problems arise while the captain isn’t in the room. This is where reports are made of nearby ships or aircraft and where the captain’s official radio channel is plugged into the ship. This is also where all the intercom announcements are made to the whole ship while underway. It is the main setting for many science fiction television shows and movies as well. How often do you see people (usually the screen is filled with officers) in engineering discussing problems or in the halls or mess decks? Now compare it to how often conversations are made in the captain’s office, someone’s quarters, or the bridge. Most often writers tend to focus on the bridge and as a result there are many ideas to adapt to your own setting.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Specailty Shops

Other specialty shops you may want to know about are things like the welding shop, the small electronics shop, and the boat shop. The welding shop comes up with all sorts of small metal parts needed while underway that can’t be ordered. They also do any welding needed to secure things to walls or floors so they don’t move while underway and hurt anyone or obstruct movement. The small electronics shop does a lot of soldering to fix things like drills whose wires may not be fully connected anymore or if computer cards come apart or need to be adjusted minutely. The boat shop makes sure the captain’s boat has a fully working engine and possibly does the painting and any adjustments on any small boats on ship. If you have shuttles onboard, this is the shop that would take care of them.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Emergancy Repair Shop

Another specialty shop onboard many naval ships is an emergency repair shop. On US military ships, it’s called the DC shop or Damage Control shop. They deal with things like making sure the fire main is working properly and all the fire hoses are properly repaired to fight any fires on ship. They also keep track of things like all the repair lockers (the central areas to hold things to repair any problems like firefighting gear, flooding cleanup, pipe patching gear, hull rupture repair equipment, and shores to hold up sagging bulkheads(walls) and overheads(ceilings). There are so many frames on a ship to each repair locker with an extra locker near the main machinery spaces) and gas masks in case of chemical attacks. These are also the people in charge of the drills that are run weekly to prepare for the possibility of an emergency. Out on the high seas a ship can be hours away from any other ship. If disaster strikes the only help available is the crew so they need to be prepared for anything at any time.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Electrician's Shop

The electrician’s shop is one of many specialty workshops designed to make repair easier. If you have a problem, all you need to do is determine what type of problem you have and send a request down to the shop that deals with that type of problem. On naval ships that is a little more complicated because there are a number of specialized electrician shops (one works on phone cords, one works on computer wires, another works on engineering wires, and others work on other wires and cords as well as the power boxes). However, we are talking about a fictional ship. There is no need to create so much confusion; you may just want to have a few divisions in one shop or one helpline for all electrical problems.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Waste Management

Waste Management on a naval ship is called CHT (Collection, Holding, and Transfer). There are three types of disposables on a ship: waste, soil, and solids. Solids are all the things you would throw in your trash such as food waste, paper, plastic, metals, and all that stuff. That is sorted and put in a special room. The paper stuff gets compressed down and all the solid stuff waits until the next port where it gets passed down a chain of crewmembers to the proper dumpster on the pier. Waste is from things like showers and sinks. That is usually recycled back into the ocean unless a country specifically asks that ships not do that near their land, in which case it is held until it can get pumped into a sewer system in port or the ship is clear of their area. Soil is what comes from toilets when flushed and that goes into tanks. Occasionally those tanks are slowly emptied into the ocean water to become part of that ecosystem in a small percentage but often the soil is kept in the tanks until it can be released into sewers at ports.
It seems wasteful to just dump trash in space as the ship goes by. Not only is it difficult to determine where the trash will land at high speeds (if you decide to do it this way I’d recommend waiting until the speed is slowed to discharge) but there is no way for space to recycle the trash. If solids accidently fell over the edge of the ship in water (as happens in many private small ships) the water will eventually reclaim the materials and reuse them. (True, that often takes years or decades.) In space there is nothing to corrode materials so they will merely float in place for centuries and beyond (by modern understanding on space). As to waste, the ocean merely adds it to the salt water there, what little dirt or sweat there is gets strongly diluted in the ocean to be harmless to the environment. If soil gets in the ocean, it also gets diluted instantly to harmlessness, unless it is near land in third world countries that have enough of that type of soil in the water to not allow foreigners to swim in their beaches. In space you will likely need some sort or recycling system, which is why I highly recommend a replicator system for long voyages. As for soil and waste, a water purification system would work well. All you need to decide about your fictional ship is if the dirty stuff separated from the water is reused somehow, burned to ash to store easier, or merely compressed and disposed of by special waste ships that transport it to waste planets or shuttled down to planets to decompose, possibly changing the ecosystem in the process.
Another type of waste you will need to keep in mind concerns the air. Humans need oxygen to breathe safely but we breathe out carbon dioxide. Even as big as any ship is, it will need to create more oxygen to keep everyone healthy. One way to do that is through a purifying system using water, but it could also be done electronically on ships if the right technology exists. How will you deal with all the wastes on your ship?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Brain of Engineering

The log room is the brain of the Engineering Department. This is where all the officers meet each day to discuss any problems or training for that day. This is also where a few important log books are kept, such as the one that says each speed increase or decrease, when it was ordered, and why. Before you start planning this you should decide if everyone will be standing to discuss things with the department head or how many will be sitting? What is the hierarchy among the officers and enlisted at that daily meeting? How any will be present each morning? Also, how many logs are kept there and how are they maintained? Are they computerized, pure paper, or something in between?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Engine Room

The engine room is the main space for the ship’s propulsion power. Here is where you have to decide how big the propulsion system is, how many people are needed to be in the space at all times or how often they have to check on the machinery in the space. (I would recommend at least once a day since this is such a necessary system and computer readings aren’t always accurate. Having someone manually check the gauges daily or hourly although a computer system likely monitors the system may seem redundant but catching a problem or discrepancy fast can mean the difference between a smooth or hours of blackout or not being able to move while they try to figure out why the system won’t operate. Besides, almost everything the military does concerning maintenance is redundant. That’s why things operate so long in the military.)
Also in this room is electrical power system on the ship and you need to decide the specifics on this system as well. Many ships have all the parts of each system in one huge room but with the right machinery you can put it in many rooms or two rooms. On ships with the systems in two rooms, the second room is often called the fire room. Another thing to think about when dealing with power systems is that they give off a lot of heat. If you want to use that heat somehow, such as geothermal energy, it’s helpful but you will likely need a cooling system of some sort to protect the nearby metal or machinery.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Main Engineering Room

The main room for Engineering Department on a Navy ship is called Damage Control Central, or DCC, and in many science fiction shows as Main Engineering. It is basically a room that can monitor every major system Engineering is in charge of from one place. In most of the Star Trek shows Main Engineering as the room where the main part of the propulsion system was, the warp engine. However, in Navy ships DCC is merely a room with a desk, a few chairs, and lots of panels with lights showing alarms and random noises as smaller alarms go off as scheduled or to denote things that are being worked on but that met overload mode. It is less than a minute away from the two main machine rooms: engine room and fire room.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Departments on a Ship

Each US Navy ship is divided into at least seven departments: Engineering, Operations, Deck, Administration, Medical, Communications, and Supply Departments. Each department has its own chain of command based on rank and specific knowledge. (You go to this person to figure out a problem in one system but another person or division to work on another system.) Each department helps each other and the culture on a ship is often one where the right hand washes the left, so to say. When it comes to covering up problems, not so much but favoritism/friendships and favors are a huge part of ship life as it tends to get things done faster.
Engineering Department is where all the engine and power plant would get maintained on your fictional starship as well as all the piping and fuel needs on ship. On Navy ships they also take care of the balance of a ship underway and are the most highly trained to fix any damage created by hitting something or a battle, or even common wear and tear. It’s called Damage Control and their drills are another major part of ship life.
Operations Department runs the ship. They steer the ship and keep an eye on where everything else nearby (other ships, land, reefs, planes, all that) is so they don’t hit anything. Operations is also the department in control of weapons of attack or defense onboard the ship.
Deck Department is the miscellaneous area of the ship. Their main job seems to be making sure the ship always looks its best and to stand look out for what computers may miss.
Administration is the department in charge or all the paperwork involved in updating records, dealing with schooling or college, and all the paperwork involved in weekly ship and system maintenances. You will need to decide how such paperwork is submitted and recorded for inspections on ship so you may want to keep the question at the back of your brain to think about.
Medical handles everything from simple colds to emergency surgery or stitches as well as the basics of specialized medicine like the typical female issues, references for outside surgery, dental issues and exams, vaccinations, and possibly things like pregnancies or life threatening illnesses, depending on how long you plan to be gone.
Communications mainly handles the traffic between ships of the fleet and the wires on the ship as well as many of the antennas aboard.
The job of the Supply Department is to make sure everyone is fed, has all the supplies they need, and has enough sugar, caffeine, and microwavable dinners to be in a mild mood. They run the vending machines, barbershop, post office, the laundry services for the officers, and are well trained for the security of the ship using handheld weapons.

Monday, November 15, 2010

What Is The Focus Of Your Spaceship?

With the basics decided upon, you’re now ready to look at specific rooms. Before you start on the specific layout of your ship, there is one more question to ask yourself: What does your species value most? Do they value strength or kindness, beauty or functionality? You have already decided what type of ship you plan to make, and that plays a roll. A battleship wouldn’t have a lot of passenger space, like a cruise ship or colonization ship likely would. No, a battleship would be full of weapons, possibly more weapons than the engine or power supply could ever use at once while a colonization ship would likely have massive cargo rooms and possibly rooms for farm animals. A cruise ship would likely need less cargo space as they are only out for a few days but they would need many more recreation rooms like sports centers, arcades, and casinos. A flagship may merely be the first of a type of ship built but if you plan to create the ship the admiral of a fleet travels the stars in, be sure there is a lot of people and rooms dedicated to communications between the fleet as well as heavy weaponry in war times and maybe little weaponry in peace times. (Depending on the admiral, the ship could be more of a diplomatic ship meant to be pretty than a ship designed to threaten.) A science ship may have a massive science department, a large medical department, medium to large cargo areas, and little recreation as well as a small security department and skeletal crew to run the actual ship.
That leads me to my next question: Is your culture more interested in functionality or beauty/symbolism? If your ship is designed to be functional then everything has a reason and is as small as possible without destroying morale nor the use of the object. If your culture is religious then they may have everything from the blueprints of the fictional ship to the decorations on the walls or rooms designed specifically for symbolism, which you should understand. If your culture is very artsy then you may have everything with smooth lines, meaningful colors, pictures everywhere, and rooms specified for specific arts, or your culture could be into abstract art and seem chaotic to an outsider.
The choice of what your species chooses to value is up to you but keep it in mind as you decide how many, how big, and what rooms are near each other on your schematics.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

What Runs Your Ship?

Now that you have the propulsion decided on, as well as the electrical power and a backup system decided on, it’s time to look at another power needed: that of g-force or gravity. The Wikipedia site on artificial gravity goes into more detail but there are a number of proposed ways to make artificial gravity on a space ship. There is rotation, (where a part of the ship rotates to create friction strong enough to form gravity from movement) constant acceleration, (where the gravity comes from the object wanting to go one way and the ship’s movement in space pulls it the other way) mass, (where a huge object would pull everything on the ship near it) tidal forces, (where two ships or masses near each other create some pull on each other felt as gravity) magnetism, (which would require a massive magnet to create gravity to a ship) or some sort of technology that we haven’t thought of yet. However, each system has its problems. Using rotation means adding an extra propellant to move the main part of the ship, extra strength is needed in the structure of the ship to keep it from splitting into pieces, some sort of counterweight is needed, and compensation to avoid destruction by friction and opposing actions from the spinning area. Constant acceleration in itself is a problem due to the energy usage of constantly speeding up and eventually the ship will have to slow down and stop. The use of such a huge object (to create enough gravity to be useful) would add enormous stress to the ship lifting off and building around such a massive object would be annoying. Tidal forces would be hard to maintain on a space ship but may work in a space station situated above a planet or moon. Magnetism of the needed amount would likely interfere with any version of radar or deep-space communication the ship would have as well as screwing with the shipboard systems. (Have you ever put a powerful magnet near a computer card? It’s the easiest way to scramble a hard drive.) It’s up to you to decide which system your species uses because living in zero gravity for long periods of time is not healthy. Bone mass deteriorates and movement becomes harder as injury becomes easier to do.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What Runs Your Fictional Ship?

Now that we know how your fictional ship moves through space it’s time to talk about another form of energy. All ships these days, not counting the pleasure ships run by sails, are run by computers (as are all cars, most businesses, even many houses today). How do computers run? They use electricity. That said it would be a good idea to have an electrical plant on your ship. Electricity is created by coiled wires moving through an electrical current and creating an alternating current. However, energy is needed to create the movement of the coils. Nowadays that energy is created by a number of ways such as fossil fuels, windmills, water turbines, and nuclear energy. Although any of those forms could be adapted to work on your ship, they have their problems. Fossil fuels may be difficult to keep on hand and they create waste as well as generally need human aid to monitor or clean up after. Although windmills could possibly be used to harness the movement of space around the ship or the air moving within the ship for ventilation, it would be difficult to make a possible design for harnessing the space around the ship, and what happens when the ship stops for port calls or exploration, or a strong enough design from ventilation to run all the computers on ship. The same goes for water turbines, although steam power may work if properly designed. The steam could move the turbines and go through a system to be recycled so that same water could be recycled and steamed again. Every so often more water would need to be added as no system is perfect, but that system could work for a while or be the backup energy. Just keep in mind the boiler would take time to heat or be constantly on to a lesser degree if it were a backup. Next come nuclear energy which at this time I don’t believe it would make a good electrical plant. As the propulsion power of the ship it could also be harnessed as an electrical power source but to have the containment needed and care needed to protect a crew from nuclear radiation along with a propulsion source could be too much for a future ship once you take into account the other rooms needed on a ship.
That leaves at least two other viable forms of electricity creation to think about: solar power and geothermal energy. Solar power seems pretty cool for space and may be an effective backup energy but you have to remember these ships go pretty fast and try to stay away from stars as they tend to have possibly inhabited planets around them. The likelihood of solar panels on the hull of a ship being able to sustain enough power to run an entire space ship without major glitches or blackouts seems slim. The power creator I would use is geothermal energy. Instead of taking the heat energy from the layers internal of a planet, use the energy already given off to move the ship and create enough electricity to power a space ship.
Here is a site explaining the energy creators I spoke of and how they are made today. Take your pick as to what energy source you want to use but be sure you have some sort of backup, even if it is just a few hours worth of battery power for major systems. (That may work best for things like maintenance or a secondary back up but may not last long during a space battle.)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ship Propulsion Part 2

Warp drive, likely the most famous theory for space travel out there, thanks to the Star Trek phenomenon, is currently impossible as the theory states that a bubble is made in space-time around a ship. The bubble is then moved through space and the ship inside it doesn’t move. Although there are theories as to how such a movement is possible and even thought to have occurred already, the power needed to move a ship is massive and far down the road in scientific discoveries. If you plan to use this source of propulsion, it would be helpful to have another form of propulsion on ship as well. While warp engines are useful for long distances they would be useless for moving a ship into a specific orbit or moving short distances. Also, Star Trek has a number of other technologies you may want to think about adding that keep the ship from crashing into planets and stars while traveling at such high speeds.
Another way to travel through space is wormholes. There was at least one species, in a Voyager episode, that traveled by a matrix of wormholes through space. Hyperspace is a theory of traveling through another dimension with different rules to travel faster than light. In the Andromeda series it was depicted as a series of tunnels in space that a ship popped in and out of by activating a special engine. The same basic principle is used in the series Babylon 5 for distance travel. With the right protection from space for passengers, those theories may be the most feasible for humans.
These are just a few present possibilities for movement through space that I found. Another possibility has to do with tachyons and a theory I don’t have the faintest about has to do with quantum vacuum energy or “zero-point energy” on which I found no simple explanation. Remember that as many ideas as there are, there is no way to know how or even if such travel through space will happen for humans. The best we may ever get is to cryo-sleep for years before actually reaching another planet and exploring or colonizing it. This is your book so decide which theory you like best or make up your own. (We never know what alien technology we may be influenced by or some day use…)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ship Propulsion: Which to Use? Part 1

The next thing to think about, and possibly the most basic thing needed on a space ship is the propellant. Modern marine ships use a fuel to move their mechanical propeller or paddle wheels. Space crafts use a chemical reaction to push against space and send them in the direction they want to go. The current method is a chemical reaction but gravity assist is used while out in space to speed a ship on its way around planets. Nuclear engines were tried on aircraft during the Cold War but were deemed too dangerous for the crew as there was no way to safely have the crew near that much nuclear radiation for any period of time. NASA is currently working on developing a fusion engine. Such an engine would cut space travel in half and since the main fuel would be hydrogen, the ship could refuel merely by dropping into an upper planetary atmosphere somewhere (or sending a small cargo ship into a lower atmosphere if purer hydrogen was needed). However, current theories say it would still take two years to go to Jupiter and back from Earth.
Solar sails are similar to wind sailing. The thin sheets of metal with a lot of surface area aim towards a light source, like a star, and photons and solar winds propel the ship where the sails are aimed. A problem with these are that the sails can be influenced by gravity fields of passing planets so they need to be monitored and probably adjusted whenever a planet. Moon, or another star is nearby. However. That effect can be used to an advantage for slingshot maneuvers, or gravity assist.
Another possibility that is scientifically possible from current science but still years from usable is antimatter. Antimatter is what powered many ships in the Star Trek series but it would be very difficult to create enough antimatter to move a ship by present technologies. However, scientists believe that areas in space may have huge clusters of natural antimatter so you could always have them stopping at times to refuel. Another problem with antimatter may be that it could be similar to oil in that it takes thousands of years to regenerate. Once a supply is gone, it’s gone. However, little is known about natural antimatter at the moment so use it how you want in your stories.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Replicator or Not?

Something we should probably stop and think about before deciding what is in the ship is if your ship has what in Star Trek is called a replicator. In essence it creates things out of seemingly nothing. The technology behind the action shown on screen is that matter, usually waste or stored material is kept somewhere whether in a random shape of minerals or in pure energy form. When someone wants something they go to the replicator, input their desire, and matter is sent to that replicator to be changed into whatever the person asked for. On TV stuff seems to show up out of nowhere with no explanation of how it got there, although in the Enterprise series the engineer nearly tells school kids that bodily waste is broken down to be made into new food and materials. Here is an article on how such material may be in its early stages already. To use this technology you will likely need to decide the ration limit each person gets (does it exceed the daily replenishment amount?) and how much raw material is brought for emergencies such as broken parts or new crew members. Are your replicators strong enough to repair battle damage? How long does it take to replicate massive things? If you don’t want to store much or the ship only stays out a few days a trip it may be possible to not keep stores of extra materials. Personal waste can recreate the food needed and the broken parts can replace themselves by being put in the replicator and the material replaced. What if things get lost in space, either by needing to jettison cargo holds for faster flight or by holes in the ship from a battle. What will your crew do then? How will they get more spare material?
Keep in mind that though replicators are an awesome explanation in stories, they may be expensive to obtain or hard to maintain. If you decide not to have a replicator, or whatever you call it, you will need the cargo space for food, spare parts, and emergency supplies.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Name Your Ship

Now that you know the basic look of your ship, you may want to name it. That may seem simple but don’t just pick a name that sounds cool. Names have meaning or are meant to imply something. Although a parent may pick a favorite name or a relative’s name for their child, a ship’s owner has likely saved up for a long time to buy their dream ship. Serenity, from Firefly is a good example. Mel dreamed of being his own boss and sticking it to a government that he didn’t agree to so his ship was named after a battle that reflected those thoughts. If your ship is part of a fleet and not owned by any one person, such as all of the main Star Trek ships, the name needs to be more generic. Many US Navy ships today are named after battles, people rewarded for heroism, and cities.
Something else to decide is what the name of the class your ship is from. Even commercial companies won’t build a different ship for each customer without a substantial extra fee and even then they would likely continue making that class, maybe with a few differences on the hull or switching rooms around inside. That being the case, your ship is likely one of many and has a class name. Here is a Wikipedia page saying how some countries name their classes.
Another thing to mention at this stage is usage. Although you probably already know if your ship is designed for exploration, colonization, conquering worlds, rummaging asteroids for debris or minerals, or commanding the fleet, it’s good to have a clear picture of what your ship is designed for. If you need ideas, here is a list of general ship types and specific classes.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ship Design

Now that you’ve protected your home world and whatever colonies your species may have you can focus on a space ship. Are you planning to make a single ship or a basic design for a class of ships? If you want to have an intergalactic war, it may be helpful to know the ins and outs of the different classes of ships involved. Now that can be a lot of work so if you don’t want to do that you may merely want to know the key points such as fire power, defenses, speeds, and captains as well as anything else you think may be helpful in your war.
However, if you’re looking to focus on one ship or class, the first thing you may want to decide on is what the ship will look like, at least a basic idea. Is it a single shape or a combination of shapes? Remember as you plan your ship that it needs to be aerodynamic. That means that rounded lines are easier than sharp points that space travel would likely erode down and that long flat surface areas on the front of the ship slows it down. The cube ship the Borg used in Star Trek may come to mind but if you watch the shows or movies you’ll notice that the Borg travel through space with a corner pointed forward, not its flat surface. Once it stops the ship rotates so a flat side is seem on screen but the corner going first shoves the air, or space, it goes through to the side so it can pass. If the flat side were forward, the ship would need much more power to move and never reach very high speeds. You’ll notice the same idea in use today on cars. That sleek design isn’t just for show. Smooth lines attribute to the speed that many long for and make the car more expensive.
For ideas on ship design, click here and go down to the bottom of the page. Click on one of the show names to see the ships featured on that show.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Space Age

I’ve suggested an order to use when building a fictional world and given you some ideas on how your culture could evolve from non-sentient to sentient beings. Now that your culture is developed on the planet, it’s time to see how you want it to develop in space. Most species will be able to send satellites into orbit before ships or stations are created. Even if a species was able to go to space immediately without dealing with satellites or stations first, they will likely have some sort of fleet of ships or satellites orbiting their planet as defense. You may want to decide what all is orbiting your planet and what defenses your planet has before focusing on an individual or class of ships or a nearby space station. Common planetary defenses are missiles and stations/satellites capable of stopping weapons or destroying ships.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Differing Theories on Culture

So what are some specific theories about sociocultural evolution? A predominate one centuries ago was that societies formed in circles (formation, rise, peak, fall, die) and that humans were in a decline with Rome and Greece as well as Egypt as its peak. During the Age of Enlightenment, or roughly the 18th century and beyond, people decided that humans were still getting better and got more confidence in themselves and science. Scottish thinkers realized all cultures start out as hunters/gatherers, progress to nomads who follow animals, become farmers eventually and become stationary, and finally use trade to build their society. (At this time industry and factories were not as common as now so it, the likely next step of all societies was not included in the theory. After industry progressed to sustain the population would come colonization and exploration. Once that meant wars or new discoveries, now our thirst for more knowledge and elbow room is taking us to the stars.) The then four stages of cultural evolution served to support colonialism and slavery as the natives were less developed than them and therefore deserved what happened to them due to more advanced cultures. Others focused on how society is formed due to biological or mental evolution. Herbert Spencer wrote of survival of the fittest as how societies grew. (The strongest and loudest changed society while the weakest and quiet ones could do nothing to stop the change until they died and no longer cared.) Auguste Comte wrote of how society went through three stages: the theological one where a god was the reason for everything, and age of wonder when mankind started to look for answers besides supernatural forces, and the time when they focus solely on science and an explanation for everything.
Around the World Wars people started to realize that there were a few problems with their thinking. First off, they believed that every society had the same goals and therefore all strove to be duplicates of Europe. So much death and destruction eventually made them wonder if their society really was perfect and the rise of equality for all made them think that maybe claiming Western society as best wasn’t quite true.
Nowadays people study everything from history of a culture to environment the society adapted to and political/economic relations with other societies to plot its “evolution”. It is more accepted that every nearby or connected culture effects the development of every other culture instead of each developing individually based on its own technology and morals as was once believed. Scientific fact is now the focus of sociology instead of racism, rationalizing what is already happening, or merely looking at “uncivilized” cultures to determine what other cultures were like before they started writing. However, ideas and theories are fodder for writers and some of the older theories based on fewer facts are ripe for ideas on creating you specie’s history or current position of development. What’s your idea of social development going to be?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

From Equal in Labor to Female Suppression

Now that we have the nuclear family slightly separate from the camp, we also notice that the female job of getting the plants for food has been mostly taken over by the male raising the food for eating while still maintaining his role with the animals. That leaves the female with the role of raising the kids, keeping house, and making meals. Of course it also leaves men away from their wives all day not knowing what they’re doing. With this idea of one man/one woman relationship comes some problems. First of all, it wouldn’t have taken men long to realize that by getting another man’s wife pregnant they could be sure their bloodline would continue without having to bother with raising the child. Also, it could give the woman the security to get another mate, one likely not as safe or already taken, as she has assurances that any child she gives birth to will be raised by her legal mate. Given those facts and men’s natural possessiveness and competitiveness, is it any surprise females were so repressed for the last few centuries? After all, a man’s child has often been his greatest accomplishment. At one time the number of children he had would likely have been his greatest pride (just look at the idea of harems) and eventually his place in society would be dependent on his legal son being able to take the father’s place in that society and protecting the mother and sisters. However, that is one way a culture could evolve. What if men hadn’t taken over the woman’s place in society when they were all equal all those years ago? How would life and history be different if women had become dominant? After all, a woman knows that a child she gave birth to is her own (unless something artificial happened…) and there would be no need to subjugate males. They were only around to conceive the child, do hunting and other distance things like trading and war if needed. Of course, this is disregarding the pride of a male and any emotional attachment. Then again, what man wouldn’t want to be able to mate with a female and not be bothered with raising a child or providing for a family?
Okay, so I’m getting carried away now with story ideas now that the facts are put out there but it is another idea for a culture. After all, there are still matriarchal societies, just no pure ones.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Formation of the Nuclear Family

Now that we have all the males, females, and children around one large campfire (no one knows when or how our ancestors started using fire but let’s assume that has happened by now) population should be booming, right? One would think so but somewhere along the way our ancestors figured out that it was best for everyone (physically on the mother and emotionally on the youngster who the mom could focus on better) to not be constantly pregnant. That meant fewer children so fewer couplings. That would mean that the men started competing for who got the best females to raise their child. Somewhere along the way the males realized that it was smarter to have one specific female that would bear their children and the females realized it would be helpful if the father raised the male children after a certain age to help them function well in the male area of society. Also, as society progressed status would have developed and it would be beneficial if the best male in the group was protecting her and their young as well as sharing his portion of food with them. (The best hunters got more of their kill than lesser hunters, let’s say). If a man was going to raise a male child he would want to be sure both male and female children are his genetic offspring. (Speaking from an evolutionary stand point: who wants to see another man’s child prosper? That means less for his own kids.) With those facts in mind it makes sense that the nuclear family was created (mom, dad, children) and as people lived longer the grandparents or ill relatives joined the family. Eventually the males would have realized that training animals to help with hunting (horses to ride, dogs to herd) would be a good idea followed by raising animals for food (less hunting needed). At some time in history the villages became towns and people moved away from others to have room to raise animals and farm. The nuclear family moved with and they started new towns and villages. At least that is how the webmaster said it happened. I think it is possible that the males needed to live away from the camp to herd animals or grow lots of plants for food and they needed company and knowledge that their bloodline would continue so women were forced to leave the camp and go live with the male who needed kids. It makes some sense to me and since I’m a writer (not a sociologist) and am writing to give other writers ideas on how to create their species, I thought I’d throw that in. Of course, this is also ignoring emotions as no one knows when they evolved in our ancestors. For all we know our ancestors started out monogamous before they separated from the other apes and other species merely forgot such emotions.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Unifying the camp

With the camp came a sense of home and possessiveness. The family group the apes travelled in eventually realized the things needed for them to stay in one place for a while (access to the best plants, nearby water, animals nearby, good weather) and the different groups would fight for the land, even die for it. The webmaster thought this was against evolution (people willingly dying for a thing instead of just giving it up) but I disagree. Don’t parents in every species die to protect their children? By fighting, and yes even dying, for the camp they assured their offspring would be cared for well into the future by staying on the best land around. Now that the group had a stable home (sorta, they were still nomads who moved at least with the seasons and travelled with the herds), they were also getting united. In ape communities, they travel in smaller groups and most have multiple partners. That meant that the males could have any number of children to carry on their genes (evolution’s main purpose) and the females could mate with whoever was around. As we know, that didn’t last. However, males were individuals. They didn’t tend to mix well with groups. This worked well in hunting where most times it is a single male stalking an animal or it is a group of males some distance from each other herding a few animals somewhere. However, it doesn’t work so well in camps. We know that females often travel with other females and trade responsibilities for childrearing. (The pregnant ones that can’t move so well or the old ones can watch the ones that can’t walk or the rambunctious children while the mother gets dinner.) If the males want to get together with a female, it tends to help if the male is where the females gather, which in this case is around the central fire instead of a smaller one the males would sit around. (Even males now a days know that factor so it’s not too hard to realize some smart male figured it out centuries ago and the others decided to get in on his action.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

The formation of the camp

The ancestors of humans diverged from monkeys about three million years ago. I found it interesting to find that according to another Wikipedia site there were three or four other species that diverged from monkeys as well and are in the same subtribe but only humans exist of their ancestors. It could be thought that all the subtribes eventually mated into one subspecies, but I found no research suggesting that or what happened to those species. However, I did find information on how humans likely developed.
Apes travel in packs, though generally loose ones. They live in forests and are designed for moving about in the trees. Somewhere in our history our ancestors moved out of the forests to begin standing on two feet and they moved away from the plentiful forests. (That could be a byproduct of the Ice Age if their forests disappeared or didn’t produce enough food for the whole family.) Once out of the trees it was faster for the large apes to move and run on two legs than the uneven four legs so they became bipeds, as we are today. They also decided, somehow, that it was best to have a single location everyone congregated, or a camp. From there the apes could travel out to find food each day, mostly plants, and return to divide the food found among the whole camp, not just themselves as most apes do. The camps allowed for safety in numbers as well as somewhere to return. While the females went to pick and dig up plants while caring for or carrying their young, the more mobile males went hunting for animals farther away. When they came back they shared their meat with the camp and the days they brought nothing back they ate what the females and children had found that day. Eventually as the camp grew more meat was needed and they started hunting bigger animals and figured out tools to help them. Meanwhile the females were likely realizing that where small pieces of plants (seeds) fell, new plants grew and started to plant things so they wouldn’t have to journey so far each day. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sentient Evolution

Now that you’ve created the planet and the nonsentient species on it you can start working on how your main species evolved. To find information on that, I inserted “cultural evolution” into Google and looked at a few sites. I am by no means an expert and didn’t plan to get deep into this, merely to give you a general idea of how humans are thought to have evolved from animals to the many cultures we now have. I quickly found out there are many theories on how society evolved, as mentioned on the Wikipedia site. (On a side note, this site is full of theories but rarely explained them. It’s a good site for a basic overview but is definitely not light reading. Be sure this is something you’re fascinated in or that you have some way to stay awake. It’s long and not written to be interesting, merely informative.) However, I got more understandable information from another site I found. Combining all the tidbits I picked up, my own ideas on how creatures would evolve, and the useful second site, I’ll give a simplified version of evolution of the main species on Earth: humans. This may give you an idea of how your species evolved or it may give you ideas of how your species is different from ours. Use it as you will, this is just a rough timeline.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

6 things to remember while creating a fictional planet

Planetary formation and why it's important
Why are minerals important?
Why should you have a topographical map created?
What are your climates and how many moons does it have?
What plants are on your planet?
What animals are around your setting?

With this section now done we can continue with how a sentient species evolves, or how humans think we evolved. It privides a good pattern to show how other species may have evolved.

As a bonus, here is a site I couldn't work into the other blogs but I think it is useful to anyone creating a planet. It's a site that tells you how things orbit and where everything is at the same time. You need Java script to use it and it is downloadable.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What animals are around?

Now that you have your planet mapped and your plants in position, you are almost ready to put your main species on it and start your story. First, however, you need to think about the animals on the planet. While it is theoretically possible to have a planet without animals, it would be pretty impossible for a sentient species to be the only moving things on your planet. You could always create a version of sentient plants but evolution says that before a sentient species can be created on a planet, other creatures would have evolved first. With that in mind, you need to think of what animals will populate your planet. If you want a list of animals to describe the species on your planet, look here. Things to keep in mind while you create these critters is that they probably need water, sunlight, and food to live and have probably adapted to their habitat (such as with the kangaroo who hops to save energy in the desert and who breathes while hopping by their organs bumping together. That pouch also allows the mother to go fast without the joey bouncing out or getting left behind.). You may want to start with the herbivores in each ecosystem before moving on to those that eat the herbivores who eat the plants. Each species is adapted to its environment as well as to its specific job or purpose in the ecosystem. Remember that and you will be able to play around with a number of ideas. If you need help coming up with ideas, here is a short list of the top 25 weirdest animals.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

What plants are on YOUR planet?

So now we know the way your planet was created, what minerals are on your fictional planet, what your topography looks like and what your climate zones are. Now we can work on what plants are on your planet and where they are. To do that, pull out that topography map again and look at where your bodies of water are as well as your climatic zones. Plants are resilient little buggers and will grow almost anywhere. It helps if there is plenty of water around or the air is very humid, but plants adapt to climates like the desert and tundra by not needing a lot of water or growing places to hold water over long periods of time. Also, minerals in the soil are needed to combine with other elements around like water and sun to create plant food. The climate, light, and soil are very important for plants and if you plan to transplant certain plants, such as farming or gardening plants, remember that the new environment will be slightly different and the plant will not be the same, whether it be that the plants don’t grow as tall or don’t flower as often or any other difference that may occur do to the difference in the two. For a rather full list of plants humans use for farming and gardening, look here. Just remember as you decide to use Earth-like plants or invent your own that each plant must be successfully adapted to its original location or comment that the plant was unable to survive in the changing habitat it evolved in and people are trying to make it thrive elsewhere.
Once you have your plants decided and located, it’s time to think about your animals and where they belong.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Why are moons and climate important?

When thinking about the climate on your fictional planet, it may be best to first decide on if you want a moon or if you want many. Theories have stated that if there was no moon, there would be little change in the tide as they are caused by the opposing gravities of Earth and our moon. The moon is also lengthening Earth’s day slightly over the centuries and stabilizing the axial tilt. Without the moon stabilizing the tilt, the weather patterns would be drastic as the seasons changed. Having a number of moons would make the planet rather unstable as the friction of the moons competing with each other and Earth’s gravity would cause friction heating the planet and the tides and weather would be erratic as well as the tectonic activity.
Once you’ve decided on how many moons your planet has, and how any differences could affect the fictional planet, the next step in your writing process will be to decide on the climatic zones. Take out your topography map and a few markers. If your planet is similar to Earth, get out six markers or highlighters. Climatic zones are decided by how the star’s rays hit the planet (as Earth is round, it takes longer for the rays to hit the poles than the Equator so it’s colder at the poles), How high up it is (heat may rise but higher air is thicker and doesn’t allow much space for particles to move and create heat), winds (cold winds cool the area while hot winds rise the temperature), distance from big bodies of water as they stabilize weather (think ocean effect on coasts or lake effect around the Great Lakes), and where the slope of the hill or mountain is facing towards the star or away from it. Earth’s six main climatic zones are: polar, temperate, arid, tropical, Mediterranean, and tundra. As it is your planet, you can add as many zones as you like or as few zones as you like, it would just help if it were scientifically possible as many science fiction readers these days know as more about science and real possibilities than ever before and nothing is worse than alienating readers by science they know to be impossible without an explanation somewhere.
Once you know the climate zones, we can take a look at what plants are on your planet in the next segment of how to create your fictional planet.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Why is a topographical map important?

The next part of creating your planet for your fictional story will be creating a topographical map of your planet. This may sound easy, you think to just draw a map with a few squiggly lines then decide which gaps are land and which are water but I’m talking about a little more thought than that. First of all, remember the surface of a planet is always changing due to plate tectonics or the heat inside the planet moving to the exterior of the planet, expanding one ridge while pushing another area under the crust of the planet somewhere else. Knowing where those boundaries are can show where mountain ranges should be, where large canyons should be, where volcanoes are common, show things like probable locations for earthquakes, and where tidal waves are likely to go often.
Now that you know where your plates are, it should be easier to decide where your continents will be. Something to keep in mind is that on Earth science says that the continents were once one big continent. For that reason similar soils are found near coastal areas of different continents as are similar fossils. Another thing to consider is that humans only use about .08 percent of all water on the Earth and none of that is from the oceans as they are salt water. If you want to make fewer oceans, you may result in less rain so more deserts on your planet but you would have more landmass for your species to adapt to. It could also mean less marine life so there would be fewer fishermen and buying any kind of marine animal would be expensive. You could also think about making more usable water on your planet which could lead to faster technological evolution if water isn’t a problem. Imagine how much easier life would have been for the ancients if the ocean was fresh water. Then again, if they had plenty of fresh water on the coasts, would they have ventured inwards looking for a different life?
Once all these things are decided, you only have a few more steps before working on your species. The next step will be looking at where your climates are and what you need to decide about those.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Why are minerals important to your story?

Granted, knowing the scientific reason your planet was created may not be all that important to your story, unless it was created for a purpose, but it can lead to what chemicals and minerals your planet is made of. Knowing what chemicals and minerals are on your planet is important because that is what creates life. A planet with no natural form of carbon is unable to create carbon based life forms, although life could still be created through another chemical or your species may have come from another planet somewhere in its history. Whether the people know that centuries later is up to you. Also knowing what minerals your planet has or doesn’t have can be helpful in figuring out what technology is made of and how it differs from human stuff in colors or strength or weight. Although you could merely assume your planet has the same minerals as Earth, here is where you can develop new chemicals or minerals to speed up the technological timeline so they got to space before humans or create things currently impossible on our planet.
Something else to consider when thinking about minerals is what your species needs to survive. Humans need seventy minerals in their diets to stay healthy throughout life. Those minerals humans get by eating plants that have soaked up those minerals from the soil they were raised in and each one is needed to balance all the minerals and chemicals in your body. Years of imbalance lead to degenerative diseases in old age or minor annoyances throughout one’s life. If you plan to have humans on your planet for whatever reason, it would be good to look at how the minerals and chemicals on your planet, or lack thereof, would affect the health of those humans. How do they adapt?
One last thing to think about today is how your planet’s gravity differs from Earth’s gravity. Although scientists argue about how gravity affects evolution, it is agreed that the planet could not exist without the gravity it has. A planet with less gravity would be held together a little looser and things may float around a more than on Earth, or more accurately, fall slower. A planet with stronger gravity may be smaller, more compact than Earth and everything on it not grow as tall. Also, humans would react differently to a different gravity and other species would react differently to our gravity if there’s differed.
Once all these things have been decided, we can think on topography and why to make a map of your planet, as we will in the next installment.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Planetary Formation and Why It's Important

Many of you have already got an idea in your head of what you want your planet like, maybe what planets are around it. For everyone else, and those who are looking for inspiration everywhere, it may be good to decide how your planet formed. How it was formed can affect what minerals can be found on the planet, what the planet looks like, what the different climates are, what can grow on the planet, especially if Earth tries to colonize the planet, what animals could evolve on the planet, as well as where and how sentient species evolved and flourished.
A major question to ask here is if a thing of some sort created the planet for a reason or if the planet was a cosmic happening based on no actual plan. Remember, many species, judging by human cultures, will assume that everything happens for a reason and have a god of some sort in their infancy which they will may out grow by the time your story happens or they may avoid science by clinging to their “guiding hand”. (As a note, this blog is not a comment on human religion but an objective look at creating the best setting possible for your story. Many sci-fi species seem to go the way “educated” humans seem to go in saying science proves there is no god so faith in one is unnecessary.) Although religion will be a different topic, now would be a good time to decide if magic is in your world. If you wish magic to be powerful in your world it can change the natural order of things as I’ll explain things and as you go through this series you may want to keep magic in mind and how it changes the evolutionary process, same goes for if something created the planet. The Bible says that God created Earth with age. Humans were there on the sixth day the universe existed. That skips a lot of steps and means God plans really quick to form the center of the Earth, the moon, the sun, all the other stars with their possible systems, ecosystems, animals adapted to their habitat, and the complexities of humans in six days. (Unless He worked a lot of things out later which is contrary to traditional Christian belief.) Many polytheistic religions have gods creating Earth by dream or thoughts or something getting split into pieces and the planet forming from the pieces or from the act of the destruction (such as something died so something was born). If you wish the scientific reason for the planet to be a god or magic, keep that in mind while reading the rest of this series as gods are fickle in myths and often change the evolution of things.
The most accepted theory is nebular hypothesis which claims that the star comes first and particles surrounding the star eventually combine enough to create terrestrial planets, or planets like Earth that can theoretically contain life similar to ours. So why is planetary formation so important? It can create the building blocks for the minerals on the planet, which I will speak about next blog.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I will admit that this series is not built on any template I thought up on my own. I tend to develop settings as the story progresses and then having my readers comment on things I forgot to change in the beginning. People keep saying that being organized makes things so much easier so I am working on writing from outlines and having already fully developed characters and settings before writing the story. It is rather different from my usual way of making up the nuances of a character or setting as I write but it also seems to extend the process. Now while I’m still working on plot points I can be thinking about my characters’ backgrounds and my settings and stay excited about a story.
I recently read The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction: Volume one First Contact and discovered the article called Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions by Patricia C. Wrede. Both are excellent sources and I highly recommend and science fiction writer look at them but this series is my template. I took what I usually use, added in ideas from both of those writers and will now present my version to you over the next few weeks.
This series is designed to focus on world building. I know most people start out with an idea of what you want your planet or setting like. I’m going to give you more questions and examples to help you flesh out your basic idea and make it flow smoothly with your story.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Importance of the Setting

Settings are very important to a story. They ground the story and add that extra layer of realism. A good setting transports the reader seamlessly into the story. Without a good setting the reader sees the characters interacting in the imagination as if in a fog. The setting gives the reader a picture to fill in around the characters, whether it is a park in Paris, a kitchen in a farm town in Iowa, or the middle of a bazaar on a space station light years from Earth. It allows the character to act and often to react to what the plot or other characters throw at the characters in each scene. After all, the food vendor at the bazaar has just the right juicy oranges to throw at the retreating back of the man that just shattered your character’s heart. In other ways the setting can force a reaction, such as a falling beam or how many flammable things are in the room. A fire will spread faster in a kitchen with wood cabinets and tabletops versus a kitchen with metal cupboards and stone tabletops.
I like to think of my settings as characters and give them at least as much time in development. (I will admit to often getting absorbed and giving my setting much more thought than most of my characters. There are just so many things to think about, as I will show you in the coming days.) Know the appearance of the setting, all its colors and shapes, dimensions and the layout of furniture. Know all the sounds surrounding it, such as the train that passes every half hour or the fog horns that can be heard from the nearby harbor, and the smells nearby, such as the lilac bush by the windows or the noodle factory in town.
However, be careful not to overdo it. Does the reader really need to know about the order of the books on the shelf or the dog crap that litters the neighbor’s yard? Not unless it pertains to the story. Often the setting can be used as a distraction. How many times have you focused on what you were doing or where you were going to avoid thinking about something or responding to something? That is how some people react as is how they play with something. Maybe your girl fiddles with a decorative ball when nervous or throws pitchers when angry. The most important thing to remember about setting is to be consistent. That ball your girl may play with on the porch is more likely to be an orange in the kitchen or a pine cone in the woods. Usually people don’t bring things to fiddle with along in their pockets so having her suddenly have a tennis ball in her hand at a bar or at work would take some explaining.
With all these things to keep in mind, creating your setting may seem daunting. For people who set your stories on Earth, learning your setting may be as simple as visiting somewhere for a week or walking down the street. For those of us who write science fiction stories, creating our settings adds a number of questions others don’t need to think about. Over the next few weeks I will try to give Sci-Fi writers some extra guidance on things to think about whether creating a new planet, sailing the stars in a space ship, or merely getting the minute details of a single room right. Welcome to my guide on world building and I hope this is helpful to you.

Friday, September 24, 2010

15 things to remember when creating your fictional character:

How does ethnicity affect your character?
What education does it have?
How has family affected who your character is?
How have certain memories affected its development?
How has its appearance affected your character?
What addictions or major flaws does it have?
What mannerisms does your character have?
How is its posture?
What are some of your character’s habitual mannerisms?
What are its hobbies?
What is your character’s job?
What are some subtle ways it shows emotion?
What motivates your character?
What secrets does it hold?
How does your character grow throughout the story?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Secrets affect everyone

Everyone has secrets, whether it’s that they killed someone or were molested years before or even that they accidentally broke the expensive vase their mother-in-law gave them as a wedding gift. Each secret, no matter how small or large, affects their relationship with someone. A man who has killed another may always be looking over his shoulder, slightly paranoid to an extent or may crave another kill. A child molested may have trouble connecting emotionally or trusting and may go from lover to lover all their life unless someone can get through to them. Breaking the mother-in-law’s expensive vase may mean your character doesn’t invite her over or has to invent reasons the gift isn’t on display. Many secrets kept are things the character has done or had done to them but people also have “family skeletons,” things their family did that they don’t talk about, like that their grandfather or uncle was a well known domestic terrorist or not talking about the death of a sibling. Such secrets can separate families or cause tension at gatherings. Maybe the gatherings are awkward because of the many silences at the table. Maybe they’re awkward because everyone tries so hard to be cheery to avoid the conversation they most need.
When thinking about your fictional character, remember everyone has secrets. Know its secrets and you’ll learn another motivation in your character’s life. Can you think of how some of the secrets in your life have affected you or the relationships you’ve had with others?

Monday, September 20, 2010

How does your character grow?

People read stories to be taken away from their life for a while and see other people overcome things. They want to see a character do something amazing or entertaining. However, most readers don’t merely want to read the last few chapters to know the climax, they want to read about the journey it took to get there. Stories are written about people doing things in the final chapter that they couldn’t do in the first one, for whatever reason. Each story tells about a journey taken because it had to be but rarely is the character the same when they finish as when they began. Think of your favorite books or movies, think about how each one was about a character finding the courage or the facts to face a giant of some sort, whether it be the ability to face the future as a child becomes an adult or the courage to face a fear or stand up to a bully or evil person. In each case the character refused to face that giant in the beginning of the story for some reason. Something forced them to try and later something made them resolved to win. Does your story have that same character growth or is the reader going to read it and realize that the beginning and the climax were cool but there just wasn’t any reason to read it again, no reason for them to cheer for the character. Very few stories can work without showing the reader the struggle the character is having and making your reader long for victory. While your story may be one of the few that don’t need character growth, I’d recommend making sure the reader won’t be left wondering why they just bothered to read that.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What motivates your character?

Everyone has a plan, whether it’s to live with mom and dad until they die and inherit the house or be rich by twenty-five, and your characters are no different. Your story can be about how they got to their goal or you can tell how they got interrupted and changed their plan. Or maybe your character doesn’t want to plan their future, they don’t want to think about change and growing up. Whatever your thoughts are on the character, it helps to know where they want to go and if/when that plan changes. Where do they want to go in their career, in their relationships? Is the career to be their life or are they hoping to get rich off their hobby and the career is just a backup while they work on their hobby? Are they looking for a spouse or just a good time? Do they want to learn a new language or a new hobby? Are they happy with who they are or want to be or are they searching for something new to fill a void they don’t understand?
Then there are the goals they don’t dig deep enough to find: to be loved, to be popular, to be a recognized expert. Those are things they may not admit or that they think go without saying so they never say them but those desires are as driving, often more so, than the goals people strive for in career, relationships, and personal development. So what motivates you character? What motivates you?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Emotions in story.

Emotions could very easily be a whole different series but I’ll just briefly touch on emotions in a book. You don’t always have to tell your reader what the characters are thinking. Often hints through facial expressions or body language or dialogue can go over easier with a reader than constantly being told that this character feels this way, then it feels like this, then it does this because it feels that. Such writing can be informative but sometimes readers like to figure things out on their own. After all, they are reading instead of watching a movie that tells them what to think. Keep that in mind every once in a while and let the reader make their own conclusions about what is going on. Since you’re writing from the perspective of one character, to an extent, it may be possible to mislead the readers as well. How many times have you watched your friends talk and thought you knew exactly what was going on only to realize later that they were talking about something else completely or that there was an undertone you didn’t understand? That can happen in books as well although I would suggest care as misleading the reader can only be done if the reader is willing to forgive you for it later if it is believable.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What does an occupation say about people?

Something else to ask yourself is what is your character’s profession? What does that say about your character? Often your plot will dictate what job your character has but you may want to spend some time thinking if that job is really the best job for the plot. Once you have to decide what traits your character had to have to get those traits. If your character is high up in the military or in business you know it has to be motivated and have a strong persona, unless favoritism was involved. If your character has been very low level worker for a number of years you know it has little motivation or is too honest to get promoted. Or else the job is very hard to get promoted in, which could make the character rather bitter. If your character works with kids than they must have a good imagination to understand the kids as well as a lot of patience and kindness. If the person is a sales person than they’d better hope they are a good people person or at least be able to fake it. If your person is a college professor they are likely very intellectual while a preschool teacher is likely very playful. When you think of a job, be sure you don’t have a character that is happy with their job if their personality doesn’t fit the job they’re in. What does your job suggest about you?