a simple question

“How old is this world?”

my wife asked this question as i was talking out the draft outline* i have for RoE. i’d been explaining that Herrick would be stopping by a personal safehouse to get some breathing room. she’d asked where it was. i said some kind of abandoned warehouse district or some such. i didn’t really have a proper answer, only a vague idea, but the warehouse was an easy fit.

thank god she saw right through this.

“How old is this world?”

“Uh…75 years old.” (we both knew we were talking about the age since the planet had been terraformed; still, i was making it up on the spot)

she paused, and i realized what i’d completely missed and what she was seeing with crystal clarity:

  1. please. abandoned warehouse district? come on. i can do better.
  2. was 75 years enough to create the requisite urban sprawl to generate such an environment as said cliche?

that single, simple question blew a door in my mind wide open, and suddenly i knew what i had to do.

after i finished correcting an embarrasingly large pile of terribly overdue school work.

but this morning, i put it to paper, racing through a series of developments that fleshed out a number of macro concepts that i had either taken for granted (more cliches) or hadn’t even considered. i think the story might have been fine without this information, but pretty ordinary. now, i realize i was resting on my laurels (or, more accurately, the laurels of those who’d gone before) and i can push this out of the ‘standard’ and into the ‘interesting’ (at least that’s what I’m shooting for).

i just realized as i was typing this that it ties to a comment from a VP-classmate, the insightful John Murphy, who asked a similar question about why the story was taking place on this planet. why here? why now? why sf?

and, if i follow this thread, i can now hear my college creative writing instructor asking me a now-too-familiar question about an early story i’d written: why this character? why now?

okay, so i can be a little thick.

i’ll get there eventually, though! a deep thanks to all of you.**

* and by ‘talking out’, i really mean ‘dragging her through every single step of the story with regular leaps back to the expanded backstory and the motivations of the various characters’. yeah, cue: glazed eyes. but she’s a trooper and tries to stick it out, but i really should know better by now. this is not a conversation for the end of the evening. silly boy. and yet, she does not complain. how truly fabulous is that?

** plus apologies to my wife for putting her through all that monologuing again. i’d like to say it won’t happen again, but we both know that would be a lie…

  1. Hi Bill! Glad my comments were helpful! Thanks again for your comments on my piece, I’ve got plenty to think about there too.

    It occurs to me that 75 years might actually be plenty of time to develop urban sprawl like that: basically, it happens when it’s cheaper to build out than to build up or to renovate as long as people can get around, and on a fresh new planet that could easily be the case. If you look at Los Angeles (which is like another planet in other ways) or Phoenix you might see something similar, and those had pre-existing settlement around them. With robotic assistance (a large-scale version of this?), something simple like a warehouse could go up very quickly. But cheap construction rarely lasts, and it might be cheaper and easier after 25 years to go build elsewhere. I guess the main problem with that is that it might be easier still to demolish and rebuild on the same spot, and if they built warehouses there in the first place, there must be something nearby like a port or factory producing things that need to be warehoused. Of course, if the port gets too busy for its space and moves, then there wouldn’t be a point to keeping the old warehouses.

    That’s what I like about SF: one can rationalize endlessly and arrive at exactly the conclusion one wanted to hold in the first place! :)

  2. first, that link is great. thank you yet again!

    i would agree that 75 years is enough (and i’ve spent time in the Phoenix area and seen how quickly even 5 years can change an entire suburb from thriving to vacant), but not for the kind of easy cliche environment i was defaulting to, for some of the reasons you mentioned.

    however, i was thinking that, particularly with early terraforming/colonial efforts, there would end up being a large number of the transports for the items that will do the construction (a la, the bots in your link), which will be left aside and rarely addressed, creating a kind of landing-pod graveyard, which could easily be on the edge of a starport or, if geography allows, conveniently out of sight in a nearby ravine. i am sure there will be plenty of effort on reuse of materials, but particularly in early stages, i was thinking there would be 2-pronged development (1- interstellar transport, 2-terraforming/construction). in this way (in my wee brain), the transports and landing craft would largely be 1-way and single-purpose (getting safely to surface), leaving little value for re-use beyond that.

    am i missing something obvious? obviously all this is entirely made up in my mind, with no research whatsoever.

  3. A landing pod graveyard makes sense, sure — large-scale movement of materials onto the world with limited movement off. It’s a heck of a lot easier getting into a gravity well than getting out, anyway. Another possibility might be that they were made redundant with the construction of an orbital tether.

    On a resource-poor world, such things would be recycled, but on a new world flush with easy metals and minerals, who would bother?

    • that’s what i was thinking. given the near-earth quality of the planet to begin with, there’s no need to haul anything more than critically and initially necessary. the tether is a strong possibility as well, but your link gives me some unexpected material to incorporate, though not exactly as expected, i don’t think.

      warning: you are fast becoming my technical advisor.

  4. “Why” is definitely a powerful word — and often an inconvenient one ;)

    And hey, I enjoy the tech stuff, I’m an engineer. Besides, I haven’t had to pull my copy of Spacecraft Systems Engineering off the shelf in a while, it’s looking lonely up there!

    BTW, is there a way to subscribe to comments? I keep forgetting to check back.

    • very true, but if we wanted convenience, though, we certainly wouldn’t have chosen to try our hands at writing, eh?

      as for the comments, my widgets aren’t playing nicely lately. i have to figure that out.

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