gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
I find myself struggling with the central driving force for my planned novel. The research is going fine, and I have the plot roughed out . . . to be honest, I have three plots worked out. Well, two and a half, as one ends rather suddenly early in the book.

But I'm digging for the emotional hooks to bring my characters to life. I know that Battle Captain Singh (I've changed his rank, as after reading the Ancillary Justice series, I think "Fleet Captain" would be seen as derivative if not out-right copying. Besides, this gives me a chance to add a little more detail to the Arjuni Deep Space Fleet. Officers in command slots are ranked as Captain with what class of vessel they are qualified to command. Escort Captain, Frigate Captain, Cruiser Captain, and Battle Captain. When they are not in command roles, those ranks are Lieutenant, Senior Lieutenant, Captain-Lieutenant, and Flag Lieutenant.

I just did a little world building right here. Go me.

But I'm struggling with how to create the drama in the two opposing forces and multiple ships. These are naval forces at war. For the Arjuni, they are running from a colony that cannot be defended and are trying to aid in the war effort by raiding merchant shipping in a cluster that should be lightly defended. The UN squadron has been dispatched to hunt them down. So right there is the main tension. It's a grand game mixing chess and Battleship. Two commanders trying to out think each other. I'm going to try to portray the stress of each emergence into real space, the desperate need to make repairs quickly, and every present knowledge that it has to come to battle at some point.

But along the way, I want to develop tensions based on crew interactions. Even the senior officers aren't always going to be on the same page. Some will doubt the mission, or the crew, or their ships. A few might be cowards, or utterly incompetent but in command because of family ties. The Arjuni force was basically at the ass-end of nowhere, so it is hardly the prime assignment. Meanwhile, the UN fleet is staffed by drafted starmen with minimal training and no real patriotic drive to excel. They live in terror of their brutal petty officers and the Political Affairs Officer and his spies. Some will take pride in having a positive identity for the first time. Others will mutiny at the first opportunity. It is led by an officer who picked the wrong side in a succession fight and has paid for it by being denied advancement. The Navy is all he knows, so he stayed. He sees this command as a chance at redemption.

There, more worldbuilding! I can do this in my sleep! It might be easier that way!

But at Baycon, I attended an intimate panel (seriously, there were ten seats in the room around a table) where I learned how to use the Tarot's Major Arcana to flesh out characters quickly. You can use the suites if you like, but that just muddles things. It's a simple layout that covers the past, present, future, motivations, fears, and a couple of other things. It's great in that it takes the foundation work out of building a character and instead gives you something to build on, creating unique characters for writing or gaming.

When it comes to designing anything, whether a character for D&D or a setting for a story, I use all the tools I can grab. My brain took a shot to the language center, so anything that can help me flesh things out is great. Any tool that helps me with my spelling and grammar is a gift from the Gods of Writing. I feel no shame in submitting my odder sentences to a website that diagrams sentences. Anyone else remember doing that in school? There are websites that do it for you, so you can see where you are screwing up.

So using one of my Tarot decks (I own both the Rider-Waite deck and a Thoth deck) I a going to designate a day when I print out a list of characters, draw cards for them, and note the results. This way, when that character needs to appear, I'll know more about them, and be able to weave them into the story.

At least until the characters begin telling me what they are going to be doing. I hate it when they do that.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
But between weather extremes and the never-ending back troubles, I've been hard-pressed to find the energy to write.

This is a writing experiment to describe the bridge of the battleship Vajra, from Task Force Singh, my proposed National Novel Writing Month Project.

A couple of things. "kps" is kilometers per second, the standard measure of velocity. 1 kps is 2,237 miles per hour. These ships really move!

"mpss" or "mips" is meters per second squared. This a measure of acceleration. The Vajra can accelerate at 50mpss. Earth's gravity is 9.8 meters per second squared, so if it wasn't for the artificial gravity, people on the Vajra would experience over five times Earth's gravity at full acceleration.

"LS" is a light second, a unit of distance, 299,792 km.

--

"Captain, Glaser orbital control has cleared the squadron to depart. We have been cleared to departure area 117 by 230."

From his command chair, Singh nodded. It had been a productive visit, shoring up relations between the empire and the neutral Glaser Republic. But he doubted he could stand one more banquet. "Very well. Set the course and have the squadron set into travel formation."

He consulted his private plot on his repeater. "Engineering, please bring us to 75,000 kps once we clear the planet." Singh shifted his attention to the young officer of the deck. "Commander, set Condition Four and secure for movement. I will be in my office if I'm needed."

Satisfied that the small squadron was moving out according to orders, Singh walked the short distance to his day cabin, just to the rear of the bridge. Pouring himself a cup of coffee, he settled at his desk with a sigh. Running a ship seemed to involve never-ending paperwork to keep the Fleet offices happy, and now he had to compile a report for the Foreign Office on the visit to Glaser.

He had barely begun that task when the door buzzer went off. 20 minutes, Singh thought, barely 20 minutes before I'm interrupted. "Come in!" he shouted, trying to hide the irritation in his voice. It was Khan, his executive. And he had a grin on his face.

"Alright, Ahriman, care to share the joke?" Singh said while Commander Khan helped himself to a mug of coffee.

"Did you happen to notice Lt. Metz just now?" Khan said as he settled onto the spartan bunk across from the desk.

"I was a little occupied," Singh admitted, a smile growing on his own face. "Was our favorite a little worse for wear?"

"He looked like the gravity was off. Holding onto a grab rail for dear life. My sources tell me he was half-carried aboard by several fellow officers just shy of curfew."

Singh chuckled. "Oh, dear me! Was it too much drinking? A whirlwind love affair? A blood feud with nefarious characters?"

"All three, if the stories are to be believed. Ah, to be young again! To hit dirtside leave with visions of wine, women, and song!"

"That was you, Ahriman. I don't drink and am a terrible singer. Which left me the women!"

Their laughter was interrupted by a call on the overhead speaker. "Captain to the bridge." Both Singh and Khan quickly returned to the bridge, waving the crew back to their seats as they entered.

The rating manning the Signals console remained standing. "Sir, Glaser Control is monitoring at least four hyperspace bowshocks approaching the system. They are not scheduled, and there isn't a known route to account for their approach vector. Control requests that we divert to meet these ships." The young rating fidgeted for a second, clearly wondering if he had to remain standing after his report, before awkwardly taking his seat.

Singh absent-mindedly stroked his beard as he stared at the large holographic main plot. The tactical officer had already updated the plot with this new data. Commander Khan leaned over to speak in Singh's ear. "It is part of the treaty, and we know there have been some pretty heavy raiding being done in this general area."

Singh nodded. "Absolutely." He raised his voice. "Set Condition Three. All hands prepare for battle stations." He looked to his left at the helm station. "Set a course that brings us to intercept in four hours. Let engineering know we're going to be making the turn. I want to enter the potential battle area at no more than 750 kps. Signals, send confirmations to Glaser control. Alert the squadron that I'm going to want formation Gamma one hour before arrival at the intercept point."

As Singh sat back on his couch, doing the math on intercepts in his head, Commander Khan spoke up. "You heard the Captain, now move! This is a battleship, not a luxury cruise! Get to work!"

Soon the bridge was filling with the battle staff. Every console was now manned. All eight gunnery control officers filled the sunken area known to everyone as the pit. Three ratings and a control officer at Signals. The A crew for the Sensors team. All ready to pass on information and command decisions. Singh allowed himself a slight smile. This was a good crew.

The squadron raced through the empty system, every sensor probing the area where the unknown ships would likely emerge from hyperspace. At one hour out, Commander Khan commanded "Set Condition Two." Klaxons blared across the ship. On the bridge, half the staff hurried out to a nearby ready room, returning in a very short time in combat vacuum gear. Then the other half repeated the act. When everyone else was suited up, Singh retreated to his day cabin to don his own suit, bright white with orange and red recognition panels and the Fleet Captain insignia comically large on his chest.

Once back on the bridge, he double checked that everyone was hooked into the ship's air supply and was ready for action. Captains did have to do that, but it helped morale. Satisfied, Singh returned to his own couch and hooked in.

Mere minutes later, the sensor team sat bolt upright, as if they had been shocked. "Captin, multiple hyperspace emergences at 012 by 362. Evaluate as two Kian-class armored cruisers, one Divad-class battle cruiser, and a large transport, class unknown. Updated to the main plot."

A few scant seconds later, the call came from the tactical officer. "We are being painted, multiple targeting lasers."

"Well, they wish to play? Set Condition One, battle stations." As the klaxon sounded again, Singh leaned forward toward the plot and addressed the chief gunnery officer. "Commander Khatib, you may fire when ready."
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
I really need to thank my old high school friend Bruce Norbeck for pointing me at two great books. Since Task Force Singh is drawing from WWI naval combat, he suggested I read "Dreadnought" and "Castles of Steel," both by Robert K. Massie. The first is an account of the rapid expansion of both the Royal Navy and the Imperial High Seas Fleet in an age where a ten-year-old ship was already hopelessly obsolete. Imagine the tech cycle we experience with computers, but instead of laptops, we're talking about heavily gunned ships carrying close to a thousand crew members.

From that book, I harvested a treasure-trove of characters and background details to set the action. Then I dove into Castles, which more about the conduct of the war at sea, and it was there that I found that one piece I had been missing.

See, what inspired me to write Task Force Singh was the pursuit of the Goeben and Breslau, two German ships sent to bolster the Turkish Navy. This led to a tense hunt across the Mediterranean as ships of the Royal Navy, not yet at war with Germany, tried to track the Germans and prevent them from reaching Constantinople.

Spoiler, they made it. And when the Russian ambassador to the Sublime Porte complained about two German warships in the Bosporus, he was told that these were, in fact, Turkish ships. See the crew in their (hastily issued) fezzes?

So while it's a great story, there's very little action. Beyond a few breakdowns and concerns about coaling, the two forces just watched each other. I was going to have ti invent action. Also, the reason for the Goeben and Breslau to travel to the Ottoman capital makes little sense in space, even with my restrictions on the duration and distance of interstellar flight. Those ships were there to deny passage through the Bosporus and Dardanelles to the Russians. I was going to have to stretch to find a local system that would work as such a choke point.

Which brings us to the other great chase I learned about in Castles of Steel. The German East Asia Squadron, based out of Tsingtao in Mainland China (know you know why Tsingtao beer is so good. Germans) found itself, as war loomed, in a very bad spot. Filled with older ships, surrounded by large forces of the Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy, and probably facing the fleets of Japan and Russia as well, staying put was an invitation to a quick death.

So they ran. Across the Pacific. Heading for South America to engage in commerce raiding. That is a long way to go in coal-fired ships, so they had to stop to coal at neutral ports, raided French Polynesia, and sent a cruiser to Hawaii to pick up the mail. One cruiser, SMS Emden, was too slow to accompany the squadron, so stayed behind to raid until sunk.

The East Asia Squadron was commanded by Admiral von Spee, who swore that he would fight until he ran out of ammo or was destroyed. Of the coast of Chile, he annihilated one British force before being decimated himself in the Battle of the Falklands.

Which means I can combine the two events. Task Force Singh starts as a small unit assigned to protect a small colony far from home. Upon war breaking out, they are ordered to hit and run, concentrating on merchants whenever possible, and try to make it back home. This gives me several more ships to work with, meaning I get to kill more characters! Yay!

It also gives me two, possibly three big battles. The one where the Vajra and company defeat a Peacekeeper force in detail, the one where he wanders into an ambush, and possibly one near the end, although I'm trying to avoid a death ride. I'm not David bloody Weber.

After the losing battle, the mood shifts to a pursuit, as the battered ships race for safety being pursued by the admiral sent to destroy this threat. Very high tension as the damaged ships see systems fail due to battle damage or the effects of travel in hyperspace, the surviving ships are overcrowded with survivors of lost vessels, and the strain of each entry into every new system rises every time.

I really like how this is shaping up. I just to sketch out some characters for the major ships, and at least name commanders, figure out the composition of the fleets involved, and I'm ready to start outlining!

This may actually happen!
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
I'm still deep in research and character creation for Task Force Singh and hope to have more concrete bits for all of you at some point soon. I've been dealing with some other issues that have kept me from being as diligent as I should be. Again, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

But I must admit that I've been pleased with the feedback I've been getting, and want to address some of the comments and suggestions I've received both on Dreamwidth and on Facebook. Let's make this a great ship and setting!

First of all, on further research, I'm changing something I stated earlier. At first, I didn't want ships traveling in hyperspace subject to detection by ships and stations in normal space. While reading multiple descriptions of naval combat in Castles of Steel, it's become clear that "spotting smoke" was quite often the signal for ships to rig for battle, or at least go to a higher state of readiness until the approaching ship or ships could be identified.

So now ships in hyper can be detected, but that detection is limited to the knowledge that there is something moving nearby in hyperspace. Extended observation can reveal a general course and measurement of speed, and in the case of multiple contacts, a rough count. But nothing beyond the roughest idea of size. At some points, three cruisers traveling together could present the signature of a single battleship.

While this ability is most important to solar systems for traffic control and the early warning of hostile craft, it also aides ships traveling as a squadron in station keeping. To keep the fog of war intact, this sort of detection isn't always available or certain. As with everything, distance equals loss of signal strength, so if the ship approaches a system far from the detectors, there will be little warning.

The same goes for ships in transit together. It is quite possible for a ship to wander "off the beam" and lose track of their squadron. Since warships travel under strict orders, it's entirely possible that a UN Destroyer, as an example, might not know the final destination of their group.

I almost used "flotilla" there. While I can transfer a lot of naval terms, that one won't fly.

A number of people asked about the Vajra's ship's mascot. While it's a fun idea, I'm vetoing that one. Hyperspace travel is harmful to anything that requires electrical fields to operate, including pretty much all forms of life that we know of. So it would be heartless to subject an innocent animal to the constant trauma of FTL flight, especially on a ship that makes runs of frankly dangerous distances at high speeds, two factors that increase the onset and severity of Hyperspace Adaptation Syndrome. Sorry, no space monkeys on the Vajra.

Nicknames. This one has come up a few times. Since Vajra means both thunderbolt and diamond, I'm thinking The Big Bolt. I'd love to connect to some Hindi speakers to find what a properly scatological nickname bestowed by the lower-ranking crew. I have a list of Hindi pejoratives to use when it comes to what the engineers call the engines, power plants, and all the damn things that break.

Ship's traditions. I'm open to suggestions. Just remember this is a ship of the Deep Space Fleet, under strict military discipline, operating in an environment where everything can kill you. So shenanigans should be subdued.

The Vajra was the first of her class to be built. Going back to the Dreadnought building war of the late 19th century, we can say that the Vajra was the first of her kind to be built. Perhaps it was a quantitative improvement in gravitics or fusion plant output that allowed for more heavy guns to be carried with more armor without sacrificing real-space acceleration or speed in hyperspace.

The real revolution in the Vajra-class was not installing Autonomous Attack Vehicle tubes and support in addition to the grasers. The Vajra was designed to be a brawler, built with ten 200 Gigajoule grasers in heavy two gun turrets, 12 108 Gigajoule graser turrets, and 12 64 Gigajoule rapid-fire grasers in barbettes. Devastating at close range, she has no long range punch. She was built to be the center of a squadron with other ships handling the AAV duties.

The changes were probably mostly cosmetic in the later hulls. No two warships are identical, and in her long life, the Vajra has probably been overhauled several times. The main difference between DSF Vajra and her newer sisters is the latest generation battlewagons will be bigger, faster, and carry heavier guns. Which is why at the beginning of the book the Vajra and her battle group are flying the flag far from the main action.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
A look at one of the major, if not the most important, settings in Task
Force Singh: The GNJ Vajra, hull number BB-3126. The leading ship of her class, the Vajra has been in service for twenty years and is now considered a second-line capital ship.

Vajra is a Sanskrit word meaning both thunderbolt and diamond. Additionally, it is a weapon won in battle which is used as a ritual object to symbolize both the properties of a diamond (indestructibility) and a thunderbolt (irresistible force). When it was first laid down, the new ship was the first of the big battleships to take advantages of improvements in materials technologies that allowed for heavier armor and more powerful weapons without sacrificing speed.

The ship is a slightly flattened cone 1,200 meters long and 500 meters wide at the stern. The interior decks are stacked perpendicular to the direction of thrust. There are 150 manned decks, which much of the interior space given over to power plants and munitions storage.

Beginning at the bow, you find a cluster of sensor arrays and the navigational deflector, a weak gravitational beam used to push dust and pebbles aside at high speeds. Attempts to ramp up this technology to a true deflector system able to push aside incoming penetrators have been unsuccessful, as the energy requirements are just too high.

Moving back, much of the forward quarter of the ship is given over to storage and docking facilities. The Vajra carries several shuttles, each able to move a hundred men and several tons of cargo between the ship and a planet's surface. The forward stores include fresh water tanks, replacement parts and raw materials for the machine shops, and enough dry goods storage to allow cruises lasting over a year. Also in this area are the ship's hydroponic gardens, which grow much of the food consumed by the crew. (Most Arjunans follow a mostly vegetarian diet, so fresh greens are vital.)

Behind this area, and clustered around the ship's core, is the main bridge and associated facilities. Senior officer quarters are found on these decks. The bridge itself is two decks high (roughly 4 meters) to allow for a large holographic display. Control stations are arranged in two tiers around this display, with the captain's station at the base. Just off the bridge is the captain's day office, a small mess mostly handling mid-watch snacks, and "crash rooms"; small spartan rooms for quick naps during extended operations.

Moving down the core, past a ring of fusion plants and magazines, is the main crew quartering areas. The Vajra has a crew of 258 officers and 7,740 ratings. The highest ranking petty officers and most commissioned officers get single accommodations. Junior officers and petty officers live two to a room, while the bulk of the crew live in six-man bunkrooms. Policy to mix-up the assignment of bunks so that crew working in different jobs live together. This encourages the cross-training the navy relies on.

The one and two man quarters enjoy private restrooms. The ratings make do with common showers and freshers. There are many mess facilities throughout the ship. As a rule, officers are encouraged to eat with the ratings as often as possible, to foster a sense of teamwork. There is a formal mess near the bridge for the senior staff. The mess crews compete to have the best food and cleanest facilities. They are not above sabotage in these competitions.

Also in the crew areas are the scattered medical facilities, with the main medical station being the equivalent of a small hospital. All the inhabited areas of the ship are built to be as open as possible. Wherever it is feasible, live plants are found. This not only helps with keeping the air fresh, it is a psychological boost as well. The crew is constantly urged to take the various classes offered while on a deployment, work to become cross-qualified in another technological specialty and strive to make their section the best on the ship.

Beyond another ring of fusion plants (the Vajra carries 36 plants in total) and more magazines for the ship's weapons, there are the engineering spaces. The Vajra uses four massive thrusters to maneuver in real space and has a powerful hyperdrive capable of hurling the ship at 270c if needed. In real space, the engines can accelerate the ship at a constant 1.8g.

That's a look at the insides of the battleship Vajra. Tomorrow, I'll write about the important parts, her armor, and her weapons, as well as dealing with the heat issues.

Folks, I really would like feedback on this. The Vajra needs to be a character, not just a name.
gridlore: A pile of a dozen hardback books (Books)
The title is half of one of my favorite Grateful Dead lyrics.

Went up to Half Price Books today, it what is probably the last load of decluttering books for some time. While waiting for them to tabulate my payoff, I wandered around for a bit.

Wandering the history section, I scored. My friend Bruce Norbeck had suggested two books for me as part of me research for Task Force Singh, "Dreadnought" and "Castles of Steel", both by Robert K. Massie. The first is a detailed examination of the people and events that shaped the naval arms race between the United Kingdom and the German Empire in the decades leading up the First World War.

It's an amazing read, as Massie takes the time to introduce to characters like Kaiser William II and Admiral Jackie Fisher as people. Indeed, the book spends more time on how the personalities of the movers and shakers interacting with each other shaped the balance of power in Europe. This style also gives great insight to these powerful figures as human beings. Otto von Bismarck was a brilliant statesman, but also a petulant, petty jerk. King Edward VII was pretty lost as a monarch, happily deferring to his government on almost everything. And Winston Churchill had the crappiest childhood you can imagine.

All of this is wrapped around the whirl of European politics in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870; the war that made the scattered German states into a single empire while causing the fall of France's Second Empire. It's really fascinating to see how England was stuck in the ideal of the Splendid Isolation, secure in the knowledge that the Royal Navy was a bulwark against any invasion. Even as the age of sail began to fade, the hide-bound traditionalists of the Royal Navy clung to sail. It took true revolutionaries and mavericks to drag the navy into the modern age.

In Germany, the Kaiser faced a similar problem. German had little coast line and limited access to the North Sea, so a navy had never been a concern. Besides, Germany's power was her armies. Vast, disciplined, and well led by a professional officer class, the Imperial German Army could crush any of her neighbors. Convincing the Reichstag to spend huge piles of marks on building battleships and improving the Kiel canal to allow them access to the North Sea was the work of years, and involved no small amount of dishonesty and gambling. Several times, the Kaiser ordered ships to be laid down before the funds had been approved, and then presented the assembly with a fait accompli.

All in all, a fascinating read. But as long one, and quite dense. I've already had to renew the books once, and the Santa Clara library never guarantees endless renewals. "Dreadnought" is almost a thousand pages long, and the next one is about the same length. But there's so much good material in here! I've already cribbed three characters, some setting details, and the casus belli that sets off the who plot.

Since these are library books, I've taken to taking pictures of important passages that I want to remember and emailing them to my self. Rather clumsy, but it works. I tend to do most of my reading in bed lying down, so taking notes would be an act of some contortion, and even I can't read my own writing these days.

So these books must be returned, and possibly soon. Which brings me back to Half Price Books. As I said, I was wandering the store, glancing at this and that, when I spied the Ballantine Books paperback edition of "Castles of Steel", which is more directly on point for the style of warfare I'm hoping to describe in Task Force Singh. New, this book goes for $20. I got it for about nine bucks, which I just took out of what I got for the books I was dropping off.

Now I can highlight, margin note, and page mark to my heart's content! I can take time, reread important bits, and really digest the material. Because I really want the foundations of the novel to be as strong as possible. As I mentioned in my writing group this morning, getting the basics right makes the whole story sing.

My next step in laying that foundation, is to design the Vajra, the Arjun battleship that will be one of the main locations for the events of the book. I'll be using GURPS Starships for at least an initial pass on making the ship more a place than an idea, but will be working out details of the living ship. Because down properly, the ship can become a character in its own right.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
OK, some changes and expansions of the setting for Task Force Singh. I'm still building the state my main protagonist comes from (there are actually two protagonists in opposition to each other, but this is the guy I thought up first.)

The Beta Hydi system was settled roughly 300 years before the book's starting date by way of a huge colonization effort headed by India. The effects of climate change and the ravages of the Warpox epidemic was leading to mass famine. Volunteers from across southern Asia begged to be included in the mission. All told, over 5 million refugees were packed into colony ships and sent out.

The rigorous conditions on their new home, named Arjuna after a mythical hero, led to the creation of a strict hierarchy and a strong work ethic. Shelters needed to be dug and fitted out, vast hydroponic farms put into operation, and a million other details worked out. The colony thrived with an isolated oligarchy running things. For the Traveller players reading this, it was a Feudal Technocracy.

Power has concentrated in the hands of the Jagirdar; landed nobles who ruled through sheer economic power. The Jagirdar were the captains of industry and operators of the vast warrens of worker housing. As the colony grew to exploit both the resources of Beta Hydri and those of nearby stars, conflict among the Jagir houses grew to near warfare. To end this, the houses agree to elect a dictator and form a constitutional monarchy.

Today, the Arjun Samarjy (Arjun Empire) controls eight star systems besides the home system. The ruler, the Samrat (Emperor) has full executive power. Technically, the assembly of Jagirdar elects the Samrat; in reality the ruling Samrat appoints his eldest child at birth and the nobles approve it.

The Jagirdar meets as an upper house of the government, known as the Gomed Hol (Oynx Hall) for the chamber they meet in. The Gomed Hol serves mainly as an advisory body, producing little legislation, as its members tend to be busy seeing to their own holdings.

The people are represented in the Samsad (Parliament) which is based on population. Currently the Samsad seats 573 voting members and numerous non-voting observers from the colonies. Members of the Samsad are elected from regional councils, which are elected by the people. One of the greatest issues on Arjuna is the growing demand for direct representation and more regional power. The Samsad is considered to remote, with each member speaking for an average of 3 million citizens. The Samsad is where legislation is introduced, debated, and passed. The state operates on a theory of implied royal assent. When a bill passes the Samsad, it is held for three days after the Samrat has been informed of the bill's passage. After that thime, the bill is law. The Samrat has the power to veto any bill. This power is almost never used.

The Samrat is the head of state. The head of the government is his Chancellor, a post selected by the Samrat himself. The Oynx Hall has the power to refuse to allow the Samrat's choice for office, but it takes a super-majority and has only been invoked twice. The Chancellor is charged with appointing officers to the various ministerial posts and running the day to day operations of the state and government. Chancellors are usually chosen by the party with the majority in the Samsad, or by coalition vote. The Samrat is usually quietly consulted as well. Chancellors remain in office at the pleasure of the Samrat or until his party falls out of the majority and a new Chancellor is called for.

There are several parties in the Empire. The major players are:

The Imperial Expansionists. They support a strong central government and expanding the Imperial holdings. Currently hold a slim majority in the Samsad.

The Traditionalists. A conservative, religious party dedicated to returning to old Hindu ways and promoting religious unification under one faith. The more radical members want a return to the caste system. They are partners with the Expansionists in the current government.

The Unionists. Their main platform is full membership in the empire and full citizenship for those living on the colony worlds.

The Democracy Now Party. They demand the dismantling of the imperial state and full suffrage and free elections under a new constitution. The hold a small number of seats, but are quite vocal and vote as a solid bloc.

The Consolidationists. Bitter foes of the Expansionists, they advocate spending precious Rupees on building infrastructure and improvements in the territories already controlled by the state, and improving the lot of the citizenry.

The Isolationists. The fight defense spending and expansion tooth and nail. Once the strongest voice in the Samsad, they've lost dozens of seats over the years and are now a distant third after the Imperial Expansionists and the Unionists. Natural allies of the Consolidation Party, they break on several issues so a true union seems impossible,

More to come.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Naming things, characters, places, even entire stories, has always been the bane of my creative existence. If I were an artist working in a visual medium, you'd see a lot of "Landscape No. 12" and "Unfinished Portrait of a Chihuahua No. 3" hanging on gallery walls. It's just part of my existence.

A big part of the problem is that I've always had trouble remembering names. For as long as I can remember this has been the case. Unless that name was presented to me daily over a period of months, it would slip away. This even goes for things like schools I attended. So, faced with the need to name things for the novel, I try to take the easy route so I can focus on the important things like the plot and the tension caused by the game of blind chess the two commanders will be playing over dozens of star systems.

There are several tools at my disposal. For example, there are dozens of great websites that generate names for you from any number of cultures and races, real and fictional. Using one geared to naming conventions of the Indian subcontinent has allowed me to name both my protagonist, his wife, and a few other characters of note. Other crew names are more generic Indian. I don't worry too much about mixing northern and southern names, as these people have been living on a different planet for centuries. Things have most likely gotten blurred and mixed in that time.

Other non-Indian names are needed. Both for the characters who are part of Task Force Singh and for the opposing forces. As the main opposing force is a UN flotilla, I can draw inspiration from pretty much the whole spectrum of human names. My main antagonist, for example, is a Zulu. I can use several generators to quickly name the critical characters and even the minor ones and the spear-carriers with ease. A few of my favorite name sites even allow you to select how odd you want the name to be. Very helpful.

The system Task Force Singh is going to be trying to reach is a failing set of Chinese-settled worlds, so I'll need to do research on Cantonese naming conventions. I'm trying to get it right. They are in a situation analogous to the threat faced by the Ottoman Empire in terms of the Russians, so I may make that threat a Manchurian interstellar state that is also facing instability, and wants the traditional shirt, victorious war to prop their government.

Finally, last year when we were fund-raising for the Istanbul trip, we promised to Tuckerize people who pledged at a certain level. I still have that list, and those names will be used, never fear.

Personal names are pretty easy, so long as you do the research to make sure you're getting the naming conventions for each language right. Things, however, open a whole new can of worms. Take ships.

Ships are kind of important in a military science-fiction novel about a tense set of fleet actions. Sadly, the Indian Navy doesn't really have the kind of names I could steal. More research is needed. Searching on Hindu legends and gods, I find Vajra. Vajra is a Sanskrit word meaning both thunderbolt and diamond. Additionally, it is a weapon worn in battle which is used as a ritual object to symbolize both the properties of a diamond (indestructibility) and a thunderbolt (irresistible force). Perfect for the first of a new class of battleship! Which gives me the theme for the rest of the fleet, heroes and legends.

For the UN force, I've already identified the battleships as the Continent-class. Starting with Earth's continental masses, later builds would use land forms from UN-controlled worlds. I've also made it clear that a class of heavy missile cruiser is named for large cities. I can follow the naming conventions of the US and Royal Navy here for convenience.

Now worlds. Doing Beta Hydri was pretty easy. The first three worlds, small and unusable, I wanted to have whimsical names. So I cam up with Mongoose, Cobra, and Rat, all eternally chasing each other. For the others, I picked great leaders and martyrs of the Indian independence movement. So far, so good.

But I wanted something special for the main world. I picked the Hindi translation of "New Home" as a placeholder. I'm still mentally working out how this place was settled, so the name might reflect a challenge of or hardships. Given how I described it, I might look to see if there is a famous system of canals in India to name the planet after. But what ever happens, New Home is probably changing.

Lucky for me, most of the action will take place in systems with little or no population, so I'm good there. Fewer planets to name.
gridlore: The word "Done!" in bold red letters. (Done!)
The setting for my novel is really starting to gel nicely. After much searching, I've finally settle on where the main character hails from. As I worked, many details about the planet, it's culture and history, and the form of government came together.

I had originally wanted to put my system in Epsilon Eridani. But that was soon discarded. The system isn't right, and far too close to Earth for my purposes. E.Eri might show up as a setting for some important scene or the other, or just be discarded. What I ended up with was Beta Hydri, a type G2 IV star some 24.33 light years to our Galactic south. A very old system, with on;y 500 million years left before expansion and death, but time enough for humans. It's much brighter than our Sun, and as I generated it, has eleven planets.

The first three are airless, tidally-locked rocks all within 1 AU of the star. They are named Mongoz, Kobara, and Chooha (Mongoose, Cobra, and Rat.) There is occasional mining and scientific operations, but the tiny worlds are pretty useless. Moving out, all the worlds except the main world of the system are named for heroes from India's fight for independence from Great Britain. Lakshimbai is a sub-Jovian world with a small family of moons, and is the headquarters of the Hydran Navy's operational arm.

Naya Ghar (New Home) is home to the bulk of the system's 7.9 billion residents. Slightly smaller than Earth, with .77g of gravity and an atmosphere 1/5th as dense as ours, the surface is nearly half water, with the planet carved into a series of landmasses separated by channels and small seas. There is life, mainly in the oceans. Land forms are mainly plants and smaller animals. There is considerable evidence that the world once had a thick atmosphere for a long period.

Cities are a combination of underground warrens and sprawling surface facilities. Going outside on a summer's day requires a respirator and emergency oxygen supply. The days are 18 hours long, a year is 2.13 standard years. or 1,037.6 local days. Older cities tend to be named for Indian cities on Earth, while newer settlements are named for local terrain features.

Naya Ghar has two moons, both of which are in fairly distant orbits. Their tidal forces are relatively weak, with the exception of those times when their orbits cause them to exert a tidal pull on one side of the planet. "Flood days" are a well-known phenomenon and are seen as part of life on the shores of the many waterways.

There is an ongoing effort to terraform Naya Ghar. Working with the powerful firm Planetary Development Incorporated efforts have begun to thicken the atmosphere in hopes of reaching double the current pressure with an oxygen level that would allow people to walk outside freely. Critics point out the amazing diversity of life already on the planet and the probability of this life being destroyed.

Next out, at 2.78 AU, is Khan, a small Mars-like world wracked by near constantly dust storms. Virtually worthless, it has become home to a colony of Punjabi Sikhs who tired of the Hindu majority on Naya Ghar. Despite near poverty, the colony has become something of a tourist destination and the Hydran military has a strong Sikh component.

The next four worlds are all large gas giants, all with smaller than normal sets of satellites. Chandrasekhar, Bismil, Lahiri, and Bhagat all support vibrant Helium-3 scooping and refining operations. The system's hyper-limit as at 11.04 AU, between the orbits of Bismil and Lahari.

Finally, the is frozen Bahdur, 41.4 AU from the sun. A sub-Jovian, Bahdur has been judged as too distant for economically feasible scooping operations. It has become the main training ground for the Imperial Hydran Navy due to, in the words of one Admiral "It has plenty of worthless rocks to blast into worthless gravel." The planet and it's immediate surrounds are marked as off-limits to unauthorized vessels.

The central star, Beta Hydri, is either called Hydri or just Ravi (Hindi for "Sun") by the residents. As most of the population lives in sealed cities and rarely see the sky anyway, the name doesn't matter to them much anyway.

The system's population is primarily from the Indian subcontinent. After the spasms of the mid-21st century and the Warpox plague, reducing the excess population of India became vital. Later waves of immigrants came from North America and Central Asia. Hindi and English are the languages most spoken, with Hindi being the official language of the state.

Tomorrow, the Great Hydran Empire! Or the Mahaan Haidraan Saamraajy (The Raj, to most people.)
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
We meet my hero, two brothers who will be a big part of the "below decks" plot, and a truly evil (to snot-nosed midshipmen, anyway) Crown Warrant Officer.

"The ship should be shaking."

The comment wasn't supposed to be overheard, Aman Singh realized. It had come in one of those rare moments on the Vajra's bridge where everyone had paused for breath at the same moment. Smiling, turned his command couch to face his very junior aide.

"Shaking as the guns roar out bolts of lightning to pummel the fierce space pirates? As the heroic captain -- that would be me I suppose -- rallies his crew with a stirring speech while waving his laser cutlass around?" Aman chuckled. "Sorry, Lieutenant Metz. I read those same books when I was younger. The reality is that if the Vajra is shaking, we have some very serious problems."

Aman glanced down at the repeater mounted on the left arm of his couch. Their target, an ancient freighter refitted as a target drone was on it's last legs after getting pounded by the big grasers for more than two hours. Time to finish this exercise. With a little change in plans he thought as he stroked his beard.

Aman touched the all-hands button on his display. "Attention. For the remainder of the exercise, Sublieutenant Metz has command. Captain Singh out." Unbuckling his restraints, Aman stood and offered the command position to the shocked young officer. Aman noted that whereas the lad had been pink with embarrassment a few seconds ago, he was now an alarming shade of white.

"There's nothing to it, Brendan," Aman said quietly as he helped with the straps, "pick one turret to finish the target off, listen to the targeting crews, and give the order to fire. You did this in the Academy simulators, you can do it now."

Even though Metz was taller than his captain by a double handful of centimeters, he seemed to shrink in the couch. Then, swallowing hard, he spoke up. "Turrets one and three, cease fire. Turret two, continuous fire until further notice." Confirmations quickly showed up on the command screens. "Helm, please keep turret two in optimal firing position. Guns, range to target?"

Commander Kapur, obviously amused by being addressed in such a familiar way by a man twenty years his junior, replied in a perfectly professional tone. "Captain, range is just over six light seconds. Targeting in the main tank." The holographic display in the center of the bridge went from showing the general tactical situation to a detailed look at the target, still driving to reach the hyper limit. Ahead of the target drone was a multi-hued teardrop showing where the ship was likely to be when the graser bursts reached the vicinity. At the center, stretching from the rear tip to near the middle was the cool green of highest probability. Around that as yellow fading to red as the targeting computer and the human operators evaluated what their opponent was capable of in terms of maneuver and acceleration.

Evidently pleased with what he had seen, Metz tried to nod knowingly before fumbling briefly with the communication panel. "Turret two, you may fire when ready." Aman shared a grin with his executive officer at the gunnery station. At least the boy's voice hadn't cracked.

--

"Well, did'ya hear that? Sounds like your brother has seized control of the ship!" Crown Warrant Officer Nigel Linnet cackled evilly. He always sounded evil, Midshipman Morgan Metz though gloomily. His Middie cruise was not nearly as fun as he hoped it would be. He continued staring at the Secondary Turret Control panel like it contained the secrets of the universe.

"Well now, since Captain Metz" another chuckle from the depths of hell "has given us the honor of blasting that junk pile into very small pieces, it seems only fair that I continue your education by giving you command." Linnet was now the model of formality. "Mr. Metz, what are your orders?"

Morgan sat speechless for a very long second. Before Linnet could begin one of his training speeches, Morgan remembered what to do. As he began to work, he remembered that he was supposed to explain what he was doing at every step.

"OK, targeting display is up. Based on previous data and range, I'm placing the shots here," he said, using a stylus to mark the desired target point, "and locking the guns on that." What next? Right! "Both chambers show good cans loaded, system primed, all boards green." He picked up the old fashioned hand microphone. "Clear the bay for firing." Down below, the gun crews moved to their shelters, signalling the control booth when everyone was clear.

Morgan reached up for the pistol-grip trigger above his head, pausing to look at the CWO. Linnett gave the bare hint of a nod. "Firing," Morgan said, and pulled the trigger hard.

Inside the turret, there was the slightest hint of a rumble as fusion explosions took place in both firing chambers. Inside each of the canisters, the tremendous energy released by the explosions was channeled and focused by precisely formed rods until most of the energy was in the form of gamma rays flying down the barrels, where the energy was compressed and focused even more by gravitic generators. An outside observer would have noticed a brief purple flash from the muzzles as the guns fired.

Six seconds later, the twin bolts reached the target hulk. Two blasts of 200 gigajoules each turned to heat when they impacted, ripping the already weakened ship apart even further. High temperature ceramics shattered, steel vaporized, and more of the ship's infrastructure was melted to slag.

"Good hit!" Linnett chortled. "Now we do it again, yes?" The gun crews were already making sure the next two cans were in place and safely sealed. Morgan ran through the procedure two more times, only needing to be reminded once to make sure the crews were clear, before getting the ceasefire from the bridge.

"You did good, Mr. Metz. We killed an enemy of the Coalition. Or at least pretended to do so." Morgan allowed himself a smile. "But next time," Linnett said thoughtfully, "next time I think I disable the targeting repeaters. Make you figure it by hand. That will be fun, yes?" Morgan groaned and buried his face in his hands. The man is evil. Pure evil. Over Linnett's laughter he could hear his brother standing the ship down from battle stations. Of course Brendan got to sit on the bridge and give orders. He was so lucky!

--

"Captain, we are secure from battle stations and have resumed Condition 3 cruising. No damage or injuries to report. Is there anything else, sir?" Brendan tried to keep from sounding like he was pleading. Thankfully, Captain Singh was in a merciful mood.

"That will be fine, Lieutenant. I have command. Good job, your first command and it was the Vajra! Now, if you will be so kind, I'm having a small dinner for senior staff, please make the arrangements and layout my undress uniform, Dismissed." Brendan acknowledged the orders and moved to the lift station as fast as he could without running. All he could think off as he pushed his way down the zero-g tube was his annoying little brother running Turret 2. Loading cans, pulling the trigger, and not having the entire command team plus the Captain staring at you while you worked. He was so lucky!

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