Oct 26 2008
Larry Niven has his Known Space, Jerry Pournelle has the CoDominium, Poul Anderson the Polesotechnic League and Christopher Anvil the Interstellar Patrol. Great authors, great backround universes for stories. I’m not comparing myself with these authors — perhaps when there’s a sufficient body of my published work out there somebody else will (and not too unfavorably) — but I do have what I think is an interesting universe for a series of stories.
T-Space, short for terraform (or terraformed) space is a little different from the above. I’m looking at the early days of human interstellar exploration, the above writers are looking at fairly well settled places (with some exceptions that Niven sets earlier in Known Space). It’s about a century from now, humanity has discovered how to build a warp drive (we already have the theory, seriously), although it has limits, and when we get out there we discover that somebody has been there before — planets around many of the stars we reach have clearly been terraformed, and all of them about the same few tens of millions of years ago. And then they left. We have no idea who did the terraforming or why. Theories abound, of course, but there’s little real evidence. There is evidence that one or more starfaring civilizations have at least passed through the area not too many millenia ago, but again — at least as of the early T-Space stories — they don’t seem to be here now.
The limits on the warp drive make for interesting constraints. They’re fast — about 500 times lightspeed, which will get you to Alpha Centauri (Sawyer’s World around a Cen A, Kakuloa around a Cen B — and I’ll talk in more detail about the astronomy elsewhere) in just over three days — but there’s an upper limit on size, which limits what you can carry, including fuel, so there’s both a size and range limit. Most ships tend to be small.
Because cargo is limited, and because some of the technologies which make warp travel possible also make energy rather cheap, there isn’t a huge basis for interstellar trade; the colonies tend to need more of what Earth can provide than vice versa. One exception is the trade in alien artifacts. Many of the terraformed planets have or have had at one time some level of intelligent species, reaching neolithic tech levels. There’s a booming if largely illicit business in alien archeological relics. There’s a similar, not quite so booming but far more illicit trade in exotic pets and plants, and occasionally chemicals extracted therefrom. (The market is time-limited, once they figure out how to synthesize it, the imported stuff is too expensive. See Warren Hammond’s enviable debut novel Kop, set in his own universe, for what can happen to a planet after that.) There’s also a tourist trade, for the higher class of tourists. One thing there isn’t is faster-than-light communication except via ship-carried messages. No ansibles or hyperwave or subspace radio — we’re back to the pre-radio, pre-telegraph era of communication over long distances, which can make for some interesting situations. You can’t call for help.
As far as possible, the astronomy or stellar cartography of the T-Space stories is accurate. If I write that Verdigris, a planet around Delta Pavonis, is 19.9 light years from here and 16.5 light years from Alpha Centauri, you can trust those numbers. I spend a fair bit of time working out 3-D relationships between stars using the best data we have (as well as some great tools like Celestia for visualizing same). Of course, I have no way of knowing if there’s actually a planet matching Verdigris’ description orbiting Delta Pavonis, and indeed the rate at which we’re discovering exoplanets — planets around other stars — is a little scary in that any time now we could discover planets around Delta Pavonis, or any of the other stars mentioned in my stories, that would make that aspect obsolete. That’s an occupational hazard of writing “hard” science fiction; look at how much what we know about the Solar System has changed since the early days of Heinlein and Clarke. For that matter, Larry Niven’s first sold story was rendered obsolete by astronomical observation before it saw print (but they went ahead and printed it anyway, it’s still a good story, titled “The Coldest Place”).
In times to come I’ll be adding information here about T-Space; which planets orbit which stars, astronomical information about places mentioned in stories, technologies used (real or imagined) and so on. Come back and check it out.