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Elite Dangerous Lore : Hyperspace

Posted by on 11:49 am in Lore | 10 comments

This is one of a series of guides to the Elite Dangerous Universe. You can read the others here.

Hyperspace. Precisely how it works is something of a mystery, certainly by the time of Elite: Dangerous it appears to be part of the dual function ‘Frame Shift Drive’, operating in a mode which allows you to travel the, literally, astronomical distances between stars in just a few seconds.

But it wasn’t always thus in the Elite Dangerous universe.

Hyperspace was discovered in the 2200s. But it wasn’t until the 2800s that consumer ships began to take advantage of the technology in large numbers. Over the centuries hyperspace technology has been refined.

Circa 2800 AD – Faraway Jump (Hyperspace Type 0)

The original hyperspace systems that were made commercially available were known as the ‘Faraway’ Jump systems. It took centuries for the complex series of monitoring satellites, branch lines, stop points, and rescue stations to be built using sublight technology along the major routes. Ultimately these hosted hundreds of channels, ‘lines’ for ships to travel through.

The ‘Faraway’ jump system was noted for its complexity in operation, requiring extensive pre-jump configuration by station based “Faraway Orientation Systems Controllers” (FOSC or SysCon). Hyperspacing ships required external help to initiate the jump. They were known for a certain sensitivity in operation, with the dangers of a misconfigured jump being listed as ‘atomic re-organisation’ and ‘time displacement’. Unsupervised jumps were extremely dangerous.

It was around this time that the phrase ‘witch-space’ entered the Commander’s lexicon. Its precise origin is uncertain, but it seems to stem from the risk inherent in the early hyperspace technology.

Witch-space referred to the ‘corridor’ or ‘transit tube’ through which the hyperspacing ship travelled during the jump. Many traders of the time believed that witch-space was ‘haunted’ – by “the ghosts of the early ships that went in to Faraway, and didn’t come out again.” Certainly a large number of ships never arrived at their destinations, their fate unknown even today.

It is worth noting that Thargoid vessels were known to be able to ‘hover’ in witch-space, and ambush vessels in transit. Mis-jumps, due to poor calculations, were a constant worry for travelers in those times.

The system did have the advantage of a rapid transit time, the entire process taking mere seconds once the jump was successfully initiated. It was finally retired in 3122 and the complex support infrastructure was entirely decommissioned by 3125.

3125 AD – Quirium (Hyperspace Type 1)

By the time of the original game hyperspace travel was ubiquitous, though the equipment was bulky and smaller ships were unable to host it, having to be carried through the jump by more capable ships.

The ‘Faraway’ system had been retired in favour of autonomous mechanisms that could be triggered aboard ship with no external assistance.

At the time, hyperspace jumps were limited to 7 lightyears in any particular direction, requiring multiple jumps for even relatively short hops between systems. The mechanism had its own unique fuelling system, independent from other ship’s systems.

Those original hyperdrives were powered by a fuel known as ‘Quirium’, a fuel that was unique to the Galactic Cooperative.

Unfortunately the secret formula for the manufacture of this high energy density material appears to have been lost in the collapse of the Galactic Cooperative and the Quirium hyperspace technology became obsolete as a result. Rumours abound that Quirium fuel was reverse engineered from captured Thargoid vessels.

Unusual modifications to these systems provided rapid transit to other parts of the galaxy, some even claimed they allowed you access completely separate galaxies. Little is now known about these so called ‘Galactic Hyperspace’ units, though they were reportedly expensive and in short supply.

The system was similar in operation to the Faraway jump drive, with an equivalent rapid transit time measured in seconds.

3200 AD – Cloud (Hyperspace Type 2b)

With the demise of the Quirium based hyperdrive technology and the collapse of the Galactic Cooperative, hyperspace capabilities regressed somewhat. The Federation and the Empire possessed inferior technology which, whilst certainly more reliable and less prone to ‘mis-jumps’, was noticeably more pedestrian in performance.

Fuelled by common hydrogen, these jump systems often took many days to transfer ships between two points, sometimes up to an entire week. Pilots, crew and passengers were fortunately able to take advantage of the ‘StarDreamer’ technology introduced in 3145 to remove the tedium of long term spaceflight. ‘StarDreamer’ compressed time from the perspective of an individual, by slowing their metabolism, giving them the impression that time was passing far more quickly than normal.

These hyperdrive mechanisms scaled to the size of vessel they supported, in some cases requiring many tonnes of shipboard space to be consumed during installation. Various sizes (or classes) of drive were available, but ship size still limited their installation. Jump range was proportional to the size of the drive and inversely proportional to the mass of the ship. Hyperdrives ranged in size from the class 1 at 6 tonnes, to the enormous class 8 at 600 tonnes.

Ships also needed large reserves of hydrogen fuel to power the drives. This could be stored in the conventional cargo space, rather than the specialist fuel tanks previously required.

A variation on these hyperdrives was the ‘Military drive’. This provided a vastly improved jump range per unit of installed equipment, but with two major downsides. 1. The equipment was very expensive and consumed a specialist ‘military fuel’ and 2. The fuelling process itself generated a by product in the form of radioactive waste that was costly to dispense with, though nefarious Commanders would dump the waste in uninhabited systems.

A major disadvantage to this Type 2b drive technology was that the ship involved in the jump would leave behind a conspicuously visible hyperspace ‘cloud’ at both the entry and exit point from hyperspace. With appropriate technology these ‘clouds’ could be analysed and the destination or arrival point inferred. This gave the opportunity for faster ships to arrive at the destination earlier and ambush the slower vessel as it arrived.

These type 2b hyperspace mechanisms did have one advantage over the previous types however, jump ranges were extendable by class of drive, far exceeding the 7 lightyear limit. Ships were able to travel dozens of lightyears in a single bound.

In rare cases it was noticed that these hyperdrive mechanisms were able to take advantage of strange undocumented wormholes in space. It has been reported that jumps of distances of over 655 lightyears were achieved by judicious plotting.

Research into better forms of hyperdrive technology were underway throughout this period. One event stands out as particularly poignant. The Antares was a starliner fitted with a prototype fast hyperspace drive. It launched on its maiden voyage in 3251, but was lost on its inaugural hyperspace jump and never heard from again and no wreckage has ever been found. The loss of the ship, the resultant investigations and the application of safety recommendations as a result, delayed the introduction of the current hyperspace technology for many years.

As an historical note, Sirius Corp claimed to have discovered the wreckage of the Antares in January 3302.

3290 – Frame Shift Drive (Hyperspace Type 3)

In the late 3290s a fast hyperspace mechanism was perfected that immediately made the Type 2b systems obsolete. Jump times were restored to mere seconds, but the advantages of longer range jumps retained. This was based on the, previously discredited, fast jump system developed for the ill-fated starship Antares. By 3300 virtually all of the type 2b drives had been decommissioned, with the loss of a number of ship classes that could not be retrofitted with the new systems due to design constraints.

These new drives required large quantities of the element Tantalum as a raw material in their manufacture, causing something of a ‘Tantalum rush’ in the closing years of the 33rd century. This precipitated a number of hostile land grabs in systems where Tantalum was discovered or known to exist, including the well documented Reclamation of the Prism system by Lady Kahina Tijani Loren.

Jump ranges greater than 50 lightyears are now possible, and transit times remain within mere seconds. The result is that the galaxy has been dramatically opened up to explorers at much lower cost than before. The Frontier has been pushed back, and systems that used to be on the fringes of civilisation have found themselves in the suburbs of the Core Worlds once again. Trips that were hitherto considered impossible have now been achieved in relatively modest vessels. Notable journeys have included visits to the Sagittarius A blackhole and crossings to the far side of the galaxy itself. This technology has caused significant upheaval in the Core Worlds and the major powers, as the tactical situation with respect to the ability to deploy ships has dramatically changed.

In recent years it has been discovered that the Frame Shift Drive can be significantly enhanced by the injection of rare materials – a technique provided by various ‘engineers’ located around the core worlds. They can also be ‘supercharged’ by entering close proximity to the fierce emissions of White Dwarf and Neutron stars. Many organisations are researching frame shift technology. One such company, Meta-Drive, was recently acquired by Sirius Corp after financial irregularities. It appears the type 3 technology still has considerable development potential ahead of it.

Even after all this time, hyperspace is still not well understood. The witch-space tunnel that is traversed still hosts inexplicable lights and structures within it. It seems hyperspace will hold its mysteries and allure for centuries to come. Perhaps witch-space really is haunted…

Elite Dangerous Lore: The Thargoids

Posted by on 11:35 am in Lore, Progress Report | 28 comments

This is one of a series of guides to the Elite Dangerous Universe. You can read the others here.

The Thargoids need little introduction to those well versed in Elite lore, but not all players of Elite: Dangerous may be au fait with their complete background. What I have attempted to do below is summarise information on the Thargoids and set it in context within the known game Lore (Elite, FE2, FFE and ED). There is a lot of fan produced content on the Thargoids, and I have deliberately not referred to it here. What is below is, as far as I’m aware, established canon. I reserve the right to edit this if I’ve missed something, or new information emerges.

Summary

2850 – Unconfirmed suggestions that some kind of covert war was started with Thargoids, ostensibly by a trigger-happy Fleet Commander.
3125 – Thargoids alleged to be ‘ripping’ ships out of witchspace and destroying them. Thargoid ‘warzones’ widespread
3200 – Thargoids reportedly retreat from human occupied space for reasons unknown
3255 – Reason for Thargoid retreat was reported to be down to human-engineered ‘Mycoid’ virus which impacted their hyperdrive capability
3302 – Reports of curious wrecks of unknown vessels.
3303 – 8 sided alien ships rip CMDRs out of witchspace (hyperspace high wake)

First Appearance, the year is 3125.

captureIn the original game of 1984 the Thargoids appeared to be the classic villains of the piece, the indefatigable evil of the spaceways, plucking ships out of witchspace and despatching them far from the safe zones of human habitation. The year is 3125. The Thargoids make their first appearance in the original game manual, and are referenced as “Thargoid Invaders”. Later on we are informed that their “Captains have had their fear glands removed.” and are thus fearsome combateers.

An encounter in the original game was fast and brutal. You were lucky if you survived the experience. Thargoids ships were fast, heavily armed and deployed remote controlled ‘Thargons’ to supplement their fire power.

There were, reportedly, 50 war zones between humanity and this “insectoid” race. They were also believed to be able to “hover” in witch-space, ambushing human spacecraft whilst using their hyperdrives to travel between systems. It was speculated that they existed as a “group mind”. Thargoid spacecraft were large, swift and powerful with multi-axis symmetry. They had no obvious drive outlets as still required on human vessels, leading to speculation that Thargoids had mastered inertialess drive technology, otherwise known as the ‘spacedrive’. It appears that Thargoid technology was significantly more advanced than ours. In-game, Thargoids tended to ambush human players during hyperspace transits, pulling them out of witch-space and attempting to destroy you with no preamble. They attacked on sight. Throughout the original game it was claimed we were “at war” with the Thargoids. Incidentally, it is alleged that ECM technology was reverse engineered from captured Thargoid ships and many other technologies may have also been Thargoid derived.

There was also another race mentioned in “The Dark Wheel”, known as the Oresrians. These were portrayed as a peaceful offset of the Thargoids, but very similar in overall appearance, albeit with a warning to Commanders to “Check the thorax markings and the shape of the fourth joint on each hind leg before jumping to conclusions.”

75 years later. The year is 3200.

Curiously, by the time of the second installment of Elite (Frontier: Elite 2) the Thargoids appear to have retreated from human space almost completely. The only reported sightings of vessels within this timeframe were captured Thargoid vessels held at secret research bases across the galaxy. Other than these tantalising hints, it appeared that the Thargoids were gone. There was no record of them. They retreated from the war, they stopped ambushing ships. They had abandoned this area of the galaxy completely. We had no idea where they came from, what they wanted, where they had gone, or what they even looked like. They remained a complete mystery.

Another 50 years passes. The year is 3250.

Nothing new was heard of the Thargoids until the launch of the next game in the series, Frontier: First Encounters (FFE). Records indicate that the disappearance of the Thargoids might have been down to a covert operation undertaken by the Intergalactic Naval Reserve Arm (INRA). They had been infected by a virus and a particular type of virus at that. It was known as the ‘Mycoid’ virus, and it was produced by humans. The Thargoid hyperdrive technology was rendered useless (the virus attacked plastic polymers in the system) and there are indications that the Thargoids were also impacted, as their exoskeletons were composed of polymer like material. There were accusations that INRA committed genocide on the Thargoids. Regardless, the Thargoids disappeared. The report was dismissed as a conspiracy theory by leading political leaders.

53 Years later. The year is 3303,

Whilst alien wreckage had been spotted in various locations within Elite Dangerous, it wasn’t until January 5th that an encounter with an ‘live’ alien vessel occurred. Whilst it hasn’t yet been definitively confirmed that these new vessels are ‘Thargoids’, their similarity in behaviour, form and function to the old stories cannot be denied. Until otherwise refuted we can assume these ships are indeed ‘Thargoids’ of some type. Are they the traditional warlike Thargoids, the Oresrians, the Klaxians… or something else?

The alien vessel was able to interdict a human vessel directly out of witchspace (hyperspace high wake) and disable it. The alien vessel directed a beam of energy at the beleaguered human ship which appeared to move it backwards and possibly scan it. The alien vessel then departed, employing an unknown form of hyperspace technology, rotating rapidly as it did so.

What we know

  • Thargoids are insectoid and if it is true that they come from ammonia-based planets, their physiology is dramatically different from humans. For example, ammonia boils at -33 degrees C. Thargoids may well be acclimatised to temperatures far lower than humans.
  • Thargoids have demonstrated some kind of instantaneous long distance jump technology, which may allow them to move rapidly across the galaxy, across otherwise impassible rifts in space, or perhaps even between galaxies.
  • Thargoids can interdict vessels in Witchspace (hyperspace high-wake) and disable them at will
  • Thargoids are universally female.
  • Thargoids have been in space for ‘Millennia’.
  • The so called ‘war’ was likely a ‘skirmish’ from the Thargoid’s perspective. Thargoids are divided into more than one group. We know of the Oresrians and the Klaxians.
  • T. James official book “Out of the Darkness” gives the following brief (and only known canon) description of the Thargoids: “Low calibre weapons do no damage to Thargoids, even at point blank range. They have six ‘legs’ and two ‘arms’ and are strong enough to dismember a human with only their claws.”
  • Whilst their true technological capabilities are unknown, it is safe to say they are more advanced than humanity.

Signing off for 2016

Posted by on 1:04 pm in Progress Report | 2 comments

dsc_0107

Drew’s ZX Spectrum adorns his study wall, a little homage to those early days of computing in the 1980s.

It’s been such a busy year! When I entered 2016 I was putting the finishing touches to the second book in the Shadeward Saga, Exoneration and planning to start work on the third.

Since then my plans for the rest of the year were majorly disrupted (again!), by not just one but two new official books drawing the inspiration from halcyon days of the 1980s.

First up was Lords of Midnight, the epic game by Mike Singleton. I’ve been fortunate to be working with Chris Wild, who was responsible for the iOS and Android ports of the game and was a close friend of Mike Singleton.

Lords of Midnight was my second favourite game from those early days of computing. A game that showed real genius, flair and innovation in its design. An entire world, with characters, adventure and drama which allowed you to explore its every nook and cranny.

And the opportunity to work once more with Frontier Developments: David Braben, Michael Brookes and the rest of the hardworking team there to tell the story of Elite Dangerous and what its players have done since the game was launched back in 2014. Premonition is on its way.

I consider it a huge privilege to be working on both of these projects, though it’s often difficult and painstaking work.

I was there when both of these games were first launched. 1984. I played them both, unaware as a wide-eyed 14 year old that I was taking part in a bit of history, a very special formative time in computing history in the UK. The ZX Spectrum that my parents bought me in 1983 now has pride of place on my study wall, reminding me of how much I collectively owe the writers of those games and the designers of that 8-bit computer, with its 48k RAM, cassette interface and ‘high resolution’ colour graphics. Not only books, but a career in computing too.

But with both books in flight, I owe more nowadays to the fans of what I’ve written. I’ve been delighted with the response to my original Elite book, Reclamation. The fact that there is another book on its way is very much down to readers of that first book making a groundswell of noise and demanding that the story continue. You can very much thank yourselves that another book is on its way.

So many of you have said “It couldn’t be in safer hands.” Thanks for that. The fans made it happen and I’m very honoured to be asked to do it on your behalf. Rest assured I’m doing my very best to make sure it’s worthy of that trust.

Lords of Midnight? We’ll, if I didn’t have a reputation for making a good story out of a computer game, that likely wouldn’t have happened either. Thanks again. Those reviews you’ve left me? Gold dust.

Drew's original copies of Elite and Lords of Midnight

Drew’s original copies of Elite and Lords of Midnight

Whilst I am looking forward, embracing the new and ensure the stories are fit for the 21st century, it’s worth a moment to consider their origins back in the attribute clashing days of the early 1980s. I’ve been uniquely privileged to be able to contribute in a huge fashion to two formative experiences of my childhood. The 1980s were quite bleak in many ways, but here was escapism and adventure. Now, 30+ years later I’m able to put something back into both of them and, I hope, give some joy and fun to a whole new generation.

2017 should see both of those books available. After that… well, who knows what else may come my way. I will be writing and you can expect to see more high adventure stories from me. Quite what they will be though, I wouldn’t like to predict!

But for now, adieu. Thank you to all the support and encouragement, for all the emails, twitter and facebook mentions, the twitch and youtube streams, the interviews and podcasts. Thanks for all the creativity you have generated around my stories: the new factions, the fan-fiction and the forum debates for and against the ongoing story.

I wish all of you a very merry Christmas and a happy, adventurous New Year. See you in 2017!

 

It is nine score and four days since the writing began…

Posted by on 9:00 am in Progress Report | 4 comments

c_freehA year from now we will be launching the novelization of Mike Singleton’s epic game, the Lords of Midnight. Here at the Winter Solstice itself, it only appropriate to have a little bit of a status update. How are things going? Are we still utterly invigorated and confident that victory will go to the free?

In short. Yes!

Progress has been very good. We’re on track with the novel. I have been writing as fast as I can. Chris gets a version of this whenever I save it out, via the magic of Dropbox, and I thus get feedback on the new sections within days – very handy.

At the moment we’re sitting at just over 56,000 words. I’m aiming for a finished first draft in the order of about 140,000 words, so with a bit of deft calculator action that means we’re about 40% of the way through that.

The first draft is only half of the work though. There will be a second, third and probably a fourth draft. Editing isn’t nearly as much fun as the initial creative work, but an essential part of the process of turning writing into a finished novel.

c_wisehThere are no shortcuts here. Characters have to be checked for consistency, plot-holes eliminated, pacing, tension, dialogue and all manner of other essential components reviewed, adjusted and tweaked. It’s never really ‘finished’, but my personal litmus test is to keep working until I really find it a chore and I can’t stand the sight of it anymore – about then is when the book is ready!

As I mentioned before we’ve had to take a long hard look at all the elements of the story. Lords of Midnight was created in the 80s, but we’re now putting this together for an audience of fans from that time and new readers here in the 21st century. In the same way as a stylistic choices, enhancements and tweaks have been made to the original games in order for them to be ‘acceptable’ to modern gaming tastes on Android and iOS, we have had to consider how readers will respond to this story with modern eyes.

Diversity is a bit of a problem. The Lords of Midnight is unremittingly male dominated in its original incarnation, with a series of Lords who are superficially identical. In the same way that the Hobbit faced the challenge of differentiating between a collection of Dwarves, we have a similar problem with Midnight. We have solutions however!

For original players we have the challenge of writing a story which will entertain and delight, despite the fact that the players know the ending. We don’t want to change the established facts (in fact we can’t if we want to go on to write sequels) so we have to accommodate the known ending. There’s a danger that the book is a little too obvious. We’ve been working to ensure that is not the case.

c_feyhFor folks new to the story, we have to craft something that can be read without knowledge of the game. That means we need to introduce the magic of Midnight and the background to the races, the artifacts and the story to them. This needs to be balanced so it doesn’t slow the story down and doesn’t irritate those who do know the lore.

All this has to be done without destroying the magic of what Lords of Midnight is. We’ve also looked very carefully at what it is the differentiates Lords of Midnight from other games, from other stories. This quality is very elusive, but everyone who knows the game will notice if it isn’t there. We have to capture the essence of the game.

We think again…

So, it remains a challenge! We’re in good shape though. For the next few months we’re going to concentrate on editing up the work completed to date, so the word count won’t rise so quickly. I have to divert more of my time to the Elite Dangerous book that is in the works in order to ensure that is completed on schedule ( a schedule which is rather more aggressive!). Fear not though, Lords of Midnight will arrive as expected. I have never failed to get a book out on time and don’t intend to start now.

c_doomguardhSo here, at the darkest day of the year, the doom of the Witchking of Ushgarak is not yet at hand. His power waxes to its greatest extent and Midnight remains locked in snow, ice and fear.

Yet the moonstar flickers brightly in the easterly sky. Hope ripples through the people of the Free. The Wise stir in their towers and the Fey waken to snatches of new songs borne upon the winds.

Something approaches that was long ago promised and yet failed to appear. This time hopes will not be dashed.

Night has fallen and the foul are abroad. Dawn is still far away, but there is a glimmer on the horizon to the east.

For this time, a novel set in the Land of Midnight is utterly certain.

 

Roleplaying in the Elite Dangerous Universe

Posted by on 2:15 pm in Progress Report | 8 comments

Characters already exist, soon they will have faces too…

I recently had the privilege of being interviewed on Lave Radio after a gap of about three years. If you haven’t listened to it you can catch it here thanks to the wonderful Chris ‘Fozza’ Forrester.

We only had an hour or so, not much time to delve into the detail of the topic at the end. I’ve been giving it a little thought since.

Back in 2013 when I original wrote Elite: Reclamation I was aiming to produce a very traditional outcome. A book. A novel. A story. My original plan was simply to produce an ebook and I was mostly concerned with the quality of the story, paying homage to the previous Elite games, giving something back to the fan community (as it was then) and doing my best to look forward to what Elite: Dangerous would become. I hoped to write a book that Elite fans would look at and go “Yes, Drew nailed it.”

During the writing of that first book, I only had reference material, not the actual game itself, until very late in the process. I got the ‘Alpha’ drop of the game in the closing stages of editing and made a few changes as a result.

Many things happened in the following year. Fantastic Books Publishing raised the profile of my book and many others, turning them into paperbacks, hardbacks, special editions and audiobooks. This far exceeded my original plans.

But the story hasn’t stopped.

Whilst there are many fans of the original Elite games still represented in Elite Dangerous, I’m pretty sure that the overwhelming number of players today have joined the adventure since the advent of Elite Dangerous itself. They have embraced the background and features of the game and shaped how it has evolved since.

Back in 2013 there were no minor factions, no game communities, no reddit fora. Since then we’ve seen the rise of prominent youtubers, twitchers and facebook groups. Many player factions have their own websites and forums – there are literally hundreds. Today the expanse of subsequent activities that orbit around Elite Dangerous is enormous, certainly beyond my ability to catalogue. Some are funny and mischievous, others are deadly serious.

Elite: Reclamation has been available for two years now.

My initial aim was merely a good book!

I was quite overwhelmed with the response to my book at the time of launch, but the reaction to it and the characters within has only increased since. Reclamation was a point in time, but the story I told and the idea that it was connected to a game in which players could begin to tell their own stories… the sheer possibilities that transpired from that were beyond my imagination.

Which brings me to my topic.

I’m not talking about RPGs (RolePlaying Games). If you want that you need to check out Dave Hughes’ Elite Encounters. There’s another ED one in the works too, if it achieves Kickstarter funding in January.

No, I’m talking about players of Elite Dangerous role-playing in the main game itself. Not quite MMORPG, but I hope you know what I mean.

I knew of this activity, but the sheer scale of it hadn’t been obvious to me until I started work on Elite Dangerous Premonition. Until I started adding new GalNet articles into the canon of Elite Dangerous I hadn’t appreciated the sheer amount and enthusiasm the player base does have for the story and the content in the game.

Some player factions have completely ‘blazed their own trail’, others have taken up initiatives based on in-game events such as Beagle Point, Jacques Station and Colonia, others based around the scientific mysteries in the game, others forming around the major factions and some simply exhorted the virtues (or otherwise!) of PVP and PVE. Most gratifying for me is that there are dozens of player factions that have associated themselves with the events of my book and based their own fiction and roleplay upon it. The sense of community and shared ideals is palpable. There are too many to mention and to single out a few would be unfair, but I admire them all.

Blaze your own trail... and you have!

Blaze your own trail… and you have!

Thus the Elite Dangerous universe is now full of activity, characters, events and happenings which the players have created themselves which relate back to the book I wrote. These are not my creations, but they’re no less important than anything I have added. It’s hugely gratifying to me to see them come into existence and have a life of their own. Some work to further events from the book, some seek to destabilize or deliberately frustrate those efforts. Some ally themselves with the Elite Reclamation characters, some are openly hostile to them. Real drama, playing out inside a computer game.

I’ve been privileged to see player groups writing fan-fiction based upon Elite Reclamation and also see the in-game roleplay that these groups undertake. The enthusiasm and energy with which they engage with their own stories is remarkable and, for me, very humbling indeed. I’ve seen them attack Capital ships, work PowerPlay for and against, embargo systems, go on lengthy exploration trips… all because they care about the characters and mysteries I put into my original book.

I’m fortunate now to be in a position where I can return the favour a little. As these various groups interact with the story in the game, they continue to influence the outcome of that story, weaving new threads and nuances into the overall flow. Subsequent GalNet articles have had to be tweaked, or trashed/completely altered because of player interaction. Elite Dangerous Premonition will chart some of this activity (alas I can’t do anywhere near justice to it all!) and I hope lead to further roleplay opportunities. Even better, in some cases, player groups have been forced into morally difficult decisions with uncertain outcomes, unsure if they are the ‘good guys’ or not.

conversation

Player groups have been presented with morally ambiguous choices with uncertain outcomes…

In no way was this activity planned out, but it’s the sort of thing I hoped would happen. This truly is emergent gameplay, with more lore generated by these player groups than can (probably) ever be documented. To those who have created it I can only offer my admiration, respect and thanks  for the efforts involved. There’s no greater reward for a writer than to see your work built upon and expanded in all sorts of unexpected directions. This makes it endlessly fascinating to me, because some of the stuff that results is far better than anything that I would have come up with!

Many have said they’d like to see a film made of my book, or perhaps just based upon Elite Dangerous itself. I’d love to see that too, but in someways this is better. The story continues, it never stops. It’s happening right now, across different time-zones, countries and technical platform. It seems you really can’t stop the signal. 😉

I’m convinced this is something quite unique in both the writing and game-playing domain. I can’t think of another example where a game franchise has resulted in books which has then resulted in widespread player interaction with a story that then gets wrapped up in another book…

It’s weird, it’s wonderful (it’s causing me to pull my hair out at times)… and it’s thanks to the fabulous Elite Dangerous player community.

Right on, Commanders!

 

 

 

Thoughts on dialogue

Posted by on 5:39 pm in Progress Report | 1 comment

I’ve blogged before on some of the differences between sci-fi and fantasy. There are many of course, not least the source material itself and the sorts of rules and ‘laws’ which govern the two genres. There is overlap too, both deal with the ‘fantastic’ and pushing the boundaries of the imagination.

I’ve majored on SF to date, with my current WIP Lords of Midnight being my first major foray into the realm of fantasy. To squirrel down on the genre a little more, this is a form of ‘High Fantasy’, involving, as it does, the affairs of an imaginary world, featuring creatures and races native to that world. They are similar, but very different from our own.

Part of the tone of any story is the dialogue, the prose which the characters use to communicate with each other (and tell the story to the reader). In SF this is typically not so much of an issue unless too much techno-babble is employed, or a large number of conspicuously made up words are introduced.

In fantasy there is a tenancy towards ‘epic-ness’. Characters may strike a rather old-fashioned, perhaps even ponderous, tone in their style of speech, with the author hoping that lends a sense of occasion to the proceedings. Often characters will avoid contradictions (e.g. saying “can not” rather than “can’t”). Less familiar words such as “Verily” or “Yonder” may be employed. This may give a flavour, but unless you know what you’re doing it can come across as rather false and stilted, particularly to more modern readers.

Some of this depends on the ever changing arcs of fashion, with prose styles falling in and out of vogue depending on the views of fantasy panelists or reviewers.

It has also been argued that you can either write as if you are listening into to a conversion in that world, in which case employ the style of that world (medieval or otherwise), or you can argue that you are transcribing the dialogue for your reader, thus you should write in plain english. Is Shakespeare ‘best’ in the original prose, or a modern translation? It depends on your definition of ‘best’.

There’s also the problem of being true to source material. Take the Lords of Midnight  as an example. Here is a piece of dialogue uttered (said?) by a character from the second original novella “Doomdark’s Revenge”.

“I bid you welcome, sir, to the Forest of Dreams. Will you not tarry a while? ‘Tis a long and lonely road you follow.”

Now that piece is attributed to a young Fey girl, her age unknown, but assumed to be 18 or thereabouts. Clearly that’s not how a contemporary piece of dialogue would look for a teenage girl. That would be something like this…

“Yo wassup, you in m’forest man! Hanging out here? Where you been?”

Yes. I’m kidding. 😉 Straight forward English would be something like…

“Welcome to the Forest of Dreams, sir. Will you stay for a while? You’ve had a long and lonely journey.”

It’s the same message, but it lacks the sense of being in a feudal or medieval world and feels too ‘modern’. The trouble is, writing dialogue as in the previous example is rather long-winded and is fraught with the risk of ‘over-cooking’ it and may alienate some readers. Of course, if the readership expects that dialogue, they may be disappointed by the characters not speaking in the fashion to which they’re accustomed. Something of a catch-22.

For Lords of Midnight, I’m trying to tread a middle ground. The dialogue will have a little ‘epic-ness’ where I think it adds to a character’s personality and standing, or helps to drive the tension in a scene. By contrast, I will avoid ‘epic-ness’ when I deem it is unnecessary. My approach on these things, rather like description, is to use it as a garnish in the cooking, rather than mixing in great dollops of it, hoping the recipe works at the end.

It’s a difficult choice, but one the writer has to make on behalf of the reader. Needless to say I’ve given it some serious consideration for Lords of Midnight, conscious of both a traditional and modern readership.

It’s not at all easy, forsooth. 😉

 

 

Fantasticon Readings!

Posted by on 6:12 pm in Progress Report | 0 comments

Hi Folks,

A bit of a delay on the blog I’m afraid. Not only have I been rather busy with the prep for Fantasticon, writing the novels and the day job – I’ve also been off sick this week, which has put a bit of a crimp in my plans, and slowed down progress. However, I’m on the mend and should be back up to speed next week – though I’ve lost a bit of time and am now a little behind schedule.

Nevertheless, the weekend just gone was significant as I was able to launch my latest book, Shadeward: Exoneration and give exclusive readings of two upcoming books, the first volume of the Lords of Midnight and, of course, the Elite Dangerous novel, Premonition.

These were supposed to streamed live, but as is often the case with these sort of things, technical gremlins conspired against us. They have now been uploaded to youtube and will give you the benefit of hearing them at a much higher quality than on the day. 🙂

So, with no further ado. Here they are!

A jaunt to Jaques!

Posted by on 11:24 am in Progress Report | 11 comments

The Elite Dangerous Galaxy...

The Elite Dangerous Galaxy…

Being an astronomer I felt I had a fairly good grasp of the scale of the galaxy. It’s big. Bigger than that. Multiply what you’re thinking by 100. Square it. Times by PI… you’re still not there, trust me.

Suffice to say it’s beyond huge. The diameter of the galaxy is 100,000 lightyears, that’s pretty much 6 x 10^17 miles. That’s impossible to get your head around.

One of the best parts of the Elite Dangerous game is that it simulates the real galaxy with a remarkable degree of verisimilitude. Distant but recognisable stars and nebula are present. The gaps between the spiral arms are less dense with fewer stars, as you’d expect. There are different types of stars, depending on your location.

The distance is ‘real’.

Many explorers don’t need a reason to go venturing off into the galaxy. Many might give the same answer George Mallory did when asked why he climbed Everest… “Because it’s there.”

With the novel workload I don’t have too much time to play the game, but when I heard that Jaques station had been found earlier in the year, that a series of community goals had been arranged to repair the station and that a new community was beginning to form out there – a new ‘bubble’ – I knew I had to see it myself as it formed.

So I decided to go.

I could have asked FDev to teleport me out there for ‘research’, but that would be cheating. So I decided to make the trip myself. I needed to keep my main account in the vicinity of the core worlds for other reasons, so I new shiny Elite Dangerous account was procured and – after a little bit of circumspect rare trading – I had a reasonably outfitted Cobra Mk3.

Named after a real explorer (read about her here) the ‘Lady Jane’ was prepped at George Lucas station and painted in Canadian colours. I was born in Canada, so wanted to fly that flag for this trip. I wanted to use a Cobra for a few reasons. It’s big enough not to have to compromise too much and you can fit it out with a good exploration build. Mostly though, it’s the iconic ship from the Elite franchise and it felt appropriate to use it.

An exploration loadout was finalised. I only had limited cash so had to compromise. A 4A Frameshift drive was non negotiable, but other aspects of the ship were trimmed for efficiency and lightness. I retained a limited shield, but no weapons. I prevaricated on whether to take an extra fuel tank or an AMFU and decided on the fuel tank. For maximum range I forewent heatsinks too.  I spent money on the advanced discovery scanner and the surface scanner. Money was now tight, the best fuel scoop I could afford was a 4C. It would have to do.

Open mode all the way. 24 light years max range. 22,000 lightyears to cover, somewhere near 920 hyperspace jumps. Something like 25-30 hours of game time.

I set out on the 29th of August.

Departing George Lucas Station in the Leesti system

Departing George Lucas Station in the Leesti system

There were some remarkable sights along the way. Unscheduled, I came across an undiscovered T Tauri system only 1,500 lightyears out from Leesti and stopped for a little reconnaissance. T Tauri stars are non main-sequence variable stars that are very luminescent. They look rather desolate places in Elite Dangerous.

The Lady Jane in Orbit around a T Tauri star

The Lady Jane in Orbit around a T Tauri star

On the third day of the outing I rued my decision not to take heatsinks. The Lady Jane materialised ‘inside’ a star as it came out of hyperspace in a quaternary star system. Heat jumped to 140% and sparks flew. I managed to wrestle the ship out of range, but suffered 7% hull damage in just a few seconds. Modules took a battering too. Now I was lamenting the lack of the AFMU. No stations means no repair. If this sort of thing happened too often my ship was going to be toast long before I reached Jaques.

Retreating from a star with systems overheated. Too close a call.

Retreating from a star with systems overheated. Too close a call!

But I made the 1/3rd waypoint without further incident. This was the Eagle nebula. A familiar marker for Elite Dangerous explorers and home of the famous ‘Pillars of Creation’ Hubble space telescope image. It’s about 7,000 light years out from Sol. Many explorers had been this way before, I found no undiscovered stars in this region.

Arriving at the Eagle Nebula. 1/3 of the way.

Arriving at the Eagle Nebula. 1/3 of the way.

I voyaged straight through the heart of this nebula, finding a little cluster of bright white O type stars within. No time to stop though. This was just the first waymarker on the route and I had a long way to travel.

In the heart of the Eagle Nebula...

In the heart of the Eagle Nebula…

Then I ran into another problem. As I left the Orion arm of the galaxy, in which Sol lies, the stars began to thin out dramatically. With increasingly regularity I hit unscoopable stars, brown dwarfs for the most part. This is entirely correct astronomically speaking and shows the level of attention that’s been paid to the science in Elite Dangerous. The age of the components of the galaxy’s various zones are not the same – there are older and younger regions. That affects what stars you find out there and can present navigation challenges.

The skies around the ship were dark, the ship hard to see in the dim light. Only the occasional bright star broke the monotony. Now the additional fuel tank came into its own allowing me to continue on, but I had to make several detours to refuel which slowed down progress through this region. I was glad to leave it behind.

Cross the inter-arm void...

Crossing the inter-arm void…

Eventually I made it across though, only to bump into my first Neutron star. This was unexpected and chucked me out of Frameshift again. More damage, hull down to 91% percent and (worryingly) the Canopy down to 82%. Without v2.2 I didn’t even get the benefit of some new special effects! Still, it was a salutary lesson to review the route that was plotted. Each 1,000 lightyears was about 40 jumps and I managed to avoid a few other problems by checking in advance of jumping.

Not even the halfway point yet, but on the plus side, stars came back into view and I reached the next spiral arm, which I would proceed down until I reached Jaques.

The sky came to light once more!

The sky came to light once more!

And then I’d reached it! The halfway mark. 11,000 lightyears down, and 11,000 lightyears to go. It felt like a massive climb to get this far, but psychologically I felt a little bit more optimistic. I’d learnt how to plot more efficiently and safely and the ship was running well. I felt confident I could keep going.

I reached the halfway point on the 28th of September. A month after setting off.

I reached the halfway point on the 28th of September. A month after setting off.

But confidence is a fickle mistress. It was shortly after this I encountered my first blackhole of the trip. The crushed remains of a giant stars, blackholes are merely a tiny point in space, but their gravity is so strong they can distort the light that passes around them, giving them a strange effect when seen against the backdrop of the galaxy. This one didn’t cause any damage as I spotted it because of the gravitational lensing effect, but had it been against the blackness it would have been much harder.

This was a moment in the game when I genuinely felt my stomach clench. It was *scary*. The game doesn’t do anything with the gravity (perhaps in a future release?) but cautiously approaching the blackhole in frameshift, seeing the milkyway distort around it as it grew closer and knowing that such a strange object was out there was tense. I enjoyed the experience, but was glad to leave it behind!

A cautious approach to a Blackhole!

A cautious approach to a Blackhole!

Another nebula was growing ahead of me. The Skaude Nebula. This one is procedurally generated, but no less pretty for that. It’s another well known marker on the way to Jaques, and well worth a visit.  There are a number of blackholes and neutron stars in the vicinity.

The Skaude Nebula.

The Skaude Nebula.

Then the sky around me began to brighten considerably. The further on I went the greater the effect became. I was entering a region where the density of stars was increasing dramatically and most of the stars were O or B type stars, very bright and distinct. If only we had skies like this on Earth!

This would be an amazing night sky.

This would be an amazing night sky.

I encountered some amazing vistas along the way. Here is a ringed brown dwarf star in orbit around a bigger O type star. The ring system was almost three times wider than the one around Saturn in the Sol system.

A close inspection of the rings, with the Milky Way behind.

A close inspection of the rings, with the Milky Way behind.

There were also more mundane locations, the fiery light of a Red Dwarf and an asteroid field.

It was cold... and there was kind of atmosphere!

It was cold… and there was no kind of atmosphere!

The trip proceeded without further incident. I reached the 2/3rds mark on the 5th of October. Somehow it started to feel like a downhill run after that, with 7,000 lightyears remaining.

The 2/3rds mark.

The 2/3rds mark.

And then… as just a faint smudge in the distance, the Colonia nebula finally came into sight. With a bit of time on my hands I had a chance to make the last few thousand lightyears in a single stint. It was October 13th, seven weeks after I’d set out. I gave a heads up to the Colonia network that I was on the way in and hoped for the best.

Destination in sight!

Destination in sight!

I was quickly contacted by two familiar Commanders who were already at Jaques. CMDRs Stephen Usher and Kerrash need little introduction and CMDR Kerrash headed out from Jaques towards me to provide an escort. We rendezvoused about 1,500 lightyears out. There was a palpable sense of relief in seeing another ship for the first time in weeks. The galaxy felt a little smaller for a moment.

Meeting up with CMDR Kerrash

Meeting up with CMDR Kerrash in his Asp Explorer.

Rendezvous complete we headed on in, the Nebula growing before us.

Approaching the Colonia Nebula

Approaching the Colonia Nebula

With the wonders of social media, twitch, discord and the like, news of my arrival seemed to have spread. I started receiving messages indicating that a few folks would be turning out at Jaques station to welcome me in. Some warned that I might be griefed as a result, but that’s par for the course. It’s Elite Dangerous after all…

Then with a final wing-up, I arrived at Jaques station with Kerrash and Stephen Usher in escort. 22,000 lightyears of travel and adventure concluded.

The Lady Jane arrives at Jacques station.

The Lady Jane arrives at Jacques station.

But there was one final surprise. The good folks of the Colonia Citizen’s Network had turned out in force to welcome me in. After a little difficulty with instancing, we managed to make it work. Ships were chaffing and boosting all around. I felt very honoured to be part of this adventure in a distant part of space, having been part of this brave new outpost far out into the core of the galaxy.

My welcome at Jaques' station from Colonia Citizen's pilots.

My welcome at Jaques’ station from Colonia Citizen’s pilots.

I wasn’t able to note down all the names – please leave a comment below and I’ll credit you all. But they made me feel very special as I arrived, even giving me a station welcome in lieu of Jaques not having a ‘voice’ yet. You can see the twitch stream of my arrival here.

What did I learn from the trip? It’s a long way, and not for the faint hearted. At times it was very boring, at others nerve-wracking. There are risks out there, the unexpected… there is beauty too. Exploration is harsh on mistakes. Seeing a nebula appear in the distance and then travel through gives a great sense of voyaging into the unknown. Jaques station is located in a very pretty part of the galaxy.

I didn’t find anything particularly unusual on my trip, no strange artefacts or lost civilisations, but it did give me a renewed respect for all the explorers out there and for the awesome scale of the galaxy. And, it was fun.

The Lady Jane resting after her long trip

The Lady Jane in the hangar at Jaques, resting after her long trip.

I made around 8 million credits upon selling the exploration data, taking my new commander directly from ‘Mostly Aimless’ to ‘Pathfinder’ in one hit. The ship was repaired and I decided to swap out the fuel tank for the AFMU and stock up on heatsinks.

My next plan is to visit the neutron star fields nearby and then head to the core and visit Sagittarius A. Then it will be back to Jaques for repairs before heading out to the edge. There’s a patch of the galaxy that’s been nicknamed “Wagar’s reach” – it would be rude not to go there…!

Now I’d better get back to the book and… well… write on, Commanders!

Exclusive readings

Posted by on 11:49 am in Progress Report | 2 comments

Elite Dangerous : Premonition - Summer 2017

Elite Dangerous : Premonition – Summer 2017

Alongside the writing of a book there are various other bits of work that have to be conducted. Building awareness of an upcoming novel doesn’t start the moment you finish writing it. If you’re smart, you plan that sort of stuff much earlier and get it going before the novel is even a ‘thing’.

Book readings are one such way to give folks a taste of what your book will be about and conventions are an obvious place to do this. There’s an audience of people who are already very much interested in the topic and are keen to hear about the latest news whether it’s game, book, film, or anything else.

Fantasticon is a case in point. This convention celebrates Fantasy and Science Fiction, and incorporates the gaming side of things. This year there are rumblings of some very special hologrammatic technology being debuted. It’s so secret I don’t know anything about it, other than that it is supposed to be very cool indeed!

I’ve done book readings before, some involving live acting! This year I have three books on the go – one being launched and two others in progress. Both of the latter are game tie-in novels, so I’m hoping to reach out to the fans of the game with what I’m doing.

It’s no secret that I’m working on the new Elite Dangerous novel. Due next summer, Premonition is already well underway. As this belongs to Frontier Developments rather than me, I’m not at liberty to just promote it any way I like as I did with Reclamation. Thus a reading has to be approved by them and any audio visual stuff to go alongside has to be vetted and approved. On the flipside, as the official Elite Dangerous book, it means I can, potentially, use official material once that has been agreed.

So, my little announcement? I’ve been working hard on this with Frontier and am delighted to be able to say that it was all approved this week. That means the first reading from Elite Dangerous: Premonition will take place at Fantasticon 2016, so convention attendees and those watching via streaming will get an exclusive preview of the new Elite Dangerous book. It will be backed up by audio visual material as you’ve come to expect from me. I’ll ensure it’s available offline after the event. I think you’re going to enjoy it!

While we’re on the subject of Elite Dangerous: Premonition… how is it going? Very well, thanks! I remain on target, though I haven’t pushed ahead of it as much as I would like. It’s a complex beast this time around and with many ‘live’ strands currently inflight it makes it much harder to write than anything I’ve attempted previously. The first draft is going to be very ‘bitty’ which will mean a considerable editing job when I get to the end in March or thereabouts. My target this week was 33,000 words. I’m currently sitting at 33,208!

I’ll also be giving reading of my two other books.

The Lords of Midnight - Temporary Cover

Lords of Midnight – Winter Solstice, 2017

Lords of Midnight is well on the way as well, passing 33,614 words this week. I’m currently working on a major battle scene (which is another ‘new’ thing for me, requiring a bit of thought on how to put it together). First light on this novel will also occur at Fantasticon and I have a reading planned which will give fans of the game a flavour of the story I’m writing, but also introduce the concepts to those who haven’t heard of it yet.

Lords of Midnight is far more straightforward to write than Premonition as it has been planned in detail from beginning to end.

Exoneration MediumAnd my own novel, Shadeward: Exoneration, though already on sale, which be officially launched at Fantasticon. I’ll be doing a reading from this as well. Hopefully most of you are aware of this series and it’s been good to see it’s been well received online thus far. With two more books to go, I have my work cut out for the next few years!

So three readings are coming. Looking forward to seeing as many of you at Fantasticon as possible – it’s going to be very exciting indeed!

The beginning of the War

Posted by on 4:26 pm in Progress Report | 2 comments

The War of the Solstice begins!

Oddly enough, this blog post title seems to fit both the current projects rather well!

Starting with the Lords of Midnight, I’ve just completed the first section of the book, which is the part which takes place prior to the start of the War.

Aficionados of the original game will recall that you played the game from the morning of the Winter Solstice and everything was measured from there.

With the book, I’ve gone back a little before this, to show the build up to these events. This gives an opportunity for a bit of character development. Who was Luxor beforehand, what about Corleth? What were the relations between the Fey and the Free like prior to the war? And so on.

There’s also the chance to touch on the background lore. The Moon Ring, what was it and how did it come to be in Rorthron’s keeping? All of these things were alluded to in the original game and novella, but only briefly. This time we get to see a bit more about it. So under Chris’ watchful eye I have been expounding on this. The ice-fear has been unleashed and we see the impact of that first hand at ground level. The battle lines are drawn.

As of today I have completed that section and thus the War of the Solstice has truly begun!

The Empire and the Federation seem to be on the brink…

Meanwhile, more than a thousand years in the future, another battle seems set to break out. It may not be a war yet, but the forces of the Federation and the Empire are certainly squabbling over territory in the Pleiades sector.

Various blockades have been set up and players have been encouraged to work on behalf of the two dominant superpowers.

Strange alien spacecraft wrecks have been found and intrigue occupies the thoughts of the populace across the galaxy.

Against this backdrop, players are also making their marks. I have had a busy time keeping up with the various aspect of the story which are being influenced by the players, there are quite a lot of them!

Often this turn up in unexpected areas – CMDRs just doing their thing. Just recently there was an unexpected fuelrat rescue and an accidental altercation with an Imperial Interdictor from a passing journalist which impinged on the story. These are great little additions, and not on my ‘planned’ list, though they are exactly the sort of things I hoped would happen.

There have also been some excellent player submitted GalNet articles, which are altering the story as players decide have to react to events, big or small.

I’m still writing a little behind the ‘current time’ (ie. September 3302), but hope to catch up with ‘now’ in the next month or so.

sci-fi-vs-fantasySwapping between the two genres has been quite interesting, but not as difficult as I feared. I have yet to make a mistake and have a Cobra Mk3 magically frozen in an avalanche of ice, though I suppose there’s still time. What I tend to do is have what I call a ‘Lom’ day and a ‘Leet’ day, that separates the two projects in my head quite well. I also tend to re-read the section I recently completed in order to get me back into the ‘world’.

In terms of word count, both stories are approaching the 1/5 mark in terms of a first draft. With some of the background out of the way and the stage set, the action can now commence. Though I started Midnight first, my weekly target isn’t as high as Premonition, as the later project has an earlier completion date. So don’t be alarmed when Premonition overtakes Midnight in the word count stakes.

For reference my weekly ‘Leet’ target is 3,500 words and ‘Lom’ is 2,300. This may get tweaked depending on how I do. Thus far, both projects are a little ahead of schedule, but it’s still 5,800 words a week, which is a university dissertation every fortnight, nothing to be sneezed at!

It’s what I do though, so don’t worry. If I run into difficulties I will advise and seek encouragement.

However for now…. Right on, Commanders… and victory goes to the Free!





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