Friday, November 23, 2012

A Story

The Trues had conquered Ceres, the Koronis Emirates, and half a hundred lesser kingdoms and republics, and as they began to probe the defences of Mars the Czarina dispatched twenty of her paladins to search for the armill of one of her ancestors, which was believed to augment the wisdom of its wearer and control secret caches of powerful weapons and squads of shellback troopers from the long ago.

After adventures in the deserts and mountains of the red planet, fighting bandits, dust ghouls, and rogue gene wizards and their monstrous offspring, the paladin was riding through the trackless forests of the Hellas Basin when she discovered a circular lake with a slim, bone-white tower rising from its centre. As she approached the slender bridge that arched between shore and tower, another rider came out of the trees and challenged her: a rogue paladin whose armour, like hers, had lost its devices and beacons to battle-damage and sandstorms. They drew their vorpal blades and spurred their chargers and flew at each other. Their chargers bit and mauled each other and collapsed; the paladins fought on into the night.

Sparks and flames from their clashing blades lit up the lake and the tower, and the red rain of their blood speckled the stones of the shore. Both were grievously wounded, but neither would yield. At last, the paladin dispatched her enemy with a killing thrust, but when she wrenched off his helmet she discovered that he was her own brother. As she wept over his body a man dressed in black furs appeared. He gathered her into his arms and carried her across the bridge, into the tower. She glimpsed the armill, a slim platinum bracelet set on a bolster inside a crystal reliquary; then its guardian carried her down a spiral stair to a basement room, stripped off her damaged armour, and lowered her into the casket of an ancient medical engine.

When the paladin woke, she was hungry and thirsty, and very weak. The room was dark, the stairs were blocked by rubble, her armour was gone. After she clawed her way out, she discovered that the tower was in ruins. There was no sign of the reliquary and its guardian, and the lake was dry and the forest all around was a wasteland of ash and charred stumps.

She had been asleep for a century.  Mars had fallen to the Trues. The Czarina and her family were long dead; her battalions and her ships were destroyed or scattered. The last paladin dug up the grave of the brother she had killed, put on his armour, and went out into the world and waged a long and terrible war against the conquerors of Mars. She was a fierce and relentless enemy, driven by remorse and guilt. She killed everyone who pursued her, including five suzerains, and raised an army of brigands and sacked the ancient capital. But nothing could atone for the mortal sin that had derailed her quest. When she and the tattered remnant of her army were at last cornered in the Labyrinth of the Night by five squadrons of elite shock troopers, she died with her dead brother’s name on her lips.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


So I turned in the edited manuscript of Evening's Empires on Tuesday, and discussed the changes I'd made with my editors yesterday. As usual, I'd done rather more than fix glitches and inconsistencies they'd spotted -- it takes me a year to write a novel, and then it takes me three months to fix and polish it.  It's scheduled for publication on July 18th next year, twenty-five years after publication of my first novel with Gollancz, Four Hundred Billion Stars. I am as old as dirt.

I have been planning something for that 25th anniversary, by the way, with the help of the good people of PS Publishing. More about that soon.

Meanwhile, I'm researching the background of a story:
The interior of a Lun class ekranoplan;
Tropical kit worn by Russian naval officers;
What the topography of Venus would look like if its surface was cool enough to support liquid water;
Carboniferous megafauna . . .

I've been doing what amounts to homework for almost three decades. That hasn't got old, not at all.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fast Stars

Supernovae are very violent events.  Very very very violent events.  Burning for just few days, a supernova emits as much light and other radiation as the sun will emit in its lifetime; so much light that it briefly outshines the combined luminosity of every other star in its galaxy.  There are two basic types of supernova: the first is triggered by the collapse of a supermassive star; the second by the reignition of nuclear fusion in a white dwarf star.  White dwarfs are the remnants of stars of average mass that have used up their hydrogen and, because the heat of fusion processes is no longer countering gravity, have collapsed into dense spheres of electron-degenerate matter and are slowly radiating away their stored energy (more massive stars collapse into even denser neutron stars).  But if a white dwarf is orbiting close to a companion star it can draw off and accumulate material until a runaway carbon fusion process ignites and destroys the white dwarf.  The properties and luminosity of these supernovae, called Type 1a, are so uniform that they can be used as standard candles to determine the distance to the galaxy in which they briefly flare.

But sometimes, like a misfiring firework, Type 1a supernovae sputter out before they reach peak luminosity.  A new computer simulation model suggests that these failed supernovae contain multiple ignition points that expand the white dwarf too quickly and prevent full detonation of the star.  Instead, there's an asymmetric explosion, something like a rocket jet.  The kick of this explosion could, apparently, accelerate the white dwarf to speeds of hundreds of kilometres per second, enough to rip it out of orbit around its companion star, or even to turn it into a hypervelocity star travelling at a speed that would enable it to escape from the Milky Way.  Imagine weaponising a supernova, turning a white dwarf into a bullet of electron-degenerate matter with the mass of the sun . . .

And if that isn't weird enough, it's not the only way that hypervelocity stars can be created.  Stars orbiting close to the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way accelerate as they swing around it.  Here's a neat simulation of the actual stars tracing their orbits:

If a multiple star system swings too close to the black hole, one of its members could gain enough momentum to escape its orbit, and zoom away at high speeds.  When I wrote about this in Eternal Light, back in 1991, this was just a hypothesis. Since then, the Hubble telescope has spotted a massive hypervelocity star heading out from the galactic centre at some 2.6 million kilometres per hour, three times the sun's velocity as it traces its orbit around the galaxy. You really don't need to make it up . . .

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Edge of Infinity

Just as I send the edited manuscript of Evening's Empires via the ether to my publishers, the doorbell ring ring rings on this damp darkening November afternoon - it's the Fedex guy, delivering my author's copy of Edge of Infinity, an anthology of stories about the next stage in the space age.  Edited by Jonathan Strahan, it features a baker's dozen of stories by a knockout selection of stellar authors, and, er, me:

  1. Introduction, Jonathan Strahan
  2. The Girl-Thing Who Went Out For Sushi, Pat Cadigan
  3. The Deeps of the Sky, Elizabeth Bear
  4. Drive, James S.A. Corey
  5. The Road to NPS, Sandra McDonald & Stephen D. Covey
  6. Swift as a Dream and Fleeting as a Sigh, John Barnes
  7. Macy Minnot’s Last Christmas on Dione, Ring Racing, Fiddler’s Green, the Potter’s Garden, Paul McAuley
  8. Safety Tests, Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  9. Bricks, Sticks, Straw, Gwyneth Jones
  10. Tyche and the Ants, Hannu Rajaniemi
  11. Obelisk, Stephen Baxter
  12. Vainglory, Alastair Reynolds
  13. Water Rights, An Owomayela
  14. The Peak of Eternal Light, Bruce Sterling
All the stories have their own take on what it might be like to live out there, in the rich, diverse and dynamic Solar System revealed by several generations of robot explorers, from the Pioneers to Cassini-Huygens, New Horizons, and Dawn.  My story, 'Macy Minnot's Last Christmas on Dione, Ring Racing, Fiddler's Green, the Potter's Garden', is a little tale of ordinary life set in the Quiet War's solar system, several decades after the war and its aftermath described in The Quiet War and Gardens of the Sun.  It's the beginning of a long golden afternoon in history, with peace on Earth and in the heavens, and humanity spreading into the Solar System and heads out towards exoplanets circling near stars.  And a civil servant in Egypt receives an invitation to her father's funeral in a little settlement on Saturn's icy moon Dione . . .
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