Friday, July 25, 2014

"Annulus," a Habitat in Space

            A wonderful part of reading science fiction is encountering the vast imaginary constructs set in space:  the wheeled space stations, the hollowed-out asteroids with living environments inside, the Ringworlds, the “tankworlds,” the spidery structures and huge pods nested in a lace of metal trusses. 
            My own contribution is “Annulus,” from my novel The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes (published by Dog Star Books).  It’s not an easy object to picture, and because I’ve had a few requests, I want to give here the visual diagram I myself put together to get an idea of the proportions and shapes involved.  First, here are the relevant descriptive passages out of the novel: 

. . . Shaped like the outer edge of a shallow dish, the ring-shaped surface of the habitat rose 15 degrees from its inner rim, whose diameter was 260 kilometers with the outer rim at 380, producing an area on the upper surface almost that of Wyoming back on Earth. It was composed of a circle of accelero-gravity plates that interlocked and produced attraction fields. 
            . . . the red outer rim was exposed desert and the yellow ring beneath it prairie grass. The gravity plates allowed water to flow toward the center of the ring, so rivers ran into blue lakes and dark-green forests encircling the inner rim. In those lower sections, mists laced the trees and melted into the central cavity, which lay black except for a flattened bowl in the center, slightly below the ring proper and connected to it by transport tubes. The soft rim of watery fog, where the gravity faded and wisps floated in gossamer sheets, resembled a fringe of blue aurora. 
            . . . if you looked from a ship that flew above the ring, the habitat resembled an opal circle of concentric colors with a round gray spot in the center. And if you were an astronomical historian, you’d be reminded of the old color-saturated photographs of the Ring Nebula taken from Earth, before they found the cloud’s shape was really a doughnut surrounding a football. 

The Ring Nebula comparison should give away the visual immediately, but getting the tilted angles right might be difficult from just the words.  So I drew up two “views,” one from directly above to show the entire ring, and one from the side with a cutaway.  From the side you’d see only the gray latticework that’s underneath the ring, but the cutaway shows the full-lit interior.  The side view also gives the angle of the surface itself, plus the transport tubes dropping down to the disk where the spaceport was located.  (Later in the book, the six spokes are said to follow the 15-degree slope of the ring surface and that the central shield is 20 kilometers wide.)  

            The drawing is crude (and there should be some blue lakes in the green area) but I hope the visual provides a helpful alternate perspective on the descriptions in the book.  Creating the habitat was a fun process of literal “world-building,” though it took a while before I settled on this particular version.  The habitat went through a series of possible shapes that included a bowl, a torus, a fat extended lens, a “sail,” and even a bottle-like black-holed surface pulled inside out (which would have been impossible to describe). 
            I did have a narrative requirement too:  I needed something worthy of the appreciation of my hero, a reason for him wanting to live there—I couldn’t have a “man who loved alien landscapes” shacking in some crowded claustrophobic tanktown.  It had to have room, color, a sense of openness and “landscape,” and a big inspiring aesthetic grandeur. 
            I hope that’s what I got in this final simple design.  The setting is used in only the first third of the novel, but in some ways I regretted leaving it for the “real” planets. 
            See (and hear, taste, touch, and smell) more of it in the novel itself.  The nearness of the “filmy, globulous, and much too active young star” adds drama to some of the backgrounds. 

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