Bodacious Space Pirates

Let’s just get this out of the way. When I first saw the title “Bodacious Space Pirates” and the Blu-ray cover on a website, I thought this might be the kind of anime that creepy old guys watch with the shades drawn and the lights down low. Fortunately, being a fan of space pirates, I took time to learn a little more and discovered several positive reviews of the series by women. It turns out this is actually a fun space opera about a high school girl in the future, living on a planet orbiting Tau Ceti who has inherited the captaincy of a pirate ship, the Bentenmaru, from her long lost father.

bodacious-space-pirates In this world, space pirates are a holdover from a war in the distant past. They’ve mostly been forgotten by the time our protagonist, Marika Kato, is in high school, but they still exist, largely to perform courier runs or entertain posh passenger liners with mock pirate raids. Two members of her father’s pirate crew have come to watch over her at school and begin her training as the new captain. In her life as a high school student, Marika is a member of the school yacht club, who have an old solar sailing ship they can use to travel around the Tau Ceti system. As a member of yacht club, Marika begins learning many of the skills she needs to be a ship captain.

The pirate ship Bentenmaru operates under a letter of marque that will expire if the ship doesn’t go on any missions for a period of time. Because of that, Marika’s crew guide her by the hand on her first few missions. On one of the early missions, a princess stows away and asks Marika for help tracking down an ancient ghost ship.

My only real criticism of the show is that its meticulous plotting leads to a few episodes where little happens besides Marika learning new skills. However, this also solves one of the biggest criticisms I have of the 2009 Star Trek by J.J. Abrams, which is how in the world are we expected to believe talented but inexperienced Jim Kirk is given command of the Federation’s best ship right out of the academy? In this case, we have a reason for Marika being given a command despite her inexperience and we follow her as she gains experience, knowledge and confidence.

As a science fiction fan, I’m often on the lookout for good shows to share with my daughters. Of course, one of the downsides of classic science fiction, Star Trek included, is that it’s very male-heavy in the presentation. My daughters have never seen that as implying that exploration and adventure are things only for boys, but still, it’s nice to see a space opera where most of the cast are women and girls. In fact, what this show reminds me of very much are the “Boy Scout” novels of Robert A. Heinlein, except instead of boy’s adventure, this is girl’s adventure. And there are a few cool boys along for the ride include the helmsman, mechanic, and security chief of the Bentenmaru. So boys need not feel left out of the fun! Despite the mini-skirted school uniforms, there’s nary a fanservice shot in this anime, making it appropriate for pretty much all ages.

So, I’ve been watching the series with my 14-year-old daughter who loves it. When I asked her what she thought of the title, she told me it sounded like a fun, space pirate adventure with girls and just the kind of thing she wanted to watch. So much for my first impression of the title. It seems to be just right for the series’ target audience after all. The series is free to watch on Crunchyroll and you can buy downloads of the English dub on iTunes.

Las Cruces Comic Con and a Birthday Sale

Next weekend, I’ll have a table at Las Cruces Comic Con in my home town of Las Cruces, New Mexico from September 9-11, 2016. I’ll be selling my novels plus copies of recent anthologies I’ve been in. New products available this year include my novel The Brazen Shark and the anthologies Gaslight and Grimm, The Martian Anthology, and Gears and Levers 2. I’ve also been thinking about a special autumn giveaway to hold at the convention to whet people’s appetites for The Astronomer’s Crypt.

LC-Comicon-Logo

The guests of honor this year include: Seth Gilliam from Starship Troopers, Teen Wolf, and The Walking Dead; Casper Van Diem, from Starship Troopers and Sleepy Hollow; plus I’m excited to see that Camille and Kimerly Kitt, the Harp Twins will be performing this year. If you’re in Las Cruces next weekend, I hope I’ll see you at Comic Con! You’ll find me at booth E23 in the Exhibitor Hall.

LACHESIS PUBLISHING SALE POSTCARD 2

Also, this month, Lachesis Publishing celebrates its 11th birthday! All of their books priced above 99 cents are on sale for 50% off. This includes two of my science fiction novels.

The Solar Sea The Solar Sea tells the story of humanity’s first voyage through the solar system aboard a solar sail spacecraft. As it turns out, solar sails are real technology that organizations such as NASA and the Planetary Society are testing now. In my story, the Quinn Corporation discovers particles orbiting Saturn’s moon Titan that appear to travel through time. They build a solar sail to investigate these particles, which could have strong implications for humanity’s future. On their way to Saturn, they stop off at Mars and Jupiter and find clues that humanity may not be as isolated as SETI scientists have led us to believe. Author Nicole Givens Kurtz says, “The Solar Sea captures the thrill, threats, and theories of exploring the unknown. Summers does what explorers have done for centuries, inspire us to look beyond our own backyards out into the vast possibilities of our imaginations.” All month long, The Solar Sea is only $1.49 at Lachesis Publishing.

Heirs of the New Earth In Heirs of the New Earth, Earth has gone silent. John Mark Ellis and the crew of the Sanson are sent to investigate. When they arrive, they find vast alien machines known as Clusters in orbit. Fearing the worst, they land and discover that the once overcrowded, polluted Earth has become a paradise of sorts. The problem is over half the population is dead or missing and the planet’s leaders don’t seem to care. As Ellis works to unravel the mystery, sudden gravitational shifts from the galaxy’s center indicate something even worse is in the offing. Author Greg Ballan writes, ” A warning to every reader…block off a good chunk of time, pour your favorite beverage and sit down in your favorite comfort space. Once you start reading, the story jumps out and grabs hold, drawing you into a world one thousand years in the future where mankind has spread across the universe, contacted other intelligent life and colonized new worlds.” Although this is book three of a series, it is designed to stand alone. You can pick it up for $1.49 for the entire month of September.

If you do want to get the entire series, the first book, The Pirates of Sufiro, is Free at Lachesis Publishing while the second, Children of the Old Stars, is 99 cents. That’s a three-book series for just $2.48!

Going Back to the Classics

martian-anthology This week saw the release of The Martian Anthology edited by David B. Riley, which includes my story “Arachne’s Stepchildren.” The story imagines that the crew of a Martian colony discovers dangerous microbial life in an underground cavern. The supplies they need to study and possibly neutralize that life are coming aboard a solar sail from Earth. However, something has gone wrong with the spider robots that maintain the solar sail, hence the title of the story.

A lot is made of coming up with the idea for science fictional stories, but in this case, the science fictional ideas all came together rather quickly. I knew I wanted to tell a story about Martian life. I’ve loved the idea of solar sails ever since I first heard about them in the 80s and The Planetary Society’s LightSail Project had me thinking about cool uses for small, unmanned solar sails. What eluded me for a while in this story wasn’t the science fictional idea, but discovering what the characters learned about themselves in the story. In this case, Greek Mythology turned out to be a great source of inspiration.

One way of making the fabric for solar sails is to weave very light fibers together. Because of that, I had the idea of little nano “spiders” that could be deployed on solar sails to repair them en route. They would extrude and weave new reflective sail material. That sent me to the story of Arachne, most famous for winning a weaving contest with Athena. However, Athena proved to be a sore loser and turned Arachne into the first spider. That story didn’t quite mesh with the tale I was telling, but another story about Athena did. That was the story of how Athena adopted the son of Gaia and Hephaestus and raised him to be the first king of Athens. To see how I weaved that legend into the story, pick up a copy of the anthology at Amazon. In addition to my story, you’ll find great stories about Mars by such writers as J.A. Campbell, Sam Knight, Carol Hightshoe, and Nicole Givens Kurtz.

Grimm-tales

In addition to the release of The Martian Anthology, the Kickstarter for Gaslight and Grimm also went live this week. This is a very exciting project for me, since fairy tales are near and dear to my heart. I talk about that in detail in an interview I did with eSpec books. Also, there are some awesome people associated with the project including Jody Lynn Nye, Gail Z. Martin, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Christine Norris, and Jeff Young. I’ve been a fan of the Grimm Brothers’ faerie tales since I was a kid and I gained a deeper appreciation during my college days when I read “Little Snow White” in the original German. When Disney’s Snow White came out on DVD, I was inspired to buy the complete German language collection shown here. This collection is special to me because it not only has the stories, but the Grimms’ notes about the stories.

My story in Gaslight and Grimm is called “The Dragon and his Grandmother” and I started the story by translating it myself from the German. This helped me get very familiar with the tale, which then allowed me to re-imagine the characters in a steampunk reality. You’ll also find steampunked retellings of “Little Red Riding Hood,” “The Three Little Pigs,” “Cinderella,” and the Baba Yaga legend. I look forward to reading it. If you haven’t supported this project, please drop by the Kickstarter page and giving it some support. Only $5.00 will get you the ebook plus there are lots of bonuses at higher levels. If you have supported the project, thank you!!! The Kickstarter has been live for less than a week and we’re over halfway funded. Still, we can use any additional help. Even if you have pledged, take another look, maybe there’s something that can entice you to another reward level, or maybe there’s an add-on gift you’d like. Let’s help this project fly!

Science Fiction Titles 25% Off Today – #AReBlast

All my science fiction titles at OmniLit are 25% off today to celebrate the first day of summer!

SummerBlastbanner

This post will give you links to those books they have available. I hope you’ll add one or more of my books to your summer reading list.

The Solar Sea

The Solar Sea A new energy source is discovered around Saturn. The Quinn Corporation builds a solar sail to investigate. Along the way, they discover humans may not be alone in the solar system. Get it at:
https://www.omnilit.com/product-thesolarsea-184660-235.html

Children of the Old Stars

Children of the Old Stars A disgraced starship captain, an alien warrior, and a cult leader go on a quest to learn about a mysterious space vessel that destroys everything in its path. Get it at: https://www.omnilit.com/product-childrenoftheoldstars-90549-245.html

Heirs of the New Earth

Heirs of the New Earth Captain John Mark Ellis must race against time to free the Earth from invasion and stop aliens from altering the structure of the galaxy itself. Get it at: https://www.omnilit.com/product-heirsofthenewearth-183797-235.html



My vampire titles are also on sale! Visit the post at the Scarlet Order blog for a list of titles and links to them.

Steering Solar Sails

Deby Fredericks asked how to steer a solar sail. The short answer is you do so by turning the sails just like a sailboat. In some solar sail designs, the sails simply rotate on their masts. This was the design I went for in my novel, The Solar Sea. Below is an illustration of the solar sail Aristarchus from the novel by Laura Givens. Each of those sail petals can rotate on its mast 360 degrees. If they face the sun full on, they get the full benefit of light pressure. If you turn them 45 degrees, you’ll alter the course of the ship. If you turn them 90 degrees from the sunlight, you won’t get any acceleration.

Aristarchus Sail Array

Some solar sails like NASA’s forthcoming Sunjammer have little triangular extensions of the sails. Those are the parts that turn in that design. The idea is that induce a little roll to the craft, which allows the whole thing to turn.

Sunjammer Sail

Now, we can also look at the way a solar sail might accelerate out of an orbit. A good way to think about solar sailing is that it’s like sailing in water, but where gravity acts like a current and light pressure acts like wind. A body in orbit around a planet or other body is perpetually falling and an orbit is an ellipse.

solar sail orbit

In the case of a solar sail, if it turns its sails to face the sun when it’s at the top of the ellipse, it’ll get a little boost of acceleration away from the sun. Then if it turns its sails out of the sunlight as it comes around to the part of the orbit closest to the planet, it won’t slow down again. When it reaches the top of the orbit it can turn the sails toward the light again for another boost. In this way, each successive orbit gets a little higher and higher until your solar sail is where you want it, or it achieves escape velocity.

The Solar Sea

You can learn more about The Solar Sea at TheSolarSea.com. There you can see lots of Laura Givens’ cool concept art from the novel. For fans of The Pirates of Sufiro and its sequels, you can also get a look at the Rd’dyggians and the Titans. My novel The Solar Sea is available at:

Solar Sails in Science Fiction

From_the_Earth_to_the_Moon_Jules_Verne

As promising—and romantic—a technology as solar sails are, it’s perhaps not surprising that they have found their way into fiction numerous times. Perhaps the first mention of the idea of using light to propel a spacecraft is in Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon. In Verne’s novel, a giant cannon is used to send a spacecraft to the moon. However, Verne writes that such a projectile has limited velocity. “Is it not evident, then, I ask you, that there will some day appear velocities far greater than these, of which light or electricity will probably be the mechanical agent?” asks Verne. The thing is, Jules Verne was right on top of the scientific achievements of his day. He knew that James Clerk Maxwell had recently discovered that light exerts a pressure on objects.

Lady Who Sailed

Compelling as this idea is, it seems that no one pursued it further until an engineer named Carl Wiley wrote an article for Astounding Science Fiction in 1951 about how solar sails could be built in orbit and used for space travel. The article was called “Clipper Ships in Space” and was written under the pseudonym Russell Saunders. This article influenced more than one science fiction writer. The first was Cordwainer Smith who published the story “The Lady Who Sailed The Soul” in Galaxy Magazine in 1960. The story was mostly about the romance of two characters, but it also does a fairly good job of describing a solar sail spaceship.

The next appearance of a solar sail in science fiction was in Pierre Boulle’s novel Planet of the Apes in 1963. To quote from the novel: “In those times, interplanetary travel was commonplace, though interstellar ventures were still an exception. Rocket ships would take the tourists to fabulous locations on Sirius or the finance people to the stock markets of Arcturus and Aldebaran. But Jinn and Phyllis, a wealthy and free couple, were known through the Cosmos to be young originals, with a bit of craziness, and they would cruise through the Universe just for the fun of it—with their sailcraft.” Boulle then goes on to describe the craft: “Their ship was a kind of sphere with a shell—the sail—made of amazingly thin material, and it would move through space, just pushed by the pressure of light beams.”

Boys Life Sunjammer

A year later, Arthur C. Clarke published the story “The Sunjammer” in Boy’s Life Magazine that told the story of seven solar sails racing from the Earth to the Moon. This story in particular captured many scientists’ imaginations and caused them to seriously ask the question of whether or not these kinds of craft could be developed. In fact, NASA’s first solar sail mission to deep space has been dubbed “Sunjammer” in Clarke’s honor. You can visit the project’s homepage at: sunjammermission.com

Light sails have continued to appear in science fiction since then. Notable appearances include the episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine called “Explorers” and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. No doubt solar sails will continue to appear in science fiction. My own novel, The Solar Sea, about a solar sail spacecraft that’s used to explore the outer planets was published in 2009. You can read more about it at thesolarsea.com

Science and science fiction are closely intertwined with solar sails. In the middle of the nineteenth century, James Clerk Maxwell discovered that light exerted a pressure on objects. Soon after, Jules Verne posited that such a force could be used to move a spacecraft. In the 1950s an engineer published an article about light sails in a science fiction magazine and a few years later, science fiction writers were publishing stories about such craft. Now, scientists and engineers are working to turn the idea of solar sails into reality while science fiction writers continue to dream of sailing to distant planets and star systems.

The Solar Sea

Is there something about solar sails you’d like to know and I didn’t cover? Let me know in comments and I’ll see if I can find out for you and post next week. I’ve already been asked how to steer a solar sail. I’ll do my best to explain!

My novel The Solar Sea is available at:

Solar Sail Projects

Light pressure has been demonstrated as a force that can, indeed, move a spacecraft. Back in 1974, when Mariner 10 was running low on fuel, NASA utilized light pressure against its solar panels to adjust its trajectory. Although this was a limited demonstration, light sail technology holds sufficient promise that scientists around the world are trying to turn this science fictional idea into reality. Public and private teams in the United States, Japan, and Europe are all actively working on solar sail projects.

NanoSail-D

Although it’s not as heavily publicized as some projects, NASA has been on the forefront of light sail development. On November 19, 2010, they launched a solar sail “nanosatellite” called NanoSail-D. It was a 100-square-foot solar sail that was deployed from NASA’s FASTSAT Satellite on January 20, 2011. Four booms with sails deployed from a craft about the size of a lunchbox. The image above is an artist’s conception of the craft, but to learn more about NanoSail-D and to see photos of the sail during it’s 240-day voyage, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/smallsats/nanosaild.html

In the longer term, NASA is developing a somewhat larger prototype solar sail. This larger sail would have an area approximately 13,000 square feet with a payload of 110 pounds. This makes it about seven times larger than the largest solar sail ever deployed. While the NanoSail-D project was essentially a simple sheet of reflective material designed to test the concept of solar sailing, the larger solar sail would include four small steering sails to test maneuverability of the craft. Currently, this larger prototype sail is scheduled to launch on a Falcon 9 in 2015. You can read more about this mission at: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/tdm/solarsail/solarsail_overview.html

LightSailEarth

Perhaps the most prominent private group working to build a solar sail is the Planetary Society. They’re a non-profit organization in the United States dedicated to the support of space exploration. They attempted to launch a solar sail called Cosmos 1 back in 2005. Unfortunately, it was lost when the launch vehicle it was aboard—a Volna rocket launched from a Russian submarine—exploded on the way to orbit. The original craft looked like an octagonal mirror. Eight triangular sails surrounded a central hub. Each sail was mounted to the hub by a rotating mast. By changing the angle of the sails, the craft’s course could be adjusted. The updated project is called LightSail-1 and appears to be a much simpler design as shown in the photo at the top of the paragraph. For more information, visit: http://www.planetary.org/explore/projects/lightsail-solar-sailing/

Interest in solar sail technology isn’t limited to the United States. In 2011, the Japan Aeronautic Exploration Agency or JAXA successfully deployed a small solar sail called IKAROS (for Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun). The test successfully demonstrated both sail deployment and the ability of a craft to fly by photon pressure. Later this decade, they hope to launch a probe to Jupiter that will be propelled by solar sails. An artist’s conception is shown below. You can learn more about the IKAROS mission, and see a cool gif of the sail in flight at: http://www.jspec.jaxa.jp/e/activity/ikaros.html

Japan Jupiter Mission

The European Space Agency has also been working on a prototype solar sail, but there is little information at this point about when they might try a flight. They appear to have a near-term project using solar sail nanosatellites to help remove debris from Earth orbit.

As we move toward the middle of the 21st century’s second decade, we find ourselves searching for “green” technologies that utilize the resources we have available as wisely as possible. Solar sails appear to be a promising, green technology that would allow humans to explore space wisely. Indeed, it is the only propulsion technology within our reach that could conceivably propel a spacecraft to near the speed of light.


The Solar Sea

In the next installment, I’ll look at solar sails in science fiction. In the meantime, you can learn more about my novel, The Solar Sea, which is set aboard a solar sail spacecraft at TheSolarSea.com. The novel is available at:

Solar Sailing

In 2008, when my novel The Solar Sea was released, I gave a presentation about solar sails at several science fiction conventions. I summarized that information in an article called “Sailing the Winds of Space” which appeared in Strange Weird and Wonderful Magazine online. The issue no longer appears to be available and I thought it was worth updating some of the information. I’ll be presenting the article over the next three weeks here at the Web Journal. I hope you enjoy this look at solar sailing!


Pottery depicting masted ships. Photo by Einsamer Schütze.  License: CC BY-SA

Pottery depicting masted ships.
Photo by Einsamer Schütze. License: CC BY-SA

Sailing is one of the oldest transportation technologies. The simple use of wind to propel a craft across the water goes back to at least 3500 BC when the first representation of a ship under sail appeared on an Egyptian vase. Scientists around the world have explored ways to adapt this ancient technology for use in space flight. Sail technology is a way to make space flight more cost effective. Not only that, it’s possible that ancient sailing technology could propel a craft to near the speed of light. Sails for spacecraft would utilize light instead of wind. Such a sail is known as a light sail—or a solar sail if the primary light source is the Sun. This simple but powerful technology has also been an inspiration to numerous science fiction writers over the last fifty years.

Photons—individual particles of light—have momentum. When something with momentum strikes another object, it imparts some of its momentum to that object. Think of what happens when you play pool and the cue ball strikes another ball. The cue ball bounces off and the other ball moves in some direction. If you shine light at a mirror, the light bounces off, but it also imparts some momentum to the mirror. The reason you don’t see mirrors moving every time you shine light on them is that here on Earth, air pressure and gravity overwhelm light pressure. Light pressure from the Sun at Earth only produces about two pounds of force for every square kilometer. However, in space, where gravity is significantly less than it is on the ground and air pressure is no longer a factor, even a gentle force such as light pressure becomes significant.

Photo by No-w-ay in collaboration with H. Caps.  CC BY-SA

Photo by No-w-ay in collaboration with H. Caps. License: CC BY-SA

Even though gravity and air pressure are no longer factors in space, solar sails must be built out of very lightweight material. Think about the billiard balls, but imagine replacing the cue ball with a marble. If you shoot a marble at a billiard ball, the marble will still impart momentum to the billiard ball, but it will take a lot more effort for the marble to move the billiard ball. By the same token, solar sails must be built out of the lightest possible material so that photon pressure will have the greatest effect when propelling the spacecraft. The materials currently being investigated for solar sails are somewhere between 40 and 100 times thinner than a piece of writing paper.

Fuel is one of the greatest costs in contemporary space flight and spacecraft must be designed to start their journey with all of the fuel they will need for the duration of the voyage. This is a significant engineering challenge. However, in the solar system, the sun produces an abundant, steady stream of photons that could be harnessed by a spacecraft. As such, light sails become a very attractive means of space propulsion.

Venus transit with telescope

Because light pressure is a very gentle force, solar sails would accelerate very slowly. However, as long as there is a supply of light, there is nothing that will stop the acceleration of a solar sail. Theoretically, a solar sail will continue to accelerate until it reaches the same speed as the particles striking it—the speed of light. According to Newton’s first law, an object in motion will remain in motion unless some force acts upon it. In space, where there is no friction, once a solar sail reaches the speed of light, it could continue at the speed of light. As such, light sails could theoretically be used for interstellar travel.

A common misconception is that solar sails are propelled by the solar wind. The solar wind is a stream of charged particles emitted from the sun. This stream of charged particles will transfer some momentum to any object it strikes, just as photons will. However, photon pressure from the sun is about 5000 times greater than the force from the solar wind.


In the next installment, I’ll discuss some actual solar sail projects.

The Solar Sea

My novel The Solar Sea, which imagines a voyage aboard a solar sail spacecraft, is available at: