Category Archives: Science Fiction

The Perversion of Science Fiction and Fantasy Fandom

hugoMuch ink has been spilled over this year’s Hugo awards. Rabid this, sad that, puppies abound, George R.R. Martin is crying. Take your pick and read the latest media outrage. And then forget all of it.

The 2016 Hugo Awards are important, and not for any of that. There is a critical message this year that far exceeds anything else to do with the Hugos. It boils down to two specific works, both of which have been nominated in the “Best Related Work” category:

The first is “Safe Space as Rape Room: Science Fiction Culture and Childhood’s End.” Written by Daniel Eness for the Castalia House blog. The second is “The Story of Moira Greyland” by Moira Greyland.

These two works are not just the most important published works of the science fiction community of 2015. They are the most important works of this millennium. Both essays are painful. If you are a normal human being, they will make you cringe and possibly cry. If you love science fiction and fantasy as much as I do, they will burn even deeper. But they must be read. And we must get the word out, even more. These essays must get every bit of attention that they can.

Because sci-fi and fantasy fandom has a problem.

I love sci-fi and fantasy, and I love its fans just as much – maybe more. But the pedophilia scandals exposed by these two essays are very real and very tragic. They must not be allowed to continue. Fandom must open its eyes and face these problems head on. It is not an easy problem to face, but we must no longer let these deviants, these degenerates, these criminals use us for cover for their perversion.

These two essays are not easy reads. They will not make you happy. But they must be read, reread, and shared. There is no place for this in the world of sci-fi and fantasy fandom.

“Safe Space as Rape Room” recounts the way pedophilia has been swept under the rug for many big names in the science fiction community, including Arthur C. Clarke and more. It is available on the Castalia House blog in five parts with three additional supplements. Read them all.

“The Story of Moira Greyland” is almost more disturbing. Moira Greyland is the daughter of famous fantasy author Marion Zimmer Bradley. The tale recounts her years of sexual abuse at the hands of her father, her mother, and their friends – and the way in which it was covered up by the science fiction community and fandom around them.

I love fandom. I’m proud to be a part of it. But in order for us to continue loving it, we must bring these issues to the light of day, we must flush them out, and we must put an end to it. That is why I am proud to have voted to nominate both of these works. And that is why I will be voting for these two essays to win the 2016 Hugo Award for “Best Related Work.” I encourage everyone else to do the same.

Shine the light of day on it – the burning, cleansing, disinfecting, glorious light of day.


architect_of_aeonsIt has been more than two months now since Mr. John C. Wright surprised me with the delivery of a review copy of one of his latest novels, The Architect of Aeons. Yes, I have had the extreme good fortune to receive not one but two unsolicited works from Mr. Wright now. That is why I must begin this review with a sincere apology to the book’s author. It has taken me far too long to finish reading this book and get this review online.

In my defense, they have been two insanely busy months. We have a new baby in the house (my youngest turns three months old today). In that time, I’ve also planned and hosted a major martial arts seminar, attended a Judo tournament, put editing work into Silver Empire‘s first full length novel (look for announcements on that very soon!), had to find a new cover artist, plugged away at two short stories for our next anthology (more on that project soon as well), had to plow through some submissions for the same anthology (some not so great, some… very, very excellent), had a major software delivery do at work, made a trip to visit my ailing grandmother in Washington, D.C., and, of course, have had all of the normal duties of adult life on top of all that.

A week or so ago, however, I finally hit a nice point. My editing notes had been sent off to Susan, I’d passed the halfway point on my own first novel, seminars and tournaments were done, and I finally had a moment to relax. If it assuages Mr. Wright’s ego in any way, this book was my reward for finishing all of the important things in my life – and I used this book as motivation, telling myself I could not read it until I finished those things. Then, of course, it still took me far longer to actually read it than it should have.

Now that I have finally finished it, I must say that this book is an intriguing read. I have to admit that I struggled a bit with the first half of the book. It’s a difficulty of the format that I’ve had with much of this series. Mr. Wright has adopted the most difficult task of telling the story mostly in “catch up” sessions. Large periods of time elapse with the main character, Menelaus Montrose, either in time dilation from space travel or, more commonly, in suspended animation. Each time he re-enters “normal time” there are large bits of dialogue catching him up on the history (sometimes millennia worth) that happened while he was away.

I can think of no better way to tell a story such as this. And it’s a testament to Mr. Wright’s amazing skill as an author that he makes it work at all. Nevertheless, it can at times be a difficult way to read a story.

The second half of the book, however, really shines. Indeed, I zipped through that part of the book easily. And it is here that Mr. Wright once more touches on the issues that have really defined the series. How does a normal(ish) human survive in a world that is dominated by posthuman intelligences far superior to his? Not just superior, but orders of magnitude superior?

There are moments in the second half that are pure gold:  the duel between Montrose and an entire planet, the Foxes, Montrose forcing a galactic level superintelligence into a deal on his terms.

The work also continues to explore other issues that have been hallmarks of Mr. Wright’s work dating back to The Golden Age trilogy. What is the true nature of identity? If my mind is uploaded in full into another host, which one is truly me? What about when those minds diverge? What if one of them sees its intelligence amplified – or reduced? These questions of identity and intelligence are what continue to make this series fascinating. And despite the somewhat sluggish nature of the book’s beginning, this is why Architect of Aeons still merits four out of five stars. A strong showing from Mr. Wright, and I continue to look forward to the rest of this series.

THERE WILL BE WAR at the 2016 Hugo Awards

There Will Be War: Volume X
There Will Be War: Volume X cleaned up at the 2016 Hugo Awards.

My editor for There Will Be War: Volume X, Dr. Jerry Pournelle, and three of our co-contributors, Cheah Kai Wai, Charles Shao, and David VanDyke have received nominations for the 2016 Hugo Awards!

Dr. Pournelle finally received a nomination for “Best Editor: Short Form.” Meanwhile, Charles Shao earned the nomination for “Best Short Story” and Cheah Kai Wai and David VanDyke will be battling it out for “Best Novella.”

I’d like to offer a deep and heartfelt CONGRATULATIONS to my co-contributors! The honors are very well earned. If you have not already picked up your copy of this amazing anthology, I highly recommend it. I am once again blown away that my humble story was included in a collection of such giants.


Orbital Insertion and Space Combat Tactics – Part 4

One issue that is almost universally ignored in science fiction these days is the role of orbital mechanics in space combat tactics. Science fiction space combat tends to be written or visualized as if the spacecraft involved have nearly infinite energy and thrust available. Occasionally this is due to the writers or visual effects technicians consciously simplifying things for viewers. Unfortunately, however, most of the time it’s simply due to the writers being woefully ignorant of the subject.

In Part 1 we showed that any reasonable account of space combat in near-to-medium-future hard sci-fi must account for orbital mechanics. In Part 2 we discussed that pros and cons of higher orbits and lower orbits. In Part 3 we examined cases where our two spacecraft occupied dissimilar orbits. In our final part, we’ll discuss various considerations related to actual maneuvering between orbits.

As we noted back in part 1, the fundamental reason that we must consider orbital mechanics is the massive energy requirements necessary for raw point-to-point travel in space. Current technology and technology that can be extrapolated from known and proven physics are not capable of breaking past these limits. This same factor imposes limits on orbital maneuvering.

There are three fundamental factors that will drive maneuvering of combat spacecraft: mass, thrust, and fuel. All three of these factors are intrinsically related. More fuel means more mass. More mass requires more thrust to move it. More thrust requires more fuel.

At the same time, there are unavoidable trade-offs in modern propulsion technology. To put it bluntly, the more efficient a propulsion method is, the less thrust it produces. Solar sails and ion drives are highly efficient, but they produce low thrust. This makes them possibly great for long distance travel but very poor choices for the quick maneuvering desired by military vessels.

It seems likely that military craft will mostly rely on such non-chemical propulsion for major drive components (ie, for interplanetary travel). Nuclear power seems a particularly likely choice, just as it is on today’s major naval vessels – and for the same reasons. Nuclear power is very efficient, providing quite a bit of energy for a given fuel mass. Unlike many other propulsion sources, however, it can also provide high thrust. This allows for relatively short transit times, such as military vessels will require.

However, even nuclear propulsion is likely to be poorly suited for fast maneuvers. It is highly likely that chemical rockets will be used for maneuvering thrusters. Based on known technology and physics, quick maneuvering is likely to stay the domain of chemical rockets for some time – and chemical rockets require lots of fuel. Lots of fuel means lots of mass. It also means that the spacecraft must be very careful in how that fuel is used, because once it’s gone it’s gone.

A further consideration is that large drive engines also have great potential to be used as weapons – especially nuclear propulsion engines. This was the second reason that the battleships described in “The Fourth Fleet” had main drive engines both fore and aft. This allowed the ships to use them not just for propulsion but also as the main weapon system. An important consideration, however, is that use of this weapon system will also impact the navigation of the vessel itself.

It is also worthy of note that the design choices described herein will be hugely expensive, thus likely limiting this kind of vessel only to major spacefaring powers. As with modern navies, lesser powers will be forced by economics to limit themselves to less expensive military spacecraft. And also much like the world of today, these vessels are extremely unlikely to be common among private owners.

In Part 1 we showed that we must account for orbital mechanics. In Part 2 we discussed orbits of differing altitude and velocity. In Part 3 we’ve discussed retrograde orbits and non-aligned orbits. Here in Part 4 we discussed maneuvering itself in more detail and also discussed some ways in which this will impact spacecraft design.

This series is the beginning of the discussion, not the end. Any discussion that takes place before such warfare is necessarily speculative. Yet we already know many factors that must effect the discussion. Though this discussion will continue for decades and centuries after space warfare becomes common, we are well served by beginning it now.

Orbital Insertion and Space Combat Tactics

Orbital Insertion and Space Combat Tactics – Part 3

One issue that is almost universally ignored in science fiction these days is the role of orbital mechanics in space combat tactics. Science fiction space combat tends to be written or visualized as if the spacecraft involved have nearly infinite energy and thrust available. Occasionally this is due to the writers or visual effects technicians consciously simplifying things for viewers. Unfortunately, however, most of the time it’s simply due to the writers being woefully ignorant of the subject.

In Part 1 we showed that any reasonable account of space combat in near-to-medium-future hard sci-fi must account for orbital mechanics. In Part 2 we discussed that pros and cons of higher orbits and lower orbits. However, we assumed that both spacecraft occupied the same orbital plane and that they were both orbiting in the same direction. What happens if we change these assumptions?

The first obvious choice is to consider two spacecraft orbiting in opposite directions but in the same plane (aka a retrograde orbit). Assuming that the two spacecraft are orbiting at the same altitude (and hence the same velocity), these spacecraft will only encounter each other twice on each orbit, and then only briefly.

Let’s consider for a moment two spacecraft occupying a Low Earth Orbit – say around 250 miles (such as the International Space Station). Such an orbit makes a full cycle every 92 minutes, which means that the two spacecraft would only be able to engage each other once every 46 minutes. The duration of the engagement would depend upon the range of each vessel’s weaponry. It should be readily apparent that long range weapons are of great advantage in almost all space encounters. They clearly show their advantage here.

In this particular scenario, weapons with a high burst rate but a long down time become tactically useful. For example, an energy weapon that requires a long time to charge but packs a major punch when fired might actually be practical in this case – provided it can be charged in less time than it takes to encounter the adversary again.

Likewise, shielding that holds up well to burst fire but doesn’t do well under sustained bombardment would be very useful here. The real world offers scant examples of this, but science fiction is littered with various energy shields that exhibit this exact characteristic. Just like our hypothetical energy weapon above, these shields could recharge in between engagements and provide protection.

A military ship equipped with these kinds of weaponry, then, might deliberately choose to enter a retrograde orbit relative to its opponent. On the other hand, a vessel with poor burst capability but built to take a beating might prefer to match orbits and slug it out.

Polar Orbit
Polar Orbit

Alternatively, our spacecraft might choose to enter an orbit with an entirely different angle of declination compared to our opponent. The extreme example would be to have one craft in a polar orbit while the other vessel occupies an equatorial orbit. In this case, the orbits would be angled at 90 degrees to one another.

It is critical to observe that even though the orbits intersect each other twice on every pass, due to orbital timing the spacecraft themselves might never actually encounter each other on these orbits. This is true whether the relative angle is 90 degrees or 1 degree.

This kind of configuration would favor a spacecraft that has both plenty of fuel for maneuvering and a very advanced navigational computer. Very careful maneuvering – consisting of burns to speed up and slow down ones orbit (and by consequence, raise and lower the orbit) could precisely control the timing of the orbital intersections. Depending upon the goals of the maneuvering craft, this could be used to either ensure that the two craft do meet or to ensure that they don’t. Of course, if the adversary also has high maneuvering capability and desires the opposite goal then the game is now on to see which captain can outsmart the other!

Equatorial Orbit
Equatorial Orbit

This kind of scenario absolutely requires a strong navigation computer. What you will not see here is the typical Hollywood scene of a captain standing on the bridge ordering a maneuvering burn “now!” Instead, humans would instruct the computer on the desired goals and the computer would control the timing of the burns. Human beings would not be able to manually control the burns so as to achieve such delicate timing.

This scenario would also favor two distinct kinds of vessels. Spacecraft with major weaponry designed to disable or destroy an opponent instantly or very quickly would find this kind of approach advantageous. Likewise, poorly armed but highly maneuverable spacecraft would find this configuration an ideal way to avoid encountering an enemy altogether. Although there are many others who might adopt this, one might find it useful to think of the first group as “pirates” and the second group as “smugglers.”

Finally, we must also consider highly elliptical orbits. Like angled orbits, elliptical orbits alter the timing and locations when two spacecraft would actually encounter one another. The timings and breakdowns become very complex. Are both orbits elliptical or is one circular? Are the two elliptical orbits aligned or are they angled with each other? Or are they in the same plane, but skewed? The possibilities quickly become very complex, but the considerations are essentially the same as discussed above with orbits of differing angles. Once more, an advanced navigation computer becomes essential to even have a prayer of tactically controlling the encounter.

In Part 1 we showed that we must account for orbital mechanics. In Part 2 we discussed orbits of differing altitude and velocity. Here in Part 3 we’ve discussed retrograde orbits and non-aligned orbits. In Part 4 we’ll discuss maneuvering itself in more detail.

Orbital Insertion and Space Combat Tactics

Orbital Insertion and Space Combat Tactics – Part 2

One issue that is almost universally ignored in science fiction these days is the role of orbital mechanics in space combat tactics. Science fiction space combat tends to be written or visualized as if the spacecraft involved have nearly infinite energy and thrust available. Occasionally this is due to the writers or visual effects technicians consciously simplifying things for viewers. Unfortunately, however, most of the time it’s simply due to the writers being woefully ignorant of the subject.

Figure 1
Figure 1

We left Part 1 with a discussion of the lunar transit orbit shown in Figure 1. Specifically, we showed that we must account for orbital mechanics. Here in Part 2 we will examine specific orbital decisions and how they effect our space combat tactics.

Transit Speed is our baseline. A spacecraft traveling through this orbit at Transit Speed will, left alone, continue into a “figure eight” orbit. A civilian spacecraft traveling an energy efficient path might adopt something like this approach. Depending on the goals of the civilian craft, it would most likely follow the standard Apollo model described in Part 1 and execute a burn somewhere around Point 4 to transition into a solid lunar orbit.

Keep in mind that these positions are relative and in constant flux. An enemy spacecraft in lunar orbit could be at any point along that orbit. However, that position is eminently predictable for a non-maneuvering spacecraft. If we know its position at time t, we can calculate its position at time t + x. But predictable doesn’t mean convenient. It may well be that the timing of our own orbital insertion coincides with the enemy craft being positions near Points 5 and 7. In this case, our military craft would also have to execute a burn to insert itself into a true lunar orbit as well or else it would never actually encounter the enemy vessel.

The timing of this burn carries a great deal of significance, however, and it’s greatly dependent upon our spacecraft’s velocity along the transit path through Point 3. At Transit Speed or above, we’ll have to execute a breaking burn to slow the craft down. At Low Speed, we’ll have to execute an acceleration burn to speed the craft up.

Beyond that, however, is another consideration. Merely inserting ourselves into the same orbit as our adversary isn’t enough. This point is key: any two spacecraft traveling in the same orbit are necessarily traveling at the same velocity. If their velocities are not the same, their orbits will change. This is counter-intuitive to many, but it is a necessary mathematical consequence of orbital mechanics. The military consequence of this is that once two spacecraft are in the same orbit, their relative positions on that orbit will never change.

Suppose for example that I insert myself into lunar orbit at Point 4. At the time I insert into orbit, my opponent is at Point 8. Unless one of us executes another maneuver, we will continue to orbit in that same relative position to each other – separated by more than a third of the circumference of the orbit – until our orbits decay. We will never encounter each other.

There are two solutions to this problem. The first is to adjust our velocity during the transit through Point 3. Speeding up or slowing down here will adjust the timing of our arrival, and by timing it appropriately, we can then ensure that we enter orbit close enough to our adversary to engage. The downside to this approach is that our opponent will see us coming and has a chance to adjust his own orbit to throw our timing off.

The other option is to enter a higher or lower orbit than our adversary. Here, we face another trade off that has tactical significance. Just like a modern air battle, we will find that altitude and speed are our friends. All else being equal, a higher altitude orbit is better. Likewise, all else being equal a faster orbit is better.

Unfortunately, all else is not equal and we can’t have both. The mathematics of orbital mechanics is a brutal dictator that we cannot escape. The catch is that absolute velocity and relative speed of motion are not the same things in orbit. If I move into a lower orbit, my absolute velocity will be increased. This is necessary to offset the higher force of gravity at the lower altitude. I will actually complete an orbit in less time than my higher orbiting adversary. The reason is apparent: even though I am actually traveling more slowly, the distance I must cover to complete an orbit is far less than that of a higher orbit.

As an example, the International Space Station orbits in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) at roughly two hundred and fifty miles and completes an orbit in 92 minutes. By comparison, a geostationary satellite orbits at an altitude of roughly twenty-two thousand miles and completes one orbit in 24 hours.

If I want to catch up to my adversary, then, one solution is to insert myself into a significantly lower orbit than him, come around behind him, and then raise back up into his orbit. This requires inserting myself at the correct orbit point, decelerating (perhaps substantially, depending upon my transit speed) to enter the low orbit, and then accelerating again at the correct time to enter his orbit.

This maneuver has distinct advantages over simply re-timing my insertion into his own orbit. First, it’s less predictable. That means that our adversary has a harder time responding to it. Second, it leaves us with more leeway to correct for any evasive maneuvers our opponent does do. Third, assuming that we’re orbiting in the same direction, it allows me to come up behind him. Yes, in space he can easily turn to face me without sacrificing his orbit.

But that maneuver does actually sacrifice some maneuverability. This is one reason, among many, that the battleships I described in my story “The Fourth Fleet” had main drive engines on both the fore and the aft of the ship. In addition to being able to accelerate or decelerate without turning, the ships maintained an ability to change to either a higher or a lower orbit without turning. Designing a craft this way would be hugely expensive, much like today’s supercarriers, but it would have huge military advantages.

The final maneuver that we could attempt would be to insert myself into a higher orbit than my adversary and let him catch up to us. Then we could descend into his orbit to engage. With a typical ship configuration, however, this could mean letting him approach our rear or sacrificing orbital maneuverability. However, the configuration I just described above could easily handle this without such a sacrifice. In a situation where, say, I was inserting myself into orbit at Point 4 while my opponent was at Point 5, this might allow me to engage him much faster than otherwise.

This puts my opponent is a position of having a higher apparent relative speed, but it leaves me in a higher altitude orbit and with a higher actual velocity, both of which might be advantageous if used properly. One way that a higher orbit is tactically advantageous is that projectile or missile weapons don’t have to accelerate to reach our opponent – instead they would decelerate, and correct timing might mean that they don’t even have to do that. Kinetic weapons (bullets, shells, railguns, etc) might especially benefit from this, as the higher absolute velocity of a higher orbit would impart a higher raw kinetic energy into our projectile. Meanwhile, these same factors would work against our opponent, reducing the kinetic energy of his projectile weapons and requiring extra acceleration for them to even reach our orbital altitude.

As noted above, the exact way in which these factors trade off tactically is dependent upon the design of both our own spacecraft and our adversary’s. In some ways, we can design the craft to neutralize disadvantages of one position or another (energy weapons, such as lasers, would not suffer from the kinetic energy or acceleration problems imposed by a lower orbit). We can also design our spacecraft to amplify the benefits of one position or another (heavy use of railguns, for instance, could capitalize the benefits of a ship designed to operate at a higher orbit), although we must keep in mind that this would also have the effect of amplifying the drawbacks of poor positioning.

In Part 1, we spelled out why we must account for orbital mechanics in space combat tactics. Here in Part 2, we saw how decisions of particular orbits have a large effect on those tactics. In Part 3 we’ll examine some alternative orbits and see how those can drastically alter the tactical situation.

Orbital Insertion and Space Combat Tactics

Orbital Insertion and Space Combat Tactics – Part 1

One issue that is almost universally ignored in science fiction these days is the role of orbital mechanics in space combat tactics. Science fiction space combat tends to be written or visualized as if the spacecraft involved have nearly infinite energy and thrust available. Occasionally this is due to the writers or visual effects technicians consciously simplifying things for viewers. Unfortunately, however, most of the time it’s simply due to the writers being woefully ignorant of the subject.

There are a few cases where orbital mechanics can be safely ignored. Obviously, they can be ignored for atmospheric combat. Modern science fiction fans are intuitively familiar with atmospheric combat thanks to watching hours worth of dogfights in film and television. Although many of the details would make a hardened fighter pilot squirm, our intuitions of the basic physics of how these fights occur more or less conforms to reality. They can also be safely ignored when we’re discussing ships traveling in interstellar space (although there are other issues there, mainly the massive velocities of the spacecraft themselves). And in some cases of two “mother ships” occupying very near orbits, we can handwave away orbital mechanics if the fight is focused on “fighter ships” surrounding them. The mechanics still don’t go away, but for the purposes of entertainment we can safely pretend that they do.

Otherwise, orbital mechanics are crucial to space combat tactics. The definitive primer on orbital mechanics for science fiction writers is Ken Burnside’s magnificent essay “The Hot Equations.” Anybody looking to study the matter seriously should start there. Rather than retread ground he has already covered, my intention is to break new ground and discuss some of the implications of the physics discussed by Mr. Burnside.

My endeavor here will be far more modest in scope than Mr. Burnside’s. I wish to discuss merely one element of an entire tactical encounter: orbital insertion. Mr. Burnside has already lain much of the groundwork that we’ll need. Rather than walk through all of his logic, I wish to begin merely by recapping some of his relevant conclusions.

  1. Change in velocity (delta-V) is a finite resource, and it’s of huge importance militarily.
  2. Hiding a spacecraft (stealth technology in space) is essentially impossible because of the heat generated by the thing (even under minimal power) compared to the unrelenting background cold of space.
  3. Because that heat is detectable as infrared light, range of detection is limited really only by the strength of the sensors. In other words, sufficient sensors can detect a spacecraft at a range close enough to infinity as to not matter, militarily speaking.
  4. Thrust is necessary to effect delta-V. In other words, if a spacecraft wishes to alter course, it must emit thrust of some kind.
  5. Thrust is detectable. If that spacecraft changes course, it can’t hide the fact from its adversaries.
  6. You can’t make a battleship look like a rowboat in space. The heat signatures will give away the game.

Let’s begin by synthesizing these ideas together into their logical conclusions. Orbital mechanics require that course corrections (requiring detectable thrust) be made, very often at distances that are detectable in time for adversaries to effectively counter-maneuver. Let’s look at why this is.

Figure 1

Figure 1 represents a lunar transfer orbit of the type used by the Apollo missions. Keep in mind that this is, in space terms, a small distance to travel. Nevertheless, it can illustrate many of our points quite nicely.

For those unfamiliar with the basics of orbital mechanics, here’s how it basically worked for Apollo. The circles represent the Earth (the larger circle in the lower left) and the moon (the smaller circle in the upper right). The Apollo spacecraft launched on board a giant Saturn V rocket from Point 1 and first entered into a Low Earth Orbit (LEO), represented by the circle around the Earth.

At the appropriate time and place – Point 2 – the Apollo spacecraft executed another engine burn. Here on Earth, that would have been equivalent to simply pointing the car in a given direction and then hitting the gas. The car goes straight until you hit something or run out of gas. Space is different. The spacecraft goes straight until either you hit something or some gravity source operates on it. In this case, the gravity source is the moon – and rather than going straight, the Apollo craft was now on a “figure eight” orbit that orbited both the Earth and the moon. In Figure 1, that orbit would go from Point 2 to Point 4, around the moon to Point 8, then back to the Earth at Point 9 and around to Point 2 again. Assuming no orbital decay (which is a big assumption, and very likely incorrect) it would perform this orbit again and again and again. Apollo 13 actually did almost exactly that, performing only mild course correction burns, in order to get the astronauts home as quickly as possible after the spacecraft was damaged.

But Apollo 13 wasn’t designed to do that. The intention was to do what Apollos 8, 10, and 11 had done, and what the later Apollo missions would do. In the successful missions, another “braking” burn was performed at Point 4 on the chart to slow the spacecraft down. Doing so altered the orbit, and transferred it into a pure lunar orbit – the circle you see around the moon. But without the burn, you get the figure eight orbit.

Had the Apollo craft been traveling at different speeds, the results would have been radically different. Just a bit faster or slower, and the craft still would’ve traveled past the moon and swung around back toward Earth – but its aim would have been off. It would have missed the Earth, reached escape velocity again, and been slung off into interplanetary space.

If it had gone a lot faster, it wouldn’t have even swung back toward Earth. Its path would have arced a bit, thanks to the moon’s gravity, and then it would have just kept going – once more headed for interplanetary space. Had it been going fast enough, the moon’s gravity would barely have even warped its trajectory.

The speed of the spacecraft during the transit stage (roughly point 3 on the chart) is of critical importance. Let us consider six categories of speed:

  1. Very Low Speed – the spacecraft is unable to escape Earth orbit and never transits to the moon at all.
  2. Low Speed – the spacecraft does not have enough velocity to enter a full figure eight orbit, and will likely crash into the moon.
  3. Transit Speed – the spacecraft is paced exactly right for a figure-eight orbit.
  4. High Speed – the spacecraft will swing around the moon and return, but at too high speed to re-enter Earth orbit
  5. Very High Speed – the spacecraft will have its trajectory warped by the moon, but will continue beyond it rather than orbiting it at all.
  6. Ludicrous Speed – the moon’s gravity has an imperceptible effect on the spacecraft’s trajectory.

For our purposes, we can ignore Very Low Speed, as it won’t even allow us to maneuver to fight an enemy spacecraft near the moon. We can also safely ignore Ludicrous Speed for all “hard” science fiction scenarios. Any technology that could be built on currently understood physics or engineering can neither accelerate to Ludicrous Speed nor decelerate from it in anything we would consider a reasonable, militarily significant time.

From a military standpoint in a reasonable hard sci-fi scenario, we must therefore assume a spacecraft operating at Low Speed, Transit Speed, High Speed or Very High Speed. We must also assume that the craft will ultimately need to either a) match orbit with an enemy spacecraft in order to fight it, b) make a flyby close enough to launch a barrage at the enemy, or c) enter an eccentric orbit designed to close with the enemy more than once for repeated barrages.

In nearly all cases, this will require our hero spacecraft to make further burns and expend delta-V. The speed at which the craft makes the transit and its decisions of when, where and how quickly to expend delta-V has massive tactical implications. Writers of hard science fiction – and potential future space combat officers – would do well to keep these in mind.

In part 2 we will begin to examine the ramifications of these decisions.

Orbital Insertion and Space Combat Tactics

Congratulations Dr. Jerry Pournelle!

Hearty congratulations are in order this morning for Dr. Jerry Pournelle! Dr. Pournelle has been awarded the Robert A. Heinlein Award by the National Space Society! I still can’t believe this guy picked my story, “The Fourth Fleet,” for his anthology There Will Be War: Volume X – but I am forever grateful for it. (H/T to the publisher of that anthology, Vox Day).

Acclaimed Science Fiction Author Dr. Jerry Pournelle Wins the National Space Society Robert A. Heinlein Award

Jerry PournelleThe National Space Society takes great pleasure in announcing that its 2016 Robert A. Heinlein Memorial Award has been won by acclaimed science fiction author Dr. Jerry Pournelle. This prestigious award selected by an international vote of NSS members will be presented to Dr. Jerry Pournelle at the 2016 International Space Development Conference (ISDC). The public is welcome to attend the conference and see the award presentation at the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel and Casino in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The ISDC will run from May 18-22, 2016.

About Dr. Jerry Pournelle

This award recognizes Dr. Jerry Pournelle’s many years of support for space science, exploration, development and settlement and his close association with Robert Heinlein. He was active in the NSS predecessor, the L5 Society, during its early years. Jerry served as co-chair of the very first ISDC, NSS secretary, and as a Board member.

Jerry was also Chair of the Citizen’s Advisory Council on National Space Policy. This group was active during the 1980s and was one of the most effective groups promoting specific space related policy positions at that time. Robert Heinlein was also an active member of that group. The group’s early support of missile defense eventually led to the perceived need for an inexpensive launcher. The briefing that he and two others gave to then Vice President Quayle was instrumental in getting the approval of the DC-X program, overcoming government skepticism about the project. Jerry was present at White Sands on September 11, 1993 when the first large rocket, the DC-X vehicle, was reused.

Jerry has consistently supported the vision of self-sustaining human settlements in space and on planetary surfaces, and as part of a free, spacefaring civilization, which is at the very heart of the space movement. Jerry’s work as a science fiction author, focusing on science fiction with realistic physics, has contributed to a better understanding of the limitations and the abilities of human space operations. Few have made such a rich contribution to these fields.

About the Robert A. Heinlein Award

This award is presented once every two years for lifetime achievement in promoting the goal of a free, spacefaring civilization. The winner is decided by the vote of the entire NSS membership, not by the awards committee. The award consists of a miniature signal cannon, on a mahogany base with a black granite inlay and a brass plaque as shown. The award concept came from Robert Heinlein’s classic book TheMoon is a Harsh Mistress. Some of the early award winners include Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan, Neil Armstrong and Elon Musk. More information about this award and the past winners is at:

OPEN SUBMISSIONS: Superversive SF/F Short Stories Themed on “Family Devotion”

Update 5/1/16: Submissions are now CLOSED. Thanks to everyone who submitted!


Silver Empire is now accepting submissions for our next superversive science fiction and fantasy anthology! Our last anthology, MAKE DEATH PROUD TO TAKE US, focused on “manly courage.” The theme this time around is “family devotion.” Submission guidelines follow below:


  • It should be a short story of roughly 3,000 to 15,000 words. These are loose guidelines. If the story is strong, we’ll accept stuff outside of it. And I’m not going to quibble over a few words if it’s 2,998 or 15,011 words or something like that. But that’s about the size we’re shooting for.
  • It should be a science fiction or fantasy story.
  • It does *NOT* need to be written brand new for this anthology. However, if it’s been previously published anywhere else then we do need to verify that you still retain the rights for us to republish it.
  • We’re targeting a May release date. Submissions should be in by the end of April.
  • The theme of this anthology is “Family Devotion.”
  • The anthology is deliberately superversive. Thus, we’re looking for serious submissions. Satire and Parody are ok *IF* they take the theme seriously.
  • Payment will be in royalties – no advances. The royalty rates will be relatively high, but our sales volumes will likely be relatively low. Exact rates will depend on how many stories end up in the anthology but will follow a simple formula based on word count (50% of sales sent to authors, prorated to each author based on the word count of the story compared to the word count of the anthology as a whole).
  • Stories that are part of a larger world or series that you’re developing are perfectly fine – even if previous or later stories are not published through us.
  • Submissions should be in Word format (doc or docx is fine).
  • At this time we’re ONLY looking for submissions for this particular anthology – but we will be opening up for more in the very near future.
  • Submissions can be e-mailed to


Hugo Consideration for Dr. Pournelle

There Will Be War: Volume X
There Will Be War: Volume X

My editor on There Will Be War: Volume X, the esteemed Dr. Jerry Pournelle, is under consideration for a Hugo award for Best Editor (Short Form).

It is a serious indictment of the award system, bordering on the criminal, that the creator and editor of the best SF anthology series of the last 30 years – and arguably the most original and significant as well – has never been nominated for a Best Editor award.

I couldn’t agree more, which is why I’ve already left my vote nominating Dr. Pournelle for a Hugo this year. I heartily recommend you do the same, if you’ve got the appropriate WorldCon memberships that allow you to nominate.