Saturday, March 17, 2007

Exotic Locales for Tourism

As a science fiction fan, I've always found exotic environments and settings as one of its biggest draws. However, there are few writers with the capacity and imagination to devise environments unlike any we have ever seen.

Fantasy doesn't have this problem, they just wave their hands and presto! What pesky physical laws?

For real science fiction, however, there has to be a modicum(or a lot) of real science and thinking poured into the construction of exotic settings. My favorite two are listed below.
The Sunless Sea(by Mike Miller)
Mike Miller, or Cray, as he's commonly known on the CBT boards, is one very smart guy. He thought of placing a human civilization within the harsh environs of a gas giant.

Yes, you read that right. A gas giant. One that had its hydrogen 'coat' shaved off when its system primary went supernova, but a gas giant nonetheless.

Pressure and temperature conditions within the planet itself are, needless to say, extreme. At the sea surface, miles below the atmospheric envelope of the gas giant, the pressure is already 64 bars. For comparison's sake, earth's atmospheric pressure at sea level, where you and I live, is 1 bar.

The ocean itself is a ammonia-water-methane mixture, in a liquid state despite the high temperature of 125 celsius due to the high pressure. For you chemistry/physics students, please study phase diagrams if you do not understand what I'm saying.

Everything in that place is over-engineered and designed to take a massive amount of abuse. Humans can survive on the surface, but only when swaddled in chilled coats and wearing respirators.

As to why anyone would be so insane as to live in such a hellish environment, I have no idea. But it's one heck of a cool setting.
Integral Trees/Smoke Ring(by Larry Niven)
Larry Niven is one of the acknowledged grandmasters of science fiction. It helped, of course, that he was a maths major.

The setting for Integral Trees/Smoke Ring was beyond unique. There is, quite simply, no ground to speak of. Everything is in constant free fall in the gas torus about the neutron star. The gas torus itself, at least at the thickest central portion, is quite coincidentally composed of a breathable oxygen/nitrogen mixture.

Travel is a real pain. Because of a frisky thing called Newton's Three Laws of Motion, people can only travel through the air by means of jet propulsion when no solid surface or objects are available. The challenges of surviving in such a low-G environment are immense, and completely different from the Sunless Sea.

My biggest gripe with the setting is the presence of indigenous life forms. For one, while evolution is quite possible, abiogenesis given the conditions is not. Our single celled ancestors were probably cobbled together from various RNA and protein molecules in Earth's primordial 'soup', but the Smoke Ring is a gaseous environment. Statistically speaking, the odds of molecules coalescing to form a self-replicating organism are far worse there.

Leaving that quibble aside, it's a great setting for those who want a challenge, either of writing a story, or for role playing gamers who want something out of the ordinary, but still very much based on reality.
Anybody reading this, if you have come across similar exotic locales, pls feel free to comment!


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