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Hello and welcome to Vast Distances, this is my website dedicated to the worlds behind my future book series Vast Worlds. The site is primarily here to generate some interest in the books before I can get them published,  so there will be some extensive background work and maybe a few extracts kicking around the site. For the full summary, check the about page.

Posts are mostly information on the background of Vast Worlds, and are updated weekly. Eventually they will all make their way onto static pages to save people trawling though the whole archives. Every so often there will be other more random posts, generally me musing on writing  (these can be found under ranting) and if you’re very lucky a cannon piece of fiction will go up like The Battle over Procyon.

So look around, feel free to leave a comment, ask a question, or just poke holes in my logic. I’m more than happy to reply.

Enjoy!

Okay a little celebration here. I found out today that The Battle Over Procyon had been published by Ray Gun Revival. Go read and tell me what you think!

Just to prove I’m a biology geek as well as a physics geek

Big S.I.S. or Secondary Immune System is considered to be one of the great medical discoveries alongside germ theory and penicillin and often lauded as a concrete step towards a panacea. However, I’m going to use it to illustrate the biological/technological divide.

For anyone that doesn’t know how the human immune system works, invading pathogens have surface antigens (specific protein chains) that the anti-bodies in your immune system attach to and so flag the pathogen for destruction by the white blood cells. Now this functions fine in almost all cases, considering you will come into contact with billions of bacteria on a daily basis and only get sick every few months, but there is always room for improvement. Especially against pathogens that could outfox the normal immune system like HIV and malaria.

At the end of the 22nd century both Altair and Earth were experimenting with an artificial antibody producer. These would have a much lower threshold than the human response, and due to a more specialised nature, they would be able to produce antibodies faster. Both research teams worked in more or less isolation and reached quite different solutions.

The Earth team created a template for a micro-robot that took up residence in the liver. This would, on a prompt from an external source, pump out large amounts of antibodies and was controlled by a larger implant beneath the hypothalamus[1]. The treatment was very effective, could be reprogrammed to keep up with mutating pathogens and was mother of all expensive to produce. In fact the system was so expensive[2] and required constant upkeep to function that it took fifty years for half the population of Earth to posses the device and even then most health systems only covered it for an additional surcharge.

Altair took a very different tack. They stripped down the human antibody producing cells (plasma B cells) and got them to self replicate, then they allowed for a certain man made viral strain to be taken up by the cells and introduced a vicious evolutionary system. Each cell would produce a huge amount of antibody, but it would also use the concentration of that antibody as a trigger for autolysis (cell suicide). This meant that there was a constant variation in the antibodies and those that were binding to pathogens wouldn’t increase in concentration enough to kill the producing cell, thus promoting the evolution of a more effective SIS based on the pathogens the host was regularly exposed.

While technically more complicated to set up the SIS in this instance had almost zero maintenance and was self replicating, not to mention that in many cases its evolution was faster than that of the pathogens. Its biological basis meant that production was very cheep and in the same time frame Altair had total saturation and was already working on coding the production of the SIS into the populations’ genes[3].

Now, this is quite a biased example. Biological technologies suck for building spaceships, for example. But I thought it would be interesting too show two very different ways of solving the same problem.


[1] Large being a relative term, it could still be injected.

[2] There are many laws in Vast Worlds against self replicating machines too small to be hit by a hammer, this kept the price of construction of anything below milli scale high for a very long time.

[3] Interestingly, this is a microcosm of why the Altairians did the best out of the End Time Wars. Technology needs constant maintenance, skilled labour and a solid understand of its workings. Altair’s biological techs, while very clever, are installed on the genetic level to the entire population and so, while centuries of knowledge were lost in both instances, on Altair those technologies kept working generations after the machines have crumbled into dust.

Just got Mass Effect,  brb.

I hate writing aliens.

Okay, that’s not true. Aliens are fine as long as there are people to make comparisons but they are really hard to write in isolation.

The Ewts, who are currently giving me the most trouble, are a species that I have put a lot of thought into and I’m currently churning my way through writing a language for them. Their problem is Empathy. No not caring part, let me explain.

When crafting an alien race there are a few simple steps: 1) pick an animal to base their morphology on 2) Pick a trait that makes them different from humans 3) Repeat step 2 4) Extrapolate.

For the ewts this is: Newts, Undetermined Gender and Empathy. Here follows the extrapolation.

So for a start the ewt philosophy is very centred around water, to the point of river worship, not to mention a deep seated view that events are implacable unless countered with a good front crawl. Their surroundings are dangerous, but they bread quickly leading to a safety in numbers attitude and a deep seated idea that they have to fight for what they have, but against their environment as much as themselves.

The undetermined gender (ie, the same ewt may fulfil different gender roles at different times) wipes out a lot of the immediate prejudices and because of this ewts have a precedence to treat people as if they can achieve anything they wish too. Racial prejudice is just as popular as in humanity but ewts have never formed a caste system, or a monarchy as the idea that a man can be predestined by their birth has never sat well.

Finally, the most complicated concept is Empathy. Ewts, along with quite a few of the dominant hunters on their planet, can pick up on the minds of other creatures at a distance. In the Vast Worlds canon this is due to the same quantum resonance effect the Altairians use for telekinesis but the ewts use it purely to gather information with no actual effect on their target.

Like human language this ability expanded in use and complexity as the ewts formed the first tribes and they can pick out another ewts emotions’ at a hundred yards. It has never been a force for peace; it did originally evolve as a hunting sense so the ewts aren’t particularly distraught at feeling (paetan, in ewtan) someone suffering, though there is a tendency for ewts to want to solve that problem if the sufferer is resident, as there is some emotional spill over.

Now, this empathic sense and shared sub-conscious is very difficult to qualify. If I were being clever I’d find some way to integrate someone into it, or have a human stooge to explain it too, but I’m not, I have to write a short story where an alien encounters these ewts and goes about dealing with them more or less scientific way. Worse, for the bits where the story focuses on the ewts I have to drop six months of work on history and cultural motivation into a couple hundred words.

I’m beginning to see why Star Trek just had pointy ears.

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