While I was at FantaSci I had a unique and very educational experience, and I wanted to take time to not only talk about all the writing sparks it threw off, but to thank Peter Gold. He had prepared a detailed presentation on the use of cargoships in the Honorverse (with references to the excellent Nathan Lowell’s traderverse), and I was the only one in the room. So he tailored it to me, let me derail it entirely asking questions pertinent to my own writing, and was gracious to let me pick his brains thoroughly for almost an hour and a half. My deepest thanks, sir, the next couple of books dealing with trade in space opera will be the better for your gracious instruction.
When I was working on Tanager’s Fledglings, both in the run-up to writing it, and during, I was reading a lot of books and material on trade in the South Seas. Sailing ships are not a precise analogy for space trade, but the principles that logically follow align well enough I thought I could make it work. The differences, as Peter showed in his slides, are the sizes of ship involved. Waterborne craft have limitations – now, we know from the ship heard ’round the world as it got stuck in a canal, this can be bogglingly large – space-going vessels have none of those constraints. Peter did point out that you will want to account for shielding or armor of the ship and cargo containers. Space is empty, but not completely so.
What I had opted to do with the Tanager was to create a route the ship would follow, a predictable circuit from planet to station to planetoid, in a more-or-less set schedule. Like the ships I was basing this pattern on, things happen and delays may occur. Peter validated this choice of mine, and we talked about cargoes, how they come to be, and how they are assigned to a ship. Very few captains would pick up cargo that wasn’t already waiting on them, and when they did, the passage was paid, they don’t ‘buy’ it and sell it on the other end. Which I believe I did have Jem and the crew doing on a small basis, that is fine, but honestly there wasn’t time for them to do much of this, so I will phase it out.
The other story I’m working on, title tentatively Death Planet (ok, that is so cheesy! I’ll come up with something else), involves a specialized kind of cargo ship that never descends to the planet’s surface, but carries cargo containers which can be dropped. Peter, talking with me about the need to protect the cargo from damage from micro-meteorites and the like, pointed out that one way would be to have vast sliding bay doors. Slide them open, launch or drop pods, then slide them another way and repeat. Only… my brain lit up. This would explain why in the story the pods wind up scattered across the landscape, as they aren’t all going down in a cluster (which would have it’s own issues), but successive waves. It really helps me make the story better and reinforces the plotting I was hazy on.
Like so many other aspects of a con, getting to talk to an SME far outside your own ken is a great thing. I came home with ideas bubbling… and of course, no time to write. Which is part of why I put them into this post, so I can find them again.
Thank you Peter!