Fix-ups, satire, and fantasy in Second Life

Seanchai Library

It’s time to highlight another week of storytelling in Voice by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s home at Holly Kai Park, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, April 30th 19:00: The Crucible of Time

crucibleGyro Muggins reads the fix-up by John Brunner. First published as two-part story which appeared in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, it’s an ambitious tale of alien intelligence which grew to a series of six linked tales pushed as a single novel in 1983.

Far off in space is an alien race which is so much like us, yet so un-alike. From the birth of their earliest civilisation through to their attainment of star flight as their star system passes through the galaxy, we follow their development through the ages.

Aquatic by nature, this race presents some significant challenges well outside the realms of anything encountered by humanity. But they are also driven by all too familiar hopes, fears, desires, needs, wants, prejudices, impact of religious ideologies, and the quest for knowledge we have experienced in the growth of our own civilisation.

Charting six periods of time, each a thousand years after the previous, the six stories focus on the efforts of a group of individuals in each era as they face one or more challenges, their success in overcoming these challenges inevitably leading them towards a greater understanding of their planet’s plight, and ultimately, the ability to deal with that plight and the survival of their civilisation.

Tuesday, May 1st 19:00: National Lampoon’s Doon

In a distant galaxy, far, far away, a plot is brewing as vast and elaborate as the Empire itself…

Evil powers plot to harvest the wild pools of beer that grow only on the savage, sugar-swept world of Doon, take control of the native pretzel population, and turn the plucky little orb into the lounge-planet of the universe!

And only one man, Pall Agamemnides, heir to a dukedom can stop the galaxy-wide web of conspiracy and intrigue that is being fomented, and bring an end to the threat facing Soon.

Although reliant on a knowledge of both Frank Herbert’s sprawling story of Dune and Herbert’s often heady and flowery prose, Ellis Weiner’s tongue-in-cheek Doon is a masterpiece, offering a perfect parody of Herbert’s novel and brilliantly and accurately mimicking his prose.

Wednesday, May 2nd 19:00: What Is This Crap

More 100 word delights from R. Crap Mariner.

Thursday, May 3rd 19:00

19:00: Monsters and Myths: Fafnir

Sigurd fighting Fafnir, as imagined by English illustrator Arthur Rackham

Fafnir lives with his family in a fortress-like house deep in the forest. His father, descended from an archdemon, shares the secrets of the dark arts with Fafnir and his two brothers.

Regnir, the eldest, is a deformed dwarf who lusts after gold and relies on his cunning to get it. Hungering only for food, Oter, the middle brother, can transform himself into a bird of prey. The shape-shifting Fafnir desires to be feared, and when Odin, king of the gods, sets a trap with a treasure that tempts every giant, ogre, and dwarf in his domain, Fafnir becomes a dragon. However, he is about to confront an even fiercer rival: a mortal named Siegfried.

This adventure-filled Norse myth is a powerful story of magic, curses, doom, and destruction featuring an unlikely hero whose perils are only just beginning.

Also presented in Kitely (hop://grid.kitely.com:8002/Seanchai/144/129/29).

21:00: Seanchai Late Night

Contemporary Sci-Fi with Finn Zeddmore.

 


Please check with the Seanchai Library’s blog for updates and for additions or changes to the week’s schedule.

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Space Sunday: spaceplanes and landers

Artist’s impression of the Experimental Spaceplane XS-1, a joint venture between DARPA and Boeing and dubbed the “Phantom Express” by the latter. Credit: Boeing

Spaceplanes  – vehicles capable of operating like an aircraft with in the Earth’s atmosphere, and as a space vehicle either in orbit or while above altitudes of around 80-90 kilometres – are still relatively rare beasts, despite once being seen as the future of low-cost access to space. There have only really been a handful put to what might be called “operational” use. Most notably these include the space shuttle – more formally called the Space Transportation System, and the secretive X-37B “mini shuttle” operated by Boeing and the US Air Force.

Things will be changing in the future, most notably when the sub-orbital SpacePlaneTwo vehicle(s) operated by Virgin Galactic start “tourist” flights to the edge of space, and when the DreamChaser Cargo vehicle starts flying cargo payloads to the International Space Station in the 2020 – of which more below. A further vehicle set to enter operations in 2020/21 is the Experimental Spaceplane 1 (XS-1), which is quite a fascinating concept I’ve briefly covered in these pages.

A joint venture between the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Boeing, the latter having been awarded the phase 2 development contract by DARPA in late 2017, the uncrewed vehicle sit between the comparatively small X-37B and a space shuttle orbiter in size, being roughly comparable with and executive business jet. Dubbed the “Phantom Express” by Boeing, its primary goal is to offer a rapid launch and turn-around capability in deploying replacement, or urgently required, payloads to orbit. So rapid, in fact that as part of its test launch programme, a single XS-1 demonstrator must complete 10 launches in 10 days. In addition, the vehicle must be capable of hypersonic flight to around Mach 10 (12,250 km/h), and operate with a launch cost of around US $5 million per flight.

A sub-orbital vehicle, the XS-1 will not have an internal cargo bay; instead, the payload(s) will be mounted on one or two expendable boosters carried on its back, forming the system’s upper stage. This design allows the XS-1 to be a completely self-contained launcher: there is no booster system to help it into the skies, and no external tank for fuel.

To complete the XS-1, Boeing has partnered with Aerojet Rocketdyne, who will provide the vehicle’s primary motor – the AR-22. This is effectively an updated variant of the RS-25 Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME), and has been selected because of the AR-25’s track record of space shuttle flights.

An artist’s impression of the XS-1 being readied for launch, a single payload upper stage mounted on its back. Credit: Boeing / DARPA

The XS-1 will fly out of Kennedy Space Centre, where Boeing already operate the X-37B and have vehicle processing facilities. It will launch vertically from a dedicated mobile launch platform, rather than a fixed pad. After climbing to altitude and clearing the denser part of the atmosphere, the spaceplane will release the payload booster, which delivers the payload to orbit, while the spaceplane makes an automated return to Florida, and make a landing either at the former space shuttle runway at Kennedy Space Centre or the Skid Strip at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Phase 2 of the programme runs through until the end of 2019, and encompasses the design, construction and testing of a technology demonstration vehicle and the construction of the first AR-22 motors. One of these will be test-fired on the ground 10 times in 10 days to verify it is ready for flight tests. It comes at a cost of US $146 million to DARPA, with Boeing covering the remaining costs. The follow-on third phase of the project is due to commence in late 2019, and will include both 12 to 15 flight tests intended to confirm the atmospheric handling of the XS-1 spaceplane, and the 10 test launches in a 10-day time frame.

While developed as a DARPA programme, the XS-1 is not seen as being purely for government launches. Following the flight tests, DARPA and Boeing plan to release “selected data” from the test programme to commercial enterprises interested in leveraging the system’s low-cost, rapid launch capabilities.

Dream Chaser Cargo: SNC Weigh Launcher Options

Another spaceplane I’ve referenced in these updates is Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC’s) Dream Chaser Cargo. Developed from an earlier variant of the vehicle SNC hoped would be used to ferry crews to and from the International Space Station (ISS), Dream Chaser Cargo is due to start delivering supplies to the ISS in 2020, alongside the current flights by the SpaceX Dragon and Orbital ATK Cygnus vehicles. During the 34th Space Symposium held in April 2018, SNC provided an update on their plans for Dream Chaser in general.

The vehicle has now entered its critical design review (CDR) with NASA, which is due to conclude in July 2018. This will clear the way for the construction of the first flight-ready version of Dream Chaser Cargo, which is due to fly in late 2020.

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser test article has officially be placed in “semi-retirement” until the company is ready to resume work on a crewed variant of the vehicle. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation

In addition the company announced the flight test article, originally built for the crewed version of the Dream Chaser, is being retired and mothballed until such time as SNC is ready to resume it explorations in developing a crewed version of the vehicle, something which may be contingent on commercial interest and partners.

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