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Thread: Input / Research Required for a Novel I'm Writing...

  1. #1
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    Input / Research Required for a Novel I'm Writing...

    Hi All,

    I am currently 20k words into a novel which features an impact / radiation event that originates in space, the story is sci-fi but I want to keep it as close to real science as possible...I can't offer any money but would be very happy to give full acknowledgment in the book if I ever get published.

    I looked through the forum and this seems to be the best place to ask this but please let me know if I should post in a different location.

    Thanks,

    Russ

  2. #2
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    Ask away. If there is any problem, I'm sure the moderators will let you know.
    As above, so below

  3. #3
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    You can ask, and we'll give help (we've done it before)... just stay away from asking us about religion or politics, and don't use cuss words.
    Forming opinions as we speak

  4. #4
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    Impact and radiation?
    Et tu BAUT? Quantum mutatus ab illo.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ara Pacis View Post
    Impact and radiation?
    Well, it might be a story about a discarded nuclear power plant from another planet hitting the earth.
    As above, so below

  6. #6
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    You appear to be emulating what my father considered a key feature of good science fiction, which was keeping the taking of liberties with physics to a bare minimum. You can run technical questions by this forum and find lots of people who can give you good answers.

    One example I read in college was Trouble on Titan by Alan E. Nourse. The technical liberty was using the rare metal ruthenium, which in the story was plentiful on Titan, as a key ingredient in the electric power system of our dreams here on Earth. The ruthenium was mined by a prison colony on Titan, and the main story was about the crisis that occurred when the prisoners mounted an effective rebellion. It was a story of ethics, morals and diplomacy.

    I wish you well in your project.

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    Hey everyone, thanks...I will try to explain without confusing everyone (and myself)...

    Basically the main plot is that a couple of people get 'powers' from an event that they are involved in. The event looks, to everyone nearby, like a meteor storm...sharp shafts of light flashing in the night sky and hitting the ground. This is happening at the same time as an artillery attack in the same area so people sort of ignore what they are seeing because they just presume its the army shells...Once the 'attack' is over and the two guys are shipped away home, crazy radiation readings are taken from the scene by the clean up team, this radiation is ultimately responsible for the 'powers' that the guys end up with...wow, thats a lot of air quotes...sorry!

    OK, the first bit I would like to add science to is the impact event itself, once the military find the scorch marks, radiation and damage left by the 'light storm' they get an astrophysicist / physicist to advise them on possible causes. I was thinking some traditional E=mc2 here with the energy having effective mass at speed etc...not sure...?

    The second bit is the radiation that is left behind, preferably this would be non-harmful levels but high enough for readings to be taken that are way outside of normal. A bonus would be to come up with a new type of radiation which is based on something from point 1...?

    Just be honest, if you think it's worth just going full on fantasy then let me know.

    Thanks again,

    Russ - UK

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    First, I'm surprised that you've gotten 20,000 words into it without having figured that out!

    But basically, I think that the scenario you're thinking of (superpowers) is impossible in the first place (people don't get superpowers from being bitten by spiders, either), so as long as the words sound plausible, it doesn't really matter if something is physically possible. Say that it's an antimatter blast or something that modifies their genes in a certain way. I think that in any case, you wouldn't have radiation left behind, because it would be the rays from some phenomenon rather than actual radioactive materials (like uranium for example). Or just say that there is a nuclear blast that causes gamma rays that are at precisely the right frequency to alter their genes in some way that gives them the superpowers.
    As above, so below

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    Well, it might help to decide if the "meteor" storm some sort of natural occurrence or an alien attack or an alien attempt at an intervention in the fight on the planet. Perhaps it was a relativity weapon. A big one would kill people over a large area, so maybe something small. Maybe it disintegrates in the upper atmosphere. If intentionally, perhap part is not vaporized but continues to the surface carrying some antimatter propellant. Or maybe the powers don't come from radioactivity, but from some sort of biological matter, like a virus or a prion. Prions are nasty and can cause things like mad cow disease and kuru from canibalism, because these proteins are the wrong shape and contact with normal protein causes the existing proteins to convert to the new shape. Spice that up with some alien intent or merely a pan-spermic non-intelligent alien biological ooze (shades of Andromeda Strain) and maybe the changes cause some new powers. Or you could always invoke nanites/nanobots that either "infect" or live symbiotically inside a host reconstructing parts of them in order to create these powers intentionally or by accident or by some sort of mind-meld. And perhaps those nanites/nanobots can be powered by radioactive particles inside them, or from radiation they absorb from the environment. Or, if you want to get more fanciful, perhaps the aliens or some mechanical agent (nanites?) stopped time (relativistic time dilation?) and came down and operated on the people and the radiation was not a general body dose but was used with surgical precision to create specific mutations. Or perhaps, like in the Tom Cruise version of War of the Worlds, the nanites were already present (perhaps with a payload of radiation or prions) and they required some sort of trigger such as a large scale signal of a certain type that was produced by the "meteors". There's lots of ways to mix and match, so play Dr. Frankenstein and enjoy.
    Et tu BAUT? Quantum mutatus ab illo.

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    In terms of the goal of getting a long-lived interesting form of radioactivity, I'm not sure what you'll be able to include. Unstable nuclei give off alpha, beta, positron, or gamma rays, as well as xrays from the shift in deep electrons when the nucleus changes charge. These all affect people as ionizing radiation as they zip through our bodies exchanging kinetic energy for molecular disruption of our flesh.

    Radiation from things other than unstable nuclei is very short lived (less than a microsecond).

    I can think of lots of ways your heroes could be broken down and destroyed promptly by exotic radiation, but I can't really imaging a way they could be improved by it.

    If you are going to go 'full fantasy' here's a suggestion:

    The streaks of light hitting the Earth are rare lumps of Supersymmetric matter from the first femtoseconds of the universe that formed atoms held together with supersymmetric charge around nuclei whose protons were made of squarks with supersymmetric color-charge. Both of these are forces no longer present in our current universe, except for these lumps, which had been accelerated to near light speed before they could decay, and survived till now.

    Now in my mind such new forces wouldn't last long or do anything useful, but no one knows, so go ahead and give these powerful ancient (hypothesized) properties to your protagonists.
    Forming opinions as we speak

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    Like others said, there's no real plausible way for radiation to give anyone superpowers. It might kill some cells, harmlessly damage others, and might damage some in such a way that they start reproducing out of control and become cancerous. Radiation as a secondary effect of whatever causes the powers is more reasonable. And another relevant question...what sort of powers are you thinking of?

    Radiation types...alpha, beta, and gamma are most common, some decays produce positrons, neutrinos, neutrons, or larger fragments of nuclei. If you're going the "power source for nanites" route, beta emitters would be most useful. Exotic matter (anything other than normal matter made of protons, neutrons, and electrons, like antoniseb's supersymmetric matter) might decay producing short-lived particles normally only seen in particle accelerator collisions. Ultimately, the radiation is not going to behave particularly unusually...however, radioactive materials decay with a particular signature of emitted particles and particle energies that makes them quite easy to identify. Small amounts of unstable exotic matter might have low enough radioactivity to not be immediately dangerous, but have a radioactive signature unlike anything known.

    Exotic matter needn't be natural. Some kind of synthetic metastable low-energy beta emitter might make a good power source/power storage system for those nanites. Or it could have been developed by an extraterrestrial civilization to do for them what it ends up doing for humans...working into their nervous systems somehow and giving them some way to influence or sense fundamental forces, the impacts being the remnants of an unfortunate ship. Or deliberate seeding as part of an experiment.

  12. #12
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    OK here is an angle; the radiation is at a frequency that hits DNA and shakes it up and because the impacts come at an amazing sequence people exposed are subject to a lot of jumping genes. (Jumping Genes are real) the jumping Genes cause, in this one in a big number probability event, larger faster, smarter brains or if you like, brains with telepathy. Or altered muscle genes to give greater strength or the ability to eat grass. Of course any such targetted DNA shaking radiation would kill almost everybody with fatal revisions to their genes but maybe you can live with that population culling. I think working telepathy with a few smarts would be enough for the new group to become super, especially if they can exercise mind control, how about that? You might have to rewrite most of your 20000 words, sorry about that.
    Last edited by profloater; 2012-Jun-12 at 05:20 PM. Reason: typo

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    hmm, standard radiation should just cause damage to the cells. If you want to go full sci-fi, exotic matter which was a) very short lived and b) had a very large mutagen effect on existing cells might work. The problem is that any real life examples go out the door. Anything that strong will more than likely give you cancer and kill you.
    There was a story/series i read a long time ago that started off with a biological weapon that a different civilization sent to earth. 95% of those who were effected died, 4% gained powers but were horribly disfigured (all shades of that) and 1% gained powers without any effect to how they looked like.
    Something like that is more plausible that out of a large amount of people who were effected, only a few survived and possibly gained some sort of mutations which enhanced them. It's like being immune to aids or being extremely cancer resistant.
    The powers could just be like extra strength or night vision or whatnot. Nothing too crazy, just something that could be explained by dormant genes.
    Then again who knows. You can throw in there that there were nano bots from an ancient civilization which recombined the dna in a smart way to keep the person alive and change them by adding alien dna, etc. These hybrid survivors had different trains which weren't found on earth. The special material powering the nanobots ran out shortly after the impact event and only those who were affected will ever be modified. Maybe throw in some government conspiracy to study the people affected and use them as weapons :P

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by russparks View Post
    Basically the main plot is that a couple of people get 'powers' from an event that they are involved in. The event looks, to everyone nearby, like a meteor storm...sharp shafts of light flashing in the night sky and hitting the ground. This is happening at the same time as an artillery attack in the same area so people sort of ignore what they are seeing because they just presume its the army shells...Once the 'attack' is over and the two guys are shipped away home, crazy radiation readings are taken from the scene by the clean up team, this radiation is ultimately responsible for the 'powers' that the guys end up with...wow, thats a lot of air quotes...sorry!

    OK, the first bit I would like to add science to is the impact event itself, once the military find the scorch marks, radiation and damage left by the 'light storm' they get an astrophysicist / physicist to advise them on possible causes. I was thinking some traditional E=mc2 here with the energy having effective mass at speed etc...not sure...?

    The second bit is the radiation that is left behind, preferably this would be non-harmful levels but high enough for readings to be taken that are way outside of normal. A bonus would be to come up with a new type of radiation which is based on something from point 1...?
    One idea is to change your scenerio a little.

    The meteors don't carry radiation, they carry a virus. Maybe they aren't natural meteorites, but are actually tiny alien constructs, little re-entry capsules that carry a virus that reprograms the DNA of the people that are exposed to them. The aliens send a lot of them, because only a few survive re-entry undamaged. The virus also can only live a very short time outside of the capsules.

    What the authorities find left behind isn't radiation, but traces of the capsules. When they analyze these traces (maybe elemental analysis), they do not correpond to the elements normally found in meteorites.
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    Wow...thanks folks...there is a lot to work through there but one common theme is that I am chasing the wrong dog with radiation.

    I like the pan-spermia approach but in order for the bigger picture there needs to be only two people affected...

    I like the supersymetry thing, that may come into it...

    I love the virus idea, that made the hairs stand up on my neck a little when I thought about applying it to my plot...

    I really appreciate the help, thank you all very much. I will report back on this thread once I have decided which way I am going...

    Now, I'm off to wikipedia to look up some of the stuff you have all brought up!

    :-)

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    I saw something new in this thread here, about lunar dust's unusual properties. Perhaps that could be used as the basis for some sort of nanite lifeform that wasn't constructed by an alien intelligence but evolved from it's own abiogenic origin.

    Another thing you might consider is the concept of nuclear isomers where radioactive decay might be triggered by another energy event. There's been ideas of making weapons or batteries out of them. I've been writing a story, off and on, where they are used in a rechargable nuclear battery.
    Et tu BAUT? Quantum mutatus ab illo.

  17. #17
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    OK final thought, recent news is that our bacteria control a lot of our responses by subtle hormone changes. Maybe the gut bacteria get changed by new DNA from the virus incoming. We are not exactly what we eat but how we digest! The rampant hormone shock causes extreme ability and new ideas plus removed inhibitions. The parasitic effect reduces risk taking and focusses on new goals not sympathetic to the old patterns. It's like drugs but produced by our gut bacteria in tune with a new pattern of stimuli,. Well I said it was a final thought, goodnight.

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    Quote Originally Posted by russparks View Post
    Wow...thanks folks...there is a lot to work through there but one common theme is that I am chasing the wrong dog with radiation.
    I don't think that's necessarily true. Antoniseb's idea could be easily put into it, some exotic matter that happened to survive from the big bang. I mean, spiderman got the ability to stick to walls by being bitten from a radioactive spider, which is totally implausible, but it's still a good story.
    As above, so below

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    I think the use of tachyons are worth considering. Also, Dark Energy is out there, and there is little clue as to what it is, though it is far greater than any thing else that exists. Antoniseb's stuff from the earliest time of the Big Bang, when antimatter and matter beat the snout out of each other is good advice because we are becoming more and more comfortable with the fantastic events that took place back then. An anomaly from that time finally reaching your planet is not too far off the scientific trail.

    If you need to develop the credibility of the astrophysicist, then more details will be helpful as he gives important advice. As you likely know, usually the fewer details the better, because the greater the details, the greater the scrutiny, and straying from the struggle itself is rarely helpful. Stay balanced.

    For example, the last Star Trek introduced Red Matter, but they avoided a ton of questions about its nature by just ignoring them. Nevertheless they spent a little time showing us that is was special stuff. The personal struggles to acquire it and handle it were far more important to the story, and they got away with some whopper holes in their plot.

    I hold the view that a person's strength often reveals their weakness. If you give someone superhuman strength, give them an offsetting subhuman weakness. This invites the need of a companion, and opposites attract. 20k words, huh. Ok, nevermind.

    Since you're in the UK, you might find this across-the-pond sister forum helpful, too. If nothing else, their time will be a little more agreeable for you, I'll bet.
    We know time flies, we just can't see its wings.

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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    I hold the view that a person's strength often reveals their weakness. If you give someone superhuman strength, give them an offsetting subhuman weakness. This invites the need of a companion, and opposites attract. 20k words, huh. Ok, nevermind.
    If he's 20k words in and only now looking into physics, that leads me to suspect he's been focused on the characters, which is a good sign.
    Et tu BAUT? Quantum mutatus ab illo.

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    Another thought. A virus is one possibility, but so might be an invasive bacterium. An alien bacteria may not kill, but may program and carry plasmids that can get into cells like viruses and reprogram some of what they do. Another cool thing about bacteria I saw on a TED Talk is that they can talk to each other with chemical messengers and they often don't act until their concentration/numbers are high enough for success, which is determined by the quantity of chemical messengers in their vicinity. Maybe that could act as a time delay before the changes begin and the powers manifest themselves.

    Or you could go really weird and have nanites that communicate long distance with alien programmers, who may turn out to be controlling people remotely as part of a game system or interactive Reality TV show.
    Et tu BAUT? Quantum mutatus ab illo.

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    And as another poster points out in this thread, bacteriophages might be useful for DNA transfer too.
    Et tu BAUT? Quantum mutatus ab illo.

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    Another issue with radiation, even if you have some elaborate explanation for it producing some complex change in DNA, humans don't keep a single copy of their DNA...each cell has its own copy. If the radiation doesn't make precisely the same alteration with every interaction, including those with already-altered DNA, it'll likely kill the target before it alters enough cells to give them any sort of powers. The situation's rather different if the powers show up in the children of the exposed people...an alteration in a single muscle cell or neuron is probably going to be harmless, but that one cell's not a very good basis for a superpower. An altered sperm or egg cell could pass the alteration to every cell of the offspring, however.

    However, unless the "superpowers" are some simple and relatively subtle exaggeration or modification of an existing characteristic (increased muscle density or neural interconnections, modified cone receptors in the eyes giving better color perception, etc), I still think something that comes out of space and causes superpowers is only really believable if it was designed to do so.

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    Again, thanks for all the comments, there is a lot to work through and I am going to dedicate a night to this whole matter sometime next week when I get back from work. I really appreciate the feedback you guys have offered ;-)

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    A bit more techno-fi if you like, building on cjameshuff's comment:

    Civilisation A builds a self-replicating probe with a limited intelligence designed to explore their solar system, make more copies of itself and then fire them off into space to explore other systems too. These probes get smarter and more capable until their creators see them as a threat. Because they were not stupid there is a termination sequence embedded deeply in the minds of the probes. They send the signal to shut down the probes locally and it works. They all go quiet. They then think about how this will look to the extended diaspora of other smart probes. So they start systematically sending out small, dumb probes that broadcast the shut-down sequence wherever they end up.

    So you have these intelligences running away from an expanding area of space that is being made uninhabitable for them by their ex-masters. They cannot stop for long anywhere, or so they think, but need to refuel, replenish and so on. They are curious, smart and have their own set of machine-mind derived rules for how they interact with things. So they land on a planet (the meteor storm), mine and synthesise their fuel from whatever materials they find there (including some good old fashioned nuclear synthesis - which would give off radiation, and the secondary radiation would linger). In exchange for this, because they have a very rigid theory of barter morality, they do what they see as a repair and upgrade of the DNA of the people they see as custodians of the materials they have taken (super-powers).

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    A quick idea on admittedly just browsing this... imagine some bit of nanotechnology that was like a combination of a bacterial cell with the viral ability to open and modify existing cells. As it's own cell it could have some power gathering, storage, and a variety of abilities you simply couldn't modify human cells to do and have them be human. This could provide a strange growing set of abilities over time, especially to the unprepared. Plus the viral side can make modifications to the normal genes and sort of work towards a symbiosis between your cells and the nanite cells. You know what that tech might be really good for?

    HEALING PEOPLE EXPOSED TO RADIATION.

    So I propose that, instead of the radiation giving the characters powers, instead the nanotechnology meant to protect anyone exposed to the reactor is what gives them powers, while saving them from the damage it would cause. It was a failsafe. The characters wouldn't immediately know this though...

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    Radiation can modify your genome, but more importantly your epigenome. That is the degree of expression of your genes. Mere UV radiation can damage your DNA (skin cancer, for example), but stronger rays can do it better, faster. Maybe some radiation could have played with the methylation of your DNA, thus giving the same genes different properties by their degree of expression. Maybe they could "cleanse" the DNA completely, giving complete un-hindered expression of all your genes, which could, if you stretch that out a little bit, give your heroes "superhuman" powers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Xibalba View Post
    Radiation can modify your genome, but more importantly your epigenome. That is the degree of expression of your genes. Mere UV radiation can damage your DNA (skin cancer, for example), but stronger rays can do it better, faster. Maybe some radiation could have played with the methylation of your DNA, thus giving the same genes different properties by their degree of expression. Maybe they could "cleanse" the DNA completely, giving complete un-hindered expression of all your genes, which could, if you stretch that out a little bit, give your heroes "superhuman" powers.
    That'd be quite a stretch...removing all gene regulation would cause more or less immediate death as all cells suddenly (and briefly) start trying to do the work of every cell type simultaneously.

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    Now what you might do is a behind the scenes description of why the Space shuttle was as large as it was. The Teton bolide of 1972 even could be a von Neumann probe of a certain size, and the shuttle was enlarged to bring it down once classified expendable missions launched upper stage tugs to guide it back for disassembly and return via orbiter.

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    I don't have anything to add, but as a fellow space fan, research nut, and writer of superhero stories, I want to wish you the best of luck in your writing, and to say that I'd love to talk stories at some point in the future.

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