Thursday, October 27, 2011

Worldbuilding: zero gravity

I workshopped Course Corrections at Viable Paradise and since I got back I've been working on a serious revision of the first draft. Insert all the usual advice about putting a manuscript aside for months before revising here -- it's all true. Do it.

As a departure from my fantasy world-building posts, here's a science fiction world-building post.

Zero gravity. Science fiction tends to avoid it. It's counter-intuitive and awkward. But if you're willing to try to tackle it, I recommend Packing for Mars by Mary Roach as a fascinating place to start your research. I've enjoyed all her books, in fact. For fiction, Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series. I should've read more of those, but that goes without saying. Head over to YouTube and look for footage of astronauts in zero gee.

Here are some things that came up in the course of writing 140k or so in low-to-zero gravity...

Real zero gravity toilet
They're a massive engineering challenge, in real life. But as far as stories go, unless the toilet is a problem you don't have to explain it to the reader.

In current reality, showering does not work in zero gee. Personally, I have great faith in human ingenuity and trust that we will figure something out. My characters do a fair amount of personal cleaning with wet wipes, though.

Holy crap, cooking. This was the single most challenging thing, for me. Because if people are going to live their whole lives in space, they're going to need to grow food and cook it out there. Currently, all astronaut food is prepared on Earth and shipped up as packaged meals, so no help there. I started thinking about centrifugal boiling. Centrifugal frying? Radiative ovens verses convection? At several points I just wanted to throw up my hands and microwave everything. But who would want to live on nothing but frozen dinners? (and who's making the frozen dinners?)

Skip it, like the toilets? Maybe, maybe not -- see the next entry.

Sharing meals is deeply ingrained in the human psyche, and very important for a sense of community. People wonder why families who don't eat together feel alienated from each other? Different rant, sorry. But since the characters are going to be eating together, it's inevitable that there's going to be a scene set during a meal or while preparing for a meal.

On a practical level, it seems to me that food needs to either self-adhere to something easy to eat it from (whether a bowl or a skewer) or it needs to be sufficiently self-contained (such as a burrito) or just plain bite-sized (see all those videos of astronauts throwing food at each other). Alternately, food that's fluid enough to drink -- broth, yogurt, milkshakes -- from a squeeze container should work too.

Also consider: forks or chopsticks? Chopsticks won that argument, in my head at least.  

Turned out to be the least of my worries, actually. I figure you just need good leverage and stamina... :D Hint: search on free porn video sites for underwater sex. It's someplace to start.

Feeling brave enough to write in zero gravity?

Zero gravity, part two


Daniel R. Marvello said...

Yikes. Writing a story set in zero G really would be a challenge. It's hard enough tackling some of those subjects at one G. Makes me glad I'm a fantasy writer!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject.

The Golden Eagle said...

I've never tried writing in zero g . . . I've attempted stories set in space, but there's almost always some kind of gravity simulator in place.

David Powers King said...

I've written some Zero Gravity before. It was a challenge. Thankfully I had great examples like Ender's Game to help me with that. And it was more of a spacewalk scene, anyway.

Excellent post! :)

Josh Hoyt said...

This is great post. Never written in zero gravity though.

Huntress said...

In the news:
"FAA says, skydiving sex stunt didn't violate any rules.
The video shows part-time skydiving instructor and porn star Alex Torres and the receptionist from Skydive Taft engaging in sex in the plane and after jumping out."

Well, there you go, more research tools for your novel.

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