This insane Ferris wheel stretched a hundred meters from side to side.

But it was an ephemeral contraption of twigs and straws next to the wall of metal looming behind it. Seen from dead-on the Drive would be a disk: a landscape turned on edge, a hard-edged topography of ridges and trenches and right angles. But out here on the wounded rim Brüks could see the mass piled up behind that leading edge: not so much a disk as a core sample extracted from some artificial moon. The striated faces of sedimentary cliffs, carved in metal; monstrous gnarled arteries twisting along the patchwork hull, carrying rivers of fuel or coolant. The arc of a distant engine nozzle, peeking past that metal horizon like a dull sunrise.

A cylindrical silo squatted dead-center atop the drive section. Cargo hold, perhaps. The Crown‘s backbone emerged from its apex like a sapling sprouting from the stump of a great redwood. All this forward superstructure— the Hub and its habs, the flywheel, a hemispherical nose assembly bristling with antennae— none of it mattered in the shadow of those engines. Just a few fragile twigs in which meat might huddle and breathe. Fleas clinging to the back of a captive sun.

Fellow mammals, the Crown of Thorns:

Crown-of-Thorns

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Friday November 15 2013at 07:11 am , filed under Dumbspeech, fiblet . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

19 Responses to “This insane Ferris wheel stretched a hundred meters from side to side.”

  1. That’s one hell of an engine. What kind is it?

    I also find it kind of funny that this ship has an attic. Never have thought of a need for that in space. Then again, you never know when you need something extra.

  2. lynnderiso:
    That’s one hell of an engine. What kind is it?

    Antimatter-catalysed microfusion.

    I also find it kind of funny that this ship has an attic. Never have thought of a need for that in space. Then again, you never know when you need something extra.

    “Attic” is just a moniker. It’s actually more of a physical plant, or a Jeffries Tube on steroids. Valerie likes to hang out in the attic.

  3. Really good illustration! Did you do that yourself or did some kind person run up a model and render it for you?

    Highly visual prose, too; you’re still in form. :)

  4. Pretty! :D

    When rigged for burn, do the habs simply “hang” from the retracted spokes, or do they also have an attachment point directly to the spine?That is, are the spokes load-bearing structures during engine burn?

    Edited: Gah! Apologies, I’m unobservant today – just noticed the hab clamps.

  5. Mr Non-Entity: Really good illustration! Did you do that yourself or did some kind person run up a model and render it for you?

    That was me. With help from Photoshop and an array of bits and pieces (some excised and remixed from that unbelievably amazing Theseus lamp built by Andrew Chase a few years back.)

    Ethan Maron: Edited: Gah! Apologies, I’m unobservant today – just noticed the hab clamps.

    Yes. Hab clamps. I was about to say.

    Although they are rendered in the unclamped position, which is technically wrong for the left side of the illo.

  6. Peter Watts – PhD, Author and Photoshop master.

    My job demands that I spend great deal of my time in Photoshop, so I’ve gotten pretty damn good with the program. As such, I can recognize quality work when I see it, and this my friend, is excellent work.

    It doesn’t help that I’m a total specs geek when it comes to scifi. I’ll study any diagram, cutaway or technical schematic that I can get my hands on. I’m going to be spending a long time looking at this. I might even make a few zoom-y sound effects as I imagine it hurtling through space.

    Your next task: insert the Crown Of Thorns into this image: http://img.gawkerassets.com/img/191accgnmnevzjpg/original.jpg

    Y’know, for like, science n’ junk.

    Pro level task: a new powerpoint presentation that details the construction and design of the Crown of Thorns. I’ve listened to the Vampire presentation about fifty times and would love to see another made for Echopraxia.

  7. One more comment:

    Does the top section (the “stalk”, I’ve called it) retract itself into the center of the drive section during a burn or to protect the retracted Habs from bursts of cosmic radiation?

    Perhaps the stalk only buries itself up to the Hub, leaving the Flywheel, Attic and Parasol exposed.

    Still, I’m not sure how safe it would all be. After all, the Habs would be embedded into a hollow within the drive section, perhaps surrounded by antimatter, coolants and other not-so-good-for-you substances. Maybe it’s better to distances your humans from all of that.

    I can’t wait for Andrew Chase to make a physical model of this.

  8. I just got a great pickling idea from this.

  9. Pretty neat illustration. Not that hard to put together using layers and some extra shadows, etc.

    Is it going to be in the eventual, printed book?

    By the way, suppose this big ship needs to turn-around? Does that get done by asymetrically firing the main engine, or are there some thrusters in the image I failed to notice?

  10. Y.: Not that hard to put together using layers and some extra shadows, etc.

    I agree, but what IS hard is making all of those disparate elements look like they belong together (no doubt one of the reasons this image is in greyscale).

  11. Any “To Hab and to Hold” puns forthcoming? Sorry I can’t geek out more, I’m not in the mood…

  12. ken,

    Too true. Matching colors and tinges and brightnesses of variously sourced layers is a pain in the ass – even though Photoshop has that helpful ‘match color’ tool …

  13. Does the top section (the “stalk”, I’ve called it) retract itself into the center of the drive section during a burn or to protect the retracted Habs from bursts of cosmic radiation?

    I’d say no. making the habitable area retractable would weaken it mechanically, increase weight, and increase mechanical complexity. Cosmic rays would probably just zip right through the engine anyhow. If you want a storm shelter of some kind in there you’d be much better off just running a tunnel to a shielded area. Everybody would squeeze in and wait it it out. The tunnel would double as a maintenance access, so the space wouldn’t be wasted.

    Y., on November 16th, 2013 at 6:24 am Said:
    By the way, suppose this big ship needs to turn-around? Does that get done by asymetrically firing the main engine

    There is a fringe of smaller nozzles around the rear. Just fire them asymmetrically. You’d get better leverage from thrusters up by the parasol, but it would put a lot of mechanical strain on the spine. Also, you’d get flexing back-and-forth as the spine first flexed and then rocked slowly back to it’s neutral position. People wouldn’t like it. Airseals wouldn’t like it. The rotating parts wouldn’t like it.

    are there some thrusters in the image I failed to notice

    On this scale you’re not going to see anything smaller than an office building.

  14. ‘Canal!
    That’s one dead serious motor section; what are you doing, hauling asteroids?

    I count eight rocket motors, each of roughly 20m diameter. For reference, the Rocketdyne F-1 (they used five of ‘em on a Saturn V) was about 4m in diameter.
    Forty times the total thrust of the ol’ Saturn V.

    “Antimatter-catalysed microfusion. ”
    OK…so we don’t need to worry too much about the Rocket Equation anymore either – I was going to hold out for larger fuel tanks.

    Yup. Definitely hauling asteroids.

  15. Yup.Definitely hauling asteroids.

    I don’t see an easy way to load it up with rocks. I would lean towards hard acceleration for extended periods of time, whether interplanetary or interstellar I can’t say. A lot of the volume of the drive section may be fuel.

    I’ve been thinking about attitude control. Using those big thrusters to steer might be undesirable. If you look for example at a multi-engine aircraft they don’t reduce power to half the engines to make a turn. They use something smaller and more precise and leave the engines set at their optimum speed.

    At first I was thinking a rosette of ion drives somewhere up by the parasol for fine pitch and yaw control, and to damp oscillations in the spine. The flywheel would handle roll. Then I realized that you’d have to carry Xenon (or something) for reaction mass and it would eventually run out.

    You could mount pairs of gyroscopes up there and they’d run for as long as you had electricity available, provided the axles held up. I don’t know which setup would work better in the Crown.

  16. The variable-geometry habs are genius; acceleration-induced gravity whether the engine’s on or not, in the same direction in both cases, without stress on the rotator while the engine’s firing. Nice work!

  17. That’s a truly lovely diagramm, even though I think those habs are tiny (3m across?).

    When, oh when, will the sequel to Blindsight ever be done?

    P.S. I still think the rationale behind the Vamps is ridiculous and borderline Twighlight-ish, but they do make excellent plot device monsters, and there are very few authors who can manage the utter bleakness of a Peter Watts novel.

  18. Y.: Is it going to be in the eventual, printed book?

    As far as I know, yes.

    By the way, suppose this big ship needs to turn-around? Does that get done by asymetrically firing the main engine, or are there some thrusters in the image I failed to notice?

    Those nozzles around the edges were supposed to be maneuvering thrusters, until someone noticed how honking big they were. Probably need to tweak that figure a bit before the galleys.

    ken: Does the top section (the “stalk”, I’ve called it) retract itself into the center of the drive section during a burn or to protect the retracted Habs from bursts of cosmic radiation?

    Perhaps the stalk only buries itself up to the Hub, leaving the Flywheel, Attic and Parasol exposed.

    Nah, the spine doesn’t retract; ambient radiation would fry anybody who ended up behind the shielding, for one thing.

    The parasol is normally furled up for storage. It’s shown here in extended mode, but that’s only necessary when they get too close to Sol.

    anonemouse:
    The variable-geometry habs are genius; acceleration-induced gravity whether the engine’s on or not, in the same direction in both cases, without stress on the rotator while the engine’s firing. Nice work!

    I was quite proud of that. There’s a scene where they start a burn, and spin-grav has to hand off incrementally to accel grav. The spokes fold down slowly like the ribs of a parasol, making sure the vectors balance so that “down” is always vectored against the deck.

    The thing is, it’s such an obvious feature that I can’t be the first person to have thought of it. Although I haven’t seen it in any of the designs I’ve hunted down online.

    Theo: When, oh when, will the sequel to Blindsight ever be done?

    It is done. Check pack a few posts. But it won’t be on the shelves until August.

    Be warned, though. There’s a vampire in this one too. Also zombies.

  19. I think we would understand the ship much better if we knew why the habitable area extends out in front. It would be mechanically superior to have all that stuff just be an extra level on top of the engine. Since it’s not, there must be a reason.

    My best guess is that the area around an active fusion pinch is a burning hell of exotic particles and searing radiation. Moving things farther away from the pinch would take advantage of the inverse square law to reduce exposure. The various working fluids in the tanks presumably double as radiation shielding, and there may be a final protective layer towards the bottom of each hab.

    Oh, about that parasol. There is a problem with it’s placement in that you cannot pass near the sun and maneuver at the same time. Throw in a side parasol and you could add in a burn at periapsis, get the biggest bang for your buck.