Monthly Archives: August 2011

Slowtrain to Arcturus

I was just re-reading the start of this. I really think that sequel is calling…


From Remote probe report 36e, returned to Sol; beamback 2793 AD

…appear to be a bi-pedal hominid spacetravelling species, occupying the second planet of G09 – 034T…

One of the biggest faults with the concept of a one-shot slower-than-light colony mission was the proportion of the time spent accelerating and slowing down. Take Barnard’s star for example. At 5.9 light years away, with a ship capable of 0.3 lights, a plausible speed for a ramscoop… you’d be there in 19.7 years, right? Wrong. It all depends on acceleration. High-speed acceleration is expensive and creates engineering stresses, to say nothing of the stresses on the biological matter. A slow steady push is best. You accelerate slowly for at least a third of your trip. And then you have to slow down again. If you’re going to visit a number of systems, this adds HUGELY to travel time. What’s more,  the momentum you’ve lost has to be built again. Momentum is expensive. It is energy. Energy, whether taken from solar-pumped lasers or a-bombs is a consumable. Even if it is ‘free’ solar power, it still costs to get it into a usable form, and once it has been used, it is gone. A metal Space habitat has finite lifespan – but it is an enormous one. The depreciating cost, amortized over its space-life, divided by its carrying capacity, makes it the cheapest vehicle humanity ever built. However: Building the momentum needed to travel between the stars is too expensive to waste on ‘one stop’ journeys, or even on leapfroging between stars. Once the colony ship accelerates it must never slow down again. Never. It will drop space habitat modules at each sun. But it must just keeps cruising slowly along, a slow train to the stars.

From SLOWTRAIN: THE STARS WITHIN OUR GRASP, Conquist, A., Mordaunt Scientific Press, NY. 2090.

“Do you want to colonize planets? Or do you want to colonize space? The former is much less practical.”

Author unknown

They looked like a string of tiny jewels. Jewels racing across the heavens. The astronomer waited, hardly daring to breathe.
Precisely at the predicted time there was a brief flare of light.  He hastily got up from his seat behind the hi-res screen. They had to get a move on to be ready in time! It was only fifteen years away.
That was a short time by interstellar travel standards. A bit long for him though… Weight would be a problem in the interception ship. He’d be changing sex about then, with all the weight-gain that implied. Oh well, there were hormones you could use. They did shorten your life expectancy — but that wasn’t going to be a problem. The people going on this trip didn’t have much of a one. He’d have to start recruiting. The crew would need to be specialists in two fields each, and more if possible. And they would have to be at least technically insane.


Filed under books, Writing

Dark Matter interview

Well i got have a look at the interview Dark Matter did with me. I’ll let you know when it goes live. Other than that I spent a vast amount of time hunting for passwords etc to get to website as I can’t get hold of Paddy, and it needs updates

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Each unto their own humour

I’m very probably the only person in the universe who will ever find this funny. But I did, to the point of having to get up and walk around because my sides were too sore from laughing.


The cave glowed with a warm and friendly light. Yeah, I know an eldritch and sickly glow would have been more appropriate, but Fintan uses some kind of glowing ceramic filament for lighting. I know because I got sent out to borrow a cup of perovskite and few spoonfuls of Ytterbium oxide from the neighbors, if they could spare them, when he was working on it. It’s cheaper and easier for me to order these sort of things online than to explain to Fintan that his neighbors are a furniture reconditioner and laundry, and neither of them would lend him a spoonful of sugar, let alone Lanthanide oxides. They might be more generous with rat-poison if they thought he’d drink it. That too is possible. He just doesn’t die.
I listened outside, cautiously. I’ve yet to work out what women find attractive about the old goat, but he’s not helpful when he’s interrupted. But all I could hear was his tuneless whistling. So I walked bravely in past the tottering piles of books. Grimoires, physics tomes, penny horribles… I bought him a computer once.  I thought he could use that for his research, instead of looting libraries. He thought it great for surfing online porn, until he’d given a large number of sites a virus. Then he got bored with it. That was typical of Fin. The time to be really afraid was when he latched onto the new idea.

There he was, in his dirty old white robe and bare feet, scrawling magical symbols onto the floor, straggly white beard narrowly missing the gunk he was shovelling out of little tubs and writing with. I sniffed cautiously. Yep. Quark. A kind of soft cheese, which Fintan makes in various flavours. This looked suspiciously like ‘strange’ quark, which was still better than ‘truth’ or ‘beauty’. They’re point-particles, which meant he was messing about with non-spatial geometry again. Sure enough there was his hand-blown modified Alice version of a Klein Bottle gently rocking away in the middle of the charmed circle.

I wondered if I should run like hell.

He shaped the last  symbol of the Feynman diagram and sat up and grinned at me with that childlike glee of his. “I’m hoping to summons Nonabelian ghosts to deal with the vintage problem.”

The rocking of the bottle was getting quite marked by now. It started to gyrate. The air was a little smoky, but that could have been from the fire on the other side of the orrery.  The bottle began to fill, slowly. With something in a nasty shade of virulent green.

Fintan looked at it and sighed. “It’s either Creme de Menthe again, or some poor alien’s just found his drinking beaker is a lot emptier than he’d thought it was. Well, neither are much use to me.  So,  Eochaid-me-lad, how about if we went somewhere to find a cool glass and some pretty women?”


Filed under books, Writing

some numbers

Running some figures…

A friend told me what editors and copy editors – being contracted to work freelance by publishers her in Oz are earning. He feels they’re exploited. I won’t get onto what authors are then.

So I put this together from various sources – some hearsay, some experience, not to be used as actual, but indicative (and please, if you want to volunteer figures, go ahead) :

for structural edit 3K


Original artwork 2K

Advance – new author – anything from 1.5K – 4K

Proofs 1K

Distribution – obviously based on number of copies and method, but call it 25-50 cents a copy at most.  With bulk shipping with other books to megastore chains, it drops more.

Layout and cover copy – mostly cover copy comes from the writer these days, and layout can be done for e-books very professionally for $300. So call it $500.

Marketing varies vastly, but for newbs and midlisters  it seldom runs beyond cover flats,  probably not more than 500,  produced as an off-shoot of the main print, probably around 20 cents each, + postage and labour. Be generous and call it 1K

Actual printing: The industry having for years dodged answers finally when challenged about e-books and the saving not being passed on say that printing is about 10% (presumably of cover) .

So to run some figures through this.

Say 4K for the advance, 3K for the edit, 1.5K for copy edit, 1K for proofs, 2K for cover art, 0.5 for layout – author provides cover copy (ie publisher contracted everything out) Distribution 1K. Marketing 0.5 (sending cover flats, taking orders – probably less).  Total – 13.5K + cost of printing (at 10% of cover price – what the industry faced with gouging comments e-books claims it is. So assuming 70 cents per book, with +20% for bulk shipping to Australia, and a print run of a whole 7K -$4900 US or 5K Oz – $4200 Australia or a total of 18.4K US and $18420 Aus. Book sold at 45% cover price $.3.15 US, and Aus$9.90.

In the US it has to sell 5842 copies befor any money goes to the NY office and the CEO’s lexus, let alone any other staff (although most of the publishing work, bar accounting is contracted out).

Sell through of 55% was considered reasonable once.

A sell through of the required 83%  is unlikely – although RBV acheived a 90, and several other books 80’s.

In Australia it has to sell 1860 copies to achieve the same.

A sell through of this scale – 37% is not quite such an ask – although the population is much smaller.

Of course the answer has been to cut expenditure on these items, often to the negative impact on quality. But that’s the accounting.


Filed under economics, publishing, Writing