Monthly Archives: January 2012

Poster-sized Star Map print

Got the A1 version of my star map. Again, as with the small test version, the photos simply don’t do it justice, but I had to post some anyway.

You can see some dice in one pic, and the small test print in two others, to compare the size. And, yes, I really need better lighting in this apartment.

But I’ve also learned two lessons more to the subject matter:

  1. I am very happy I did not edit the image – the test print seemed dark and the labels hard to read; on the A1 map both the color and the readability of the labels are absolutely perfect in my opinion.
  2. It was an excellent choice to go with matte photo paper, over the glossy stuff.

I’ll get two A3 matte versions printed in a few days (Saturday) as well. One is going to go to Lex Mosgrove, because he claimed that he wanted one.



Star Map – Final Version – And a Look Back

So, I’m finally done. I created my own star map, covering Human Space as I will describe it in my science fiction series.

Final Star Map: Overview
Final Star Map: Overview

This image was scaled down considerably; the original is at 200dpi – 6622×4677 pixel. It’s 72MB in size as a PNG file. Here are some 800x800px crops from the main map:

Star Map: Region around Terra
Star Map: Region around Terra
Star Map: The Sword Worlds
Star Map: The Sword Worlds
Star Map: Empire
Star Map: Empire
Star Map: Federation-Imperial Border
Star Map: Federation-Imperial Border
Star Map: Seals
Star Map: Seals

I’ve worked on this map on and off for three years, taking some detours in between. In the end I learned a whole lot, and I think i can honestly say, improved as a mapmaker and graphics person. I will never compete with the true professionals, but just consider these early versions of the map:

First Version: The Milky Way Galaxy. This was actually a trace of a NASA image, and I was really just experimenting.

How it all began: At first, I attempted to draw a basic Galaxy…

Second Version: Zooming In. An entire Galaxy is an awful lot of real estate. So I began to zoom in on the Region around Earth. It was still a very crude map.

Spiral Arms: Closing in on the Target
Spiral Arms: Closing in on the Target

Third Version: The Orion Spur. At this stage I began to nail down the setting. You see an early draft of the political situation in this image.

Orion Spur
Orion Spur: Early design of the interstellar nations

Fourth Version: Human Space, Revisited. As the old map wasn’t really working out, and was ugly to boot. I started a new version from scratch. It was based on a solid timeline and a detailed setting design. At this stage, the map was very basic.

Human Space: The Next Generation
Human Space: The Next Generation

Fifth Version: Let there be Color. The next two images are just later versions of the above; as you can see I added a great deal of detail over time. The second map probably has 200 named star systems – that’s a guesstimate, I did not recount them.

Human Space 2c
Human Space: With Colors
Huamn Space 2j
Human Space: Colorful and detailed

Sixth Version: Near Space Distraction. At one point, I began to doubt my design – and decided to go more small scale. I began to map out individual star systems near Earth based on Hipparcos data. In the end, I abandoned this approach – the setting wasn’t bad, but I felt it did not really match what I had in mind.

Near Stars
Near Stars: A New Attempt
Near Stars: Overwhelmed by Data
Near Stars: Overwhelmed by Data

The Near Star Map’s styletests, of which this was the last, showed me that I wanted a map that was not just functional. Working on the style tests taught me a lot.

Near Stars: Style Test v7
Near Stars: Style Test v7

Seventh Version: Back to Square One, Just Prettier. After I discarded the Near Space idea, I reset certain things, changed some assumptions, and experimented with a galactic map. This was the result.

A New Galaxy
A New Milky Way Galaxy
A New galaxy Closeup
A New Milky Way Galaxy Zoomed In

Eight Version: Full Circle. I liked the techniques I was starting to develop, but as in the very beginning, decided that an entire galaxy was just too much space. I zoomed in and concentrated on the Orion Spur. The rest, as they say, is Galactic history. Here is an early version of the map that I completed this week:

Orion Spur, Again
The Orion Spur, Again

And the future?

This map is done – but that doesn’t mean I won’t work on it. The settings needs to be built, detailed maps for at least some regions need to be produced, and of course the entire thing will continue to evolve. In another three years this map will probably not look the same.

Update: Welcome, Reddit users – thanks for the compliments, you have no idea how happy it makes me that someone enjoys my work!

Star Map – Test Print

The test print of my star map came out really nicely. I went ahead and ordered an A1-sized poster. I did order Matte instead of glossy paper, and I hope this doesn’t change things too much. At worst I’ll be 20 Euro poorer. The small print, by the way, was a mere 4€.

Unfortunately, my apartment is too dark and my only camera – an iPhone – is not really that great, so the photos didn’t come out so well:

Note the CD for size comparisons.

I will take new photos on the weekend – during daylight – and of course once I get the poster.

Astronomycast: What if Something was Different?

Astronomycast #246 deals with the question: What if something was different? What if any of the parameters of the universe was different, what if we were further out in the galaxy, what if we didn’t have gas giant, and similar topics – this is of great interest to a world-builder because it gives you a good basic framework of what does and doesn’t work in your fictional universes. AstronomyCast is a good podcast at any rate, I recommend it highly.

Mapping H. Beam Piper, Part 6: Total Chaos

I’ve remarked on Piper’s inconsistent travel times before. Most of the times when Piper gives us “distances” for travel, he actually uses hours spent in hyperspace. The problem with this is, we can never be sure if he means “real” time, or shipboard time. Shipboard time is also inconsistent:

Four Day Planet:

Belsher’s been on the ship with Murell for six months. Well, call it three; everything speeds up about double in hyperspace.

Uller Uprising:

“Well, it takes six months for a ship to go between here and Nif,” Prinsloo considered. “Because of the hyperdrive effects, the experienced time of the voyage, inside the ship, is of the order of three weeks.”

We can of course assume that he usually means “real” time. There are problems with this, too. For example, in Space Viking, Trask remarks of his crew:

“They’ve been in hyperspace for three thousand hours.”

It’s quite clear that he means real hours, because a ship logs a light year an hour and Gram and Tanith are three thousand lightyears apart:

“The Duke of Wardshaven,” Harkaman reminded him, “is on Gram. We are here on Tanith. There are three thousand light-years between.”

If time speeds up in hyperspace, Trask’s men would have spent 1500 hours in hyperspace – as this was used as a reason for their shore leave.

Piper probably dropped the “hyperspace time speedup” in later works, after all it doesn’t really add anything and makes things more complex. Space Viking in particular throws a lot of travel times around, as an essential element of tracking down Dunnan. Adding the time difference would have made the story needlessly complex, probably to the point that it might be impossible to follow.

It still means that, if I wanted to really stick close to “canon”, I’d have to revisit every statement of travel times and attempt to infer from context whether it’s “shipboard time” or “real time”.

The more time I spend with this, the more I begin to doubt the feasibility of actually creating any kind of canonical star map for Piper’s universe – what I used as the basis for my star map project is probably as good as it’s going to get…


Plot-a-Day: Power of the Atom

Nuclear power is the stuff of our dreams. It promises clean and safe energy – no greenhouse emissions, no dependency on foreign oil sources. At the same time it was devised as an ultimate weapon, and thus has become the stuff of our nightmares. The iconic picture of a mushroom cloud is firmly burned into our collective cultural consciousness. Nuclear accidents, nuclear terrorism, nuclear war – each has the potential to keep you awake at night, if you are prone to worry about such things at all.

As a consequence, all things nuclear have crept into our pop culture wherever you look. Indeed, it stands to argue that nuclear war created post-apocalypse as a genre. Nuclear power can be a powerful element of a story, whether for a game or for fiction.

Nuclear War

Nuclear war, the prevention and consequences of it, are basically their own sub-genre of science fiction. It’s pretty much beyond the scope of a Plot-A-Day post to tackle it in its entirety. Some ideas, though:

  • Nuclear wars do not have to be global in scope; a regional exchange and its devastating effects can make for an interesting setting, since you will be able to highlight the damage and the suffering better as foreign journalists arrive among the wreckage.
  • Nuclear war can also occur on other planets, whether alien home worlds or human colonies, with our intrepid heroes having to prevent the catastrophe from happening. Likewise, a spaceship crew could stumble across a devastated world and attempt to piece together what happened. If the war is recent, interaction with the survivors is a source for endless topics and a neat way to run some temporary “post apocalyptic” stories.
  • One trope is to follow up the nuclear war with either the development of mutants, who may be very zany depending on your setting, or with a war of machines against the surviving humans. Think Terminator. This might be especially interesting if the war was regional – in this case, it becomes a sort of “alien invasion” setting. The rest of the world will quickly send in troops to contain the rogue AIs.
  • The prevention of nuclear war or nuclear strikes is another common idea. Think Crimson Tide. Works in any genre, really.
  • And if your character can not prevent nuclear war, in the right setting having foreknowledge of a nuclear strike may make for an excellent “race against the clock” type adventure. Perhaps the character are psychic, and nobody will believe them, or perhaps they are Space Federation agents charged with recovering an important item before a planet gets nukes.

Nuclear Accidents

  • Thanks to the Japanese, the specter of nuclear accidents is once again on people’s minds. One possible (classic) plot idea is a cover-up at a nuclear power plant after an accident – you can’t really keep a large scale disaster a secret, but perhaps some of the employees were irradiated and turned into Zombies, superheroes, or simply dead goo. Weird events at a powerplant could easily involve Cthulhu.
  • A “broken arrow” is a situation where a warhead was lost. Recovering it could be a lengthy adventure.

Other Nuclear Ideas

  • Suitcase nukes existed, though it is not known publicly how many of these were built, how many may yet exist, and if any of them “got lost”. Suitcase nukes are an excellent topic for an espionage-centered story, no matter whether it is “realistic” or James Bond over the top. If the suitcase nuke has been deployed, finding and disarming it may be more of a special forces scenario.
  • A nuclear explosion rips a hole in the space-time continuum and lets… something through. This could be anything fantastic, from aliens to monsters to magic pixies.
  • An espionage story could also attempt to keep the secret of making nukes from falling into the wrong hands. These could be Nazis (World War II or Alternate History), Communists (Post-World-War-II), Rogue nations (21st Century), terrorists (War on Terror), or even aliens (see H. Beam Piper’s “Uller Uprising” as an example)
  • A missile silo has been occupied by terrorists, and the protagonists have to go in and remove them before they launch the missile or take the warheads for later use.
  • There was a natural nuclear reactor in Gabon 1.7 billion years ago. Perhaps in a space opera setting this could be pushed to the extreme, creating a deadly natural environment. It’s probably too much of a stretch to posit natural nuclear bombs, but even if one of these extreme natural reactors sits on top of a volcano, any eruption may be a “dirty” bomb. The characters have to recover important documents or alien technology from a ship that crashed right into that hell..

Starmap Styletest Update – Jan 9th

Spent probably six hours updating this thing, and looking at it I wonder… why did that take me so long? I did experiment a little with regional / sector labels; and of course placing all those stars is actually much more work than it looks like.


And the entire map, downsized from the original:

Both were saved as JPG as well, so there’s some loss of detail from that as well.

As always, I’ve also updated the thread on the Cartographers’ Guild.