FLT, Universal Translators, Artificial Gravity, and My NaNoWriMo Experience

Spinning is so much cooler than not spinning. I’m the General I want it to spin”

General Hammond (Stargate SG-1 “200”)

When writing science fiction there are two basic types – hard and soft. I tend to be more drawn to soft science fiction. I love Star Trek with its transporters, shields, and the deflector dish which seems to solve so many problems.

Soft science fiction requires willing suspension of disbelief and everyone has a different threshold. The Star Trek transporter is something I am fine with – a star drive powered by mushrooms I am not.

Photo by Ashish Raj from Pexels

The funny thing is that while a transporter is impossible anyway I would find it weird if it could beam up a standing person and rematerialise them in a sitting position. To me that seems more impossible. Can you have degrees of impossible?

And speaking of the threshold of disbelief… Threshold is also an episode of Star Trek: Voyager – where we lean that travelling to infinite speed leads to being transformed into a salamander! And still more believable than a mushroom star-drive – well maybe.   

Hard science fiction is based around our current understanding of the universe. In some ways the limits of space exploration are down to budget more than possibilities. Think what NASA could do if they had the US defence budget. An example of hard science fiction is The Martian. Which in my opinion is one of the best films ever made. It was so refreshing to see a science fiction film with out a villain. I was literally on the edge of my seat for parts of it and I had to remind myself a couple of times that it wasn’t based on real events – that is how well done it was.


For my own writing I like to go for a balance between the two. I don’t want the vagueness of energy shields, not that they don’t look cool, but I do want FLT for what I want to write it is essential.

As well as FLT I feel the need for a universal translator. Without such a device the story becomes about the language. There are films and TV shows that have done that to good effect but I want to sidestep the issue. That said I want a plausible universal translator. It can only translate languages programmed into it. For races not previously contacted it might take hours, or even days, to be able to build up a translation. Perhaps the computers of us and the aliens could talk to each other and work out a way to  communicate.

For my writing FLT and a universal translator are essential – but what about artificial gravity?


In film and television science fiction artificial gravity is often just there. It is not explained and is accepted as a science fiction staple. The reason is obvious simulating zero-g would be prohibitively expensive. 

A book doesn’t have that issue. In a book you can do anything. Except that you still have to think about the physics of the situation. And physics is not one of my strong suits. 

A good halfway house is to have your star ship, or space station spin. This creates the effect of gravity and, while not being quiet this simple, the writer can basically forget about it and get on with the story. 

However in writing for nanowrimo I still found that the physics of the situation confusing. My brother does understand these things but I can’t be calling him all the time. So I am wondering should I just give the ship artificial gravity and maybe inertial dampeners and have down with? I haven’t decided. Anyway here are seven things I learnt from doing nanowrimo.

One: Have a plan. I launched into this with out one of any kind of plan. As such a lot of what I have written may prove useless. Still 50,000 words have now been put together in a way not done before and that, if only to me, is worth something.

Two: Consider the merits of different types of narrative. This is connected to the first one. I wrote my novel in first person. My protagonist was a low ranked crewman. That was fine until I realised that there were important plot points that she would not know about. It seems the story would work a lot better in third person.

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

Three: Focus on the novel. I try and do too much most of the time. We all have so many calls on our time it is difficult to juggle them all. I left myself with a situation where the ending was rushed. Early days of NaNoWriMo had very few words written. Next time the words should come first and then the other things. The key? Smash through the target on days off so days in work, with greatly limited time, are easier to manage.

Four: Think of food. My diet is, in general, not great. That is a bigger problem that I need to deal with. For nanowrimo it has been worse as I have not wanted to take the time to cook. Next time I need to have a meal plan to stop this from being an issue. I have put on a bit of weight from this month.


Five: Don’t neglect the body. Work obviously gets me out of the house but days off need to be considered too. It is all too easy to stay in for most of the day writing even if it is not going well. Staring at a blank screen is not going to help. Exercise is important. Yes the guy who can’t resist free cake, it happens at work sometimes, is telling you to be healthy!

Six: I don’t need to be linear.  One of the things I struggle with most in writing is bridging sections. Characters need to get from one place to another but you can’t put every detail i.e: being welcomed into someone’s home, removing shoes, coat and banal greetings for example. When dealing with nanowrimo if Chapter 4 isn’t coming together you can do Chapter 5 or 6 or any other part.     

Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

Seven: Relax. This is very much a ‘do as I say not as I do’ situation. At the end of the day Nanowrimo is about you and you alone. And if you don’t get the words it is not a huge deal. If you are anything like me though you probably feel as pressured by internal deadlines as you would by external ones. So if life gets in the way, or the words aren’t flowing, don’t worry about it. Take some time to relax. Even if you only get 10,000 words that is still an amazing achievement.

So how did your November go? Were you stressing about something too? For December I am going to do more writing but with a much more manageable word count of around 20,000 words.

I just wanted to say that I have checked this post. I really have. Unfortunately my particular combination of dyslexia and dyspraxia makes it really hard for me to spot typos. Please enjoy and I’ll try not to make too many errors.

I have a Patreon page. I hope you will consider supporting this blog: https://www.patreon.com/unstableorbit

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