David M. Kelly

Science Fiction Writer

It’s incredibly interesting to see the newest developments in nanotechnology. The research holds so much promise for development in materials’ science that the possibilities are almost boundless. Imagine for example, clothes (or even buildings!) that can never get dirty. Imagine super-strong, super-light conductors that could rewire electricity grids and make them fifty times more efficient. Or how about adaptive armor materials that could be strong light and flexible, and yet protect a soldier from a bullet–or a car’s occupants in a collision.

One of the fantastic possibilities in this area is the development of molecular self-assembly, where materials actually grow into objects”spontaneously” because they are designed to do that. We see this effect in nature in the formation of everything from chemical molecule to crystals and even entire galaxies, but now we’re on the verge of being able to control and shape these processes directly into creating things that are useful to us.

In Mathematics Of Eternity, I imagine a community of space-living humans who dominate the Earth from giant “Atolls.” These Atolls are not built in the traditional way, but instead are grown through a self -organizing process, much like crystals are created but on a much larger scale. The idea is that as the population of the Atoll increases, they would “bud” new areas to provide room for the extra people.

The new volumes would create themselves from a “seed” and a supply of the appropriate raw materials, forming chambers, walls, and basic infrastructure components such as ducts, walkway,s and partitioned spaces. Once the growth is complete, people and machines would move in and finish the process to make the space habitable. How much of the basic construction could be achieved this way? That’s hard to speculate on, but in my imagination I think something in the order of sixty percent.

I imagined the Atolls looking like a kind of futuristic snowflake, the growth process constantly being extended in multiple directions to maintain a balance to the structure, and each new section being grown on to existing sections. Here’s a render of what was in my head when I came up with the idea.

While much of this is fanciful, architecture as a whole is on the verge of an explosion of new ideas and concepts, only made possible through the use of these new materials. A few years ago almost no-one had heard of 3D printing and now not only can you buy small desktop versions for the same price as a computer but we also have the first 3D printed buildings.

Imagine the process as the crystalline buds grow, organizing themselves in to the shapes and forms needed to create a station in space. Swarms of robots, both at a macro level but also at the nano-scale, guiding and nurturing the process.The end result? A building, or a skyscraper, or a space station.

Perhaps my vision isn’t so far off after all.

It’s really exciting to see more developments on the flying car front and demonstrations such as the autonomous flight displayed by the Cormorant from Urban Aeronautics. For SF obsessed people like myself, the concept of flying cars has been a dream for at least the last fifty years. And who can possibly forget the Jetsons?

Unfortunately, reality has been a few steps behind the dream for quite a while. But now we’re on the verge of breakthroughs in materials technology, computational capability and lightweight power-sources hat will finally turn these symbols of the future into everyday conveniences!

From my perspective, this is not only something I’ve waited to see since being a kid. It’s also an idea that features heavily in my up-coming novel Mathematics Of Eternity, in which my lead character flies cabs in twenty-second century Baltimore.

In my future vision, flying cars–or aeromobiles as I call them–are common-place, partly for convenience, but also because coastal cities have been flooded to a greater or lesser extent, due to rising sea levels and as a result moving around on the ground is seen as a somewhat risky endeavor.

The first of the links above talks about some of the challenges involved with such vehicles. Don’t expect these to be controlled solely by humans. By necessity they will be semi-autonomous, with the drivers “guiding” them, but also paired with traffic management systems to cope with the mass of low level air-traffic. As well as avoidance systems within the vehicles, there would undoubtedly need to be some kind of centralized coordinating system to ensure safety of the vehicles themselves, as well as general safety of the populace. I envisage different control zones, where the cars are allowed to be more independent outside urban zones and more controlled over cities and dense population areas, in much the same way that we have more rigidly defined (and enforced) regulations covering regular cars at the moment.

What’s kind of cool to me, is that while I was working on my novel I came up with an idea of what my lead character’s cab might look like and to my eye, it’s not too different in configuration from the Urban Aeronautics Cormorant! Take a look:

In my design, I shrouded the turbines (thinking of safety in an urban environment) but, overall I think they have a similar layout. Also remember that the current designs being tested are really at the dawn of flying car technology. I’ve no doubt they’ll evolve significantly the way cars have. But at least we’re finally seeing the first steps to flying car heaven!

Space is strange. Space is big–very, very big. It’s cold, it’s hot, it’s dangerous, it’s tranquil. It is everything and nothing. In short, it is so different from where we are now that only the noisiest of authorities would find it well received.

But above all else, scifi architecture is the strangest.

I’ve been doing some 3D modelling recently while putting together a trailer for my upcoming novel, and as a result I’ve been browsing a lot of concept art. There are some incredibly talented artists out there, but something that often baffles me is the vision of space architecture.

By that, I’m not talking about external ship design. We have no idea what such ships might look like–not having developed warp drive, hyperdrive, or any of the endless variants yet–so any guess is pretty much as good as any other (although most spaceships/starships will consist largely of fuel tanks and radiator fins, and as such are unlikely to have much in the way of pleasing aesthetics.) But when it comes to scifi interiors… Well, take a look at these:

The image on the left  is a Victorian era bedroom. Note the fancy arched doors, the ornate multilevel ceiling with complex carved wood and plaster detail. Can you imagine the cost, in terms of both labor and materials, to build this now? Then compare it with the modern bedroom on the right: standard, square, uniform door sizes. While still a comfortable room, it represents a fraction of the effort required to build the first. And yet, according to modern scifi shows, we’re led to believe that future rooms will look like this:

To move around their ship or station, our scifi heroes have to pass through the dreaded scifi corridor (of doom?). A corridor in the real world is a somewhat mundane affair, almost always rectangular and usually laid out with 90 degree corners at intersections. This isn’t just happenstance; these general limits are the best overall fit for human shaped objects to pass through. They’re also economical in terms of materials, easy to construct and maintain.

But what has happened to the standard simple corridor in the world of SF? Well, it appears that it will go the way of functional pockets in women’s clothing (Hi, Christina!) Humanity will collectively lose all knowledge of 90 degree angles, flat surfaces, and perpendicular walls.

Hexagons and octagons are apparently de-rigeur in the late twenty-first centuries onward. Oh and pipes of course. You know the things I’m talking about… pipes, tubes, anti-matter conduits, vulnerable control circuits etc. Hell, let’s just leave those out in open view where any schmuck with a hammer can attack them.

It didn’t used to be like this. Back when Star Trek first aired, corridors were… well, kinda sensible:

Okay, they probably weren’t going to win any color-scheme awards and they had some odd decoration here and there, but they were functional. Sure, they were curved to presumably follow the curve of the main hull, and some parts of the ship had odd shaped examples (engineering) where perhaps there were other constraints. But by and large, people-corridors were people-friendly and familiar. But now?

Huh? It’s like living on the inside of a dirt bike tire painted white (of course!) or maybe a drug inspired vision of Dali-esque waffle-iron hell. And jeez, I pity poor Scotty and the engineering team trying to maintain those “billions and billions” of hidden lights buried in the walls.

Or how about these from Space 1999?

Still fairly practical, despite the seventies chic, and not likely to trip someone up every few meters with the often seen obstacle course of bizarre bulkheads.

And don’t even think about doors. Doors in the future will slide, rotate, dilate, fold, bisect, aperture, off-center rotate, unfold and in all directions (sometimes simultaneously), but no door will ever just, hmmmm, open. Hell, that would be far too simple. The fact that many of these “future doors” move or rotate into places where there wouldn’t actually be space for them? Let’s not go there.

So, if you’re thinking about designing some future architecture, please try to remember that people have to build it, maintain it, use it, and oh yeah… live in it–whether they’re human or alien.

Now, where’s my damn transwarp-curmudgeonator?

I mostly talk about writing and astronomy on this blog, as those are among my main interests, but these topics aren’t disconnected from the rest of events happening in the world. Astronomy not only gave us an unprecedented knowledge of space, it also provided us with our first real understanding of our position in the universe. And it was a humbling perspective.

In his famous “Pale Blue Dot” speech, Carl Sagan said:

“We succeeded in taking that picture, and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives.”

“To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

The fact is that now, over 20 years after he made this address we are still not looking after the world and the consequences of that are truly frightening.

Recent news is a mixed bag, in the Netherlands the national railway is now operating its trains on 100% electricity generated from wind power. A great example of hat can be achieved. Yet, at the same time, reports show that the global average tax  on petrol/gasoline has dropped by 13 percent over the last 12 years–leading to subsequent increases in consumption, and the release of even more greenhouse gases.

Despite the recent news that renewable energy supplies are now cheaper than fossil fuels, there are still only limited attempts to switch over. The obvious question is–why? The obvious answer is “powerful, vested interests” in the fossil fuels industry. This desperately needs to change.

Although astronomers have now identified over a thousand exo-planets, not one of these is known to be suitable for harboring life. Even if they did tease out the information that one of the planets can sustain human life, thy are so remote as to be unreachable in any but the most long-term view. Using our  current technology reaching Proxima–the closest star–would take us thousands of years. Even if we had some unexpected breakthrough, we would still be talking hundreds of years to transport people there.

Earth is it. Our only hope for the foreseeable future. We need to protect it, so that it can nurture us until we develop sufficiently to move into the stars. If we don’t, the result will be extinction.

Some people think we can’t afford to take the measures necessary, but the real question is–can we afford not to?

I’ve been working on various models for my book trailer and have tried to find a good way of creating panel lines for projects such as spaceships. This can be done with materials, but I’ve had better luck creating physical detail rather than using texturing.

Up to now, the method I’ve used has been slow and cumbersome, but after recently going through a bunch of tutorials on adding this kind of detail, I’ve found a method that seems to work well (at least for me) and is non-destructive to the base mesh. So I thought I’ share it for anyone interested. This introduces more polygons, so may not be suitable for models intended for real time rendering, but works fine for still images or video/animation.

Personally I find that a clearly written set of instructions is much quicker to follow than a video tutorial, so here goes:

  1. Add lines(edges) on model where panels wanted (might be able to use existing edges depending on surface)
  2. Mark desired panel lines as “sharp”
  3. Add “Edge Split” modifier, uncheck Edge Angle
  4. Add “Solidify” Modifier. Adjust Thickness to taste, check Only Rim to avoid back facing polys
  5. Add Bevel modifier, Adjust Width and Segments to taste.

You can now add or change panel lines by marking/clearing sharp on edges! Also, this method would allow you to turn off the panels completely if needed for a particularly complex scene render.

Here’s a shot of the modifier stack (Click to enlarge):

And an example before/after shot (click to enlarge)

Thanks to the following people for their helpful  youtube tutorials:

Andrew Price

Jason Clarke

Dan Brown CGI

I’ve speculated a couple of times on the possibilities of life on other planets (Life Everywhere and Water, Ceres and Life for example). Now we have more information to add to the growing likelihood that life is likely to be found anywhere that the right conditions exist, no matter how remote they may seem.

Recent discussion suggests that microbial life may exist in the dark clouds within the Venusian atmosphere, while other research shows yet more evidence that Mars may also have, at least at one time, been hospitable to life.

Planning for new missions to both worlds is currently underway and may finally confirm these speculations in the not too distant future. If it does, it will be a great day for the world and especially the exobiologists trying to determine the course that life may take outside the realms of our small planet.

Hopefully this will happen soon, and I stand firmly behind my “prediction” that we will find life everywhere. The nature of chemistry seems to naturally move in the direction of life-supporting compounds, making  and almost inevitably to life itself. Just imagine–the entire galaxy or even universe as one giant breeding ground for living organisms in all their myriad forms.

Just what might we find out there…? (Cue Twilight Zone music…)

Researchers at MIT have developed techniques for creating 3d graphene materials that are incredibly strong and lightweight. With tested strengths as much as ten times higher than steel while having only 5% of the weight (density).

The materials make use of structures called “gyroids”–a kind of sponge-like arrangement–to create three-dimensional structures with potential applications for building components for vehicles and other machinery.

Graphene has been known as a high tensile material for quite a while, but only in single-atom thick sheets that have limited practical uses. This new development could make it’s adoption far more widespread. It also may avoid some of the flaws caused by imperfections that naturally occur in such thin sheets.

The exciting thing here though is the potential for use in rocket and spacecraft design. When it comes to launching anything into space, the limit is always a case of the mass (weight) versus the thrust available. Simply put, the lighter the object you’re lifting, the easier it is to launch. So materials such as this could revolutionize space systems.

More than that though, the gyroid structure can be applied to other materials too, enabling the creation of lighter weight versions of things like actual steel, concrete, and others. With the world’s resources limited, it is only sensible to be as efficient as we can wherever possible.

We seem to be on the threshold of a whole new world of materials science where we can control and build materials down to atomic (and smaller?) levels–an exciting time for engineers everywhere as well as those of us who dream of seeing humans spread to other worlds.

I’ve been a little quiet for a while and as usual I’ve suspended my advertising posts for the holiday season. Like many people I get tired of the incessant over-commercialization of this time of year and don’t want to be part of it.

The past year has been a mixed one for me. I had more surgery, but that healed well and it looked like things might be stabilizing, but more recently the wound has re-opened again. Although it’s slight, it’s still stressful and worrying.

From a writing perspective, this has been a tough year. I’ve released several new short-stories, but mostly I’ve been grinding away at my novel, which has taken a lot more work than I hoped it would to get ready for publication. But it’s very close now, and should be released early in 2017. After that it’s straight to work on the sequel, which has been sitting in the wings for some time now.

Along with writing, I’ve been experimenting with open-source software for graphics production and have been very pleased with the results. The capabilities of both Blender and Gimp have been a very pleasant surprise and can easily rival products costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars. They both have a learning curve of course, but all software does. For the money saved, the effort is well worth it.

All in all this year has been good in many respects, and I’m just happy to be in a position to carry on developing my writing projects. That for me is the most important thing. There will be a lot happening in 2017, that’s for certain and I’m looking forward to it!

Thanks t my readers and fellow indie authors for your support this year. Best wishes and I hope everyone can enjoy a new year full of happiness!

Today, I’m pleased to announce the release of my latest S.F. novelette, Fenton Treeby Is Missing. This one came about under unusual circumstances. Free copy to the first person who guesses where the name Fenton Treeby comes from! It was fun to write and I hope it’s equally fun to read. Here are the cover and back-cover description.

An entire town has vanished. And so has the world’s greatest scientific mind, Fenton Treeby. The Internal Security Bureau wants answers and fast.

ISB Agent Steve Boardman is assigned to the case, but it’s his first week back on the job after recovering from severe PTSD. To make matters worse, his assigned partner, Lynna, is as busy trying to prove he’s crazy as she is looking for a way to pin the disappearance on the Pan-Asians.

Boardman has another theory. One that might be Continue reading

I live in a small city called Sudbury in Northern Ontario, Canada. How that came about is a bit of tale in itself, but not the subject of this post. Needless to say it’s often seen as an eccentric choice by many when they hear about it. (“You’re moving to where?” Said the immigration officer at Pearson Airport in Toronto.)

SudbThe Big Nickel, Sudburyury is what a lot of people would call a “working town.” The main industry here and the reason the town exists is mining. In the past they mined gold and diamonds, but the real mineral power houses have always been nickel and copper–produced here for well over a century.  On the west side of town stands a giant Canadian Nickel as testament to the wealth hard-rock mining  has brought to the area and many areas and streets around town are named after mining and mining companies. Even Edison got in on the act and moved to Sudbury as a prospector in 1901, discovering the key Falconbridge ore deposit.

The legacy of such endeavors isn’t always Continue reading

Dead Reckoning "...a wonderful introduction to a fun, new Canadian author." Click for excerpt

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