Hi everyone! I have to say, you guys took me a little by surprise by expressing so much interest in the details of engine speed and distances traveled! Here’s little old me writing what is unabashedly a “soft sci-fi” story, but the moment the word “parsec” threatens to bring a little astronomical substance into the picture, the comments page springs to life! But honestly, I’m not complaining. Reader involvement is the best thing ever! **happy dance**
My writerly instincts have been to leave as much of the fine details of How Things Actually Work as I can get away with behind the curtain. I mean, I knew from the outset that I’m breaking all kinds of (currently) fundamental laws of physics with FTL drives and artificial gravity and probably lots of other things, too—I consider these to be part of the necessary suspension of disbelief which we all must engage in to enjoy our science fiction space operas. And given those assumptions, almost any explanations I try to give will sound like technobabble. Or else they’ll sound flawed and dated within ten years, as our real life scientific discoveries continue.
Of course, it’s exactly those world-building details that lend a story weight and solidity, and make it the kind of place you want to spend some time in. So enough of my wishy-washing and let’s get to the details! Well, I call them details, but right now what I’ve got is sort of a general sense of things. But since many of you have added your insightful thoughts on the matter in the comments on both the Girlamatic site and the Galaxion site, I’m hoping that together we can turn my rough ideas into something a) more detailed and b) sensible.
I think of the Terran Sphere of Influence (a term I just whipped up for the occasion) as being separated in two parts: the inner sphere and the outer sphere. The inner sphere contains the inner colony worlds, and obviously a bunch of them are right in our own solar system, terraformed planets and moons. I had imagined there would be one or two more systems (such as around Alpha Centauri), each with several colonized worlds, within a few weeks travel from Earth.
The outer sphere is less well traveled, but contains some vital colonies and outposts. To get to the nearest of these is a couple of months travel. The farthest colonies are about 3 months out.
At the outer limits of the outer sphere sits Myrad, living on which is my one race of intelligent aliens, who have been alluded to but have not yet appeared. Myrad is roughly 4 months out, but not lined directly up with the outer colonies—it is a bit more than a month’s travel to get from Myrad to the nearest colony.
The Pathfinder probably ended up 3 months away from home, but not terribly near any of the colonies. And then add on the 3 weeks of repairs, so you’re looking at close to 4 months to get home.
Within these spheres, there is a lot of unexplored space. Overall the total number of established colonies is not enormous—my current thinking is around 2 dozen, maybe a few more. Most of these will be in the inner sphere, and most will be grouped, so one star will account for several. This does not include outposts. I’m guessing TerSA maintains maybe another dozen of these.
So by extension… if 3 months travel gets you 5 parsecs, then Myrad, at 4 months away, is about 6.67 parsecs. Is this big enough to encompass all my colonies?
I grant you, even five months of travel doesn’t sound like much compared to the several years NASA is currently considering for a trip to Mars. My original travel analogy of regular engines vs. the Jump engine was traveling around the world on a sea-going ship vs. making the same journey by plane. Airplanes revolutionized the way we see the planet, and I expect Jump engines would do the same for space.
So… any thoughts or suggestions? From a story point of view it’s the time spent traveling that’s the important thing—the actual distance, bizarre as it might sound, is flexible. I could even go smaller in the size of my spheres, for example, if that would make the FTL speeds less outrageous… though I calculate their average FTL speed to be the Star Trek equivalent of Warp 3.5, by that Warp Speed Calculator which Baxter pointed out.
Bleah! I have now run to the end of my brain power. Your turn!