Monday, March 26, 2018

Dieselpunk Manifesto Part 13: River Dragons

This review deals with strips Buck Rogers strips 120-29 found  here.

Flying over the Mississippi near the ruins of Davenport, Buck is surprised by a ... well he says it better than I can:

Presented as written. Seriously Buck?

I think Buck and Wilma need some more couple time. Be that as it may he descends into the Dragons' underwater base. You have to admire the Han's civil engineering. A couple of scientists build an underwater base and two super weapons and support apparatus, all on the low down. Despite the danger descends ready for a scrap. Wilma even says it's terribly dangerous -I think she's screwing with Buck at this point and giving the Dragons a little payback for gassing her (this is the second time after all.)

Buck soon discovers that Morke Ka-Lono and Om Ka-Zoril were contrite about their little misunderstanding.

A kind word can get you far, a kind world and a brace of rocket pistols will get you even farther!

They quickly turn things over to a subordinate and move their really sweet gear and projects to the fort at Elmira the Americans have set up for them. I have to say they are two of the more respectable 'villains' I've read of. They keep to their word, make a savvy alliance and everyone winds up happy.

Consider: the Golden Dragons want to get rid of the Emperor, a democratic government and have no interest in troubling the Americans. The Americans want the Emperor gone and no more raids so everyone will be better off. Except that Emperor who is going to take it in the neck but considering he's a drunken would be rapist -who cares about him?

Seriously, the man set out an ongoing mission for the Han Air Force: you see any hot babes, you grab them for me! Probably even gave them a list of preferred looks.

Anyway: the two scientists are set up with automated sensors and defenses and presumably under Niagara's air defense grid so they can effectively moon the Emperor with impunity if they desire. A huge air fleet shows up (American) and a proper garrison. It's another sign that American might is growing. Over the next few days Buck and Wilma are brought into the Golden Dragon's network and taught many of their secrets. Everyone is having fun when MacGregor sends word electronically to return home as Niagara is in a grave crisis!

MacGregor explains that the city is overrun with spies. A treaty with the Navajo Orgzone is gone, a colonel whacked, and plans for the new super rocket gun have vanished! Apparently the Han have activated a very competent and large spy network. It is another sign that as I said there was some mixing of Americans and Han in cities on both sides.

Mac has thrown a air and ground guard around the city. No one is to be allowed out until those darned spies are caught! Buck and Wilma will do the catching of course. In fact their orders are to be instantly obeyed!

There's an initial setback in the form of a dagger thrown at the pair when they exit MacGregor's office. You have to wonder how the spies got word of these developments so fast. maybe they monitored Mac and knew he was sending for them or by this time the Mongols have standing orders to just kill Buck immediately. Anyway, it misses. Buck takes Wilma out the back way to avoid the crowds and a knife in the back.

Wilma seems visibly shaken. It was established in the past that she was a competent soldier and no card but unfamiliar with low tech weapons. Apparently she's fine facing disintegration or being blown to bits, but not getting shanked. The two make a leap to another building but Wilma falters and misses, plummeting to the streets far below and possible death. Maybe Buck should have given her a minute to get herself together? Leaping and rebounding between the buildings he grabs her and manages to grab a ledge. On the ground once again he goes looking for the assassin while Wilma goes home to lay down after nearly dying twice.

Wilma suffers from the eclipse syndrome common to most sidekicks here. She is weaker, slower and more timid when the hero is around otherwise the strip would be about her. there's also the 30's female stereotypes at work here.

Buck soon finds an ugly character and is about to question him (profiling pulp style!) when his suspicions are confirmed by another dagger whipped at him. You have to wonder what's with all these daggers? It's the 25th fracking century. Thrown daggers are not the most effective weapons, even in an expert's hands.  Buck ducks and then gives chase (maybe the spy is out of daggers?) The assassin boards a tube car and Buck grabs onto the car as the doors shut and is carried along!

The assassin gets off in an affluent suburb of Buffalo. Rogers trails him and is surprised by Lanlu!

Interestingly the Navajo Orgzone has a treaty with Niagara. Niagara is the big cheese but there are a number of org zones that are powerful or useful and the Navajo are one such independent entity. Also interestingly the Mongols steal plans for advanced rocket weaponry so they obviously feel the Americans have technology that the Han are vulnerable.

More importantly the Han are no longer openly attacking Niagara but instead seeking out weaknesses and using sabotage against the city state.

Next Time Buck encounters the head of the Niagara spy ring! Hilarity ensues (as well as some torture).

Friday, March 23, 2018

We Has Met the Enemy Part Three

The Martians had small attack saucers. These were force multipliers. A ship was limited in the number of turrets it could use effectively. Power was only one consideration, and not as big as some thought. The firing arcs were a major consideration. The bulk of a ship would allow only some turrets to fire at a fixed point, Getting all the turrets to fire at the same fixed point involved rolling the ship. This meant ships were accelerating, dodging and spinning during a fight. The more turrets the more spinning was involved. Plus turrets took up a nontrivial amount of mass for machinery to rotate the turret quickly and then stabilize it for a shot. The upshot was you mounted one turret per 1000-1500 cubic meters of hull. The Triumph class would have 12 triple speed launchers. A fighter would carry a single turret due to considerations of hull strength but you could carry a bunch of fighters in 1000-1500 as opposed to mounting a single turret.

Then there was the matter of ground support. Fighters were good at it and ships were not. Losing a fighter in support of ground troops was one thing, losing a destroyer or frigate another.

The days of miniature electronic brains were over (or not quite here yet, dieselpunk, remember). So fighters required a human brain and life support came with that. A body came with that too. The brain in a jar designs had a marked lack of volunteers for pilots. Life support systems were more efficient the larger they were. So were engines and weapons.But the image if brave fighter pilots holding the line caught the public imagination. To the electorate that meant votes, so there would be fighters and pilots.

Much of the electorate knew nothing off engineering. Space fighters were easy enough to knock out. Pilots were recruited. It was a fraction of the cost of the program to develop the Triumph battleships. The number of engineers involved was ... nontrivial. this was noticed when someone finally asked, "What are we doing for carriers?"

The solution was to have the Triumphs carry fighters. The two additional Triumphs being rushed to construction were marked for modification. Simple.

The engineers didn't think so. Carrying fighter meant either an open framework with racks for the birds to ride on or a large interior bay and probably both. this required a complete redesign.

At the Flying Dutchman expansions and upgrades were progressing rapidly. The Martians thought the Earth people were a bunch of energetic imbeciles and they did nothing very well, but even the dourest Martian had to admit that they worked fast. The Triumph was going to undertake her maiden voyage to the Flying Dutchman to show the flag and Admiral Buckner was pretty sure disaster would follow. No one was sure what the spark would be to touch of a Mars-Earth war but this looked pretty close. Additionally the Triumph would arrive without fighter escort. There were delays in transporting the craft to the Belt.

The Flying Dutchman had some fighters: Thunderhead class, air space superiority craft. They might even reach Mars if you sent a propellant bus with them. they had wings that were just wasted mass unless you were hitting a target under atmosphere.

This fact was not lost on the Martians either.

Admiral Buckner called in Megan Detwiller and asked if she could arrange fighter escort for the Triumph.

Megan replied that she could. Just send the Triumph's course and schedule to the Martians and they would be sure to send plenty of fighters after the Triumph. Megan was working 36 hour days lately, lost her last scrunchy, and had taken to wearing her electric slide rule in her hair.

Admiral Buckner's reply was spirited and unprintable. So was Megan's response. Then the riot act was not read so much as broken over her head. Whatever they could do to help the Triumph along they, meaning she, would do. She was taken off all other projects. Besides it was time to see just how big a mess the Earth Defense Council made by ordering these fighters.

Megan fabbed up several models of the Triumph and a Thunderhead fighter and began examining docking strategies. Most were slightly less damaging than enemy fire. Clearly the Triumph would not play nice with smaller ships so much as sit on those attempting to dock. Then she had a drink. Then she had another. She was pretty much sold on the idea that docking a Thunderhead to a Triumph would be very hard on the fighter pilot but much harder on the battleship and in particular its Gamma outrigger pod. There were things in Gamma that did not react well to collisions.

They were the same things that were in the other three pods.

Nevertheless, a few hours later she was down in the canteen celebrating her brilliance. Admiral Buckner soon turned out because celebrating her brilliance apparently involved dancing on a table  and engaging in gyrations that her anatomy would find painful in a full gee field if she was sober.

Buckner got her off the table and called a bright young ensign to secure the engineer. The ensign inquired as to whether the engineer to be secured should be listed as: flammable, explosive, or volatile?

That got the ensign a dopeslap. The ensign left with Megan under one arm. That was grandstanding. In a tenth gee Megan could do the same with the ensign if she wasn't passed out and snoring softly.

Admiral Buckner swaggered over to Megan's office. It was hard to swagger in the low gravity but he managed it. She had to be happy about something. He found it, right after he found the empty fifth.

The next morning Megan had a meeting with the Admiral who informed her she was being cut off since she was crazy enough cold sober. She admonished him for the 'Sensitive Material' label stuck open her behind. The admiral said he had a much shorter name for her. Several in fact. Then she showed him her work.

Basically she had chopped a meter off each wing of the Thunderhead. This was no mean feat, since the Thunderhead's engines were mounted on the wings as well as landing gear, antigravity drive stabilizers, control surfaces, antenna for sensors and vents for said engines.

Buckner did a little flying in his time. The thing looked like it could dock. The question remained, would it be able to do anything else?

Megan thought it would. You just needed a pilot bat shit crazy enough to be first to fly it.

There was no shortage of bat shit crazy pilots, Buckner replied. They were more common, and less trouble than bat shit crazy engineers. Buckner freed up a detail and armed them with hacksaws to modify a pair of Thunderheads. He also modified an ore hauler into a fighter tender (meaning it carried propellant, and could do little else for the fighters).

Megan noted that with all the problems the Earth Defense Council caused a hardening if the Space Fleet that made facing an off world enemy relatively simple. Then she went off to resume her hangover and be thoroughly sick.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Viva the Shuttles

Metal armored pontoons just sounds wrong. It did to the admirals and the Earth Defense Council.

The Earth's new Space Fleet needed shuttles though and Admiral Buckner's one time protege and now ally, Captain Destry of the Special Forces, was lobbying for this unlikely design.

The Viva (working name) was small, fast and easy enough to build. Four solium powered rocket engines would get her to orbit and fast. Breakthroughs in metalizing and crystalizing hydrogen led to newer safer methods of storing the solium. Larger ships refined and manufactured the stuff as it was needed. The shuttle didn't have the energy reserves for that.

The lack of a reactor meant the Viva had a more energetic re-entry than ships with anti-gravs (though not as terrible as the old chem engines the used re-entry to shed all their velocity). Instead of landing gear, the shuttles had pontoons for water landings and take offs.

That was the crux of the brass' misgivings. Would pontoons survive re-entry and be watertight afterwards?

Eventually, was the answer. Two prototypes had mishaps before the pontoons were sufficiently thick and sturdy enough to survive their rigors. It wasn't as difficult as it sounded. Wet navy battleships floated with heavily armored hulls. The pontoons were made of the same stuff as the rest of the hull (a little thinner). Most of the shuttle was taken up with liquid hydrogen and would float a while without the pontoons. They learned their lesson after they sunk one of the two prototypes.

Landing gear was harder to install and maintain than pontoons. Spaceports on Earth were almost all near bodies of water. The same was true of Venus and Mars (canals -remember? They fed to reservoirs in many areas.) Mercury and Luna were a problem,

Vivas could reach geo synch orbit or Luna with minimal cargo. A boat that could reach the Moon but not land was a problem. Using a separate lander would defeat the purpose of the Viva in the first place. Having a pool for landing and keeping it filled with water in a vacuum would be a neat trick. Older vessels had used paved strips with magnetic brakes installed underneath and some of the older Lunar engineers remembered them and had a fairly simple fix. Who said the pontoons had to land in water

Going meta for a moment, this is a possible forward ramp. I need a dorsal hatch as well and for docking. I've not yet channeled the VVA-14 fully. That may wind up considerably larger as some sort of patrol ship.
The Lunars reactivated several of the old strips with the magnetic brake devices and they were soon  covered in finely pulverized dust to a depth of several meters. The dust was fine enough to behave like a somewhat thick fluid. Dust was the bane of Lunar colonists for years and it felt good to get some use out of the stuff. Surprisingly it worked (metal pontoons, remember?) After a few remarks about 'smart-assed Lunars' the Mercurians followed suit.

There were some mishaps. Viva-367 struck a rock everyone missed, landing near Lunapolis. The pontoons had a self sealing feature. It sealed the pontoon and the Viva returned to Earth with a pontoon full of vacuum. this actually worked pretty well till it imploded and the shuttle floundered.

Viva's now have air pressure sensors in their pontoons preventing similar accidents. If the sensors are working. Such is life in space.

Monday, March 19, 2018

New Speeder

So I started with an image:

I couldn't find the original image. There was a series of abandoned Soviet installations and vehicles. It was the dead of winter in that photo and somewhat indistinct. So I filled in the holes (figuratively and literally). A lot of Soviet stuff looks sort of dieselpunk. Their mad science is legendary. 

I gave the poor bird wings and several engines. I was tired of antigravity. This bad boy was going to burn metallic hydrogen and be fast

I went with two versions to start. The one with the mirror canopy (left on top, right on bottom) has extended wings. These are racers. Given the power of the engines and the energy density of sodium (my unobtainium version of fuel) there are two main circuits, Trans Atlantic and Trans Pacific. As in you fly across one or the other.

Spacecraft use special antigravity fields to keep their rocket engines from melting. These speeders don't have that luxury. Instead as they race, they have to constantly watch engine temperature. They fly as close to the redline as possible and have a small quantity of liquid hydrogen onboard to use in emergencies. Or they can try to save it for a last dash close to the finish line.

There's more to be done of course, landing gear, control surfaces, lights, and greebles! I'm also toying with making this a modified shuttle for my battleship design.

I am not sold on the bubble in the back. Was it originally a turret? Observation dome? Should I just armor over it? It'll come to me. So rocket racing for your SF setting! Let's make this a thing. Also saw an interesting engine design I may use for inspiration when rendering my showy magical rocket engines.

Friday, March 16, 2018


We knew there were extrasolar planets out there. Mars, Earth, Luna, everyone wanted them without knowing why.

Slower than light was no good. An expedition had to go to another star and return while the administration that launched it was still in office. Preferably right before elections. Space had to be removed, folded, persuaded to GTFO of the way. Many people worked on it.

Then research announced a breakthrough, a drive that would could insure a landslide election victory and coincidentally cut down travel ties to the stars from centuries to weeks. Several ships were lost testing the Drive. That was bad enough. But then the Artemis returned. Some people thought that might be even worse.

The Luna was in range to make an intercept. We hung on for dear life as she shed velocity dumping it on Sol, Mars and Vesta, as her radiators glowed red under field drive. Her tactical rocket engines shed the last few kilometers per second of velocity difference and we came to rest a kilometer off. Normally the field drive would bring us even closer together but that was out if we had no idea what her drives would do.

Artemis didn't answer hails. Her interior lights were on and flickered. A search and rescue was ordered. Search and rescue team would consist of Tornado and me. I was a wormhole victim already and had skipped the last few centuries. therefore I was unlikely to recognize ordinary drive machinery, let alone the miracle machine they had plugged in over there. Moreover, like I said I had transited a wormhole already, just like Artemis. I might have some quality that would prove useful.

Tornado was a badass. Need I say more? Any hypothetical aliens over there had better be prepared to communicate in a polite fashion or T-man would hand them a first contact they'd never forget.

We'd rappelled (winched? pulley'd?) across the grapple cable and found the lowest deck open to space.  The entire lowest deck was an airlock. A sturdy metal door and an airtight hatch leading upward. We entered, floated to the deck and closed the hatch after fiddling about with the seals and making sure they wouldn't quit on us. The outer hatch had opened after all.

Nobody stopped us.

We pressurized the deck and opened the inner hatch. The gauges read 1/2 atmosphere, same as our suits and the airlock back on the Luna we'd run/float/climb to in a pinch. The hatch opened and we climbed the ladder, leaving our suits on and sealed.

I spent a bad moment or too wondering could there be things here that made wearing a space suit irrelevant? I got over my daydream quick. This was where the gravity field of the ship was generated. The deck we'd walked a minute before was now the overhead here as gravity reversed. My stomach did a small flip flop.

"Gravity is going ... about a half meter squared. Not too bad. No crew yet. But ... this deck is often left unscrewed in flight. It messes with your inner ear after a while."

So we climbed to the next deck: Power. No one there either. Or on the next deck, Machine Shop and Airlocks. Empty

That was what I told myself. They were empty. I had no idea what Tornado told himself.

The next deck was crew quarters and tornado allowed me a slap on the shoulder s and small smile. As we emerged his smile faded fast. The deck squished under our boots. The lights were on emergency mode: red lit. Tornado slipped a little in the uncertain footing. Then I got to the light switch and snapped on the normal lights.

It looked like ...

roadmaps? Each spread around a large red concentration or city.

Plastered on the deck and some walls but ...

the outline was of a person.

Blood vessels. We were walking on people's circulatory systems, the ones on the deck anyway. I froze and regarded the human wall decoration closest to me, embedded in the wall. Then its eyes opened.

Tornado was shaking me, roughly. You can't slap a person wearing a helmet and visor. Not well. He said softly but sternly, "Mr. Spooner ... Tyson. You just climbed a kilometer of cable with me in open space. I know you're not a coward or weak. We got eight more decks to check on. You gotta get yourself together. I can't drag you around."

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Let it loose slowly. It caught in my throat several times. I opened my eyes and said, "Ye-e-e-ah. If anyone made it back, we can't leave them here."

Tornado nodded. "Right. But these poor bastards ... didn't make it."

I shook my head, also not very well because of the helmet. I was watching those eyes. We couldn't even end their suffering with a bullet. Where was their brain?

"No,worse than that," I said. "They made it halfway."

Coming soon to a Alt-History near you!
Operation Starfall will detail a Special Forces team sent to investigate strange doings on a remote Aleutian Island. The team finds a mysterious derelict and must secure it from a Japanese landing force. except there are things aboard that do not want to be secured.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

We Has Met the Enemy Part 2

The work on the Triumph continued with some major hiccups. The structural engineers were not happy but they were never happy because a) they knew everyone should build spherical ships for the greatest hull strength, volume to surface ratio and b) after turning out a perfectly nice hull, the avionics, weapons, propulsion and operations monkeys just swarmed putting holes in it for avionics, weapons, propulsion, and operations (well airlocks mainly).

The propulsion group had a new greeble that carefully and forcefully adjusted the anti-gray for fine maneuvering. This could save many tons and dollars for a cold gas style reaction control system. This also led to a brief flare up of the old civil war between the reactionless and reaction drives departments.

The new greeble was a long probe mounted atop each outer pod with various vanes and panels extending. It seemed fine until the weapons team said the optimum placement of the missile turrets would be right under them. From her new HQ on an asteroid called Flying Dutchman Megan Detwiller got word of this, snorted and said it was a great set up as long as you didn't fire missiles forward or didn't care about the mother of all greebles.

The weapons division said the missiles could be jiggered to go around the panels and such. Fire them, they'd boost a little to the side, loop out, and come back on course!

The structural engineers laughed themselves sick and said there wouldn't be this sort of problem if you used a goddam sphere.

The weapons group got a surplus turret, mounted it on the Triumph, and fed it a bunch of their well trained sidestepping missiles. They fired eleven missiles and did well until missile number 12, which decided it was going to teach its creators some humility even at the expense of its own existence. Number 12 slammed right through a very expensive field variation panel, sending shrapnel through other panels and the main greeble. The structural engineers laughed their asses off yet again. For a while, the structuralists didn't get invited to any engineer parties. The Triumph's test crew, after losing stabilizers and having to shut down their engines to prevent a cascade failure, had rather harsh words for engineers in general.

"That poor greeble was just two weeks short of retirement!" -Megan Detwiller
Megan Detwiller was sent the video by a friend (probably one of those structural engineers) and remarked maybe they should have used a surplus greeble as well as a surplus turret? This led to one of the weapons guys calling her a name usually only used by women to refer to a woman and then behind closed doors. Megan Detwiller sent him a message daring him to call her that with less than a second's worth of time lag.

By then Admiral Buckner told the ground team to rotate the loving greebles so the loving panels were out of the loving way and stop sending these loving puerile messages and get back to their loving jobs, and the next idiot using such loving language on Ms. Detwiller, or anyone else, would get a senior officer's size 13 boot lodged where you'd need a loving medical probe to find it.

The Admiral didn't use the word 'loving' in the actual memo.

All four big mother loving greebles were detached, rotated to have their vanes face inward and rewired and remounted. About this time the operations team got into a fight with the weapons team because their wonderful extendable airlock extended right through one of the gun barrels shearing it off and wrecking the turret. The airlock was repositioned but it was still too close to the launcher in the view of the weapons team.

It was a design feature insisted the operations team. A final defense against boarding actions. Sometimes property had to suffer for principles. The structuralists said the way the guns were positioned they were also a pretty good defense against a mutiny and a swell self destruct system at no extra cost!

Some people traced that last comment back to Megan Detwiller which did not help, but eventually a compromise was reached. They moved the turrets.

This also was not nearly as easy as they thought. The weapons engineer issued an apology to Detwiller. Detwiller issued a kiss to Admiral Buckner that merely bent protocol. Then she got back to work and began mounting anti-grav drives on truly huge chunks of ice and rock.

The project was a simple one. Earth needed a number of secure fueling depots to support actions against Mars and to allow further exploration of the outer Solar System. Defending those bases was a whole budget issue. defending earth and Luna was the highest priority and the Belt was regarded as a backwater, even though it could easily hold the key to strategic operations against Mars.

Earth ships battling at Mars would have to go about 200 million kilometers to return to Earth for more propellant, spares and repairs. An asteroid base (or three really) would that down by half or more. this could save lives and definitely saved propellant used in avoiding missiles, beams and other hostile emissions.

The planners were the same people who didn't understand Megan Detwiller's explanation of mass ratios and delta vee a few weeks earlier.

Megan's solution, supported by Admiral Buckner, was to fit a number of icebergs with anti-grav drives and position them in various 'easy to reach' orbits. Each 'depot' would have a small engine, reactor, basic mining equipment and a fuel refinery plant. Aside from a few short bursts of energy and heat when they boosted into an orbit they would have virtually not heat or EM signal and would probably stay secret till earth had need of them and could defend and upgrade them.

It might occur to less honorable, more inhumane minds that these mobile icebergs would also make dandy world wrecking weapons.

It occurred to the Martians immediately.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Dieselpunk Manifesto Part 12: One Morke for the Road

This review deals with strips Buck Rogers strips 110-19 found  here.

Om Ka-Zoril is about to renege on his surrender and sweetheart deal to the Americans, Back and Wilma. The two Orgzone scouts are amazed by one of those magic television systems that treats them to various views of Golden Dragon operations (theft of disintegrators, blackmail evidence on a viceroy etc.) Om stands behind them a monkey wrench in hand and is about to bash their heads in.

I doubt it would work. Number one, Om Ka-Zoril is not used to physical combat (he surrenders to Buck pretty quick.) I could probably take him. Number two, there are two of them and once he conked one the other would beat the hell out of him. Number three, they are wearing helmets so he might not even land a solid shot.

As it happens Om decides they would be more useful to him left alive and that the deal he offered is pretty good for him. He quickly hides the wrench in his robes. Buck says that running the Goden Dragons could be vital in their struggle against the Emperor. Wilma decides that Buck should take the flyer back to Niagara, to get MacGregor's final word on the deal. Sending a radio message would be to dangerous for a deal of this magnitude. Buck flies off leaving Wilma to guard Om. Wilma vows to blow him to the streets of Glory at the first wrong move.

Buck presents the deal to MacGregor who is all for it but fears bringing Om to Niagara (spies, remember?) Instead he assigns Buck a squad to garrison the old fort of the Elmira Orgzone. Buck heads back to Om's lab only to find Wilma and Om gone and traces of a gas bomb lingering.

It seemed that not long after Buck left several Golden Dragons arrived and knew something was amiss when they saw the lights on. Wilma was a little creeped out. Om was sleeping soundly. The scouts sneaked up to a window, saw Wilma lolling on a desk and threw a gas grenade through the window. They bundled the unconscious woman and Om into their ship and took off.

The Golden Dragons headed for More Ka-Lono's headquarters in the ruins of Davenport on the Mississippi River. More was expecting accolades but Om was ... ungrateful to say the least. Called More an idiot and everything while Wilma just clicked her tongue and rolled her eyes.

Meanwhile, Buck and MacGregor were going bat shit crazy over worry for Wilma. I would like to point out that Wilma Deering's degree of peril is often inversely proportionate to the amount of worrying Buck does over her. Buck sees the repellor beam marks indicating the abductors were Mongols and assumes (correctly) they were Golden Dragons once the Emperor's goons would have likely destroyed the lab.

MacGregor gets that luckless spy they'd caught in Niagara and demands answers and demonstrates that shit just got real, slapping him around and generally ignoring the stuff about treating prisoners humanely that we know everyone ignores.

The spy quickly tells  MacGregor that More Ka-Lono's headquarters is in Davenport and Buck flies off ready to fight to the last (Last Han that is) to save Wilma.

Meanwhile More and Om were inches away from a sloppy fight. Om in particular is panicked that rogers will 'smash their defenses like an eggshell.' This is not unreasonable. The man rescued Wilma from the capitol city, busted up the Emperor's 'adult' party and was involved in the destruction of at least one Mongol raider. Plus he did a number on one lab. They start a fresh round of name calling when Buck's ship is spotted.

Morke Ka- Lono is of the opinion that Rogers will not believe this all silly misunderstanding and blow them to bits without listening. Wilma poo-poos the notion and calmly calls Buck on her radio saying all is well, she's coming out and please don't level the area.

Buck hovers in his ship, suspicious while Wilma prepares to meet him.

The gas grenade used by the Mongols resembles a WW2 potato masher the Wehrmacht used (I think it was similar to the grenades the Germans used in WW1 as well.) This is the second time the Mongol s have used gas. Previously, they used a gas gun to knock out an entire section of an Org to kidnap Wilma (that lady gets kidnapped a lot).

The gas is very fast acting. Wilma is armed and ready for trouble but the 'pill' drops her before she can get off a shot. It and seems to have few side effects (Wilma has a headache but seems fine otherwise.) In fact you wonder why the Han raiders don't just drop gas bombs and round up Americans. They may do that at times for slaves or just for kicks.

We get a better look at Wilma's helmet while she is radioing Buck and you can see that there are ribs of metal or plastic running under the surface. It seems more like a bicycle helmet than a combat helmet. It has serious ear protection which makes sense as the American rocket pistols fire high explosive shells. She uses a 'radiophone' to contact Buck which is about the size and shape of a hockey puck. there might be some sort of wireless set up where she speaks into the puck but gets transmissions through ear phones. I guess Philip Nowlan missed out on throat mics but considering the things he did predict I can't fault him.

I'll also note that since earphones and a throat mic would still have to be linked to a communications device anyway she might have had a throat mic but was being theatrical for her 'captors'. Wilma does that.

The topdown view of the rocket that Buck's been using is interesting. The seams are all riveted, not welded and this may indicate the outer hull is inertron. In the original novel inertron was used on outer hulls because it could withstand disintegrators. Being opaque to all forms of radiation you couldn't wed the stuff. It had to be riveted. This doesn't seem to be the case in the comic strips. Disintegrators cause horrific damage to rockets in at least one later strip. Plating the outer hull with the stuff might have just been done to retrofit inertron to the rocket and increase its lift.

Inertron in the books and comics behaves differently from negative matter. It is stated in the books that inertron not only makes you effectively lighter in weight (not mass) but slows your fall somewhat. You may slam into a wall and knock yourself senseless but then you sort of float to the floor (like a cartoon character). It is also stated that a standard belt reduces your weight to a few pounds so air resistant or buoyancy can't account for it. I assume that while the inertron's major force is directed at the Earth it also will repeal any nearby matter and cushion a collision or fall somewhat. It must be weird to wear such a device, the inertron in it will repel you and strain on the straps holding it to you.

Friday, March 9, 2018

We Has Met the Enemy ...

The time leading up to the Solar War was tense. Earthmen had modified their research ships (Luna class) to do practically everything. Customs, trading, intercepts, and showing the flag. The special forces teams they transported to enact skullduggery go without saying (literally, the official secrets act could see you shipped off to mine ice on the Moon.)

As war drew closer Earth knew they needed larger ships and soon. The Martians had the technology, Earth had the edge in production and population. A study was commissioned to figure out how to get a larger battleship built, quickly. Engineers knew the ship should use as much existing equipment as possible. That meant that it would have comparable decks and layout to the Luna wherever possible. 

The first attempt  was a modest effort, double the tonnage (displacing 1200 tons of liquid hydrogen or about 16,500 tons in the old naval system). The thrusters were increased in size but the ship would only make 2 gees. This was deemed insufficient for a warship. The politicians wanted to know why?

The thrusters were much bigger, was the answer. Any bigger and they would toast the guns, sensors and any other equipment mounted on the hull. 

This was not a consideration with the original Luna and everything was more than double the size, right? The politicians you see didn't not get elected based on their knowledge of mathematics.

No, the engineers explained. The mass was three times the original. This increased the dimensions by the cube root of 3 ~1.44. But the thrusters needed double the surface area of the original models and as such they were bigger by the square root of 3 or 1.73. Thus the size was increased by 20% relative to the rest of the ship.. The larger thrusters were going to torch the ship using the tractor style rocket (which the engineers liked, and which was according to the original Luna's description.) SO they mounted the engines on pods, that were placed on wings further from the hull. They went with multiple engines to aid in maneuvering. It helped a little.

Were those oversized engines really necessary? 

Give us about another twenty years and we could build the engines smaller, was the answer. A few engineers got fired then.

The engineers were told to stick more engines on it then. But the Luna really was a dead end. More engines would toast the radiators that were mounted below. Moving the radiators above the rockets would mean moving the antigravity system somewhere else so the A-G wouldn't overheat or twist the radiators into ribbons. 

There were several prototypes built that demonstrated this. More engineers got fired. Admiral Rufus Buckner of the Space Fleet finally got a design group together, licked them in a room and the politicians out and swore them to secrecy. Give him a ship could be built within the year, with as little new tech as possible, he said. They could just stay in there till they did.

Some of the engineers thought the accommodations were better than their old ones. They kept quiet about this. One, Megan Detwiller,  snuck in a case of libations to lubricate the thought processes. She figured out a way to pack it that wouldn't allow any  sloshing. In fact she later used the same principles to keep crew from sloshing at high accelerationsThey kept quiet about that too. they rolled up their sleeves and got to work.

The new ship was going to have monstrously large drive systems. They mounted them on three pods, outrigger style. The A-G ring was a problem too. The ring generating it was made thicker, heavier and the mountings improved and strengthened. They held their breath on that too.

The ship  would use the Model 40 and Model 20 decks from the Luna class. Most of the decks would be laid out exactly the same. The new decks included a larger engine room (to fix all the stuff that went wrong on new ships faster), and a few smaller gun decks to spread the weapon systems out.

Admiral Buckner went to his superiors, who went to the politicians ,who favored letting the military handle the procurement. The top brass all agreed they would back Buckner right up to the lynching.

The design was run up the flagpole and it got salutes. Several of the newer engines were to be produced by companies in the more stubborns politicians' districts. That helped. Early on they discovered that the three outrigger deign had some flaws. Namely the Luna's decks had reinforcement points for four turrets or pods. The Triumph would have to have a similar layout. Four outriggers, for four rocket engines.

The ship was rushed into production in Siberia. The horrific weather and stealth defenses would keep prying eyes blind to it it was thought. 

The new ship was no thing of beauty. The Luna had smooth lines and Whipple shields. This monster had monolithic armor, a close structure that made atmospheric operations difficult, and would be bristling with equipment. While the Luna class took their names from moons, their features or comets, this class would be named after great battles in Earth history.

That plan was nixed pretty fast. Any great victory in Earth history was a great defeat for other people. Calling a vessel Midway was rubbing the Japanese people's noses in it. Instead these ships were to be named for various terms signifying victory or adventure. This made no difference to the engineers who were shipped off to Siberia to supervise work on the Triumph. Vodka would be available there, so Megan threw herself into the gravity simulators and gave up a promising future in liquid transport. 

Buckner would up attending more meetings of the Earth Defense Council. He had calculated they were taking up 35% of his time. The Councillors were not amused when he remarked that he had a way to increase his productivity 35% out of the gate. They had a few problems with the Triumph.

To whit, previously funds were allocated for four Triumphs and 18 Lunas. Due to war fever, the funds were doubled but the Admiral had authorized construction of two more Triumphs and six Lunas. Where was the rest of the money going?

The Admiral explained that doubling the tonnage of the fleet was a fine and good thing but ships needed proper support, transports with spares and replacement crews, hospital ships, and ammo carriers. Why, propellant tenders alone were vital to resupply ships after a battle ... it was unheard of to expect a crew to fight and bring go juice and their lunch. It got worse now that there were going to be space fighters!

Ah, but the Triumphs were going to be nearly thrice the size of the Lunas. That meant they had three times the fuel. That meant they had three times the range and thus you could at least do away with some of the tankers.

The Admiral let Megan Detwiller field that one. Megan was newly arrived from Siberia and wanted a drink desperately. The Admiral did too. She began explaining that the mass ratio of the Triumph was no different from that of a Luna therefore they had the same delta vee. 

Then she had to explain what delta vee was. 

Then she had to explain what a mass ratio was. That was harder through gritted teeth.

From left to right: What the Earth Defense Council wanted, what we could do, what they thought we did.
-by Megan Detwiller M. o E. age 37

Then Admiral Buckner lost it and remarked that the Council was a bunch of gerrymandering, pocket lining screw heads who were only good for getting re-elected and the way things looked he was learning the Martian Unity's anthem. That drink was starting to sound like a good idea to the other officers there. 

The Triumph was nearing completion. The contracts were in for the additional ships and there was little to be done about the reduced number of ships at this point. Production was already set up for the auxiliaries (including tankers!) Older, calmer officers prevailed and smoothed the Council's feathers. The Admiral made a contrite apology (clenched teeth could be a sign of contrition.) Then they got to wondering just how they'd find propellant and fuel for their new warships.

Buckner already had a plan. Battles fought near Earth weren't the problem. Resupply on Earth or Luna would be easy enough. It was battles fought near Mars that were a problem. There were allies of Earth on Mars but the Polar Lords would clamp down on them fast. Refueling on Mars was not going to work.

There were many asteroids though that were far closer and easier to reach than Earth. Buckner proposed building new bases in the Belt, expanding existing Belts, and building up defenses.

Buckner volunteered to supervise the program in the Belt and the Council sent him off. This made everyone happy. Buckner grabbed Detwiller for Project Head which didn't make her happy and they were off to the Belt.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Dieselpunk Manifesto Part 11: The Resistance of Om (Ka-Zoril)!

This review deals with strips Buck Rogers strips 100-109 found  here.

Buck's prisoner tells a weird tale of two Han spies, Morke-Ka-Lono and Om Ka-Zoril who devised a way to destroy Niagara. They would build two ray generators a thousand miles apart. When they crossed the rays over Niagara it would result in a tremendous explosion destroying the city!

The scientists were the leaders of the Golden Dragons, a society of revolutionaries out to discredit the Emperor, depose him and bring in a democracy (backed up with disintegrator ray projectors no doubt). They figure the quickest way to do that is to succeed where the Emperor failed by destroying Niagara. Their captive spy was placed in the city to calibrate the beams to make sure they were properly focussed.

I don't know. I'd have risked a shot at full power. Worse that happens is you have your spy calibrate the beam. If it works the first time you have obliterated Niagara at the cost of a single spy (dirty trick to pull on the spy though). Maybe they did do that 'test' at full power and it flopped and they had to make adjustments. There is far more work to infernal devices than the layman supposes.

Through further interrogation and hypnosis they learn the location of one machine in the Cumberland Mountains. Buck volunteers to destroy the projector and with Wilma leaves in 'the latest type of observation ship!

Unlike the 'bonny crate' this baby boasts an enclosed cabin. Like many Niagara rockets it is armed to the teeth: a pintle mount rocket gun, nose gun and four smaller swivel mount weapons. Two bombs or missiles are mounted on the sides. I really don't know how two people could operate all them weapons. It seems to have a porthole on its belly for ground observation or bombing runs, and several other devices and protrusions that might be sensors. The fuselage has huge windows and short stubby wings are set on the nose.

Something that might have shocked people of the day, Wilma is apparently the pilot while Rogers operates the electronics in the rear. In the background we see some torpedo shaped ground vehicles driving up a ramp (Rocketcar Patrol?).

Reaching the site Rogers jumps down from high altitude while Wilma stays aboard to circle. this seems a little odd when you remember the biplanes the Pennsylvania Org used had remote controls and could circle and drop lines to allow extraction. Then again Wilma might have been staying to blast whatever troubled Rogers.

Rogers lands without trouble but then is sniped by a guard with a disintegrator. In a bit of continuity error the weapon seems to discharge a lightning bolt that whizzes over his head! Disintegrators were shown to be invisible previously. Maybe the ray was a different type. In any case a sniper with an invisible weapon beam would be way harder to spot (there's that Rogers luck again!) Buck uses his shirt on a stick to draw fire and drop the sniper who dies off panel. Buck's shirt is disintegrated and we see that wife beater tees are apparently still worn five (sorry four) hundred years from now.

Om Ka-Zoril's lab, detectors go off registering a heroic intruder. Om turns out the guards! Rogers is faced with a small horde of guards with disintegrator rifles. He manages to keep his distance using his jump belt and blasts the guards with his rocket pistols (he comes up with another one from Idunnowhere). The Han have the disadvantage of charging through a single opening. It's really a case of playing Whack-a-Mole wit a lot of moles, one hole and high explosives. 

Following the mass slaughter of minions, Rogers enters the lair of the brilliant Morke who brilliantly surrenders (the tribesman did just wipe out a squad of guards after all.) This is despite some initial threats of blasting Rogers with the giant beam itself, and Rogers discovering both pistols were empty and preparing to just kick Om's ass. Wilma lands and quickly sends the giant beam projector back to the drawing board using the pintle mount rocket gun. They bring Om back into his lab where the scientist is in tears over the destruction of the projector which he characterizes as the work of a lifetime while Wilma gently chides him "But it was wrong to foment war against the Emperor and the Orgzones."

Om bounces back quickly though (I think he might be bi-polar) and insists he has a great idea.

The scientist admits the plan of the Golden Dragons was to start a war between the Emperor and the Orgzones, take advantage of the confusion, and seize power. There's no word on how the Dragons would have dealt with the Americans after that. Morke quantifies his idea, the plan was to have the Emperor kept so busy with American raids and attacks that he wouldn't notice the Golden Dragons moving against them.

Now he suggests the Americans could work with the Golden Dragons. When Buck and Wilma demur as authorizing such an alliance is beyond their pay grades Morke offers to make them the supreme leaders of the Dragons!

The map Morke has shows that the 'Mongol Domination' Reaches roughly to the Mississippi River. Niagara seems to rule over Canada. The area beyond the Mississippi is labeled Protective Influence. Presumably the American Orgzones receive aid and protection from Niagara. I note that there are pockets of resistance in the Domination that are nor shown, such as the Navajo Orgzone and the Outlaw Gang. There's an unlabeled area of vertical stripes that might be a contested area over Pennsylvania and SW New York. This is odd since it was stated the Han built a new city over New York (Nu Yok). Maybe Nu Yok was besieged or not in control of its region (to paraphrase Humphrey Bogart, "There are parts of New York City I advise the Mongols not to invade.")

The Observation Ship

The observation ship has a console for the observer that extends upward into the pintle gun mount. It could be that the pintle could accept a variety of different devices and weapons to customize the ship for various missions. The pintle mounted gun seems a little specific. Why have a gun designed for use while landed as a standard feature? I also note that the bombs are missing in this panel. In later strips we are introduced to telev-eyes remote drones used for scouting and perhaps the observation ship's bombs were actually remote drones that Wilma had circling to keep an eye out for more Golden Dragons. Or they could just be bombs that the Americans placed in the projector to add to the 'WHAM"

The rocket weapons of the Americans seem to be creeping up in terms of power as strips progress. In fact you wonder how a soldier with a rocket pistol would deal with a guy next to him who has a knife. Shooting him would be counter productive to say the least. Buck uses two pistols going in and perhaps one was loaded with non-explosive shells.

In any case between Morke's map, the new Rocketships, the power the American weapons display, and the might of Niagara, you wonder how long before the Han will have to draw new maps.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Waiting for Your Reaction(less Drive)

Ken Burnside said it best, "Friends don't let friends use reaction less drives in their universes."

With all due respect that is good advice but a little too specific and at the same time absolute. It is too specific in that there are many, many technologies that can ruin a story or adventure. Star Trek's transporter is one of the best known. It can just pul your characters out as soon as they're in over their heads, while faux Roman soldiers empty their submachine guns through the sparkles.

The problem with a reactionless drive (from a story point, not a physics point) is that with it any vessel becomes an engine of planetary destruction. Just get far enough away from your target aim it, turn on the drive and get off. In a few months (or less) you have a missile heading at your Evil Overlord at nearly speed of light. Can't even detect that darn former trash hauling scow until the ka-boom.

In the case of the transporter they came up with reasons it couldn't be used, environmental factors, jamming, technical problems, the Captain being an idiot and getting his communicator taken away. In the case of a 'reactionless drive' all you need is a delta vee, a fixed limit to acceleration.

First let's define reactionless drive. A reactionless drive usually means propulsion that moves something without an equal and opposite force. A reaction drive moves stuff by squirting mass out one end very quickly. There are a lot of different reaction drives, real and theoretical, and people are working all the time to make them better. For now in game terms using a reaction drive to get places in a game means that maybe your character's descendants get to embark on the adventure you drew up. They all kind of suck unless we're talking really high energy drives using fusion or antimatter and do you really want your average players characters to have a fusion torch or antimatter? I used to worry when my crew started stocking up on chainsaws in Traveller.

So reaction drives as we understand them miiiiiiight have drawbacks too.

It might be easier to whip up some speed limits for our reactionless drive. What's the big deal? You probably already have an FTL drive. There's some fancy handwaving right there. FTLs generally have some limits. No boarding your ship and engaging the FTL from the spaceport tarmac to appear at your destination's doorstep instantly. There are a couple ways to make a reactionless drive more reasonable. Some of them may even have a basis in fact!

1) It's not really reactionless. It uses gravity or another exotic force to push or pull on one or more bodies relatively nearby. Distance from a massive body will diminish this force and acceleration will fall off (similar to a solar sail that uses light from the sun or magnetic sails that use the solar wind). At a certain point you'd better get out and push. There's a certain prestige that comes from using an entire planet or star for reaction mass.

2) Increasing your ship's speed means increasing its kinetic energy. This increases by the square of the velocity (which is pretty fast!). At some point you're going to run into diminishing returns and a working cap on your speed (relative to the system's star or homeward or whatever.)

3) Technical problems. The drive causes a build up of some something equivalent to static (or really static). Every few hundred kilometers per second of acceleration you use it for requires you to pass through a planet's atmosphere to discharge it. Note this generally. means slowing down to a few kilometers per second relative to the planet you are dumping on. Note also just letting the stuff build up will have very bad effects on your ship long before you brush against relativity. They used a similar approach in the Renegade Legion setting. FTL built up radiation that had to be discharged in normal space eventually. If there was no normal space outside your hull, the normal space inside the hull would do (most crews had a problem with this.)

4) Fuel/Power Hog. having a ship with virtually unlimited atomic or fusion power can stretch credibility at times. Most settings assume we will have relatively cheap and portable fusion reactors and that player character types will be trusted with one for their ship. Refer to my previous comment about the chainsaws please. What if fusion power was reserved for stations and planetoid bases? What is to say a reactionless drive ship can 't be powered by chemical fuel cells (FireFly's Serenity was at least they mention fuel cells) and a ship's fuel load determines its delta vee before you refuel? This turns the tyranny of the rockets hip to more of a constitutional monarchy.

5) Pulling limits out of your @$$. I did this with my ghost drive. That drive used non-biological entities (NBEs) to propel ships. You needed a containment unit for the spooks and had to supply energy. But if you used them too long before a cool down they grew too powerful and could break your containment at which point Scooby-Doo and Mystery Inc. would be no damn good at all. Come up with something cool. Maybe the drive causes insanity or STDs if you leave it on too long without a cool down. If you're going to handwave laws of nature go for broke.

Regardless how hard you like your SF there are some rules conscientious writers follow: they set up the rules and capabilities of their technology, the way the world works first. Then they write stories using those rules. If they give a reason for a ship's top speed to be 1000 kilometers per second then exceeding that speed will be a major plot point (a slingshot maneuver around a neutron star or hacking a linear accelerator). It won't be forgotten as soon as it becomes inconvenient and explained with double talk.