Last year, I posted the design sketches I’d done for Emerald Blair, the lead character in Only Superhuman. These were illustrations I did years earlier, mostly 2002-3, before I wrote the book. Well, I also did sketches of Psyche Thorne, the other leading lady in the book, but I never got around to coloring them and I didn’t want to post them until I did. Which is something I only managed to do recently.
I hesitate to post these at all, since Psyche is supposed to be a woman of staggering beauty and allure, and maybe that’s something best left to the individual reader’s imagination. Also it’s questionable that my limited artistic abilities can come close to capturing that beauty, even with the excellent real-life exemplars I used as references. But Psyche’s looks are also somewhat unusual, an amalgam of ethnicities, so it may be hard for some readers to imagine what I had in mind. (I’m reminded of how many readers of The Hunger Games were surprised that Rue was black in the film, even though she was specifically described as dark-skinned the first three or four times she appeared in the book. Sometimes readers overlook elements of a physical description.) Besides, I went to all the trouble of finishing the drawings, so I might as well share them.
So here are my illustrations of Psyche Thorne, which, while far from perfect, give a reasonable indication of what I envisioned.
(click to enlarge)
I based Psyche’s face on several women of different ethnicities that I found to be otherwise similar in appearance and exceptionally beautiful. Mostly she’s a blend of two friends of mine from college, one a strawberry-blond Caucasian, the other African-American, but otherwise strikingly similar in appearance. I also used a photo of Kristin Kreuk to get some Asian influence in there, mainly in the eyes and nose, though I don’t think it comes across as well as I’d hoped. And she’s maybe a bit more chubby-faced than what I had in mind, though I think that’s mainly a shading issue with the cheeks. I am happy with the expression, though; it captures the blend of warmth and naughtiness I was going for.
I wasn’t very happy with the colored-pencil work I did. It was hard to get smooth texture, something that was more of a problem with Psyche’s rich complexion than with Emry’s pale one, and the colors I had available didn’t match the skin and hair tones I was going for very well. So I did a lot of work in the computer to fix it — superimposing translucent layers of solid color that better matched what I wanted, and softening and blurring the pencil lines as much as I could without losing the shading detail. It’s not perfect, but I think it came out reasonably well, considering.
So for the second, full-length drawing, I decided to do the coloring entirely in the computer, something I have very little experience with. I had a few false starts, but I finally got a handle on it, I think. This depicts Psyche in the outfit she wore for her big introductory scene in Chapter 7.
(click to enlarge)
The shading isn’t as nuanced as I could achieve in pencil, but I think it gets the idea across reasonably well. And I like the translucent effect the paint program let me achieve with the outer dress layer. Easier than trying to create that effect in colored pencil would’ve been.
If her pose and proportions look a little exaggerated, rest assured I based it all on photo reference. I chose a slinky, provocative pose to fit the character and the outfit. She’s angled a little to the viewer’s left, which makes her waist look narrower than it is. Also, she’s a full 6 feet tall, which makes her seem skinnier in proportion. I wanted her to be tall, slim and leggy in contrast to Emerald Blair’s mesomorphic physique. Emry’s build is inspired by tennis star Serena Williams, while Psyche’s owes more to Maria Sharapova.
I don’t know if I’ll do any more character art for Only Superhuman. Again, these are sketches I did years ago, when I had more free time for drawing, and I’m rather out of practice. But I wouldn’t be averse to seeing fan art, if anyone were interested.
At Shore Leave this weekend, I got to talk publicly for the first time about some of the details of Only Superhuman, and now I’m going to share them here, along with some character sketches I also showed at the convention.
Only Superhuman takes place roughly a century from now in the Main Asteroid Belt of the Solar System. The Belt inhabitants, called Striders (corruption of earlier “stroiders”), have had to embrace human modification through genetics, bionics, etc. to survive the radiation and microgravity of space. Many soon went beyond mere survival to explore more extensive “mods” (a term that came to apply to transhumans themselves as well as their enhancements), effectively giving themselves superpowers. Naturally, some individuals, groups, and nations began using these powers for personal gain at the expense of others, or clashing with rivals at the expense of innocent bystanders. But who would help the victims? The Striders are a highly nationalist bunch, suspicious of outside authority. Space habitats must be tightly controlled, regimented environments, and Striders accept the need for that to preserve their own homes, but assert their independence by being highly resentful of foreign or outside authority. The sheer diversity of the Strider populations (for different asteroids’ distinct orbits, resources, and the like promote the development of distinct cultures) also keeps them from getting along. As such, any attempt to get Striders involved in law enforcement outside their own local jurisdiction is problematical, and the Belt is a rather lawless place.
But just as there were some mods who used their transhuman abilities for harm, there were some who chose to use them to help and protect their neighbors in times of need. These special few (at least, those capable and powerful enough to survive the attempt) came to be known as Troubleshooters, and soon gained a reputation in the public eye as larger-than-life, romanticized figures, essentially superheroes. But the Troubleshooters could only do so much as individuals, and sometimes clashed over methods and jurisdiction. Eventually, the greatest of the Troubleshooters organized the rest (at least, those who would agree to follow the rules) into the Troubleshooter Corps (TSC), a non-governmental organization promoting and coordinating their efforts. Knowing that the Striders would resist their aid if they presented themselves as a paramilitary or mercenary group, they embraced their media image as superheroes — colorful, flamboyant celebrity crimefighters with distinctive costumes and code names, role models that people could look up to and trust implicitly.
The newest Troubleshooter is 22-year-old Emerald Blair, nicknamed the Green Blaze:
In many ways, “Emry” Blair is an ideal Troubleshooter recruit: your classic superheroine, a hot redhead with ample muscles and ample curves. She’s got superhuman strength, senses, reflexes, endurance, healing ability, and intelligence (though not necessarily judgment). She’s even got the obligatory tragic past motivating her heroics — a past that includes several years as a juvenile delinquent and mod-gang member called Banshee. This was a rebellion against her father, who was once a member of the Vanguard habitat-nation. The Vanguardians were the first human community to embrace transhuman mods beyond mere survival needs and the first to use their augmented abilities to protect people; as such, they were considered the first real superheroes. But they got too ambitious and heavy-handed. Public opinion turned on them and they retreated to the outer reaches of the Belt to live in isolation as the Strider community grew without them.
But now they’re back. And they’re apparently in bed with other mod nations known for unsavory or unethical practices. The Troubleshooters, under new leadership, send the Green Blaze to infiltrate them, playing on her family ties to find out what they’re up to, if anything. But the last thing Emry wants is to confront that side of her past. And she’s uneasy about the Corps going after people who haven’t done anything yet. Is it a way of heading off trouble before it comes, or something more dangerous? Emerald Blair is caught between two factions seeking to bring their own brand of order to the Striders, and in the process she’s forced to confront the tragedies of her own past and decide what kind of superhuman — and what kind of person — she will become.
Why “Emerald Blair?” Well, because I thought “Emerald” would be a cool name for a character (green is my favorite color), and I decided to create one. I had recently (back in 1988 when this began) had the idea to explore superpowers in a scientifically plausible way, so I decided Emerald would be a superhuman operative. I picked the Solar System frontier in the early 2100s because it was a setting I hadn’t explored before — and ultimately it ended up meshing rather well with the transhuman elements of the concept. I chose “Blair” as a name that was neither too ordinary (like the gazillion characters with exotic first names and the last name “Jones,” from Cyrano to Indiana to Cleopatra) or too exotic. I’m not sure where it specifically came from (maybe just from repeating “Emerald blank” to myself to sound out the rhythm), but it struck a happy medium.
For the first 15 years, she was just Emerald “Emry” Blair, no other name. But when I abandoned my initial Troubleshooterspec novel, rethought everything from the ground up, and decided to embrace the superhero elements of the concept more fully, that left Emry in need of a code name. Perhaps “Green Blaze” is unimaginative, too much of a riff on her real name, but I didn’t want to go too far afield, and it’s not as if Troubleshooters’ identities are secret (not most of them, anyway). Plus it evokes a lot of classic costumed heroes — Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Green Hornet, Green Goblin (hey, at least one version of Gobby has been heroic).
Yes, these drawings are my own work, done in pencil and colored pencil. The full-face portrait was finished in 2002 (though I did several earlier drafts over the preceding 5-6 years), the profile (my favorite) done in 2003. The full-length “Green Blaze” portrait is a mostly digital reworking, finished in 2011, of a 2002 drawing done before I’d fully embraced the superhero idea (so her costume was not quite so flashy there). Since this is that design modified to fit my new ideas, I see it as more an approximation, a concept sketch, than an authoritative Green Blaze costume design (although it is consistent with the costume details mentioned in the novel). But as far as the face and physique are concerned, these are the drawings that guided how I described Emerald in Only Superhuman.
Emerald’s face is inspired by my best friend from college, but I used a photo of an actress from a magazine for reference and adjusted the features from memory (it was a photo from the late ’80s, hence the big hair — just assume she’s in very low gravity). The hair color is inspired by a different girl I knew in high school, and I’m rather proud of how it turned out in the original portrait, though I’m not sure the colors came through quite right in the scans, especially the profile. Ideally it should evoke the colors of autumn leaves. Emry’s physique in the full-length portrait is modeled on tennis star Serena Williams, although Emry is a few inches shorter. I wanted Emry to be both muscular and voluptuous, but in a realistic way rather than a comic-book exaggeration, and in a functional way like a working athlete rather than the display-oriented build of a female bodybuilder. I like the contrast between Emry’s dainty, elfin face and her powerful body.
I have no idea if Emry will look like this on the novel’s cover, or if she’ll be on the cover at all. That’s up to the Tor art department. But my editor has my sketches. And at least the readers of my blog will know what she looks like in my mind.
In Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Buried Age, my Lost Era novel telling of Captain Picard’s “missing years” between the loss of the Stargazer and the beginning of TNG, I established that Picard had spent several years on extended leave from Starfleet, pursuing a doctorate in archaeology at the University of Alpha Centauri under Professor Miliani Langford. (The episode “Rascals” alluded to a female Professor Langford who’d invited Picard on a dig; I wanted to fill in who she was and why she’d do that.) While there, he learned of a great archaeological mystery and organized an expedition to investigate it, propelling him into the main events of the novel.
But first he needed a ship. I saw this as an opportunity to examine how civilians in the Federation would pursue science and exploration, and that included establishing what types of ship they’d employ. In the novel, I wrote the following:
While Langford worked to recruit the personnel, Picard saw about hiring a suitable ship. With university backing, he arranged with Centauri III’s leading civilian spacecraft firm to provide a custom vessel, high-powered for maximum warp speed (considerably less than Starfleet’s fastest, but excellent for a civilian ship). Since the crew would be only a dozen or so, life-support needs were reduced, increasing the power available for velocity. The ship would also be sleek and narrow, like the rocketships of old, presenting a minimal cross section to oncoming space debris and radiation and reducing the power requirements for navigational deflection. For a Starfleet vessel, designed with the possibility of combat in mind, such a design was impractical since enemies could approach from any direction. But this craft was built purely for moving forward as fast as possible.
Because of its long, slender design, Langford chose to call the ship Cleopatra’s Needle. I established a few things about the ship in the course of the book — it included a compact bridge/cockpit, a small science lab, a small lounge, a transporter stage, and several sets of shared quarters. Overall, though, my descriptions of the ship were pretty vague.
But then there came a TrekBBS thread called “Your favourite TrekLit ships?” The Needle was nominated, and it attracted some interest from a couple of posters, including Mark Rademaker, a digital artist who’s contributed various Trek art to Pocket books, including several images for the Ships of the Line calendar and the design for the starship Aventine which was introduced in the Destiny trilogy, and illustrator Dwight Williams, who’s done assorted things that his site can tell you about better than I can. We discussed the parameters of the ship’s design for a while, deciding that it had two decks, six double-occupancy staterooms, a medical bay and an engineering alcove. Ultimately this led to the creation of the “Cleopatra’s Needle – Design Proposals” thread in the TrekBBS’s Trek Art forum. Mark has had other projects keeping him busy for now, but several others have posted prospective designs, and it’s intriguing how many different interpretations there are for what I described in the text.
Dwight began by planning out the Needle‘s interior space. Here’s what he ended up with for its two decks (click to see them larger on his Flickr site):
And here’s his sketch for the ship exterior:
And though Dwight hasn’t posted this yet in the TrekBBS thread, I just discovered this nice sketch for the engineering alcove I proposed:
The rest of his sketches are here: Spacecraft Design for Fiction
This is an interesting design — a bit boxier and more Starfleetish than what I envisioned, but I like its “bullet train” quality. It’s functional, straightforward, plausible for a workhorse civilian ship.
The other main designer participating in the thread goes by the nickname Psion. He took his design in a more stylized direction and rendered it in 3D. His first couple of tries both had elements I liked, and he combined them into this draft:
I loved the ’50s-rocketship quality, which was sort of what I had in mind, though this design took it maybe a bit more literally. I quite liked the separate pod under the fantail too. After a little more tweaking, we arrived at this:
A little less Buck-Rogers slick, perhaps, but more practical. Between us, Psion and I decided that the lower bulge in back is a jettisonable antimatter pod. In Psion’s words:
Picard approached Centauri III’s manufacturers with a specification for extreme-range operations. By modifying an existing design — the courier/scout you mentioned — an acceptable vessel was found, but the extra range at high warp required a better reactor core and a larger supply of antimatter. The upgraded reactor displaced some of the available space for antimatter containment so a pod was designed and attached to the hull. Containing most of the ship’s antimatter, the pod can be jettisoned in an emergency, leaving the warp core with small, short-term supplies. The warp core itself can also be jettisoned along with the supply pod.
The antimatter pod’s shape is defined by the vessel’s standard warp field and it looks like an afterthought because that’s precisely what it is. Obviously this is a bit of a tactical weakness, but the ship isn’t intended for combat, and just because the tank is exposed, doesn’t mean it isn’t heavily armored in case it gets shot while the Cleo is fleeing.
UPDATE: Here’s Psion’s latest version, with more hull detail added:
Read more about it in Psion’s post here.
Later on, I was contacted at another board by an artist called Arkady, who’d lost his TrekBBS account but still wanted to participate. He sent me this sketch:
This is a very interesting design. Like Dwight’s, it has a “Federation” look to it, but isn’t too Starfleetish. It conveys both sleekness and functionality. And Arkady added an interesting twist. In his words:
[T]here’s a segment just in front of the airlock between that part of the hull and the rest of the bridge area. One thought was that was actually the lifeboat section, driven by a smaller set of impulse units (part of those being visible as the fairings on the lower part of the forward section. In an emergency the rest of the hull would be explosively seperated from the rest of the vessel.
For more detailed discussion of these designs, follow the links above to the TrekBBS threads.
And that’s as far as things have gotten to date. The various artists — including Mark — have their own lives and other projects to deal with, so it may be a while before they do their final designs. But their sketches are all quite promising and interesting.
So what will I do when everyone’s finalized their designs? Will I pick a single “winner” and post it on my site as the “true” design? It’s possible, but I haven’t decided. I might just post all of them and let the individual reader choose. Keep in mind that this is purely my own undertaking and that of the various artists; nothing I decided would in any way represent the official judgment of Pocket Books or CBS.
Anyway, it’s very flattering and fun to have both amateur and pro artists taking such interest in designing a vessel I created. I hope it’s not the last time.