“Hubpoint of No Return” Annotations

Warning: contains spoilers



p. 46-7

Josh Meehan’s illustration is probably the best Analog art for a Hub story so far – certainly the closest one to what I envisioned. I never imagined David wearing glasses, but the rendering of Tsshar is pretty good (except she doesn’t actually have a tail and her ears are more rounded), and the depiction of Art is strikingly close to what I imagined, though I think his tank would be a little more roomy.

Scene 1

p. 48

In a bit of symmetry, this story begins by answering a question raised at the end of the previous story, “Make Hub, Not War”: Why Hub scout ships need living pilots instead of being drones. There, the punch line was “to keep the quantelopes company,” and I left it at that; but in my annotations for MHNW, I suggested, “if quantelopes are only willing/able to repeat the sounds made by organic beings, that would explain why Hubdivers and other starships need living pilots, since quantelopes are the only way they can communicate with the Hub or request retrieval. But of course it’s funnier without that explanation. Maybe I’ll clarify it in the next story.” And so I have, right off the bat.

Of course, since quantelopes are bioengineered creatures, it doesn’t make much sense that nobody’s been able to breed a strain that will respond to nonliving beings. Perhaps the genes for that behavior are too closely intertwined with the genes that enable their entanglement communication in the first place.

To write David’s telemarketing script, I did a web search for various real telemarketing scripts to get the gist of them. I’ve never really bothered to listen to a telemarketer, and fortunately I’ve never had to be one, so this wasn’t something I had prior knowledge of.

The Ipqo Rosette was first mentioned as premium real estate in one of the in-universe documents presented as interstitial content in the Hub Space collection. The name suggests it’s something akin to a Klemperer rosette, a theoretical configuration of multiple planetary bodies circling a common center of mass.

“How did you mate your quantelope to this bloodline?”: I actually did have an answer to this question in the first draft, but I deleted it because it wasn’t funny:

David supposed he couldn’t blame the call recipient for her confusion. Ansible communication was only possible among quantelopes who had shared bodily fluids directly or through mutual partners, and some species interbred more promiscuously than others. Higher-grade ’lopes needed to replenish entanglement through physical contact more often, limiting the number of other ’lopes they could connect with; but the lower-fidelity breed used here could sustain links longer as well as breeding more prolifically, making it good for less targeted communications such as cold calling. And the administrators of Hubcomplex call centers like this one had ways of arranging cross-breed mating to tie their quantelopes into theoretically more private networks.

One thing I didn’t adequately figure out is how a quantelope “dials up” a particular entanglemate. I suppose a quantelope is always aware of the presence of all its entanglemates, but can choose to signal for the attention of a specific one, like addressing one person in a crowded room, with the others simply not listening, or at least not bothering to reproduce what they hear. Although that would seem to create a lot of potential for eavesdropping. People who want secure quantelope networks would have to keep close watch on their breeding to make sure nobody, err, taps the line.

Scene 2

p. 48

Quantelope maintenance, day care, and telemarketing were the most plausible menial jobs I could think of for David. Other candidates in my notes included masseur (humans have pretty good manual dexterity) and street performer (“stupid human tricks”).

The first trilogy presumed a standard capitalistic system in place in the Hub Network, but I’ve come to think that a civilization as benevolent as the Network is supposed to be would surely offer a universal basic income. Luckily, the premium on space at the Hubcomplex itself provided a good rationale for it to be an exception.

p. 49

Victoria Peak is the highest mountain in Hong Kong, Nashira’s hometown.

Art, a Fishy Intelligence is a character I’ve been trying to work into the series since “Home is Where the Hub Is,” but haven’t found room for until now. After I came up with quantelopes, it followed logically that the Network would use bioengineered organisms for other purposes, such as computing and AI.

As I mentioned on the discussion page, Tsshar was a comic-relief character I salvaged from an earlier draft of a spec novel set in my primary SF universe, although I’d had the character in mind for years before that. Longtime followers of my work and my websites may recall that I used to have a brown-and-orange tabbycat named Tasha, who is very much the inspiration for Tsshar. My father and I were in the habit of calling our cats “wadgies,” a nonsense word my father coined, and that’s where “Mrwadj” came from.

The first few paragraphs of Nashira’s interaction with Tsshar are salvaged and reworked dialogue from the abandoned spec novel draft. While the character was named Tssharw there, and was a bit more restrained since she was serving the main antagonist’s agenda rather than her own appetites, she’s otherwise essentially identical. The fact that the Mrwadj were conceived for my default universe is the reason they’re less humanoid than most aliens in the Hub series.

“Murieff” and “Miifu” are both derived from my favorite nickname for Tasha, “Tigermuffin.” This was also the name of one of Emerald Blair’s childhood pets in Only Superhuman. “Tigermuffin” originated when I was trying to call Tasha a tiger and a ragamuffin at the same time and I got tongue-tied. Over the years, it evolved into “Miger tuffin” and then “Moogy foofin,” which was then elided into “Meefoo.” Somehow “Murphy” ended up in the mix of nicknames as well.

p. 50

Art’s explanation of how gravity works in the Hub universe is based on ideas I discussed in my blog post “Musings on quantum gravity” from December 7, 2013. I said at the time that those ideas might be adaptable to the Hub series, and as you can see, I followed through.

Scenes 3, 4

No notes.

Scene 5

p. 52

While I wanted these stories to stand on their own, it was hard to introduce Rynyan’s new status quo without recapping the events of “Make Hub, Not War” to an extent. Hopefully I made things clear enough for new readers.

Nashira’s mention of the news coverage is a reference to the final in-universe article in Hub Space, which spun the events the way Nashira described here. That actually caused a problem for me, since its pro-Rynyan spin clashed with the setback in reputation I needed Rynyan to experience. Hence, the discussion of the news coverage is an attempt to reconcile this story with something that was never actually in the Analog versions of the previous Hub stories.

p. 53

Looking back on Rynyan’s pursuit of Nashira in the first three stories, I realized that I was making a joke of something that really wasn’t funny, namely sexual harassment. Even though I made it clear that Rynyan had never attempted to do anything more than flirt verbally with Nashira, and that it was a matter of conflicting cultural standards and worldviews rather than anything predatory, I realized that it would still be deeply uncomfortable for Nashira and for many female readers, especially given the power imbalance between them. If he became her actual boss, that would compound the problem even further. So before I could take that step, Rynyan needed to become a little more “woke” and lay off his pursuit. It’s a good thing I had that realization when I did, given that the #MeToo movement happened between the writing and publication of this story.

Rynyan’s new enlightenment helps advance his character as well, a nice progression from the rude awakening he had in MHNW. It shows he’s learned a bit of humility and introspection and is finally starting to grow, and it opens the door for a tentative improvement in Nashira and Rynyan’s relationship, a good counterpoint to David “breaking up” with Rynyan and being drawn into a new circle. The trick was to keep it funny and not lose Rynyan’s basic clueless egotism.

“A consummation devoutly to be wished” is a line from Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy, referring to the potential end of suffering through suicide (before he decides he’s more afraid of what might lie beyond death). Nashira, of course, is thinking of “consummation” in a more sexual sense.

Scene 6

p. 55

The main thing that crystallized this story for me was a paper I read in February 2016, “Homopolar artificial gravity generator based on frame-dragging” by Martin Tajmar (Acta Astronautica, Volume 66, Issue 9, p. 1297-1301). It proposed a complicated mechanism using a pair of ring-shaped arrays of massive spinning discs to create artificial gravity via a gravitomagnetic field within an annular volume between the rings. It was intriguingly plausible, but the mechanism seemed rather convoluted. I realized that it was based on the same physics as the Forward catapult, as proposed by physicist and science fiction writer Robert L. Forward. The Atomic Rockets site discusses the Forward catapult on their Antigravity page. As described, Forward proposed the device as a starship launcher, but I realized it could be used as an artificial gravity generator in the same way Tajmar proposed for his homopolar generator. And that gave me what I needed to pull off my tentative idea of a story about David getting himself trapped on the wrong side of a Hubpoint. I needed an obstacle massive and dense enough to be utterly impenetrable, and the superfluid of a Forward catapult was just the ticket. So I’m grateful to Martin Tajmar for giving me the last piece of the puzzle so that I could finally begin writing the new trilogy.

One problem with the idea is that superfluids (materials that flow with zero friction, analogously to how superconductors let current flow with zero resistance) tend to lose their superfluidity above a certain velocity, much as superconductors lose their properties above a certain temperature. So a “high-velocity superfluid” would be the equivalent of a high-temperature superconductor, something specially engineered to keep its superfluid properties at higher velocities than normally possible. I assumed this would be the result of some arbitrarily advanced future science, but it turns out that a method for restoring superfluidity at high velocities was proposed in a 2017 paper: “Superfluid flow above the critical velocity” by Paris-Mendoki et al., Scientific Reports volume 7, Article number: 9070 (2017).

Scene 7

p. 57

The thruster sequence fudges things somewhat for the sake of slapstick. Realistically, the thrusters would probably accelerate the archive very slowly at first, not abruptly enough to knock people over or to move the archive by a significant distance before they had a chance to shut it down. But we’re dealing with unknown alien tech, so maybe the builders just had a way to make really powerful thrusters.

Scenes 8, 9

No notes.

Scene 10

p. 59

The scene actually begins with “Jojjimok reacted quite badly to the news…”. The scene break is a paragraph too late, and that’s partly my fault. My intent was to make the readers think Jojjimok had become violent and dangerous, following up on his aggressiveness in the earlier scene, and then to reveal in the next paragraph that he was actually crying and panicking. In the galley pages, the first line of that second paragraph was the last line on the page. I asked if there was a way to put the page break one line earlier so as to hold back the punch line to the next page, and I guess someone put a line break in there. But somehow the earlier line break disappeared, and then the whole thing was compressed so that there wouldn’t be just a few leftover lines on the last page (another thing I asked if they could fix). So my attempt to improve this bit just ended up breaking things. Well, I’ll fix it in the collection.

p. 60

“UWI St. Augustine” is the St. Augustine, Trinidad branch of the University of the West Indies. I chose to make Julio Trinidadian because I had a friend in 12th grade who’d been born in Trinidad. Although I didn’t intend it (at least not consciously), I realize now that my friend had some qualities in common with Julio, in that she was gregarious, confident, and aware of her sexiness.

Aside from the velocity thing, superfluids generally need to be extremely cold to maintain superfluidity. So heating the superfluid above its transition temperature with a laser would theoretically revert it to a normal fluid with nonzero friction.

Scene 11

No notes.

Scene 12

p. 64

David’s bisexuality is another detail I added in Hub Space, as discussed in the “Home is Where the Hub Is” annotations. At the time, it was just a minor patch to correct the inadvertently heteronormative assumptions I’d made in the original story. But once I’d established that David was bi, I realized I couldn’t just leave it as a token reference. I’d always planned to introduce a love interest for David as a rival for Nashira, assuming it would be female, but after the Hub Space revisions, I decided that he should have a male love interest instead. While I’ve had a handful of gay or bisexual male characters in my fiction (including Arkady in Only Superhuman and “Aspiring to Be Angels,” Ranjea in Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations, and Grev in Star Trek: Enterprise – Rise of the Federation), I’ve never actually portrayed any of them engaging in an “onscreen” romance like I’ve done with numerous heterosexual and lesbian characters. So I felt that I should remedy that omission, for the sake of being inclusive for my readers and expanding my horizons as a writer.

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