“The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of” Annotations

Warning: Contains spoilers

Page numbers are for Footprints in the Stars (eSpec Books, July 2019).

Scene 1

p. 91

Though it’s not specified within the text, this story is set in November 2083, the date previously established in the Historical Timeline for the founding of the Troubleshooter Corps. That’s about 16 months before Emerald Blair is born, making this the earliest depicted event in the Troubleshooter continuity, or indeed my entire primary universe.

The Chapungu is named for the Zimbabwe Bird, the national symbol of Zimbabwe. The New Zimbabwe habitat is named for the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe, a major African city of the 12th-15th centuries, known for its high, strong circular walls – a fitting reference for an O’Neill-cylinder space habitat. In Only Superhuman (OS), New Zimbabwe is where the adolescent Emerald Blair meets Javon Moremba, with whom she goes on to found the Freakshow gang.

The reasons that invisible spaceships are a thermodynamic impossibility are discussed entertainingly on the invaluable Atomic Rockets site, specifically at: http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/spacewardetect.php#id–Strategic_Combat_Sensors–There_Ain’t_No_Stealth_In_Space

Seikoku (正鵠) is a Japanese word meaning point, bullseye, or righteousness, so it seemed like an appropriate ship name for a half-Japanese Troubleshooter with an archer persona. I almost named the ship Tornado after Zorro’s horse, drawing on the other side of Villareal’s heritage.

The Kuiper belt (I should’ve probably used a lower-case “belt”) is the cometary belt extending out beyond Neptune’s orbit. Pluto is the first and largest known object in the Kuiper belt, but the region is vast.

This is the narrative debut of the term “Troubles” for the postwar Strider conflicts. I first coined it in the 2018 update of the Historical Timeline on this site. Honestly, I’m surprised it didn’t occur to me before. It makes a perfect retroactive origin for the name “Troubleshooter.”

p. 92

Since this story is set well before the Troubleshooters liberate DiCenzo Mining’s cyber shipminds (see “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad” and OS), I realized that Troubleshooters in this era (and probably many even in the Green Blaze’s era) would need human partners on their ships to fill the support role (or “the guy in the chair,” as Ned called it in Spider-Man: Homecoming). Sally Knox had been established in OS as Villareal’s invaluable administrative assistant, so I loved the idea that she’d been with him from the start.

Villareal’s “only one war” boast is an allusion to a famous apocryphal tale of the Texas Rangers, in which a Ranger sent in to prevent an illegal prize fight explained why he had been sent alone by replying “Ain’t I enough? There’s only one prize fight.” This was subsequently inflated to “only one riot,” and here Villareal inflates it to an even greater degree.

The one other Troubleshooter who agrees in principle about organizing is Arkady Nazarbayev/Medvyéd, Villareal’s closest ally and Emerald Blair’s future mentor. But the name would mean nothing in the context of this specific story, so I left it implicit.


Scene 2

My go-to description for Villareal’s appearance is “a cross between Cesar Romero and Toshiro Mifune.” At this point, though, he’s only 37, so he hasn’t gone gray yet.

p. 93

I established the “samurai Robin Hood” Shashu armor in OS, but the cape and hood are a new addition for this story. I’ve come to question the modern tendency to mock superhero capes as impractical or silly. A short cape can be practical for an action hero, as demonstrated by Japanese tokusatsu characters like the Lupinrangers. It can also be quite stylish. People today forget that capes and cloaks were once seen as elegant formal wear. I realized that in Strider society, where superheroes have been embraced as a formative mythology for “mod” (transhuman) culture, trappings such as capes might have become fashionable again.

In the past year, I’ve become a fan of the Japanese Super Sentai and Kamen Rider franchises, and I realized that if Villareal was building the Troubleshooter image on superhero tropes, it was logical that he’d draw on tropes from his Japanese heritage as well as Western superhero lore. The “Troubleshooter Shashu” formation reflects the naming pattern of Kamen Riders, e.g. Kamen Rider Black, Kamen Rider Den-O, Kamen Rider Ghost, etc. This resolves a question I’ve struggled with since OS, namely what the title of address for a Troubleshooter would be.


Scene 3

p. 94

Micrometeorite impacts are estimated to erode the surface of Moon rocks by about 1 millimeter every million years. The impact rate in the Kuiper belt might be considerably lower, but 90 million years is considerably longer, so there should still be pretty heavy erosion compared to what Villareal observes here.

Personal catchphrases are another trope of Japanese heroic fiction, but also a Western superhero trope going back at least as far as “This looks like a job for Superman.” I established the use of Troubleshooter catchprases in OS with the Green Blaze’s “Looking for trouble? You just found her.” Shashu’s “Let me get right to the point” is an archery pun, of course, but also a pun on “right,” as with the multiple meanings of Seikoku above.

Vacuum energy is the background energy of the vacuum resulting from quantum fluctuations – particles and energy being spontaneously created and destroyed, existing only briefly and canceling out so that the overall law of conservation of energy is not violated. However, it is detectable and can have meaningful physical effects, for instance the Casimir effect.

p. 95

The idea that electromagnetic fields can affect certain people’s temporal lobes in a way that creates hallucinations, anxiety, or a sense of a numinous presence is based largely on the research of Michael Persinger, which apparently is more controversial than I’d realized when I wrote this story. See https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/some-scientific-explanations-for-alien-abduction-that-aren-t-so-out-of-this-world-a7553446.html and https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-controversial-device-that-might-make-you-feel-the-presence-of-a-higher-power for more.

The diamagnetic effect is less controversial – it’s been famously demonstrated by using superconducting magnets to levitate frogs. Basically the idea is that a sufficiently strong magnetic field will cause the atoms of a non-magnetic material to align like those in a magnet and thus become temporarily magnetic. See https://www.ru.nl/hfml/research/levitation/diamagnetic-levitation/.

I’ve no doubt overstated both of these effects in the alien artifact, for dramatic effect. The diamagnetic effect wouldn’t work on all materials the same way, and the EM field effect on the brain would only work on certain people. However, since this is a super-advanced alien gizmo, we can assume the effects have an added component beyond known science.


Scene 4

p. 96

The Yohannes syndicate was established in OS as a crime organization based on the Vestan habitat Olbersstadt, the arch-enemies of Troubleshooter Hijab. The Vestan yakuza is based on the Rapyuta habitat and would have been run at this time by Koyama Saburo, the father of Koyama Hikari, the future Troubleshooter Tenshi — who was born in 2083, so she’s probably a few months old during this story.

 Samorn is a Thai name meaning “beautiful and beloved.”

p. 97

The background of the war with Earth and the Great Compromise is covered in OS.


Scene 5

Villareal’s Humphrey Bogart impression is exaggerated; Bogie didn’t actually shlur hish linesh like that in The Maltese Falcon, but I felt it was necessary to convey the idea of a Bogie impression in text. The “uh” is screen-accurate, though. Villareal’s use of “dingus” to refer to the item is also a Maltese Falcon reference.

While Alfred Hitchcock popularized the term “MacGuffin,” it was actually coined by Angus MacPhail, a writer on many of Hitchcock’s films.


Scene 6

p. 98

Vestalia is the heart of the Belt’s gem mining and entertainment industries, hence its view of the MacGuffin. The Rapyutajin crew’s take reflects Japanese Shintoism to a degree. As for Mars, it’s divided at this point between independent states and states that remain loyal to the Earth corporations that founded them. Lots of science fiction portrays a single, politically monolithic Mars rebelling against Earth, but that seems unlikely to me; consider the colonial nations of the Americas, which belonged to multiple different countries and won independence individually (or not at all, e.g. Canada) rather than all at once.

 Note that Villareal only says the MacGuffin is confirmation of alien intelligence, not alien life. By this point in my future history, biosignatures have been detected on various extrasolar planets, and on Europa and Enceladus as well. And “confirmation” suggests that there has been inconclusive evidence of alien intelligence before, probably extrasolar technosignatures (e.g. spectroscopic evidence of industrial pollution on exoplanets, or light curves suggesting artificial habitats orbiting stars).


Scene 7

p. 101

I hope I made it clear enough earlier that the sample box is on a plinth or solid bench that’s positioned between Shashu and the lab doors, so that his legs are hidden from the others’ view.


Scene 8

p. 102

Strictly speaking, the initialism for “Troubleshooter Corps” should be TC. But TSC sounds better.


Scene 9

p. 103

I wonder whether Arkady Nazarbayev would really remain silent, given that he already backs Villareal’s plan for greater unity. But he tended to be a self-effacing individual, just matter-of-factly doing the work and letting the flamboyant Shashu do the politicking and publicity. And I can see him being uncomfortable with Villareal’s use of deception to establish the Corps, believing it needed to have a purer beginning. Maybe I’ll get to write that conversation someday.

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