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Arachne notes are now up!

I just did that major website update I promised yesterday. Here’s the main Arachne page:

The Arachne Saga

There, you’ll find ordering links, discussion, links to old blog posts about the writing process, as well as links to the annotations and worldbuilding notes for the novel. These include a new gallery page:

Aliens of the Arachne-Troubleshooter Universe

This page contains concept sketches and notes for all the alien species that appear in Arachne’s Crime and Arachne’s Exile, as well as the two species featured in my ATU story “Twilight’s Captives.” I figured I should have a central ATU-aliens page that I could expand on in the future. I initially planned to hold off on revealing the Exile species until the book came out (though I already previewed them for my Patreon subscribers several months ago), but I figured it might be out in a few weeks anyway, and revealing the aliens’ appearance doesn’t really give away any major plot spoilers. If anything, hopefully it will spark curiosity about these species and their roles in the novel.

As a teaser, here’s the height comparison chart I whipped up from my pencil sketches and a free downloadable height-chart template I found online, doing some quick-and-dirty coloring or tinting on the black-and-white sketches:

Arachne Saga alien height chart
Height chart for species from ARACHNE’S CRIME (top) and ARACHNE’S EXILE (bottom). Green Blaze (1.67 m) included for scale.

As you can see, it’s a diverse galaxy out there, and humans are fairly small in the grand scheme of things, in more ways than one. Also, aliens usually face left for some reason.

I also did an update to my main Original Fiction index page, streamlining its layout so that it’s mainly just links to the more detailed book and series pages, and organizing it into distinct sections for the ATU, the Hub Universe, and miscellaneous short fiction. I’ve been meaning to do that for quite some time, but I needed to wait until I had at least one Arachne novel cover.

COVER REVEAL – ARACHNE’S CRIME

November 26, 2020 1 comment

Here’s the final cover!

eSpec Books

FB-McP-ArachnesCrime

Cover art and design by Mike McPhail, McP Digital Graphics

Is this a dream… or a nightmare?

The crew of the interstellar colony vessel Arachne is roused from artificial hibernation to face a horrific reality, as an alien boarding party takes them into custody to answer for the deaths of tens of thousands of sentient beings.

But there is more to their trial than meets the eye, and the threads of intrigue weave a tight web as crewmates and friends are divided between those who feel they owe restitution for the actions of the ship’s AI in their defense, and those who refuse to bow down to a judgment they see as persecution.

What future can they hope to build among aliens who see them as mass murderers… presuming they have a future at all?


Christopher L. Bennett

Christopher L. Bennett is a lifelong resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, with a B.S. in Physics…

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ARACHNE’S CRIME cover art!

It’s been a while, but it was worth the wait… Here’s Mike McPhail’s cover art to Arachne’s Crime!

Arachne's Crime cover art

Pretty striking, huh? It’s a more symbolic image than I expected, not a scene that literally takes place in the novel — at least, not physically. But what it represents is critical to the story, an excellent choice of focus.

I got to suggest a bit of an in-joke — the “18:11” under “CYBELE” is a nod to Analog Volume CXVIII No. 11, the issue containing my debut story, “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide,” of which the first half of this novel is a revised and greatly expanded version.

The folks at eSpec Books are working on the title text and such, and we should have a final cover reveal any day now. Which means the novel should be very close to going on sale at last!

ARACHNE’S CRIME/EXILE update (and more art!)

Okay, folks… You may have noticed that I now have preorder links for both Arachne’s Crime and Arachne’s Exile up on my homepage. Both books have now been edited and typeset, and all that’s left is the cover art, which eSpec Books’ Mike McPhail is about to take up. Oh, and hopefully collecting a few promotional blurbs.

So I talked it over with my editor, and we decided that, instead of releasing the two books separately as originally anticipated, we’re going to release the whole duology at once! I figure, hey, we’ve all been waiting long enough, so why create an artificial wait for the second book if there’s no need to?

There’s a definite irony here, though, since I originally wrote this story as a single really long novel. It was when I decided to shop it to small publishers that I decided to split it in two to fit their word count limits, and I realized it worked better that way, as two distinct, more focused stories connecting into a larger sequence. So I rewrote with that in mind, making sure AC had a reasonable degree of closure and completeness while AE opened with sufficient recapping and reintroduction to refresh readers’ memories after a gap of, I presumed, several months. Now it turns out the whole story is coming out all at once after all.

Still, it’s good that it has that flexibility. Readers can buy both books at once if they like (and I hope they do), or they can start with AC and then get around to AE later if they prefer. It really does have a better structure as two consecutive installments, but I guess that’s true regardless of how much or little time separates them in the reader’s experience.

As for when they come out, that depends on how long the covers take. But it should hopefully be fairly soon. Of course, you can preorder right now with the above links.

Meanwhile, given all this, I’ve gone ahead and posted an advance look at four Arachne’s Exile alien designs on my Patreon site, following up the sketches I posted of Arachne’s Crime aliens back in June (when I thought the book might be out in July or so). Both sets of sketches are available to anyone at the $1 subscription level, though they’ll all be included with my novel annotations here on Written Worlds when the time comes. For now, though, they’ll hopefully tide us over until the covers come out.

Oh, and I should have another big announcement about a different project very soon.

Troubleshooter art: Koyama Hikari/Tenshi

(Reposted from my Patreon site, originally posted August 7, 2020)

Koyama Hikari

Click to enlarge

One of my favorite supporting characters in Only Superhuman was Emerald Blair’s best friend “Kari” Koyama Hikari, aka Troubleshooter Tenshi, a young woman who was “deceptively cute, girlish, and innocent” in appearance but was engineered by her yakuza-boss father to be the ultimate martial-artist assassin, and had rebelled against that fate to become a superhero instead. I’ve always wanted to do a sketch of her to accompany my previous sketches of Emerald Blair and Psyche Thorne. Unfortunately, if my mental image of Kari was based on a specific person, I’ve long since forgotten who it was, and I’m not a good enough artist to work without a photo reference.

Since I watch a lot of Japanese TV and movies, I’ve kept an eye out for actresses I could use as models for Kari. But every time I thought a given actress was a good fit for Kari, I changed my mind when I revisited the candidate later on. It took years to find someone I didn’t change my mind about — someones, rather, since I wanted at least two models so I could blend features and create a distinct face.

I finally settled on two tokusatsu actresses who played characters with coincidentally similar names. My primary model was Yuumi Shida, who played the female lead Mai Takatsukasa in Kamen Rider Gaim. I based the nose and mouth more on Mariya Yamada, who played Mai Midorikawa in Ultraman Dyna. I think the final result comes pretty close to what I pictured in my mind. I don’t think my drawing is nearly as gorgeous as either actress, but that’s probably for the best, since Kari is supposed to have a more understated beauty than Emerald’s.

Koyama Hikari (pencil art)

Click to enlarge

I’ve included my original pencil sketch because I like how it turned out, possibly even better than the color version. I didn’t want to risk ruining the original if I goofed with the coloring, so I retraced the whole thing, resulting in some subtle differences. It was a challenge to get her hair dark enough with colored pencils; I lowered the brightness on the scan considerably to get it to look right, as you can tell from the gray background. Still, I think it turned out pretty well, considering that I haven’t done one of these in eight years.

Troubleshooter Tenshi

Click to enlarge

The third image shows Kari in costume as Troubleshooter Tenshi. It’s basically as described in the novel, a stylized judo gi in red with saffron trim over a silver light-armor leotard, but I’ve added a couple of new details. The jacket trim has a traditional Japanese yagasuri (arrow fletching) pattern, suggesting a hagoromo, the feathered kimono of a tenshi/angel from Japanese mythology; the pattern also symbolizes the fight against evil in Buddhism, Kari’s faith. (I considered a more elaborate hagoromo pattern for the jacket, but I couldn’t find anything within my ability to draw. I happened upon the yagasuri pattern and decided it would be appropriate.) The end of the belt has what’s supposed to be a stylized lotus blossom as the Tenshi logo, since I’ve decided that Troubleshooters should have individual logos.

I had wanted to draw Kari holding one or both of her tessen (war fans), but in looking for reference art, I realized the only way to do them justice would be to redraw her from scratch in a tessenjutsu stance, and I didn’t want to throw out the work I’d already done. I thought of drawing them folded on her belt or something, but I decided she’d probably stow them up her sleeves.

The costume sketch is colored with a blend of pencils and computer coloring, not unlike my Psyche portrait from 2012. After creating the pencil art (retracing the body from an old sketch attempt that didn’t get her face right, and tracing the new face on top), I scanned it and color-filled it digitally as a “color study” to guide my colored-pencil version. But I wasn’t satisfied with the pencil version (partly because I seem to have used up my pure red pencil and had to make do with orange-red), so I just translucently superimposed the color study on top of the pencil art. It worked surprisingly well, considering that I again retraced it to preserve the original. Despite that, they line up pretty perfectly except a little around the hands and feet.

Updates on various things

August 28, 2020 1 comment

While I wait for the cover art to Arachne’s Crime to be finished so the book can be released, I’ve been working on some Arachne art of my own. Back in June, I posted sketches of the three alien species from Arachne’s Crime on Patreon, an advance look for patrons at the $1 subscription level before I eventually post them here on Written Worlds where everyone can see them. Well, I’ve been working on drawings of the four new alien species that debut in Arachne’s Exile, which I’ll do the same with at some point, once I have a better idea of the release schedule.

I’ve done some doodles and design sketches for these four species in the past to get enough of a sense of their anatomy to describe them in the novel, but some were more developed than others. There was one I already had lightly drawn that I just needed to refine and go over with darker pencil lines, which was pretty straightforward. Another was a rethinking of a species I designed and drew decades ago, with the same head and upper body but a redesigned lower body, so that went quite quickly. For the other two, I had thumbnail sketches of the body shapes (and I scanned them so I could enlarge them and trace them straight from the screen to make it easier), but I still had to figure out a lot of the details, like the shape of the limbs and extremities and in one case the entire head design, since I was unhappy with the rough head shape I’d sketched in. The first one of those took a few days, since it had an unusual surface texture that I had to figure out how to draw. The other went pretty quickly once I settled on a head design, though. I guess I’m going faster as I get back into practice at this.

Today I even did some copying and pasting in a drawing program to put together a comparative height chart for all seven species plus a human, using a blank height-chart template I found free online. So now those are all ready to go on Patreon at some point, and eventually on this blog as well.

Progress on other projects is slower going, though. I’m still awaiting the contract for that big new project I mentioned getting a “yes” on two weeks ago, and now that I’ve gotten all the side projects out of the way, there’s another work in progress I really need to rededicate myself to. So there’s nothing else professionally I can say much about yet.

Last week I reported my success in doing my own repair to the fill valve in my toilet tank. But it turned out not to be complete success. I woke up a day or two later to find the tank continuously trying and failing to refill, apparently because the stopper — or the flapper, as I now know it’s called — wasn’t properly closed, so whatever came into the tank was promptly drained into the bowl through the flush valve (as I now know it’s called). Fortunately, fiddling with the flapper a bit seemed to fix it. I figured some gunk got dislodged in my repairs and got stuck under the stopper the night before so it wouldn’t reseal. I hoped that was all it was.

However, over the next few days, I heard the refilling sound briefly every few hours, suggesting that water was still slowly leaking out through the flush valve, triggering a refill when the float sank low enough. (Apparently these are called “ghost flushes.”) I remembered how, when I’d kept the water mostly turned off while waiting for the replacement part to be shipped, the water in the tank drained after a few hours. I realized that the slow leak in the fill valve may have been compensating for a slow leak in the flush valve the whole time! Would I have to buy a replacement flapper too? I once again went to YouTube in search of repair videos (which is how I suddenly know so much terminology) and started looking into replacement options.

When I investigated, though, I found I’d been pretty much right the first time: some flecks of stuff on the flapper were preventing a perfect seal. Maybe some kind of mineral encrustation inside the tank because of the hard water in my area — perhaps I was right about stuff getting dislodged during repairs. I wiped off the flapper and the valve edges, and it seemed to solve the problem for a day or so, but since then I’ve had another instance where the flapper didn’t close, and the ghost flushes have returned, and there still seems to be some loose debris in the tank despite my efforts to wipe it up.

I should probably replace the flapper at some point (the info I found online says you should if it’s more than 5 years old), but it’s not urgent. At least it’s an intermittent, manageable issue rather than the constant leak I had before. So I can live with it as it is.

Especially since I have work I need to stop distracting myself from…

Some followup on WILD CYBERS

(Robot and Cover Design by Mike McPhail, McP Digital Graphics)Now that the cover art and design are complete, Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman is moving into the final stages. The file has been sent to the printer so advance copies can be printed and sent out to reviewers (and if any professional reviewers reading this are interested, let me know). The exact release date is still being settled — the process seems rather more flexible for small publishers — so for now I can just say it’ll be out in the summer. There will be a Kickstarter campaign to fund the book starting pretty soon, and Kickstarter backers will be the first to receive the book before its general release.

Since I reblogged the cover announcement from eSpec’s WordPress site (first time I’ve ever tried that), I didn’t get to share my thoughts about the cover before. Mike McPhail put it together from a stock illustration for the background and butterfly and a 3D robot model of his own, I gather, with some input from me on the direction we wanted to go in. It’s not a literal depiction of anything in the stories, more a symbolic expression of some of the concepts and themes, but I like that it tells a story of its own, with a robot that could easily seem forbidding and looking somewhat timeworn standing in such a beautiful setting and reaching out in appreciation, like it’s discovering new possibilities. It fits with the general themes I go for in my work — optimistic science fiction that isn’t devoid of struggle and hardship.

My preliminary cover thoughts had been running more in the direction of a montage conveying elements from several stories, maybe something with a more professional rendering of my designs for the aliens in the stories, and ideally highlighting the various heroic women featured in most of the stories — particularly Emerald Blair, who has a brand-new story inside. But that’s a lot to cram into one cover. Better to have a single, striking image that catches your attention enough that you take a closer look, and I think this cover does that.

Only Superhuman MMPB coverIt just now struck me that the Wild Cybers cover is kind of a complement to the Only Superhuman cover. There, you had a vibrant, living feminine figure within a hard, mechanistic environment, her arm extended in an act of aggression, while here, you have a hard, mechanistic masculine-ish figure within a vibrant, living environment, its arm extended in an act of gentleness. They even invert the order of the title and byline. It’s a nice coincidental contrast, since these two books between them encompass the entirety of my published fiction in their universe to date. (Also, both figures have their midriffs set apart in one way or another, and both have pretty well-defined abs…)

Oh, speaking of Only Superhuman, I discovered that some of the interview and essay links on my page for the novel had expired, so I fixed them. Two of them are still online at different addresses, while the third is preserved on the Internet Archive.

Search engine terms of note

This is interesting… In checking my blog’s statistics page, I see that on the list of search engine terms that led online searchers here to Written Worlds,  there were two hits for “fan art for only superhuman.” I was intrigued to think that two people might be looking for Only Superhuman fan art, but I realized it was probably a single search that led to two different pages here, most likely the posts containing my sketches of Emerald Blair and Psyche Thorne. Still, it’s nice to know that someone out there is interested in OS fan art. Unfortunately, I did the same search myself and found nothing that fit the description. That’s a pity, since I’d love it if there were fan artists out there invested enough in the Green Blaze’s world to undertake some artwork. (Feel free to consider that an invitation.)

On the other hand, one of the search terms on today’s list is “only superhuman torrent.” I’m disappointed in you, whoever you are. I made little enough profit from this book as it is — I need whatever I can get.

The overwhelmingly dominant search terms that people use to find WW are things like “doctor who last words,” “first words of new doctor,” “last words of the [nth] doctor,” and so on, all leading to what I thought was a fairly random, frivolous compilation of The Doctor’s first and last lines, but which has turned out to be by far the most popular post in the history of my blog. I also get surprisingly many search terms leading folks to my “How to dismember a recliner chair” post, which is really not an advice column of any sort. But aside from the Doctor Who post, the most frequent category of searches leading here are those pertaining to Mission: Impossible. I’ve even come across the occasional searches like “mission impossible christopher bennett review [episode title]” — there are people out there actively searching for my M:I reviews by name. That’s gratifying. (And yes, I’ll be completing that series with my reviews of the movies in the days ahead.) And people sometimes search for Written Worlds by name, which is also nice.

Here are some more unusual ones I find in the list:

“re-atomizing human body by medbeds” — Hm. Must be a reference to my Elysium review, in which I did mention the term “medbed,” which is the term I use in the Only Superhuman universe for what Larry Niven called an autodoc. I’m surprised someone else would search for it by that term. Maybe a fan of my work? Or is the term in more general use than I’m aware of?

“anamated cartoon hot hensei girls in bikinis showing their bodies” — Ummm. Oh…kay, I have no idea how that led someone to my blog. “Hot composition girls?” That’s what “hensei” means. Kind of hard to search for Japanese cartoon porn if you don’t even know how to spell it.

“dune books in chronological order” — I don’t think I ever talked about those books here.

“karolina wydra eye” and “karolina wydra eye pupil” — I seem to have gotten things like this a few times that I know of, no doubt connecting to my Europa Report review. Not sure who’s so fascinated by her eye, though.

“how was your drive home” — Err, thanks for asking, but who would ask that of Google?

“teacher at aloha johnson” — No idea.

“acts 6:2 why does the holman use financial rather than wait on tables” — Did a human being type that?

“lesbian scene from massion impossible” — If only, man. If only.

More ONLY SUPERHUMAN art: Psyche

December 29, 2012 2 comments

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.

psychecolor

Copyright Christopher L. Bennett

(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.

Psyche full-length

Copyright Christopher L. Bennett

(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.

ONLY SUPERHUMAN: Introducing Emerald Blair

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:

Emerald Blair, "Green Blaze"

Copyright Christopher L. Bennett

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.

Emerald Blair portrait

Copyright Christopher L. Bennett

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).

Emerald Blair (profile)

Copyright Christopher L. Bennett

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.

Designing Cleopatra’s Needle (UPDATE: New image)

December 5, 2009 3 comments

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):

Deck 1

Deck 2

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.