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Shrink Laureate


“Trixie hates to interrupt a good monologue,” said Trixie, interrupting a good monologue, “but maybe we should continue it somewhere not on fire?”

More Blog Posts88

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    0 questions

    1. What is your first name?
    None of your business

    2. How old are you?
    None of your business

    3. What country are you from?
    None of your business

    4. What do you look like?
    None of your business

    5. What do you wish you looked like?
    None of your business

    6. How did you come across MLP:FIM?
    None of your business

    7. What is your favorite ship?
    None of your business

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    Author's notes for Time Enough

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    First though, I have to kick the elephant in the room.


    Abuse in the comments

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Jul
27th
2016

Writing Bible for the Admiral Shimmer verse · 12:25am Jul 27th, 2016

The short story Log of the UNS Twilight Sparkle prompts a great many possible stories - centuries of them - that I may never write. So if anybody ever does want to write a story in the Admiral Shimmer verse, here are the facts.

General rules
• This is still a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic story, so try to stay true to the spirit of the show.
• Get the science right - see below.
• No war. Pretty much every space-based blockbuster ever has had stuff blowing up, and frankly it's getting old. I'm interested in stories that explore the possibilities of space exploration without war.
• Sunset Shimmer does not find humans attractive.

Pages to read
• The original story, Log of the UNS Twilight Sparkle
The story group for the Admiral Shimmer verse
• This writing bible
The Timeline

The facts
• Both Sunset Shimmer and Twilight Sparkle are immortal. No other human is.
• Celestia and Luna cannot leave Equestria without condemning it to eternal night and/or day.
• The first story, Log of the U.N.S. Twilight Sparkle, takes place in the year 2481.
• Sunset Shimmer was instrumental is leading her world into space. Her current rank in 2481 is "Fleet Admiral", ie the commander of the entire fleet. She did not always hold this rank, but when you're centuries older than the rest of command it's hard not to float to the top.
• The world of Equestria Girls is called Earth, but is not the same as our Earth. People are more varied in colour, and have pony-like names.
• Earth does not have as much magic as Equestria, and it isn't well researched, but it does exist.

Politics
• Ponies are the first sapient culture humans have met.
• The nations of Earth and its colonies cooperate to support the U.N.F. but have not been joined into a single global government.
• The same is roughly true of the other side. Gryphons, changelings, zebra and minotaurs all serve aboard Equestrian Union ships, but independent nations still exist. The one eternal constant of politics everywhere: it's complicated.
• Colonies were set up by Earth nations across the Sol system, and recently nearby systems, but they quickly form independent nations. It simply isn't practical to govern from afar. Colonies raise their own taxes, elect their own government, etc.
• Terraforming is possible, but it takes centuries and a lot of investment. Mars is currently being terraformed.

The science
• Space is bigger and emptier than you can comprehend. This affects many things. For example, you could fly right through an asteroid belt a thousand times and be 99.9% sure of not hitting anything.
• Understand how relative motion works in space, and how this affects navigation. This basically means playing a lot of Kerbal Space Program. "Astrogation" is the term for plotting a course though space, including a plan for when you will burn the engines and how much.
• Domestic technology progresses many times faster than space technology. Only a fool would hope to predict all the details. Just remember that basic physics doesn't change.
• There is no means of communicating faster than light (except by sending a ship). Given the size of space, broadcast signals would quickly dissipate into nothing so a lot of communication is done via lasers.
• There are no transporters, tractor beams, force fields, shields or structural integrity fields.
• Space travel is still sufficiently expensive and troublesome that a trip from Earth to eg Mars is probably one-way for most people, just like early settlers in the Americas. Lifting mass from the surface to orbit is the most expensive bit.

Engines and propulsion
• The most efficient design for a ship is to have a single large engine at the back. Half of all manoeuvres are therefore done while facing backwards. Rotation and fine control are done with a combination of small thrusters and gyros.
• The main engine is a derivative of ion drives, which expel a small amount of propellant at very high speed. Do not stand behind it. The exhaust this produces is about 90% x-rays and other EM, 10% fast-moving particles.
• The ships have a means of travelling faster than light, which broadly works by shrinking the space between the ship and its destination. It still needs to use a conventional engine to propel it through that space.
• While using the FTL drive, you are still bound by other laws of physics: relativity, conservation of energy, etc. You need to accelerate at the start and decelerate at the end.
• This is not "hyperspace", which would involve leaving our space; it's closer to "warp drive", in that the ship does pass through all the intervening space (so you cannot use FTL to "jump over" an obstacle). The front of ships has extra heavy shielding to protect against all the gas and particles it hits while travelling.
• Larger ships can travel faster, both because they can generate a stronger FTL effect and because they have more powerful engines.
• Though it isn't often the efficient option, the FTL drive can be used to move at sub-light speeds with less engine power. This can be used when moving large objects without their own engines, such as asteroids or space stations.
• Aside from some minor differences, the ponies use roughly equivalent technology.

Ship design
• The UNS Twilight Sparkle is about the size of the Enterprise D, but its shape is more like the Battlestar Galactica - or as it's put in the story, a dumpy rectangle. Much of that space is taken up by boring things like fuel tanks and radiation shielding, so it's not luxuriously spacious inside.
• The ship has a total crew of about 100. None of those are superfluous: there are no children, spouses (unless they're also crew), or other civilians. Many of the crew do multiple jobs, and it's standard for crew to at least have a basic grasp of every job on the ship.
• All U.N.F. ships are built around redundancy and reliability. There are multiple engines, fuel tanks, life support systems, med bays, water stores, bridges, and anything else that could matter. Even the crew: there are at least two people capable of doing any job, more if it's critical.
• The inside of the ship is divided into sections connected by airlocks. Any of those sections can be isolated or even vented into space and the ship will keep working. The exact layout varies; the Twilight Sparkle has 12 sections.
• The bridge is roughly in the centre of the ship, not on top or at the front. There is a second bridge, facing backwards. Either can be used at any time, but when the ship is facing backwards the crew prefer to use the second bridge because the motion feels more natural. The bridge is roughly spherical, with the entire inner surface displaying an image of the sky outside annotated with markers. There are two tiers within it, the upper tier for the captain and control staff, the lower tier in front of that with control decks. The captain's eyes are in roughly the centre of the sphere.
• There are no windows. Especially not at the front. Seeing outside uses a combination of fixed cameras, and camera drones that are released in all directions when a better picture is needed, and relay information back to the ship by laser. Much of the work is best done using artificial colour images (infra-red, x-ray, etc).
• The ships do have artificial gravity. They also have inertial dampeners, which are basically the same technology but sideways; but the strength and reaction speed is limited. They can soften a planned engine burn up to about 2G, but cannot reduce the shock of a sudden impact.
• Up is not always the same direction. Ships use words like port/starboard, fore/aft, dorsal/ventral to indicate location.
• Gravity cannot be taken for granted, so everybody wears trousers.
• The ship cannot land on a planet. At least not in one piece. The engines you need to traverse a planet's gravity well are fundamentally different from the ones you use to cross space.
• There are no firearms on board. Firing a gun on a spaceship is a suicidally stupid thing to do, because the vacuum of space is just as lethal to you as it is to everybody else.
• The ship is not bristling with weapons. It would need to give up cargo space to be fitted with weaponry. The nearest thing it has to a weapon is probably the main engine.

For authors
• If you have any ideas for stories set in this world, drop me a line and I'll be glad to help make sure it fits into the verse.
• When you publish your story, please include the standard invitation to other writers, linking back to this page.
• I like pictures of space. They make good cover pictures.

Comments ( 26 )

7. There are no transporters, tractor beams, force fields, shields or structural integrity fields.

I assume this only applies to the human ships, as Equestrian ones could probably use magic for all of these functions.

In any case, thanks for the rules for this universe. I can't promise I'll write a story in it, but having the tools available definitely increases the odds.

The Equestrians certainly have magic, yes, but it would be unwise to count on it for essential ship's functions. Remember, most unicorns don't teleport all, and even Twilight only teleported long distances during her fight with Tirek. So teleporting from ship to planet would be an incredible feat.

I've expanded the section on how the engines work, in particular FTL. Though I can't say it's original, I think my chosen solution is the best way of hitting the "still bound by the laws of physics" checkbox.

I've also pulled the politics section out, expanding it slightly.

Gravity cannot be taken for granted, so everybody wears trousers.

I know you were serious, but I lol'd at that one!

4297249 :derpytongue2: It's one of the many ways our perception of space travel had been affected by TV and movies, that I wanted to stop taking for granted.

4115562

Just noticed this post. Canon observation time. :)

The Equestrians certainly have magic, yes, but it would be unwise to count on it for essential ship’s functions. Remember, most unicorns don’t teleport all, and even Twilight only teleported long distances during her fight with Tirek. So teleporting from ship to planet would be an incredible feat.

In Every Little Thing She Does (is evil) Twilight and Starlight teleport in quick succession to a variety of biomes, including, importantly, a body of water. The presence of jellyfish suggests an ocean (freshwater jellyfish exists, but as far as I know, only one species – Craspedacusta sowerbii) and the nearest ocean is half a continent away in any direction. Unless they teleported into Canterlot Aquarium, which I don’t think exists.

And they’re doing it as part of regular practice. :) While it is true that they’re both special, this kind of raises the bar for what should be considered normal due to the presence of Starlight.

4494203
That is an impressive feat of teleportation. And yes, those two are definitely special - and as that training scene shows, are prompting each other to try even harder. However, while they move a long way horizontally, they don't climb or drop very far. They can't be vary deep in the ocean in that shot without them suffering from the change in pressure, and the same is true the scenes in the clouds.

Any time you travel up or down, you're facing the energy difference between the two states in addition to the energy need to teleport. So I'm sticking with the argument that defeating a gravity well is much harder than travelling across the surface.

And if that wasn't enough, remember than any orbit that doesn't involve plummeting to your death also requires moving really really fast around the planet. That's another big energy difference, and another thing to keep in mind.

By that argument it's feasible that Twilight could teleport to the moon more easily than to orbit.

I've moved this blog post to the newly posted story.

Well, there's only one thing I can see wrong with this, at least on the science side.

Nothing wrong with the FTL drive thing. It's the shielding against particles. Foam is actually a lot more effective at blocking high-velocity space particles than any metal is. In fact, most space ship "armor" right now is a foam chunk surrounded by metal at both sides. If it was solid metal, it would just punch right through.

But that only works at the slow (relatively) speed that our space vehicles travel at right now. At near-light and light speeds, no armor would stop the particles.

Besides, if the FTL drive works as you say it does, shrinking space in front of it and expanding space behind it (the most sensible theory for FTL travel), then it technically isn't moving. Nothing can move faster than the speed of light in relation to something else. Therefore, something cannot hit the ship at FTL speeds.

Now, it's late, and I haven't studied the effects of particles in the way of such a ship that is traveling in such a manner, but either the ship wouldn't have to deal with objects at all (as they would be "warped" away from the ship) or there wouldn't be enough shielding to protect the ship from the near-light speeds of the particles. And there would be freaky things going on with points of view and things like that.


Anyway, this isn't really a criticism of the universe at all. In fact, you impressed me quite a bit with your accuracy. In fact, it was quite familiar. Have you, by chance, watched a lot of videos by Scott Manley?

4494707
I'll write an expanded blog post on the subject of FTL at some point, and there's quite a lot more detail in the next story as well. I'm still figuring some of them out myself.

You're right that hitting stray particles is a real thing, and the problem doesn't magically disappear for any reason. The front of the ship does have a lot of shielding. Most of the bulky air and water tanks are at the front of the ship for exactly this reason.

Besides, if the FTL drive works as you say it does, shrinking space in front of it and expanding space behind it (the most sensible theory for FTL travel), then it technically isn't moving. Nothing can move faster than the speed of light in relation to something else. Therefore, something cannot hit the ship at FTL speeds.

Not quite. That's the Star Trek approach, but mine is a little different. Briefly, the field shortens space from the perspective of the particles that make up the ship, such that movement is multiplied in that dimension. So you need to switch the field on, then use normal engines to accelerate in the right direction. From the perspective of the particles they are moving, but not faster than light.

This means the same field can be used to reduce the expense of moving at sub-light speeds, and in fact was used that way for about 40 years, for things like asteroid mining, before they worked out all the kinks in FTL.

4494707

Anyway, this isn't really a criticism of the universe at all. In fact, you impressed me quite a bit with your accuracy. In fact, it was quite familiar. Have you, by chance, watched a lot of videos by Scott Manley?

Yes, actually. They're rather good. Among many others, reading a bunch and just playing plenty of Kerbal. I also got a lot of help from my scientific consultant, Oliver.

I'm no genius, but I hope I can write a science fiction story with at least a reasonable attempt at solid science.

4494725 Ahh... okay. So a sort of "hybrid" engine compared to the current one that scientists proposed (forgot the name of it) and Scott Manley mentioned in one of his videos.

Yeah, that would make sense. And it would be "slow" enough compared to the particles that the shielding is feasible, if not a certain thing.

4494743
The Alcubierre drive? Yeah, that proposal involves some ludicrous numbers - like mass-of-the-entire-universe sort of numbers. I don't think it's viable in its current incarnation.

4494230

By that argument it’s feasible that Twilight could teleport to the moon more easily than to orbit.

Ha! Idea:

1. The moon is easier than a ship in orbit because, as far as we can tell, Equestria’s moon itself is emphatically not in any kind of orbit. Luna alone knows how it’s holding up there, but it’s not orbiting. So it’s easy for the moon to be stationary with respect to Earth if needed, and as far as we know, for much of the night it is.
2. So it is possible, even if it isn’t very practical, to achieve the same with a spaceship which is in orbit. If the ship burns directly retrograde and has enough thrust to consume all of the forward momentum sufficiently quickly, for a time it will be almost completely stationary with respect to Earth, until gravity accelerates it again, downwards.
3. Normally, nobody would do that just to take on or drop off passengers or cargo, because it’s a waste of dV. If it’s absolutely required to do that, it’s cheaper to drop the unicorn off in an pod with nothing but engines and fuel in it and let that thing spend its entire fuel supply on slowing down. Or alternatively, teleport them up with that pod and let it match orbits for much less fuel.
4. But there is a legitimate maneuver where a ship would have to do this for another reason entirely: a 180° orbit inclination change, which essentially requires turning 180° on your orbit and going the other way.
5. Which you shouldn’t do at all, unless you really screwed up and ended up orbiting in the direction exactly opposite the thing you want to dock to.
6. Which may happen. :)

4494764

4. But there is a legitimate maneuver where a ship would have to do this for another reason entirely: a 180° orbit inclination change, which essentially requires turning 180° on your orbit and going the other way.

Surely there have to be safer and more efficient ways of achieving that result? Like spinning your orbit around the planet?

4494770

Surely there have to be safer and more efficient ways of achieving that result? Like spinning your orbit around the planet?

It’s equivalent in terms of dV spent, but then, the general rule “the closer a burn to instantaneous, the more efficient it is” comes into play – if you need a 180° inclination change, and you can do a 180° turn in place, you should.

But if the planet has a moon, it’s often cheaper to loop around it instead. :)

Come to think of it, that idea with teleporting a pony with a pod to orbital altitudes makes a neat equivalent of an air launch to orbit. By my estimates, you’d need something like a 200kg pod to do it, assuming reasonable liquid fuel engines and a 100kg pony. I.e. pretty light as far as spacecraft go. Somepony would need to put no more than a metric ton a few kilometers up, with all the velocity changes required being done by the pod’s engine.

4494775
If that's too far for a single pony to teleport, maybe a relay chain?

4494797

Even if it’s too far for one teleport, it’s clear multiple jumps in quick succession are possible, and a relay chain of some kind is indeed an option.

Ponies can go to orbit pretty cheaply, and with far less developed technology than required here. :)

I haven't really explored the pony side of this equation yet, but when I do I'm hoping to minimise the use of hand-waving magic to make physics problems go away. I'd rather look at the intersection of pony magic with real science.

Interesting kind of hard-science look at human-pony interaction. Based on the fic, the ponies know English (due to the previously open mirror portal), any comment on whether the language has changed in the centuries since? Math is one thing that doesn't change, but language changes quite a bit over time. Wonder if they'll have to be careful of infectious diseases too (before contact was through magic mirror portal which also changed species so that probably wasn't a concern).

Still reading through things, and so how do they explore? Drones/probes, probably not shuttles as sounds like making orbit is one of the harder things to do. This probably isn't much like Star Trek where they casually visit dozens of worlds. They've got extra-solar colonies but Mars is still being terraformed? Unless they managed to find habitable worlds in the goldilocks zone and then got to work on terraforming Mars.

I only have a vague idea of real science, mainly that its a lot less "convenient" than sci-fi, it'll be interesting to see how that will mesh with magical place like Equestria too.

I plan to answer a lot of these questions in future stories. Others are welcome to try and fill in bits of the world with stories of their own as well.

They've got extra-solar colonies but Mars is still being terraformed?

Terraforming an entire world takes a very long time. Centuries, at least, even with the technology they have available; whereas FTL is a relatively recent advancement. The extrasolar colonies are much more primitive in comparison.

The ships have a means of travelling faster than light, which broadly works by shrinking the space between the ship and its destination. It still needs to use a conventional engine to propel it through that space.

So some variation on the Alcubierre drive style?

4496183
Not exactly. The Alcubierre drive is roughly the same as Star Trek's warp drive, in that it expands / contracts space itself and the ship is, from the perspective of its local space, not moving. Unfortunately, the energy numbers involved in it are quite ludicrous, and it relies on things like negative mass and particles travelling backwards in time.

The FTL in this story adjusts the dimensions of space from the perspective of the particles that make up the ship, such that movement in that direction is exaggerated. So when you switch the FTL on nothing immediately happens, until you fire up the ordinary engines to propel yourself through the shortened space. Your ship obeys all the usual laws of physics, such as conservation of momentum, with the exception of this shortened dimension.

It's basically Seven League Boots in spaceship form.

There are some details still to work out, but at some point I'll write a full article about the FTL.

4494883

but language changes quite a bit over time

Evidence suggests that Equish evolves more slowly than English, because Princess Luna was able to talk when she returned with nothing but a few stray "prithee"s and "wherefore"s, whereas the English of a thousand years ago would be pretty much indecipherable (see Princess Celestia's Private Library for some examples). That depends, of course, on how long Equestian years are; and the presence of an immortal monarch or three might have an effect on language development.

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