The may question is: What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?
I am going to put a disclaimer here now: this may reveal some plot points for 2 novels that I have published and one that is coming out in 2018. if you have an interest in reading the two that are out or plan on reading the third novel when it comes out then read beyond at your own risk.
Any science fiction writer (and historical fiction writer for that matter) will tell you that you have to do a lot of research to write credible science fiction. it is one thing to pull something extraordinary out of hammer space but another thing to not have that object or plot point with the object ripped apart by anyone who knows a little bit about science and physics. It only gets worse when you factor in that most people now carry instant access to the internet in their pocket, Gene Roddenberry would be so proud and horrified by the smart phone. It makes his tricorder look more like an old palm pilot than a piece of sophisticated equipment.
You might be confused if you have read the first 2 templar novels, they are more urban fantasy than science fiction. Let me introduce you to an interesting fact about myself. I am an open minded skeptic (sounds like an oxymoron like military intelligence but it’s not i assure you). I am a Druid, i believe a lot in spirituality but I am also a technophille in the worst way. I once referred to the data center i work in as a silicon forest, i may not be that far off the mark, after all I work in R&D and there are some problems and solutions where even the architects and technologists (people who know WAY more about this stuff than me) don’t understand. In short I tend to write science fiction as well as urban fantasy.
In one novel, soon to be published, I was working on a propulsion system, a faster than light system. We all know about warp drive, thank you star trek, and there are several equations floating around the theoretical physics word showing that warp is possible. The one i gravitate to most is the one where it creates a field of negative gravity behind the ship and a field of positive gravity in front of the ship. The ship “falls” through space reaching faster than light speeds. the ship itself never really moves but the space around the ship does; hence the term warp.
That isn’t the cool part, that is coming up. The power demands set by those equations are enormous. There are generally 2 ways to get around this. the first one is to use the star trek method; a matter and anti-matter reaction, the second is to use fusion, create an artificial star and harvest the radiation from the reaction. Believe it or not, the technology exists on earth, NOW, to create anti matter and to initiate fusion.
Science fiction always relies on the author researching the current technology and physics. Take the science and understand it. The FICTION is usually making it smaller and readily available. Carbon batteries is a good example of science fiction that is slowly becoming fact. The theory is there but the technology is a good 30-50 years away, at best, from making it affordable. if you don’t know what carbon batteries are, they will be a game changer in everything powered by batteries once the technology is affordable and reliable.
In space, safety is important. I always took an issue with the star trek way of powering their FTL engines. You have to use magnetic containment to keep anti matter from reacting in the worst way with its surroundings, they make up problems with the core, heck, the core having an issue is a plot point for episodes. In my universe, my characters don’t want to deal with an engine breakdown unless they do something that is going to break the engine or neglect to take care of it (thank you firefly). I chose fusion as their powersource.
The fusion core is fairly simple; you have 192 lasers targeting the center of a sphere, at the center of that sphere is a small amount of hydrogen (could be protium-the hydrogen we are used to dealing with, deuterium, or tritium-the unstable neutron dense form of hydrogen). The pressure of the lasers pushes the hydrogen atoms together, overcoming the weak electromagnetic force and exciting the strong nuclear force resulting in fusing the atoms together. You need to have a cluster of atoms for a self sustaining reaction, you will create beryllium and helium and some other trace compounds, they will quickly split back into hydrogen and back into helium under the pressure; essentially the fusion cycle. I over simplified the fusion cycle but that isn’t as important.
The cool part is where i got the 192 lasers from. in California there is a research center where they actually do this. Now their facility is larger than the building I work in (the fiction is the fusion engine in the book is about the size of a small medicine ball). When I saw a picture of the facility I realized I saw part of the device before.
Yes that picture above is part of the device. It was featured in Startek: Into Darkness. That is a real life fusion plant. Those large pylons sticking off of the central sphere are the specialized Fiber optics that direct the laser beams to the firing chamber. I wonder how many people thought that was just props?