Different Cosmic Disasters for Different Plot Points

  • Writing: Input Wanted
  • Thread starter Strato Incendus
  • Start date
  • Tags
    Plot Points
In summary, the author needs different types of cosmic disasters to motivate people to build a ship and leave the solar system. The author needs a mission for the crew of the ship that requires physical strength, is dangerous, and is likely to result in death. If a solar storm or gamma ray burst hits Earth, the people on Earth might try to survive by moving to underground cities.
  • #1
Strato Incendus
149
16
Hi again!

For my story about the generation ship “Exodus”, I “need” different kinds of cosmic disasters. Some of them actually occur within the story itself; for others, it will just be the impending danger of such a disaster that motivates people’s actions.1) There needs to be a reason for why the ship leaves the solar system in the first place; a better one than the merely positive incentive of space exploration. So far, my answer to this is that, in this fictional setting, Earth has been proven to be in the line of fire of a gamma ray burst.

Specifically, I’ve picked WR 104 for this. The question with any star that might potentially cause a GRB one day is of course “does it point at us or not?” The in-story explanation is that, compared to our current state of knowledge about WR 104, within the story, the angle of the star has been recalculated several times (over the next several hundred years).

If future inhabitants of Earth found out for certain that they will be hit by a GRB one day, evacuating Earth, or rather, sending a pioneer mission to another planet, so that this planet can then be colonised later, feels like the logical consequence to me.

In order to create sufficient motivation to build a ship that actually leaves the solar system for good, rather than just relocating to a different planet or moon within the solar system, here I need a disaster that would (“ideally”) affect the entire solar system.
2) About halfway through the story, as the mid-point plot twist, I need a disaster that happens to the ship itself. A major portion of the crew dies in this disaster - disproportionately men, thereby causing a gender imbalance among the crew, which then influences further decisions on board, regarding how to bring the crew back to its former size.

Here I need a mission for the crew - within the confines of the ship itself - that requires
a) many hands to solve the problem as quickly as possible
b) requires physical strength, and
c) is dangerous enough that death is likely for a lot of the people who are sent on this mission.
3) Shortly before the disaster plot point (or, if you will, already part of it), the ship picks up some clue from the solar system that gives them plausible reason to assume humanity back at home has been wiped out by a cosmic disaster - and that the crew of the Exodus were now the last survivors of the human species in the universe.
This increases the pressure on the crew of the generation ship to complete the mission and thus ensure the survival of the species more than ever. A task made more difficult by the fact that they’ve lost a significant portion of their own crew just recently in disaster 2).

The writing principle of Chekhov‘s Gun of course suggests that I should simply have the gamma ray burst go off here, since that’s the threat I introduced at the very beginning of the story.
Alternatively, though, it could be a different type of cosmic disaster in practice, but similar “in spirit”.
For example, a massive solar storm, over a 100 times stronger than the Carrington Event.

The important point here is that humanity on Earth (and the other colonised planets and moons of the solar system) doesn’t actually die out; but the crew on the generation ship needs to have every plausible reason to think that at this point.
This is why a solar storm seemed ideal to me: A society in the 25th century, more technologically advanced than ours, might be even more digitalised, and thus more vulnerable to solar storms, too. If this solar storm simply damages all the communication systems, so that the people on Earth can no longer contact the generation ship, then that might do the trick.
The “problem” here is that this solar storm would most likely only hit Earth, but would most likely not affect any of the other colonised planets or moons in the solar system.
If I have to go with a gamma ray burst here, then I assume the people on Earth would try to survive this by relocating to underground cities?

In either case, I need a way for the ship crew to notice the disaster occurring at home:
- in case of a solar storm, their devices could detect the sun’s increase in luminosity (analogous to how we detected the flares of Proxima Centauri)
- in case of a gamma ray burst going off, the ship would detect the burst itself; they wouldn’t be hit by it, but the solar system would

Of course, they get to see this with a 10-year delay, since they are 10 lightyears away from Earth.
The same would be true if they received some supposedly “last” message from the solar system.
This consequently means that whatever disaster affected them actually already occurred ten years before the plot began.

A third potential disaster might be a supernova occurring close enough to the solar system. However, this threat would be known long in advance, much like the danger of a gamma ray burst. So I’d need to set it up in the beginning of the book; the solar storm, meanwhile, can come more out of “thin air”. And then it could just be framed as “you thought a gamma ray burst were the only thing that could threaten life on Earth?”

In the third book of the trilogy, it is actually revealed that humanity on Earth is in fact still alive. Part 3 plays 22 years later. Pretty much exactly the time needed for a message sent from the Exodus (at this point 10 lightyears away from the solar system) to make it back to Earth, and for their reply to make it back to the Exodus’s target destination, Teegarden b (12.5 lightyears from Earth).
Especially disaster 2) is still very vague at this point. Some minor collision, through a series of several technical and human failures, since collisions with dust particles are normally prevented by a deflector / the ship’s weapons system. And/or a malfunction with the ship’s nuclear-fusion reactor that requires many hands to fix as fast as possible - and then, because of some failure of the security systems, the reactor activates again before everyone working in there can leave again. But all of these explanations still feel rather contrived for me.

So I’m open for any suggestions regarding the various kinds of cosmic disasters that might affect my crew and humanity back home here!
Especially with regards to the catastrophe that happens to the ship itself in the middle of the book, but also with regards to all the other cosmic events described above. :)
 
Physics news on Phys.org
  • #2
Um...aren't you asking us to substitute our imagination for yours?
 
  • Like
Likes Bystander
  • #3
My imagination can conjure up a lot, but that doesn’t mean what I come up with makes sense, is logically consistent, or in accordance with the current state of the science. ^^
 
  • #4
Strato Incendus said:
Earth has been proven to be in the line of fire of a gamma ray burst.
This is a good idea that I have also thought of but never used. It gives the ship decades to get out of the solar system, and kills the whole solar system.

Strato Incendus said:
I need a disaster that happens to the ship itself.
Radiation exposure is less damaging to male reproductive organs then to female. So it is likely that women would not be allowed to risk exposure near their nuclear reactor. Then blow that up and you have a ship with mostly women and lacking in electricity. Alternatively, a maliciously designed virus that selectively attacks men, developed by some looser.

Strato Incendus said:
The important point here is that humanity on Earth (and the other colonised planets and moons of the solar system) doesn’t actually die out; but the crew on the generation ship needs to have every plausible reason to think that at this point.
Keep it simple. Dual armageddons will always sound like implausible author manipulation. If the gamma ray burst is less intense then expected, a station on the far side of Jupiter and under that magnetic field might survive, and make it back to Earth. Underground bunkers with newly invented magnetic shieldings might also survive. Communicating with the Exodus ship might simply not be a big priority for people trying to rebuild Earth's ecosystem. (Remember that you have to restore ALL plant, microbial, and animal life, not just humans.)
 
  • Like
Likes Strato Incendus
  • #5
Vanadium 50 said:
Um...aren't you asking us to substitute our imagination for yours?
This way when he makes millions I can sue him for half. But seriously, my imagination isn't doing anything useful, so why not?
 
  • Like
Likes Strato Incendus
  • #6
Hackneyed plot points, so I will rest my imagination and supply ideas from old SF novels.

"The sun has grown deadly..." Cover blurb from novel "Dahlgren" by Samuel R. Delany.
Protagonist Kid wakes from a post-coital nap with a gigantic Sun that eventually fills most of the sky following numerous "signs and portents" including a second moon in the sky named George.

"Variable Star" a novel begun by Robert A. Heinlein and completed by Spider Robinson after Heinlein's death, covers every plot point raised by the OP.
G2 star Sol enters a variable phase with unpredictable results for humanity. After being spurned by a very wealthy woman, a desperate but plucky musician wrangles passage on a starship converted to an ark for a few select people. Danger, love and science prevail as disaster follows disaster. Is there hope for mankind?

Heinlein incorporated similar themes in his short story "Year of the Jackpot".
Brilliant but kind mathematician Potiphar compiles statistics that indicate the end of the world. After taking shelter from WWIII, Potiphar solves differential equations to discover that Sol has become unstable.
"Honey, I'm cold. What's happened to the sunlight?".
"Not the sunlight, Dear, but the Sun.", exclaims Potiphar, placing a reassuring arm around his wife's shoulder. "It will be warmer soon.".
 
Last edited:
  • #7
Klystron said:
Hackneyed plot points, so I will rest my imagination and supply ideas from old SF novels.
Colony Ship is a genre, must like Western or Spy Thriller.
 
  • Like
Likes Strato Incendus
  • #8
Algr said:
Radiation exposure is less damaging to male reproductive organs then to female. So it is likely that women would not be allowed to risk exposure near their nuclear reactor. Then blow that up and you have a ship with mostly women and lacking in electricity. Alternatively, a maliciously designed virus that selectively attacks men, developed by some looser.
Thanks a lot for the radiation idea! :smile: I’ve implemented this for the time being (even though it may change again in case the mid-point disaster changes to something completely different to begin with). I’ve also found a way to set this up in advance:

One of the female physical education teachers on board is not allowed to train the people working at the reactor while they are stationed there. (They can’t leave their positions while on duty, because the reactor as the ship’s primary energy source needs supervision 24/7; however, they still need exercise, in fact more than everyone else, because they spend the majority of their days in zero gravity, whereas many others work on the ring sections, where there is centrifugal / artificial, Earth-like gravity.) She complains about this to a male colleague, prior to the reactor mission on which only men are sent (except for a few female security officers).
Algr said:
Keep it simple. Dual armageddons will always sound like implausible author manipulation. If the gamma ray burst is less intense then expected, a station on the far side of Jupiter and under that magnetic field might survive, and make it back to Earth. Underground bunkers with newly invented magnetic shieldings might also survive. Communicating with the Exodus ship might simply not be a big priority for people trying to rebuild Earth's ecosystem. (Remember that you have to restore ALL plant, microbial, and animal life, not just humans.)
I get your point - this is you advocating for the “Chekhov’s Gun” approach indeed: If I introduce a potential gamma ray burst in the beginning, it better happen later in the same book. (The commander even compares the WR star to a gun pointed at Earth and its solar system.)

However, if we define believability in terms of realistic likelihood: Solar storms are much more frequent and immediate threat to human civilisation, including big ones much stronger than even the Carrington event, than gamma ray bursts. Considering the large time scale on which GRBs occur, and that this GRB has to travel 8,400 light years from WR 104 to Earth, it seems very unlikely - or, from the author’s and audience’s perspective, awfully convenient - if it just happens to occur during the one year (2475) in which the first book takes place.

If, in contrast, the GRB only sets up the general premise - “there are a bunch of things out there in the cosmos that could wipe out life on Earth, that don’t care about humanity, and there’s little to nothing we can do about them - then a different type of cosmic disaster would demonstrate to the reader that, even when you’re aware of something as destructive as GRBs already, you can still underestimate the universe and its potential to destroy life in a heartbeat.

Hence, even if the type of cosmic disaster occurring during the plot ends up being a different one, this shouldn’t come out of nowhere: Since thanks to the introduction of WR 104 and a potential, ultimately inevitable GRB at the very beginning of the story, the reader already knows that the survival of the entire species is at stake.
 

Related to Different Cosmic Disasters for Different Plot Points

1. What are some examples of cosmic disasters that can be used as plot points?

Some examples of cosmic disasters that can be used as plot points include asteroid impacts, supernovae, black holes, solar flares, and gamma-ray bursts.

2. How can cosmic disasters add depth and excitement to a story?

Cosmic disasters can add depth and excitement to a story by creating high stakes and tension for the characters, as well as providing a sense of scale and wonder to the plot.

3. Are there any real-life events that have been used as inspiration for cosmic disasters in storytelling?

Yes, there have been several real-life events that have been used as inspiration for cosmic disasters in storytelling, such as the Chicxulub impact that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs and the Tunguska event that was caused by a meteor explosion.

4. How can a writer accurately portray a cosmic disaster in their story?

To accurately portray a cosmic disaster in their story, a writer should do thorough research on the scientific aspects of the disaster, consult with experts if possible, and use descriptive language to convey the magnitude and impact of the event.

5. Can cosmic disasters be used in any genre of storytelling?

Yes, cosmic disasters can be used in any genre of storytelling, from science fiction to drama to romance. They can add an element of surprise and danger to any type of story.

Similar threads

  • Sci-Fi Writing and World Building
Replies
6
Views
883
  • Sci-Fi Writing and World Building
4
Replies
118
Views
6K
  • Sci-Fi Writing and World Building
Replies
22
Views
2K
  • Sci-Fi Writing and World Building
Replies
24
Views
767
Writing: Input Wanted Captain's choices on colony ships
  • Sci-Fi Writing and World Building
Replies
4
Views
2K
  • Sci-Fi Writing and World Building
Replies
7
Views
1K
  • Sci-Fi Writing and World Building
Replies
30
Views
2K
  • Sci-Fi Writing and World Building
Replies
2
Views
1K
  • Sci-Fi Writing and World Building
3
Replies
96
Views
6K
  • Sci-Fi Writing and World Building
3
Replies
90
Views
6K
Back
Top