Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Must-Have Tool for Sci-Fi Writers

This November, I'm doing NaNoWriMo for the first time. My project is a young adult science fiction book that's been kicking around my head for months, and I'm pretty excited to try to write it all in one intense flurry. I'm also excited to see if the book turns out as well as the muse keeps saying it will. In order to find out, I'm putting the fantasy aside for 30 days. I'll probably only lose out on a few thousand words of it, since lately it's been flowing like 2-day-old concrete anyway.

The tool I mention in the topic is Celestia. This free (as in speech and as in beer) software is a real-time model of the universe, complete with ability to create new solar systems out of vacuum and model those too. How many light-years is it to Sirius? Punch in Sirius and you get a distance counter. From there to Alpha Centauri? No problem -- zip through the stars and sit at Sirius while you punch up Alpha Centauri instead.

For my project, I needed to know (at least, this is what I was looking up when I found Celestia) what the communication lag is between Earth and Ceres on a specific day when two people would be trying to communicate. It's a 20-second lookup in Celestia.

The only downside is that since I've been playing around with this software, space documentaries are starting to look really familiar. It kills the suspension of disbelief when you can look at the amazing shot they somehow filmed from space and say, "Hey, they made that simulation in Celestia!"

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