nancylebov (nancylebov) wrote,

The Hot Equations-- a puppy worth reading

There's been a recent controversy about the Hugo slate, and unfortunately, there's a good piece of writing which might get lost in everything else that's going on. Ideally, people nominate for the Hugos based on their personal enthusiasm, but this year's promulgation of slates meant that there were a number of successful nominees which don't have huge amounts of personal support and a movement to vote all those nominees below No Award.

Most of what was on the slates was mediocre fiction (I've read some of it and "mediocre" was generous) or so famous (Jim Butcher, Guardians of the Galaxy) that the Hugos controversy isn't going to affect whether it will be seen.

However, The Hot Equations by Ken Burnside is by a new author (new to sf writing-- he's been a game designer for some time), buried down in Best Related Work, and important for the field. It's a tightly written piece about the thermodynamics of space combat, and has plot and world-building implications for hard sf. While I'm not qualified to judge the physics, it got the Seal of Approval from Project Rho, and I hope that's good enough evidence.

The article is built on the assumption of no new physics.

The main points are that stealth is impossible in space for anything that can carry humans. Hopeless, hopeless, hopeless. Give up on plots that depend on sneaking your soldiers into place.

I see some possibilities in subverting the opposition's instruments. I wonder whether there's anything worth doing with very small and nasty devices, but I'm not sure how much they can do if they're that small.

The rest is about the constraints caused by the limitations of rocketry. You need an advanced technological base for your rocket to take off. You can't just land on an uninhabited[1] planet and then leave. Sorry, Heinlein. You can't change your destination in the middle of a trip. Delta V is expensive.

Good orbits are rare-- Heinlein got that right with bunches of rockets relatively close to each other in The Rolling Stones. Everything has to be thought out long in advance.

You can read "The Hot Equations" for 99 cents at the link above (the money doesn't go to Vox Day). "The Hot Equations" will be included in the Hugo voting packet, which will also get you a bunch of other reading material (I'm not sure whether all the novels are included) for $40 from Worldcon.

[1] Corrected from "uninhibited'-- it took me hours to realize why people were making those jokes

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