Damn you, Larry Correia!
My posts don’t usually start off as kindly as this, but this morning I had this horrible epiphany for Wraithkin, due to a Larry Correia (author of Monster Hunter International, Monster Hunter Vendetta, Monster Hunter Alpha, and so on) post I happened across from a year or so ago. It was basically some writing advice about SF weapons that I’d somehow missed. It was enlightening and interesting (as most of Larry’s blog posts are), until I got to the part about the TANSTAAFL and weaponry.
TANSTAAFL, for those of you who somehow don’t know what that is, translates to “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”. It applies to everything. Including, unfortunately for me, to your SF novel and hardware involved.
Mistake #1 — Where’s the ammo?
I love mech suits, the concept behind them. I love the idea of armored soldiers in impenetrable armor striding across a battlefield, death blazing from their guns, scything down the alien menace. I was so enamored with the idea that I mistakenly made a Commando moment.
A Commando moment is when your hero has seemingly unlimited amounts of ammo and no discernible way of reloading or carrying said ammunition. A telling scene in Commando was when Arnold’s character carried a belt-fed M-60 (I think it was an M-60) with about 25 rounds clipped to it, firing away like mad and never once reloading the damned thing! He hosed about 40 bad guys while firing on full auto and never ran out of ammo, nor melted the barrel of the gun while firing constantly.
Dear DARPA: find out who made that gun.
I made that mistake when I stuck a Vulcan cannon onto the arms of the Wraith suits. I loved the idea of 20mm rounds on full auto, and actually had written that scene in — until I realized that they had no way of carrying the ammunition without being in a suit that was 30 feet high.
Crap, indeed. There was no way my suits could carry enough ammo in anything bigger than shotgun pellets in massive quantity. And since John Ringo already did the hypervelocity beads of death in his Posleen series, I was up a foul-smelling creek without a paddle.
Mistake #2: For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction.
Then I started thinking about the power inside my suits. That’s a lot of energy being expended to make something that damned big and heavy viable. Then I thought about the heat output and realized that without some cooling system that was better than dunking something into an ice-cold ocean and leaving it there, my suits would melt everything within a ten meter radius around them — including the human inside them.
It takes a lot of energy to move these suits. What’s generating this energy? I had a mini-nuke plant on their suit somewhere but, the more I was thinking about it this morning, the more I realized that the plant could go critical with all the abuse these suits take. Other than powering a suit with unobtanium, I was at a loss as to explain how it works. Bah.
Mistake #3: Anything advanced enough to have a 30 foot robot with a person inside can have an automated robot instead.
Sure, the argument here can be that the reaction time (i.e., “lag”) between controller and robot but if we can have ships that move almost FTL (jumpgate tech, stolen, not sure how it works but it does) then we can have instantaneous WiFi, right? So why risk the person in the suit when we can be safely sitting at some base, away from the action, munching on some Twinkies while killing aliens?
Yeah, in that context, having people inside the Wraith suits made little sense to me either.
So now I’m starting another damned novel over, this time with simple powered armor (easier to create biorythmic armor than full battle-tank like armor). It also allows me to use other devices for labor (something’s gotta hump that ammo in) and create better scenes for when they lose an ammo train or something.
I’m not happy. This novel, outside of a few that I had written and need to edit, was the next closest thing to being finished. It was just over halfway done. It’s frustrating, writing SF, when the science doesn’t work once you think about it.
…so yeah, thanks a lot, Larry.
I need to get to work.