1. CGB
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    CGB Active Member

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    A new element is discovered with special properties

    Discussion in 'Insights & Inspiration' started by CGB, Nov 7, 2014.

    I am in the long process of outlining my story, and I'm currently trying to think of some special properties of a material that is discovered after humans are colonizing several exoplanets outside of our solar system.

    This material will be extremely rare, and likely the breakdown product of the exoskeleton of a dead alien race, but competition for the burial sites leads to war between humans and another alien race.

    Any ideas on what is so special about this element?
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Well, it's extremely rare, so that makes it special, right?
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Depends on which way you want to go with the story, so I have a question: Do you want hard(ish) sci-fi or softer sci-fi?

    I have follow up questions once you answer. ;)
     
  4. CGB
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    CGB Active Member

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    I've been going back and forth on this, because I am finding in my outlining that hard scifi is really hard to write (but it is what I prefer). On the other hand, a lot of my favorite sci fi stories are not hard scifi.

    I would say I would rather it be more on the hard side, overall. At the very least not overt fantasy/magic. Techno-science-magic maybe, but it couldn't be so blatent as to make the moderate hard scifi-preference'd readers throw it away - they could probably stomach faster than light travel and aliens that can somehow learn to speak English, but not much leeway beyond that.
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Ok, so that rules out going in a Darkover direction. MZB uses a similar device in the way of special stones to stroke her sci-fi with a heavy wash of fantasy. No actual magic, but pretty close. So then the materials making the people have powers and stuff is probably not going to be the direction.

    Your universe probably already has something like FTL or close to it for them to have found this planet and the exploring and stuff....

    Other than this special elements you want to include in the story, what are the other major goals in the story? This prop should in some way be tied in to the story arc, the protag's arc, someone or something's arc. Is there an idea of an arc yet for the story, or has this element prop kinda' popped into you head on it's own, untied?
     
  6. CGB
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    CGB Active Member

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    It's kind of popped into my head after I had devised much of the conflict already. I am really using it (the material) as something that is so valuable that its worth starting wars over, but my story takes place after the war is already over and much of the known supply of the resource has been mined and incorporated into ... (industrial uses?)

    My story actually does not use FTL quite yet. My plan is actually to use something very similar to this: http://masseffect.wikia.com/wiki/Mass_Relay
     
  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Ok. I mentioned the FTL because I figured that could be a use for the material that would have a significant value. Having vs. not having FTL via the properties of your proposed materials, yes, people would go to war over that without a doubt. Look how many wars petroleum has started and that's just dead dinosaur juice, :blech: especially compared to something that gives you FTL, and it would keep things to the harder side of sci-fi. If it's finite and gets consumed in the process of using it, all the better. It gets more valuable as it gets used up.
     
  8. CGB
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    CGB Active Member

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    I was thinking something along those lines, but not quite FTL.

    What I was actually thinking was more for stabilizing artificial wormholes.
     
  9. Revanchist
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    Revanchist Member

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    Me and chemistry are like pissed off exes who hate each other but occasionally hook up once a week. Anyways...

    I would choose the properties depending on the story. If the story setting is war then I suppose it could be an element that holds incredible power and can be used by one side to obliterate the other. Sort of like throwing an iPhone in the late 20th century...or...something like that.

    You mentioned wormholes and it being able to stabilize them, so I suppose you could make the element not only penetrate space (which was the easy part) but also regenerate the fabric of space-time and allow a wormhole to form without any side effects. Before extreme tests were needed to avoid that but now you can make the wormhole with a little bit of technology and a prayer. Or something like that. Healing properties, specific radiation frequency ( at one frequency it ignores you but at the other it makes your flesh rot ) etc. Go through the periodic table and see which properties of elements you like the most.

    Silent death, invisible poison, source of power, radiation, healing, oxidization, steroid effect, makes you strong but kills you faster OR...it could be something that should be avoided at all costs, like the blood in Alien. It was so bad it couldn't be used for anything, which practically made it bad to even kill your opponent should you encounter it. Depends on the story really, I'd say see what you need in your story and use the element to fill it in.

    For example in one Star Trek episode a crew killed alien life forms to extract energy to travel super fast so they could get home. That was selfish, cruel and whatnot, but the focus of the story was that the crew were the assholes, not so much as to how one can use an alien life form to travel faster than light. Perhaps it, (like here) should be a discovery that should never have occurred, and the fact that it did means someone was doing something they should not have been doing.

    "Bob, how did you know their corpses could be used as a fuel?"
    "Well...I may have accidentally blended one and threw it in the engine."
    "God dammit Bob!"
     
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  10. Howard_B
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    Howard_B Active Member

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    For a start ... try to remember the difference between an element and a material.

    I would image that that is the core of your story .. what you you WANT it to do ? and can you make it credible ?
     
  11. B93
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    B93 Active Member

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    "For a start ... try to remember the difference between an element and a material."

    Indeed. I prefer SF to be based on imagined extensions of what we know today. It's pretty hard to suspend disbelief in a new stable element when all our present science is pretty conclusive we understand the makeup of elements and no further stable ones are possible.
     
  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Unobtainium? Hey ...you can do that.
     
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  13. Howard_B
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    Howard_B Active Member

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    Yes indeed ... but when it comes to minerals and 'strange materials' you have a vast amount of potential for imagination I think :)
     
  14. Aled James Taylor
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    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    If it is only desirability that is required, you could have artifacts buried with the bodies of the aliens; beautifully crafted jewelry from precious metals perhaps. These could fetch an extraordinarily high price back on Earth. No fantasy magic required, just economics.
     
  15. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    Without being to James Bondish; what are you going to need at your various plot points to drive action and tension? If you need to blow up a planet the element would likely be good for that. Or maybe it has bio-mechanical properties and is a key to developing a new race or perhaps can be used as a substrate for chips to run new computers at near the speed of light.
     
  16. Curupira22
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    Curupira22 Member

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    I'm glad someone has mentioned it - Elements and compounds are entirely different things and no matter the nature of the 'creature' it is spawn from, a new Element, unless this creature has a mass on the scale of a sun but a 100,000th of the size, a new 'element' is not going to occur.

    Allow me to throw a little science to this.

    Right now, we are creating new elements/isotopes by crashing two elements together in a collider. The resulting element/isotope almost always has a half-life so short, it's only detectable for a few milliseconds but since it was detected, it can be classified (after repetition - science has to be repeatable :p)

    Of course, the creation of elements is also relevant in real life (Technetium, for example) but the creation of new stable elements, as mentioned is something we're yet to achieve.

    That's not to say it's impossible, though - we have had success with some of the transactinides in creating new isotopes of existing transactinides with longer half-lives. Think seconds, rather than milliseconds, though.

    The true chemistry behind the universe is, oddly, quite limited. It is not beyond basic science to assume that 99% of all compound in the universe can be created in the lab and until it is discovered, a naturally stable transactinide is very, very unlikely. And, since everything, including yourself, is made of stars (you can't destroy matter, only convert it - theoretically, the matter/energy that you are made of existed at the beginning or time) you'd of thought we'd of found another stable element by now.

    Also, I think I mentioned this previously in another thread, but the nomenclature surrounding the naming of new materials, be that minerals, elements or otherwise, would not allow for Unobtanium - it'd go to the naming committee (in minerals, its the CNMNA) and would be rejected immediately. That's not to say stupid names don't get through (Cummingtonite, Kumdykolite and Eurekadumpite are valid minerals with particularly stupid names) but something as blatant as Unobtanium would never happen.

    Anyone count the number of bubbles that were burst? :crazy:

    So my final question; how technically correct were you trying to be? :)
     
  17. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    Unfortunately, you stifle your own creativity by placing natures boundries on your ideas. Some say the reason physics hasn't moved forward in the past few decades is because the universites do too good of a job teaching current theories, string or shoelace, I forget, and not letting the real genius of people escape and move into new, unthought of ideas.
     
  18. Howard_B
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    Howard_B Active Member

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    Well you were going quite well until you got to this point, if you want to know :oops: However you fail to grasp that in a fictitious future, or alternative part of the universe, there may be no such 'naming committee'. I would have thought that was an obvious point but seeing as you mention it right before the bubble thing :confused: I thought it needed to be pointed out.

    But as I say the rest is right on the money and this is why the OP's mention of the word 'material' is key, as well as the mention of 'mineral'. In both of these areas, there is a huge scope for imagination to be played out as long as it is not done in too much detail.
     
  19. Curupira22
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    Curupira22 Member

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    that, @Fitzroy Zeph, is why I posed the final question. If we limited ourselves entirely to current scientific thinking when writing Sci-fi, books, games and films would be pretty dull. It's nice when one tried to ground itself in science (Interstellar, for example) but more often, it's the entirely fanciful stories that grab the most attention - Transformers, The marvel universe, DC universe etc etc).

    That's why writing 'hard' sci-fi is a means to a flogging, unless you know the subject well. My advice is don't limit yourself. Have fun with your writing, rather than stick religiously to the facts.
     
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  20. Howard_B
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    Howard_B Active Member

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    No. In the area of 'elemental' physics he is right.
     
  21. Curupira22
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    Curupira22 Member

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    Now, ya see, i can say that...

    I shan't bore you with my background (it's not interesting, honestly) and I certainly can't comment to a great extent regarding the nomenclature surrounding element classifications (there are only ~120 elements, vs 5k minerals) but the CNMNA is an organisation bound by principals laid down by acedemics 60 years ago from a number of highly regarded institutions - it's members are made up of subject matter experts from universities, museums and other high profile institutions. And, if you know the field as i do, the concept of change is something they are terrified of. Moving from the current convention is not impossible, but since there is a tradition to uphold (see the -ite suffix in minerals, or in the case of elements, -ium) you'd be talking about a change at the very core of the subject.

    The fact your fictitious element (unobtanium) has that -ium suffix means it is likely still part of the existing nomenclature and therefore, would never be approved.

    :)
     
  22. Curupira22
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    Curupira22 Member

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    reading all that back, I worry I have come across as a massive dickhead.

    I'm only a bit of a dickhead. The other 46%, I'm totally awesome.

    Ok, it might be 22% awesome.....
     
  23. Howard_B
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    Howard_B Active Member

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    It's just a bit of fun ... but I still think you miss the elasticity of the concept of science fiction :D ... where the story could be 1,000 years in the future or on another planet completely distinct from Earth civilisation...

    The concept of change may well melt away when faced with 1,000 or 10,000 years ... or such a nomenclature convention may never have been arrived at in a distinct civilisation. Boom !

    (Nb: Mod Chem and BA Phys just to show I'm not completely without some knowledge in the field ..)
     
  24. Howard_B
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    Howard_B Active Member

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    Exactly. A a SF reader I agree wholeheartedly. The thing is not to go against fundamental science and when going beyond it, to aim for 'credibility' and not necessarily strict accuracy.
    Asimov's "The Gods Themselves" has always been my all time favourite piece of imaginative science.
     
  25. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    I find dickheadium a large part of my molecular makeup.
     
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