Saturday, April 10, 2010

Red Thunder

John Varley’s 2003 sci-fi novel Red Thunder is a fun read. I picked it up because I had heard that it was written in classic Robert Heinlein style, and being a Heinlein fan, I wanted to see if it was true. It was.

In the story the main characters build a spaceship out of used railroad tank cars. They can get away with using such low-tech components because one of them has discovered a propulsion source so powerful that the mass of the vehicle it propels is irrelevant! All that matters is that the structure is strong and robust enough to handle the rigours of pressurization and flight, so seven cylindrical railroad tank cars - a central one surrounded by six others - fills the bill.

My guess is that it’s probably rare that a sci-fi novel features a spaceship built from used railroad gear, but this one goes even further and in Chapter 21 Mr. Varley describes an HO-scale model of the ship that is used by the team for PR purposes. Mr. Varley even discusses some of the components used to build it: the landing legs came from an old model of an Apollo Lunar Excursion Module (my guess would be the Airfix 1/72 scale LM), springs from an R/C Hummer model, and spherical fuel tanks for the magic fuel were made from Christmas tree ornaments.

So, maybe if I eventually get my act together and build the launch pad micro-layout, I’ll have to consider adding a model of the Red Thunder.

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