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Highlands World: Colophon - (a peek behind the curtain)

In publishing parlance, the colophon is a description, usually at the end of a book, about it's production. This colophon is about the imagining and building of Highlands World - the world itself, rather than the volumes published about events on that world.

The Making of Highlands World (the model):

Every writer who takes as a story location a place other than Earth, engages to some extent in "World Building." It can be both enjoyable and challenging. As I first imagined a place something like Highlands World it was quite different than what I ended up with. I wanted a fantastic, but not fantasy, environment. That is, I wanted an environment that might be what a reader would encounter in a fantasy story - one beyond the normal rules of the universe we know - but I wanted it to be real. No magic, but based on scientific reality. (At least mostly!)

My first fight of imagination started when I would, long ago, look up at towering cumulus clouds and imagine they were floating mountains or worlds - (and that was many years before I saw James Cameron's floating mountains on Pandora.)
I first imagined a collection of small asteroids all in mutual dynamic orbit about one another and enclosed in an atmosphere. Well that, I couldn't make work at all. The mechanics of the orbits and the problem of the turbulence created by asteroids moving around in an atmosphere put the kebosh on that idea. Those problems could be ignored in a fantasy, but would annoy a thinking reader of science fiction. Next I thought of an array of asteroids locked into static relationship but not moving in relationship to one another. All within a single atmosphere and close enough that flight from one to another was possible. Too much Balonium needed for that scenario.

Finally I decided on the asteroids being anchored by some sort of structure but perhaps two or three hundred kilometers apart. That seemed reasonable. I built a model, using three inch balls of styrofoam held together with kebob sticks. Better! But my asteroids, I reasoned were not large enough to collapse into spherical shape. So I started making them more irregular. I used an air-hardening modeling compound and additional chunks of styrofoam to create my irregular asteroids, then painted them and sprinkled model railroad "grass" onto the surfaces. These were to be "living" worldlets, after all.

Finally I decided that the smaller asteroids would be in a dodecahedral arrangement around a larger central and spherical body. Each of the smaller asteroids would be anchored about three inches from the central body. Kebob sticks were too flimsy. I used small dowels to create these "pylons" holding my world together. My world was coming together but as I began writing about it, there were problems. Finally, to solve those problems (and create others) I collapsed my dodecahedral structure. The central object, I decided, was a water world. It is a six inch styrofoam ball which I cut in half and enclosed within it, a plastic croquet ball with holes to receive the, now, steel rods. Covered with gesso and painted blue, it became Midsea - the water world.

I mounted the entire assembly on a .25 diameter steel rod, attached to a base made of a croquet ball cut in half holding a plywood disk laminated to an old record turntable and situated in a ball-bearing assembly allowing it to rotate on a wooden base. I purchased an endoscope camera that I could poke down into the assembly to see what people would see when standing on one of the Highlands and looking up at the others. Now I could actually visit my world! It spent perhaps 10 or more years of day-dreaming and another three to gradually build the physical model you see sitting on my desk in the picture above. But having the physical model at hand allowed me to actually live and move around on my imagined World. And to begin to write the stories I'd had floating and constantly morphing in my head from the beginning of my trip to Highlands World. I've been there - I've seen the sun rise over the crest of Berlan; I've experienced the fierce storms on Midsea, I've loped in great bounds down the streets of Aurora City, I've skinny-dipped in Crystal Lake on Giardin and seen the Van Gogh night sky through the XK envelope. All just in my mind, of course - but I've written about my experiences. I hope you enjoy.

One last thing, before I get on to other subjects: Some may see a similarity between my Highlands World and James Cameron's Pandora and its floating mountains. Be assured that Highlands World, both as a concept in my imagination and as a fully realized physical model along with much of my story plot existed before Avatar appeared in the theaters. I didn't copy Cameron in creating Highlands World - but we did have a few similar ideas about low-gravity life-styles. I enjoyed Avatar very much, as a visual experience and as a story. I like Highlands World even more. But then parents always love their own children best.

Measuring the Highlands

As you explore the Almanac you will find references to the dimensions of the highlands. I've been asked how I did that considering the complex shapes involved. I couldn't very well send teeny tiny little survey crews out to determine the surface areas. The short answer is that I wrote a software program to do it. Measuring the volume of each Highland was easy - I used the standard overflow technique for measuring the volume of irregular objects. Fill a container to the brim with water, immerse the object and let the water overflow. Remove the object then carefully measure how much water needs to be replaced to bring the level back to full. Since my model is scaled 1-hundreth of an inch to a kilometer, that was a simple calculation.

Measuring the surface area was much more difficult. First I created a software program that can calculate the area of an irregular enclosed shape. It works by calculating the area of an enclosing rectangle, then filling the shape with color, counting the pixels required to do so. Using scaling set to the computer monitors pixels per inch, or kilometer, or mile, or furlongs (or whatever). the resulting pixel count is the area. To turn the three-dimensional surface of the highlands into a two dimensional surface I carefully wrapped each one in aluminum foil, then cut away all the overlaps. I unwrapped the foil and smoothed it flat. I then taped the foil to one of my 21 inch lcd monitors and on my software's drawing surface displayed behind it, traced the outline, then had my software calculate the area. Viola! Since the resolution of my monitor is one-hundred pixels per inch, I didn't even have to do a secondary conversion - the pixel ount was the area in square kilometers. Granted, the method is not perfect because I wasn't able to shape the foil exactly to the contours of each Highland - but it's close enough to be able to state a reasonably accurate surface area. Calculating the surface area of Midsea was, of course, a simple matter of calculating the surface area of a sphere.

Highlands World, not Highland's World

I didn't decide on the name for my "world" for some time. It was Selenas, (moons) for a long while, but finally, as it's physical design came into focus, I arrived at the name Highlands World. Wherever a person is on Highlands World - except for the extreme outer areas looking up you would see lands overhead - Highlands! It is one world - made up of thirteen highlands thus there is no apostrophe: Highlands World, not Highland's World. I know that some people will see that as a grammatical error. It isn't. One of my main characters, after all, is a professor of literature. He would, I'm sure, have objected to the inhabitants committing a gross error of grammar when they named their new home.

Scheduling the Airliners

One of the most headache inducing tasks I faced creating the World of Highlands was creating a schedule for the airliners. On each of the highlands there is one and only one place for them to land - at the protruding outer tip of the supporting pylon. It's only big enough for one of the three-kilometer diameter airliner platforms to occupy at a time. At first, I had all the airliners traveling the same direction. Arranging the timing of their visits to each port was easy and straight-forward. But, I reasoned that with the computing power available to the Triamon, it would devise a schedule where the liners traveled in both directions. My imaginary Triamon could devise a schedule in a fraction of a second. I couldn't. After many days of trying to figure it out on paper, I finally wrote a software applet to solve the problem.
But how did the people living on the Highlands keep track of the complex schedule? The schedule not only has to keep track of the landing days but also accommodate the crossing of the dateline between Kensau/Lorenza and Aurora, as well as the short visits to Northport and Southport on Midsea. I devised the cylindrical airline schedule for them that is mentioned in the stories. Seeing how convenient it was for Saemond and others, I felt I needed one myself. It made writing about their travels much easier.

Balonium and Projectium

Almost all science fiction consists, in some part, of Balonium. What is Balonium? It is those details that are outside known scientific reality. Faster then light intersteller travel, time travel, digitized human personalities, to name just a few of my bigger pieces of Balonium for which you must suspend disbelief in order to enjoy the stories of Highlands World. Here is a summary:
The Asteroid Terraforming Vehicle: The ATV in which the Triamon and the 2800 human scientists and engineers travel to find a planet to terraform uses an unexplained method of interstellar travel involving travel at light-speed which simultaneously sends them back in time 1024 seconds for every second they travel. They progress in short jumps of less than 62 light-years between G-2 stars (like our sun). The AI controlling this travel is programmed to prevent any jump from moving closer to earth. Thus, after traveling 1000 light years in random short hops the ATV is 1,024,000 years back in time. The humans on board are in stasis.
Stasis: A conventional adoption of a common science fiction idea. Suspended animation or cold-sleep that allows the humans to not only be taken back in time during the voyage, but also to be in stasis for long periods as the terraforming progresses through a million or more years.
Digitized humans Two of the main characters in the tales of Highlands World in Crisis and the accompanying short stories are the digitized humans Marcus and Helena Mendelsohn. After undergoing rejuvenation multiple times, they chose to abandon their physical bodies for existence as digitized human components of a Triamon. They anticipated a grand adventure - and they got it!
The Triamon The two digitized humans, Marcus and Helena together with a sentient A.I. whom they call Artur, comprise the governing intelligence of the ATV and subsequently of Highlands World. Artur takes care of all the routine management such as controlling the travel of the ATV and eventually the infrastructure of the complex artifact of Highlands World. Artur is "asimoved" but Marcus and Helena are, of course, not. The Triamon subsequently is under the absolute control of Marcus and Helena.
Gravions Rejecting the idea of "artificial" or manufactured gravity, I chose to use the gravity focusing concept. (A Big Balonium but perhaps not so far-fetched as artificial gravity.) Gravions focus gravity emanating from the mass of the universe and direct it into a tight localized spread. The small asteroid objects would not, of themselves, create enough gravity for normal human activity. Without the gravions boosting the gravitational pull of the 12 outer Highlands to that of Earth's moon, the inhabitants of Highlands World would have to float around in their environment. Niven has already done that scenario very well in his Smoke Ring stories. I chose to sidestep that issue by employing gravions that produce Luna norm (~one-sixth G) for the outer Highlands and Mars norm (~one-third G) for the central water world, Midsea. There are thousands of gravions buried in the interior of each of the 13 objects of Highlands World.
The XK Atmosphere Envelope The Xiao-Ketterling nano-particle envelope that encloses the entire structure of Highlands World and allows a single atmosphere for the structure is, perhaps, a border-line Balonium. Certainly beyond current state of nano-engineering - but who knows? It is composed of billions of nano-particles that are programmed to maintain a close proximity to one another - close enough to hold in an atmosphere - but is permeable to solid objects (they can simple=y push the particles aside.). The XK envelope encloses Highlands World and in another part of the universe, encloses crater habitats on Luna. (Another story entirely: "What Happens in Copernicus" - upcoming, someday) On Highlands World the XK membrane also encloses the airliner platforms. It is modified to tighten it's particles during flight but relax when docked, thus protecting the airliner interior from buffeting of winds while at moving, but allow eazy passage for people getting on and off the airliner.
Other Balonium and Projectium There are other minor pieces of Balonium in Highlands World, but those mentioned above are the primary enablers of the plot. Many rather fantastic things about Highlands World are Projectium. Projectium is that which has not yet been engineered - but which might be. The graphite pylon structure, the airliner platforms (given the existence of modulated gravions), the inter-highland cable cars, among others, are things that (except for the gravion lifting of the airliners) don't require Balonium, but are actually projections - some obvious - some far-fetched - of current engineering possibilities. Never-the-less: Suspend disbelief and enjoy.

D. M. Trump, January 2015

Highlands World in Crisis:

Imminence: (Volume I)

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Endeavour: (Volume II)

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