Sunday, November 4, 2018

Learning the Ropes, by Tom Jolly

★★★★☆ Clever Plot, Good Characters

(Hard SF) Mari wants to advance the colonization of Mars with a new invention of hers, but she has to sneak it past the Solar Resources Commission and the observer they’ve planted on her ship. (6,749 words; Time: 22m)

"Learning the Ropes," by (edited by Trevor Quachri), appeared in issue 11-12|18, published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2018.569 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: There’s a lot to like about this story. The clever engineer who beats the greedy but stupid company. The reluctant company man who falls in love with her and ends up helping her. And, of course, they win in the end.

The basic idea isn’t a bad one; the biggest problem with developing Mars is that it’s almost a vacuum on the surface. If you could boost the atmosphere enough to only need warm clothes and an oxygen mask outside, that would make a tremendous difference. The asteroid impacts release gasses and some amount of heat.

The science and math in the story are pretty good. The author definitely did his homework

It’s worth keeping in mind just how tiny these asteroids are: a spherical iron asteroid weighing 1,000,000 Kg would only have a radius of 3.1 meters. It’s not a surprise that these haven’t been charted.

Con: The SRC is a paper villain. It’s mean just to be mean, has no redeeming characteristics, and yet no government ever brings it to heel. Without the overly powerful, unreasonable SRC, there’s no plot.

I did find one error: The text says a Falcon Heavy would need to thrust for 14 seconds to add 100 m/s of delta-V to a 1-million-Kg asteroid, but I figure a plain Falcon 9 can do it in 12 seconds; a Heavy only needs 4. I suspect the author used the sea-level thrust for the Falcon 9 instead of the vacuum thrust of the Heavy. (Unless I made a mistake myself, of course.)

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