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If you've read either Saving the Sammi or All the Turns of Light, you've already been introduced to the flying coil. I didn't spend a lot of time babbling about flying coils in All the Turns of Light because that simply wasn't relevant to the story. We know Meralda invented them, and that they can make things fly, so let's get flying, right?
But there's a whole arcane science behind the coils. Just in case you're ever trapped in a fantasy world and you need to construct a magical apparatus to escape some evil wizard's tower, here's how they work, and how to build one.
Yes, I drew the diagram below, and yes, in fact I do know why I never became a graphic artist, thank you very much.
While puttering around in the Royal Laboratory one day, Meralda pondered electromagnets. They work in her world just as they do here -- run an electrical current through a coil of wire, and bang, instant magnet.
In Meralda's world, electricity works just as it does here. She uses copper wire and batteries and generators and motors, many of which she either invented or improved.
What Meralda has that we don't, though, is magic. The magic she works with is similar to electricity. It can be stored in magical batteries called 'holdstones.' It can be directed, modulated, latched to physical objects or even itself.
But that fateful day in the Royal Laboratory, Meralda was waiting for a fresh cup of coffee to brew and it struck her, out of the blue -- an electrical current moving through a coil generates magnetism. What would happen, she wondered, if I pushed a magical current through the same coil?
You put a new crack in the Laboratory's granite ceiling, that's what happens. The entire assembly -- coil, holdstone, all of it -- simply leaped up and smashed against the ceiling as though thrown.
Meralda forgot all about her coffee.
The flying coil creates gravity, much as an electromagnet creates magnetism. Properly driven, a flying coil can generate a gravity field sufficient to pull the whole apparatus along, as though it were falling. But you can orient the field and the coil any way you wish, which allows for level flight, hovering, whatever the operator desires.
Meralda learned to further improve the coils by latching the magical current flow to a simple electrical flow. That allows the operator to select the intensity and even the direction of the field with a bank of basic controls. She can even generate negative gravity fields, all with the same coil, by supplying different electrical voltages and rates of oscillation.
That's how Mug flies about. His birdcage has a pair of tiny hand-wound flying coils affixed to the bottom of the cage. Add a battery, a holdstone, and a few tiny controls, and Mug can fly about for hours.
The airship Intrepid, the setting for most of All the Turns of Light, used both flying coils and lifting gas. The lifting gas provided lift, and the coils pushed the airship ahead at speeds no set of electric fans could ever hope to match.
Simple and elegant, it also provided a compelling reason for Meralda to be aboard the Intrepid on its perilous maiden voyage.
Airships and their lifting gas envelopes are commonplace in Meralda's world. Of course, in the aftermath of her flying coil, the bright silver fans that have driven airships for years will quickly give way to coils. One day, someone is going to decide they don't need lifting gas either. Progress happens in her world just as it does in ours.
Sooner or later, Meralda is going to be waiting for another cup of coffee to brew, and it may occur to her -- why must flight stop with the atmosphere?
Why not just keep going up?
Thus the title of this entry, A Spaceship for Meralda. When Meralda invented the flying coil, she unknowingly touched off Tirlin's very own space program.
I know, space travel isn't normally a staple of fantasy books. I promise you that if I do include it in the next book, it will be space travel like you've never seen, and it will be wicked cool fun.
Just in case I venture off that way, I've started designing the kind of craft I believe Meralda would create.
Let's look at what she has available to her:
- Propulsion, via the Ovis Flying Coils. She doesn't need rockets. She doesn't need to worry about thundering up to escape velocity. All she needs to do is set the coils for a gentle upward acceleration, and watch the ground fall quietly away.
- Basic chemical decomposition. She replaced the Intrepid's lifting gas as it leaked through her gas bags by splitting seawater into lifting gas (hydrogen) and oxygen. With a little tweaking, she can decompose the carbon dioxide exhaled by a spaceship crew and wind up with carbon and oxygen, which can be breathed over again.
So, she has the means to fly about, and clean the air. So far, so good.
But what about a pressure vessel? I've established their technological prowess as roughly Victorian. That's great for gas-lamps and steam locomotives, not so good for assembling large, air-tight structures that don't weigh a million tons. There are limits as to what even large flying coils will drive.
But Meralda is brilliant, and I foresee the introduction of a thin, nearly-impervious bubble of carbon atoms given enhanced strength by a sustained magical field -- yes. Call it Ovinium. Perfect for a nice spherical spaceship hull, isn't it?
Okay, so now we have a hull. What about gravity?
That's simple. You hang a few short fat flying coils under whatever you want to call the floor, and set them for a wide, weak field. Everything inside that field gets pulled to the coil. Instant deck gravity, so the crew doesn't spend the entire voyage trying not to vomit.
I think this could actually work. I'll go through several ship designs, but here's the first, and yes, I'm quite aware I cannot draw.
The faint lines are steel rigging, used to stabilize the coils. The sphere in the middle is the main body of the ship. It has air, gravity, corridors and beds and kitchens and bunks. The four huge main flight flying coils are housed in nacelles away from the central hull. The four smaller coils set just below the pressure hull provide deck gravity and also augment the main coils during landing and ascent.
There's a glass-domed flight bridge on the top of the spherical hull, and another bridge (the descent bridge) on the bottom of the ship, because you need to see the bottoms of the coils as you set the ship down.
We're talking exposed steel beams and rigging for everything outside the pressure hull, giving the whole works a very Jules Verne look. If you look closely at the horrible drawing above, you can see the little scale dots labelled 'people' just above the words MAIN FLIGHT COILS. That's how big this thing is, because I want the movie version to look cool.
Also note the very smallest of the tiny people dots. That's Mug, furious in his flying birdcage, pointing out that airships are dangerous enough but at least they have the good sense to stay inside the atmosphere.
Maybe next week I'll post a drawing of the alternate craft, the Progress.
If you're reading this and you're wondering just what the heck I'm talking about, well, they're books.
The second book in the series is called All the Turns of Light, and it just came out a couple of weeks ago. Here's the cover, and a link.