XM129 MPRS: Genesis of a Worldbuilding Theory

20 July 2017

In this blog, I am stepping away from the overarching themes and reasons. Today I am going to dive into some technical nitty gritty. “The Chaotic Destiny” encapsulates a compact and tightly woven world, but neither it nor its contents are random. Every idea, character, event, and technology stems from the drive to make one invention work. Today I will give you the basic run down of this invention: the XM129 Man-Portable Railgun System.

 U.S. Navy test firing the BAE System railgun prototype at its test range near Dahlgren, VA, in March 2017

U.S. Navy test firing the BAE System railgun prototype at its test range near Dahlgren, VA, in March 2017

The origins of the XM129 can be found in a period shortly after I finished my Master’s work in 2010. I was messing around with short story concepts, still figuring out what direction I wanted to go. I had written a scene involving two other important toys: a hypersonic fighter and the Icarus. While I was feeling really pumped about it, especially the fighter (which evolved into the F306C “Werewolf”), I took a quick break from writing aerospace and focused on soldiering for a bit. I love snipers and I’m pretty sure I had been brushing up on some of the recent record setting kills at the time. The idea of Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain was fresh in my mind and I let the concept run free for a while. At the end of this train of thought came as a question: Can I make an anti-material rifle to penetrate MBT (Main Battle Tank)-type armor at five miles?

Through some convoluted calculations which I’m sure are dubious at best, I developed the technical specifications. I arrived at the idea of a railgun, because well, they are the next step in kinetic energy/ballistic weapons; guns, if you will. The US Navy has been testing a shipboard system for some time now, so this is not pure science fiction. I wanted a weapon which could be transported and operated by one soldier, even if it is a little ungainly. I felt the target (if not totally obtainable) should be “a system that can propel a .455 caliber tungsten-alloy slug to a maximum muzzle velocity of approximately 16,000 feet/second.” Lofty goal for sure, something you can see Haargaar struggling with in “The Last Immortal.”

The trick for the XM129, as with real life railguns, is energy generation. For example, the Navy will need a new family of ship classes with brand new power plants just to think about fielding a real-life version. Well…I didn’t have to wait 40 years to see what their miniaturization plan was going to be, so I invented (what would become) WHIP: Westinghouse High-Impulse Power amplification technology.

While I could get into the down-quark phase shifting technology (this is where the bullshit happens) at WHIP’s core, but I will leave it at this. WHIP allows power amplification of several orders of magnitude, from stored or generated sources. However, despite my broad conceptual knowledge of many things, a quantum physicist I am not. What I am is a science fiction writer, so I made the technology my “unobtainium.” In sci/fi, unobtainiums are the fictional ideas, technologies, or materials which make everything else work. Think “dilithium crystals” from Star Trek or “The Spice” from Dune. As I began to think about this tech as an unobtainium, a chain reaction started in my head. It went something like this…

WHIP Technology --> Came from Aliens

Are Aliens still around? --> Nope

Ok. What happened? --> Botched invasion...

Got it. I bet they caused some damage though? --> Sure did, a broken world scenario

Sweet! They leave any tech behind? -->  Absolutely, there’s your technology source.

Great, WHAT ELSE CAN I DO IN THIS WORLD? --> “The Chaotic Destiny”

With this setup in place I began to build the world of TCD. This progression allowed me to outline the elements of background, description, depth, and action in my storyline. The groundswell of ideas was impossible to contain. I began to sculpt the story piece by piece, weaving subsequent parts together (I have since named my process “contra-helical storytelling”) into the epic I hope it will become.

I hope this gives you a little bit of a glimpse into how one idea, one question can expand the mind into exploring a completely new world. Thus far, and this is not really a spoiler, the XM129 or its technology demonstrators have made cameos in the first two books, but I honestly don’t know how much of role it will play in the series in total. It may find a time to shine, but its development through the prototyping stages will likely appear in timekeeper scenes.

Thanks as always

-Z.E. Duval