These pictures are drafts of Iain M. Banks Culture ‘s orbitals, gigantic ring worlds of one million kilometers in diameter. I started them as illustrations for this article about Amazon’s adaptation into series. As I suspected, the adaptation did not work out.
Soon, I was confronted with the question of their appearance. I couldn’t just have a simple ring with an artificial landscape on the inside, along with a few details on the edge. In order to know what they look like in detail, I had to find a plausible way to show how they are made and therefore how they were constructed. Here we go back in time and start at the beginning!
Raw materials available in space like asteroids, comets, dust are gathered by multiples specialized drones. Then a “slice” is “3D printed” with the refined materials.
How to design a Culture’s orbital?
The general aspect and dimensions of an orbital are very clear but the details are quite rare in Iain’s Banks novels. While I was up to start one, I asked myself how it was made to find what it could look like.
Nowadays, all vehicles or housing structures, on Earth or in space, have a minimum passive ability to sustain air, temperature, pressure, and carry their own weight. Could it be an outdated way of thinking regarding the Culture‘s mastering of physics laws? Indeed the Culture works on another paradigm.
Everything is built on force fields. Millions of people and entire ecosystems on the edge of the void sustained by fields. From our actual scientific perspective, this is no more than magic. (following the famous Arthur C. Clark words, “the engineering of someone is the magic of another”)
By building it from scratch.
In the novels, fields are described as forces with some persistence but no permanence unlike matter. But what happens if the fields are off, or wrong, or weakened, or sabotaged? If it would be only based on field technology and no other passive structure, then it would eventually collapse without them. Upscaling and redundancy are there to ensure in case of failure. Otherwise, millions or trillions would be in danger of dying. From a Mind perspective, it would be unacceptable to let a fraction of luck of failure. Even the Culture is still subject to the laws of physics and contingencies.
Are there any accidents in the Culture? While there are millions of ships, orbitals, and together they hold “Xillions” of various beings, it seems to never happen despite the odds on such a large number of space habitats. Let’s assume the Culture is secured enough, close to perfection. This is the conceptual limit of this fiction of an all-mighty civilization, and it is even present in the books: the realm of perfection is outside the physical world, it is sublimation.
That led me to the conclusion that the Culture has a strong passive structural insurance, as a fundamental engineering rule for everything it builds.
So my orbital will have an infrastructure to hold it. 🙂
Anyway, as you can see this is still a work in progress, a long shot.
Meanwhile, my usual 3D software, Softimage, was
stopped killed by Autodesk. I had to switch to Blender. At first, it was a painful change but finally fruitful. Blender brings many state-of-the-art features like procedural modeling, path tracing, and more. They opened up new possibilities that I wanted to make the most of. I had to remake many elements, drones, fields, and other ships accordingly.
A General Contact Unit visits a new contacted civilization as a Culture’s ambassador.Fields are not depicted here, some of the many small space ships will serve later as drones.
Below: This picture was made with Softimage (previously known as Softimage|XSI).
This work in progress goes on a third part about recent pictures.
Sorry for this pompous contraption! Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think.
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A few notes on the Culture. In this short text, the author explains the original concept of his anarchist and hedonist galactic civilization.