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Casting the characters in Soyuz Blue.

Soyuz Blue is a science fiction thriller set in the not too distant future. All of the space vehicles and hardware are very similar to what currently exists. As an illustrator I felt a realistic style would be best for this kind of story. I also wanted each of the characters to have a distinct look. I tend to be cinematic in my storytelling, so I needed source material on my characters from many different “camera angles.”

I found one of the best places to “audition” characters was the art museum. Statues and portrait busts hold still, are great to sketch from, and happy to be photographed. They also won’t sue you if you make them the villain of your tale.


My Dr. Ouspenskaya, with his rugged features and mad scientist hair, is based on  a bust of President Andrew Jackson. I sketched his likeness in Washington DC’s National Portrait Gallery from various angles. Also useful were the additional sculptures of Jackson at different ages. Of course, I still had to make decisions on what the character would look like smiling, laughing, and talking. A basic knowledge of human anatomy allowed me to make up certain rules: “Ouspenskaya shows his lower teeth when he talks…”

General Zhukov is based on a portrait of a seventeenth century nobleman from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

General Zhukov is based on a portrait of a seventeenth century nobleman from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. His countenance is perfect for a successful military officer who is politically savvy and has mastered his area of expertise.  Zhukov also knows that a lot of what goes on in the military is nonsense, but he is in on the joke.

In this way I collected faces to match my script, but also found that it was much easier to edit and sharpen dialogue once I had a likeness of each player in the drama.

Did I cast the novel correctly? Buy the novel on Amazon: and let me know!

A tale of suspense: Hitchcock “icy blonde” in space.

I have always been a fan of film director Alfred Hitchcock. When creating the character of Elizabeth Floyd I thought it might be fun to reimagine the Hitchcock “icy blonde” for a high-tech new century.

Hitchcock was famous for his leading ladies. They were inevitably complex, willful, sexy, and  frequently blonde. While they seem somewhat dated today, they were a radical departure from the tepid female characters of their time. Here is just a sampling of Hitchcock’s blonde brew of heroines:

The plucky socialite Lisa Freeman (Grace Kelly) in Rear Window is beautifully coiffed, wears Channel, attends all the right parties, and knows all the right people. She also breaks into a suspected murderer’s apartment and steals evidence that proves the man’s wife is not away visiting her Mother, but murdered.

The daring Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in Psycho steals a fortune from her boss to help her indebted boyfriend and ends up murdered in the shower of the Bates motel. Equally bold and blonde, her sister Lila Crane (Vera Miles) comes in for the balance of the film and sees the story through to the shocking climax.

The complex Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren) is a conniving thief in Marnie, who is repressing an even more criminal past. She dazzles and torments her husband (Sean Connery) into behaving badly. When the central mystery is finally revealed they emerge as an equal, if damaged, couple.

The mysterious and destructive Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) is both haunted and haunting in Vertigo. Both a victim and victimizer, she becomes the acrophobic hero’s (Jimmy Stewart) unhealthy compulsion. They torment each other until the very last obsessive frame of the film.

Soyuz Blue puts this smart, strong willed, and flawed Hitchcock persona into the unforgiving crucible of space exploration: a hostile environment where the slightest misstep can lead to disaster. Add to the mix: corporate politics, scientific fraud, international terrorism, a love triangle, and you have a supercharged stage on which to tell a tale of suspense.

What will icey blonde Elizabeth Floyd’s fate be?

Did I capture the spirit of Hitchcock’s frosty heroines? Check out the novel on Amazon:

Space weather is not science fiction.

Space weather can be complex and dramatic. In volume one of Soyuz Blue I depict the International Space Station’s orbit degraded by sunspots and solar flares. Solar storms can indeed degrade the orbits of satellites by heating and expanding the upper atmosphere and increasing drag. The erosion of orbit due to solar weather was one of the main reasons that NASA was unable to rescue America’s first space station, Skylab, from a fiery re-entry in 1979.

These kinds of solar events can also generate radiation and put astronauts and cosmonauts at risk. During solar flares they will need to fall back to more shielded parts of the Space Station. As depicted in my novel, these “safe” areas are in the Russian sections.

How bad can space weather be on the Earth’s surface? We only have been aware of this phenomena for 200 years, which is nothing in the life span of our 5 billion year old sun. Thousands of miles of exposed wires in power grids are at risk of overload from storms. Transformers can explode, and once destroyed, are difficult and expensive to replace. Oil and gas pipelines are also at risk, and it is thought that sunspots can increase corrosion and degrade the integrity of the metal.

The worst recorded solar storm is the Carrington Event of 1859. This storm generated intense aurora borealis displays that were seen from Canada to the Caribbean. The auroras were so bright that people were able to read a newspaper in the dead of night. Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed. Sparks flew off pylons. Telegraph operators received electrical shocks. Even when the power supplies were disconnected, some telegraph stations could continue to receive and send messages.

Sun weather comes in 11 year cycles, and in 2014 we were at a period of “solarmax:” a period of intense activity. Fortunately, this “max” seems much quieter than in previous years.

What would a really gnarly solar storm look like?
Read it for yourself! Buy the novel on Amazon:

Soyuz has been in use for almost 50 years!

Soyuz Blue is a two-fisted tale, and as such, full of over the top action and heroics by square jawed men and women. But there is nothing far-fetched about the Soyuz spacecraft featured in the novel.

The Russian Soyuz has been in use for almost 50 years. First launched in 1966, it overcame a series of mechanical glitches, and two fatal accidents, to become a benchmark flying machine. Today it is considered the safest and most reliable way to get astronauts into space. It belongs in the pantheon of successful, rugged, and long lived 20th century inventions, along with the 747, DC-3, and the humble Volkswagen Beetle.

The spacecraft was the brainchild of master aeronautical engineer Sergei Korolev. Korolev was the mysterious Cold War “chief designer” and responsible for the remarkable Soviet space triumphs of the 50’s and 60’s.

Soyuz is a masterpiece of simplicity. The orbital module (OM) provides living and working room while in orbit. The descent module (DM) provides tight quarters for the crew of 3 to launch to orbit and return to earth. The service module (SM) provides air, water, and electricity. The craft is also a product of the “better is the enemy of good” engineering philosophy. This means, outside of a few upgrades, soyuz has remained largely unchanged over the last half century.

In my novel the Cosmonauts use a hybrid spacecraft that is intended for tourist flights around the moon. Outfitted with additional supplies, more powerful engines, a slightly larger OM, this spaceship is entirely credible.

A variant like this (called 7K) was on the drawing board back in 1963. It would have rendezvoused with a supply and propulsion section (launched separately), and gone on a circumlunar voyage. This Soyuz would never have been able to land on the Moon, as a much larger booster was needed to carry a landing craft, but a first manned circumlunar mission by the Russians was a very real possibility in the late 60s.

This soyuz spacecraft configuration was copied by the Chinese Shenzhou spacecraft. In one form or another, Soyuz or Shenzhou, we are likely to see this kind of ship well into the next century.

Read it for yourself! Buy the novel on Amazon: