Saturday, February 16, 2019

I'd like to be, Under the sea by A.E. Williams

Many moons ago, (as I recounted in my book ‘Rocket Surgeon’, and also in a recent Speculative Fiction Showcase article), I wanted to be Jacques Cousteau.

The inventor of the aqualung, several submersibles and captain of ‘Calypso’ caught my imagination and sense of wonder in several specials he did for the National Geographic Society.

As I matured, I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. In fact, after studying the sciences and math in high school, I went so far as to enroll in college to major in Ocean Engineering.
Today, I am struck with my naïve optimism to both try to emulate the eminent National Geographic Awarded scientist and explorer, and the unmitigated balls it takes to call ANYONE an ‘Ocean Engineer.’

As I have monotonously pointed out in all of my writings regarding Global Climate Change, it is very apparent that the sheer orders of magnitude of trying to stop waves, infiltrate the atmosphere with climate shredding chemicals to try to reduce the destructive force of hurricanes, or even mold the coastline into some semblance of manageable terrain is the very epitome of hubris.

Now, the more well-travelled among us will no doubt point to Holland, or China’s vast engineering efforts as evidence that we can throttle natural forces.
Scientists and engineers can point to the Trieste or nuclear-powered aircraft carriers as more evidence that we can indeed create resilient structures that can withstand much of what our planet can send against us.

But, after all of that, we don’t have the real proof of mastery of the oceans: undersea cities.

One of the most interesting scientific experiments I performed in my career in aerospace was developing coatings for the TF-30 jet turbine engine that powered the Grumman F-14 Tomcat.[1]


The engine was problematic, as it was the world's first production afterburning turbofan.
This complicated mouthful of techno-speak meant that it had to overcome not only the incipient issues of the turbofan system, but it also needed to address specific flight regime parameters needed for supersonic operation via afterburning.


So, there was intense focus placed on assuring that the engine would function from both land-based and carrier-based groups.[4]

One problem we faced was titanium fires, which can occur when something hits the engine at speed and knocks pieces off and into the working bits.

When an engine is operating, it is rotating at very high rates, and the ingestion of small amounts of debris can be very impressively destructive. Jet engines are tested for this Foreign Object Damage (FOD) in several ways.

One interesting method is performed by shooting frozen turkeys or chickens into the front of the running engine the while they are mounted on a test rig. The results are spectacularly grotesque, as the bird carcasses are shredded - and presumably, roasted – and then ejected from the ass-end of the engine.[5]

The engineering that goes into assuring that bird strikes are survivable is important and rigorous.

Some of the tests that are developed, such as salt-spray exposure, are routine and self-evident regarding an aircraft that spends much of its time on the runway deck of a carrier.
Others, such as simply rotating the parts of the engine holding the blades rapidly until they completely shatter, are not as obvious in their intention.

All of these tests add up to data that allows the scientists and engineers to predict failure modes, which is to say, what will cause them to break.


The issue at hand was that the vanes and blades in the TF-30 were corroding, due to exposure to the winds and spray from the ocean waves. The water would collect on the inlet and then, during startup, would get sucked into the engine. When the engine was then operating at temperature, this caused an environment that was very hostile to the superalloys that comprised the working parts.

We were tasked to study ways to prevent or mitigate this, so we sought out vendors who could lay claim that they had various materials that could aid in protecting the substrate metals.

Some of these solutions were just paint, in which the parts would be dipped. Some were sprayed onto the individual components, and then it would all be assembled. Some were applied with exotic techniques such as ion-vapor deposition.

All of them were advertised as being very good products to prevent corrosion from salt water exposure.

And, the reason for that was that all of them were in current use on oil platforms, naval and commercial vessels, seawalls and other structures that interacted with water. They had been exposed and tested to the real-world for decades, and almost a century, in one particular case.

The science was well-established, with the chemical effects of galvanization and corrosion amongst the most intensely studied areas in every field in which it could apply.

From the nails holding on the shoes of horses, to the glues and rivets that held together satellites, corrosion was Man’s ancient nemesis.

We tested these elite coatings, trying to gauge which one could best solve our problem.
The punch line was that all of them failed the salt-water test, to one degree or another – eventually.

The best candidates outlasted their competitors by very large margins. Paints or physically applied products would chip, exposing the base material to the elements.  That they failed predictably and repeatably was good, solid Scientific Method kind of behavior! It confirmed our suspicions, as we tested hypothesis after hypothesis, adding to our knowledge base.
But even the best anticorrosive products eventually succumbed to the simplest of corrosion: rusting.

When immersed for a long enough time, everything that could rust, would rust.

This mechanism also facilitated galvanic corrosion, which is when the ions in the water combine to form nasty things that pit the metal.

To combat this, we used deionized[6] distilled water. It was non-ionic, having been specially filtered to remove almost 100% of the one thing that propagated this reaction.

The point being that, even structures that are exposed to the ocean for long periods of time will eventually corrode, or weaken, and failures are inevitable.

Oil rigs, submarines, freighters, warships and all other constructions (i.e. dams, seawalls, piers, jetties, docks, drydocks and even houseboats) fight the losing battle with entropy every second of every day.

When you are Holland, keeping the sea at bay is an unending fight against waves, tides, and storms.

When you are China, the immense dams, bridges and seawalls are constantly being chipped away by time and tide.

Being above the water is of huge benefit in performing these exercises. It makes all the details surrounding breathable air, water pressure, shear strength, compressive stresses, statics and dynamic forces and, above all, having enough time to react manageable.
But, if you are living in Atlantis, this is a matter of life and death.

I love James Bond movies, as you know, and The Spy Who Loved Me is probably in my top three for the series.

The villain, Carl Stromberg, lives in an underwater castle.

It has a sealed helicopter pad (waterproof!) where he lets Caroline Munro store her Bell chopper, in between chasing Bond and shooting machine guns at Agent Triple X (the always lovely Barbara Bach!)

Dining on a sea bass[7] while ordering his henchman Jaws to make sure Bond is stopped, Stromberg clicks a button, and his castle, Atlantis, rises like an evil black skull-spider from the depths, to the classical melodies of Mozart.


Now, the sheer arrogance of Stromberg’s will to halt the effects of Nature on his abode still staggers me to this day!
Let’s dissect just a few things about this fantastic structure:

  1. It is based on an oil-drilling platform and located off the coast of Sardinia 
  2. It is coated with some manner of sonar and radar transparent or absorbent material 
  3. It is large enough to house an aircraft hangar and satellite transmission station 
  4. Is possibly nuclear powered 
  5. Can raise and lower from the ocean floor, deep enough that Bond needs a minisub to get to it* 
  6. Houses command and control for running missile tracking systems 
  7. Is apparently immune to maritime or statutory law

Clearly, Stromberg has invested billions of dollars into constructing and maintaining this thing. As well, one can imagine that he is constantly having to ‘fix’ things. Like, leaks…


Stromberg can watch the water flowing down the windows of Atlantis, as it rises from the sea, and feed his secretary to his pet sharks, all while sipping some Bordeaux. A wonderful example of free-market capitalism at its best.
Oh, and, lest we forget, he’s batshit crazy, too.
His plan is to blow up the world by causing World War III when Russian and United Kingdom nuclear subs shoot missiles at London and Moscow. It’s a dog’s breakfast of Cold War era intrigue, but luckily Bond shoots Stromberg in the balls[10], and saves the day.
Score one for the good guys!

The problem of how Atlantis operated vexed me for many years,
During one showing, I was blessed enough to be in the company of one of the designers of the submersible Lotus Esprit.[11]
We talked some shop, and I was disappointed to learn the truth about the Hollywood magic on the screen: the cars were either miniatures, modified fiberglass shells, or sets. Who knew?
He did go on about the difficulties that the film crews had surrounding the electrical circuits, lighting and – corrosion.
I sighed, and mentioned the TF-30 issues, carefully avoiding the classified aspects of the research.
In the end, I came away with a new appreciation for how difficult building any manner of structure to survive exposure to the oceans must be.
My dreams of undersea cities were relegated to the science fiction of Frank Herbert,[12] Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson ‘Undersea City’ trilogy, and, of course, Gerry Anderson’s ‘Stingray’.

One of the harshest lessons of my young, naïve life, and one that ranks right up there with discovering that Ocean Engineers usually end up as Assistant Managers at Walmart.[14]


The writing of my satirical trilogy[15] has taken priority, so I have moved some of the promised articles to the back burner, for the nonce.

However, I have begun writing a three-part series for Speculative Fiction Showcase that addresses the eagerly awaited Sci-Fi Weapons focus.

Don’t worry, Bovine Flatulence is not far behind![16]
There is so much material on the weapons research, th
at I am also writing a Guide for Authors on this!

A.E. Williams
High Springs, Florida
February 11, 2019

[1] I can hear all of you shouting “Hey, wait, what? I thought this was about undersea cities, not freaking airplanes!” Patience, dear Grasshoppers!
[4] The TF-30 was also used in the A-7 Corsair II and the F-111 Aardvark bomber.
[5] NOT for the squeamish!

[6] On a chemical level, atoms are made of protons, neutrons and electrons. Whenever an electron is added to or removed from the atom, it becomes charged, and is known as an ion. Ions want to return to being well-balanced atoms, so they react with other atoms nearby to cancel out that imbalance. This is one mechanism for corrosion.
[7] No doubt they are “ill-tempered” sea bass…

[10] I am NOT kidding!

[11] Perry Oceanographic was located up the road from me, and down the road from the aerospace company where I was employed.

[12] Yes, the guy who wrote ‘Dune’… look up ‘Under Pressure’

[13] God, I really enjoyed all of the stuff that Gerry Anderson made! It was so cool, and for its time, really stretched the imagination of impressionable young boys! And girls! Lady Penelope and Tin-Tin Kyrano were role models that went far afield of the Barbie doll sensibilities of that simpler age. Did you know that The Tracy brothers were named after Mercury Seven astronauts: Scott Carpenter, John Glenn, Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Gordon Cooper and Alan Shepard! What a time to be a kid!
[14] So, this is a rather long story. When I entered college way back in the day, I took the curricula that would lead to a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Ocean Engineering, from a prestigious school in South Florida. I have documented my academic travails elsewhere…
During that time, I became employed in aerospace. Needing money, as young people often do, I took a second job as a stock boy at a store that was the ancestor of Walmart. It’s long gone…
One day, I was stocking shelves and occasioned to engage in a bit of banter with the Assistant Manager. Let’s call him ‘Bob.’
Bob asked where I attended classes, and what my major was. I informed him. He informed me he’d attained that exact degree, some years earlier. I put down the box of cheap drinking glasses I was moving to a higher shelf, perplexed. Surely, there was some mistake of interpretation.
“An O.E.? From Prestigious U?” I gasped.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Why on earth do you work here, then?” I asked, incredulous.
“Better pay, and you don’t have to go to Antarctica or work for the Navy,” he said, deadpan.
I resolved to look into this new information, and soon thereafter, had transferred into Mechanical Engineering.
How I ended up with three unrelated degrees is a tale best left for another time.

[15]Imperius Wrecks,’ Second Coming,’ and the soon-to-be-released ‘Third Trimester’!
[16] Hah! A cow joke! Sometimes I kill me…

About A. E. Williams:

A.E. Williams has a unique background of military experience, aerospace engineering and intelligence analysis. 
Born near Pittsburgh, A.E. Williams is man of a mystery. As a young man, Williams served the United States government in various capacities, which he then followed with ten years as an outfitter. Williams finally retired and moved down to rural central Florida, where he ran a medium - sized tilapia farm. He did his writing at night, usually accompanied by a bottle of Maker's Mark bourbon and a large supply of Classic Dr. Pepper and ice.
A.E. Williams is the author of the exciting hard science fiction series Terminal Reset, which is about the effects of a mysterious force from billions of miles away from Earth that was formed millions of years ago. When The Wave strikes, everything changes! 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Speculative Fiction Links of the Week for February 15, 2019

It's time for the weekly round-up of interesting links about speculative fiction from around the web, this week with romance and speculative fiction, Star Trek Discovery, Doom Patrol, The Umbrella Academy, Alita: Battle Angel, Russian Doll, Weird City, abuse in the RPG world, Liam Neeson's problematic remarks about rape, race and revenge and much more. 

Speculative fiction in general:

Film and TV:

Comments on Star Trek Discovery and Star Trek in general (spoilers):

Comments on Doom Patrol

Comments on The Umbrella Academy

Comments on Alita: Battle Angel:

Comments on Russian Doll:

Comments on Weird City:

Discussion of Liam Neeson's problematic comments regarding rape, revenge and racism:

Discussion of abuse in the RPG world:


Writing, publishing and promotion:



Classics reviews:

Con and event reports:

Science and technology:

Free online fiction:

Odds and ends: