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BRP Review Response from Andy at QMX

 This is unbelievably late. I apologize most strongly for that. About the time that I got this from Andy, I bought a house and moved, then got married. It’s been a hectic couple of months. Lisa and I are nowhere near unpacked yet. It reminds me of the scene from The Incredibles, when Helen calls Bob at work to tell him that she just unpacked the last box even though they’d been in that house for two years. Hopefully, Lisa and I won’t be that bad.
 
Anyway, I’ve reprinted those paragraphs that Andy responded to so you’ll know where they fall within my original review. In a few places, I’ve added responses of my own to Andy’s comments. So, here we go…
 
**********     QMX Comment     **********
Hi there Chris!
 
First, thank you sooooo much for your detailed and thoughtful review of our first reference pack. Hope you don't mind, but I'd like to respond to some of the issues you brought up point-by-point below. But just so you know, we're very happy with the review and agree with a lot of what you had to say (good and bad). But such a thorough review demands a thorough response...
 
But first, Ben forwarded me his response on Tim's Series 1-4 drawings; I just want to throw my two cents in – we have in our archive a lot of the original pre-production art from the series (including the Reaver ship from the pilot, and the old-style Alliance cruiser), and a lot of the pre-pro art from the movie, and we would never publish that material as a final product. We use it only for reference.
 
In the case of these drawings, we had an opportunity to get Tim Earls, the guy who was Serenity's original designer, to "fill-out" the rest of the Firefly series. Tim's drawings in the Ref Pack were developed based on the essays in the "Historical Archives" and other background material We spent over a year working on that background material – researching show materials, producer/production team interviews, etc. – so it was incredibly flattering that the "father" of Serenity thought the material solid enough to design from them. I also have to give credit to The Signal crew, whose feedback helped hone those essays enormously, as did QMx's Brain Trust (a group of fan and professional experts who review and advise us on our product development efforts).
 
Anyway, that's a long way about saying I see your point about not doing proper blueprints of the other designs. However, in our defense – we were incredibly lucky to get Tim to do this at all and, considering there is several months of work into Serenity's blueprints, we were concerned about getting this reference pack out the door in a reasonable amount of time.
 
Now, having said all that, don't assume we're done with those ship designs – we're not. We have what we think are some ambitious things in the works around the rest of the Firefly series ships.
 
Okay, on to the main event:
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**********     ElectricLion     **********
Great!! I'll take a "Boats of the Verse" reference pack. I'll even help you create it. :-)
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...I just mentioned the Star Trek Blueprints because there are so many. But a determined fan can find blueprints of many ships from SF: the Millennium Falcon, the Eagle Transport, the C57D, etc. So it was a given that I would pick up the Serenity Blueprint Reference Pack when it came out. (I missed the larger 10-page set.) I love this set. Even after going through it many times, I'd buy it again in a heartbeat.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
Thanks! This whole project was one of those "happy accidents". We didn't originally plan to go beyond the limited edition BP set (in fact, I was originally dead set against going beyond the BP LE set). But then the sets sold out in an amazingly short amount of time and we started getting inundated with e-mails from Browncoats who were upset they missed out on the BPs. Add to that the number of folks who wrote and asked if we would come up with a handy "reference" version of the BPs, so they could leave their original sets pristine, and thus was born the concept of a reference pack version of the BPs.
 
We e-mailed a bunch of customers who bought the LE BP set and asked how they'd feel about a reissue; every single person who replied said they'd have no problem, as long as the format was smaller, and had a lot more info in it. As mentioned above, we were already at work on a complete history of the Firefly design (for no particular reason other than we were interested in subject), and you have the first Reference Pack.
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Relics of the Saints:
I liked the introduction. I should be so lucky that someone as well-known as Orson Scott Card would write a preface to my work. The article is an excellent read, just like anything else by Card. There is, however, a small problem with the content. The article goes on to say that the Serenity is a historical artifact, and that the crew are heroes. While the captain and crew did some amazing things in the movie, there shouldn't be an escalation through the sequels. The great thing about Firefly wasn't that the crew of the Serenity was saving the universe on an episodic basis. The great thing was that they were simply trying to make ends meet. That's something we can all relate to. Kirk saved civilization, but never had to pay a fuel bill. Sheridan fought gods, but never had to put food on the table. Janeway always talked about rationing resources and trading for parts, but these were always background elements. By the time of Archer, Earth was a paradise. From the start of the series, the very first episode of Firefly – the opening story designed to hook the viewer – was about getting enough money to keep flying. The crew aren't heroes – they're real people.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
Well, first, I gotta say, we were so incredibly lucky to get an intro from Orson Scott Card that I just felt honored that he'd agreed to do it. I think what Scott would say in reply to your comment about the crew not being heroes is that this was written from the perspective of someone who is a recluse and that the BDHs' deeds may have been magnified by their admirers. So, it may very well not be a widely held view that the BDHs are mythic heroes, but may be just a handful of zealots with an anti-establishment bent who feel that way. Also, there's no doubt that the crew's actions around the Miranda incident is just the kind of thing from which legends spring.
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So what else should we put on this sheet if the plaque is a quarter of it's current size? How about all those Serenity logos on Sheet 11? That'll give us a sheet that we can put something else on.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
I see your point, although this is meant to be the intro page for Section One, like the Firefly ad is an intro for Section Two. But, in hindsight, perhaps we could have used this space to better effect.
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Port Outboard Profile:
What can I say? Absolutely fantastic views. I love this ship. The detail is fantastic. I liked seeing the ship without the engine so that I can see the detail of the side of the ship. I liked seeing that there are two landing positions, including one for loading. And the scale drawing showing the shuttle, hover mule, and a person. I had no idea that ship was so big! I still want to build one in my front yard if I win the lottery, but it's going to cost about twice what I was thinking. I see that QMx used the ramp design from the movie. I think they should have put in the ramp from the series as a side drawing, "pre-upgrade" perhaps.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
Great suggestion!
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One detail that I question: The big blue panels scattered around the ship are listed as "solar panels," but I seem to remember them being identified as after-market heat exchangers, possibly added by Kaylee. That would explain why they're not symmetrically placed. Their position also suggests their responsibilities: The two P/S below the wings could handle the cooling of the cargo bay/infirmary/passenger dorms. The panel portside above the shuttle birth could handle the cooling for the lounge, while those P/S on the neck covered the crew's quarters. I wonder if the main parts of the ship's computer are on the bridge, behind Wash's station. That would explain why there are two there.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
That's a much more sensible theory than those things are solar panels; I was never a fan of calling them that. But that's how they were labeled in the CGI files. So, it was a case of sticking to canon from the series/movie, even when it didn't really make sense to us, either.
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Starboard Outboard Profile:
Once again, the detail is fantastic. One note of thanks: These are the first drawings that I've seen that have an EVA hatch at the base of the neck (used by Jubal Early, but missing from just about every other depiction of the craft). Great catch, guys!
**********     QMX Comment     **********
All credit for that detail goes to the Brain Trust, who did an episode by episode analysis of the blueprints and found that inconsistency in the CGI files.
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Ship Operation Speculation 01 – Reactor Vent Cover: The operation of the main engine was described as an engine that produces its combustion behind the ship. The engine design that occurred to me when I heard this was the old Orion design from the '60's. In the Orion, very small atomic bombs were jettisoned through a thick armor plate at the rear of the ship, and detonated. The shockwave from the blast propelled the ship. From the descriptions I've heard, Serenity's engine works in a similar fashion, by containing some sort of fusion combustion just behind the ship. I presume that the glow is gravity generators running on high to create a "reaction bottle" effect. My speculation is that when the reactor vent covers are open, their flower-petals-like positions help shape the "bottle." I wonder if the engine ran less efficiently after one of the covers broke off at the end of "Serenity."
**********     QMX Comment     **********
We spent a lot of time talking to Tim on this very issue, and here's what he told us:
 
All primary thrust is generated by the two main engines on the "wings" on either side of the ship. When the Firefly "butt" opens, it does so that it can more efficiently vent radiation to space when the reactor is cranked to "11" in hard burn. The flower petals serve three purposes – to help direct radiation to the rear of the ship, to partially shield the front of the ship, and to recover a small amount of the energy expended with a reactive inner coating that "pushes" again the released radiation. The big gravity rotor serves two purposes – negating inertial pressures that would otherwise make the crew go splat and to create gravity "buoyancy" so much less thrust is needed to achieve multi-G acceleration. This second function also allows for otherwise impossible "in atmo" feats, like hovering with just two engines that are *not* positioned at a weight neutral position on the ship (the reactor is much heavier than the bridge). Internal gravity is generated by smaller versions of the gravity rotor technology under the decks. The big rotor does not generate gravity for the crew sections; it's part of the drive system.
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Page Error: The ship's landing gear folds up, but not completely into the body of the ship. The surface of the gear foot acts as a "landing gear door" and should have been visible at an angle. Instead, all that's there is a dark space, as if the landing legs from the previous page were simply erased from the drawings on this page.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
The landing gears were a major source of frustration for us, for a number of reasons, not the least of them being the fact that they're not structurally able to hold the ship up. We tried to fix it in the design process, but ran out of time. As you see them in the BPs is how they are in the CGI files.
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Bow and Stern Elevation:
My readers are probably going to tire of me going on about how wonderful the detail is, so I'll quit while I'm behind. Detailed views of the side engines. The plans list those as the main engines, but I feel that Serenity's interplanetary drive is its "main engine." I see that the artists remembered to show the bottoms of the landing gear feet. Great shot of the extended Shuttle Deployment Arms.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
Note above – the main engines *are* the main engines – atmo and otherwise.
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Ship Operation Speculation 02 – Shuttle Landing/Take-off: I seriously doubt even Chuck Yeager could land one of Serenity's shuttles in its extended berth on the fly. I'll bet that as you're coming in for a landing, the computer takes over and handles the final approach. I'd also bet that the shuttle's computer also handles the first second or two of take-off, until the shuttle is clear of the ship.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
Yep, we're pretty sure there's limited autopilot for both the shuttles and the main ship. The main engines don't just fold down for maintenance; they fold down for orbital docking in tight berths. Guaranteed autopilot is part of making that work.
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Here's the first real problem with the plans. There's some added detail, not mentioned in the series or the movie (always very cool). But while the artists have added detail, it is at a cost. They have added "thrust bypass doors (open)" but failed to label the two small fins at five and seven o'clock that were not added by QMx. On top of that, they've added a "maintenance position" showing the engine mounts pivoting down 72 degrees while leaving out the "landing position" with the engines pivoted down 90 degrees. On top of that, they show the engine having rotated 90 degrees on its mount. They've added a track for the magnetic gripper (seen in the Ventral Surface Plan View), but that's all. How did that unlabeled inside fin get on the other side of the engine mount as the engine spun on its axis? And what about the thrust bypass doors? How did they pass through the mount? Come to think of it, since it looks like the engine mount is flush with the side of the engine, there doesn't appear to be room for the magnetic gripper track, either.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
Okay, so you're going to get tired of hearing me say this, but we didn't come up with any of that. It's all either in the CGI files or in the pre- and post-production technical drawings. We documented what we could, but were determined to make up as little as possible.
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**********     ElectricLion     **********
So when should we start working on those new CGI files?
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It was great of them to add the idea of a "maintenance position" to make access hatches easier to get to, but there are views that we needed that are missing. We need a view (probably bow-on) of the Serenity landed, with landing gear deployed, and engine mounts pivoted down to landing position. I'd like a side view as well, but the bow view is needed. We need a view (probably also bow-on) of the Serenity in a take-off or landing mode showing the engines in VTOL position with the magnetic grippers disengaged and the engine deployment jacks retracted out of the way.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
Good point. I think we probably could have done 10 pages just on all the ways the main engines work – there was an enormous amount of detail in the production notes we couldn't find space for.
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**********     ElectricLion     **********
And the publication date for those extra pages is…? (I’m chuckling as I write this, but, no, I’m not joking.)
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Dorsal Surface Plan View:
I want to build this ship in my front yard so badly, I can see it in my mind as though it were already built – and it's views like this that fire my imagination. The yellow/black warning stripes at the shuttle berths and the red "no step" labels help make this ship seem like an actual aircraft. I disagree with Les Howard's speculation that the ship would need gravity screening because the engine pivots wouldn't be strong enough to hold the weight of the ship. I think they would. After all, they are on the V-22 Osprey, and this would be the same thing with a jet-like engine instead of a propeller. I would make the engine mount pivot arms a little thicker, though.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
Actually, Les is right. As mentioned above, the gravity buoyancy trick isn't necessary to hold the ship up, but to keep undue stress from loading up the wing structures as a result of the back of the ship weighing twice what the front weighs.
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Possible Plan Error or Ship Operation Speculation 03 – Solar Panel Mount: The solar panels seem to be mounted onto the hull with one central shaft and no other means of support. I keep seeing turbulence getting under the panel and twisting/ripping it off of its single mount. Each panel should be fixed to the hull in several places instead of just one post in the middle of the panel.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
Excellent point. But that's how they have it in both the movie and TV series CGI files.
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Ventral Surface Plan View:
Yet another great view.Lots of shiny detail. I wonder if the "Cargo Bay Landing Pad(Retracted)" is a throw-away detail added because one of the original design ideas (later scrapped) was that the main cargo bay was a detachable module. Great close-ups of the landing gear. Always love reading the "vital statistics" of a ship. One of the things that I love about Serenity's design is that it looks like someone like Boeing or McDonnell Douglas could actually build one and that it would fly – if on side engines alone until someone invents its pulse drive.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
We added that detail because Tim put *a lot* of time into designing the retractable cargo door so that it would actually work in real life. He could tell you all the work they put into "refining" Serenity's design for the movie, so that, as you said, almost everything could be built based on today's engineering science. They even went so far as to consider the load and metal stresses (with real, terrestrial metals) when designing things like the bay door.
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Two small concerns: The grav dampeners under the decks are not under all the decks, and they seem too large to be in a number of places. Are those devices simply dampening the effects of acceleration or are they the source of each deck's artificial gravity? And, it looks like some of the passenger dorm doors are backwards. I'm interpreting the thickened area of dark red to be the handle of a sliding door, with the handle on the sliding panel. If that is the case, then the panel of the door that slides is too far from the ladder (front top dorm), and not at the top of the stair (rear dorm).
**********     QMX Comment     **********
Good points. The grav dampeners are so named in the CG files, but in talking with Tim we determined they were small artificial gravity generators and that the job of dampening belongs to the big rotor around on the engine yoke.
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And The BIG Mistake: I'm sorry guys. I know I'm going to get yelled at for this, but come on! I guess I'm the only Firefly/Serenity fan in the Verse who would want to lay the forward and aft cross sections together to show a complete run of the ship. Even having the sheets side by side when bound is fine. But to print the two on opposite sides of the same sheet of paper is a mistake that qualifies for the title of boneheaded stupidity. Again, I'm sorry. I don't mean to be unkind, but anyone can see that arranging these images so that they cannot be seen side-by-side, bound or unbound, was a bad move.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
No, we absolutely deserve to be spanked for this. There are all kinds of reasons it turned out this way, but, honestly, if we'd had more time we would have found a work-around. I will now bow my head in shame :-)
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Endo/Exo-Atmospheric Shuttle and Main Deck Plan:
I'll go ahead and say up front that I think the deck plans should have been the same scale as the cross sections. It was really cool to see a blow-up of the bridge, but there should have been blow-ups of the lounge (especially the lounge), and the engine room. I always got the impression that the shuttles were on the same level as the hatches inside the cargo bay. I think that was what was intended, but it doesn't work with the shape of the ship. That's fine, like the neck deck sloping.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
That's a very insightful comment, Chris. Fact is, this is a case where the CG files and the set plans didn't agree in a major way. This was the only way to solve the problem we could figure out, however inelegant a solution it is. For what it's worth, we did work very closely with Tim and others on this solution.
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Ship Operation Speculation 05 – Folding Wings & Landing Gear: One thing that's missing here is a label saying where the shuttle's main engines are. From the looks of the drawings, it looks like the wings fold out of the engines, because that's about where I remember the engines to be. I would like to have seen a diagram showing how the wings swing because it looks like they're too long to fold completely into the body. I like it that QMx drew the bottom of the shuttle with a curve to it. The bottom always seemed flat to me in the show. I would add a very small folding landing strut to help support the nose.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
Actually, we're not entirely sure where the engines are ;-) Tim designed this as well, and it's one of the few elements they didn't update for the movie.
 
The wings fold in parallel to the body and stick out the back a bit. In hindsight, I think it would have been better to have more views (with smaller images) on the Inara's shuttle page.
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One thing I really wanted to see here was a better diagram or explanation on how the shuttle egress works since the shuttles are docked higher up than the shows suggest. Also a question: Does Serenity refuel the shuttles from onboard tanks, or do the shuttles have to make fuel last from fuel station to fuel station just like Serenity?
**********     QMX Comment     **********
They are fueled internally. You're right, that would have been a good thing to show here.
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Ship Operation Speculation 06 – Interplanetary (Pulse) Drive Construction: I originally thought this might be a plan error, but it's definitely not QMx's fault if it is. From the outside, the interplanetary drive seems to be the whole ship behind the gravity rotor, but we know from the plans, both here and in the DVD feature "Serenity: The 10th Character," that the engine room, infirmary area, and passenger dorms are inside this "bulb." So what IS a pulse drive? Going from what I see here, I think a pulse drive is the main reactor, radion accelerator core (Kaylee's "beating heart" as Early put it), and an array of gravity "projectors." The design of the Firefly makes the pulse drive look huge, like fully a third of the ship, but we know from the plans that most of the drive is just exterior components laid onto a bulb-shaped shell that's essentially hollow inside. This would support "The Signal's" speculation that the actual combustion takes place behind the ship. The ship ejects a small amount of fuel through the Primary Thruster port. Then the Gravity Projectors (inside the Reactor Vents) create a gravity "bell" nozzle. The fuel is constricted by the Gravity Projectors until it fuses, like a mini-hydrogen bomb. The gravity bell directs the exhaust like a rocket nozzle and the shock wave pushes the ship forward. When the main drive is running, the back of the ship glows like a firefly's butt. The shape / angle of the open Reactor Vent Covers help refine the shape of the gravity bell.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
The surface area of the reactor vents is much larger than the reactor itself, which is why it looks like it takes more area from the outside than it actually does. As noted above, all thrust, in atmo and out, come from the two main engines. The reactor is exactly that – a reactor. The big bulb in the back is a venting mechanism.
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Lower Deck Plan and Transverse Cross-Section:
Have I mentioned that I love cross sections? I may well be an idiot, but I'm still confused by how you get from the mid deck to a shuttle hatch. I wonder what the Gravity Wave Amplifier does. There was speculation on "The Signal" (yes, I listen to "The Signal" a lot) that it cancelled the acceleration effects produced by the interplanetary drive. I hope that's not the case, because the passenger dorms are behind it.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
I love cross-sections, too ;-) The two ways to get to the shuttles are from the second-level catwalk in the cargo bay (and then up an interior stairway), or directly from the galley.
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Ship Operation Speculation 07 – Gravity Rotor: The gravity rotor spins clockwise around the main body of the ship (looking aft). Friction from the rotor bearings would cause the ship to have a slight counter-clockwise roll (again, looking aft) much the same way that a helicopter tends to spin opposite the direction of its main rotor. Ideally, there should be some counter-rotating ring to balance the rotor, like the tail rotor on a helicopter. Since all the views in the series and movie have shown the apparent lack of a counter-rotor, the roll will have to be dampened another way. The easiest way would be to angle the main engines slightly. In normal level flight mode, the starboard engine nozzle would angle down slightly, producing a very tiny upward thrust; while the port engine nozzle would be angled up, producing a very tiny downward thrust. Considering the mass difference between the ship and the rotor, the angling of the engines would be so slight as to be almost invisible to the naked eye – probably no more than a second or two of arc. And, no, I haven't done the math (that's River's job). I'm just speculating.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
Wow, I'm impressed! Almost no one caught that little Newtonian challenge. But, in fact, you're right – there's a counterweight ring that rotates in the opposite direction *inside* the gravity rotor. You can actually see a hint of it in the movie special effects when the lights seem to be passing a series of rods that cause them to blink? That's actually the internal ring moving in the opposite direction.
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**********     ElectricLion     **********
Turns out that you can see this clearly in the opening of the movie if you watch carefully. As the camera approaches the ship head-on, you can see the rotor spinning clockwise. When the camera moves around behind the ship, the rotor is seen spinning clockwise from this angle as well. Also, you can see lights and shadows on the hull, moving past each other. So both the gravity rotor and the counter-rotor are visible.
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Trivia: Anyone notice that the Emergency EVA Hatch in the neck of the ship is missing from the ship on the System Status Display?
**********     QMX Comment     **********
These are all taken straight from the movie displays; and because the Lightwave model didn't have a "Jubal" hatch, neither do these screens. Maybe an aftermarket mod Mal had done for an alternate escape route?
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Airtight Doors:
I keep picturing this happening at QMx: "A sheet devoted to airtight doors? Yeah, cool! … That would be nice … Well, OK I guess … Ummm … Why?" Just to fill a page, I guess.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
You'd be amazed how many people loved this page. Each door's shape and color have a specific meaning. And, you know, when you do build your Firefly, you want to make sure everything's as authentic as possible, right?
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How about Kaylee's name painted over her door, or a section of the stencil she used to paint the dining area? A close-up of the panel that Early used to lock the crews' quarters? How about a diagram of the radion accelerator core with parts (such as the catalyzer) labeled? We've got views of the hover mule, but what about the first mule?
**********     QMX Comment     **********
The first Mule was just an ATV. We didn't think people would care about that when they could go see one at their closest Suzuki dealer ;-)
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Endo/Exo-Atmospheric Shuttle / MF-813 Flying Mule:
These pages are a waste of space. QMx took three of the six views of the shuttle, and two of the three views of the hover mule, and simply blew them up to fill the pages. Despite the fact that the new images are larger, they're exactly the same, with the same level of detail as the smaller images. Larger images should have added smaller details but there are none here. On top of that, they removed all the labels, so there's actually less information and nothing new except one insignia on each page (which really should be on the Serenity insignia page instead). The retracted wings of the shuttle still look too short to be the same wings that fold out, and they still seem to fold out of the main engines. The hover mule is still ugly, even though QMx's rendering of it is as beautiful as the smaller version. What am I saying? It IS the smaller version, just expanded. It should be a better, more detailed rendering, but it's not.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
Agree with you on the shuttle, but not on the mule. The reason for the larger view was to show all the labels and logos that went on the mule. You really couldn't see that detail in the smaller version.
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Firefly Advertisement:
A beautiful poster. Great job, Andy & Ben! As an aside, it looks like you forgot the emergency EVA hatch on the neck.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
Thanks! And, again, an aftermarket mod. Yeah, that's the ticket... ;-)
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Doing The Job:
What a great article! I wish it were longer. I'm definitely going to incorporate the information within into my historical speculation. The COR-VUE page mock-up is very pretty. Great job, guys!
**********     QMX Comment     **********
Aw shucks! I spent a lot of time on that "chapter" and benefited greatly from good advice. Really glad you liked it. Hmm. Write out the whole book, you say?
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**********     ElectricLion     **********
Need any help? :-)
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Boost Your Boat:
I loved "Boost Your Boat" in the podcast. Thank you VERY much for the transcript. And another great page design.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
I loved the idea of showing some popular entertainment from the 'Verse. 
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Series 3 Military, Page 1 "Honest Austin's – Yard Log":
Another great bit of "historical" data, and good page design. I have to admit though that I found the handwriting font a little difficult to read at times – but that's just my eyes.
**********     QMX Comment     **********
I'm assuming Ben told you this is his handwriting, right? Believe me, if it was my handwriting, you really would have gone blind reading it!
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And, that’s it. Thanks so much for the comments, Andy. Again, sorry for getting them so long ago, and only posting them now.

A Quick Update

Sorry that I haven't posted in a while. It's been a hectic couple of weeks. My offer for the house was accepted, so I'm struggling with getting utilities transfered over, packing to move, arranging friends to help move, getting inspections done, paperwork signed, finances in order, and so on. I was supposed to have a leisurely hunt for a house and find something later in the year, giving plenty of time for research and exploration, arrange and have a wedding, and finish out my apartment's lease. Now the wedding will have to come after the move once Lisa and I have time to breathe.

I still need to post Andy's response to my Blueprint Reference Pack review. Andy is from QMx. Andy, sorry for rushing you and now dragging my feet. After that are some thoughts on spaceship construction and design. Once that's done, I don't know yet. There are still some old articles from my Yahoo 360 page that I want to post here.

We shall see...

Product Review: Serenity Ship Papers

The first thing that hit me when I opened the bubble wrap was the smell. That freshly cut leather smell.

Sidebar 1: This isn’t just shoe store smell. No, this is different. As I mentioned in a couple previous posts, I’m handicapped. Well, as a result of that, I wore corrective shoes until seventh grade. Here’s an interesting note about corrective shoes: They’re custom made. You go in and get measured just like any other shoe store. And then you hand them your prescription. And they build the shoes right there in front of you, adding arch supports, pigeon-toe wedges, drilling holes for braces, or whatever. I supposed because they’re working with the leather, not just stocking leather shoes, there’s a particular smell to the place. I opened the bubble wrap, and for a second, I was ten years old and waiting for a new pair of shoes to be made for me. That smell is now faint, but still there.

Case:
Very nice. Looks like I won’t have to worry about these snaps ripping out anytime soon. I love the smell. I suppose for an official packet for any other ship, the leather would be stained black. Of course, Serenity’s would be brown. I don’t know if the color was intentional. If it was, it’s a great touch. I wonder if the clasp can be opened and the papers removed. I’m not going to try, but I wonder if you could, perhaps to add more autograph sheets at the end, or more “official” papers throughout. (More on that as I go along.)

Trivia: One thing I notice after watching “Safe” the other night is that Mal’s papers (the set he showed the commander of the Magellan, at any rate) had a cheap vinyl cover. Mine are better. I know the history behind that prop, but I still hope QMx sent Nathan a good copy.

Statement of Development:
My copy is #266. Whatever the Serenity Brain Trust is, I want to be on it. I suppose every other fan does, too. I like knowing what number I got. It’s not really that important, but I like knowing. It’s too bad they didn’t do that for the Blueprint Reference Pack. I was one of a bunch of people who clicked that Buy Now button the moment it appeared. I’d love to know how close I am to #1.

Page 1 – Identification & License:
Very official, and very serious. Good. While I enjoy the occasional SF in-joke (such as a ST:TNG screen with planets named Kei and Yuri), I’m happy that I’m not seeing that here. I feel like I could hand these papers to a police officer or port official not familiar with Firefly, and he would probably find them in order (before he had me committed, that is).

Sidebar 2: I work in Software Licensing. While I don’t have any formal legal training, one of my responsibilities is checking over End User License Agreements for clauses that could put the company at risk, such as “all users must provide email addresses to our sales department.” Legal and other “official” documents have a certain feel to them. I’m not sure how else to describe it, but I get that same feeling here.

Anyone notice the wording here: “(special dispensation allowed for officially endorsed Alliance contracts and some Blue Sun contracts)”? Not some “commercial” contracts, but “Blue Sun” contracts. Blue Sun specifically named. There are definite advantages to having a predatory monopoly. As Mel Brooks said, “It’s good to be the king.”

Page 2 – Chinese Documentation & Authorizing Stamps:
One thing I wish QMx had included is a pamphlet giving the English translations of the Chinese text. The detail is excellent, including very detailed background textures, detailed stamps, and ink smudges on the back of the page. The faded ink of the stamps and the fact that they’re not precisely centered in the blocks just makes the document appear that much more realistic. I hope someone somewhere posts all the various stamps, or better yet, makes a “Firefly/Serenity Rubber Stamp Set.” Here’s a question: Does every set have the same stamps, or are there different arrangements out there? I’ve got (in order from the top): Persephone, Osiris, Beaumonde, Newhall, Athens, Jiangyin, and Lilac. Anyone have a different arrangement? Additional Authorizing Stamps pages would be cool as Serenity’s adventures grow.

Page 3 – TG Freight:
I can’t get over how pretty the certificate designs are. My own real certificates for professional accomplishments are like the poor cousins in comparison.

Page 4 – Vessel Description…:
I like the “staple” used to hold the Transfer Certificate. It could have been just any old staple, but it’s not. Another of those tiny QMx touches…

The General Characteristics views are very telling. There was some speculation that the big blue panels were added later by Kaylee. If they were, they wouldn’t be in these views. So, the “solar panels” are standard Firefly Model 3 equipment Also, it looks like Serenity’s shuttles come with the ship.

Sidebar 3: Energy Density: As a civilization gets more advanced, it needs more powerful sources of energy. Fossil fuels are great because you get a lot of energy for a little fuel mass. This is a fuel’s energy density. Fission material has a higher energy density. For our purposes, fusion fuel has the highest energy density, requiring very little fuel to produce lots of energy. Solar power, while being an essentially infinite resource, has a very low energy density (Know Nukes, “Minds, Machines, and Evolution” by James P. Hogan). The solar panel required to power Manhattan Island would be bigger than the state of New York. To power New York State would require one the size of the continental U.S. To power the U.S.? The panel would need to be larger than the diameter of the Earth. Or you could use a few hundred tons of fissionable material, or a few dozen tons of fusion-able material. What about radiation? The next time you visit a coal-fired power plant, run a Geiger-counter over the coal waste piled up in the open air, or bring that Geiger-counter with you the next time you walk through Grand Central Terminal in NY, and run it over the granite walls.

The idea of a long range interplanetary craft like Serenity having solar panels just doesn’t work in the Firefly universe. Solar panels are all very well and good on a rover probe the size of an R/C car, or on a satellite that’s only going to be sitting in orbit taking pictures. They use very little electricity and can be supplied by a panel or two. A full blown manned spacecraft is a different story altogether. For one thing, Serenity is as long as a football field and as tall as a six-story building. Life support for five crew and up to ten passengers. A larger and more powerful computer than the “souped up pocket calculator” that’s on an unmanned satellite. And the list goes on… Serenity is powered by a fusion reactor. I’d be surprised if the solar panels could pull in enough power to run the lights once the ship gets more than a few AU out.”Out of Gas” demonstrated that the solar panels were basically useless.

Page 5 – Isaac Ling Shipyards:
You forgot the Emergency EVA Hatch on the neck. A cool list of stats. It’s as long as a football field and as tall as a six-story building. Yep, I’m definitely going to have to win the lottery if I want to build one – and I do very much want to build one.

Page 6 – Non-Standard Cargo Space:
The only problem with this sheet is that you needed to do more areas – just because I love looking at this ship.

Page 7 – Violations:
Very cool. You included a bribe! How cool is that? I might have to come up with a tighter paper clip, though.

Sidebar 4: Alliance Money: I had intended to do a review of the Bank Heist Money Pack, but I can say just about everything here quickly. When I first saw the money, I was a little disappointed that you just printed the same image on both sides, but then the quality of the printing got me. The image is exactly centered on both sides. You can shine a light through the paper and see. The composite image of the rings in the middle is symmetrical to the eye. It would be nice if our money was this pretty. The paper is thick, heavy stock. Les Howard, on “The Signal,” can fold one up and run it through the wash if he wants to – he did (Oh, the horror!) – but I’m happy with it as is. I don’t need to see if it’s as sturdy as real money. I’m not going to throw my Ship Papers in the glove compartment for five years, either.

All in all, another cool page.

Page 8 – Guild Registry:
A Chinese signature, more cool stamps, and yet another pretty certificate.

Page 9 – Cortex License:
As if Blue Sun wasn’t enough to deal with. Now we have Red Sun, a division of the Blue Sun Corporation. I wonder how many Suns there are. This suggests a day when everything goes over WiFi or the cellular telephone network; voice, data, and navigation. I’m sure there will be doomsayers a-wailing, but I think that will be cool. I wonder how big the beacon actually is, and where it’s installed on the ship.

Page 10 – Decon Verification:
Cool symbols. I’d hate to meet that decon suit in a dark alley, though. I like it that the sheets are different sizes, weights, and textures. I see the stamp ink bled through the back. Nice touch.

Page 11 – Salvage Rights License – Lilac:
I see that QMx is sticking with the “Miranda Map” version of the Verse. I like it, too. I hope Joss makes it canon.

Sidebar 5: I put Miranda in the wrong place when I was describing the Verse in an earlier post. I had placed it in Secondary 4’s system, but it should be in Shen-Yi’s, along with Lilac, and my creation, Bellona.

This is the type of page that I want QMx to send us more of, if we can integrate new pages into our Ship Papers sets. So that eventually, we’ll have salvage rights in the whole Verse.

Page 12 – Salvage Rights License – Beaumonde:
I wonder if everyone else got Lilac and Beaumonde, or if there are other sheets as well. If there are, I want them. Great certificate design. I like the close-ups of the Verse. It makes me want a really big Verse map with more detail. (QMx, you can consider that a hint!)

Page 13 – Crew and Passenger Roster:
A great place for autographs. If there weren’t so few blanks, I’d put my name in the last field, simply to identify this set as mine. To all the collectors out there who just went into fits of apoplexy, no, I’m not concerned with the collector’s value. I don’t sell my stuff. I want to keep it neat and in the best shape I can, but I don’t buy a toy that I’m not going to play with. Hey, QMx, send me another sheet for more passengers (autographs) so I can put my name on it or at least my “Library Of” seal. That way, I won’t be so nervous about taking it to conventions with me.

A great set, one that I’m happy I bought, and I’m happy to recommend to others.

Equally Terrified

I decided last November when I renewed my lease that this was going to be the last year that I rent. I was going to start looking for a house. Well, after looking through several publications, and sifting through about six dozen houses on Listingbook, I narrowed my search down to about a half a dozen candidates. Imagine a doublewide trailer with a basement and brick siding, and that's mostly what I was looking at. A typical first-time home buyer's first house. My dad paid around $13K for his first house back in 1964. The ones I was looking at were only slightly larger than that (not including the basement) and over ten times the price. The median price was around $160K. My fiance, Lisa, sent me a paper with about a dozen houses that she liked, circled. Under one of them, she wrote, "I know you're going to love this one!"

So, we started looking at houses. Inside, they looked like they did on the outside. Simple unimaginative floorplans, small bedrooms, cramped halls, dark rooms, little or no storage space, no basement, or basements that were little more than high crawl spaces. Postage stamp sized yards. And then we looked at the one she pointed out.

Three bedrooms, three and a half baths, a den and a living/dining area, finished basement, a kitchen with new appliances, easy access to two different attic spaces, a big utility room, a good-sized work room off the den in the basement, four decks (front door, living/dining, master bedroom, second bedroom), six sliding glass doors, vertical wood siding, two fireplaces (den, living room), hardwood floors, a laundry room on the same floor as the bedrooms, a damned near symmetrical outer appearance that matches my screwball sense of design, and six-tenths of an acre sloped so steeply that the house looks (from the back) like a mini ski chalet on the side of a mountain.

I loved it the moment I walked in the door. Lisa said that she'd feel like the Queen of Sheba living there. And then I walked into the kitchen. Woodwork with a dark reddish-brown stain, cabinet doors that closed tightly and opened easily, dark green countertops, green and grey tiled backsplash, adjustable lighting under the overhead cabinets, brand new white appliances (they looked new to me), more cabinet space than my kitchen and Lisa's kitchen put together. In short, it was wonderful.

And about $20K more than I thought I could afford.

So Lisa and I sat down, pooled our incomes, and started working the numbers. It would be like when I first moved into an apartment. The end of the month paycheck was rent, the other was everything else. Here would be the same. It would be tight. It would take one paycheck to pay the mortgage. The other would have to cover everything else, but I could do it. With Lisa added in, we'd be fine.

But just to be sure, I'm going to start canceling subscriptions that are on my credit card. I can do without it all, but I'm going to miss Warcraft.

So yesterday, I made them an offer about 10K less than the asking price. My realtor said that my terms were very reasonable, and felt that they'd be accepted. And my stomach has been one knot after another ever since. I don't think I've ever been so scared. I wonder if Mom & Dad were this terrified when they made an offer on their first house.

Well, they had a better offer. Since I worked out the numbers at the full price, I authorized my realtor to go as high as that and stop. She said she'd get back to me, hopefully by 9:00.

It's 10:30. My stomach, which had calmed enough for me to eat my first meal in over 24 hours, is in knots again. I can't figure out which scares me more: that they'll turn down my offer, or that they'll accept it.

I'm equally terrified of both outcomes.


Review Response

Andy Gore, at QMx, sent me a multi-page response to my review of the Blueprint Reference Pack. I wanted to post it in its entirety, but Andy said there were some things in it that were confidential. So I sent his response back to him and asked him to mark red anything that he didn't want posted. I'm still waiting to hear back. When i do, I'll post Andy's response, edited as requested..

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Review Error

My apologies to QMx. I had assumed that the Series 1, 2, 3 Mil., and 4 drawings were recycled cast-off pre-production art from the series and/or movie. Turns out that they're new art for the reference pack. Here's an excerpt from an email from Ben Mund at QMx:

"...And for the ref pack, none of that art was recycled preproduction stuff; it was all brand-new art commissioned directly from Firefly designer Tim Earls. Tim's a busy guy, so QMx had to work within his schedule. And rather than get a single alternate version in several views, they opted for several versions in a single view..."

I'm sorry about that assumption, Ben. And I understand the reason for getting a single view of each variant. I just want more. Of course, if the reference pack were 50 pages, I'd still want more. That's definitely a point in your favor.

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I’m an architecture buff.

Sidebar 1: The first book I ever bought with my own money (without running up to my father, book in hand, and saying, “Hey Dad, buy this for me!”) was the 1976 edition of “Architecture: Residential Drawing and Design” by Clois E. Kicklighter. It is one of my all-time favorite books (but I didn’t give it a name), and I buy every new edition as it comes out. If anyone is interested in picking up a copy, the title changed with the recent edition. It’s now called “Architecture: Residential Drafting and Design.”

I love designing houses, and drawing blueprints and diagrams. As a young trekkie and SF buff, I liked drawing spaceships. When I got older, I still drew spaceships, but then I was “designing” them, not just drawing them. (Yes, I was still drawing spaceships.) As a trekkie, I collected just about every blueprint pack or tech manual that I could get my hands on. Official licensed work or illegal copyright-violating fan publication. The end result was what I was after, not the source of the material. There’s a lot of great stuff out there, from the Constitution Class Blueprints by Franz Joseph Designs, to the unlicensed reference books by Jackill Productions. There’s a lot of crap, such as the fan-produced Saladin Destroyer Blueprints that are nothing more than a bad photocopy of the Constitution saucer plans from Franz Joseph, with a warp nacelle badly photocopied onto the dorsal; to the Rick Sternbach “official” 1701-D blueprints that show XXX placeholders still in the specification lists, rooms with no doors, and corridors that start and end without going anywhere.

I just mentioned the Star Trek Blueprints because there are so many. But a determined fan can find blueprints of many ships from SF: the Millennium Falcon, the Eagle Transport, the C57D, etc. So it was a given that I would pick up the Serenity Blueprint Reference Pack when it came out. (I missed the larger 10-page set.) I love this set. Even after going through it many times, I’d buy it again in a heartbeat.

I felt it necessary to say that up front because I think many readers of this review will get the opposite impression later on. Included in the following paragraphs will be some thoughts on spacecraft design in the firefly universe and SF in general, and other random thoughts generated by the material in front of me. Having said that, let’s get started…

Relics of the Saints:
I liked the introduction. I should be so lucky that someone as well-known as Orson Scott Card would write a preface to my work. The article is an excellent read, just like anything else by Card. There is, however, a small problem with the content. The article goes on to say that the Serenity is a historical artifact, and that the crew are heroes. While the captain and crew did some amazing things in the movie, there shouldn’t be an escalation through the sequels. The great thing about Firefly wasn’t that the crew of the Serenity was saving the universe on an episodic basis. The great thing was that they were simply trying to make ends meet. That’s something we can all relate to. Kirk saved civilization, but never had to pay a fuel bill. Sheridan fought gods, but never had to put food on the table. Janeway always talked about rationing resources and trading for parts, but these were always background elements. By the time of Archer, Earth was a paradise. From the start of the series, the very first episode of Firefly – the opening story designed to hook the viewer – was about getting enough money to keep flying. The crew aren’t heroes – they’re real people.

Sidebar 2: Don’t believe me? Mal is the Viet-Nam vet who couldn’t re-enter peacetime society after rotating back to the world, who talked about taking NVA soldiers up in a helicopter and kicking them out the door one-by-one until one talked. Zoe is the neighbor who was out looking for survivors and organizing rescue efforts after Katrina and Rita. Wash has his own plane, talks about flying all the time and has pictures of aircraft all over his house. Jayne is the survival nut that always has a gun in his truck, a confederate flag in his front yard, and he’s more than a little scary. Kaylee is the mechanic that I always ask for at the Lincoln-Mercury place who can barely read or write but can fix anything right the first time. Inara was the girl in high school whose make-up, manners, and clothes were always perfect, who made you feel underdressed and awkward every time she entered the room. Book is the preacher who taught little league, who used the bible as a source of wisdom instead of as a cudgel. River was head of the chess club, class valedictorian, took the best notes, and always knew the best way to explain a difficult problem. Simon is the guy who spends too much time at the office, whose idea of dressing down is a polo shirt and creased jeans, who has no idea what to do with himself at a crawfish boil, and is the only one not covered in bits of shellfish by the end of the evening. I know all of them. And so do you.

Serenity Dedication Plaque:
Beautiful, but too big. A dedication plaque from a Star Trek ship has a bunch of cool but useless junk on it, such as listing Gene Roddenberry as the head of Star Fleet. Lists of names and titles, in addition to the ship name and a silly little saying. It needs to be blown up so you can read everything. But the Serenity plaque could have been a quarter of its current size and still be clear enough to read everything on it.

So what else should we put on this sheet if the plaque is a quarter of it’s current size? How about all those Serenity logos on Sheet 11? That’ll give us a sheet that we can put something else on.

Port Outboard Profile:
What can I say? Absolutely fantastic views. I love this ship. The detail is fantastic. I liked seeing the ship without the engine so that I can see the detail of the side of the ship. I liked seeing that there are two landing positions, including one for loading. And the scale drawing showing the shuttle, hover mule, and a person. I had no idea that ship was so big! I still want to build one in my front yard if I win the lottery, but it’s going to cost about twice what I was thinking. I see that QMx used the ramp design from the movie. I think they should have put in the ramp from the series as a side drawing, “pre-upgrade” perhaps.

One detail that I question: The big blue panels scattered around the ship are listed as “solar panels,” but I seem to remember them being identified as after-market heat exchangers, possibly added by Kaylee. That would explain why they’re not symmetrically placed. Their position also suggests their responsibilities: The two P/S below the wings could handle the cooling of the cargo bay/infirmary/passenger dorms. The panel portside above the shuttle birth could handle the cooling for the lounge, while those P/S on the neck covered the crew’s quarters. I wonder if the main parts of the ship’s computer are on the bridge, behind Wash’s station. That would explain why there are two there.

Starboard Outboard Profile:
Once again, the detail is fantastic. One note of thanks: These are the first drawings that I’ve seen that have an EVA hatch at the base of the neck (used by Jubal Early, but missing from just about every other depiction of the craft). Great catch, guys!

Ship Operation Speculation 01 – Reactor Vent Cover: The operation of the main engine was described as an engine that produces its combustion behind the ship. The engine design that occurred to me when I heard this was the old Orion design from the ‘60’s. In the Orion, very small atomic bombs were jettisoned through a thick armor plate at the rear of the ship, and detonated. The shockwave from the blast propelled the ship. From the descriptions I’ve heard, Serenity’s engine works in a similar fashion, by containing some sort of fusion combustion just behind the ship. I presume that the glow is gravity generators running on high to create a “reaction bottle” effect. My speculation is that when the reactor vent covers are open, their flower-petals-like positions help shape the “bottle.” I wonder if the engine ran less efficiently after one of the covers broke off at the end of “Serenity.”

Page Error: The ship’s landing gear folds up, but not completely into the body of the ship. The surface of the gear foot acts as a “landing gear door” and should have been visible at an angle. Instead, all that’s there is a dark space, as if the landing legs from the previous page were simply erased from the drawings on this page.

Bow and Stern Elevation:
My readers are probably going to tire of me going on about how wonderful the detail is, so I’ll quit while I’m behind. Detailed views of the side engines. The plans list those as the main engines, but I feel that Serenity’s interplanetary drive is its “main engine.” I see that the artists remembered to show the bottoms of the landing gear feet. Great shot of the extended Shuttle Deployment Arms.

Ship Operation Speculation 02 – Shuttle Landing/Take-off: I seriously doubt even Chuck Yeager could land one of Serenity’s shuttles in its extended berth on the fly. I’ll bet that as you’re coming in for a landing, the computer takes over and handles the final approach. I’d also bet that the shuttle’s computer also handles the first second or two of take-off, until the shuttle is clear of the ship.

Here’s the first real problem with the plans. There’s some added detail, not mentioned in the series or the movie (always very cool). But while the artists have added detail, it is at a cost. They have added “thrust bypass doors (open)” but failed to label the two small fins at five and seven o’clock that were not added by QMx. On top of that, they’ve added a “maintenance position” showing the engine mounts pivoting down 72 degrees while leaving out the “landing position” with the engines pivoted down 90 degrees. On top of that, they show the engine having rotated 90 degrees on its mount. They’ve added a track for the magnetic gripper (seen in the Ventral Surface Plan View), but that’s all. How did that unlabeled inside fin get on the other side of the engine mount as the engine spun on its axis? And what about the thrust bypass doors? How did they pass through the mount? Come to think of it, since it looks like the engine mount is flush with the side of the engine, there doesn’t appear to be room for the magnetic gripper track, either.

It was great of them to add the idea of a “maintenance position” to make access hatches easier to get to, but there are views that we needed that are missing. We need a view (probably bow-on) of the Serenity landed, with landing gear deployed, and engine mounts pivoted down to landing position. I’d like a side view as well, but the bow view is needed. We need a view (probably also bow-on) of the Serenity in a take-off or landing mode showing the engines in VTOL position with the magnetic grippers disengaged and the engine deployment jacks retracted out of the way.

Sidebar 3: Anyone remember the CGI “trick” used in the series that showed the engine deployment jacks “bent” out of the way instead of simply pulled back?

Dorsal Surface Plan View:
I want to build this ship in my front yard so badly, I can see it in my mind as though it were already built – and it’s views like this that fire my imagination. The yellow/black warning stripes at the shuttle berths and the red “no step” labels help make this ship seem like an actual aircraft. I disagree with Les Howard’s speculation that the ship would need gravity screening because the engine pivots wouldn’t be strong enough to hold the weight of the ship. I think they would. After all, they are on the V-22 Osprey, and this would be the same thing with a jet-like engine instead of a propeller. I would make the engine mount pivot arms a little thicker, though.

Possible Plan Error or Ship Operation Speculation 03 – Solar Panel Mount: The solar panels seem to be mounted onto the hull with one central shaft and no other means of support. I keep seeing turbulence getting under the panel and twisting/ripping it off of its single mount. Each panel should be fixed to the hull in several places instead of just one post in the middle of the panel.

Ventral Surface Plan View:
Yet another great view. Lots of shiny detail. I wonder if the “Cargo Bay Landing Pad(Retracted)” is a throw-away detail added because one of the original design ideas (later scrapped) was that the main cargo bay was a detachable module. Great close-ups of the landing gear. Always love reading the “vital statistics” of a ship. One of the things that I love about Serenity’s design is that it looks like someone like Boeing or McDonnell Douglas could actually build one and that it would fly – if on side engines alone until someone invents its pulse drive.

Forward Cross-Section:
And here we are at my favorite part of any ship blueprints set: the cross section. Here’s where we get our first good idea about how detail-oriented the artists are. And these sheets don’t disappoint. There are so many things I want to talk about here. It’s nice to know that there are restrooms aboard. Finally get to see what’s behind the door next to the bridge gangway. And to see where the other ladders leading down into the mid-deck go to. I was expecting there to be more quarters, as the RPG suggests. I want to know what a “cooling drive” is. I love it that QMx spread the cross section across two sheets. This view must be almost overwhelming in the larger poster set. Consider me most appropriately envious of anyone who has the big set.

Ship Operation Speculation 04 – Main Deck Slope: In a “Signal” interview with QMx, the designers talked about how they had to slope the main deck through the ship’s neck to make it fit inside the hull. When it was pointed out that the floor of the set didn’t slope, someone (I think it was Les Howard) suggested that the artificial gravity in the neck could be oriented perpendicular to the deck, so you’d feel as if you were walking on a flat surface. It sounds nice, but it doesn’t work – not for ship operation reasons, but for crew comfort. Here’s why: As you step off of the bridge gangway onto the main deck, your feet and eyes will tell you that you’re stepping onto a downward slope of five degrees (assuming my protractor was lined up correctly). You’ll instinctively shift your weight back. As you enter the new gravity plane, which is pulling straight down relative to the deck, your center of gravity is going to be over or possibly behind your heels, while your head will still momentarily be in the first gravity plane. You’ll stumble or fall backwards as your inner ear fights the change in gravity. The same thing will happen at the bottom. Your head and inner ear will enter the new plane angled five degrees forward, and tell you that you’re falling forward, so you’ll lean back, pushing your center of gravity back to your heels again. The same thing will happen sideways whenever you enter or leave the crews’ quarters. Their decks are flat, with respect to the rest of the ship, and that makes them five degrees off from the deck above. As you enter or leave a crew quarters, you’ll always feel for a moment or two like you’re leaning to far left or right.

The best thing to do is make it a slope and get used to walking up to the bridge and down to the lounge. And when Serenity II comes out, make the set sloped to match the plans.

Aft Cross-Section:
As stated many times before, fantastic detail and beautiful artwork. I know… “Here we go again. Chris is going on ad nauseum about how great the artwork is and how much detail is there.” I can’t help it. I seriously got my money’s worth. I absolutely love this set.

Two small concerns: The grav dampeners under the decks are not under all the decks, and they seem too large to be in a number of places. Are those devices simply dampening the effects of acceleration or are they the source of each deck’s artificial gravity? And, it looks like some of the passenger dorm doors are backwards. I’m interpreting the thickened area of dark red to be the handle of a sliding door, with the handle on the sliding panel. If that is the case, then the panel of the door that slides is too far from the ladder (front top dorm), and not at the top of the stair (rear dorm).

And The BIG Mistake: I’m sorry guys. I know I’m going to get yelled at for this, but come on! I guess I’m the only Firefly/Serenity fan in the Verse who would want to lay the forward and aft cross sections together to show a complete run of the ship. Even having the sheets side by side when bound is fine. But to print the two on opposite sides of the same sheet of paper is a mistake that qualifies for the title of boneheaded stupidity. Again, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be unkind, but anyone can see that arranging these images so that they cannot be seen side-by-side, bound or unbound, was a bad move.

Endo/Exo-Atmospheric Shuttle and Main Deck Plan:
I’ll go ahead and say up front that I think the deck plans should have been the same scale as the cross sections. It was really cool to see a blow-up of the bridge, but there should have been blow-ups of the lounge (especially the lounge), and the engine room. I always got the impression that the shuttles were on the same level as the hatches inside the cargo bay. I think that was what was intended, but it doesn’t work with the shape of the ship. That’s fine, like the neck deck sloping.

The views of the shuttle are great. Nice to see everything labeled. Again, love the details and artwork.

Ship Operation Speculation 05 – Folding Wings & Landing Gear: One thing that’s missing here is a label saying where the shuttle’s main engines are. From the looks of the drawings, it looks like the wings fold out of the engines, because that’s about where I remember the engines to be. I would like to have seen a diagram showing how the wings swing because it looks like they’re too long to fold completely into the body. I like it that QMx drew the bottom of the shuttle with a curve to it. The bottom always seemed flat to me in the show. I would add a very small folding landing strut to help support the nose.

MF-813 Flying Mule and Mid-Deck Plan:
I have to say that I didn’t really care for the flying mule. I mean that from a purely aesthetic viewpoint. I would have preferred something a little more shapely and pretty, but that’s just me. QMx’s drawings of it are great.

The views of the crews’ quarters and shuttle interiors (especially Inara’s) should have been double-sized, like the bridge.

One thing I really wanted to see here was a better diagram or explanation on how the shuttle egress works since the shuttles are docked higher up than the shows suggest. Also a question: Does Serenity refuel the shuttles from onboard tanks, or do the shuttles have to make fuel last from fuel station to fuel station just like Serenity?

Ship Operation Speculation 06 – Interplanetary (Pulse) Drive Construction: I originally thought this might be a plan error, but it’s definitely not QMx’s fault if it is. From the outside, the interplanetary drive seems to be the whole ship behind the gravity rotor, but we know from the plans, both here and in the DVD feature “Serenity: The 10th Character,” that the engine room, infirmary area, and passenger dorms are inside this “bulb.” So what IS a pulse drive? Going from what I see here, I think a pulse drive is the main reactor, radion accelerator core (Kaylee’s “beating heart” as Early put it), and an array of gravity “projectors.” The design of the Firefly makes the pulse drive look huge, like fully a third of the ship, but we know from the plans that most of the drive is just exterior components laid onto a bulb-shaped shell that’s essentially hollow inside. This would support “The Signal’s” speculation that the actual combustion takes place behind the ship. The ship ejects a small amount of fuel through the Primary Thruster port. Then the Gravity Projectors (inside the Reactor Vents) create a gravity “bell” nozzle. The fuel is constricted by the Gravity Projectors until it fuses, like a mini-hydrogen bomb. The gravity bell directs the exhaust like a rocket nozzle and the shock wave pushes the ship forward. When the main drive is running, the back of the ship glows like a firefly’s butt. The shape / angle of the open Reactor Vent Covers help refine the shape of the gravity bell.

Plan Error: I was surprised by the blank areas on either side of the main reactor. QMx didn’t clutter my views with pipes, wiring, structural members and other mundane stuff, but they showed me where the water tanks were. They showed me Kaylee’s dress. They showed escape pods (do they look too small to carry even one person or is it just me?). But they left these two great big blank areas on the sides of the reactor. What should be there? I don’t know, but I’d put the fuel tanks there.

Lower Deck Plan and Transverse Cross-Section:
Have I mentioned that I love cross sections? I may well be an idiot, but I’m still confused by how you get from the mid deck to a shuttle hatch. I wonder what the Gravity Wave Amplifier does. There was speculation on “The Signal” (yes, I listen to “The Signal” a lot) that it cancelled the acceleration effects produced by the interplanetary drive. I hope that’s not the case, because the passenger dorms are behind it.

On this sheet, we have two more views of the bridge. If you count, that makes five views of the bridge, four at double size. Yet the cast and crew all said that the focal point of the show was the dining area. As with the other main areas of the ship, the infirmary, waiting area, and passenger dorms should have been double sized. Also, there needed to be an explanation / added diagram showing the dorm arrangement.

Ship Operation Speculation 07 – Gravity Rotor: The gravity rotor spins clockwise around the main body of the ship (looking aft). Friction from the rotor bearings would cause the ship to have a slight counter-clockwise roll (again, looking aft) much the same way that a helicopter tends to spin opposite the direction of its main rotor. Ideally, there should be some counter-rotating ring to balance the rotor, like the tail rotor on a helicopter. Since all the views in the series and movie have shown the apparent lack of a counter-rotor, the roll will have to be dampened another way. The easiest way would be to angle the main engines slightly. In normal level flight mode, the starboard engine nozzle would angle down slightly, producing a very tiny upward thrust; while the port engine nozzle would be angled up, producing a very tiny downward thrust. Considering the mass difference between the ship and the rotor, the angling of the engines would be so slight as to be almost invisible to the naked eye – probably no more than a second or two of arc. And, no, I haven’t done the math (that’s River’s job). I’m just speculating.

Serenity Insignias:
These are all very cool. I would have arranged them around the Serenity dedication plaque on page 3 (I’m counting the cover as page 1).

Builders’ Plaques and Warning Labels:
This is a great bit of detail. Thanks for including these. This is like the “No Step” labels earlier. I love seeing stuff like this. It always helps the ship feel like a real place. I know several people who have scanned the warning labels, made stickers out of them, and covered their laptops. I want to as well, but I have a Mac and I don’t want to mar the clean white shell. (Yes, I know, very superficial of me. Sorry.)

Bridge Display Screens - Systems Status, Proximity Scan, Planetary Scan, Celestial Navigation:
These are all beautiful. And to think that I used to think that ST:TNG’s “Okudagraph” panels were the coolest control panels in SF. Michael Okuda does great work, but you topped him. Now all I need is a diagram of the pilot’s station to see how they all fit together. (Which would make bridge diagram #6, after I griped about having five. But this one needs to be there. It ties all the displays together, like the cross sections bring the decks together.)

Trivia: Anyone notice that the Emergency EVA Hatch in the neck of the ship is missing from the ship on the System Status Display?

Airtight Doors:
I keep picturing this happening at QMx: “A sheet devoted to airtight doors? Yeah, cool! … That would be nice … Well, OK I guess … Ummm … Why?” Just to fill a page, I guess.

How about Kaylee’s name painted over her door, or a section of the stencil she used to paint the dining area? A close-up of the panel that Early used to lock the crews’ quarters? How about a diagram of the radion accelerator core with parts (such as the catalyzer) labeled? We’ve got views of the hover mule, but what about the first mule?

Endo/Exo-Atmospheric Shuttle / MF-813 Flying Mule:
These pages are a waste of space. QMx took three of the six views of the shuttle, and two of the three views of the hover mule, and simply blew them up to fill the pages. Despite the fact that the new images are larger, they’re exactly the same, with the same level of detail as the smaller images. Larger images should have added smaller details but there are none here. On top of that, they removed all the labels, so there’s actually less information and nothing new except one insignia on each page (which really should be on the Serenity insignia page instead). The retracted wings of the shuttle still look too short to be the same wings that fold out, and they still seem to fold out of the main engines. The hover mule is still ugly, even though QMx’s rendering of it is as beautiful as the smaller version. What am I saying? It IS the smaller version, just expanded. It should be a better, more detailed rendering, but it’s not.

Firefly Advertisement:
A beautiful poster. Great job, Andy & Ben! As an aside, it looks like you forgot the emergency EVA hatch on the neck.

Doing The Job:
What a great article! I wish it were longer. I’m definitely going to incorporate the information within into my historical speculation. The COR-VUE page mock-up is very pretty. Great job, guys!

Series 1, Page 1:
Another very well designed page, and more great historical information. Well done!

Series 1, Page 2:
There’s a time-honored fan tradition of taking rejected pre-production art, slapping an “alternate version,” “model 2,” “special variation,” etc… label on it, and then trying to incorporate it into the “official” universe. This is a fan tradition that desperately needs to be put to bed. Permanently.

Guys, this is a “blueprint reference pack.” If you’re going to say, “Here’s a Firefly, Series 1 (or whatever).” then please do it right: side elevation, plan view, bow and stern elevations, and a centerline cutaway. If you still want to use the rejected pre-production artwork, put that in the center of the page at about 1/3 the size and arrange the diagrams around it. You don’t have to give me deck plans. That would be cool, but this is about Serenity. The extra ships are just icing on the cake.

Boost Your Boat:
I loved “Boost Your Boat” in the podcast. Thank you VERY much for the transcript. And another great page design.

Series 2:
See “Series 1, Page 2.” That covered it.

Series 3 Military, Page 1 “Honest Austin’s – Yard Log”:
Another great bit of “historical” data, and good page design. I have to admit though that I found the handwriting font a little difficult to read at times – but that’s just my eyes.

Series 3 Military, Page 2:
Once again, my entry under “Series 1, Page 2” applies. Except here, it’s worse because making an armed Series 3 is not only going to change the outward appearance. It’s going to change the internal layout as well. There really should have been more that the single sketch.

Series 4, Page 1:
Another great page layout. Every time I see a layout like this, I want to click the tabs and icons. I definitely want “More >>”. Love the technical details and the engine cutaway.

Series 4, Page 2:
This page, like the Series 3 Military, also demonstrates the sheer inadequacy of tossing in a relabeled rejected pre-production idea as the sole item on the page. The complexity of the Series 4 design cries out for more diagrams. Having only the one sketch is a real letdown.

Second Firefly Advertisement:
And we’re back to the high-level QMx quality with this final piece of artwork on the back cover. I know I didn’t say anything about the front cover. (It’s great. An excellent sampling of the art and detail within.) But the back cover deserves special mention because it’s another great layout that makes me want to click the tabs and call a Firefly sales rep. I want one in the worst way.

I still think the Enterprise from “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” is the most beautiful ship in science fiction, but it’s a sculpture. It’s a piece of art from a utopian future that “just works” without showing or explaining how. The Enterprise is a religious argument in the form of a spaceship: “Don’t ask how or why. Just accept that it works. It works because we say it works.” But Serenity is fully functional. You can see how it works. You don’t have to take anything except the gravity control on faith. Except for the gravity control, we could build one now. I can just see them lined up outside the Lockheed-Martin plant in New Orleans. (They make the shuttle’s external tank, and have a facility big enough to make fireflies.)

And this reference pack helps make that vision so crystal clear. A dynamite effort, and worth every penny. I know I’ve said some negative things in the previous paragraphs, but QMx can rest assured that I’m still every bit as insanely jealous of everyone who got the big set, and I am VERY happy with this pack. If I can’t talk my brother into getting one, I’ll get it for him.

Now if I could just convince QMx to make expansion packs to add to this one…

Bellona Today

Olympia lost some of its glory during the Unification War, but except for some sporadic banditry by disaffected groups, the War passed Bellona by. An uneasy peace existed between the scattered outlying towns, who were pro-Independent, and Olympians, who proclaimed themselves Alliance to the last man.

The two or three mining and processing town have grown to over a dozen. The corporate town of New Firefly has the only remaining assembly line making the Firefly 3A. Firefly Shipworks tried a Model 5 briefly, but moved on to other designs and the name “Firefly” went from being a model to just the brand name. Even though there are newer ships with better capabilities, the 3A is still selling enough to justify its production.

Rural towns dot the landscape. Bellona’s soil seems to be good for just about everything: wheat, corn, rice, soybean, tobacco, grapes, even sugarcane. People say that any man who can’t earn a living on Bellona may as well dig himself a hole and lie down.

Bellona was at peace.

Until a small time transport captain broadwaved proof that the Alliance government caused the deaths of 30 million people and the creation of the most feared creatures in the Verse, casually wrote the whole thing off as nothing more than a “terraforming incident,” and then covered it up for a decade, leaving tens of millions of people wondering where relatives had gone.

The corporate towns have mounted weapons that they denied having onto their surrounding walls. The small wilderness towns are quiet and fearful. Homesteaders have shot at strangers simply because they were just that. Riots and demonstrations in Olympia have paralyzed the city. The spaceport closed after several bombings and a crash. The Alliance’s surveillance net either doesn’t work at all or works too well depending on the depth of your pockets. Ordinary citizens are brought in for questioning, seemingly at random, and then disappear. There’s a huge wreck partially submerged off the coast of the smaller northern continent that some say is a derelict space ark. If it is, it's in surprisingly good shape for a half-mile-long ship that made an unpowered and uncontrolled landing. Others say it’s an alliance cruiser that made a forced landing when its crew mutinied. No one is saying, and the wreck is off limits to all – even Alliance, it seems.

So, what happens now?

Blankets and Hatchets and Maybe a Herd

Most likely, there will be three origins of a colony: government sponsored, corporate sponsored, and private.

A government-sponsored effort will have all the trimmings: pre-designed modular towns or cities, a fully functioning spaceport, a stocked hospital, and a carefully balanced population. The settlers won’t be set down willy-nilly, but according to a plan. It’s important that the colony work, more for political reasons than humanitarian ones, but those are important, too.

A corporate-sponsored colony effort will be after something specific. The settlement assembled on landing will exemplify that. Lots of mining equipment, big fishing fleet, more factory equipment, something along those lines. The hospital will be more of a large sickbay than an actual hospital. Schools for children won’t be bothered with until there are children, and then will most-likely be just a little inadequate. The spaceport will be more of a multi-craft loading dock than an actual spaceport. If a visiting ship isn’t making a cargo run, it may be directed to land away from the spaceport so that corporate shipping is not delayed. Settler accommodations may be more like dormitories than homes. The town may be laid out inside a walled enclosure like a stockade or fort – not to protect the people, but to protect the investment. In a company town, the senior executive is probably also mayor. Your rank in the town’s political structure may have more to do with your position in the company than any election would decide. What happens, I wonder, in a corporate town, if you get fired? Is there anything else you can do? Do you get deported, or perhaps just tossed out into the wilderness?

The trouble comes with the private settlement. Here’s where “blankets and hatchets and maybe a herd” comes in. Most likely, this colony is a recipe for disaster. Hopefully, someone in the Verse will assemble a team of consultants and experts whose job it is to plan colonization efforts, the Colonial Consultants of Bernadette, or CCB. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with someone like David Koresh or Reverend Jim Jones hauling a few hundred gullible followers halfway around the Verse to some isolated spot so he can play Garden of Eden. “The Lord will protect and provide…” I wonder how many dead colonies there are in the Verse. I’ll bet even a successful colony like that is barely hanging on by its fingernails. The Triumph Settlement is probably a good example of that. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I looked at their clothing and mannerisms and heard Saffron’s description of life in Triumph, my first thought was Old Salem, here in Winston-Salem, or perhaps Colonial Williamsburg.

But for the fun of it, let’s put all three on Bellona. The government will stake out a section of a canyon that’s wide and flat, with a slow-moving river running down the center. Probably one of only a few parts of the canyon where the river isn’t a raging rapids-filled torrent. Since this planet originally looked like Mars, the canyon is Lowell Canyon. The city? Olympia. The primary spaceport will be built on the flats just outside the canyon.

Considering the proximity to an asteroid belt, and the profitability of asteroid mining, a mining consortium will build a few towns around ore processing. While they can use the main spaceport, they’ll each have their own, with cargo handling designed for those specific ores and minerals shipped in by the asteroid miners.

Due to the popularity of the Firefly Model 3, the Firefly Shipworks decides to start a new assembly line and company town on Bellona. Advance order for the 03A-K64-Firefly make this town profitable before the first foundation is even staked out. How will the 03A-K64 differ from the older 03-K64 from a couple decades ago? Very little. Same ruggedness, same shape and size. Some slightly smoother lines, and updated electronics, but nothing more. The failure of the too-large Model 4 taught the board of directors a very important lesson: don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg by trying to force it to be a swan.

And of course, this is a new planet with millions of square kilometers of unmapped wilderness. Homesteaders looking for a new start, separatist groups looking for isolation, and simple folk yearning for a slower paced lifestyle will head out into the wilderness. Some will thrive, and some will die. Time passes.

And so, here we are on Bellona today.

Just How Big Is Your Moon?

Here’s a few common places to give you an idea how big (or small) these worlds will be after we’ve made them as close to Earth-That-Was as we can:

Earth = 510,072,000 km² total area, with 70.8% water
148,940,000 km² land

To make calculating land area easy, let’s say that and average terraformed world will be 70% water. As specific moons or planets are created by the various writers out there, they’ll have different proportions based on how that writer wants that world to look. But this will give us a starting point

Rhode Island = 3144 km² (smallest US state)
North Carolina = 139,389 km² (included simply because I live here)
Alaska = 1,717,859 km² (largest US state)
Ceres = 2,835,287 km² (smallest planetoid deemed suitable for terraforming)
U.S. = 9,826,630 km² (a single large country on Earth-That-Was)
Moon = 37,930,000 km² (a large moon)
Mars = 144,798,465 km² (a small planet)

So, let’s say that the Triumph Settlers are looking for someplace out of the way. I’m sure early on in the history of the Verse, some head of the Colony and Settlement Office decides that there should be a wide variety of bodies terraformed so that all the people aren’t on the same rock. After all, if the terraforming goes bad, what do you do with all these people if none of the other planets are ready? So, at first, there were probably some planets and moons terraformed but left essentially empty. The Triumph Settlers find such a place and move down. Since they have the largest (and possibly the first) “real” population center, they get to name the moon. And it becomes Triumph. But how big is it? Let’s say that it’s a very small moon, Ceres-sized. Seventy percent of Triumph’s total surface area is water. That still leaves 850,586 km² of land. That’s about half the size of Alaska, and bigger than Texas. It’s a sure bet that while they may have the largest “official” population center, the chances that the moon has no one else on it are ridiculously small.

We said that Bellona was Mars-sized. Rounding off the numbers gives us 144,000,000 km². Assuming 70% water leaves 43,200,000 km² of land, more than the total surface area of the Moon and just over four times the area of the United States. Using the U.S. population as a guide, this suggests that Bellona could eventually support a population of about one and a half billion people.

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