The Astrographer’s Holiday List

Happy Festivus everybody. Now is the time when we’re all trying to come up with presents for the geeks and nerds in our lives. Some of us, being the geeks in question, are simply looking for answers to that age-old question, “So. What present would you like to find under the tree/aluminum pole/etc. ?”

Here are some of my suggestions.


Kindle Fire by Amazon. Obviously an excellent tool for reading. Also an excellent all-around tool. A good calculator app is a must!


World-Building (Science Fiction Writing) by Stephen L. Gillett. I have this one and it is wonderful. This book dates to 1996, very early in our observation of actual extrasolar planets, but it is still very useful. My own copy is very dog-eared and I regularly refer to it to this day.

Aliens & Alien Societies: A Writer’s Guide to Creating Extraterrestrial Life-Forms  by Stanley Schmidt. This one is about a year older than World-Building, though I acquired the book quite a bit later. Focusses, as the name implies, more on people, specifically non-human sorts. Less technical than World-Building and slightly older, but as the field of xenobiology has undergone a bit less of a revolution over the last twenty years(we’ve observed a lot more planets than aliens, after all) it is even less dated. Quite a bit on writing about alien characters, and a nice chapter on alien language make it an excellent way to jog the imagination.

The Planet Construction Kit(also in Kindle) by Mark Rosenfelder. Another one I have. Gets much more into the nitty-gritty of creating maps and histories for your world. Less technical detail than World-Building, but the two books are wonderfully complementary to each other. I really wish Mark Rosenfelder, Geoff Eddy and Chris Wayan would collaborate on a world building book. All the technical angles would be very well covered and between Rosenfelder’s instructions on how to draw pretty asian girls and Wayan’s instructions on how to draw pretty furry girls, you’d pretty much have the artwork on any planet inhabited by “humanoid” species well-covered.

The three books above I consider necessary and sufficient to any conworlder’s library.

The Language Construction Kit(also in Kindle) by Mark Rosenfelder. I don’t have this one, but I’ve certainly read his shorter and presumably less in-depth online Language Construction Kit. That experience led me first to deep interest in and later to purchase of the Planet Construction Kit referenced above.

GURPS Space Fourth Edition (GURPS: Generic Universal Role Playing System). The planet design sequence is pretty up to date and detailed if a bit hard to follow. I found it of greatest use as a guide to my own world design sequence. My own GURPS house rules use elements of 4th and 3rd edition Space as well as GURPS Traveller First-In. As much as I’d like to rake in the advertising fees for selling this book through Amazon, it’s kind of expensive(for some value of “kind of”). I’d suggest getting a used copy or, better yet, go to Warehouse 23(or get a digital edition). First-In is available from Amazon(really expensive), or from Warehouse 23(digital edition, only).


Astrosynthesis v3.0 from NBOS Software. I’d love to put up an Amazon link to this, but Amazon only carries the elderly version 2.0 of Astrosynthesis, and even that is currently unavailable. Strongly recommended by Constantine Thomas(Evil Doctor Ganymede). It’s a very extensible tool for displaying 3d starmaps. I generally use a Mac and avoid Windows except when absolutely necessary, but if I ever have any money this is at the top of my priorities for software acquisition. I’m really looking forward to trying out that Plot Jump Route script.

On the other hand it looks like Amazon does carry Fractal Terrains 3 which is a new development. Quantities are pretty limited, but the price is currently good at US$32.85, compared to US$39.95 directly from ProFantasy. The price seems to fluctuate from day to day…

World Machine. Sadly, not available on Amazon. Still, damn attractive. An excellent tool for generating very controllable noise-based terrains. Quite a few vector-based tools to control the shape of the terrain and pretty advanced erosion tools.

Daylon Leveller. Again, Amazon fails me, here. The Photoshop of raster-based editing and creation of terrains(the best tool I’ve found for this). This one also has a good selection of vector-based terrain manipulation tools and some fairly basic erosion filters. It also has tools to place 3d objects like vegetation, rocks, and artifacts on the terrain controlled by shape fills and strokes. Nice.

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