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I.N.S.S. MacArthur

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Inspired by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s novel The Mote in God’s Eye.

This is my own visualization of MacArthur, an evolved representation of the ship I saw in my minds-eye on my first reading of the novel—clearly a radical departure from the usual depiction of the spacecraft as a design-variant of *AMT’s Leif Ericson model.

The ship I envisioned was informed by MacArthur’s role as a Second Empire warship tasked to implement Imperial policy. Set against the backdrop of Jerry Pournelle’s  CoDominium future history, the logic of her design is driven by the specter of the Secession Wars which had wreaked civilization across hundreds of worlds.

The weight of Pournelle’s history is conveyed within the first four pages of Mote in God’s Eye and expanded upon by all further description.

Niven and Pournelle set the tone with descriptions of worlds plunged into savagery and dark ages as a consequence of those wars and others laid completely to waste to prevent the reigniting of further conflict. The scenes which set the tone for me were the reflections of Rod Blain as he rode one of MacArthur’s landing-boats down to the surface of New Chicago:

“They were over mountainous country, and he saw no signs of war. There hadn't been any area bombardments, thank God.  

It happened sometimes: a city fortress would hold out with the aid of satellite-based planetary defenses. The Navy had no time for prolonged sieges. Imperial policy was to finish rebellions at the lowest possible cost in lives-but to finish them. A holdout rebel planet might be reduced to glittering lava fields, with nothing surviving but a few cities lidded by the black domes of Langston Fields; and what then? There weren't enough ships to transport food across interstellar distances. Plague and famine would follow.

Yet, he thought, it was the only possible way. He had sworn the Oath on taking the Imperial commission. Humanity must be reunited into one government, by persuasion or by force, so that the hundreds of years of Secession Wars could never happen again. Every Imperial officer had seen what horrors those wars brought; that was why the academies were located on Earth instead of at the Capital

—Commander Roderick Blaine’s reflections in descent over the just surrendered rebel planet New Chicago, from The Mote in God’s Eye.

MacArthur described in the pages of Mote in God’s Eye is a warship capable of reducing the habitable surface of a world to glittering fields of lava. I’ve equipped MacArthur with the missile launch capacity to accomplish such a task, along with batteries of laser-cannon, particle-beam weapons, and CIW turrets as might be required.

Niven and Pournelle proposed that MacArthur could refuel by scoop-diving in the atmosphere of gas-giant planets, so I’ve outfitted her with rather large scoops—personally I’m dubious of scoop-diving the atmosphere of a gas giant as a technique for refueling … however since composing this post I have seen some technical material that makes good argument that scoop-diving is technologically feasible. Still the following considerations apply: hydrogen is annoyingly low-density, many high speed passes ramming through a gas giants atmosphere would the ship have to make in order to take on a useful amount? How deep would she have to dive? Certainly she would need to vent the useless atmospheric gasses which undoubtedly would be present in the atmospheric mixture. These being immeasurable factors—I designed the scoops large, and I rather like the effect.

For stability during atmospheric scoop-diving I gave the ship a rather large circular-wing, my hand-wavium engineering team assures me this is the perfect place for mounting the primary wave-guides for the Langston-Field and the Alderson drive, along with an extra four primary (and four secondary) battery of laser cannon. My rule of thumb on this being: If it’s important (meaning your life depends on it) you better have at least two – if it’s going into combat, you’re better off with four. This dovetails rather nicely with the first rule of government contractors everywhere and in every time: “Why settle just one when for merely twice the price you can build two?”

Which leads us to …

MacArthur’s Armament:

Missile Batteries: 220 Launchers total.

Four Bow-mounted Missile Batteries: 24 Launchers.
Four Main Missile Batteries (dorsal, ventral, port, starboard): 196 Launchers.

Laser Cannon: 288 individual cannon arranged in eight main and secondary batteries.

Four Bow-mounted Batteries of 72 cannon.
Four Wing-mounted Main Batteries of 180 cannon.
Four Wing-mounted Secondary Batteries of 36 cannon.

Neutral Particle Beam Cannon 4 (I crafted my model along the same lines as the SDI system pictured on this page from Winchell Chung’s Atomic Rocket’s site: Particle Beam Weapons) Because these tend to be rather long weapons, having an accelerator and out-bound emitter path (kind of bent in a “U” shape) you can recognize them on the model due to the height of the turret above the hull – necessary to provide clearance to incline the weapon.  In this view there two are fully visible, one being positioned on the dorsal surface center-line rear of the flight-bay, and one starboard center-line low on the flank due to the rotation of the model in this image.


Commentary on the Matt Jefferies design.

The unfortunate fact of the Leif Ericson model is that its design reinforces one of the most hackneyed motifs in science fiction – the absurd notion that space is like an ocean, so the decks of spacecraft might be laid out like those of an ocean liner. The forward submarine-like sail coupled with the flattened-whiskey-bottle profile, regardless of Matt Jefferies intentions, reinforce the idea. (Don’t misunderstand; I enjoy Star Trek as much as the next guy – but from a design standpoint, it’s just wrong.) From Star Trek to Firefly virtually all of television SciFi gets this wrong. Even if some loop-hole in physics results in technology to simulate the force of gravity (other than thrust or centrifugal spin) engineers will never design spacecraft with decks laid out in this fashion for the simple reason that, should your magical gravity-generator fail while the vehicle is under thrust, all of your wide and broad decks will suddenly become vertical cliff faces down which your brave crew will tumble like “bags-of-mostly-water” to “splat” messily against the rear bulkhead.  

I’ve reduced the forward sail (a feature of Matt Jefferies design on both the Leif Ericson and the Botany Bay). On the Leif Ericson design I can (well almost … but no, not really) see the utility of the feature, MacArthur rotates on her long-axis to generate centrifugal gravity, and that forward “neck” on the Leif is rather narrow—meaning it would be in zero-g under spin—my MacArthur is a large cylinder in cross-section, and so the feature does not serve the same purpose. I almost omitted it entirely (forcing the choice to depart from the text of a novel that is hands-down, the best first-contact story ever written—a choice I was unwilling to make). The secondary purpose of the space, as a damage-control station, saved it: I arranged seven large EVA locks (large meaning each one can accommodate four to six space suited engineer’s and their gear and a couple of “space-taxies”) around its base, because the need for damage-control extends even to those many systems mounted on the hull (including the hull itself (Imagine the grousing of the engineers tasked to perform repairs out on the hull during combat: “What do you mean it’s dangerous? Its combat—of course it’s dangerous!”)). I reduced the height (it extends only two levels above the main hull) and moved it back to forward edge of the hanger-deck. Captain Blain’s watch-cabin now occupies its forward compartment, overlooking the bow.    

*AMT’s Leif Ericson model. Most know the background: Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle used AMT’s plastic model kit Leif Ericson as a starting point to both constrain, and help formulate, their ideas about the design of MacArthur. The Leif was designed by Matt Jeffries who created the starship Enterprise for the original series, and the Botany Bay for the Star Trek episode “Space Seed.”

In 1968 Jefferies was contracted by AMT to create the Leif Ericson, a story pamphlet, included with the original model kit, filled-in the back-story of the Strategic Space Command universe and the role of the Leif  as an Explorer class ship.  Jeffries design was later considered to fill the role of the starship Pegasus for the never realized television series War of The Worlds.

Note: These tasty bits of back-story courtesy of Winchell Chung’s Project Rho site, Leif Ericson models page, here: Leif Ericson Models. I highly recommend the page for its array of Leif Ericson designs as interpreted by a number of remarkably talented artists.    

Coal Sack/Hooded-Man figure is a composite of my own air-brush painting in Photoshop enhanced with selected crops of Hubble, Spitzer, and *SDO images.


M42 Post-Coolant, Courtesy NASA/JPL
Messier 78, Courtesy NASA/JPL
The Sun via Solar Dynamic’s Observatory, Courtesy NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Stock Resources:


Related Images:

Coal Sack, New Caldonia, Murcheson's Eye, & Mote


MacArthur:New Caldonia Orbit

Starship Fixture Design


The Langston Field Effect: Descent to Fire

*Solar Dynamic’s Observatory
Image details
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© 2014 - 2021 William-Black
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GalacticRimRunner64's avatar

I love the "Moties" books and seeing another design take on MacArthur, especially with your reasoning behind the decisions you made. Nice work.

Endorfinator's avatar

This is an absolutely amazing design and I love how you incorporated harder sci-fi design principles into the ships. The Coal sack is stunning and even better than I've ever imagined it. I have a question about the weapons, do you know what wave length and how much energy the laser cannons are at?

BuffyFoster's avatar
I really liked that novel and the sequel; I think you did a really good job of visualizing it. :)
"I SEE YOU!!!" The picutre has something creepy to it that can be really quickly turned into something lovecraftian.
William-Black's avatar
That the coal sack nebula and the paired red giant and yellow dwarf stars look like a hooded man with a single glare red eye is a point exploited in The Mote in Gods Eye novels by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. I've presented (in severely compressed form) an extensive quote of the introductory story, see my post Motelight.
VMJML1er's avatar
AlfaEdi's avatar
Vumpalouska's avatar
Very beautiful. And damn, that armament is pretty damn heavy o__O
ClockworkEros's avatar
A very convincing imagining.  The Lief Ericson model is beautiful (I had one as a youngster) but, as you say, impractical.  Your design is much more likely, IMHO.  Well done!
spacewolflord's avatar
A lovely picture for a great book.
frazamm's avatar
Looking at the thumbnail it seems as if there is a hooded figure watching from behind McArthur with a glowing red eye. First time I noticed it. I wonder if it is intentional ...
William-Black's avatar
In the novel The Mote in God's Eye The Coal Sack is a nebular mass of gas and dust with the shape of a hooded figure, small as such things go—eight to ten parsecs thick—but dense, and close enough to New Caledonia (the planet central to the story) to block a quarter of the sky. The Coal Sack hid most of the Empire, but it made a fine velvet backdrop for two close, brilliant stars. One is a red giant named Murcheson's Eye, the other a yellow dwarf called 'The Mote."

The novel is a tale of first contact, one of the finest ever written. There is a back story to the two Mote novels which first first appeared in Galaxy Magazine, January 1976 as part of a longer work titled “Building The Mote in God’s Eye.”  I have included an excerpt on my image Motelight, which you can read here Motelight.

The back story, in brief: Hundreds of years before the story setting interstellar war swept across the New Caledonia system, the two terraformed planets in the system, New Caledonia and New Scotland respectively, took opposing sides in the larger war sweeping across the Empire. The conflict was long and bitter and eventually even civilian transports were used as the military forces of each side battered the other, as a result all interplanetary and all interstellar spaceflight ended and technological civilization fell, not just in the New Caledonia system but across a large swath of the several thousand worlds that comprise the First Empire in Jerry Pournelle’s  CoDominium universe.

Many hundreds of years pass before star ships again return to the New Caledonia system, the surviving populations descend into primitivism.

In the last days of the war an alien civilization on the Mote launches a piloted light-sail towards the New Caledonia system using thousands of asteroid based laser cannon, the coherent light nearly outshines the red giant. In the intervening centuries all knowledge of astronomy, along with most detailed knowledge of science is lost. The natives of New Caledonia come to believe that the hooded man nebula is god, and the advent of brilliant green laser light blasting from The Mote represents the moment "god" opened his eye.
Eventually The Mote aliens turn the lasers off, and this precipitates a crises, as the followers of the religion come to believe their "god" has closed his eye and abandoned them.
William-Black's avatar

Removed a whole section of comments by deviant C-195 who apparently wanted to critique Niven and Pournelle’s novels without ever having bothered to read them. The commentary on the page, or anything else. Great big waste of time. Comment’s like these get chucked in the bin, that’s my policy. I’ve left my final comment and a list of resource links for those interested in space combat, you know, for those who like being informed. Key word: Informed.


Your comments are welcome, just don’t be C-195.  

William-Black's avatar
At this point the discussion is going beyond the context of this particular post. It sounds like you want acquire a working knowledge of realistic hard SF space combat. Kudos for you in that regard! I can only encourage you to pursue that goal. Nothing will serve better toward that end than to study in depth the material available on Winchell Chung's Atomic Rockets site. Winchell's site can offer you a firm grounding in the science, physics, technology, along with the bonus insights of individuals such as Dr. Luke Campbell who has a background in nuclear physics and extensive knowledge of lasers, along with frequent contributor Ken Burnside who has extensive knowledge of space combat, weapons technologies, and tactics.
In particular I recommend the following links:
On the introduction page to space warfare Winchell Chung recommends Rick Robinson's Rocketpunk Manifesto. Specifically: As to "range" ...

The total amount of velocity change a rocket has is ΔV, and can be thought of as the total fuel in the tank; while you won't stop when you run out of ΔV, you won't be able to slow down at your destination, either. [Ken Burnside, The Hot Equations]

Warships in the CoDominium universe are ISRU capable. Designed to scoop mine the atmospheres of gas giants for propellant. There are two paragraphs devoted to this in the caption text above. It is a major detail of the spacecrafts design.

You have not read the books, and apparently you have not read my detailed notes, which is well, more than slightly disrespectful and wastes my time. You say "I'm actually more content to research the technology presented therein than actually read them ..."

Good luck researching what you have not read.

Circular conversation with someone not interested in the subject is of no interest to me.

I do my best to encourage creators to be well informed, but I cannot help those who will not avail themselves of the material offered.

Marrekie's avatar
Very nice design. I'm a big fan of both books :)
William-Black's avatar
Thanks, much appreciated.
AJTalon's avatar
My favorite depiction of the INSS MacArthur, for one of my favorite scifi novels ever. Tell me, do you intend to make an orthographic projection of her and possibly the Lenin?

Or indeed, will you draw the Crazy Eddie probe at some point?
William-Black's avatar
Thanks AJ, much appreciated.

The Mote novels are certainly among my favorites and there is no doubt I will revisit the subject again at some point, as for now I have no specific plans, but each of the ideas you mention have interesting possibilities.
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