Being a treatise on VSF and Mars, and on 19th Century colonial warfare in general

(with a nod towards Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan, lest I take myself too seriously)

Monday, 18 May 2015

Martian Vehicles, or Do Martians Dream of Reliant Robins?

Another of my long-term projects has been to work out how Martians get around the place.

Walking is an option, naturally, as is riding the ubiquitous gashant or in a ruumet brehr howdah. I could also see sedan chairs and palanquins being good for those who could afford it.

There's liftwood for cloudships and screw galleys obviously - where would Space:1889 be without it? There are boats on the canals, and the large ruumet brehr-drawn wagons of the Wagon Masters of Meroe are legendary.

But how are the bulk of people and goods transported? Ruumet brehr wagons are (I'd guess) too big to get through most city streets. Your average rich merchant might be happy to ride in a howdah on his ruumet brehr, but he won't get astride a gashant to cross the city for a meeting - it's just so barbaric and last millenium, don't you know. Palanquins might be good for carrying ostentatious princelings (and rich merchants), but they're not much use for moving goods.

For smaller items handcarts, wheelbarrows and carry poles would work fine. But what about larger loads?

Some form of gashant-drawn carriage or cart makes sense, but how would they work? OK, confession time: I'm no expert on hitching horses, far less gashants. My experience of horse-drawn transport is pretty much limited to being driven round tourist locations at eye-watering expense.

But if I was willing to allow such a lack of qualifications stop me, why would I have started a blog in the first place, eh? So here goes!

I don't think you could put a single gashant between the shafts of a carriage or cart. Its bipedal gait may make it lurch from side to side, but that could perhaps be ignored - ostriches seem to move pretty smoothly. The bigger problem is probably the tail - think of the beast stretching forward; its tail coming up level behind it as it picks up speed, and whirling around as it changes direction (think of a cheetah cornering in full chase mode). How can it do that between two fixed shafts? Gashants side-by-side in traces might also be a problem as they would have to be a long way ahead of the cart to keep their tails away from the front wheels. Wouldn't that make control and steering a lot more difficult? And how do you stop the traces interfering with the tails?

A two-wheeler like a Hansom cab might be workable, perhaps with a single long shaft curved high over the rump of the Gashant. The wheels are set towards the rear of the passenger compartment, so are out of the way of the tail. I see the shaft as the weakness in this design, needing it to be strong whilst keeping the weight to a minimum. It should still be workable as a light cab, but it's not a means of moving goods around a city due to the difficulty of getting the weight distribution right for a single-axle vehicle.

Maybe a three-wheeler would work? (Yes, gentle blogee, that's where the Reliant Robin comes in, with due posthumous apologies to Philip K. Dick.) The cart would be somewhat boat-shaped, with a solid keel extending between the pair of draught-gashants, with the "hull" curving up sharply from the keel and out over their rears. Presumably the driver's position would be in the "prow".  The single front wheel would be secured to the keel and be somewhere between the pair of gashants - probably at a level just behind their feet - and shrouded to prevent their tails being caught up. The rear wheels would be on a heavy axle towards the rear (stern?) of the vehicle, but not too far back in order to take some of the weight off the front wheel.

In fact five wheels would be better for load distribution, but this would make any cornering much more difficult unless you introduce some steering (and thus complexity) to the forward pair.

Then there's the question of what gashant tack would look like. (I know, I know, I need to get out more.) You probably need something similar to a horse collar, but would it fit round the relatively narrow shoulders of a gashant, or in front of its much heavier hips? The latter would make more sense to me (for all that's worth!), but how would it be secured? Perhaps it's a cushioned inverted U that is permanently fixed to a high central shaft, and is secured below the beast's belly by straps. (And I shall not speculate here on the existence or location of male gashant external reproductive organs.)

Of course it might be easier to posit some form of domesticated quadruped (or hexaped!) that doesn't get a mention in the Space:1889 canon, which can use wagons very similar to those on Earth, but that's no fun at all. (Or did I miss one?)

That's several solutions looking for a problem that exist only in my own imagination, I know, but it's cheaper than therapy any day :-)

Am I talking total nonsense?  Has anyone out there seen or come up with better ideas on how to keep Mars moving?


PatG said...

If we stay within canon, most occupied dwellings are fairly close to the water. Water taxis and small barges would likely move most cargo and passengers around the city.

I think your harnessing options have merit but like you I am no expert. We have different harnessing arrangements for horses, bullocks, dogs and even goats, I am sure the Martians will figures something out for gashants.The final options would be pack gashants or porters - the Romans ran an empire using manual labour for dock to door delivery.

Clive G said...

I suspect you've got it spot on re the towns and cities, Pat. I know everyone thinks of their roads when you mention Romans, but, as you say, it was sea and river transport that allowed the Empire to function.

This malarky actually kicked off when I was trying to work out how artillery was moved about the place so I could add some models for them.

Thanks as always for responding.