The Lowline – An underground park and lab for hard sci-fi writing.

Concept:

“The Lowline is a plan to use innovative solar technology to illuminate an historic trolley terminal on the Lower East Side of New York City. Our vision is a stunning underground park, providing a beautiful respite and a cultural attraction in one of the world’s most dense, exciting urban environments.” Lowline project
How fitting a name in answer to the already popular High Line of NYC.

LowLine_ConceptArt1

 

I have been an early supporter of the Lowline and finally donning my Kickstarter Tee shirt, I had the opportunity to visit the Lowline Lab down on Delancey & Essex.  As I emerged from subway and walked the streets of this lower east side, it was not hard to imagine what the city must have been like years ago in this lost quadrant of time, with its polished grit and scattered markets of low rise buildings.   I must admit, as a NY’er, we tend not to travel much from quadrant to quadrant–my own being Hell’s Kitchen.  In a peculiar way, NY’ers mimic so many of the dystopian sci-fi societies we read about, siloed into self-contained communities reminiscent of Hugh Howey’s Wool series.

LowLineIf you are not careful, you will breeze by the lab’s opening with its undressed foyer of concrete floors, black curtains and little else.  I was greeted by a smiling volunteer handing out cookies and eagerly willing to answer questions about this fantastic project.   There is a collection jar for donations, cool Lowiine stickers for my already crowed MacBook cover and pamphlets of the project.   Then it was time to follow the exhibit where you step behind a curtain and read a few stationary billboards about the history of the site, the project, designers… and yes… contributors 😉  LowLine_Supporter

LowLine_tech

 

The technology is fantastically simple yet highly complex and elegant.  It concentrates the light from above and shoots it down tubes where reflectors receive and disperse the light onto ceiling tiles that seem to be as organic as the plants they feed.

LowLine_CeilingPortDon’t try to look into the light source from above–it is blinding and more powerful than any spotlight I have ever seen; so bright it seems powered in this dark space.  Click on the image to the right for a better look as it enters from the ceiling. I was amazed at how much light showered onto the lab exhibit from one source.  IMG_1178This technology should be used in every building in NYC.  For about the first ten minutes, I observed the technology.  It was as beautiful as it was technical, making sure to diffuse the light evenly yet spot certain areas to accent and showcase the living lab, making it easy to forget that these plants have not seen the outside in almost a year.

LowLine_Exhibit

For about the next half hour, I enjoyed the exhibit, studying the plant varietals and the design of cascading layers of plywood adorned with mosses, bromeliads, Rattlesnake plants, stick plants, etc.   During the second round of the LowLine_HangingPlantsKickstarter campaign, my contribution awarded me the opportunity to pick a plant LowLine_Display(Rattlesnake plant) and give it a name–which I chose Nori, after my protagonist in an upcoming sci-fi novel called Silversides.  Eventually, I will get to pick where in the lab and where in the finished Lowline underground park, Nori will take up permanent residence.  I found this a IMG_1180bit ironic because my protagonist, Nori, was named after a seaweed and for my love of Phycology–study of seaweed– as a former marine biologist.  However, the snakeplant was so beautiful and does reflect a slight attribute of my protagonist.  I am looking forward to one day seeing Nori in the Lowline Park of NYC.
It was easy to get lost in thought and during my visit, something very profound hit me.  As a writer of hard sci-fi, what better a place to study the technology of living under artificial means?  I thought back to all the novels I have read, where societies lived under ground or were tucked away in star ships for generations in space, but very few of those stories ever really brought out the true mechanics of living away from natural light.  Sure, the locals are described beautifully but most of the feeling I got as a reader was the longing for being back in natural light.
Standing in the Lowline Lab provided me with a real-life experience I would not have received otherwise.   I stood there with my arm outstretched into the splash of light, it was cooler than I thought it would have been and the earthiness of the air around me was absent.  Yet when I looked up into the main source of light coming through the ceiling, it was blinding and the thought of reaching into that beam projected images of my hand being vaporized.  That’s when I felt the tap on my shoulder, “It’s time to leave,” she said.  “Come on… let’s go outside…”
I am going to suggest to the Lowline they set up some WiFi, power strips and writing nooks for writers in the Lab/Park.  I will see if there is any equipment I can donate from a few companies I know.  This is and will be a working lab for not only the project of the Lowline, but for any hard sci-fi writer.  Try and get to the Lab before March and Don’t miss this opportunity to get involved in this project–it is truly fantastic.
Click here to donate.  It is free to enter the exhibit and well worth the trip.  While down in this area, visit the Essex Market for some fantastic eats.

Location:
140 Essex Street
(between Rivington and Stanton Streets)
Lower East Side – New York City
Subway: J/M/F Essex Delancey Street

Hours:
Saturday and Sunday
11am – 5pm
Free and Open to the Public
October 2015- March 2016

Excerpt from Silversides – Chapter One

Chapter One – Arrival (Draft) 

Kelp.jpg

Chapter One: Gliese 581 Solar System – 2132

Far below the rolling swell of the Monterey Bay where the endless trawl of current hooked along the ocean floor, a giant kelp began to lose its grip on the weakened shale, each surge tearing away at the finger-like tendrils holding it in place, each tear drawing out the Garibaldi hidden among the kaleidoscope of shadows around it. With a final surge the kelp ripped free, igniting a flare of bright orange flashing through the dapple of sunlight, the Garibaldi’s powerful beaks snatching the limpets which rained down through the cloud of trailing silt, their brittle shells snapped in half.

Nori had been diving nearby when she heard these sharp clicks radiating around her, a trigger that it was time to rise.  She exhaled through her artificial gills she followed the stream of bubbles rising and crawling along the cave ceiling, ushering her out into the open water and toward the neon light from above.  Nearing the surface her gills began to sputter and her breathing became labored as if drawing air through a straw. Low oxygen and high carbon dioxide levels in her bloodstream appeared on her oculars, a dangerous mix she knew her body would never feel and where blacking out could happen without notice.

Kicking and clawing her way upwards, she broke through the surface and pulled the regulator from her mouth, gagging on its chase of tendrils that slipped greasily from her throat. 

After thirty years aboard the starship Hoshi Akari, Nori Matsui was the first of her crew to be awakened by a custom dream applet.  She sat patiently until her breathing settled, taking caution not to scratch her pupils with her carbon-tipped fingernails as she peeled away the paraffin from her eyes.   Unclothed and suspended above a bath of orange cryoGel she could only see the starbursts of neon blue that lined her bay; beyond the neon was blackness.

The Correlation Engine and Intelligence Lab aboard the Hoshi Akari, known as CEIL, brought the ship’s lighting up to a golden hue to simulate the surface lighting on Dykazza, the planet they were orbiting, where the red dwarf sun cast a permanent twilight over the surface.