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

Far below the rolling swells of the Monterey Bay, a giant kelp began to lose its tendril grip on the weakened shale, each surge tearing away at the holdfast, each surge drawing in the Garibaldi that schooled nearby.  With a final tug the holdfast ripped free and the Garibaldi charged out from the shadows, their bright orange scales flashing against in the emerald waters as they picked off the limpets tumbling through the silt, their thin calcium shells snapped in half.

Nori had been diving nearby when she heard these snaps, a trigger in the back of her mind it was time to rise.  She looked up at the starburst of light filtering down through the golden canopy of fronds and began her ascent along the towers of kelp.  Without warning, her regulator began to sputter and readings of high carbon dioxide displayed on her ocular implants; she was running out of air.  With her arms stretched upward she clawed her way through the surface, her hands reaching to pull the regulator from her mouth, gagging on its arm-length of tendrils that slipped from her throat.

Gliese_581gAfter thirty years aboard the starship Hoshi Akari, Nori was the first of her crew to be awakened by a personal dream applet.  She was lying on her back, suspended above a bath of orange cryoGel, deaf and blind to the universe around her.  She waited until her breathing settled before scraping away the paraffin covering her eyes.  Stretched above her was the lid to her cryoPod with its rim of emerald lighting and the criss-cross of golden  stanchions lining the ceiling beyond.

Nori was brought to a sitting position by the Correlation Engine and Intelligence Lab, known as CEIL; the ship’s AI and handler for the crew. She looked down at her legs to see the droplets of orange cryoGel begin to pool on her skin and drip back onto the carbon plank and through the mesh below.  She shook her head of fine white quills and the droplets scattered like a dog shaking its coat; her reflexes noticeably faster than she remembered.

A tingling swept across her scalp and she knew CEIL was reaching into the wetware of her implants.

CEIL? Nori streamed.

Yes, Nori, CEIL replied, its voice female, caring, as if whispering into her ear.

Where are we? Nori streamed.

We are maintaining a stationary orbit of 3.8624+5 km from Dykazza. The year is 2132, June 17th, 15:11:11.  We are 22.238 light years from Sol with a time dilation of 9.175 Earth years..

Nori let out a sigh as the rope of tension began to unwind; their ship was exactly where they were programmed to be.

CEIL. What is our ship’s status? Nori continued to stream as she removed the remaining paraffin covering her ears..

Our ship’s ballast was detached and tethered successfully.  Rotation has been set for 1.5 Earth G.  My infrastructure, life support and backup systems are nominal.

Nori paused to take this in.

CEIL.  Were there any problem records during the journey? she streamed.

There was one problem record, CEIL reported without a sense of worry.  PR-0001occurred during your cryoGenesis period; a primary raceway telemetry interruption occurred on September 22nd, in the year 2123 at 21:04:45.  My root cause analysis had identified a Q-bit allocation drift, which has been corrected.

One incident in thirty years—Impressive, Nori thought.

CEIL. What’s the status of the crew? she streamed.

CryoGenisys was successful on all six crew members, CEIL responded. Four crew members remain under my handling and their bays are opening now, but I have just received a trap alert from cryoPod 581.02, crew member, Rhodes.  It appears there is an intermittent failure to the set timer during the load of 581.02_av_progDA.  His awakening app has aborted.  His condition is stable, but below thresholds for our bioSketchers to level out homeostasis.  He will be entering a state of autonomic hyperreflexia in eighty-eight minutes unless he can receive physical assistance, which is beyond my capabilities.

There was nothing Nori could do until she and her crew were on their feet.  She tapped the palm of her hand against her temple, hoping to shake way the silence in her ears.  Still nothing and she felt alone in the universe.

CEIL. Bring up some music please, Nori streamed.

Your selection, Nori?

She hadn’t thought about that. What would she listen to after all this time.

Shuffle my playlist, psyChill, she streamed.

CEIL randomly selected a track from her playlist and rolled up the volume, just enough to shave off the the emptiness around her.  A musical piece called, Who We Were by Ryan McShae began to play with its soft plucks of the cello and the solitary notes of a piano.  It was a reminder that Earth was now, and forever would be, nothing more than a memory.