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Stellar Law, Part I

25 Sep

While working on the first draft of an asteroid miner story about a year and a half ago, I started thinking about the kinds of laws we will need for working, traveling, and living in space. A little bit of research led me to Maritime Law, which governs civilized behavior on Earth’s oceans, particularly once people are outside national coastal waters. Maritime Law, due to its nature, is international law; just as stellar law (off planet, yet within our solar system) should grow to be more than just Earth-based, particularly once people begin to live on Mars, on asteroids, or one of the moons.
So I took the Wikipedia article on Maritime Law and fiddled with it a bit. What follows is the first section of a future encyclopedia description of stellar law:


Stellar Law/Solar Law/Space Law

Stellar Law (also referred to as Solar Law/Space Law) is a distinct body of law which governs space questions and offenses. It is heavily based on Admiralty/Maritime Law. Space law is a body of both domestic law governing space-going activities, and private interstellar law governing the relationships between private entities which operate vessels in outer space. It deals with matters including solar system commerce, navigation, shipping, astronauts and other space workers, and the transportation of passengers and goods through space.

Stellar law also deals with navigational rights, mineral rights, jurisdiction over planetary defense zones and interstellar law governing relationships between planets.

Although each legal jurisdiction usually has its own enacted legislation governing astronomical matters, space law is characterized by a significant amount of interplanetary law developed in recent decades, including numerous multilateral treaties.

Features of stellar law

Maintenance and cure

The doctrine of maintenance and cure is rooted in the Article VI of the Rolls of Oleron promulgated in about 1160 A.D. The obligation to “cure” requires a space vessel owner to provide medical care, free of charge, to a person injured in the service of the vessel, until the person has reached “maximum medical cure”. The concept of “maximum medical cure” is more extensive than the concept “maximum medical improvement”. The obligation to “cure” a person includes the obligation to provide him or her with medications and medical devices which improve his or her ability to function, even if they don’t “improve” his or her actual condition. They may include long-term treatments that permit the person to continue to function well. Common examples include prostheses, wheelchairs, and pain medications.

The obligation of “maintenance” requires a space vessel owner to provide a worker with basic living expenses while convalescing. Once the injured worker is able to work, he or she is expected to maintain himself or herself. Consequently, an injured worker can lose the right to maintenance, while the obligation to provide cure is ongoing.

A vessel worker who is required to sue a vessel owner to recover maintenance and cure may also recover attorney fees. If a vessel owner’s breach of its obligation to provide maintenance and cure is willful and wanton, the vessel owner may be subject to punitive damages.

Personal injuries to passengers

Space vessel owners owe a duty of reasonable care to passengers (for a broad overview of this theory in law, see negligence). Consequently, passengers who are injured aboard space vessels may bring suit as if they had been injured aplanet through the negligence of a third party. The passenger bears the burden of proving that the vessel owner was negligent. While the statute of limitations is generally three years planetside, suits against space owners, including cruise lines must usually be brought within five years to allow for communication difficulties in the depths of space. Most Earth-based space cruise line passenger tickets have provisions requiring that suit to be brought in the Earth city from which the cruise departed.

Stellar liens

Banks which loan money to purchase space vessels, vendors who supply space vessels with necessaries like fuel and stores, vessel workers who are due wages, and many others may have a lien against the vessel to guarantee payment. To enforce the lien, the vessel must be arrested or seized. An action to enforce a lien against a space vessel must be brought in the court of the planet or authority which licensed the vessel.


When property is lost in space and rescued by another, the rescuer is entitled to claim a salvage award on the salved property. There is no “life salvage”. All spacefarers have a duty to save the lives of others in peril without expectation of reward. Consequently salvage law applies only to the saving of property.

There are two types of salvage: contract salvage and pure salvage, which is sometimes referred to as “merit salvage”. In contract salvage the owner of the property and salvor enter into a salvage contract prior to the commencement of salvage operations and the amount that the salvor is paid is determined by the contract. The most common salvage contract is called a “Lloyd’s Open Form Salvage Contract”.

In pure salvage, there is no contract between the owner of the goods and the salvor. The relationship is one which is implied by law. The salvor of property under pure salvage must bring his claim for salvage in court, which will award salvage based upon the “merit” of the service and the value of the salvaged property.

Pure salvage claims are divided into “high-order” and “low-order” salvage. In high-order salvage, the salvor exposes himself/herself and his/her crew to the risk of injury and loss or damage to equipment to salvage the damaged vessel. Examples of high-order salvage are boarding a tumbling vessel in an asteroid field, boarding a vessel which is on fire, raising a vessel from a comet, or towing an uncontrolled vessel out of a gravity well. Low-order salvage occurs where the salvor is exposed to little or no personal risk. Examples of low-order salvage include towing another vessel in “empty” space, supplying a vessel with fuel, or pulling a vessel off a stellar body which has a non-hazardous orbit. Salvors performing high order salvage receive substantially greater salvage award than those performing low order salvage.

In both high-order and low-order salvage, the amount of the salvage award is based first upon the value of the property saved. If nothing is saved, or if additional damage is done, there will be no award. The other factors to be considered are the skills of the salvor, the peril to which the salvaged property was exposed, the value of the property which was risked in effecting the salvage, the amount of time and money expended in the salvage operation etc.

A pure or merit salvage award will seldom exceed 50 percent of the value of the property salved.


Heads Up (& Together)!

4 Sep

The Orlando Science Center is hosting the Orlando Maker Faire on September 13 and 14. This faire celebrates do-it-yourselfer scientists and garage tinkerers. Just the pics of featured makers and their works could spark a number of writing ideas. If nothing else, check out the work of featured maker E-Nable, a team of over 800 volunteers who design and 3-D print prosthetic hands for children — for less than $50!

Here’s the link:

Book Review: “Aliens and Alien Societies”

21 Mar

I just finished reading Stanley Schmidt’s book Aliens and Alien Societies: A Writer’s Guide to Creating Extraterrestrial Life Forms,  published by Writer’s Digest Books in 1995.

While the book is older, the basic concepts are valid. I wondered at first about the soundness of his overviews in the areas of biochemistry and astronomy. Then I read his chapter on language. Since my personal background is in linguistics (a master’s degree from USC), I felt competent to judge the accuracy and breadth of that overview. “Alien Language” is probably as good an introduction to the problems of human-alien communication as one can do in 15 pages. While I wish Schmidt had referenced Suzette Hayden Elgin’s Native Tongue trilogy or included examples from some of the very strangely structured Australian aboriginal and Amerindian languages, I have to give him kudos for covering the basics a sci-fi writer would need to know to not totally butcher the language issue.

I also give Schmidt bonus points for explaining why a “universal translator” is an impossibility in first contact situations.

One of my favorite features of this book is Schmidt’s use of published short stories and novels as examples to prove various points he makes. Since the book was published almost 20 years ago, many of the short stories are now available online for free, and I enjoy reading them. Here is a link to one of my favorites, “Microbe” by Joan Slonczewski:

In the final chapter, “A Xenologist’s Bookshelf,” Schmidt lists references that may prove helpful to aspiring science fiction writers. I will check out one that should help me calculate the “goldilocks” zone for planets circling different star types because I’m not sure I did it right for my current work-in-progress.

Because of the book’s age and the fact that the science is 20 years out of date, I don’t think I would pay the $15 Amazon suggests for a hard copy or the $10 for an e-book. I found my copy at McKay’s used bookstore for $2, and consider it a deal. If you could find this book used or at a library, I recommend picking it up, as it is definitely worth reading.

Much, much later —

20 Mar


That interruption lasted much longer than I initially thought it would.

I wonder why I find it so difficult to get back into the habits of a writing life after a break. Why do I allow so many other things – from urgent to trivial – to seduce my attention away from writing?

I continue to attend the Chattanooga Writers’ Guild meetings because the company of other writers inspires me. I read blogs by fellow writers for the same reason.  Tracy Cembor is proving particularly inspirational these days. [ See ] If she can manage a paragraph or two while her newborn naps, surely I can write multiple pages while my teens are at school!

My new goal is five pages of notes or prose each week day. We’ll see how that goes….

NaNoWriMo, Interrupted

24 Nov

Life is what happens when one is making other plans, or so the saying goes.

Due to unforeseen circumstances (proving yet again I am not psychic), I had to quickly find a job. Fortunately, has a fulfillment center nearby which needs bodies for seasonal positions. Win-win.

Anyway, I am now working overnights. Between the physical demands of a warehouse job and normal family stuff, I have no energy left for writing. I refuse to feel guilty for this. Life happens.

I’ve written 32,000 words of the Baroness’ life, and I will come back to her. She has taken on a life and nobility that compels me. Once I have more than three free brain cells at a time.



To be continued….after Christmas….


NaNo Update the Third

17 Nov

Here we are, halfway through the month, and I am not behind!

My rather formal alien heroine has delivered at least one quality insult and witnessed a shocking public execution. From her starting point of fearful self-control, she has matured, gaining a measure of wisdom and self-confidence.

I like her; she is both strange and familiar, and I enjoy finding out what she will do next.

One of characters I thought was a main villain may turn into a reluctant ally. The main villain came out of nowhere several chapters ago. He is wickedly arrogant, extremely irritating, and perhaps psychotic. His worst trait, at least to my heroine, is that he has no honor.

27,558 words down; 22,442 to go.

Onward! Up the word count!


NaNoWriMo Update #2

10 Nov

Sunday has rolled around again, so it’s time for another update from the Ft. O Panera write-in.

I’ve written just over 18,000 words of my alien memoire so far this month. Yay!  Caffeine is a lovely thing.

Today, I’ve lost two word wars, and we’re about to start a third. They helped, though, carrying me through an action scene where I knew the heroine had to save the life of the villainess. I didn’t know how, though, and was totally shocked to discover it happened by my heroine killing someone else.

New conflict! Excellent!

Good luck, fellow NaNos!

Up the word count!


NaNoWriMo Update

3 Nov

Today is Sunday, November 3.

Here I sit at my local Panera  for the first Write-In of the month. One of the other Nano writers from Chattanooga actually beat me here: London Boyd. We’ve both exceeded our word goals so far; she’s about double, and I’m only ahead by a few hundred. Still.

I’m excited about where my story is going and about how the world and characters are unfolding. Some of the details (such as how my heroine prefers fresh, raw lizards to spicy dried ones) have surprised me.

One obvious lack in my planning is my failure to map my world. As a result, I end up guessing about where things are and having to name locations on the fly. Next time, I’ll know better.

Onward! Up the word count!

The Looming NaNoWriMo

29 Oct

Today is October 29.

In just three days, another round of NaNoWriMo begins.


Last year, I attempted NaNo for the first time and was, surprisingly, successful. Of course, my daughter and I had a wager (a box of Godiva) riding on the outcome, so that may have had something to do with it. WILL WRITE FOR CHOCOLATE. I should have that printed on a t-shirt or something.

I am better prepared this time around. Last time I didn’t know preplanning was allowed. Now I have my outline set up in a Scrivener file and have already done some basic background work on the alien who will be my protagonist. I won’t be trying to research World War II Yugoslavia AND write 1,667 words a day. I am also more able to turn off my internal editor on rough drafts.

Unfortunately, this year I have more people commitments that I can’t just drop. It worries me a little. I hope I am now a faster rough-draft writer so that I can make my daily word counts, but I wonder. Do I really have 50,000 words to say from the alien Baroness’s point of view? Can I make her decision truly agonizing? And believable?

And why in this universe do I seem to be drawn to psychological/philosophical conflicts of this nature?

In any case, my goal is to post here each Sunday evening with an update of my progress and one other time during the week with a bit of backstory for Ahbee’s Universe.


29 Apr

It is time.

Time to get serious.

Time to stop procrastinating.

Time to stop pretending excuses are anything but excuses.

Time to recognize that the real reason I have not yet gotten serious about my writing is fear that I am not good enough, not talented enough, not creative enough.

Yet, my family has said they like my writing — and they are generally honest about my cooking and my parenting skills.

The Chattanooga Writer’s Guild peer review group I visited last week said they liked my piece, and they gave me helpful hints for improving it.

So. Time to begin. Time to set all my stubbornness toward this new goal. Which is a considerable heap o’ stubbornness!

I am a fledgling writer. I will be (with help) a published writer one day.

There. I said it — in print, in (semi)public.

Now. Once upon a time…..