Take one of the ideas that Flat Earthers have proposed: an infinite plane of ice, with occasional "world-ponds" dotting it every 30,000 miles or so. These "world-ponds" are rather like other Flat Earths set into the ice and kept warm and friendly by their our small stars. Assume for this setting that there's a field that adversely affects electronics and engines, so aircraft are a bad idea (like going into the Bermuda Triangle, in popular legend: nobody knows the "spooky" reason, electronics and even fairly simple engines [diesel, gasoline, etc.] simply fail).

In this scenario, Stirling engines function, as do hot air balloons, though due to the great distances between strong heat sources, there isn't much of a thermodynamic difference to speak of, hence not much wind between the "world-ponds".

So far, I've considered hovercraft, spell jammers, ships with giant ice skates or skis (sort of like sleighs), sand crawlers, AT-ATs, centipede-looking Antarctic lab things, insect-designs with giant ice-pick/crampon feet, amphibious ATVs, and even woolly mammoth sled teams.

If engines and compasses go to hell out there, and there's not much wind to speak of, then how is one to move around in the first place? Fuel and batteries would presumably run out long before getting to the nearest world-pond, and solar is out of the question in the darkness between the world ponds' suns.

At the moment, I'm leaning most toward a fringe-science form of diamagnetic levitation, with a thorium reactor for power generation (the extremely basic thermodynamics of boiling water aren't affected by this mysterious "Bermuda Triangle field effect", clock- and steam-punk technology are being used to manage the rods, and I'm stuck with hand-waving the radiation issues for the moment) and fuel cells for stored potential energy (as a secondary emergency power supply). Navigation is reduced to sextants (sighting on dimly lit landmarks such as other “world-ponds”, almost like Abbott's “Flatland”, since there are no stars in the sky) and calculating machines. Food (aside from emergency supplies) I'm taking care of with yeast-GMO algae vats.

1) Does this design sound sufficiently functional, or is it terribly broken?

2) If it's broken, then what vital modification(s) is it missing in order to reasonably travel with enforced primitive technology through Antarctic conditions?

3) What obstacles must be dealt with in order to run even a stripped-down reactor via clock- and steam-punk technology?


closed as too broad by sphennings, Aify, RonJohn, T. Sar, Paul TIKI Mar 13 '18 at 19:44

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    $\begingroup$ Looking at your reputation I assume you should already know how Worldbuilding works, and that we don't provide thoughts on something, but answers to precise problems. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Mar 13 '18 at 11:48
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    $\begingroup$ This question is meaningless word salad. The Antarctic is not "a fairly windless infinite plane of ice"; in particular it is the exact opposite of windless, and it's very far from flat. Ekranoplans don't use any kind of magnetic levitation, be it dia-, para- or ferromagnetic. Astrolabes were inclinometers used for measuring the position of celestial bodies; I cannot even picture an astrolabe being used for measuring horizontal angles. (And how come there are thorium reactors and Stirling engines, but no sextants?) Fuel cells are primary cells, they are not used for storage of anything. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 13 '18 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP The Antarctic is very windy indeed and hardly an infinite plane, but I'm not talking about the South Pole. It's a world-building setting. Ekranoplans don't use any form of maglev that I'm aware of, but again: this isn't a real-world scenario. I'm not against sextants, I simply didn't go into exhaustive detail. The place is just a game setting based upon of the Flat Earthers' designs of what they believe to be beyond "the ice wall". $\endgroup$ – Charles Rockafellor Mar 13 '18 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ The problem is that the words in the question have unknown meanings. Antarctic doesn't mean Antarctic, trireme cannot possibly mean "a ship with three rows of rowers", ekranoplan doesn't mean ekranoplan, astrolabe doesn't mean astrolabe... then what are you asking exactly? What's a "world pond"? What's a Bermuda Triangle effect? How can a Stirling engine work and when a a Diesel engine doesn't? And those thorium reactors: in the real world, atomic power plants work by boiling water and then using some sort of steam engine to turn a generator; if thermodynamics is iffy, how does this work? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 13 '18 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ secondly i would definately use a STERLING engine as opposed to a STEAM engine, you do not want to run out of water 15000 miles into your trip, nor do you want to lug around a heavy condenser, given that you'll be opperating in an extremely cold enviroment the normal efficiency and power problems you get with sterling engines will be considerably reduced. also in an emergency where you loose all your fuel for no apparent reason you can all huddle under the engine! $\endgroup$ – Ummdustry Mar 13 '18 at 15:39

While there are a multitude of issues with the question, I will address the issue of nuclear reactors. Nuclear reactors are relatively simple devices (they were initially built using 1940 era technology, after all), and much of the complexity of modern reactors is due to making them either very compact and powerful (such as nuclear submarine powerplants), or to ensure safe operation (civilian power reactors) (note these are not mutually exclusive).

Stephen Baxter actually described a nuclear reactor created using stone age technology in his book Manifold Space. Going from the fact that U 235 was more common in the deep past (actually several billion years ago) and that ore bodies sometimes concentrated the enriched uranium to the point that low level fission reactions took place ("natural reactors"), Baxter's fictional reactor has humans in an alternate universe using rocks with naturally enriched uranium placed in a pile in a stream in an underground cave. The reaction is moderated by both the flowing water and the use of charred sticks placed between the rocks by slaves, with the carbon in the charcoal providing the moderating functions. Naturally the slaves moderating the reactor have very limited time on the job....

Thorium salt reactors do need somewhat different technologies (creating the thorium salts is uninteresting chemical process, for example), and no naturally occurring thorium reactors have ever been discovered, suggesting that this isn't something that could be potentially stumbled over by explorers. As well, the reactions using thorium salts are somewhat less obvious that conventional solid fuelled uranium reactors.

Single fluid reactor

enter image description here

Simplified schematic of a single fluid reactor.

The one-fluid design includes a large reactor vessel filled with fluoride salt containing thorium and uranium. Graphite rods immersed in the salt function as a moderator and to guide the flow of salt. In the ORNL MSBR design[18] a reduced amount of graphite near the edge of the reactor core would make the outer region under-moderated, and increased the capture of neutrons there by the thorium. With this arrangement, most of the neutrons were generated at some distance from the reactor boundary, and reduced the neutron leakage to an acceptable level.[19] Still, a single fluid design needs a considerable size to permit breeding.[20]

In a breeder configuration, extensive fuel processing was specified to remove fission products from the fuel salt.13 In a converter configuration fuel processing requirement was simplified to reduce plant cost.[19] The trade-off was the requirement of periodic uranium refueling.

The MSRE was a core region only prototype reactor.[21] The MSRE provided valuable long-term operating experience. According to estimates of Japanese scientists, a single fluid LFTR program could be achieved through a relatively modest investment of roughly 300-400 million dollars over 5–10 years to fund research to fill minor technical gaps and build a small reactor prototype comparable to the MSRE.[22]

Other designs are even more complex. Circulating molten salts and having a fission reactor to generate heat isn't the complex part, and steam/clockworkpunk technology is sufficient for these sorts of uses. Complex chemistry is needed to prepare the fuels and separate the fissile materials out from the salts for reprocessing, which is more likely the sticking point in a fantasy setting.

If you are going for a fantasy setting anyway, then there is no reason you can't use fantasy conventions to handwave some of the issues away. A point energy source based on magic can substitute for a reactor (much like magical intuition can be used to navigate). A clumsy hybrid is not going to be enjoyable to read or to work with, I suggest you simply stick with a fantasy setting.


Animal power

  1. You have an alien environment.
  2. It is a wintery ice environment analogous to the Antarctic.
  3. You have constraints against tech in the strange environment.
  4. What did people use to travel the Antarctic before tech?

sled dogs


Worldbuild up the native fauna of your alien ice plains. Something mobile, which can survive on whatever resources this land has to offer. These animals can be used as sled dogs. Or if you have enough bizarre outré stuff already, use regular old sled dogs! As regards energy, if we can eat it, dogs can eat it. I am sure the dogs would be happier to subsist on lard and yeast paste than the humans.


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