...the deVass [Warp] Generator opened the road to the stars and led to our first contact with an alien intelligence...In 2036, a manned survey ship made contact with the inhabitants of Alpha Centauri, 4.3 light years away, and this meeting led to a happy and rewarding association. in 2045 the Trade and Technology Exchange Agreement was signed with the Alpha Centaurians, and one of the most important benefits we gained was the acquisition of anti-gravity techniques. These were successfully brought together in 2045 by Dr. Hans Berger in his Gravity Resist Projector, and the form of spacecraft was transformed overnight...

The Terran Trade Authority was begun in our timeline in 1978 by a science fiction writer named Stewart Cowley. He gathered a stable of young and aspiring science fiction artists together and produced the first of the TTA Handbooks, Spacecraft 2000-2100 AD. It was published by Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd. in both its native United Kingdom as well as in the U.S. It was an odd sort of book, actually; it was a future alternate history, told via a long introduction, a timeline (reproduced below) and via a 'recognition guide' to a series of fictional spacecraft. Each page spread was devoted, generally, to a different spacecraft; these were categorized according to their purpose and system of origin (for example, the Colonial III superfreighter is classified as 'Civil & Commercial, Terran').

Via the accompanying text presented alongside the fantastic imagery supplied by artists such as Angus McKie, Jim Burns, Tony Roberts, and Peter Elson among others, Cowley spun us a tale of a future humanity spreading out into local galactic space. First peaceful contact with the Alphans was followed by second hostile contact with their neighbors at Proxima Centauri; this would lead to a war which, as they often do, would drive spacecraft development for years.

Spacecraft was followed by three other books: Great Space Battles, a guide to the engagements and some of the history of the Proxima Wars; SpaceWreck: Ghostships and Derelicts of Space which was my personal favorite after the original, and finally Starliners: Commercial Travel in 2200 AD. Although the first book offered a few listings of 'Unidentified Alien' sightings and wrecks, Spacewreck expanded on this by describing the aftermath of some of the more famous Proxima Wars engagements as well as Terran, Alphan and Proximan 'famous wrecks.' The imagery produced for that book is fantastic, and haunts me sometimes still - the cover image of a skeleton in the cockpit of a small fighter, overgrown where it crashed, is obviously derivative of contemporary and earlier aircraft art, but retains a special thrill for its subject matter alone. Spacebase 2000 was also published, but it was a reprint of the first two books packaged together.

Images from these books have in fact wormed their way into popular culture. The TTA books' art has a particular style; ships are often formed of solid color panels and shapes of varying purpose or size, but a TTA starship is a quite recognizable beast once you've read one or more of the books. As others online have noted, much of the starship design from the game series Homeworld draws heavily on TTA principles; indeed, two artists from the TTA series (Elson and McKie?) are credited in the Homeworld manual. Archiewood notes that if you complete the game, special thanks are offered to Peter Elson in the credits. Imagery from the TTA showed up (briefly) in the film Heavy Metal; some Babylon 5 ship details are very TTA-like as well.

The books are now difficult to find in good condition, as even though they were hardcover issues (at least, all were available as such) they were not printed on archival paper, and furthermore they were designed to be read again and again, passed around and admired for their rich visuals. Early on, it was popular to cut plates from the book for use as small posters; the art quality was certainly equal to the task. They can be found occasionally in used bookshops for a pittance; Amazon.com's used marketplace has them for varying prices. All but Spacecraft are over $50 US at the time of this writeup (for a decent copy with dust cover).

Recently, a new imprint (Morrigan Press) has reissued the first book, with the belated permission and cooperation of Stewart Cowley. Now renamed Spacecraft: 2100-2200 A.D the book differs slightly from the original. The art is now computer-generated; the 'back history' has been massaged to make it 'more recognizable' and almost all the 'Unknown/Alien' entries have been removed. Although fans of the original are appreciative that the series is receiving attention again, concern over these changes (plus an apparently poor editing job on the first book) have made many folks wary.

Perhaps one of the most important factors in the success of the first series was the very vague nature of the information we were given. We knew that Warp Jump was accomplished via the deVass Generator - but we didn't know how it worked, how it performed, or anything like that. Great swathes of time were left unfilled by Cowley and company. While this may have been due simply to constraints during the original publishing, it worked wonders - the art of the series provides the common thread, anchoring the imagination of the reader, and that imagination is sent off to fill in the holes. As a result, the TTA universe 'felt' realer than many others we were given simply because so much of it belonged to the reader him or herself.

The future of the TTA is something not often seen these days in Science Fiction. It was, and is, a future of wonders and of the unknown, faced by a humanity enjoying a hopeful and dynamic period of development after freeing itself from the Solar System and the bars of Einstein. The original 'back story' begins with the following quote about the times which the TTA had risen out of in triumph - a quote which far too accurately describes the current climate when it comes to the vision and promise of space:

...those qualities of direction, purpose and unity which are the essential ingredients for real progress had gradually been dissipated in a fragmented world. Humanity had become preoccupied with the minutiae of daily living and men of broader vision were finding themselves an unheeded minority. Man needed a quest to fire his imagination and extend his abilities. For a while he found one in his early attempts to explore the vastness of space, but the exhilaration was soon replaced by a growing resentment of the massive costs and minimal returns. Instead of being a springboard to escape a shrinking world, space became another weapon in mankind's civil war.

The vision offered in the TTA books was one of looser and vaster emptiness than promised by Star Trek; more familiar than that of Star Wars, and more human than most others despite the immediate contact, alliance and conflict with aliens. It was a fertile building kit for late night or in-class dreams of spaceflight, not too many details to crush the imagination and just enough direction to provide a backdrop. I dearly wish I could find the sketchpad on which, after finishing the first book, I and a close friend drew out twenty-two additional spacecraft (during French I class and Geometry, mostly). We, too, had written out 'histories' of our creations.

Apparently, the reissued books are the sign of more to come. There is a TTA role-playing game, available at the usual places, and for those who care more about the TTA as imagination fodder than game system, a new book named Localspace: 2200 AD is available from Morrigan which contains all the historical and art content from the RPG product without the RPG itself. There are also reports that Stewart Cowley is working on a new book titled Capital Ships which those who remember the TTA await eagerly. Hopefully, the CGI will either have improved or have been left out in favor of the more traditional (for the title) hand paintings.

Key Historical Dates in the (Original) TTA Timeline

1987 Introduction of nuclear powered engines: ion and plasma systems.
1990 Foundation of the World Community Research Council.
1998 WCRC North African Space Research Centres now operational.
1999 World Trade Authority formed to coordinate international commerce.
2004 The first spacefreighter, Colonial I, enters service.
2005 Work starts on Lunar Station.
2011 Lunar Station operational.
2012 Work starts on Mars Station.
2014 Introduction of the McKinley Ion Ultradrive in the Colonial III.
2015 Martian Queen makes first commercial passenger flight to Mars.
2018 First shipment of new alloys from Lunar industry.
2027 Warp Generator perfected by Henri deVass.
2036 Manned survey ship makes contact with Alpha Centaurians.
2038 Language barrier broken.
2039 Trade & Technology Exchange Agreement signed with Alpha. World Trade Authority becomes Terran Trade Authority.
2041 First orbital industrial centre off Jupiter completed.
2042 First Energy Absorbent Defence Shield (EADS) produced by the TTA.
2045 Dr. Hans Berger introduces the Gravity-Resist Generator.
2046 Mars Shipyards completed.
2047 Pathfinder IX Survey Ship destroyed by Proxima Centauri. Alpha Centauri attacked.
2048 Interstellar Queen destroyed by Proxima Centauri. War declared.
2049 Terran Defence Authority formed.
2052 Battle for Mars.
2060 Invasion of Proxima Centauri.
2068 Peace Treaty negotiated.
2073 First jet tube opened on Earth, between Europe and America.
2078 First settler ship leaves for Arcturus.
2090 Second settler ship.
2096 Starblade introduced as first Alpha spaceliner.

If you were or are a fan of the TTA, be sure to check this out!

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