Tire-kicking around the galaxy

Much of the transporting power of science fiction lies in its ability to conjure a precise vision of the future. For Canadian Jeff Russell, "precise" is a key word. On his website merzo.net, he's drawn and collected a veritable online museum of spacecraft, each meticulously drawn in relative dimensions: 1 pixel can equal, say, 4 square meters on one of several pages of various magnifications.

Here all the "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" variants occupy pages among the many other vehicles imagined by sci-fi creators, some elegantly sleek, others aerial ashcans. Occasionally, Russell uses a recognizable structure or vehicle for the sake of comparison -- the Eiffel Tower or a Boeing 747 -- and each "ship" is movable with a cursor in a click-and-drag fashion.

The site, which started as a project for a university course, has been up for two years and has received much acclaim from science-fiction buffs and modelers.

"This was something that was missing in the science-fiction community," says Russell. "We were online for just a short time and the number of people shut the server down."

Several pages have their own magnification, ranging from the relatively small 10 pixels per meter to the gargantuan 500,000 kilometers per pixel (Ringworld).

Russell manages to balance the serious sci-fi geek aspect of the site with a wacky sense of humor. The space slug from "The Empire Strikes Back" inhabits the 1-pixel-per-4-square-meters page and, on the smallest-dimension page, humans are represented as "Generic Humanoid Carbon Units." He muses about their builder: "Monkeys? God? The God of Monkeys?"

As comprehensive as it all seems, Russell says, "We haven't scratched the surface of requests that are posted in our forum. I won't post a ship from anything I haven't seen, which includes most British TV. I'd like to see more interactive capabilities so that people could compare specific ships."

As for "Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith," he said a few days before it opened, "I'm one of those people who will be out there waiting in line. I can't wait for it." More ships for the site, perhaps?

-- Casey Dolan

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