Book Announcement

After a troubled period in its development, I am delighted to be able to announce that the third book in the Tales of the Associated Worlds series, Darkness Within and Other Stories, will be released on December 12th this year in Kindle e-book and paperback. Pre-orders will be open soon.

Additionally, to accompany this release, the previous two books in the series, Vignettes of the Star Empire and The Core War and Other Stories will be on sale starting December 1st, so if you haven’t already got them, that would be a good time.

(Or if you’re looking for a Christmas gift for a fellow SF reader, of course!)

Those Pesky Belters

In pre-space speculative fiction the image of the belt miner recapitulated the image of the prospectors of old. Grizzled belters in small ships, big enough to hold them, a small partnership, or perhaps a family, who would set out, hunt down a “motherlode” rock, hack the ore out of it with traditional miner’s tools loosely adapted to space, then net it up and sling it on its way to a smelter, cash-for-density.

This concept was, as you might expect, wrong in almost every respect.

To begin with the nature of the beast, ore veins are not to be found among the asteroids. Without a planet’s gravity to differentiate them, or hydrothermal processes to concentrate it into ore bodies, pay dirt tends to be evenly differentiated throughout the rock. And to call an asteroid a rock is itself generous, insofar as the majority of them1 are little more than heaps of rubble glued together with a dusting of regolith.

Thus, the smeltership.

In its modern form, the smeltership is instantly recognizable; they look as if a starship had collided head-on with one of the larger breeds of industrial plant2, and decided for whatever reason to keep on going, accompanied by their flock of parasites and the inescapable halo of dust3. From these ships, the collector drones, “spikers”, travel to nearby target asteroids and wrap them in finely woven titiridion nets, preventing the escape of fragments, then haul them back to the maw of the smeltership proper.

Behind the maw, the smeltership incorporates a maze of ore processing and smelting equipment. While in theory plasma-fountain distillation can reduce anything to its component elements, it is an inefficient process reserved only for otherwise intractable residues of ore processing. More conventional processing chains, therefore, handle the commonplace elements once the asteroids have been powdered by the initial grinding step at the back of the maw.

Meanwhile, flocks of lighters, typically drone freighters and tankers – for the volatiles driven off – attend the stern of the smeltership, collecting the ejected ingots of metal and blocks of other elements, bundling them together, and hauling them to market.

The “almost”? While the largest operators, such as Atalant Materials’ space subsidiary, Celestial Mining, operate entire fleets of fully automated smelterships, many smaller or more specialized mining interests instead contract smelterships owned and operated by independent belt miners – often, indeed, small partnerships or family outfits whose homestead-hab is permanently docked to their ship. So while incorrect in method and scale, the writers of yore did, to their credit, predict the demographics of belt mining correctly…

– A DirtsidersHistory of the Belt


  1. And, ironically, those preferred for mining. More solid asteroids have other uses, while rubble piles are generally considered only of use for mining, and thus the claim-staking fee is lower.
  2. Not the vegetative sort.
  3. Even with high-grade electrostatic traps, regolith fines get everywhere.

Themes: Paracausality

So, stepping out of the ‘verse for a moment, why does paracausality exist?

Thematically speaking, the existence of paracausality says something very important about the nature of the universe. It means that it’s impossible to deny the existence of free will. (Or, rather, you can, but it’s about as useful as standing on a planet’s surface and denying the existence of gravity.)

You make choices, and your choices make you, and the universe you exist within. Create or destroy, heal or harm, save or damn, it’s all down to choice.

And either way, it’s your fault. No-one made you do it, not without rooting your brain and turning you into a non-volitional tool. Not society, not your parents, not circumstance, not culture, not memes, not instincts, not your friends, not your enemies, and certainly not the deterministic unfolding of acyclic causal graphs. Just you.

You chose, and the world responded. You did it. And the consequences are yours to own and to live with, forever and a day.

This gives the world a rather vital quality, especially in fiction: meaningfulness.

Rolk On!

Precursor artifact Spirel-1,147: “The Rolkifier”

Recovered from a vault in the Spirel Precursor site (located on Spiridon (Dexlilal Convergence)), the Rolkifier is a 3″ x 3″ x 5″ teardrop-shaped artifact constructed from an unidentified green-bronze substance. Attempts to examine the interior reveal it to be solid and apparently homogeneous to currently available scanning technology1.

All solid objects touched with the operant end of the artifact acquire (or lose, should they already have it), the property of “rolky-ness”.

This seems to be an ontic, rather than cognitive effect: while various different species and linguistic clades may construct their own names for the property (rolky being the identifier used among cosmopolitan Imperials), nonetheless, all are able to identify which objects in a random set are rolky, and which are not, with complete agreement across groups. None, however, are able to provide any explanation of what it means to be rolky, which perceptions allow it to be identified as rolky, nor does the possession of rolky-ness appear to affect any of the other properties or behaviors of any object in any way.

Thus, artifact Spirel-1,147 has been tentatively classified as an cosmontological semantic pointer editor capable of assigning and altering arbitrary universal conceptual tags tied, in an unknown way, to conceptual objects.

That this effect is not explained in any way by any of the three major ontophysical theories understood at this present time, and may imply contrary to all current scientific understanding that the universe has a notion of “conceptual object”, make this among the most puzzling artifacts presently undergoing research.

Footnotes

  1. The Rolkifier does not appear to be in and of itself rolky.

“I’m done, or at least taking a lengthy sabbatical. We all find our outweirding limit eventually, and this is mine. I’m going to the High Cysperia Luxurium and not dealing with anything more outré than a green-fuming finelle and a high-class honey-dream for the next decade.”

– Academician Excellence Alleyne Celdinar, chief researcher

Eldraeic Word of the Day: xatírár el rótaní

xatírár el rótaní: (“do the needful”)

  1. (common) A request to do that which is necessary or required in a given context, with the respectful implication that the other party is trusted to understand the needful and operate autonomously.
  2. (rare) A request to do that which is understood without being spoken. Used in situations requiring deniability.
  3. (rare; ISS) An instruction to arrange a cauterization.

The Extranet Is For Porn

From: Anethil 0x98AA45B2 (COO)
To: Ganly min Retholl (VPO, Calianus Passage)
Subject: Data filtering – need official refusal?

Ha! I almost admire their jír. Not often someone comes to us and requests help in censorship.

Anyway, obviously, we’re not doing that. Tell them that it is against Bright Shadow corporate policy to interfere with data in transit in any way, even so far as to inspect packet contents – and that even if it wasn’t against our policy to do that, the structure of IIP-based networks requires end-to-end encryption which makes it impossible for us to do so. By design. If they want to impose traffic filtering, they’re going to have to do it at destination, on their side of the border routers.

Then tell them that even if all of that could be overcome, it would require a steep increase in connection charges, because while, certainly, it may not be the most ‘enlightened’ use of our data transmission capacity, its packet fees nonetheless subsidize extranet traffic rates for – essentially – everything else, pay for network expansion and relay maintenance across the outer regions, and bought the last round of stock options and my third vacation moon.

Maybe don’t tell them that last bit.