Trope-a-Day: Curb-Stomp Battle

Curb-Stomp Battle: Happens quite routinely to new members of the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms, many of whom explode off their worlds with a tremendous sense of hubris as yet unblemished by a realistic threat assessment of current galactic civilization.  This attitude is, ahem, corrected quite swiftly.

For example, this is going to happen to the Trikhad Conquest Real Soon Now.

First First Contact (4)

CS Extropy Rising, entering Galáré system.
Core, Command Bridge

Two hours later, Svínif looked around the conference table, and wished his old headache back.

“Preliminary reports. Let’s see what we have. Comms?”

“EM emissions from our target world, just as the exception said, all over from log-8 to log-10. Nothing even resembling a standard format, so I’d say they haven’t invented a stardrive while we’ve been in transit, but apart from that…”

“No chance it’s a natural phenomenon?”

“No chance at all. Definitely non-random, and the information entropy’s too high. It’s got to be sapient transmissions. My filters can’t find anything that looks like recognizable audio or video modulation – most likely data, and of a high order.”


“Nothing new, yet. We should be getting some good images back from the orbital probes in the next couple of hours, though.” She hesitated. “I canceled the launch program for the ground probes. I thought it might look hostile, dropping them planetside without asking.”

“Good thinking.” Svínif looked around the table again, mentally tallying the officers. “As nothing else has been flagged up as urgent, let’s hold the routine stuff for now.“ His head hurt abominably.

“Well, gentlesophs, this is quite the situation we’re in. If they’re as smart as their comms suggest they are, they’ll have spotted us by now, and have a fair idea what we are. And unless any of you know the universal signal for ’Excuse me, soph, could you spare a megaton of deuterium?’, it’s not like we can turn the ship around and go home.”

“If we stopped the entry burn right now,” the Flight Director confirmed, “We’d have enough Δv to swing around the sun onto a return vector. No fuel for a burn, though. Our frozen hulk would make it home in, oh, 3,500 years or so.”

“So, let’s hope the locals are friendly and don’t take our turning up with a shipload of frozen colonists too badly. Dig out the first contact set, Comms, and — wait, none of that traffic was directed at us yet?”

“Not that I can tell. Maybe they’re waiting for us to make the first move.”

“Well, send them the first sequence-set on the hydrogen line, broad-angle, and we’ll see what we get back. Until then… by the book, gentlesophs, by the book. Assume we’ll be making orbit as planned unless we hear otherwise somehow. If nothing mishcrit comes up, send your status reports to my terminal. Thank you, all.”

As they dispersed to their consoles, he rested his head for a moment on the cool vitrine tabletop.  Well, you’re in the history books now. Just – let it not be for starting the first interstellar war.

Trope-a-Day: Culture Clash

Culture Clash: All.  The.  Time.

The really big ones, like between the Imperials and the Hope Hegemony or the Equality Concord at one end of the spectrum, and between them and the Rim Free Zone at the other, and between the Photonic Network and all meat intelligences everywhere, etc., are just the most obvious, but when you wander away from the rough consensus of the CSP, CEP, and trade protocols of the Accord, well, these are cultures which may not be completely alien to each other, folks, but they can get pretty close.  What were you expecting?

How Unlikely Are We?

“The difficulties of interstellar travel are widely underestimated.  Within the stargate plexus, even simple ships — capable of only relatively low accelerations, capable of being built by cultures little more capable than those which have developed orbital flight, and requiring no extraordinary skill for a single sophont to pilot and maintain — can travel between star systems in a matter of weeks or months.  The capital and operating costs of such ships are high, but are not out of reach of a small consortium or well-off individual entrepreneur.  As such, worlds and cultures throughout the constellations connected by the plexus have blossomed, spreading civilization across the Associated Worlds and out into the Expansion Regions; and those cultures and their people which possess basic spaceflight capability can indulge freely in interstellar travel freely for colonization, trade, exploration, even tourism, at costs which are low enough to keep it from being the exclusive preserve of an elite, wealthy class.”

“Further, the stargate plexus binds the Associated Worlds together, in what may be an even more significant way, by acting as a carrier for the extranet.  While not instantaneous, since the Luminal Limit still applies between gates in the same system, communications can cross the entire width of the plexus in a matter of weeks rather than centuries, and most delays within polities are mere hours or days, even if not ameliorated by broadcatching, caching, and the use of AI and fork agent-proxies.  While light-lag and other delays and inconveniences in communications maintain separate cultural regions even within individual systems, as well as across the Worlds as a whole, that such communication, broadcast of media, and free exchange of information are possible and within the ready grasp of almost anyone in the Worlds with access to any sort of terminal does a great deal to create a common metaculture and understanding from core to Periphery.  (An effect which is only enhanced in those polities whose citizens have access to and cultural mores permitting the use of mindcasting to travel as data, at extranet speeds.)”

“All of this is to forget that in order for this to be possible, the stargate plexus had to exist already.  Let us examine how unlikely this truly is: the construction of artificial wormholes requires simultaneously an advanced scientific and technological culture, enough wealth to invest in the construction of multi-trillion-exval stargates and the new industries required to enable their construction, an adequately long-term viewpoint to make such investments seem viable, an existing lighthugger technology able to transport the distal wormhole terminus to its destination, and, most unlikely of all, such a multi-millennial genius as Imogen Andracanth to make the particular breakthrough permitting controlled wormhole inflation and stabilization without first possessing a mature ontotechnology.  Of all the thousands of civilizations known in the Associated Worlds and beyond, only two have ever made this discovery independently – the Empire, and the Voniensa Republic.”

“Without these miracles – I do not believe that this understates the case – could an interstellar civilization be possible?  I will not say that it would not; it would be possible to imagine a loose confederation of worlds, or a meta-empire, held together by slow light-bound trickles of information and low-speed lighthuggers bearing high-value data, supremely precious low-mass cargoes, and the occasional colonization mission – at least among the immortal or extremely long-lived.  But with only lighthuggers available – ships the size of mountains available only at high capital cost, requiring millions of tons of antimatter and deuterium to fuel at the cost of billions of exval, with large and skilled crews making much longer commitments in terms of wall-clock time and even more yet in empire time, no thriving, cosmopolitan association such as we now enjoy could have come into being.”

– Linde Valentinarius, An Overview of the Flowering

Trope-a-Day: Cult Colony

Cult Colony: Averted initially, because sublight colonization was so ludicrously expensive that “cults” couldn’t possibly have afforded it.  Played straighter once the stargate plexus made it easier to get to new worlds, with a side-note that the failure rate – for which read death rate – of these is particularly high; planetary colonization requires a great deal of scientific acumen, technical skill, and mental flexibility, which are not common qualities attributed to things normally described as cults.  (Just look at how many pioneer colonies failed in Earth’s history – now add that you have an alien ecology to deal with and there’s a good chance that you can’t breathe the air.)

Much the same goes for cult habitats, to – well, a lesser extent on some factors, a greater one on others, but the net effect is much the same.  Most cultists aren’t good with sophisticated technical infrastructure.

Trope-a-Day: Cryonics Failure

Cryonics Failure: While not nearly as bad as some of the examples given under the trope – for example, with the exception of the ill-fated Valiár (Thirteen Colonies) mission, whose failure was the result of engine defects rather than cryonics problems, virtually all of the cryostatic colonists were revived safely on their arrival at their destination – cryostatis always posed some problems (due to cracking and ice crystallization damaging cells), resulting in difficult and medically intensive revival processes and often-severe “revivication sickness”.

Which is why, once it was invented, it was very quickly replaced by the more advanced nanostasis process, which replaces freezing by the emplacement of a “vitrification scaffold” which preserves the body over long durations, does not require extreme cold for maintenance, and is optimized for the stop and restart parts of the process.  Much more effective, especially when you can store the mind outside the body just in case.

To Boldly Go

“INASMUCH as the proven success of the Thirteen Colonies and their foundation by means of lighthugger colony ships has demonstrated the viability of such starships for interstellar voyaging;

“And inasmuch as the reconnection of the Thirteen Colonies to the metropolitan Empire and our Reunification has demonstrated the potential of the stargates to permit fast travel and communication between established worlds;

“And inasmuch as the trusty and profitable relationship between the eldrae of the colony of Galáré and the galari whose homeworld Galáré is has demonstrated the great value of relations, formal and informal, with the other sophont species of our galaxy;

“And inasmuch as Our scientists have detected signs that demonstrate, to a high order of probability, that such sophont life abounds in the universe beyond our few systems;

“And inasmuch as the quest for knowledge and advancement is a core principle of Our Empire;

“WE hereby direct the formation of an IMPERIAL EXPLORATORY SERVICE to seek out and survey systems and worlds beyond the frontiers of Our Empire, and to make contact with such sophont species as may exist thereupon in Our name.”

– Her Divine Majesty Eledië II, Imperial edict “On the Exploratory Service”, 10 years post-Reunification

Full Hab (3)

Here’s the next six cards (previous 1-6, 7-12). Only six more to go!

The marble spires of the city pierce the heavens, roofed in gleaming gold and copper and silver, and tunnels below delve deep into the earth. Balconies and plazas are crowded with people of all sorts. Airships sweep through the sky above and between the spires, and in the foreground, caravans bear all good things towards its gates. Travelers accompany the caravans gazing up at the city and the limitless opportunities therein.

In the foreground, a fire burns; in the background, a bandaged patient sleeps. To the left, a family dines around a richly set table; to the right, a rack of servers runs, status lights gleaming blue, blue, blue. Amid them all the hearthmistress, carved as a caryatid, upholds the weight of the world.

Brazen lamps ablaze with firelight hang from the branches of a tree by a riverbank; old stones support its roots where they dip into the flowing water. A gentle breeze stirs its blue-green leaves and the feathers of the white filwé that perch in its branches. To the left, a reshkef doe reached up to nibble the leaves; opposite, a young man lies with his back to the tree, an open book in his hand, and a black merle bandal curled up beside him.

A mass of storm clouds writhes, struck through with jagged bolts of lightning. Among them, tiny figures can be seen, but it’s impossible to tell whether they are being hurled uncontrollably by the storm, or riding it, tamed.

On a mist-shrouded rise in front of a waterfall, a coppery-green woman kneels, clad in flowering vines which become her lower body, and gestures for silence. A mighty wolf, thews knotted with muscle and fangs bared, crouches ready to spring at her left side, restrained only by her hand resting between its ears. All around them, flowers of a thousand colors bloom.

Seated at his desk, the plutarch is surrounded by his work and the products of it. With the needs of the market on the screens at his right hand, and a basket of pleasures at his left, he seeks the balance between the work of production, and the enjoyment of its fruits.

Trope-a-Day: Cross Cultural Handshake

Cross-Cultural Handshake: While there are any number of othercultural handshakes, the standard Common Social Protocol greeting, based off an old Eldraeic one, is a simple brush of manipulator against manipulator (note: brush, don’t grip), which is something that just about every species can handle to some degree.

[A comment left on the original posting of this trope read:

“I shall take this to mean that a fistbump is considered an acceptable formal greeting in Eldraeic culture.”

Yes, it can be, if done gently.  But note that if executed with too much zeal, ‘twould be on the aggressive end of the scale, like those people in our culture who insist on turning a handshake into a wrist-wrestling contest.  After all, at least part of the reason for the standard protocol is that not every species shares the same compressive strength of flesh range, and what is a tap to us could be severe bruising to them.]

Cultural Tells of Language

This came up on the conlang/conculture mailing lists:

Ursula K. LeGuin writes some really gorgeous stub-languages into her fiction.  In a lovely short story called “Dancing to Ganam” in her collection A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, I paused to earmark this:

“Tezyeme,” he said, which meant something on the order of “it is happening the way it is supposed to happen.”

These little philosophical bells in a language always make conlangs more believable and immersive to me – telling the philosophy and culture of a people through the use of language.

What are some examples of words like this in your conlang(s)?

And I thought my answer might just be worth repeating here:

Eldraeic has a few of these.  Probably the most notable are the seven or eight words which they use to describe the innate and/or desirable characteristics of their mindset: coválír, estxíjir, mélith, talcoríëf, teir, valëssef, and valxíjir, none of which map precisely onto English/human concepts, even if some of them can get pretty close:

coválír might be translated as propertarianism, but really has the meaning “property as an extension of the self”; mélith, I gloss as “balance and obligation”; talcoríëf is literally “cold-mindedness”, but depending on context, it could reasonably be glossed as “rationality”, “self-mastery”, or “self-knowledge”; teir could be approximately glossed as “honor” or “self-integrity”; valëssef as “divided selfness” or “polymorphic identity” – the multiple social identities one has, and the need to keep them separate both mentally and in dealings with other people,even when you have two different relationships with one person; estxíjir as “wyrd”, “destiny” or “devotion to ideals”; and valxíjir as “uniqueness”, “excellence”, “will to power”, or “forcible impression of self onto the universe”.

(Most of these are covered in rather more detail on one of my trope-a-day pages, here, so I’ll link rather than repeat myself at great length.)

Oh, and estxíjir and valxíjir combine to create qalasír, which one might approximate as “will”, more adequately translate as “driving energies of the individual”, or casually gloss as “a soph’s got to do what a soph’s got to do”.  They also give rise to the slang term jír – approx. strength of will, courage, boldness, chutzpah, etc., and to jírileth, liberty – a “life of will/volition-use”.

Which brings me onto another one of those cultural tells: daráv, meaning literally “sophont” – which I gloss as “soph” in informal speech, for the right feel – and used in Eldraeic as the generic word for “person” – without any reference to species, gender, sex, race, etc., etc. unless explicitly added.  Also found in compounds like daryteir, “person of honor”, “gentleman” — er, gentlesoph.

Hm, other examples.  There’s the term for an Imperial citizen-shareholder, or at least the short term that’s a lot quicker to say than “Imperial citizen-shareholder”; valmiríän, which ambiguously means both “ordered self” and “self who sets in order”, and probably reveals a decent amount about their self-concept in so doing, and its opposite, ulvaledar, “unbound-person”, which means “foreigner” but defines that as “not signatory to the Contract and Charter”.

I’d add the classic series of insults – “Defaulter”, “slaver”, “parasite”, “dullist”, “cacophile”, or “entropic”, but I have not yet translated most of those, except for “dullist”, which is ulsúnadaráv– one who finds lack of the Nine Excellences and their concomitants laudable, or at least non-condemnable; so not technically “one who does not strive to shine”, rather, someone who thinks that there’s nothing wrong with that.  And there’s zakhrehs (“barbarian”), which while it doesn’t actually say that the thus called are guilty of specific and enumerated acts of coercionism, infiduciarity, theft, mooching, wilful culture-lack, destructionism, disharmony and chaos, implies that they like that sort of thing really hard.

Oh, and if I wax political for a moment, their taxonomy of polities.  The principle top-level division of móníë (polities), after all, is that between telelefmóníë (oath-consent states, Societies of Consent – by which they mean anywhere where the social contract is explicit and voluntary) and korasmóníë (force-states, where it isn’t), the latter being in turn primarily divided into talkorasmóníë (autocracies, “true-force states”) and sémódarmóníë (democracies, which charming word means “mutual-slave states”).

I’ve got some fairly telling metaphors, too, but they came up in my English-writing forms and I haven’t translated most of them yet.  Except for these different kinds of dilemmas, I think.

And if noodle words count, this.

Trope-a-Day: Creepy Monotone

Creepy Monotone: While they don’t really intend to, more than a few Imperials come off this way (even if it’s actually more of a calm monotone, really) to more naturally-emotive cultures.  It’s another minor drawback/side effect of the calmness/rationality/serenity that comes from having your emotional state managed and self-control enhanced by the artificial part of your brain – well, I say drawback, but that’s only from the point of view of baseline humans and other members of the appallingly emotionally labile set.

Also see: Dissonant Serenity.

Trope-a-Day: Dissonant Serenity

Dissonant Serenity: Actually very common among Imperials, for two reasons.  First, the standard modification to the epinephrine system to make it promote rather than suppress higher-level prefrontal/frontal brain functions, on the grounds that most disasters, crises and battles one runs into in the modern world require more advanced problem-solving routines than “run away/hit it with a stick”; and second, the emotional-control response triggered in the artificial part of the brain by any off-the-shelf set of crisis-management routines, never mind a full battle program suite, because that works so much better than getting all frothy-brained.

As such, walking through crises and disasters and battles in a calm, rational, and yes, serene manner is a positive trademark of these chaps.  And they have – despite the usual lamentable tendency to melodrama – some of the coldest rages you can imagine.  (Do not confuse a sense of the dramatically appropriate for emotional compromise.  That never works out well.)

Author’s Note: Hey, Y’All, Watch This!

For those wondering about some of the technical background:

The chief obstacles to using “normal” computers in space are heat generation (given the average spacecraft’s limited heat budget – disposing of heat in vacuum is hard), cooling (because in microgravity, convection doesn’t work – there go heat-sinks without a lot of active coolant-movement devices), ability to work in low air pressure and/or vacuum if something goes wrong, and the prevalence of ionizing  and other EM radiation, which tends to muck up delicate electronics.  For a large part of history, this was handled by many of the same compromises we made – reduced transistor density, specially hardened chips and designs, magnetic core memory, and so forth.

(Fun fact: this problem was particularly bad back in the Apollo-era equivalents of Projects Phoenix, Oculus, and Silverfall, because they were using Orion-style nuclear pulse drives.  Which is to say, during atmospheric ascent, a crapload of EMP happening right near the flight computers.  Back then, they were using “electron plumbing” machines, because despite their space program being relatively later in their technological timeline and thus having better ICs available, they still were by no means EMP-immune.  “Electron plumbing” is a technological path we didn’t take – essentially, evolved thermionic valves/vacuum tubes to higher orders of complexity.  Never widely used, because ICs were still a better technology overall, but for this specific use, excellent.)

But in the modern era of spaceflight, they can use standard commercial computers, because those use optronic nanocircs.  Those run cool (no need to wiggle significant electrons about; photons are much easier to handle) inherently, and care much, much less about passing ionizing and other EM radiation.  Also, all but the most cut-down “standard” ML runtimes or hardprocs (a processor that implements the ML runtime directly in hardware) incorporate all the real-time and safety-critical features that you’d need for spaceflight applications, because those features are also used in general automation and robotics and other applications that are pretty close to ubiquitous downside as well.  And so does the standard IIP networking protocol, and so forth, and for much the same reasons.

As for WeaveControl, it’s more formal name is Interweave Command/Control Protocol; for reasons of technological evolution, plus much more prevalent hackerish tendencies in the population, just about every device manufactured – cars, lightbulbs, drink-makers, ovens, coins – comes with an IIP interface and a WeaveControl endpoint, which lets you run all the functions of the device from an external command source.  (It’s become such a ubiquitous open standard that there’s no reason not to spend the couple of micros it takes to install it.)  You really can script just about anything to do anything, or hook it up to interfaces of your choosing on any device you have that can run them.  Things as simple as programming your alarm clock to tell the appropriate devices to make your morning cuppa, lay out suitable clothes according to the weather and the style of the day, cook your breakfast, fetch and program your paper with the morning’s news, order a car to come take you to work, and program its music system with a playlist suitable for your mood are downright commonplace.

But they’re serious about anything/anything compatibility.  You can program your bath from your car, drive your car from your PDA, operate an industrial 3D printer from seat 36B on the sub-ballistic – hell, run your building elevator from your pocket-watch if you can think of any reason why that might be something you’d want to do.

Some of these applications are, ah, less advisable than others!

Hey, Y’all, Watch This!

“…things have changed since the old days, gentlesophs.  If you were paying attention in history class, you’ll have learned all about the exotica they had to use to compute in the early days of spaceflight, but anything you’ll work with on a starship now will be familiar to you already – optronic nanocircs, ML-based runtimes and hardprocs, IIP networking, WeaveControl command/control protocol, self-organizing technecologies, and so forth.”

“For those of you whose eyes lit up at the mention of WeaveControl – who have doubtless heard all the usual tall tales in spacer bars – yes, this does mean that technically you can fly a ship, from a shuttle to a dreadnought, using a portable slate or even that fob terminal you use to call your car.  If you pass this course with flying colors and buy me a few drinks, I might tell you some true stories about when it’s really been done, and how a few of those people even survived doing it.”

“But there’s a reason they give the flight-control chairs those surround displays and fancy hand-rigs, and for that same reason, if I catch any of you trying it during this course, however high your rating from flight school or even if you are Ithával’s own special gift to piloting, you’re going to be spending the rest of your time here cleaning the airlocks from the outside.  That’s because I’m old and kind, and you’ll be young and stupid.  What your future employers, insurers, space-control authorities and the gods who look after fools and spacers will do to you if you try it after graduation without your bridge and auxiliaries both being shot off first won’t be nearly so nice.”

– introduction to ‘Introduction to Starship Computers’, Academician Airin Silverfall-ith-Adae

Trope-a-Day: Crapsaccharine World

Crapsaccharine World: The Equality Concord.  Sure, it’s a fully-functioning Communist utopia, full of happy people working away, enjoying socially approved recreational activities, and going home each night to their loving families – from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs, with seemingly no blots on the landscape anywhere.

It would probably implode horribly over the course of a few months if you switched off the memory-redaction and emotional-stimulus implants, but as long as nobody realizes that they’re being brainwashed into happiness, contentment and satisfaction with their lives, jobs, families, and almost completely impaired volition – and they are happy, content, and satisfied, not merely pretending to be, and with no real buried selves screaming inside; modern brainwashing techniques really are that good – it’s as good as the real thing, right?


When Space Gives You Lemons

Minley Traveler, you are denied landing permission at Qechra Down, technical eval.  Maintain standard orbit, eight of twelve.  Do you desire re-routing to Qechra Orbital?  Qechra Local, over.”

“Ah, Qechra Local, clarify technical eval?  Minley Traveler, over.”

Minley Traveler, we have low confidence in your structural fitness for re-entry.  Qechra Local, over.”

“Qechra Local, we may not be a standard class, but if you check our spec plat, we are well within spec for re-entry on this world.  Minley Traveler, over.”

Minley Traveler, by your spec plat, we read you as a half-Hargis and half-Karakrayt slice-and-splice.  And that doesn’t disqualify you from landing, no, but I can see the weld lines on your hull from here by eyeball.  Qechra Local, over.”

“Local, we got here in one piece, didn’t we?  Over.”

Traveler, just ’cause Athnéël smiled enough to let that piece of kveth-lakh stand up to thrust ’til now doesn’t mean she’s going to keep doing it, so bring it in to Orbital under cold-gas or take it elsewhere.  She blinks at max Q, you’re looking for two landing spots and not likely to pay for either.  Not in my atmosphere, you don’t.  Qechra Local, clear.”

– overheard on local space-control channel, Qechra

The Word of the Flame (2/9)

The following, as is the preceding one and will be the other seven entries in the series, are extracts from the Word of the Flame, the record of the seeress Merriéle’s visions that is also the primary text of the Church of the Flame, the mainstream eldraeic religion.

More specifically, this series will contain all 51 verses of the book of Principles, which enumerate the principles of each of the eikones in the form of each’s foremost principle as they would have it expressed under Heaven, although naturally each eikone’s own book examines the fullness of the principle they represent from many more angles and in much more detail.  Nonetheless, the three verses of the Triarchs and the 48 verses of their Divine Ministers are second only to the book of Truths in Flamic moral teaching.

Knowledge is its own justification.
To learn it is good; to discover it is better;
To record it, imperishable, is best of all.
This is the command of Aláthiël
Through whom all things are known.

The stars hold wisdom beyond their light.
The deepest study reveals truth beyond truth,
The blossoming tree revealed in the acorn.
This is the command of Aéren
Who sees through every surface.

Your words are your thoughts, given form;
Your thoughts are echoes of your heart’s truth.
Therefore shape them well, with harmony.
This is the command of Atheléä
Whose songs resound in every voice.

Do not rely on chance; it will betray you.
Neither fight it; you will lose more than you gain.
Trust only that chance is.
This is the command of Athnéël
Whose presence is ever unlooked-for.

The eternal may persist forever;
Those which are ephemeral must end.
That which must end should end well.
This is the command of Pétamárdis
Who sees all endings made anew.

The world is clay, unshaped, awaiting the fire;
The world is metal, unshaped, awaiting the forge.
By your hands must all things be completed.
This is the command of Mahánárel
Who first wrought shape from chaos.

– the Word of the Flame, Principles 4-9