Trope-a-Day: Older is Better / Lost Technology

Older is Better/Lost Technology: Subverted in that while there are some awfully nice bits of leftover Precursor and/or elder race technology around, and piles of interesting things buried in the archives (assuming that some leftover perversion doesn’t eat your soul when you go looking for it), it’s more or less absolutely averted within the lifespan of any given civilization.  Things get better, not worse, the more so for those people who are appropriately obsessive about not losing stuff along the way.

And in any case, in many areas, modern civilization has beaten the best (extinct) elder-race tech that’s been found.  After all, it became the starting point for development.

Trope-a-Day: Proud Warrior Race Guy

Proud Warrior Race Guy: Some people think of the kaeth, the draconic pseudosaurians with the heavy-metal biology among the Imperials, as this, but while they are certainly violent (er, kinesthetic) enough, their sense of honor also is comfortable matching the Empire’s general Combat Pragmatism and eschewing of Martyrdom Culture, and it ignores their technological development and their artistic and spiritual side – really, they more closely resemble a cross between a Proud Soldier Race (see original trope) and Warrior Poet.

And also, same disclaimer: while there are a lot of them in the Legions and finding work with security companies and mercenary outfits, they are also to be found in the many assorted other roles that society requires.  (Even though they can still probably kick your ass.)

More likely candidates include the heavy-world linobir, who play it much straighter, and the kaliatar, who would like to think they play it straight, but are far too sneaky and devious.

Trope-a-Day: Martyrdom Culture

Martyrdom Culture: Strongly averted by the Empire, who as firm devotees of Living Forever is Awesome consider this sort of thing absolutely, completely, utterly idiotic. It may be better to die for your beliefs than to die in bed for nothing, but whenever not absolutely impossible, it’s a damn sight better to live for your beliefs, not to mention whatever else you may enjoy and wouldn’t be able to post mortem.

“I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country,” “Today Is A Good Day For Someone Else To Die,” and all that.

Not, of course, universally averted – but smarter societies trend this way, especially if they come into conflict with the Imperials, who despite regretting the occasional necessity of this sort of thing, love their own lives rather more than yours should the two come into conflict.

And so, upon being told that so-and-so “love death more than you love life”, etc., and so they’ll win, or some similar damn silly notion, are more than happy to deliver their request in the form of a horde of warbots or simple old-fashioned saturation antimatter bombardment from a few hundred miles up. Thus denying the Martyrdom Culture’s members whatever satisfaction they might have gotten from their hypothetical glorious deaths, and providing one more exemplary demonstration of superior military philosophy.

So it goes.

Trope-a-Day: Fisher Kingdom

Fisher Kingdom: The Empire is a moderate example of the first type; while not involving any actual mental modification, or other self-integrity violations (unlike the mind-warpers of the Equality Concord or various pharmacrats, for example), it is a fully mature information society (much more information-dense than the high end of ours), and – as hinted at under Emotion Bomb – isn’t particularly afraid to reinforce its social attitudes through applied memetics in architecture, decoration, etc., etc.

While it’s not forced upon you, or even readily noticeable if you’re not looking for it, it is appallingly easy to find yourself picking up some of the local attitudes.  Or so some visitors say.  Others just find things like the insistent regularity of the traffic flow and the polished cleanliness of the city streets frankly disturbing.

Refuge Cities

In today’s random postage, something I just wrote on the worldbuilding mailing list, in response to the following:

Do your worlds have a Peace town [city of refuge], where people can go in order to avoid the law?

Not as such, or at least not officially. (Certainly people, like, say, the Imperial State Security Fourth Directorate – whose explicit mission is tracking down anyone who flees the law and introducing them to the stealth gyroc bullet of justice – wouldn’t bother complying with any such requirement even if there was one.)

If you need to flee from the law in the Worlds, your best chance of doing so is change your name, change your body, and head at once via a suitably circuitous route – changing them another couple of times on the way – to some appropriate wretched hive of scum and villainy like, say, Nepscia, where the locals all have enough dark secrets and dodgy business going on that they tend to look askance at anyone wandering around carrying alethiometers or mindprinting equipment even if they don’t actually look like The Law. Of course, while this can be fairly effective in hiding from even rather competent law enforcers (such as the aforementioned Fourth Directorate), the drawback to fleeing to Nepscia is that you subsequently have to live on Nepscia for the rest of your personal ever, which in many ways is its own punishment.

Depending on if you might have pleased or annoyed the right people, you might be able to find refuge somewhere else, too. If you got into trouble helping their fellows escape, for example, the liberated AIs of the Silicate Tree will offer you sanctuary, because they don’t give a bit for meat intelligences in general, but they do understand gratitude. Or if you can find some way of making yourself more useful to them than any trouble you might bring with you is troublesome, of course, although then you should understand clearly that your sanctuary will last precisely as long as your utility.

The Empire, of course, provides a comfortable retirement for all manner of smugglers, free-thinkers, authors, scientists, philosophers, and transsophontists who got into trouble with assorted restrictionist laws, and even some of the right kind of revolutionary (“the People’s Extropian Front”, “Technicians Against Unnecessary Work”, “Citizens United for Liberty and Immortality! Down with DEATH AND TAXES!”, that sort of thing), because of (a) their steadfast refusal to ever extradite anyone for something that isn’t against Imperial law, and (b) because the modal Imperial citizen-shareholder thinks annoying the sort of people responsible for the laws they got in trouble with is downright hilarious.

The Rim Free Zone also serves in this role quite a bit – after all, they’re actual anarchists, and so there’s no-one there you could ask to extradite someone even if you wanted to. Of course, since there’s also no-one who’s paid to prevent anyone else from turning up and dragging you off in chains, etc., you’d better be able to afford PPL coverage suitable to defend you against whoever wants you if you exercise this option, or at least to make yourself too expensive to come get. This should be unavailable to actual criminals, inasmuch as the Free Zone does hold to a sort of rough-and-ready version of natural rights that PPLs won’t defend you against other people if you violate ’em, but if you have enough money, you can probably find a slash-trading PPL that’s willing to do it anyway.

And, equally of course, you’d better be careful that you don’t commit your special crimes against people in the Free Zone once you get there. To steal a perfectly apposite quotation from Buck Godot – just because there is no law in the Rim Free Zone, that doesn’t mean there are no rules.

Trope-a-Day: Firing One Handed

Firing One Handed: Works much better with the small examples of personal arms, pistols and such, whose vector-control recoil compensation is very good indeed at making it manageable, and come with an aiming system that plugs directly into your personal-area network, which is to say, brain.

Nevertheless, averted for heavy carbines and slugguns, at least some of which have enough recoil left over even with the compensation to break your wrist and/or arm, even fired two-handed, if you don’t happen to be equipped with those fancy carbon-ceramic weave bone reinforcements they hand out in basic training these days.

Trope-a-Day: Future Music

Future Music: While the Empire has been around for a very, very long time and as such has accumulated far more musical genres that I can reasonably describe, here are some notable ones – with staying power – in Imperial space:

Digital: This isn’t a parallel to our electronic music; it’s the native music of AIs and other digital sapiences.  To most biosapient ears it sounds like a hideously cacophonic mixture of modem noise with a bank of packet sniffers all set for audio output, but that’s just because we don’t have the right ears to hear it properly.

There’s also a biosapient offshoot using theremin-like instruments which pull their input data from sampling the player’s neural activity, which makes it vitally important to pick your musicians’ emotional-conceptual phase spaces (“we need an ecstatic, a melancholic, and two tranquillaries to play this quarto”) to match the pieces you intend to perform.

Drinkin’ Music: (Yes, the actual word translates literally as “drinkin’ music”.)  While this particular subgenre probably sounds most like Irish pub songs, from an Earth perspective, some of its best-known works are virtually impossible to perform when sober.

Emergent: A heavily improvisational musical school, and also the most danceable of the notable genres, “emergent” would sound to the Terran ear as something like a jazz-swing hybrid.  It occupies the Empire’s “mainstream popular music” niche.

Fightin’ Music: (Yes, this one does too.) Heavy on the trumpets, bagpipes, percussion, and bombast.  Really serious works in the genre include unconventional percussion instruments like spears-on-shields (after all, much of it was written to be performed on the battlefield), and modern examples may add firearms and small artillery pieces, and in one memorable example, the main armament of a Bellicose-class assault cruiser.  (The Ethring Nautical Symphony actually owns one, surplussed out of the Capital Fleet; the piece in question is remarkably popular during the Armament Day celebrations.)

The combination of the drinkin’ and fightin’ music genres is… best left unmentioned.

Filk: Well, speculative fiction is one of their major literary genres, so what would you expect?  (An outgrowth of Traditional, which see.)

Metatonal: The music of the augmented, metatonal makes use of elements, in audible range, timing, and differentiation between notes, that are impossible for the unaugmented ear to hear.  Or music that is targeted at an audience of two species at three different pitch ranges, of which only the middle one is audible to both.  Or – well, the more complexity you can cram into the music, and the more people you can please with the result despite their different perceptions, the closer you come to the real spirit of metatonalism, so they say.

Opera: While stylistically and dramatically similar to opera as we know it, Eldraeic opera includes elements of ballet, and is – in its higher forms – notorious for particularly involuted plots and extraordinary numbers of layers of symbolism.  It’s also often performed in archaic languages, or archaic dialects, at least.  In short: while still widely enjoyed, this is where Imperial high culture reaches its apotheosis.

Traditional: An outgrowth of the historical bardic tradition, this occupies what is effectively the “classical” music niche.  While there is considerable variety within the genre, the typical examples are relatively lengthy ballads or similar works, with relatively subtle instrumental accompaniment.  While not always presented, most also come with some form of visual accompaniment.

Trope-a-Day: Fictional Political Party

Fictional Political Party: Actually, a remarkable number of them – which has a lot to do, I suppose, with the cyberdemocratic/sortitive (random selection) nature of the Imperial Senate and most local assemblies making running a conventional political party a giant exercise in futility; they function mostly as debating societies, influence brokers, old-boys’ networks, and direct-action organizations, although the larger ones do manage to coordinate a few votes among their members who are conscripted into the legislature.

As such, they tend to be organized around a single issue they care about, or at least a philosophy, rather than being the corrupt and incoherent conglomerates of a dozen disparate positions that we all know and presumably love.

A few of the many, many examples would include the:

Above All, One Imperium Movement (consolidation of the entire rest of the Galaxy)

Alliance for Balance (avoidance of extremism, ensuring that what is done is done well)

Bricklayers of Utopia (mostly direct-action, but a general policy of utopia through innovation)

Party for Efficiency (minimize overhead, run the Empire like a successful business)

Sanguinary Enforcers of the Liberty Ethic (still fighting the old-time revolution; destroy all non-Societies of Consent, everywhere)

Status Quo (professional devil’s advocates; ask difficult questions to challenge all change because the status quo is already pretty damn good)

Universal Indifference Society (isolationists; barbarians are disgusting and we don’t want any on us)

And so on and so forth…

Trope-a-Day: Fictional Currency

Fictional Currency: First, see Global Currency for the most widespread of these: the Imperial esteyn, the Accord exval, the Rim Free Zone’s ergcred, the universal-if-useless gAu, gAg and gPt, the information-currency finality, and so forth.

Then there are the Empire’s internal currency (for all practical purposes, sets of denominations of the esteyn, but they were independent currencies once): the Cestian bright, the Selenarian imperator, the Veranthyr oakworth, the Cimonië kal, the mechanician-scrip cog, the Melchar pyracie, and so forth.

And the independent currencies of all the various polities of the Worlds and beyond: the Voniensan hourly (which is not, they insist, not a currency), the tennoa reiutil, the codramaju biopoint, the Magen croluyn… and many others as yet undefined.

Trope-a-Day: Global Currency

Global Currency: Played straight, twice, and arguably more often.

The first of them is the Empire’s esteyn, acceptable everywhere in it and existing in the interests of internal free trade.  It’s a quasi-fiat currency, managed by the Imperial Board of Money and Values to avoid either inflationary or deflationary tendencies to provide a reliable store of exchange-value.  It’s acceptable anywhere the Imperial writ runs, in quanta from the micro-esteyn to the mega-esteyn, and is denominated in a truly remarkable range of values as well as its official ones, inasmuch as to simplify the transition, most of the local currencies which formerly existed were redefined as new denominations of the esteyn.

(The management is done on the basis of an energy/cycle index, these days, modified for secular productivity changes due to innovation.  It used to be done on the basis of a rather broader basket of commodities, likewise modified, but the advances in nanofacturing and automation technology have thinned it quite considerably, in consequence.  Also, while technically it’s done by the IBMV, in practice, in the modern era, most of the day-to-day work is done by a massively-distributed AI which extends itself all through everywhere there is an economy and keeps track of those statistics which it needs to know to make things work.)

The second is the Accord exval, an interstellar exchange currency between and supported by the signatories to the Accord on Trade, and managed by the Conclave and the Galactic Trade Association on their behalf – or rather by their tame AI – to be valued at the real-time floating average value of the currencies of each of the members.  (This makes it rather more volatile than the esteyn, both because many members prefer to hide or play silly-bugger games with their actual economic numbers, and because enough of its members are AI-phobic enough that the GTA’s AI is nowhere near as intelligent or self-directing as the Empire’s Fiscal Prime.  Some people evidently find it hard to turn control over to a machine that’s smarter than they are.)  The exval is not, for the most part, a real currency – it’s money of account and exchange currency, used to optimize cross-polity electronic currency transfers and make it easier to track the real values of foreign-held assets – and to let working spacers and tourists know what the actual prices of things are as they spend (most polities that receive any amount of tourism, and just about all the starports/startowns, dual-label goods in local money and Accord exvals; which one gets the round number and which one floats tends to vary by location).

There are a number of other currencies of general acceptability; the venerable gAu, gAg, and gPt can be traded anywhere, although you need so damn much of them given modern mining technology and its effect on the value of the underlying metals, it’s hardly worth bothering anywhere off Hicksworld.  The energy (usually antimatter) backed, fully convertible, ergcred is sometimes seen, especially out towards the Rim Free Zone.  A few of the higher-infotech societies out there occasionally talk up the virtues of the finality – and use it between themselves – backed by irreversible computational operations, but have trouble selling it to people of less infogeekery.

Trope-a-Day: Feudal Future

Feudal Future: Subverted.  While the runér who make up the “executive branch” of the Empire’s government might look like a feudal hierarchy from some angles, and their titles are occasionally translated that way, in practice they have much less power than a feudal lord’s theoretical powers, and theirs is not a legally enshrined hereditarian hierarchy that places them above all other parts of society (see: Fantastic Caste System).  And historically, they grew up as, effectively, bottom-up-driven administrators rather than as local warlords, the old feudal model having died hard in the tumults that led up to the founding of the Old Empires.

In short: there’s a reason tying back very directly to the fundamental nature of the Imperial government why the Imperial Couple’s formal style includes the line “Chief Executive Officers of the Imperium Incorporate”, and why the fundamental power rests – strictly according to explicit contract – with the citizen-shareholders.

Trope-a-Day: The Federation

The Federation: Well, that would be the Voniensa Republic, an essentially conscious Expy of Star Trek‘s Federation.  Unfortunately, the Voniensans have to contend with the lack of the scriptwriters on their side; thus, their baseline-fetishism and naturalistic-fallacy-ridden philosophy (“our insert-species-here-anity”), heavy restrictions on personal augmentation (including ephemeralism, because, y’know, people were meant to die), and information control of dangerous ideas filtering in from the extranet make them relatively technologically backward; their biochauvinism (and even carbon chauvinism) and stance against AI personhood (guess where quite a few of the Silicate Tree’s renegades come from) also doesn’t help in that regard; their strong-central-government system makes them a tottering giant, steering a thin line between collapse and the Regional Governors Being Given Direct Control Of Their Territories; and their dodgy non-agorist economics make them actually one of the poorest – they have rationing, even – purportedly near-post-scarcity civilizations in the Galaxy.  Which takes real talent, let me tell you, when you have even restricted cornucopia machines.

While their volume is enough to keep them at least notionally within the Great Powers club by dint of mass of metal and economic leverage, in practice they’re the Sick Man of the Galaxy in exactly the same way as the Ottoman Empire was the Sick Man of Europe.  And the clock is ticking…

In short, a classic example of how to purportedly-benevolent yourself to death, statist-style.  The Imperials call them “the Land of Murdered Dreams”.

Naming Things: A Slice of My Process


I am, as you know (Bob), a big user of Translation Convention, both within and without universe. (Within, in the sense that when it comes time for the linguists of the Imperial Exploratory Service to build a new translation database when they’re about to contact someone new, they do the equivalent of buying copies of the entire speculative fiction section of, on the grounds that that’s the easiest and most practical way to find reasonable cognates  for technologies they have and the worldbound civilization about to meet them doesn’t. Without, in that I am obvs. doing essentially this considering I’m writing in English, belike.)

And among my assorted varieties of phlebotinium, I have this metal, see. It’s a synthetic element, kind of reddish in color, and remarkably useful in a variety of ways, starting with being a high-temperature superconductor and moving on from there. Now, I don’t think it would be long before the translator-writing chappies would be able to dig “orichalcum” out of the old database for a reddish metal of outre properties.

But, y’know, I like to think about things a bit, put my own stamp on them, that sort of thing, and for that matter, comply with the general convention that except for those grandfathered in, back in the day, element names generally end in -ium. As would, say, any new ones developed *here* .

Hmm. Do we think orichalcium would be a reasonable coinage for this stuff?

Trope-a-Day: Fate Worse Than Death

Fate Worse Than Death: Played essentially straight, rape and torture-wise, given cultural attitudes to slaving and All Things Connected With It.  This, of course, became even more the case when death became really hard to inflict (see Final Death); the brain-mounted suicide-switch, often with emergency bug-out transmitter, and a restore from backup has become the standard solution – and essential accessory for everyone traveling to those backward areas which such things are statistically present – to all such Fates Worse Than Death.

(Of course, a related aspect of those cultural attitudes and the generous nature of Imperial self-defense laws –  not to mention cultural attitudes towards other people’s oft-ungenerous self-defense laws – mean that a lot of those emergency bug-out transmitters don’t contain just enough antiprotons to power the transmitter; they contain enough to ensure that anyone unwise enough to attempt to rape, kidnap, torture, etc., an Imperial citizen-shareholder has a good chance of being at ground zero of their very own miniature – collateral damage would, after all, be rude – Nuclear Incident.

It sure is nice to have built-in grenades, don’t you think?)

Trope-a-Day: Faster Than Light Travel

Faster Than Light Travel: Means wormholes, which you have to drag to where you want them STL first.  (Or, for transmission only, tangle channels – which, for the physicists reading this, do not work by Quantum Entanglement As We Know It.)  For more details of which, see Cool Gate, Casual Interstellar Travel, and Corralled Cosmos.

And yes, faster than light travel, when combined with appropriate kinds of slower than light travel, absolutely does result in causality violations in the Eldraeverse.  (There are rules to govern which causality violations are possible – of which the short and mostly accurate version is “predestination paradoxes yes, grandfather paradoxes no” and various sophisticated computing techniques – “acausal logic” – make use of this fact.  It’s fun!)  Indeed, sometimes physics students are taken on (lengthy) field trips for the simple purpose of watching effects preceding causes.  It’s a fun day out for all the family!  (Even the ones who may not have been born yet.)

Trope-a-Day: Fantasy Pantheon

Fantasy Pantheon: Yes, indeed, in the shape of the Triad that emanate from the Flame, their 48 Divine Ministers and Aspects, some divine oddities like the Court of the Seasons, the Court of the Muses, and the Elemental Hexad, and their exarchs (for which read angels, kami, devas, genii loci, etc.).  And most of them do, arguably, have Anthropomorphic Personifications, although most of them have several, and quite a few non-anthropomorphic, and in some cases amorphic, personifications too – and they never turn up anywhere outside statuary, and suchlike.

Of course, in the beginning they didn’t actually exist in any physical sense, or, for that matter, as the full worship-objects of so many deities; rather, these eikones were personifications of idealized abstract concepts, and all the bundles of ideas wrapped around them, suitable for mortal reverence and emulation.  Having this sort of deity made it a rather philosophical sort of religion, and more or less ideal when it came to persisting once non-supernatural worldviews and atheism set in.

And then the Transcend came along, put on the masks, took up the insignia, and for all intents and purposes, there are now real gods in the heavens – albeit either in the virtual heavens, or in the form of a seed AI with a brain the size of a star system, depending on how you look at it…

(The henotheism part of the trope is averted, however.  While some eikones may be more prominent in any given life than any other, the theology is very clear that each of them only cares about those things within its sphere, and nothing for anything else.  A warrior who devoted himself absolutely to Kalasané, eikone of battles, and ignored Lanáraé, eikone of romantic love, could expect to find no love in this life, no matter how honored he was on the field.  Honoring all of the eikones, even if not to the same degree, is the expected behavior.)

It is also notable for not containing any “gods of evil”, or for that matter “demons”.  The opposition in the cosmology is the impersonal force identified as “chaos” or “entropy” – which the emulation of the eikones as forces of creation and order enables sophonts to fight, bringing about an ideal world; i.e., immanentizing the eschaton.