Trope-a-Day: Good Republic, Evil Empire

Good Republic, Evil Empire: Well, sort of – arguably, from one point of view, the Voniensa Republic are the good guys for those who like their humanity (or rather X-anity for various values of X, mostly kalatri) coddled, their transhumanism prohibited, their lifespans finite, their computers in their place, their technologies “sustainable”, and their government strong to guarantee security and equality and social rights/justice and other warm fluffy things, while the Empire is a chaotic, anarchic mess that guarantees almost nothing – and what it does guarantee, it guarantees too hard – filled with the unnatural, the alien, the inhumane, and the just plain mad and unregulated charging down the roads to singularities like there was no tomorrow.

Which is all very well, and indeed exactly what you want if you’re a cute widdle baseline (like, say, the average human who envisions the future as something undifficult, i.e. vaguely like Star Trek) who is comfortable ignoring just how unpleasant they’re being for and to all the species and cultures who don’t fit into their nice little closed world (see: The Federation), who sees the constraints of nature as holy writ, who is made uncomfortable by the presence of anything they might have to look up to, and who never, ever wants to have to acknowledge any thoughts outside the comfortable box of The Social Norm, As Defined By People Like Me.

Strongly averted by everyone else.  Even the Empire’s avowed enemies in the rest of the Worlds acknowledge that while they might be a bunch of mad, smug bastards, at least they don’t insist that you squish yourself into quite such high-grade soul-crushing mediocrity.

The Bear Necessities: Historical Trivia

In reality, the first orbital bear attack happened 137 years later, when a stage-one ursine uplift working as a nanny-bodyguard intervened successfully, if vigorously, in a child kidnapping case at the interplanetary cycler-port on Vevery Station. After hearing the testimony of the children and bystanders, the Near Orbit District Court ruled that ‘they needed killing; jolly well done’.

The Bear Necessities

Miralí Muetry-ith-Muetry floated in the center of Oculus Station’s stellarium. The view was at its most magnificent – the station had just passed periapsis and was approaching zenith, leaving the whole Eliéran Upperside spread out below her; a fuzzy-edged whorl of silvery-gray cloud over continents calen-green and fidur-blue amid the brighter blue of the oceans, spangled with cities gallé-warm, the whole glowing opaline with the reflected light of the suns. It was a view which, in reproduction, was hanging in almost every home on the planet below since Phoenix One had first captured it, but which no-one – from the newest rookie to the oldest hands aboard – ever tired of watching live in their off-shift. The stellarium, while one of the quietest places on the station, was also one of its most crowded.

But for a few minutes, during station-day shift-changes, it was possible to find some peace and solitude there; something which, on some days, Miralí found particularly appealing.

“Groundside wants to send a what to my space station?”

“A bear, Flight Commander.”

“Dare I hope that that is a project codename for something?”

“No, Flight Commander. It is on the list as Project Ursine, but the bear itself is, well –”

“A bear, Science Operations Coordinator?”

“Yes, Flight Commander.”

‘An entire bear, Science Operations Coordinator? Not, say, bear tissue, or a bear biosim, or, or even a teddy bear? The six hundred pounds of fighting mad with claws kind of bear?”

“Yes, Flight Commander. Although – a hibernating one.”

“I see. Inform groundside that the Festival of Cinníäs was last month and they should resubmit their proposals when they sober up, come down, or both.”

“Yes, Flight Commander. Really, Flight Commander?”

“No, not really.” She pinched the bridge of her nose in annoyance. “This is normally outside my department, Sian, but did groundside go into any detail as to why they want to ship us a bear?”

“It’s… an Initiative joint research project with Ochale Biotechnics, Flight Commander. Apparently bears don’t lose bone or muscle mass while they’re hibernating. The researchers want to know if that applies to microgravity too, in case it will help us out with adaptation-syndrome treatment, so they want to orbit one for ninety days and collect its biodata.”

“Ah.” Something important, then. Damn. “Well, they can’t have it in the science, habitation, or utility modules, or in anything plugged into any of those modules. There are many things I’m willing to go down in the history books for, and none of them are ‘lost half her science establishment to an orbital bear attack’. Preferably, we should avoid all mention or possibility of ‘orbital bear attacks’, yes? So tell them if they want a bear up here, they can put it in its own ‘can with independent life support, and we’ll hang it off the industrial truss. Their payload specialist’ll have to go for a walk every day, but so be it. FlightCom’s final word on safety – not negotiable.”

“Yes, Flight Commander.”

“And, Sian?”

“Flight Commander?”

“Warn Kael what’s coming, and that the words of the week down in Structural Maintenance need to be explosive bolts.”

Trope-a-Day: Honor Before Reason

Honor Before Reason: While it has occasionally been claimed about the Empire (mostly by people who have more experience with I Gave My Word than with their Combat Pragmatism, which is more confusing that enlightening on that point), if you were to ask – or observe – an actual Imperial on that point, they would point out to you, and support with a small pile of ethical calculus, game theory, etc., that given a couple of preconditions, namely:

That your values are slightly more sophisticated than mere survival – and actually, quite a lot of the time even if they are only mere survival – or shameless backstabbing fuckery for its own sake;

And that your honor-code is well-developed and comprehensively thought through, honor being cognate to neither stupidity nor thar;

Then honor is reason, the apparent lack of practicality is functional if you take the time to look at the Big Picture and iterate, the apparent denial of a value may well satisfy a metavalue, and the entire question that the existence of this trope presupposes is invalid.  So.

(Of course, this still looks very much like playing it straight to people who are less, ah, willing to do whatever is necessary to abide by their extraordinarily valued principles/values/metavalues.  To plagiarize the applicable line from Dragon Age II, “What would the eldrae be without principle?  You, I expect.”)

Trope-a-Day: Good Is Not Nice

Good Is Not Nice: For the Imperials, while distinctly subordinate to its cousin trope, Light Is Not Good, this is played very straight on the occasions that Light does align with Good.

Good, for a start, has principles (see: Principles Zealot).  Good is an appallingly ruthless Combat Pragmatist.  Good believes in its own awesomeness and the moral worth of competence, and so Good probably has a The Reason You Suck speech to deliver about exactly how your lack of these things led to you needing Good to save your sorry ass in the first place.  (This particular Good also comes from a culture that considers pride a virtue and finds even normal self-deprecation about as pleasant to listen to as fingernails on a chalkboard.)  And above all, being from a society that is not terribly humble about having its shit together, Good is very tired of this bullshit.

(To take another angle on it, too, Good in this case understands mélith, as a moral principle, and therefore prefers venture altruism – while Good may help you out of a sense of charity, Good expects to profit from the deal long-term as, if nothing else, a demonstration of success; and while Good may, in this case, operate on a pay-it-forward basis, Good expects to see it demonstrated that you did, in fact, do so.

After all, it’s perfectly logical: If the same resources can give a thousand men fish for a year, or teach one hundred men to catch their own damn fish for the foreseeable future, or set ten men up in the fishing industry to supply the entire town with fish and economic revitalization, then the latters obviously make more logical sense than the formers, in terms of net good done – let alone good done per unit effort – even if some people don’t make out so well in the short term.  Shut up and multiply, son, and send the desire for warm, fuzzy good feelings right to the back of the bus.)

Trope-a-Day: Light Is Not Good

Light Is Not Good: Well, the Imperials certainly look the part of “light”, being all shiny and glowy and identifying with all kinds of light- and flame-based imagery, philosophically and religiously, but “good” – well, unless your personal morality identifies the good really strongly with knowledge, beauty, excellence, negentropy, self-integrity, obligation, the inevitable march of progress, and remorselessly enforced free will (among other blue and orange things), not really.  And if your notion of the good runs counter to those things – most commonly with utilitarian commitments to Luddism or collectivism – then Light Will Crush You.

(On another note, it may be noted that while among the eikones of eldraeic religion, the bright lights to aim at, there are eikones of good concepts – order, peace, prosperity, joy, justice, liberty, healing, honor, etc. – there is not one eikone that embodies good, as a concept.  It is, ah, insufficiently nuanced.

Of course, there are none that embody evil, or indeed any concepts on the dark side of gray, either.)

(See also tomorrow’s trope-a-day, Good Is Not Nice!)