To: the Idiot Riggers in Habitation Module 4V and Their Damn-Fool Party Friends
Re: Your Still

Yes, I know about your still. No, I’m not going to shut you down, because if you don’t have the still I know about, you’ll just set up one l don’t know about. Or start sipping the reactor coolant.

But here are a few points you might not think of. The Flight Commander will have plenty more, I’m sure.

First, I have tested your first batch, and it seems at least one of you knows ‘shine from bactry juice, ‘cause there’s not enough methanol in it to blind you. If you’ve any damn sense at all, you’ll bring me a tester from every batch.

Second, I’m not vouching for anything else that might be in there.

Third, anyone who can’t drink rationally and hold it should come by sickbay at 1600 to hear in great and graphic detail just how fun it is to choke to death on your own aspirated free-falling fluids. There will be pictures. And should you end up in my care from anything hooch-related, you’ll get the long version, so save yourself some pain.

Fourth, my surgical oxygen does not exist to help you sober up. Anyone I catch using it for that purpose will wish they were just thrown out the airlock, especially if you find yourself needing anesthesia in the remains of your tour.

Fifth, we don’t stock enough analgesics aboard to go handing then out as hangover cures. If you can’t live with it, stick your head outside and breathe deep.

Sixth, no vomiting inside the airlock. Commander Steamweaver controls the air you breathe. That should be all the incentive you need to not get your crap in her filters.

Seventh, no vomiting outside the airlock, either. I’m running low on death certificates.

Surgeon Lieutenant Oricalcios

Trope-a-Day: It’s a Small World After All

It’s A Small World After All: Partially justified, in that (a) there are generally a limited set of places to land – Landing, Star City, Phílae Interstellar Starport, Stationary Station, etc., and (b) most people who have any sort of regular offworld dealings live there, or maintain offices there, or at least have some kind of representative or path-pointer there, so if you’re visiting on any sort of regular errand, you just land at the big starport and you won’t have much trouble finding them.

Averted for all other purposes, in that most planets are bloody huge, and – except for new colonies and outposts – covered in unspeakably large numbers of cities containing millions to billions of people, and to get anywhere – because no-one puts a starport downtown anywhere except Star City – requires extensive use of long-range on-planet transport.  And even thinking about meaningfully conquering or controlling one through force of arms requires absurdly large numbers of troops given their typical population and area, so if you have ambitions of joining the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms, better hope you brought the armada of self-replicating war machines.  You’ll need ’em.

Other Things You Should Be Reading: The Steerswoman

Reminded that I meant to occasionally feature things like this here by it, let me quote to you a little of Joshua A. C. Newman’s review of Rosemary Kirstein’s Steerswoman series:

The Steerswoman is an extraordinary speculative fiction series by Rosemary Kirstein. So far, it exists in the form of four novels: The Steerswoman (1989), The Outskirter’s Secret (1992), The Lost Steersman (2003), and The Language of Power (2004). She’s promised two more novels, with the fifth volume starting its Kickstarter next year, in 2015. As of this writing, I’m most of the way through The Lost Steersman.”


“Between the series’ excellent and subtle characters, its thoughtful and beautiful worldbuilding, and its strong philosophical standing, I’m having a great time reading these books. I hope you will, too. They’re available, DRM-free, both from Smashwords and Amazon for Kindle, where she makes a principled stand against digital restriction.”

I concur entirely with this review, let me say, and I heartily commend these excellent books and their worldbuilding to your attention.


Reactionless Drives

Technically, this is a trope-a-day from much later in the cycle, but seeing as (a) I just wrote it up having been thinking about it recently, (b) I’m sure at least some of my readers have been wondering about the very common use of reaction drives in the Eldraeverse ever since I first mentioned vector control, and (c) among those are the ones wondering how (and if) I avert running smack into Burnside’s Advice in the worst possible way. So:

Reactionless Drive: The important thing to remember about a reactionless drive is that it’s not reactionless.

A vector control drive is a member of the entire family of vector-control technologies, and like all the other members of said family, it obeys Newton’s Third Law. Vector control used for artificial gravity transfers the reaction to the action it’s applying to the stuff between the gravity rotors to the structural framework it’s bolted to. Vector control used in tractor/pressor beams pushes the party of the first part every bit as much as it pulls the party of the second part, and on the precisely opposite vector. And a vector control drive, while it utilizes extremely fancy ontotechnological trickery to spread the reaction to the action out across all the ambient mass in appropriately vast volumes (if not the entirety of, but that’s real hard to measure) of the local universe, is absolutely no different in this respect.

What you get from a vector control drive is not needing to haul all those vast quantities of reaction mass around with you. Note: only the remass. Vector control drives still need fuel, and since there are certain inevitable inefficiencies in coupling the action to the reaction quite so indirectly, they need significantly more fuel than an equivalent reaction drive. You aren’t getting away from having those huge spherical tanks of D and He3 strapped to the back of your starship that easily.

Another thing you might get is a degree of, um, stealth, inasmuch as you don’t have the huge bright drive flare that most reaction drives tend to produce. Of course, as we all know, there ain’t no Stealth In Space, because apart from your life support’s comfortable temperature alone making you stand out like a lighthouse against the 3K sky background, you’re also running a bloody great reactor (and radiating its heat) to power your vector control drive.

In short: the existence of vector control permits you to build something damned close to a classic SFnal reactionless drive. It provides you with rather fewer reasons as to why you might want to, outside a few highly specialized edge cases.

(Side note: the mad scientists out at Resplendent Exponential Vector have also been experimenting along the lines of the Alcubierre drive to get reactionlessness and a working fittler in one package. After their prototype vaporized a fortunately-spare dwarf planet and exploded first time out, their tort insurers have been reluctant to cover further development at a price they can afford.)


Trope-a-Day: ISO Standard Human Spaceship

ISO Standard Human Spaceship: They’re “realistic” designs, involving designing for microgravity, with nuclear engines out on the end of long trusses and no particular need to worry about aerodynamics or putting all your machinery inside the pressure hull, but —

1. They’re not painted grey or left as uncolored metal. This is not the ocean, there is no stealth in space, and there’s no real advantage to being a bland and neutral color. And while you could save some mass by leaving off the chameleon nanopaint, true, there is another consideration – namely, in close orbit operations, or while alongside a habitat, people can see you, and people who can afford private spaceyachts want them to look gorgeous, of course, but more importantly, everyone from Stellar Express to Constellation Dream-Lines spent a lot of money on their corporate color scheme and logo, and they want it splashed all over the hull in living animated Technicolor.  Half the captains in space don’t even turn the running lights off when they leave orbit just in case someone might be pointing a telescope their way.

(ISS and IMS ships are generally colored Imperial indigo, with gold trim.  Crimson striping is optional on those vessels operating under diplomatic privilege.)

2. Being visibly constructed from riveted plates is distinctly disfavored; rivets imply seams, seams imply weak spots, weak spots involve the possibility of messy vacuum-aided death. While it would be ludicrously inefficient to nanogrow an entire hull as one seamless unit, they do like to use nanopastes to make the seams go away afterwards. They do have the usual number of ports, sensors, and antennae attached in various places, though.

3. While you can certainly draw a box around them – and goodness knows a lot of less, ah, aesthetically sensitive species seem to think that the ideal shape for a freighter is a large steel box with an engine stuck on one end – it would be hard to describe a typical Imperial vessel as “boxy”. As soon as autofabrication made it possible to do grand, sweeping pseudo-organically curved shapes, naval architects dug their last few centuries of idle sketches of cool-looking but impractical ships out of the closet and ran with them, at least for civilian use – often in shapes that don’t enclose, but do conceal, all the heavy machinery and massive spherical fuel tanks and cryocels mounted on trusses outside the pressure hull. Or at least the bits of it that don’t look cool, while coyly revealing the parts of it that do. (And even the military ships aren’t all that boxy.)

And then, of course, there are the thermal radiators, which often resemble great curved wings of one kind or another when fully extended, even if they’re not solid (the most common radiator types are sheets of droplets extending from sprayer to collector).

4. For reasons explained elsewhere, there are no space fighters designed to be flown by meat. Such things have negative combat advantages and no survivability whatsoever.

(As a side note, while every bit as impractically fancy, in many cases, as the extensive brightwork of Royal Navy warships or East India Company merchantmen in the old tall ship days, the colorful paint jobs and excitingly sweeping shapes serve much the same memetic purpose: “we’re rich and powerful and successful enough that we can spend lots of time and effort on this stuff without impairing the basic functionality of the ship at all, so draw appropriate conclusions before startin’ something”.)

Author’s Note: “Beat Brass”

For anyone wondering about the origin of this particular evocative phrase for those regrettable times when one must intervene with the hardware personally, it dates back to those wonderful round-about-the-Industrial-Revolution-equivalent days, when life was steampunk only without the punk, and when computation was done and equipment was run by twelve tons of brass cogs – which is to say, Stannic cogitators, which is in turn to say, Babbage engines gone critical – powered by mighty pressures.

And as such, a sysadmin’s traditional debugging tools included a monkey-wrench and a 14 lb. lump hammer.