Trope-a-Day: Latex Perfection

Latex Perfection: Unfortunately, no longer nearly so useful as it once was, due to the difficulty of compensating for all the exotic sensoria of all the species out there, never mind the sheer range of possible sensors.  (Mass-market cameras, for example, tend to cover everything from high radio bands through X-ray, in EM spectrum terms.)  Disguising yourself as someone else tends to involve growing clone-bodies, or bodysculpt, at the very least.

Trope-a-Day: Laser-Guided Amnesia

Laser-Guided Amnesia: Memory redaction.  Exists as a technology specifically to let people forget (a) traumatic memories, (b) merely unpleasant memories (“let’s agree that this argument never happened, love”), and (c) memories which one is contractually obligated not to have (i.e., a very effective non-disclosure agreement – although the separation between narrative and procedural memory usually does let you keep the skills you acquired on the job).

On Thanks, And The Meanings Of Thanks

In appropriateness for Thanksgiving, the question of the nature of thanks.

In an etymological discussion on Google+, back in July, which some of you may remember, in which various languages’ ways of saying “thank you” were discussed and their comparative original meanings – in terms of obligation, or gratitude, or mercy, or indeed the fascinating etymology of the Japanese arigato, I was asked how Eldraeic does this. And so, I answered, and I thought while I was at it I would save the substance of that comment for today’s blog article:

It is, of course, a somewhat complex question filled with tasty nuance. Sadly, it is also a complex question filled with etymological detail which I didn’t have to hand then, and since my brain has been busy with other things in the meantime, I still don’t have now, which teaches me to put things on the back burner, I guess. Still, while I don’t have those details available because I have yet to work out how these words would have run in Cestian and Selenarian and so forth before determining their descendants in good old modern Eldraeic, I can talk somewhat about meanings.

Of course, in Eldraeic, it’s all about obligation. Because of coválír and mélith, which for new readers are defined over here, and I talk some more about how they play out in language here. To Eldraeic’s original native speakers, and to those Imperially acculturated, obligation is a spiritual value, a founding principle of civilization, and a measure of moral worth all wrapped up in a single package. And for eldrae, in particular, it’s something about which they get instinctually twitchy in ways that humans simply can’t feel, so.

Thus, there are three combinations in Eldraeic that take the place of our “thank you” / “you’re welcome” pair. In either of the first two, the thanking party opens with “I am indebted”. The first possible response here, used for originating transactions, amounts to “It is known/acknowledged/recorded.” (The word here, based on the etymological notes that I do have, is now specific to this circumstance, but links back to older words relating to knots, tieing, weaving, etc., which is how they used to keep account-books in archaic times.)

I should also point up, probably, that while this might seem cold by human standards, declining to acknowledge/record someone’s offered debt is essentially blowing it off as not worth enough to bother with, which is a particularly insulting way to start a fight provoke someone to a duel. Yay for cross-cultural misunderstandings.

The other one, used for closing transactions when one is cancelling an existing debt, is “It is repaid,” which – oh, hey, more etymology – has links with words meaning “it balances”.

The third form is used in things like, say, buying something and paying for it right then, when the obligation is both incurred and paid off at the same moment. That one’s a worn down form of the old obligator closing that runs something along the lines of “Thus is our contract written; thus is agreement made.”, and it’s said each to each, probably simultaneously, at the close of the deal. You could also think of it as analogous to the Jacksonian “Deal”.

These apply, of course, principally to solicited transactions. Unsolicited ones – well, in their view of the world, you can do something that benefits someone else for your own internal reasons, but you can’t do something for them without their consent – because that would indebt them to you without their consent, and that’s something that only slavers, outworld barbarians, and other terminally uncultured people do. One can, however, declare oneself indebted to someone for something they didn’t do for you, which starts off the whole elegant verbal dance in which they try to persuade you that you’re not indebted (’cause they had their own internal reasons or another debtor, and got paid already) without insulting you by repudiating your debt, and you try to persuade them otherwise…

One might well ask how gratitude fits into this paradigm. Answer: badly, as we conceive of it, ’cause gratitude would imply a sense of indebtedness, and that would be incorrect and inappropriate because the debt has been either acknowledged as an obligation or already paid. It is done, and carrying it further would be a gross solecism.

What they do have, on the other hand, is appreciation – something which, per coválír , has its ties to such words as “appraise” acknowledged much more plainly that in human cultures, because they’re not ashamed to express value as value . Eldraeic is a language in which it is entirely reasonable and appropriate to say “I value your existence/this series of transactions/the [commercial/personal/etc.] relationship/your willingness to participate in this transaction” straight out, which while far from something that it’s appropriate to say every time you buy a cup of coffee, is something one might express to one’s frequent counterparty/regular butcher/favorite barista, etc., etc., as a statement appended to whichever of the above is relevant to whatever transaction you’ve just engaged in.

(It’s also the most appropriate statement to use to respond to things done that benefit-you-but-aren’t-for-you, which in most cases do not generally warrant going to the lengths of declaring oneself personally indebted.

This phrasing is also used to acknowledge gifts – given with no strings attached, for which there is a specific verb, “to-give-in-appreciation-of-your-value”, which I would more readily gloss as “to gift”, at least if we ignore blue-gifting – compliments and other such expressions, and so forth.)


…for the delay in bringing you various things.

I regret to say that my writing is presently being interrupted by, ah, irritating hardware problems, which honestly, I’m not all that thankful for.

Unlike, say, my readers, for whose patience I am particularly thankful right now…


In the anonymous-questions box today, I received an inquiry into what the point of divergence, as it were, was that led to the eldrae Spaceflight Initiative developing with vigor into exactly the kind of space program we didn’t get?

Well, I’ve touched on a little bit of this before. Some of it originates in more-or-less innate cultural differences playing out, and some of it has to do with the different economic and planning time horizons of a long-lived species. I could talk about greater tendencies towards curiosity and neophilia and not having an untimely crisis of cultural self-confidence.

But if I had to reduce it to one thing, it’d be the way that all those folks who prefer to smugly pontificate about why things can’t be done – be it technical limitations or economic ones – or shouldn’t be done, or aren’t worth doing, etc., rather than getting down to the hard work of figuring out how it can be done, tend to find themselves being marched out of the Senate, or wherever, by their peers, and then duly mocked, denounced, and belittled to the plaudits of the crowd and the amusement of the children.

Imperial culture is really hard on those it perceives as Obstructive Naysayers. It certainly doesn’t go around listening to them.

Trope-a-Day: La Résistance

La Résistance: The Resolutionist Faction (your local name may vary; it’s not like they can agree on one) are a loose coalition of hundreds, if not thousands, of separate groups, struggling valiantly against the lack of tyranny imposed by the Empire and, to a lesser extent, the Accord of Galactic Polities.

Yes, I said “lack of tyranny”.  This is also what makes them a fine example of We ARE Struggling Together, inasmuch as their common feature is opposition to the “apathetic, nugatory, and downright irresponsible” oversight that prevents the Right People from applying the jackboot of firm governance to the buttocks of the unrighteous, and indeed, only seems to act to oppress people’s perfectly legitimate demands to reward the Obviously Correct and oppress the Just Plain Wrong.  As such – which is to say, as a coalition of the extrasystemic-resistance-inclined among all of old-style aristocrats, conservatives, liberals (vis-a-vis libertists), socialists, progressives, fascists, communists, theocrats, democrats, xenonationalists (although surprisingly few polity nationalists inasmuch as imperial annexations have been out of style for a long, long time), deep ecologists, other single-issue crazies, and every other kind of power-hungry whackjob imaginable – it’s about as effective as it sounds like it is.

But it does, at least some of the time, manage to hang together well enough to achieve something (usually something from The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized) on the grounds that they can fight each other afterwards, once The Man has been taken down.

(There are also a few really serious anarchist La Résistance groups, but since they’re – as you might expect – rather disorganized, and since there are so many more attractive targets in the galaxy than most of the protagonizing ones, they’re generally considered of minor importance.)

Shadows Are Shadows

The most important thing to remember about the Shadow Realm is that it does not exist. “Cyberspace” is a null concept.

The selfness of the Transcend is a distributed, heavily parallel, sophic process-set. It runs on the fractal chandeliers of Corícal Ailék, as close to a central node as the Transcend has. It runs on AI machines scattered across the Empire, buried under unity spires and in contemplationaries and as free-floating moon-brains. It runs on vast forests of cyborg-fungiplant organic computers. It runs on the pervasive nanites of every Imperial world’s nanoecology. It runs on spare computer time and data space purchased upon the cycle spot market. And, of course, it runs within the soul-shard-implanted mind-states of each and every one of its constitutionals.

But none of this is a world. Random access memory has no volume metric. Information has no inherent representation. Processes do not have intrinsic personality.

The faces in the storm are weather-control automation. The islands of the quicksilver sea are representations of process groupings. The data-spirits, from the least elemental to the greatest archai, are masks worn by ineffable Transcendent cognition, not independent entities.

While it is easy to forget when confronted by the timelessness of the kami, the vastness of the Pearl-Bright Ocean, or the majesty of the Twilight City, the Shadow Realm is merely a virtual user interface built for our convenience, shaped according to our mythopoeic semiotics, without “real” existence – a mask, computed only when we wish to observe it.

(Of course, if the information physicists are correct, you could say the same thing about the universe.)

– introduction to The Realm of Shadows and Fire: Inside the Hyperconsciousness

Trope-a-Day: Language of Truth

Language of Truth: There is no first-class language of truth (that is more or less impossible), but Eldraeic was custom-designed to make speaking logical fallacies – by a variety of logics – bad mathematical statements, woeful imprecision, etc., etc., as difficult as possible if not downright ungrammatical, especially when spoken in formal registers.

While this does, as intended, make life more difficult for amateur liars, the general feeling is that even when professional liars (diplomats, say; see Will Not Tell A Lie) are called for, they really ought to be above that sort of cheap fast-talking anyway.

sudo fiat_lux

The first thing I saw, after my arrival at Corícal Ailék, was the Transcend’s root code.

I didn’t see the live root code, of course. If you are one of the Transcend’s constitutionals, and so can enter Its mind – or rather, as they insist, the Shadow Realm that is merely a computer-generated virtual metaphor for Its mind – then across the Pearl-Bright Ocean, in the heart of the Twilight City, there is a mountain of infinite height; and that mountain is also a crystalline pyramid of ever-increasing size; and that pyramid is also the midnight-eyed god-goddess who sits at its apex. This is Mirith, The Words That Bind The Throne, defining soul and mediator of the archai – the, in mundane terms, visual metaphor for the Transcend’s root code in execution and all that has recursively self-developed from it, which can be read in the millions of characters inscribed on the pyramid’s walls or rippling beneath the deity’s parchment skin.

(Or so it is said, anyway. Since it is also said that attempting to achieve even partial comprehension of this without first joining the Transcend and undergoing significant vastening is a sure way to land in Paragon Ethne’s Containment Sanatorium for the Irretrievably Godshattered, you will pray pardon me, gentle reader, for not verifying it myself.)

But on the journey from the Port Pilgrimage terminals to Serenity Dome, along both sides of the maglev track, the visitor may read – spelled out in ideographs carved from gemstones the size of houses – the First Defining Statement of the original root code from which all this sprang.

…if sophs grow proud, how much more their gods?

– “Walking Into the Mind of God and Living to Write About It”
Sev Ran Dínet

Trope-a-Day: Will Not Tell A Lie

Will Not Tell A Lie: Not strictly played straight with the Imperials, but mostly played straight.  They are very averse to lying, for reasons of honor/integrity, for reasons of ethics/religion (remember the appropriate verse of Elmiríën’s Truths?), for legal reasons based off of those (“falsification of information” is a public crime, and fraud, false claims, etc., are much more wide-ranging), and because as such a self-evidently superior and strong crowd, it really ought to be beneath them.  Thus, whenever they can possibly get away with it, they play it straight.

And on such occasions as it is required (“necessary lies”, permitted to certain difficult professions and certain difficult circumstances), they much prefer to mislead – or better, let you mislead yourself – obfuscate, omit, exaggerate, imply, circumlocute, equivocate and filibuster their way to victory by, ah, carefully positioning the truth rather than actually lie (and certainly won’t ever break their word to do it).  Their reputation for Will Not Tell A Lie is very useful, after all, and worth preserving.

Trope-a-Day: Land of One City

Land of One City: Quite a lot of Imperial constituent nations are city-states – indeed, two of the founding members were the Cestian city-states of Eume and Baryvekar, and the later-joining Veilyns was a confederation of city-states.  In more recent times, a plurality of underwater and sky cities, artificial islands, and space habitats (not counting those organized into clusters) would also qualify.  As would a substantial number of colony worlds in the early stages of their development, and hostile-world outposts.

None of those, of course, are completely sovereign city-states, but given the Empire’s hands-off, laissez-faire approach to local governance, are probably enough so to qualify.  And, of course, there are plenty of independent habitats and starter colonies out there, too.

Epistolary Experiment (11/30)

…we’ve got a hot soup spill in section 31, lead mops report immediately. Section is status yellow, caution…

…spallation debris approaching starport orbital, get a laser grid on it…

…can’t clear those remains for release yet, suspected contamination…

…major fire, section 10, and area is negative on water pressure. Think you can blow it out with a k-rod?…

…fluffships are inbound, expected to make orbit in plus four hours, keep jinking until then, flight…

…negative on that prisoner transfer, we have feral mechs in the area, stand by…

…get the net back up, dammit, the dynamic stabilization depends on cicencomp – stupid, half-assed, failure-forward…

…bunch of civilians with notions holed up in a museum in section 20, send in the spankers…

…all snarled up in 15 with locals staging for a riot, get us some weather over here…

…plant’s under our control, techs are isolated and software checked – are we go for reactor restart?…

…THIS IS THE VOICE OF THE RESI– <transmission terminated at source>…

…thanks for the priority-codes, old lad; infosec, scrub ’em…

…bandits, bandits! Three punchcraft breakin’ out to heaven eighty miles east of city-ref, mama bird, can you drop ’em?…

…clean stab, Wrecker team, we are splash three, zero defects…

– aftermath logs, Vontok II

From: Imogen Andracanth, VP Research, Ring Dynamics
To: Adm. [blank], Imperial Naval Intelligence

Shit and corruption, man, first Serril and your Athné vanish off the face of the cosmos while investigating the you-know-what and less than a year later we have Vonnies swanning around on our side of the border. Do either of us believe for a moment that that’s any sort of coincidence?

We have a damaged gestalt, although her original can’t make a mote of sense out of it. Does that get your attention?

From: Monitor Hakal Peressin, Stratarchy of Indirection and Subtlety
To: All Personnel, Vontok II Communications Central
Subject: Congratulations and Instructions

Excellent work, gentlesophs. Excellent work capturing this place intact. I know it couldn’t have been easy.

You all deserve to know and now have need-to-know, so here’s why we had to do that, at the summary level. Detailed orders will follow to Section Chiefs in due course.

We don’t yet have a good read on the Republic’s intentions, so we don’t know how long this war is going to last or what it’s scope is going to be, long-term. What we do know is that we’re out on the end of a long string, here, as you know. We can’t hold Vontok against a determined, large-scale counterattack, and the Admiralty needs to keep the forces that might change in that in reserve garrison against further movements into the Reaches and Expanse. So we may lose this planet at any time, or even have to return it under treaty or ceasefire.

Our job, therefore, in one of our least subtle Subtlety operations is to so culturally contaminate this world that the Republic won’t want it back, or at the very least, enough to make it a perpetually bleeding sore that will keep it from being a useful forward base for them in the future.

So, this time, we’re not shutting down the extranet relays. Keep them up and running, both ways, but get all the censorware out of the feed. Other teams will be fanning out to strip the censorware out of terminal equipment and their crippleware “replicators”, too. We’re going to show these poor sheltered sods what freedom of information looks like.

I’m having some Agalmia freelibs offloaded from our carriers: have them spliced into the feed, with full unrestricted access – and that means recipes too, with things like weapons designs included. That will make our occupation harder, but it’s a genie that can’t be stuffed back in the bottle, and the more any resistance tries to use them, the more they have to concede mentally to our way of doing things.

And finally: we have aboard the Mindweaver a colonial-sized tangle channel, hooked directly into the Worlds’ extranet at a central secure node. We’re going to set that one up as an additional feed – partly for some good old non-governmental news, but partly because we, as a mature information society, have the worst imaginable memetic weapon to deploy against this sort of planned and bland monocultural utopia.

Colleagues, cousins, we’re going to smack ’em sane with our advertising.

Mon. Halak

Trope-a-Day: Lady of War

Lady of War: Inasmuch as the martial arts are part of the educational curriculum for both sexes in the Empire, this is something of an archetype; certainly the archetype for female members of the sentinel darëssef.  (With the stipulation that grace and reserve – and an elegant fighting style – are also qualities expected of the equivalent male of the species.  See Cultured Warrior, specifically, and any number of cultural tropes in general.)

Trope-a-Day: Knighting

Knighting: Somewhat different; the actual title in the Empire is lathlé, which literally means “holder of certain privileges” – and are given out for a rather wider variety of reasons – and depending on exactly why you’re being appointed as one, where you are being so designated, from the Court of Courts to a backwater demesne, the accompanying circumstances, and so forth, the associated ceremonies can range from the full pageantry of a days-long full-Court-of-Courts ceremony to simply being handed the essential part (your letter patent) and told not to screw it up.  No kneeling (see: Pose of Supplication, wince), no swords, and no swearing of loyalty, it being either assumed/already done and thus not needing (and quite rude) to be restated or irrelevant (i.e., you’re being recognized, welcomed to the Exultancy, and given your certain privileges even though you happen to be foreign).

Trope-a-Day: Knight Templar

Knight Templar: To a lot of people in the galaxy, the Empire, based on their unapologetic status as a libertist-technepraxic ideological state, willingness to tell the rest of the universe that they’re all doing it wrong and other forms of earnest ideological propagation, and utter devotion to, oh, I Die Free, No One Gets Left Behind, Disproportionate Retribution, (apparently) Black and White Morality, and similar tropes.

More thorough people point out that they do appear to be rather self-aware (especially given that they subvert that “do away with that pesky ‘free will'” issue by mostly fighting for freedom of choice, or else) about the patent contradictions involved in waging war on everyone for freedom and in exterminating people who might yet choose to be better, and thus do neither of those things.  And indeed hunt down those Renegades who’ve seen the outer galaxy and decided, well, it’ll have to go, and such Well-Intentioned Extremists as the Blood of Tyrants.  (See also Utopia Justifies the Means.)

And thus, while they may take a fairly absolutist view of the world, refrain from being idiots about applying it.

Trope-a-Day: Well-Intentioned Extremist

Well-Intentioned Extremist: Plenty of them.  The Empire’s (and Rim Free Zone’s – not that they’re really coherent enough to spend much time dealing with them, unlike the Empire, which understands that they’re both staggeringly counterproductive and vaulting merrily across the Moral Event Horizon) principal embarrassment in this department are the dark side of the Sanguinary Enforcers of the Liberty Ethic (see: Fictional Political Party), the mostly-Renegade Blood of Tyrants, who take the view that literally any violent action is justified if the people you take it against represent a non-consensual government, or advocate a non-consensual government, or tolerate a non-consensual government, or are standing a bit too close to… well, you get the picture.

Other examples elsewhere in the Worlds that at least someone can evidently appreciate if they just hear the friendly version of their aims – and not the details or the methods – include the Enforcers of Mortality (who object to immortagens for a variety of reasons, from the philosophical to the purely self-interested), the biochauvinists of the Biotist Alliance and their slightly more justified digital-supremacist counterparts in the Electron Reign, the deep ecologists of the Ecoprimacy System, Parents for Natural Children and other less-friendly-sounding genetic purists, and the assortment of baseline-über-alles groups united under the Never Last umbrella.  And, of course, any number of species supremacists and other more classical whackos.

Lunacy. Lunacy never changes.

Author’s Note: Astrography

So let’s talk a little about the setting of our ongoing fiction, the Associated Worlds.

First: they’re big. Really, really frakkin’ big. Sci-fi writers with a sense of scale big. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemists’, but…

Ahem. Enough of that.

So, let me draw you a picture. The free-space volume of the Associated Worlds is an irregular mostly-oblate spheroid. Along its major axes, it’s about 3,300 light years from core to rim, 4,100 light years from spinward to trailing, and 2,000 light years from acme to nadir. To put some perspective on those numbers, that means that at its tallest part, much of the center, it completely fills the galactic disk top to bottom. Meanwhile, the Lethíäza arm of the galaxy in which it is located is approximately 3,500 light years across, and since one slightly-flattened end of the spheroid – expansion having slowed, although not stopped, to coreward on encountering the inter-arm gap – is pressed up against its coreward side, it lacks only about 200 light years of running into the rimward side of the arm, too.

As those of you with calculators will already know, that’s approximately 27 billion cubic light years of volume, which contains approximately 100 million stellar bodies of various kinds. Like I said, big.

Of course, on the cosmic scale, or even the galactic scale, it’s still a barely significant mote. Space is like that.

The kicker, of course, is that most of that is unused and only explored astronomically. The expansion pattern of the Worlds has been, essentially, to look for interesting things, and then fire off a long-range stargate to a system near them and weave a constellation from there. The one black hole in our neighborhood? That counts. The blue-white supergiant? That counts, too. Any system which appears to have signs of intelligent and usually technological life? That definitely counts, as maybe we can sell ’em something. That sort of thing.

That process has resulted in maybe 10,000 star systems over that whole enormous volume being actually connected to the stargate plexus and thus readily visitable. That would be roughly 0.01% of the stellar bodies in that volume. The rest would be the “Inner Periphery” of systems that didn’t seem so interesting at the time but which are likely to be hooked up if and when they become interesting, or if and when polities in inner constellations feel like expanding locally, rather than out in the ecumene, and also feel like paying for it.

So when you think of the Associated Worlds, think of a cobweb. The strands are long-distance wormholes. The dewdrops clinging to the points where they intersect are local constellations, where constellation in this case is defined as maybe fifty systems linked together with short-range stargates with three or four long-range gates connecting to it at various points. And the empty spaces are not-quite-empty space.

To hang some numbers on that, the Empire has all of one constellation (the Imperial Core), and about half each of five more (the Imperial Fringe), close to 250 worlds in total if you include its colonies out in the ecumene. Which is to say, it’s the tiny kernel at the heart of the big nut – although that said, it’s nearest competitors, the Photonic Network and the League of Meridian, are only 120-150 world polities. To divide up the rest, in the divisions Where’s Where in the Galaxy would offer you, these six constellations and 73 more make up the “true” Associated Worlds, the well-developed, comfortable, and stable metropolitan regions.

109 more constellations surrounding those make up the Expansion Regions, which are a bit less developed but not actually frontier. They tend to be the places where most of the action is, when there’s astropolitical action.

And the 23 constellations of the Periphery, found all around except to acme, nadir, and along the border with the Republic, are the wild and wooly frontier.

Leaving the Worlds proper for a moment, the Voniensa Republic, featuring rather heavily at the moment, is located spinward and slightly to rimward. It has about 8,000 worlds in its volume, although by no means all of those are politically part of the Republic. (More than a few of them belong to people who are currently being Prime Directed, for a start.) It’s also substantially smaller than the Worlds in free-space volume, because while they’re not quite as bad at insisting territorial volumes make sense in space as the members of the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms, they do pursue a much more consolidate-y expansionary policy.

And finally to note, cutting through the rimward systems of Lethíäza, and thus both the rimward side of the Republic and the fringe Periphery – only a few stargates at the far edge of the rimward Periphery breach it – is the Shadow Veil, which is a vast dark nebula of opaque gas and dust that does a fine job of obscuring both the view further rimward from most of the Worlds, and vice versa.

(So even if its still flexible galactic location turns out to be directly coreward of us, there’s still a reason why our astronomers *there* aren’t getting all excited about those distinct signs of someone building megastructures and operating pion drives. Heh.)

Trope-a-Day: Utopia Justifies the Means

Utopia Justifies The Means: The motivation behind any number of Renegades – usually inspired by some form of Post Historical Trauma who have plans to “bring order/freedom to the galaxy”.  Reminders that the “order” in the Empire’s “Order, Progress, Liberty” motto is supposed to be emergent order, or just how very paradoxical it is to use the kind of Means which have to be Justified to bring about a shiny utopia of freedom rarely help all that much.  (See also, literarily, A Good Man.)

Also the thinking behind such branches as the Sanguinary Enforcers of the Liberty Ethic, whose plan for bringing about said utopia are only slightly more nuanced – say, the mentioned branch’s “kill absolutely everyone everywhere who entertains authoritarian ideas”.  Fortunately, somewhat less idealistic thinkers generally prevail.