Trope-a-Day: Obstructive Bureaucrat

Obstructive Bureaucrat: Somewhat averted to begin with; a lot of what makes bureaucrats characteristically bureaucrats is that they’re supposed to operate in a manner practically void of discretion, as good little cogs executing according to the procedure manual and not much more.

The Empire never had the population demographics that it could afford to either waste people as cogs, or support minds that were only capable of being cogs.  Their bureaucrats, governmental or corporate or other, were generally handed tremendous discretion and expected to actually use it, with initiative, to make things work.  Whether it’s that directly, or just that that element made the job rather less soul-destroying…

Later entirely averted with the advent of cybermagistry, in which the artificial intelligences that replaced sophonts in all the pure-bureaucratic jobs couldn’t be obstructive, on account of not possessing the necessary precursors to forming a motivation to be obstructive.  A non-sophont machine can only do what it’s built to do, but does that very well and effectively.

(Except, of course, when obstructionism is needed.  Both Harmonious Serenity and State & Outlands have several offices which specialize in obstruction, obfuscation, and time-wasting… for dealing with those certain petitions and petitioners coming in from outside where the public interest demands that they be bored into submission, or at least into going away and quietly dropping the matter.)

Not Yo’ Mama’s Wormholes

Or, the Difficult Worldbuilding Compromises that Result when You Didn’t Design Everything at the Same Time.

It has been (entirely correctly) pointed out over on Google+ that this is not how wormholes, as we understand them today, would work.

(Because they’d work like this.)

This is one of those cases, though, where I end up invoking “firmish SF” – and one in which I’m trying hard to deprecate the term “wormhole”1 to refer to the kind of FTL there just to avoid confusion…

Having done my reading on said-hypothetically possible wormholes, I did my damnedest to use them properly. (Long-term readers of mine may, for example, remember some older references to wormholes as continuously existing Visser-type structures embedded in exotic matter frames, now quietly retconned out of canon – which indeed worked exactly as they should with regard to local conservation; having traversers’ mass and momentum added to the mouth they enter and subtracted from the mouth they exit.)

This would probably have worked a lot better for me if I’d not had an existing background/setting, because while I’ve rewritten a lot of things a lot of times to fit with hard-scientific plausibiity, after wrestling with it for a lengthy period – well, I came to the conclusion that while it offered me some very interesting options for how things would play out, there was pretty much no way I could reconcile it with what I had short of throwing out the setting and writing a new one from scratch. And, well, ouch.

So given the choice between that, badly mangling real science, or constructing some con-science to fit – in just this case, um, space magic? 🙂

1. Suggestions for alternative terminology gratefully accepted, since I really don’t want to keep calling these things wormholes when they don’t behave like wormholes. Especially since, arguably, there’s no reason that wormholes-which-are-wormholes couldn’t also exist there.


YThe reporter looked dubiously at his sandwich.

“So this is made entirely of yeast?”

“Absolutely! Nutriyeast spread on yeast-fermented yeast product with a steaming bulb of yeast-synthesized theobrom. Versatile little wonders, those.”

With careful mid-bite timing, she added:

“They also made the plate, the cutlery, and the table. Well, not the same ones, but one stabilized organochemical emulsion is much like another stabilized organochemical emulsion, yes?”

Speedy Thing Goes In, Speedy Thing Comes Out

Mark Atwood asks:

Do stargates conserve kinetic and/or gravitational potential energy? If I put half a pair on a planetary surface and the other a few lightsecs away, do I get to jump into steller orbit without paying for the climb out of the gravity well? If the other half is in orbit around said planet, do I get to jump into planetary orbit without having both pay for the climb out of the well and paying for accelerating to orbital velocity.

The numbers get even bigger, if not as immediately apparent, if one half is orbiting insystem 1 AU from the star, and the other half is outsystem in the inner oort of that same star.

And even bigger when one half is a few hundred ly coreward of the other. The gravity well of a galaxy is surprisingly steep, even this far out, when measured over ly distances.

And then there is conservation of the momentum vectors. Depending on what is conserved and how, putting a hole pair in opposite or right angle orbits around something could do… interesting things. Or else demonstrating some conservation laws between momentum and/or energy and/or hidden variables that we dont have or know in the current real world.

Well, now.

There is both a theoretical and a practical answer to that.

The theoretical answer to that is that they do, because, well, conservation of energy and conservation of momentum are the law, belike. Which can occasionally be bent, but never broken.

So in theory, a stargate jump, in conserving those things, will leave you in a great many awkward situations. If, for example, you were to gate from a planetary surface into orbit, you would absolutely not have orbital velocity, and as such would plummet rapidly to your doom. (Or, if you gated to an internal destination in orbit, slamming into the habitat hull at orbital velocity and being reduced to – extremely destructive – squishy pulp.) In a regular interstellar jump, you will arrive with the exact kinetic energy and momentum relative to the destination system that you had before you left (notwithstanding relevant GPE corrections, which are where it gets complex, although since most gates are at roughly similar depths in stellar gravity wells to a certain extent GPE can be traded for GPE); which is to say, with that of the origin system relative to the destination system included; which is in turn to say, going UNGODLY FAST in a VERY INCONVENIENT DIRECTION.

This is inconvenient, to say the least.

As such, the stargate system goes to a great deal of trouble to ensure that this is prevented from happening. With selective distortions of the shape of the wormhole’s space-time, it’s easy enough to correct this “intrinsic problem”, but conservation won’t be denied and the energy/momentum has to go somewhere. Fortunately, the exigencies of stargate construction mean that it has an entangled kernel, a nice high-mass (relatively, compared to anything likely to be jumped) Kerr-Newman black hole, right there. So in practice, while energy and momentum are conserved, the transaction it’s conserved within includes the gate singularities acting as a K-sink; excess (or deficient) energy/momentum is dumped into (taken from) the spin, etc., of the kernel to keep the books balanced.

(There are limits on how far this can go, in each direction – so there are occasional issues when a lot more traffic is going one way than the other. Most commonly, this is solved by having the stargate pair dial up its internal link when there’s no ship in transit and use it to swap spin between each end. Ultimately, if that won’t solve the problem, there are internal mechanisms that can be used to spin the kernel up or down, but those are energy-expensive, so they try not to use them much. Either way, unbalanced gates have occasional, periodic downtime while they recharge their K-sinks.)

…there are, of course, various clever tricks you can play with this kinetic compensation system, up to and including disabling it entirely, if you have the privileged-access codes for your blue box, but Ring Dynamics don’t give those out to just anybody.


Trope-a-Day: Numbered Homeworld

Numbered Homeworld: Averted.  As we mentioned way back in Naming Your Colony World, inhabited systems generally do get named objects, if only because they’re easier to remember.  Even uncontacted alien homeworlds get names, often a pronounceable transliteration of whatever the local name is, out of some respect for local sensibilities… and ease of memory/reference.

(Yes, this implies that Vonis Prime isn’t really called Vonis Prime…)


Xxenognosis (n.): (also “the Big Hello”) The knowledge that sophont species other than one’s own exist; also, the discovery by an individual or species that they exist.

In popular mythology, this is usually conflated with first contact, or at least with the establishment of genuine communications between the species in question – which portrayal, unfortunately, is almost pure nonsense.

Interstellar civilization just isn’t that subtle.

Space is cold and dark. Interstellar life is the exact opposite. Between the EM penumbra, starship drive flares, the gravity-wave ripples of stargates in operation, and even some few modified stellar spectra, anyone within a couple of thousand light-orbits of the Periphery with any astronomical competence at all can have no doubt that there’s exotic life out there – with the only possible exception being those on the wrong side of the Shadow Veil.

If you’re actually trying to make contact, you can’t avoid giving advance notice. In the first first contact on record, the galari identified Extropy Rising – a slowship, not even a lighthugger – light-months out of their system, even before the inbound ship spotted the radio emissions of galari civilization. The deceleration burn of a modern lighthugger is easily visible from the next star over, and highly distinctive to boot; an optimized fusion torch or the double-peaked signature of a pion drive look like nothing else in space. As for starwisps – how many stars do you think there are that shine monochromatic green?

(And if the lighthugger in question is a linelayer, it’s going to leave a stargate megastructure orbiting in their outer system for them to look at for months, maybe even years, before a scoutship gets there. Conveniently engraved with instructions for use, even.)

This does have its disadvantages, triggering social unrest, cultural shifts, bursts of technological development, and the like, or on less developed worlds – the kind whose occupants may go unnoticed until your arrival – sometimes even religious movements. In the case of psychotics-in-waiting like the skrandar, it may well have converted them into the berserkers they ended as.

But if you want to explore the galaxy at all – well, what can you do? Even the Voniensa Republic, who are remarkably prissy about this sort of thing, have had to reconcile themselves to that.

– A Star Traveler’s Dictionary

Trope-a-Day: No Warping Zone

No Warping Zone: You could, in theory, put a wormhole pair anywhere you liked – high mass notwithstanding.  The traditional location out on the edge of star systems has more to do with size, ease of construction and transport, accessibility and defensibility, and minimizing the consequences of their extremely explosive, if mostly theoretical, failure mode if something should go Horribly Wrong than any sort of physics-derived limitation.

Recall, for example, the Ulijen Disaster.


W141972 Syntherum (Gelidaceous-class asteroid)
e’Luminiaren Belt
Lumenna-Súnáris System

A thousand years ago, they used to think there wouldn’t be much water in space, and we’ll all be stuck out here in a barren desert, sending home for bottled oceans.

Well, fortunately not. There’s plenty – more water than there is just about anything else worth digging up outside a gas giant. It’s just nowhere near the places where you actually need the damn stuff, which is where we come in.

We being, first, the Initiative’s tanker, Adorably Aqueous, keeping station about a mile off and waiting to load up with 32,000 tons of water for the thirsty habs between here and Talentar high orbit;

Being, second, the dozen or so automated Seredháïc-class ice-miners sitting around down here on Syntherum, big 160-ton water-blimps with drive, drill, and ancillary equipment all packed into their tiny gondolas. They chop through the dusty crust of the ‘roid, pump steam down to melt the ice and slurp the water back. Shuffling back and forth between here and the tanker, they get it filled up in just a few hours, quick and clean.

And being, third, myself, Cathál Rian-ith-Ríëlle, hydrodynamic engineer, waterwright, and now spacer, with my candle and my trusty wrench.

Because where you have water, you have pipes, and where you have pipes, you have leaks, blockages, and all the rest.

Even in space, that means you need a plumber.

You Want This. You Need This.

Those of you who have bought and read a copy of The Core War and Other Stories may have noticed the reference to Kerbal Space Program in the acknowledgements…

(Those of you who haven’t – go buy a copy! Right now! Seriously – I’ll wait for you. Got it? Okay.)

…specifically “which taught me everything I know about orbital mechanics”.

Well, the beta is over and the first release version, 1.0, just shipped today. And so I’m here to suggest to you that you get a copy, too. It’s an invaluable resource for the SF writer, because it’s far easier to learn orbital mechanics from – specifically including developing an intuitive feel for them – than doing so from textbooks. And when you’re trying to do something complex enough that you need to go back to the textbooks, it makes it a lot easier to understand them. (And the fun needn’t stop there – it has a very active modding community whose add-ons let you simulate everything from life support to heat radiators, from exotic ISRU fuels to Orion drives…)

And it’s an invaluable resource for SF readers, too, at least if you like your SF relatively hard and want to have some idea how real spacecraft actually maneuver. (Fair warning: you may suffer somewhat from this if you have a problem with Science Ruining Everything, but, hey, knowledge has a price. Read better books!)

And best of all, it’s 25% off right now for launch day, so hie yourself over to the Kerbal Space Program web site and get yourself a copy. I personally guarantee that you won’t regret it.


V“Necessary actions taken in the name of virus protection has always been controversial. My client concedes that.

“Indeed, my client is also willing to concede that their actions to close down the viral botnet in question were insufficient, and indeed that while they did not – and do not – agree with many of the actions taken against them, those actions were probably justifiable for the actors in question: traffic deprioritization, network filtering, link shutdowns, route blackholing, even the documented network intrusions, and will seek no redress for these.

“My client does, however, maintain that k-rodding their network operations center from orbit went well beyond any possible definition of reasonable response!”

* * *

“Even after all the actions which the plaintiff has obligingly conceded as justified, the botnet infecting their clients’ networks that they appeared unwilling or unable to deal with was still generating and propagating over secondary routes over one hundred million pieces of spam per second. Per second. You don’t need me to tell you the sort of extranet pollution that represents. You don’t need me to tell you the sort of time-cost that that imposes on extranet users and virtual citizens across the galaxy, or what it’s reasonable to do in light of that. But, evidently, I need you to tell these guys that.”

– Tifrelle Telecommunicants v. Murek’s Marauders and Union of Concerned Infomorphs,
Central Conclave Court


ISSUE: 2242/04/216

Speculative Edubanking Certificates

Issued by Súlíän & Daughters Personal Securitization, Pty.,

for and on behalf of

Cathál Rian-ith-Ríëlle

The Speculative Edubanking Certificates offered hereby represent beneficial option interests in future income of the subject, Cathál Rian-ith-Ríëlle. Realized funds from purchases of these securities will be used to fund on a 75/100 basis attainment of an Academician-level degree in Hydrodynamic Engineering by the subject, Cathál Rian-ith-Ríëlle; repayment will commence six years and one day post IPO, to an amount consisting of 25% of the post-expenses contractual income of the subject (refer to appended actuarial tables, Appendix B, for expected investor yield) for a period of twelve years.

Supervisory interest for the assurance of fiduciary behavior on the part of the subject, Cathál Rian-ith-Ríëlle, on behalf of the investors, is vested in Súlíän & Daughters Personal Securitization, Pty., and administered on their behalf by Korris Hearthtender Optimal Choices, ICC and Initiatives of said organization.

In the event of involuntary default the tort insurer of the subject, Cathál Rian-ith-Ríëlle, Smooth Flow Underwriting, ICC, has agreed to recompense the principal of all investors (refer to appended agreement, Appendix C); in the event of voluntary default, the burden of default lies with the subject and investors may wish to hedge accordingly. For this purpose:

These securities have been rated AA by Tinth Investor Protection, ICC.
These securities have been rated A+ by Ilythir Oversight & Certification, ICC.

These certificates are offered for sale and subsequent public trade by Marblyngrad Securities Exchange, subject to issuance by Súlíän & Daughters Personal Securitization, Pty., subject to prior withdrawal of the offer with or without notice, when, as, and if delivered to and accepted by the Exchange. It is expected that the certificates will be available for delivery in printed, registered, and sealed form at the Exchange Central Office on or about 2242/05/01.

One quarter of the certificates to be issued have been pre-allocated to the membership of the Marblyngrad Watermen’s Fellowship under their existing reciprocal sponsorship program.

(Note: this summary does not contain complete information about the Speculative Edubanking Certificates or the subject of this issue: for further information, please contact the Exchange Central Office for full details of this class of security and for a complete personal information statement and declaration as issued by the subject, Cathál Rian-ith-Ríëlle.)

Opening bids are invited from the date of issuance of this offering.


T…stars glimmer white and yellow and red in the blue-black sky, pale light of the moon, running through the shadowed grass, feel of moisture underfoot, scent of flowers on the breeze, hot and sharp taste of the air, clouds part at a touch, voices of the trees whisper, leaping into the branches…

* * *

The trigraphic image of the giant brain’s neuroelectrical activity, hanging in mid-air over the gel-tank containing the cortexture itself, rippled with activity.

“What’s his status?”

“Steady and stable in deep dream sleep.”

“I wonder what he’s dreaming about.”

“You know we can’t look at that… although look at that suppressed motor cortex activity. It might be time to req our boy a body, or at least some sensor-effectors.”

– records of the Biotronics Research Initiative
Cognitech, ICC

Trope-a-Day: Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering

Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering: The Conclave of Galactic Polities, and how.

Its Presidium, now, they can sometimes be useful. Its organizations, they can get things done in their areas of expertise, for the most part. But the main body? Embodies We ARE Struggling Together to the point that it makes the United Nations look useful and competent.

Just as planned.




Among the most dangerous agents fielded by the Theomachy of Galia are the a’hugal (“soulless”), designated REFULGENT LIAR.

The a’hugal are operatives of the Theomachy’s highest-order intelligence agency, the Jeret-i-dín-Tanjgal (“Preservers of the Pure-Souled”), loosely analogous to the Fifth Directorate or to the Exception Management Group, and operate solely under its directives so far as is known. (While we have never observed a’hugal seconded to any other agency of the Theomachy, the possibility cannot be ruled out especially under exceptional circumstances.)

The a’hugal are created by the Jeret-i-dín-Tanjgal using off-the-shelf cerebral bridge technology to create a fork of a highly trained template agent; a technology, note, which is otherwise entirely proscribed within the Theomachy. The reason for the use of such technology in this case is identical with the reason for its general proscription: according to Galian doctrine, forks are mere soulless automata, and thus can commit any act without sin or spiritual penalty. Those who command the a’hugal refrain from instructing them in methodology; rather, they simply designate the problem to be solved, and in avoiding the knowledge of their methods, avoid the spiritual burden of ordering forbidden acts. The a’hugal acts on its own initiative thereafter.

Adhocs and overwatch of the Directorates SHOULD NOT underestimate the danger posed by REFULGENT LIAR units. While usually no better equipped than baseline Galians and possessing only baseline-equivalent mentality (although it should be noted that the “soulless” a’hugal are also exempt from the doctrine of spiritual corruption by augmentation found in Galian theology), the a’hugal are manufactured from templates that believe profoundly in their post-forking soulless state and the moral exemption that results therefrom. While this memetic indoctrination does not give them the long-term psychological stability enjoyed by the [REDACTED: ICE BLUESHIFT], in the short term they are capable of acting with the ruthlessness of ICE BLUESHIFT units in the field, and also retain the emotive capacity for the malice-sadism spectrum suppressed by ICE BLUESHIFT treatment.

Standing doctrine calls for the preemptive quieting of REFULGENT LIAR units in active operational areas.

Trope-a-Day: Non-Mammal Mammaries

Non-Mammal Mammaries: Averted, except in the highly specialized case of bioshells (emulating species in which one sex or another has, ah, notable mammary glands) built for infomorphs who prefer their sexual characteristics to match their gender-emulating code.

Assuming you don’t make the point that mammalianism is a trait that goes with the body, whatever the mind that’s in it, anyway, which is probably a more valid way to look at things in the first place.

Today in 4521…

…the Senate discussed a proposal to include parthenogenesis in the alpha baseline recommended capability list, for further insurance against the requirement to rebuild population following an existential event.

(After three hours debate, the proposal was returned to the Select Committee on Health and Genomic Affairs pending further studies on techniques to artificially ensure genetic variability.)