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