Trope-a-Day: Racial Remnant

Racial Remnant: Most notably, the trilateral londian, who are also an unusual case because while the modern Londian Wanderers are clearly descendants, both genetically and culturally, of the elder-race of the same name that used to dominate the Londian Traverse, they don’t know exactly how they ended up that way.  Their ancestors, as they tell it, were off-world during the collapse of the Londian civilization, and stayed that way afterwards… and have no idea why the collapse happened.  Their technology has regressed somewhat from that of the planet-bound londian, and now seems oddly arrested, even given the constraints on their ship-bound society.

You can bet archaeologists are looking into that one pretty closely.

UNMOVED MONAD

It is widely believed that time travel is useless.

After all, everyone knows the Block Universe Theory and its limitations: changing the past is impossible, and as such all grandfather paradoxes are banned. Predestination paradoxes are permitted, but obviously only create the already-known current state of affairs, rather than alter it; while this admits of certain limited applications in commerce (such as negative-frequency trading, although as a practice this quickly drives the market volatility operator to zero per the Market Chronology Protection Theorem, eliminating its own profit potential) and in military affairs (knight’s-move bypass transits, including optional proleptic tactical data transfer, which in practice rapidly become zero-sum effective between technologically matched opponents), these are special cases, few and far between. And while looped objects “borrowing” mass-energy from the substrate for the duration of their existence are theoretically possible, the nature of the loop requires that such objects exist in a synthetic or simulated nullentropic state, since the quantum state information at the earliest point of the loop must correspond exactly to that extant at the latest point of the loop.

It would seem, therefore, that the Chronological Consistency Protection Theorem would ban all interesting applications of closed time-like curves.

This, of course, is not the case. While it prevents the construction of technologies based upon its violation, the existence of a universal “paradox censor” that forces the probability of all causally inconsistent events to zero is of great application in several families of technologies.

The best known of these is hypercomputation. Acausal logic processors operate – to paraphrase a series of complex operations – by receiving an answer to a problem from the future, verifying its correctness, and transmitting it back to themselves in the past if and only if the answer is correct. Since the only causally consistent scenario is that in which the correct answer is received, such a device always produces correct answers to any PSPACE-definable problem. (The extraction of information without apparent computation inherent in the operation of acausal logic processors poses interesting problems at the intersection between information physics and ontotechnology, currently the province of ongoing research.)

As well-known is the so-called “probability kiln”, a class of manufacturing devices which utilize such hypercomputation for phase-space pruning; that is, to isolate and remove from future worldlines all those possibilities in which low-yield operations fail, ensuring that the only causally correct possibility is their success, thereby operationalizing even otherwise extremely impractical industrial processes.

Then there is the third class of device, a defense research project designated UNMOVED MONAD.

UNMOVED MONAD makes use of an extremely simple form of synthetic closed time-like curve, in the form of a tangle channel constructed and manipulated such that it links two points separated along the time-like axis, rather than two points separated along the space-like axis. To this extent, it is merely a trans-temporal communications facility. However, unlike trans-temporal communications performed via conventional means or space-like tangle channel, UNMOVED MONAD derives another unique property from its time-like separation: indestructability.

It is important to note that UNMOVED MONAD is a singular device: the tanglebits within are entangled with themselves across time, rather than with a matched set elsewhere. Upon activation, an UNMOVED MONAD device receives a complex, full-width verification signal from itself in the future. As such, it cannot be destroyed until this signal has been sent: such destruction would cause the tanglebits to decohere, ensuring that the trans-temporal signal never could have been received; a causally inconsistent state. Thus, per the Chronological Consistency Protection Theorem, the probability of the UNMOVED MONAD device being destroyed in the interim is forced to zero.

Properly packaged and placed, UNMOVED MONAD can even function as the mythical “synthetic luck machine” – while it is entirely possible for a bearer of an UNMOVED MONAD or the local environment to be destroyed so long as the device itself remains intact, ensuring an event phase-space with plentiful higher-order probability events resulting in the survival of the device can avoid such low-likelihood outcomes; the CCPT worldline shifts tend to go through the highest probability alternative regions. The universe evidently prefers not to work any harder than it has to.

– Temporal Mechanics: The State of the Art, “Popular Physics”, Cailmaen 6722

Trope-a-Day: Putting on the Reich

Putting on the Reich: While the Imperial Military Service has been known to like peaked caps (although not in the current uniform), capes, trenchcoats, jackboots, eagles – well, the-local-animal-which-for-our-purposes-let’s-call-a-wyvern, actually, but any raptor gilded and put on top of a standard probably counts – lightning bolts, and calling rapid interface drop-troop legions stormtroopers because they fall from the sky with great speed and mighty thunder, it’s never even been within a couple of thousand light years of Those Wacky Nazis, okay?

No black, white and red, either. It’s mostly blue and gold, maybe some silver. And besides, they’re usually the good guys.  They just like to dress with some style.  (See also, Bling of War.)

Appearances Matter

Gabriel Fonseca asks if there’s anywhere that contains detailed physical descriptions of the various species of the Eldraeverse. Well, sadly, there isn’t right now, but for your visualizing pleasure, here’s some descriptions of most of the ones I’ve mentioned recently, anyway:

Ciseflish

In their home environment, the ciseflish superficially resemble the Terran mole in shape (approximately), specifically the star-nosed mole; that said, they’re six-limbed amphibians, who switch between hexapedal and bipedal locomotion at will (the former for speed, the latter for sociability), with breathing vents/gills (they work either way) located at the base of the throat, large sensitive eyes to handle low light levels, auditory tympana rather than ears, and tentacle-like chemosensory “nasal” protrusions that also serve as tasting organs. They’re about 4′ tall, and covered in short, downy fur, ranging in color from pale cream to dark, earthy brown. Oh, and they’re trisexual; the dominant ‘matriarch’ sex is somewhat larger than the other two.

But none of this is visible for the majority of people who meet them elsewhere, because the ciseflish are from Ólish (High Verge), a cold world with more in common with our outer-system moons than with Earth. They’re amphibians in oceans of liquid propane and other hydrocarbons, breathe a thick, cold, high-pressure atmosphere that’s heavy in ammonia – and as such that fur has a lot more in common with hydrocarbon polymer plastics than keratin – find free oxygen acutely toxic, oxygen-breather temperatures furnace-like, and as such are generally only seen off Ólish or their colonies through heavy, pressurized, refrigerated environment suits.

Despite the inconvenience, though, there’re quite a lot of them offworld, because they really, really love money and trade.

Codramaju

The codramaju are weird as hell.

The closest thing we have for comparison is the slime mold. Only a codramaju is a 6′ long (typical adult not multitasking right now), bright ocher, motile slime mold with various pseudopodia and temporary organelles attached. And the best part is, that’s not even the weirdest thing about them: that would be that personal identity is extremely fluid among the codramaju, who happily divide and recombine (including with bits of other codramaju), changing identity along the way. They can form temporary group minds by joining together, which they use for high-grade computation. That’s also how codramaju reproduction works; the combining of lots of bits contributed by many codramaju. And their speech is entirely chemical – either by direct merging close up, or by releasing spores at a distance (hope you bought that option for your translator).

They make a great example of exactly how little “warm-‘blooded’ oxygen-breather” means in practice, in terms of commonality.

D!grith

The d!grith, by contrast, are relatively conventional warm-blooded oxygen-breathers: they look something like small tailless apes with canine muzzles and cat ears, with all four arms having essentially identical “hands”. Dark-skinned, they have fur in winter or perpetually cold environments, but not the rest of the time. Natural brachiators, they found the microgravity environment quite congenial, which contributed to their painless interstellar expansion and large merchant marine.

Dar-bandal

Uplifted bandal, which is to say dogs. Bearing in mind that the bandal is already larger (due to some dire wolf ancestry as well as regular canis lupus) and higher-foreheaded (due to consistent breeding for smart) than the Earth dog, their uplifted cousins are even more so: imagine a human-sized Aussie, and you’re in the ballpark. Their forepaws are modified for greater manipulatory ability, but unlike, say, Traveller’s Vargr, they’re still quadrupeds. The uplift engineers at Family of Species, ICC, have no interest in turning every species they get their hands on into imitation monkeys.

(Not that they’d put it that way, since there aren’t actually any members of the ecology Terrageneae, order Primates anywhere in the Associated Worlds, with one heavily-engineered exception, but it comes to the same thing.)

Dar-célmek

The dar-célmek are uplifted rats, descended at a few removes from the local cousins of the brown rat (rattus norvegicus) – or, to be more precise, they’re rat kings, because rats are already remarkably smart for their size, and while they were able to engineer them to be partially-uplifted smart rats, there just wasn’t enough mass/volume available to push them all the way to sophoncy.

Not to be thwarted, then, the uplift engineers cyborged them using nanocyte technology (i.e., grows naturally, and is hereditary); a dar-célmek is a gestalt sophont composed of one mind spread across 12 to 48 rats. The individual members look like thin rats with opposable thumbs on their paws, metallic threads running along their tails (the antenna for their wireless gestalt link), and infrared lenses next to their eyes. They can’t speak naturally, but can communicate over the network, and in any case, most of them have a few members wearing a modified ring imager as a collar of sorts to let them project sound and image when they need to.

Eldrae

The eldrae, being that aforementioned heavily-engineered exception (and that’s the baseline species, I mean, not counting any of the engineering they’ve done to themselves since), are hominins. Or to put it the other way around, humans to such extent as they are known (from a few very old fragmented fossils recovered from Precursor uplift facility waste dumps) are Pseudoeldrae archaea on their taxonomic charts.

Granted, they’re hominins engineered to the point where they use amino acids we don’t and bleed indigo, but the gross physical morphology is close. They’re just very tall (6′ 8″ to 7′ 8″ average, both sexes), thin (160-240 lbs., with narrow hips, long limbs, and long fingers and toes), pale (copper to pale blue due to an immune system that basically obviates eumelanin), with pointy ears, angular facial features, a selection of psychological differences, and, oh yes, a remarkable tendency not to age and die.

Of course, the big problem for us is that they’ve been optimizing themselves for literally millennia at this point, so from a human point of view, its only those eldritch differences that stand between us and being punched hard in the superstimulus. Which would be problematic.

Esseli

No-one remembers what natural esseli used to look like, or at least if the esseli genetic memory still has it stored somewhere, no-one’s talking.

What they look like now, on the other hand…

Well, nominally, they look like big fleshy blobs with eyes and tentacles, which is the brain, a protective wrapping around the brain, and its sensors/manipulators. But, you see, they got that way by being master biotechnologists, and over the course of centuries have both stripped their physical form down to a minimum, and also then built it back up again by inventing whole suites of modular plug-in organs and symbiotic bodies they can put on and take off like other people change their pants. An esseli can look like anything, depending on what it’s doing at the time and how its personal taste runs – even more so than the people who have to rely on mere mindcasting to swap bodies.

The esseli are also notable in that the form of genetic storage and the form of memetic storage they use are identical: it’s all DNA. Thus, while esseli are entirely capable of conventional speech (in any number of modes, depending on which organs they have installed right now), when they want to convey lots of information, they just pass appropriate plasmids around.

In the esseli educational system, you literally drink knowledge.

Galari

It came as something as a surprise to (exo-)biologists that the first species they met was about as silicon-based as it could be, being a race of living crystals.

It turns out, of course, that that’s not exactly true. They’re carbon-silicon hybrids: the galari crystals live in symbiosis with wet carbon-based pseudonanoviruses which reshape the crystals. Over time, this mutually evolved to the point where the crystals, with their silicon-based intelligence, directed the viruses and the viruses reshaped the crystals.

So, the actual sophont galari are, at least the ones who travel, rounded roughly-tetrahedral crystal spindles, somewhere between 2′ and 6′ along their long axis, and come in a variety of gem-like colors; looking carefully at them, one can often see faint pulses of light as a byproduct of their cognitive processes. They don’t require much in the way of nutrition for material replenishment, as a rule; rather, they’re ergovores, soaking up and storing charge derived from the light of their homeworld’s hot, bright sun, or from a convenient broad-spectrum EM lamp. They communicate using bioradio.

In their natural state, they were sessile, leading to their immensely patient, philosophical, contemplative culture. The technological galari, however, invented vector control-based “effector belts”, enabling the smaller members of the species to move around and participate in galactic culture.

Kaeth

The kaeth are draconiform, or pseudosaurian if you prefer, 6-7′ tall bipeds. You could think of them as looking something like 4th ed. AD&D’s dragonborn, except the back is more humped, the eyes more widely set, and the legs digitigrade. Kaeth blood gleams like mercury, and their skin, or rather scale, tones are dietary-dependent variants on a dark gray-silver, both of which have to do with just how rich Paltraeth (their homeworld) is in various heavy metals, which their biology makes good use of – kaeth bones are strong as girders, and kaeth skin is basically naturally-grown double-lapped composite scale mail. (A typical kaeth masses something upwards of 400 lbs.) On top of all of that, kaeth evolution has provided them with natural weapons in the form of fang and claw, redundant, highly distributed organ systems, fast healing, and strong immunities, which should tell you something about just what a happy fun place Paltraeth was to evolve.

At least before the asteroid strike.

Kalatri

See previous post.

Lanect

The lanect are a warm-blooded, fleshy (i.e., so not classically insectoid) race whose bodies are nonetheless contained within a bony (not chitinous) segmented exoskeleton; they’re bilaterally symmetrical bipeds with four manipulating arms, with four-clawed hands, and recessed multifaceted eyes. The exoskeleton of worker-caste lanect is smooth, scars aside; those who claim the status of a Warmark in lanect society carve designs into their skull to signify this.

Of course, that’s the baseline lanect – given the vicious meritocracy that comprises lanect society, they do not hesitate to apply genetic, surgical, and (especially) cybernetic modifications to themselves using any technology they can buy or steal in the interest of greater personal success.

Linobir

Imagine a bear.

Now imagine it hexapedal, hermaphroditic, furless – with grayish, leathery skin – and bulging with the kind of muscles befitting a species that evolved on a planet with three times Earth’s gravity.

Now imagine it being possessed of a baseline temperament that makes an actual grizzly bear seem the sweetest, politest, calmest, most peaceful person you know.

That’s a linobir.

(There’s a reason their racial stereotype is “brute squad”. This hurtful stereotyping is often protested, exclusively by people who’ve never actually met one.)

Mezuar

The mezuar are purplish-blue trees, wood and leaf, and entirely sessile. Specifically, an individual mezuar is a grove of said trees, due to the requirements of sophoncy on a relatively low-energy plant metabolism (their roots grow together and intermesh their “nervous systems”). They thrive very well on their homeworld, the mezuar forests having successfully domesticated virtually the entire animal ecology of the planet to attend to their requirements.

Myneni

The myneni are a blob of nanomachines in a bag.

Well, yes, so is just about everything living. Unlike most species, however, the myneni are a blob of undifferentiated, general purpose nanomachines inside their integument, with no dedicated organs (if they need some sort of specialized organ or sensor, they whip one up on demand and dissolve it when they’re done). Not having any skeleton, their natural shape is a spheroidal blob with a slightly flattened base, but they can manipulate their internal plasm to take on any variant shape from a puddle to a tree, and generate limbs at will. They come in a wide variety of colors, but these don’t appear to have any particular significance, biological or cultural.

Nsang

The nsang are bullet-bodied and headless (their “eyes”, actually light-sensitive skin cells, cover all sides of their upper body), trilaterally symmetrical with long, folding arms and legs, the former tipped with three-fingered hands. A beak-like mouth is to be found between each arm-leg pair.

…this actually makes them pretty average by warm-blooded oxygen-breather standards.

Seforn

The seforn are quadrupeds, with gleaming, jewel-like skin (contains no actual jewels, much to the disappointment of people who have obtained seforn moltings), who possess a mouth and trinocular eyes in a partially-merged head at one body terminus, while.respiring through slit-like openings along the sides of their body. A ridge crest runs down the seforn back, thought to be an evolutionary leftover originally intended for thermoregulation. Monosexual and parthenogenic, they depend on an in-built process of gene-shuffling to produce genetic variation.

Even the poorest seforn will always be well-dressed. Denying a seforn access to the seforn equivalent of a quality business suit invariably causes them intense psychological distress, much to the puzzlement of sophontologists everywhere.

Skrandar

Well, no-one’s exactly sure quite what the skrandar looked like, since they weren’t exactly communicative even before they blew up their sun, and there wasn’t a whole lot of evidence left afterwards. From what there is, it is generally believed that they looked something like a cross between an alligator and a migraine.

Trope-a-Day: Puppeteer Parasite

Puppeteer Parasite: Mostly not naturally (due to the aversion of No Biochemical Barriers), but infectious neuroviruses can do a damn good impression of this – which is the sort of thing that makes defense planners twitchy, but no-one’s done it on a large scale yet (as mentioned under Alien Invasion), mostly because of what happens to people who earn that place on the Top Ten Galactic Atrocities List.

Another theoretical possibility – which as far as people know hasn’t been done at all – would be to encode a mind-state in a self-replicating/self-modifying infectious neurovirus to make a true puppeteer parasite clade.  Squicky.

But still, it’s nice to know there’s a firm-SF plausible way to do this:

Planetary Classification

Tony Harris asks:

It sounds as though you have some kind of planetary classification scheme set up. Care to share how it works? :please:

Well, yes, yes I do.

(Let me start out by saying that it does not, however, define what a planet is, except inasmuch as the classification scheme’s largest category stops at 2.5e28 (i.e. 2.5 x 1028) kg, which is about 13.2 Jupiter masses, at which point it gets kicked over to the stellar classification scheme at the bottom end of dwarves, brown.

Insofar as there is a definition of a planet used there, it’s dreadfully informal and would run along the lines of:

  • Orbits a star (other than a brown dwarf that is itself part of another star system);
  • Masses less than 2.5e28 kg;
  • Masses enough to be approximately spheroidal;
  • Is cared enough about by travelers to be listed in Leyness’s Worlds, or some other casual reference that isn’t an astronomer’s catalog or a space pilot’s ephemeris.

So, Pluto, despite being a gelidian-class planetesimal by the scheme, is a planet because it has enough historical significance and popular interest that it’s undoubtedly mentioned in the hypothetical Leyness’s Worlds: A Guide To Places No-One’s Discovered Yet, Except The Natives Who Obviously Don’t Count, while the other plutoids or whatever we’re calling them these days aren’t, because they don’t.)

As for the scheme itself: well, it’s kind of long and complicated and unfinished, especially since the universe keeps surprising us with New Facts About Planets that need to be fitted into it as if they’d been there all along, so I hope you’ll forgive me for not sharing the whole thing. But I don’t mind talking a bit about it, so I’ll do that.

The primary distinction it uses when classifying – and it classifies everything from small rocks through moons and on up, not just “planets” – is mass, which has the advantage of encompassing a fair bit of other useful information. Using mass, it defines five basic categories: small bodies (< 6e20 kg; too small to maintain hydrostatic equilibrium); planetesimals (6e20 kg to 9e23 kg; can maintain hydrostatic equilibrium); lithics (9e23 kg to 3e25 kg; tend to clear out their orbits and self-sustain geology); helians (1.8e25 kg to 1e26 kg; big enough to retain helium, but not yet gas giants, and yes, this overlaps with the one before it); and gas giants (5e25 kg to 2.5e28 kg, and so does that). There’s also a sixth class, wanderers, which defines those odd planetary-massed objects that aren’t gravitationally bound to any star and just drift about in the deep.

The overlaps, incidentally, are because none of these top-level categories are intended to be particularly strict. The Imperial Grand Survey learned long ago that the universe is a very complicated place that doesn’t fit itself into neat boxes for their convenience – so the boxes are a mite fuzzy, and worlds are assigned to the class that bests fits them even if technically they’re a little too massive for the top-level category that world sits within.

So, the categories: small bodies are asteroids, comets, and similarly-sized moons, for the most part, subcategorized primarily by composition and solidity (aggregate-class rubble piles vs. silicaceous-class stony asteroids, for example). The comets are also divided based on whether they’re icy bodies orbiting peacefully in the outer system, or which are actively plunging through the inner system.

Planetesimals are mostly large asteroids and moons, divided up by age (are they just forming?), composition (rocky or tarry or icy), level of geological activity and its source (mostly passive, due to eccentric orbits and epistellar heating, due to tidal flexing, due to internal heating, etc.

Vesta, Ceres, Luna (selénian-class), Europa, Titan (galínilacustric-class), even Mars (eutalentic-class), they all fall somewhere into this classification.

Lithics are the big rocky ones with substantial atmosphere. Their subclassifications are much the same as the planetesimals, plus additional ones: age (forming or dying), water content (xeric through thalassic to pelagic – a global ocean, in these terms) and their methane and ammonia equivalents, presence of a biosphere, presence of halogens, and so forth. There are more lithic subclasses than there are subclasses of anything else, just about, partly because they’re more varied, and partly because they also attract a great deal of interest.

Earth (sylithotectonic-class) fits in here.

Helians get the aborted gas giants, plus a variety of superterrestrial rocky worlds with thick, helium-rich atmospheres. Its number of subclassifications is relatively limited, simply because there’s a very fine line between retaining helium at all and ending up among the…

Gas giants, divided principally by mass (subgiants, dwarf giants, mesogiants, supergiants), and then principally by their orbital positioning (epistellar, within the snowline, beyond the snowline) which defines most of their composition and behavior.

Around here, they would include, for example, Jupiter (melíeréan-class) and Neptune (déiran-class).

So, I hope that was an interesting peek into how the IGS planetary classification system works. I’m happy to answer a bit more, if anyone’s interested, but as I said, I don’t really want to put the whole thing out there until it’s suitably finished and polished.

Questions

So, got a few questions backlogged up to answer, and I’m going to try and answer them today. So you can be expecting that.

In the meantime, it’s rapidly approaching the end of the month, so this is just a quick note to all my Patreon patrons out there that among the things your money buys is your ability to ask monthly guaranteed-answer questions that’ll end up in the FAQ, and it’s that time again. So, shoot!