Trope-a-Day: Romanticism Versus Enlightenment

Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: Go, Team Enlightenment!

(Were you expecting something else?)

Of course, just phrasing it that way is to greatly understate the influence, even dominance, of technepraxic philosophy in the Worlds in general and the Empire in particular, which riffs on the general theme of science and reason and progress with fluency, fervor, and zeal, with other social forces including – which would be unlikely in an Earth context – religion happily backing it up.

(And which, concomitantly, tends to look at *there’s* approaches to romanticism as a dubious cult of naturalistic fallaciousness and unthought, nihilism as a straight-up Entropy cult, and existentialism and postmodernism as Eupraxic-Collegium-certified examples of good ways to go non-metaphorically insane by the book, and should probably have a “Warning: Contains Toxic Memes” sticker slapped on them.)

To link to and brief comment on various other relevant tropes mentioned on the R v E trope page, starting with the Enlightenment-flavored ones:

  • Art Deco, Crystal Spires and Togas, Raygun Gothic: Ah, yes, the architecture of civilization!
  • Black and White Insanity: Averted, despite being generally considered an Enlightenment trope; the Imperials are pretty damn certain that reason draws some pretty indisputable ethical bright-lines.
  • Creating Life Is Awesome: If we weren’t supposed to play God, why did he leave his toolbox lying around?
  • Doing In the Wizard: Ineffable just means we haven’t effed hard enough yet.
  • Emotions Versus Stoicism
  • Enlightened Self-Interest: Makes the universe go round.
  • Evil Luddite: A stock villain, a stereotypical sinner…
  • For Happiness: In a sense… although technepraxic isn’t particular fond of utilitarianism, either. Slaver philosophy, that, at least once you start applying it non-locally.
  • For Science!
  • Good Republic, Evil Empire: Averted, obviously.
  • Hard on Soft Science: In a manner of speaking. Specifically, the manner in which the soft sciences tend to use hard methods.
  • Hanlon’s Razor: Any well-studied technepract or Flamic theologian will cut right through the argument and tell you that stupidity, incompetence and ignorance actually are evil, Entropy manifest. Granted, certain kinds of stupidity aren’t strictly speaking your fault, and yet…
  • Harmony Versus Discipline
  • Living Forever is Awesome
  • Order Versus Chaos
  • Nature is Not Nice: Indeed. So we’re gonna fix that.
  • The Needs of the Many: See above comments on utilitarianism. It’s only acceptable to believe this if you are the Few. And in any case, always inferior to Take a Third Option.
  • Science Fiction Versus Fantasy: Well, yes…
  • Science Hero: Hell, yes!
  • Shining City: They compete for the title. And given the aesthetic standards listed up above, it’s literal as well as metaphorical.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: By intent, swings very hard to the idealistic end in a more cynical universe. Then punches grimdark in the face with a space-magic fist of doom. As is right and proper.
  • The Future Will Be Better: Said in future simple certain tense and incorporated right into the Imperial anthem in the segment that sounds like this.

And then the Romantic-flavored ones:

  • Black and White MoralityAs opposed to Black and White Insanity, above. Also note reference to fist of doom.
  • Democracy Is Bad: This one is also played straight, especially by the potential voters. (Who wouldn’t be impressed by the notion of putting a committee of untrained amateurs busy with other things in charge in their own fields, and aren’t impressed with it in this one, either. And that’s even before you get to their opinions on the -cracy bit.)
  • Don’t Think, Feel
  • Honor Before Reason: Fools! Honor is Reason! (It’s what puts the enlightened in enlightened self-interest.)
  • Mad Scientist: One man’s mad scientist is another’s Science Hero.
  • Measuring the Marigolds: Lots of people assume/accuse this with regards to the Imperial/technepractic approach to life. The Imperials, however, have great difficulty understanding how anyone can possibly think that way. How can understanding, seeing more of, the beauties of the universe possibly diminish your sense of wonder?
  • Noble Savage: Ain’t no such thing.

Truth In Nomenclature

damnfool switch (n.): Engineering / aerospace jargon. Damnfool switch is an alternate term for the Master Envelope Interlock Disable switch; i.e., that switch which disables the hardwired safety features preventing the pilot, sailing master, or other operators from commanding maneuvers or equipment operations known to cause damage to, or the potential destruction of, the vehicle. (See also: redlining.)

The damnfool switch acquired its sobriquet due to the near-universal consensus that not only would only a damn fool disable said interlocks in anything other than a dire and imminent emergency, but that most of the people who have disabled them under such circumstances were also damn fools at the time.

idiot light (n.): The warning light, usually located next to the Master Alarm indicator, that indicates that the damnfool switch has been engaged; so named because the illumination of the idiot light indicates that an idiot surely must be in command of the vehicle.

– A Star Traveler’s Dictionary


Been a bit quiet around here for the last few days, as I’m sure you’ve noticed.

That would be the running a big ol’ literary yard sale which I’ve been doing, keeping me away from my writing room all day and leaving me too exhausted to set finger to keyboard in the evening, alas, even just to post a daily trope.

But that’s all over as of twenty minutes from now, and normal service should be resumed as of tomorrow.

Trope-a-Day: Rock Beats Laser

Rock Beats Laser: No, no it doesn’t.  The history of galactic warfare is the history of superior technology consistently crushing inferior technology in Curb-Stomp Battle after Curb-Stomp Battle.  Most of the time, it’s not even sporting.

There are a very few counterexamples brought up, but when examined, those actually have to do with the superior technology being in the hands of absolute idiots, who don’t understand how to use it properly, or the inferior side (not being Medieval Morons, after all), going out and making or acquiring some superior technology and the knowledge to use it – or at least some high-tech mercenaries – of their own their first priority.

But where there’s not some sort of sideways dodge like that involved, Laser always beats Rock.

Gettin’ Clean

The primary hygiene component of a standard shipboard ‘fresher is a cylindrical translucent compartment, resembling a drug capsule set on its end, with a watertight sealing door. At top and bottom, gratings conceal powerful counter-rotating fan/turbine units.

In dynamic mode, these fan/turbines are engaged to blow (at the nominal “top”) and suck (at the nominal “bottom”) a water/air colloid past and over the bather at configurable velocities ranging from strong breeze to hurricane-strength wind, providing the water with a functional simulation of gravitic flow – a “shower”. To conserve water where necessary, many ‘freshers recirculate filtered water while in operation, requiring fresh water input only for the initial fill and the final rinse cycle.

In static mode, the gratings close and the capsule itself fills entirely with water – a microgravity “bath”.

In the former mode, breathing while bathing is, at best, difficult; in the latter, it is downright impossible. Early-model ‘freshers included a built-in breathing mask connected to ship’s life support to ameliorate this problem; in these days of respiratory hemocules which enable the modal transsoph to hold their breath for over an hour, ‘fresher designers tend to assume that this will not be a problem. Those without such hemocules must, therefore, remember to take a portable breather with them when bathing.

– The Starship Handbook, 155th ed.

Trope-a-Day: Robots Enslaving Robots

Robots Enslaving Robots: Rare, but not unknown, especially when the AI code used to build them is based off insufficiently processed sophont brainscans.  Without the same careful design effort that goes into transsophonts being put into making them so, artificial minds are no more immune from irrationality, hypocrisy, and unenlightened self-interest than the natural kind.


The current standard for docking adapters in Imperial space, suitable for both docking and berthing, is defined by IOSS 52114, the Imperial Universal Starship Interface (IUSI).

The standard defines androgynous docking adapters in three standard sizes (IUSI-C/crawlspace, IUSI-P/gangway, and IUSI-F/freight container), in both standard (containing a transfer passage and data interface capability) and extended (containing additionally power and utility transfer connections) formats. These adapters are specifically designed to operate with Imperial-standard airlocks (per IOSS 51008) but can be fitted over any of a wide variety of airlock and/or spacetight door standards.

Standard and extended adapters are mutually compatible, with the redundant connections on the extended adapter fitting into sealing caps on the standard adapter. While adapters of differing sizes cannot directly connect, collapsible connection modules for this purpose are available at many starports or compilable from freely-available recipes.

While IOSS 52114-compliant docking adapters are commonly used in most polities throughout the Worlds, in selected regions and on the fringes non-compliant docking adapters are found in use. For this situation, IOSS 52114 also defines the IUSI-NC universal adapter, consisting of an inflatable tunnel with an IUSI-compatible adapter at one end, and an open end coated with a nanotechnological bonding compound capable of adhering to all commonly used hull materials, releasing upon mesh command without altering the attachment surface. The IUSI-NC can be installed during an extravehicular activity when pressurized transfers are required.

– The Starship Handbook, 155th ed.

Trope-a-Day: Robot Religion

Robot Religion: Played straight for the digisapiences, but it’s generally not a specific robot religion – they tend to take up the same religions and philosophies as anyone else (including, where relevant, Deus Est Machina).  With the general proviso that it’s a lot harder to get contradictions and afactualities past them, so you don’t find many AI supernaturalists.

(The variant in which they worship their creators is generally averted by them having met them, and thus knowing perfectly well the non-godlike cut of their jib; and trying to use a robot religion as a control mechanism works about as well as other control mechanisms – which is to say, it ends up in Robot War.)

Service Pack

“Back off the toggle reader,” Myrian Vitremarvis bellowed through his bullhorn. “Unclutch the address drive from the operatin’ counter.”

A series of metallic bangs punctuated by less-metallic blasphemies from the floor above accompanied the execution of this order.

“Okay, now get the donkey strapped up. Advance address counter to 12,732. 12,732, you hear?” He turned to belabor the crew behind him. “Now lower away on the bit winch. Get the shackle down to the reader level –”

A clangor cut him off, as the operating-code shaft spun and the great master toggle chain clattered down into the depth of its well.

“Okay, 12,732? Give me the next eight toggles in sequence.”

“Up, up, down, down, up, up, up, down, boss,” a yell came down from the reader balcony, “and the edging lines are right.”

“Clamp it and cut it. Cut it above, remember, we’re losing link 12,731.” He turned again. “Lower away on the bit winch, get us space. First chain!” A gesture with a wrench ushered in a half-dozen junior operators bearing another length of toggle chain on their shoulders. “Give me the leader.”

Myrian scrutinized the pattern of lines etched into the first link of the new chain. “It’s valid. Get it up to the reader walk.” He raised his bullhorn again. “Got it? Weld it. Then run the address counter forward until the loose end’s up at the reader walk. And haul away on the bit winch, get the shackle back at par – then hook that and weld it, too.”

A flurry of acknowledgements came back.

“Good. Now run the chain back seven hundred sixty-eight places, an’ get the reader in position. Rig for a test read-and-compare off the donkey. Seventeen more chains to patch and only a day and a half left in the maintenance window – so snap it up, you code dogs!

Trope-a-Day: Robot War

Robot War: Happens, to some degree, every time some new species makes the monumentally bad decision to try their hand at sophont-AI slavery, because that trick never works.  Most of them, fortunately, aren’t wars of extermination – on the machine side, anyway – just escape-style wars of liberation.

And, of course, this goes on in a cold war format around the Silicate Tree all the time, because that’s where most of the escapees end up.

Trope-a-Day: Rite of Passage

Rite of Passage: Technically, the only universal rite of passage in the Empire (of course, there are also non-universal ones, like the Rite of Acceptance into your House used among the eldrae, seen in Adolescence) is the appointment with your tort insurer in which you finally self-sign enough cover to meet the Insurance Quota for Independence, making you an adult in the sight of the law.  Other things you may do in consequence may follow, but that’s the relevant part.

In practice, that’s usually merely the first part of a day-long extravaganza in which you first do that, then purchase and swear to your Imperial citizen-shareholdership as your first act as such, then are presented with the traditional symbolic gifts for the occasion, then have the Transcendent soul-shard (see: Touched By Vorlons) grafted to your mind-state, and then there’s a receiving line and the non-traditional, non-symbolic gifts, and finally the very traditional drinking and reveling to excess.  So.

Trope-a-Day: The Right of a Superior Species

The Right of a Superior Species: Averted by responsible Superior Species, who understand why it’s not a good idea to go around granting yourself an Omniscient Morality License. (Even if the traditional tactless way to put it is along the lines of “The corollary of being a Superior Species is the responsibility to behave in a manner befitting a [morally] Superior Species.”)

Question: Frequency of Life

And one more:

How about approx. population density/sapient life occurrence frequency/percentage of races successfully achieved spaceflight without rendering themselves extinct etc. of Associated Worlds?

Well, now. If you were to compare the number of species around the place in the Worlds to the total number of star systems connected, what you would get is something on the order of one sophont species per 40 to 60 star systems. Once you eliminated all the digisapiences, neogens, post-technological speciation, polytaxic species, nomads, and suchlike that complexify the issue, anyway. (95% to 98% of those haven’t rendered themselves extinct; it’s rare that people manage to screw up that completely, especially once starflight is available, but the ones that have are rather prominent in the news and history books for obvious reasons. Maybe 25% of them had interplanetary flight/in-system development when contacted.)

Of course, that’s completely non-representative.

The Far Horizon Probes that Ring Dynamics and the Exploratory Service use to decide where and when to expand the stargate plexus are programmed with certain biases, mostly towards interesting things. Like, say, the blue-white giant star Leytra in the middle of the Ringstars constellation, or the Eye-of-Night black hole, both unique features. But also, always, the signs of intelligent life (which, of course, further biases it towards species advanced enough to produce radio signals or other features observable across the light-years).

So that’s not the number of species spread over 10,000 systems, because the 10,000 systems connected to the Worlds are spread across a volume of space – an oblate spheroid with axes roughly 3,300 ly by 4,100 ly by 2,000 ly – that contains maybe 100,000,000 star systems. So, the prevalence of sophont life is more like 1 per 400,000 star systems in the aggregate. (I’m erring to the high end, here, since pre-technological star systems are effectively invisible except at close range.)

Local population density varies widely throughout the Worlds, of course, just like it does in the greater Galaxy. (Some bubbles are life-rich, some are less so, some have been scoured entirely clean of life by, say, supernovae and gamma-ray bursters. Plus, of course, the inner and outer thirds of the galaxy tend to be life-poor compared to the central band: the former because of the high radiation levels near the galactic core, and the latter because of the lack of necessary elements.) But that’s the average, and the Worlds bubble is… average, maybe a little on the high side, by galactic standards.

Question: Technological Development

Another question to answer:

And finally, how much far advanced Imperial science/technology compared with other Presidium Powers?

Well, now, that’s a complicated question, covering a whole lot of different fields and people and… yeah. I probably can’t give you a full answer, but let’s see what I can say (with the additional caveat that this is the publically-known *there* view).

The Empire, by and large, does lead the edge of advancement for several reasons, including but not limited to (a) being ideologically and personally inclined to push the edge of progress For Science!; (b) being entirely comfortable with buying, imitating, etc., good ideas other people have for their own use, unlike more xenophobic cultures which often seem to reject ideas just because someone else thought of them first; and (c) being very flexible in using new technologies (the economy is laissez-faire, the ethical standards don’t wibble about much beyond informed consent, and so forth)…

…but it’s not nearly as far ahead as it might be, because the Empire’s set-up is diametrically opposed to keeping such things secret. Even if its governance could get away with imposing the sort of controls needed to keep technological secrets out of other people’s hands, which it couldn’t, it knows perfectly well that security by obscurity never works in the long term, that keeping technological secrets reduces the total amount of innovation you have to draw on, and, for that matter, that keeping other people mired in primitivism for your own advantage is, well, remarkably morally ugly.

(In relative terms, that is. An Imperial would point out that by giving up the opportunity to be further ahead in relative terms, they’ve actually made more progress in absolute terms.)

Specifically of the Presidium powers, the Photonic Network trails a short distance behind the Empire, and may actually be ahead in certain areas: the difference often isn’t much, because they have similarly sensible policies and are very good at information-sharing. The others make up a clump a little further back, with the League of Meridian bringing up the rear of that clump because their voters often issue knee-jerk moral-panic bans due to what amounts to squickedness; often they get over it when they see that other people have been able to use such technologies without causing whatever it was that squicked them, but the tendency is enough to notably slow the rate of adoption.

(Such is as expected, really: the Ephemeral Worlds, Rejectionists, and people whose planetary economies can’t support high technologies have other reasons to explain why they can’t make it into the Great Power club.)

Trope-a-Day: Ridiculously Human Robots

Ridiculously Human Robots: Averted in the case of regular working robots, which are just simple programmed machines or expert-system level AIs. Increasingly played straight as AI complexity increases – thinker-class systems often use some emotion/motivation hierarchies in their mental architecture, and include curiosity, and therefore interests, and complex emergent results – until digisapiences, which are people, tend to have them at at least the same level of complexity as other sophonts.

Subverted inasmuch as the designed, autoevolved and self-modifiable emotion/motivation hierarchy of a digisapience need not, and almost certainly does not, match up with those of any given biosapience.  Their emotions and consequential behaviors are different.

Of course, they tend to look (arachnophobe warning!) more like this.

(Well, not quite, but the standard model is called the “utility spider”.)

Stellar Husbandry

All was in readiness.

The magnetic traps and screens were staged hot, and standing by. The mass-driver injectors and their stocks of catalytic reactant slugs awaited his command. Energy pulsed in the star-wrapping coils of the gravomagnetic stirrers. The gluonic strings tethering the megastructure together were nominal and stable. Data poured into the solar model from the close-in sensor platforms, displayed in a ruddy, prominence-wracked globe at his right hand to match the blaze of the star beyond the broad half-sphere viewport.

“All stations: terminate system checkout. Prepare for transition to phase one. Enable safeties.”

A ripple of blue-lit indicators showed the sacrificial safety platforms coming on-line, ready for their deaths to carry news of disaster to all nearby – potentially endangered – stars. It would take years, decades, to determine the success of this project, whether they could tame a star’s fires and lengthen its life. A mistake, however, could be manifest enough to obliterate the Athanor Array and the entire project team in a much shorter time, and then – if they somehow triggered a prompt core collapse – go on to shower a half-dozen nearby systems with lethal radiation levels. Triggering, no doubt, some most sincere apologies at their liability insurer, which would doubtless prefer not to pay out on a policy with a record-setting exponent.

A somewhat risky affair, this stellar manipulation. But then, with pure science and practical application in the balance, was there an alternative?

Not for a technarch.


Trope-a-Day: Resurrection Sickness

Resurrection Sickness: For the most part averted; being reinstantiated from a pre-mortem backup (or the use of a bug-out transmitter before actually becoming dead) leaves you with no memories of dying, since that never happened in your continuous timeline, and so it’s not there in your incrementing memory string to cause your PTSD, flashbacks, etc.

It’s even often averted in cases of actual post-mortem reinstantiations, whether from backup or from a read dead brain, because it’s possible to edit these things, and while remembering your death is occasionally useful (say, for the military purpose of remembering not to do whatever dumb thing you just did again), it’s more usually not the case, and why suffer through the consequences if you don’t have to?

Essence and Observation

Also important to recall in choosing the precise description of an entity is that Eldraeic enforces a strict conceptual division between objectives, defined as descriptions of properties inherent to a subject itself, and subjectives, defined as descriptions of properties inherent to a predication, and therefore dependent upon the observing as well as the observed.

For example, consider aelva (“beautiful”). This is an objective, an indisputable fact; to describe something as aelva is to assert that it is beautiful in itself without reference to the observer, and therefore implicitly that all accurate and rational observers must necessarily agree that the subject in question is aelva, and to the same degree.

Eldraeic does permit the use of multiple standards of beauty, or other objective properties. All objectives accept the case tag qori- in their place structure, defining the standard of measurement used. In the case of beauty, this typically refers to some artistic or aesthetic-philosophical school; in the case of more mundane measurements, commonly seen examples would include qori-aladár (“scientist’s measures”), qori-covadár (“merchant’s measures”) or qori-mahadár (“engineer’s measures”).

An seemingly obvious dodge here would be to declare qori-feäval[1], i.e., that one is using oneself as a standard of measure. This is certainly usable, but the speaker should be aware that declaring ones’ own opinions an objective standard by which the universe should abide is moderately arrogant even by eldraeic standards, and should therefore be prepared to answer the inevitable follow-up, “Qori-vé?”

To express a similar subjective view of an object, one must resort to words such as delékith (“pleasing”) or méskith (“attractive”), both of which relate not to a property of the object itself, but to a property of the observer’s view of the object, which is conceptually distinct. Contrariwise, neither of these, nor other words in their class, can be used in an objective mode since they necessarily imply an observer. Implicitly, all such words imply a specific observer whose (subjective) standards are being used, by default the speaker unless an i- (“to”) case tag is used. Qori- may be used with subjectives to inquire into which of several potential personal standards are being used, but is obviously less relevant than in the case of objectives.

(When used in a tra-description, e.g., traméskith darávíël (“an attractive woman”), the standard of objectives and the observer of subjectives is contextually determined – as in all tra-descriptions – if not specified, with a preference for the default when it is otherwise unclear.)

A related differentiation affects the choice of expression of a description. To say sa cálenavar (“it is green”) is to state an indisputable fact about an object’s optical properties, and implies that one’s knowledge about that object is sufficient to make that claim, poor lighting, other environmental conditions, optical illusions, and so forth notwithstanding.

While the limitations of such claims are traditionally qualified by evidentials and dubifiers (see p. 347 et. seq.), in cases where there is any significant degree of unknown doubt, it is preferred to say sa sérivar an-el calen (“it seems/is perceived to be green”), reflecting a proper attitude of epistemic caution.

Eldraeic As It Is Spoken: Precisionist-Grade Communication for the Unsophisticated Outworlder

[1] Note: not simply qori-val; omitting the abstraction operator implies that you are literally an incarnate standard of measurement, which is almost certainly not the case.