So, what I’d like to do is for you to go and read the comment series starting here – and note, this is an invitation for y’all to criticize me, not the commenter, so however much we may disagree, let’s keep it civil, please – and give me your thoughts on any and all topics raised.
‘Cause it’s not like I haven’t had some thoughts of my own regarding a little dissatisfaction of mine with some things lately, and before I try to figure out whether I’m right about that, wrong about that, or whether it’s a sertraline artifact, I’d like to take the temperature out there in readerville.
(Although I will certainly admit to presenting them as smug. For various reasons such as these, I maintain that it would be horribly unrealistic if the Imperials, and for that matter the rest of the Core Economic and Cultural Zone, were not quite splendidly smug by our standards. For all the reasons that the Culture gets to indulge its smuggery, with the added side-benefit of not being pets.)
Anyway. Please think at me, gentle readers. I’ll respond once I’ve got a feel for the temperature out there.
First off, I want to thank you for the way you’ve handled this so far. I know of a lot of people and places on the Internet that wouldn’t be quite as amenable to the sort of criticism I’ve laid out.
Secondly, after having a night to mull things over and sleep on it, I suppose part of the problem is that the Imperials and their members are being portrayed as always certain and always right; we never see what happens when, for instance, the Imperial Navy just straight-up hits the wrong target with a KEW, when (for instance) it turns out that the “biological weapons lab posing as a pharmaceuticals factory” actually WAS a legit pharmaceuticals factory.
On another related note, it’s implied that there are Imperial Renegades out there, and that many of them end up leaving the Empire or turning to extremism for what they personally see as good and justifiable reasons (and I do have to wonder if my own thoughts linked above might be voiced in-universe by precisely that kind of person). Might be an interesting exercise to tell a story that focuses on one, both to see how they reach that point in their lives from an Imperial upbringing and to see an in-depth look at how ISS works with those moral and ethical ambiguities in the “moral event horizon” when there’s still a distinct possibility that the “carrot” side of the “carrot-and-stick” approach might actually deescalate the situation before the “stick” needs to be brought to bear.
I will say that it does seem like Imperials are more than willing to let the vicissitudes of fate throw an individual under the bus and to cheerfully accept that fate, when the alternative would be to open doors that might let in slavery. Which is an oddly collectivist take on individualism, in a manner of speaking: “you get screwed this time, because if we were to prevent it, we’d set a precedent that might reach to the rest of us later”. I suppose for better or worse, it is consistent. It sometimes produces results that a lot of people would consider monstrous, but it’s to prevent worse monstrosities, or so the modal Imperial would tell you. (Then again, when other polities have those monstrosities and the Empire doesn’t, one begins to think they have a point, ne?)
That said, I have often wondered how they deal with issues arising from monopolies and other sorts of predatory leveragings of market power. And further, it seems that in places, Imperial society has a ton of slaver’s tools around (ubiquitous surveillance, for example). How is it that these never got put to the kind of nefarious uses that they’d surely be put to in a New York minute, here on Earth? Is it just that anyone in a position of power who dared to do something like that would be strung up so high and so fast that they’d never know what hit them? (And that there’s been such a strong consensus on this point for so long that it’s rare in the extreme that anyone bothers to find out the hard way? Though I suppose the fact that there are people around old enough to have been there the last time anyone did, helps more than a little.)
Another thought that enters into my head in regards to this matter: I wonder if a lack of understanding of pain in the experiential sense ever causes problems for those seeking to sell the Imperial Dream to what might charitably be called “new and emerging markets.”
There are times the Eldrae seem to suffer from ‘Mary Poppin Syndrome’; they consider themselves practically perfect in every way, and thus can’t comprehend that others aren’t and assume they must have chosen to be like that. (Which I guess it part of their smugness.)
While the Drowning of the People may have worked spectacularly well for them, there are similar incidents in human history that have backfired horribly. The common people rising up against their oppressive government and trying to claw back power often results in the government smacking them like a bug. So for the Empire to (seemingly) sneer at others for being ‘mutual slave states’ occasionally comes across as outright victim blaming, as does condemning species for engaging it ‘primate status games’ when a species has fundamental instincts they cannot edit out.
You’ve described Eldraeic culture as expecting everyone to strive for success and that the effort is more important than the goals, yet occasionally it seems that unless one’s efforts reach levels that the eldrae consider acceptable it isn’t good enough, even if it is the best someone can achieve. And I sympathise with cultures that consider this treatment unfair, given that the eldrae had the advantage of being a genetically engineered super-species guided by a vaguely interested Precursor race before their own culture even kicked off. That’s one heck of a head start over blind survivalist evolution.
I am having a fail day and cannot find it, but you wrote about an organisation once that went out to the outskirts and tried very hard to bring incremental progress and advancement to cultures that were less advanced by Imperial standards. I loved that, because it was an example of actively trying to fix the universe rather than hoping people saw the Empire’s light in the distance and managed to one day stagger their way towards it. Having an example of ‘working’ not-governments is helpful, but doesn’t prevent your attempts of following it from stumbling into the sort of civil war that knocks your country back to widespread famine and anarchy in the most negative senses of the word.
I really hope I’ve managed to phrase this okay; I enjoy your work and I’m not trying to attack you or your choice of subjects.
I’m trying to compose a comment that is something more than “yeah, what they said!”.
In a way the eldrae seem too monolithic, sort of a planet-of-the-hats where the hat is their perfection in all things.
Maybe you just need to start writing longer stories, where the what-ifs and what-thens are more thoroughly explored.
Like the FAT NINJA: in a sense the research failed. But how did they get there? What did they try next? Will they try or find a way of using it as an outré bomb?
Or the No Hope in Hegemony piece. What were the Imperials trying to do with/about/for the Hope Hegemony? What are they going to do next? Will they succeed in shepherding/coercing/manipulating the Hope Hegemony towards a more eldraeic or Conclave of Galactic Polites version of civilization? How do they do it? How long does it take in the end? If they fail, how does the Hope Hegemony change or blow up? If they succeed will they still consider it a success, a failure or a Phyrric victory because of how long it took, what it took to get it done, how many died before they got it done?
It occurs to me that on the whole, eldrae seem considerably better at being consistent about their principles than humans are. But then, the combination of immortality, and understanding exactly what kinds of beings might end up parsing and living by their ethical system, helps rather a lot with that.
The only place it makes me itch slightly, is that it seems when looking down their collective noses at the unenlightened, that Imperial culture doesn’t draw a distinction between those who can improve but choose not to – like the Vonnies – and those who don’t yet have the technology. Though, I suppose, that doesn’t come through here, because anyone the Imperials would be in a position to look down their noses at, has probably had such technology offered to them – by the Imperial visitors, if not by anyone else.
(So, maybe the eyerolls would be aimed not so much at those newly-encountered baselines who still play derpy ancestral-environment status games, but rather at those who still, four generations later, continue to do such, when they’ve had ample opportunity to transcend that kind of rolling in the mud and get to shining already…)
Pingback: The Eldraeverse
Don’t know that any one gives a flip at this point (this particular entry being over a year old), but I have a few comments…
Er, actually, Abner Munson, owner-operator of the Hariven class ‘Make Do’ has a few comments…
‘Smug? Of course they’re smug! Every last one of ’em. Even the kids (though I’m hard-pressed to say which of the Elves are young and which are old…my kind, we wear our age…them? Not so much). Immortal demigods flittin’ about, doin’ as they please, no one to say jack about it. Put near-infinite power in my hands and watch how smug ‘I’ get. So, yeah, them Elves are smug…and that ain’t half of it.’
‘Now, I’ve never been screwed by any that stooped to doin’ business with me, but, honestly, I avoid doin’ business with ’em (not that any of ’em is beatin’ down my airlock hatch lookin’ to hire me for a haul) cuz, well, they ‘are’ smug…and they talk too damn much…and it’s never just a contract with ’em but always some kinda semi-religious event…and they’re smug. Me, I just wanna do my job, get paid, get home to Golgotha once in a while; them, it always had to be AWESOME.’
‘Pretty much folks like me got nuthin’ in common with the Elves (and thank Crom for that). Folks like me: not perfect, not immortal, not AWESOME, and not constantly lookin’ for sumthin’ to do. Seems to me: Elf heads are way too busy, and the lot have way too much friggin’ time on their hands. I mean, they don’t stay dead, for Crom’s sake. I know a buncha folks envy Elfness and strive for it themselves, but some of us (barbarians, one and all) got other notions (none of which I’m goin’ into here cuz I ain’t gettin’ paid to advertise Golgothan philosophy).
‘As for Young, the only beef I got with him is his excludin’ my kind from his universe. Absolutely do not blame him for bein’ an Elf lover (sproutin’ from his head like one of Zeus’s offspring, as they do, it’s to be expected). Yeah, it does grind my gears a bit that absolutely every one who isn’t an Elf gets relegated to minor player in Young’s scheme, but it ‘is’ his show. As the sayin’ goes, if you don’t like what’s comin’ through the comm, switch channels.’
‘So, yeah, that’s all I got to say on that. A. Munson’