Trope-a-Day: Used Future

(As a side note, please permit me to apologize for the lack of new fic content over the last few days. I appear to have once again contracted some sort of death plague that is playing merry hell with my creativity, so I’m just sitting around crunching numbers, popping excedrin, and playing video games. Normal operation will be resumed as soon as I can operate normally.)

Used Future: Averted in the Empire – as you can probably tell by the way we hit up Crystal Spires and Togas, Everything is an iPod in the Future and Raygun Gothic on the way here, not to mention Scenery Porn, the Empire sits hard on the shiny side of the Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty.  Note: it’s not necessarily new; some of it’s just been lovingly maintained for millennia and polished every morning until it gleams.  Even more so with robotics and nanotechnology and post-scarcity energy supplies that fervently and with zeal ensure that all litter is picked up, all spills vanished, all nicks and dings repaired, and everything maintained in a state of appalling just-off-the-production-line perfection at all times!  Even the garbage trucks are gorgeous!

The metaphorical appearance of the actuality may best be compared to the perfect streets and shiny happy people seen mostly in architect’s impressions and Jehovah’s Witnesses pamphlets.

How used everyone else’s future is tends to depend on location: see Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty for this, and Shiny Looking Spaceships for one way this trope plays out in practice.

The Incidental Problems of Handwavial Correctness

Today’s vexing aesthetic physics of handwavium problem:

INASMUCH as the energy levels and resulting orbitals of muon-proton atoms are completely different from those of electron-proton atoms –

WELL, obviously, or what would be the point in making muon metals in the first place –

AND INASMUCH as this makes muon-photon interactions differ remarkably from electron-photon interactions, thus changing radically the emission spectrum and other optical properties from their electronic equivalent –

WHAT do the blasted things look like?

(It is on those mornings when I find myself contemplating this before my first cup of coffee, inasmuch as said metals are a vitally important and visible component of a hypothetical fusion torch drive, that I have some sympathy for the technobabble approach to doing things. Somehow, I doubt the Star Trek writers ever had to deal with this sort of thing…)

Trope-a-Day: ISO Standard Human Spaceship

ISO Standard Human Spaceship: They’re “realistic” designs, involving designing for microgravity, with nuclear engines out on the end of long trusses and no particular need to worry about aerodynamics or putting all your machinery inside the pressure hull, but —

1. They’re not painted grey or left as uncolored metal. This is not the ocean, there is no stealth in space, and there’s no real advantage to being a bland and neutral color. And while you could save some mass by leaving off the chameleon nanopaint, true, there is another consideration – namely, in close orbit operations, or while alongside a habitat, people can see you, and people who can afford private spaceyachts want them to look gorgeous, of course, but more importantly, everyone from Stellar Express to Constellation Dream-Lines spent a lot of money on their corporate color scheme and logo, and they want it splashed all over the hull in living animated Technicolor.  Half the captains in space don’t even turn the running lights off when they leave orbit just in case someone might be pointing a telescope their way.

(ISS and IMS ships are generally colored Imperial indigo, with gold trim.  Crimson striping is optional on those vessels operating under diplomatic privilege.)

2. Being visibly constructed from riveted plates is distinctly disfavored; rivets imply seams, seams imply weak spots, weak spots involve the possibility of messy vacuum-aided death. While it would be ludicrously inefficient to nanogrow an entire hull as one seamless unit, they do like to use nanopastes to make the seams go away afterwards. They do have the usual number of ports, sensors, and antennae attached in various places, though.

3. While you can certainly draw a box around them – and goodness knows a lot of less, ah, aesthetically sensitive species seem to think that the ideal shape for a freighter is a large steel box with an engine stuck on one end – it would be hard to describe a typical Imperial vessel as “boxy”. As soon as autofabrication made it possible to do grand, sweeping pseudo-organically curved shapes, naval architects dug their last few centuries of idle sketches of cool-looking but impractical ships out of the closet and ran with them, at least for civilian use – often in shapes that don’t enclose, but do conceal, all the heavy machinery and massive spherical fuel tanks and cryocels mounted on trusses outside the pressure hull. Or at least the bits of it that don’t look cool, while coyly revealing the parts of it that do. (And even the military ships aren’t all that boxy.)

And then, of course, there are the thermal radiators, which often resemble great curved wings of one kind or another when fully extended, even if they’re not solid (the most common radiator types are sheets of droplets extending from sprayer to collector).

4. For reasons explained elsewhere, there are no space fighters designed to be flown by meat. Such things have negative combat advantages and no survivability whatsoever.

(As a side note, while every bit as impractically fancy, in many cases, as the extensive brightwork of Royal Navy warships or East India Company merchantmen in the old tall ship days, the colorful paint jobs and excitingly sweeping shapes serve much the same memetic purpose: “we’re rich and powerful and successful enough that we can spend lots of time and effort on this stuff without impairing the basic functionality of the ship at all, so draw appropriate conclusions before startin’ something”.)

Trope-a-Day: The Beautiful People

The Beautiful People: I refer you to the comments about “impossibly beautiful sexy immortal billionaire genius demigods” made under Can’t Argue With Elves.  The engineering works, people.  However pretty a people the baseline Eldrae alathis were to begin with – and they were – by the time autoevolution reached the very transsophont Eldrae kirsunar, it had gone Up To Eleven.  The self-designated Supreme Eldrae and their cousin species in the Empire are self-consciously designed to be perfected, unflawed, soul-churningly beautiful, marvelous to behold, exquisite and/or excruciating in unsurpassed elegance.

(And if you’d care to sign up, they can do it for you, too.  Queue for applications starts to your left.)

It’s a sort of inherited status, I suppose, inasmuch as you acquire it – most commonly – by being the offspring of an Imperial citizen-shareholder, although most of it is offered freely to immigrants and, well, anyone who turns up waving checks or cashy money at the right businesses… but since this does represent more or less the entire society, these Beautiful People do, at least those who haven’t yet earned their way into the investor-leisure class, have to work for a living, and many of those continue to anyway.

And yes, the surroundings also match (see: Emotion Bomb and Scenery Porn), because it’s not like they stuck to just improving themselves.  Also played straight, again for almost everyone, with regard to the clothing (see: Sharp Dressed Soph), the housing (see: Big Fancy House), the wealth levels (it is a materially mostly-post-scarcity society, after all)…

Trope-a-Day: Everything is an iPod in the Future

Everything Is An iPod In The Future: “Right now, being cutting-edge is all about plain black and white (maybe pastel colors if you’re lucky), translucent plastic, smoothed edges, screens that slide and flip out, touch screens, unobtrusive buttons, minimalist advertising and displays, lights that come out of nowhere and catchy little chimes when the devices start up. […] Interfaces are designed to be soothing, easy to use and colorful, and if intelligent they’ll probably be annoyingly helpful.”

Well, it’s one element in the aesthetic, sure.  But see under Crystal Spires and Togas and Raygun Gothic for more.

Trope-a-Day: Raygun Gothic

Raygun Gothic: The other major influence on the Empire’s aesthetics (albeit adapted to much newer technologies and materials than would be usual), along with Crystal Spires and Togas and – to a lesser extent – Everything Is An iPod In The Future. This one is notably major because for a variety of reasons – some of which involve obvious worldbuilding features and others of which would, if described, sound like a The Reason You Suck speech – its host culture never lost the optimism and essential idea that there’s a big bright beautiful Tomorrow just around the corner, courtesy of Science!  (Capital and exclamation point definitely included.) Particularly since they actually did keep arriving.

(This is also why the second movement of their national anthem is just like Make Way For Tomorrow, Today, sung without a single trace of irony.)

Trope-a-Day: Crystal Spires and Togas

Crystal Spires and Togas: Well, the Imperials have the crystal spires down.  Although, a little unusually, this wasn’t the follow-on from the “big, shiny, and sciency!” period (that is happening simultaneously) – it’s just that the saerymaharvéi silverlife, descendants of Precursor materials-processing nanites, left the surface of Eliera scattered with giant readily-accessible lumps of crystal right from day one.  The school of architecture stuck, intermingled with art deco, the closely related Gernsback style, a soupçon of (often literally) organic designs, and highly polished steampunk/clockpunk/electropunk in-your-face mechanism, even when it’s really ultratech with “holographic” interfaces.  With big chrome fins.

Note: this is not a Gilded Age.  That’s hammered gold, you philistine.

There are not, however, togas.  Also, the technology isn’t all that so-subtle-it-can’t-be-seen; sleek and shiny it may be, but it’s almost as obvious as in Steampunk.  Imperials like their tech.

See also: Everything Is An iPod In The Future.