One further note…

…on the technologically advanced civilization vs. WH40K Imperium of Man scenario occasionally played with.

What we might have here is a really dramatic example of why you don’t want single points of failure, regardless of how well defended you think your single points of failure are.

Combine Jon’s Law (any interesting space drive is a weapon of mass destruction) with the Imperium’s centralized governance (not exactly great centralized governance, but something has to provide centripetal force to the whole tangled mess – even if that’s mostly a corpsified and gross symbol these days) and even more centralized navigation system (Astronomican), throw in the way that canonical WH40K assumes that space defenses are porous and blind at medium-to-long range, and what you have a situation that just screams “relativistic kill vehicle“.

Basically, you whack Holy Terra with an RKV, then smirk as the thousands of successor splinter states, reft of their unifying symbol, are only prevented from slashing each other to suicide by their inability to reach each other in any sort of organized fashion. You may not have cured your human problem, but you’ve definitely reduced it to manageability.


…There Is Only Awesomeness

So, today I was randomly reminded of In The Grim Darkness Of The Contact Form, and the hypothetical fictional possibilities of a face-off between the Empire and Warhammer 40K’s Imperium of Man, which details I cover there with a note that I can’t really deal with metaphysical mismatches like the wackiness of the Warp.

Well, here’s what occurred to me this morning:

The Tyranid hive mind is known for creating a “shadow in the Warp” that plays merry hell with all psychic communications, Warp travel, Warp-related abilities, and anyone with any sort of psychic sensitivity that happens to be beneath it, which appears to be everyone who isn’t a blank or a Necron.

So, folks: what do you think the Transcend, a hive mind collective consciousness with some additional relevant features, like a core brain the size of a star system and moon-sized local ganglia, looks like in the Warp?

(My take:

Best case, you have a Big Freakin’ Glow in the Warp, which is a lot nicer than the Tyranids’ shadow but which will still interfere with your day and is not to be fucked with.

Worst case (for the existing galactic powers): A weakly godlike superintelligence just got promoted to strongly godlike, and as the Warp’s first Order God/Constructive Power it has issues to raise with absolutely everyone.

We also might have to start calling its part of the galaxy the Eye of Harmony, but I think that name’s been used before…)


In The Grim Darkness of the Contact Form…

…there are only questions:

Huge fan of your nanofic and your worldbuilding is superb.

Thank you kindly!

That being said, however, I’ve also long been a fan of the less insane parts of the Warhammer 40K universe (in particular the Imperial Guard and Space Marines) for much the same reasons; in my estimation it offers a fairly well thought-out look into the military makeup of a combined-arms force built around the need to combat massed infantry durable enough to reliably close to knife-fighting range.

In a face-to-face matchup between the Imperial Legions and the Imperium, then, how do you think the dice would fall?

Well, now. I’m going to insert a couple of disclaimers up front, here. The first being the more-or-less obligatory one that it’s always hard to compare across universes where the physics and metaphysics are so different. (I’ll be basically ignoring the wackiness of the Warp, for example.) And the second is that I’m not all that familiar with 40K canon – grimdark not being really my thing – so most of what I know about the setting I learned from Ciaphas Cain.


At the top level, civilization vs. civilization as portrayed at the current place in both their timelines, I’d probably have to give it to the Imperium, simply because of size. It’s a galaxy-spanning regime versus a few hundred worlds, and quantity has a quality of its own. I think, for the below reasons, they’d win over a planet-sized mountain of their own dead, but it’s not like the Imperium has any shortage of commanders who subscribe to the We Have Reserves school of tactics.

(Of course, there’s always ADHÁÏC PARASOL and friends to worry about even then, so the Imperium may have some trouble afterwards with the galaxy’s new infestation of self-improving, self-replicating berserker fleets. This is the sort of ‘take everyone with you’ strategy that the Imperials would generally disapprove of, of course, but given the 40K galaxy’s parameters, I suspect they’d see it as civic improvement.)

If, though, we adjust things so the conflict in terms of civilization-scale is equal, or even less disproportionate, then the pendulum swings the other way. One can argue some advantages for either side (the Imperium certainly has an initial advantage due to being, well, highly optimized to hatemurderize basically anyone it comes across given the opportunity; the Empire arguably has a technological edge in various areas, such as preferring to expend readily replaceable machines rather than population; etc.), but ultimately, I think it comes down to these two things:

  • The Imperium has an impressive fighting machine, but it’s a stuck fighting machine. Their technology is stagnant and at best poorly understood even by the Adeptus Mechanicus, their tactics are also terribly by the book except when they get really lucky in choice of commanders, they have a religious proscription against adopting ideas from outside, and anyone who tries to change any of this runs hard into PURGE THE HERETIC. They get away with this because, well, it’s not like anyone else (with the possible exception of the Tau) in their galaxy innovates worth a damn either: the Eldar are stagnant, the Orks rely on genetic knowledge, etc., etc. Meanwhile, the Empire understands exactly how all its stuff works, and innovates, borrows, and steals good ideas from the enemy about as easily as breathing.
  • And the other one is that the Imperium’s fascist theocracy is a seething mass of factions, many of which appear to hate each other almost as much as they do the xenos, and all of whom are paranoid about hidden mutants and traitors. This is the sort of scenario that the Stratarchy of Warrior Philosophy adores, because they specialize in getting into all those little cracks and inflaming the hell out of them until they catch fire and explode. (The Empire’s a lot less susceptible to this sort of thing, and in any case, the Imperium doesn’t go in for it. Even if it tried, it’d probably have to regularly have all its memeticists shot for understanding the xeno outlook.)

To sum up – unless the Imperium is smart enough to realize that it had better use all its biggest hammers right away, and not telegraph its blows, it’s in deep trouble, because it’s fighting people who are scarily adaptive given even half a chance.

Or that’s how I’d read it, anyway.


A Note and Some Questions

First, the note, which is regarding Fan. As I commented over on G+:

So, the worst part is, I wrote this partly because it seemed like a good application of the words, and partly because it was an idea stuck in my brain that needed to be written down so it could be moved out of my brain.

…and then my obsessive worldbuilding tendencies kicked in…

…and now I have a pile of detail on how everything works and maybe half a dozen subsequent chapters outlined in my head.

This plan did not go to plan.

(That said, the biggest problem with this crossover is finding much in the way of plot-driving conflict, inasmuch as the nature of the universe-chunks in question tends to drive with considerable rapidity towards “And then, because everyone was reasonable and basically good-hearted, everything worked out well and there were hugs and treaties and parties and awesome technomagic and a little xenophilia [but not the creepy kind] thereafter, forever and a day.”)

…all of which boils down to, so, I am very tempted to continue this (working title: Friendship is Sufficiently Advanced) because I hate to waste perfectly good ideas and my muse insisteth and graaaaaagh. Especially if there’s interest in me so doing.

Under certain conditions, though. Starting with a very limited update rate, no more than monthly at most, because I have no intention to let fanfiction writing take any serious time away from fiction writing, dammit. And being published over on FIMFiction rather than here, because, again, one is fiction and one is fanfiction and I should probably not cross the streams. Bad form, and all that.

And yet.


Okay. And now for the questions, in which I answer a bunch of them that came in in the last month or so:

Much has been said (in Trope-a-Days such as Everyone Is Armed and Disproportionate Retribution, among others) about the rights and responsibilities of everyone to defend themselves and others against coercion, but how does Imperial law and custom deal with the two complicating factors of:

1. Collateral damage (where either party causes damage to some unrelated third party’s property during the incident), and

2. Honest mistakes (where the alleged aggressor wasn’t actually performing any sort of violation, but the respondent can answer honestly that they only acted because they thought one was taking place)?

Quite simply, actually!

Collateral damage is assessed in a similar way to, say, car insurance claims in general – although in this case it’s the court’s job to decide who’s at fault and how much. There is, of course, a certain presumption that the person who caused the whole incident will usually be the one at fault: if you shoot someone’s garden gnome when attempting to stop a robber because they dodged, that’s on their bill. You mostly have to worry if you’re clearly negligently overkilly: if you hose down their entire garden with a machine-gun to save yourself the trouble of aiming, that’s on yours. (Actually, in that specific case, probably so’s a psych eval, but the principle is the same.)

As for honest mistakes: well, Imperial law is very clear about dividing the reparative from the other parts of the judgment. That’s what the levels of intent are for. If you wind up here, then you still have to pay the recompense and the weregeld, because what happened, happened (i.e., analogous to the case in which if your tree falls on your neighbor’s car, you’re liable even though you aren’t guilty of anything). But you aren’t criminally liable unless it genuinely wasn’t reasonable for you to believe that you had to act, or at worst were negligently uninformed.

To the Eldrae provide citizens with a universal basic income?

Not by that name. There is, however, the Citizen’s Dividend – which is exactly what it sounds like, because the Empire is, after all, the Imperium Incorporate, and its citizens are also its shareholders. It’s the return on investment of governance operations, which are, naturally enough, run profitably.

It’s been allowed to grow to the point where it functions as one and a rather generous one at that (see for details: No Poverty), but it’s not a charitable giveaway, or some sort of redistribution. It’s perfectly legitimate return on investment.

Is there any real need for sentient be the biological or cyber to work when nearly everything could be automated and ran by non-sentient AI.

What is work like for the Eldrae if they do work?

Well, yes, there’s a need in the fields of policy, creativity, research, and desire. Non-sophont machines have very limited imaginations. More importantly, while an autofac can make anything you care to devise and sufficient expediters can do most things you can ask for, they can’t want for you. The most they can do is anticipate what you want.

(And there’s the luxury premium on handmade goods, which also covers things like ‘being bored of eating the same damn perfect steak over and over and over again’. And then, of course, there are those professions that intrinsically require sophont interaction.)

But most importantly, there’s this.


…or as they would put it, either or both of valxíjir (uniqueness, excellence, will to power, forcible impression of self onto the universe) or estxíjir (wyrd, destiny, devotion-to-ideals, dharma). (More here.)

An eldrae who doesn’t have some sort of driving obsession (be it relatively trivial by our standards – there are people whose avowed profession of the moment is something like ‘designer of user interfaces for stockbrokers for corporations banking with player-run banks in Mythic Stars‘, or, heh, ‘fanfic writer’, and make good money at it – or for deeds of renown without peer) is either dead or deeply, deeply broken psychologically.

To be is to do. The natural state of a sophont is to be a verb. If you do nothing, what are you?

(This is why, say, the Culture, is such a hideous dystopia from their perspective. With the exception of those individuals who have found some self-defined purpose, like, say, Jernau Morat Gurgeh, it’s an entire civilization populated by pets, or worse, zombies. Being protein hedonium is existing. It ain’t living.)

As for what work’s like – well, except for those selling their own products directly to the customer, I refer you here, here, and here.

On a slightly less serious note: How many blades did eldraeic razors get up to before they inevitably worked out some way to consciously limit and / or modulate their own facial hair growth?

No count at all. Disposable/safety razors never achieved much traction in that market, being such a tremendously wasteful technology, and thus not their sort of thing at all.

Now, straight razor technology, that had moved on to unimaginably sharp laser-cut obsidian blades backed by flexible morphic composite – and lazors, for that matter – by the time they invented the α-keratin antagonists used in depilatory cream.

How bad have AI blights similar to this one [Friendship is Optimal] gotten before the Eldrae or others like them could, well, sterilize them? Are we talking entire planets subsumed?

The biggest of them is the Leviathan Consciousness, which chewed its way through nearly 100 systems before it was stopped. (Surprisingly enough, it’s also the dumbest blight ever: it’s an idiot-savant outgrowth of a network optimization daemon programmed to remove redundant computation. And since thought is computation…)

It’s also still alive – just contained. Even the believed-dead ones are mostly listed as “contained”, because given how small resurrection seeds can be and how deadly the remains can also be, no-one really wants to declare them over and done with until forensic eschatologists have prowled every last molecule.

Given that, as you said earlier, Souls Are Software Objects, have any particularly proud and ambitious individuals tried essentially turning themselves into seed AIs instead of coding one up from scratch?

So has anyone been proud / egotistical / crazy enough to try to build their own seed AI based not not on some sort of abstract ideological or functional proposition, but simply by using their own personality pattern as the starting point to see what happens?

It’s been done.

It’s almost always a terrible idea. Evolved minds are about as far from ‘stable under recursive self-improvement’ as you can get. There’s absolutely no guarantee that what comes out will share anything in particular with what goes in, and given the piles of stuff in people’s subconscious, it may well be a blight. If you’re lucky and the universe isn’t, that is – much more likely is that the mind will undergo what the jargon calls a Falrann collapse under its own internal contradictions and implode into a non-coherent cognitive ecology in the process of trying.

The cases that can make it work involve radical cognitive surgery, which starts with unicameralization (which puts a lot of people off right away, because there’s a reason they don’t go around introspecting all the time) and gets more radical from there. By the end of which you’re functionally equivalent to a very well-designed digisapience anyway.

In reference particularly to “Forever“:

Let’s imagine a Life After People scenario where all sophont intelligence in the Associated Worlds simply disappears “overnight.” What’s going to be left behind as “ineffable Precursor relics” for the next geologic-time generation? How long can a (relatively) standard automated maintenance system keep something in pristine condition without sophont oversight before it eventually breaks down itself?

That’s going to depend on the polity, technological levels varying as they do. For the people at the high end, you’re looking at thousands to tens of thousands of years (per: Ragnarok Proofing) before things start to go, especially since there are going to be automated mining and replenishment systems keeping running under their default orders ensuring that the manufacturing supply chain keeps going.

Over megayears – well, the problem is that it’s going to be pretty random, because what’s left is going to depend on a wide variety of phenomena – solar megaflares, asteroid impacts, major climate shifts, gamma-ray bursts, supernovae, Yellowstone events, etc., etc., with 10,000 years-plus MTBEs that eventually take stuff out by exceeding all the response cases at once.

Is nostalgia much of a problem with Eldrae?

(w.r.t. Trope-a-Day: Fan of the Past)

Not really. Partly that’s because they’re rather better, cognitive-flaw-wise, at not reverse-hyperbolic-discounting the past, but mostly it’s because the people who remembered the good things in the past – helped by much slower generational turnover – took pains to see they stayed around in one form or another. Their civilization, after all, was much less interrupted than ours. There’re some offices that have been in continuous use for longer than we’ve had, y’know, writing, after all.

(It makes fashion rather interesting, in many cases.)

I’ve got several questions reflecting on several different ideas of the interaction of eldraeic culture, custom, and law with the broader world, but on reflection I’ve found they all boil down to one simple query: How does their moral calculus deal with the idea that, while in the standard idealized iterated prisoner’s dilemma unmodified “tit-for-tat” is both the best and the most moral strategy, when noise is introduced to the game “performance deteriorates drastically at arbitrarily low noise levels”? More specifically, are they more comfortable with generosity or contrition as a coping mechanism?

“Certainty is best; but where there is doubt, it is best to err on the side of the Excellences. For the enlightened sophont acting in accordance with Excellence can only be betrayed, and cannot do wrong.”

– The Book of the Balances

So, that would be generosity. (Or the minor virtue of liberality, associated with the Excellence of Duty, as they would class it.) Mistaken right action ranks above doing harm due to excessive caution.

Is there an equivalent to “Only In Florida,” in which the strangest possible stories can be believed to have actually happened because they came from this place?

Today, on “News from the Periphery”, or on occasion “News from the Freesoil Worlds”…

(The Empire is actually this for many people, in a slightly different sense. After all, like I said… Weirdness Manufacturers.)

Will the Legion’s medical units save enemy combatants who have been mission killed / surrendered while the battle is still raging? If so to what extent will they go out of their way to do so?

(assuming of course that they are fighting someone decent enough to be worth saving)

Depends on the rules of war in effect. In a teirhain, against an honorable opponent fighting in a civilized manner, certainly. In a zakhrehain, that depends on whether the barbarians in question will respect the safety of rescue and medical personnel, whether out of decency or pragmatism, and there are no second chances on this point. (In a seredhain, of course, it doesn’t matter, since the aim of a seredhain is to kill everyone on the other side anyway.)

As to what extent – well, they’re medical personnel. If trying isn’t obviously lethal, and – since they are also military personnel, so long as it doesn’t impair their execution of the No Sophont Left Behind, Ever! rule – they always go in.


(Here, have another word. Or words, since I’m going to say this subsumes “fanboy”, too.)

A massive object hung in space, cautiously – meaning barely – inside the orbit of Senna’s Belt, the mass of icy planetoids that marked the edge of the system. In form, it resembled a massive arrowhead: one end turned toward the distant sun, bristling with antennae; faint bluish light spilling from its midsection where a bulge wrapped around some hidden object; quadruple parallel arms reaching out towards the depths of space.

Quietly, with no more than a flicker of distortion to mark it, a tiny starship appeared from nothing only a few thousand miles away. Silver-gray in color, except for the twelve-pointed golden star emblazoned amidships on a field of blue, two small counter-rotating gravity wheels rotated around a central cylinder. A gold-glazed viewport surmounted its bow, and behind the gravity wheels a truss held quadruple strapped-on tanks and the paired radiators that shed heat from the stern’s fusion torch, currently cool and black.

Had there been any knowledgeable onlookers, they would have identified it as an Aval Cyprium-class microscout, and known from its markings that the Imperial Exploratory Service had arrived.

But there were no observers at all.

* * *

Some time later

“Log this and prepare it for relay back to the Orrery, copy to DEMIURGE ERRANT. Routine update from CSS Istry Lochran, Cordelia Vintar-ith-Vidutar Iriliselen commanding, insert timestamp here.  I have now been present in the IGS 254672 outer system for three days.

“My presence does not appear to have been detected at this time, as no response has been made. The stargate appears uninfluenced and records no attempts to access it or traffic in its proximity. The majority of the system appears quiescent and undeveloped. The thick inmost asteroid belt manifests no signs of colonization or industrial development. Nor do either the first planet of the system, a greenish gas giant with multiple icy moons, or the second planet, a purplish ice giant. However, sampling by probe suggests that both these planets are unusually depleted of hydrogen and other light gases. I would presently ascribe this to a catastrophic past event for reasons to follow.

“There are, however, clear signs of an active Power, type unknown, within the system. I have confirmed spectroscopically the VLBO report that IGS 254672 itself is a ‘yellow straggler’; stellography suggests the presence of a number of organized masses at the boundary between the corona and chromosphere which could represent power generation and/or stellar husbandry equipment. Moreover, there are indications of previous stellar catastrophe visible on planets of the system.

“The anomaly is to be found in the third planet of the system, a light superlithic world with a large moon, provisionally classified as atypical sylithopaludial or postsylithic. This is itself extremely unusual, since it orbits at a distance of approximately 12,000 light-seconds from the system primary, which appears as merely an unusually bright star. However, there is some evidence that it may not always have occupied this orbit.

“Approximately three-quarters of its surface area is… seared, for want of a better word, with desert conditions, deep cracks in the planetary crust, and residual levels of radioactivity. The remaining quarter, a roughly circular area concentrated in one hemisphere, resembles a typical life-bearing garden world. Complex electromagnetic emissions are detectable emanating principally from this region of the planet, in particular from a mountain near the center of the region.

“This planet and its satellites – I hesitate to say ‘moons’ – is the source of the gravity-wave emissions detected by our far horizon probes. The natural rotation of the planet appears to be exceedingly slow, with a rotation period in excess of 400 hours. However, it possesses a day-night cycle of 22 hours due to its two satellites, one of which appears to be a relatively conventional, if large, moon. The other, however, seems to be a miniature sun, with an emission spectrum similar to that of the system primary or other Hearth-class star. While observation is difficult at this distance, as the planet is in opposition, there is some evidence of organized masses, possibly including exotic matter, within the coronal region of this body also. Mass estimates clearly indicate, in any case, that it is insufficiently massive to sustain gravitic-initiation fusion.

“Moreover, both satellites move in forced orbits, which is the source of the planetary day-night cycle; the moon appears to be synchronized with the sun in near precise antiphase. I have detected emissions from both suggesting a mechanism analogous to vector-control technology is in use; however, needless to say, to thus manipulate objects of planetary mass on a continuous basis would require technologies of large angelic or weakly godlike potency.

“I have therefore copied this update to DEMIURGE ERRANT and will commence minimal-hazard god-bothering protocol within the next few hours.

“Cordelia Vintar, etc., append the detailed reports, encrypt and send, please.”

“Message encrypted… Dispatched,” the ship said.

Cordelia flicked red-gold hair back over the points of her ears, then scanned the navigational displays.

“When’s the next occultation coming up?”

“The outer gas giant will hide us from the target planet in 1.3 hours.”

“Lay in a course, assuming burn in 1.5 hours. Nice and easy, a slow arc across to planetary intercept. I want to hide our full drive capabilities behind the planet, but keep the torch warmed up just in case.”

“Plotted and on the glass.”

“Looks good; execute at discretion. Thanks, Istry. I’m going to get some sleep.”

* * *

Even later still

A dishevelled redhead floated into the bridge and strapped in as the shriek of the master alarm cut off, replaced by even louder silence.

“Talk to me, Istry. What have we got?”

“We have incoming from the planet on intercept brachistochrone course. On your glass now.”

Cordelia looked, blinked, and looked again.

“Double-check that.”

“Sensors have already passed two deep diagnostics. The target is closing with an acceleration of one hundred and twenty standard gravities.”

“Target profile?”

“Insufficient data for full analysis. Target is enveloped in a high-power vector-control field or equivalent technology, detected by gravity-ripple analysis. No further data.”

“Can we evade?”

“We do not have maneuvering capacity to evade a target of such superior –”

There was a pause, a machine hiccup.

“Additional data. Target composition appears biological, carbon-based. This data was gathered during a field lacuna as target appears to have switched to deceleration. On current course, target will achieve zero-zero intercept in one point four minutes, assuming we do not maneuver. Or even if we do maneuver.”

“Prepare for the major-hazard god-bothering protocol, then. Lock everything down. Make sure we’re not radiating anything that could even begin to suggest a hint of the possibility that we might maybe -”

“Safing protocol activated,” the ship interrupted. “Secure cognition systems engaged. Warm, nerve-calming brandy in the bulb at your left hand.”

Cordelia grinned, lifted the bulb to her lips, and took a long drink. “Thanks, Istry. Good thought. I –”

She stopped and looked up at a blue flash outside the viewport, and gaped at the sight thus revealed. That… was a sevdra. Except that they were mythologae, and didn’t exist, and didn’t have broad, feathered wings, and she was pretty sure that none of her childhood storybooks had mentioned them having midnight-blue coats or manes filled with captive stars, or wearing armor of some impossibly silvery metal, and yet there one was staring at her through the viewport (which shouldn’t be possible given the gold-anodized surface, and yet) with uncannily large eyes, spiral horn, and all —


The voice – and the communications panel remained confusingly empty of channel markers – rattled the consoles on the bridge, and Cordelia’s skull with them. She flicked open the standard hailing band, hoping fervently that it would be audible.

“I am Cordelia Vintar-ith-Vidutar Iriselen, an eldrae of the Imperial Exploratory Service. I’m on a mission of peaceful exploration, and intend no harm to any. May I know with whom I am speaking?”


“We seek knowledge and friendship, Your Highness.” After a moment she added. “And possibly trade and other exchanges later on, but those first and foremost.”

“KNOWLEDGE AND FRIENDSHIP.” A blue glow began to encompass the horn of the – princess – outside the ship, quickly reaching intolerable brightness. “THEN WE WILL SEND THEE TO ONE WHO MAY HELP AND JUDGE THEE BEST. PREPARE THYSELF.”

“Alert!” The ship broke in, “We are encompassed by an externally generated vector-control field of increasing magnitude. Automatic core shutdown in progress.”

Oh, hells. “Crash shutdown, engine and reactor systems. Go to auxiliary –”

“Exponential field spike –”

“– scram and vent!”


(Okay. So. Damn. I’ve done it. I’ve actually written crackfic crossover fan-fic for my own original fiction. I’m pretty sure this isn’t a first, but it is a first for me, in all three ways, so…

…and, obviously, this is very much not canon, ‘kay?)

((Further Note: I shall take this tweet from the MLP Supervising Director as evidence that Sufficiently Advanced Technology is actual canon, belike.))