Questions: Sleep, Implied Contracts, Twinning, Pandeism, Cascading Default, The Drowning, Deals with the Devil, White Elephants, and Stargates

Random thought: Do eldrae sleep?

Yes, except for a few unconventionally modified clades. Specifically, it’s necessary in order to dream – because bio-brains get very unhappy when they don’t get their maintenance downtime. The nowline doesn’t need as much as the baseline (being quite happy to sustain three to four hours a night, or go without for several days if given an extended rest period thereafter), but that’s about where the diminishing returns set in.

The unconventional modifications tend to each come with their own disadvantages.

Do Imperial law and common custom acknowledge the validity of implied contracts, whether implied-in-fact or implied-at-law?

Not as such. The Curial courts have no particular desire to have to invent the terms of contracts and try to parse out the meeting of the minds that may or may not have been.

Instead, to save time, they have form contracts, which are basically library functions in contract law that can be invoked by various things: purchasing over the counter, entering a brawler’s bar, and various other legally defined social rituals. That ensures that the terms are defined, and contracts are always entered into intentionally.

You mentioned that sometimes someone can acquire a backup twin if their incarnation insurer mistakenly believes them to be dead. How is this resolved legally? Is property and assets split evenly? How about debts and obligations? Relationships? Can one arrange in advance what will happen and are there established precedents and norms?

When one person becomes two, the basic legal rule (in the absence of any specific agreements between self and self otherwise) is that various things attaching to them instead attach to the corporate body of both of them. So their property and assets, rather than being split, are jointly owned by both of them; they are jointly and severally liable for all debts and obligations; like any other contracts, they are jointly and severally attached to any relationships they’re in; and so on and so forth.

If it happens accidentally, such that there isn’t any previous agreement, it’s up to the new selves to exchange rights and obligations and buy each other out. Or, y’know, remerge and become one person again.

How are disputes resolved (for those foolish enough not to be able to come to an agreement with themselves).

If all else fails, they can always call on the Curial courts to make a division for them. (This is not recommended; the Curial courts dislike having to referee this sort of thing that reasonable people should be able to work out between themselves, so doing that guarantees that you’ll get a solution that neither of you will like.)

So what would the eldrae make of the idea of pandeism — that the Universe as we know it came about when a Creator of necessarily immense power and knowledge (though explicitly not an omnipotent and omniscient Deity in the classical Abrahamic vein), for whatever reason, ceased to be a unitary consciousness? How compatible would such an idea be with the precepts of the Flamic faith if someone were to make an effort to reconcile the two?

On one level, it has very few compatibility problems – the Flamic faith expends much more time on ethos than cosmos, as evidenced by its existing multiple creation myths which don’t trouble themselves particularly with consistency. And it’s no stranger an idea than many of those creation myths are, particularly in these days of mechanimism and pervasive nanoecologies.

It may, however, somewhat troubled by the pretty clear notion among the Flamics that the creator is a schmuck, for making (or in this case, becoming) such a fundamentally broken universe in the first place. So it would need to be a school of pandeism that can cope with the idea of performing invasive surgery on a blind, idiot, possibly suicidal deity.

And perhaps more interestingly, if said Creator were to have left behind some sort of “last will and testament” (or some other analogous set of injunctions) in the fundamental fabric of the Universe’s structure for its possible beneficiaries to decode and implement, what sort of considerations would the Imperial Curia have to take into account in deciding whether to accept it as a valid and enforceable document?

A contract with only one party is no contract. (Leaving aside the special case of contracts with one’s future self, which is the form many oaths take.) Nor can a creator bind their sophont creations, because they’re independent of will. So between those two alone, it’s not looking good for enforceability.

And the content is going to affect how seriously anyone might take it as advice, even. As mentioned before, the creator is a schmuck. No-one’s going to take the word of the entity responsible for either screwing up and creating entropy, or worse, deliberately creating entropy, as particularly ineffable.

When there are just two parties involved, debt and obligation seem to be pretty straightforward: Once you undertake an obligation, you assume liability for discharging it, and if you default, Bad Things Happen.

However, how do things work out under Imperial law and eldraeic practice when, for instance, A’s default on their obligation to B causes a “domino effect” where B is unable to fulfill their obligations to C as a direct result, causing C to default in turn on their obligations to D, who then has to default against E, etc.? Is each party still responsible solely for its own obligations, or is there some mechanism by which part or all of their liability in this matter can be assigned to A for their role in knocking over the first domino?

“You, and only you, are responsible for yourself,” as the old legal maxim has it.

Contract arrangements delegating risk notwithstanding, you are responsible for all of your obligations. If you choose to subcontract some of your obligations, well then, you’ll want to be confident you have a backup, can cover a potential default yourself, or otherwise hedge  it (using subguard insurance, say, or surety bonds, just like in our system, or guild backing of the subcontractor).

(The courts do have systems to stack cases and process them together for optimal handling in the event of cascading defaults, but that’s merely a convenience feature.)

1. So what’s the “Big Picture” historical view on the Drowning of the People? The “It all happened in seven hours” tale makes for a good yarn to tell around a campfire or kitchen table, but I’m sure that there must have been plenty of preexisting movements, trends, and ideas well before the event itself that all came to a head in that moment.

Actually, that’s more or less accurate for that part of it.

As indicated, the preparations for the revolution took place over years, and the overthrow itself took about a year from start to finish – and afterwards, it took more years to establish the start of what would later be known as the institutions of the Ungoverned Era, to put them on a proper philosophical grounding with the existing ideas floating around (including but not limited to this particular philosopher), and even more time for those to coalesce into the first things resembling a modern Society of Consent…

…but the part where the revolution decided that the democratic faction of their leadership were trying to be the new boss, just like the old boss, and chucked them over a waterfall? That happened pretty much as described.

2. While we’re on the subject of the days of yore, does eldraeic folklore or mythology have any tales in the same vein as the “deal with the devil” plot, where an ambitious yet impatient and shortsighted individual makes some kind of pact with an unsavory sort that (to put it mildly) ends up putting them at a disadvantage, and has to find some sort of loophole to escape their obligation or else risk eternal damnation (or some other equally sordid fate)?

I haven’t written any of them yet, and they are obviously somewhat different inasmuch as most Eldraeic belief systems have/had no adversary/negative-principle personification, merely a negative cosmic force, but it seems quite certain that there are plenty of fairy tales with morals relating to incautious pledges, yes.

(Many of them do probably relate to Úlmiríën, the Necessary Chaos, eikone of rogues, shapeshifters, trickery, epiphanies and unwonted revelations, and sudden paradigm shifts, but hesh’s not a evil deity, but a trickster deity whose bargains, while often painful, teach. Hesh is, after all, the Necessary Chaos.)

Does the Empire have an equivalent of the proverbial “white elephant,” either as an idiom or as an actual “gift”?

The concept exists, as does the social maneuver, although as yet I do not know their names.

After reading that the Empire sends out automated stargate deployment ships, and so there are systems with stargates in them that are otherwise largely unexplored, a thought struck me. How would the Empire respond if they sent a scout through one of these stargates and discovered that there was another non-Imperial, non-Voniensan stargate already in that system? Has that, in fact, ever happened?

By doing SCIENCE to it!

(Carefully and respectfully, of course, certainly. But it’s an obvious scenario that leads to seeking out more of that knowledge and friendship that the Exploratory Service is so keen on.)

And, per below, it has happened…

Also, regarding stargates in the Worlds, the Empire and the Republic are the only folks with the capability to make them, no? I know you’ve said before that Ring Dynamics made most of the stargates in the Worlds, but you never really hinted at anyone else having a weylforge (other than whatever it is that the Republic’s been mining), so I assumed that the non-RD gates were of Imperial manufacture too, just technically by different companies or maybe state-owned.

Ring Dynamics is the only Imperial company in that business, and owns and operates all of the Empire’s gates, under one contract or another, as well as leasing gates and selling gate services elsewhere.

The (rare) non-Ring-Dynamics ones, for the most part and subject to the author’s better-idea privileges, are almost all either rediscovered ancient paleotech relics (many of which are administered by Ring Dynamics under contract because, well, they have people who understand the tech), or belong to local Vingean Powers who figured it out on their own.

 

Trope-a-Day: Drink Order

Drink Order: It’s always hard to give solid answers when it comes to these things, but maybe we can have some generalities.

The most common (non-alcoholic) drink on Eliéra is esklav, from the bean of Esklavea sendaren, a shrub with no exact Terran analog. It’s close to coffee but not quite so harshly bitter, with hints of cinnamon and chocolate in its flavor. Served traditionally in small cups (or diluted in large mugs) with brown sugar, cacao chocolate, and cream. And contains both caffeine and theobromine, along with a number of other alkaloids of similar chemical structure. People drink a lot of this. It’s what keeps the world working.

Also popular in various regions:

On the Cestian continent, cider (of a variety of varieties) is most popular, followed up by mead and beer, the latter especially in the Alatian port-towns. Selenaria started out mostly wine-drinking and has excellent vineyards to the south and along the foothills of the volcanic Makerforges, but beer made rapid inroads during the Era of Steam and Steel, as more compatible with operating heavy machinery after lunch. Currently they’re big beer producers because they’re also big grain producers.

North of there, in Veranthyr, cider is the day-to-day drink, but they make a variety of liquors from fruits of all sorts which are classically deceptive. Taste sweet, and harmless, and delicious, and moreish. And then you fall over.

Up in the Silver Crescent, they drink strong black beers, mead in the lowlands, and whisky, varying from whisky smooth as golden nectar to rough firewhisky best drunk with a dollop of the local honey mixed in unless you enjoy having the lining stripped off your throat and sinuses.

The beer tends to come from microbreweries. It’s not that there aren’t large breweries, but those tend to be microbreweries-in-spirit, the sort of places that we might call minibreweries, because (a) it is hard to scale beer production without losing experimentalism, quirkiness, and the attention to detail that stops it from turning into rat piss, and (b) it is even harder to convince people that you can brew non-rat-piss beer on a large scale.

Taking a brief look at some other species, dar-bandal favor beer almost universally, typically heavy stouts and porters with the yeast unfiltered – and don’t forget to lap it up, it improves the bouquet. Anything kaeth particularly enjoy drinking is certainly flammable and probably radioactive, so use caution. And ciseflish drinks are served around 80 K, so warm-blooded oxygen-breathers need not apply.

Esseli drinks are always innovative and delicious, but unless you’re accustomed to and comfortable with biotechnology, do not ask what they were secreted by.

 

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: Proud Scholar Race Guy

Proud Scholar Race Guy: The eldrae might well wear this hat among the Imperials – after all, they do love knowledge – had they not run into the galari, who, in the closest thing to a hat that I intend to appear, are entirely qualified as Proud Scholar Race… ah, Crystals.  Subverted a little inasmuch as they aren’t the typical strict enlightened pacifists, but just rather more inclined to abstraction and academic debate over action than was strictly good for them.  (One reason why they eventually joined up with Imperial society “for the dynamism” was that the creole society that had grown up around the misdirected colony expedition that found Galáré was proving both energetic and appealing… and would save arguing the issue for another century or two.)  Once again, same disclaimer: lots of non-scholars around to make society complete.

Other examples might include the esseli, who play it straight with regard to their biological tinkering, if nothing else, and the mezuar, who being sessile get to spend a lot of time thinking…

Trope-a-Day: Of The People

Of The People: Possibly averted.  While the species name eldrae (which means nothing, except etymologically) is derived from the proto-Old-Empires el daratha, “the People”, that was not a tribe term, but rather a species term, in opposition to everything else, literally meaning “the thinking ones”.  Compare, for example, modern el daráv (“person, sophont”).  While you could take its opposite, ul daratha, and turn it into el uldaráv, by a similar process of linguistic evolution, that word – which does exist – refers specifically to automata, or more precisely, to p-zombies such as personality simulators, and is never used to refer to people unless you’re trying to start a fight.

Those wishing to refer to outsiders in general have the options of el lerán (“civilized person”), el qildaráv (“person-from-yonder, foreigner”), el nalathdaráv (“unknown-person, stranger”), or el zakhrehs (“barbarian”).  Of course, some would argue that the distinction between el lerán, effectively someone who respects liberty and property, honors their word, avoids entropism and pursues awesomeness, and el zakhrehs, someone who may not be all of a Defaulter, slaver, parasite, dullist, cacophile, or entropic, but, well, close enough, is pretty much this trope in action.

Trope-a-Day: Long Game

Long Game: Happens quite a lot; of course, since many people (eldrae, galari, immortagen-takers, most postsophonts, AIs, etc.) live for very, very long times.  Of course, it’s not so much a Long Game from their point of view, except for the immortagen-users; just a question of having a different natural planning time horizon.

This may be a major enabler of space development, megastructure engineering, and other things requiring non-mayfly-like thinking.

Food & Humor

It’s question-answering time here at the Eldraeverse! A reader writes:

Two questions-

1) Is there a food item for the Eldrae that has assumed the same memetic status as bacon for humans?

2) What do the Eldrae find funny?  What human comedians, if they were to go on tour in Eldrae territory, would do well and which ones would starve?

Thank you!

1. Well, if there is, I don’t know about it yet, and since nothing’s immediately leapt out of my imagination and made me say, “aha, this must be it”, I think I’m going to have to preserve my future authorial maneuvering room on that one, sorry.

On the other hand, there’s at least some reason to suspect there might not be.

Top of that list is mass. We’re one planet of seven billions, and I might be inclined to quibble a little with “for humans”, inasmuch as the bacon meme has spread mostly among the cultural intersection of the Anglosphere and the Internet-connected world, which while a lot of the planet isn’t quite all of it.

This limiting effect is only multiplied when they’re 250-odd star systems plus a scattering of ecumenical colonies, outposts, and exclaves, and those in the core, at least, are rather more heavily populated than ours. Throw in cultural groupings caused by light-lag, differences in diet across different worlds, and that common culture is both (a) polyspecific, including species that can’t eat the same food period, and (b) more diverse at baseline, due to the lack of the peer-norming instinct humans have, and while memes certainly do catch fire and grow explosively *there* – aided by high-speed Internet-equivalent connections being universal – they have to be ridiculously virulent in order to capture a statistically huge chunk of that population.

I’m sure more local versions of it come and go all the time, though.

2. Argh. Well, that’s not a tricky question for me with respect to *there* , but it is with respect to *here* – namely, I’m not adequately familiar with real-world comedians to even begin to come up with a list.

So here are some general comments on what Imperial-culture humor is like, and then hopefully you can take it from there –

Things that work:

  • By and large, the majority of their sense of humor is dry. Very dry. Possibly dehydrated.
  • Irony never fails. Snark is practically impossible to resist.
  • Likewise, wit and intellectual humor always go down well, and the more levels it works on, the better 1.
  • So does surrealism and absurdity. So, to break my rule and name a name, Monty Python would probably play well.
  • Situational comedy can work, as long as the humor derives from the situation and/or the interaction between the characters, and isn’t specifically targeted at one or all of them.
  • Black and gallows humor are also generally accepted: in the sorts of situations that lead to them, laughter is, they deem, one of the civilized responses to entropy.

Note: Even if it sounds it to some degree, none of this is necessarily what we would call “high-brow”. On a number of the criteria above, something like, oh, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum would probably work.

Things that don’t work:

  • Humor that depends on laughing at someone’s pain, misfortune, humiliation, or embarrassment. That’s just perverse. The modal human clearly has something wrong with its empathy-sympathy wiring.
  • Note: So, to give an example of how this works in practice, you can have something like a traditional romantic comedy because while there is pain and embarrassment, etc., along the way, there’s also a happy ending and you’re notionally looking back with the protagonists narrating the story and laughing with them at the tangled path and difficulties that they overcame to get to said ending. If there wasn’t that payoff at the end, none of it would be funny. (So, there go most of the sitcoms that go for the cheap laughs…)
  • Also, as a related category, all the humor that depends on the protagonist screwing up repeatedly or just plain being a screw-up. Incompetence isn’t funny. Incompetence (in space, and the spacer-culture attitude on this is pervasive) gets people killed in winnows.
  • Humor targeted at (in the sense of “laughing at”) individuals or groups. Individuals, for all the reasons above, inasmuch as it’s usually intended to humiliate or embarrass. (And this is a culture which, natively, has essentially no concept of a “friendly insult”.)
  • And groups because humor that makes fun of the out-group (or, hell, even the in-group) directly or by treating their characteristics as a source of humor depends on the peer-norming instinct that leads humans and other species that have it to see deviations from the majority-norm as somehow wrong. Eldrae don’t have that and they encourage other people not to have that either.
  • Exception: You can do this when the target is one of the short list of Universally Acknowledged Acceptable Targets: “Ah, Yes, The People” achieved its high box-office despite/because of being a black-toned satire of galactic politicians because politicians and the politically-minded have earned it. In this case, the viciousness of the targeting and the laughing-at-them nature of the beast is entirely intentional because being righteously despised by all decent folks is the mélith the political and politically-minded have earned by being a bunch of scum-sucking slaver-cultist swine in the first place. You’re allowed to take the piss out of the Iltines or the Galians, too, because everyone can righteously hate Space Fascists and brutal theocrats, too, but this is very much not the sort of thing one can aim at mere honorable opponents 2; it’s basically insulting them by refusing to take them seriously. To fall under this exception, you have to be dishonorable, disgusting, and completely outside the pale where civilized society is concerned; people can be wrong without being Bad People, and only Bad People qualify, so it’s a really short list.
  • Self-deprecation is mostly considered annoying 3.
  • Shock comedy is an utter fail. In approximate order:
  • Scatology (and other “gross-out humor”) fails because poop, really? If you’re building recycling systems to cope with your excreta and still find them funny, something’s gone wrong with your cultural evolution somewhere.
  • I’d say that of sexual humor, but that’s not entirely true. They do have a perfectly good “light-hearted erotica” genre. On the other hand, Eldraeic follows the Culture’s Marain in having a single word per kind of genitalia that suffices for all uses 4, so you can’t derive humor from the million euphemisms we insist on using, and the words have basically no shock value. If you go into the food court and yell “penis!”, the strongest reaction you’ll get is along the lines of “What? Where?” The problem with much sexual humor as we define it is that it depends on your society having a giant bug up its ass about sex in the first place, so, yeah, falls rather flat.
  • Basically, the trouble with transgressive humor 5 in a libertist society is that you’ve got some real problems finding taboos to transgress, and when you do, you’re find that you’ve either successfully adopted the posture of the poop-flinging monkey 6 or else that of the dude who loves rape and Holocaust jokes, and not only should that shit not be funny, but per reasons mentioned above, basically never is.

1. Dear gods, the puns.

2. If they had elections, using “attack ads” in this style to mock one’s opponent would be a swift ticket to lose the election by way of depriving oneself of decent chaphood. Of course, if they didn’t like your opponent either, you might lose the election to None Of The Above, but there ain’t no way they’d let you win.

3. Pride is a virtue, humility is not.

4. See endnote in the back of which book I don’t remember. Consider Phlebas, maybe?

5. “Transgressive” art forms generally also fail epically. Violating the rules to achieve an interesting effect is interesting. Violating the rules just to shock – here’s a nickel, kid, you’ve learned to create ugliness. Now get your cacophilic ass out of my gallery. Don’t come back.

6. It also tends to be a staple of those who want to use it for, um, political ends, and as a society that prizes coválír – rationalism – that sort of thing gets you a straight out “shut up, moron, the adults in the room are talking”.

Trope-a-Day: Immortality Begins at Twenty

Immortality Begins At Twenty: Played mostly straight with the eldrae and eldrae-designed immortagens.  Well, late twenties, dignified early thirties, anyway, and it doesn’t take all that much longer after that before the combination of bodily reflections of the experience of age and biological youth to make it very, very hard to pin an actual age on them, anyway.

Trope-a-Random: Blue Skinned Space Babe

Blue Skinned Space Babe: I wasn’t actually going to bother with this one, but having been reading this:

Outsider

…recently, and noting the registry of blue people, well.

There are some.

Eldrae blood is blue, a lovely shade of deep indigo, which has a lot to do with the particular transport mechanisms they’re using in place of hemoglobin. That, though, doesn’t actually affect their basic skin color all that much, since ‘twould seem that eldrae skin cells aren’t quite as translucent as human ones, which is why the baseline as seen in the eseldrae race is white. By which I do not mean “kinda pink”, like so-called “white” humans; I mean white, as in new milk, cream, and not-quite-but-almost albino. Darker (natural; not any of the fifty-seven artificial clade skin tones) eldraeic skin tones, on the other hand, are generally on the pink spectrum – varying all the way down to “rosy copper” in the lumeneldrae – but that’s got nothing to do with blood, and everything to do with pheomelanin and various structural variants on same.

The exception to this is the kireldrae, the smallest of the eldraeic races, one of whose racial characteristics is a certain translucency of skin, and who therefore often are a lovely shade of pale blue. Emphasis on pale: go with the syreen or Outsider’s loroi here for your envisioning, rather than the asari or the jotuns.

So, yeah, we have a few. Probably less than 1% of the population.

(As a side note: of course, any eldrae of any of their races who’s currently blushing and/or flushed is rocking the blueness, ’cause that is down to blood coloration.)

Trope-a-Day: Gender is No Object

Gender Is No Object: Played almost straight with the eldrae, due to any and all of: lesser sexual dimorphism; population demographics that made it impractical to waste much of the capacity of half the population – at least if one didn’t want to get one’s ass kicked by one’s neighbors with a less bizarre approach to sophont resources; other consequences of low birth rate; and the even distribution of mental strength and in particular qalasír which would render trying to enforce such a thing highly unwise. ‘Cause she’ll/he’ll kill you with her/his brain.

(Note: that’s not a comparison of women to men, but eldrae to humans.  We’re willing to put up with a lot more bullshit, as individuals and as a species – hell, it’s right there in the brain architecture differences – than they are before doing anything about it.  This plays out in any number of ways, in their social context – it just happens that one of them is that were some benighted sod, in the rough-and-tumble days of yore before current civilization, to have come up with a doctrine of male supremacy, he undoubtedly would have acquired a blade in the gullet from the first woman who understood what he was driving at.  Which is almost certainly sufficient to explain why no such thing ever made it into the historical record.

The gender-flipped reverse, naturally, also applies.)

Of course, that is almost straight.  A few professions are gender-imbalanced, mostly for various historical reasons, although occasionally for physiological – the legions are 2:1 male-heavy and the navy 3:2 female-heavy, for example, if we eliminate the herms and neuters and other from consideration – but every profession – yes, including all those ones we hang stereotypes off of – has all genders represented, and generally accepts and treats them all without distinction.

Of course, it’s all rendered even more meaningless in the modern era, seeing as changing sex is something that’s not merely easy, it’s something that’s widely practiced, even just out of curiosity, so it’s not like those gender ratios are made up of the same people all the time anyway.

(And yes, all the ‘freshers are unisex.  But then, they’re also not shared.  That’s barbaric.)

Trope-a-Day: Five Races

Five Races: Not terribly true for the Eldraeverse; for one thing, there’s a lot more than five species out there.  A lot more.  But let’s look at some archetypes, here:

Stout (Dwarf): One of the few that does have an obvious candidate, the pseudosaurian kaeth, whose physical strength and resilience, militaristic philosophies, and rather, um, kinesthetic way of life fit the bill to a T.  (The deeply spiritual and artistic aspects of their culture don’t, so much, but never mind those.)  They also wear the Proud Warrior Race hat, or one of them – it’s not like there’s a galactic shortage of Proud Warrior Races, after all.

Fairy (The Fair Folk): The most likely candidates for this hat are the various elder races (i.e., the Precursors that are still, to some degree, around), which by and large are alien and incomprehensible and to be kept out of the way of at all times.

It could also be argued that the Imperials wear this hat, but honestly, I think they’re more High Men.  But if not, the galari (ancient – even by the standards of the Empire – and immortal sophont rocks) are actually a much better fit than the eldrae in terms of being ancient, wise and benevolent, and – as Imperials – Sufficiently Advanced by many standards.

Mundane (Human): Everyone wears this hat, or, at least, something within delta of everyone. After all, even if it doesn’t look that way from the news, or the plots, the majority of species within the Associated Worlds are, by and large, regular folks just trying to get along, earn a living, make a little difference and have a little fun.  The ones actively engaging in war (or other, ahem, dynamic ideological praxis), galactopolitics, galaxy-spanning plots and schemes, uplifting programs, radical transsophontism, even madder science, personal apotheosis, computational theogeny, or applied theological engineering are the distinct minority, even if they do get more press.

High Men (Taller Elf or Human): This is where I would put the eldrae on the grounds of (a) transsophontism, and (b) literary inevitability.

Cute: Possible candidates here include the myneni – silicate-based shapechanging blobs, who can invent new organs on the fly, directly interface with computers, and construct all manner of useful things with their own secretions.

The esseli, who despite an extensive history of bioengineering themselves to the point that no-one, even themselves, actually remembers what they originally looked like (they’re currently brain-filled fleshy ovoids with short manipulating tentacles – for the most part) nonetheless manage to appear as cute.  Treating them as just cute would be a really bad idea, given that they’re an entire species of mad biologists, who are even as you speak contemplating how to better engineer your organs, but hey, it’s a mistake you’re only likely to make once.

And the dar-bandal, who are canine uplifts, who inherit this just because we’re prone to think of the furry as the cute, right?  Some people find out the hard way that condescending to someone descended from wolves by way of bred-for-brains dog-pluses is a good way to get said condescension bitten right off.  The rest have found one who’s more than willing to give you a big goofy grin and the winsome puppy eyes while taking you for everything you’ve got. Truly, their social-fu is strong.

Trope-a-Day: Waif-Fu

Waif-Fu: Some of the Empire’s Fantastic Fighting Styles (coming tomorrow) are like this – particularly those like, say, Silken Courtesan Style, which was intended for the courtier or courtesan required to fight when out of armor and with only opportunistic weapons (and which does include over 200 ways to inflict death and maiming through skillful use of a silk or paper fan, so…), but by no means all of them are.

(It is also somewhat subverted inasmuch as while there are a lot of eldrae who, apart from height, look the part, it’s not the quantity of muscle tissue that counts, so much as the quality.  They may be slender, but they are disproportionately strong – and if they happen to be ex-Legion with the various military-basic upgrades, that may be “ties knots in metal bars for practice” strong.)

Trope-a-Day: The Fair Folk

The Fair Folk: While this is not a trope that strictly applies to anyone in the Eldraeverse – and, and I would like to be absolutely clear on this, in-universe as well as out-universe there is absolutely no causal connection whatsoever between these chaps and any of the applicable legends – you really don’t have to look far to find the amazing, beautiful, graceful and – in the Clarkian sense – magical (see: The Beautiful People, Can’t Argue With Elves, Inhumanly Beautiful Race) and the proud, nor for that matter their society and customs extravagant and elegant but amoral and inscrutable (see: Blue and Orange Morality).

They do, however, have empathy, although given the number of truly stupid problems to have in the universe, sympathy is in rather shorter supply.

And, of course, the rest of the trope doesn’t apply.

Trope-a-Day: Evolutionary Levels

Evolutionary Levels: Subverted, inasmuch as Eldrae anthalis and Eldrae kirsunar (which could be read as direct parallels to Homo superior and Homo summus) aren’t markers of more advanced evolution, but markers of increasing degrees of highly sophisticated engineering.  And engineering for specific desirable traits, at that.

Domestic Animals

So, regarding those “Ethnographical Questionnaire” chunks I have posted occasionally – I conclude that I’m going to start posting smaller chunks, on the grounds that (a) it takes me so damn long to finish a section, and (b) smaller and more often is better than giant and occasional.  So, that said, here’s a new piece:

What are the most common domesticated animals here? And what are they domesticated for?

This, of course, varies quite radically by planet – so here’s the original most common domesticated animals of Eliéra, the eldraeic homeworld:

  • The adhaïc [honeybee] – hive insects, greenlife, kept for their honey, wax, and pollination services.
  • The bandal – a canid greenlife species, or more accurately, another subspecies of Canis lupus, differentiated from the Earth dog by virtue of having spent its domestication mostly being bred for smart, rather than obedient, being expected to operate more as junior partners in civilization than tools (including, say, the ability to operate clockwork automata in at least a limited fashion) in many and varied roles; distinguished by a higher forehead and more manipulative forepaws. Also associated with Tárvalén, the Binder, Eikone of Loyalty (see myth).
  • The cerrúr – a four-horned hexapedal browsing bluelife animal, used for riding.
  • The certárúr – a four-horned (with stunted horns) hexapedal browsing bluelife animal, used for riding and as a draft animal; also for leather.
  • The chiashaïc [silk-spider] – a bluelife pseudo-arachnid, used for fiber.
  • The ékaláman – a hexapedal flying carnivorous bluelife reptile with a mid-wing, used for hunting, as we do raptors.
  • The élirúr [dormouse] – a greenlife rodent, used for meat.
  • The fírastal – a slightly larger greenlife relative of the Earth cat, kept for pest control and occasional hunting.
  • The hasérúr – a hexapedal browsing bluelife animal used for meat and milk.
  • The kuléra – a four-winged bluelife bird, used as a scout and messenger.
  • The líhasúr – a quadrupedal rooting greenlife animal, used for meat; a close relative of the Earth pig.
  • The nekhalyef – a quadrupedal grazing greenlife animal, used for meat, milk, and fiber; a close relative of the Earth sheep.
  • The pengál – a bluelife pseudoserpent, kept for pest control.
  • The reshkef – a hexapedal browsing bluelife animal, used for meat, milk, and fiber.
  • The quebérúr – a quadrupedal grazing greenlife animal, used for meat and milk; a close relative of the Earth bison.
  • The sevesúr – a two-winged greenlife game bird, used for meat and eggs.
  • The tiryef – a large flightless bluelife bird, used for meat.
  • Underwater, the ííche [dolphins – well, technically, it means “cetaceans”, but in this specific case; greenlife] and cúlnó [octopodes; greenlife], which occupy a similar niche Below as the bandal do on the surface.  Also, various farmed fish.

Which animals are likely to be pets? Which ones won’t be?

The most commonly kept as pets – but for values of pets which usually involves working (which, in their terms, includes “for companionship”), rather than simple ornamentation, since the eldrae have ideas about dignity and what they shouldn’t expect any animal smart enough to be a pet to do – would be the bandal, the firastal, and the kuléra; underwater, and to a lesser degree in space, some species of cúlnó are also popular.

As for which won’t – anything that’s too dangerous or insanitary, as usual, plus anything not smart enough to hold the interest of their keepers.  With the possible exceptions of aviary birds, aquarium fish, and butterflies – but then, they are ornamental.

Trope-a-Day: Elfeminate

Elfeminate: On the one hand, played straight. If there’s one thing that can be said for certain about the eldrae on first glance, it is that they are an extremely pretty species – by virtue of cultural virtues and fairly extensive engineering – that tends to the tall, slender, non-obviously-muscular, delicate-featured pattern. (Reference the Pretty Boy and Bishonen tropes if you like, dependent on your personal cultural region membership – although note that the male of the species, unlike various of those examples, can grow facial hair.) Other contributing factors include a lesser degree of sexual dimorphism (or quadrimorphism these days, but let’s leave the herms and neuters out of it for now), a common cultural tendency towards long hair, jewelry and discreet make-up being acceptable for both sexes, and a common social pattern that tends to be orderly, formalized, polite, and self-consciously civilized, which (at least if you ignore certain other factors) might read to, say, humans, as feminized.

On the other hand, the modal eldraeic stereotype of either sex is forceful, dynamic, heavily armed, and quite likely to stab you for making stupid, offensive comments. So it goes; everyone being evidently quite confused about how gender stereotypes for humanoids are supposed to work.

At Least It’s Not A Bar?

“Five scientist-explorers were exploring an abandoned outpost in the Expansion Regions one day when they came across a freshly-excavated artifact, still humming with power and covered in unknown controls.

“The first, a galari, said ‘We should transport this back to our laboratory, so that we can investigate it properly, and spread the word of our discoveries.  Think of what we could learn from it!’

“The second, a kalatri, said ‘Take it to our laboratory, yes, but we must keep this quiet.  It could be dangerous, or disruptive, or corrupting.  It is best that people do not know of it until we can be sure they will not be harmed, and use it well.’

“The third, a codramaju, said ‘We should keep it quiet, but so that we can master it before others know of it.  We could build a hundred new technologies with what we learn, and be wealthy beyond our dreams.’

“The fourth, a linobir, said ‘We should master it for its power.  The elder races built machines powerful beyond imagining.  If this is one of these, the galaxy would be ours for the taking.’

“But the fifth, an eldrae, said nothing – for with the press of a keyswitch, both he and the artifact had vanished away.”

– anonymously-posted extranet joke

Trope-a-Day: Dark-Skinned Blond / Dark-Skinned Redhead

Dark-Skinned Blond / Dark-Skinned Redhead: While, for various biological reasons, none of the natural eldrae races can really manage dark dark skin (see But Not Too White; engineered clades are, of course, a different matter), the lumeneldrae do get as dark as “copper”; and their range of hair colors runs approximately from the rare silvery-white blonde (the “sunrise eldrae”) through burnished gold to deep, dark red (the “sunset eldrae”).

See also the relevant Ethnographical Questionnaire.