The Spice Way

In the year 8054, a forward-thinking Initiative of Ring Dynamics, ICC, evaluating the expansion program for the stargate plexus based on the recent advent of the frameslip drive, a free-flight capable FTL technology which would allow the positioning of stargates with speeds and at distances previously unattainable, made a proposal to the Directorate named after the historic trade route.

That proposal was for a new backbone for the stargate plexus which would cover the entire galaxy, if thinly – rather than expanding by constellations, using the new frameslip drive to build braided “thread” routes out along each galactic arm, connected by initially single – but ultimately multiple – crossing spines. In this way, distant civilizations would be placed a position in which contact could be made relatively simply – each could join the transportation and communications network simply by reaching the local “thread”, and become part of the larger galactic community. New local networks of constellations and cross-links would spin out from such contacts, which would serve as seed crystals for further development.

This was that proposal:

[a map of the routes involved in the Spice Way Program]


  1. The Imperial Way and Lethíäza Trade Spine are, of course, expansions of the existing named routes you will see on previous maps of the Worlds.
  2. The “stations” to be seen on this map, with the notable exception of “Imperial Center”, marking the current center of the Worlds, were to be large regional hub space stations on a similar pattern to the Conclave Drift – providing seeds for local development, and somewhere for the network to broadcast its existence to anyone who happened to be in the vicinity.
  3. All those station names starting with “Cal”? Well, apart from that particle (meaning, approximately, “center”), they’re all named after large, bright stars in that region of space – those being obvious local landmarks around which to place your localized nexus.
  4. As may have been mentioned before, the Greater and Lesser Ancíël Whirls are the Magellanic Clouds (to which the Elsewhere Society has long since dispatched stargates). The Metan Ring is the Andromeda Galaxy, in our Earthling parlance, and the Milky Pool, of course, is Triangulum.

How Much Future?

I’ve recently been asked elsewhere, “how far into the future is your setting?”

Well, since it’s not connected causally to Earth, even fictional Earths, and technological development in the ‘verse didn’t necessarily take place in the same order or at the same rate as it did here, that’s a mite hard to say.

Let’s have a go, though. As a start, I’ll reprint the foreword I wrote for The Core War and Other Stories, explaining the eras of Imperial history as the local historians would divide them up:

Era of Hand and Fire (prehistory – 0)
Defining technologies: none.

To a certain extent, designating everything before the year 0 part of the Era of Hand and Fire, that period without particularly notable defining technologies, is misleading. On Eliéra, the term refers to everything pre-Imperial, from the Empire’s own precursor nations back through the Ungoverned Era and the Drowning of the People, through the time of the korásan, and extending into what little is known of the mythical era before the Winter of Nightmares (~ -14,500); however, there obviously exist elder races and Precursors in the galaxy with far older histories than this. (The historical specialists who study such things usually consider them separate subjects entirely from conventional history.)

Era of Brass and Chymistry (0 – ~720)
Defining technologies: clockwork automata (clanks); early chemistry.

The historical convention is to date the Era of Brass and Chymistry from the Empire’s founding year. Its seeds can be found earlier in various locations, especially in the smiths of Telírvess, the alchemists of Eume and Baryvekar, and the artisans of southern Selenaria. However, it is generally acknowledged that the opening and encouragement of free trade and transit by the Empire, as well as its encouragement of scholarship and progress, helped those seeds find fertile ground and grow.

Of particular note is the personal patronage and entrée to the Court of Courts given to a hitherto obscure Inisvaen natural philosopher, Sung Iliastren, later known as the Father of Science, by Empress Seledíë III Selequelios.

Era of Steel and Steam (~720 – ~1400)
Defining technologies: steam power; advanced metallurgy; Stannic cogitator.

The transition to the Era of Steel and Steam is dated at approximately 720, a compromise date between various competing inventors of different types of steam engine, and also notable for the recent publication of Ianthe Claves-ith-Claves’s Technepraxic, beginning a still influential philosophical movement espousing technology as an integral tool of sophont aspiration.

Electricity was known through much of the later part of this era, but received only intermittent attention; the Empire at the time was in the throes of the Middle Consolidation, and between this and industrial megaprojects such as the World Shafts, development concentrated on refining existing steam technology to its peak.

(Advancement to and through this era and the next may seem relatively slow; the reader should bear in mind the effect of the low and slow-growing eldraeic population on the overall rate of progress. In later eras, forward progress appears to slow once more, but this reflects rather the sheer breadth of research possible in the modern era, vis-à-vis the number of minds available to do it.)

Era of Captive Lightning (~1400 – 2050)
Defining technologies: electricity; electronic computers; robotics; industrial automation.

The approximate start of the Era of Captive Lightning begins with the breakout of electrical technology into common usage, starting with simple motors and illumination devices but developing relatively rapidly. Relay-driven computers, mere electrical imitations of the existing Stannic cogitators, soon were replaced by “electron plumbing” valve-based computers, replaced in turn by semiconductor electronics and then spintronic devices. Electrically-driven, electronically-controlled robots soon took over from the steam-driven, mechanical “clank” automata, and found new roles that the old machines were incapable of filling, permitting full industrial automation at last.

Era of Bit and Light (2050 – 2287)
Defining technologies: mature information technology; optronics; ubiquitous computing; intrasystem space travel.

While the defining technologies of the Era of Bit and Light were optronics, enabling hyper-fast photon-based computing devices, quantum computing, and a mature information technology, the era itself is dated from the flight of Phoenix Zero, the Spaceflight Initiative’s first manned orbital craft. Intrasystem space travel blossomed during this era, with the establishment of a first orbital space station followed quickly by more, colonies on Eliéra’s moons, and expansion into the rest of the system, including the first steps towards the ecopoesis of Talentar.

Era of the Genome (2287 – 2594)
Defining technologies: genetic engineering; wet nanotechnology; uplift.

Genetic engineering had been known for a long time prior to this era, but the application of optronics and quantum computing to genomics and proteomics permitted a rapid expansion of its capabilities. The genetic blossoming of the 2300s began with the first true neogenic organism – based entirely on novel genetic material – in 2287, and continued to produce advances in biological modifications, new species and adaptations, and wet nanotechnology based on biomimetic structures and systems throughout this era, up until the creation of the dar-bandal, the first true uplifts, just in time to be met by the first digisapiences.

Era of Mind and ‘Weave (2594 – 3016)
Defining technologies: artificial intelligence; mind-machine interfacing; noetics.

Artificial intelligence, again, had been applied as a discipline for centuries before the era defined by it. The Era of Mind and ‘Weave, rather, is defined specifically by the awakening of the first truly sophont artificial intelligence in 2594, an intelligence demonstrably possessing the same self-awareness, consciousness, and volition found in other sophonts. The same studies of sophotechnology, the technologies of the mind, produced revolutionary developments in mind-machine interfacing, in the ability to modify the sophont mind in various ways, and the ability to translate organic minds into digital form and transfer them easily between bodies and substrates.

Era of Diamond and Ice (3016 – 3922)
Defining technologies: dry nanotechnology; subluminal interstellar travel.

The Era of Diamond and Ice takes its name from two events: First, the Diamond Crash of 3016 that heralded the start of the era of dry nanotechnology, as carbon-organizers proved capable of manufacturing diamond in arbitrarily large quantities at almost no cost. Further developments in dry nanotechnology permitted the creation of various forms of makers and eventually the first true cornucopia machines, ushering in the start of the Prosperity.

Second, early in the era, Kasjan Lyris and his colleagues initiated the Deep Star program, sending subluminal colony ships (capable of only around one-third of the speed of light) to stars near the eldrae home system packed with equipment and colonists in cryonic freeze; a program which would lead to the foundation of the Thirteen Colonies and the first contact of the eldrae with an exotic species, the galari of Galáré.

Era of Starfall (3922 – 5014)
Defining technologies: stargates.

In 3922, the Era of Starfall began with Imogen Andracanth-ith-Andracanth’s invention of the stargate, permitting faster-than-light transit between the two halves of a stargate pair once they had been positioned. The first stargate pair developed was used to connect Eliéra with the nearest colony world, Víëlle, beginning the Reunification.

Shortly after the Reunification, and the introduction of the galari to the home Empire, Empress Eledíë II charted the Imperial Exploratory Service and awarded a generous charter to Ring Dynamics, ICC, with which the expansion process of the stargate plexus that has continued to the present day began.

Era of Bright Shadows (5014 – 5599)
Defining technologies: seed AI; the Transcend.

In 5014, the first crude seed AI, a digisapience capable of autoscience and autopotence, and thus recursively modifying itself to attain postsophont levels of intelligence, was demonstrated under laboratory conditions by an independent research group on Wynérias.

After various experiments and incidents demonstrated both the potential and the dangers of this technology, a plan was proposed and approved by general plebiscite for the layered, progressive implementation of the Eldraeic Transcend, which was implemented progressively over the next one hundred and fifty years, until the Transcend reached its full flowering on Calencail 12, 5175, ushering in the collective consciousness that would remain coextensive with the Empire from then on.

Current Era (5600 -)
Defining technologies: emergent ontotechnology.

Dated somewhat arbitrarily, for the moment, from 5600 – the year in which the Transcend moved its core operations into the specially-constructed Cirys swarm of Corícal Ailék – the current era is most marked by ongoing, seemingly never-ending efforts to maintain peace and nurture Order, Progress, and Liberty in the meta-civilization of the Associated Worlds, and the slow emergence of ontotechnological miracles from the loreworks of Transcend-aided philosophers, scientists, and engineers.

The Core War itself, at the time of writing the most recent event in – and therefore the present time of – the Worlds begins in the year 7122.

So, if we approximate it – well, leaving aside for a moment technological paths we never went down (clank automata, for example, or Stannic cogitators, which we most closely approximated with Babbage’s engines but never implemented at scale) we’re probably parallel to the mid-to-late Era of Captive Lightning; we have semiconductor electronics, but not spintronics, our information technology is growing up, and we might be in the early stages of ubiquitous computing. We have, of course, already been to the moon, but space travel in the ‘verse came late because of the quirky local gravity, so that alone isn’t enough to move us into the Era of Bit and Light. Meanwhile, we definitely don’t have the technologies or developments associated with the later part of that Era, or with the following Eras.

So that dates us sometime around their 1900-2000. Since at the latest date of writing it was roughly 7100, that’s 5100-5200 years ahead by their calendar; adjusting for year length, call it 4,700 T-years ahead, or so.

But there’s about eight kinds of handwave in that, so slap some very generous error bars on that figure.


Trope-a-Day: The Future Will Be Better

The Future Will Be Better: Well, obviously. We’re working to improve the present all the time, and we’re fundamentally awesome, so there’s basically no way the future can’t be better. Why would you even ask that question?

(In Earth-relative terms, the Imperial cultural climate successfully blends 1920s-1930s Gernsbackian utopian futurism and 1950s cultural self-confidence into a heady and unshakeable brew powering the Golden Age That Never Ends. Make Way For Tomorrow, Today —


— hold the irony, and banish the cynicism to somewhere beyond the outer rim colonies, m’kay?)

Ice is for Endings

Cold Ones (also ice giants, the Finality, Lords of the Last Waste)

Mythological beings who dwell at the end of time, during the final blackness of the universe, the last surviving remnants of the war of all-against-all over the universe’s final stocks of extropy, long after the passing of baryonic matter and the death throes of the most ancient black holes. Savage, autocannibalistic beings, stretching their remaining existence across aeons-long slowthoughts powered by the rare quantum fluctuations of the nothingness, these wretched dead gods know nothing but despair, hunger, and envy for those past entities which dwelled in eras rich in energy differentials, information, and ordered states, and would – if they could – feast on any unwary enough to fall into their clutches.

Stories of the Cold Ones are, of course, not to be interpreted literally: they are a philosophical and theological metaphor for the pessimal end-state of the universe, to wit, the final triumph of entropy in both a physical and a spiritual sense. Nonetheless, this metaphor has been adopted by both the Flamic church and the archai themselves to describe the potential future which it is their intention to avert.

The Cold Ones have also found a place in popular culture, depicted as supreme villains: perhaps best seen in the Ghosts of the Dark Spiral expansion for Mythic Stars, a virtuality game from Nebula 12 ArGaming, ICC, and the Void Cascading InVid series, produced by Dexlyn Vithinios (Sundogs of Delphys, ICC).

Mythographies of the Worlds, 53rd ed., Third League Publishing & c.