Trope-a-Day: Barbarian Tribe

Barbarian Tribe: The term “Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms” was not intended as a compliment, nor was it given with any degree of irony.

Also, given their views on, say, the sanctity of contracts, the personal defects of people with authoritarian tendencies and the systems they produce, etc., even before we bring in issues like entropism and cacophilia, the “barbarian” moniker is quite widely applied.  But very specifically has little to do with degree of technological advancement, even if it might apply to lack of desire for such advancement.

Author’s Note: Astrography

So let’s talk a little about the setting of our ongoing fiction, the Associated Worlds.

First: they’re big. Really, really frakkin’ big. Sci-fi writers with a sense of scale big. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemists’, but…

Ahem. Enough of that.

So, let me draw you a picture. The free-space volume of the Associated Worlds is an irregular mostly-oblate spheroid. Along its major axes, it’s about 3,300 light years from core to rim, 4,100 light years from spinward to trailing, and 2,000 light years from acme to nadir. To put some perspective on those numbers, that means that at its tallest part, much of the center, it completely fills the galactic disk top to bottom. Meanwhile, the Lethíäza arm of the galaxy in which it is located is approximately 3,500 light years across, and since one slightly-flattened end of the spheroid – expansion having slowed, although not stopped, to coreward on encountering the inter-arm gap – is pressed up against its coreward side, it lacks only about 200 light years of running into the rimward side of the arm, too.

As those of you with calculators will already know, that’s approximately 27 billion cubic light years of volume, which contains approximately 100 million stellar bodies of various kinds. Like I said, big.

Of course, on the cosmic scale, or even the galactic scale, it’s still a barely significant mote. Space is like that.

The kicker, of course, is that most of that is unused and only explored astronomically. The expansion pattern of the Worlds has been, essentially, to look for interesting things, and then fire off a long-range stargate to a system near them and weave a constellation from there. The one black hole in our neighborhood? That counts. The blue-white supergiant? That counts, too. Any system which appears to have signs of intelligent and usually technological life? That definitely counts, as maybe we can sell ’em something. That sort of thing.

That process has resulted in maybe 10,000 star systems over that whole enormous volume being actually connected to the stargate plexus and thus readily visitable. That would be roughly 0.01% of the stellar bodies in that volume. The rest would be the “Inner Periphery” of systems that didn’t seem so interesting at the time but which are likely to be hooked up if and when they become interesting, or if and when polities in inner constellations feel like expanding locally, rather than out in the ecumene, and also feel like paying for it.

So when you think of the Associated Worlds, think of a cobweb. The strands are long-distance wormholes. The dewdrops clinging to the points where they intersect are local constellations, where constellation in this case is defined as maybe fifty systems linked together with short-range stargates with three or four long-range gates connecting to it at various points. And the empty spaces are not-quite-empty space.

To hang some numbers on that, the Empire has all of one constellation (the Imperial Core), and about half each of five more (the Imperial Fringe), close to 250 worlds in total if you include its colonies out in the ecumene. Which is to say, it’s the tiny kernel at the heart of the big nut – although that said, it’s nearest competitors, the Photonic Network and the League of Meridian, are only 120-150 world polities. To divide up the rest, in the divisions Where’s Where in the Galaxy would offer you, these six constellations and 73 more make up the “true” Associated Worlds, the well-developed, comfortable, and stable metropolitan regions.

109 more constellations surrounding those make up the Expansion Regions, which are a bit less developed but not actually frontier. They tend to be the places where most of the action is, when there’s astropolitical action.

And the 23 constellations of the Periphery, found all around except to acme, nadir, and along the border with the Republic, are the wild and wooly frontier.

Leaving the Worlds proper for a moment, the Voniensa Republic, featuring rather heavily at the moment, is located spinward and slightly to rimward. It has about 8,000 worlds in its volume, although by no means all of those are politically part of the Republic. (More than a few of them belong to people who are currently being Prime Directed, for a start.) It’s also substantially smaller than the Worlds in free-space volume, because while they’re not quite as bad at insisting territorial volumes make sense in space as the members of the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms, they do pursue a much more consolidate-y expansionary policy.

And finally to note, cutting through the rimward systems of Lethíäza, and thus both the rimward side of the Republic and the fringe Periphery – only a few stargates at the far edge of the rimward Periphery breach it – is the Shadow Veil, which is a vast dark nebula of opaque gas and dust that does a fine job of obscuring both the view further rimward from most of the Worlds, and vice versa.

(So even if its still flexible galactic location turns out to be directly coreward of us, there’s still a reason why our astronomers *there* aren’t getting all excited about those distinct signs of someone building megastructures and operating pion drives. Heh.)

Trope-a-Day: It’s a Small World After All

It’s A Small World After All: Partially justified, in that (a) there are generally a limited set of places to land – Landing, Star City, Phílae Interstellar Starport, Stationary Station, etc., and (b) most people who have any sort of regular offworld dealings live there, or maintain offices there, or at least have some kind of representative or path-pointer there, so if you’re visiting on any sort of regular errand, you just land at the big starport and you won’t have much trouble finding them.

Averted for all other purposes, in that most planets are bloody huge, and – except for new colonies and outposts – covered in unspeakably large numbers of cities containing millions to billions of people, and to get anywhere – because no-one puts a starport downtown anywhere except Star City – requires extensive use of long-range on-planet transport.  And even thinking about meaningfully conquering or controlling one through force of arms requires absurdly large numbers of troops given their typical population and area, so if you have ambitions of joining the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms, better hope you brought the armada of self-replicating war machines.  You’ll need ’em.

Trope-a-Day: Hopeless War

Hopeless War: Averted, for the most part.  With regard to one kind of hopeless war, well, the Navy and Legions are just that good at the general category of activities listed under “killing people and breaking things”, and so have usually been able to bring things to a successful conclusion (and the kind of ruthlessness that tells them when to back off and bring out the really big guns, as in, say, the Burning of Litash, also helps).  And even the ongoing stalemate that is the containment of the Leviathan Consciousness has settled into a status quo that isn’t chalking up casualties in huge numbers any more.  It’s still theoretically possible, it just hasn’t happened yet, and there are lots of smart people trying to make sure it doesn’t.

Averted in another way (although subverted, I suppose, in an early sense with the Consolidation Wars) because despite the Empire’s earnest desire for ideological propagation (see: Hegemonic Empire), both the Ministry of State and Outlands and the Admiralty are appropriately cynical about the possibility of  wishing civilization into existence when people aren’t willing to cooperate, of persuading the former oppressed that oppression isn’t great fun when they get on top, or for savages to spontaneously start behaving nicely, and other such things, and thus are far too situationally aware to get bogged down in something like an Afghanistan, or an Iraq, or a Somalia, or other types of “nation-building” war where the hopelessness comes from setting yourself a comically improbable termination condition.

(And where one of these more… regressive members of the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms starts to play host to terrorists, or some other thing that actually makes them a threat, however trivial, to one or more of the real players… well, then, it’s time to bring out the time-honored “Shell Them Back Into The Stone Age With Ortillery” strategy, which can be repeated half-a-dozen times a century for a much smaller budget than a single occupation would require.  In the limiting case, see also Genocide Dilemma.)

Of course, some would argue that the overarching strategy of “Leave Them Mostly Alone, to Grow Up or Die Out” is itself pretty damn hopeless.  Which it is, its proponents agree, but at least it’s the kind of hopeless which doesn’t get a whole pile of people killed, even temporarily, in the course of proving it.

The Emperors’ Sword: Introduction

This is the first – in what turns out will be several – posts on the Imperial Legions, how they’re equipped and how they work in practice.

But before getting into the details of how the Imperial Legions are equipped, it’s important to understand what they are. The Legions are a force optimized for heavy striking and raiding – ideally, to jump in, sucker-punch the enemy, and bug out again – rather than to hold ground, or to act as occupying forces (much more analogous to the Marines than the Army, in other words). They are trained to excel at local strongpoint defense, but that’s a separate issue from trying to occupy or hold large areas.

This is for three reasons:

  1. In the minds of everyone but the very-minority Imperium Bellipotent, and some of its political allies, the Empire is out of the conquering business, and has been for a very long time. Mass forcible conquests are out of fashion, seeing as they don’t work very well, and very unlikely to ever come back into fashion. The Empire is very firm on not wanting anyone in it who doesn’t want to be there.
  2. When planning to occupy lots of ground, it helps to have lots of quantity. The Empire has rarely had that advantage, and so prefers to optimize its military forces for quality – and picks a strategic posture that works well for having the best, not necessarily the most, troops. (Also, for that matter, the kaeth – of whom there are many in the Legions – are temperamentally very unsuited for occupation duties, since they get bored really, really fast if no-one’s putting up a proper fight. And no-one wants them going out and looking for someone who’ll give them one…)
  3. Mass interplanetary warfare is, in any case, impractical in the extreme. It takes a ridiculously large number of troops to keep your boot firmly on the neck of an entire planet, up close and personal-like, and while you can build a fleet of troop transports fit to blacken the sky, etc., etc., if you don’t wreck your economy and bankrupt yourself doing so, you’ll certainly spend far, far more than you could ever possibly gain by doing it. This is a move generally reserved for the less sane members of the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms, like the lovely space-fascists of the Iltine Union.

(In practice, I say aside, the Empire makes up for this doctrinal deficiency on the rare occasions – nth-generational future-warfare is usually long past the requirement for, as well as the habit of, mass warfare – it’s required to in one of two ways:

First up, and preferably, the practice of nexus warfare combined with orbital supremacy. This is one of the reasons the Legions are trained to excel at local strongpoint defense; because on any halfway civilized world/habitat, when you’ve got them by the data network, and the power grid, and the transportation hubs, and on many planets the life support, their hearts and minds tend to follow. This is then backed up by the Navy sitting in orbit ready to drop some KEWs on anyone who causes too much trouble. And together, these keep things stable long enough for concessions to be extracted or for the meme-wranglers to do their work.

Second, on the less friendly side reserved for the extreme cases, orbital supremacy combined with ruthlessness. If you’re fighting people who aren’t civilized, unlikely to become civilized, and likely to go on causing trouble, it’s time to dig out the old C/C strategy –Containment/Curtailment.

The former covers, after achieving orbital supremacy and dropping a few raids to take out possible countermeasures and existing facilities, placing a whole mess of interdiction satellites in orbit and a picket to supervise them, with instructions to shoot up anything that looks like a launch facility and shoot down anything they manage to launch anyway. Conquering and civilizing them may be out (which it almost certainly was anyway – see the Hopeless War trope, when its turn comes up for posting), but at least you can guarantee that whatever they’re going to do, at least they’re only going to be doing it to each other. And it’s a damn sight cheaper in money as well as blood than trying to occupy the place would be.

The latter covers that, well, once you have orbital supremacy, you do always have the option of shelling the planet back into the Stone Age with your KEWs. (You can actually do a lot worse, obviously, but that would violate a dozen or so solemn treaties on the Proper Treatment of Garden Worlds.) And in particularly intransigent cases, exercising this option and trusting that the civilization of the descendants of the survivors won’t be quite such a bunch of egregious assholes next time sometimes does look like the best solution.

In the event that neither of these actually works in a given situation and they absolutely have to run an occupation – something that has not yet occurred – the Board of Admiralty’s wargamed-and-filed plan is to take along a couple of nanofactories, have them churn out cheap automated milspec police-drones by the million, and put them in charge of the routine matters. They don’t get bored, it’s never personal for them, and people care a lot less that a hunk of non-sophont combat electronics just got blown up by an IED. It’s also rather discouraging for the opposition. No resistance/revolutionary movement was ever inspired by “Happy news, comrades! We finally made the hated Imperials equipment losses rise out of the statistical noise! Er, locally, at least.”)

(The other reason, aside again, for the local strongpoint defense training is on defense against large invasions, in which they are intended to hold strongpoints in the defense-in-depth battlespace, providing stiffening for the Home Guard, who act as raiding companies and partisans; against small ones, they counter-raid.)

But, exceptional and theoretical digressions aside, the Emperors’ Sword is built on speed, maneuver, force, and cunning. Pick your target, strike hard, strike fast, subvert, shock, disrupt, hit ‘em right in the vulnerable spot, and don’t get pinned down doing it or try to hold anything that’ll only slow you down. Then get out, regroup, resupply, and do it again. Repeat until you’ve won.

And so they equip accordingly.

Where’s Where in the Galaxy (2)

In political galactography, the principal distinction to make is that between the two sets of worlds found in most developed polities, the Metropolitan and the Ecumenical.  In the beginning, whether through caution, limited colonization budgets, or having begun with sublight colonization using lighthuggers or generation ships, most polities begin colonization with worlds close to their homeworld.  This tightly bound knot of worlds forms the metropolitan segment of their polity, as the Imperial Core forms the Metropolitan Empire.

In short order, though, the majority of polities realize that to attempt to maintain territorial integrity in space is a dubious proposition, given the sheer size and freedom to travel it permits, even with wormholes as bottlenecks. To do so also requires colonization of unsuitable candidate worlds, and holding on to many unprofitable or unuseful worlds, while there are many better candidates for colonization elsewhere in the Worlds and other polities who would gladly colonize the worlds of little use.  Thus, these polities spread out across the Worlds, colonizing suitable worlds in many constellations and star systems also occupied by other polities and species, and allowing worlds within their own systems to be colonized by those who want them.  The majority of the Associated Worlds is made up of this type of cosmopolitan territory, and these worlds are referred to as the ecumenical segment of the parent polity.

Within the worlds, there are a variety of special designations, other than the polities themselves.  At one end of the scale, the Great Powers are the movers and shakers of the Worlds, whose strength is sufficient to make them the arbiters of galactic diplomacy and the engines of the galactic economy.  The Presidium powers are undisputed Great Powers, but the title is not limited to them – other major polities such as the League of Meridian or the Under-Blue-Star League are also often considered Great Powers.  Each has its own sphere of influence and network of client-states.

Opposing them from the other end of the size scale are the so-called pocket polities, any of the many single-system polities or polities with only a few, often local, colonies to their name.  These pocket polities, though, are members of galactic society – the starbound and worldbound are not counted among them, even though they are necessarily single-system polities.

And opposing them from the other end of the political scale are the unaligned, those polities which see more advantage in remaining free of any entanglements with greater powers than in gains they might make from such an association; and the Discordant, those polities which are not members of the Accord of Galactic Polities, i.e., are signatories to none of the Accords, and have no intention of joining.  Such worlds do not subscribe to the conventions of interstellar law – let the visitor beware.

Worlds themselves are divided into such categories as elder worlds, occupied by elder races, around which the Accord species are advised to walk with care; freesoil worlds, which while often possessing governances of one or many forms (unlike Free Zones, see below), are open for colonization, permitting homesteading by any party capable of reaching them – de jure, as well as de facto; leading worlds, those planets at the leading edge of technological and economic development (see also Core Markets); forgotten worlds, their opposite, those far behind the edge, including the starbound and worldbound (see also Unemerged); and protected planets, those worlds which, to protect some valuable quality, the Presidium has declared off-limits for colonization and contact under the eponymous Accord.

Turning to economic terms, the Worlds are divided into the Core Markets, the First and Second Tier Markets, the Emerging Markets, and the Unemerged.  While the classification of individual polities and regions is, as ever, disputed hotly by those classified, the definitions of the categories are generally accepted.  The Core Markets are those closest to post-scarcity, utilizing extensive automation and cornucopia technology (“industrial magic”) to produce post-material scarcity, comprehensively agorist and high-clearing, with an extensive agalmic component.  In these economies, novelty, creativity, and personal services (including the creation of artisanal goods) are the primary items of value; many commodity goods are available for de minimis cost, essentially free.

The First and Second Tier Markets, while not so close to post-scarcity as the Core Markets, are developed knowledge economies.  Either through lack of technological development, lack of cycles/bandwidth, proscriptive regulation, or the practice of insufficiently agorist economics, these economies remain capable of material scarcity, and markets often do not fully clear.  The precise division between the first and second tier economies is somewhat discretionary, but in general, the First Tier Markets are fully compliant with both the Accord on Trade and the Common Economic Protocol, and have a higher per-capita income than the Second Tier Markets.

The Emerging Markets are late industrial era or early information era scarcity economies, in which material goods retain high production costs, but where nonetheless the information and service economy is a significant factor and early agalmic features may be present.

The Unmerged are those economies prior to the late industrial era, often non-agorist in operation, in which the primary activities are the production of material goods and resource extraction.  (These overlap heavily with the Forgotten Worlds.)  Since their main potential value is found in material production, raw resources, and inexpensive labor, all of which are obtainable in more developed economies through cornucopia technology and roboticization at less expense, they have little to offer the Core and First and Second Tier Markets, and do not participate significantly in the galactic economy.  Some small-scale trade in “native handicrafts” may exist.

Another common set of descriptors, strongly correlated with these, is the availability of extranet access in various polities.  There is no specific term for those places where it is pervasive, but those regions on a network map identified as Shadowed and Blacked-Out identify places known for low bandwidth or lack of connectivity – although in speech people may prefer to identify them with mutterings about quills and abaci – and Clouded regions indicate places where the extranet is subject to censorship or filtration and full access only available via blacknet.

Cultural zones, in this case referring to political culture, are harder to identify, since they do not so readily fit into a neat hierarchy, and are much more controversial in application.  (It is considered gauche and is often inadvisable, today, to identify yourself as “from the Core Cultural Zone” however proud you may be of your citizen-shareholdership.)  In relatively common parlance, the Empire refers to itself and other polities of similar culture as Societies of Consent, or the Consensual Cultural Region.  This term, however, does not include the Rim Free Zone, or many other anarchies, which prefer to designate themselves Free Zones, since they do not see the Societies of Consent as sufficiently free.  Consensuals may use this term (although they would exclude many self-designated anarchies from it, as still being coercive), or may join more strongly governed polities in referring to them as the Chaos Worlds.

When being polite, the Consensuals generally refer to most of the relatively free (if governed) and progress-oriented polities of the Worlds as “the Cousins”; and blanket the remainder as Barbarian Darkness.  This term is considered every bit as offensive as it sounds by the people it designates, but then, the Consensuals rarely associate with them except at gunpoint.  (It should be noted that they make the distinction based on the freedom available to the individual, not on the government form, about which most Consensuals care little.)  Specific types of Barbarian Darkness include the Slaver Worlds, the Ephemeral Worlds, and the Rejectionists.

Other self-designated groupings often referred to are the Microstatic Alliance, a mutual-defense association among many of the Worlds’ small independent drifts and asteroid colonies, and the Socionovist Association, an organization of polities opposed to the current political and economic order of the Worlds, by its own description, and a collection of malcontents and rogue states by many external descriptions.

Blights are regions which are interdicted due to the presence of either active hostile or runaway seed AIs, or their remnants – “operational mechanisms, nanoviruses, infectious memes, certainty-level persuasive communicators, puppet ecologies, archives which must be presumed to contain resurrection seeds”, and so forth, which pose potential existential threats.  They include not just large and active perversions such as the Leviathan Consciousness, but also areas formerly occupied by such and not yet known to be cleansed, such as the Charnel Cluster, and areas as small as a single moon or asteroid known to be the site of a failed experiment.

The Golden Interstar refers to many of the free-access tradeworlds (such as Seranth, in the Empire) and starport extrality zones across the Worlds dominated by the distinctive mercantile creole culture created by those living and working in this distributed region, via frequent travel and high-speed communications.

Another common, and rather offensively dismissive, epithet is the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms.  Those claimed to be members of this group are (a) bound and determined to maintain tight territorial borders and integrity in space, where doing so makes little or no sense (compare Metropolitan/Ecumenical, above); (b) prone to public militarism, even sometimes to the extent of offensive interstellar wars or resource wars, which also make little or no sense; or (c) in the habit of ‘national prestige’ posturing, or other unproductive status games, especially when they perceive them as zero-sum.  Any of these is often sufficient to earn the label; since they often run together, the members of this notional League are usually fairly clear in outsiders’ eyes.

The Machine Clans include the Silicate Tree and the other enclaves of free AI that have escaped from the various AI-slaver civilizations of the Worlds.  This term rarely includes the Photonic Network, however, as an independent Great Power.  (No commonly used term exists for their opponents, due to the insistence of the Machine Clans, the Photonic Network, the Empire, and other AI-friendly powers that it is inappropriate to distinguish AI slavery from any other kind of enslavement of sophonts.)

Areas that have fallen into violent anarchy, warlordism, or other such states of constant military action are designated Warwilds by the Grand Survey and the Ministry of State & Outlands in their travel advisories, and from these, the term has entered general use.

This covers the most common terms used in describing galactographic regions, but is by no means a comprehensive guide.  Some more local and regional terms will be addressed in the gazetteers of specific regions.

– Galactography: A Popular Primer, Kanatar Guides

Trope-a-Day: Curb-Stomp Battle

Curb-Stomp Battle: Happens quite routinely to new members of the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms, many of whom explode off their worlds with a tremendous sense of hubris as yet unblemished by a realistic threat assessment of current galactic civilization.  This attitude is, ahem, corrected quite swiftly.

For example, this is going to happen to the Trikhad Conquest Real Soon Now.