Not-a-Fic-a-Day: Securing Security

Remember my last not-a-fic-a-day?

Well, it’s happening again with the world’s latest aggravation, so here, have some less than subtle fictional commentary on that.


From: Metropolitan Security Bureau, United Viridian States

Subject: Isinglass secure dataplaque
I.4 series B
Issue: Court order received by us requiring creation of decryption tool
Priority: Urgent


Ref: Case 411187 (“Request to decrypt user data”)


Customer’s government requested decryption of contents of Isinglass model I.4 secure dataplaque, serial number B1117-1.4-311246, pursuant to a local legal case (see referenced case 411187). As this is not technically possible and against corporate customer data protection policy, standard brush-off sent.


We have at this time received a copy of your court order dated 7123-04-02 requiring us to create and deliver a decryption tool capable of replacing the security firmware on Isinglass model I.4 secure dataplaque serial B1117-1.4-311246.

We have the honor to inform you that since so doing would be a clear violation of our corporate customer data protection policy, which is a contractual matter, we must adamantly refuse to do so at this or any other time.

For the avoidance of doubt, however, we also ask you to be advised that we are in any case incapable of creating such a tool. By design, the security firmware of the Isinglass and other secure terminal equipment, along with all cryptographic keys and other data required by said security firmware, resides within a dedicated (“Secure Enclave”) nanocirc, designed not to permit external update, and enclosed in quantum security mesh which will cause immediate hardware self-destruction if the nanocirc shell is penetrated by any device or other instrumentality capable of modification or observation.

(Updates to the security firmware require physical replacement of the dedicated nanocirc which, consequentially, replaces all cryptographic keys and therefore renders unreadable all data stored on the device unless it has previously been transferred to another device under the control of the previous firmware.)

This design, you will note, was specifically chosen to prevent any of our engineers as individuals, or Aleph Null Systems as a corporate entity, from being coerced into bypassing our customers’ security or creating a tool with which this can be done.

Will ye, nil ye, we can offer you nothing but a petabyte of scrambled bits.

Giljen Diasteros
Senior Security Engineer, Aleph Null Systems


Per standing company policy, since a court order is involved, forwarded to the Legal Division.

Per special company policy SD/412: Coercive Sovereign Liability Management, also forwarded to the Security Division, copy to the Counterforce Liasion Office.

– gd/SSE



Do I Consider Myself A Feminist Writer?

…is the latest question to come through the anonymous message box.

Oh, boy.

“I don’t discuss my process.”

Oh, wait, I do discuss my process? I’ve discussed my process often, in the past? Well, crap.

Well, the unhelpful mathematician’s answer – that also does happen to be true – is that I don’t consider myself an “X writer” for virtually any value of “X”, except possibly “speculative fiction”. But I guess I owe you, anonymous questioner, a little more than that.

The more detailed answer is “it depends on what you mean by that”.

Do I endeavor to have an appropriately representative number of female characters who are competent, agentive, and not defined as some male someone’s accessory? Do I try to depict a society in which people are judged based on their individual merits and character, rather than by prejudicial stereotypes and situationally-irrelevant epiphenomena (specifically including sex, gender, etc., among many other things), and in which all sophonts (regardless of the aforementioned) enjoy the same natural rights, the same civil rights, equality before the law, and possess equal social opportunities1?

Well, yes, yes I do. I do not necessarily claim that I always succeed as well as I would like to, but it is my intention, and I do think my corpus bears it out.

(But, of course, this is never mentioned explicitly, which some might argue means it doesn’t count. But it can’t be, for reasons of worldbuilding integrity. You never hear a fish say, “my, the water sure is wet today” – because no-one comments on the status quo when it’s been that way for as long as the status has been quo. If you tried to explain the Earth-now way of these things, patriarchy, etc., to an Imperial citizen-shareholder, 95% of them wouldn’t understand what you were driving at, and the remaining 5% of professional sophontologists, adventure tourists, and the like, would nod politely and explain that that sort of thing is indexed under barbarian outworlders be crazy, yo.

This is also why this doesn’t come up even when dealing with said barbarian outworlders. An Imperial confronted by some icky patriarchy out in the Periphery isn’t going to think of it in specifically feminist terms, having neither interior nor historical experience with such a thing. She’s much more likely to think of it as just another rationalization-memeplex cooked up by noxious slaving fuckheads to justify strutting about with their jackboots on, because no rational being could possibly take such ideas seriously in the first place, could they…?)

Am I trying to depict a desirable social model, in feminist terms? (Or, indeed, in any other terms.) Well, inasmuch as I do think a social model in which people are judged by the truth of their talents and the content of their character without reference to the presumptions attached to the morphology of their genitalia would be a great improvement over our present one, perhaps. But I’m a writer, not a social engineer. I’m trying to depict a non-human society that is that way in terms that are true to itself, not as a prescription for how humans ought to live, and that is shaped by distinctly inhuman instincts and ideas.

Am I deliberately attempting to promote that particular viewpoint – as a political viewpoint – in/through my writing? No, and for two reasons:

1. I hate message fiction. To some extent, whatever the message, because subordinating the coherence of the world and the thread of the plot to a message usually makes for terrible, terrible fiction. This is even more the case when it’s a message that I might agree with, because I don’t generally think it helps to promote a particular thing to produce bloody awful anvilicious books about it.

Now, sure, my own views on The Truth Of Things And The Oughts Of Things I’m sure shape my creativity in plenty of ways; such is the nature of the game. But for my money, I’m much better off, and they’re much better off, just letting them come out in the nature of the worlds I shape rather than beating people over the head with sermons about The Right Thing, You Idiots. I’m a writer, a storyteller, and very much not a preacher.

2. I’m an ornery cuss who has never found any political or activist group ever, typically including both sides of any given debate, that I could stomach, and in the past I’ve rarely been shy of saying so. Even – maybe even especially – the ones I mostly agree with. So – whatever my views expressed above may mean for compatibility of desired ends – even if it wasn’t for the message-fiction thing, political feminism wouldn’t have me, and I wouldn’t have it.

All that being said, of course, if someone comes up to me in thirty years and tells me that reading my books as a little girl inspired them to give the finger to toxic social expectations and become a high-powered megacorp CEO like, say, Giléä Cheraelar or a bad-ass space navy admiral like Caliéne Sargas2, I reserve the right to be pretty damn pleased about it.

1. I can’t say social equality, inasmuch as they do practice hard-edged meritocracy to go along with their equality of opportunity, and it would seem odd to say political equality inasmuch as the political equality everyone has in the Empire is the opportunity to be shot in the face for attempting to practice politics. But, hey, anyone of any sex, etc., who tries to practice politics is equally likely to be shot in the face, so.

2. Albeit possibly slightly worried in this case, inasmuch as Caliéne Sargas is a bloodthirsty-and-proud-of-it functional sociopath. But, hey, it takes all sorts.

Not-a-Fic-a-Day: Transportation Security

So, there isn’t an actual fic-a-day today, because ever since I read a news article about the TSA’s latest shenanigans, I’ve been too mad to have an idea – or rather, all the characters in my head have had nothing to do but deliver variations on The Reason We Suck, snark, and related items about transportation security all day, and refuse to get down to anything plotly.

Yes, I have an unruly muse.

So, instead, I’m just going to accept losing a day’s writing, and in some compensation – and despite my pledge to avoid message fiction in my real writing – herewith some fictional people expressing some opinions on that whole mess…

“Descend to ten thou so we can chuck the bastards – or whatever’s left of them once the passengers are done – over the side.  What else?”
– Idris Allatrian-ith-Lyranth, airship captain, extranet interview

“Multiply, old chap, multiply.  You can’t seriously propose that we punish hundreds of millions of travellers every day because of, what, a few tens of thousands of fanatics of dubious rationality?  Do you have any idea how many of those we could find and cauterize for the same cost?  Especially once you take into account the the insurrection we’d have on our hands if the Senate even thought about demanding searches of citizen-shareholders going about their lawful business, never mind if the Curia actually lost all grip on law and sense and approved it.”
– Quoril Irithyl-ith-Issarthyl, security consultant, extranet interview

“Due to current geopolitical tensions, passengers on international flights are requested and required as a condition of passage to carry a pistol capable of running our aeronef-compatible frangible-flechette and Fragile Fire Inhibition softpatch (a free download from our ‘weave) for flight security.  If you do not possess a suitable weapon, one can be rented for the duration of the flight at your Golden Skies check-in desk for an Es. 7 surcharge.”
– Golden Skies Express Air ticket, supplemental information

“Oh, they don’t want to get into a terror contest with us.  We have much bigger sticks to beat them with than they can find to use.  And I can promise you this – I’m scarier.”
– a brightly smiling Caliéne Sargas-ith-Sargas, IN Admiral, Worldburner, and Deimarchess by Birth and Profession, extranet interview

“Ahem.  Or, somewhat more diplomatically put, the first duty of any government is to protect its citizen-shareholders.  The Imperial Charter is quite clear on that.  It does not, on the other hand, say anything about everyone else.  And while we don’t like having to shout and threaten like a cliched serial villain, if it takes parking the threat of annihilation over someone to get them to clean their damned act up, well, we can do that.  And will.”
– Esitaria Cyprium-ith-Avalae, Stellar Council (Emeritus), extranet interview

“Yeah.  When I’m on one of those worlds, I take the shuttle to orbit and back down again every time I need to go from place to place on the surface.  I won’t use their own transport, not for — why?  Seriously?  They try and ban all weapons.  No gun, no sword, not so much as a utility knife.  What for shit and waste heat are we supposed to do if someone does try and take the plane, or rob us in the air, or something?  Throw nuts at them?  Beat them to death with the seat cushions? Maybe try harsh language?”

They may not care about their natural responsibilities, but I’m not going to be put in that position, thank you kindly but no thank you.”
–  Corvis Peressin-ith-Perrin, frequent interstellar traveller, extranet interview

“It may be a slightly riskier model, in terms of risk from terrorists and hijackers.  I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, but I’ll accept it hypothetically.  But there are three essential points I would make in answer.  First, neither model is particularly risky in an absolute sense, and our population is, by and large, capable of computing simple probabilities.  Second, risk is one of many factors in any trade-off, and we are also aware of the costs in economic terms, in liberty terms, and in terms of dignity – and also, you will find, quite determined as a principle of ethics, morality, and law that where there are costs to be suffered, they will be suffered by the people responsible for them rather than the innocent bystander.  And third?  Third, the Imperial hasn’t been born who intimidates worth a damn.”
– Quoril Irithyl-ith-Issarthyl, security consultant, extranet interview

“Talk to me like that again, zakhrehs, or put so much as one finger anywhere, and you’re going to be looking for a new body.”
– Jynen Cerron-ith-Cerron, shortly before being deported from Villami (Iesa Drifts)