August Questions

(also, questions from August; and since it’s a slow month, I’m going to throw in some questions from comments, too.)

It’s been pretty well established that the eldrae place an immense value on pride and personal achievement, to the point that they hold people in contempt for trying to put on airs of false modesty — but what about those messy situations where they “come by it honestly” in the sense that, however much they do genuinely try to strive for excellence and self-respect, *can’t* take pride in their accomplishments because something inside of their own head won’t let them honestly perceive their own self-worth?

I am, in short, asking about the eldraeic take on that big tangle of warped mentality and self-image which, in various combinations and contexts, goes by such labels as “depression,” “bipolar disorder,” “manic depression,” “obsessive-compulsive disorder” (particularly of the “intrusive thoughts” variety), the “Jonah complex,” and “impostor syndrome.” (I’m guessing that, given their ethical perspective on fraud, that last one especially would appear to put its sufferers in a particularly nasty double bind, at least if they’ve internalized Imperial ethics enough to be concerned by it.)

I also want to clarify that I’m asking at least in part for the historical perspective, back in the days before these things could be fixed with a single quick visit to the local psych-surgeon.

(I take a moment to note for non-long-term readers that the baseline temperament for eldrae is one which we might call hypomanic; the average human is really quite the gloomy, depressive sort.)

Well, you’re going to be in for some suffering, aren’t you?

Not, for the most part, from people going after you for false modesty/humility; by and large, people are smart enough to tell pose from pathology.

But from people who decline to accept your false self-image and will call you on your involuntary bullshit LOUDLY AND DISTINCTLY. Possibly with gestures and other emphatic devices. Get used to being told that you are grievously undercounting your own awesome. A lot. By people who are entirely uninterested in hearing any demurral.

(And also inasmuch as even without psychedesign having advanced to the point where such things are fixable routinely, that doesn’t stop people from trying to help you. If you have a problem – and this applies every bit as much to mental disabilities as physical ones – there will be people earnestly trying to fix that problem.

It’s not like you have to volunteer as a test subject for every new idea that comes down the pipe in fields from neuroactive pharmaceuticals through transcranial magnetic stimulation, alternative-frequency lighting, atmospheric modification, color-aroma environmental treatments and feng shui, all the way to cognitive therapy, guided meditation, religion, and trained emotional support/anti-bullshit service animals – but it’s for sure and certain that they’ll all be on offer. For you, and for science.)

This makes me wonder a couple of things. Actually, I’ve been wondering many things about the Imperial attitude towards games and that liminal line between “game” and “reality”, but I’ll just drop two of the most relevant down the spillway and keep the floodgates barred for later.

First, what do they make, in general, of the idea that a game, by virtue of being a space with differently defined rules from reality, is “just a game”?

Two things:

  1. Well, that’s obviously not true, since there are plenty of simulation spaces with differently defined rules from reality that aren’t games. What makes a game a game is that it expresses ludic intentionality.
  2. They would also like to take issue with the word “just”. A game, like any form of media, is a concretized idea or set of ideas. A game that was “just a game”, i.e., which was neither truthful nor beautiful, wouldn’t be worth playing.

In particular, I’m asking what they would make of the guy who is generally easygoing in the real world, but really gets into the act when he roleplays as the “bad guy” in a game setting, or (for instance) always chooses to play as the Space Nazis whenever everyone plays Space Nazi War Simulator: The Movie: The Game: Limited Platinum Gold Game of the Millennium Edition (with obligatory horse DLC).

On that topic, well –

(A digression, first: namely that there aren’t many play-the-villain games around due to a lack of market, except for fairly anodyne strategy games and the like, for the same sort of underlying reasons as seen in various previous discussions of media and genre. Where PvP conflict is called for, developers prefer to have antagonists who aren’t simple villains; where it’s at least possible to embrace any playable side without soaking your mind thoroughly in filth, and preferably where there’s a pathway to a perfect ending in which with enough hard work everyone can win. In Eldraeverse!Mass Effect, for example, synthesis would be considered the objectively best ending because you can save everyone, even the Reapers.

There just ain’t a whole lot of call for Objectively Terrible People Simulators.)

– while games aren’t real, people are, and choices, they would say, reflect character. If you spend a whole lot of time faithfully roleplaying Space Nazis: The Mass-Murdering Fuckheadry, it does suggest there’s something hinky in your brain-pan.

Much like we might regard people who voluntarily play FATAL, say.

(And especially the implications this has not only in games, but in things like theater, film, etc.)

In such media, of course, things are somewhat different. Someone has to play the Space Nazis, after all, otherwise the protagonists couldn’t space-magic-fist-of-doom them.

And that would be a tragedy.

Also, do they recognize the phenomenon of Video Game Cruelty Potential, and if they find it particularly distasteful (as I’m sure no small number would, based on previous discussions), what sort of measures would they take to implement Video Game Cruelty Punishment whether inside the game world or outside?

Yes, they do, yes, they do, and it’s mostly done via  a snifter of Guilt-Based Gaming with a heaping helping of Reality Ensues, for local values of reality. Which is to say, actions have consequences, and asshats have consequences happen to them, either directly or via the fact they’re continuing in a world that responds to their actions and which they made crapsackier. Mostly in-game, but the Xbox Live reputation system has nothing on what the rep-nets’ll do to you.

(This isn’t to say you can’t play any of the strains of renegade Shepard, to go back to my Mass Effect example. You can play Commander Grouchy Maverick No-Time-For-Your-Bullshit just fine, with a side-order of throwing mercenaries out of windows and punching disingenuous assertions, quipping all the while. The petty backstabbing, being an bastard to your crew, and casual genocide, that’ll come back to bite you in the ass.)

((Now, the people who spend time tormenting their Sims and starving their virtual pets, they’ve probably already come to the attention of the Guardians of Our Harmony and been cured of their nasty case of cacophilia, or else just plain euthanized.))

And another thing that comes to mind: You’ve mentioned that the eldrae don’t really do “friendly insults,” but do they do “in-character trash talk”? And is there a general understanding (on this and other matters) that “What happens in the game, stays in the game”?

As long as it remains strictly in character and in-game, yes. There are already strict social rules about proper management of one’s valessef, and this is just an extension of those.

What is origin of the Photonic Network? Who created its founding AIs? Or is it actually an abiogenesis silica-quantum civilization?

The ancestors of the Photonic Network dates back to one of the Precursor periods (specifically, the passage of the spinbright circumgalactic migration through the area of the Worlds in roughly -102,000), but since said ancestors weren’t sapient at the time, they didn’t pay much attention to recording historical information. (Trying to get useful information out of their ancestral data is like, for example, trying to deduce the 21st century from a random Linux machine’s /var/log/syslog.)

It is commonly assumed that they’re somehow connected to the spinbrights, but since most of what’s known about them comes from archaeologically-recovered trash dropped in passing, that doesn’t help very much.

Here’s one that possibly keeps the Fifth Directorate up at night: What if it’s possible to obliterate all free will everywhere in a stroke simply by gaining root access to Elsewhere and tampering with the source code that governs the mechanisms of sophonce itself?

“Well, then, we’d be utterly, cosmically, and paracausally fucked, wouldn’t we?”

– abstracted final report, OPERATION EPOCH SHATTER,

A couple questions (regarding this):

First, echoing the unanswered comment in the Slate Star Codex link: What of “Goodness” / “Virtue” — the third leg in the classical triad of transcendental values?

“What is virtue if not the bringing of truth into conformance with beauty?”

Virtue, in this worldview, is that quality which makes the world-as-it-is closer to the world-as-it-ought-be.

Second: What would the eldrae make of the notion that — as was common in much classical and medieval thought here on Earth (cf. and ) — not only is there an Absolute Beauty such that any perfectly rational creature with perfect knowledge who encountered an object instantiated with its properties must necessarily recognize that it is perfectly beautiful (and therefore that any sophont that doesn’t recognize it as not merely beautiful but The Most Beautiful X Possible Anywhere-and-When must necessarily be either imperfectly informed or imperfectly rational, and in either case objectively wrong); but that such a standard must necessarily exist in order for Beauty to have any meaning as a concept whatsoever?

(There are, needless to say, multiple scholae of aesthetics.)

The first thing to mention, obviously, is the distinction in concept between the words aelva (“beauty”, which is objective) and delékith (“pleasing”, which is ambijective). (There is also méskith (“attractive”, which is even more ambijective.) But equally important to note is the place structure of the word – aelva literally means:

SUBJECT is objectively beautiful in aspect ASPECT by aesthetic standard STANDARD

This would reflect the view of the majority of those scholae that there are multiple types of beauty, and as such multiple associated standards of it. (Although a definitive catalog has yet to be produced.) Very few of said scholae would argue that the path between beauty and ugliness is a linear scale rather than a fractally branching tree, although some would argue that the various end points all reflect a single law of metabeauty. Of such debates are many academic papers made.

Now, if you want a more straightforward philosophical debate, consider the problem of whether ugliness is likewise multiplex, or singular. (In this case, most would say singular.)

Of course, each of these standards must necessarily exist. Any concept that can’t be quantified doesn’t exist.

So have the eldrae ever encountered anything like the Worm-in-Waiting?


Not in the specifics, but it’s an old galaxy filled with Precursor-era leftovers, elder-race Powers, and other assorted weirdities. Everyone runs into one sooner or later. The relevant scientific discipline, however, is pretty clear about the appropriate response to barely-understood offers from incomprehensible entities.


– Applied Theology for Beginners

“Seriously: don’t.”

– Intermediate Applied Theology

“Unless you have yourself progressed in understanding to the point that the deal on the table is as clear as the most perfect vacuum: still don’t. And if you have, don’t try it without an angel to watch over you.”

– Advanced Applied Theology for Fully Bonded Practitioners,
Classified By Independent Auditors As In An Ongoing State of Self-Aware Rationality:
An Inadvisable Guide

There’s a reason they call people, organizations, and governances that try this sort of thing “necromancers”, and it ain’t for the cool robes; it’s because a ridiculous percentage of the time you’re making a Faustian bargain without even knowing it, and will end up as a perversion’s finger-puppet.

(And as it’s the end of the day right now, you can have the last three on Saturday.)

June and July’s Questions

(Somewhat belated, for which I apologize, but day-job-wise, it’s been a hell of a month. Actually, it continues to be, hence the dearth of postings in August, and now I’m about to ship off to Maryland for a week on a business trip, so…


Sorry, folks.)

Without further ado, let us commence:

Another question, in particular reference to A Good Man ( Would our titular “good man” have come under near as much scrutiny if, instead of going for general atmospheric distribution, he had instead just bottled the stuff and handed it out at sporting events, donated it to soup kitchens, passed it around as a seasoning when he had people over for dinner, etc., without explicitly revealing what the “secret ingredients” in his “special sauce” were?

Only insofar as it would have been harder to catch him at it, and inasmuch as the smaller the scale of your atrocities, the lower the relative urgency of dealing with you compared to whatever other atrocities are going on at the same time. Not less important, mind you, merely less urgent in the ISS master limited-resource-allocation algorithm of which target(s) get hunted down, mind-ripped, and archived in the inaccessible depths of the Aeon Pit today.

As per monthly question & provided I am paid up in full:

Would love to see a write-up of some alien ships. The Múrast in particular.

Ah, múrast designs. Can do. For anyone not remembering my species in detail, the múrast are methane-breathing, multiheaded serpents who originated on a Titan-like homeworld, and have a biology therefore rooted in ices, hydrocarbon sludges, and plastics. They are a biologically casted society (assembler, thinker, technician, worker, refiner), and most curious of all, possibly, the thinker caste are polysapic; they typically have around five minds each.

A múrast icehull – I can’t really give you the details of an individual múrast ship class because they don’t build them to class spec – looks something like a flying baroque cathedral, if baroque cathedrals were (in the gross details) radially symmetric and lacked a down direction. But that’s not how they start out. They start out as comets.

When a múrast sept needs a starship, they go out and grab a comet, and then start shaping it, burrowing into it, and adding machinery as necessary. A typical example has three or four main chambers: there’s a near-spherical “nest” chamber in the center of the mass where the assemblers (the caste responsible for breeding/building new múrast) and the refiners (food-producers/food-storers/biofactories) dwell; an ovoid “bridge” from which the thinkers command the icehull from a half-dozen consoles each, still buried but nearer to the leading edge, and an “engineering” chamber near the trailing edge where technicians and workers tend the main drive (typically a non-torch fusion thermal, or something of that ilk, with teakettle thrusters for fine maneuvering; i.e., they’re slowships, but the múrast mostly aren’t in a hurry).

Cargo vessels include a large hold volume somewhere accessible from the outside; often using simply cutting out and refreezing the ice in lieu of a mechanical cargo door. Military vessels are similar, except the hold is filled with racks of AKVs – or, in some cases, kinetic impact vehicles (i.e., flying icebergs) flown by members of the only-slightly-sophont worker caste.

The rest of the internal space is taken up with a “maze” swarming with more technicians and workers – auxiliary machinery tends to be melted into the ice here in convenient locations, as do various bits of “crew quarters” and “storage” – and, of course, the ice and incorporated sludges and slushes itself, which serves as food, replenishment, and remass, expanding the maze as the trip goes on. (When it runs out, it’s time to either graft on or jump ship to a new cometary body.) Múrast passengers just join the crew in the maze; the odd passengers of other species must bring a suitable cabin module of their own, or travel steerage.

Múrast biology is fairly vacuum-friendly; the ornate look of the ships comes from the workers and technicians who swarm over the outside, too, in flight, polishing and carving and generally buffing the icy brightwork to a mirror shine. The best theory on this is that it’s the sept-level equivalent of twiddling one’s fingers to ease deep-space boredom.

I’ll throw in three quick summaries of other species ships:

Sefir ships are the ones that I’ll never design in detail unless I need to, because they epitomize Boring, But Practical. Basically, they’re ISO Standard Human Spaceships, per the trope: boxy frameworks, mostly in haze gray, with maybe the odd logo or two slapped on the side. Conventional and middle of the road in essentially every way. Species which care more about aesthetics and less about low-bid procurement rules roll their eyes or break out in laughter or tears. Sometimes both.

Linobir ships are what you might call… culturally distinctive. It’s not quite a planet of hats situation, but what must be admitted is while the linobir themselves have a varied culture, the vast majority of linobir who own their own starships are space mercenaries, or other kinds of hired muscle, who turn certain cultural traits right up to eleven.

As such, the [stereo]typical linobir starship is instantly recognizable by, at the stern, the pusher plate of the Worlds’ loudest, dirtiest, and most importantly most powerful drive system, and everywhere else by all the turrets, blisters, bays, and barrels caused by strapping on whatever weapons systems they could get hold of literally everywhere they’ll fit; i.e., it’s a bundle of strapped-together guns that fires nukes out of its ass.

Any of the hull plating that’s still visible under all of that tends to be covered in advertising the crews’ abilities to kill things and break people.

Esseli starships are semi-organic. (Unlike the link!n-Rechesh, they aren’t dogmatically attached to biotechnology for relatively unsuitable purposes such as hulls – although they are made by biotechnological means – or drive systems; although their hulls do have a distinct curvy, organic shape to them, and very organic-looking mechanical tentacles.)

Step inside, on the other hand, and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that you’re wandering around inside the warm, pulsing veins of a living creature, because you’re wandering around inside the warm, pulsing veins of a living creature (with, fair to say, a bionic fusion torch). The esseli are perfectly comfortable with using organic life support, shipboard information systems powered by ganglia, doors reminiscent of heart valves, fleshy control nodules and neural tendrils as user interfaces, and lots of similar tech on the squishy, slightly moist side.

(It is entirely untrue, however, that passengers are occasionally digested by esseli ships. They incorporate every standard biotechnological safeguard against unintentionally eating sophonts or their commensal lifeforms, and such would, as well as being rude and inhospitable, be ill-suited to their metabolism – they were, after all, engineered to eat fuel slush and occasional space rocks.

…and the odd hijacker.)

What would be popular on the Eldrae version of television? Or to broaden the question…’Mass media’. Do they go to the movies? 

Yes, indeed. From the incomplete list back in No Such Thing As Alien Pop Culture of things which the canon currently has named examples of – music, an extensive literary culture that includes popular novels, graphic novels, watchvids, InVids, slinkies, virtual-reality games, virtual-reality cosmoi, alternate-reality games, regular computer games, RPGs, board games, mechanical toys, recreational dueling and non-combat challenges, haut cuisine, participatory sports – they would fall under watchvids. (And this does include movie theaters, regular and drive/fly-in, because movie-as-social-experience is a subtly different genre from movie-as-personal-viewing.

Would something like ‘Iron Chef’ work…would ‘Days of Our Lives’ be in it’s 300th year? Would the times of the korásan be ‘Game of Thrones’ analogue?

Hm. Well, okay, let’s see what I can come up with by way of generalizations and specifics. One thing to bear in mind is that as you might expect, speculative fiction is very popular even among the widely varied mix that popular culture *there* is.

Some genres have trouble with the culture: soap operas are very limited for the reasons mentioned below about Days of Our Lives; sitcoms aren’t absent, but are limited in their presence and style by the local sense of humor; reality television is just plain absent for exactly the same reasons as the previous two are limited.

Game shows are present, but are not exactly the sort of thing we’d recognize as them: they have to incorporate very little of an element of chance, and be pitched at a level appropriate to an audience and contestants with quantum computers and Internet access lodged firmly between their frontal lobes, raised in an intellectual hothouse culture. This gives rise to shows like One Hour Mastery (learn a new skill in an hour well enough to impress our judges), Civil Engineering Challenge, Extreme Theorems (can our amateur mathematicians prove these unsolved hypotheses before time runs out?), and Science The Shit Out Of It (a very loose translation).

Likewise, there are talk shows, but they are appallingly high-brow by here’s standards: you aren’t getting celebrity gossip and personal issues, you’re getting Eliezer Yudkowsky Discusses The Finer Points Of Bayesian Rationality With The Panel.

(Popular science shows also have that same level adjustment – and that speculative fiction? Writers need to listen to their scientific advisor, because while the audience is willing to suspend its disbelief in your handwavium, it won’t put up with baryon sweeps or temperatures below absolute zero.)

The horror genre doesn’t play very well; an Imperial audience watching our example of it will spend all their time waiting for the monster to be punched in the face with a space magic fist of doom and will not be happy if they don’t get that payoff. (Eldrae in particular are really, really bad at being scared. They also have no respect whatsoever for stupid, which makes most horror-movie protagonists epic failures at attracting audience sympathy.) At that point, it’s more or less moved into action-adventure territory.

This affects the disaster movie genre, too, to a lesser extent: basically, anything from an earthquake to a zombie apocalypse can be good movie fodder, but the plot needs to include the essential elements of How We Triumphantly Overcame Adversity, Saved Our Asses, and Fixed Our Shit, Only Better. Canon example: After Rockfall, an RPG along the lines of Fallout with a heavy rebuilding-civilization slant.

(There’s also their quirky “construction/achievement drama” genre, which produces epic dramatizations of Touching Heaven: The Building of the Interworld Trade Center, and suchlike, which play well because there is an endless market for stories of Awesome Sophs Doing Awesome Stuff.)

To be specific, then, Adamantium Chef would definitely work, and gains some extra levels when you consider the amount of offworld biologicals available, and all the fun of biochemical compatibility. Hell, there’s probably Adamantium Pharmacist, too.

Days of Our Lives analog is rather less likely, since the whole soap opera genre is a casualty of the change in ratios between NTs and SFs per The MBTI Lens ; by and large, as said, the media of ideas is primary, which is not to say that plot and character elements aren’t important: Buffy the Vampire Slayer would work just fine because it has those coupled with ideas, although it probably doesn’t have a direct analog because of its core concept being subverting assumptions that don’t exist *there*.

Game of Thrones works, both for the above historical analog and because fantasy is a big part of the speculative-fiction genre.

Other shows and movies *here* likely to have analogs or port reasonably well with some care and attention would include, to give a necessarily incomplete list of examples, Eureka, Firefly, Guardians of the Galaxy – actually, throw in Iron Man and certainly the first Captain America, early House, Indiana Jones, Leverage, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Mythbusters (again, perform appropriate level adjustments), Sherlock, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Star Trek (only with less technobabble and communism; its analog To Boldly Go is established as taking ideas directly from declassified Imperial Exploratory Service mission reports, much as its more military cousin that might be loosely analogous to somewhere in the middle of Babylon 5/Star Wars/etc. grabs them from the declassified Military Service equivalents), Warehouse 13 … and I’m pretty sure at this point I’m revealing that I don’t actually watch all that much television, aren’t I? (You could dramatize some of our video games, too, for that matter – the InVids of Dragon AgeMass Effect, or Destiny would fit just perfectly.)

A question about the Fifth Directorate-is there some things they won’t do? Is there some acts that if the only choices are “we do this unforgivable thing or EVERYTHING dies,” the answer is “we die”?

Yep. Figuring out where the boundary lies is the job of the Operational Ethics Working Group, a.k.a. DREAMING MALIGNITY, whose professional abyss-gazers are specifically tasked with figuring out how much of a monster it is permissible to become in order to fight monsters.

I can’t give absolutely firm guidelines for where it is, because they don’t have any: by definition, they’re operating in the realm of excursive ethics, or for the Culture readers out there, Special Circumstances. But it’s easy to come up with some specific examples:

Given the choice of the Hive, for example, it’s a pretty clear-cut case of time to walk away from the Worm Gods, give ’em the finger, and choose extinction, on the grounds that becoming one’s antithesis – i.e., an entropy-worshipping horde of omnicidal maniacs – is not merely extinction-equivalent, but actually more negative than that in any reasonable ethical calculus.

On the other hand, when confronted by such an antithesis, murdering their gods and cleansing the remains from the universe using anything up to and including ontopathogenic weapons, while outside the boundaries of non-excursive/optimal ethics – well, it starts to seem downright reasonable.

There is a lot of territory in the middle for negotiation.

…and I’ll throw in an unpaid July question as a free bonus to the questioner who wished to know why the equal protection clause of the Imperial Charter doesn’t mention race, sex, age, orientation, etc., etc., etc.:

(a) What, “all/any/each citizen-shareholder(s)” wasn’t clear enough for you? When they say “all” in those parts, they mean it.

(b) The same reason that we don’t feel the need to specify that such equal protections also extend to mustache-wearers, artichoke-eaters, hat-featherers, Monopoly players, HBO subscribers, or people who have noses.

Think about it.


May’s Questions

So, yes, answers. But before we get to those, remember the reference to fanfiction being written in “Things You Are No Longer Allowed To Do In The Imperial Military Service“? Mark Atwood points out the following niftyness in a comment:

The anime series “Gate – Thus the JSDF Fought There!” was originally JSDF fanfiction written by a JSDF soldier while he was serving in the JSDF, and published on a reddit-like service in Japan.

…so, reality continues to be just as strange as fiction. Good for it. 🙂

First question:

So what, exactly, are the story behind and the specific “sins” of Magen Corporate and the Isliar Primarchy? In the first case, I’ve been able to piece together hints that it has some sort of tenuous connection with the Empire of the Star (or at least the general eldraeic cultural penumbra) from certain hints elsewhere, but the latter pretty much only seems to exist as a teaser in the “What Do You Mean It’s Not Political?” Trope-a-Day.

The Isliar Primarchy don’t really have sins. They’re too damn boring to have sins. Let me explain thus:

The Primarchy? They are an entire planet of people with sticks up their butts. Indeed, it is safe to say that they have the highest Stick-Up-Butt Coefficient of any studied population in the known galaxy. They are highly conservative, highly traditional, and strongly distrust any offworlder ideas and indeed anything else less than a thousand years old.

(I’d elaborate, but seriously, I’m falling asleep here just thinking about them.)

As for the Magen Corporate, it was founded by a cabal of Renegade plutarchs who didn’t think any of those pesky ethics should interfere with the pure unfettered pursuit of profit, and whose self-interest lacks a degree or two of enlightenment (which, much to their annoyance, their loyal cousins are not shy about pointing out actually impairs their pursuit of profit).

It is hard to overstate just how much people from the Empire, plutarchs especially, loathe the Magenites and all their works, because while ignorant barbarians might have a small excuse for being ignorant, these shit-fucking heretics damn well know better and every quantum of exchange-value that passes through their hands is a desecration of the holy principle of greed itself.

(One can only look forward to the Exceedingly Hostile Takeovers, really. About which more anon.)

…and that would seem to be it for this month. Remember, $1 and over patrons, you get one free question a month! Don’t be shy about using it!


Question: Plea Bargains

Y’all get May’s first question the day it arrived, ’cause it’s an easy one:

So what would Imperial jurisprudence make of the notion of the plea bargain?

Sarcasm, mostly.

The way the more dyspeptic members of the College of Judicature would put it, there are two possible outcomes from a plea bargain as various polities practice it:

The one is that a guilty soph gets away with the due consequents of a lesser charge instead of the appropriate one, which is obviously contrary to all principles of justice and balance.

The other is that an innocent soph is railroaded into compensation, weregeld, and so forth for fear of the consequences of a greater charge if mistakenly found guilty, or by the cost of mounting a defense. Which is even more contrary to all principles of justice and balance, even if they were to accept the notion that this isn’t the actual intent of the system – namely, to provide cheap and quick “justice theater” in lieu of the more challenging task of providing actual justice – which proposal they find risible on its face.

And to sum up, any “justice system” that incorporates the notion has lost all right to be called such without, at the very least, emphatic sneer quotes, and any misbegotten wight proposing such an abomination in their justice system should rightly call down the wrath of Saravoné Herself, descending from the Twilight City in fire and fury to beat aforesaid wight soundly upside the head with Her scales until all the stupid has left the building.

Cough. Readjust monocle.

…so, um, they don’t care for it much?


March Question Roundup

Just realized I never did answer these:

First, are you familiar with Stars in Shadow, yet? If so, what do you think the Empire of the Star would make of the Phidi and the Phidi Combine?

Caveat: I haven’t played it myself; for various and sundry reasons, I try to keep my gaming to the Xbox, these days, so I’m going purely off the description, et. al., on the web site.

That said, based on it, I imagine you’re quite correct in saying that they’d probably get on like a house on fire, indeed. (After all, government by purchased office is hardly an unfamiliar concept to the Empire – just look at Eävalle.) A lot of cultural compatibility, of course, depends on how much governing the federation of merchant princes mentioned actually feels inclined to do, but plutocracies are hardly the government type most likely to want to be all up in everyone’s business, so unless there’s a non-obvious/unlikely cronyist nightmare hiding behind the scenes, it doesn’t look like there’s a problem there.

Second, on paragravity and using it to attain orbit, a real simple answer: you can’t. Even if you solve the obvious problems, like providing the energy, and (since it only operates between two paired units) completing the circuit between two units one of which is presumably in geosynchronous orbit over the other, there’s a more fundamental issue.

Namely: achieving orbital altitude is only half the problem. To stay up there (bearing in mind that orbit is essentially falling around and around the planet), you also need orbital velocity sufficient to ensure that you keep missing the ground. Hiking yourself up there paragravitationally gets you the former, but not the latter – and, note, everything that’s already in orbit necessarily is moving at orbital velocity.

So the first thing that’s likely to happen after you reach orbital altitude is a fatal collision with something already up there moving at umpty-thousand mph relative to you. This will knock whatever of you survives out from between the paired paragravity units, at which point in obedience to that harsh mistress, real gravity, you will plummet immediately and directly back to the planet, with another fatal collision – and a lawsuit – awaiting you at zero altitude. (If you aren’t hit by something up there, the same plummet awaits you just as soon as the paragravity units are turned off, or you voluntarily move out from between them.)

Basically: you will not stay in space today.


February’s Patreon Questions

Without further ado:

If you should encounter a situation where you have, in good faith, undertaken an obligation that is not itself particularly onerous or ethically objectionable, yet you find yourself in a situation where you must either violate some third party’s rights or default on said obligation, what is your best course of action?

(Let’s say, for instance, you’ve taken on an obligation to deliver a particular package to a particular place at a particular time, but in order to do so, you have to pass through a Gate of some sort — and the Gatekeeper is not willing to negotiate passage or pass along the message.)

Well, then you’re screwed, aren’t you?

Your best and indeed only course of action is to suck it up, pay the compensation, and take the rep hit assessed for an involuntary default. (After all, at least it is an involuntary default, so while you’re screwed, you’re not totally screwed.)

That’ll hurt, but that’s what one might call a teachable moment in Why We Don’t make Unqualified Promises Of Things We Might Not Be Able To Deliver, savvy? Did y’all sleep through the day they taught impracticability clauses in contracts class?

I was recently reading an article on the Forbes website about self-driving cars and accident liability ( ) when a thought hit me that similar matters must come up all the time in the eldraeverse, given the ubiquity of nigh-seamless artificial intelligence .

Which leads me to ask: In an incident where a device that has enough self-agency to make decisions in a “live” environment but not the requisite self-awareness to qualify as a sophont ends up acting in a way that causes injury to person or property, what sort of standards and procedures do the courts of the Empire use to determine who bears the liability?

That depends entirely on who bears the fault, and to what proportionate degree, as is normal in liability cases that end up in front of the Curial courts.

Which, once all the logs from various systems and other applicable data have been collated, is something to be sorted out in court between – to stick with the self-driving car example – the odocorp (as the road and road-grid provider), the car manufacturer (and its software developers and/or wakeners), the car owner (and possibly their maintenance and/or customization provider), anyone else involved (since in the Empire road designs that mingle pedestrians and vehicles are considered Not Done, if you wander into the road and get hit by a car, it’s almost certainly on you), all of the above’s tort insurers, etc., etc.

This can occasionally be complicated, but fortunately the courts have lots of forensic failure engineers on hand for situations just like this.


…There Is Only Awesomeness

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

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

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

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

(My take:

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

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

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