Trope-a-Day: Eldritch Starship

Eldritch Starship: Oh, there are a few.

Take esseli starships, for example. Unlike the link!n-Rechesh (who would be another fine example), they know better than to try to grow fully organic starships, so from outside the hulls and drives look relatively normal. Then you go through the airlock, and it’s all flesh, all the time, with heart-valve doors, neuron-cluster control interfaces, food-secreting glands, recycling intestines, and suspicious organic gurgles everywhere. Mining ships have refinery stomachs and tentacles.

Múrast starships are carved out of ice bodies, with the necessary technology fitted within, and then refrozen. Which is all very sensible when you consider their favored environment, but doesn’t explain why they always carve them into baroque cathedral-like structures rather than anything more utilitarian.

And then there are the seb!nt!at, who as creatures of nuclear forces that dwell deep within stars, do not build their starships out of matter in any conventional sense.

Starfish Aliens build Starfish Starships, basically, just as far as physics will allow.

The tortured structures built by rogue mining drones and other wild mechanicals are about as Gigeresque as it gets, though.



Trope-a-Day: Bizarre Alien Psychology

Bizarre Alien Psychology: Most of them, to one degree or another, however well concealed it may be by translation and commonly agreed protocols. Particularly notable are the aklaknak and embatil, both of whom are collegiate intelligences rather than single consciousnesses; the codramaju and seb!nt!at, who don’t use identity the same way we do; the cusaron and hjera, which are hive minds of different internal topology; the járaph, who are total solipsists; the mezuar, who are forests; the múrast and voctonari, who have five or so minds each; the tennoa, who are obligate utilitarians; and the vlcefc, who have a sessile brain with coordinating independent non-sophont motiles.

Also, of course, much of the point behind uplift – so you can have minds around the place with fascinatingly different points of view.

Trope-a-Day: Bizarre Alien Locomotion

Bizarre Alien Locomotion: In many variants on the standard walking, flying, and swimming, certainly. Eliéra’s bluelife includes its tubefish, for example, which move via peristaltic pumping of water, not swimming as we know it.

Among sophont races, the chfssssc swim through solid rock thanks to what one might call an active metabolism, the ciamél turn into vapor in order to move, the codramaju ooze along on pseudopodia, the d!grith brachiate along artificial vines, the esseli use whatever locomotive organs they happen to have today, the galari have built in maglev functionality, the kaliatar can coil themselves up and roll like a mythological hoopsnake, the seb!nt!at may well be there already, the vlcefc are webs carried by their motile castes, and that’s just scratching the surface…

Trope-a-Day: Starfish Language

Starfish Language: Oh, plenty of them.  Esseli native language, for example, is encoded on RNA strands (although fortunately they can and are more than willing to add extra speech organs as required).  Mirilasté language is also notable for using sequences of musical notes as its “phonemes”, and volume and tempo are as linguistically significant as pitch.  Seb!nt!at and various other solar clades, along with the galari‘s techlepathy, tend to use dialects designed to be transmitted electromagnetically and which translate very poorly into audio.  The qucequql and thegas-giant dwelling sssc!haaaouú use bioluminescence and chromatophores to display changing bands and patterns of color as a form of “speech”.  The mezuar communicate chemically, but primarily communicate through direct neural linkage where their roots and branches grow together.  Myneni communication has both a chemical dialect and one based on a very flexible chime-and-whistle audio generation that most more conventional larynxes can’t manage.  (And the uplifted dogs, of course, retain a certain facility for scent-based communication.)  The nsang communicate principally by writing with spinneret material, in two-dimensional ideograms, augmented by gestures for simple or immediate concepts.

Of course, that’s just the first layer.  Once we get into the difficulties of coping with higher-level grammatical quirks of the language: galari is structured like hypertext; digisapience communication is often discrete heavily-internally structured concept formats designed for packet transmission as high-speed data pulses (“here, have a wiki-database of my communication”); the múrast and embatil, as collegiate intelligences, throw out the tree-structure of most languages in exchange for matrix-hashes – and the mirilasté, curiously enough, use something more like a stack – seb!nt!at is a quantum language, in which it’s possible to tell three stories at once and then collapse the meaning at the end of the sentence; native whale, although fortunately not standard dar-ííche, doesn’t have sentences, but rather indefinitely long songs – whose individual phrases are even more long-winded than Entish – in which everyone can talk at once (their audio-processing brain finds resolving the threads of conversation trivial) and, indeed, modify each others’ sentences on the fly…

…and the difficulties of relatively simple issues like non-gender genders, attitudinals (very important, since They Do Not Speak Nonverbal), evidentials, context-dependent or referential concepts, alien metaphors, different methods of categorization or metaphysical perspectives on time, space, and reality – things get very weird very quickly.

Even Eldraeic, which was designed as a lingua franca for a polyspecific polity, suffers from this – since due to its ecumenical nature, it includes a very, very large set of optional grammatical features designed to cover as many of the quirks of the above languages as possible, a mode-switching grammar, three alphabets, an ideographic representation, and multiple isomorphic dialects to be spoken in different environments and with different apparatus, including underwater, over digital communications channels, by color, and even with nothing except pause and interval.  Speaking pidgin Eldraeic (which is to say, Trade) is easy – but speaking many of the more complex forms is very much not, and its capacity for willful obscurantism is generally acknowledged to be unparalleled.

A Penny for How

“Thus it is said that an eldrae thinks pacing; a dar-bandal, sniffing; a galari, hovering; a kaeth, fighting; a dar-ííche, floating; a sssc!haaaouú, blowing; a mezuar, standing; an esseli, twitching; a codramaju, merging; a kalatri, sitting; a járaph, of itself; a selyéva, basking; a vlcefc, hanging; a spinbright, watching; an embatil, arguing; a múrast, many times; a seb!nt!at, already; a digisapience, continuously; an azayf, afterwards; and a ulijen, too late.”

– Stereotypes of the Worlds, Imperial University of Almeä Press

Trope-a-Day: Starfish Aliens

Starfish Aliens: Most of them.  Digisapiences, of course, have no bodies at all.  The galari are sophont crystal-virus hybrids with inbuilt techlepathy and mechanical psychokinesis.  The codramaju are pseudo-fungoids which can merge, exchange, and separate bodies and minds at will.  The kaeth are vaguely draconic pseudosaurians with a metal-rich biology.  The hydrogen-breathing sssc!haaaouú are fragile collections of membranes that dwell in the upper layers of gas giants.  The myneni are crystal-based carbohydrosilicate amoeboids with built-in chemosynthetic talents.  The mezuar are a network of collectively sophont purplish-blue trees.  (Yes, as sessile as that implies, although the selyéva are green-blue plantimals – non-sessile photosynthetics – who probably most closely resemble walking broccoli.)  The esseli have engineered themselves into brains with manipulating tentacles and customized personal auxiliary organs, and don’t even remember what they used to look like.  (And the link!n-Rechesh are heading that way.)  The qucequql are ammonia-metabolising octopi from a world of nitrogenous oceans.  The múrast would be simple multiheaded snakes, except that they breathe methane, live in oceans of hydrocarbons, and their primary body structures are constructed of ice.  The ulakha are metal-plated, fast-moving lizardoids who think Venerian conditions are just about right for a planet.  The linobir resemble furless, leathery-skinned, hexapedal, hermaphrodite bears.  The shan kari resemble larger versions of Terran mustelids fairly closely, actually, except they prefer to breathe warm methane.  The mirilasté are legged-serpents with skin we would recognize as essentially plastic, who breathe the most astonishingly noxious fluorine-hydrocarbon soup.  The ktelaki are furry arachnids with trilateral symmetry and multi-branched legs.  The seb!nt!at are star-dwelling creatures of plasma and electromagnetic force.  The celsesh are quadrilaterally-symmetric with a fused-barrel body plan, and sensory organs on stalks in lieu of a head.  The embatil are worm/tentacle creatures whose life cycle begins with individuals, but which merge into single creatures as they mature – while transforming a ganglionic into a collegiate intelligence.  The tennoa are chlorine-breathing radial-crabs blessed/cursed with obligate utilitarianism…

And that’s all before we get to uplifts, neogens, and exotic neomorphic bioshells.

Speculativism Index

The Speculativism Index, under any of its names, is a crude clionomic hack used by free traders, weirdseekers, adventurers, and various other professions which necessarily interact with the starbound and minority civilizations of the known Galaxy in a more amateurish way than the Grand Survey or the Exploratory Service.

The Speculativism Index is calculated thus: Examining as large a sample as you feel necessary of the civilization’s media stores and libraries, across formats, and avoiding specialty locations, compute the volume of data devoted to various types of speculative fiction and the volume of data devoted to other, non-speculative fiction; then obtain the ratio between them.  This ratio, expressed as the percentage of the former, is the Speculativism Index.

(A large part of the difficulty involved in this is the problem of recognizing what constitutes speculative fiction in an exotic cultural context.  The Speculativism Index of the d!grith, for example, was historically underestimated due to the failure to recognize their popular “speculative accountancy” genre, while more severe problems attended properly interpreting, and therefore classifying, the multibranched “quantum fictions” of the star-dwelling seb!nt!at.  When these were corrected for, the recalculated d!grith Speculativism Index matches their observed performance; the unusually alien psychology of the seb!nt!at remains something of a special case.)

The Index is principally used, by its inventors, as a sales/interaction valuation tool.  As one free trader explained the associated rule of thumb: “Anything under ten, just leave – they’re never going to make it off their world on their own, and they’re not going to thank you for forcibly introducing them to so many things outside their context.  Between ten and thirty, a little backward, so probably more effort than most of us want to deal with, but with work, can shape up into a solid customer.  Thirty to sixty, that’s the respectable Galactic mainstream.  Over sixty… then you’ve got a whole different class of problems.  Then you’re fighting off their enthusiasm.

It has generally been thought in the past that the Speculativism Index was too rough-and-ready a measure to be of use for clionomic purposes.  Recent studies have established, however, that there is a strong correlation between generally accepted estimates of the Speculativism Index of various well-known civilizations and the degree to which they prosper in the meta-society of the Associated Worlds according to various well-known scales (the Integration Coefficient, the Polity Prosperity Index, and the Progress and Innovation Index), and that the Speculativism Index also correlates with the results of the accepted clionomic coefficients of neophilia, xenophilia, and internal cognitive freedom.

Colleagues, I commend this area to your attention.

– Journal of Cliodynamics, Vol. LXXVI