Trope-a-Day: Jet Pack

Jet Pack: They exist. Mostly used in conjunction with combat exoskeletons or their civilian industrial counterparts, to avoid the, uh, Toasted Buns problem, and also the need for a fairly elaborate harness to avoid a painful and undignified jet-wedgie. (While obviously avoidable with a larger framework that keeps the jets further outboard, that’s about as clunky to maneuver in as a whole exoskeleton anyway.)

The exception to the above rule are the ones commonly used to aid maneuvering in microgravity, which are rather smaller and even implantable into the body, for that matter – but that’s because they use simpler, less-high-thrust-because-no-gravity technologies like cold-gas nitrogen jets and ducted fans, and so will not hurt you.

And, of course, without any of this you can always Spider-Man it up with your vector-control effectors, tractor beams obeying Newton’s Third Law, and all.

Trope-a-Day: Sticks to the Back

Sticks to the Back: Both possible, and done, with tiny vector-control emitters sewn into the clothing that can grasp objects you place on top of them and hold them in place against the emitters, or even at a designated range from them.  And, obviously, anywhere, not just the back, including – if you care to be quite gratuitous about it – orbiting around you.  (It should be noted that these are generally double-ended – the emitter grips you at one end and the object at the other, such that it doesn’t strangle you with your own shirt.)

Of course, it’s still usually considered unnecessarily showy much of the time, and they do introduce a dependency on your clothing’s power supply continuing to work, something that holsters, pouches and pockets by and large do not.


Trope-a-Day: Mind Over Matter

Mind Over Matter: The eldrae, and various other transsophonts, play this absolutely straight, with the usual laundry list of clever applications for psychokinesis.  Of course, being a “firm SF” universe, it’s not any kind of Psychic Power – it’s implanted nanosome vector-control effectors.

On the one hand, this does let you take the psychokinesis up to eleven, uprooting buildings and throwing aircraft.  On the other hand, it makes it easy to spot and to deal with the person doing so, because of the city block-sized mass of much bigger effectors and generators they need to have following them, slaved to their personal systems, to pull those tricks off.

Trope-a-Day: Spider Tank

Spider Tank: The classic eight-legged war walker is mostly averted these days, thanks to vector control and modern power reactors letting you build hovering tanks, with rather lower maintenance requirements and fewer vulnerable joints, but it was quite the staple back in the day.  (Not to replace regular tanks, which had large maintenance and vulnerability advantages where the terrain suited them, I hasten to add, but to operate in places where regular tanks couldn’t go.)

And their smaller cousins are still around, as fighting drones, which usually come in swarms of little spidery drones, all fully equipped for wall-climbing, cable-spinning, and duct-navigating.

Trope-a-Day: Magical Gesture

Magical Gesture: Sometimes, especially when the mechanical psychokinesis is invoked; for one thing, it’s useful as a concentration-aid in training.  But, like we said back in Invocation, it’s entirely unnecessary for the thing to work (the neuron-implanted nanopicosomes are reading your mind directly, so you think things, and they happen).  It’s just done to look cool.

(And, okay, maybe to lure some dumb enemies who haven’t read the book to think that they’re necessary, and that binding them hand and foot is enough to prevent you from crushing their trachea with a thought.  Maybe.  But it’s still mostly about looking cool.)

Trope-a-Day: Made of Indestructium

Made of Indestructium: … alas, the universe is hard on indestructium.

About as close as nature gets is probably neutronium – and whatever even more degenerate forms of quark matter, etc., you can get beyond it. Sadly for engineers everywhere, neutronium is rather hard to work at the best of times, behaving essentially like a fluid, and having a really nasty habit of evaporating in a giant whuff of neutron radiation the moment you remove it from the deep, deep gravity well necessary to make the stuff. Metastable neutronium would be nice, and there are people working on that…

In somewhat more practical terms, muon metals, which is what you get when you strip all the electrons out of metal and replace them with muons, their leptonic cousins. Since muons have the same charge as the electron but greater mass, they have much smaller ground-state waveforms than electrons in the atoms thus formed, resulting in matter than has similar chemistry – albeit rather more endothermic – to the original, but whose density and physical properties in re energy-resistance are pushed way, way, way up as the atomic spacing shrinks way down. It would make good armor, if the mass penalty wasn’t, inevitably, quite so harsh. On the other hand, it’s one of the things that makes torch drives practical (being so incredibly refractory, and thus letting you push the drive output/waste heat/resulting radiation rather further than you otherwise could), and also is invaluable to coat lighthugger wake shields with, being able to easily shrug off the sort of dust-particle impacts you get when plowing through interstellar space at 0.9c.

But neither of these is actual indestructium, ’cause, well, antimatter. Neutronium and antineutronium will annihilate quite nicely, and while regular antimatter isn’t quite as corrosive to muon matter as it is to everything else – an antimuon is not a positron – the proton-antiproton annihilation will proceed as normal and will make the whole thing come apart just fine.

Alas, indestructium, we barely knew ye.

(There’s also singularity-locking, the handwavium I promised to explain last time. That’s actually a simple reuse of existing handwavium – vector control – in this case being used to grab and redirect, while conserving, the momentum of things that would otherwise impact the surface of the singularity-locked thing into a giant kinetic energy sink.

The reason it’s called singularity-locking is because the sort of giant kinetic energy sink you want for this is a modestly-sized black hole. This is why stargates use it, because they already have a modestly-sized entangled kernel sitting in there to make their primary function work, so you might as well get the extra use out of it. It’s also why nothing else does, because if you think muon metals have a harsh mass penalty, they’ve got nothing on dragging millions of tons of hole around with you to make your armor work. A mass ratio of what, again?

[Also, people – with fairly good reason – don’t exactly want one in their back yard anyway, on general principles.]

Sadly, this isn’t pure-quill indestructium either, technically – while it would require a ridiculous amount of energy, it is theoretically possible to overload either the singularity-locking systems or the K-sink itself, and boom. Fortunately, it would be so much boom that so far no-one’s seemed inclined to hit a stargate with a small moon and see what happens…)


Have a not-my-fiction recommendation:

…momentum transfer at a distance: nice trick if you can do it. Just ask any ontotechnologist who’s trying to expand the reach of vector control. Although, Eldraeverse-wise, (spoiler) rira vs lbh pbhyq svther bhg ubj gb qb gung gevpx jvgu irpgbe pbageby, vgf hanibvqnoyr pbafreingvba-ynj pbzcyvnapr jbhyq zrna lbh jerpxrq fbzr cresrpgyl tbbq genvaf va gur cebprff.

Reactionless Drives

Technically, this is a trope-a-day from much later in the cycle, but seeing as (a) I just wrote it up having been thinking about it recently, (b) I’m sure at least some of my readers have been wondering about the very common use of reaction drives in the Eldraeverse ever since I first mentioned vector control, and (c) among those are the ones wondering how (and if) I avert running smack into Burnside’s Advice in the worst possible way. So:

Reactionless Drive: The important thing to remember about a reactionless drive is that it’s not reactionless.

A vector control drive is a member of the entire family of vector-control technologies, and like all the other members of said family, it obeys Newton’s Third Law. Vector control used for artificial gravity transfers the reaction to the action it’s applying to the stuff between the gravity rotors to the structural framework it’s bolted to. Vector control used in tractor/pressor beams pushes the party of the first part every bit as much as it pulls the party of the second part, and on the precisely opposite vector. And a vector control drive, while it utilizes extremely fancy ontotechnological trickery to spread the reaction to the action out across all the ambient mass in appropriately vast volumes (if not the entirety of, but that’s real hard to measure) of the local universe, is absolutely no different in this respect.

What you get from a vector control drive is not needing to haul all those vast quantities of reaction mass around with you. Note: only the remass. Vector control drives still need fuel, and since there are certain inevitable inefficiencies in coupling the action to the reaction quite so indirectly, they need significantly more fuel than an equivalent reaction drive. You aren’t getting away from having those huge spherical tanks of D and He3 strapped to the back of your starship that easily.

Another thing you might get is a degree of, um, stealth, inasmuch as you don’t have the huge bright drive flare that most reaction drives tend to produce. Of course, as we all know, there ain’t no Stealth In Space, because apart from your life support’s comfortable temperature alone making you stand out like a lighthouse against the 3K sky background, you’re also running a bloody great reactor (and radiating its heat) to power your vector control drive.

In short: the existence of vector control permits you to build something damned close to a classic SFnal reactionless drive. It provides you with rather fewer reasons as to why you might want to, outside a few highly specialized edge cases.

(Side note: the mad scientists out at Resplendent Exponential Vector have also been experimenting along the lines of the Alcubierre drive to get reactionlessness and a working fittler in one package. After their prototype vaporized a fortunately-spare dwarf planet and exploded first time out, their tort insurers have been reluctant to cover further development at a price they can afford.)


What is Ontotechnology?

…a reader asks.

Well, let me say right up front that ontotechnology as I describe it is pure-quill handwavium. Its connection to contemporary, real-world physics is that I endeavor to avoid coming right out and stabbing said contemporary, real-world physics in the face; after all, anything discovered in the future has to be consistent with the present. Rather, it is my speculation as to what the physics of the future as expanded by posthuman intellects running on hardware the size of small moons would look like – and as pure speculation, that means I don’t want to see any “but I read in this book that it was possible” arguments made anywhere, ‘kay?

Disclaimer over with, I stole the term from Eliezer S. Yudkowsky, who coined it as a neologism for “technology that permits manipulation of the fundamental rules of reality”. Which is exactly what ontotechnology does.

(How does it do it? Well, I postulate that the fundamental realization behind ontotechnology – by any of the three theories you care to use – is that at a very basic level, the map is the territory. Information and mass-energy are essentially equivalent. Mathematics doesn’t just represent the fundamental structure of reality; it is the fundamental structure of reality. Think of the universe, if you will, as a computer program, database, and processor all of which are also each other; ontotechnology, in those terms, is the skillful application of the root password and a debugger to it to make it work differently.)

You want to change the laws of physics? It does that. Treat space and time as building material? It does that, too. Set the speed of light to 60 mph, abolish the weak nuclear force, make gravity attract in proportion to the cube of the distance instead of the square, invent an entire new universal force that affects particles based on their heretofore-unknown qualities of shiny, fluffy, and matte? Sure, no problem. Can do. A fully mature ontotechnology would let you invent your very own personal version of physics that works exactly the way you want it to and impose it on whatever bit of the universe you want to work that way – or, hell, just reach outside, take hold of the brane, and make a new universe that runs according to your principles.

The problem, of course, is that even for weakly godlike moon-brains, programming universes is very, very complicated. The set of self-consistent/self-sustaining physical laws is a very, very tiny subset of the set of expressible physical laws, and the set of physical laws that are compatible with the existence of mass-energy as we know it is an even tinier subset of that subset, and the set of physical laws that are compatible with the existence of complex informational structures like, well, us is… you get the picture – and that’s without taking into account whatever laws control ontotechnology itself. (And, to further extend that debugging analogy, when you crash the universe tryin’, you don’t get a nice friendly exception message, or even a blue screen of death.)

All of which is why no-one, in the present time of the Eldraeverse, has a fully mature ontotechnology, and probably won’t for millions if not billions of years to come.

But they have been able to figure out a few applications that can be made to work safely and reliably, and that’s where technologies like the controllable wormhole, and the tangle channel, and vector control (which lets you do interesting things to gravity and the linkage between inertial and gravitational mass, starting with breaking mass into those two distinct concepts) come from – and where any future breakthroughs along those lines (say, if I decide at some point to let dimensional transcendence be invented) and/or mysterious rule-breaking alien artifacts dug up will draw from.

The Perils of Memetic Contamination

I have, so far, sat down on at least three to five occasions to attempt to wrap some firm-SF details around the group of technologies in my universe which go under the general name of ‘vector control’.

Thus far, I have devised three to five different versions of the mass effect.

Well, not quite, but almost the mass effect.


Trope-a-Day: Floating Continent

Floating Continent: Actually, there are quite a lot of these, whether you call them skyhomes, sky cities, or sky islands (in roughly increasing order of size).  They are divided into the ones which hover over terrestrial worlds (which exist mostly because people think they’re cool, and why not?), the ones which float at a more people-friendly level in the atmospheres of planets of more Venerian temperament, and the ones which float around in the atmospheres of actual gas giants.  (The distinction there between “hover” and “float” is whether they’re actively powered and maintained by vector control, or whether good old aerostat principles are good enough to keep them up there.)

Not to be confused with orbital cities, which don’t float, but rather fall in endless circles.

Trope-a-Day: Energy Weapons

Energy Weapons: Present, even if by and large Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better and therefore much more used.  Lasers and grasers exist, despite their limitations, primarily as heat-pumping weapons, knife-fight range point defense, and as blinding lasers, as do electrolaser stunners/anti-machine weapons, with all their limitations of atmospheric composition and humidity.  Plasma lances exist too, although they only work at point-blank range, even in space, due to dissipation.  (And regular flamethrowers, of course.)  There are microwave heaters and other kinds of algetics.  And there are limited-use, short-range, vector-control based gravitic weapons (based off the tractor-pressor principle, either to yank, slam, or vibrate).

But for all that existing, it’s still the slugthrowers that see the most use.

Trope-a-Day: Casual Interstellar Travel / Casual Interplanetary Travel

Casual Interstellar Travel / Casual Interplanetary Travel: It’s a little complicated.  Technically, yes, you can travel interstellarly fairly casually, since while you have to drag one end of your wormhole at subluminal speed to wherever you want it, interstellar travel to places where you have one already is pretty damn casual.  Step through and you’re there.  Ping.

Of course, wormholes and their associated stargates are Really Damn Expensive, and so is interstellar travel to anywhere that isn’t on the stargate networks involving as it does the many years relativity demands of you even in lighthugger starships, the great expense of said lighthugger, and for that matter, the even greater expense of the thousands or tens of thousands or even, for the largest luggers, hundreds of thousands of tons of antimatter you need to fuel the thing.

Further, and to subvert this slightly, while there’s casual interstellar travel, what there isn’t is casual interplanetary travel (speed-wise; it’s much more casual cost-wise).  No-one’s invented a convenient magical gravity drive that lets you whip up nigh-instantaneous thousands of gravities of acceleration (while there are vector-control drives, neither acceleration nor delta-v are any better, and indeed usually worse, than equivalent reaction drives; blame conservation of mass-energy), so getting anywhere in-system, including out to the stargate, still takes days or weeks, and for interstellar travel, that means on both ends of the wormhole.

This is resubverted for those with the right metaphysical attitude, because if you don’t go into quivering neo-Luddite theofear at the thought of having your mind separated from your body and transmitted elsewhere to be reinstalled in a different one at the far end (and granted, that’s not exactly most people outside the rampaging postsophontist neophile civilizations), then you can just mindcast where you want to go (assuming of course they have the right receiving equipment, which is by no means guaranteed outside the aforementioned civilizations).  Which is substantially quicker and counts as fully casual interplanetary/interstellar travel, because photons and (especially) tangle move a lot faster than your own personal meat/rock can be transported.

Trope-a-Day: Can Breathe In Space

Can Breathe In Space: Technically, you can do this by using a vector-control “envelope” to hold air in around you (although you will still need some means of replenishing it if you plan to do this for long, special provisions like oxygen-carrying hemocules aside).  While useful to avoid ebullism and other pressure/temperature syndromes if you should find yourself in a decompressing compartment, needing to leap from airlock to airlock, etc., and it’s a lovely showy party piece… most people still prefer actual vacuum suits if they plan on stepping outside.

Trope-a-Day: Deflector Shields

Deflector Shields: These come in one played-straight kind: kinetic barriers, which are a product of vector control (a kind of Applied Phlebotinium, yes), essentially applying counterforce to, or slapping aside, incoming massy objects, from space dust to missiles, but don’t do anything to massless radiation.  And they’re usually ad-hoc plates, not an always-on bubble, but details…

The universe is not nearly so kind when it comes to providing us with a way of shielding against EM radiation, massless photon phenomenon that it is (and no, you can’t shield against lasers by making the hull shiny; it still heats up, explodes, and then isn’t shiny any more).  The best they can do for this one, apart from the layers of shielding compound, and bunkerage and suchlike stashed under the hull, is for the hull plating and underlying layers to include a nice framework of thermal superconductor nanocomposite (at which thermodynamics weeps, but it is actually allowed by physics as we know them); this dissipates radiative heating throughout the entire structure of the ship, thus preventing exploding hot-spots.  Of course, it doesn’t avoid the problem that if you keep acquiring heat faster than you can dump it – and remember, you generally can’t use your radiators when in combat – you’ll broil yourself.

To deal with that, military ships generally carry a few big tanks of thermal goo, a thick, goopy substance engineered to have a ludicrously high specific heat capacity, into which tanks heat generated during combat, specifically including what happens when you get hit by a medium-range energy weapon, is dumped.  And when the thermal goo heats up enough that it’s no longer useful, it’s simply pumped over the side, taking its heat with it.

Which doesn’t solve the problem, but does significantly extend the time before you have to choose between surrender and broiling yourselves alive.

There is absolutely no way to shield against gravitic weapons except by counterfiring your own gravitic weapons extremely quickly and accurately, but honestly, if you’ve somehow managed to end up within (extremely short, by space standards) gravy range, you’re already totally screwed.

Trope-a-Day: Powered Armor

Powered Armor: In multiple kinds.  Regular legionary armor (also used by the Watch Constabulary, and indeed similar suits without the militarization are used in the civilian construction and other hazardous-environment industries) provides only moderate power-assist, but does come with kinetic barriers, self-contained environmental support/NNBC protection, medical and tactical computer support, and limited vector-control flight ability.  (Although those limited assists do still let you wuxia it up with the best of them… only with overpowered guns.)

The full combat exoskeleton of a heavy legionary is a walking tank with interchangeable heavy weapon packs that turns it Up To Eleven, letting its wearer punch out small buildings, throw respectably-sized vehicles, dance a merry jig amid venting fusion plasma, and toss around nuclear grenades at close range.  (And yes, they have civilian versions, too.  They’re used for things like cleaning up melted-down reactor cores from the inside, while they’re still hot.)

Both of them include substantial mesh-networked combat drone control capability.

Trope-a-Day: Psychic Powers

Psychic Powers: Of course, there is absolutely no such thing as psychic powers.  Don’t exist.  No place in a rationally organized universe, like any relatively firm-to-hard SF universe.  Can’t seriously believe otherwise.

But that said…

Telepathy/Empathy: Do you believe in wireless networking?  Evidently the Precursors did, and they really hated waiting while runners were sent or shouting was done, because they built this one right in to the brains of their favored manufactured race.  If you want to detect telepathy, you’ll find it in those weird screebly neural-gestalt signals hanging about in the high microwave part of the EM spectrum.

Precognition: Do you believe in clionomy?  (On the large scale, the gentle art of computing statistical predictions concerning the future of organizations and societies.)  And very advanced predictive algorithms?  (Because with a computer in your head and advanced enough body-reading, simulation and prediction software – and maybe a little SQUID use – you can read people and predict their future actions in a downright spooky manner.  Especially when done in combat.)

Psychokinesis: Do you believe in implanted vector-control effectors?  Another fun now-reverse-engineered Precursor leftover tech, these tiny nervous-system-integrated nanopicosomes are all you need to toss gravomagnetics around, fetch yourself drinks without standing up, indulge in wuxia wire-fu, and kill people with your brain to your heart’s content.

All available in stores for the usual enhancement prices, should you be unlucky enough not to be born with them built in…

Trope-a-Day: Artificial Gravity

Artificial Gravity: The piece of Applied Phlebotinium they call vector control does provide something which is functionally equivalent to artificial gravity, yes.  On the other hand, (a) a good plurality of cylinder habitats still prefer to use spin gravity, because it’s much easier on the energy budget; and (b) the vast majority of spacecraft and starships, modulo those passenger liners catering to planet-dwellers, don’t use it, because the 3/5ths of the population that are spacers got used to microgravity, both socially and through pantropic adaptation, a long time before vector control was invented.  Microgravity is their native gravity, essentially, so why change it?

They do use vector control quite often to make sure their nice microgravity environment isn’t messed up by thrust gravity, though.