Worldbuilding: It’s Always The Twentieth Century In Space

Customs. Customs never change. Even when there is basically no in-universe connection to the customs with which we must comply.

This meta-post is inspired by the current flap (and lies, damned lies, and open letters from activists) about Rebecca Tuvel’s transracialism article and the ensuring prompt outrage excursion from the usual suspects, with particular regard to one piece of the response to the response, which I quote here:

As for the accusation that Tuvel “deadnam[ed] a trans woman,” meaning that she used a pre-transition name that was subsequently changed, the authors conveniently leave out the identity of the trans woman in question: Caitlyn Jenner. Now, deadnaming trans people is, as a default rule every cisgender person should know, rude and offensive, and in extreme cases it can actually be dangerous or deadly (if someone isn’t out as trans in their community). But Jenner herself has not been shy about using her old name or talking about her life as Bruce. It’s nonsensical to claim that once a very famous trans person has exhibited comfort using their old name and talking about their pre-transition life, any reference to that name or life is still verboten. It seriously misses the point of why deadnaming is frowned upon.

It’s also inspired by the foofaraw over one particular character in Mass Effect: Andromeda, Hainly Adams, who in a conversation about why she came to the Andromeda Galaxy and left her old life behind, mentions her trans-ness and her old name from said old life, something that has been widely decried as the most terrible and horrible of bad writing and offense-giving.

Now we get to the worldbuilding part:

In the Eldraeverse, one relevant issue here is the Central Office of Records and Archives, whose Universal Registry of Citizens and Subjects is very keen on nymity, on the grounds that without authentication and identification, it’s really hard to have trust, accountability, and the obligation of contracts. You are uniquely identified by your UCID, to which is linked every name you have ever identified yourself by, along with dates, types, and whether or not it should still be considered current. This is part of the core data in everyone’s Personal File, and as such, a matter of public record, trivial to look up. Trivial in the “you can walk down the street and see everyone’s names in convenient entoptic AR floaters” sense.

Should this be something people *there* have a problem with?

Bear in mind, when you answer, that should you meet three women at the bar, that one of them used to be a man is probably the least surprising metamorphosis to you, inasmuch as the second grew up as a hermaphrodite, corona-dwelling space whale and the third is a cephalopoid battle robot in her day job, who’s only biologically female or for that matter biological while on leave – and neither of the latter is what you might call unusual.

(The bartender is a fragment of a mixed-sex/mixed-gender group mind and the house band is an octopus.)

I submit that it’s a real stretch to imagine that anyone from that cultural background – in which what we would call trans-ness is not in the least dangerous, socially taboo, or even curious in the backwateriest of backwaters – would even invent the concept they’re supposed to be upset by.

(This, incidentally, also probably applies to the Mass Effect: Andromeda case. ME:A takes place in the year 2785, and even if we discount the 600 years it took to reach Andromeda, departed the Milky Way in the year 2185, approximately 265 years downtime from now. Leaving, moreover, a universe in which same-sex relationships are ubiquitous and open xenophilia both passes without comment and forms the basis of award-winning movies.

Now, granted, there’s no actual in-game canon to indicate that anti-transgender prejudice has also died off in the meantime, but given what’s apparently happened to other popular twencen prejudices, assuming it hasn’t in the absence of clear evidence seems to demand a higher burden of proof. It is more consistent with the background, I further submit, to assume that – much like “once the races were much more distinct and people felt that was important” and “once gay people weren’t allowed to marry” – it’s something that college students studying “pre-space Earth history” find weird and kinda incomprehensible.)

All of which is to say, this is projecting the mores and bigotries of now onto the fictional future, and there are two reasons why you should stop it:

One, it’s bad worldbuilding. It’s behavior inconsistent with the setting because its precursors are inconsistent with the setting, and that makes it stand out like a sour note in a flute solo.

And two, it’s bad messaging. Do you really want to send the message that humanity, or sophontkind in general, can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t grow the fuck up and overcome its stupid-ass prejudices? Because by insisting that those prejudices (worst) or the responses to those prejudices (better, but still bad) are faithfully shoehorned into every extrapolated future or conculture, that’s exactly what you’re doing.

In our fictional futures, things are permitted to get better.

No, really.

 

When Reality Gives You Lemons…

…burn reality’s house down, with the lemons.

Or use them for something creative. The following is an excerpt from a comment seen this morning on Reddit:

Meanwhile, here’s some phrases lifted verbatim from political internet articles from the past few months:

“Poisonous Parade”
“While the Madman Prowls”
“Age of Weaponized Falsehood”
“Smell of Treason”
“Fact-Immune Troglodyte”
“Winds of Shit”
“Tarpit of Never-Ending Pain” (dibs on this as a metal band name)
“God of Chaos”
“Leisure Cemetery”

Are you not entertained?!

My first reaction? Well, okay, that was to roll my eyes so hard that dizziness set in. But my second reaction was that I wasn’t going to need to come up with more starship names for a while. I mean, seriously:

  • CMS Poisonous ParadeErlenmyer-class chemical tanker.
  • CS While the Madman Prowls: either a Raider-class recon destroyer, or an assault frigate used to support special operations, not sure which.
  • CS Weaponized Falsehood: Nighthawk-class cruiser, attached to the Stratarchy of Warrior Philosophy, memetic warfare section.
  • CS Smell of Treason in the Morning: another Nighthawk-class memetic warfare cruiser.
  • CS/IS Fact-Immune Troglodyte: Ironically named memetic countermeasures ship, or yellow journalist’s private transport? You decide.
  • CMS Winds of Shit: bulk organics freighter, unknown class, attached to an ecopoesis corporation.
  • CS Tarpit of Never-Ending Pain: Best. Quicksand-class. Interdictor cruiser. Ever.
  • CS God of Chaos: Zero Day-class information-warfare dreadnought.
  • CMS Leisure Cemetery: Corveé-class cryostatic labor transport.

(Obligatory shout out to @cultureshipname.)

 

Worldbuilding: Those Wacky Galians

A somewhat snarksome summary written for use elsewhere, which I repost here for general interest:

Theomachy of Galia

A polity controlled by and largely made up of religious fanatics, well-known for despising unbelievers, anyone they perceive as weak, the female of the species, any species1, and for some incomprehensible reason, “all that walks on six legs,” despite their homeworld being void of any hexapedes larger than insect-sized. Unpleasantly militant, ephemeralist, baseline-supremacist, slaveholders, possessors of not-at-all-secret plans to conquer the galaxy for their insufficiently-grovelled-before deity, etc., etc.

Also, in blissful and complete denial of the inability of fanaticism to compensate for technological inferiority, and of the way in which even fellow members of the Socionovist Association consider their outright fondling of the Villain Ball to be slightly less subtle than Snidely Whiplash2.


1. Even in cases such as the qucequql, which considering the qucequql male is little more than a non-sapient wrapper around a gamete packet, makes even less sense than the rest of their doctrine. Also, makes conversations at diplomatic dinner parties downright tedious.

2. Only without the sense of style or the awesome mustache.

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 ( http://www.forbes.com/sites/omribenshahar/2016/09/22/should-carmakers-be-liable-when-a-self-driving-car-crashes/#7be8eec81f40 ) 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.

 

Space Is Crowded… For Space

Something I was reminded of – by some of the comments here (…There Is Only Awesomeness) that suggest an assumption of ground combat as a default – is the surprising emptiness of space in many settings.

(I’m looking at you, Star Trek, where even the freakin’ capital of the Federation, Sol System itself, may have only one starship or even none at all present at any given time. Star Wars is usually better about this, but even then, there’s a lot less traffic than you might expect. And so on, and so forth and forth and forth.)

This is, needless to say, not the case in the Eldraeverse, in any reasonably developed star system.

Orbital space, in particular, is insanely crowded. (See the quote from Manna, here.) There’s the orbital defense grid, of course, but even leaving that aside, there are commsats, navsats, weather satellites (both monitoring and control), orbital mirrors, remote sensors of various kinds, space telescopes, junk sweepers, solar power satellites…

And then there are the orbital stations. Highports, research stations, orbital factories, skyfarms, residences (from city-sized habitats to personal mansions), skymalls, warehouses, control centers for some of the satellite constellations, data havens, propellant depots, autochandleries…

And all the OTVs, commuterspheres, satellite oilers, resupply skiffs, dock-n-snacks, and other small craft bustling about between them even before you get to regular traffic like orbital shuttles, tugs, commercial inbounds, commercial outbounds, the Watch Constabulary’s Orbit Guard…

Basically, near-planetary space is an ever-changing maze. And that’s true for pretty much every developed planet or moon in the system, to one degree or another.

That’d be bad enough if the universe worked on the kind of FTL where you can drop out of hyperspace close to planets. But since it doesn’t, then there’s the rest of the system, which isn’t by any means that crowded (it is, after all, much bigger), but which does still contain —

Long-range commsats and navsats, space weather satellites (and, close in, stellar husbandry arrays), bigger space telescopes, power-beam relays, drift stations (more farms, factories, habitations, etc., for people who like a little more distance), inhabited rocks likewise, transshipment stations for through traffic that doesn’t want to have to go downwell, smelterships, prospectors, rock pushers, comet herders, commercial traffic inbound and outbound, the Watch Constabulary’s Stellar Guard, stargates with their associated space traffic control and defense stations, more propellant depots and autochandleries…

…and, oh yes, the Imperial Navy, which in a valuable core system will mean an actual system garrison, but which even in a small, new colony will imply a system picket. With forward-deployed sensor platforms and AKVs thrown in, even by the minimal one-ship system picket.

All of whom are running their own local-space monitoring systems for space-traffic-control purposes, at least, and who are themselves being watched by SysCon’s own big track-everything-in-the-system arrays.

Which is to say, tl;dr, that your chances of making a successful approach from deep space to your target planet and making a successful landing without being detected are functionally zero, and your chances of doing it without being engaged are within delta of zero. To use an analogy, it’d be like trying to fly a Predator drone from mid-Atlantic and park it in the middle of the tarmac at Chicago O’Hare, past everyone in between, at the height of Thanksgiving traffic. Without being noticed.

Trying to do it with a viable planetary invasion force is like doing the same thing, except that instead of a Predator drone, you’re doing it with the battleship Iowa.

Which, to bring it back to comment-relevancy, means there ain’t no ground combat of any size without enough space battles to brute-force your way past that lot first, and there’s definitely no ground combat that the defenders don’t have all the time that they need to get set up for. Period.