Tuesday, February 22, 2011

On Interstellar Empire

BrunhildeAs the post title should make clear, this is a discussion of space opera. It is true, according to commenters who know more than I do, that the theoretical door to FTL is not quite welded shut, but we are far outside the scope of the Plausible Midfuture, even for the most generous interpretation of that phrase.

But the heroes of high fantasy do not fight their dragons with cardboard swords. Likewise, even in operatic settings we are entitled to the appearance of plausibility.

The question of interstellar empires arose in comments on a recent post about artificial intelligence (go to the second page of comments, around #215 or 220). The thread drift concerned the use of bluntly named killbots, but my immediate concern here is not with the technology of interstellar war but its 'geopolitics' (astropolitics?).

It is a quite basic - but rather unappreciated - fact of power politics in space that, except for independent colonies located on the same planet, there are no contiguous borders. In fact, we can get a bit narrower than that: independent colonies on the same continent or landmass. Yes, borders can be drawn through an ocean, or - given a suitably holographic map - even through interstellar space, but you cannot march across them.

At least, you cannot march across them unless you have stargates of the sort that can be localized onto a planet. Unless your FTL technology permits interstellar streetcars, it likewise precludes interstellar armies. To be sure this does not preclude interstellar marines, or espatiers. But marines are fundamentally a naval arm, and espatiers are fundamentally an arm of space forces, whatever name you choose for the latter.

And this is significant ... why, exactly?

It is significant because your all conquering space legions can conquer no one - at least no one off-planet - unless they are transported by an all conquering space fleet. At which point the legions' own task is more or less the mopping up operation.

Which is significant in turn because, historically, maritime powers have been a considerably different beast than land-based powers, more or less as sailors have differed from soldiers. At least in their internal politics they have generally been more liberal, and in their external affairs more concerned with control of trade than with the direct rule of territory. Victoria, for example, became Empress of India only after indirect rule through the East India Company went pear shaped.

These political differences seem to reflect broader cultural differences, reflected even in epic poetry: The Iliad is a soldier's epic, the Odyssey a sailor's epic.

In my old Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy I made this an argument for the likely predominance of trade federations in classic FTL settings, and I think that argument still essentially holds.

Discuss.



The image of Brunhilde comes from a website, Soldiers of the Queen, which deals mainly with the Victorian British army, but also includes an opera page.

455 comments:

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Milo said...

While we're thinking about armies and navies and the like, I'll also note that there may be separate divisions for STL forces and FTL forces. They operate on entirely different physics, handle differently, and are designed for different environments (FTL is usually given limitations, such as failing near gravity wells, that prevent you from doing everything from lift-off to landing purely with FTL) and strategic roles (FTL forces are the "navy", while STL forces are for more local combat).

Bill said...

A couple of thoughts on this.

1. One could argue that FTL is at least as plausible in mid-future as it is in the far future. After all, in either case it depends on a scientific break through of some sort. 150 years before it was invented, people would not have thought Nuclear Power was plausible mid-future either :).

2. I think a lot depends on the reasons for Empire. Yes it is true that the British Empire was of a different sort than the Russian Empire, but not every naval empire set up and evolved the same way. Of course, most empires are built at least partly on economic motivation, but other motivating factors play a role as well. Expanding Christianity was a major factor in Spanish Expansion; prestige and competition played a significant role in the empires built in the 19th and early 20th century. British, French, Dutch, Belgian and Japanese empires all had very different characteristics.

3. There is a third possibility regarding the possibility of world conquest. You posit the idea of interstellar travel via stargates straight from planet to planet and via grand navies. It is also possible however that the empire might not control the navy. Frank Herbert covered this possibility in Dune.

4. Finally, the big question is, what exactly is the economic motivation of empire. Unless interstellar travel is incredibly cheap, most planets will have to remain essentially self sufficient. No planetary colony could be reasonably confident of obtaining critical supplies in a timely fashion (again unless interstellar transport was really easy). Maybe the capital of an Empire could do this (a la Trantor anyone?), but a far off colony couldn't. So what might trade be based on? Luxury items? Maybe information? Perhaps empires would be built on the trade of ideas; protecting the ideas developed on worlds within the empire from those who would poach them from outside. World of the empire would be able to implement those new ideas (books, entertainment, new devices, etc.) and pay a tax to the empire for those goods...

Tony said...

Well, presuming we're talking about empires generically, and not insisting on any particular governmental or administrative form, the answer is that any empire relies on control.

One type of control is simple territorial control, basedo n being able to guarantee security within a set of borders.

This is not impossible in interstellar states, if one presumes that choke points exist, such as some kind of wormhole transportation network. Being able to control the wormhole mouths means pretty much being able to control trade and defend against attack. Voila -- empire.

Another form of control is controlling the balanace of terror. When Britania ruled the waves, nobody along the litorals screwed with the British, because even if one could raid British possessions or interests, the Royal Navy and, if necessary, a landing force would eventually present you with a bill you'd rather not pay. The same applies to the former Soviet and current US empires -- don't piss us off...you'll be sorry.

In the context of an environment in which any stellar system can be approached from any direction at any time, the logic would be: Okay, so you can raid Planet X in System Y whenever you feel like it. That's fine, you want to play games, we'll play some serious games.

Tony said...

Re: the political attitudes of navies versus armies

Navies don't have any fundamental reason to be more liberal. It just turns out that in the modern, industrial age, the largest, most successful navies have sprung up to protect the free trade of liberal powers. Oddly enough, the state that had the greatest tension between the army and the navy was probably Imperial and Nazi Germany, where the navy was considered by the army to be too technical, too bourgeois, and too independent at lower command levels. (All for very good reasons, but those reasons weren't important to the army.)

Also, however liberal navies may be politically, at their heart they are based on a rather different and stricter form of discipline than armies are in the modern world. By way of example:

In 1987 I was on the USS Long Beach in the North Arabian Sea. There was a lot of high talk at the time about going toe to toe with the Iranians over the safety of oil tanker traffic in the Persian Gulf. The Marine Detachment aboard the ship manned two 5" gun mounts and several anti-small boat stations on the ship's weather decks, each armed with several rifles and a machine gun. The Marine Detachment gunnery sergeant got us all together one day and explained that if we went to fighting, all we needed to do to know not to run was to look over our shoulders at the sea on the other side of ths ship, and ask ourselves where we were going to run to.

In that simple statement, the Gunny encapsulated the entire difference between military and naval discipline in the modern world. Marines (and soldiers) are trained to shoot, maneuver, and communicate. The basis of combat success for them is to outthink and outfight the enemy in both time ans space. Onboard ship, the key to victory is staying at your battle station and doing your job until you either win or the ship sinks. Both require courage and commitment, but both also require very different mindsets about what it means to do one's duty.

Krishna C. said...

There is an interesting caveat when you suggest Trade Federations as interstellar governments: Justice. Or rather, law enforcement. Trade Feds would have to have a security force to maintain law and order. There is one major present day example of an economic organization that also maintains law and order: the mafia.

kedamono@mac.com said...

One thought I had on moving armies is the same one that Granddad Bob Heinlein had: You don't move 10's of thousands of troops, you move hundreds and make each one of those hundreds equal to 100 men.

Yes, The Mobile Infantry.

The M.I. do suffer the same problem as tanks, but on the other hand, they are far more mobile and maneuverable than a tank.

The government of the RPG FTL:2448, the Interstellar Cooperative or ISCO, is more of a Trade Federation, than a straight forward empire or "Federation".

But it does have military ships and according to the game background there is a "border war" going on between ISCO and a group of sentient avians, the Hagu. But the game does not put a limit on where a ship can go FTL or where it comes out of FTL. So space combat is going to be dicey. That may change in a future version.

It does mean that important worlds have "Meteor Busters" in orbit: Massive X-Ray Lasers that have near interstellar range. Invading fleets have to "jink" based on the light speed delay from themselves to the Busters, otherwise they get hit with a 10 petawatt beam.

No, the easiest way to get 10,000 troops on a world is to do it slowly. Set up a trade mission and then over the period of year or so, you bring in "contractors" and "workers" and "families" and before anyone realizes what's happening, you have three brigades of force stationed in the planet's capital city.

Now, whether or not you can hold it, that's another matter.

VonMalcolm said...

It has been pounded into my head on this blog and Atomic Rockets that 'THERE AIN'T NO STEALTH IN SPACE!', but I assume this statement pertains to (relatively close) warfare: but what of simple detection of a Type I, II or III Interstellar Civilization (Empire) at a distance. How far away would an Interstellar Empire have to be, to be active and thriving, yet still go undetected (intentionally or unintentionally) by our prying eyes?

Anonymous said...

Thinking about interstellar empires, I had to think about what kind of empire it would be; I believe that they would depend on FTL tech and structure.
1) Safety and security
a) collectivist; all the planets in the empire fund and control the military; this is as much of an empire as the UFP
b) core and hinderland; a single planet or a small group of planets control the military and the rest are fund it.
c) discoupled population and military; the military is an independent organization and the worlds of the empire fund it.
2) wealthy elite
a) a small group uses the military to keep themselves in power and to enrich themselves.
b)the military is self-propagating and uses its power to maintain its position and perks.
3) the military is an insturment of a religious order...

If the FTL is an go-anywhere-from-anywhere type stardrive, then the Imperial Fleet would be heavy on bombardment and fast interceptors. If the FTL is a chokehold-type then it would be heavy on blockade type ships or stations. If the FTL is a stargate, then there might not be an Imperial Fleet, but a huge Imperial Army.

If the empire has a subserviant military, then there would probably be independent civilian interstellar transports; if the empire does not have a subserviant military, then there probably won't be independent civilian interstellar transports. Stargates would be different; military garrisons on both sides regulating civilian trade coming back and forth. Depending on how they work, stargate-type empires might have large military forces on each world, or simply have huge reserve armies standing by at strategic points that can go through the gate; the though just struck me that there are two types of stargates; those that are permanant or semipermanant and have fixed routes; those that must be generated for each new use, but only need a single-site generator.

Empires are complex things and have an annoying habit of changing over time. To further complicate things, it also depends if the empire is monolithic and isolated, or if it is merely one of several states...

Ferrell

Milo said...

One question with "stargate" type FTL is, what's stopping you from simply blowing up the stargate to foil an invasion? Of course, burning your interstellar bridges can be hazardous if it's very hard/expensive to rebuild them later (but at the same time, that's also what makes it an actually effective strategy), but it's probably better than being invaded.

If a stargate only needs to be opened from one side to work, then that's really "go-anywhere-from-anywhere" type FTL with a different dressing.



kedamono@mac.com:

"You don't move 10's of thousands of troops, you move hundreds and make each one of those hundreds equal to 100 men."

That only works in video games.

Realistically, if you have force multiplier technology that can make your soldiers 100 times better in combat than 20th century infantry, then why not mass produce that technology and arm your entire army with it? Even if it's too expensive to equip to every single infantry soldier, the defending planet is still bound to be able to afford more super-infantry than your several hundred invaders.

Also, keep in mind that no matter how good your soldiers are in combat, there is one important capability that only a large army can actually provide: namely, that of being in multiple places at once. This is important if you're trying to do peacekeeping/mop-up operations, which are more about trying to pin down hard-to-catch guerillas than they are about heroically vanquishing a whole bunch of enemies in an epic field batttle.



VonMalcolm:

"It has been pounded into my head on this blog and Atomic Rockets that 'THERE AIN'T NO STEALTH IN SPACE!', but I assume this statement pertains to (relatively close) warfare: but what of simple detection of a Type I, II or III Interstellar Civilization (Empire) at a distance. How far away would an Interstellar Empire have to be, to be active and thriving, yet still go undetected (intentionally or unintentionally) by our prying eyes?"

The lack of stealth applies to physics-as-we-know-it. Since any civilization using FTL per definition goes beyond physics-as-we-know-it, it's anyone's guess how stealthy it can be (read: just decide whatever's most convenient to the plot, then stick with it). In fact, faster-than-light travel would automatically imply perfect stealth unless you also have faster-than-light sensors.

Mangaka2170 said...

Another possibility (that is curiously ignored in most sci-fi I've seen) is a more political sort of warfare.

Let's assume that there's no FTL, period. The fastest way to get a message or anything to anywhere is at the speed of light.

Assuming that teleporters (or stargates) don't exist, there really is no viable way to maintain an empire's grip on its interstellar colonies through military force.

So, here's my idea: instead of fighting a war of weapons, you fight a war of ideas. The regime in place on any given colony (presumably loyal to the Empire) has a military garrison that is appropriately sized for the colony it's located at. Because of the limitations of radio communication, each colony's military is responsible for its own recruitment, training, equipment and maintenance. They periodically broadcast status updates to the capital and are charged with protecting their colony from outside invasion and maintaining the Empire's hold on this colony. Interstellar trade is probably handled privately, left to guilds and whatnot.

Where the ideas part comes in is when the people of the colony (for one reason or another) decide that they don't like the current regime or if some other power somehow conquers the colony. Then, the fun begins. The Empire will eventually realize that the colony's garrison has either broadcast an SOS or has stopped transmitting altogether, so they'll send troops (probably part of the tithe the Empire requires of all worlds under its protection) and ships over there to restore order.

The problem one runs into is that, as we found in one of the later discussions here about mid-future planetary warfare, an planetary invasion would require more resources than is probably worth the gain, if not be outright impossible due to the logistical nightmare space travel brings. So, the peacekeeping force the Empire sends is not going to be sufficient to actually take the planet from an entrenched and determined resistance force.

Instead of bombing the colony from orbit and waiting for them to send up the white signal flare or what have you, you recruit your troops from people already there on the colony itself, through propaganda and other forms of ideological warfare. Get a few locals to disseminate pro-Empire literature (ideally before you need them) and get a guerilla resistance established and active.

The idea at this point is to leave the actual fighting to the locals, and let the military come in and mop up any remnants of the rebel regime (once they finally get there) and become the new garrison, most likely reinforced by the resistance.

To summarize, the Empire controls colony A. Colony A declares independence or is conquered or whatever, but is now in the hands of Rebels. The Empire dispatches troops to Colony A. In the meantime, idealogues form a pro-Empire Resistance to fight against the Rebellion. The Resistance manages to take out the key parts of the Rebellion's space defense system, allowing the Empire's troops to land once they finally get to Colony A. The Empire's troops mop up Rebel remnants and form the new garrison, reinforced by the Resistance.

Seem like a workable idea?

Raymond said...

Even neglecting the surface-to-surface stargate type of FTL, there's a lot of variance in possible FTL tech, and all of those details matter.

If using wormholes, can they be brought to orbit a planet? Do they have to sit well out of a star's gravity, or nestle in close? (Requiring wormholes to be close to a star for energy requirements is a variant that is sadly uncommon.) If you can orbit the gate/wormhole/whatever you want (obligatory tvtropes link) close to a planet, especially low orbit, that's going to bring the logistics of moving large numbers of troops down from bloody-impossible to merely not-bloody-likely.

If using continuous-travel or point-to-point-jump types, similar considerations come into play - then again, those types of FTL are even more susceptible to conversion into WMDs.

Of course, as always, drive tech considerations shape everything, including what exactly the Empire is trying to control.

Ryan said...

Given the mass-energy requirements (literally astronomical) to make space do crazy things to achieve theoretical FTL on a macro scale, I'd be happy with a universe that allows low bit rate instantaneous communication, i.e., an Ansible, without collapsing entire stars. That seems a bit beyond "mid-future"....

For a non-FTL interstellar empire, try "Saturn Returns" by Sean Williams and "The Risen Empire" by Scott Westerfield. The first involves the ability of humans to slow down their metabolism and thoughts to make time pass faster (or speed up in combat situations at great energy expense). The latter slips in some FTL communication, but primarly involves an aristocracy that literally sleeps between sessions of Gov't or takes carefully planned trips with high time dilation.

Both have relativistic starflight, though they don't fully explore the kinetic energy implications of that capability like, say, "The Killing Star" and "The Forever War". Armies and navies seem irrelevant if one side with a grievance doesn't intend to move in after the smoke clears. You just have to make sure there's no one left alive to R-bomb you later. Which leaves opportunities for a universe living in a Cold War, empires under the threat of MAD, and the proxies occasionally slagging each other - meriting a strongly worded letter from the Galactic UN decades or centuries later.

jollyreaper said...

Empire might not make sense economically but pigheaded imperialists could squander planetary fortunes trying to maintain it!

As for armies, I'm looking at space power like air power. You might be able to obliterate armies on the move but you won't own the ground unless you sit on it. But denial of access to space may be good enough, like island hopping in the pacific.

Thucydides said...

So many assumptions, so little time...

The one thing an Interstellar Empire could offer that would make it worth joining would be an impartial mediation service (AKA Courts of Law). Member states adopt the Imperial code of law, and circuit court judges (or Imperial legal AI's; pick your venue of choice) enforce the laws.

Presumably, the Imperial Courts limit themselves to things like interstellar trade and contract law, and the locals can deal with local issues themselves.

Rather than Marines, the Empire will have some sort of FBI type investigation force and a Sheriffs office to seize forfeit goods and enforce the judgment of the courts. Unless you make some very restrictive assumptions about the scenario, any highly industrial world and system in the Empire could probably create and deploy planet buster weapons, so military bluster will be quite limited.

Other fun assumptions might be that there need to be two Space Navies; a "Deep Black" force which controls/patrols whatever sort of hyperspace that gets you from system to system; and, a "Gravity Well" force which actually gets down and dirty. Think of the Blue Water fleet and the Brown Water (Littoral) Navy in today's terms (or Ships of the Line and Frigates in the age of sail, or in slightly different circumstances, the Roman transition from quinqueremes during the rise to Empire to much smaller liburnian when the Med was mostly pacified.)

This topic is pretty open ended. Is there some set of "standard" assumptions that you would like to use, Rick?

jollyreaper said...

One other thought, space superiority. If you cannot control planetary space then it's you dropping forces and bugging out and them doing likewise. If powerful lasers exist in the setting then the planet-based ones could keep the near orbits swept clean. Ballistic missiles and even aircraft are vulnerable. So then it's a matter of marching across the planet to defeat laser bases to control the planet.

Alternatively, a more dune-like situation sees combat between what are essentially elite bodyguard corps deciding the fate of the planet and the peasants don't get involved. The fighting is in the capital city and there is no general devastation. Would require a very heavy and inviolate honor system.

Milo said...

Mangaka2170:

"Let's assume that there's no FTL, period. The fastest way to get a message or anything to anywhere is at the speed of light."

Both war and empire are impossible in this scenario, unless you have immortal humans, in which case they're merely implausible. Instead, planets will mind their own business, and interstellar travel will be limited to major operations like colonization - with the understanding that the colony will be independant and won't be sending home any tribute, and the colonization probably being undertaken for ideological "humanity must spread" reasons rather than any political advantage.


"So, here's my idea: instead of fighting a war of weapons, you fight a war of ideas."

The current Arab world protests are an interesting prototype for the "war of ideas" thing, in that successful revolutions in a few countries are inspiring people to rise up in other countries, and the encouragement they're getting from shared sentiments in neighboring countries is an obvious factor, but there's little in the way of actual sharing of troops on the side of either the governments or the protestors.



Ryan:

"Given the mass-energy requirements (literally astronomical) to make space do crazy things to achieve theoretical FTL on a macro scale, I'd be happy with a universe that allows low bit rate instantaneous communication, i.e., an Ansible, without collapsing entire stars."

I would be happy with an ansible under the condition that we are able to locate and make contact with other civilizations that have invented ansibles, without ever visiting them in person or using shared communications standards to begin with.



Jollyreaper:

"Alternatively, a more dune-like situation sees combat between what are essentially elite bodyguard corps deciding the fate of the planet and the peasants don't get involved. The fighting is in the capital city and there is no general devastation. Would require a very heavy and inviolate honor system."

IMO, an honor system to combat only works when people fight for glory/plunder, rather than when they fight for political ideals and view their opponents as an "evil" that needs to be blocked at every step. However, fighting for glory or plunder is falling seriously out of favor with public opinion of today. Even the "evil" sides of today are typically just fighting for a political ideal that the rest of us think is insane, rather than for glory and plunder.

Geoffrey S H said...

Does the threat of bombardment always work? What if you don't want to destroy continents/ Might landing an army, and risking having to leave afterwards (assuming defeat) be the only option?

Few wars have been one with the only conventioanl phase being aerial bombardment. Not even smart or brilliant grade weapons can solve that.

Assuming we can move troops (and thus the entire military populations of worlds- though of course that means that to assault a world, you'd need the capability to carry the entire military industrial production of a world) of course...

Nevertheless, the space force is still the prime force in and out of a theatre... if we take the planetary state mnodel (i.e.: no nation states or imperial territories sharing continents/ planets).

There is of course the problem of changing orbits for bombardments and the massive propellant quantities that would require, I assume that is not a problem in this kind of setting.

Chris said...

I agree with Geoffrey: the lovely mental image of huge armies marching forth is useful when you remember that only troops get to hold ground, or capture strategic assets. In practice I think this will be Special Forces stuff, and possibly quite like the "FBI-espatiers" mentioned above, depending on the political situation.

But to explore this subject, we need a case study. Dune has already been brought up, for instance. I considered that hardest of SF: Star Wars. That was supposed to be sarcastic.

But look at the Prequel trilogy. The impression I got of the Old Republic was one of a political constellation that was much like the UN or EU: member planets participated in meetings in the Senate at their leasure. Only when they thought their vote was important. A few times we see the Senate saucer in the films being half-empty. The member planets were there voluntarily... ostensibly so. Because as soon as a few planets got Seperatism into their heads (theoretically a perfectly legitimate option), the entire Republic got scared. Probably because the notion of seperation destroyed the idea of universality that the Republic stood for.

The problem that has been brought up in keeping/maintaining territory in a setting with FTL is the fact tat there is no way of maintaining borders, even if the the FTL-systems works like a bottleneck. Atomic Rockets had an argument for this, if memory serves.

But in the Star Wars situation, "ground" was only "held" because the grounds were being held voluntarily. The member-planets of the Republic were there by semi-voluntary participation (semi-, because we saw that seperatism turned out to be not really an option). Because they were there voluntarily (I presume because of economic benefits) the Republic "held" a huge territory. When Seperatism became in issue, disparate planets spread all over the galaxy had be brought back into the fold. There was no front. I think that because of the lack of a front, this put a huge strain on military assets. The same unit would have to fight battles light years apart.

The point I'm trying to make is, extending the "war is diplomacy by other means"-idea, that the Interstellar Empire needs a military to enforce it's UN-like role here. This can veer very close to Trade Federationalism.

If the Interstellar Empire is more Imperial in the traditional sense, the inclusion of "member-planets" would still, I think, be for primarily economic reasons. You don't conquer planets just because you want to. It has to be incorporated as an asset to the state. In this light, the Galactic Empire from Star Wars was very much a continuity from the Old Republic, but with some bureaucratic reshuffling.

I really made no point at all, did I.

Geoffrey S H said...

You did, that's quite interesting.

But if special forces are the only show in town would they be "special" any more?

One thing it might be good to keep in our heads is that hovering over a landmass waiting for troops to show their heads so they can be zapped is not an option for the forseeable future, technological limitations and orbital mechanics do not allow that (which is why Killsats are so overrated).


As a result, hoping you can gun down threats to your espatiers from orbit the moment they appear is not possible for the moment- some sizable way of defending themselves on the ground would probably be nessesary IMO.

Chris said...

@Geoffrey: you're right, but I think they would be "special" in terms of capability, not in some relation to conventional forces. "Special" forces then, by our standards, probably not theirs.

How to get troops concretely on the ground is indeed the tricky question. I'm really no tactical genius, because the only solution I can think of is launching a boatload of dropships and hope that some make it through the volley and break through the defences.

Of course, this is where (finally) some Space fighters might come in handy, flying around protecting the dropships. Unless there's lasers, you can't shoot those out of the sky. And of course have a decent preliminary bombardment.

But consider earth. Say a Star Wars-type galactic military arrives out of Hyperspace near the moon. Also: say the earth has good enough defences to reciprocate. Where would the invading force effect a landing?

I think the Sahara. I mean, on the planetary list of defendable assets, stretches of desert would rank pretty low. But for a moderate investment, your super-power-armoured mobile infantry guys have no trouble slogging through the Sahara untill they reach the Mediterranean.

Of course, this is unless it turns out the Earth government filled the Sahara with solar-powered missile silo's, which actually seems like a really good idea.

Geoffrey S H said...

You'd probably have to reduce defences completely before any landing though- if the dropships break through, then missiles can too to take out the defences so the first wave of infantry can land without any harasment whatsoever. I would suggest the blog entry on ground warfare (some months ago) just as a grounding- be prepared for the radical assessments within though!

The propaganda-from-orbit model is interesting as well...

Hugh said...

The differences between marine commercial powers such as Britain and Holland compared to continental powers such as France and Spain are the topic of Peter Padfield's "Naval Campaigns That Shaped the Modern World" books.

Over-simplifying, his thesis is that marine commerce leads to more individual freedom, rule of law, and even better status for women.

Individual merchants will try many things in parallel and provide redundancy in case of failure, but need to know before undertaking long and risky voyages that their companies will still exist when they get back. And if you are about to sail to the Far East for 18 months, you want your wife to be able to handle any business problems that arise in that time.

Continental powers are prone to confiscating the gains of their merchants one way or another, since in the continental view they are subjects of the kingdom and thus it's their duty to hand over the profits. And continental powers are good at focusing resources, but often on the wrong target. And there is always the risk that the central government will lose interest in marine commerce - eg Ming China.

Which didn't stop continental powers from establishing empires anyway, but before the 20th century they were generally smaller and less profitable.

Geoffrey S H said...

http://www.rocketpunk-manifesto.com/2010/09/space-warfare-xii-surface-warfare.html

For more detailed reference.

jollyreaper said...

A few more thoughts.

1. On the enforcement of borders, space 4x games tended to have "range" computed for your ships so that you could only move so far from a given star. You might be able to bypass one or two enemy systems but if his really nice one is out of reach, you need to capture a crappier one to serve as a staging area to get there. Great gameplay mechanic, probably very unrealistic.

I think we could split FTL between nodal FTL and freeflight FTL. Any nodal system should be able to be fortified. I'll have to check Atomic Rockets to see why they couldn't. With freeflight FTL, I think the biggest limitation would be the question of support. How much do you rely on a supply line? If your invasion consists of moving 100 million people in a giant colony fleet and it was a five year trip to get there and it would take probably ten years for the enemy to mount a response at earliest, each planet is on its own. The rate of FTL travel would indicate just how "strong" a border is. The "border" would be defined by the defensible space created by adjacent star systems for mutual support.

2. In terms of empire, we had the culture-state mentioned earlier. Perhaps weaker FTL makes for stronger planet-states but you'll have a cultural commonwealth. The chinese-founded planets will often cooperate, provide trade concessions, and have each other's back. The Indian-founded planets might have friendlier relations with English-speaking colonies because of a shared language but still reserve the best concessions for Indian colonies. The Mormon cluster may seem to fall within the English-speaking sphere but were founded by a strict separatist movement and maintain a policy of zero cultural contact. Private ownership of multi-channel receivers is illegal and the only legal media streams are all state-owned. (I just picked mormons at random. Could just as easily be a Chinese colony that declared openly for Falun Gong and rebelled.)

jollyreaper said...

3. I try to draw a distinction between seemingly inevitable future trends and things that would be a matter of taste. For example, laserstars seem drearily inescapable for hard SF combat. But culture trends could go any number of ways and it's impossible to say for sure this or that is more likely, all anyone can do is make a good argument.

So that being said, the idea I had for limited warfare in a strict honor system. It would depend on people becoming completely wedded to a cultural myth of proper behavior, maybe even stepped within their religion founded in the mid-future. And it's basically cobbled together from trends we've seen in the past.

So, you have an elite ruling class running things. They are preoccupied with concepts of honor and reputation. Death before dishonor is not a cliche but a sacred ideal. It is bound up within their very morality. Throw in a touch of European dueling where cultured and civilized gentlemen would actually fight to the death over ridiculous points of honor. Throw in a huge handful of Feudal Japan with mortal combat and theatrical suicides seen as an artform. Throw in the utter egotism that goes along with feeling like an elite and maybe a belief in the eternal soul and reincarnation to remove some of the sting of death.

We didn't see a whole lot about the way galactic society operated in Dune but it seemed to be broadly along the lines sketched above but minus the overt religious parts -- the Great Houses didn't seem to go much for mysticism. Now from a sociologist's point of view, you can argue that a certain level of bloodshed helped to serve the human need for conflict while preventing the pains of all-out war. The assault on Arrakis, for example, was portrayed as very unusual and ruinously expensive and was only possible because of the consent of the Padishah Emperor. But the usual conflict was between highly trained warriors and the small fight determined the fate of the planet. The constant killing amongst the elites helps to keep the sense of pain and loss a real, immediate thing. The impersonal warfare technology allows for could be seen as making mass slaughter far too easy. Pressing a button to obliterate a planet is easy but shoving a blade through your foeman's gut, feeling his dying breath against your cheek as you twist the blade, that's a whole different level. Conventional wisdom says someone who has experienced something like that will take killing seriously. Personally, I don't think that's always the case -- we've seen national rulers who were grunts in earlier wars start wars of their own for one goddamn reason or another -- but I could see people telling themselves the world works that way and believing it.

We've actually seen examples of this sort of thing in scifi and also in history, combat between picked champions settling conflicts. There was a pretty gripping scifi short years back where 21st century conflicts between the US and USSR were fought between two elite infantry companies in a televised event not dissimilar to the Olympics. Both sides would draw up their annual disputes and the outcome of the battle would decide in whose favor it went. Combat was with rifles, mortars, machine guns, but didn't involve more than a hundred or so on each side, last side with living soldiers wins. The story included play-by-play sports announcing which really made it seem all the more surreal. The survivors of the fight are treated as national heroes. There was one survivor on the American side in the fight described in the story. He comes home shellshocked, not quite there mentally. The final scene is him snapping and raping the girl next door he'd had a crush on as a teenager. "For her, the war had come home.'

My thought is that with a system of finely balanced limited warfare, you're just waiting for the guy to say "Wait, why should I accept the loss?" and push it to open warfare.

Chris said...

@Geoffrey S H: Just a short reply since I've got - *sigh* - homework to do, but thanks for the link. I've only been entering the comments section of this blog since a few weeks, so I'll have some reading up to do. But first, and for an entirely different purpose, I have to read up on Old Frisian. Cheers people.

jollyreaper said...

One thing it might be good to keep in our heads is that hovering over a landmass waiting for troops to show their heads so they can be zapped is not an option for the forseeable future, technological limitations and orbital mechanics do not allow that (which is why Killsats are so overrated).


As a result, hoping you can gun down threats to your espatiers from orbit the moment they appear is not possible for the moment- some sizable way of defending themselves on the ground would probably be nessesary IMO.


Well, the gold standard for orbital death from above is the orbital ion cannon, big ol' death beams dropping down at a moment's notice. To provide solid planetary coverage you'd be looking at what, platforms in geosynchronous orbit over the equator, gobs of power required to make glancing shots through atmosphere at targets closer to the poles?

The silver standard are rods from god, kinetic kill devices in low orbit. If the requirement is to kill targets ASAP the moment they present themselves, the questions are:

1. How long would it take for a rod to hit the target if the order is given when it is at the optimum deorbit point? Ten minutes? Twenty minutes? If it's half hour then they're no good for hitting moving targets, only fixed positions.
2. How long is the maximum acceptable wait time for a rod to be in position for an attack?
3. How many rods would it take to satisfy that criteria?
4. Can you cheat by providing greater coverage over sensitive areas and minimizing coverage over less important areas? We do that with our spy sats right now -- nobody's scanning the Antarctic but we have heavy coverage over the Middle East.

In a total war scenario there's no way to hide -- anything moving on the ground gets blasted, civilian and military alike. In limited war, the rods become less useful. Enemy armored column moving through the desert, easy target. Small cells deploying assassin drones against your viceroy in the city, harder to target. Same problem we have trying to use air power to deal with car bombers.

The thing I keep trying to think of is nuclear weapons had everyone convinced war was over since you either settle matters peacefully or cities get atomized. There would be no more armies, the Air Force said there wouldn't even be navies, just bombers with nukes ready to fire, peace due to a balance of terror. The Korean War blindsided the theorists. And frankly, I would have sided with the "war is over" crowd. The limited and proxy warfare of the late 20th century doesn't seem probable, especially if you operate from a limited set of arguments. Wrong wrong wrong. So I agree that any kind of mass maneuver ground warfare in a planetary invasion scenario seems unlikely so I'm wondering if there's something huge and obvious I'm missing here, being my own dev.null's advocate.

Thucydides said...

The historical examples of limited warfare generally take place in a confined context of some sort or another.

Ancient Greek society settled on phalanxes of heavily armed Hoplites because this limited the outcome of conflicts and thus political power to the middle class (poor fighters could not successfully attack a phalanx and aristocratic cavalry did not have the means to do so either; shock cavalry with stirrups being about a thousand years in the future). So long as no one else took notice of the Greeks, they had little incentive to change. Once the Persians came and "educated" the Greeks on integrating different units around the core phalanx, and the stakes became much higher than local disputes over farm territory or water rights, Greek warfare became essentially unlimited.

Aristocratic European states also had limited war between professional armies since black powder weapons and an artillery train were so expensive as to be beyond the means of anyone else (a secondary consideration might have been the memory of the devastation of the 30 Year's War); this persisted until the French Revolution, when once again the stakes were raised (or perhaps changed, depending on how you want to define things) and the Revolutionaries called out the Levée en masse, ushering in the age of mass warfare in Europe. I suspect that this could not have taken place much earlier, however, since the ability to mass produce arms and artillery really did not exist prior to this time.

The Japanese could prevent the entry of foreign traders and armies for about two centuries (prior to that they were pretty enthusiastic about importing new weapons and ideas, and mass armies were the norm until the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate, after which the population was disarmed and fortifications leveled.

An Interstellar Empire (or even a Solar Empire) is essentially unbounded in time, space, energy and resources, so it is hard to see how limited warfare would persist for very long. It is just too easy to bypass artificial constraints, so real physical ones need to be invoked.

jollyreaper said...

One final thought for the moment -- there may be no axioms to go by here because every planetary war will be so unique as to disinvite comparison between one and the other.

Is the planet a 21st century Earth stand-in? Is it a thinly-populated young colony world or some teeming hive world of 500 billion people straight out of scifi? Do the people live in farming communities on the surface or in deep arcologies miles beneath the surface? Are they completely unprepared for war or have they spent generations preparing themselves? Why is the world being attacked? Living space for the attackers? Control of a vital economic resource? Do they need the locals to cooperate in any of this or could they be just as happy wiping them out completely and supplying their own people? Where will the fighting take place? If we look at typical Middle Eastern countries, 90% of the countryside is barren desert. Controlling only a few key population centers gives you the entire territory. Contrast that with the US where there's a very large rural population. It would take far longer to pacify.

The fight for control of Lake Erie always struck me as an oddball. Naval units had to be constructed on-site and then sent to battle. That's almost like the usually unrealistic RTS games!

So that makes me think of one scenario for attack is landing an army with construction abilities. The basic units are killbots and have human soldiers controlling them at the company level from secure command bunkers. The humans come in with the initial wave and are seeking to secure a...beachhead isn't right, airhead was used in WWII and sounds dumb, spacehead sounds really really dumb...anyway, they secure a beachhead and try to get a manufacturing base up and running. They then push their forces out across the planet, fighting the enemy all the way. Everything they need but manpower can be sourced locally an so resupply will be additional humans to control formations.

jollyreaper said...


An Interstellar Empire (or even a Solar Empire) is essentially unbounded in time, space, energy and resources, so it is hard to see how limited warfare would persist for very long. It is just too easy to bypass artificial constraints, so real physical ones need to be invoked.


You raise excellent points. What I'm imagining for my scenario is that the artificial constraints are in place with the force of tradition and religion and superstition. Violating the constraints is just about unthinkable. But, because the constraints are artificial, the breaking of them is only a matter of time. The scenario I'm thinking of would have individual rulers having tried to break the restraints and were annihilation. Dune had examples of rogue Houses violating the rule of not using atomics on humans and were obliterated. Battletech had the idea of the same thing happening to one of the Clans. You've got dozens and dozens of competing factions and the last thing any one faction would want to do is give all the rest an excuse to take them out.

Of course, the tipping point comes when a significant fraction of the factions is willing to throw away the conventions and there's no "all against one," it's everyone against everyone in total war.

My thinking is that any state of steady, restricted warfare will only last for a limited time before some jerk comes along and starts all-out war. And yeah, it seems more likely that a system of limited war would develop from true resource limits and would then culturally persist after the resource limits are over and the jerk is the guy who figures it out, realizes he no longer has to take the limited loss if he goes for broke and all-out fighting.

Tony said...

Ferrell:

"If the FTL is an go-anywhere-from-anywhere type stardrive, then the Imperial Fleet would be heavy on bombardment and fast interceptors."

Not interceptors, but local defense forces, possibly non-FTL altogether. When the enemy comes, the local defense puts up a fight and sends out an SOS by messenger drone or courier. (I simply don't believe in hyperspace radio or the ansible, whatevero ther kind of FTL one might have.)

The response would be not by bombardment ship or interceptors, per se, but by an FTL capable reserve fleet, or some portion of it. Once the attack had been beaten back, and the attacker identified, the reserve fleet would rearm with bombardment weapons and go on to mount a punitive expedition.

Or, if the economics are such that viable system defenses are too expensive, the entire Fleet would be geared towards offensive action, and security would be maintained by a desireo n the part of potential enemies not to get obliterated. Cold War IN SPAAACE!, if you will.

In any case, ground forces would be tactically light, optimized for space and air support. Their mission would be to secure and pacify annexations, or to hunt down and kill/capture enemy ground forces on planetary surfaces after their static installations have been destroyed and their large units broken up by firepower.

Tony said...

Re: limited warfare

As mentioned, only a metastable state of affairs. If attempts to break out of the limited warfare regime have been unsuccessful in the past, it only instructs future attemps to be better prepared and stronger. Eventually the regime will fall apart, either through a sufficiently powerful challenge or through decrepitude making it easier and easier over time to break out of the regime.

Milo said...

Chris:

"Where would the invading force effect a landing? I think the Sahara. I mean, on the planetary list of defendable assets, stretches of desert would rank pretty low."

What? Deliberately landing your troops somewhere they'll likely to starve or dehydrate, where there is nothing around for them to actually be capturing or shooting at, and where there's little cover to hide them from detection? I can think of few places that it would be dumber to land your troops than in the Sahara.

The best place to land would probably be somewhere that's relatively poorly defended, but also economically valuable - for example, a backwater country which happens to have important oil exports (we have plenty of those, right?). This lets you cut off the major superpowers' supplies without engaging them in combat directly.



Jollyreaper:

"On the enforcement of borders, space 4x games tended to have "range" computed for your ships so that you could only move so far from a given star. You might be able to bypass one or two enemy systems but if his really nice one is out of reach, you need to capture a crappier one to serve as a staging area to get there. Great gameplay mechanic, probably very unrealistic."

It's plausibly realistic if your FTL technology uses an amount of fuel proportional to the distance you travel, and ships can carry only so much fuel. You can try to extend your range by adding really large fuel tanks or complicated in-flight refuelling systems, but beyond a certain point that's going to lead to very fragile and overstretched invasions. It's hard to maintain supply lines across enemy-controlled territory (astrotory?). Better to just capture a good stepping stone to refuel on.

There's also the question of ansible range. Sending ships beyond range of communication with home is sometimes the right choice, but is still dangerous.

Thucydides said...

Limited warfare in solar or interstellar space needs some sort of constraint in order to remain "limited". Most forms of FTL post Star Trek seem to rely on wormholes, Stargates or similar constructs, so the constraint is the choke point aspect of FTL. (From the Golden Age to Star Trek, FTL could essentially get you from LEO to LEO; meaning space navies were essentially irrelevant; an enemy star cruiser or ICBM could appear over your planet at any time).

The Pournelle "CoDominium" universe shows these constraints rather well; interstellar cruisers are quite large and expensive due to the need for the Alderson drive and the extra fuel tankage to traverse inertial space to the Alderson points at the edge of the solar system. An "outie" system could build equally powerful ships to defend the system without the added mass and expense of the Alderson drive and extra tankage, so if the Empire of Man is hell bent on conquest, they will be devoting considerably more resources on the offense than the outies need for the defense. Even an Empire will have some sort of limit as to how fast they could build ships and train crews. Non Interstellar ships, being cheaper and quicker to build. will present any Empire with a huge problem in resource management; in order to expand the Empire and hold what they have will cost exponentially more than what the defenders need to do the remain outside the Empire.

The Imperial strike force must therefore conduct very limited campaigns to preserve the fleet and ensure the target of the campaign really will be outmatched before the Grand Admiral will sign off on the adventure. Certain work arounds can be imagined (the Alderson Drive is on a carrier ship and warships are attached as battle riders, or alternatively waves of missiles are sent through the Alderson point to clear out the defenders before the Fleet arrives), or the Empire can be imagined to devote arbitrarily large amounts of resources to expanding the Empire, which negates the idea of limited warfare. The Empire might also decide the best way to preserve resources is to simply sterilize any planet which is making a serious revolt, as a warning to everyone else...

jollyreaper said...

I would disagree with the characterization of Trek FTL as unstoppable. Photon torps were specifically indicated as warp-capable and ships could detect and track each other in warp. FTL combat was perfectly possible even if the usual depiction was slugging it out in normal space. More specifically, two ships point directly at each other two miles apart and trade inexpensive laser blasts.

Wikipedia has a good list of hyperspace ideas.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperspace_(science_fiction)


And Atomic Rockets has the "canonical list of stardrives."
http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/fasterlight.php#The_Canonical_List_of_StarDrives

The Lost Fleet was a pretty flawed series of novels but their take on FTL raised some questions. This system used jump point drives with a variable transit time between realspace locations. No FTL coms, all messages had to be carried by ships. No relay stations are mentioned between jump points. It can take a week or two to jump between stars and a week to go from one jump point to the other in realspace. The points are short enough that you have to play connect the dots between nearby stars to get anywhere. Now try ambushing a fleet moving through these jump points. In the specific case in question, an enemy fleet used a hypergate to get to the enemy home system and was ambushed. They used a risky jump via normal jump points to get out of there. Now the ambushing admiral has to figure out where they're going and lay a trap. He can't just wait for information to be relayed back to him to make a decision because the turnaround time is too great. It's sort of like the American Revolutionary War problem faced by the Brits because there could be no real command asserted from the UK, the person calling the shots had to be in North America.

A strategic situation like this would have to call for senior officers with an understanding of the war effort with every formation acting essentially autonomously because any guidance from high command would come too late to have any relevance. Even more frightening, if there's no message relay system in place, a huge enemy incursion into your space would be close on the heels of any potential warning. It would seem to be utterly necessary to have relays in place: courier ships or drones staged at jump points with transmitter relays to send the message between points in-system. If the enemy is hot on the heels of the courier, he'll come through minutes after the courier but not be able to intercept the lightspeed message heading to the next relay. If your forces are too far out of position, you'll never be able to call them back in time. Mass them at the wrong spot and you'll be devastated by the enemy fleet when they appear where you weren't expecting.

Tony said...

Jump point type drive systems have been predominant in SF in the last 30 or so years, but they haven't been exclusive. I think they have become popular because they make warfare more manageable as a plot complication or plot driver.

WRT the idea that jump networks are hard to defend, that's what fortifications are for. In most fictional environments that use restricted warp, forcing a defended jump point is the primary technical and tactical challenge.

Barring undiscovered or emerging jump points, the enemy's avenues of appraoch are known and limited. You fortify those and provide local reserve fleets in those systems. Strategic reserve fleets are concentrated in the most advantageous systems form a logistics and network topology perspective. When the attack comes, the message is relayed for the reserve fleet(s) to come running.

The only real variables are:

* Whether the enemy can mount an attack in enough strength to overcome local defenses before reserves arrive, and/or

* Whether the enemy can, if he is so inclined, mount a demonstration convincing enough to draw in reserves, while keeping enough strength to mount the main attack somewhere else.

jollyreaper said...

I think the biggest dramatic advantage of jump drives is that you can have combat at close range and low velocities that has a nice cinematic feel to it. While jump drives have been all over the place in fiction, I'd credit Babylon 5 for making it popular in televised scifi. It broke Trek's warp drive paradigm.

Steve White and David Weber did a series that sticks out in my mind as being one of the first (or first I encountered) with ultra heavy-duty star fortifications specifically because of the restricted nature of the jump points. The novels were In Death Ground/Shiva Option. Pure spacewar pr0n with ebil space bugs, explody ships, starfighters and boom boom boom. The bugs used suicidal tactics for storming the jump points, risking their ships colliding as they emerged to achieve immediate tactical superiority. The mark of the desperation of the war is that the good guys were forced to do so by the end of the war, accepting the loss of major ships with large crews knowing that sending the ships through in safer quantities would invite defeat in detail.

That struck me at the time as a little dumb because this would be the PERFECT excuse for unmanned ships. If we assume that unmanned ships are awful compared to manned ships (which there's no reason to assume but we'll concede the point), when you're talking about throwing ships into an industrial shredder this would be the perfect use for them. Send the manned ships through after them and hopefully the closest defenses will have been destroyed and the fight will only be dangerous instead of suicidal.

Scott said...

1. How long would it take for a rod to hit the target if the order is given when it is at the optimum deorbit point? Ten minutes? Twenty minutes? If it's half hour then they're no good for hitting moving targets, only fixed positions.
If you have ICBMs, then it's roughly half an hour from ordered launch to impact, maybe less. Depends on variables that y'all don't need to know. However, this means that any orbital system needs better availability than 30 minutes, or you'd just use groundbased missiles.

Using the Iridium satphone constellation as a baseline, those have a 100-minute orbital period, with (I think) 6 patterns of 11 sats. This gives one sat overhead every 9 minutes. Not bad, but you'd still need a big sensor suite to point the weapon of choice at the right target, and any guided reentry vehicle needs to impact at less than hypersonic speeds so that it can actually see where it's going to hit! This probably slows down your call-to-impact time.

jollyreaper said...

The hypersonic blackout problem's been solved.

http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/26222/

Anonymous said...

In the Miles Vorkosigan books (the author's name escapes me), the drive needed a human pilot literally plugged into the drive to be able to navigate the wormholes; they built breaching ships that were huge, but mostly armor, engines, reactors, shields, and while it could launch mind-boggling numbers of missiles in a single salvo, it only had room for a couple of salvos and had a tiny crew. So empires in that setting used stations and massive guarding fleets; most wars are won or lost at the battles around jump-points. Planetary wars/invasions could take generations to resolve and involved a lot of asymetrical warfare. That this happens only rarely means that a lot of intrigue, proxie warfare, raids, war-of-assasins, and even warfare between nations on the same planet. Space warfare seemed to involve fleets trying to establish or break orbital blockades, or position themselves for orbital bombardment or prevent it. The population of most planets was low, with only a very few having significant numbers; Earth was discribed as having half the human population, even after several centuries of starflight. Some nations on Earth had larger populations than some interstellar empires. So while interstellar wars were not unknown, interstellar conquests were talked about even generations later, due to their rarity.

Anyway, just another model of interstellar empires to contemplate.

Ferrell

Tony said...

The first mention of fortified jump points I can recall was in Antares Dawn (McCollum), from 1986. It went out of print after one mass market paperback run, but you can find it online at the author's website. In that book, and two subsequent ones in the series, forcing a defended jump point would begin with the transit and detonation of a mondo antimatter bomb, intended to disable sensors on defensive installations before the transit of crewed vessels.

I have recently reread the Starfire novelizations. They start out having to force jump points with crewed ships, but by The Shiva Option, there are several classes of uncrewed missile pods that are always sent through first en masse.

One quirk of the jump physics was that simultaneous transits would lead to interpenetration and mutual anihilation of 5-15% of the transiting craft. The reason that the GGs eventually went ahead with such tactics was that the closer they got to the BG's home systems, the more heavily defended jump points were, and no practical amount of automated missile pods could clear the way. So the losses of mass transits of crewed vessels had to be accepted in order to develop enough firepower quickly enough at the other end.

One kind of interesting twist in the Starfire series was the way 20th Century ship type nomenclature was used. Type names roughly corresponded to relative size, but smaller types were deprecated over time, rather than newer examples of each type getting large. In the beginning of the series, the capital ship was a battlecruiser, and cruisers and destroyers participated in front line combat. By the end there were superdreadnoughts, and the smallest type normally in front line combat was the battlecruiser.

Geoffrey S H said...

I'll try and post tomorrow (no time now), but I will give a word of warning:

I'm going to imagine several futures and try and do a quick world buidling exercise.

The future imagined wth propaganda craft in orbit.

The future imagined with set rules and small marine squads "duelling" over worlds.

Heavy conventional land combat (the "Star Wars Model")- i have a little theory on this that it would be possible if the nation state model remains the stme ofor planets. Of course, it won't but its a good mental exercie.


All will forgoe factoring in FTL (too handwavy even for me), and none will assume that total destruction of the target is necessary. Indeed, I will argue that it is in fact detrimental to the aims of the "state".

All I'm saying really is that I'm taking a devil's advocate on ground forces just in case it proves useful, so please hear me out.

Smaple world building thought: Would the porpaganda craft in orbit model correspond well with a civilisation that trades infromation rather than goods and the millio dollar bottle of wine?

Until tomorrow, keep discussing gentlemen...

Anonymous said...

My wife has informed me that the Vorkosigan books were written by Lois Mcmaster Bujold.

Ferrell

Tony said...

Ferrell:

"My wife has informed me that the Vorkosigan books were written by Lois Mcmaster Bujold."

I wouldn'ttouch that with a twelve foot Ukrainian. ;-)

jollyreaper said...

Hmm I'd forgotten that they had the missile pods in shiva.

Teleros said...

"Which is significant in turn because, historically, maritime powers have been a considerably different beast than land-based powers, more or less as sailors have differed from soldiers. At least in their internal politics they have generally been more liberal, and in their external affairs more concerned with control of trade than with the direct rule of territory."

Yes... but to a point. Consider the Napoleonic Wars era, in particular Britain & France:


1. Britain only had to maintain a very small army, as no Frenchman could hope to march on London without first defeating the Royal Navy. In addition, the strength of the Royal Navy covered a very real weakness for Britain - the fact that the British economy *relied* on trade to a far greater extent than the French did.

2. France had to maintain a very large army by comparison, if only because it had all those land borders with hostile powers (let's ignore the revolution for a minute). Had France not had this to worry about, it could have pretty quickly built a massive and very impressive navy instead.


Now, let's translate this into space terms: everyone is on an island, so like Britain, their primary defensive & offensive arm will be their starships. In a situation like this, nations with large, strong internal economies (ie France) will be in a better position than nations that rely on interstellar trade (ie Britain) *.

* Unless the trade nation has some other advantage to offset the other nation's advantages.


You can see this working in the Honor Harrington books by David Weber: the Star Kingdom of Manticore is a small, extremely prosperous trading nation, and is fighting against an enemy nation (the People's Republic of Haven) which has a much larger internal economy, population, and so on. Why do the Manticorans win? Because Weber has deliberately set the universe up to favour them in terms of starship / crew quality, production speeds, R&D, and so on (in point of fact, the Haven economy is really in the doldrums).


Finally, how much trade will there actually be between different interstellar nations? If I can mine everything I need from my own territory, then any interstellar trade will be principally for luxuries and services, which usually means it's not that important a part of the economy. The only reason I can see for interstellar trade in raw materials and such is either because of a difference in "tech levels" or extraction / manufacturing costs between the nations involved... this really depends on the setting though.


All of which in turn leads back to my response to the quote above. To use the WW1 & WW2 example, Imperial Germany & Nazi Germany had relatively little trade going on compared to a nation like the UK (although Germany did for example rely a lot on iron from Scandinavia, making control of the sea route to the region a major issue). Now imagine a WW1 in which Germany, safe from any overland invasion, concentrates on its navy instead of its army. Things would likely have been very different for the UK.

Teleros said...

Bill: "I think a lot depends on the reasons for Empire. Yes it is true that the British Empire was of a different sort than the Russian Empire, but not every naval empire set up and evolved the same way. Of course, most empires are built at least partly on economic motivation, but other motivating factors play a role as well."

I suspect that economics will be the chief one. Resources that you directly control are more secure than ones you have to trade for, after all. Of course there may be others as you say ("Nay! Socialism in one star nation I say!"), but I suspect economics is the main one.

"Finally, the big question is, what exactly is the economic motivation of empire. Unless interstellar travel is incredibly cheap, most planets will have to remain essentially self sufficient."

If you have some sort of web of wormholes for FTL, then it would be far safer to control as many of the systems linked to your own as possible (and as they develop, the ones linked to them... and to them... and to them...), if only because any attack would give you a little more time to prepare to defend your heavily populated core world(s).




Tony: "Navies don't have any fundamental reason to be more liberal. It just turns out that in the modern, industrial age, the largest, most successful navies have sprung up to protect the free trade of liberal powers."

What I'd say WRT maritime powers being more liberal is that I think the conditions necessary for a prosperous overseas trade network are also very similar to the conditions for greater political liberty. That said, anyone can blow money on big, impressive navies (as many did - witness the colossal expansion of the US & Canadian navies in the 2 World Wars).




kedamono: "No, the easiest way to get 10,000 troops on a world is to do it slowly. Set up a trade mission and then over the period of year or so, you bring in "contractors" and "workers" and "families" and before anyone realizes what's happening, you have three brigades of force stationed in the planet's capital city."

God no. The sheer quantity of men & material needed, not to mention operational security (and being on their world, they can presumably point scanners at you whenever they want)... I wouldn't want to try this with anything other than Lensmen-quality personnel, and even then it'd be all too easy to be discovered.




VonMalcolm: "How far away would an Interstellar Empire have to be, to be active and thriving, yet still go undetected (intentionally or unintentionally) by our prying eyes?"

Depends on how long ago they were set up, whether we're watching, the quality of our instruments, and the strength of their signals. It's perfectly possible though to scan the entire sky, and then focus in on any interesting transmissions, if you have the money. Of course, anything you pick up will be old, but, it's possible.

Mark said...

Mangaka2170: "Assuming that teleporters (or stargates) don't exist, there really is no viable way to maintain an empire's grip on its interstellar colonies through military force."

That depends. If you establish a colony 100LY away... but post a self-sufficient fleet of robot warships to it, you'll certainly make it a hell of a lot harder for the colonists to rebel. "Don't want to send off the usual ship full of unobtainium back to Earth? Up to you, but the TSS Curbstomper WILL be dropping some nukes on your capital in 30 mins unless you change your mind..."

Of course, this isn't perfect, but my point is simply that, if you're willing to incur the costs of doing so, you can make it a lot harder for colonies to go their own way.




Chris: "Because as soon as a few planets got Seperatism into their heads (theoretically a perfectly legitimate option), the entire Republic got scared."

Depends on the constitution. I believe secession for states is illegal in the US for example (hello Civil War). In the EU & UN it's another matter because you had pre-existing national governments sign treaties and such to join.

"When Seperatism became in issue, disparate planets spread all over the galaxy had be brought back into the fold. There was no front. I think that because of the lack of a front, this put a huge strain on military assets. The same unit would have to fight battles light years apart."

Whilst SW tends to use a "go anywhere" FTL model, there are bottlenecks of a sort in the form of hyperlanes or somesuch, which allow for safer / faster travel, etc. I've heard that a secret one to Coruscant is what allowed the battle at the beginning of RotS to occur at all.

Teleros said...

Meh, why did this sign me into Google for that last post? Oh well...

Milo said...

Mark:

"If you establish a colony 100LY away... but post a self-sufficient fleet of robot warships to it, you'll certainly make it a hell of a lot harder for the colonists to rebel."

The robots would have to be intelligent enough to recognize whether the colony is rebelling against your edicts, and to be an effective fighting force without any human supervision against an enemy that has as long to prepare as they wish before initiating hostilities. (The robot is bound to have some weak points, and humans are flexible enough to recognize and exploit them while computers are not flexible enough to predict and patch them.) And, of course, the obviously-highly-intelligent AI would have to be counted on to remain loyal rather than rebelling against its builders itself.



Incidentally, the "Blogger personally hates me" theory is gaining credence. There seem to be few of my recent posts that Rick hasn't needed to rescue from the spam filter.

jollyreaper said...

The question would be of what possible use could the unobtanium be from the planet 100ly away if it's too far to routinely swap out crews for the orbital security force. The colony would be too far away for there to be any sort of economic rationale.

This, of course, leaves political/religious rationales. Let's say you're talking about a generation ship to get out to Colony Prime and it's 100ly away, no ansible so it takes two centuries to have an exchange of views with Earth. if ideological purity is given priority, then what you may see is a mass of colonists on the planet with the priesthood/party members maintaining a cadre of hardcore types segregated in orbit with the big weapons. Their preoccupation is with keeping the colony proper on doctrine and dogma. Presumably they've been getting updates from Earth the whole flight out. The plan is to spread the wisdom and glory of the doctrine out to the stars. There's no economic rationale, no pragmatic purpose, it's a big vanity project like the Pyramids.

So things could get interesting if the religion/party/whatever on Earth fails and here's this generation ship still undergoing the journey. The priesthood would suppress knowledge of this change and then make up a reason for not getting detailed broadcasts from Earth, maybe say there's a new simplicity doctrine and everything is going to be in nice, simple (easy to fake) text.

The upshot of this universe could be that practical FTL is discovered and now you've got Earthers going out to the stars and discovering colonies of religious/party purists who are all supposed to be following the same doctrine but have drifted until they're mutually incompatible but all believing they're following the one true interpretation.

Milo said...

Jollyreaper:

"The upshot of this universe could be that practical FTL is discovered and now you've got Earthers going out to the stars and discovering colonies of religious/party purists who are all supposed to be following the same doctrine but have drifted until they're mutually incompatible but all believing they're following the one true interpretation."

This is a pretty good expectation even without the repressive theocracy elements of your scenario.

Thucydides said...

Most land Empires which try to create navies seem to fail miserably (although there are always exceptions to the rule). One reason may be that the land threats are always at your doorstep and demand constant attention. The high Risk/Reward ratio and the prospect of immediate gratification tend to draw the best minds to the Army rather than the Navy.

A rather interesting example of a backward transition is Spain, which branched out to become a global sea power, but eventually saw the Navy consumed by the demands of land warfare in continental Europe. One unintended consequence of Spain's Empire was monetary inflation (due to the massive imports of silver), which actually reduced the effectiveness of the galley fleet in the Mediterranean as high wage trained sailors on the oars were replaced by convicts and slaves. The Venetians (less affected by inflation) could still use professional and volunteer ciurma to man the oars (and swarm out as fighting men in a pinch). Spanish galleys were crowded with masses of professional soldiers on top of the oarsmen and crew to supply the fighting power, which affected tactics and also the availability of fighting power as the demands of land battles grew. (Obviously not the entire story, but a good rough outline).

Terminology is a bit of a sore spot in Space Opera; Battle cruisers are NOT meant to be ships of the line (as the British found out in Jutland), Destroyers are (or were) small escorts for capital ships and really, there are few space going analogues of wet navy warships. Constellations of laser stars and kinetic stars seems to be the most appropriate model instead.

Scott said...

@Jollyreaper: well, that's a pretty slick way around the problem!

And leave it to the Russians to come up with yet another wonky physics process or mathematical formula that has massive implications... like the RCS formulas!

Nonetheless, I think the best reaction time for ortillery is going to be about 5 minutes. Not really good enough for moving targets, and there is an awful lot that can happen in 4 minutes 14 seconds... Just read Michael Z. Williamson's Contact with Chaos.

Tony said...

Scott:

"Nonetheless, I think the best reaction time for ortillery is going to be about 5 minutes. Not really good enough for moving targets, and there is an awful lot that can happen in 4 minutes 14 seconds... Just read Michael Z. Williamson's Contact with Chaos."

Maybe in the movies, but in the middle of a real firefight, 5 minutes is no time at all. It might take that long to identify where enemy fire is coming from in a more precise manner than "thataway".

Anonymous said...

Rick, British imperialism in India was more land-based than you give it credit for. It switched its main focus to control of territory and revenue from taxation rather than trade long before the Queen got her title. Indirect rule was dead in the water almost 100 years before once royal troops had to be called upon to assert British superiority on land in India. Indirect rule was then kept aroud as a useful legal construct. Sending troops so far away was expensive and very slow but their technical and organizational superiority was such that it trumped these logistical concerns.
There is no such thing as a maritime power. It's a phrase used to talk about powers which rely more on ships than others. But they're still basically land-based because most resources are on land and people can't live at sea very long even if they're fishing. And so historical "maritime" empires have flourished in conditions when the conquerors were technically and/or organizationally far superior to the natives.
And that's the part that's relevant to plausible space empires. Unless you have implausibly cheap interstellar travel, comparably strong worlds will at best be able to take over small colonies or to threaten destruction with doomsday weapons. They won't be able to conquer each other.

This calls forth an imperialist rationale which I don't believe has been considered so far. It would be a matter of security for a world much more advanced than others (such as an Earth that has recently established colonies in other systems) to preserve this lead in order to reduce the risk of a future war that might involve doomsday weapons. So you could imagine an empire based not on the lust for unobtainium or religiously motivated but based on a security imperative: keeping down those who are too far away to be totally controlled.
I won't go into AI again here except to mention that a plausible far-future AI (not anthropomorphic and/or somehow incapable of controlling humans) could run such an interstellar empire even without FTL.

-Horselover Fat

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"Terminology is a bit of a sore spot in Space Opera; Battle cruisers are NOT meant to be ships of the line (as the British found out in Jutland), Destroyers are (or were) small escorts for capital ships and really, there are few space going analogues of wet navy warships. Constellations of laser stars and kinetic stars seems to be the most appropriate model instead."

"Battlecruiser" is a term of art that has little real meaning. British pre-WWI battlecruisers (the "classics", as it were) were large, fast dreadnoughts without armor. German battlecruisers were simply large, fast dreadnoughts. Japanese battlecruisers built with British technical assistance were by many accounts the ships that the British designers really wanted to build. These too were large, fast dreadnoughts, and served as battle line units in WWII. The British battlecruiser Hood, built with war experience, was likewise a fast battleships.

Postwar designs that were never built followed the large, fast trend. The USS Alaska class has been labeled "battlecruiser" by several observers, but in reality it was intended to be a class of supercruisers that would dominate the super-heavy cruisers (AKA "pocket battleships") Germany was building and that the Japanese were suspected of developing. They had a hull form taken from cruiser genetics, including a lack of underwater protection.

"Destroyer" has a lot of the same ambiguity surrounding it, since 20th Century naval destroyers were anything from sea-going torpedo boats to large, sophisticated multipurpose fleet escorts the size of Dreadnought Era light cruisers.

So, if you want to call a space warship a "battlecruiser" or a "destroyer", there's nothing really wrong with it. It's not like there are clearly defined nautical types to pay homage to. It's more important to understand whay your class hierarchy exists, what each class's doctrinal role and tactical missions are, and to be consistent with your nomenclature, wherever it is drawn from.

Finally, I wouldn't be so sure that automated, relatively small weapons platforms are necessarily the shape of the future. Certainly in an interstellar empire there is some value to having warships that can go from place to place and that possess a full range of technical and tactical capabilities.

In that respect, the average interstellar space warship might indeed be like a modern destroyer. There would be no "all big gun" ships, if you will. There would instead be a wide range of sensors and weapons available on each vessel, with some classes optimized towards one thing, and other classes optimized towards something else.

Think in terms of the FSU Sovremenny and Udaloy classes. Both have a full array of anti-air, anti-surface, ant anti-submarine weapons, but the former is anti-surface warfare optimized, while the latter is anti-submarine optimized. Likewise, a space "destroyer" (or whatever you want to call it) could be strike optimized, fleet defense optimized, etc.

Tony said...

Horselover Fat:

"There is no such thing as a maritime power. It's a phrase used to talk about powers which rely more on ships than others. But they're still basically land-based because most resources are on land and people can't live at sea very long even if they're fishing. And so historical "maritime" empires have flourished in conditions when the conquerors were technically and/or organizationally far superior to the natives."

The British Empire would not have existed without a overseas trade. The Netherlands had certainly no European empire. They relied on overseas trade as well for their wealth. Both developed into hegemonic sea powers in order to secure their overseas trade.

The Athenians? In Greece, a city, a hinterland, and a seaport -- but their supposedly non-existent maritime power ensured that they had plenty of Ukrainian wheat to eat while the Spartans roamed around in Attica trying to draw the Athenians out into a land fight. The Spartans never became a sea power themsleves, but they did bcome a focuse of the maritime power of both their Greek allies and Persia, in order to beat Athens.

In short, of course there is such a thing as a Maritime power. It can defined as a state that remains isolated or insular at home, but which uses a large and efficient navy to protect overseas trade and transport soldiers to overseas battlefields.

"This calls forth an imperialist rationale which I don't believe has been considered so far. It would be a matter of security..."

Security is always the primary imperialist rationale. Dominating your environment is ultimately a matter of securing what you find valuable within it for your own use.

jollyreaper said...

So, if you want to call a space warship a "battlecruiser" or a "destroyer", there's nothing really wrong with it. It's not like there are clearly defined nautical types to pay homage to. It's more important to understand whay your class hierarchy exists, what each class's doctrinal role and tactical missions are, and to be consistent with your nomenclature, wherever it is drawn from.

There's so much connotation baggage involved with such terminology that I want to avoid it as much as possible. The temptation remains, of course.

I forget who coined the rule but it goes along the lines of "Don't make up space words when normal words will do." Don't use sectons and centons when you can just say seconds and minutes -- you'll embarrass yourself.

But made-up or repurposed words are necessary when presenting ideas that have no comfortable analog in our previous experience. We have the word "king" to describe a ruler but the rulers of Egypt were sufficiently different from the European standard that importing their own word is completely valid. We call him Pharaoh. And while there are certainly native Egyptian words for priests and ministers, the English words get the idea across. But it would grate to call a high-priest a bishop of the egyptian temple.

I'm comfortable with using the term warship for any combatant space vessel and might even go along with battleship but other words really sit wrong, especially ones like frigate and destroyer. But you can easily go mad running in circles making up new terms. And military loves tradition. That's why we have ranks like rear admiral even though we don't use battle lines anymore.

Raymond said...

I think what Horselover Fat was getting at was that even a "maritime power" still required substantial and competent land forces. The navy allows the power in question to project its forces well past its borders, certainly, and confers strategic advantages over other powers with limited navies, but functional land power is still required to maintain control.

Sabersonic said...

Hopefully the blogger won't delete my post like the last couple of times I tried....

" So you could imagine an empire based not on the lust for unobtainium or religiously motivated but based on a security imperative: keeping down those who are too far away to be totally controlled." - Horselover Fat

Such an idea is something I have to comment on since that empire model is quite similar to some of the Interstellar States I've imagined for my own space opera. However, their rationale is basicly to conqure potential rivals before they become serious threats in a kind of paranoia due to past interstellar seiges (which is basically what planetary "blockade" and orbital bombardment are in one sense, though more similar to its more "surgical strike" cousin more then the trench warfare or even mideival castle seiges that we're familiar with).

A similar idea could be putforth that possible interstellar empires (FTL travel or not) could recruit other planets to offer security from other hostile planets in return for some form of tribute or trade in the form of.....for the sake of argument let's assume a kind of mined Unobtanium until we have a better rationale for interplanetary, let alone interstellar trade. Said security could be partially funded by the new member planet who, dependend upon the policies of the metropole in question, could focus their defense and military resources for planetary scale operations rather than invest in interplanetary interceptor constellations and interstellar expeditionary forces.

"So, if you want to call a space warship a "battlecruiser" or a "destroyer", there's nothing really wrong with it. It's not like there are clearly defined nautical types to pay homage to. It's more important to understand whay your class hierarchy exists, what each class's doctrinal role and tactical missions are, and to be consistent with your nomenclature, wherever it is drawn from." - Tony

Another one I need to comment on, since we're apparently now talking about the Star Force military arm of for any potenial interstellar empire, even if we assume that FTL travel isn't possible or at least economically viable for war there are various variables and factors that would neccesstate class heirarchy for combat orientated spacecraft and their role within any given constellation. There are interplanetary DeltaV "range" for lack of a better word spacecraft designed around the expeditionary model of long duration travel within a star system in addition to planetary orbital spacecraft that are more Coast Guard-like patrol craft and not meant to traverse to other worlds. Sound's quite similar to Adam D. Ruppe's theories on possible spacecraft design, but I am of the opinion that there are too many variables for just two classes of combat spacecraft such as point defenses vs. long range bombardment, independent patrol vs. constellation compliment, missiles and kinetics vs. directed energy weaponry such as lasers and particle projection weaponry, communication and control over front-line duty, and many others that I might have missed. And this is just for combat spacecraft for interplanetary duties within a solar system, let alone interstellar divisions or even logistical auxiliary craft.

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Sabersonic said...

Accured blogger deleted half of my commented, so I am forced to just post what I had left.

As for the proliferation of FTL capable Interstellar Empires in modern media over STL civlizations, I believe it allows for a kind of analogue of Nation-States that we modern folk are familiar with and relate to more easily if the Central Government and Planetary "Sub-National Units" are able to communicate and interact regularly and in a timely fashion not unlike Nation-States and their associated geo-politics today.

FTL allows a kind of patriotic pride that is more plausible for the occupancy of worlds that are not within reasonable STL, let alone interplanetary, contact range from the central government in addition to a shared social and cultural heritage throughout the rest of claimed astrotory of the interstellar empire in question. Otherwise such world would have evolved into such unique social and cultural environments independent of one another with absolutely no need to associate with each other, let alone any potential central interstellar government that would make any possible political association beyond Trade Federation EXTREMELY unlikely.

FTL travel and FTL interstellar communications have been known to come hand in hand in the media that features an FTL civilization since it is almost inevitably plausible that communication will be as fast, if not faster, than travel and allow tempers that arise between arguments of differences to stay heated for a longer period of time if there is no wait period.

However, even I have to admit that there's a kind of quaintness to packet-like courier craft being the only form of interstellar communication and all the potential drama that could derive from it such as the dissillusioned military commander who is given orders by an impartial high command several parsecs away from the actual fighting. Far enough away that any reply would take too long to reach for any immediate action to be taken that would spark some philosophical, social, or even psychological thriller-like drama on part of the commander who is given the choice of either follow the orders given to him to the letter or to execute their own plans based upon what they know of the overall combat environment of the engagement all too well.

Not really sure how similar military heirarchy-wise such a setting would be compared to the naval warfare period of the Crimean War up to World War I.

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Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"There's so much connotation baggage involved with such terminology..."

Only, I think, if you allow yourself to be bound by it. Besides, the words don't really connote what most people think they do anyway. Continuing with the battlecruiser example, battlecruisers really were dimensionally larger than, and displaced almost as much as, contemporary battleships. Not knowing the technical tradeoffs of propulsion, armor, and armament, the layman might visually compare a battlecruiser to a battleship and think the former the superior weapon system on the basis of sheer size.

Likewise, in the US Navy, the meanings of "cruiser", "destroyer", and "frigate" were highly nuanced over the second half of the 20th century. Prior to 1975, large missile-armed ships that weren't converted gun cruisers, or the one-off nuclear cruiser Long Beach, were termed frigate (in order to evoke the tradition of the original sailing frigates). Cruisers were gun cruisers and gun cruiser to missile cruiser conversions. Destroyers were getting larger, but still smaller than either. At the same time, the Soviets termed everything larger than a certain tonnage cruiser. This meant the Soviets had several times as manny ships classified as cruisers, even though in reality most of the USN frigate types were equivalent or superior to Soviet cruisers. So, in 1975, by administrative fiat, most of the US frigates were retyped cruisers, some were retyped destroyers, and firgate became the designation for the smallest seagoing surface combatants. That resolved the "cruiser gap".

IOW, don't let the connoation thing bother you. It's all arbitrary anyway.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"I think what Horselover Fat was getting at was that even a "maritime power" still required substantial and competent land forces. The navy allows the power in question to project its forces well past its borders, certainly, and confers strategic advantages over other powers with limited navies, but functional land power is still required to maintain control."

It's not like people don't know that. "Maritime power" is still a real distinction. It describes the state's ultimate strategic relationship to other states, in precisely the same way that "continental power" describes the relationship of a state that relies on a large land army witho ther states.

jollyreaper said...


In that respect, the average interstellar space warship might indeed be like a modern destroyer. There would be no "all big gun" ships, if you will. There would instead be a wide range of sensors and weapons available on each vessel, with some classes optimized towards one thing, and other classes optimized towards something else.


Upon some more thinking about what you said here, you could go a million different ways depending on the speculative tech. Good points were made about how ships are inherently different from land combat, even crewed weapons. And there's more similarity between a destroyer and a sub than with an infantry or tank battalion and a tank battalion and fighter squadron would feel more similar than either would to a submarine. (mainly in terms of having bases, manned vehicles operating in conjunction to fulfill the mission, returning to depot for maintenance, not operating independently, etc.)

I'm playing around with the hypersail setting as a way of keeping the combat exciting but plausible. Some natural ship classes have shaken out from the thought experiment.

There's no stealth in realspace but hyperspace has poor visibility. The hyperspace medium can be plucked to transmit data at a distance and the effect propagates faster than light but has a limited range and painfully low bandwidth. Visibility becomes worse the closer to a system's primary you get because the gravity well snarls everything up. Planets have their own effect. The upshot is that you've got shoals and reefs to work through going in-system even though it's a seeming straight line in realspace.

The tactical and strategic value of the scout/courier ship is enormous. They probe ahead of the fleet finding the best routes. They'll pass sensor data acting as relays all the way back to the main fleet using their hyperspace radios. They'll also carry important message traffic to other star systems.

The scout's primary business will be running and will only fight in self-defense. The only time a scout should be picking a fight is taking out a scout from the other side.

jollyreaper said...

The medium warship would be a generalist, capable of fighting in hyperspace and realspace. Hyperspace combat is trying to force another ship to cross your own hyperwake to knock it out of hyperspace and back into realspace. If the defeated ship isn't destroyed outright, the matter is settled with hellblasters in realspace at close range. It might not always be necessary to ensure the kill and so the victorious captain might settle for a probable. The medium ship needs speed to be effective and can catch other mediums as well as interdict civilian traffic. Civilian ships are generally too well-armed to be threatened by scouts.

The heavy warship is meant for taking on realspace targets. Emphasis is placed on armor and beam weapons. They're too big for mediums to knock out of hyperspace very well and would have to be countered by other heavies fighting defensively. Realspace targets don't move so the heavies don't have to run hard to get there. They drop out of hyperspace at close range and it's a pew-pew slugfest, armor boiling off, coherent light spamming everywhere.

The assumption I'm running with in this setting is that you can't really argue with a laserstar. Kinetic kill weapons tend to get vaporized before they do any good against the planet since they're seen incoming and are blasted before they can hit. Even if the KK is given a really high velocity, brought into FTL and then dropped out near the planet, there's still enough time to hit it with the beam and certainly the carrier vessel will now be open to attack. FTL is expensive and the targets are massive so you're stuck resorting to beam weapons.

Within that same setting, the starships will carry spaceships in-system and act as motherships. According to my setting, you need a very big, expensive, and hefty ship to go interstellar. Interstellar hyperspace is very dangerous.

Within interstellar space, hyperspace gets all tangly and knotted. The bigger ships have to move slowly and cautiously to avoid damaging themselves. The smaller spaceships can move at a higher clip and engage in all kinds of daring actions. Some of the spaceships will also be atmospheric-capable and could carry raiding parties.

If we were to analogize to naval ships, the spaceships wouldn't be like fighters or PT boats, they would be like cruisers and destroyers. The medium military starships would feel like super-duper space dreadnaughts and they only get bigger from there. The heavy warships meant to take on planetary defenses are ridiculously enormous and impressive.

There are a TON of assumptions made in this setting and I think it really comes down to taste and personal biases -- it's really, really hard to find scifi universal truths aside from "it's probably going to be completely unlike early 20th century naval combat, even though we keep recycling the terminology."

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"Upon some more thinking about what you said here, you could go a million different ways depending on the speculative tech. Good points were made about how ships are inherently different from land combat, even crewed weapons. And there's more similarity between a destroyer and a sub than with an infantry or tank battalion and a tank battalion and fighter squadron would feel more similar than either would to a submarine. (mainly in terms of having bases, manned vehicles operating in conjunction to fulfill the mission, returning to depot for maintenance, not operating independently, etc.)"

I wouldn't go too far in trying to draw analogies here. The submarine, for example, is pretty narrowly capable. It can basically fire various types of missiles (a torpedo is just a relatively slow missile, for tactical purposes). The destroyer has multiple capabilities. The comparison that one could probably make with land forces is between a German WWII assault gun battalion with no support, and a contemporary US combined armed task force with tanks, infantry, engineers, and artillery support.

Likewise, tanks and aircraft really don't have that many affinites.. Yes, they are crewed weapons systems that require a significant amount of logistics support, but tanks are persistent, where aircraft aren't. Tanks don't have to return to base. They just need to rotate out of the line for an hour or so every day for refuel and rearm (usually from a combat log train not more than a kilometer or two from the front). Aircraft have to recover to a static base, or at least to an established expeditionary airfield. In a way, they're really a kind of highly flexible artillery, more than anything else.

Scott said...

Before the 'cruiser gap', ships were described by their intended role, which was a term of art. Destroyers were anti-sub/anti-surface guard ships, while Destroyer Escorts were primarily AA platforms. CAs were anti-surface and shore bombardment, while CLs were bigger AA platforms.

Now, DDs are anti-sub platforms, while DDGs are AA platforms, and there are no CAs left. All the cruisers fill the CL role of AA defense.

My vision of fighting spacecraft is large, carrier-types to haul the smallcraft needed to control the space above a planet (and any escorts they might need), versus the deep-space fleet. Sure, deep-space is likely to be KKV busses and laserstars. The 'interesting' part of the force from a storytelling POV will be the atmo-jocks, the space equivalent of the brownwater navy.

Depending on tech assumptions, the deepspace fleet may be escort-sized to the 'gator-freighters' of the near-orbit fleet.

Anonymous said...

Raymond,
You got part of what I wanted to say. As for the other part, I'll be more obvious: some people have made statements to the effect that empires are created for the purpose of trade or that they are based on trade. That is essentially imperialist propaganda. You don't need an empire to trade. And trade is not a power base.
The reason you need boots on the ground is that the whole point of having an empire is to coerce. Having an empire is different from having colonies. Say you are interested in a country's products. You can send traders. They might need military protection against pirates and the like but you don't need a whole lot of firepower for that. Or you can send in the troops and force the natives to do your bidding. One big advantage is that you wouldn't need a product to exchange. That's what the East India Company ended up doing in India. It was initially a trading venture but they had little to offer in exchange for oriental luxuries (that's similar to the unobtainium situation where regular goods are too expensive to ship between star systems so that the "trade" ends up being a one-way street) so they figured they could use force to get what they wanted instead of shipping increasingly massive amounts of precious metals to India.
I guess terroristic threats with WMDs could be an alternative to boots on the ground depending on what you want from the natives.
-Horselover Fat

jollyreaper said...


In short, of course there is such a thing as a Maritime power. It can defined as a state that remains isolated or insular at home, but which uses a large and efficient navy to protect overseas trade and transport soldiers to overseas battlefields.


Space gives us the ability to create polities that don't quite fit neatly into the examples of the past -- this is a good and fun thing.

I have a hard time imagining a planet as anything other than self-sufficient. The example of Trantor from Foundation is the most ridiculous example of all scifi and later works only emulate the folly, never exceed it. Not that I'm thinking Asimov was trying to promote it as a good idea, just a thought experiment on taking a bad idea from beginning to end. But I just have trouble even imagining the kind of expenditure of energy it would take to ship in freakin' grain across interstellar distances. This isn't the same as a nation on Earth being a net importer. (And Asimov never mentioned what they did with the resulting fecal matter. Probably sent back on the ships but what if they overlooked that detail? Oh, my!)

Unless FTL becomes utterly smeggin' dirt cheap, I can't imagine that kind of economic model working. I think planets will be self-sufficient for most needs, especially as the population grows. A fresh colony might not have the industrial base to design the super high-tech doodads. A mature colony would have billions and I think could swing it.

The maritime powers I'm thinking would be the ones living on the orbitals. Their basic polity unit could be the ships themselves. I'm a real fan of the ship-based society model, the ships being spacefaring cities. We're not on Earth, we're not running tramp freighters. Why leave your family behind if you're not heading out to war? Your whole community travels with you. I know the space gypsy trope isn't new but I like it.

One thing I think we might see is the industrial guild model. You can grow your food locally but what if you want the latest in a type of ultratech? You petition that guild to set up a local franchise. They're not shipping the goods over interstellar distances, they're setting up a guild hall, essentially a local colony of the guild and they will be residents of your planet. Their secrets are preserved within the guild but you have access to the products. It's an old way of doing things but I don't see any reason why the form can't arise again.

This would also put us back to the planetary economy being based on goods and services, the interplanetary economy potentially being goods and services but the interstellar economy being about information and services. You're either delivering information or people who can do things for you.

jollyreaper said...

Likewise, tanks and aircraft really don't have that many affinites.. Yes, they are crewed weapons systems that require a significant amount of logistics support, but tanks are persistent, where aircraft aren't. Tanks don't have to return to base. They just need to rotate out of the line for an hour or so every day for refuel and rearm (usually from a combat log train not more than a kilometer or two from the front). Aircraft have to recover to a static base, or at least to an established expeditionary airfield. In a way, they're really a kind of highly flexible artillery, more than anything else.


Right, I know the analogies break down. But we hummies love to analogize.

Tony said...

Horselover Fat:

"...empires are created for the purpose of trade or...they are based on trade. That is essentially imperialist propaganda. You don't need an empire to trade. And trade is not a power base."

Wow...

The reasons for empire are many and varied, but trade and security of trade is always an issue. Certainly Classical Mediteranean empires had a high degree of internal trade security and nutritional security for the capital city always in mind. The British Empire, most famously, was established in reaction to threats to overseas trade, both on the ground and on the high seas. US imperialism in the 20th Century was all about business. German geopolitical arguments were fundamentally economic, even if they chose pillage and rapine over straight trade.

The bottom line is that empire is useless without profits. So what if you have control of someplace? If you steal everything there is to be had, it will bleed you to death supporting it in the future. If you can't make a profit, it will bleed you to death in a different way. That has certainly happened often enough, but not so often to invalidate protection of trade as a reason to establish empire.

Thucydides said...

WRT ship designations, it is more of a personal snit than anything else.

I like the classical "age of sail" breakdown of various "rates" for ships of the line, with a screen of frigates to scout, run messages and carry out independent patrols. In the age of steam, a "cruiser" was generally considered to be large and powerful enough to carry out independent actions, although each navy had their own ideas of what constituted a "cruiser". The highly successful German commerce raiders of WWI (like the SMS Emden) were relatively small and didn't carry a very impressive battery, while British Battlecruisers were prehistoric sea monsters in compartison.

If we carry that analogy into space, then we can have various "rates" of laser and kinetic stars (a laserstar packing a kilometer long liiac to power its Xaser is pretty clearly a "first rate" weapon), and frigates to carry out the various missions that require a bit more finess than 100,000 KKVs arriving en mass.

As a fan of the CoDominium universe, I would see grafting this construct onto FTL tramlines by having a large FTL "carrier" to bring the various frigates and rates to the contested star system as "battle riders" (alert readers might remember this terminology from GDW's "Traveller" RPG). Since the battle riders are already fueled and armed, they can fight from the carrier platform right after the jump if needed.

Given the way the Alderson drive works, the carrier fleet is led by unmanned missiles carrying massive warheads with clockwork timers (look up the effects of jump shock on humans and electronics), but this can be adjusted for whatever FTL system strikes your fancy.

Tony said...

Re: Asimov and Trantor

Remember, ol' Ike based the Foundation Trilogy on Gibbon. Trantor was a direct analog of Rome, which subsisted off of food and other goods from all over the empire.

As for the practicality of it all, one must also remember that interstellar flight could be accomplished by one man ships and funded by the trade of atomic-powered doodads. It certainly seems no stretch that for one planet at least, interstellar food transport could be managed.

Tony said...

Re: options for the Alderson Drive universe

We have to remember the existence of the Langston Field. From what I recall of the canon, the Field generator can operate during transit, protecting all of the weapons carried by the ship. Likewise, the smaller the ship, the less energy the Field can absorb before failing. I think that kind of militates towards ships of the line and not much else.

Thucydides said...

Since this idea is pretty out there, I made a separate post:

There really is very little rational for an interstellar Empire, any planet or certainly any solar system is going to be self sufficient, and the amount of trade possible between various star systems will be very limited at best. So in order to have an Empire, you really do need to invoke "unobtanium" to make it worthwhile.

Since normal unobtanium (like 3He) just won't do, we need to get really far out. Using a starting assumption that FTL requires you to tunnel through sections of the Universe (the old folded paper analogy), and the Universe is a "brane", then conceptually there are places where the Universe is stitched to the underlying "bulk", or "branes" with different metrics.

These "stitch points" provide places where subtle leakages of energy and matter take place; either fountains from other Universes or drains out of this Universe. Naturally, this is a very subtle process (or we would know about it right now), and takes place at random intervals (for all practical purposes, the Oort cloud and beyond). Matter coming from a Universe with different metrics would have strange properties that might be exploitable; while an energy drain would provide a way to stealth things or run imensly powerful devices and dispose of the waste heat into literally a different Universe (bypassing the usual thermodynamic limits of this Universe)

We now have something fantastically valuable to trade with, that needs deep space capabilities to reach, and that would eventually attract predators seeking to take over the stitch points and a force prepared to defend these stitch points and the profits they provide. (FTL transit is provided by wormholes which stitch portions of this Universe together. The fountains and drains are separate wormholes which do not stitch portions of this Universe together).

If enough traders across the stitch point network decide to pool resources to protect their investments and to adhere to a common legal framework for trade and contract disputes, then we have a basis for a form of federation or nation, and establishing the trappings of Empire (or settling for a commercial Empire like the United States) becomes possible.

Anonymous said...

While many stories have every other star having at least one "shirtsleeve" planet, that probably isn't the case. Most likely, out of 100 planets we'd likely colonize, 99 of them would have domes or underground cities; I think the gold standard of colony worlds should be whether they have the enviornment to grow,prepare, and package coffee and chocolate: before you laugh, think about this; both of these reguire a great deal of room to grow the crop, relaviely labor-intensive harvisting, large areas to prepare, store, package, and then you have to maintain a large logistics structure to ship and sell the finished product. Domed cities (unless long established and with surplus volume) won't, as a general rule, be able to provide the space and man-power to produce a luxury item. It might be funny, but interstellar trade might be rare raw resources in one direction, and coffee and chocolate in the other; dozens of worlds that can sustain themselves and send back surplus-to-their-needs rare elements back to the 'core' worlds, with Earth and the few other 'shirtsleeve' planets shipping luxury items to the planets that are unable or unwilling, to produce them. For an example; Earth trades coffee to Bob's World for their extra Neodynium, Yettium, ect and both make a profit on the deal.

Sillier situations have happened in the past and I don't see any reason for it to not develop again in the future.

Ferrell

Milo said...

Jollyreaper:

"Civilian ships are generally too well-armed to be threatened by scouts."

Well-armed civilian ships suggests weak governments and widespread piracy.

Rick said...

Whew! Just got done reading all 78 comments (so far!) in this thread.

I had no specific set of assumptions in mind for this thread, which was intended to throw the door open to operatic discussion in general.

In fact, I love a thread that starts right out with something I hadn't thought of, namely that - depending on your FTL assumptions - the FTL force could be a different service branch. If FTL is a plenum that you actually can actually navigate and maneuver in, warp style, not just a rabbit hole you jump through, this is entirely plausible.

I didn't think of it because my bias is toward rabbit holes, but this is purely a bias (deeply influenced by Heinlein's Starman Jones).

FTL as an actual operating environment is certainly one way to free yourself of the constraints of fighting in normal space.


On nomenclature, my bias is to come up with new terms for space warcraft, rather than recycling battlecruisers, frigates, etc. Thus for example I've happily adopted 'laser star,' which was probably first introduced here by a commenter.

But again, this is strictly a bias!

jollyreaper said...


"Civilian ships are generally too well-armed to be threatened by scouts."

Well-armed civilian ships suggests weak governments and widespread piracy.


Not so much that governments aren't strong, they just can't be strong everywhere.

One other rationale for being armed ... I like the feel of the early age of sail where there was still a lot of serious mystery out there, many unknowns, and the idea of an edge of the world to sail off of and sea monsters were all quite plausible. How about space monsters?

We've had a succession of them in Trek, usually amorphous free-living space organisms made of energy that can destroy ships and examples go way back in scifi. If we chalk them up to "life, Jim, but not as we know it" then we can simply say they're reproducing non-biological freespace dwellers who represent a serious threat to safe navigation. Just as sharks attack surfers because they look like seals when viewed from below, human starships might look like prey non-animals to the predator non-animals.

Something like the Star Wars space slug rankles because it's too much like a moray eel, too much like something from Earth. A proper space monster shouldn't look biological but wouldn't necessarily be a rogue self-reproducing war machine like a Berserker.

I'm still playing with the idea, not firmly settled on what it will ultimately be yet.

jollyreaper said...

These "stitch points" provide places where subtle leakages of energy and matter take place; either fountains from other Universes or drains out of this Universe. Naturally, this is a very subtle process (or we would know about it right now), and takes place at random intervals (for all practical purposes, the Oort cloud and beyond). Matter coming from a Universe with different metrics would have strange properties that might be exploitable; while an energy drain would provide a way to stealth things or run imensly powerful devices and dispose of the waste heat into literally a different Universe (bypassing the usual thermodynamic limits of this Universe)

My first thought would be that if the matter's characteristics were based on different interactive forces in the other universe, it would all come apart when placed in ours. But this is gut reaction, not the word of a trained fizzycyst.

But your idea is actually like something from Lovecraft. The Mi-Go were coming from Yuggoth to Earth specifically because of something they could only get here, not elsewhere. If I remember the particulars right it was something like trans-dimensional mining. And that's a brilliant idea. No, the aliens aren't coming here for our water; they could get that from the asteroids. They're coming for our unobtanium ore.

When you get right down to it, anything we trade right now is just a bunch of common elements rearranged in different ways. We buy a lunch at a markup when we could have just as easily bought the ingredients and brownbagged from home. It's more convenient to buy the prepared meal.

We have pretty crude methods of rearranging matter right now. There's no way to make food except for raising animals and crops. If we had Star Trek replicators we could put together a steak dinner from atomic feedstock. We don't so we have to do it the old-fashioned way.

I think we could classify futuretech goods into three categories:
1. Stuff anyone can assemble from commonly available materials in a solar system given time, ability, and inclination
2. Stuff that requires uncommon materials (your universe-leakage matter mentioned above)
3. Stuff not anyone can assemble because there's either a secret process or it's just that difficult.

One of the theories I had for the movie Avatar was that the unobtanium there is an artifact of a post-signularity civ. It's an alloy or normal elements and ultra-heavy elements from theorized islands of stability further down the periodic table. Completely artificial elements, hard to manufacture atom by atom, freakishly difficult to make in volume. The unobtanium was used by the singularians to build the universal mind/soul of Pandora's Gaia entity.

I was completely wrong in that regard. The unobtanium is rare, something we cannot synthesize but the result of a natural process -- it was handwaved as a result of Pandora forming in the strong magnetic fields of the parent planet. I don't like this version since you'd think we could figure out the mundane elements that make up the alloy and manufacture it ourselves.

Rick said...

A couple of further general observations. Defense is a time honored basis for imperialism: The Romans defended their way to domination of the entire Mediterranean world.

I tend to agree that your typical 'classical' interstellar colony wouldn't have much need of trade, since a habitable planet plus the rest of its planetary system should be pretty self sufficient.

(Trantor was a special case; as Imperial capital its population swelled beyond its carrying capacity, and the Empire could certainly afford to support it, even if doing so was not economical by normal standards.)

That said, there should still be a market at least for imported luxuries - just because you can distill a potable brand of green fuming stuff doesn't mean that genuine Rigelian green fuming brandy won't find a market.

And if this luxury trade accounts for one percent of planetary GDP (GPP?), multiply by 10,000 planets and you have a trade economy 100x larger than the average planetary economy.

A piece I wrote on interstellar trade, from my old website.

Tony said...

It doesn't take unobtainium to motivate empire, it just takes threats that make empire a good idea. Strong governments and strong militaries are very attractive if there are potentially hostile neighbors. On Earth, in the solar system, in an insterstellar milieu. Once the immediate problem of self-defense is solved, the next step is to make sure there are no outside threats. Pournelle's CoDominium future history, for example, ends up with the Second Empire of Man, whose entire mission is to make sure all of mankind is under one strong government.

Scott said...

Rick, if you haven't read them yet, put Laura Reeve's Peacemaker series ( http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=laura+reeve&x=0&y=0 ) on your to-read list.

In that universe, FTL travel is in a separate universe, but due to the nature of the beast, nobody fights there. All the combat takes place in realspace.

The second book,Vigilante, has a pretty good writeup of a small jump-point assault.

The interesting twist to that setting is that you have to drag the artificial jump buoy out via slow-boat. Once the buoy is in place, then you can start the FTL exploration/exploitation.

This has resulted in 3 (human) power blocks in the setting: Terran Expansion League, Consortium of Autonomist Worlds, and the Generation-Ship lines (slow-boaters).

Well, there's also the Minoans (aliens), but they don't bother humans unless you violate their rules. Like mining the buoy approach lanes, or attacking civilian habitats. They have a wonderful sense of justice, too. One isolationist group took credit for attacking a Minoan ship. This group defined the worth of a man in terms of how many sons he had (and defined women as worthless), so the Minoans created a genetically tailored weapon that made every man either infertile or incapable of fathering sons.

FTL comms exist, they're carried across the nav beacon signals on the buoys, but until you have an active buoy in-system, no FTL travel or comms in that system.

The original reason I brought that setting up was that most starships use a separate pilot for FTL and real-space. Different training and certification requirements, not to mention the seriously high-end math you need to be able to handle in your head. The FTL mechanics don't allow for electronic heuristics, so it's all got to be done with a live brain and no external data-processing (mcguffin for manned ships, methinks!)

@Milo, I think you'd see a split between deep-space and near-orbit groups, whether or not you have FTL in the setting.

Raymond said...

Rick:

Given the plethora of examples listed (and their variance), I'd say the specifics of FTL are all-important (and largely driven by author fiat, tweaked to produce the exact scenario the author desired).

Tony:

"It doesn't take unobtainium to motivate empire, it just takes threats that make empire a good idea."

But in the absence of unobtainium (not to mention convoluted FTL rules that result in a lumpy strategic topology), and given the presumed requirement for self-sufficiency on the part of colonies, what exactly would be the threat? In the earlier space warfare threads, we were fairly hard-pressed to conjure scenarios where all-out warfare would be practical, given the enormous expense and marginal gains. Why would an FTL-ridden universe be different?

Scott:

Yeah, it's total hand-waving to avoid automated ships.

Honestly, I'm not sure why that's such a prevalent trope for FTL schemes. Are authors so often tied to human-driven exploration for their plots? Afraid of FTL missiles? I don't get it.

KraKon said...

YAY!
I managed to follow.
First off, replying:

"I was completely wrong in that regard.[...]I don't like this version since you'd think we could figure out the mundane elements that make up the alloy and manufacture it ourselves."

Maybe we have to look at the cost/profit side?
Is it cheaper to send a starship lightyears out into space to fight off hordes of natives and mine the Unobtanium...or put iron in the presence of a ginormous magnetic field for millions of years?

It could come out more expensive in terms of energy...or the investors can't just damn wait a few million years (this is accelerating the effect by strengthening the field...billions of years is more appropriate).
So sometimes, it is cheaper to get something 'out there' that to make it at home.

"It doesn't take unobtainium to motivate empire, it just takes threats that make empire a good idea."

We just need to have Unobtanium for people to go out to space in the first place...an Empire protects the source of the Unobtanium as a priority, and people flow in for the derivated activities. So Empire and Unobtanium might be dissociable (especially further in the Galactic history, where mining super ore is not the main purpose of living in space) by they are strongly linked in the beginning.

"Strong governments and strong militaries are very attractive if there are potentially hostile neighbors."

Said neighbours could be enterprises other than yours who turned into governments because they thought YOU were a threat. Mutual distrust and you go a long way. I use this scenario for the creation of governments in space: different competing Megacorps, with little contact with the homeplanet, become ever more present in the coloniser's lives until they become defacto governments.

"On Earth, in the solar system, in an insterstellar milieu. Once the immediate problem of self-defense is solved, the next step is to make sure there are no outside threats. Pournelle's CoDominium future history, for example, ends up with the Second Empire of Man, whose entire mission is to make sure all of mankind is under one strong government."

In other words, an imaginary threat. Aliens, older generation ships far far away, the mystic forces of the universe...anything to drive the purpose of a multibillion dollar (relative here, it's not like we're gonna use dollars in the far future) enterprise.

"The interesting twist to that setting is that you have to drag the artificial jump buoy out via slow-boat. Once the buoy is in place, then you can start the FTL exploration/exploitation."

In other words, Earth would have to sit around for a few centuries with FTL capability just watching the slow boat sail out...frustrating I would believe.

KraKon said...

"Given the plethora of examples listed (and their variance), I'd say the specifics of FTL are all-important (and largely driven by author fiat, tweaked to produce the exact scenario the author desired)."

Please, please, can I ramble on about my own universe?
This is the softer universe, set several hundred years after Zetaverse. Everything is done using jumps, or folds.
A jump is a small fold, where you pinch the fabric of spacetime (hey! I didn't come up with such cheesy names), allowing to go from A to B seperate by 1000 to 10000km instantly. Physics of it? I don't go into any mumbo jumbo- the universe is a computer simulation, and we knock on the door of reality, get the simulator's attention by a massive burst of energy, then feed it new position codes for said entity. Bang Voilà you're at B.
Problem is, we've got both simulation and material limits to the frequency of these jumps.
Material limits is recharging the megajoule discharge in a few nanoseconds, then making sure you don't vaporize yourself (we use antimatter bombs that drive laser pulses, or hydrogen combustion in wires...the important thing is sequencing the detonation).
The simulation limits are trying to jump too close to something too well defined (a planet) or too often (losing the attention of the simulator, and prompting it to redefine local space).
Bottom line-we get a jump per three seconds. I use that for exciting jumps between 'space fighters' which are not so. They're launched from a carrier, don't need/have the deltaV to limp back home, have limited life time (5 hours) and are brimming with one shot weapons that can take down anything. Capital ships Do have point defense that can zap incoming missiles from far out, but what's the point if the jumper (I don't use the word space fighter with all nasty anti-hardsf connotations) gets in 1000km next to the ship, drops a dozen nuclear accelerated penetrators, and jumps out 10000km? So jumpers chase other jumpers and I've just justified fleet tactics XD
For interstellar jumping, we go far out into the Oort cloud, hope the simulator isn't looking, and make a very big code change.
I wrote this up so that you can check for unintended consequences, like dirt cheap planet busters (initial velocity and vector is conserved after jump, so you move 10000km closer to point A but you'll come out going 120km/s to the left), or effective stealth petawatt flashes every 3 seconds makes it look like a raging swarm of fireflies), or such and such.

"But in the absence of unobtainium (not to mention convoluted FTL rules that result in a lumpy strategic topology)"
Let's just hope I didn't go too far.

"In the earlier space warfare threads, we were fairly hard-pressed to conjure scenarios where all-out warfare would be practical, given the enormous expense and marginal gains. Why would an FTL-ridden universe be different?"

Because...this reduces the attacker's transport handicap to something akin to taking the troop ship and fighting up the beach. This is something we have already accepted as a cost during war.
What we're not familiar with is the equivalent of fighting Irak...if it were on the moon, and all we could do was send 3 astronauts at a time.

Anonymous said...

I have to openly admit that I came up with my setting first and designed the FTL drive to fit it. I wanted definite stepping-stone travel routes and no FTL combat, detection or communications, but not instantaneous jumps or wormhole/jump points that would act as chokepoints. So I came up with a drive where the ship has to accelerate (usually at 1g) until it reaches at least 6000 km/s, must be on course for the target star system, and has to be beyond the orbit of Neptune or an equivalent distance before it can enter 'transitspace'. Once in transitspace, the 'transit bubble' the drive creates around the ship absorbs all radiation and the momentum of matter, allowing the removal of waste heat but preventing astrogation or course changes. FTL speed for all ships except manned and unmanned couriers is limited to around a twentieth of a parsec per hour, and a drive may be active for no more than 60-200 hours at a time, depending on class. Once deactivated, a drive cannot be reactivated for a tenth of the period it was last active for, at maximum 20 hours. This encourages ships to find routes between stars that are 10 parsecs or less, but allows longer trips at the price of spending almost a day in normal space in the middle of the trip. Upon exiting transitspace in the target system, the ship has the same relative velocity it had when it entered, and must decelerate in order to reach its destination in the system.

R.C.

Thucydides said...

I recall Niven and Pournelle had written detailed "specs" of how the Alderson drive and Langston field would work before writing "The Mote in God's Eye", so the plot was driven partially by the limitations built in (no magical pulling ultratech out in chapter 28 to save the day. Come to think of it, it was the Moties who pulled ultratech rabbits from the hat, and it did them no good in the end).

The "Stitch point" universe scenario could have all kinds of interesting things happening within, just based on sticking to the rather nebulous starting assumptions (some wormholes allow you to travel around this Universe, others lead elsewhere or elsewhen). For example, if the wormholes are randomly distributed, the star systems occupied by humans will be randomly scattered throughout the Universe rather than filling a roughly spherical volume around the home star. Each colony settled near a stitchpoint could potentially seed other colonies through normal space, creating the classical spherical cluster somewhere in the Virgo Cluster or the Greater Magellanic Cloud as colonists spread out looking for other stitchpoints (particularly the ones which act as fountains and drains).

Multiple human civilizations arise, including multiple local "Empires". Given the normal xenophobia of humans, it is easy to think that some of these kingdoms and Empires will start to wonder what is really going on with the colonies near the Great Attractor, or does the new Empire in the Andromeda Galaxy constitute a threat? Diplomacy and fleet building follow...

WRT the Langston field, I believe the effectiveness of the field was linked to the size of the generator. Obviously a General class battlecruiser could carry a big field generator much more easily than a Frigate, but since a ship inside the field is effectively invisible, there is no way to know what is actually inside the field until the Captain drops it or the field collapses. Sneaky Admirals might put a Dreadnaught sized field generator inside a Frigate in order to confuse the enemy (any battleship or First Rate sized field wil draw immediate attention), and the Grand Admiral will make updating field generators the first priority in any upgrading or service life extension programs.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"But in the absence of unobtainium (not to mention convoluted FTL rules that result in a lumpy strategic topology), and given the presumed requirement for self-sufficiency on the part of colonies, what exactly would be the threat?"

Why the Cold War? Geostrategically, two continental empires with oceans between them should be the best of friends. All it takes is competing motivations, points of interface, and the ability to do damage.

"WRT the Langston field...Sneaky Admirals might put a Dreadnaught sized field generator inside a Frigate in order to confuse the enemy (any battleship or First Rate sized field wil draw immediate attention)..."

Don't forget that for a dreadnaught sized field, you need a dreadnought sized power plant and fuel supply. What you wind up with is a frigate that is nothing but power plant and tankage. Enemies are going to get awful suspicious when they start blasting away at thie spacegoing Wild Weasel and don't receive any return fire. seems like a poor use of resources, just to divide the enemy's fire.

jollyreaper said...

(Trantor was a special case; as Imperial capital its population swelled beyond its carrying capacity, and the Empire could certainly afford to support it, even if doing so was not economical by normal standards.)

Trantor also represented an example of futurism "like today but moreso," just projecting current trends out a hundred years. If we're building skyscrapers and they're ten times taller than the buildings in my dad's day, then my grandchildren will be seeing skyscrapers a hundred times bigger than the ones of today! Er, not quite.

When you consider how businesses were operated in the contemporary time, you needed legions of bureaucrats to keep up with the paperwork. Microfiche was around at the beginning of the 20th century so it was a straight progression to imagine giant library towers holding the accumulated knowledge of a galactic empire. Later, you had computer tapes replacing the microfiche towers. And to work with all of that data you needed billions of clerks slaving away.

There's been talk that the very concept of "the big city" might undergo a radical shift in the future. In times past, you needed a place to congregate. Your HQ is there, their HQ is there, meetings happen face-to-face. You have to be centralized. If your HQ is in another city, you'll at least have a branch office here. And you need everyone in the same office tower to make things happen. Business lives on paper and that paper needs to pass from one desk to the next.

In New York we're seeing the trend to moving the back office out to places like New Jersey. The land's cheaper, the paperwork is all electronic, and you save money on the HQ. Even when the work's still on physical paper, it's cost-effective to ship it off. And technology is only making decentralization easier.

I think there's a lot of inertia to doing things the old way and I'm not saying New York is going to be abandoned any time soon but I think it was technological limitations that necessitated that kind of top-down hierarchy and the technology is now allowing for a more decentralized way of doing things.

jollyreaper said...

we were fairly hard-pressed to conjure scenarios where all-out warfare would be practical, given the enormous expense and marginal gains. Why would an FTL-ridden universe be different?

Well, you have the usual human causes of wars -- need, greed, and ideology.

1. need: there's limited resources to go around, someone's going to have to do without, and there's no settling matters like civilized people.

2. greed: There's plenty to go around but some jerk wants more than his fair share. It only takes one jerk to start a war and you can't blame the other guy for defending himself.

3. ideology: political or religious, and not just a disingenuous justification for one of the first two reasons, when you can't really see it as a case of enlightened self-interest.

I think someone else already had a quote along these lines, something like "If you look at the history books, we want to live in boring parts we skip over but we want to read about the horrible and dramatic parts." There's probably a pithier way of putting that but it's true.

Consider this whole blog. While we certainly have talk of idealized utopian futures, we're not talking about writing stories of Joe Future living in his peaceful, post-scarcity lifestyle and hanging out with his friends drinking beer. We want to have stories where that lifestyle is threatened and Joe has to defend it.

It's an old saw but very true, the nature of storytelling is conflict. The seven basic conflicts: Man against Man, Man against Nature, Man against Himself, Man against God, Man against Society, Man caught in the Middle, Man & Woman.

Even if the futurism doesn't involve societies locked in total war, there's going to be some kind of conflict or else the story just sits there not doing anything.


Honestly, I'm not sure why that's such a prevalent trope for FTL schemes. Are authors so often tied to human-driven exploration for their plots? Afraid of FTL missiles? I don't get it.


There's the inherent conflict of wanting to keep humans in the story but not doing so in a hamfisted and obvious way.

No matter how advanced the societies are we want to write about, the audience is still 21st century hummies. While we may want to stretch some brains with radical ideas and new ways of thinking, we're still playing to the modern audience. While it's possible to write a story from the perspective of a Culture supership, I wouldn't know how to write from the perspective of a godlike AI. I don't think Banks does, either; I believe every single protagonist in the Culture books has been baseline or near-baseline human.

Now someone might point out "Ah, but there have been novels with non-human protagonists!" Yeah. So? Go all the way back to Aesop and the animals were just anthropomorphizing. Same goes for the gods of the ancients, petty and cruel humans with superpowers.

If you push the motivations too far away from the human mainstream, it becomes very, very difficult to understand. Read some manifestos from people like the religious cultists or the Time Cube guy or various art movements. You're often left shaking your head saying "I can't even understand the argument he's trying to make, let alone why he would devote his life to making it." (I was going to put the Unabomer on the list but we can at least understand the idea of an anti-technology crusade while disagreeing with it.)

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"I was going to put the Unabomer on the list but we can at least understand the idea of an anti-technology crusade while disagreeing with it."

Many of Kaczynski's complaints actually make sense in isolation, The problem is the way he connects the dots.

Mangaka2170 said...

Since we seem to have switched gears and are now talking about FTL drives (and no one seems to like my astroturf revolution idea), I've been doing some thinking about the Albecurrie (sp) Drive, or as I'll simplify for the rest of this post, the good ol' warp drive.

To summarize, the warp drive works by creating a bubble of spacetime around the ship and then compressing space in the direction of flight and expanding it in the reverse. Apparently relativity doesn't apply to spacetime itself.

As a result, you can keep accelerating with the warp drive for as long as you want and maintain speeds well over the speed of light (you have to, otherwise you just stop), but all of this momentum only applies to the spacetime bubble you're in; in order to stop, you just turn the engine off and your bubble of spacetime merges with the rest of the universe, preserving any velocity you had before you engaged your warp drive.

Now, this spacetime bubble provides some interesting consequences; no light or matter can enter or exit the field unless the field merges with another (any object in the radius of the field when activated will be dragged along with it, and objects within the field interact with each other normally when within). Thusly, while there's no need for a navigational deflector or force fields to protect the ship from deadly grains of sand, sensors and communications can't pick anything up outside the field, you can't see anything outside the field and no one in the universe at large can detect your presence.

So, we have the interesting consequence of stealth in space, but only when using your warp drive. Navigation while at warp is done by running a detailed computer simulation of that general area of the galaxy, while communications and sensors might be done with human psychics (we're already talking about making FTL travel work here, so assuming that humans can't develop some sort of interesting powers that can penetrate a warp field isn't entirely out of the question, plus it gives a good reason for humans to be on the ship).

Raymond said...

Tony:

The Cold War ostensibly had Europe as the prize, parts of which were integrated into the economic systems of the continental powers in question. This gave a much larger interface between the two than if they were truly on isolated continents.

Based on what we've already theorized WRT space colonies, with their utter dependence or near-total independence, that sort of economic integration with central powers is much less plausible. Ergo, while I can see spaceborne defenses in some form to ensure full-scale war is a costly endeavor, without a McGuffinite or a crusade the cost/benefit ratio eliminates most external threats by default.

jollyreaper:

I think you misunderstand - I'm mostly talking about the total-war version of conflict, since that's the threat which would drive explicit attempts at empire-building. IOW, the "need" and "greed" motivations you listed are scaled back or removed from practicality.

As for FTL requiring humans: this may be entirely personal taste, but I find most schemes end up being exactly as ham-fisted and arbitrary as their authors are trying to avoid.

Tony said...

Re: Raymond

I think you underestimate the imperative of control. People outside of your control are dangerous, if not today, at some point in the future.

Tony said...

Re: Alcubierre metric physics

A ship using the Alcubierre metric would build up a region of densely populated space immediately in front of it, as it swept up mass and energy occupying the contracting space forward. Some kind of shield (possibly a gravity gradient would be) would be needed forward of the ship to keep the resulting radiation flux from leaking trough and endangering the vessel, pax, and cargo.

Also, presuure within this region would cause radiation, probably hard X and gamma rays, to leak out the edge of the effect. An Alcubierre ship should be easily detectable after it passed, by the "photonic boom".

A Joseph P Martino story appearing in one of the late 60s Analog issues explored the tactics of detecting, pursuing, and attacking a ship with an energy wake. Basically, patrol ships qould quarter a region of space, and when they detected a passing FTL ship's light cone, they would run a search pattern to establish the vector, then engage in pursuit. When the enemy was estimated to be in range, a spread of FTL torpedoes would be fired in an attempt to destroy the target. The countermeasure for this was to have a drone following each ship. When a pursuing vessel passed the drone, the drone would burn out it's drive to run past the mother ship and warn it of pursuit.

jollyreaper said...

Since we seem to have switched gears and are now talking about FTL drives (and no one seems to like my astroturf revolution idea),

Well, doing it as traditional propaganda would be kind of blah but how about this? There's no FTL, you have to go interstellar the old-fashioned way. You've got a gestalt mind that makes a trip across lightyears to get to a fertile target planet. The ship itself is no bigger than a football but is capable of sustaining uploaded minds. Let's say that they're humans who want to engage in some good old-fashioned planetary conquest and set themselves up to be worshiped as gods. There's no super-duper nanowank so they can't just park themselves in the oort cloud and build an invasion force from what they carried with them in their football. They don't believe in holodecadence so they can't just create a VR world to lord over -- they must know they have mastery over real, thinking, breathing flesh and blood people.

So what's their weapon? We have sound beam projectors in prototype that can shoot a wave of sound at a target so that only he can hear it. This s real existing tech. If we imagine that such a thing could be tuned to the human subconscious and reach us in our sleep, this football in space could start sending religious visions to the unsuspecting populace below.

The minds inside didn't invent the tech they're using but are willing to employ it in an evil, insidious fashion. They have detailed archives of all manner of technology. Their goal is to start a religious movement downstairs, take over the world, and eventually reach the point of technical perfection where physical bodies can be created to house downloads of their own minds. They have the immortality of gods that most evil dictators have craved but they need terrified subjects. That's the goal.

So maybe some minds from the culture that spawned them find out what they did and sent uploads on their own little ship after them to setup a counter-cult?

Raymond said...

Tony:

"I think you underestimate the imperative of control. People outside of your control are dangerous, if not today, at some point in the future."

I'm not underestimating anything. But except for scenarios where FTL travel can be done from low orbit to low orbit, the mechanisms of control are the same as the mechanisms of threat: realspace, STL travel, with all the limitations and expense already discussed on the space warfare threads. Absurdly expensive, slow, and possibly strategically indecisive depending on the defender's fortifications. This lessens the actual threat (not necessarily the perceived, granted) at the same time as it raises the cost of the control supposedly necessary to prevent it. As long as the FTL tech in question still requires a significant realspace component (and assuming ancillary technologies don't render the realspace distance negligible), I just don't see "defensive imperialism" as likely.

What I do see in such a dynamic, mind you, would be an emphasis on planetary imperialism, given the immense strategic value of a unified planet.

jollyreaper:

The problem with a scenario like the one you outline is right at the beginning - if it's a fertile planet, why only a football-sized craft with no capacity for construction? Are we talking about attempting to conquer already-settled planets?

Tony said...

Re: Raymond

We're talking past each other here. For there to be independent planets with large populations, interstellar travel has to be cheap enough that sufficient people and goods can be transported to make viable colonies. The specific mechanisms and the level of subsequent trade are irrelevant. The mechanisms will be sufficient and the trade existent, because transplanting a chunk of civilization from one place to another is much more expensive than trade.

jollyreaper said...

jollyreaper:

The problem with a scenario like the one you outline is right at the beginning - if it's a fertile planet, why only a football-sized craft with no capacity for construction? Are we talking about attempting to conquer already-settled planets?


The idea is the necessity to conduct an invasion on the cheap. I'm just scenario-writing, not advocating. This is with regards to the propaganda invasion idea.

Now, why would the planet be ripe for invasion, unable to detect this craft's memetic attack? We could always go with the trope of a tech collapse post-colonization. Everyone talks about how expensive space travel is so maybe the original settlers could foot the bill for a generation ship but these later invaders are working on a limited budget and can only afford to send that tiny ship to another star.

There are a great number of assumptions that have to be made for that scenario but hell, there's a great number of assumptions made for any scenario.

Tony said...

Rick:

"I didn't think of it because my bias is toward rabbit holes, but this is purely a bias (deeply influenced by Heinlein's Starman Jones)."

Which is funny, because Heinlein's implementation of rabbit holes is so poor, compared to say the Alderson Drive. The idea that one has to speed up to lightspeed to jump down the rabbit hole is bad enough, but the jumping past lightspeed by flipping a switch to add just enough extra impulse is really rotten physics, even for 1953. So is the idea that navigation could be done by blink comparison of star charts with pictures taken near the speed of light. Heinlein just doesn't seem to have read a book on relativity prior to writing.

As Niven and Pournelle pointed out in The Gripping Hand, hitting a jump point at a few thousand klicks per second is hard enough. Doing it a relativistic speeds would be a preposterously difficult task.

Which is not to say I hate the book or its message. I just can't stand the weakness of the described FTL regime.

Scott said...

Honestly, I'm not sure why that's such a prevalent trope for FTL schemes. Are authors so often tied to human-driven exploration for their plots? Afraid of FTL missiles? I don't get it.If there aren't any humans, it's hard to sell the story. Even the Bolo stories are about the humans involved in the war more than the Bolos themselves. I believe this is Jon's Law of scifi, from Atomic Rockets.

=====
In the Peacekeeper setting, humanity was contacted by the Minoans, after humanity's attempts at FTL travel kept getting lost in FTL-land and given access to the nav-buoy network that the Minoans had built up. In addition, first contact was several hundred years in the past compared to the novels. Besides, if all you need to do is drag a buoy out the another star, Alpha Centauri or Proxima Centauri is ~10 years out.

At the start of the series, a generation-ship just wrapped up a 40-year-objective-time haul (5-10 years subjective?), so the civilizations aren't opposed to long-term investments.

It's only modern America that seems to be incapable of seeing past the next quarterly earnings estimate!

Albert said...

On interstellar Army: In this case, "shipping troops with spacecraft" isn't a show-stopper per-se, but stretching supply lines a lot most definetly is.

That was a problem even for entirely land-based armies since it can either fail spectacularly (Napoleon in Russia?), or become a vital target (like during the US indipendence, when french kept blockaded ports and harassed encìglish naval, or again during US Civili war, when South ports were blockaded by Northern ships) .

For example, you may have a FTL drive with limited endurance, and be forced to travel somewhat slowly.

On "the legion's task s a mop up operation": Nope. Capturing any planet with a relevant population (which implies most of it must remain intact) isn't a easy feat, regardless of the amount of forces you can get there.

On the Border issue: It is vastly unlikely that people will draw trekkish Neutral Zones in space. An Empire will have "borders" that extend only so much from each of its systems.
Sensible enemies (with half-realistic constraints on supply lines) will have to conquer some systems to establish forward bases and mine fuel/Mac-Guffinite for its FTL drives, and ores to manufacture spare parts. (capturing an industrialized planet would have been better, though)

Then, given suitable sensory equipment, battles in the middle of nowhere like the Glorious First of June are still possible, but I don't think should be the norm.

P.s. the first link seems to be wrong.

P.P.S. The main problem of an interstellar empire is internal communication and moving its forces (spacecraft and whatnot) to answer strong threats fast enough.

-Albert

Tony said...

Scott:

"In the Peacekeeper setting, humanity was contacted by the Minoans, after humanity's attempts at FTL travel kept getting lost in FTL-land and given access to the nav-buoy network that the Minoans had built up. In addition, first contact was several hundred years in the past compared to the novels. Besides, if all you need to do is drag a buoy out the another star, Alpha Centauri or Proxima Centauri is ~10 years out."

I don't like separately navigable hyperspaces. Just too much handwaving.

But along the lines of having to install a receiver before travel can begin, I like the set of circumstances Duncan Lunan set up for a series of short stories he wrote in the late 60s and early 70s. The rules were:

1. FTL is possible between two artificially generated stargates,
2. Stargates could be generated anywhere within 10k kilometers of special devices, at any relative velocity,
3. Ships entering stargate A would emerge out of stargate B at the same velocity relative to B that it had relative to A when it entered A, and
4. Any two stargate devices could set up a stargate link.

The stargate network was maintained and extended by a multi-racial consortium calling itself the "Furtherance". The stargate network was propagated slower than light and, due to the mormal space range limitations of generating devices, the devices were generally placed in orbit about planets. Space ships could launch from the surface of a planet and end up in the orbit of another, without travelling the intervening distance or making large delta-v changes. A gate would be generated in the high atmosphere of the origin planet, stationary relative to the ground. At the other end, a gate would be generated in orbit, travelling in the desired direction at the desired velocity.

"...a generation-ship just wrapped up a 40-year-objective-time haul (5-10 years subjective?)..."

Nope. A 5-10 years trip time couldn't be described as "generation". Also, a time dilation factor of 4+ implies travelling at better than .97 c. That means a distance not much less than 40 ly. I'm not sure people would make nonstop trips that far at STL velocities.

"It's only modern America that seems to be incapable of seeing past the next quarterly earnings estimate!"

We built ISS, which is admittedly useless, but has a multi-generational product lifecycle.

Raymond said...

Tony:

"For there to be independent planets with large populations, interstellar travel has to be cheap enough that sufficient people and goods can be transported to make viable colonies. The specific mechanisms and the level of subsequent trade are irrelevant. The mechanisms will be sufficient and the trade existent, because transplanting a chunk of civilization from one place to another is much more expensive than trade."

That doesn't mean that trade will be common or profitable enough to be worth the costs of empire. Also, didn't we establish on the colony thread that colonization can exist even where profitable two-way trade does not?

Also note that I'm being timescale-agnostic. The process of establishing sufficiently inhabited worlds can take 2 or 3 orders of magnitude longer than a war would. This means that the difficulties of transport in realspace can still put a damper on the kinds of threats required to build a defensive empire.

jollyreaper, Scott:

Argh. I should perhaps clarify. I dislike arbitrary handwaving to require humans on all FTL craft simply because of lack of necessity. Just because you don't have to have humans on your ships, there's nothing to say you won't have them on any ships.

Just not the ones on point. Which is fine by me.

Thucydides said...

Ships hiding inside Langston fields will provide plenty of problems for the opposition (regardless of what is actually inside), so the idea of mismatching the field generator to the ship every once in a while will keep Fleet planner awake at night. After all, there is nothing to stop the First Rate Xaserstar from holding fire for a while until the enemy concludes that it is the disguised Frigate....

Another FTL system with interesting consequences is the one from "A Fire Upon the Deep", which is a series of mini jumps through hyperspace to realspace and back (think of salmon jumping in and out of the water while going upstream...) Space combat involves trying to match the jump speed and frequency of the target ship and launching swarms of FTL capable drones with a spread of jump frequencies to "bracket" the opposing ship. The FTL system was also designed to allow for a real "Space Opera" setting (including dramatic escapes from systems about to be overwhelmed by the Enemy).

Tony said...

Raymond:

"...the difficulties of transport in realspace can still put a damper on the kinds of threats required to build a defensive empire."

So it can. That doesn't mean it necessarily has to. Okay, you've raised the possibility that empire might not be possible. Bully for you. Can we get back to discussion of equally plausible* situations in which it could, and how it might be implemented?

*All of this being wild speculation, after all, not discussion of orbital mechanics applied to marginally capable interplanetary technology.

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"Ships hiding inside Langston fields will provide plenty of problems for the opposition (regardless of what is actually inside), so the idea of mismatching the field generator to the ship every once in a while will keep Fleet planner awake at night. After all, there is nothing to stop the First Rate Xaserstar from holding fire for a while until the enemy concludes that it is the disguised Frigate...."

Going strictly from cannon, no such thing as "Xaserstars". Just ships employing nuclear missiles and (primarily green and violet, IIRC) visible light lasers. In that environment, an unarmed frigate with a disproprotionate Field would divide fire for only a few minutes before its lack of shooting back would cause it to be watched carefully, but ignored in the fire distribution scheme.

It just doesn't seem like a sound idea, for the level of investment required. Remember, a cruiser in the CoDominium cannon was 400m in length and 60m in diameter. A battlecruiser like the Lenin, if double the volume, would be 503m x 76m? A frigate of half the volume would be 318m x 48m. That's still a big ship and a non-trivial investment.

jollyreaper said...

So it can. That doesn't mean it necessarily has to. Okay, you've raised the possibility that empire might not be possible. Bully for you. Can we get back to discussion of equally plausible* situations in which it could, and how it might be implemented?

We're back to the question of space wealth. God, gold, and glory drove the Spanish. That sort of echoes my threesome of need, greed, and philosophy. Gold has been a stand-in for concentrated wealth. What constitutes wealth in the future? What defines rich and poor in that future? Do we even agree that we're talking about post-scarcity or just redefining what's scarce and abundant? Several speculative authors have already talked about a reputation economy. If all material wants are easily satisfied, would people be left competing for notoriety, prestige?

Before we can have a space empire, we need our space economics. In a really hard setting, I can't imagine transferring much more than information. As the economics get cheaper, we can start talking about trading in finished goods. *shrug* It all depends on your setting. So what's your postulated space economy?

Raymond said...

Tony:

Oy. Little snarky there, methinks.

I'm just trying to broaden the problem space a bit, here. Space opera has a longstanding obsession with Trafalgar or Midway IN SPAAACE, and visions of interstellar empire closely resembling Athens, Rome, Britain, or sometimes Venice (on steroids). If we get past the assumptions of unified planets and the primary form of war being clashes between large spacecraft, I think we'll find some interesting bits.

IOW, we may not see interstellar armies, but the planetary ones would be rather important. An empire might emerge not from conquering per se, but lending spaceborne fire support to planetary client states. NATO IN SPAAACE, if you will.

jollyreaper:

I suspect much of the space economy in an FTL setting depends on spillover tech from the FTL mechanism. If you've got wormholes or warp drives, you've also got (by definition) cheap antigrav and loads of energy. If FTL is more haphazard, or more rare, then your economy looks more like the non-FTL version.

jollyreaper said...


I suspect much of the space economy in an FTL setting depends on spillover tech from the FTL mechanism. If you've got wormholes or warp drives, you've also got (by definition) cheap antigrav and loads of energy. If FTL is more haphazard, or more rare, then your economy looks more like the non-FTL version.


Agreed. If we had planetary surface warp gates and they were cheap, then the economics of empire would effectively be like having one large planet with the combined surface area of every single planet in your empire. Some goods might make sense to ship 40k miles by vacuum train, others might make more sense to source in-town.

Tony said...

Raymond:

"Oy. Little snarky there, methinks."

More like okay, you've made your point, let's move on.

"I'm just trying to broaden the problem space a bit, here. Space opera has a longstanding obsession with Trafalgar or Midway IN SPAAACE, and visions of interstellar empire closely resembling Athens, Rome, Britain, or sometimes Venice (on steroids)."

Because those are good for Romance, just like Hornblower's, Aubrey's-Maturin's, and Flashman's milieus are on Earth.

"If we get past the assumptions of unified planets and the primary form of war being clashes between large spacecraft, I think we'll find some interesting bits."

Been there, done that. Read the Hammer's Slammers stories.

"IOW, we may not see interstellar armies, but the planetary ones would be rather important. An empire might emerge not from conquering per se, but lending spaceborne fire support to planetary client states. NATO IN SPAAACE, if you will."

Also done by Drake, in The Forlorn Hope. No empire building, but the action begins with a military base in an intraplanetary war being bombed by a starship that begins and ends the bombing run by jumping out of and back into hyperspace.

Not trying to cut you off short here, Raymond...well, maybe a little bit. if people want to talk about a certain set of circumstances, and flesh it out, let them, but don't insist they have to.

Tony said...

Re: Raymond (addendum to divided planet wars)

Gordon R. Dickson's Dorsai series

Pournelle's CoDominium, prior to WWIII on Earth

It's been done, well and truly, by better than us.

Thucydides said...

I'm going to have to dig out my Co-Dominium books again (your size for the battlecruiser sounds right but I really can't remember the size factors for President class Battleships or the various other ships in the fleet). Anyway, this was a trick that could be tossed out once in a while (like the Q ships in WWI) which would add to the fog of war and give the Imperial fleet a short window of opportunity for the commander who used it.

Using Rates and laserstars rather than the cannon vessels is just grafting the various things discussed in previous threads onto the CoDominium universe to see how they work with the mechanics of the Alderson Drive and Langston field. I suspect that a constellation of laser stars and kinetic stars would represent a huge advance in that universe, similar to comparing WWI battleships with late 20th century capital ships like aircraft carriers or nuclear submarines. I believe Pournelle had assumed that many "wet navy" assumptions would still hold true in space (such as needing large crews for damage control, and a command structure and culture needed to keep all these men busy and motivated the 90% of the time they were not needed), hence the ships seeming to be dreadnaughts in space. Today, we would make much different assumptions, hence the composition of the fleet would also look much different.

Teleros said...

Horselover Fat: "There is no such thing as a maritime power. It's a phrase used to talk about powers which rely more on ships than others. But they're still basically land-based because most resources are on land and people can't live at sea very long even if they're fishing."

Nice job redefining words there. Maritime powers, for your information, are / were nations that relied heavily upon the sea for resources and transport, particularly with regard to trade & commerce, usually to the point of depending on said overseas commerce for their very survival (which is why the very early USA was a maritime republic, and the modern one isn't, for example). Examples include Athens, Carthage & the Phoenicians in the ancient world, and the Netherlands and Great Britain in more recent centuries.

A further point: naval powers are simply powers with a big, powerful navy: they do not have to be maritime powers - but maritime powers are usually also naval powers, for what should be obvious reasons.



Tony: "So, if you want to call a space warship a "battlecruiser" or a "destroyer", there's nothing really wrong with it. It's not like there are clearly defined nautical types to pay homage to. It's more important to understand whay your class hierarchy exists, what each class's doctrinal role and tactical missions are, and to be consistent with your nomenclature, wherever it is drawn from."

Very true. I'd also add that one must remember that languages change over time - today's battleships are tomorrow's unmanned weaponised asteroids.

"In that respect, the average interstellar space warship might indeed be like a modern destroyer. There would be no "all big gun" ships, if you will. There would instead be a wide range of sensors and weapons available on each vessel, with some classes optimized towards one thing, and other classes optimized towards something else."

Not sure. Really depends on the setting, and how you have things like shields and such work (especially if we're talking space opera). Put bluntly, if you can double the mass of the ship but gain an increase in combat effectiveness greater than the mass / cost increases (etc etc etc), why not do so?

Teleros said...

Raymond: "I think what Horselover Fat was getting at was that even a "maritime power" still required substantial and competent land forces. The navy allows the power in question to project its forces well past its borders, certainly, and confers strategic advantages over other powers with limited navies, but functional land power is still required to maintain control."

I'd disagree with this, for two reasons. Firstly, there is the fact that the navies of maritime powers are first and foremost *defensive* organisations. If France can blockade the UK successfully, the UK is screwed. Period. It is only once this objective has been met that you can use that navy for power projection. For example, Nelson would never have been in Aboukir Bay to sink Napoleon's fleet had earlier victories nearer the British Isles freed up enough ships from the Channel Fleet for Nelson's forces to be detached from their station.

The second point is more a case of degree. Britain & the Netherlands never maintained armies like their continental rivals did until WW1 came along and British soldiers had to stand in for French ones to defend France.



sabersonic: "However, even I have to admit that there's a kind of quaintness to packet-like courier craft being the only form of interstellar communication..."

It would also necessitate military commanders who are also able politicians (hi Nelson, again :P ). Read up on all the work Nelson had to do whilst based at Palermo (Sicily)... really quite impressive.



Horselover: "some people have made statements to the effect that empires are created for the purpose of trade or that they are based on trade. That is essentially imperialist propaganda. You don't need an empire to trade. And trade is not a power base.
The reason you need boots on the ground is that the whole point of having an empire is to coerce."


Huh. So how about coercing people into trading with you? Or capturing territory so as to protect your trade routes? Or fighting wars in India to ensure that your company can continue to do business there against local rulers more than happy to send soldiers against you? Or as a means of denying resources to foreign powers?

All of which, BTW, the British did. For forcing trading rights, see China. For protecting trade routes, see South Africa, Egypt, etc. For denying resources, see all those French Caribbean islands.

And finally, don't forget that in those days, mercantilism ruled. That is, economics was considered a zero sum game - free trade was just a means to lose your market share to foreigners.

"That's what the East India Company ended up doing in India. It was initially a trading venture but they had little to offer in exchange for oriental luxuries... so they figured they could use force to get what they wanted instead of shipping increasingly massive amounts of precious metals to India."

Much of the Honourable East India Company's warfare started out as defensive actually, it was only when they got the right to tax most of Bengal that the whole the whole "let's conquer India" got started.

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Teleros said...

jollyreaper: "One other rationale for being armed ... I like the feel of the early age of sail where there was still a lot of serious mystery out there, many unknowns, and the idea of an edge of the world to sail off of and sea monsters were all quite plausible. How about space monsters?"

What you'll probably get is something like the old trade convoys from the far east. They often used relatively well armed merchant ships, but once they got close to Europe proper they'd be escorted by regular warships, usually to avoid foreign powers trying to make a quick buck.



Rick: "I tend to agree that your typical 'classical' interstellar colony wouldn't have much need of trade, since a habitable planet plus the rest of its planetary system should be pretty self sufficient."

An idea I had for my own setting was that, prior to sending off its (fast) FTL colony ships, Earth ensured that they had to rely, at least at first, on Earth for some basic supplies. So you had the colony established, and then regular supply runs from the big farms and hydroponics factories in the Sol system. By the time the colony was self sufficient, Earth had had time to properly establish its authority in other ways.



Raymond: "Given the plethora of examples listed (and their variance), I'd say the specifics of FTL are all-important (and largely driven by author fiat, tweaked to produce the exact scenario the author desired)."

I agree wholeheartedly.



Abert: "It is vastly unlikely that people will draw trekkish Neutral Zones in space. An Empire will have "borders" that extend only so much from each of its systems."

Unless you can, say, create lightyears-wide forcefields in hyperspace that prevent FTL travel through them, or are just so damn big that drawing a line from system to system looks like a regular line on a map. I've gone for both myself (and the first option also allows for some fun tactics and such, given I'm using a "go anywhere" FTL drive).

Another thought: slap a heavily monitored neutral zone / border as far from your systems as you can, so that if they violate it you've got more time to prepare... which in turn discourages the possibility of attack (at least a little).



Detouring slightly now to ship roles & such, might I suggest a look at Doc Smith's Lensman books? You get (with a very broad brush now) scout ships, light warships, heavy warships, siege warships, and then stuff like mobile planets and planet-killers. Mix into that unique one-off ships, raiding / pirate vessels, and so on.

Milo said...

Jollyreaper:

"Not so much that governments aren't strong, they just can't be strong everywhere."

Well, that's sort of what I meant.

Compare your typical tinpot dictatorship, which can oppress citizens inside its own borders just fine but has trouble using its military against anyone besides its own citizens, with the US, which can project force all the way across the world with impunity.

Your governments might still be strong on their own planets, but they can't project force well.


"One other rationale for being armed ... I like the feel of the early age of sail where there was still a lot of serious mystery out there, many unknowns, and the idea of an edge of the world to sail off of and sea monsters were all quite plausible. How about space monsters?"

Biologically and evolutionarily implausible, in addition to the fact we haven't seen any yet.

I emphasize the "evolutionarily" bit. Our seas have and had some things that sorta could be considered monsters, but "monsters" can only ever appear at the top of an ecosystem that supports something other than monsters. You aren't just going to get a Godzilla out of nowhere, unless there are also smaller kaijus around for Godzilla to have evolved from, other smallish kaijus for Godzilla to eat, etc.

Finally, humans have a pretty good track record of winning against dumb animals in the past.



Rick:

"A couple of further general observations. Defense is a time honored basis for imperialism: The Romans defended their way to domination of the entire Mediterranean world."

Also, scaremongering is a common way for politicians to gain support for their wars, whether or not self-defense is actually their real reason for wanting to conquer the other country.

Milo said...

Scott:

"@Milo, I think you'd see a split between deep-space and near-orbit groups, whether or not you have FTL in the setting."

If by "deep space" you mean interplanetary, then yeah, the split between interplanetary and orbital space forces would be like the split between blue-water and brown-water navies, or navies and coast guards. Even your interplanetary-capable spaceships, however, would be doing much of their fighting in the orbital space of enemy planets. The difference doesn't seem as great as that between FTL and STL forces.

If by "deep space" you mean interstellar, then I don't think interstellar warships make sense at all without FTL, so the question is moot.

Also remember that interplanetary travel is hard enough by STL, with optimistic fusion rockets being necessary to even reach Age of Sail-ish travel times, that we might already want FTL just for that.



R.C.:

"So I came up with a drive where the ship has to accelerate (usually at 1g) until it reaches at least 6000 km/s, must be on course for the target star system, and has to be beyond the orbit of Neptune or an equivalent distance before it can enter 'transitspace'."

6000 km/s relative to what? Everything is going 6000 km/s relative to something, and "fast-moving" objects behave the same as "slow-moving" ones for almost all physical laws we know of. (Exception that is worth studying for space opera authors: cosmic microwave background radiation.) Galaxies can travel upwards of a million km/s relative to each other.

Also, 6000 km/s is 4.3 megaRicks. An exhaust velocity of 12000 km/s (gotta stop too, and exhaust velocities and delta-vees are going to be in similar orders of magnitude) at an acceleration of 1 g requires an engine power of 60 GW/ton of ship (and so somewhere in the triple-digits gigawatts per ton of reactor). Keep in mind that 2 MW/ton of reactor is pretty good for fission reactors, and 100 MW/ton of reactor would be considered a very nice fusion rocket. You'd also spend a week just accelerating to 6000 km/s, and another week accelerating back down.

I tire of people treating continuous 1 g acceleration as though it would be easy, with the speed of light as the only barrier to how fast you can go. Frankly I consider a breakthrough enabling FTL travel as more plausible, especially for fictional suspension of disbelief purposes, than rockets which pay lip service to real-life physics but only worry about those physical limitations that every child learns about in elementary school. (Okay, I'm not sure if that's true, but the lightspeed barrier is pretty well-known in any case.)



Mangaka2170:

"communications and sensors might be done with human psychics (we're already talking about making FTL travel work here, so assuming that humans can't develop some sort of interesting powers that can penetrate a warp field isn't entirely out of the question, plus it gives a good reason for humans to be on the ship)."

Psychic powers imply a universal law that accords a priviledged status to sentient minds, which violates the mediocrity principle which states that humans or Earth are not inherently special in the universe. I find a violation of the mediocrity principle to be cause for immediate reclassification into science fantasy, moreso than a hypothetical breakthrough like FTL that has no basis in current science but that "sounds" scientific.

Milo said...

Teleros:

"An idea I had for my own setting was that, prior to sending off its (fast) FTL colony ships, Earth ensured that they had to rely, at least at first, on Earth for some basic supplies. So you had the colony established, and then regular supply runs from the big farms and hydroponics factories in the Sol system. By the time the colony was self sufficient, Earth had had time to properly establish its authority in other ways."

I would imagine that a fledgeling colony would be militarily weak by default, due to low world population and infrastructure that is still under construction.

jollyreaper said...

@milo

I'm not thinking tentacled space squid for space monsters. I'm more squarely in the "life not like we know it" camp.

From "The Game Of Rat and Dragon"
http://www.freefictionbooks.org/books/g/20569-the-game-of-rat-and-dragon-by-linebarger
At one moment, he would be sitting in the Fighting Room, the pin-set ready and the familiar Solar System ticking around inside his head. For a second or a year (he could never tell how long it really was, subjectively), the funny little flash went through him and then he was loose in the Up-and-Out, the terrible open spaces between the stars, where the stars themselves felt like pimples on his telepathic mind and the planets were too far away to be sensed or read.

Somewhere in this outer space, a gruesome death awaited, death and horror of a kind which Man had never encountered until he reached out for inter-stellar space itself. Apparently the light of the suns kept the Dragons away.

* * * * *

Dragons. That was what people called them. To ordinary people, there was nothing, nothing except the shiver of planoforming and the hammer blow of sudden death or the dark spastic note of lunacy descending into their minds.

But to the telepaths, they were Dragons.

In the fraction of a second between the telepaths' awareness of a hostile something out in the black, hollow nothingness of space and the impact of a ferocious, ruinous psychic blow against all living things within the ship, the telepaths had sensed entities something like the Dragons of ancient human lore, beasts more clever than beasts, demons more tangible than demons, hungry vortices of aliveness and hate compounded by unknown means out of the thin tenuous matter between the stars.

It took a surviving ship to bring back the news--a ship in which, by sheer chance, a telepath had a light beam ready, turning it out at the innocent dust so that, within the panorama of his mind, the Dragon dissolved into nothing at all and the other passengers, themselves non-telepathic, went about their way not realizing that their own immediate deaths had been averted.

From then on, it was easy--almost.


That's some great stuff of terror right there.

Whatever my cosmic monsters are, they're not going to be space squid.

Raymond said...

Milo:

"I find a violation of the mediocrity principle to be cause for immediate reclassification into science fantasy, moreso than a hypothetical breakthrough like FTL that has no basis in current science but that "sounds" scientific."

+1

Teleros:

"A further point: naval powers are simply powers with a big, powerful navy: they do not have to be maritime powers - but maritime powers are usually also naval powers, for what should be obvious reasons."

When you put it that way, I'd agree, and find it a useful distinction. Consider my comments suitably amended.

"The second point is more a case of degree. Britain & the Netherlands never maintained armies like their continental rivals did until WW1 came along and British soldiers had to stand in for French ones to defend France."

This is why I said competent, not overwhelming.

If we bring the analogy to the FTL age (and here's what I was skirting around with Tony):

A) Short of low-orbit-to-low-orbit (LOTLO) FTL, such as wormhole-equipped orbital stations or warp drives which work in non-trivial gravity wells, the economics of interstellar trading empires are suspect. (Reciprocal trade, specifically.)

B) Given A, and given the tentative conclusions of the various space warfare threads, among mature colony worlds I suspect we would see few (if any) equivalents to Earthbound maritime powers. (Space) naval power, however, serves a necessary defensive function and will likely be commonplace. (Distinction noted.)

Tony:

- Haven't read much CoDominium, but I'm an SF heretic and don't care much for Pournelle's writing.

- Have read some of Hammer's Slammers. Should probably look up The Forlorn Hope.

- Will also look up Dorsai (never heard of Gordon R. Dickson).

- To distill (and contain somewhat) what I was getting at (poorly): I think Rick's initial observation of the looser nature of maritime powers is conceptually sound, and I suspect interstellar powers would continue that trend, due to the even greater difficulty of directly controlling territory. Exactly how loose such an empire(-ish thing) would be depends on the details of the FTL tech and its spinoffs - because I don't want to underestimate the imperative to control, I'd assume the maximum practical amount of control would be asserted.

- Those Lunan stories sound interesting; got a link (or some titles)?

Raymond said...

jollyreaper:

Planetary surface wormholes mean more than just combining surface area - they mean (the possibility of) brain-breakingly complex non-Euclidean topologies, which would follow rules of conquest more closely related to computer networks than traditional empires.

Well, that or really simple graphs resembling videogame campaigns...

Rick said...

A belated welcome to new commenters!

Tony is quite right about the bad (i.e., unconvincing) pseudo physics of the FTL in Starman Jones. But what stuck with me was the navigational precision of making jump, and the instantaneity of the jump itself - no wasted time twiddling thumbs, just pop in and pop put.

Next post (probably - no promises!) I'll deal more with FTL, and my own particular gimmickry as it evolved.

In spite of what I said just above about navigational precision, the trope 'only humans can navigate FTL' has come to seem pretty lame to me - the authorial hand on the scales is all too obvious. (As always in these operatic contexts, YMMV.)

One simple solution is to limit AI to expert systems - no negative handwave needed, just no positive handwave, either. For mere in-system missions it doesn't matter if Mission Control is a light hour away, but if you have no ansible, or low ansible bandwidth, Mission Control had better be on board the vehicle, if its mission is at all complex.

A few comments remind me of this older post on the density of power.

One interesting example of the distance limits of empire is the fact that two 'universal' empires - Rome and Han China - existed at opposite ends of the Eurasian land mass, with merchants moving between them, yet the governing establishments of each empire remained effectively unaware of the other's existence.

For story reasons you probably don't want this, but each was beyond the other's security horizon. Of course, 11th century emirs in Palestine probably assumed that French knights were beyond their security horizon ....

jollyreaper said...

@Tony

What's your aesthetic issue with navigable hyperspace?

I have a bias against visualizing spaceships as railroads even though hard SF spaceships are pretty much riding invisible rails. Once you commit to that burn, you're on it. Earth to the moon you have a direct abort or free return trajectory but going to Jupiter, your best advice is "don't have an accident." I always liked the idea of ships going wherever they want which is certainly something I picked up from soft SF with "spaceships are airplanes or boats."

Milo said...

Rick:

"For mere in-system missions it doesn't matter if Mission Control is a light hour away, but if you have no ansible, or low ansible bandwidth, Mission Control had better be on board the vehicle, if its mission is at all complex."

Third option: make ansibles vulnerable to jamming. Civilian vehicles likely wouldn't care much, but any warship reliant entirely on remote control is going to die as soon as the enemy shows up. Civilian operations might also worry if the jamming effect can occasionally occur as the result of natural effects (the way solar flares can disrupt radio). Meanwhile, during peacetime you still get all the benefits of easy communication.

Low ansible bandwidth is not actually all that huge a problem. It might keep you from getting a live video feed, but "Enemy is off thataway. Shoot/don't shoot?" needs short latency far more than it needs high data throughput.

Anonymous said...

Milo:

The 6000 km/s is relative to the ship's original position in a high planetary orbit, so presumably the speed relative to the star is 6000 km/s plus the planet's orbital velocity (assuming the ship is travelling prograde). The speed itself doesn't have any special property, but velocities in transitspace are proportional to those in normal space, and 6000 km/s gives the optimum balance between FTL velocity, torch drive performance and delta-v capacity.
Regarding the drive's performance, I should stress that, like Pournelle's CoDominium (which was an inspiration), the setting is only hard in the sense that I'm trying to break physics as little as possible, so there's no artificial gravity or reactionless drives (or forcefield shields, though Pournelle had the Langston Field). As with the CoDominium, the FTL drive is the only outright impossible thing, but there are a few very improbable things, such as torch drives with the performance I've described, fusion-powered single-stage to orbit craft, and relatively plentiful life-bearing, sometimes human-habitable planets.

R.C.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"What's your aesthetic issue with navigable hyperspace?"

It just doesn't seem plausible.

"I have a bias against visualizing spaceships as railroads even though hard SF spaceships are pretty much riding invisible rails. Once you commit to that burn, you're on it. Earth to the moon you have a direct abort or free return trajectory but going to Jupiter, your best advice is 'don't have an accident.' I always liked the idea of ships going wherever they want which is certainly something I picked up from soft SF with 'spaceships are airplanes or boats.'"

Spaceships aren't railroad trains. Even with jump point networks, spaceships are as autonomous in normal space as their propulsion technologies will allow them to be. Ships with Alcubierre drives or arbitrary p2p jump drives or stutterwarp drives are even more autonomous. No need for navigable hyperspace. It just adds another regime for the author to have to make up a set of rules, and more stumbling blocks because of those rules. KISS.

jollyreaper said...

In terms of ideological conflict, there's any number of reasons why a war might start.

1. The other side becomes too alien. Culture drift would be the thing we've seen in the past. The futuristic version would be species drift if there's a whole lot of genetic engineering. Baseline and near-baseline humans might not even consider heavily engineered people to he human.

2. Sophont rights. Basically a recast of the slavery fight. Human rights aren't granted to AI's, mechanoids and bioroids because it's economically advantageous to do so. An external power decides to stick its nose into the matter.

3. The mega-totalitarian state. Stalin was fairly awful. 1984 was a projection of his mentality into the future with a little more tech. Imagine the kind of police state advanced technology could create where thought crimes could actually be recorded from a subject's brain state. The cultural feedback loop of these forces could make such a state impossible to deal with. If it turns expansionist, war would result.

Of course, the police state argument gets back to the question of how important people are. Even the worst dictator has to accept the need for a people simply because there's no other way for things to get done. Crops need harvesting, goods need manufacturing, guns don't shoot themselves.

So the two extreme cases would be a) deliberate rejection of automation to keep as many people employed as possible, too busy to think or b) cull the surplus population as people become less and less relevant.

I've brought up that scenario before and I think that kind of robot society consisting of a population of human nobles with human personal slaves and all other work done by robots would probably turn to feeding on itself if existing in isolation; if other cultures exist nearby, they may turn to war out of boredom.

And as I stressed before, none of this has to make "sense" in that you would say "Wow, that's so awesome! I would totally advocate for that!" It only has to make sense in "Oh, yeah, I could see people being that stupid." Japan entering WWII didn't make "sense," either. At best you could say it was an inevitable collision course based on their culture and politics.

Teleros said...

Milo: "If we bring the analogy to the FTL age (and here's what I was skirting around with Tony)..."

Agreed. I suppose you could manufacture a "space maritime" power with a combination of rare unobtainium and relatively cheap shipping costs (compared to competitors), but you'd have to try hard to do it I think.



jollyreaper: "I've brought up that scenario before and I think that kind of robot society consisting of a population of human nobles with human personal slaves and all other work done by robots would probably turn to feeding on itself if existing in isolation; if other cultures exist nearby, they may turn to war out of boredom."

Not entirely the same thing, but this (or rather, something similar) is part of the reason I've shoehorned crews onto warships in my setting, in spite of the presence of powerful AIs. In short, the "Alliance" has the technical know-how and automated industrial capacity under naval control to fight wars without affecting civilians or the regular economy at all (well, unless it's a very big war). Having people on those ships* helps make that war "real" to people - and thus less likely to happen in the first place.

If you want a comparison, I suppose it's not unlike the various conflicts that occurred during the "Pax Britannia" - many of which involved Indian troops funded by Indian taxpayers fighting for British interests - at very little cost to the British themselves.

* It's not the sole reason of course.

Milo said...

I understand the desire for authors to keep war dangerous to life and limb, but I really do not believe that soldiers are going to be happy with the idea of putting themselves in danger simply for the sake of being in danger even though they're no actually needed for anything. Nor, for that matter, will the populace or the rulers. People aren't morons.

Raymond said...

Teleros:

"If we bring the analogy to the FTL age..." was me, actually. Nothing against Milo, of course.

Milo:

Agreed. There are reasons to have Humans In Ultimate Control, but simply having them in harm's way isn't one of them.

Thucydides said...

The only real way to get hyperperformance ships in realspace is to do some violence to the laws of physics. Since FTL is already a pretty sharp break with what we know, having some sort of hyperdrive that works in ordinary space would violate the "six impossible things before breakfast" rule (i.e. far too many implausible things are happening) and make the story essentially Tom Swift meets MacGyver whenever there is a plot problem to resolve.

One way to satisfy the (discerning) reader is if this effect is somehow a spinoff or derived from whatever principle FTL works from. It might also be interesting to see what sort of story could be derived from a setting where you can easily reach high speeds in realspace (say by manipulating the Higgs field and eliminating inertia) but without FTL.

jollyreaper said...

Spaceships aren't railroad trains. Even with jump point networks, spaceships are as autonomous in normal space as their propulsion technologies will allow them to be.


I said within a hard SF setting. A spaceship that can galavant around the solar system without having to fuss with delta-v budgets is pretty damn advanced.

Ships with Alcubierre drives or arbitrary p2p jump drives or stutterwarp drives are even more autonomous. No need for navigable hyperspace. It just adds another regime for the author to have to make up a set of rules, and more stumbling blocks because of those rules. KISS.

Depends on your perspective. In the hypersail setting, reaction drives are going to be fairly low thrust, at least compared with ridiculous fusion torch drives. I think hypersails bypass the annoying hard SF facts of space without just ignoring them. They give you stealth in space so combat can remain interesting, they give you terrain to worry about so maneuver becomes a bigger part of the fight, they bypass the undramatic reality that laserstars can engage targets at fairly ridiculous distances because there's only so much effective dodging you can do without torch drives.

But it's all a matter of opinion.

jollyreaper said...

Milo's comment was eaten by a spam filter or a grue.


I understand the desire for authors to keep war dangerous to life and limb, but I really do not believe that soldiers are going to be happy with the idea of putting themselves in danger simply for the sake of being in danger even though they're no actually needed for anything. Nor, for that matter, will the populace or the rulers. People aren't morons.


I have to agree here. This is a question of what should people do versus what would they do. It makes philosophical sense for us to want a society to feel it has some skin in the game with regards to empire but the reality is that the push to roboticize combat and remove all human risk will remain incredibly strong.

That was one of the oversights in the existing Star Wars universe. Why no combat droids? (pre-prequels question.) The rationale was that there had been combat droids and that they were seen as a pariah weapon, much like poison gas after WWI. The experience of them in combat was so awful and barbaric that nobody has used them since. Ok, that's one way to explain why they're recruiting living beings to be soldiers. The prequels then went and opened a huge can of worms. The stormtroopers are all clones? Well, why weren't they in the original trilogy? Because the clones were....um....phased out! Yeah, that's the ticket. Phased out for regular people. Um, why? And where did the combat droids go? They seemed mildly effective enough. Um.... *hand gesture* these aren't the plot holes you're looking for.

Thucydides said...

Actually, any halfway plausible Interstellar Empire (or even Solar Empire) will be pretty sparsely settled at first (even a generation ship carrying a million people will be a tiny speck in the new star system, or the Jovian system's moons).

Robotic workers and AI (hard or soft; smart or dumb) will be needed in massive quantities to do most of the scutwork required to establish the colony infrastructure, mine the unobtanium, stand watch at night against the voracious regolith mice etc. Nanotech is just a handwave making these robots the size of bacteria rather than Caterpillar earth movers, which changes the timescales but not the overall effect.

So if there is a need to coerce or control the colony, planting trojans or logic bombs in the software is one possibility of Imperialism on the cheap. It does not even need to take control of the robots and run amok in the colony; simple shutdown orders or permanent system locks will do. Running out with picks and shovels to keep raw materials flowing to the air plant won't leave a lot of time for revolutionary activities...

2011 State of the Art robotics and AI:

http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/02/boston-dynamics-wins-darpa-contracts-to.html#more
http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/02/building-personal-version-ibm-watson.html

Mangaka2170 said...

Another reason why you might have people aboard a space warship might simply be political. Someone's going to have to take responsibility for what happens out there and countermand an AI action that, while logical, is not politically convenient (for example, friendly fire or guerilla warfare. If an AI-controlled warship attempts to inspect a rebel convoy running civilian colors and one of its Q-ship escorts opens fire, it would be logical for the AI to assume that every other ship in the convoy is potentially an enemy stealth warship. Imagine the propaganda coup the rebels would have when an Imperial cruiser attacks and destroys a civilian transport convoy, and all the data from the warship's memory banks suggests that the AI couldn't distinguish between enemy combatants and the surrounding transports. Unless the AI has HAL's level of human interaction down, it would be quite hard to defend unless AIs have the same rights that human beings do, and can therefore take responsibility for their own actions).

Just look at the flak the US has had to take from the rest of the world because of drone airstrikes, and that's with a person in a trailer outside the combat zone flying the thing with a joystick. At least that soldier can take responsibility for accidentally leveling an orphanage instead of an enemy safehouse.

Rick said...

Phased out for regular people. Um, why? And where did the combat droids go? They seemed mildly effective enough. Um.... *hand gesture* these aren't the plot holes you're looking for.

+5

On troops whose sole role is to provide human 'skin in the game,' this pretty much describes US and other Western troops in West Berlin during the Cold War. I seem to recall that the period term was 'tripwire.'

I like the distinction made between 'maritime' and 'naval' powers - Ottoman Turkish seapower in the 16th century Mediterranean is a case in point.

I'm inclined to think that, per Tony's argument, if you have interstellar colonization you can reasonably have trading powers including 'maritime' empires. (Which does not mean you HAVE to have them.)

Raymond said...

The one thing you can say in favor of separately navigable hyperspaces is the lessened spillover technologies, with an attendant decrease in the work required by the author.

If you have wormholes or Alcubierre drives, for example, by definition you have antigravity and probably artificial singularites. If you have either on a less-than-stellar energy budget, you have to have some means of manipulating gravitational forces, which can (and most likely would) lead to functional non-rocket STL propulsion.

There are worms in those cans you're opening...

Thucydides:

"Since FTL is already a pretty sharp break with what we know, having some sort of hyperdrive that works in ordinary space would violate the "six impossible things before breakfast" rule..."

Not if we're talking corollaries of the hyperdrive tech. Then it's only one impossible thing before breakfast, just taking several forms.

"So if there is a need to coerce or control the colony, planting trojans or logic bombs in the software is one possibility of Imperialism on the cheap."

Until the colony is mature enough to manufacture its own computer systems, which I regard as a prerequisite to the technologies required to be a threat to established powers.

Mangaka:

Those sorts of unfortunate targeting incidents happen already (see the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Kosovo, among many others), and individual soldiers are never, ever prosecuted for it. Hell, outside of diplomatic protests, nothing much really happens on the larger scale.

While I agree in general that humans in the loop would be a strong political imperative, I suspect that, in the scenario you outlined, most human commanders would do the same thing.

Milo said...

Rick:

"On troops whose sole role is to provide human 'skin in the game', this pretty much describes US and other Western troops in West Berlin during the Cold War. I seem to recall that the period term was 'tripwire'."

In the case of a tripwire, the troops would be there to stand guard during peacetime. If anyone actually attacks them, you declare that as a cause for war, then pull the humans out and send in the drones. (Assuming you have drones.)

Teleros said...

Milo: "I understand the desire for authors to keep war dangerous to life and limb, but I really do not believe that soldiers are going to be happy with the idea of putting themselves in danger simply for the sake of being in danger even though they're no actually needed for anything. Nor, for that matter, will the populace or the rulers. People aren't morons."

Oh I never said it was a *nice* thing to do ;) . Macchiavellian, yes, nice... not so much.

Just make sure nobody outside the President's inner circle gets a whiff of it :P .



Raymond: "was me, actually. Nothing against Milo, of course."

Oops :( . Apologies.



Mangaka2170: "Someone's going to have to take responsibility for what happens out there and countermand an AI action that, while logical, is not politically convenient (for example, friendly fire or guerilla warfare. If an AI-controlled warship attempts to inspect a rebel convoy running civilian colors and one of its Q-ship escorts opens fire, it would be logical for the AI to assume that every other ship in the convoy is potentially an enemy stealth warship."

Depends on how good you make the AI. A human commander who panics / has a bone to grind / whatever may also decide to open fire as well (or one of said commander's subordinates may panic & open fire, etc).

However, even with superhuman AIs, there is I think one very compelling reason for having flesh and blood people on the scene:

We like to be in control. Consider:

1. There is news that a new nuclear reactor is going to be built a few miles away.

2. You choose to move to an area with a pre-existing nuclear reactor a few miles away.

Assume that both reactors are entirely equal. Which is the riskier option? Well neither of course - the only difference is that you chose to move closer in #2, but in #1 you had no choice over the reactor's placement.

Now apply that to advanced AIs "manning" warships, and add in the usual paranoia expected from armed forces and intelligence agencies, and you can see why even a considerably smarter AI may be placed under the command of a human.

Teleros said...

Rick: "I like the distinction made between 'maritime' and 'naval' powers - Ottoman Turkish seapower in the 16th century Mediterranean is a case in point."

It's one of the things I had drummed into me at King's College London - I've just recently finished an MA there in War Studies, with a big naval history element to it.


"I'm inclined to think that, per Tony's argument, if you have interstellar colonization you can reasonably have trading powers including 'maritime' empires. (Which does not mean you HAVE to have them.)"

Again, I think you could, I just think you'd have to work a little to get them in. The Manticorans in the Honor Harrington setting can only fill this role thanks to a combination of much cheaper shipping costs. If you're going to create your own, you need to come up with a reason as to why a "space maritime" power would have these advantages - and how / why they'd keep them in the long run. Simple inertia can help - once-cheaper ship manufacturing costs result in a large merchant fleet that's still useful even though others can now build ships just as cheaply, for example.



A final thought: if you're going for mega-engineering fun, then anyone building something like a Culture Orbital / Ringworld / Dyson Sphere is going to want a *lot* of materials, and may well need some from outside the solar system the thing's being built in (especially as real world materials lack the strength to build structures like an Orbital, never mind anything larger).

Projects like this would require a hell of a fleet of transports to move raw materials, staff, components and such around (and from the project-builders' nation or another?). And when it's over... well all those ship crews have just spent god-only-knows how long ferrying stuff from A to B, and may decide to look for other opportunities to continue that line of work.

It probably wouldn't be very profitable (how could it be if you've manufacturing capabilities on that scale?), but it might be a way to explain the existence of lots of tramp freighters and the like. However, the damn things probably get everywhere, there are lots of them, and with a torch drive strapped on the back they're very effective missiles. Fertile ground for a story or two IMHO...

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"I said within a hard SF setting. A spaceship that can galavant around the solar system without having to fuss with delta-v budgets is pretty damn advanced."

Thucydides:

"The only real way to get hyperperformance ships in realspace is to do some violence to the laws of physics. Since FTL is already a pretty sharp break with what we know, having some sort of hyperdrive that works in ordinary space would violate the "six impossible things before breakfast" rule (i.e. far too many implausible things are happening) and make the story essentially Tom Swift meets MacGyver whenever there is a plot problem to resolve."

I think that both commenters quoted above have it precisely backwards. Energy levels required for FTL travel are so large that torchships are trivial. If I read a book where there is some form of FTL but no torchships or space fabric manipulating drives for STL travel, I regard it is ridiculously contrived ononsense: Say what? You've can't get from here to there in normal space in any kind of reasonable time, but you can arbitrarily shunt over into magick-space and go anywhere in a few days or weeks? Give me a big, fat, freakin' break.

Tony said...

Raymond:

" Haven't read much CoDominium, but I'm an SF heretic and don't care much for Pournelle's writing."

Disliking Pournelle is hardly a heretical position. It's almost a club badge in a lot of fan circles, along with dislike of all other military SF writers.

"- Have read some of Hammer's Slammers. Should probably look up The Forlorn Hope.

- Will also look up Dorsai (never heard of Gordon R. Dickson)."


Hammer's Slammers has been recently omnibussed by Baen, in three paperback volumes. (They come in a weird format -- trade quality paper and binding but an intermediate form factor between mass market and trade.) Right now you can get them from Amazon for thirty dollars US for all three volumes.

Dickson's Dorsai books are classic military SF. I'm probably prejudiced by my age and outlook, but I wouldn't consider anybody a serious student of the sub-genre who hasn't read them.

"- Those Lunan stories sound interesting; got a link (or some titles)?"

AFAIK, they were only ever published in Galaxy and If magazines and never anthologized. I don't remember any of the titles. I was just impressed by thought given to a less-than-magic FTL regime.

jollyreaper said...


I think that both commenters quoted above have it precisely backwards. Energy levels required for FTL travel are so large that torchships are trivial. If I read a book where there is some form of FTL but no torchships or space fabric manipulating drives for STL travel, I regard it is ridiculously contrived ononsense: Say what? You've can't get from here to there in normal space in any kind of reasonable time, but you can arbitrarily shunt over into magick-space and go anywhere in a few days or weeks? Give me a big, fat, freakin' break.


It all depends on how your suspension of disbelief is calibrated. Consider the Transporter. There are three kinds of people in the world:
1. Those who believe it's perfectly sensible for matter to be disassembled and reassembled in seconds and transmitted to a planetary surface without even a receiving chamber for reassembly and see no complications created from this technology.
2. Those who are willing to accept the existence of transporters but insist they act as wormholes so the subject exists at one set of coordinates one second and the next exists at a different set of coordinates.
3. Those who reject any kind of transporter as being silly season.

As for myself, I'm in camp 2 with transporters. If we're going to have them, wormholes introduce less trouble than Trek-style transporters.

So from this same standard, I find hyperspace a better bet. We have no idea how much energy it would take to enter hyperspace. So long as we are self-consistent in our treatment, the suspension of disbelief is maintained. On the other hand, we do have a good idea of what it would cost to move ships at interesting speeds around the solar system and torch drives have more science pointing against it.

This is actually similar to the zombie problem in fiction. Do you explain your zombies or not? I prefer not. If the zombie process remains unexplained and if the film or novel does a good enough job of convincing you they're real, the nagging question of how they even work is part of the horror. We know by all rights they shouldn't, same as ghosts and supernatural serial killers haunting your dreams. But the moment someone tries to explain zombies in scientific terms, everything goes out the window. You might be able to sell the idea of it being people infected with the rage virus but now you have to explain people going from zero to psycho three seconds after infection. And it's even worse for living dead-style zombies. Any explanation can be easily debunked and ruins the suspension of disbelief.

Now you can either agree with what I'm saying or not but that's the way I'm thinking on the matter.

Raymond said...

Tony:

Lemme rephrase: I like my fair share of military SF, but still don't like Pournelle - much of that is aesthetic, if nothing else. Never liked his prose.

Upon investigation, Dickson was somewhat before my time, and by somewhat, I mean two decades. Not as if I don't read things that far back, but it's a matter of playing catch-up.

Thanks for the tip on Hammer's Slammers. Will be in my next Amazon run.

As far as the slow-realspace-travel-but-with-FTL, I flip-flop a bit. As I've pointed out earlier, if you have technology capable of manipulating spacetime to produce FTL effects, you've got the potential for time travel and stupidly huge energy budgets.

Time travel can actually be dispensed with by tying the FTL travel to a single frame of reference (preferably independent of the rest of the universe). This is a bit trickier with permanent wormholes than Alcubierre drives, but it can be done, and the mention of it is usually enough to mollify the nitpickers.

The energy budget, on the other hand, is harder to reconcile. Most proposed spacetime-warping FTL requires the rest mass of a few stars, minimum. It would take some form of gravity induction to lower that requirement, which necessitates a theoretical breakthrough, which in turn would probably result in wholesale technological advancement in derived and related tech.

I think that's the real appeal of separately navigable hyperspaces - they don't need the same level of technical understanding and proper extrapolation to make FTL available, and don't mess up the techlevel so much.

That, and they can spit out demons, of course. Hyperspace is a scary place.

jollyreaper said...

Projects like this would require a hell of a fleet of transports to move raw materials, staff, components and such around (and from the project-builders' nation or another?). And when it's over... well all those ship crews have just spent god-only-knows how long ferrying stuff from A to B, and may decide to look for other opportunities to continue that line of work.

That's kind of back to the "death star logic fault." It's entirely out of scale with the rest of the setting and the details of construction seemed a bit sketchy even for that. The original Death Star was constructed over a prison planet that was strip-mined for the materials. Wait, what? Slave labor operating the mines, then lifting all that material up to orbit?

The general questions I have (which you may or may not have answers for) are as follows:

1. Just how are they going to run out of matter in the star system? What are they constructing?

2. If they have the ability to use up that much matter, wouldn't they be able to start pulling mass directly from the system's primary?

3. Wouldn't they be at clarketech to be running into that kind of problem? If so, would there method of solving it even use anything we could remotely recognize as ships?

The only way around that I can imagine up would be the equivalent of the rare earth elements used in electronics. Trace amounts on an gram per gram basis but nothing works without them. But we already have all of those existing within this system so maybe we're back to artificially manufactured super-heavy elements from islands of stability further up the periodic table? But if so, why not just transmute the matter locally?

Mangaka2170 said...

Actually, regarding teleporters: In the Star Trek Technical Manuals (full of technobabble and contrived explanations, I know, but work with me here) they show that starships have transporter emitters mounted on the outside of the ship, and that is what enables people to beam to and from places without transport chambers (and also explains the curious transporter range limit). Presumably, the transport matrix is broadcast from these emitters to the transport site and it is these emitters that do the work of reassembling the transported people and equipment.

Teleros said...

jollyreaper: "That's kind of back to the "death star logic fault." It's entirely out of scale with the rest of the setting and the details of construction seemed a bit sketchy even for that."

Depends on the scale of the setting. Something like Star Wars, with big, well-established powers & dirt cheap FTL / starships... yeah mega-engineering works there. Again, I'm talking space opera here rather than hard(er) sci-fi.

(I should also note that on the subject of the Death Star, given that the DS2 was built in 6 months, in secret, with a single shipping company handling the freight side... the Empire had plenty of industrial capacity :) .)

"1. Just how are they going to run out of matter in the star system? What are they constructing?"

Something that's very big and which, for example, might require locally scarce materials (especially if politicians get involved in deciding where it's built :P ).

"2. If they have the ability to use up that much matter, wouldn't they be able to start pulling mass directly from the system's primary?"

Almost certainly. As above though, that may not have all the elements or exotic matter they need, hence the need for freighters. Suppose you want to build your dyson ring, and need an unobtainium "skeleton" for it. That part may need to be transported in, but there's no reason why you couldn't then break down a planet or two / mine the local star for the continents, seas, skies and cities that the people on your dyson ring would then live on.

"3. Wouldn't they be at clarketech to be running into that kind of problem? If so, would there method of solving it even use anything we could remotely recognize as ships?"

You tell me :P . An unequal development between, say, mega-engineering tech and wormholes may mean you have to use transports of some kind to get the materials from A to B, rather than simply toss them through a wormhole. Or perhaps the exotic matter in question destabilises wormholes... it shouldn't be hard to come up with a reason as to why it *doesn't* work after all ;) .

"But if so, why not just transmute the matter locally?"

Because it's unobtainium of course ;) . Political issues may also cloud things ("hey, let's win the shipyard votes!" or "the Dyson Sphere Space Stimulus Bill"), but there are plenty of examples in sci-fi of materials that people cannot (or cannot *yet*) transmute / replicate on demand. Wouldn't it be awful to build this fleet of transports and get started, only ten years into construction to achieve the transmutation breakthrough that allows you to produce *everything* on site... what would those poor ship crews do now?

Thucydides said...

Energy levels for FTL may well be astronomical, but most FTL "systems" which are postulated don't translate to use in realspace.

You would need to have two separate improbable systems to zoom through both realspace and FTL (unless you have the Star Trek style go anywhere warpdrive), which is why it would be a bit disconcerting for the reader. Even in the Mote in God's Eye, it takes a long time to slog through realspace to get to the Alderson points, but 0 seconds to transit the tramline from point A to point B

Of course this can add another level of complication to the plot. Remember the Forever War had ships moving at relativistic velocity in normal space to get to collapsars (wormhole portals), which caused problems as the various frames of reference became mismatched (you never knew if the enemy you encountered would appear from your past or future, and hundreds of years could pass before you came home after a short mission in subjective time).

Tony said...

Raymond:

"Lemme rephrase: I like my fair share of military SF, but still don't like Pournelle - much of that is aesthetic, if nothing else. Never liked his prose."

Hmmm...most people complain about his cro magnon attitude...

"Upon investigation, Dickson was somewhat before my time, and by somewhat, I mean two decades. Not as if I don't read things that far back, but it's a matter of playing catch-up."

I didn't mean to be judgmental about anybody in particular. It just gets a little more cringeworthy each time somebody pontificates about military AF on the basis of Weber, Ringo, Stirling, and maybe a little bit of Drake. There's a lot more to it than that.

"Thanks for the tip on Hammer's Slammers. Will be in my next Amazon run."

You're welcome.

"I think that's the real appeal of separately navigable hyperspaces - they don't need the same level of technical understanding and proper extrapolation to make FTL available, and don't mess up the techlevel so much."

I don't see it that way at all. Just because you can manipulate the energies necessary for torchships and FTL doesn't mean it has to be a common thing, or something that can even be done on the surface of planets. So it's soemthing you can limit to spaceships.

And I don't see why the implications are such a big deal. You idenfiy them and you handle them. When you have magick-space, you have to come up with an explanation why it was discovered later rather than sooner, how people learned how to navigate it, why it has the features that it does, why it takes so little energy to cross into, but it doesn't totally screw our space up, etc. It's a total continuity and consistency mess.

"That, and they can spit out demons, of course. Hyperspace is a scary place."

And I call it "magick-space" for a reason. It's generally just this side of high-fantasy

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"Energy levels for FTL may well be astronomical, but most FTL "systems" which are postulated don't translate to use in realspace.

You would need to have two separate improbable systems to zoom through both realspace and FTL (unless you have the Star Trek style go anywhere warpdrive), which is why it would be a bit disconcerting for the reader. Even in the Mote in God's Eye, it takes a long time to slog through realspace to get to the Alderson points, but 0 seconds to transit the tramline from point A to point B"


With all due respect, from my point of view, this is totally illogical. Having a separate STL and FTL drive doesn't double the incredibility, not when there is an ability to generate and manipulate large quantities of power. They would both follow logically -- the STL for sure, and the FTL if FTL is possible at all. It's when people start saying well, we don't have enough energy to go anywhere in normal space, but hey, we've got magick-space, just around the corner, doesn't take more than the special application of house current to get there... That's just pure ridiculous.

Thucydides said...

Tony

Having massive amounts of power is only a part of the solution. Since realspace and hyperspace are two different "mediums" the methods of traversing them are going to be very different.

Just because a nuclear submarine has a great deal of power at its disposal does not mean it can crawl onto land, or take to the sky. There have been attempts to create vehicles which can do this, but they have been horribly limited or impractical (air cars, Christie "flying tanks" or the Convair "Subplane") As a Marine, you may have had some experience with the LVTP-7 "Amtrack", which gets its sea going ability from having a huge hull; a compromise that to an infantryman waiting on land, screams "target!"

For spacecraft, this probably mean separating the STL from the FTL part (which may be why wormholes have become popular), or separate FTL carriers and riders optimized for each role.

jollyreaper said...


And I don't see why the implications are such a big deal. You idenfiy them and you handle them. When you have magick-space, you have to come up with an explanation why it was discovered later rather than sooner,


You can't get into it when too deep in a gravity well, same reason why dolphins would have trouble discovering fire before coming out on dry land.

how people learned how to navigate it,


The same way we learn anything, trial and error and a lot of pranged equipment.

why it has the features that it does,


Because if things were different, we'd be asking why they were that way instead.

why it takes so little energy to cross into,


Because that's how much it takes. Anthropic principle pretty much for a lot of this.

but it doesn't totally screw our space up, etc. It's a total continuity and consistency mess.


It can be so if people let it get out of control.

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"As a Marine, you may have had some experience with the LVTP-7 'Amtrack', which gets its sea going ability from having a huge hull; a compromise that to an infantryman waiting on land, screams 'target!'"

Combat isn't anything like you imagine, T. A larger vehicle may be a little easier to hit, but it's not that big a disadvantage.

"For spacecraft, this probably mean separating the STL from the FTL part (which may be why wormholes have become popular), or separate FTL carriers and riders optimized for each role."

I suggest you go back and see whether anybody has said STL and FTL should be the same drive. The point I'm making is that the energy to power an FTL drive, as we now think we understand things, automatically puts you in the energy category for torchships as well. The ability to manipulate spacetime implies that non-rocket drives might be possible for STL.

Nobody said they had to be the same machine. And, to reiterate, from my point of view, the logical consequence of being able to generate and manipulate FTL kinds of energies means magick-space sails or psi pilots or whatever are just not credible, no matter what else the author asks the reader to accept.

Tony said...

Re: jollyreaper

Sorry, but I find all of that unconvincing. It's a lot easier, and the author has to explain a lot less, if all the pilot has to do is work his sums (or more likely just put the destination in the computer), push a button, and zip-zap-zoop, you're somewhere else, at least partially along the way to your destination. Navigable hyperspaces exist solely as a plot device. They aren't necessary to explain how one gets from here to there. They're pure schtick.

jollyreaper said...

Navigable hyperspaces exist solely as a plot device. They aren't necessary to explain how one gets from here to there. They're pure schtick.

And thus we agree to disagree.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"And thus we agree to disagree."

If you say so.

The real funny thing about magick-space is that it is usually used to facilitate some age of sail type storytelling, including the meeting of enemy vessels on the high seas. Well, enemy vessels rarely if ever met on the high seas. They met close to shore, often within sigt of it. It just makes magick-space look even more contrived.

jollyreaper said...

The real funny thing about magick-space is that it is usually used to facilitate some age of sail type storytelling, including the meeting of enemy vessels on the high seas. Well, enemy vessels rarely if ever met on the high seas. They met close to shore, often within sigt of it. It just makes magick-space look even more contrived.


The whole planetary system is the "shore." Encounters in interstellar space are possible but less likely because the chance of encounter is so slim. You want to fight, you need to go where the targets are and that's system space.

Now the question of where someone might run a pirate base becomes more interesting.

1. Can pirates or privateers afford to operate within a contested system or would the dominant power likely be able to stomp any place they setup base?

2. Would their ships have the range to mount patrols from the safety of another star system or do they need a support base locally?

3. If they do need a base, where could they stick it that's unlikely to be found? I'm thinking maybe something out in the scattered disk far, far from the primary. But then there's the question of realspace detection range. If they're emitting any kind of radiation, how likely are they to be discovered by very big sensor arrays? Could they pick a giant hunk of rock, the thick side facing sunward and the business end facing starward along with all the radiators, away from possible detectors.

Tony said...

Pirates? In space? Puh-lease.

jollyreaper said...

Pirates? In space? Puh-lease.

Pirates, privateers, raiders, skirmishers, frigates on commerce-raiding patrols or what have you.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"Pirates, privateers, raiders, skirmishers, frigates on commerce-raiding patrols or what have you."

Aside from the fact that the authorities wouldn't let high energy vehicles exist in private hands -- or at least no more private than a major, highly regulated corporation -- small freelance organizations aren't going to be ableto get their hands on the resources necessary for maintenance and upgrade. Hornblower IN SPAAACE! is just not believable.

What we have here is a major disconnect between the hard SF generation and the science fantasy generation. With a few very rare exceptions, good SF simply isn't written anymore.

Stevo Darkly said...

"Pirates, privateers, raiders, skirmishers, frigates on commerce-raiding patrols or what have you."

Aside from the fact that the authorities wouldn't let high energy vehicles exist in private hands -- or at least no more private than a major, highly regulated corporation -- small freelance organizations aren't going to be ableto get their hands on the resources necessary for maintenance and upgrade. Hornblower IN SPAAACE! is just not believable.

This is assuming the continuing existence of authorities who are strong enough to regulate the ownership of technology.

The background world I've been playing around with is what folks around here would call "post-Westphalian." Power is very decentralized and relationships between powerful organizations is more horizontal than hierarchical. Politically, the Earth is a bit like the world of Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. The "nations" are more like "tribes" and may be scattered across the world (and across space) rather than being concentrated into contiguous geographical territories and ruling them as states in the current sense. It is not a world of centralized nation-states or empires, but of networks.

There are few large standing forces dedicated specifically to war. Instead, merchant vessels tend to be armed themselves, and there are military organizations that you can hire for guard and escort duty, if you trust them. There are few wars, even fewer on a large scale, but there is more low-level violence and piracy.

(There remain the problems of how space pirates would manage to capture rather than destroy another vessel, and what kind of cargo would be worth their effort. I've made some technology assumptions that might enable, this, but even so I think it would be difficult for anyone to be a pirate full-time. More like an armed merchantman running across a weaker vessel owned by another organization with which they are in dispute, so they demand "owed reparations" at gunpoint. Or military ships gone rogue after their employer goes out of business. Situations more like privateers, ronin or Somalis IN SPACE.)

More later, perhaps.

Tony said...

Re: Stevo Darkly

Your background sounds metastable at best. Sooner or later (probably sooner) some group would get together to minimize the risks to itself of so much power in so many hands. Pretty soon it would dominate, or at least become one of a very few similar power blocks. Freelance possession of high energy propulsion and weapons just couldn't be tolerated.

The problem with cyberpunk and cyberpunkish futures is the philosophical and rhetorical juxtaposition of "networked" and "hierarchical". As any computer science undergrad can tell you, a hierarchy is a network. It can be a very efficient one under the right circumstances. What cyberpunkists call a "network" is more free-form than a hierarchy, that's all. But, strangely enough, when you analyze traffic in even the freest of free-form networks, it doesn't take long at all to identify hierarchies there as well. Hierarchical organization is a very human thing.

jollyreaper said...

The background world I've been playing around with is what folks around here would call "post-Westphalian." Power is very decentralized and relationships between powerful organizations is more horizontal than hierarchical.


This sort of thing to me is where scifi can get really interesting, where you can't just look at the setting and say "Oh, this is just a prior period of Earth's history wearing a funny hat." Bits and pieces might bear comparison to bits and pieces from the past but the entire whole is something we've never quite seen before.

Politically, the Earth is a bit like the world of Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. The "nations" are more like "tribes" and may be scattered across the world (and across space) rather than being concentrated into contiguous geographical territories and ruling them as states in the current sense.

He has some wonderfully trippy ideas. Personal sovereignty, franchise nations, voluntary citizenship, etc. And his rationale for the neovics was properly explored, riffing off the same anti-libertine angle Tony feels but without the religious overtones.

It is not a world of centralized nation-states or empires, but of networks.

How would you imagine that working for planets and space stations? Would some be owned outright by a given faction, others owned by a holding company with space sublet to other factions, etc?

(There remain the problems of how space pirates would manage to capture rather than destroy another vessel, and what kind of cargo would be worth their effort.


There's always the question of the tech base. While we tend to imagine the classic pirate ship as something grandiose and looking like the HMS Victory, that was pretty much never the case. Pirate ships tended to be stolen merchantmen rather than stolen warships and needed superior speed to chase down their targets. The pirate ships were also heavily overmanned by a merchantman's standard so that they could bring a superior force to play when making a hostile boarding attempt.

We've seen all manner of romantic portrayals of pirate ships in fantasy from pirate pre-dreadnoughts to pirate battleships to pirate airships, both as dirigible and as steampunk flying ironclads with some manner of presumed antigrav. But all of this comes back to the basic question "How are you going to make a living off of that?" What's the tech base required to build and maintain the ship, how do they fence the stolen goods for money, how much piracy will the shipping lines tolerate before a major government is prompted to send out a squadron to hunt them down, etc.

jollyreaper said...

With a lot of these settings the fantasy isn't so much in the technology but the economics. Air combat remains ever popular but it becomes really complicated to try and present a jet age setting where this sort of thing can take place. During the Cold War the writers would just tell a WWIII story. After the fall of communism, the techno-thriller writers tried coming up with drug lords buying up surplus soviet equipment and using their own private air forces to smuggle the drugs, giving the US a reason to begin a central american air war. As far as way of providing a setup for the good stuff, pornos have more realistic plots. "Yes, I ordered this pizza but I can't possibly pay for it. Air combat!"

I've made some technology assumptions that might enable, this, but even so I think it would be difficult for anyone to be a pirate full-time. More like an


They'd really need to be state-subsidized. The subs and commerce raiders of WWI and WWII were all owned and operated by national governments. I could just as easily see a more freelance situation where a power might pay a stipend to their shipping operators to combat-equip their ships and raid targets of opportunity. The question is one of how ubiquitous high technology is within your setting, how realistic it would be for private ownership of different kinds of weapons.

armed merchantman running across a weaker vessel owned by another organization with which they are in dispute, so they demand "owed reparations" at gunpoint. Or military ships gone rogue after their employer goes out of business. Situations more like privateers, ronin or Somalis IN SPACE.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CSS_Shenandoah

CSS Shenandoah, formerly Sea King, was an iron-framed, teak-planked, full rigged ship, with auxiliary steam power, captained by Commander James Waddell, Confederate States Navy, a North Carolinian with twenty years' service in the United States Navy.[2]
During 12½ months of 1864–1865 the ship undertook commerce raiding resulting in the capture and sinking or bonding of thirty-eight Union merchant vessels, mostly New Bedford whaleships. This ship is notable for firing the last shot of the American Civil War, at a whaler in waters off the Aleutian Islands.[3]

Told of in detail in "Last Flag Down" linked to from the wiki article. It's one hell of a good story. The politics involved here would be an inspiration for any novelist.

Mangaka2170 said...

@Stevo: Have you considered the possibility that the ship itself might be the prize? A starship represents a lot of effort and resources to construct, operate and maintain, and you wouldn't even necessarily need to sell it to make a profit (another torch freighter with only a few modifications like improved engines, armor and firepower needed would be an asset for any organization that may also depend on trade). Holding the crew (assuming there are any) to ransom might also work (hey, it works for the Somalians), and anything it might be carrying is simply a bonus.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"CSS Shenandoah..."

A very different world from the one future spacefarers are likely to live in. The hi-tech of the day was so inexpensive that the blockade running steamers operating out of Nassau and Bermuda were probably the most technically advanced vessels of the early 1860s. But they were so inexpensive to build that they were operated by private concerns that weren't a big deal back then, and that nobody has heard of today.

It won't be the same with spaceships generating tens or hundreds of petawatts per second of operation. They will be large, complex technological artifacts that only the megawealthy can afford and that only the demonstrably responsible and easily accountable will be allowed to possess, for everybody else's safety, if not for their own.

jollyreaper said...


Your background sounds metastable at best. Sooner or later (probably sooner) some group would get together to minimize the risks to itself of so much power in so many hands. Pretty soon it would dominate, or at least become one of a very few similar power blocks. Freelance possession of high energy propulsion and weapons just couldn't be tolerated.


Life is metastable. Consider the Wild West. It was unique, a confluence of events and geography and circumstances that created a compelling stage for all manner of stories. As a kid I thought it must have gone for a hundred years and that seemed reasonable given the volume of movies and books about it! Depending on who you ask, the classic era was maybe 15 to 20 years if that. (Some will define it as mid 1830s to 1920's, others as post-civil war to the start of the 20th century, others from 1870 to 1890).

You're talking about a historical window to tell a story in. It's a different case if you're saying "this system as it currently stands will be around for tens of thousands of years exactly the same." Then you have to have a pretty good argument for seeming long-term stability. Maybe the case is that no one faction can ever gain hegemony or attempts at building a dominant position tend to fall apart and history for this time remains cyclical.

The solar system is pretty freakin' stable and consistent for human purposes but run it out far enough and it'll eventually fall apart. Doesn't mean you can't tell a good story set during the time it's still holding together.

Milo said...

Tony:

"Your [Stevo Darkly's] background sounds metastable at best."

Well, yes. Sailing pirates were also eventually routed out when governments strengthened enough to deal with them - the golden age of piracy lasted less than a century.

Today, we notoriously have Somalian pirates, and I don't believe for a moment that those will last forever, either. Once someone manages to rebuild a functional government in Somalia, one way or another, the pirates are going to be in trouble.

The most exciting plot settings tend to be temporary. If social turmoil and violence are common, people are going to be looking for ways to fix that. Set you story before they find one.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"Consider the Wild West."

A very localized regime, taking the whole world into consideration. Even if you include all of the other European empire building going on at roughly the same time, most of Western civ was living in pretty traditional political and economic environments.

Anonymous said...

One possibility is that seedier independent habitats might give pirates a veneer of legality by employing them as 'coast guards'/privateers/private military contractors, authorized to exact tolls from ships passing through the habitat's territory and impounding those who refuse. Of course, in reality this would pretty much be a protection racket, with passing ship crews being given the choice of giving up a percentage of their cargo as the toll or losing all their cargo, their ship and their freedom.
The pirates would give the habitat a generous cut of the 'toll', and would help to defend it against invaders or to hunt down any pirates operating in the area who didn't give the habitat its cut. In return, they would be given shelter, supplies and perhaps opportunities to discreetly fence their takings.

R.C.

Tony said...

R.C.:

"One possibility is that seedier independent habitats might give pirates a veneer of legality by employing them as 'coast guards'/privateers/private military contractors..."

Except we're talking about interstellar empire here. If any given system gets to be too lawless, it either looses trade or gets nuclear curettage.

jollyreaper said...

It won't be the same with spaceships generating tens or hundreds of petawatts per second of operation. They will be large, complex technological artifacts that only the megawealthy can afford and that only the demonstrably responsible and easily accountable will be allowed to possess, for everybody else's safety, if not for their own.


That's one way of looking at it. Projecting directly from today's tech model, you certainly have a point. We don't have private ownership of WMD's, either. If we're projecting our exact current geopolitical situation into space with everything else remaining basically the same, then you're right. Certainly few people own private 747's. There are no private nuclear submarines, Captain Nemo remains firmly in fantasy.
The mercenary fighter pilot in his F-16 selling his services to the highest bidder is fantasy. Then again, the same would be true even if you put him back in the late 30's flying a military surplus fighter. You had foreign experts hired to train the air forces of smaller nations but it was never as romantic as the pulps would have you believe.

But let's be contrary. In the time of the greeks only very rich men could afford to kit themselves out in the full panalopy. Rifle and combat gear for the usual grunt is what, a few thousand? Expensive but not ruinously so. So there's the question of the relative cost of weapons. I couldn't find a comparison between the cost of a ship of the line from the age of sail and a destroyer in this day and age. Not sure if the comparison would be quite appropriate.

The bigger question would be what the cost of industry is in this future. In this day and age it takes armies of people to invent the tech that goes into the hardware, design the actual warship itself, assemble it, all the cost of plant and equipment. It's expensive. But we've already seen how disruptive industrial revolutions can be. Just how low can the cost of manufacture be driven? Just how automated can the whole process become? I'm not sure what's future wank and what's possible but I feel disinclined to dismiss anything out of hand.

As for the question of whether that sort of power would be allowed to rest in the hands of an individual, the question I have is who's going to prevent that from happening? What if you get a 2nd amendment set agitating for starship owner's rights? "Who are you to infringe upon my freedom? Just because a few lone nuts used their starships as weapons, don't take away the rights of law-abiding starship captains!"

Now you might have an interesting case of certain civilized systems not allowing foreign starships in, the same way some western towns made cowboys drop their guns off at the town limit. You want your cargo to be carried in-system, you're paying a local to do it.

jollyreaper said...


A very localized regime, taking the whole world into consideration. Even if you include all of the other European empire building going on at roughly the same time, most of Western civ was living in pretty traditional political and economic environments.


So I guess we couldn't set any stories during a world war, either, since those things couldn't possibly last for more than a handful of years. And there's only so much time before we reach the heat death of the universe.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"As for the question of whether that sort of power would be allowed to rest in the hands of an individual, the question I have is who's going to prevent that from happening?"

Any society with half an ounce of sense. It doesn't matter how inexpensive a spacship is or isn't. It's a flying WMD if it has any kind of capability at all. only governments and government licensees are going to be allowed to have them.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"So I guess we couldn't set any stories during a world war, either, since those things couldn't possibly last for more than a handful of years. And there's only so much time before we reach the heat death of the universe."

A world war is an interesting setting, but it's aberrational. And it has to arrise from an international regime that existed before the war and has the capability ot go to war the world over.

Let's not work overtime to miss a very simple point -- humans don't like anarchy and will work to avoid it. Pirates, cyberpunk, etc. are all about anarchy. Maybe they appeal to a certain readership, but they're high technofantasy, not hard SF.

jollyreaper said...


Any society with half an ounce of sense. It doesn't matter how inexpensive a spacship is or isn't. It's a flying WMD if it has any kind of capability at all. only governments and government licensees are going to be allowed to have them.


License? I'm sitting in a Pluto-flagged ship right here. I'm obeying all of their rules and regulations.

"But they don't have any rules and regulations! That's just a flag of convenience!"

My, my, now isn't that convenient? So are you going to deny me passage into your system?

The world's been getting smaller and smaller. There are fewer strange corners, no vast new continents to explore. There's no possibility of being surprised by a strange new land across the far sea.

Space ain't Earth. There's more room for strange, more room for surprise. There's every possibility of malcontents and dreamers pushing out beyond the frontiers to set up new polities, maybe even trade federations and empires. And perhaps distances that seemed more than sufficient get tighter with better FTL, suddenly it looks like there's not enough elbow room. Different cultures are bumping into each other again after a long time apart and stories happen.

I'll tell you what, there's a great scene to be had where someone from Old Earth with your rational point of view (starships are dangerous weapons!) runs into someone from one of the new planets where private ship ownership isn't considered a big deal. Culture shock!

Tony said...

Re: jollyreaper

Malcontents and dreamers, huh? Where do malcontents and dreamers get the money to strike out on their own into the univers? The Tooth Fairy?

And even if they did, if spaceships do make good WMDs, their attitude towards them is going to be the same as any other society's. The 2nd Amendment was written in an environment of swords, muskets, and muzzle-loading smoothbore cannon. Those weapons could only kill one person or several persons at a time. Spaceships could be used to burn out cities or launch relativistic kill vehicles at planets. Yeah, space ain't Earth, all right -- but, with respect, you're drawing all kinds of wrong conclusions about what that means.

Anonymous said...

Tony:

I was thinking in terms of Stevo Darkly's post-Westphalian world, where interstellar empires might share systems. As for the victims of piracy taking alternate routes or taking decisive military action agains the pirates, it is entirely possible that they may not see such measures as practical. Five years of piracy off the Horn of Africa have not caused commercial shipping to avoid the area entirely, and military action has been limited to naval patrols rather than attacks on the Somali pirate havens themselves. The Barbary Corsairs were active for three centuries, only being completely suppressed in the early 19th century by European and American naval bombardment of the coastal cities of their sponsor states. In the case of Algiers, it took outright conquest by France to put a final stop to raiding.

R.C.

Raymond said...

Tony:

"Pirates, cyberpunk, etc. are all about anarchy. Maybe they appeal to a certain readership, but they're high technofantasy, not hard SF."

At least as far as cyberpunk went, there was almost always a clear international (and often even national) order. It was simply ignored as often as not, since most cyberpunk characters are on the edge of the law, at best. (Neuromancer, as one example, had a previous war between states as a major driver of not only the technology central to the plot, but one of the main characters, and the spillover effects were legion. Not to mention the powerful international organization charged with policing AI.)

It's not like you can't find a great deal of illicit activity and areas where the law holds little sway, even in ostensibly strong empires. More so amongst fledgling states, or states with troublesome demographic splits. Pakistan is hardly a stable, strong, centralized nation-state, but it managed to acquire nukes (and causes more than its fair share of geopolitical headaches for that very reason). Russia, while not the juggernaut it used to be, is still plenty powerful on the geostrategic scale; if it were governed more by the rule of law than the whims of its ruling classes, it wouldn't make so many people nervous.

Given the obvious caveat here, being past the point where a handful of craft are a major national enterprise, there's plenty of room at the leading edge of human space for weaker states, who look the other way (or actively encourage) a certain degree of lawlessness. God knows we have enough terrestrial examples of that.

jollyreaper said...

Given the obvious caveat here, being past the point where a handful of craft are a major national enterprise, there's plenty of room at the leading edge of human space for weaker states, who look the other way (or actively encourage) a certain degree of lawlessness. God knows we have enough terrestrial examples of that.


That's exactly my thinking on the matter. Certainly building a starship would be a crippling undertaking for any nation in the here and now -- even going to Mars could bankrupt us with our current tech -- but we're talking hundreds of years out. There would certainly be order and regulation within the more civilized systems and private ownership of starships would be heavily regulated. In the wold and woolly frontier, things get a lot more interesting.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"There would certainly be order and regulation within the more civilized systems and private ownership of starships would be heavily regulated. In the wold and woolly frontier, things get a lot more interesting."

Once again, it's a matter of scale. No wildness or woollyness is going to be allowed to exist where nutjobs can turn indifferent management into megadeaths.

In our own world, terrorists killed a few thousand with WMDs improvised from jet airliners, and we go to the other side of the world to mount a punitive expedition. We also initiate systems to make sure only the authorized operators have control of such dangerous machines. On top of all of that, had the proper assets been in position in 2001 like they are no doubt in place now, one or more of those aircraft would have been destroyed in flight rather than be allowed to threaten a major metropolitan area. The innocent passengers aboard and the value of the capital equipment involved would have been no obstacle.

Now, when those airplanes are torchships, and the number of people any one can kill is millions, rather than thousands, there is not going to be any kind of unregulated use, at all, anywhere. Period. It would be insanity to allow it.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...if FTL takes 10 megawatts per cubic meter to work, then starships and interstellar empire will be very expensive; if, on the other hand, it only takes 2 kilowatts per cubic meter to go FTL, then starships and interstellar empire will be much less expensive. Still not cheap, but more doable. Interstellar empires' form will depend heavily on whether FTL needs a brute-streigth approch, or if it need a very high degree of technical finess but relatively low energy. Can you get away with 21st century powerplants or do you need antimatter to power your starships? that will determine to a large extent the shape of your empire.

Ferrell

Raymond said...

Ferrell:

Uh, where are you getting those numbers? You can get more than 10 MW/m^3 with a fission reactor.

Just to give a sense of scale (and bear in mind, this is just a data point, not any particular FTL solution): a black hole massing a million tons (10^9 kg, a sizeable chunk of a common asteroid) will put out over 350 terawatts of power, and have a Schwarzschild radius of just over an attometre (1.5 x 10^-18 m, one and a half thousandths of a femtometre, and almost two thousand times smaller than the classical electron radius). Torchship powerplant? Sure, if you can contain it. But even that wouldn't be practical as a wormhole - you'd have to use a gamma-ray laser to get through.

jollyreaper said...

I think your comment is trapped in spam limbo. Spambo?



Once again, it's a matter of scale. No wildness or woollyness is going to be allowed to exist where nutjobs can turn indifferent management into megadeaths.


People are funny with how they respond to the prospect of deaths. How many avoidable deaths do we have each year from traffic accidents, medical malpractice, corporate indifference to the poisoning of the environment and the food supply, etc? Probably hundreds of thousands each year. But we've become numb to that reality. We're used to people dying from food poisoning from tainted food. But if someone puts cyanide in asprin bottles it's a big panic, even though the spinach is going to kill more people that month.

So yeah, it's funny that we'll launch a trillion dollar war over a few thousand dead and ignore all the other deaths that could be prevented for a whole lot less money. We're stupid that way.

In our own world, terrorists killed a few thousand with WMDs improvised from jet airliners, and we go to the other side of the world to mount a punitive expedition.

And now there aren't any more terrorists. We won the war on terror just like the war on drugs!

We also initiate systems to make sure only the authorized operators have control of such dangerous machines. On top of all of that, had the proper assets been in position in 2001 like they are no doubt in place now, one or more of those aircraft would have been destroyed in flight rather than be allowed to threaten a major metropolitan area.


I seriously doubt we're any better-prepared for a repeat of 9-11 than we were then. It's likely the passengers will do everything in their power to fight the terrorists since they know they're as good as dead anyway but Air Force intercepts before the plane hits a target? I wouldn't want to put money on it.

Now, when those airplanes are torchships, and the number of people any one can kill is millions, rather than thousands, there is not going to be any kind of unregulated use, at all, anywhere. Period. It would be insanity to allow it.

You know what else doesn't make any sense? Allowing fertilizer freighters into our ports. I'm really surprised nobody's yet tried to build a freighter bomb. There have been plenty of accidental explosions, just imagine if someone tried to do it on purpose. Texas City Disaster all over again.

Rick said...

A commenter unwisely referenced a well known Evil Website, which annihilated the time I'd intended to use not only to reply to comments, but write a new post.

Admittedly, I also spent much of the afternoon watching two containerships, a Coast Guard cutter, and two replica 18th century sailing ships. But that is time constructively wasted.

Having said that, I'll pose to note this useful observation from Milo:

The most exciting plot settings tend to be temporary. If social turmoil and violence are common, people are going to be looking for ways to fix that. Set you story before they find one.

Also bear in mind that this thread is specifically about space opera, and about applying purely a veneer of realism to settings that are, fundamentally, pure Romance.

Flip side: We are, for this discussion, at least interested in faking realism.

Thucydides said...

It seems like we are going over old ground again. Many of the arguments for and against pirates, private spacecraft, etc. I remember from various previous threads about space combat etc.

A few notes:

WRT Pirates, the golden age of piracy in the Caribbean was more akin to a government sponsored insurgency by the British against Spain. Some raiders were actually legitimate, carrying Letters of Marque from the Crown, while the rest were tolerated so long as their activities were directed against the Spanish, French and anyone else who the British were trying to drive out (or prevent from getting a foothold) from the Caribbean. Most pirates exist where State power is weak, or disinterested in the problem.

Captain Morgan went from pirate to Governor of Jamaica, and promply proceeded to carry out a campaign to reduce pirate strongholds and drive them from the seas, as the need for them had passed.

Attempting to bottle tech only works so long as the tech is rare, expensive or fairly "large and obvious" to lawmakers and bureaucrats. Spacecraft and FTL may always fall into this box, but many potentially destabilizing technologies exist which can potentially massively empower individuals and small groups. Genetic engineering, high performance computing and small scale precision engineering are some examples. Even the ability to communicate and find information lowers the costs to do many things, both good and bad.

WRT combat, my platoon found dealing with USMC LAV-25 companies rather difficult on exercise, given their speed and firepower. Generally speaking, for the defender camouflage works best (Taliban fighters blending with local farmers give no end of headaches), then being able to move fast so you can open and close engagements on your terms. Standing and fighting requires the defender to commit a lot of resources (which in the space and interstellar context still puts you far ahead of potential attackers). For the attacker, suppressive fire, manouevre and the ability to move across fire swept ground are critical. In the space and interstellar context, the attacker will have to assemble overwhelming resources in small areas to take small "bites" then consolidate before the defender can mount a response.

Teleros said...

Tony: "Your background sounds metastable at best. Sooner or later (probably sooner) some group would get together to minimize the risks to itself of so much power in so many hands. Pretty soon it would dominate, or at least become one of a very few similar power blocks."

It worked fairly well in Europe for a good while. Nations & alliances balanced one another reasonably well, usually with the British helping the weaker side to preserve the balance. Of course German unification upset this system for good, and no doubt one could postulate many other situations in which it fails (heck, look at the French Revolution). Useful for a story background though.

And, what's wrong with a meta-stable / unstable setting? So long as you can come up with a plausible reason for it being like it is, that is.



jollyreaper: "With a lot of these settings the fantasy isn't so much in the technology but the economics."

Indeed.

"They'd really need to be state-subsidized. The subs and commerce raiders of WWI and WWII were all owned and operated by national governments. I could just as easily see a more freelance situation where a power might pay a stipend to their shipping operators to combat-equip their ships and raid targets of opportunity. The question is one of how ubiquitous high technology is within your setting, how realistic it would be for private ownership of different kinds of weapons."

Depending on the tech base, I think it's more a case of them needing to be subsidised to be truly effective. I'm sure if you have a large enough company (and cheap enough starships et al) you could afford to equip some armed merchantmen or escort ships, and perhaps even use them offensively... but I can't see you making much money from doing so (rather, I see it as a money-losing proposition, at least in the short to medium term). Of course, market share etc may be a motive (and you may be able to recoup the costs this way), but still... not a likely occurrence.



jollyreaper: "There are no private nuclear submarines, Captain Nemo remains firmly in fantasy."

Except for the drug barons of course ;) .



Raymond: "Uh, where are you getting those numbers? You can get more than 10 MW/m^3 with a fission reactor."

I assume Ferrell is talking about the energy cost to move a cubic metre of stuff through a wormhole or similar (not helped by a lack of mass or time being mentioned, but anyway). Which further raises the idea that, if FTL needs very low energies, then you may be able to get away with very slow STL ships that can also do FTL travel... doing away with the need to protect against relativistic missiles, for example.

Teleros said...

Tony: I think you're forgetting a couple of things. First, the opening sentence of the original blog post is that this is about space opera. Thus we can get away with things like unobtainium, FTL and, for example FTL sensors or energy shields of some description.

Second, whether or not you have privately owned starships depends a lot on the tech base & any made-up physics involved (see also #1).

If I were in the Lensman setting for example, I'd be *insisting* that every single starship out there, from one-man flitters to superdreadnoughts, be equipped with a Bergenholm inertialess drive - because it actually makes things safer. An inertialess ship literally cannot crash into anything and damage it, and the worst case accident (although not deliberate) scenario is an impact at a handful of km/s if the inertialess drive fails, which is a far cry from torchship velocities.

In Star Wars, FTL-capable ships are very clearly cheap, low-maintenance items, as Han Solo & the Falcon reveal. The Falcon is only a danger to the poorest planets though, because if it tried to act like a .99c missile against Alderaan or Coruscant... well I doubt the planetary shield techs would even notice the impact. There is a reason the Empire had to build a spherical battlestation with the firepower of "half the Imperial fleet", after all...

"No wildness or woollyness is going to be allowed to exist where nutjobs can turn indifferent management into megadeaths."

Really?

"As regrettable as the alleged incidents 500 parsecs away are, I simply cannot support the honourable member's insistence that we get involved. As you are all well aware, we have enough domestic and local troubles without adding to them with reckless and ruinously expensive imperialist invasions of faraway star systems that are quite simply no concern of ours, all on the basis of an unconfirmed story!"

I'm also reminded of a few other odds and ends in real world history where genocide and the like was permitted to happen. In short, people are very often stupid, short-sighted, amoral and ignorant.

"In our own world, terrorists killed a few thousand with WMDs improvised from jet airliners, and we go to the other side of the world to mount a punitive expedition."

Which was, among other things, extremely controversial. Had we had a different president in charge of the USA on 9/11, are you so certain we would've mounted said punitive expedition? Rather than a low-level special forces campaign or Clinton-esque bombing campaign? Etc etc etc.

TL;DR version: under hard sci-fi conventions, you're probably right. But this isn't hard sci-fi today.

Anonymous said...

Teleros said:"Raymond: "Uh, where are you getting those numbers? You can get more than 10 MW/m^3 with a fission reactor."

I assume Ferrell is talking about the energy cost to move a cubic metre of stuff through a wormhole or similar (not helped by a lack of mass or time being mentioned, but anyway). Which further raises the idea that, if FTL needs very low energies, then you may be able to get away with very slow STL ships that can also do FTL travel... doing away with the need to protect against relativistic missiles, for example."

Yes! Obviously I didn't make myself clear; sorry! I was talking about the volume of the ship (or whathaveyou), and the power density you would need to move it through FTL; High energy FTL equals energenic STL drives, but low energy FTL usually equals no torch drives. And that will effect your setting.

Ferrell

Tony said...

Re: Teleros and the rest

One of the funny things about Romance is the insistence of the readership on historical accuracy. Even if they don't know they are insisting on it, the readers do insist on it. That's why the most popular adventure series are absolutely dripping with historical detail and verisimilitude. Even in the early days of American adventure fiction it was important. Remember, Mark Twain didn't rake Fenimore Cooper over the coals for writing mind-candy adventure fiction per se, but for doing it badly and inaccurately.

The same has to apply to future Romance, or you're writing trash for pimply-faced teenagers who watch too much sci-brain-fry on TV. And at that I think a lot of today's writers might be surprised by the knowledge and perceptiveness of many of the kids that make up their primary market.

jollyreaper said...


Depending on the tech base, I think it's more a case of them needing to be subsidised to be truly effective. I'm sure if you have a large enough company (and cheap enough starships et al) you could afford to equip some armed merchantmen or escort ships, and perhaps even use them offensively... but I can't see you making much money from doing so (rather, I see it as a money-losing proposition, at least in the short to medium term). Of course, market share etc may be a motive (and you may be able to recoup the costs this way), but still... not a likely occurrence.


That's why I'm saying state-subsidized. If the government simply hands out letters of marquis to anyone who shows up, then each privateer outfit is self-financing in the hopes of striking it big. There's no guarantee, they could go broke.

If it's government-subsidized, then the basic operating expense is covered with the potential of taking prizes to be the bonus.

From the government's perspective, a standing military costs money and they might not be able to afford it so mercs or amateur military hour might be seen as a cost-cutting measure. Bear in mind that you don't have to agree with the wisdom of this action, just that it's a plausible mistake. Machiavelli hated the idea of mercs, unreliable and untrustworthy. Our current government lurves the private military contractors because it allows them to funnel lots of money to big donors who finance campaigns. That it's a terrible money hole for the government doesn't matter.

jollyreaper said...

So a conceivable scenario is Power A goes to war with Power B, Power A beefs up its main fleet with auxiliary cruisers recruited from the civilian fleet. They strap on some extra guns and are used to interdict enemy commerce. If they capture prizes, great! If not, they're still covering expenses under the contract with Power A's government.

Now a scandal could be that a certain powerful politician in the Power A government pushed hard for this war and gee, it just so happens that he has a whole fleet of obsolete ships that he's strapped even more obsolete weapons onto and is now sending out as part of the auxiliary fleet. No different from Halliburton sending empty trucks back and forth across the desert so they can charge for the delivery of nonexistent supplies. And if Power B is employing auxiliaries of their own, what if they happen to pay a cash bounty on destroyed enemy shipping? If they know where the junkyard fleet is idling away, they could pop in and make the kill. It would be delicious irony if they arrive to find half the ships broken down and issuing distress calls because they aren't even spaceworthy. They end up rescuing the contractor crews before carefully documenting the destruction of those ships so they can collect the bounty. And of course the crafty captain of the raiding fleet knows he can sell the proof of this to the scammer's political enemies for advantage.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"Our current government lurves the private military contractors because it allows them to funnel lots of money to big donors who finance campaigns."

As they say on the Sunday NFL Countdown segment: come on, man! PMCs are used, just like any other contract service provider, because they are more flexible than bespoke assets, in this case the military. There may be some corruption in awarding and using contracts, but even if there wasn't any corruption there would still be about the same level and types of PMC usage, simply because they do a job that needs to be accomplished and that the uniformed services would rather not get involved in.

jollyreaper said...

One of the funny things about Romance is the insistence of the readership on historical accuracy.

And the funny thing about your argument here is that you're basically saying that yours is the only possible interpretation of how things could be and anyone who feels differently is some kind of fool.

Personally, I love plausibility-checking ideas by referring to real historical situations and political events. While I wouldn't want to slavishly pain by the numbers, I feel better knowing that there's precedent for what I'm proposing.

People are giving this to you and you're saying no, no, no. It clashes with my personal taste so it's wrong, end of discussion.

jollyreaper said...

And that's the company line, Tony. There are critics disagree with you. And the gap between the two views is where interesting stories can be told.

The July 3, 2003 cover feature, Soldiers of Good Fortune by Barry Yeoman for The Independent Weekly makes the following assertions:
"Private military corporations become a way to distance themselves and create what we used to call 'plausible deniability,'" says Daniel Nelson, a former professor of civil-military relations at the Defense Department's Marshall European Center for Security Studies. "It's disastrous for democracy."

"The lack of oversight alarms some members of Congress. "Under a shroud of secrecy, the United States is carrying out military missions with people who don't have the same level of accountability," says Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a leading congressional critic of privatized war. "We have individuals who are not obligated to follow orders or follow the Military Code of Conduct. Their main obligation is to their employer, not to their country."

"An analysis shows that 17 of the nation's leading private military firms have invested more than $12.4 million in congressional and presidential campaigns since 1999."

"In 2001, according to the most recent federal disclosure forms, 10 private military companies spent more than $32 million on lobbying." More recently, "the ten largest contractors in the nation spent more than $27 million lobbying the federal government in the last quarter of 2009," according to a review of lobbying records. "The massive amount of money used to influence the legislative process came as the White House announced it would ramp up military activity in Afghanistan and Congress considered appropriations bills to pay for that buildup" [17].

"Federal law bans U.S. soldiers from participating in Colombia's war against left-wing rebels and from training army units with ties to right-wing paramilitaries infamous for torture and political killings. There are no such restrictions on for-profit companies, though, and since the late 1990s, the United States has paid private military companies an estimated $1.2 billion, both to eradicate coca crops and to help the Colombian army put down rebels who use the drug trade to finance their insurgency."

"The Pentagon has become so dependent on private military companies that it literally cannot wage war without them. Troops already rely on for-profit contractors to maintain 28 percent of all weapons systems."

"There are some weapons systems that the U.S. military forces do not have the capability to do their own maintenance on," concedes David Young, a deputy commander at the Defense Contract Management Agency."


http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Private_Military_Corporations

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"So a conceivable scenario is Power A goes to war with Power B, Power A beefs up its main fleet with auxiliary cruisers recruited from the civilian fleet. They strap on some extra guns and are used to interdict enemy commerce. If they capture prizes, great! If not, they're still covering expenses under the contract with Power A's government."

Being able to attack enemy traffic only in or near solar systems means that the situation would something akin to the U-boat war in WWI, except no submarine stealth to help the commerce raider, nor even the slim advantage of actually being a military weapon system designed for war (which the u-boat was).

They'd do good for a few months, then be eaten alive by convoy escorts. That's if they're lucky. If Power B suspects a commerce raiding campaign by Power A, then it would start convoying on spec. Funny thing about convoys, they may concentrate targets, but they guarantee that the raiders will meet the counterraiding forces. Oops.

Your corruption scandal would be a historical footnote to a much larger strategic disaster. All the merchant ships lost chasing the dream of prize money would handicap Power A's ability to move commerce and war supplies. If front line units were sent out with the raiders as stiffeners against convoy defenses, that would only serve to dissipate the main battle fleets' strength.

As was discovered in both world wars, successful commerce raiding in an industrial world requires the best technology, the highest level of resource investment, and an enemy incapable of deffending his commerce. Only the US Navy against the Japanese was ultimately successful -- it had the best ocean-going submarine boats, the highest level of resource commitment, and an enemy that couldn't help itself even if it wanted to.

There's your story: Power A has plenty of modern, well-armed frigates, supported lavishly; Power B has few effective escorts and no way to get more. It's a Pacific war sub movie in space.

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