Sunday, March 3, 2013

High Kings and Galactic Emperors - Monarchy in Science Fiction and Fantasy


Science fiction has been rather curiously given to monarchical government. 'Curiously' in the sense that (at any rate to 'Murricans) it is a form of government associated with the past, and certainly not with rocket ships, monorails, food pills, cyborgs, or the rest of the retro-future paraphernalia that sci-fi still loosely connotes in the popular culture. And even, with a reservation or two, in SF fandom.

The situation in fantasy is somewhat different. In spite of urban fantasy and all the rest, fantasy still connotes first and foremost a setting rooted in a medievalesque past, where kings - and the occasional queen regnant - are perfectly at home.

I have read a number of arguments over the years suggesting that the widespread practice of monarchy in SF says something about the authors who use the trope, and probably not to their credit. (Sorry, no links, but if you want examples, Google is your friend.) Similar critical remarks have been made not just about fantasy authors, but its readers, and the very existence of the (sub)genre.

For my purpose, the virtues or defects of monarchism as a political position are fairly beside the point. Kingship has certainly been widespread, suggesting that it was a workable default position, at any rate in the agrarian age. For an intellectual defense you probably still can't do better than Hobbes' Leviathan. Not to mention that as a critique of anarchism and its cousins, it is hard to improve on solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.


But I would argue - in fact, I will argue - that the roots of monarchism in SF have less to do with political philosophy than with basic story considerations.

Bourgeois representative democracy, classical Athenian-style democracy, classical Roman-style republicanism, medieval oligarchical republicanism a la Venice, military juntas, fascistic fuehrerprinzip, Leninist dictatorship of the proletariat, nominally Communist party-committee oligarchy, pure bureaucratic functionary-ism, and both Iranian and al-Queda style theocracy, all have at least one thing in common: The likelihood of a teenage girl becoming head of state under any of these systems is pretty much nil.

Yes, that particular consideration has rather narrow applicability. But it is part of a broader point: Leadership in all of those systems is in some broad sense a workday job. To be sure, rulership is, in contemporary biz-speak, a 24/7 position. But it is walled off, at least in principle, from all the other dimensions of a ruler's life.

Yes, that principle may be honored in the breach: Presidents and dictators do indeed have personal lives that can and do spill over into their official roles. The spillover can even, at times, be substantial, and have some real consequences. But these are the exceptions, not the rule.   

Hereditary monarchy is a different beast. Quoting myself from an earlier post here (and, originally, a now-defunct website), hereditary monarchy is a political system that takes sex out of the bedroom and puts it in the history books.

Admittedly there was not much sex in midcentury SF or F. But the authors of these works knew their history, at any rate Western history. Which, from the Julio-Claudians to the Tudors and beyond, offers ample enough demonstration of the uniquely colorful potential of hereditary monarchy.

Someone in the back row is pointing out that the Principate under the Julio-Claudians was not really a hereditary monarchy. (Nor did the Empire ever quite become one, even under the Paleologi more than a thousand years later.) But that was sort of the problem, wasn't it? With no other constitutional mechanism at hand, a kinda sorta hereditary succession was the least worst alternative, with an added element of uncertainty that ramped up family dysfunction even above the usual royal standard.


And on the flip side, monarchy brings grandeur to family dysfunction. Consider The Lion in Winter. The actual story line has all the makings of a squirm-inducing soap opera. But because it is the royal Angevins (and, yes, brilliantly written) it transcends its soap opera plot.

Or, to put it another way, hereditary monarchy is singularly well-suited to Romance. By fully entangling the personal and the political it provides great story fuel. And story trumps futurism, or even political philosophy, every time.

Discuss:




The Flickr page for the royal headgear above describes it as 'Not THE crown, just a crown.' But the lighting is appropriately cool.

349 comments:

1 – 200 of 349   Newer›   Newest»
kedamono@mac.com said...

I've always been of two minds when it comes to monarchies. Unless succession is rigorously defined and the heir apparent is trained to be a monarch, you soon end up with an idiot at the helm, or a figurehead who has less power than the janitor that cleans the throne room.

So let's leave out constitutional monarchies and stay with absolute monarchies. There are some benefits of having a hereditary ruling class. Princes, dukes, barons, and the like are expected to rule various portions of the kingdom. If the monarchy is serious about providing a stable government, then every member of that government needs to be trained and taught what is expected of them as a ruler of whatever portion of the kingdom they are assigned to. And imbeciles need to be carefully moved into positions where they can't hurt anyone, like popular entertainment.

When it come to space empires, then the biggest question is how fast does information pass in the empire?

In a wormhole gate system, communication is constant, but takes time to travel through the system and back again. Therefore local rulers have much more autonomy over their regions.

If there is FTL communication, then there is hardly any autonomy for rulers.

Brett said...

That's a very good point on the hereditary monarchy point. It takes events that would normally be petty and soap opera-esque, and lends them a feeling of melodramatic grandeur by raising the stakes of each setback and scheme. Armies are raised, assassins used, and so forth.

I don't think it's particularly common in Science Fiction. Monarchy and older forms of political government tend to show up more in Space Fantasy, where they exist both for the reason you mentioned, and because the author wanted to do some equivalent to a real-life historical government in space.

So Dune is the collapse of the Sassanid Empire in the wake of the Arab conquests, except with genetic memory and psychic powers added and translated into a far future setting where anything happening now on Earth is completely lost to myth (Earth itself is lost to myth and story).* Star Wars is the former, where the translation of the Republic into the Empire is part of the massive stakes and drama of the Space Opera setting (plus the Emperor is a tyrant, not an institution).

*Incidentally, that's one thing I liked about the Dune Encyclopedia pseudo-history. It filtered all that was known about the present through a "Monarchist" filter. So World War II became a "minor trade dispute between House Tokyo and House Washington in the British Empire".

@kedamono
I've always been of two minds when it comes to monarchies. Unless succession is rigorously defined and the heir apparent is trained to be a monarch, you soon end up with an idiot at the helm, or a figurehead who has less power than the janitor that cleans the throne room.

You usually end up with an idiot either ways, or someone who is much better at taking the throne than actually holding it. The royal families that lasted centuries - the Hohenzollerns, the Habsburgs, etc - tended to either be so positioned that there was no one better to replace them, or lucky enough not to have an idiot when a succession crisis came along.

Thom S said...

Wasn't it Terry Pratchett who said that people have an image of a crown somewhere in their heads? 'The problem with people is that they have a tendency to bend at the knees' and so on?

I think the point is that hereditary chieftenship (which is where kings come from) is just the default mental setting for people when it comes to organization. We get how having a hierarchy with one dude on top works on a visceral level, so it makes sense that it would be the first thing that comes to mind when writing about an imaginary civilization.

Witness the confusion and alarm when people try to function in something like a leaderless environment (the corporate structure of Valve software came up for this recently) versus how quickly and easily organisations slide into the dictatorial mould.

tl;dr - kings are a default setting mental setting, so them being common in fiction is expected.

Mangaka2170 said...

Monarchy is essentially the oldest and most basic form of government; someone acquires wealth and power, and then they use that wealth and power to get people who don't have them, or at least not to that degree, to do what the monarch wants.

What is rarely explored, it seems, is how these systems of government come to be in a science fiction setting. I would argue that if the owners of a colony (because someone would have to foot the bill to start the whole thing) decided to take up residence and begin running things, it would turn to a monarchy in fairly short order.

Another possibility is drawing parallels between the corporate institution and constitutional monarchy; they both have monarchs who must abide by, or at least take into consideration, the individuals who handle the day-to-day operations, as well as those who finance the whole thing, there's all manner of internal politics (there's actually a subgenre in Japanese political drama literature dedicated to corporate intrigue), and anyone who's not in that top-level group is essentially stepped on and/or ignored. It strikes me that one could become the other with very little change necessary.

Mukk said...

When writing a story you choose the most appropriate elements for your story. If you need the protagonists to be harried by the gestapo you make a dictatorship or some nasty communist state. If you need a princess to rescue you choose a monarchy.

Bill said...

I would point out that one could argue that one of the principle failure of elective democracies is that you tend to get people who are much better at getting elected than they are at actually running the government.

You could also argue that elected democracies then towards a greater centralization of power over time so that while they might be elected, modern Presidents and Prime Ministers often wield more direct power than the monarchies of the past. In this regard, democracy is still very much an experiment.

The real question becomes is some sort of monarchy the most likely alternative to democracy should democracy prove to be ultimately unstable over long periods of time?

Cambias said...

Monarchy also pares down the cast list. It gives you one character who is "the government" and thus that character's decisions determine what her state will do.

Contrast the real world: if you want the USA to intervene in Whereverstan you have to lobby key Senators, you have to make sure the Joint Chiefs are okay with it, you have to gin up some media support, etc. -- and that's a relatively simple yes-or-no type external action.

So unless the whole point of the story is labyrinthine political maneuvering, it streamlines things considerably if there's just one decision maker.

imaginggeek said...

I don't think its overly untoward - indeed, I don't think its rare at all today.

Reality is that dictatorships are as or more common than democracies in today's world. And the difference between those and kings/emperors is merely one of terminology - dictatorships are often hereditary (N. Korea, Cuba, as two recent examples), power is concentrated in one or a few individuals, religious/ideological iconography and terminology is associated with the leader, etc. And kingships/queenships still exist - both in democratic form (UK) and in the more traditional sense (many African nations, Saudi Arabia, etc)

The authors motivations may be less "pure", but nothing in either distant or recent or current human history would suggest to me that there would be any reason to suppose our future will not include political forms which fall along kingdom/empire formats.

Thucydides said...

If you have access to Jerry Pournelle's book "A Step Farther Out" there is an excellent essay on why Niven and Pournelle chose to use an aristocracy as the form of government in "The Mote in God's Eye" (and by extension through the later part of the CoDominium cycle as well).

While many of the tropes have already been identified in these posts, Niven and Pournelle made no secret of the idea that even monarchies decay over time (while Mote is set near the beginning of a young and vigorous Second Empire of Man, there are plenty of hints that the end of the First Empire of Man things had run very far off the rails).

Chris said...

I'll just leave my two cents real quick here - store's about to close. But the bottom line is that even if we restrict ourselves to 'hereditary monarchy' (and not, say, elective monarchy such as was found amongst heathen Germanics), it still doesn't provide better odds for women. Let's say I take a particularly broad definition of 'monarch', and include such positions as countess and duchess. Women are still disfavoured by wide margins, much more so than in types of democracy. Sure, we have our Margerets of Parma, our Annes of Cleves, our Elizabeths Tudor. Are they in any way representative? This ties into the fact that the conception of 'hereditary monarchy' is Eurocentric and medievalist. Not in and of itself, but how we treat it, how we consider it (hint: it's the version you find in fantasy). I mentioned Germanic kingship not fitting the definition, as do many others. In my experience, in Medieval Europe women were only allowed to take to the seat for one reason only: continuing the dynasty was more important than gender at the time. Elizabeth being a prime example, they were anxious to avoid a second civil war. Rules of succession and dynastic considerations always took precedence, and always favoured men. Being eldest child, and daughter, of the last king was never a guarantee, and it (birthright, that is) never guarenteed a legitimate claim for a woman.

'Monarchy' does not equal 'hereditary monarchy', and in our conceptions about what either constitutes, there are many, many assumptions and generalizations made. That's basically what I was trying to say.

jollyreaper said...

Fascinating insight about private/public sex matters and the elevation of petty personal squabbles to affairs of state.

The most efficient form of government is a dictatorship, be it efficient at getting things done or smashing the whole affair into ruins. The best argument for a representational and parliamentary system is to dampen the swings.

In other words, dictatorships represent a maximization of the good as well as the bad, the parliamentary system minimizes the bad as well as the good.

Whenever people talk about idealized systems and ways of doing things, I always like to think about how they could be gamed and circumvented.

When I was younger I came up with an idea of the "appointed successor" system which was something I'd thought of after watching the Roman system. The system is not hereditary, meant to be a selection of the best and brightest to be potential heirs, who must undergo rigurous training. The leader then decides succession order.

The kicker is imagining all the ways it can go wrong by accident or go wrong by purpose.

Simply from a scifi perspective, it always bugged me when classic titles of nobility are revived for neo-feudal systems. If they ever arose, they might be functionally similar to the old peerage but shouldn't share the name names.

If we had an imperial America with a Washington I, I could see our old titles taking on a more significant tone. Presidencies might not become hereditary but the political dynasties could be more established. Senator and Representative offices could become hereditary, along with govenrorships.

It always fascinted me how dynasties could become self-reenforcing but how neglect could see even the mightiest lose position and fall to dissolution. But the aristocrats never really go away, a new breed comes to take their place. Look at what has become of the Astors.

I think another thing to consider is how the corporation is a weird wrinkle somewhat out of place with traditional fantasy settings, immortal business concerns that can outlive the families that founded them. It seems like the Asian tycoons are better at keeping it in the family, zaibatsu organization.

Thom S said...

jollyreaper,

I also wonder at the language of the thing: as if dukes, earls and peers were somehow the default rather than the outcome of centuries of political evolution in their own right.

Maybe its just because I wish more space-kings were called 'hierarch' instead - it sums the situation up perfectly and sounds a bit futuristic to boot.

Geoffrey S H said...

Oh, to be a king, alive, and fifty- all at once...

@ Mangaka2170

"I would argue that if the owners of a colony (because someone would have to foot the bill to start the whole thing) decided to take up residence and begin running things, it would turn to a monarchy in fairly short order."

That's part of the setting for Honor Harrington in a nutshell ;)

Teleros said...

Leaving aside the (im)practical side of monarchies for now, I think I have to agree with the OP about monarchies being well suited for Romance. There's all the pomp and ceremony involved, plus the added bonus that the person can be said to be not just the head of state, but the representative of the state: some have said that Queen Elizabeth II (for example) has embodied all the best of Britain.

Whether or not it's in any way factual or accurate is besides the point: from a Romantic point of view, that's good story material.


A thought: does the same work if, instead of a monarchy (with or without real power), you just have a powerful executive? To compare to the USA, putting President Clinton / Bush / Obama / etc in a Romantic setting is very different: half the population probably didn't vote for them and feels no loyalty to them (not the Presidency, I mean the actual person) - whether you support / don't support that president depends on your political leanings. On the other hand, pro-monarchy sentiment in the UK cuts right across party lines.

Brett said...

@Thucydides
Maybe its just because I wish more space-kings were called 'hierarch' instead - it sums the situation up perfectly and sounds a bit futuristic to boot.

It's often like inventing futuristic sounding words. Creating new fictional titles can end up being horribly cheesy if done wrong.

If it's a far future setting, too, there's a "Translation Convention" involved anyways. "Duke" would just be a "translation" from whatever they actually call it.

I wonder if you could do a monarchy and aristocracy without the concept of "blood purity" and special breeding. The Star Kingdom of Manticore in the Honor Harrington novels had a requirement that the King/Queen only marry a commoner.

Locki said...

Taking a great big giant leap laterally.

I've always found it interesting sci-fi often feels the need to build its story about the very highest levels of a huge sprawling, galactic scale government in the first place. One, it makes for an exposition nightmare. Two, it often reads like a great big story version of Master of Orion.

If you want to tell intimate human stories that resonate with the reader(and who doesn't!)then you should probably choose a "spear carrier" as your protagonist and keep the system of government well into the background.

Which brings me to my other point. Sci-fi is even more guilty of the spear carrier syndrome than is fantasy.

Rick said...

*Lots* of great observations here!

So a few random notes, not remotely covering all the ground:

One problem with elective monarchies is that the electors are often great feudal lords, whose own interests are best served by a weak monarch.

Flip side, strong monarchs often look to the commons as their base of support.

Even 'absolute' monarchs are rarely truly absolute - they need to reward their followers, and can be constrained by the structures they themselves create. Louis XIV became in some ways a prisoner of the Versailles court system, and his successors even more so - to their cost.

Again a flip side: The proto-bureaucracy of royal servants and old family retainers can get a dynasty past a bad throw of the genetic dice.

There seem to be cultural factors in the stability of dynasties. Ibn-Khaldun, writing in North Africa in the 14th century (CE), regarded the collapse of dynasties after about the third generation to be a normal dynamic - a similar pattern was observed in ancient Greek 'tyrannies,' and Gilded Age plutocrats.

In contrast, the French Capetians lasted several hundred years. The Scottish Stewarts persisted even though for several generations every monarch died young, leaving a child or even infant on the throne.

On women as monarchs, it was certainly the exception, but in strongly hereditary systems it did happen.

I think writing about the power elite in Romance is unsurprising. 'If I were king' has more resonance than 'If I were spear carrier.'

Or, to put it in more serious terms, literary fiction often centers on ordinary or even marginal protagonists - and to keep the focus on the protagonist, likewise avoids background complications like starships or magic rings.

Way back in the early days of this blog I argued that the standard toolkit of modern lit crit is not really suited to Romance. But I've never pursued that discussion to the obvious next step.

Locki said...

Rick Said:

There seem to be cultural factors in the stability of dynasties. Ibn-Khaldun, writing in North Africa in the 14th century (CE), regarded the collapse of dynasties after about the third generation to be a normal dynamic - a similar pattern was observed in ancient Greek 'tyrannies,' and Gilded Age plutocrats.

=================

I've seen this "rule of 3" crop up once before in a sci-fi settings.

The boardgame Attack Vector: tactical (3d movement, immensely complex, I've never actually got around to playing a game) had some really interesting background. Its a boardgame that is referenced quite a bit in the related Atomic Rockets site.

In this universe it was impossible to have a self sufficient space station with no external influence/help because of the rule of 3. The designers made the observation that nothing ever lasted past 3 generations. In something like a complex space stace station where everything needs to be working flawlessly the accruing apathy of each subsequent generation means the space station will suffer some sort of catestrophic failure in 3 generations. Without outside intervention they fail.

It was a more than plausible thought and directly related to a lot of sci-fi settings. I've never seen anyone address the humbling human limitations quite so directly before.

Back to monarchies. China is a big varied continent that is nothing like the monolithic culture/society is is commonly percieved to be.

I know there were several matriarchal societies in China. Does anyone know if these panned out? I guess it may be more stable just because the number of possible heirs is

1. Of certain parentage
2. Much less in potential number

Cordwainer said...

I have to agree that Monarchies tend to pop up in SF because they are sexy and they tend to reduce the cast list and has nothing to do with the authors political views. If that were the case we might assume Rick has a fondness for teenage girls which I don't think is the case. After all plenty of feminist writers have written about Queen Elizabeth. I'm happy that my "back row" comment regarding the Julio-Claudians" was mentioned. I was not criticizing the aspersion that they were "Presidents for life" as you suggest they were. It was merely that I would like to have a better understanding as to why you consider they were, since if you take that label too far you could advocate that all Monarchs are essentially "Presidents for Life" even those that were part of strong absolute monarchies like the Carolingians. Even French Monarchs had to negotiate between foreign princes who sought there throne and internal conflicts within the Estate System. Toward the end they were dropping like flies and were easy target for "those below oppress those above" ideaologies. (Mein Gott how can singly be a word and spell check says ideaology isn't) I've already considered various ways in which a Constitutional Monarchy could remain vibrant and long lasting in a post-modern world probably through some version of systems previously used or in use by the British Empire, The Empire of Brazil, Meiji Japan, 2nd French Empire or modern Thailand with some creative twists. That brilliant post by kedamono has gotten me to consider what could be done to do the same for an Absolute Monarchy in a futuristic setting.

Cordwainer said...

I would think that in any post modern society with a bent toward monarchy the succession through primogeniture would not be as much of an issue due to equal rights among the sexes and an understanding of the past historical failures of primogeniture as mechanism for succession. Obviously we do have sexist and nepotist societies even in modern times but any future attempts to maintain a monarchy will probably consider better mechanisms of succession and those that are successful will probably use them. A hereditary monarchy does not need to rely on direct descent the Hapsburg's are a good example of this. Also dynastic successions need not fail with the rule of three if you have mechanisms to support even a weak monarch like the Sage/Judges and School of Eunuchs in China or the Shogunate in Japan. Similarly if you have a well trained and vibrant enough aristocracy with some sort of selection system for monarchs like the March system in the Holy Roman Empire of the Zhlachta Golden Reforms in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth then Monarchies become more like "Presidents for Life" chosen among peerage for there training and cunning or lack there of. You could also have some sort of test for succession like how the Ottoman's were expected to have a free-for all killing spree for the succession. Just make it a little less bloody and set down rules of engagement like a duel not an all out war so you don't end up splitting the empire in some interminable civil war.

Cordwainer said...

While we are on the subject of hereditary monarchies I suppose modern or future fertility and genetic science could be used to breed and maintain "thorough-breed" monarchs that would not be subject to the rule of three. Longevity extension could also greatly enhance the continuity of a good rulers reign and increase the likelihood of them leaving heirs. You could also have a Peerage system based on merit not blood lines, with selection done by appointment of a hereditary monarch, March of Peers or Act of Congress. The Peers would strengthen the cause of both the Monarch and the State from which their powers would derive and in cases of a break in succession a new Monarch would be selected from the Peers.

One reason that a future society might support a hereditary monarchy in the future may be due to religious belief, after all it has in the past. An interesting possibility would be New Age Gnostics taking the Holy Blood, Holy Grail idea of the blood line of Jesus too far. Of course you would need to find a likely source for such a line since the Merovingians are extinct. There are a few other mythological candidates within the Syrian Coptic church and the Chaldean Church of India, but it would probably be easier to lie and create a new ancestral line than borrowing a pseudo-historical one. The ancestral line of kings of Djibouti and the Ethiopian Coptic church would also be good source material. Using the Imams of Islam would be pass'e and a political powder-keg I think.

Tony said...

Let's see...

I don't think monarchy in SF has much to do at all with the author's political personality. Suggesting that Asimov actually liked the Roman Empire would be a real hoot, for starters.

I suspect that one factor we haven't touched on overrides many others -- the English language readership has been weened on stories of the English and Scottish feudal systems and its fictional analogues, from The Princess Bride to Shakespeare. That's what we're really talking about when we discuss "monarchy" and SF. And it really makes a nice, easy cheat for the author. He doesn't have to explain the inner workings of some legislative system or bureaucracy. Half of his exposition comes prebuilt in the minds of the readers, free of charge. Nice work if you can get it.

As for how a hereditary monarchy might plausibly appear in an SF setting, most of the stories I've read presume the fall of a previous republican or corporatist regime, followed by strong-man rule, evolving into hereditary government. On the other hand, Michael McCollum (in his Antares trilogy) had a human colony world evolve a herditary monarchy under the pressures of a genocidal war with an alien species.

WRT the actual practicalities, feudalism and/or hierarchic absolutism (like the Roman Empire) are usually the result of time-space issues. If your boss is only a telegraph message or phone call away, hierarchy can and will break down -- of spiral up, depending on your point of view -- into bureaucracy. It may not be too outrageous to suggest that the British Empire fell apart because people could talk. If you haven't recently, rewatch Gandhi with that thought in mind. I also suspect that's why numerous 20th and 21st century autocracies have not become feudal -- too many network connections (read: too many paths of an to power) for strict hierarchy to prevail.

So, if you want a plausible feudal monarchy in SF, you have to have long communication times, combined with a real imperative towards strong rule at the local level (which may be impossible to bring off in front of a 21st Century audience).

Brett said...

I didn't say they put it in because they liked that particular system of government, just that they wanted to tell a story where that was the implied parallel. Tell me that Asimov's Galactic Empire isn't an allusion to the fall of the Roman Empire. Even Asimov said that he was inspired to write it by Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

John Carl Penn said...

(Part 1/2)

While they may look identical and even function identical, I don't agree that there isn't a fundamental difference between hereditary dictatorships and absolute monarchies, which is in the way how they legitimate their rule.

No matter what kind of system of government we prefer, we (in the modern Western World) judge them by their ability to provide benefits to the society, for example rule of law or security. On the other hand during many times in history and even today in some regions power and authority to rule was seen more as a personal possession than as an obligation towards the community. Maybe you could call those approaches ‘public’ and ‘private government’.

That is also the reason why many monarchy tropes can be so easily transplanted into the corporate world. Good corporate governance isn't defined by how well it serves the needs of the employees, but by how effective it is in maintaining and increasing the value of the company as an asset to its shareholders.

Of course the separation isn't that strict, as shown by the fact, that many monarchs also used the claim to be a good ruler for their subjects to bolster their legitimacy. The original connection between monarchy and power as a personal possession has also been diluted during the last two to three centuries, by the concept of ‘popular monarchy’ as is evident in the younger European monarchies like Belgium and Norway. Not only in Belgium were the symbols of monarchy still so ingrained in people's minds, that they conferred them on an institution which is basically a ceremonial presidency.

On the other hand the few surviving older monarchies gave up so much power to the people that their governments function in almost the same way. But theoretically Elizabeth II reigns over the United Kingdom because she inherited the kingdom from her ancestors and not because some provisions in the (written or unwritten) constitution. Even literally, as the crown can be considered the only institution to really own any land in heir domain. The difference even shows up in their titles, as Albert II is “King of the Belgians” while Elizabeth II is “of the United Kingdom […] Queen”.

The Kims however, even if they would formally make their rule hereditary, always claim to be ruling for the good of the North Korean people but not because they are personally entitled to it. Of course, we all know how much truth there is or better isn't behind this claim, but that's not the point.

Corporations, by the way, aren't entirely free from the same processes. Here in Germany the Vorstand (executive board, the cabinet in our analogy) isn't directly responsible to the shareholders but to an Aufsichtsrat (supervisory board, which would be the parliament), which in equal parts consists of representatives of the shareholders and the employees. And conversely, if you look at the remaining absolute monarchies, which are mostly the Gulf states, you can see, that they tend to treat their countries like any other corporate asset with the ultimate aim to increase the revenues generated by it. That it also may benefit the peoples of those countries and that, depending on their moral values, they might even regard them as benefit despots is surely not the intended goal but only a fortunate side effect.

John Carl Penn said...

Part (2/2)

On the topic of the longevity of dynasties one has to be careful about the definition of ‘dynasty’, which is a very fluid concept. Under the classic European rule, where the name only went in the direct male line, for more than a century no dynasty would have lasted more than one generation in the Netherlands and Elizabeth II would be the last Windsor/Saxe-Coburg-Gotha while The Prince of Wales would be a Mountbatten—or maybe a Mountbatten-Windsor, because of the prestige of his maternal line, or strictly ‘Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg’ or even an ‘Oldenburg’.

Because inheritance through the female line was common, when a male heir was not available, reigning dynasties changed comparatively often in European history. Even the Habsburgs died out with Maria-Theresia and continued only as Hasburg-Lothringen because her husband took on the prestigious Habsburg name. On the other hand Louis XIV changed and rebuilt the French monarchy in such a massive way, that he could easily be considered to have started an entirely new dynasty, which incidentally ended after exactly three ‘generations’ with Louis XVI (though not biological generations).

Extremely long-lived dynasties like the Imperial Family of Japan usually had certain procedures to guarantee the availability of an heir, e.g. cadet branches or polygamy/concubinage, even if the direct line died out. Those were abolished during the Meiji restoration, which is why there even could be such a fear of a succession crisis, which had been during the last few years until an eligible male heir was born in the family. Because female inheritance was (made) possible, countries like the Netherlands or Sweden didn't get this problem, even though they also drastically reduced the group of eligible heirs.

I think it is also worth noting, that those countries that also allow the transmission of royal titles through the female line have almost at the same time restricted the inheritance of titles like prince or princess only to closer relatives. Unlike in Britain, under the Germanic system any male-line descendent of a king, no matter how far removed from the current ruler, was a prince.

Also an interesting case is the Saudi Royal Family, which though the King's rule is theoretically absolute, handle the kingdom more as a family business, and even once dethroned a monarch fallen from favour. And due to polygamy and frequent divorces and remarriage the family has grown rapidly in only a few generations. It would be interesting to see a science fiction or fantasy government modelled on this example and could be plausibly be explained by a colony having started by a family business. How stable the system is, has still to be seen however. Until now all kings have been sons of the state's founder Ibn Saud—he had many wives and fathered many more sons well into old age. But if the process of choosing kings becomes less uncertain, I believe that the system could be very stable, if it weren't for the fact that the entire concept of the absolute rule of the Saudi family is under considerable pressure due to other factors.

This comment got longer than I expected, I hope you don't mind too much. I just had an entire subway ride home to think about those things.

jollyreaper said...

I tend to agree with the rule of "never invent a word when an existing one will serve."

Relevant XKCD
http://xkcd.com/483/

But some words just don't translate as well into another language or carry all kinds of semantic baggage.

Someone learning of feudal Japan for the first time might wish to translate the ruler to emperor and the military ruler as warlord and hereditary warrior class as knights. It really ruins the flavor of the culture. You can still call a tree a tree, rice is rice, horses are horses, but it ain't just a sword, it's a katana, it's not just a knife it's a tanto.

I would say that you should stick with the "translation" unless there is such an important difference in the concept that the English equivalent would damage proper comprehension.

Along those same lines, I would strenuously urge anyone writing space opera to use different names for ship classes and not just have cruisers and battleships, especially battle-cruisers. The etymology is so peculiar to Earth. You might get away with it as a PMF but if it's really far removed from our civilization, it rankles about as bad as sky-chariot for airplanes and fire-sling for guns (because it throws a small object with fire, see.)

Future warships could have the wall of battle which would be the fighting formation and ships of the wall would represent major combatants, couriers for fast transit of personnel and messages, assault ships for the breaching of defended jump points, different classes of smaller ships for duties that wouldn't warrant a ship of the wall. Patrol, escort, scout.

Given the peculiar tech of the 'verse in a game like EVE Online, tackler ships are speed demons that have low armor, high shields and whose only purpose is zapping a target with a scrambler that screws up FTL. It then allows big gun ships to close and engage.

On modern aircraft carriers, we used to have a dozen different aircraft but they're getting consolidated down into just a few. The F/A-18 is taking on the roles of air superiority, attack, fleet defense, tanker, etc. A new common airframe under development will serve as the basis for cargo, AWACs, and ASW. (same airframe, different models.)

jollyreaper said...

I think another basis for the complaint about monarchy is people want something new in their scifi but can't put it into words. It's like inventing a new computer interface for a scifi setting -- we can all agree there should be something better than mouse and keyboard but we're not able to suggest what that might be. We vaguely have an intuition that perfect voice or thought control might do it. Voice control is cinematic, thought control is not but might work in prose.

It's sort of like with fashion in scifi. We want something a) original b) recognizable and c) practical. We scoff when they wear the same stuff we do, laugh at crystal spires and togas, then reject something off the wall as looking too far-fetched. It's like putting automatic doors on everything in scifi when there's really nothing wrong with a manual door and a knob. Can't win.

Cordwainer said...

There are two possibilities for how a near absolute Monarch could rule a Interplanetary or Interstellar Empire.

1) They could use Mind-Machine interfaces and A.I. to enforce a police state and mind control over the populace. Makes for a rather grim and unromantic plot though.

2)Use a bureaucracy specifically fashioned to enhance a Monarchs political and military position. This has been tried historically many times with various degrees of success. Makes for an interesting albeit very contrived form of government that might be difficult to justify to the reader.

For instance you could combine a peerage system with hostages sent to the court on a periodic basis combine with and economically stratified yeomanry who would send representatives to the court as well.
The yeomanry of each world would be part of a specific commodity based caste with each world specializing in particular sectors of the economy. Each caste world would be split up by socio-economic class with each class sending an equal or weighted number of representatives to a legislative body who would be headed by an executive chose from the Kings Peers. This local council would rule the world jointly alongside a specialized class of Janissary-like soldier/statesman. Like in the Ottoman Empire Janissaries would be chosen from undeveloped or frontier worlds and would normally not be allowed to work on their Home World. Hostages from the Kings Peers along with representatives from both these local councils and Janissary forces would be sent to the Kings Court which would be a "roving court" with multiple Throne Worlds. The Military-Economic base would be divided between two or more worlds (An Army World and a Navy World for example) with a Religious center on a Priestly World in charge of the State Religion. Each of these worlds would would act as Throne Worlds to maintain the Monarchs military and religious monopoly while providing proper checks and balances against rebellion. The State Religion would either be a syncretic one like Shintoism in Japan or an Emperor Cult like the Romans had. The populace would have the freedom of worship but would have to pay some sort of license tax to support the State Religion. The State Religion in turn could be used raise a cadre of Secret Police/Military Orders who would be loyal to the Monarch and be used to monitor the activities of the Peers and Janissaries. A very contrived system of government for sure, but one that would offer a lot of different plot twists and intrigue.

Mangaka2170 said...

"The State Religion would either be a syncretic one like Shintoism in Japan or an Emperor Cult like the Romans had. The populace would have the freedom of worship but would have to pay some sort of license tax to support the State Religion. The State Religion in turn could be used raise a cadre of Secret Police/Military Orders who would be loyal to the Monarch and be used to monitor the activities of the Peers and Janissaries."
Another possibility explored in the Warhammer 40K universe and whatever other ones it got the idea from, is establishing a religion around technology, its construction, its use, and its maintenance. Think about how much power such an organization would have if their priests were the only ones who knew how to keep the life support systems or reactors running.

Even if the knowledge in question had been ritualized to the point where they didn't understand exactly how the technology worked, the rituals prescribed by the founders (who did understand how those systems worked) could very well be sufficient for solving all but the most catastrophic problems and, if the work of various monastic orders throughout Europe and the Middle East are any indication, likely to be done properly as the ritual of maintenance and repair is like a prayer unto their god, and therefore must be done with great reverence and deliberation.

jollyreaper said...

Scifi economics always gives me pause. Why empire? What's the goal?

In simplified fashion, the basis of the economy is land/natural resources, labor, and capital. You need a population to keep the economy running. Even the lowliest serf has a purpose.

Those factors hold true in most fantasy economies with magic, though advanced fantasy can run into thaumaturgical unemployment via enslaved demi-humans, golems, undead labor, and the like.

In a space empire, what does the average citizen do? What makes the economy go around? What constitutes wealth?

Money doesn't account for much without a market to spend it in. Glenn Beck gold hoarders have nothing of value if they can't trade the gold for goods and services.

Fantasy economies are easier to understand because sentient labor can understandably make up a large part of it. Farmers, miners, artisans, blacksmiths, brewers, etc. Simple-minded space empires translate the 20th century just as easily. It looks like today with shiny spraypaint. But the space taxis still have drivers, the space farmer drives an auto-harvester, tramp freighters carry cargo and that cargo looks like 20th century manifests. It's a very simplified reskin of today. Star Wars looks like the high-tech first world meets third-world with droids for slaves.

The evolving needlessness for most of the population is a common theme of near-future SF on Earth. There's a compelling case for it. Most space opera for me falls apart with trying to explain what everyone else is doing out there.

Note: I'm not saying there can't be a good explanation, just that I'm stumped for one. What sort of empire can you envision for your hypothetical space-tyrant?

jollyreaper said...

PS: I like the political setup you've outlined, great for drama, I'm just trying to imagine what the economy underlying it would be like.

Cordwainer said...

Most likely space warcraft will use a single modular frame composed of multiple craft. Like a Mother-ship that would carry either a Laserstar cruiser or a multi-role Raider. The Raiders would have modular payload bays for different missions. They could act as shuttle resupply vessels for the mothership, or as either missile armed Attack-and-Defense Escort vessels or as Drone Carrier and Drone Tending Command-and-Control Vessels. They could also carry Marines or Marine crewed landing pods for Commando Missions followed up by full scale invasion once a target was sufficiently softened up.

On the subject Space Empires JollyReaper; I have to agree with you as to where the market impetus would be which is why the set-up is considered rather contrived. I'm guessing you would need a deus-ex-machina like a a strong possibly genocidal foreign power or dirt cheap FTL travel. Of course dirt cheap FTL usually means dirt cheap power generation or dirt cheap labor which would lower the likelihood of an economic impetus. It is possible that you could have only one species in an area of space that develops cheap FTL and then later becomes Imperialist in nature and conquers the other inferior species. Over time the Empire might assign these species different roles and franchises within the government like the Five Nations approach in China. The other Institutions could develop over time as methods developed by the Monarchy to exert its power. If you have cheap FTL and an exceptionalist political belief then using human labor might be cheaper than developing a bunch of strip-mining robots and automated factories to supplement ones industry, particularly if some of that labor comes from slavery. Yes I know there are some bad economic costs to slavery particularly for an industrial society but limited slavery or peonage for the riskier and more menial tasks would not be the same as the plantation or manorial systems common to our own worlds history and a system of serfdom with limited economic and political franchise and the right to own, sell and inherit some form of property has worked very well for some long-lived autocracies like the Russian Empire.

Locki said...

jollyreaper said...

PS: I like the political setup you've outlined, great for drama, I'm just trying to imagine what the economy underlying it would be like

====================

Warhammer 40K doesn't need no girly economy because there is only war!

But seriously.

If you haven't already looked into it you should read up on the Warhammer 40K universe. For a bunch of fluffy background slowly built up and retconned and rebuilt up over 30 years its surprisingly consistent and just familiar enough to the audience (even 14yo boys!) to be new and refreshing but not derivative.

Once you swallow the first huge "implausibility pill" eg the warp is created by the emotions of sapient beings then the rest actually follows fairly logically from this point on. I find it no more implausible than "the force" or "benevolent UFP in space)but far more consistent than the big two sci-fi franchises.

The background is deep, a lot of it is touch derivative (but what isn't) but put together in novel ways and it makes a wonderfully original dystopian future that manages to mash together virtually every sci-fi genre (anime, cyberpunk,post apocalyptic/space opera hell a good dose of Tolkien).

I guess its arguable about whether it is true sci-fi or not but it does provide many nice, novel answers to many of the "problems with sci-fi" discussions we are having on this blog.

I think its the most valuable in sci-fi IP today. Disney would have been better off paying $5 billion for the 40K franchise.

You can sense that after a long steady build over 30+ years the setting is ready to burst onto the mainstream and rewrite all the rules of space opera. It's just waiting for the first blockbuster movie/TV series to make it happen.

You read it here first.

Warhammer 40K will eclipse the tired old star trek and star wars franchises within 1-2 decades. :)

Disney is gonna wish they had bought the slightly nerdy boardgame sci-fi setting instead of the shiny Lucas one.

Cordwainer said...

The biggest problem I see with the concept I have outlined for a highly bureaucratic absolute monarchy would not be so much the economic and social impetus but the fact that not all military components would be equal in power. You would have to equalize them in some way to prevent rebellion while using conflict between different groups to prop up the Monarchs power. One solution would be to put the Janissaries in charge or the Army and have them commanded by a Monarch developed and appointed meritocracy. Have the Navy crewed and commanded by your Peers.(this shouldn't be to hard since ships actual crews will probably be small due to automation) Each Ship of the Line would have extraneous elements from the Janissaries and Military Orders. Janissaries would provide Marines and Stewards for the Peers. Military Orders would provide for the Spiritual Welfare of the crew and would have spies secreted away among the Janissaries to monitor things for the Monarch. Only the Naval World would be allowed to have Orbital Defenses and only the Army World would be allowed to have large scale Ground Based Artillery. All other worlds would be defended by a roving Naval Fleet and a ground force of Janissaries well armed and trained for carrying out guerilla resistance. The Priest World and its Military Orders would specialize in Cyber-Warfare and Psychogical/Information warfare and would be the Grand Inquisitors of the Empire.

Cordwainer said...

Hmm! How would the economy look you would probably have a whole group of different Mining Worlds both due to economic transport to market issues and due to differences in resource allocation. That's all right cause these worlds would be a great source for Janissaries. You could have a several banking worlds probably co-located or near your Throne Worlds. A Computer World either co-located or near your Priestly World. Different Trade Worlds would be geared for specific worlds resources and the specific genetic gifts of their native species. You could have Safari Worlds and Leisure Worlds for the entertainment of the aristocracy and its military and government employees. The military itself could have its roles split up according to the environmental and evolutionary differences the empires populace. Heavy Worlders for Infantry. Natives from dry worlds with thin atmospheres could be used to crew limited life support raiding ships. You would probably have to have a number of different Market or Bazaar Worlds to create a commonplace market for the sale and dispensing of Goods as well. These would be co-located with the Throne and Banking Worlds as well as on a number of Free Port Worlds located throughout your Empire.

Geoffrey S H said...

@Cordwainer:

You have described the 40k Imperium in a nutshell! :) The Imperial Guard has the ground forces, and the Navy the space forces, and neither side are integrated enough to allow a planetary governor to launch a fully equipped rebellion, unless he is a real high-up big wig. When combined arms insertions are needed, the space marines do this, but they are so small in number as to not be a threat if they rebel. Its only when a large insertion is quickly needed that the system breaks down, which is acknowledged in universe to be quite frequent.

@Locki:

While 40k is very derivative at times, I must say I like some parts of the world building. As a church singer it is nice to see an empire with city-sized cathedrals dotting planet-scapes. It does feel like a giant Christian Church in space, albeit a VERY alien one.
Also, there are virtually no references to the modern real world, fewer even than dune. It has nevertheless managed to come across as quite a rich fictional world. For that, I give it a lot of kudos.

The Eisenhorn trilogy and Gaunt's Ghosts are perhaps the best literary examples of that universe.

Cordwainer said...

The relations and Political affairs of the Priest World would also have to be bureaucratically complex. The Monarch would plant and appoint spies and potentates from his Peerage into the Non-military Orders of the Church to tie the purse of the Military Orders. Multiple competing Military Orders and religious indoctrination of Janissaries would help keep the Military Orders in check. Peers would not be allowed to join Military Orders as their membership would be restricted to Janissaries only. While Janissaries would pay homage to Military Orders aboard ship they would pay homage to the Non-military Orders when planet side.

Cordwainer said...

Well the Ottoman Empire in space is not a new concept but thats probably because its at least half-way plausible. I suppose the Ming Empire during the treasure ship era would make a workable foundation for an Interstellar Empire under a loose confederation as well. A Ming style trade empire might even be fit into a non-FTL scenario. If you have relativistic treasure ships and use mag-beam propulsion to transport goods between star systems it might work. Of course your goods would have to be super-rare elements, artwork, pharmaceuticals,spices and finely crafted tools and heirlooms. I don't know if a tribute system could feasibly be built on such scant trade at the Interstellar level but it has worked in the past on the Intercontinental level. I think it would be even more plausible on the Interplanetary level particularly in a Binary or Multi-Stellar system with multiple inhabited planets.

Cordwainer said...

The decay of a Ming style tribute Empire could also devolve into a set of Trade and Plunder Empires as the Empires Tribute Worlds develop their own space travel capabilities. This could in turn evolve into a Normans-in-Space type of Empire. Of course it would have a better chance around a Binary system or multiple star system like Rigel Kentaurus than the vastness of Interstellar Space.

Eth said...

Interesting points there...

For reusing words, it can be interesting to re-use the same words, but with a different etymology.
For example, let's say that you have a type of long-range peace-keeping ships : they are not that well armed, but that's enough against the retrofitted haulers that pirates use (or simply against enemy haulers), and their goal is generally to capture things alive. As such, it's called a cruiser.
Then, you suddenly have a total war, and your warships are running low. You decide to retrofit your cruisers, remove the espatier quarters and put bigger weapons instead. They won't be that great against dedicated warships, but it's better than nothing.
It would actually make sense to call them battlecruisers. And for bonus points, they would actually be as bad and glass-toothed as the original ones.

But in some cases, it simply makes more sense to call things something else like, say, laserstar instead of battleship.

I also wonder why where there isn't more government "experimenting" in SF. We may have tried pretty much any model currently available (though possibly not all the variants), but with technical progress, there may be new forms of government available.
The only one I can think of that was done is "machine dictatorship", for example Asimov's "rebellion for Mankind's own good" or simply a mad/evil AI. There are a few attempts here and there, but this one is the only prevailing one.

But what about a cast of dedicated transhumans, where anyone can apply but will have to become a neurally enhanced cyborg?
What about a gerontocracy, where rulers are all over 250, healthy and clear-minded but incredibly conservative and unable to adapt to change?
What about a system where most of the economy is automated, to the point that no-one really knows how things are working anymore?
What about an Internet-powered collective system? Think about a world ruled by 4chan, there may be some nice dystopian narrative potential.
What about a system where anyone competent enough can be drafted to power without the option to decline? This one would actually be an interesting twist to monarchy.

Eth said...

Oh, and now I have to find a way to use the word "fire-sling" somewhere.

Cordwainer said...

For instance you could have an intelligent species on a low gravity world develop air travel and subsequently space travel earlier than the other intelligent species in your multi-star multi planet system. Earlier development of air travel and the easier work load on mechanical methods of transportation might make it more likely that such a species would develop a global autocracy. They in turn would bring their more feudalistic form of government to the still more primitive species of their neighboring worlds. As these worlds develop their own technology through trade and cultural fusion with other worlds they might rebel and create their own competing empires and states. Barbarian states at the fringes of the economic sphere would in turn turn inward and plunder the states of the inner sphere. It could make a very plausible set-up for Interplanetary Feudalism with lots of Rocket-punk and even diesel-punk imagery considering some of these Realms could have very different systems of government, economies-of-scale and technology needs and levels. If you have lots of low gravity worlds with different environments and continental size and placement arrangements it could result in very different societies and technologies developing in parallel of one another.

Damien Sullivan said...

"hereditary chieftenship ... is just the default mental setting for people when it comes to organization"

Chieftanship is a fallback organization mode, yes. Hereditary, not necessarily. The chief would like it to be but the people have other opinions.

And "the default"... you talking humans now, or in general? Counting by society, most have probably been fairly egalitarian, with some influence bunching in top warriors, coalition builders, and grandparents. Of course, these were mostly small hunter-gatherer societies.

Elected (for life) kingship is actually really common.

"Monarchy is essentially the oldest and most basic form of government"

Tribal forms would be even older and more basic.

"dictatorships are often hereditary"

Castro's still alive. N. Korea, Syria, and Haiti might be a better list. Neither Haiti nor Syria made it to a third generation, though.

***

Distinguishing "science fantasy" and "science fiction" seems problematic here. You've got monarchy/aristocracy in Niven/Pournelle, Bujold (Barrayar and Cetaganda), the Traveller RPG, Weber, non-Federation Star Trek polities, Babylon-5's Centauri, Crest of the Stars, Foundation...

(Re: titles, Barrayar just has Emperor, Count, and Vor (local military caste) and 'Count' is said to come from 'accountant', a cute finesse.)

"I wish more space-kings were called 'hierarch' instead"

'President'. :)

Niven's time travel stories had a hereditary idiot-monarch derived from the Secretary-General of the UN, and still titled as such.

***

Niven/Pournelle invoked poor communication times as a justification for feudalism. They didn't explain why pre-telegraph federation like the early USA wouldn't work too.

Big differences from the past are mass literacy and not being a bunch of peasants in an agrarian society.

Damien Sullivan said...

'The only one I can think of that was done is "machine dictatorship"'

Joan Vinge used (invented?) Demarchy in her Heaven's Belt books, technologically mediated direct democracy, with voting on lots and lots without having to assemble. Reynolds re-used it for his Inhibitor universe, and added Conjoiners, who are more realistic and cuddly Borg. (Implants enable brain-brain connections, it's not an openly coercive mass mind and people have their own thoughts, but they kind of flow together.)

dvincent said...

'Curiously' in the sense that (at any rate to 'Murricans) it is a form of government associated with the past

Yeah, I know you're only saying associated.

Australia is a constitutional monarchy and the head of state is Queen Elizabeth II. (She doesn't spend a lot of time here.)

Certain groups are privileged to be known as Royal, such as the RAN (not to be confused with the RN) and the RACS. I suppose Canada is similar in this respect.

Thucydides said...

The primary problem in all human organizations is the issue of succession. There are two main factors: legitimacy and efficiency.

Hereditary monarchies have the argument that the son and heir is the legitimate claimant to the throne, and an argument can be made that aristocrats are trained and prepared from birth to rule. OF course we can also see counter arguments like comparing Henry VI to Henry V, for example.

Of course similar arguments can be made about selecting the next CEO, or even if the son is capable of taking on the family plumbing business.

AS for etymology; the various noble titles we use today are derived from Latin; Duke is derived from Dux, for example.

Damien Sullivan said...

"AS for etymology; the various noble titles we use today are derived from Latin; Duke is derived from Dux, for example. "

And 'count' from Latin 'comes', companion, via French 'comte'.

OTOH 'earl' is Anglo-Saxon, related to the Nordic jarl (/yarl/). 'marquis' is French I guess but is related to 'march' and German 'mark' or 'margave', counts who had border territory and thus more responsibility, privilege, and rank. 'baron' is French again.

Hereditary systems run into a problem when the heir is underage. Who gets to be Regent? In the Game of Thrones books, someone in city of annually elected Triarchs points out they never have kid Triarchs, and one going insane in office can't do much damage. Unlike Westeros...

Cordwainer said...

While industrialism, modern communications and literacy would make it harder for hereditary monarchies or neo-feudalism to develop it doesn't mean it couldn't happen. The small founder size of colonies and political orientation could drive the formation of such a government. Also as I stated before environmental and technological differences could fuel the development of autocratic states. A far flung trade empire that develops global autocracy and space flight early on and passes its autocracy onto successor states for instance. Of course that is taking into account a lot of "what ifs" its more likely such an environment would produce a number of feudal or socialist mega-states in competition with one another and those states in turn might end up competing over the uplift of other species on nearby habitable worlds in some kind of Cold War scenario. Again that is based on another "what if" that intelligent life is common and that you have a number of intelligences living in close proximity or that those mega-states chose to develop different colonies in different places that in turn develop into separate nations over time.

On a further note to Normans-in-Space if such an evolution were to happen in a binary star system with multi-habitable zones then tropishly archaic space navies with armed brigs, cruisers and battle cruisers might be the norm. If your limited to conventional or rocketpunk type propulsion(chemical,ion, NTR) then the use of drones and fighters become more limited. Some societies might not have the resources to build expensive autonomous devices to throw away in a war zone and the mass penalty of carrying fighters and drones to the war zone might make their use limited and expensive. Orbital and Lunar bases could use mass drivers and booster rockets give these small light vessels sufficient delta V, you could also use armed freighters as pocket carriers to either pick up these orbitally launched vessels or carry them into the battlefront alongside a cruiser escort. Such Carrier Fleets would have less speed and range than Non-Carrier fleets but might have their uses. Your fighter/drones would of course be more like gunboats or monitors than the typical sci-fi trope though. Most likely you would use them as invasion and boarding vessels or for "clean up" and "air cover" missions after softening up a target.

Thucydides said...

Actually, Niven and Pournelle did explore the idea of Industrial Feudalism in their book Oath of Fealty, which postulated the stratification of society along the lines of owner/capitalists becoming the Feudal lords, the managerial class as being similar in roles and responsibilities to the Knightly class and the workers as the serfs (skilled tradesmen would be yeomen, as I recall).

The alleged rational for this is to offer some sort of stability to the entire industrial structure; worker serfs and yeomen swear fealty to their industrial Lords in exchange for employment and benefits, while the Lords have a stable and relatively satisfied workforce, simplifying a lot of planning and budget issues.

Of course, you could also create an employee shareholder corporation and achieve many of the same goals with a much different structure of ownership and governance...

jollyreaper said...

Warhammer can range from guilty pleasure to pure crap. It started out as a kind of pastiche and grew into its own thing. Still, it mainly operates on the rule of cool. Things are the way they are because it's cooler that way. That's why you have gigaton-scale warships and 200 foot tall combat robots mixing it up with space marines who have a chainsword in one hand and a bolter in the other. Ground combat involves ranged fire and melee in ways that never happen in real life. It's all done for the cool of it.

You can't really do a serious analysis of the economy or try to explain any of it. It's not even tempting to try.

With something like the Human Reach, because it's trying to be plausible, because it's trying to be serious, I can easily tie myself up in knots trying to make sense of it. What developments spurred the land rush in int
erstellar space? What sort of interstellar economy are we dealing with at this point? Is there an ideological underpinning that defies basic economic sense?

In the case of the Human Reach, there are are a handful of assumptions that the whole setting is based on, the biggest being that Valkyrie-style automatic starships can deploy wormholes to other star systems in a timely fashion, the next biggest that wormholes really can work like that, and the third is that close Earth analogues are possible. In this sense we're talking planets in the habitable zone that only have the most primitive native biospheres, enough to have tipped past their oxygen crisis. So we are talking about worlds that can be rendered habitable with imported terrestrial ecosystems in a reasonable timeframe.

For a setup like this, you can go nuts trying to figure out what the sweet spots would be for different technologies to make this work. Laser-boosted capsules for heavy lift off civilized planets, main drives pretty far down the operatic scale. But what would manufacturing be like? What would people on those colonies be doing? What's the cost of transport for people vs. machines? Are people or machines more cost-effective? Does it vary by industry? What are the bubbles and investment scams being pulled on the rubes?

Pretty much all of those questions would be out of place in a Warhammer story. That's simply not what they're trying to do. It's like with a tragedy: if the protagonist made good decisions and resolved his problems, it wouldn't be very tragic, now would it?

Locki said...

Geoffrey S H said...

While 40k is very derivative at times, I must say I like some parts of the world building. As a church singer it is nice to see an empire with city-sized cathedrals dotting planet-scapes. It does feel like a giant Christian Church in space, albeit a VERY alien one.
Also, there are virtually no references to the modern real world, fewer even than dune. It has nevertheless managed to come across as quite a rich fictional world. For that, I give it a lot of kudos.

The Eisenhorn trilogy and Gaunt's Ghosts are perhaps the best literary examples of that universe.


Yeah. I like it. I think it goes back to that original idea the whole political machinary/bureaucracy is kept firmly in the background allowing the author to concentrate on his story. It makes the setting richer.

For this also see the original Star Wars trilogy where we didn't really know how the empire or rebellion worked it was just backgroun information vs the new trilogy (trade wars, Jedi Council gab fests, senate meetings Zzzzzzzzzz)

I think its one of the few settings to trully capture the impossible scale of a galactic wide "civilisation" and the imagery of the game is evocative whilst being just familar enough to not require pages of exposition. The imagery speaks for itself.

For those not in the know. The Imperium is a very loose empire with each world (with a trillion worlds in the Imperium) pretty much doing their own thing.

The only thing that binds them together is the tithe each world is expected to send to the High Lords of Terra. You give them your allotment of troops for the Imperial Guard and the requisite number of psychers for the black arks and the Imperium will leave you alone to do pretty much whatever you like.

Relating to other peoples points. I think their naming convention is pretty clever. They use words which the audience instantly knows the meaning of but are not a straight rip off out of the history books eg ecclesiarchy, Chapter Master etc etc

On to topic. I'd argue the story can be richer if you leave the system of government as backgroun and a bit vague and mythical so the reader can fill in the gaps.

jollyreaper said...

I tend to find specialized worlds a bit hard to buy, much like single-climate planets. I could buy having terrestrial worlds for the people to live on since we like that sort of thing but mining worlds? Why not do the work in space and avoid the hassle of boosting out of the gravity well? If we were talking stargates where the FTL mcguffin is surface-to-surface, planetary mining could still make sense and we'd be inclined to do it on planets we could happily live on but they still wouldn't likely become that specialized. London has a lot of banks but isn't known as "the banking city of London."

Bringing up transhumanism is also another fiddly bit. Just how weird could humans get? We could very well become our own aliens but we still get back to what are people trading and fighting over?

That's one problem with the Warhammer fluff. Warp travel is portrayed as so dangerous, who would risk losing a starship to move beans from one planet to another? One suggestion is that shorter distances are safer and that it's the long hauls that make warp travel so dangerous, the difference between taking a trireme down the coast vs. a longship across the North Atlantic.

The best source of conflict I could dream up in a transhumanist situation would be ideological and the most interesting story to tell would be the smugglers who are bringing in technology banned by the state religion of the humanists but still secretly used by their elite. I've got the bones of a story along those lines. The daughter of an elite leader is compromised, infected with a virus that tinkers with her DNA. While the edits are inconsequential, she will now fail her genetic purity tests which is a huge scandal. The tech to put her back to sorts is only available offworld and so her father is paying to have her smuggled out and fixed to save the family's honor. It was only after I worked this out that I realized it's really no different from rich muslim women going overseas to get their hymens reconstructed so hubby will think he's her first.

In this kind of setting, there's no real need for conflict because there's no resource competition, no shortages that will bring sides into war. It's mainly being colossal dicks to each other over ideological points. It's like internet flame wars, only with consequences.

Cordwainer said...

On the subject of the Human Reach you might be able to explain away some of those scientific conundrums with the hand-wavium of making your gate ships and wormholes either inter-dimensional vehicles or time machines.

Another commonly used trope for creating militant feudal societies in space is to use a rebellion of enslaved mercenaries. Klingons and Kzinti are an example of this. As unlikely as this sounds there are historical parallels with Mamelukes in Egypt among others. If a situation like the Mamelukes were to happen to an Interstellar Empire whereby slave soldiers with property rights and limited political franchise eventually took over it could make for a lively read. I think some military SF has dealt with a similar idea but I was tinkering with the idea that such a race might take up a Plunder and Train strategy. Plunder neighboring Worlds for slaves then train them to be soldiers and agent provocateurs. Weaken those worlds politically with fifth column tactics then invade. Only the best slaves would be trained for combat and given positions in the government the rest would be used for free labor. Conquered worlds would be mostly left alone except to provide necessary slaves and soldiers. Create a free birth law as a compromise to abolitionist sentiments, thus necessitating the need to expand the Empire to provide a fresh supply of slaves and soldiers. You could even justify the sin of slavery on religious and social grounds as part of "rule of captives" or "claim of war booty" in such a society. They might even see themselves as Great Emancipators out to free the Empire and her neighbors of lifetime institutional bondage.

Cordwainer said...

In response to jollyreaper I thing you are missing some points about a caste style economy. While it is true that you have to swallow the "what ifs" of having many different suitable ready made worlds. I would point out though that all of these worlds would already be settled by intelligence species with differing levels of technology, some of these would no doubt be industrial in nature maybe even capable of space flight just not FTL. Also not all of your Mining Worlds would have to be Earth like they could be habitable moons or low-g worlds. If you have dirt cheap FTL then you can go anywhere so why carry around a bunch of equipment to strip mine an asteroid or create habitats for miners. Your much better off searching for habitable or semi-habitable terraformable worlds with low gravity wells or relatively advanced civilizations that can do the work for you. Also the so called Banking Worlds would probably not be that specialized since you would want to co-locate them on your Throne Worlds and Free Port Worlds so your Throne Worlds and Free Port Worlds would actually be Throne/Market/Banking Worlds and Free Port/Market/Banking Worlds. While some trade would go on your various Trade Guild/Artisan Worlds you could limit these worlds to mostly barter style economies and require all large transactions to be centered on these Market Worlds this would make it easier to control trade, collect taxes and tithes, and control the establishment of Royal Patents. I believe Edo(the city not the period) and St. Petersburg were created by Imperial decree for the express purpose of being used in this manner.

Also the discovery of the New World of the Americas and Empires of Malaysia and West Africa can be seen as ready made Worlds for many historical Colonial Powers. Whew! time for a beer!

jollyreaper said...

Well, it raises all sorts of new questions. If you are talking about worlds full of sentient life ready to be conquered, aliens. That puts the entire affair in squishy scifi territory. We're off to the sliding scale of plausibility. Are we taking bumpy forehead aliens as a given? Or are we talking post-diasporia? Human life seeded on a hundred worlds via sleeper ships, FTL developed later and opening new worlds to conquest?

As for mining worlds, why would mining be manpower-intensive? If you already have spaceships, some of the techniques suggested for space mining would kick the crap out of terrestrial methods, especially when you factor in environmental impact.

In the warhammer setting, humans have value even as cannon-fodder. Imperial regiment tithes are very useful. Would that be the case in a plausible space empire setting? How would wars be fought? Warhammer tends to ignore the immediate option of slagging a planet because that would preclude much of the ground combat they base their bread and butter on, selling the miniatures. Assuming FTL-capable empires are being built, what do they gain by controlling a planet? Do they need the manpower? What's the economic significance?

The usual explanation for empire is the imperial wealth pump. Rather than mutually-advantageous trade agreements, the imperial power deliberately conquers and creates asymmetrical deals. While the ruling elites of the territory might personally profit and keep their fellows down in the name of the empire, their territory is impoverished by imperial tribute and the home country has an artificially-enhanced standard of living.

How would this work on an interstellar scale? What would even count as money for those banking worlds?

There should be really good answers for those questions, I'm just not able to think of them. It reminds me of the spacefighter debate. Yes, we know the concept is cool as hell. Yes, we know what everyone wants to do it. Yes, we know why it doesn't make a lick of sense. Yes, it will look even sillier once the world's air forces are no longer flying manned combat aircraft and yet we still see spacefighters in fiction. Cuz drones might work in a military story, especially when focused on grunts, but you can't tell fighter pilot stories with drones!

Cordwainer said...

A form of government not often use in SF is one of Oligarchical rule by a specialized class while technocracy has been used on occasion I don't believe this will have much political traction in a world where you can search engine information about every foible and mistake of your favorite scientist and when studies find that an average room of adults often makes more informed decisions than a trained elite.

Where I think this might gain traction is through the purse strings.

1)You could have ruling elite of cyborgs or life extended transhumans as was mentioned in an earlier post. They would have all that time to create social networks and wealth so it seems reasonable such an elite might occur.

2) If the level of automation increases to where labor is greatly minimized you could have wealthy merchants families and communities arise. These groups in turn would form powerful economic and political guilds that might curtail the creation of mega-corporations and large businesses in favor of a federation of cooperative guilds and small businesses.

Another idea I was playing around with that was inspired by the anime Moretsu Pirates is another exercise in "what if" albeit a a fun one. What if for various reasons your Space Empire and neighboring space empires do create space pirates. Now what if these space pirates of a pair of privateer fleets comes upon some advanced technology an alien species that they can actually use. Knowing there's a more advanced civilization "out there" that might or might not be friendly the Privateer fleets decide to put their differences aside and work to unite the warring Empires of their region and organize a highly unorthodox and highly trained fighting force. Power of the Pirates! Ho!Ho!Ho me matey.
Also I love the the allusion to Ah! The Ship was Golden with the whole Golden Ghost Ship and the battle with automated remote-controlled Dreadnaughts at the end.

Cordwainer said...

Well as you said it is a squishy road if you assume that the galaxy is well populated with intelligences and I don't believe that it's likely but it makes for good fiction. Also brainpower and infrastructure are bigger considerations than actual man power. Even with heavy automation you have to have somebody monitor and repair things on occasion. It would probably be easier to use or supplement the existing infrastructure of a conquered race rather than build your own. Also I did say our Empire builders were political exceptionalists who think they are born to rule and have good technological and cultural reasons to believe so after all they have FTL and better weapons. Therefore they probably won't care about things like slavery and environmental consequences. Of course you have to come up with some sort of reason for why they have an autocratic government before they go off galavanting around the cosmos but I'm sure you could come up with a number of scenarios for that. Also you could use either a post-human or post- alien diaspora by Ark Ship(much greater likelihood of differences in technology and governments if your born from an artificial womb and raised by robots, how much the founder population develops depends on how fast those robots break down) to explain the large number of intelligent species. Maybe some aliens from near the Galactic Core decide the place is getting to dangerous with that black hole at the center so they transplant themselves on a multitude of worlds. If you have FTL I think that would also mitigate some of the issues of a gravity well since it would make it easier to move infrastructure from one gravity well to another and the fact that you probably have other technological wonders like skyhooks, mass drivers, cheap plentiful energy and even highly unlikely "gravity control". I'm just throwing out the kitchen sink there, I am the one that pointed out that we probably won't colonize Mars(or at least not right away) due to the gravity well making it too costly to mine and therefore economically unsustainable. On the other hand once humans have mined and populated the Moon and Asteroid Belt to some extent some of the technology to making mining ventures at least for the production of fuel/oxidizer and fertilizer might make Mars a good in situ candidate to support further mining within the Belt. It would be expensive to place the necessary infrastructure on the Martian surface but once there savings in transport costs to some areas of the Belt would pay back the initial investment. If the Belt gets settled sufficiently we may want to build more permanent habitats for the miners and those that serve them. (I use the term miner loosely they would be more like project managers for robots) we might spin a hollowed out asteroid and turn it into a cycler or inflate an iron-nickel asteroid using an array of solar lasers. We could use those lasers to move asteroids using the albedo effect or to melt the Martian ice caps to terraform Mars. If we get really good at moving asteroids and dead comets we could send them on collision courses with Mars to speed up the process of terraforming. Obviously if we have pretty self sufficient mega-size space habitats then we could set off founder populations to colonize the Moons of Jupiter although I thing this might be as far as we go for a long time. Saturn is good deal farther out even if it doesn't take all that much more energy to get there the time constraint makes trade difficult, plus there is far less light to grow plants. Jupiter is just within reach by early Age of Exploration time constraints via near term propulsion technologies and you could use mass drivers and the Oberth effect to send goods back to Earth for cheap.

Byron said...

I'm a bit late to the party, and haven't read everyone's posts. However, the advantage of monarchy from a storytelling perspective is that it's simple, as noted above, familiar, in the sense of not requiring 30 pages of background before you get into political intrigue, and alien enough that you don't get the United States IN SPACE!
With regards to actual systems of government, an elective constitutional monarchy seems to be the safest system. Good traits tend to run in families, and the idiots are generally weeded out by election. Also, the monarch has dynastic skin in the game. He doesn't have to worry much about the next election, and he can't ignore the fact that the government will be insolvent in 30 years time, because he'll still be around. The election could be by elected officials, probably from the current monarch's immediate family. The problem then is avoiding a populist on the throne.

Tony said...

Brett:

"I didn't say they put it in because they liked that particular system of government, just that they wanted to tell a story where that was the implied parallel. Tell me that Asimov's Galactic Empire isn't an allusion to the fall of the Roman Empire. Even Asimov said that he was inspired to write it by Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."

Then we are in agreement. You don't have to be an advocate for a form of organization in order to legitimately explore it as a historical phenomenon.

Tony said...

Let's see some more...

This space warship nomenclature thing is a long-running battle. I'm of the opinion that functional ship classifications do in fact translate well. Frigate and dreadnought may not make much sense (except perhaps as historical holdovers -- which, for example, "frigate" is today). But a battleship would just be a ship for use in dominating a concentrated decisive battle. And a cruiser would just be a ship that cruises around on patrol or involved in trade protection. No need to think up a new word if the old word is actually appropriate.

What will people do in a space empire? Whatever it is that people do. The idea that the future has to be that much different seems kind of odd to me. People will still be people, and will still need employment. I suspect that that will trump many automation and organizational schemes that might in theory seem to be better.

Geoffrey S H said...

Indeed, its all very well and having fictional names for craft, but having too many leaves the reader clueless- you can have one or two, but if you are basing your setting in a world with all sorts of fantastic machines, having every other word be a made up one would make things unreadable. For example: If the "Fusilar" is in high orbit with supporting Scardynes entering the atmosphere to provide support to the Grouds currently engaged on the sandy plains below, then you might (just) get away with it- a Fusilar is my silly made up name for a single type of heavy combat spacecraft, and Scardynes and Grouds are fighter planes and tanks, respectively. If you leave it at that and have them mentioned frequently throughout the story, with one or two made up vehicle types whose names speak for themselves (like war-man carrier, or something), then it might work. Only one or two primary(or most mentioned) craft however should be mentioned however. It is far too easy to overdose on this sort of thing however.

Geoffrey S H said...

Urgh, too many howevers at the end- had to write that quite quickly, sorry.

jollyreaper said...

You get away with what you can get away with. I've got my own naming convention I try to stick to, some of it just nailing down the use of common words.

Spacecraft -- vessel not capable of interplanetary travel
Spaceship -- vessel capable of interplanetary travel
Starship -- vessel capable of interstellar travel

Further breaking down spacecraft

shuttle: Fast, comfortable passenger craft. Usually atmosphere-capable. Low capacity for heavy cargo.

dropship: Typically the largest small craft carried by spaceships and starships. Can carry a mixed cargo of goods.

scow: Catch-all description for utility craft used in orbit. Any vessel that doesn’t easily fit into any other category is usually called a scow. They tend to be ugly, functional, and businesslike.

lifter: Very large vessel used for lifting large cargoes into space. Too large for most starships to carry, usually assigned to a starport.

heavy lifter: Massive version of the lifter.

tug: A craft used to maneuver unpowered structures in space such as ships under construction, remote platforms, etc.

I think that sort of naming convention would provide a bit of verisimilitude. YMMV.

I think part of what makes your example so good for being inadvisable is the words are entirely made up from non-english words and fall into the category of calling a sword a skelwomp and a dog a daggit.

jollyreaper said...

PS: and the inconsistency of calling them dropships instead of dropcraft is exactly the sort of thing you'd expect from terminology consolidated over long practice, like calling subs boats when they are anything but.

Cordwainer said...

I'm in agreement with Tony that the future will probably be much like the present or the past. Space navies will probably use antiquated titles language and terms for the lack of better terms, economies will work in much the same way they have in the past and automation will probably be gradually adopted rather than create a sudden singularity event. A.I. will most likely be restricted or controlled in some manner and the tech for the creation of transhumans, cyborgs, androids and remote-controlled surrogates will be controlled by social and market forces. Such things will start out as expensive special-use technologies and gradually get less expensive and more useful as time goes by, some societies will probably make the use of some of these technologies haphazardly or not at all due to religious or social bans. For instance Muslims will probably ban humaniform robots and surrogates as part of their proscription against iconography, and as popular as they are in anime many Buddhist groups might limit use of highly durable robots and cyborgs due to the superstition of them getting souls after a hundred years. Similarly their are many social reasons in western society of late against the idea of playing god or altering nature. If a singularity event happens it will not be just one event but many events happening in sequence and will probably not happen for many centuries. Where I have hope in something interesting happening that might have profound implications on a global level is the invention of cheap power, while I have serious doubts about fusion power or other forms of cheap energy I can't count them out entirely. Also I see the very real potential that mass communications and computers have on our current society and may have on any future societies to create new and different social networks and transactions as well as influence government or even create new forms of government or economies of scale.

Geoffrey S H said...

@Jollyreaper:
I do agree that made up names just sound silly, but I should clarify that most of my fictional names have an origin behind them- Fusilar is just a corruption of the French for "battle-rocket" (fusil militaire). I was brought up on the sort of sci-fi that has made up names (original bsg especially) so it never seemed too jarring to me. Ultimately I'm trying to find something a little different from cruiser and battleship due to my setting's inclusion of ocean navies as well as space forces, as well as trying to avoid the space is an ocean trope. the tendency to see changes in the naming of objects and vehicles over time (I have seen this alot as a history student- trieremes- cogs-carracks-galleons- battleship) also motivated me to make up some names a little. Finally, I am trying to avoid names that end in a or i- thessia or cardassia being amongst the many fictional place names that do that. Its tired and cliched in my opinion, especially as I keep seeing real life places such as "Wymswold", "East Leake" and "Loughborough" where I live.
The one made up word I really want to keep in my setting however is "aetherance", a future type of air liner. I am slightly fod of that particular fabricated word.

Geoffrey S H said...

*sp "fond"

jollyreaper said...

Concerning made up words, you can always get away with what you can get away with. For every rule of thumb that is generally wise to adhere to with many examples of people who do it wrong, there are always the exceptions that nail it.

Also worth noting is that for those who call a given work the exception, there will be others who say it's why the rule was made. There are people who hate Dune and LOTR and the like.

Cordwainer said...

Well any future space forces will probably use a combination of military terms. (terms like, fighters, bombers, scouts, gunships and interceptors have been borrowed from modern air forces) Technically space is both an ocean (due to the distances involved and the assymetrical warfare that would be waged when performing seiges or invasions on a gravity well) an airspace (due to the effectiveness of using drones and smaller long range support craft as well as the costs to boost materials from the surface to orbit to defend a gravity well) and a land battle space that is a mix between 17th century heavy artillery fortresses and modern geurilla urban warfare.

On a side note in a post-modern setting you could use space-fortress, super-fortress, cosmo or astro-fortress large capitol ships along with rangers or space cavalry if you want a more air power doctrine approach to space warfare. In a steampunk setting an aetherance or "aether-vehicle" could also be used for a space vehicle as well as an air vehicle if I'm not mistaken, as could War Rocket or Battle Rocket. Small vehicles could be named after historical names for different troop types. Since I think most space navies(for lack of a better term) will be highly modular I thing in might be better to use Napoleanic terminology to describe a vehicle mission type and class rather than its actual type though.

Cordwainer said...

"think" for "thing" I still haven't got this typing on my lap thing down.

Rick said...

I love comment threads like this. I wrote just over 700 words in the original post, and it has generated about 15,000 words of high-protein comments. In other words, you have collectively done about 95 percent of the work here.

So, again a few rather random side notes:


As noted, the political or social order in a setting need not reflect the author's tastes in anything but story McGuffins.

But a flip side is that sometimes it does. Not just because SF/F has historical ties to utopian (and dystopian) fiction, but more fundamentally because world building - as Tolkien famously observed - is sort of playing God.

In fact, I'd argue that much of the long-running contention about *Starship Troopers* has to do with a fairly widespread feeling - on both sides of the debate - that Heinlein broadly approved of the society, rather than just using it as a setting.


Speaking of Heinlein, several of his classic YAs have hints that the British Empire has re-coalesced. Along with the term 'Empire' itself he sometimes gives titles including 'KB' and the like.


On nomenclature - of space warcraft and otherwise - I don't think I've given the subject a full front page post, though I did have an entry in my old Tough Guide. I'll have to keep it in mind as a topic.

On swiping circa-1900 naval terminology there is a good case to be made either way. On the one hand, battleship-cruiser-gunboat is elegantly self-explanatory. On the other hand it has a strong whiff of 1900.

An insufficiently-acknowledged part of my bias against those terms is that my old future history assumed that initial interstellar colonization took place under a Terran Empire (I called it the Protectorate), which had no need of any real space fleet - or sea fleet, for that matter. Just coast guard equivalents.

Given that setting, there would be essentially no continuity between military institutions of our era and post-imperial military institutions. People are not all that likely to reach back to borrow sea terminology of 600 or 800 years ago for spacecraft.

If your military institutions have continuity with the US Space Command or the Royal Air Force, 'tis a very different situation.

On a different nomenclature note, since premodern Japan came up, note our wonderfully inconsistent practice. The ceremonial monarch is more often called the Emperor rather than Mikado. But the Shogun is called by the Japanese term - perhaps no familiar English term fits very well.

And we say Samurai rather than knights, even though it wouldn't be all that bad a translation. Certainly better than calling Roman *equites* of the late republic or early empire 'knights', which is commonly done.

But I have also seen references to 'Baron' such-and-such in Japanese history, in place of whatever Japanese word (Daimyo?) is the generic term for a feudal lord.

Cordwainer said...

Not to tease rick too much but Heinlein did originally use the term American Empire for his future Pax Americana based history and when we look at his tales involving his Methuselah's children characters we can see that he was probably most influenced by elements of New Thought and Progressive movements during the time of his childhood in the same way individuals like Margaret Sanger and Aldous Huxley were. As to whether he was a "militant federocrat" as portrayed in Starship Troopers I thing his highly debatable he was probably closer to a "meritrocious technocrat" like what he portrayed in the "The Roads Will Roll". Also his American Empire would have included the British Common Wealth of States in something similar to the Atlantic Alliance, a concept which would be pretty cool if compared to the political alliance of today and would make sense for a number of reasons. Great Britain will probably never accept the Euro as a currency especially after the latest crisises and an alliance of the United Kingdom, the United States and all our former territiories would be a good fit. English is still commonly spoken in most of our former territories(except Malaysia and Burma I think) and such a union of common language, culture and legal systems would have more resources at its disposal and be easier to maintain then the European Union or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. We could even bring in Mexico as a part of NAFTA and invite in the Japan and the Philippines as observers and give them full status if they showed interest in joining. We could solve the problems with a common currency by having two currencies and two currency zones (a Common Pound and a Common Dollar zone), after the zones had stabilized governments could change zones if they wished to and currency trades between the two zones could allow governments a way to hedge themselves against inflationary and recessionary forces, something to think about anyways.

Also the later Meiji Era used the term "kaizoku" for a Peer or Knight which itself was a throwback for a much older term(nearly a thousand years from the Golden Period of Japan) related to the mininum size of land to be worked that could be taxed by law. A landless knight would be known as a "ronin" or wave-man.

Your Terran Protectorate better have a very long history of peaceful expansion or be brainwashing the populace like Larry Niven's ARM not to have any military terminology. Also the Coast Gaurd is both a branch of the Military and a law enforcement agency. Do your Peace Keepers use the terms "cutter", "tender", "interceptor", "prosecutor" or "patrol-ship". There are very old nautical terms in use today for commercial shipping today as well such as galley, barge, tug, tender, shuttle, scow etc.

Brett said...

RE: Rick

I've usually just heard "feudal lord" or "lord" used, probably because that's the closest english translation of "[name]-sama".

As for what people will "do", I think it depends on how fast your space travel is, and how cheap. Fast, relatively cheap space travel (like Star Wars), and you'd have gigantic economies-of-scale in production over interstellar distances, and also some extreme specialization. You might even have commuters over interstellar distances.

Slow, more expensive FTL, and odds are you'll see "clusters" of political units formed over some arbitrary area of space where the FTL is fast enough for it to be effectively one economy.

Cordwainer said...

Forgive me for the typos and run on sentences in the previous submission. Getting back to the Anglo-Alliance angle if I'm not mistaken you could also include Indonesia and most of New Guinea since Indonesia and West New Guinea were part of the British Empire for a time after the Dutch gave them up. Eastern New Guinea or German New Guinea was part of Australia to after the second World War I think. God that would be a lot of Empire. Let's see all of North America, ANZAC and the PIF(Pacific Islands Forum), India, Pakistan, Afghanistan(toss-up the were run by the English and the French now there under occupation by the Americans. Palestine and Israel, most of Africa, most of the Carribean, Guyana, Belize(even if the Brits won't sponsor them NAFTA might just out of spite to put Gautemala in its place) and most of what the Chinese and Europeans would have called the Spice Islands in the old days and maybe Japan to (the younger generation loves British and American culture) although I doubt South Korea would join for the same reasons or historical tie-ins. (both were essentially U.S. or U.S.-led protectorates after World War II and both have "bad blood" over it but I think the Japanese would be more willing to accept the economic and political benefits while the Koreans would be more worried about the security and perceived government corruption threats that such a union might engender).

Tony said...

Rick:

"In fact, I'd argue that much of the long-running contention about *Starship Troopers* has to do with a fairly widespread feeling - on both sides of the debate - that Heinlein broadly approved of the society, rather than just using it as a setting."

Heinlein went through phases, just like everybody else. He wrote Space Cadet and such like at a time when many thoughtful people believed that the only way to control atomic weapons was to internationalize them under elite, non-partisan management. Of course he explored the downside of that arrangement in "The Long Watch". Starship Troopers was written almost a decade later, after the shape of the Cold War was much more well-defined, and at least partly in response to a perceived weakening of Western Society.

Whether he actually meant it literally is an interesting question. I somehow don't think he did. Having said that, the point he makes about the necessary overlap between the governing and the fighting classes is important to remember.

"On swiping circa-1900 naval terminology there is a good case to be made either way. On the one hand, battleship-cruiser-gunboat is elegantly self-explanatory. On the other hand it has a strong whiff of 1900."

What whiff does "frigate" have? Or, to hit closer to my home, "marine"? They're both 17th Century terms. Yet they still apply.

In that vein, I think the term "espatier" is highly contrived. I get the implied parallel with "marine". But the latter came out of a historical epoch where English was heavily influenced by French. That's not so much the case today, nor has it been for a good century. I think Heinlein actually did a good job of contriving a new term for infantry moved around on space transports -- Mobile Infantry. He even came up with a good coloquialism for them: "cap trooper", as in capsule trooper (which borrows from their means of insertion into combat, in the same sense as paratrooper).

Tony said...

Rick

"On a different nomenclature note, since premodern Japan came up, note our wonderfully inconsistent practice. The ceremonial monarch is more often called the Emperor rather than Mikado. But the Shogun is called by the Japanese term - perhaps no familiar English term fits very well."

I think the reason for using "Emperor" is nothing more than that's what the head of large Eastern states were traditionally called.

Shogun, on the other hand, defines a position that there is no formal, institutional name for in the West. To call him "Great General Who Subdues Eastern Barbarians", or the more prosaic "Commander in Chief" both captures and misses the position's key attributes. So Shogun it is.

"And we say Samurai rather than knights, even though it wouldn't be all that bad a translation. Certainly better than calling Roman *equites* of the late republic or early empire 'knights', which is commonly done."

Samurai actually held so many social, political, and military positions that it it really doesn't mean anything in particular, except it's most literal meaning of "one who serves". Knight -- as in small holder with military duties -- is only one of those positions. A samurai could be a link in the chain of feudal rights and responsibilities, at several levels. He could also be a retainer with no land or office, just military skill. He always belonged to a social class roughly equivalent to nobility, but economically he could be anything from fabulously wealthy to destitute. Depending on the historical period, he could be a mounted archer or a dismounted swordsman. He wasn't even above picking up a gun, if the situation required it.

"But I have also seen references to 'Baron' such-and-such in Japanese history, in place of whatever Japanese word (Daimyo?) is the generic term for a feudal lord."

It's a fairly accurate term for an appointed (not hereditary) feudal lord. Japan had plenty of those.

Damien Sullivan said...

I think 'lord' would be "-dono" more than "-sama".

Rick wrote once that realistic spacecraft are more like trains without rails. They don't have anything like the maneuverability of anything else on Earth. You don't cruise around, you hurl yourself somewhere and plan to refuel. Unless you're using a high delta-vee drive at low speeds, but then you have low thrust and high energy budgets and, well, low speeds.

We've got orbital platforms and 'fighters', ships that hurl themselves at another planet, ships that might try intercepting those -- meaning hurling themselves out, stopping, then hurling the other way to match velocity and fighting like 'Galaga' or 'Space Invaders' -- and of course, missiles.

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Tony said...

Damien Sullivan

"Rick wrote once that realistic spacecraft..."

I think one has to ask oneself what "realistic" means. One can, for example, have "realistic" thorchships -- they have magitech amounts of propulsion power, but they still have to follow the laws of physics. With that kind of spaceship, one could easily imagine varying classes of ship based on size, equipment, and duty.

And you're not explicitly breaking any laws of physics. You're just presuming that power, in highly potent and concentrated forms, is as easy to come by as Father Heinlein once imagined it might be. It's when you have sensors that work instantaneously at interstellar ranges, or zooming and banking in space that things get a little hard to swallow.

Heck, even the big complaint that space warchips have longitudinal decks isn't as valid as some would like to think. Given artificial gravity, it's just easier to lay things out on several large decks, rather than ten or twenty small ones. Also, for landing on planets, it's just operationally easier to set down lengthwise, rather than on the tail. If you came to me and said that the thrust vector doesn't matter for operational or crew saftey reasons, I'd probably select a layout much more like the Enterprise or Galactica, rather than like a Soyuz.

Cordwainer said...

Well yeah, when you have a torch ship dronefighters and Carriers become a possibility. Even fast manned raiders or pinnances become possible if you can find a reason for them. It's still more likely though you would have a small pocket carrier or large raiding ship attached to a larger capitol defence ship though. A large Carrier would either have to be a Carrier and Tender to with refueling and supply capabilities for its drones.(Slow, hard to maneuver) Or it only carries the drones and lets another specialized ship do the tending. Why build two mega-size ships when you can build a bunch of smaller faster and possibly cheaper ships that can do multiple roles depending on what they carry, then attach those ships to a heavy-gunned carriage to carry them into battle. Also a bunch of small ships is going to create a greater amount of fog of war when it comes to targeting increasing your odds of overwhelming your enemies fire control systems.

Tony said...

If the torch drive has a minimum size and expense -- and it could (one might even argue it should) -- it kind of eliminates the fighters, and strongly favors cruisers and battleships.

Cordwainer said...

When I say small ships I mean pocket carriers with the ability to carry the minimum number of drones or missiles to be effective while giving the best mass to drive performance. Attach one or two of these to a mother ship with spinal armaments and longer range point defence then what your raider/carriers are able to carry. I use spinal because they describe their longitudinal arrangement with the ships "keel", I tend to think such weapons will actually be positioned on some kind of outrigger or "keelboard" at a safe distance from the crew. The torchdrive section will likely be in-situ with the crew section though just far enough behind and sufficiently "shadow" shielded to keep the crew safe, it will be easier to do maintenance and navigate that way. That main weapon is less important then your drive and can be jetissoned if needed.(Plus if you don't put it too far away from the main body of the ship you can still aim it by dead reckoning on those rare occasions you need to) Your raider/carriers sit even further down your "keelboard" and the keelboard will mount fuel for the raiders along with a passive sensor network and possibly auxiliary ion drives for when your main drive gets crippled. For added maneuverability and push when you need it you could place Nuclear Thermal rocket engines with plug nozzles on a pair of outboard pylons on either side of the ships main body.

Tony said...

If you have a torch drive, but it's large and expensive, then fighters and drones don't make any sense, because they can't maneuver with your ship. As soon as the ship has to maneuver, the fighters and drones get left behind. Let's not forget that fighters and missiles exist because they can maneuver faster than ships or other aircraft. If the ships are in fact superior at maneuvering, what's the point?

Thucydides said...

Reading the posts on Japanese history and culture, many people seem to forget that the Japanese were constrained by very limited amounts of fertile land and a chaotic terrain which favoured division into small political units.

For various reasons, in Japan this tended to solidify family and clan ties at the expense of larger polities, so many of the conventions we see in Japanese culture are based on solidifying linkages within and between families and clans so you would have enough allies and support to survive in a wider environment.

Many other societies with similar environments evolved in the same family/clan/tribe configuration, and developed similar social mechanisms to cope. The only exception I can think of off the top of my head is classical Greece (although the culturally different Mycenaeans also came up with a family based feudal system, if you accept that Homer describes Mycenaean culture in his epic poems).

Small space colonies might find themselves evolving towards similar political and social structures based on limited size and infrequent contacts with outsiders.

Cordwainer said...

Tony are you daft. It all depends on whether you can miniaturize your torch-drive to fit on a drone or missile. Very reasonable even when considering z-pinch dusty plasma fission drives at around 10 to 13 tonnes. High output fusion or plasma drives could be larger or smaller depending on the type of drive technology and the tech level. Admittedly you would need some awesome power densities when comes to power storage or power generation but you will need those to make a torch drive to work anyways.

While your torch-missile or torch-drone will have less range then your capitol ship they will have better acceleration because they don't have to carry a crew and you can always throttle the drive down to save fuel once you get up to speed. Problem comes when you have to deploy them at long ranges or when you want to pick up or re-deploy your drones on multiple sortees. Which is why I favor the use of a Mother Ship to carry Pocket Carriers and Tenders to carry drones into the battle space since they can stage the movement, capture and redeployment of their drones more effectively and fuel-efficently. Don't even think to bring up the Goblin fighter or fighter bombers, low-g is not an airspace. You can coast and use brachistone trajectories in space and most of the time you would to preserve fuel even if you had a torch drive. It's not pretty but you can have drones and torch-missiles.

Cordwainer said...

Also if your torch drive is expensive your more likely to stick to small ships with small drives not large battleships when it comes to economics. Which is better lots of small mass producible ships or an experimental big ship with a power hungry and fuel hungry drive.

Cordwainer said...

Also in a gravity well a drone or missile wouldn't need a torch drive, since you could use the Oberth effect to effectively intercept a torch drive equipped capitol ship.

If you have a minimum size on your torch drive its more likely you will have navies compose of cutter and frigate fleets not cruisers and battlecruisers, after all these bigger battleships among sea-vessels didn't evolve until later as sail technology and hull design improved.

By the way Tony your last name isn't Boyer you sound like an Anthony I know.

Tony said...

Cordwainer:

"Tony are you daft..."

No, I don't think so. A torch drive, by it's very nature, is not likely to be either small or inexpensive. It's a lot of energy in a relatively small space. So designers -- and more importanly the people footing the bills -- are likely to want to get as much as possible out of each unit. That means larger ships, not smaller ones, and crewed ships, not drones. It's simple economics. Large, expensive propulsion units are not expendable items, they're capital equipment.

(And no, my last name isn't Boyer.)

Cordwainer said...

Final word on Torch-Drives before getting on to a subject closer on topic. It would be my thoughts that a presumably powerful torch-drive would probably have a median size in regards to efficiency. Too big and it becomes expensive to build and fuel, as well as difficult to vector or throttle its thrust. Too small and it's power becomes so reduced that your better off with a chemical or high out-put plasma drive, especially when you consider the reduced weight and cost in power plant. The real sizing factor for a torchdrive becomes size and weight of the power plant. You could have a very high out-put torch drive but if it's power plant dwarfs the maximum size of the drive it's no longer a torchdrive it's just a powerful electric rocket. While torchdrives will be a capital investment that doesn't mean your going to build mega-size freighters and dreadnaughts. There is a maximum size for diminished returns. Security and tactical concerns will probably trump economic ones when it comes to building smaller ships and there is "wiggle room" for smaller ships to be useful and not lacking in the power projection department.

You need a very high density power source and that power density along with the best median necessary engine size that weans the best fuel-efficiency and thrust -to-weight ratio becomes the optimal drive size. Once that's determined then you can move onto different ship types. Since there would be some "wiggle room" to that median size you could have slightly larger more heavily armed "battle-cruisers" with slightly throttled down engines. On the other side of that wiggle room you could have somewhat smaller "frigates and cutters" with better thrust-to weight ratios and thrust vectoring but less fuel and cargo capacity, which will effect the vehicles range and ability to carry weapons. As you get even smaller the power density may shrink if you are utilizing a reactor or generator for power versus a power storage system or "battery".(even with a battery the total power you can put into the system shrinks) This will further effect the range(period of time you can use the drive) although not necessarily the power of your drive to move or accelerate your ship.(Thrust-to-weight factor) Minimum size-to- projected power for ships with such high power densities becomes more similar to modern naval ships or aircraft then sailing ships of old since even a small vessel can mount a powerful laser or missile with a powerful energy or kinetic warhead.
If you want sailing ships of old in a sci-fi then you should try using some type of hybrid space sail system. Solar thermal trenches and photo-electric panels instead of light sails to provide solar-thermal propulsion. Electric sails/Combined with microwave rectenna to produce electric propulsion through the use of solar winds and beamed power technologies. Or even high-efficiency flexible solar sails with semi-transparent/reflective(one-way mirror)leave or collector sails use to gather indirect light or focus light onto a particular portion of the sail this could give better maneuverability and greater surface area to the sail without having to make the sail wider.(you could focus the light onto a solar furnace for solar thermal propulsion as well) Of course the sails would have to be retractable for combat situations and you might want to use multiple sail systems for different environments.

Tony said...

I think you're misunderstanding what I'm talking about. A torch drive isn't a specific technology. It's a conceptual machine -- a propulsion system that can maintain 1 G (or more) of acceleration for whatever vessel it's installed on, over interplanetary distances. Please put any specific means of achieving thrust or generating power out of your mind. That's not what this is about. It's about what tactical and operational shape such power would take. That's all.

That's a lot of power. It's not likely to be a small, inexpensive machine, much less a throwaway one. That eliminates fighters and drones -- they can't keep up with a ship equipped with so much maneuverability, nor would they be reasonable uses of such a machine.

WRT relevance, well, the type and power of your military forces often defines the kind of government you can create.

Locki said...

Hey when were torch drives considered PMF?


I came in a bit late to the Japan/monarchy segment of the debate.

But I think sci-fi authors and readers often misunderstand the power of symbolism. They are so focused on scientific fact (or hypothetical fact) they forget people's perceptions are only partially informed by reality.

I've come to believe many of the monarchs, whilst being ceremonial in nature, for a very important part of the society.

I often compare the modern chinese and japanese cultures.

The japanese just seem to be a bit more capable of spiritual contemplation and a reverence for their own history that ensures they took their own (relatively) unique path to capitalism.

The chinese in comparison are a bit more naked when it comes to capitalist, entrepreneurial ambition.

One of the big differences is the Japanese have a direct link to their past and their cultural traditions in their Emperor.

The Chinese did a pretty good job of destroying their cultural legacy in the cultural revolution.

I can't help but think the chinese would be a richer and more balanced society if they had the same link to their past.

Also note it was the Japanese Emperor who took direct action and finally overruled his generals and surrenedered in WW2.

Damien Sullivan said...

China is also much bigger, more diverse, and was affected more by invasions and colonialism even before Communism.

Cordwainer said...

I think it torchships came in the door when jollyreaper and others mentioned EVE and Warhammer. I joined in with what I thought space navies might look like and Tony made a comment about torch-ships which in my opinion still don't fly since most space battles will probably take place inside gravity wells, mega-expensive technologies get miniaturized for certain specific quite often, smaller un-crewed torchships will still be able to outrun larger ships over small distances, even 1G mega-ships will want to save fuel over the massive distances of space and warships aren't for comfort. Also torch-missiles and drones could use different drive technologies without having to miniaturize a common technology and drones don't have to be throw-away tech if you have a torch-ship equipped carrier.

Back to monarchies though I wonder what kind of economic policies would a Space Monarch take would they give out letters of marque and have expansionist land grab policies or would they be more isolationist and protectionist in there policies. I suppose it would depend somewhat on the politics of other Nations and Empires around them as to what policies they would adopt. Any ideas?

Tony said...

Cordwainer:

"I think it torchships came in the door when jollyreaper and others mentioned EVE and Warhammer. I joined in with what I thought space navies might look like and Tony made a comment about torch-ships which in my opinion still don't fly since most space battles will probably take place inside gravity wells, mega-expensive technologies get miniaturized for certain specific quite often, smaller un-crewed torchships will still be able to outrun larger ships over small distances, even 1G mega-ships will want to save fuel over the massive distances of space and warships aren't for comfort. Also torch-missiles and drones could use different drive technologies without having to miniaturize a common technology and drones don't have to be throw-away tech if you have a torch-ship equipped carrier."

First of all, there is a classical definition of "torchship", and that's the one I'm using. See the term in wikipedia. In most fiction that uses ships with such capabilities, the drives are big, expensive, and highly complex. Since the writers other than Heinlein (who probably coine the term) that have used such ships (Anderson, Pournelle, McCollum) tend to be physicists and engineers, I would have to say that's a pretty solid assessment. Once again, large and expensive propulsion plants don't get put on drones and fighters.

Now, for merchant vessels, oftentimes coasting over interplanetary distances is used, and probably in military contexts as well. But on training and wartime operations, constant acceleration between origin and destination would be much more standard. So drones and fighters simply don't have a place. The large ships can outmaneuver them over the long run, and the battlespace won't be limited just to close orbital space, because the ships can easily maneuver outside of it.

Thucydides said...

A friend of mine characterizes the current government structure of China as "The Red Dynasty".

While many of the forms have changed, there is a very strong cultural tradition going back to ancient times which defines, informs and even constrains how China is governed. The bureaucratic state, defined and run by a meritocracy is an old Chinese practice; we may not formally define modern Chinese bureaucrats as Mandarins, or the Party as the Court (or the President as the Emperor), but they fill many of the same roles and functions. I think past Chinese emperors would quickly recognize what is going on in China.

WRT Torchships, they have the power to choose when to close and when to break off engagements. Using the Torch in orbit effectively allows the ship's commander to move at will and in any almost arbitrary path compared to someone attempting to manoeuvre against the Torchship without a torch drive. The effects on the planetary ecosystem will also be pretty devastating.

A torchship's best option might be to fly past a target and "drop" or dispense kinetic energy warheads; they will be moving at astonishing velocities and hit with the explosive power of nuclear warheads. Flipping the ship and leading with the Torch going will give the defenders quite a lot to think about, and make most conventional attacks like laying a carpet of ball bearings in space for the Torchship to fly into moot.

If torches could be miniaturized to fit missiles or fighters, then a lot of other things have changed as well; the amount of energy the civilization has access to has grown by at least an order of magnitude. At this point we would be having a very serious discussion about posr scarcity economics and Sovereign individuals; society having changed all out of recognition.

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"If torches could be miniaturized to fit missiles or fighters, then a lot of other things have changed as well; the amount of energy the civilization has access to has grown by at least an order of magnitude. At this point we would be having a very serious discussion about posr scarcity economics and Sovereign individuals; society having changed all out of recognition."

That's pretty much my assessment. There's also the very real problem of putting so much power in the hands of lieutenants (whether flying fighters or directing drone missiles). Anybody in charge of that kind of power -- and the drive itself confers power, because it can be used to accelerate kinetic energy weapons to WMD levels of energy -- becomes a de facto policymaker.

Rick said...

are you daft

No, he isn't, and this sort of language is really unhelpful.

There are plausible grounds for both positions, given that torch drives have a high speculative quotent.


Heinlein's YAs don't fit in a single future history, but their settings form a sort of bundle of similar timelines, all quite different from his earlier formal Future History.

My knowledge of Japan is ... modest ... but it seems to me that 'knight' had about as broad a range of associations as 'samurai.'

One Western term that approximates the role of Shogun is 'Mayor of the Palace' - but that is none too compact, and moderately obscure. Not to mention that Pepin of Heristal got a statement from the Pope that allowed him to overthrow the Merovingians and take the throne.

Cordwainer said...

Alright so your talking handwavium direct matter-to-energy, anti-matter annihilation drives,zero-point energy, quantum black hole powered, Kzin-like gravity control or spindizzy like reactionless drives when you talk torch-ships and not realistic albeit hard to make drive technologies that utilize fission or fusion in some form and don't bend the the laws of physics. By the way Farmer In the Sky was the first Heinlein novel I read, I even did a book report on it in the 7th grade. Any realistic drive capable of pulling a constant 1G is still going to take a long time to accelerate to the speeds your probably envisioning(if its going at 1G and if your ship is crewed there not going to do more then 3G for long periods of time, Remember Mote In God's Eye) and its going to probably require large amounts of fuel when you look at the fuel bills for those same drives applied for interstellar space.(to move at will and close off and break engagements when they choose, the fuel bills will no doubt be nearly as astronomical) Plus those rules only apply when dealing with non-torchships an uncrewed or smaller but similar drive equipped ship will still be able to outrun you at short distances unless you are already traveling at high speed.(also gravity wells would still be as dangerous to the torchship as the torchship would be to a planet since you would see the ship from literally a parsec away) Even if you use a reactionless drive the energy bills will most likely be high at least if your keeping with the idea that such a drive is going to be cost prohibitive. You can't have it both ways a large cost prohibitive is going to be too crude and inefficient to do what your saying it will do and any upgrade to that efficiency like beamed power, or anti-matter containment or complete matter to energy transfer is going to change the parameters to where a small ship could carry such a drive. The best compromise I can come up with that would meet your parameters would be a ship with a quantum black hole for a power source and some form of reactionless drive. Ramjets or RAIR systems would require a certain minimum speed to work, would take time to accelerate and would be hard to turn while keeping the scoop operable. Nuclear salt-water rockets would be too easily adaptable to drones and missiles. Fission fragment or nuclear fission pulse drives would be too fuel would be capable of some of the hand-wavium your talking about but would be too fuel inefficient to keep it up for long distances. Also dusty plasma fission drives would be small enough to be adaptable to small ships, drones and missiles. Fusion has the same problems. I find the quantum black hole powered reactionless drive a little too far fetched so maybe some sort of beam powered disjunction drive makes the most sense. Point to point energy could take place via similar technology as what would power your disjunction drive. Gravity disjunction would provide the ship considerable momentum in a strong enough gravity field while some sort of disjunction between gravitomagnetic and electromagnetic forces could be used to beam power to a sail of sufficient mass and size to make your ship huge. Is everybody happy now!

Tony said...

Cord...

Once again, we're not talking about a specific technology, but about a conceptual device with given attributes. It is implicit in the discussion that it be practical, even if expensive. And part of the high expense might of course be fuel.

In short, you're overthinking the point, which was that even such a magical technology would still have to obey the laws of motion and thermodynamics. (Precisely how it obeys thermodynamics is of course the fly in the soup.) Nobody said anything about gravity control or inertia manipulations or anything like that. A torch drive is explicitly a reaction engine, albeit one of fantastic (in the technical sense of the term) power and efficiency. And as long as such a spaceship does obey the laws of motion (even if we ignore thermodynamics), then it's at least provisionally plausible, and doesn't detract from the readability of the work.

Tony said...

Rick:

"My knowledge of Japan is ... modest ... but it seems to me that 'knight' had about as broad a range of associations as 'samurai.'"

I think it would be more apt to say that, in popular culture, both have the same narrow range of associations: socially privileged warriors operating within a feudal system. On closer inspection the comparison doesn't quite hold up so well. samurai were simply much more common than knights. They filled the places both in the ranks of the noble warriors and as hired men-at-arms. Becoming a knight was a social advancement out of the ranks of men-at-arms. Being a samurai was something of a social contract, whether one was raggedy-assed swordsman in the rear rank, or a general of a thousand warriors.

Cordwainer said...

I sincerely apologize for the language Tony I just believe in a certain amount of realism in SF if you invoke speculative technology you should give the more educated portions of your audience a somewhat plausible explanation if you want to have widespread appeal. But then again I love Larry Niven and never questioned teleportation until he wrote about how it offends both the laws of conservation of mass and energy. When people say things that are that off the wall its like the GM to a role-playing game picking the worst scenario between a set of random scenarios to a bad die roll on your character cause they don't like the way you look at their girlfriend or some magic geek who applies some really random rule to win. It comes off as highly contrived.

Rick nice parallel between the early Merovingians and the Shogunate. The selection of Holy Roman Emperors by the Pope would be a similar parallel in some cases since both Shoguns and Catholic Emperors of Rome often had limited power over the sovereigns and religious pontiff that waxed and waned with the politics and social movements of the day that brought them into conflict or crony-ism with either the Pontiff or certain sovereigns. Both Shoguns and Holy Roman Emperors ruled their own domains and waged war against sovereigns who pledged fealty to them and Japan Pre-Tokugawa was very much like a group of Quasi-States who fought wars of limited aggression.

So we have discussed some of the ways a Monarchy in a futuristic society might get started, how it would legitimize its power and how the government might be run. Any ideas on what would be the ideal form of economy that would keep a monarch in power. Medieval Barter systems seem unlikely, maybe a system of Royal patents. Modern economic systems seem so droll is their something more adventuresome that someone can point out to me.

Cordwainer said...

Well again we cross swords or is katana Tony your definition of Samurai Pre-Oda Nobunaga(except in some of the southern provinces that were under rebellion until Hideyoshi put them under the heel of Tokugawa rule) is correct but rules were put in place under Tokugawa rule that made samurai more like traditional Peers and made it difficult to rise up to that station from the common warriors or Bugei.

Locki said...

Thucydides said...

If torches could be miniaturized to fit missiles or fighters, then a lot of other things have changed as well; the amount of energy the civilization has access to has grown by at least an order of magnitude. At this point we would be having a very serious discussion about posr scarcity economics and Sovereign individuals; society having changed all out of recognition.


AND

Tony:

That's pretty much my assessment. There's also the very real problem of putting so much power in the hands of lieutenants (whether flying fighters or directing drone missiles). Anybody in charge of that kind of power -- and the drive itself confers power, because it can be used to accelerate kinetic energy weapons to WMD levels of energy -- becomes a de facto policymaker.

===============

Since it seems like there’s an awful lot of Canadians on this blog I guess its safe for me to make the following observation.
I can’t help but think the Founding Fathers made similar sorts of comments when they included the awfully worded and broadly interpreted 2nd amendment. Something along the lines of:

“If gatling guns could be miniaturized to be a 4kg man portable rifle, then a lot of other things have changed as well; the amount of power the individual has access to has grown by at least an order of magnitude. At this point we would be having a very serious discussion about one man individual armies; society and its militaryhaving changed all out of recognition.

I mean if we ever develop guns that can shoot out as many rounds as an entire honking company of blackpowder musketmen, in less time and far greater accuracy than obviously these weapons of such unimaginable power belong only to the military and would be considered artillery pieces.
At this time every person would be a de facto army.”


Summary: I wouldn’t be surprised if some future dumb ass amendment to the United Space Nations constitution GUARANTEES the right to free transport which is interpretted as allowing a torch drive in the hands of every citizen no matter how crazy with no effective background checks.

Cordwainer said...

Technically gatling guns are legal to own since they aren't technically "fully" automatic weapons and often employ black powder they are considered "historical replicas" and are governed under different licensing laws of personal ownership in the United States.

Similar loopholes in interpretation could allow various nuclear propulsion systems in space that might seem to violate the ban on nuclear weapons in space.

Cordwainer said...

Also they didn't have Gatling Guns in the 18th century when the Constitution was signed(although they did have volley guns) and they did make Baby Gatling Guns around the early 1870's that were easily portable, firing a replica of one was the grand prize for the latest season of History Channels "Top Shot".

jollyreaper said...

Acting logically and plausibly in accordance with physics is the key thing for making handwavium work. Fine, there's an Iron Man suit. We will accept it exists. But when he picks up a car by the bumper, it should tear off in his hands because it was never designed for that sort of stress. Whatever the power source for that suit is, the energy density is fantastic, therefore it is reasonable to assume if it breaks we could see a very big boom.

Where most writers fail is they have a hard enough time with doing the real world plausibly and so they really screw up being consistsant with their own fantastic elements.

Thucydides said...

There seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding of the meaning and purpose of the Constitution. It is not a description or proscription of various sorts of technology, it is a working document that outlines the duties and responsibilities of government, and apportioning the duties and responsibilities of the various branches of government.

The First Amendment wasn't written with high speed presses, television or the Internet in mind, nor was the Fourth Amendment written with laptop computers in mind, yet the legislature and the courts have ruled that these Amendments still apply in the age of mass media or when deciding to search laptops at border crossings. The Second Amendment was written both to promote self sufficiency in protecting Americans (from criminals, Indians and foreign invasion) in a time when the force to space ratio made self protection virtually mandatory. Conditions haven't changed that much, there is a saying "When seconds count, the police are minutes away". The second purpose was to provide a guarantee that the government would never be able to overawe the citizenry. Of course, people who complain that military technology has made individuals far more powerful than in the past seem to slide by the same fact that military technology makes the organized forces of the State immensely more powerful than in the past. Infantry small arms in the hands of individuals or small bands, no matter how powerful, simply are no match against tanks, attack helicopters, drones or even SoF troops like Navy SEALS (or organized bodies of regular troops. Imagine trying to take on a company of Marines or regular Infantry if you only have a semi automatic rifle....)

tony said...

Cord:

I enjoy Heinlein's juveniles just as much today as I did 35 years ago. Yes, he applies a certain degree of speculative technology, but it's inside a black box. The torch exists, it can use any fluid for reaction mass, and that's all. Everything else is correct. Pretty much the same thing for the "photon" drives and Langston Field in "Mote in God's Eye". They may represent unknown technology, but the ship's still have to obey the laws of motion, and field has thermodynamic limitations.

In fact, when an author tries to explain how something fantatic can actually work, that's usually where he gets himself in trouble. See Weber's Honorverse, which for a lot of people is simply unreadable due to the attempts at technojustification.

WRT the samurai, let's not forget that the Edo period was the denoument of Japanese feudalism, not it's active period. The only event of that entire 265 years that events interested Westerners would recognize is Commodore Perry and the 47 Ronin. The former marks the beginning of the end, while the latter exemplifies the last gasp of the old life, where samurai were not hereditary bureaucrats, but "real men", shall we say.

Oddly enough, a lot of people's ideal of the samurai comes to us out of the 47 Ronin event, through Hagakure, which correctly identifies the philosophical conflict, but then totally misses the point. Yes, the samurai of the Sengoku (AKA "Warring States") period had been true warriors. But unlike the image presented in Hagakure -- and in most books and movies -- they were not selfless torpedoes. They were every bit the competitor and opportunists that any tribally-based warrior class has ever been.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"Acting logically and plausibly in accordance with physics is the key thing for making handwavium work. Fine, there's an Iron Man suit. We will accept it exists. But when he picks up a car by the bumper, it should tear off in his hands because it was never designed for that sort of stress. Whatever the power source for that suit is, the energy density is fantastic, therefore it is reasonable to assume if it breaks we could see a very big boom.

Where most writers fail is they have a hard enough time with doing the real world plausibly and so they really screw up being consistsant with their own fantastic elements. "


Precisely.

Cordwainer said...

I never know if your agreeing with me or not Tony. I was just bringing one point regarding the changes in socio-economic status of Samurai, I agree with your observations of the about the Sengoku and Edo period although I wouldn't go so far as to say it was the denouement of the feudal period.(Their were still various rebellions and disputes both between clans and against the Shogunate. Shingon rebellion, suppression of Christianity, continued peasant uprisings in the South, various competitions for the Shogunate and posts within the Shogunate as one of the Shogun's lieutenants.)

As for the terminology of torch-ships I think we would be better off separating between relativistic vessels and non-relativistic vessels(I'm defining relativistic in a broad brush here as any ship capable of a one-tenth the speed of light or higher) Even a ship with a suitable torch-drive(in a black box or not) is either going to have to slow down to non-relativistic speeds or use drop ships and relativistic missiles/probes when it gets near a solar system.( the former being more practical for commerce and the latter for war or exploration.) Your relativistic ships would be susceptible to attach by torchdrive-equipped "cutters" and non-torch drive driven kinetics while approaching a gravity well and by more conventional craft and weapons once inside a gravity well and if they slow down to relativistic speeds. Even at relativistic speeds there are good reasons for torch-ships to utilize laser-armed torchdrive equipped drones(like ramjet drone ships). These vessels would be throw-away weapons of a sort and highly expensive but if they have torch-drives then they can just follow along behind or in front of their mother ships after launch and then be re-provisioned and and re-attached once you slow down and come to a stop in a solar system. I know the economics would be immense but if you have torchdrive tech then it follows you would have mega-scale industries. Especially if your trying to get the best bang out of your buck because your drive is large and expensive, your going to make use of it as workhorse moving large masses if you can. I'm guess I'm of the opinion that there are few monolithic single-use technologies in history, all technologies are improved and adapted upon over time and are adapted to a multitude of different tasks. I would be suspicious of any future that doesn't take this into account. Maybe that's why so many sci-fi writers engage in collaborations now, a single individual can only come up with so many ideas on how to use an invention, story line or plot device compared to a group.

Cordwainer said...

Attacks not attach, God damn word processors.

Tony said...

Cord:

I'm not agreeing or disagreeing, just expressing an opinion. I'm happy for the reader to make up his own mind about it's significance.

WRT to the Edo period, I think we have to make a distinction between the usual conflicts between central authority and the provinces/institutions/whatever over two and a half centuries, and what went before, which was a half century of almost constant struggle to establish that central authority, preceded by half a millenium of clan warfare. Rebellions, suppressions, and internal power struggles simply weren't historically decisive. They were just things that happened, but had no effect on the existence of the shogunate or its ultimate power.

WRT torch drives, I don't know where we're getting the idea that relativistic interstellar travel has to be a necessary part of the discussion. I suppose it's a possibility, given the right kind of premies, but it's hardly a foregone conclusion. Certainly the torchistic drives in many authors' works aren't relativistic or interstellar. They just make for really fast interplanetary travel.

As for the idea that monolithic, single-use technologies are implausible, I'll offer nuclear power reactors and cryogenic liquid-fueled rockets. Not one whole heck of a lot of down-scalability in either of those technologies. They also happen to be the most energetic we have available. Why would we expect down-scalability in even more energetic technologies?

Cordwainer said...

Nuclear reactors and nuclear power have numerous applications in their current forms, and have become more scaleable over time. Non-conventional forms of nuclear power and types of nuclear reactors have been designed and will continue to be designed that could have anywhere from marginal to radical differences in both down-scalability and increases in power generation efficiency. Chemical rocketry is in a technological lull now but their are a number of ideas out their to improve them.

While the Tokugawa Shogunate power and existence was never successfully challenged that isn't to say some social movements didn't try and at least some of those movements effected radical changes over the way the Shogunate exercised its power.

I would make the point that a torchdrive that is too large and clunky and not capable of relativistic speeds(not necessarily interstellar) will not possess the characteristics you have described in your post or will be limited to some maximum to minimum scaling benchmark which will limit it's performance in someway. In short you either have expensive mega-scale ships capable of short relativistic hops or shorter very fast but slower interplanetary travel. Or you have smaller more efficient drives in smaller but still large vessels not capable of relativistic speeds but capable of very fast interplanetary travel.
If you use the first scenario then "cutters" still have a role. If use the latter then there is the possibility for an even wider range of ship types and sizes. Final note even if your Torchdrive can produce nearly unlimited amounts of thrust if it use a reaction type architecture or rides the surf of some very powerful reaction then you will most likely not use such levels of thrust near a planet since it would be the equivalent of a mega scale explosion. For strategic reasons space battles will most likely take place in or near a planets gravity well since thats where the resource allocation will be the highest, not much to conquer in deep space. Bombardment using hyperkinetic missiles on any large scale will be frowned upon as much as using a torchdrive at full power in a gravity well.(not saying it couldn't happen if people get particularly violent) Blackbox drives that use some hitherto unkown or yet to be developed process to change matter into energy(disintegration of matter in a blackhole, disintegration of matter to cause instantaneous fusion or a runaway fission-like chain reaction, zero-point energy or the ability to pull energy and mass from another dimension) still have to obey limiting factors like the amount of fuel you can carry to shove into the blackbox, how much energy it takes to run your blackbox, topology and energy density of other dimensional spaces or universes, and how your ships physical structure reacts to "surfing"exrtra-dimensional or external propulsion forces. In any event it gives you some speculative way to create a convincing portrayal of a Thrust-to-mass differences between different size ships. Even using your example of monolithic technologies like chemical rockets a space navy would probably still develop a variety of different ship sizes as well as unmanned craft.

Cordwainer said...

Getting back to the subject at hand this discussion has gotten me into the loop of thinking how a Space Monarch might use a "space navy"(for lack of a better term, Space Force would seem to include other branches or subsets of a military wing) to advance,defend and secure their Empire/Nation. Would there be "letters of marque", blockades, expansive trade treaties sponsored and regulated by a large navy, or new systems of space projected military and regulatory power we have yet to invent. Running in parallel to this thought how would such economies and trade empires look and how would Space Monarchs regulate them. Any Thoughts??

Tony said...

Cord:

I don't know about you, but I think there is a very real distinction to be made between nuclear power reactors and research reactors. Propulsion reactor installations (including both single and multi-reactor installations) have ranged from 10 to possibly 250 megawatts -- the US Navy hasn't releaed any power figures on the reactor installations of the latest supercarriers -- but none of them have been small enough to power auxiliaries, much less expendable systems. The same point can be made about cryogenic rocket engines -- they work over a respectable large range, but the low end just isn't all that low. There's absolutely no reason to believe that even more powerful -- like several magnitudes more powerful -- systems would'nt have similar operational constraints. Nor would they likely be any less expensive. Sorry, but them's the breaks. IMO, you're swinging after the bell on this topic.

Circling back to the shogunate, I'm sorry, but it's hard to see how it was significantly different -- save perhaps for the level of social and institutional ossification -- in 1850 from how it was in 1650. In fact the pattern was already pretty securely established by the time of the 47 Ronin (1701-1703). That's why the event is so widely taken to be representative of the period.

WRT space empires, I suspect the same social and economic imperatives (in broad outline at least) that have always influenced people will influence them. If interplanetary (or interstellar) trade is a large part of the economy, then the space navy will play a significant part in regulating and protecting it. If trade isn't important, it would probably be because it is logistically too tough. In which case empire itself is probably logistically too tough. So no empire.

Cordwainer said...

We'll just have to agree to disagree I guess.:

1)Many different operational roles for nuclear power can be achieved with only modest increases in "orders of magnitude" not major ones. Nuclear power and chemical rocketry have only existed for a short period of time and chemical rocketry experienced its "Golden Age" not that long ago. That those technologies have bottomed or experienced a lull does not mean they will not be improved in the future.

2)Ossification of the Shogunate occurred in stops and spurts not in slow graduation. Although yes most of the social institutions and practices were already in place by 1650 they were refined and amended over time to deal with new social demands and movements. New institutions and practices were also created after 1650 to further the Shogunates power. Such as laws regulating, trade, commerce, religious practices, land tenancy and the management of schools for the warrior arts.

3) My ideas about drones and missiles with torchdrives is very dependent upon highly contrived "technological optimism" but then so is the very idea of a torchdrive. Plus my definition of a torch drive is more akin to theoretical fusion and fission drives which would greatly increase power generation density but would still not be either "blackbox" drives or the mega-scale relativistic drives we often see for use "realistic" ideas for Interstellar travel.
A gas dynamic fusion engine, dusty-plasma fission fragment engine, microwave induction fusion drive or helicon injection inertial plasma electrostatic rocket would hardly be anywhere near a "traditional torchship" in their capabilities. While these drives and ships would have a median size there would be some "wiggle room" for development of different ship types. You could also use staging and hybrid drives systems or different drive systems based on different technologies to meet certain parameters and mission requirements for a space navy in the same way we use these technologies for scientific missions. Of course its all speculative but it is science fiction after all. Plus a monolithic approach to using technologies is harder to make interesting if your trying to thrill an audience. Not that you can't make it interesting it just requires one to utilize proper fictional or fact based assumptions about social and physical engineering that favors its use in that way. I've offered you several different ideas about how a space navy might look not all of them favoring drones or unrealistically small ships. All I've gotten was criticism and very limited details on what your Space Force or Space Gaurd would look like.

Thucydides said...

1. A torch drive is by definition a relativistic drive; accelerating at 1/2 g for a year will bring you close to c. The main differentiation is in the amount of time and distance you plan to use your drive, using a torch to go from Earth to Mars will generate a much lower velocity at midpoint than going from Earth to Uranus.

2. Many technologies don't scale for a wide variety of reasons. The sort of diesel engines that can achieve 50% thermal efficiency cannot be scaled down to power cars or trucks, for example. The examples Tony gave are quite relevant as well.

3. Even with singular large torch drives I suspect that the amount of energy available to civilization will put it firmly in the post scarcity economics column. This makes many political institutions and structures moot (politics, as defined by Organizational Theory, is the means of allocating scarce resources). Sorry, there can be Sovereign Individuals in such a setting, but a Space Monarchy would seem to be something along the lines of a Roman Legion reenactment group today.

4. For throw away devices, you would probably be better off using a magnetic field to tow or push your drones along with the torchship, only releasing them when it is time for them to take an independent trajectory. This follows from the observation that it is much more efficient to use the torch to move unitary large masses.

Tony said...

Cord:

1. the technologies in question are essentially mature. Not a lot is going to be done to advance them. Jut marginal improvements from here on out.

2. I don't think the routine drift of societies over time counts as historically significant.

3. We can't agree or disagree about anything substantive until we agree on terms. Throughout, I've been sticking to a single definition of torch drive the one from Atomic Rockets: "unreasonably powerful" (quantified to at least 150 gigawatts). No disrespect intended, but all you've been doing is debating the meaing of the term.

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"3. Even with singular large torch drives I suspect that the amount of energy available to civilization will put it firmly in the post scarcity economics column. This makes many political institutions and structures moot (politics, as defined by Organizational Theory, is the means of allocating scarce resources). Sorry, there can be Sovereign Individuals in such a setting, but a Space Monarchy would seem to be something along the lines of a Roman Legion reenactment group today."

I wouldn't be so sure about that. Look at how much power we have today, compared to just two centuries ago. Folks are still folks. Also, even spuer-tupendous amounts of power are still finite. And it's finite resources that politics are meant to allocate. Relative scarcity doesn't affect whther or not there's enough to go around. As long as power can be measured, some will get more, some will get less, and it all has to be mediated.

Cordwainer said...

THANKS!! Thucydides.

Finally an actually lucid definition and discussion of what a torchdrive is and isn't. At least your thread actually has some logical assumptions regarding what such a thing would be and how it would behave. I agree I have been playing quite loosely with the terminology but Tony was not being very forthcoming or logical about his own use of that definition if that is the definition you were aiming for. I don't know why we were arguing about this in the first place since my original thread on the subject was meant to support Tony. I never said his points were valid they just weren't elucidated clearly. Also some of Tony's posts seem to infer that such a vessel would be able to accelerate uberfast and "jink all day long" or run circles around everything else. I know he was quoting some one else's words from that same Atomic Rockets post so it was an honest and easy mistake to make. Time and distance you are able to use the drive being the main reason why none of those inferences would actually be true.

Also Opposed Piston Opposed Cylinder deisel designs gets us very close to the 50% thermal (40% efficiency is claimed) efficiency in a configuration that can be fitted in a small car. Problem with conservative scientific assumptions is that engineers usually prove them wrong over time.

Tony said...

Cord:

Those are some pretty...curious assertions. Since you apparently didn't know, Atomic Rockets is pretty much the user's manual -- on astronautical questions anyway -- for this blog. But even without knowing that, once it was clear that we were talking past each other, I provided a clear definition:

"A torch drive isn't a specific technology. It's a conceptual machine -- a propulsion system that can maintain 1 G (or more) of acceleration for whatever vessel it's installed on, over interplanetary distances."

Where the confusion could come oafter that, well...I'm not sure I understand how there could be much confusion. Silly me.

In any case, I didn't suggest or even imply that such a drive coule enable jinking or running in circles. I simply made the point that if it had a minimum size and expense, it would only be installed on large vessels, which would soon leave fighters and drones behind, due to an ability to continue accelerating over large time frames. Nothing else was said, intended, or implied.

So, please, let's stick to what was actually said, not what might have been imagined or incorrectly inferred.

Cordwainer said...

That's alright Tony, didn't mean to be a jackass.

I suppose their might be some highly unconventional and controversial ways to get over some of the energy scarcity issue with a torchdrive like beamed power, zero-point or extra-dimensional power sources. Although such a ship would still need to be reasonably large.

Would "navies" or "coast gaurds" even be relevant with such WMD's roving around interplanetary space and what would they look like? Would you have mega-burning beams of death or hyper-velocity kinetics for space-based and terrestrial artillery?
It's not that I think war is inevitable but I think when creating a plausible future you have to explain why you wouldn't have wars or why conflicts would be limited in scope or environment. You might get away with it over the scope of a novel or a few short stories but when you build a universe of stories it could be off-putting. Any ideas?

Also going back to the original thread of this article what do you think would be the best way for a Space Monarch to exert influence and control over his economy that would create dependance on the Monarchy and aristocracy. I was considering a Royal Patent system with a weighted voting system, like the three-class franchise system in Early Prussian democracy. But, I'm not certain how to properly flesh-out such an economy and would there be better options. Any Suggestions?

Geoffrey S H said...

One thought I had was to make wars "limited" by increasing the survivability of human civilisation to various weapons. In the same way that catapults would be useless against armour nowadays, I decided to have small nuclear weapons be well-armoured against by the end of the time frame. Consequently, some of the more powerful weapons are less like doomsday devices and more severely powerful instruments of a nation state. Their use does not make the prospect of human civilisation disapearring all that likely. Disaster shelters made of ridiculously resistant materials for planetary survival against relativistic impacts and fantastic technologies that can clean up nuclear fallout quite well akso proliferate towards the very end of the setting. The (dubious)
realism of all this can however be strengthened somewhat by making the cost of such cleanups and bunkers be quite high- various governments have the knowhow (gathered over a thousand years) to start a nuclear war, devastate the planet and then rebuild the biosphere and civilisation, but the cost is massive for almost zero material gain. Its regarded in the same way thaat a medieval power might regard the total destruction of a nation's crops. it can be done, but why bother when more traditional strikes are possible and advance your plans more efficiently?

Ultimately, Tony's point of all people throughout history being similar and ordinary has very solid grounds and is a good rule of thumb to follow. We can do all sorts of things with our technology, but do we want to/need to?

Anonymous said...

Cordwainer:

"Also going back to the original thread of this article what do you think would be the best way for a Space Monarch to exert influence and control over his economy that would create dependance on the Monarchy and aristocracy."

Basically, since viable colonies would have to be able to provide their own basic needs (food, industry, etc.), there really isn't an economic reason for empires or even much trade. There has to be some sort of threat to unify them.

In the scenario I'm playing with, the monarchy is a dynasty descended from a charismatic military dictator who used tradition to legitimize his rule. The ruling family and nobility control vast economic holdings on a prosperous former Earth colony. It's sort of fascism with a king.

In addition to their economic might, there is an external alien threat to the colonies. Only Earth and the richest colonies can afford to build and maintain military forces to defend themselves. Poorer colonies side with the closest rich colony for defense, trade, and economic aid.

The more democratic colonies may not be too thrilled about siding with the monarchy, but it is a lot better than be conquered by the other side.

Since all the colonies are fairly self-sufficient in basic needs, if the external threat was removed there would no longer be an economic reason to have these empires. The monarchy might use the fleet to impose rule for awhile, but it would eventually collapse. If the monarchy was lucky, it would still control its own world.

The instability of the system leads to interesting story opportunities.

Ron

Tony said...

Cord:

"That's alright Tony, didn't mean to be a jackass."

Curiouser and curiouser...

"I suppose their might be some highly unconventional and controversial ways to get over some of the energy scarcity issue with a torchdrive like beamed power, zero-point or extra-dimensional power sources. Although such a ship would still need to be reasonably large."

Remember, the whole point of torch drives is that you don't try to justify them. You just accept that they exist. The constraints on them that I perceive are by anology to high power technologies we possess today -- I'm not presuming any particular technology.

"Would 'navies' or 'coast gaurds' even be relevant with such WMD's roving around interplanetary space and what would they look like?"

I would think the whole point of space forces in such an environment would be to prevent the targetting of planets and space assets by such forces. I would think that within the confines of a solar system, traffic regularions would be such that no torchship trajectory could ever interect a planetary or major asset orbit. IOW, torchships would be required to "aim off" and make corrections close to the destination, once they had decelerated enough to make their kinetic potential not so destructive. And the space forces would enforce that. During wartime, when traffic control regulations go out the window. That bears some thought, but one would think that total war would not be allowed to happen, because the obvious strategy (strategy, operations, and tactics all become the same thing with WMDs) would be to launch all forces and get sweep the enemy out of space, much in the same way that counterforce strategy works with ballistic missiles.

"Would you have mega-burning beams of death or hyper-velocity kinetics for space-based and terrestrial artillery?"

Kinetics for space weapons, I would think. Considering the energy that your troch drive can generate, the best weaponized use of it would be to accelerate and "drop" bundles of kinetic "bombs".

Planet and station based weapons wouldn't be able to generate that kind of energy. They'd be clearly outclassed, except for one very important use (which we'll get to in a bit).

"It's not that I think war is inevitable..."

I think war is entirely inevitable. It's a feature of human nature. There are just some things that people refuse to negotiate away. You have to take it from them.

"Also going back to the original thread of this article what do you think would be the best way for a Space Monarch to exert influence and control over his economy that would create dependance on the Monarchy and aristocracy..."

All governments are ultimately audited and sanctioned by the mass of the people. Even the worst tyranies eventually just go too far, and the people become willing to pay the price to undo them. So the "best" way for a space monarch to manage his continued survival is to keep the people reasonably content, or at least not too unhappy. The details are up to the author. Just let them be at least semi-plausible.

Now, back to what planetary and station weapons can do. They can, if long-ranged and reponsive enough, defend against torchship-launched kinetic attacks. But Tony, I hear you say, kinetic can't be defended against. Not quite. Relativistic weapons can't be defended against. Within the confines of a solar system -- and probably within the fuel limitations of a torch drive -- one can't get kinetic attacks up to those velocities. Accelerating at 1 G, a torchship would travel 450 million kilometers to achieve just 0.01 (1%) c. So while targetting and interception would be a cast iron bitch, it's not like the incoming kinetics would be on top of you before you detected them.

Mangaka2170 said...

"I would think that within the confines of a solar system, traffic regularions would be such that no torchship trajectory could ever interect a planetary or major asset orbit. IOW, torchships would be required to "aim off" and make corrections close to the destination, once they had decelerated enough to make their kinetic potential not so destructive."

A possibility is that a torchship might instead be required to only make its parking orbits at the planetary L3 point, or half a million kilometers from the nearest inhabited body, whichever is more applicable, and must broadcast its trajectory and main engine firings with enough advance warning to give other spacecraft time to get out of the danger zone, perhaps 24 hours in advance.

Tony said...

Mangaka2170:

"A possibility is that a torchship might instead be required to only make its parking orbits at the planetary L3 point, or half a million kilometers from the nearest inhabited body, whichever is more applicable, and must broadcast its trajectory and main engine firings with enough advance warning to give other spacecraft time to get out of the danger zone, perhaps 24 hours in advance."

To what purpose? Other spacecraft aren't that big a security issue. And if a ship is going too fast to stop in a lower orbit, as long as it never points anywhere near the planet, it's not really a threat. If it ever does begin to look like a threat, it gets blasted. It's actually more dangerous well outside the range of local defensive fire, because it can change trajectory after dropping bombs and totally avoid defensive fire, while at the same time forcing the defenders to deal with an almost arbitrarily large number of incoming kinetic weapons.

Cordwainer said...

Would torchdrive equipped "cutters" or "interceptors" be a feasible adjunct or alternative defense to gravity well placed artillery in such a setting?(Still moderately big well armed craft launched in droves against incoming "cruisers") After all if you have the energy resources for a torchdrive then you probably have meg-scale mass drivers too. (Oberth effect would be very minor at these velocities but perhaps still useful for boosting ships) Of course whether such ships could convienently runaway is questionable. Since your enemies kinetics would not be torch driven the seek-to-kill time would be low and their trajectory would be different then your enemies torchship so dodging or avoiding might not be a problem if facing off against other torchships in and interplanetary environment just difficult and prone to collateral damage since the enemy could change course and drop bombs on their pursuers. But such tactics could be used to draw an enemy away into a trap. (minefield, missile swarm, beams of death etc.) Why would largish-size drone ships not be an option, seems like a home system or home planet would have the advantage in cyberwarfare.

Locki said...

Thucydides said...

There seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding of the meaning and purpose of the Constitution. It is not a description or proscription of various sorts of technology, it is a working document that outlines the duties and responsibilities of government, and apportioning the duties and responsibilities of the various branches of government.

The First Amendment wasn't written with high speed presses, television or the Internet in mind, nor was the Fourth Amendment written with laptop computers in mind, yet the legislature and the courts have ruled that these Amendments still apply in the age of mass media or when deciding to search laptops at border crossings. The Second Amendment was written both to promote self sufficiency in protecting Americans (from criminals, Indians and foreign invasion) in a time when the force to space ratio made self protection virtually mandatory. Conditions haven't changed that much, there is a saying "When seconds count, the police are minutes away". The second purpose was to provide a guarantee that the government would never be able to overawe the citizenry. Of course, people who complain that military technology has made individuals far more powerful than in the past seem to slide by the same fact that military technology makes the organized forces of the State immensely more powerful than in the past. Infantry small arms in the hands of individuals or small bands, no matter how powerful, simply are no match against tanks, attack helicopters, drones or even SoF troops like Navy SEALS (or organized bodies of regular troops. Imagine trying to take on a company of Marines or regular Infantry if you only have a semi automatic rifle....)


==========================

You'd surprised at which anonymous people on the world wide web have formally studied in these issues :)

I'm quite well versed in both sides of the arguments (and mostly sit on the fence) but you are being internally inconsistent here. Admittably you are probably in a hurry as this is a rocketpunk blog and not a constitutional law and staturory interpretation blog.

So just briefly (without venom):

1. Legislation can be interpretted narrowly or widely. You're argument about changing technologies and unforseen circumstances (say slavery being banned and the suffragette movement) is a strong one in favour of a broad interpretation.

2. Promoting self sufficiency is a fair and misunderstood point.

3. The 2nd point is internally inconsistent. On the one hand you argue the purpose of the 2nd amendment is so that the governement cannot "overawe the citizenry." Than on the other you point out how immensely more powerful and totally awesome-er (sorry being watching Kung Fu Panda with the kids) the military is compared to an informally trained militia armed with small arms. If by some quirk of democracy all of our checks and balances failed and the cyberpunk Nazis arose to power I don't believe everyone owning a 30 clip assault rifle (vs a 10 round clip) is going to significantly worry the neo-gestapo and the atomic wehrmacht much. We had better stop that sort of political crazy coming to power before we have to start waving our small arms in their direction. The horse has already bolted so to speak.

There are many good arguments for the 2nd amendment but the above isn't one of them.

Tony said...

Cord:

As I pointed out in a previous post, the torchship would most likely be used to put velocity on the weapons, not cary them close-in to the target. So for that task you would use a large torchship (or several) that could carry as many bombs as possible. The defenders would be best served by just standing pat and intercepting as many incoming rounds as possible. Think of Iron Dome on a planetary scale. There's no real point in trying to fight things out in interplanetary space. More likely an extended war would be a series of KE weapon exchanges until one side's economy breaks down.

Tony said...

Locki:

"1. Legislation can be interpretted narrowly or widely. You're argument about changing technologies and unforseen circumstances (say slavery being banned and the suffragette movement) is a strong one in favour of a broad interpretation."

The difficulty here is that the Constitution is silent on slavery and female suffrage. Yes, it does mention slavery in an indirect way, but only for purposes of apportionment and respect of slave property across state lines. It doesn't say that slavery should or shouldn't exist. It just treats it as a fact.

Locki said...

Locki:

The difficulty here is that the Constitution is silent on slavery and female suffrage. Yes, it does mention slavery in an indirect way, but only for purposes of apportionment and respect of slave property across state lines. It doesn't say that slavery should or shouldn't exist. It just treats it as a fact.

===========

Don't mind me its just a long slow weekend and I'm picking an off-topic fight because I can't think of anything useful to add to the torchship debate.

But the above point is an example that in IMHO the words need to be interpreted in the present day context.

I note for a long time any standing army was considered almost unconstitutional for the USA. Times change. And thats enough thread derailment from me for a month or so :)

Rick said...

Welcome to another new commenter!

Regarding torchships, 'unreasonably powerful' is about as good a definition as any. Heinlein originated the term, but it has become a shared SF usage for, well, an unreasonably powerful reaction drive. See this post on torchships for a sense of how the term has been used here on this blog.

Given that broad definition, I think that allowing or disallowing torch-powered drones or missiles is very much an author's choice.

True, Heinlein and Niven, at least, both associated torch drives with large spaceships, but neither (that I can recall) specified any lower size limit.

A torch drive mini-missile the size of a Soda Can of Death (SCoD) doesn't quite sound right (to me). A torch drive missile the size of an ICBM strikes me as a different matter - nothing that need shake the willing suspension of disbelief.

Flip side, nothing mandates permitting small or even medium-sized torch drives in a setting. An author is entirely free to imply that only large - or even humongous - spacecraft can be fitted with a torch drive.

The unspoken analogy to naval nuclear propulsion will be handy in the reader's mind (just as the ICBM is for Surprisingly Big Missiles).

Rick said...

Exercising my blogger's prerogative to pedantically belabor a fairly minor point from upthread:

Your Terran Protectorate better have a very long history of peaceful expansion or be brainwashing the populace like Larry Niven's ARM not to have any military terminology.

But it might not have military terminology suitable to space fleets. Two parts:

A world state might have good reasons to present its forces as a constabulary, not an outright military. (Think of the Korean 'Police Action.') And its sea/space component really doesn't need anything beyond coast guard cutters or equivalent.

In my old setting, the Protectorate is already in place before serious space expansion began, and long before interstellar expansion. So there is no pre-established terminology for true space warcraft. And no obvious reason why people would reach back several hundred years to 1914-1918 to borrow their terminology.

In fact, in this setting 'survey ship' came to have the meaning, roughly of 'cruiser,' since they had features that made them suitable for emergency conversion for war service, and subsequent development as a military type.

[/pedantic prerogative]

Mangaka2170 said...

My idea for regulating the trajectories and engine burns of a torchship was more intended for civilian ships, as opposed to military ones. As for the whole announce-your-flight-plan-and-main-engine-burns-in-advance-thing, that's more out of consideration for smaller ships so they don't get roasted/blasted into uncontrolled orbits/etc. by the torch's engine trail. There may very well be some interplanetary convention prohibiting the use of torchships in a military or combat role capacity. It's not like they'd be all that hard to notice.

Tony said...

Mangaka2170:

"My idea for regulating the trajectories and engine burns of a torchship was more intended for civilian ships, as opposed to military ones. As for the whole announce-your-flight-plan-and-main-engine-burns-in-advance-thing, that's more out of consideration for smaller ships so they don't get roasted/blasted into uncontrolled orbits/etc. by the torch's engine trail."

Those seem like nothing more than commonsense traffic regulations that any torchship, military or civilian, would follow.

"There may very well be some interplanetary convention prohibiting the use of torchships in a military or combat role capacity. It's not like they'd be all that hard to notice."

And it's not like two powers at war are likely to follow such conventions.

Rick said...

And it's not like two powers at war are likely to follow such conventions.

Well, no. But if war really is inevitable, that seems like bad news for the long term prospects of post-industrial civilization ...

Which sort of makes me wonder if war, at least 'as we know it' might go the way of code duello.

I regularly walk past a historical placard referring to a duel between a US senator and a state supreme court justice. We still have violent crime, but members of elite groups no longer fight duels.

There's some limited suggestion that a collective impulse toward elite self-preservation has taken hold since 1945.

Tony said...

Rick:

"Well, no. But if war really is inevitable, that seems like bad news for the long term prospects of post-industrial civilization ...

Which sort of makes me wonder if war, at least 'as we know it' might go the way of code duello.

I regularly walk past a historical placard referring to a duel between a US senator and a state supreme court justice. We still have violent crime, but members of elite groups no longer fight duels.

There's some limited suggestion that a collective impulse toward elite self-preservation has taken hold since 1945."


Hmmm...there's a something to be said for self-preservation. But people are damned ornery and I've never personally seen any that put self-preservation in front of getting what they think they deserve, not if they want it bad enough. Just call me cynical.

jollyreaper said...

Concerning elite self-preservation.

Those of us with a cynical modern mind would tend to assume all elites are self-serving and hypocritical to the point that acts of valor on the battlefield would not be something that could be expected of them. They send people to die in wars, they don't die themselves, right? But we read historic accounts of landed knights or even senior nobles doing all sorts of reckless things on the battlefield.

So, what are the explanations? Flawed historical source not telling the truth? It is true and the conclusion is that the rich believed in their own propaganda? Or that the social considerations were such that dying in battle brought more advantage than survival?

Japan as a recent example still has the tradition of suicide as a means of accepting responsibility for a failure. Business executives will kill themselves for a failing in business. Haven't heard of it in years but it is not unknown. As opposed to the US where it is completely unknown.

It is frightening to think what American politics might be like if we had mores more in keeping with the early Roman Empire. Pompey, Crasus and Caesar as modern analogues, political rivals waging war and killing each other.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"Concerning elite self-preservation.

Those of us with a cynical modern mind would tend to assume all elites are self-serving and hypocritical to the point that acts of valor on the battlefield would not be something that could be expected of them. They send people to die in wars, they don't die themselves, right? But we read historic accounts of landed knights or even senior nobles doing all sorts of reckless things on the battlefield."


It would be interesting, no...positively entertaining, to see somebody make such a statement face to face with James Webb, Princes William and Harry (or their grandmother, for that matter, who lived in London during the Blitz), Harry Truman, Jimmy Stewart (Who not only fought in his war, but lost a stepson in Vietnam), and one could go on down quite a long list of 20th Century elites, in many countries. It is true that the children of the leite have not been facing up to their civic responsibilities in as a great a number as they used to, and that is troubling, on a number of levels. But it's not exactly unheard of, even today.

"So, what are the explanations? Flawed historical source not telling the truth? It is true and the conclusion is that the rich believed in their own propaganda? Or that the social considerations were such that dying in battle brought more advantage than survival?"

Different imperatives. Back in the day, a king could only effectively command if he was himself on the battlefield. Nowdays he couldn't possibly command from there. What do want -- the President to drop everything at the outbreak of war, to be a platoon leader or fighter pilot? Those who care would be happy if the President had at least been a company officer or pilot in his youth, so that you could have confidence he knew what he was sending his troops to do.

"Japan as a recent example still has the tradition of suicide as a means of accepting responsibility for a failure. Business executives will kill themselves for a failing in business. Haven't heard of it in years but it is not unknown. As opposed to the US where it is completely unknown."

You know, I looked, and I can't find evidence of any major corporate executives in Japan doing any such thing. Please substantiate that assertion.

"It is frightening to think what American politics might be like if we had mores more in keeping with the early Roman Empire. Pompey, Crasus and Caesar as modern analogues, political rivals waging war and killing each other."

But we don't. And we've had considerably worse in Western Civilization much more recently. So what's the point?

Damien Sullivan said...

The Culture doesn't even use reaction drives, but if it did, even its nanomissiles carry payloads of antimatter stably, so it could probably have torch-like performance at all physical scales.

Another way of handwaving it would be quantum dots or magnetic monopoles (Orion's Arm) or something that induces proton decay without re-creating conditions like those of the Big Bang. (We don't know if proton decay is a thing, but we don't know that it isn't.) Voila, small scale total matter conversion.

"But we read historic accounts of landed knights or even senior nobles"

Such aristocrats held power by right of arms. Formal military training, arms and armor, good nutrition, a horse. The main reason you had power was because you lead a bunch of warriors to dominate the peasantry. Modern rulers have different legitimacy and better communication.

CAPTCHA failures: 1

Locki said...

Rick said...

Well, no. But if war really is inevitable, that seems like bad news for the long term prospects of post-industrial civilization ...

Which sort of makes me wonder if war, at least 'as we know it' might go the way of code duello.

I regularly walk past a historical placard referring to a duel between a US senator and a state supreme court justice. We still have violent crime, but members of elite groups no longer fight duels.

There's some limited suggestion that a collective impulse toward elite self-preservation has taken hold since 1945.


===============

I'd like to think so but really the way the cold war resolved doesn't give me much cause for hope. I mean the last time we had two societies seriously disagree with each other it wasn't like both sides talked it over, saw sense and reached a some sort of peaceful accommodation.

Civilisation was just lucky one of the belligerents only had an economy 1/5th the size of their opponent and they peacefully reached bankruptcy. If the two sides had been roughly equal in economic power to begin with I think we'd still be staring at each other with an ever growing arsenal of weapons.

We got very, very lucky.

I'd like to think we've evolved further but I tend to find the Anthropic principle more and more attractive the more I learn about the Cold War. AKA war didn't break out because if it did we wouldn't be here marvelling at our good sense of self preservation.

Perhaps my factories will put an end to war sooner than your congresses: on the day that two army corps can mutually annihilate each other in a second, all civilized nations will surely recoil with horror and disband their troops. - Aldred Nobel.




Tony said...

Hmmm...there's a something to be said for self-preservation. But people are damned ornery and I've never personally seen any that put self-preservation in front of getting what they think they deserve, not if they want it bad enough. Just call me cynical.

=====

Agree.

Worded far more elegant than I could have managed.


jollyreaper said...

It is frightening to think what American politics might be like if we had mores more in keeping with the early Roman Empire. Pompey, Crasus and Caesar as modern analogues, political rivals waging war and killing each other.

=========

I think the USA would probably look something like the basket case South America (often) looks like.

South America had its fair share of charismatic, powerful leaders. Its just that none of them had the foresight to establish institutions that could outlive themselves.

Btw I really like that analogy Rick used earlier that a Bureaucracy are arguably artificial intelligences with humans slotted in as CPUs.

Cordwainer said...

Rick and Jollyreaper like your posts.

On the subject of elite self-preservation I think all groups of people are made up of good people and bad people. The fact that elite members of our society don't live up to their responsibilities is more a sign of the times in that people in general have become more apathetic and unwilling to take responsibility across the board. People are more willing to pass the buck or think they will get in trouble with their peers or the power structure around them. In part this may be due to the fact social institutions and the some of the problems we face have gotten larger and more interconnect or obtuse. This has resulted in people feeling disconnected to these institutions and the people around them. It has also created a plethora of scapegoats that people can use to shy away from personal responsibility. Of course large institutions have existed for awhile now so this is probably not the only reason. Other reasons are that many institutions have developed political overreach, big government creates regulatory and bureacratic nightmares for the common folk, large corporations have way too much influence on politics and are handicapped by a taxation and regulatory system that supports a short term profit model rather than a conscious business model(a system which is often of their own making and not the direct action of government), media and public advocacy groups adopt crony institutional ties that distort their message making them less reasoned and more extremist in their views. Because of this political parties become more polarized and subject to special-interest views vs. populist views.

jollyreaper said...

Triple suicide by the owners of mid-sized companies after failed business deal.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/60248.stm

Olympus executive suicide
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mobileweb/2012/02/21/tsutomu-omori-olympus_n_1290210.html

Another article says the concept of executive suicide as taking responsibility is not as common as we think but it happens enough times that our beliefs are confirmed, just like every shark attack we hear about makes it feel like people are being eaten every day on every beach worldwide.

Tony said...

Executive suicide seems to be a pretty common phenomenon all over:

http://www.businessinsider.com/the-most-high-profile-business-people-who-turned-to-suicide-during-scandals-2012-8?op=1

Thucydides said...

Go away for a weekend and look at the great discussion I've missed!

In no particular order.

1. Torch levels of energy are far beyond what is commonly available today. If the "minimum" value of a torch drive is 150 GW, then a single ship has the power output of 150 typical commercial baseline generating stations today. To put it another way, I recently read that EPA regulations might force the closing of 300 American thermal energy plants. In a Torchship future that is 2 minimum sized ship drives. If drives scaled to Terrawatt power outputs, then three drives would equal almost the entire electrical output of the United States.

While this is still a finite number,the scale and scope of these things is well beyond the current state of the art, and conventional political structures are not designed or equipped to deal with this. A space "government" that sets and enforces traffic control rules for a Solar System is of a much higher priority than almost anything else. Indeed, if that level of energy is available there is a possibility that a Sovereign Individual might take it upon him/herself to set and enforce the rules. They will be physically able to do so; the real issue may be convincing the neighbours that it needs to be done?

2. Since the primary means of attack would be fast moving kinetics, a combination of kinetic and energy weapons would be needed to defend. Once again, the tremendous amount of energy available would provide avenues to do both; giant mass drivers have been mentioned and the power output supports the "Ravening Beam of Death" laser weapons that can reach out past a light second. Even if the RBoD isn't totally accurate or highly focused at that or longer ranges, the beam will certainly illuminate and heat incoming projectiles, making it easier for defending systems to see even SCoD's and calculate an intercept solution.

3. WRT the 2nd Amendment, the point I was trying to make was that some of the imperatives that created the amendment still exist today (Police and protective services are not instantly available, you may have to take matters into your own hands to protect yourself), while others have indeed changed, but not the way commonly argued. The most common argument against the 2nd amendment that I see is comparing individuals to modern militaries, without recognizing the military forces of the State are far more powerful. Indeed the Police forces of the modern State are on the order of militaries, with Police tactical units armed and equipped with automatic weapons, armoured cars, advanced communications and so on. So to argue that the 2nd amendment protects people from tyranny can no longer be accepted as a valid argument.

Thucydides said...

Oh, forgot to add a neutral particle beam has been developed in India, this seems scalable even in the short term to weapons size:

http://www.tifr.res.in/~uphill/neutral-atom-accelerators.html

Against high speed kinetics this might serve as the point defense against anything that leaks through the SCoD and outgoing kinetics.

Tony said...

Thucydides:

"...Sovereign Individual..."

Neat in theory, but I seriously doubt and individual -- or any entity beneath a government or a closely supervised megacorporation would be allowed to possess such power.

Cordwainer said...

Just got auto-spammed by one of those media outlet stories of interest they use as an adjunct to sell stuff. You know the type like which superheroes should not be immortalized on film, who's-hot-or-not hollywood gossip. One of them took me to an article on Corning's new development of willow glass an improvement on their gorilla glass product. Article also seemed to infer graphene might hit the market for use in cellphone screens as well. I know they have made improvements to graphene production, but that seems an unlikely near-term use maybe they just meant micro-processors. What's the current price of graphene again? Any way it made me think that transparent radiators for spcecraft and possibly space-ships made of glass might be feasible. We already have nico-sticks(e-cigarettes) why not some sort of General Products Hull in the far future.

Have been pondering mixing elements of the Republic of NovGorod, First Prussian Republic and the Polish-Lithuanian CommonWealth as an option for a Space Monarchy. Not a historical reconstruction but instead a convergent evolution of similar social institutions as a result of "corporate feudalism". It's still kind of sketchy.

Cordwainer said...

If we are allowing the existence of torchships it seems reasonable that one would have to allow for exotic power sources like matter-annihilation fields, mass produced antimatter, extra-dimensional or inter-dimensional power source or power storage. It also seems reasonable you could use beamed power transmission to either reduce the mass of your torchship or at the very least make it less likely to have a catastrophic failure or create a radiation hazard for its crew by using a power collector instead of onboard generation of power. Also it would allow you to shut a ships power down from a remote position to prevent someone from using it as a WMD.(or at least reduce a terrorists ability to use it for destructive purposes)

Tony said...

If you beam power at a ship, at torchship intensities and concentrations, you'll just destroy the ship. Think about it -- what kind of receiver is going to be able to handle 150 gigawats of energy flux?

Besides, the whole point of a torch drive is that it has a relatively low mass ratio.

Cordwainer said...

I don't know you seem to keep assuming that we are only imagining real world tech here while you said yourself it's a blackbox drive so why not a black box energy collector. Also seems reasonable that you could have some sort of of energy storage system onboard so you wouldn't have to beam the complete amount of energy at once. An unrealistic set up could use some hitherto unknown form of physical phenomena like a phase transition between electromagnetic and gravito-magnetic phenomena and back again. You could also use a high-powered laser or series of lasers to send a "trickle charge" of energy to high efficiency high temperature photophoresic cell coupled to an electric sail. You could even use some sort of durable high temperature glass in the cells construction a sort of Heinlein-esque sunscreen that absorbs energy in multiple spectrums. The technology for such a photophoresic cell seems pretty likely near term too. Seems a little far-fetched but so does a torchdrive considering the energy scarcity factor. But then giant complexes of sunscreens with beamed power seems more likely then safer and more likely then cheap fusion or antimatter even if that beamed power is ridiculously inefficient.

Tony said...

It seems to me that it's much easier to make a rocket -- at any power level -- than it is to make something that can catch and re-use the rocket's energy output. Call me crazy, but the whole point is to toss the fire overboard, not willingly have it shot at you. Or, to put it another way, when they launch a rocket, do you want to be in the crew cabin, or in the flame trench?

As for collecting the required energy over time, storing it, and then using it for a rocket over a much shorter timespan...please. Makes more sense to load the energy at a charging station, prior to the mission.

Cordwainer said...

Low mass ratio! Low mass ratio! You've been harping on how torchships would have to be so awesomely big Tony why are you such a contrarian. Besides it seems like an energy collector could be made of low weight low density materials and a thin sail like energy collector might even have better heat radiating properties. On board generators would most likely be massive even with high power generation densities and require large heat radiators and might need additional radiation shielding from the shielding you might already need from the drives reaction products. Extra-dimensional or inter-dimensional power storage or generation would probably require an equally massive energy transfer system similar to what you would need for an energy collector and seems more far fetched. Plus if you have to build huge Terra-Watt lasers then you set up the possibility for both very fast inter-planetary travel but also some limited sub-light interstellar travel as well.

Cordwainer said...

Well I agree loading at a charging station makes sense to and brings down the level of complexity a bit. I was thinking of it but you have to invoke your black box around some phenomenal power storage technology. Plus I liked my idea cause outside sources can cut off the power as a means to control the misuse of your ship and you have the ability to make longer journeys if need be. The technologies around the energy collector could be developed earlier for other uses and then applied to the creation of the torchship as a means of solving the energy scarcity problem. You could still use a blackbox energy storage system by itself for short hops and you could use beamed power for long hops. Maybe your blackbox energy storage isn't as efficient as it needs to be to run independantly. Maybe your home planet is in a binary system and your in the business of colonizing or trading with the other system and need beamed power for long hops. Yeah I know I'm grasping at straws but you seem very hesitant on giving ground on anything I post. If it's something I said to offend you I am sorry. Anyways, I thought we were having fun with conjecturable technologies and not explaining the why or how so much.

Cordwainer said...

If the Flame is too volatile you may not want it onboard and if your drive uses some sort of direct matter to energy conversion then it might be less complex to have some sort of energy collector coupled to an energy converter that feeds directly into your drive then a highly efficient energy storage cell or an onboard matter to energy generator which in turn probably has to be powered by some other method of power generation.

Locki said...

Tony said...
If you beam power at a ship, at torchship intensities and concentrations, you'll just destroy the ship. Think about it -- what kind of receiver is going to be able to handle 150 gigawats of energy flux?

=================

A reciever built out of the same sorta unobtanium you built the torch drive out of in the first place of course!


Thucydides said...
Oh, forgot to add a neutral particle beam has been developed in India, this seems scalable even in the short term to weapons size:

http://www.tifr.res.in/~uphill/neutral-atom-accelerators.html

Against high speed kinetics this might serve as the point defense against anything that leaks through the SCoD and outgoing kinetics.


===================

What exactly will a neutral particle beam do to a DU pentetrator moving at 20-50kps?

I can't imagine it doing a terrible lot to bump it off target or vaporise it.
In fact I struggle to work out what good weaponised particle beams are good for except scrambling electronics.

Thucydides said...

WRT the 2nd Amendment, the point I was trying to make was that some of the imperatives that created the amendment still exist today (Police and protective services are not instantly available, you may have to take matters into your own hands to protect yourself), while others have indeed changed, but not the way commonly argued. The most common argument against the 2nd amendment that I see is comparing individuals to modern militaries, without recognizing the military forces of the State are far more powerful. Indeed the Police forces of the modern State are on the order of militaries, with Police tactical units armed and equipped with automatic weapons, armoured cars, advanced communications and so on. So to argue that the 2nd amendment protects people from tyranny can no longer be accepted as a valid argument.

=====================

Ahh. We are in almost total agreement then.

I think it is in some ways admirable the USA, alone amongst first world nations, trusts its citizens with enormous amounts of firepower.

Background checks, compulsory safe storage, a national registry and some sorta criminal consequences if your gun is non-secured and then used in a crime would be nice though.

Grognak said...

@Cordwainer

"I know they have made improvements to graphene production..."

Regarding that, just yesterday I read some top tennis players are starting to use graphene-reinforced rackets. Graphene coated racket shafts, to be precise. However, I wonder if they are using substantial amounts or just using it as a sales gimmick.

jollyreaper said...

As far as a laser-powered torchship goes, the venture star from Avatar is a laser and antimatter ship. A lightsail is deployed for earth departure and lasers push it to .7c or so. The antimatter engines are only used to stop.

To come back to Earth, the ship takes on more remass and uses all of it to get to speed. Stopping at the other end again relies on the lasers.

Theoretically, this sort of thing can work. You can even do it with solar sails. The question is whether you get get crazy performance. A 1g beamed power ship? And a big one, not a 2kg starwhisp? It might be something that only works for small masses, like the orbital gun to Jules Verne satellites from the ground.

Tony said...

Cord:

Mass ratio has nothing to do with size. It's a measure of efficiency. Please, do your homework.

Cordwainer said...

Didn't say mass ratio had anything to do with size which is the very reason why you could have crazy efficient power collectors/converters if your positing that you can have crazy efficient power storage or generation as well, why not?

Cordwainer said...

Well SailBeam Magsail systems seem feasible and would have pretty good performance but they would take awhile to accelerate and would require a large and complex system of launch lasers to be useful for short hops.(Plus there would be all sorts of problems with slowing an stopping the vehicle at short distances) It really only seems feasible for long trips where you can use the mag-sail to slow the vehicle down when you get near your destination. The biggest problem with a power collector would probably not be the materials technology involved but the thin array curse that would make it difficult to get any proper efficiency while maintaining low mass and high heat radiating capabilities. Having an array that would be able to absorb a large amount of the electromagnetic spectrum(not just a small band of wavelengths) and combining that with some sort of device for collecting energy from charged particles(solar wind, plasma) might help boost efficiency. An Anti-matter sail would also give pretty decent performance as well although it would have very little in common with the original idea I posited.

Cordwainer said...

I don't know why we are so hung up on scientific purism when discussing a torch drive. If I want my black box to be an Almighty Energy Collector then I can can't I. End of Story!

Thucydides said...

Cord:

WRT Torchships, most of us really don't care how it works. If it makes you feel like you're in a David Webber story then the Captain says "All Ahead Full", then the first officer cranks the bridge telegraph. Down below, the Chief Engineer sees the telegraph move to "All Ahead Full", then pulls the polished brass handle to acknowledge.

Behind the radiation shield, the Black Gang starts shoveling antimatter into the reaction chamber...

We just want to be able to have a sense of consistency, and understand that no one is going to pull a boner or a rabbit out of the hat because they didn't understand the underlying physics.

The Mote in God's Eye is a good example of this done in a positive way; the nature of the technology (essentially torch driven ships, and energy shield with important limitations and a highly restricted FTL drive) is used as a framework for determining the nature and structure of the society, the way the military operates and even the ultimate end of the story.

Tony

While it is indeed most probable that organizations rather than individuals will make and use Torchships, looking at how individual business people are creating spaceship companies, or individuals are now using 3D printers to create firearms, the idea of a Sovereign Individual capable of gathering, controlling and manipulating resources on that scale cannot be ruled out.

Locki

We are talking about Gigawatt level energy beams as the final layer (after incoming weapons are thinned out by RBoDs and high energy kinetic counter weapons).

Lastly, for Cord again

I was actually thinking of the massive Wärtsilä-Sulzer RTA96-C ship engine as the 50% thermal efficiency champ, but opposed piston diesels also didn't scale well (the Junkers Jumo had limited success as an aircraft engine, typically opposed piston engines were used in large applications like submarines, locomotives and patrol boats or minesweepers).

Cordwainer said...

I've somewhat fleshed out my idea for a Space Monarchy or Monarchies. I'm thinking a society where ideally you would've an estate system developed on founder colonies that would develop into an industrialized feudalism with separate classes and separate rights and political franchises. You would've a constitutional monarchy divided between the powers of a Monarch, the aristocracy, the urban class, the rural class and religious bodies.
The Monarch could be a hereditary one or elected by populist vote from the aristocracy. The monarch would've certain rights like the creation or licensing of patents/copyrights, the creation and licensing of trade guilds/trade associations, the confirmation of all or some religious officials, a lions share of the income tax and either possess the positions or ability to appoint the positions of President of the Legislature, Head Executive and Commander-in-Chief. The monarch could appoint a Westminster style executive council and have the power to create referendums

The legislative body would be composed of members from aristocratic, urban, rural classes and religious bodies who would send their own representatives elected by members of the rural and urban communities. The aristocracy and rural communities would be given a weighted vote in elections and referendums as well as weighted representation in the legislature over the urban class since, I would assume most industrialized societies will be urban or at least suburban in nature.(even if your society is mostly self-sufficient most people don't like living alone or traveling long distances for provisions)

Aristocrats would have special rights and duties assigned by the king like the Golden Reforms in Polish-Lithuania but limited to curb excessive control of the state apparatus. They would have very limited control over trade guilds and trade associations, the Monarch would maintain primary power over these.
The Monarch would encourage guild socialism and collectivization in industrialized areas to create some sort of influence over powerful merchants. Guilds and trade associations would have influence on local politics particularly in urban areas. Landed aristocrats would exercise some influence over rural areas and the Monarch's power while Religious Organizations would exercise influence over the lower classes in both rural and urban areas. The Monarch could use a state religion to influence the populace as well. The state religion could either be populist, syncretic or pietist in doctrine to keep religious strife to a minimum.
I'm imagining several polities with similar governments but differences grouped together in an interplanetary or interstellar trade alliance. You could play around with the idea of Hanseatic League like trade outposts sponsored by the different polities to ease and secure trade throughout the alliance. You could make some of the polities and planetary governments more democratic or more autocratic in nature. Some worlds could have global governments or most likely an alliance of mega-states the development of deep space travel and space trade could be used to justify some degree of homogeneity of government on these worlds although you could have worlds relatively new space trade and space travel who would be less organized. It's somewhat Co-Dominion I know but without a strong monarch instead you have several multi-world polities split between different monarchs in an alliance who have representation on a Trade Council, they would send mixed-delegations of elected and appointed officials to represent their interests(maybe only every generation, depending on the level of space transit technology) Since these councils would only exert power over trade between worlds they would be somewhat limited in their power over a Sovereign Nations politics. Whether such trade would be important enough to take some loss of protectionism in return for the benefit of the trade is debatable. Depends on the commodities, the way in which the trade is carried out, controlled and secured

Cordwainer said...

OPOC engines have come a long way since World War II the new designs will fit in a HumVee, Thucydides.

Like your posts and the alias to. I just think one of the reasons science fiction is getting dull in someways is the lack of imaginative technologies and societal mechanisms. Everybody is hung up on realism rather than drama. As much as I like realistic science fiction I think its alright to bend the rules once in awhile and see what you come up with.

Thucydides said...

Bending the rules is fine so long as you do it properly. The old rule in SF was you were allowed to bend one rule and write about what happened as a result...

WRT Opposed piston engines, the question isn't size (I read an article about a "scale engineer" who was building a working opposed piston "Napier Deltic" engine (with 3 banks of 6 cylinders and 36 pistons that would fit on a small table top), but rather how the engines scale. for reasons that are:

a. hard to explain in a blog post, and
b. not entirely clear to me either as a non engineer

Small engines are simply not as efficient as large engines. A small engine that needs to be as efficient as a larger engine needs to be designed emphasising different aspects of engine design.

WRT Opposed piston engines, the Junkers Jumo 204 displaced 28l, which was similar in size to large V-12s like the Rolls Royce Merlin. The Jumo was probably the epitome of efficiency, and also probably the smallest successful opposed piston engine in series production which should tell you something.

Thucydides said...

Getting back to the topic at hand, I would suspect that in the Space environment, the real power would flow to the people who control the life support mechanisms of colonies, or the terraforming engineers.

Like the aristocrats of old, they would have the literal power of life or death over everyone else (although not expressed as physical force). They would hold power through something similar to a guild organization or a commercial oligarchy, and the overall shape of the society might resemble the so called "Hydraulic Empires" of ancient Mesopotamia or China.

Like every other organization in history, the key would be to ensure that successors were both legitimate and effective. The life support guild would have to be a meritocracy (retired engineers would not be too keen on unqualified people taking over the life support systems). I would expect the life support engineers would most likely operate as the "power behind the throne", regardless of the actual arrangements of the society in question.

The way the life support systems are designed would also have a great deal to do with how powerful such a guild would be; a highly distributed system, or biological systems that are largely self regulating would provide fewer opportunities for life support guilds to exercise power over the colony.

Cordwainer said...

I dunno the "one rule" change doesn't seem that logical to me since if you get to change one rule it would be logical that you would have to create other rule-bending technologies to get you to that point and in turn that rule change might have multiple applications.

As for OPOC it seems like the power to weight ratios for Achates and Fairbanks Morse designs aren't that bad compared to a four cylinder diesel although they still don't compare as favorably to a gasoline engine but they don't need to be when its 15% to 20% more fuel efficient than anything out there. Of course it could be vaporware but if you compare the stats on their websites it looks like they are pretty scaleable from small to large sizes. But you are right a small engine that needs to be more efficient than a large engine needs to be designed using different aspects of design to be so. Modern materials and improvements in design, and the fusion of different technologies can sometimes meet these requirements though. Whether they have yet is to be seen.

Cordwainer said...

So, Thucydides would your environmental engineering elite use religion or some other mechanism to rule behind the throne. It's an interesting idea but wouldn't the act of terraforming a planet tend to put themselves out of business? Would they force immigration to other worlds and space colonies to maintain their status as an elite? Or would they engage in a doctrine of euthanasia, population control and strict control of life support technologies?

Cordwainer said...

Oops! on OPOC! Did I say four cylinder I meant four stroke of course but bringing that up Achates claims their engine compares Favorably to the Ford 6.7 litre V8 in efficiency and will produce 200 to 250 horsepower, no data on the actual horsepower per pound/per kilogram though if its as heavy as a 6.7 liter V8 then its underpowered but if its considerably lighter then they have a real break through.

Anonymous said...

Thucydides

"Small engines are simply not as efficient as large engines."

Machining tolerances become an issue as you miniaturize mechanical devices. With piston rings you can still try to seal the gap between the piston and the cylinder wall, but eventually the piston rings become too small and too fragile to work. That is because while you can scale down the design, you can't change the mechanical properties of the materials you are using. Maybe different materials or a modified design will help, but you will still reach limits on what you can do.

Turbines are worse. There are no seals around the turbine blades, you just deal with the gap. As you reduce the size of the turbine you get to a point where you cannot reduce the size of the gap. The area of the gap becomes larger as compared to the area of the turbine and the engine or pump becomes less efficient. More gas or fluid can bypass the blades.

Mechanical devices are not like integrated circuits. You just can't scale them down as far as you want.

Getting back to torch drives, there would be some practical limit on how small a torch drive could be (assuming it is spewing a reaction mass out the back, a mechanical device). You need pumps to feed the reaction mass to the drive and we've already discussed the problems of scaling pistons and turbines. Turbines are preferred for their high capacity, but they are harder to scale down. The minimal size limit of a torch drive is of course up to the author, but it needs to seem reasonable to the reader.

Depending on the power source, some sort of solid-state antigravity or reactionless drive could be highly miniaturized, . It could literally be a small black box.

Scaling also applies to governments. How large and wide spread can you go? While it is easy to see how a sci-fi monarchy could control a planet, projecting that power to other worlds or across the galaxy depends on transportation costs and communication speeds. Even if your starships are cheap, if you don't have FTL communications you can't control the galaxy. Rapid communications and expensive ships may still work. Just look at the vast amounts of resources we use on militaries today.

Transportation speed is also important. If starships can travel FTL instantaneously and quickly prepare for the next jump you'll never catch the rebel scum. They will have the advantage of shoot and scoot raids on there terms. Goodbye empire.

As Dirty Harry said, "A man's got to know his limitations." :)

Ron

Cordwainer said...

I think I read somewhere that under the right conditions an ion scoop could through put plasma through a one meter aperture of course this would be the result of relativistic speed throughput of the plasma via natural "fluid dynamic processes" from the speeds you would be traveling as well as probably some unobtanium materials tech for your scoop right. I would think this would be your absolute minimum. Engineering an electromagnetic or gravitic pump to get those kinds of speeds and plasma densities would be nigh near impossible though. Which is why I really doubt you could create a torchship regardless of the aperture size of your "reaction chamber" and "nozzle". As it stands even near term fusion drives would be little more then slightly higher output and moderately higher efficiency plasma drives. I would be more likely to accept the idea of bias drives, inter or extra-dimensional conduits or Alcubierre bottles since these ideas would be much harder to dismiss out of hand through conventional Newtonian physics and the fact that the theories that support their existence are not well understood yet. As for OPOC I think its reasonable to scale the piston rings down to sizes that you could fit in standard size car engine since I believe they use smaller size pistons in some free-piston designs.

Cordwainer said...

If turbines are worse then how do micro-turbines work? Not very well I would guess, huh?

jollyreaper said...

Life support would be like orwell's war example: in politics two plus two might need to equal five but it had better be four if you are making weapons. If it doesn't, you will lose to the side better-aquatinted with reality.

Really, though, it's amazing just how long we can labor under a broken system. Things like agriculture and manufacturing and economics should provide pretty solid fact-based feedback and yet we are still capable of ignoring evidence for some time. Russians and collectivized farms, Chinese with backyard steel production, America with deregulation. I guess things just have to break hard enough and even large famines that don't cause a full revolution aren't a big enough shock.

Anonymous said...

Cordwainer

"I would be more likely to accept the idea of bias drives, inter or extra-dimensional conduits or Alcubierre bottles since these ideas would be much harder to dismiss out of hand through conventional Newtonian physics and the fact that the theories that support their existence are not well understood yet."

That's a good point. If the drive is based on some very advanced, but reasonable sounding physics then the reader will suspend disbelief. The torch drive is a classic, but some people (like yourself) will be distracted by how extreme the tech would have to be to pull it off.

"As for OPOC I think its reasonable to scale the piston rings down to sizes that you could fit in standard size car engine since I believe they use smaller size pistons in some free-piston designs."

That's very reasonable since other types of piston engines work at that scale. For sci-fi tech that is also a good believable size because it allows for small manned craft. Depending on your setting you may not want FTL drives that small. You wouldn't need a carrier for your drone fighters if you could just slap a FTL drive on the drones. Then again, do you really need the carrier for your story?

"If turbines are worse then how do micro-turbines work? Not very well I would guess, huh?"

They are not nearly as efficient as their big brothers, but if they get the job done that's good enough. Torch drives would require very high performance turbine pumps (assuming you were sticking to mechanical systems). That would limit how small you could make a torch drive.

For missiles there is nothing wrong with old fashioned rockets. As Tony mentioned, you give the missiles their initial high velocity from you ship. The missile, being mostly fuel for delta vee, can do some high gee maneuvers to correct its course and hit the target. There will be plenty of mass leftover from the engine and structure to deliver a good KE hit. Personally, I don't think the SCoD is practical, but there is nothing wrong with something the size of modern air to air missiles.

Ron

Mangaka2170 said...

"So, Thucydides would your environmental engineering elite use religion or some other mechanism to rule behind the throne. It's an interesting idea but wouldn't the act of terraforming a planet tend to put themselves out of business?"

Completion of a terraforming project doesn't necessarily mean that the people who control the life support systems lose their power base.

Take Mars, for example; the planet may very well be too small and not affected by sufficiently powerful tidal forces to keep its core active, which is sort of important to a terraforming project because the magnetic field a planet's core generates keeps the solar wind from stripping off the atmosphere. In this case, whether you manage to restart the core or build some mechanical device that generates a similar field, you'd still need to maintain that magnetic field indefinitely. This means engineers, this means manufacturing, this means logistics. In other words, a power base; one that keeps machinery that keeps the atmosphere from going away running. So, our life support systems-based empire builders could very well still be around long after people can start going outside without life support gear.

Rick said...

Whew!

We've had some threads much longer than 175 comments, but these are *long* comments. Dumping the page into a Word file shows 38K+ words - novella length, and getting toward the short end of novel length.


Technomagic and handwavium density. My gut feeling is that a torch drive is easier than beamed power at a similar level, because as Tony noted, implicitly you don't have to *catch* the energy flux.

The term 'torch' was well chosen by Heinlein, because whether you picture a length of wood with one end ablaze, or a blowtorch, the connotation is energy just barely under control. (In US English at any rate, where torch != flashlight.)

This doesn't rule out terawatt-level beamed power - it just means that the implied techlevel is even higher than for a terawatt torch drive.

For the purpose of world building, what matters most is *balance* of technology. You generally don't want gas turbine ships shooting at each other with smoothbore cannons. If you *do* want that, the unbalanced tech is itself probably relevant to the story - e.g., a post-apocalyptic setting.

Rick said...

The Monarch could be a hereditary one or elected by populist vote from the aristocracy.

If the monarchy is elected by aristocrats - especially top level aristos - it is liable to be weak. The barons don't want anyone who can overawe them.

A broader aristocratic electorate may be more disposed to elect strong monarchs. Or if the electorate is great-merchants rather than great landowners. The natural incentive for landowners is to be lords in their own estates - but merchants need the roads kept safe, a functioning legal system, etc.

Anita said...

Well, the papacy is an elected monarchy and, depending upon his personality and will power, a pope can overawe the aristos. Standard tactic - appeal to the commons, get the support of the gentry.

FWIW, the crown in that picture is the Imperial State Crown, most often seen at the opening of parliament. THE Crown is the St Edward's Crown, a big gold brute that's only dusted off for coronations. Because of its size and weight, sometimes not even then.

Cordwainer said...

Rick, very persuasive argument against beamed power and elected monarchs.

On the subject of elected monarchs I was considering the idea that one I would want some of my monarchs to be weak to give a tableau of realism between the different polities in my Trade League. The Polish Lithuanian CommonWealth, Republic of Novgorod and Principality of Plesov had weak or elected monarchs for centuries so it seems realistic that with the right civil institutions, checks and balances and transhuman life extension technology that even weak or semi-strong power sharing monarchies could exist. Their longevity in an industrialized society would be determined more by tradition, strength of civil institutions, proper political checks and balances and possible restrictions to the power of the press and the use of certain technologies. Indeed in some of these cases I was hoping to foster a large and vibrant aristocracy that would campaign for the post of monarch. I was trying to avoid aristocrats as merchants because I thought it would lead to a fractious oligarchy with puppet monarchies like Polish-Lithuania and some of the Italian city-states. I wanted my merchants to be state sponsored and reliant on patronage from the Monarch, aristocracy and foreign polities(like Hanseatic League city-states) I though this would create better intra-state checks and balances and foster greater trade and political alliances between Sovereign States. You could have a mish-mash of politically and territorially ambitious monarchs and oligarchies along with weak monarchs and oligarchies prone to merchant sponsored alliances in such a setting.

As for terra-watt beamed power yeah I'm doubtful continuos terra-watt beam powered systems could be created but we already have Peta-Watt lasers and since they would be governed by optical principals not plasma dynamics I think a Ravening Beam of Death is actually more feasible then a torchdrive. Lasers don't have good heat or energy efficiency or heat-efficiency but they are probably more heat efficient and easier on long-term containment costs then a torchdrive. While a tokamak can probably get better heat efficiency then a high powered laser that is due to the good curvature effect. A fusion drive would have a hard time making use of that effect. Where as beam propulsion due to its more stationary nature could make use of large natural heat sinks.

Eth said...

About interstellar empires, and more generally interstellar governments, not having FTL may not completely rule them out.
If you can't shorten travel times, then you can slow History down. Very conservative societies may manage to have some form of interstellar government, because even a 20-years-late directive may still be relevant.
The Roman empire may be partially used as an example, with provinces all using standard organization (and military) despite the distance with Rome.

The easiest way to do that is to lengthen lifespan. If people live 100 years, then 20 years is a long time. If people live 5000 years, maybe not so much. And longer-lived humans may also cause society to become far more conservative; today's older people tend to use what they know and have more difficulties to adapt to change, and depending on the method(s) used, it may become true for people for most of their lives.

Technical evolution may also make it more possible. Strong AIs, transhumans or simply more efficient types of organization may help, for example.
This was evoked in "A Deepness in the Sky", when one of the characters understands that his old and impossible dream of space empire may become possible thanks to artificial hyperfocus.

Note that this may also work for other forms of governments than monarchies.

Geoffrey S H said...

@Rick:

"If the monarchy is elected by aristocrats - especially top level aristos - it is liable to be weak. The barons don't want anyone who can overawe them."

It depends, if the monarch is strong Ie.: Otto I/ II/ III, then then they might elect him when young and find he is stronger than they thought. They might be happy electing a strong monarch that gives the something to do- being a powerful aristocrat in a crumbling empire might not be as much fun as a bossed around aristo managing a small part of a very powerful empire. I persoanlly thing it can work any way at any time. I just depends on the personalities of those involved.

Thucydides said...

An elite group of life support engineers will have constant employment in any closed cycle ecology, since it must be kept within a very narrow operating range at all costs. Destructive feedback loops are probably the greatest danger to any closed cycle ecology.

Terraforming a planet will be a very long and drawn out project, on the order of a thousand years or more. Unlike a closed ecology, the Terraformers will be constantly manipulating the environment, so there will be less conservatism (what worked in terraforming year 1 will be unsuitable for year 100 and so on). This will work in their favour, as they will have been manipulating the environment for generations. Will the uninitiated be able to tell that the project is "finished". For that matter, on a small planet the work might be ongoing as noted above.

Governance of Solar or even Interplanetary Empires or Commonwealths might not be as difficult as you imagine. The British Empire had a global reach using sailing ships and having to wait months for directives to reach Imperial outposts. Even at the destination, it would still take a long time for a dispatch to go from the port to someplace in the interior (especially in places like Africa or India, with continental distances and poor infrastructure).

The secret was to recruit independent minded people, give them a clear set of directives and allow them to work within the boundaries of their directives. This worked pretty well throughout the 1700's and into the mid 1800's. The introduction of steamships, railways and the telegraph allowed bureaucrats in Whitehall to gain closer control over their far flung offices, but the colonies and Dominions had a century or more of experience in running things (and the British, unlike the other colonial powers, took the time and effort to create local "elites" and bureaucrats who had the education and training to run things on their own).

So translate sailing ships into solar sailers, and lightspeed lags and bandwidth limitations for limited communications links to the "colonies" and you can replicate a large portion of the conditions of the British Empire.

Jim Baerg said...

After seeing this long thread I think it's worth pointing out a book I read recently, _Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty_ by Daron Acemoglu & James Robinson. Their thesis is that the main factor determining the prosperity of country is the existence of inclusive political & economic institutions. Ie: if not everyone has a say in government that will impede economic prosperity. Such inclusive institutions would be incompatible with a monarchy that is much more than a figure head.

Tony said...

A minor quible, but the Roman Empire worked because it invested -- a lot -- in communications infrastructure. The Mediterranean (coloquially "mare nostrum" ("our sea") to the Romans) allowed message traffic to move relatively quickly around the empire' interior, and the roads allowed armies to deploy quickly over strategic distances.

IOW, the empire didn't survive on inertia or custom; it survived on Rome being relatively current on strategic intelligence and faster reaction times than even local opponents could muster.

Cordwainer said...

Well that is the main problem that one would have to solve with neo-feudalism or space monarchies is how would a techno-literate society fall back into techno-barbarism. While you can slow down progress by limiting speed of travel and communications, and you can create highly stratified societies through small founder colonies and the likelihood of nepotism and economic oligarchies forming. There is the issue of controlling the historical archive or creating sufficient social pressures that such a society will end up being shaped into a political system closer to ancient times and not end up being an extension of some other modern form of autocratic government. (like a fascist or communist dictatorship) I suppose you could have a religious dictatorship that decides to go back to the "good old days".

As to Jim Baerg's astute comment I think there are plenty of historical examples of both strong and weak monarchies lasting for centuries sometimes as well as modern dictatorships that have lasted for several generations in some cases. Even if having everyone having an equal say in ones government is good for the long term wealth and stability of a nation doesn't mean that more autocratic institutions are destined to fail. Czarist Russia, the Shah's of Iran, Ancient Rome and the Empire of Japan all lasted for a millenia; while Athens lasted only a few hundred years and by the end they were an autocracy.

Possible solutions for the historical archive problem are:
1)Have an outside threat that scares your founder colony into a more an autocratic state that eventually evolves more feudal like institutions to deal with the outside threat.
2)Have and alien species with more feudal like government conquer your species or have modern type humans conquer a more primitive or feudal like alien species. For reasons I mentioned earlier in this blog an alien species might develop more advanced transportation and communication technologies early on and in turn use these technologies to spread monarchical or autocratic regimes over there planet rather than democratic institutions like what happened here. These scenarios might put humans in the position to adopt similar cultural institutions.
3)Have your founder colonies populations be made up of such a politically fractious lot that civil war, anarchy and gang violence help to create a society so educationally deficient and paranoid that autocracy and feudalism looks like the lesser of two evils.(Putin's Russian Federation or Kim's North Korea anyone!)
4)Have colonies by Ark Ship, humans born from artificial wombs and raised by robots might know what democracy is but would they really understand what it is. Once the robots wear out there would be no one to properly guide and instruct them. With a small population and only knowledge from books and recordings different factions might set out to recreate what they've learned but in all the wrong ways.

As for why the Earth has forgotten or kept out of those colonies affairs they might have written them off if Interstellar travel is expensive and slow and communications restricted to light speed once colonies were far along enough to be self sufficient it might be determined that communicating and provisioning is just too darn expensive. Alternatively you could have a holocaust, trans-human revolution or alien invasion wipe out humanity as we know it on Earth.

Kyle Allen said...

Was working on a story recently and playing around with that concept a bit. My feeling is that monarchy effectively is and shall remain an anachronism that will exist in the future only be analogy. It's effectively a form of institutionalized nepotism among the ruling class and should be considered along similar terms with modern institutions.

In the near future -- especially in early space colonization -- that would take the form of influential family-run businesses that control critical resources or technical assets. Think, for example, the children and grand children of Elon Musk handing control of SpaceX from one generation to the next as the company's "empire" continues to fund, found and expand small colonies and space stations on the moon and in orbit.

The flip side of this is the Military Industrial Complex and its various attachments. There's certainly a kind of "revolving door" effect where Generals spend a good chunk of their career rubbing elbows with the CEOs of defense contractors only to go and immediately work for those same defense contractors when they retire; that, combined with a culture of mindlessly glorifying career soldiers -- and generals in particular -- means you have a kind of "Pentagon Nobility" with their own little corporate fiefdoms.

The two factions will have come up from entirely different origins and may have totally different priorities. Pentagon Nobles work for (or directly control) defense contractors and may occasionally benefit from keeping a state of national paranoia unreasonably high to justify their business case. The pioneer families made most of their money hunting valuable resources and providing space services to communication markets and scientific institutions. Those two goals are USUALLY mutually exclusive, but conflicts can occur in the gray areas between "National Security" and "The National Good," especially when the settlers themselves begin to think of themselves as citizens of their OWN nation.

The real drama in a story about monarchy is the (mis)management of inept rulers or the malevolence of a bad ruler in pursuit of some single-minded goal that makes sense only to him. King Agamemnon obsessing over Troy, for example. It's not hard to imagine a situation where the daughter of the CEO of Lockheed Martin gets a job working for the Tranquility Base offices at SpaceX and then "goes native," deciding to work for colonial independence. Lockheed's CEO might see this as reason enough to lobby Congress (in the usual way defense contractors do) to crack down on "terrorist elements" in the colonies and allow his company to launch a somewhat limited campaign against them.

Rick said...

Welcome to a new commenter!

Perhaps the biggest underlying challenge for 'futuristic' monarchy or aristocracy, etc., is figuring out their relationship to bureaucracies.

As noted previously, including in this thread, while bureaucracy gets a bad press, bureaucracies can be strikingly effective.

Not unrelated, but the observation about the papacy as an effective elective monarchy is interesting - not to mention timely. And bureaucracy in the form of the papal curia probably plays into this picture as well.

Cordwainer said...

A novel idea from Kyle Allen I also wonder what the effect of the nationalization of space with resulting conflicts between nations and mega-states might be a cause for the creation of autocratic "puppet states" in space.

Solutions for the creation of neo-feudalism in space as I presented before along with Thucydides idea of a biotechnological elite would all require some very extra-ordinary circumstances to be met. While these are acceptable in the pursuit of creating interesting settings in fiction they do tend to come off as unrealistic.

1) Using a biotech or terraforming elite in an interplanetary setting or on a set of select worlds in an interstellar setting is reasonable. To extend such a system of elites to most worlds in a interstellar setting would require some limits on the economics or speed of interstellar travel and a low incidence of fully earth-like habitable worlds. Since I think it is likely humans will tend to search for and settle worlds with Earth-like habitable biospheres whenever possible.

2)Fractious populations can occur due to several circumstances. Force immigration of undesirables to create penal colony worlds might work for the occasional world here and there, but due to the security risk of leaving them unmonitored or having to monitor these worlds I doubt they will be common. Mass forced immigration would require enormous push factors like a supernova, global disaster or alien invasion. Mega-states colonizing the same worlds then falling into some world war back on Earth which might or might not spill over to the colonies makes the most sense, since even if the colonies go about business as usual such a war could have an impact on colonies just getting started and still require provisioning from the home-world.

3)Anything with aliens is pretty much a go since we can't really say with certainty what sort of governments they might employ or what sort of threat they might pose. Similarly we can only speculate on the threat that trans-humans or a singularity event might produce.

4)Ark Ships are a free-for-all due to reasons as various as human personalities they would no doubt produce governments as similar to or as different as night and day from their senders.

Kyle Allen said...

Reading through Thucydides posts, it seems to me that -- at least in near/midfuture context -- the first big power brokers of lunar settlement will be the people who provide essential goods and services that everyone needs to survive. In a lunar colony (I've spent the most time thinking of this scenario) or even on Mars, it would be the water companies.

In the very early days of exploration where the cost to send payload to orbit is still hovering around $1000/kg, cheaper sources of water would be on everyone's top priority; whoever sets up shop in one of the southern craters to crack up the ice fields will make a ton of "money" in whatever form the early settlers decide to use. Water can be split into hydrogen and oxygen to be used as fuel (or combined with other things to form heavier/denser/storable propellants) or the oxygen is simply extracted for life support systems. Water also becomes extremely valuable for agriculture, and thus providers of water eventually come to wield as much or more power as the oil tycoons of the early 20th century.

In other words, even if they aren't strictly speaking the RULERS of the colonies, you can at least expect a kind of oligarchy to grow up around the ice-mining corporations on the moon, which would later evolve into operations extracting water and other volatiles from comets and asteroids for still more colonies on Mars and the belt. It's a funny thing to think of a "water cartel" being an incredibly powerful type of organization, but the way I see it, space isn't an ocean, but a desert.

Cordwainer said...

Problem with a water-oligarchy is that water is actually a pretty common in space. Some estimates calculate 600 million metric tonnes on the Moon alone. Mars has huge amounts of water in both surface and subsurface ice. Other moons and asteroids are likely to have more ice per volume then our own moon due to the fact they are even further out from the Sun increasing the chance that ice will not evaporate due to solar heating of the crust. Comets are a mish-mash of water,ammonia and methane ices but they are mostly composed of water. In other words anybody in the shadow of a crater near the poles or on the dark side of the Moon can probably hit water and large governments and corporations will quickly monopolize these resources making prices relatively low. People will make money off these resources but they won't be the Gold Rush that you might think they would be. Since a lot of the mining will probably be automated, a good deal of it Earth-side is already it won't be individual miners that make a lot of money either but there corporate employers. Where the real chance for profit is, will be in several different areas. These will most likely be:
1)Asteroid and Comet Movers: Small venture companies with sufficient know-how will be able to move asteroids and comets closer or into orbit around Earth with automated technology. They will earn secure large contract deals with mining companies to do the surveying and moving of these resources to easier more stable orbits that make the transport of these materials to earth cheaper.
2)General Stores: People that make there money off of supplying the mining companies and the human crews that the send out to monitor the mining robots and search for mineral resources. Including medical and life support systems.
3)Ammonia and Nitrogen Farmers: Thats right gauno kings. While some of the Nitrogen that people will need to breathe a healthy atmosphere for long periods of time can be supported by human wastes for large habitats and populations we will probably need to make use of other in-situ resources. Unlike water and methane, ammonia and nitrogen is a good deal more rare in space. While still common enough it is rare enough to require a bit of searching and extraction. nitrogen will also be a necessary coolant and refrigerant for heat exchangers and cooling systems and will also be used for the liquefaction of other elements as well as the vapor deposition of other materials. While some liquefaction can be done using the vacuum of space I believe liquid hydrogen, argon and helium will require additional cooling even on the far side of the Moon. I'm not sure if liquid oxygen will reach liquification easily in this environment either.

Thucydides said...

Water is pretty common by itself, but the "value added" of the life support elites is converting it from ice to usable products and services (even cutting chunks of ice and making an "igloo" for radiation shelter would qualify).

This requires inputs of energy, processing, filtering and introducing the water into whatever process you are talking about (at the right temperature, mixed with the right elements and in the right amounts).

The elites are most likely to be particular to where they live and work (the Little Prince only has sovereignty over B-612), but because of the commonality of their work there may be systems of alliances and cooperation between the various groups.

Kyle Allen said...

Cordwainer:

Oil is also relatively common on Earth, but not easily accessible without industrial machinery, experienced workers, and solid data on where exactly to find it. On the moon, for example, every kilogram of water extracted from the craters requires it to be dug out of the ground, melted down and purified by a power source; it's essentially a low-energy mining operation.

Consider, also, that the relative abundance of water on the asteroids and comets is counterbalanced by the fact that the only way to REACH those bodies is to fly there on a spacecraft. The cost of propellant, among other things, will strongly affect the cost of water, and the fact that every drop of water consumed by every colonist in space must be either recycled or replaced means that water (and also oxygen) becomes expendable resources. The price of water becomes an actual economic concern for space cities, far more so than their terrestrial counterparts for whom fresh air and water literally falls out of the sky.

It's much more than just the "value added" from industrial processes, although that's bound to be a part of it. In the early days of colonization, fresh water is going to be the colonies' primary source of wealth because it's the one thing everyone in the colonies needs to consume and it's the one thing you can ALWAYS trade in exchange for goods and services. Any company that manages to monopolize or at least largely control the water supply becomes an immense power broker, and the incentive to reduce competition by forming a cartel is relatively strong. That progresses to later developments when new technologies and more efficient propulsion systems allow the descendants of the water cartels to diversify into other related markets; asteroid prospecting, for example, and the extraction of precious metals and resources other than water would also be big business for them since they ALREADY had a huge amount of wealth from the water-mining industry to reinvest in new projects. Every other industry that depends on the supply of water and/or hydrogen and oxygen would also be deferential to the water oligarchs: farmers, chemical plants, pharmaceutical companies, rocket fuel producers, or anyone else who needs to obtain water in bulk would be subject to prices and conditions set by the oligarchs.

Five or six generations down the line it stops being about water and becomes about money and power and influence; five more generations and it becomes about the Family Name and The Glory and The Heritage and so on... until the Next Big Thing comes along (probably space nuclear power) and New Money rises up to topple the existing power structure.

Kyle Allen said...

Apologize for the double post, but I realized my responses have been lacking numbers. So:

It's 2051. You're a homesteader on the floor of Shackleton Crater with a shovel, an oven, and an empty stomach. You look a five-kilogram block of ice you just dug out of the regolith and you think "What can I trade this for?"

You look on your computer and you see that, with average launch rates from the commercial space industry, it costs about $500 to send a kilogram of anything to the moon. That means that the give kilos of water you just dug up is actually worth about $2,500.

Obviously, nobody's going to actually pay you $2500. But this simply means that obtaining anything from Earth is relatively expensive, and your fellow homesteaders (say, the Chinese research base ninety kilometers to the north) would be overjoyed if they could just stretch their research budget a little bit further.

So you melt the ice, purify it, then hop in your rover and drive a couple of days to the Chinese base. You trade that five kilograms of water for two dozen eggs, a kilogram sack of white rice, and some spare electronic parts which you then fashion into a small mining robot that will allow you to dig up a larger chunk of ice when you go back to Shackleton. The Chinese base has just obtained five kilograms of water and only parted with three kilograms of payload; you just extended their budget by a thousand dollars. Then you return to Shackleton and using your new robot you're able to dig ten kilograms of ice out of the crater. More customers, more "money."

By 2055, you're a tycoon. You own forty robots that dig up a hundred kilograms a day and you sell water to every outpost and colony in the southern hemisphere. You've gotten big enough now to negotiate directly with the countries and corporations that sponsor the outposts and research stations; they'd have to ship water and liquid oxygen to their facilities at $500 per kilogram, but if they sign a contract with YOU, you'll sell them water at $200 per kilogram and LOX at $270 per kilogram (LH2 at $360, because that crap doesn't like to be stored and has to be made to order). By the time the colonies start growing their own food, you'll be the largest single ice-mining operation on the moon; you'll be able to undercut anyone else's prices, squash or assimilate the competition, and before long -- if the competition refuses to be squashed or otherwise reasoned with -- you'll have the distinction of committing the moon's first premeditated murder.

Because violence is the last argument of kings, and an argument over forty million dollars worth of water contracts is worth killing over. That may not truly make you a monarch, but some smartass newspaper somewhere will probably stick you with a pithy nickname like "The King of Shackleton" or "The Water Baron" or something.

Thucydides said...

The neat thing about the Moon is Oxygen can be extracted from the rocks as a byproduct of many other industrial processes. Your water can go a lot farther since it does not have to be used for Oxygen.

jollyreaper said...

I now have visions of Daniel Day Lewis screaming "I drank your space shake!"

Geoffrey S H said...

"3)Anything with aliens is pretty much a go since we can't really say with certainty what sort of governments they might employ or what sort of threat they might pose. Similarly we can only speculate on the threat that trans-humans or a singularity event might produce."

If I ever have the opportunity, I would be interested in creating a setting in which aliens have as many nation states as us, and expand them outwards into space possibly like us. Both groups meet, with potentially hundreds of large polities interacting, but only two or three actual species.

jollyreaper said...

I want to see a series where there are thousands of aliens but 60% of them all look like variations on walking octopi with bumpy mantles. "Of course we should all look like this. Did not the Great Maker have eight arms and did not She make us in her image? And does not all intelligent life strive towards the perfection of the eight?"

The humanoids are in the minority and are looked down upon for lacking a suitable number of appendages.

It would also be funny if the primary alien interest in earth is preserving a habitat for our own native molluscan primitives to have their chance to evolve higher forms of consciousness. Humans end up hired as park rangers for the whole planet.

Aliens have strange and illogical beliefs and customs but they also have fusion weapons so we listen with polite attention.

Locki said...

jollyreaper said...

I want to see a series where there are thousands of aliens but 60% of them all look like variations on walking octopi with bumpy mantles. "Of course we should all look like this. Did not the Great Maker have eight arms and did not She make us in her image? And does not all intelligent life strive towards the perfection of the eight?"

The humanoids are in the minority and are looked down upon for lacking a suitable number of appendages.

It would also be funny if the primary alien interest in earth is preserving a habitat for our own native molluscan primitives to have their chance to evolve higher forms of consciousness. Humans end up hired as park rangers for the whole planet.

Aliens have strange and illogical beliefs and customs but they also have fusion weapons so we listen with polite attention.


===================

Sounds like David Brin's Uplift series.


Brin just couldn't resist making humans special little wolfling snowflakes - but other than that small fact its pretty close to your scenario. Including the strange religious beliefs.


jollyreaper said...

I gave uplift a try and was really predisposed to like it but was very annoyed at how he handled the story. The parts of the universe I found the most interesting were background and the stuff the stories were about were just boring. Very first uplift novel was a murder mystery. Ugh. There's nothing more boring and formulaic than that.

He had written stuff I've enjoyed so I do find it odd that uplift remains such a poor fit for me but there you are.

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