Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Worldbuilding and the Hazards of Canon Fire

The Moving Finger writes, and having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

-- Omar Khayyam

The moving finger can even, as in this case, return after an indecently long interval to write more.

But most to the point, the moving finger, by hitting the publish button, establishes canon. What previously were tentative, fluid possibilities are transformed into either fixed facts or equally fixed nullities. Even the digital era has not, so far, changed this in essentials - ebook editions, at least from commercial publishers, are as fixed as their print counterparts.

Thus, in the course of the spring, Catherine of Lyonesse has taken on its final, official form, the text gradually setting like concrete. Events and details that previously were fluid, contingent, subject to revision, are now fixed in place beyond the reach of piety or wit. Now they are canonical, or will be come the official publication date - August 14 - and the release of the book.

This effect of canonicity does not depend on the technology of print: Omar Khayyam wrote long before the printing press. But print - generating numerous identical copies of a text - surely amplifies this effect. Getting the first couple of copies of C of L off the print run was a wondefully solid experience.

Even more wonderfully the copies smell like books.

And the canonical version is right there in cold print.

In Catherine of Lyonesse I did little worldbuilding of the classic SF/F sort. The world of the book is meant to be evocative of our own, similar enough that the mechanics did not need to be worked out and tested for fit. The population and technology of Renaissance France were sufficient to support the French royal court; given a comparable kingdom, the royal court of Aquitaine did not need to be explained, only invented.

As a result, I nearly got caught by a stray round of canon fire. At some point in writing the manuscript I needed to mention a former king of Lyonesse, one of Catherine's ancestors, and made him Edmund II. The name was intended simply to evoke the Edwards of Plantagenet England.

Much later in the process I drew up a family tree, and merely listing successive kings hinted at a background arc: a failed king; a son who conciliates his subjects; a grandson who takes advantage of the revitalized monarchy to beat up on the neighbors. And so it turned out that the Agincourt-esque battle mentioned in the book would fit better with Edmund III.

By then I'd long forgotten that the manuscript itself still said Edmund II. I didn't catch the mistake until the very end of the proofing process.

Did it even matter? Within the book itself, not at all. Nothing in the text would tell the reader that Edmund le Conquérant should refer to Edmund III, not his father, "Good King" Edmund II - who is not mentioned in the book at all, not even indirectly.

But if I had not caught the discrepancy, I would have been put in a slightly odd quandary going forward. If there is a sequel, it probably will mention Good King Edmund. But then, which Edmund would he be? Would I keep the history arc I inferred from the genealogy, and ignore the regnal number given in the first book? Or accept the printed text as canon, and mentally reconstruct the dynastic history to fit?

Since I did catch the discrepancy before the book went to cold hard print, I was spared that sort of reconning. At least in this case. No doubt further journeys in sequel-land will reveal things I'll wish I had done differently in the first book, but that is a different matter.

More elaborately constructed worlds give their authors a better chance to catch mistakes - but also expand the universe of possible mistakes, so the tradeoff is probably a wash. And canonicity itself is arguably a geek obsession. Major sloppiness in a setting can break the spell - the willing suspension of disbelief - especially if readers can't be sure what merely factual matters in the story they can rely on. But most concerns about canon are just pedantry fuel. Which won't keep me from fretting about them.


The image, via Wikipedia, shows modern reproductions of 16th century naval guns from the wreck of Henry VIII's Mary Rose.


Brett said...

I'm glad to hear you're almost set to go with it. There's a page for it on Amazon, but it doesn't have any information. Looking forward to reading it!

@Rick Robinson
More elaborately constructed worlds give their authors a better chance to catch mistakes - but also expand the universe of possible mistakes, so the tradeoff is probably a wash. And canonicity itself is arguably a geek obsession. Major sloppiness in a setting can break the spell - the willing suspension of disbelief - especially if readers can't be sure what merely factual matters in the story they can rely on. But most concerns about canon are just pedantry fuel. Which won't keep me from fretting about them.

It seems like it would be easier if everything is taking place from the point-of-view of characters in the book. If they don't notice a lot of stuff or really understand the way it is, you don't really need to explain it too much - a castle to them is a castle, etc, etc.

That was always an issue with SF that wasn't "concept-centered" from the beginning. They don't need to overdo it on the world-building, as long as they can keep it reasonably consistent. You can even explain away some inconsistencies as in-setting human error, like how the "historical dates" for major events in the A Song of Ice and Fire books are pretty clearly the unreliable product of limited medieval-era historiography and lots of myth.

Geoffrey S H said...

There's always the star wars option- turn 'cleaning up canon errors' into an industry. Why does x happen one way once but another way the next? Why is Y living here but stationed over there? Write a story about it!
Of course, they got so good at it that entire books are published on that sort of thing and the expanded universe becomes more and more complicated because of it. it practically an art now.....

Or a science.

Or both- take your pick.

Geoffrey S H said...

*sp its

Katzen said...

world building has become a fans favorite hobby, or profession.
honestly the hardest part of world building to me is if it's a near term sci fi. the day which you telling the story is coming up. The big ones like snow crash and neuromancer have to make sense of the world today (or in this case when published) and extrapolate from that while accounting for statical improbable events ( such as fukashima) weaving that into your setting, characters and motivation.

Anonymous said...

Continuity between related stories, some set in the same locale, has always been a bit of a concern for me. Sometimes my stories will be written several years apart, but will have the same characters, so I really have to pay attention to who is who and what is what...or in some cases, who is what...It's like having a really big family; you sometimes loose track of your cousins and their kids and spouses. I write notes and outlines about characters and general plotlines for longer stories and groups of characters, but even so, I still loose track of them at times. Mistakes are nature's way of reminding us we're Human.


Eth said...

Star Wars is an interesting example, particularly with the recent announce that the upcoming films will ignore the extended universe.
Here is a video that talks about it a bit :
To avoid canon fire, they apparently have several levels of canon, with Lucas keeping the option to ignore anything else done anyway.
Brutal but effective way to manage a collective canon.

Are there authors that republish new versions of older works with "canon corrections"?
For example, I mean the equivalent of republishing Catherine de Lyonesse if this mistake hadn't been caught, but posed a problem for a new sequel.

Personally, I have yet to write anything longer than a short story, and if I do it will probably be in an on-line format (PDF or blog-like), so I would probably simply edit it, and keep somewhere a WIP notice.
But you can't really do that on a book format.

"honestly the hardest part of world building to me is if it's a near term sci fi. the day which you telling the story is coming up."

True, that's the setting that frightens me the most as a dilettante writer.
I am beginning to work on a story set in an indeterminate number of decades (trying to avoid hard dates), and concluded that I will simply go wild. No point trying to get exactly how it will turn up, only choosing one (fun) way it might and run with it.
To give the tone, the hero is an Hitler clone, rescued when his neonazi parents were arrested when he was 2. And if that wasn't enough of a baggage, he is pursued by a mistaken euthanasia application that, thanks to bureaucratic ineffectiveness, neither manage to quite catch with him, nor quite be put to rest once and for all. And that's just the beginning

Even then, trying only believability instead of realism, it's still the hardest thing I've tried to write so far ; fantasy and far-future SF are easier by relying less on today's world. And even then, I like to use bits of uchronia in my far-future SF when today's world is evoked.

Eth said...

"like how the "historical dates" for major events in the A Song of Ice and Fire books are pretty clearly the unreliable product of limited medieval-era historiography and lots of myth."

The unreliable narrator is an interesting point. The work has to have either a narrator or a framing device allowing for it, but then it can explain mistakes (or changes of mind) that were made in the previous works.
If you're lucky, the readers may never get that it wasn't what you intended from the beginning.

For example (disclaimer, I obviously haven't read Rick's book - yet) if at one point Good King Edmund is Edmund II, and at another point it is Edmund III, it may be because some people disagree on which one was the good one.
There are many, many historical examples of previous leaders considered Good or Bad ones depending on who (and when) you ask.
For example, Cyrus I was a great, magnanimous emperor for the ancient Hebrew (that he freed from the Babylonians), and a bloodthirsty conqueror for the Greeks (that he warred with).

So maybe for example the story changes its mind because its main point of view changed. The heroin was raised with the idea that Edmund II was the Good King, which is why it was shown as a fact. Later, she may live with different people, change her mind by her own research... And then Edmund III being the Good King is presented as a fact, because it is one for her now. A line about how she thought the opposite when younger may also help.
Then, the reasons why there are two versions can also be a drive for further story, revealing underlying oppositions and tensions, under an apparent unity.

In fact, a long time ago when I was contemplating writing a story in Tolkien's verse, I intended to use tiny bits of unreliable narrator to help sticking as close to the letter as possible, along any possible gray area.
After all, someone has to have written all those books up - and they finish with something like a "and that's how the story was passed to us from the ancient times".
To make that work, I even intended to make the narrator an actual character (that's the advantage of stories with wide timelines).

Btw, congratulations Rick! Let us know when the e-book is available. Oh, and are translations planned?

Thucydides said...

An unreliable narrator as a framing device works in some sorts of stories (Think of the movie "The Usual Suspects", which is an outstanding example). Depending on what sort of story is being told, having historical disputes over which King was "the Good" may be important, may add some interest and realism to the plot, or may simply be an annoying distraction for the reader.

Many readers/viewers simply don't care anyway. Look at the various versions of Star Trek. Even within the Star Trek sub universes there is very little internal consistency from episode to episode, and trying to tie everything from classic "Trek" to "Enterprise" together in a coherent whole would probably result in an aneurysm, yet it is arguably the "standard" by which most people judge the genre.

For would be writers trying to creat a consistent "world" for their stories, it can be totally frustrating. Even very careful authors like Jerry Pournelle slip up (There is a 12 year discrepancy in the "Falkenberg's Legion" timeline, based on a single line in one story), and unless your writing room is covered in index cards linked by coloured yarn (or you use Wiki or database software), it is very easy to miss a seemingly minor detail somewhere.

Of course, this may not be very important at all. Science Fiction missed many major trends (cars were predicted centuries ago, but who predicted drive throughs and traffic jams?), so missing which King is "the Good" is more like a bit of static in the signal.

Anita said...

Congratulations. At long last the girls can leave the street corner and change into their court gowns.

Considering all the inconsistencies in the Sherlock Holmes canon, starting with John Watson's name, you did good.

Minor faux pas aren't a problem, most readers accept them. When a character's personality or motivation is flipped for no obvious reason, that is a problem.
It comes across as lazy or the idiot treatment.

Katzen said...


it's hard, very hard actually to extrapolate the reactions of everything you create. but if you throw this story into wacky land to begin with you have a wider margin of error before the suspension of disbelief field (S.D.F for short) breaks down.

I had tried (key word tried) to write a near future story with all sorts of interesting ideas, but it became a Byzantine maze of causes and effects that I couldn't possibly try to integrate with any sort of writing calculus.

example: a effective gene therapy drug that created a chance the children of the user to develop a hyper metabolism and store excess calories as muscle.

what would be the effects? I actually tried to write them here what I had come up with (this story I have mused about for years) but realized it would be pages long. Suffice to say it will also show it's age quickly after being written.

It's the most tedious part of writing fiction sometimes. I think back to space cadet by Hienlien and finding out that in name of accuracy him and his wife spent three days calculating to find one number for a minor plot piece.

jollyreaper said...

It seems like it would be easier if everything is taking place from the point-of-view of characters in the book. If they don't notice a lot of stuff or really understand the way it is, you don't really need to explain it too much - a castle to them is a castle, etc, etc.

It all comes back to verisimilitude. Gaps in the worldbuilding will show. Even if the POV character is an illiterate peasant, what he does and doesn't notice can tell us things, depending on the technique employed by the author. A tight third person that is acting as an observer can comment on the peasant not noticing the mushrooms he hunted up aren't the commonly edible kind. The author can point out a bad conclusion the peasant drew from what he saw, hinting at something dire to come. With a first person narration, the author can't lend a helping hand to the reader. If the peasant sees a mountain spitting fire and says thre's an angry god waking up, we'll know it's really volcanism.

Where this really comes into play is just trying to describe the living arrangements in, say, a quasi-medieval household. Food procurement, preparation, toilet arrangements, sleeping accommodations, and the implications concerning the larger world beyond the walls of the house. Does wine come in casks, jugs, or amphorae? If we establish the household is in a region wholly unsuitable to vineyards, we've now established that there is trade with other regions. If commoners have wine on their table as well, transit is low-cost. What about spices? Hell, even the flatware. Aluminum used to be more expensive than gold when it was first discovered. Prior to that, it couldn't be extracted from the alum ore. So the presence of aluminum at all would indicate an early 19th century understanding of chemistry. In less than a lifetime aluminum went from being the stuff of cutlery fit for kings to the container of cheap beer for Joe Six-pack.

Ultimately, the question of how important these things are depends on why you picked the setting to tell your story. If the story is about a loveless arranged marriage and a woman accepting it out of a sense of duty, then anything beyond the social conventions that made this come to pass is irrelevant. Whether lamp oil comes from whales or underground affects the plot not a bit. If the story is about a child experiencing the Blitz in wartime London, the details of the Luftwaffe order of battle remain irrelevant.

Here's a great article going into more detail.

jollyreaper said...

One other thought. You can get away with what you can get away with in writing. The rules are what you should stick to unless you can break them brilliantly. Long, pointless asides concerning minutia are pretty much awful except Douglas Adams made them an utter treat in THHGTTG. To plan how you should tell a fictional story, imagine how you would summarize a real event. How much scope do you want to shoot for? How much room do you have to tell it in? You will be leaving most of the known details out when condensing for a coherent narrative. Which details can you lose while maintaining an accurate shape? Just like scaling down a large image to a thumbnail.

GRRM's major canon collisions came from not knowing where parts and pieces were coming in later. He had the children aged too young and would have had to skip too much time to bring them realistically into play. He would have known what age they needed to be at if he had the full shape of the story and could work backwards.

I'm forgiving of lesser canon failures like getting a name or a date wrong. I'm more annoyed by idiot retcons like making a character into a traitor all along even when it makes no sense given prior history or undoing an emotional resolution between two characters to reintroduce cheap melodrama.

It basically comes down to most writers starting a story at the beginning and working their way to the end. It's impossible for them to have the full shape of it until the story is complete and, as that moving Finger flicks us off, there's no way edit out what no longer seems relevant.

Anonymous said...

Jollyreaper, I've found that (for me, at least), if you know the begining and end of a story before you start writing, then you generally turn out a more consistant tale. But, that's just me.


jollyreaper said...

Agreed, Ferrell. Sometimes tales will grow in the telling so that's where you have to be very careful. If you make your additions properly, they will feel like an organic part of the story, that they always belonged. Do it wrong and, well, it'll feel tacked on and contrived.

The bigger the story you want to tell, the more moving parts and pieces, the more opportunity for it to all go wrong.

Eth said...

This article makes an interesting point : to help writing stories set in strange, alien societies, read stories written in strange, alien societies (of the past).

It may be interesting to read stories from even further away, like from the Antiquity, from other continents... However, those were written by people with very different views on how to make a story, so the form may be quite alien as well. Anyone trying to read the Bible will experience that - and by "read" I really mean "decypher" as it is from both a society and a language so different from ours, it can be very hard to read, to understand and then to not understand it completely wrong.

However, it can be really interesting to get examples of societies with very different ways of thinking, if one manages to not stop at a jugemental value or the "exotic factor" (which is harder than it sounds)
For (a mild) example, Antigone's actions seems bizarre to us. (To simplify) her brother was a total douche who got himself killed and legally deprived of a burial. She knows he is a douche, and that burying him is sentenced to death. And yet she does it anyway.
Past the "Why would you do that?" first reaction, we can see how in this society, how familial duty (regardless of whether said family deserves it), and how it is an unwritten law that prevail before the written one.

That said, I disagree with one point of this article : they say to check historians from other civilizations. Well, that's not exactly possible, the whole concept of History is a very modern (XIXe century) Western concept. When we talk about, say, Roman historians, we should say chroniclers. And we often discover that they will hapily mix fact and fiction.
Modern, Western-born history is pretty much the only one where there is an attempt at "objectivity" and will, for example, try to detail how an ancient Assyrian potter lived his daily life.

A better point would be to not stick to official Histories. For example, I was taught in school that the French (nation) commander Du Guesclin freed Aquitaine (region) from the English (nation). I later learned that it would be more accurate to say that the Breton mercenary commander Du Guesclin worked for the French king to invade the Aquitaine kingdom, who called the rest of the British empire to help, but fell in the end.
Let's not forget that originally, the concept of History was born of a desire from the nascent Western nation-states to gather some continuity from the past ages.
But as many historians try to have a modern scientific approach (and now come from many nations, societies and social backgrounds), one can find many less politically oriented historical resources (or at least, enough different points of views to get a more neutral picture).
Also, official history is often used as a "simplified version", the one you teach to children that aren't ready to understand the subtleties of, say, what is a "nation-state". In my experience, once you start digging, it's not that hard to find better.

That said, Rick, you probably made a lot of historical research for such a book. What is your experience about it, and what advice would you give?

Thucydides said...

An interesting point Eth

For a totally different reason I was trying to resolve an argument about a biblical verse, and ended up on a web site which offers multiple translations of the Bible.

( if you are interested)

Reading the same verse rendered in the traditional King James Version (written in the language of Shakespear) vs, say, the New International Version is almost like reading two entirely different works. The underlying message is similar, but the effect is totally different between the rolling cadences of the KJV and the plain language of the NIV.

You can see similar effects in other translations done over a long period of time. Try "The History of the Peloponnesian War" translated by Thomas Hobbes in 1628 compared to the Rex Warner translation of 1954 or the Lattimore translation of 2002. Even the best known passages like the "Funeral Oration" come across quite differently. You can see similar differences in effect with different translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey as well.

Which leads to an interesting question: which one of these translations is "cannon"?

Geoffrey S H said...

According to Professor Maxwell-Stuart of St Andrews University, Latin translations are getting poorer in quality as the decades roll on. Having proven unable to translate well in classes with him despite his excellent teaching, I can only concur.

Locki said...

Nice to see a new post up Rick. Congratulations.

Its interesting you should be worried about consistency in your back story on a sci-fi blog!

Especially when Star Wars has already come up. Return of the Jedi and Obiwan "from a certain point of view" Kenobi still has the biggest retcon I've ever seen in cinematic history and can show a way forward when you haven't thought through your background properly.

If you've got a small problem or three about major characters becoming close family relations in the sequels just blame it on the characters faulty memory or their "point of view."

Cordwainer said...

I have to agree with Katzen that the real problem with canonical "cannon balls" comes when you write a near future or present day story. People will forgive you for getting historical facts wrong if you have an engaging story but if you are writing a modern day story you are far more likely to step on somebodies toes or run into scraps over included "likenesses".

After all if you make a historical parody of Shakespeare he isn't going to come back from the grave but if you write about some future Mars One like colonization of space led by an Elon Musk like character and entitle with a moniker like "The Kingpin of Space" you might have a lawsuit on your hands.

Cordwainer said...

Lattimore's version of "The history of the Peloponnesian War" has the best translation from multiple Greek sources that Hobbes and Warner did not have access to but Hobbes had a better insight into the significance of Thucydides work, while Warner's work was the most entertaining to read.

Similarly the NIV version of the Bible is hands down has some of the best scholarly work done on "what" the text in the Bible actually means and presents opinions and translations from a diverse set of linguistic and historically researched sources. It also includes a lot of the apocrypha that is not normally listed as canonical.

Which brings up another point that "what" is considered canonical is really up to the interpretation of the society and times you live in, when in fact we may be being misled by the "powers that be".

Carla said...

Congratulations, Rick! I look forward to reading it :-)

Cordwainer said...

Canonicity isn't just about details within a story but can also be about details within a genre.

For instance we treat space battles in sci-fi like ocean going see battles or airplane dogfights when the likelihood of that being ever being the case is unlikely. Authors adopt such ideas from other works and events that are familiar to them and their readers to sell books and to make it easier to create drama because a lot of the work is already done for them.

Sci-fi authors who chose to do space battle differently either have to gloss over such activities or if they do chose to write "military" sci-fi they must find new ways to engage the reader and up the drama.

Possible settings for space battles would probably be nothing like air or sea battles. Spaceships are more like mobile artillery batteries. Weapons fire and engagements will likely occur over vast distances and ships will probably operate in small groups not large blobs. Battle groups will perform chess like maneuvers with some vessels acting as bait to draw enemy forces while other groups will act as interceptors to flush the enemy into advantageous angles of attack. As the enemy retreats or makes evasive maneuvers you would have other forces acting as long distance snipers closing off their paths of retreat. Space War will probably look more like a geurilla war of attrition, in this context.

The advantage for the author that such a setting would offer is that light and fast ships will dominate over larger slower vessels and that crewed vessels will have an advantage in terms of performing coordinated attacks over AI's. After all spaceships are like trains without wheels so the slight gain you get in maneuverability with AI's over secure and precise command and control is minimal.

Maneuverability of really small and stealthy drone vessels would be pretty useless in close quarters against laser fire and would only be useful at long ranges for reconnaissance and stealthy launch of projectiles.

A smallish lightly crewed heavily armed "destroyer" like vessel armed with defensive lasers and projectile weapons would be the most economical design for "space operas" in my opinion.

Thucydides said...

We have multiple threads on Space War (and almost as many divergent opinions), so perhaps the best that can be said is if you are the writer, you set the parameters and live with the results.

Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle once wrote an essay on the "Mote in God's Eye", where they explained they worked out the parameters of the two "magic" elements (the Alderson Drive and the Langston field), and the story unfolded as they grappled with the limitations imposed by their choices. Certainly, the ending of the Mote would be far different if the Alderson drive wasn't a "point to point" system, or the Langston field behaved differently under load.

Perhaps more interesting to me is working out the implications of magical future tech. One well known example is reactionless drive. Sites such as Atomic Rockets and the Tough Guide to the Galaxy show some of the unintended consequences (for example, no one could have a "tramp freighter" because ANYTHING with a reactionless drive attached to it could become a relativistic planet buster).

This is even more interesting now that NASA has apparently claimed to have verified thrust from a reactionless variation of the so called EM drive.

Other examples include the Star Trek Transporter (taken to the ultimate, you don't need a huge USS Enterprise, just an engine, a transporter room and a large database with all the crew information on board). The economic implication of Star Trekian transporter technology would also be astounding.

This is more directly related to world building than cannon (although once you have decided that "x" applies in your story universe, then "x" will always apply, unless you are George Lucas), and in my view of SF, anyway, perhaps the most important (My definition is it is SF is removing the "science" element [the "what if"] causes the story to collapse).

Geoffrey S H said...

"This is even more interesting now that NASA has apparently claimed to have verified thrust from a reactionless variation of the so called EM drive."

This has to be a hoax/ some intern at NASA making a mistake/ pure undiluted fringe science indulged in just to make some headlines......

Eth said...

If I understood correctly, some team with a bit of NASA financing put together a similar experiment and claimed to have results (surprisingly, to both the device itself and a device made to not work). The thing hasn't been peer-verified yet and there are some serious questions about the measuring devices and experimental conditions.
But some journalist thought that "NASA BUILDS A WARP DRIVE!" was a nice headline, ran with it and everyone followed - at least in the Anglosphere (I've yet to see a headline about it here, small favours I guess).

Also, while Dr White has a dodgy reputation according to some, and some even talk about the "new Dean Drive", he seems to be the first to be pained about the massive hype.

About worldbuilding, that's an capital point, yes : being coherent. Atomic Rockets actually talks about it for designing drives, including the work behind the Moth in God's Eye. He also suggests that both methods are working :
If you know the world you want to make, you should carefully design the tech, like in tMiGE.
Or you can design the tech, and then try to work out what kind of world it would make. This way you can stumble on interesting places for new stories.

I'll add that even with soft-SF, it's important to be coherent. Lucas is a good (counter-)example. On a SF point of view, Star Wars (originals) makes no sense. Why don't they have interstellar strategic missiles? With the scales involved, how can they dogfight in space? Couldn't they have better combined arms tactics? Wait, did they just blow up a PLANET?
But that's actually not important. The dials are put at Space Fantasy from the beginning, so the watcher is (rightly) expected to just sit back and enjoy the show.
So one will (generally) only think about these questions afterwards, if they happen to try and make this verse Real Life-coherent.

But then problems arise when tech becomes self-inconsistent, and not just with Real Life.
In the prequels, they use battlefield shields. Where did that go? And those automatic rifles would have been useful, given how well everyone shoot. Those destroyer-mounted superlasers look nice! Budget cuts victim, I guess?
Then it becomes a problem - particularly as you don't want the spectator to begin asking those kinds of questions, as the previous ones may follow.

This is, of course, a separate issue of character derailment. Or Lucas' tendency to drop previously certified canon. (Remember this cartoon before ep.III? The one you had to watch to understand the beginning of the film? Yeah, scratch that and make another one. We can't have a competent Grievous, can we?)

Geoffrey S H said...

Eth, I'd recommend you read 'The Essential guide to Warfare' for star wars, it does an amazing job of tidying up a lot of things. Human sized shields become vulnerable to more powerful 'blasters', the use of planet killer craft is negated by a finite number of worlds to obliterate , and the sizes of craft come and go as needed. Not perfect, but still extremely well done.

Geoffrey S H said...

Speaking of which, I'd certainly see the 'surrender or we'll glass you from orbit rather than invade you' argument as dependent on a very large number of planets to threaten this on. That sort of firepower could ruin a planet's biosphere for a long time. If there are only 299 more worlds left in a universe filled with small wars, what then? Worlds might refuse to bow to such threats not out of foolhardiness but out of wider concerns for the 'galactic biosphere', as it were. Maybe invading with an army is actually the less costly strategy, for all the horrendous expense involved. carrying all the nuclear missiles and thor rods to glass a planet would be horrendously expensive in itself anyway....

jollyreaper said...

Even trying to accept the star wars tech, its hard to wrap the old brain around the visuals. If the starfighter can achieve orbit, that is a phenomenal amount of speed so how do you keep engagements cool and cinematic with lasers fired at visual ranges? It should look more like a blink and you miss it thing.

Elysium was a pretty disappointing movie and was full of holes. Illegal immigrants have casual access to space travel? Those shuttles seem as common as moving vans. And a missile the size of a stinger can catch up to those ships in a tail chase in low earth orbit? The tech demonstrated is wildly out if scale with the rest of the setting.

I wanted to like that film but it was pretty awful.

Geoffrey S H said...

I ignore the visuals and just read the text mostly. I am pretty selective about what I read with that kind of stuff.

TBH its mostly literary stuff that I think about.

Eth said...

Geoffrey S H said :
"Eth, I'd recommend you read 'The Essential guide to Warfare' for star wars, it does an amazing job of tidying up a lot of things."

Oh, I'll have to check that. Worldbuilding damage control of that magnitude should be interesting to observe, and instructive if needed for other verses.

The "glass from orbit" is a good point. Slagging planets (or blowing them up) is practical only if there are enough planets so the loss of one is negligible on the long run. It can be because there are countless inhabited worlds, because more new worlds are colonised, or because those in charge don't care and "long run" is next year.

About Star Wars visuals (those ground-to-ground interstellar fighters), it never caused me problems. It could be because I watched it before understanding orbital mechanics and delta-v, but it's not only that. There is also that it's on the softest side of Space Fantasy, so the mindset is "sure, they can do that" more than "they shouldn't be able to do that".
Another example I've watched recently is Space Battleship Yamato 2199 (the remake). It's indeed about a wet battleship in space, with its complement of space aircrafts. It even has a fraking space submarine! And yet if you watch it with the mindset "ok, so Space is an Ocean", it's pretty enjoyable.

Thought about Star Wars, I've developed a new theory recently : on a timeline I had stumbled upon, it said that their universe begun 15 billions of years ago. Ours is about 13.7 ; so either it's an alternate universe (boring) or, more interestingly, someone, sometimes in our future, did something very wrong with the Universe, irreversibly altering it.
Hence how they can now causally reach orbit, go from star to star without a jump drive before dying of old age, blow planets up, use lightsabres or even the Force, use jump drives in the first place...
And why they still need thousands to run a starship, even if said thousands are droids, while we're at it.

jollyreaper said...

Yamato 2199 was insane. They pulled it off by fully embracing the insanity of the premise and being 100% committed. They also avoided making basic storytelling mistakes that would otherwise ruin the illusion. It's like fine I can accept space viking gods and avengers but what the hell, they're trusting Loki after all the crap he's pulled? That's unrealistic.

Star Wars, the prequels, have tons of problems like that where the story doesn't even make sense within the context of the things we are asked to accept. A whole Jedi order isn't able to fight two sith? They won't put a simple voice box on R2?

Geoffrey S H said...

I think the characters could understand R2D2, it was just the audience that couldn't. Mechanical language or something?

Star Trek Insurrection had that problem for me though- one or two small re-writes and it could have been quite well thought through. First Contact managed that.

Really need to see that Yamato film. The effects certainly looked good!

jollyreaper said...

One other thought with glassing a planet. They might not need to be rare. Remember, we had two superpowers ready to glass each other even while they're on the same planet and going to be choking on the same fallout! If we're willing to contemplate that in a universe with one known habitable planet, I don't preclude it from happening in a universe with several or a dozen planets. The casualness with which the obliteration might happen, that I think would be the function of total number of planets, usually. In Yamamto, that one planet was smashed so casually on the whim of a fleet commander.

Sometimes you're fighting to conquer a territory for material gain; other times you are trying to remove a threat. The US and USSR wouldn't be looking at conquering the other guy's territory. Nuking is about obliteration, removing a threat from the board. Glassing would be along those lines. Carthago delenda est and all that. Rome had no use for the territory, though I see the salting of the earth is a modern invention. But they didn't want to live there, they just wanted to remove a threat.

Now, depending on the setting in question, you could conceivably quarantine a planet quite effectively. Most assumptions are that for a space navy, most of the mass involved comes from orbit. The only significant mass coming upwell from planetside would be the crew. A planetbound civilization can bootstrap itself into orbit by sending up the tools and materials needed to build orbital infrastructure but they're not launching a warfleet from the planet's surface. (Even Star Wars generally sticks with the idea that the larger warships are space-only. Non-capital ships can land on a planet, capital ships can't. Except for those WTF star destroyers in the prequels.) So, if the White Hat Heroes defeat the Black Hats and drive them back to their home system, they could smash all the orbital habitats and shipyards and mining operations and leave them confined to the planetary surface. An array of laser sats and tungsten rods can knock down anything they send up and pound flat wherever they sent it from.

The particulars of how such a containment policy would work depends on the setting. We could have done that with Japan in WWII. They had no means of projecting power with how strong our navy was. But it would require a significant presence to ensure the Japanese could not remilitarize, not to mention the USSR entering the Pacific theater, so we were pretty much committed to an invasion before the atom bombs prompted a surrender. We did go with containment concerning North Korea and that's a 60-years and counting unending commitment. Containment was also our choice with Saddam Hussein following the first Gulf War.

You might have an interesting story where a not-quite-evil empire is following a policy of containment of some very disagreeable and warlike people and they keep cutting back on their patrol force until it's mainly automatics. The embargoed population might be militarizing by stealth, in a way that won't show up on satellite and nobody ever bothers to do a site inspection to test on the ground. If they do a surge into space, overwhelm the defenses and do a crash course in rebuilding infrastructure, the question is how far can they get before a response force is dispatched? If the empire is stretched thin, would the response force be enough to contain them? Will glassing be back on the table?

I know Star Wars is fantasy but it still strikes me as overkill to blow up an entire planet when the same purpose can be served just by destroying the biosphere which is only a minute fraction of the total planetary mass. Dropping a few dino-killer asteroids is just as good as firing a Death Star as far as genocide goes.

jollyreaper said...

"I think the characters could understand R2D2, it was just the audience that couldn't. Mechanical language or something?"

Seems like it. But not everyone spoke it. It seems like Star Wars often requires on machine interpreters, i.e. Owen wanting a droid who understood the binary language of vaporators. R2 had to speak to the Falcon main computer back in Empire. And really, if mobile droids could talk, why not the ships? Evidently the Falcon couldn't even show an error code on a display anywhere.

With general AI good enough for droids, it makes you wonder why there are human pilots for the most part. When I was a kid, I had head-canon that included a robot uprising deep in the past which is why you generally do not see combat droids anymore. That sort of detail popped up in one of the early, early tie-in novels but never made it into the broader Expanded Universe. Then we see all the battle droids in the prequels and somehow the Terminator has been rendered as frightening as the Keystone Cops.

"Star Trek Insurrection had that problem for me though- one or two small re-writes and it could have been quite well thought through. First Contact managed that."

Ugh. The less said about the TNG movies the better.

"Really need to see that Yamato film. The effects certainly looked good!"

Just to be clear, there's a theatrical, live-action movie and an animated remake of the original show. The remake is called 2199 just to keep things clear. The movie was a sloppy mess and I would not recommend it unless you have a high tolerance for bad cheese. The anime is far more coherent, the cheese is supremely well-done in context of the genre.

I don't think it's available in the US yet. There are websites that have it embedded and streaming. I have no idea what the licensing situation is at this point. I believe some of these sites are even doing it legally.

jollyreaper said...

And just as an FYI for everyone:

"I've embedded the trailer*, but you can watch the full 21 minute prelude to the feature length film about the first major Federation/Klingon war, staring Tony Todd, Kate Vernon, Michael Hogan, Richard Hatch, J.G. Hertzler, Gary Graham & Alec Peters on Kickstarter. If you like Star Trek you should watch it."

This is an impressive fan-produced Star Trek film. It's done in a documentary style interviewing the people involved in the battle. It's really well-done. The 20 minute version is basically the Kickstarter teaser so they can fund the rest of the film.

If you have casual interest, watch the 4 minute version. I think it's worth watching the 21 minute version that's at the kickstarter site.

This is easily better than anything they've done in Trek in the last 20 years. Paramount should just hand it over to the public domain.

jollyreaper said...

Link for Axanar

Geoffrey S H said...

If you look at total versus limited war over the early modern period, the thirty years war produced enough outrage that such things were limited in following conflicts, even during the Napoleonic period. EWventually WW1 came along and WW2 with more limited conflicts following.

You could take the whole glass/not glass conundrum and make a small future history out of it. Fiurst some worlds nuke each other into oblivion, but the lack of settled world at that time reduces the local civilisation somewhat. Those worlds that survive after that set a limit on the amount of ordnance used to avoid long-term biosphere disruption (you never know when you might want that territory, something that I have seen in my studies of strategies during the seven years' war).

With worlds improving their defences, and the costs of a separate bombardment group already beign high (said group following up after the main space force hasexhausted ammunition against other space forces and substancial ground defences), one power realises that it has the logistics capabilities to lob millions of troops and support into space. After all, a heavily industrialised world with extensive experience with rocket launches and keeping large crews in space should have some capability for that kind of thing.

Cue large scale ground campaigns that while costly, preserve biospheres and make the long term strategic planning of imperialists a little less of a headache, with strategic nuclear bombardments before hand.

Eventually you have most ground engagements either ending with the threat of bombardment and quarentine, ground invasion, or glassing, the second option very rare, and the third one even more so.

Please note, I am well aware of the difficulties and scale of an invasion, but I also know that a war with hundreds, perhaps thousands of craft against substantial planetary defences cannot be easy either. Transporting missiles in missile sub now is expensive enough. So the capability to invade would be on the table in some situations, but not many, IMHO.
With limited bombardments by only a few worlds (not linked in a multiplanetary empire) such a thing would of course be ludicrous.

On a related note, how easy would it be to bombard polar positions from orbit? The equator would be easy, but my knowledge of planetary orbital mechanics is far too scarce at the moment.

"I know Star Wars is fantasy but it still strikes me as overkill to blow up an entire planet when the same purpose can be served just by destroying the biosphere which is only a minute fraction of the total planetary mass. Dropping a few dino-killer asteroids is just as good as firing a Death Star as far as genocide goes."

I think that's a strategy against planetary shields in that universe. Whacking a spacecraft into a planet (and they do use hyperspace-velocity kill vehicles in some stories for non-shielded worlds) just takes up too many resources if the planet has a shield. Mostly magitech, but at least some consistency.

Geoffrey S H said...

The whole concept of a quarantine is quite elegant though. One other consideration against glassing I have thought of is the need for merchants to have the societies they are trading with at a high level. If bulk goods are shippable but low value, then things traded would be highly technical items. If you are trading such things and your customers get nuked to a more primitive level of civilisation, would you vote for the people that ordered this and ruined your business? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Even the Brits/Americans in New York in 1760 traded with the French ('cartel shipments' as they were called) and the Dutch with the Spanish during their own war of independence.

Therefore glassing would occur in early times of 'empire' when the 'galactic economy' wasn't so linked and enemy planets were just far off places, like bronze age cities, to be destroyed at leisure.

jollyreaper said...

The tech has so much bearing on what trade and war would look like. What would be worth trading at an interstellar distance? What would you fight over? The cheaper you make FTL, the more like out own history you can make it. But our own history is going to get strange with automation.

Star Wars armies don't make a whole lot of sense. The planetary shield angle brings up the question of just how much caduao energy the locals have on demand. Certainly it allowed for an explanation for the ground asssult on hoth. But the star wars weapons are not much advanced over WWII. An at-at is only a walking tank. There's no presence of ballistic missiles or casual WMD like antimatter which would allow for precision guided munitions to hit like atom bombs with no fallout. And antimatter exists in universe. There are really no serious guided missiles. The blaster reigns supreme. Concussion missiles aren't effective like aamrams.

Really, I would think that designer bugs would be the way to go against planetary populations. It makes more sense to poison your enemy without ever dropping bombs. The screwfly solution. But maybe if such weapons exist there would also be screening for them.

Jim Baerg said...

Geoffrey SH: "On a related note, how easy would it be to bombard polar positions from orbit? The equator would be easy, but my knowledge of planetary orbital mechanics is far too scarce at the moment."

That depend on the orbit you are bombarding from.

From a low orbit over the equator it's not practical to drop something anywhere very far from the equator. From a low polar orbit you will pass near to over any point on the planet in half a day & can drop something anywhere as long as you are prepared to wait up to that half day.

From high orbit (eg: lunar distance) the delta V to drop something on the pole is little different from the delta V to drop something on the equator. However, the time for the bomb to fall will be days.

Similarly if you are coming from elsewhere in the solar system any target on the planet is about equally easy to hit. Note: that there have been Mars landings both near the equator & the poles.

Eth said...

About Yamato, I was talking about the remade show (didn't watch the film). Also note that while I liked it a lot, nostalgia may be a factor (I miss the blue-skinned space elves of my childhood...)

For Star Wars, I assume that their planets are small, so are their interplanetary and even interstellar distances - even moreso than KSP. Which is also why they can have thick asteroid belts, and fly and flight in close formation.
Geometry itself may work a bit differently as well. Or something funnier, like the Gravitational constant and speed of light being different, to say nothing about physical formulas.
In addition to that, they have something not unlike negative matter, giving them energy-cheap antigrav, which, combined with the above, is how they have cheap interplanetary travel.
Obviously, some serious Schyzo Tech is also needed to explain war plagues away, but that's to be expected when you play with the Universe's very structure.
One can also assume that their planets are unstable, which is how they can jump from city-bombing to planet-busting : the Death Star doesn't blow a rock up, it pops a balloon.

About the Death Star's role, it wasn't only a military weapon, as the Imperial Navy seems pretty much unmatched anyway. It was also a terror weapon, as is discussed in the original :
Onboard the Death Star, they learn that the Senate has been dissolved, and that local governors are pretty much left to themselves about how to manage things. One asks what will prevent them to just declare independence and rule for themselves, and Tarquin explicitly cite fear, specifically fear of the Death Star. Because blowing planets up may be militarily wasteful, it is still quite the striking image, when you know you may be the next one.

A History student will recognize methods used by some of the most unsavoury regimes of our past (and alas, of our present) to quash rebellions. The Third Reich, who was one of the inspirations for the Galactic Empire, was known for that - and interestingly, it backfired kind of spectacularly in places.
Though I fear that a modern totalitarian regime could learn why it didn't work and design an efficient terror instead of dropping the idea altogether.

The idea of containment is also interesting, and Jollyreaper's story concept is worth developing. I wonder how it would work from the PoW of the contained people, for who the Empire is this evil otherworldly, distant power who imprisoned them on their planet, and don't remember why they got contained in the first place, as centuries passed.

Geoffrey S H said...

"The tech has so much bearing on what trade and war would look like. What would be worth trading at an interstellar distance? What would you fight over? The cheaper you make FTL, the more like out own history you can make it. But our own history is going to get strange with automation."

I suppose I just see that if there isn't much interaction (few valuable items traded, little emigration/immigration, then there would be little in a story yto write about. One could write about a lone trade mission to a far off culture and the cukture shock that results, but that's asll I can se from that type of setting.

If you want some fancy reason why people go to war you could have the 'we don't know their culture or motives as they are so far away. Best to be paranoid and hit them first!' plotline, but that could also get stale. Any other reasons for war/trade within the above setting limitations would just end up being xenofiction.

'From a low orbit over the equator it's not practical to drop something anywhere very far from the equator. From a low polar orbit you will pass near to over any point on the planet in half a day & can drop something anywhere as long as you are prepared to wait up to that half day.

From high orbit (eg: lunar distance) the delta V to drop something on the pole is little different from the delta V to drop something on the equator. However, the time for the bomb to fall will be days.

Similarly if you are coming from elsewhere in the solar system any target on the planet is about equally easy to hit. Note: that there have been Mars landings both near the equator & the poles.'

So a lot of high orbital combat would involve large waiting times. If you want to catch someone out in the open then you would have to time your attacks so one comes straight after your target is dodging the previous salvo. If missiles were used then a lot would have to be deployed if ground based- laser stations weren't to pick them off in the space of an afternoon or a week (depending on your orbital altitude. On the other hand you can hit anywhere. Hmmm.

Low orbit sounds like a bad place to go, especially if your lasers have a low enough power that you are forced to go there. A predictable course where reasonably small weapons can enter your flight path (without attaining orbital velocity) and smack into you. Even ocean going missile ships and subs (the former for toughness against nuclear weapons [see Bikini Atoll tests] and the latter for stealth) could pose a threat. They could even dodge attacks to a small degree whilst you have a roughly predictable course to follow every 20 minutes.

It sounds like dedicated high orbit siege platforms would be needed to maintain any quarantine- subject to the tech level of course.
With lasers reaching beyond the distance from the earth to the moon then regular spacecraft would of course do.

That sound about right?

jollyreaper said...

"I suppose I just see that if there isn't much interaction (few valuable items traded, little emigration/immigration, then there would be little in a story yto write about. One could write about a lone trade mission to a far off culture and the cukture shock that results, but that's asll I can se from that type of setting."

That's a very salient point. The further you get away from what's familiar to us, the closer you edge to the concept of "interstellar empires are impossible."

Barring cheap FTL, the idea of interstellar warfare basically looks like as absurd as 2nd century BC China declaring war on Egypt. How? Why? They have no reason to be anywhere near each other. They have no serious means. It's not happening. Or even crazier, a Native American empire going to war with Japan in the BC era. You need technology like decent sailing ships before you can talk about the cultures coming into contact and therefore conflict. Even if you have amazing seafaring canoes like the Polynesians, you're not basing an invasion on that sort of thing. That'd be like trying to conquer a millions-strong lunar civilization with a handful of astronauts thrown up on Saturn rockets.

"If you want some fancy reason why people go to war you could have the 'we don't know their culture or motives as they are so far away. Best to be paranoid and hit them first!' plotline, but that could also get stale. Any other reasons for war/trade within the above setting limitations would just end up being xenofiction."

Or you have something where the colony ships might take 50 years to get from planet to planet and the conflict happens within the confines of a single system. Might have fusion torch ships, otherwise no FTL.

jollyreaper said...

"It sounds like dedicated high orbit siege platforms would be needed to maintain any quarantine- subject to the tech level of course.
With lasers reaching beyond the distance from the earth to the moon then regular spacecraft would of course do.

That sound about right?"

It all depends on the tech. Sticking with PMF tech, it seems reasonable to have any combination of the following:
1. Kinetic kill sats in retrograde orbit to be one line of defense against anything the locals might put up.
2. Beam forts way high up. Can't hit anything on the ground but can fry anything that clears the atmosphere. Presumably the beam forts are too far away for ground-based lasers to effectively fry. Depends on the setting's tech.
3. Rods of god in a reasonable orbit for quick deployment against ground targets.

Depending on the story we want to tell, either this would be sufficient to keep the locals down (and avoid genocide) or it would seem effective enough until corners are cut and the locals gather enough audacity to break free.

The kicker here is just how expensive such an operation might be, how important it would be for the empire, and just how much neglect it might suffer. For example, our nuclear missiles are seen as super important here in the US of A and yet we've had some truly embarrassing firings of generals in charge of it, cheating scandals among the officers in training, and massive equipment failures.

There's the old Jimmy Carter tale of the day he took office. The officer briefing him on national emergency procedures tells him he can be airborne in minutes and whisked away to a flying command center. Carter asks if this is something that's brought online in a crisis or if it's available all the time. All the time, the officer assures him. Fine, let's try it out. What? Call it a drill. Let's see how long until I can get airborne. It took them hours. The White House could have been nuked a dozen times over.

So from the perspective of those on the ground, the threat from the sky is fearsome and godlike. From the perspective of the empire, it's a crappy assignment with little to do. Hell, I'd imagine if the kinetic kill sats and god rods are free-flying, they are probably just deployed and never given any maintenance. Good for 30 years in orbit, then deoribted when expired, deploy some more. Unless it's worth the delta-V to capture and refurbish them. There would just not be much for live troops to do.

Geoffrey S H said...

Things would get more complicated if you were quarantining multiple planets in a multi-planet empire. On the other hand, if aafter 30 years relations with theworlds in that empire that weren't quarantined improved, then letting the quarantine force de-orbit wouldn't be a massive problem.

The prior history of that world would also count. If it has semi-autonomous regions proud of thir independence from the central government (and you really need to hold that world for a long time without too much bloodshed), landing some troops to 'liberate them' (and assimilate them if your policy is good enough) without going the whole hog with the rest of the planet might allow a human presence to maintain the satellites with the local industry, give the troops something to do on the ground (local beer, local unmarried women, etc) and provide a small foot hold planet-side in the event of another conflict.

On the other hand you could try and establish small colonies elsewhere in system to monitor the satellites, and grow them into large settlements to assimilate the whole planet.

If you chose both options for a setting then you could get terrestrial border skirmishes, cultural clashes, tension over feared build-ups of the enemy space industries, minor orbital breakout attempts, struggles to maintain colonies and quarantine satellites, and questions as to whether it was worth it to keep the world in question under this surveillance anyway.

One thought though is that a major industrialised world would be more difficult to deal with than a small colony- Japan was difficult to approach until the atom bombs were used, but it couldn't be ignored like the pacific islands though. Had they somehow retained enough fighters to defend against the A-Bomb (requiring the Brits and the USSR to not be fighting Japan and the USAF/USN to be much smaller than they actually were) then the outcome could have been even more messy than it actually was.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of messy; what if the world quaranteenedhad multiple nation-state, like Earth, with many or all of them armed with nuclear weapons. So long as they were confined to their own world they would be preoccupied by their on-world conflicts. But, if they were threatened, or there was too much bombardment from orbit, then they might combine and break out, threatening your empire. Also, what if some of those nations were friendly to the empire? Sounds like the basis for a story...or several.


Geoffrey S H said...

Ferrell, you've given me an idea- what if an empire controlled 36 nations on one world (out of say, 100) and 45 on another, with another rival empire controlling 40 on the first world and 28 on the other. Now expand that to have about 30 worlds and 20 or so intersteller empires, but these empires only owning a number of nations rather than the entirety of each world. Each nation starting out semi-autonomous but eventually over the centuries merely becoming administrative regions of a wider ‘international’ empire that has no control over an entire world, not even a homeworld. Plenty of cross-borderland incidents and VERY messy border lines.

Somewhat like the development of absolutism and nations states....

jollyreaper said...

The multiple fractious worlds situation has been used in the Human Reach setting.

The Human Reach

I've mentioned it here on rocketpunk before. It's around 200 years into the PMF. Two big things happened: first, a massive meteor strike (known as "the rock") killed tens of millions and caused a 9-11 panic on a global scale. Rather than a war on terrorism, it created an immediate urgency about our planet's vulnerability; second, relatively habitable extra-solar planets were discovered. Oh, and a third big thing is that FTL-via-wormhole proved possible. Harvest wormhole pairs, keep one in Sol and send the other to a distant star via unmanned antimatter rockets traveling at something like 90% lightspeed. Once the wormhole has arrived at the destination, start sending people and equipment through.

Humanity has been expanding in a leapfrog nature. China is the biggest power on the planet. The US is a faded second-tier power.

Planet settlement to this point has been mediated by the UN. Up until when the story starts, there appears to be an infinite amount of planetary space to lay claim to. Bigger nations engage in entire-planet settlement while smaller nations pick continents or sections of continents to settle.

Currently the nations of the Earth are engaged in a land grab. Some planets require more terraforming than others. Fortunately for us, oxy-nitro atmospheres are not uncommon and it's a case of Earth is similar to other planets rather than other planets are similar to Earth. There are of course many lifebearing worlds that are completely unsuitable for us biologically and so are research cases only.

The land grab seems a bit ridiculous on the outset because only a small percentage of the space has been exploited even on the oldest colony worlds. It's like worrying about where your next ten pizzas are coming from when you're only working on the first slice of your first pie.

The other bit that's nonsensical like real life, the colonization efforts really haven't paid off for anyone yet. Everyone knows they will, of course, and you have to get in on the ground floor before the other guy, hence the land grab. But up to this point the only people really making money are financial speculators and the aerospace companies involved in supplying all the starships and equipment.

There's two novels out in the series so far, self-published. Looking forward to the third whenever it hits.

The Human Reach story takes place right at the start of the first interstellar war. One of the big questions is why there's even a war in the first place. While our own galaxy might be finite, for human intents and purposes, it may as well be infinite. What could there possibly be worth fighting over? Even as the war starts, people are unsure of why it's happening. This is a war on a scale new to humanity's experience, like WWI. It was also something that blindsided conventional wisdom. "The powers that be would never let war happen; they have too much to lose. Saner minds will prevail."

Thucydides said...

Given the scale and scope of the energies available to a space based civilization, I can see a lot of pressure towards the unitary "Empire of Man" model from Jerry Pournelle's Co-Dominium future history.

Even with solar sails or ion drives, you can plot courses within the solar system to build up huge velocities and hit planets or space infrastructure at cometary speeds. For space infrastructure, all you might need to do is disperse a cloud of sand as you enter the terminal leg of your mission.

Given that sort of threat, any would be Power isn't going to let just *anyone* have access to space, and probably won't be letting people or objects have free reign in the system anyway.

If your setting is interstellar, you might have even tighter controls depending on what sort of FTL system is being used. Point to point like wormholes or the Langston Drive can almost be treated like the Strait of Hormuz or other navigational choke point. Other systems might require much more complex or elaborate measures to ensure the system isn't struck by surprise (and of course the ultimate work around is sending a prjectile at relativistic velocity agains the target system).

Eth said...

Yeah, relativistic bombardment is a problem I have with the setting I'm currently working with. As it is in the far future with quite a few collapsed, active and runaway technological singularities around, I went for a widespread handwave anti-RKV system defense derived from attempts at tractor beams.
Basically, if you sit on a huge mass (like, say, a planet or a star), you can use it to slow down a distant object as if you pushed at it with a long stick. The faster it is closing in, the bigger the effect will be, and the better range you have.
I still have to do the maths, but the idea is that you can splat a RKV like an egg at dozens of AU, but have pretty much no effect on something closing in at "normal interplanetary speed".

I'm still wary of unintended consequences, though. Some aggressive (and probably crude) singularity could throw a RKV planetoid equipped with such a system, but that's ok. Runaway singularities are supposed to be god-like scary.

Jollyreaper, I've begun Through Struggle, The Stars based on your recommendation. And now you owe me four hours of sleep - so far, this book is good. If it keeps it up, it may become my favourite space opera book and milSF book.

Interestingly, it follows war conventions about avoiding massive nuke/orbital bombardments at first, but I wonder how they will hold as the war becomes worse.
Also, they don't actually have quite infinite land : the wormholes have to arrive by relativistic rockets, so they only have access to a (growing) sphere of that many light years, were interesting worlds are in finite number. That, and it takes decades for a wormhole to arrive.
So even if one single world would probably take centuries to develop, it's just enough so that one nation may like the idea of taking another's planets.

If I really, really had to nitpick, such wormholes could be used for time travel, as one closer to a gravity field (or moving a lot) would become desynchronized with the other end, and end up further in time.
Worse, by putting them close to one another spatially, you could create a closed spacetime loop (as in, you could come back to your original point in spacetime), which seems to break physics IIRC.
But hey, nothing that a bit of suspension of disbelief about some hidden physical law preventing that won't fix.

jollyreaper said...

Glad you like it!

There's spoilers I'm avoiding with TSTS but yeah, those things you mention, he's thought of them. There's reasons. I used infinite as hyperbole but yeah, it'll take centuries to fill up those planets.

If I were to post quibbles for the stories, they boil down to this:
1) The main character sees a little too much action but I think it's necessary for giving us a personal POV for the war.
2) Author fiat says hard AI can't work. But even at that, there's just not enough automation. But if there were, it would be hard to tell this kind of story. But I think we'll have our self-driving cars sooner than later.
3) Ground weapons haven't changed much. I think we'll see huge changes in the next decades with non-lethals. My example I always go to is a tackler robot. Soft, foam-covered tentacle that can roll after a target and then entwine and restrain without breaking bones, using knockout drugs, etc. (And there's really no such thing as knockout gas, dosage is a bitch and you could easily kill.) He's not really trying to write the definitive near future ground combat book.
4) For the long-term war, what happens when people start popping wormholes? It's like blowing bridges but 1000x more serious. Is it worth cutting yourself off from civilization to forestall invasion? Can you survive? Is it then feasible for a naval force to strap on booster tanks and undertake a 10 year mission to STL from one system to another? It's not a plothole yet and he's been cagey about what happens when the war hits the next level so I remain curious, not critical.
5) The world political situation is probably now +50 years, not now +200, but it still feels real.

You seriously face Trek problems with the PMF like computers and communications easily outstripping what's on-screen. You can also drive yourself nuts future-proofing a story and still get it wrong.

Lumpkin has put a lot of thought into the story and you'll find yourself recognizing historic cases he's modeled certain events on. It's not so much "I'm telling the Battle of Thermopoylae in spaaaaace because I have no ideas," it's more like hey, you remember how pre-war military procurement was given a lot of thought and consideration and they picked the best mix of ships and weapons for the war they planned to fight which isn't the war they ended up fighting? Yeah, that. If I remember correctly there was a touch of the Battle of the River Plate in one situation.

The big takeaway for the series is that he's given thought to the stuff that normally gets glossed over in other books, shows, movies, etc. "If it didn't work that way you wouldn't have a story." "Well, yeah, but that's a terrible answer." With his world-building, it's rewarding to geek out on the details. Even if you might not agree with every assumption, you're not left facepalming and trying to overlook stupidity.

Eth said...

So I finished the first book. And yes, it is consistently good.
Actually, this is for now my top choice if I have to recommend "a good SF book".

The fact that the hero sees lots of actions, I can accept that with a variant of the anthropic principle:
Sure, it's improbable for one person to go through that much fire. But then again, it's the guy someone wrote a book about. So among the tens of thousands of people crewing those ships, it's about the one with about the most interesting story.

A story could be written about some logistics officer far from the action, going by his life and doing his job while world-spanning, unfathomable events are unfolding far beyond his reach, maybe sweeping him. But that would be a very different story!

Also, he does explicitly address the problem with wormholes and
time-travel, in a good old postface (like I hadn't seen for a long time). Basically, he follows the simple yet efficient way of "we tried, but the Universe doesn't work that way" (wormholes simply crash). So new physical laws, but that follow the correspondence principle by only affecting wormholes.

The infantry combat is indeed a bit more conspicuous. Even if I can imagine them using only flying drones (or maybe drone AFVs, but combined arms fights hadn't happened on stage), the infantryman seems surprisingly under-equipped. In some cases, it may be explained by them going "light", infantry being troops of occupation instead of more elite attack troops, or things like that.
Still, walking drones to transport stuff or offer fire-support could help. Maybe they have conventions against walking/infantry-like drones?
No scope-mounted cameras projecting on their goggles, better sensor network integration - which is something used even by today's armies. And probably other stuff I didn't pick up.
But for some reason, it didn't bother me.

About ships, the lack of automation didn't bother me much either. Some of the important tasks are automatic (counterbatteries), others simply need human confirmation (main batteries, once targets and such have been chosen). Then, people are still needed to make the strategic decisions, and maintenance as humans seem still more reliable for field repairs and damage control.
My guess is that haulers are far more automated and have a single-digit crew or so.
But it's interesting that the story is often about strategy, intelligence and such, that are still relevant even with automatons doing the actual "throwing photons at each-other" part.

Btw, I wonder if having the hero begin as a "what we have closest to a space fighter" dropship pilot an intentional nudge to softer SF...

About the lack of true AI, I see two explanations : the first one is that it would endanger this kind story, obviously.
The in-universe reason is that no-one found how to make an usable true AI. I guess they could try to simulate a brain, but there may be strong ethical problems with that - particularly if the simulation or the copy is imperfect.
One could also try to evolve an AI through genetic programming, but even if it works, you may end up with an alien AI that you can't really trust.
After all, true AI has only become more and more distant with decades passing, so assuming that we won't have them in one of two centuries doesn't feel that far-fetched.

Eth said...

About politics, it's true that it feels more like a "50 years from now", but I wouldn't expect politics in 50 years to look at what we are predicting anyway.
For what we know, at this time Brazil may compete with South Korea and Russia for world hegemony and India being the first ones to put someone on Venus, with Europe in tatters, a Chinese civil war, the US falling back to isolationism and Japan crumbling under a demographic disaster.
Or something completely different.

So as the world in 200 years could probably be anything, well, this one isn't worse than another.

Beside, it's funny to see the Iranians being allied with the US, UK and Australia. And for the little we see of them (their space force is probably tiny), being pretty good at that.

Now to find the time to read the second book...

jollyreaper said...

Glad it was good for you all the way through. You should drop the author a note when you're done. Writers always enjoy feedback.

Yeah, the Iranian bit had me laughing. But who in smoldering Washington in 1814 would have thought the US and UK would be buddy-buddy? Hell, ask anyone about the idea of a Jewish state in 1913 and they would laugh you silly up one side and down the other. A Jewish state in the Levant? Is this another one of your preposterous scientific romances you've been reading?

Did you appreciate the military mistake in not appreciating the full implications of the long-range laser ships?

Also, what's your take on wormhole-popping? I think that's the nuclear option in this setting and, from a world-building perspective, the biggest future question. People start popping wormholes, interstellar humanity is ended for a good long time. Sure, Earth ain't going anywhere but any colony that isn't already self-sustaining is going bye-bye. The colonies that are self-sustaining in terms of food and basic materials are still probably maintaining a high input of manufactured goods and electronics. If, say, Hawaii were cut off from the rest of the planet, I'd suspect things would get ugly before they stabilized and they'd be a hundred years or more back on the development ladder. You can refine plant products into usable fuels but where are you getting new tires from? Belts, hoses, what happens when the existing supply dries up? Nobody's making integrated circuits there but a solar calculator is probably good for decades before the keys wear out from use.

As for the quibbles, like I said, nothing is a show-stopper for me. I can't wait for the third book.

Eth said...

Trying to avoid spoilers, well, it feels a bit like naval WWI : before the battle of Jutland, there were quite a few doctrines that hadn't been tested before, so while they looked good on paper, they didn't always work. The biggest one being battlecruisers.
Here, it's a bit of the opposite : everyone has a versatile cruiser or so, but one side got the idea to build a few specialised battleships.

One could argue that they should have understood the implications of such a specialised ship, but with the general feeling of "bah, it's not like an interstellar war will happen anytime soon anyway", it was probably deemed too much of an effort (or simply too much money) to build specialised ships like that, or find another way to seriously deal with them.

And then, there's the bit where they can't use their main laser as a laser counterbattery - because some clown considered that it wouldn't be practical to align the ship like that anyway. I see similarities with how cannons were phased out of jets, because "who needs a cannon, now that we have missiles?", which was proved wrong (and reverted) with the Vietnam War.
Actually, I would expect that to be the first thing they'll try, to adapt that threat.

In fact, this illustrate one of the things I liked in the scenario : neither side is über-competent, nor routinely incompetents. They are good at what they do, but yet inexperienced with wars and varied sides have develop varied doctrines - in addition to the problems with internal politics of either side, as well as people not always going together well.
It makes it feel real, without going for the "Glorious side A gloriously beating up side B!", nor (the rarer) "Military and government are a bunch of greedy incompetent fools who send the poor heroes to their doom by incompetence and greediness!"
Also, it doesn't feel contrived.

Similarly, he keeps things in a grey morality that feels believable.
At the end of the book, I could genuinely ask myself : what would I have done? Among the public, would have been pro-war? Against? Among some of the characters, would I have done like them? More importantly, what should I have done?
And honestly, for some I couldn't answer.

Anonymous said...

sounds like I should hurry up and get this book! Glad payday is tomorrow.


Eth said...

About blowing up wormholes (a bit later than I thought).

For now, it feels like something too extreme for any side to take. First, it would invite retaliation, which would be a Bad Thing. Particularly as they primarily fight for colonies, not for ideological domination or total annihilation of the other. So I would expect one side to concede before they go to such an extreme. Then again, if one side is too irrational and desperate, it may end up there.

With natural wormholes and one randomly closing up for 200 years, we actually have the backstory of the Vorkosigan saga (another great, if softer space opera series). The difference being (apart from the war bit) that the planet was more naturally habitable, so they managed to survive, only knocked to middle ages. It also had some nasty effects on their culture like prejudice against malformed or mutants. They had to develop to let malformed (due to planetary conditions) newborns die, as they simply couldn't afford to raise them. So even after they reconnected and jumped to standard galactic civ levels, prejudice is still there as an artifact of those time.

But in the case of Human Reach, I'm not sure they colonies may even survive the decades (or centuries, if Earth took hits) necessary before someone sends them a new wormhole.
Their industry is still dependent of Earth, so it would crumble once cut off. So depending on how far they fall back, they may not even maintain enough industry to keep surviving local conditions.
The oldest colonies may survive, by having more advanced terraforming (so an ecosystem to survive on) and a more autonomous industry, but even then they may take centuries before being able to go back to space.

What may be interesting would also be the effects of accidental wormhole loss. If they are not careful (and they may not always be careful enough), they may damage the wormhole by fighting there as a collateral. Or a wormhole may collapse due to a malfunction or mishandling, as it seems to have happen in the past.
Even if there isn't another loop to there yet, the colony would be cut off for less time, as a new wormhole could be sent to them from closer. So their survival chances would be far better, while still having profound effects on them.

While I'm at it, an interesting consequence of the wormholes is that starships are limited in width : they have to cross a 40m-large wormhole. I wonder if non-interstellar spaceship would have taken advantage of that, but those are probably not considered worth the specialisation.

Thucydides said...

In the Orion's Arm website, "popping" wormholes is more than just a nuclear option; the amount of stored energy in a wormhole is enough to practically sterilize the solar system in question. (I'm not entirely clear if there is some sort of backwash through the other end, if there was then "popping" a wormhole would be a non option for either side).

Not having read the books yet, I can assume the in universe fact of fixed wormholes will drive naval strategy and tactics towards the sort of "chokepoint" strategies that traditional navies on Earth used, you might not be able to find your enemies on the open seas, but you always knew they eventually would have to pass through a straight or around a cape in order to get somewhere you considered important.

Starting with that assumption, in an interstellar war scenario, the defender could have a large advantage, knowing exactly where the enemy fleet would have to appear, and perhaps surrounding the wormhole with warships resembling monitors (very small ships mounting giant weapon batteries) since they would not have to go anywhere once in orbit around the wormhole exit.

More modern counterparts might include something resembling an Aegis cruiser or even an arsenal ship capable of unloading hundreds or even thousands of missiles or projectiles against an incoming warship.

In practical terms, the only way to force your fleet into a contested system would be to send in hundreds or thousands of missile busses through the wormhole first in an attempt to clear a fire corridor through the defending fleet before your capital ships could arrive. As an alternative, the capital ship might actually resemble an aircraft carrier in function (especially if missile busses can't carry smart enough missiles to clear a path, making the incoming fleet resemble a WWII era carrier battle group (heavily armed battleships to provide the close protection and one or more carriers to bring the offensive firepower).

WRT the colonies, it might make more sense to have the colonists in O'Neill type colony structures orbiting the planet being terraformed (as well as "worksites" throughout the solar system). They already have closed biospheres and the compliment of on board tools and machinery needed to keep things going while the main terraforming effort is going on, as well as splitting the colonists among multiple self sufficient habitats in case something goes wrong. For any sort of terraforming to take place, the colonists would have to have enough tools and machinery to start their civilization right at hand, since they would not be able to wait for a left handed wrench, proper bacterial enzymes, climate software package or whatever other tools are needed to carry out such a complex task in real time.

It also complicates any offensive actions the enemy might take, since they not only have to fight their way through the chokepoint at the wormhole, but now subdue, kill or capture multiple self sufficient colony structures spread throughout the volume of a solar system.

It will be interesting to compare this to the books...

Jim Baerg said...

I haven't read the books yet, but judging by this:
'popping' wormholes, deliberately or by accident, is all too easy in the Human Reach ficton.

That suggests that a very high priority will be given to making each solar system have enough industry to survive isolation for however long it takes to set up a new wormhole, and to making lots of interconnections in the wormhole network so it would take multiple wormhole destructions to isolate a solar system.

Thucydides said...

A prime example of "cannon fire" is Star Trek. A kickstarted funded movie "Axanar" is set to be released in 2015, I'm sure will set off violent arguments among Star Trek fans over how it fits into the Star Trek "cannon".

Of course, there are huge inconsistencies within each of the Star Trek series and the movies, much less between them all, so in a sense almost anything that the fans and professional writers come up with can be considered "cannon", so long as they link it to something (however small or improbable) in an episode or movie.

For what its worth, I intend to sit back and enjoy the movie.

Anonymous said...

I watched the trailer for Axanar; I liked the 'documentry' style of the video. If the quality of the finished product is as good as this, I'll be satisfied. And speaking of "cannon fire" for Star Trek, they pretty much immunized themselves but introducing the concept of 'alternate' time lines. Annoys the hell out of some, but it does make for an especially elastic body of work.


Eth said...

Also, Star Trek never had the greatest attention to consistency anyway. I distinctly remember seeing a TOS episode about a precursor race that ended up seeding the galaxy (while blasting themselves to oblivion during a war), where one character even notes that it's probably why they look so similar. But there is also a TNG episode about a precursor race who seeded the galaxy (because they felt lonely), which was pretty incompatible.
But then again, Star Trek never had that much attention to consistency with real life either. Somehow, it doesn't feel like such a problem to simply enjoy the shows/movies when they are good.

Also, finished the second Human Reach book. You are right, I have to send an email to the author to pester him about the third b... I mean thank him for writing them.

Interestingly, infantry combat is more complete, with mentions of ground drones and robotic "mules" carrying equipment for foot soldiers.
Also, it looks like the Chinese starships are in a Navy, while the US has them in a Space Force. Funny that.

Locki said...

The Human Reach novels sound interesting and a more realistic SF setting. Thanks for the recommendation Jollyreaper. I've ordered in the first novel.

I've looked up the setting and it's wormhole FTL travel seems nicely consistent.

How do they explain away their antimatter torch drives and is the explanation consistent within the setting? Do they have some sort of unvulnerable magi-field so the engine doesn't melt down?

jollyreaper said...

I forget the technical details of the torch drives, called candles in the setting. You basically need them for the setting to work so even if they might seem a little beyond the rest of the existing tech, you have to have them or else all the combat would be different. There's probably tech fluff online. He excises a lot of world building from the text and puts it into online appendices.

Geoffrey S H said...

Just saw this:

Looks like the most realistic space combat game ever made.

Star Trek has the weird honour of many of its inventions coming into existence now. Replicators, small communicators... they even had an episode (DS9) with something that looked like google glasses!

Eth said...

Not counting some very niche games that may be more realistic, you may be right. After all, the standard is Homeworld and Sins of a Solar Empire (great games, don't get me wrong - but they are very soft-SF).

The game itself looks promising. I remember seeing a let's play of it some time ago, and it seems about as realistic as KSP : logistics are pretty nonexistant (you pay for a base and it's built), and you eyeball the trajectories, like KSP nodes.
I don't think there are mobile weapon platforms either (y'know, starships), which would be surprising from people able to routinely throw KKV at each-other.
But again, as a game it looks promising, as it uses a real-life physics element to twist the artillery game genre - and potentially teach said physics element a bit.

And now I want a simulator that would allow me to recreate Human Reach battles. And a grand strategy game where the player rules a Human Reach space power.

Oh, and is Interplanetary set in the same universe as the short film Cannon Fodder, by any chance?

Elukka said...

Realistic space combat games are an idea that's interested me for a good while now. I don't mind if it's not perfectly realistic in every respect but I would love to see more things that don't just throw the uniqueness of the space environment into the bin.

I've been working on something to that effect. I have a working game design for a simpleish space combat game, 2D, played on a hex grid, with vector movement. The intention is to simulate the tactical environment I believe would arise from my assumptions, not so much the physical particularities of it all, so things like distance and time are somewhat abstract. I also want the game to move at a brisk pace, so as to keep up a good cadence of meaningful decisions.

In the near future it's only playable by hand, through apps like Roll20, or anything that lets you have tokens, draw lines and use a hex grid. I want to turn it into an actual video game but my programming skills are not nearly up to the point where I could realistically implement it.

Some of those setting parameters:
- A typical warship has delta-v between 1000-2000 km/s and high thrusts of tenths of gees to multiple gees. This is achieved by both pulse and continuous drives using mixed antimatter-fission-fusion reactions that you shouldn't look at too closely.
- FTL allows fast interstellar travel and sets the stage but does not directly figure into combat. All drives are reaction drives and there are no faster than light sensors.

- Weapons are lasers, missiles and guns.

The sort of primary anti-ship laser you'd see on a cruiser has a mirror tens of meters in diameter and an effective range out to multiple light seconds. Longer ranged lasers could be built, but there's little point when your typical target becomes essentially unhittable at that point simply by jinking and relying on the light speed delay.

The missiles are optimistic, expendable nuclear saltwater rockets. They have accelerations in the low hundreds of gees, and terminal speeds of a couple percent c. They each carry a number of warheads, either kinetic or nuclear, which might end up being about equal in energy. Nukes might be worthwhile if the targeting problem of passing within a few kilometers of a target (sometimes a small one, missiles may be used against other missiles) is easier than achieving actual contact. I don't know if that's the case. Missiles can usually be defeated by a combination of lasers and defensive guns, but if the lasers are firing on your missiles they're not firing on your ships and you're free to advance. I only realized this opportunity cost to missile defense after it came up in game. This means a coordinated attack by laser ships and missiles fired safely from long range is an excellent strategy.

Guns are mainly for defense against missiles. They're basically fully automatic artillery guns that fire blobs of propellant tanks and thrusters. Muzzle velocities are so low compared to typical ship speeds that the shells can be thought of as stationary. They place themselves between the ship and and incoming warheads and rely on the speed of the incoming missile itself for the kill. They can also be used to bombard planets with nuclear shells, or to eliminate less capable spacecraft. They're a particularly necessary utility on ships that don't carry lasers.

- Maneuverability matters. A ship that can turn and accelerate at high rates is better at jinking, and can advance deeper into laser range against a less maneuverable target in relative safety. If the range is closed, the advantage disappears. Some types of ships will want to keep their range, others will find it better to attack at high speed.

I didn't mean to write a giant off-topic essay, but well. Have a shot of the game. This isn't the actual standalone game, because it doesn't exist yet, and that would have real graphics instead of quick placeholders.

Eth said...

Sounds pretty interesting.

For what I heard, we are luckier with tabletop wargames than with videogames. Attack Vector : Tactical seems like the most famous one, and one of the very few to manage 3D movement, apparently. I intend to try it when I get the occasion.

It could be useful to check for what he compiled on interesting wargame ideas, if you didn't already.
The bit on nonograms may be also more useful than one would think. For example, depending on what you want to do, they could be useful to give the velocity change/evasive manoeuvres given remaining propellant and propellant used and propellant used.

You are using some massive scales, there. Doesn't sound like near future, more like mid or far future, if only because of the industrial base that would be needed for such armies.
Not that it's a bad thing, of course. Nothing quite says epic like fleets of light-minutes-range 10m-appartus battle lasers.

I'm surprised that they use plain old nukes instead of nuke-pumped lasers. With this kind of tech, you would expect them to have it. However, it shouldn't change anything about the gameplay, as at those scales, they are still going for contact.
I'd also feel the need to explain away fragmentation kinetics. A simple way is to say that countermeasures (Whipple shields, laser point-defences...) made those inefficient compared to a single, massive kinetic impactor.

How long does one round represents? Also, how big is one hex? (Unless you are using more abstract measurements and the field isn't a strict 1:X map) And how big is the entire field?

How do you intend to keep track of the varied ship and missile vectors? For states, replacing the token or even ship sheets would help keeping track, but I fear that vectors could become unwieldy for large numbers of ships.
I toyed with the idea of using threads or something like that, but to no avail so far. So if you find a better way, I'd love to hear it :)

Geoffrey S H said...

Perhaps you should have an arrow (curved and straight variants) on top of the counter indicating velocity?

Elukka said...

Project Rho, this blog and a certain physics teacher have been pretty instrumental in providing inspiration, especially for the technical side of my setting. I've been an occasional commenter here before, though that may have been a while ago now!

See all those colored lines in the picture? Each dashed line represent's the ship's latest movement vector. At the start of a turn, you simply move the ship by its last turn's movement vector. You can choose to modify this by burning your engines, which lets you move the end point by 1 hex in any direction (or 2 for particularly high thrust ships). When you do that, you also expend a unit (or two) of propellant.

I can't claim to have come up with the original idea, but it's the most elegant solution I've seen. Not so great for orbital mechanics, but great for high energy disagreements in open space. Missiles currently don't use any vector system at all since I didn't want the time per turn to effectively double or worse as soon as missiles come into play. They just move somewhere between a minimum and maximum movement value in a restricted cone. This does technically allow for silly things like a ship outrunning a missile which should have far more delta-v, but it's never mattered in gameplay so far.

Bomb-pumped lasers are definitely within their technological grasp. I think there may be a mix warheads types. Kinetics are great as a basic anti-ship weapon, nuclear will do damage regardless of velocity and are useful for planetary bombardment. (relatively rare because a warship on a planet's orbit is like MAD without the 'mutual' part, which tends to dampen the will to fight) Bomb-pumped lasers might be most useful as missile defense, either on countermissiles themselves or on the point defense projectiles. With the speed these missiles are going a laser bomb will only hit a ship scant seconds earlier than a kinetic warhead. You're right though that the particulars of this don't really figure into the game.

Kinetic fragmentation can be dealt with by a combination of lasers, point defense guns and countermissiles, all of which, given time, can slag it before it can reasonably fragment. The ultimate fragmentation is when warhead meets point defense projectile and both turn into a stream of ionized particles. A last second interception is anything but safe to the defending ship.

Distances and time have no consistent scale. It's all just what feels good and makes it work as intended. Realistically, I think the tactical part of the type of smallish engagements depicted in the game might typically take a day or two, though sometimes it might be down to hours. Much of it is jockeying for position before the shooting starts.

The factions, ship types and such in game are intimately rooted in the setting, which I think is conducive to more varied and interesting scenarios. The societies involved have histories that have molded them, which in turn have created doctrines and tactics that, at least sometimes, translate surprisingly well to the game. I'd write a paragraph trying to explain the setting but I'm liable to go on huge rambles when I try.

Eth said...

Sounds pretty streamlined, which is good for battles with many ships.

If you are going for light-minutes, only the biggest celestial bodies like brown dwarfs or even small stars would have a gravitational effect. For those, using the Triplanetary gravity system could work.
I have tried to adapt this system for bigger objects with more than one hex gravity range, but with relatively limited success so far : it's a bit clunky and you won't get the same trajectory if you follow the reverse course.

"Interesting" objects like planets probably wouldn't have noticeable gravity effects, so they could be simply be put on a hex if necessary. And with hours- or day-long battles, even the most inner planets would pretty much be static.
Maybe having a rule where you can gain one free accel when crossing or entering it for the biggest ones?

I can see rooms for fortresses as well : basically an initially immobile ship that has no movement or very little propellant.

Also, how big (in hexes) is the board?

What software did you use for this mockup, btw? It looks pretty nice.

What system do you use for randomness? I personally like opposed d12 (keep the difference), where one unit only uses one throw per action to help streamline. So if two missiles are targeting one ship, the ship has only one die, whose result is opposed to each missile die.
But then again, I have a soft spot for the nice-looking and unfairly underused d12.

That's a lot of questions, actually. Well, that's because it does sound pretty interesting. You also got me curious about the varied scenarios and faction-based doctrines.

Elukka said...

Yeah, I might have celestial objects that would affect your trajectory on a close flyby Triplanetary-style. If you come up with an elegant system for multi-hex gravity range, let me know!

I've also been sketching out cover mechanics for smaller objects like asteroids, the idea being that a ship that has matched trajectories with and is hugigng an asteroid (or a large space station!) could easily maneuver to place the object between itself and incoming weapons fire within the span of a normal maneuver action. In terms of gameplay, you'd nominate a direction in a narrow cone from where you can ignore all incoming damage. It might be of somewhat niche usefulness, but I'm thinking a map set in an asteroid field might be interesting - there'd be multiple positions of cover that could let a defender force an attacker to split their forces.

Space stations, planets/moons and asteroids may all be 'units' in some way - they might be armed, or they may have objective facilities on them. For natural celestial objects, depleting their hp would destroy the facility but not the object itself - the weapons aren't quite that powerful.

The latest game was on a 60 x 35 hex map. I've been inching down their size to determine what's actually necessary for a typical 1v1, and so far there's been no sense of the map edges limiting things. Scoring currently is a simple and placeholdery system where you win by simply destroying more ships in points value than your enemy. Ships that leave the field survive by default, but can be chased down - they are not assumed to fight back anymore to simplify things. If any of your craft can match trajectories with an escaping enemy and has any delta-v left after, you get the kill. Often during a battle missile ships with expended ordnance and severely damaged or mission killed ships will attempt to burn away in the most convenient direction.

Random chance currently exists in laser shots, system damage and point defense rolls. Lasers are an automatic hit up to a certain distance from where their accuracy starts falling off per hex. You roll percentile dice, modified by the evasion rating of the target. This is 0 for a typical warship, but may range from -20 to +20 for less and more maneuverable ships. This models what is achieved by jinking. For a nonmaneuverable target like a space station, evasion rating is -100 and every shot will hit. Accuracy for all laser weapons is the same at a given range, because it's determined by lightspeed lag and target maneuverability, but maximum range and the damage curve varies by weapon.

When ships take damage over a certain threshold, you roll on a table for a result based on facing. Systems like lasers and main engines can be knocked down either temporarily or permanently. This makes large ships fairly resistant to being killed, owing to their redundancy and plain bulk, but good hits can destroy vital systems enough for a crippled ship or a mission kill.

Point defense rolls give you a certain amount of dice, determined by ship type, which substracts from the missile damage. Missiles will always hit unless destroyed beforehand. I'm debating replacing this with a system where a shield of projectiles can be built up over several turns, at the cost of losing it if you maneuver - they can't possibly carry enough delta-v to match the maneuvers of a ship's drive. (and if they did, they would be huge and much fewer in number and more properly modeled as a missile) This would allow the interesting effect of a ship under missile attack being essentially pinned down, where it must remain on its trajectory for enough time to build up a shield. It may also allow the use of guns against ships in a very limited fashion.

The software in the screenshot is Roll20, an online system designed mainly for role playing games. The tokens are quick graphics I threw together. The game can be fully played on Roll20 because it's simple enough to play by hand, but it's essentially played by hand as you would a tabletop game.

Elukka said...

It occurs to me I should possibly set up some sort of blog-type solution for my setting and the game. I honestly don't know if anyone is interested in my worldbuilding stuff without prior interest from somewhere, but it's worth trying. I am working on a novel-length story but I'm not realistically expecting the first proper thing I write to be published.

Geoffrey S H said...

It certainly sounds interesting.

There must be SOMEONE that would want to turn it into a computer game- some indie game developer perhaps?

Elukka said...

Well, there's me at least! It's just my programming skills at this point are incredibly basic and if I started trying to develop a game right now it would no doubt end up an impossible-to-maintain mess of code, assuming I didn't give up after flailing about ineffectually. There's a lot of studying and practice to go, and while I'm not gonna be making a big complete game in the immediate future, it is a road I'm on. It's an idea I really want to see explored in game, and I just wanna play it, so I figure I've gotta make the game.

Eth said...

So, just checked Roll20, and it looks pretty amazing, thanks!

You should definitely make a blog or something, otherwise I'll continue with questions until you explained the entire game anyway.

Unfortunately, adapting wargames into computer games doesn't seems to have a lot of traction - that would be great, though.
I guess Roll20 could be used for some, like this one. Something for wargames without a grid like 'Hordes of the Things', or 'the Art of War', would also be great. A version of AT:V with a 3d UI as well, for example.
But I guess it's considered too much of a niche by those with the resources to do such a thing, alas.

For the Triplanetary system at more than 1 hex range, I'll post what I have when it is more presentable.
Basically, the problem is that you can't simply change the next vector by looking at what it crossed, as this causes errors. In Triplanetary, it wansn't much important because, as there are only small changes, the error is minimal. But with bigger fields, the error becomes too visible.
So to avoid error, you have to change the vector when the ship go through each hex individually, which is clumsy and prone to error, particularly with bigger fields.
I'm not done experimenting yet, but I'm not sure it is possible to keep it streamlined, unless we are ready to have hexes where the player chooses if, for example, this hex pulls the ship by 1 or by 2 - which creates its own host of problems.

Thucydides said...

Just curious as to why you don't seem to have considered the "ORION" nuclear pulse drive for the warships in your setting.

ORION is the only system which provides both high ISP and thrust, and can motivate extremely large spaceships (the USAF did some very preliminary design studies in the early 1960's for space "battleships" with a 4000 ton mass, for example). A ship that big has plenty of room for nuclear reactors, heat sinks and other apparatus for laser and particle beam weapons, plus lots of room for missile batteries and point defense systems as well.

ORION can even be scaled down to create "small" missiles with 100g acceleration. This was a real world proposal to build asteroid interceptors to defend the Earth:

The specs are pretty spectacular:

There was a three page paper: Nuclear explosive propelled Interceptor for deflecting objects on collision course with Earth. Johndale Solem, Los Alamos, proposed unmanned vehicle. No shock absorber or shielding. The pulse units were 25kg bombs of 2.5 kiloton yield.

Get to high velocities with only a few explosives and small shock absorbers or no shocks at all. Launch against a 100 meter chondritic asteroid coming at 25 km/sec. 1000 megatons if it hits. Launch when it is 15 million kilometers away and try to cause 10000km deflection. A minimal Orion weighing 3.3 tons with no warhead would do the job. 115 charges with a total of 288 kiloton yield. Launch to intercept in 5 hours.

The bus alone hits with a gigaton of energy, so deploying submunitions is just icing on the cake.

Elukka said...

I have. :P

The drives are unrealistically powerful for pure Orion, so I'm assuming they're basically fission-fusion fuel pellets ignited by minute amounts of antimatter rather than nuclear bombs. It would probably make more sense to go for a much higher pulse rate and some sort of magnetic nozzle/pusher deal but honestly I just like the aesthetics of a big honking pusher plate.

And while I do design ships to look good horizontally because that's how they're going to be looked at most of the time, they're still rockets and I want to make them look somewhat feasibly balanced despite the asymmetry:

(Kinda low on radiators, but it might be okay since it lacks lasers or electrical propulsion and the like. There's currently a droplet radiator for reactors and such running between the engine section and one of the missile arrays, and probably some heat rejection capability built into parts of the skin.)

Thucydides said...


I might have put a rotating section in the middle (think the Leonov in 2010 or the various EarthForce spaceships in Babylon 5), or perhaps a "hamster wheel" on the front behind an armoured shield, but the overall effect is nice.

My "idealized" fighting ship looks more like a paper airplane (the long triangular fins are the radiator surfaces) with the central axis being devoted to the laser apparatus, and a fusion drive in the rear. Drones, missiles and reaction mass tanks are clustered in the spaces between the triangular radiator fins. Not much to look at really, until the 10m laser expander unfolds from the front...

Elukka said...


By medicine or genetic manipulation or a combination of both, the people who crew these ships, a sort of nomadic society part of and in service of an interstellar empire, have lived in space for thousands of years and have long since overcome the issues of living in freefall through whichever means.

The more closely a spacecraft is associated with a planetary society, the more likely it is to have spinny bits. The fleetspeople can abide by reasonable gravity (and indeed they need to, when the ship is under thrust) but many of them set foot on a planet or rotating habitat exceedingly rarely, if ever. When they're not living on a ship, chances are they'll be found on some of the more culturally fleet-like habitats that have sprung up around the empire in places where fleet people end up.

(Hey, worldbuilding! I can pretend to be almost on topic now!)

Thucydides said...

Off topic, but I would like to recommend a book:

The Martian by Andy Weir.

It is essentially Robinson Crusoe on Mars, but quite well written and keeps you guessing right until the end.

Well worth the time to read.

Tony said...


"I have. :P"

Hmmm...what's with the fly-out missile tubes? I'd think that something derived from aviation technology -- which a space warship would be -- would have something more in line with ejector racks.

Elukka said...

The tubes are there to provide some level of protection from space debris and such.

I don't think there's much in parallel to aircraft missiles. These are three stage missiles six meters in diameter, over 900 tons each. (There's a chemical kick stage, an NSWR main stage and individual seeker stages)

I suppose there's no reason you couldn't store them in a magazine sort of thing where you'd just open the doors and let them draw away on their RCS. There's some advantage to storing them outside the ship as nuclear salt-water rockets are temperamental things potentially prone to unplanned criticality events in case of damage, and tubes seem to provide a reasonable compromise between being essentially outside the ship while having some debris protection.

They're not supposed to protect against anything bigger than minor debris. If it blows, the structure wants to give way to direct the force outwards. The missiles could just as well simply be released and let to fly out gently on their own, but they need a chemical kick stage anyway to gain some distance before main stage ignition so that it doesn't fry the ship, and you might as well use that to fly out of the tube.

Thucydides said...

Just an idle thought, but if the missiles are supposed to "fly out" it might be advantageous to place them on the end of long tethers. The ship can have a modest degree of spin for internal gravity (so the toilets work, for example) while the missiles will be pulling a fair amount of "G" force. At launch, an explosive bolt severs the cable and the missile is already under weigh at a possibly considerable velocity.

This also means you can reel in the missiles when you are going into port, or symbolically to declare harmless intent.

Thucydides said...

For anyone who wants to restart the discussion on Laserstars, here is a piece on very large scale laser platforms in space (both for use as weapons and as power stations for laser thermal and lightsails):

Geoffrey S H said...

One thought I've had, is related to the ever increasing numbers of interesting and distinctive (iconic?) hard- sf space craft on the web. There are not just good quality cgi pictures, but also videos (the orion battle on atomic rockets is an example). Now lets take into account all these 'star trek new phase' web shows and stuff like Axanar. Why can't a bunch of people get together and do a proper hard-sf combat film? Now hollywood directors to tel them they 'can't do that'!

I'd be the last person that could do something like that (well, maybe concept art and world building) but it would be interesting to see someone try. You'd need artificial gravity for the set, but other tan that the world's your oyster!

Rick said...

I'm baaaack ...

And there's a new post on the main page.

Cordwainer said...

Well, Thucydides if you have a ship spin on it's longitudinal axis it's not going to make it very maneuverable in combat(although in the vast distances of space that may not matter much). If you have it spin(even modestly) on its latitudinal axis or use a hamster wheel your going to have to have your RCS constantly making course corrections to keep you on course. Also hamster wheels and spin-habs add extra complexity that can compromise structural integrity in combat oriented vehicle. Obviously you can engineer around that but it might be easier for your space cadets to use a zero-g toilet than design a spinning whirligig of a ship.

You are right in that you could design a relatively small ORION nuclear pulse drive bus missile. Such a weapon would be better suited as a planet-smasher than a ship to ship weapon though and would not be the most efficient use of nuclear weapons for propulsion. Fission fragment rocket propulsion or NSWR's would be more efficient.

A primitive FFRE would make for a decent "cruise missile" in space while you could probably design NSWR's that would be relatively safe to store. The NSWR only goes critical when the fissionable liquid is at high pressure and high concentration. You could separate the water from the nuclear salts by storing the nuclear salts in some kind of porous material(carbon nano-gel fiber?) and then running water with a catalyst or acid compound through the material at high pressure. Make the rocket small enough and you wouldn't need much in the way of a leave off distance from your space craft for safety. Heck, you could shape your nuclear salt core into a fuel cone and spray it down with high pressure water from the ship before launch. For instance you could have a large reaction plate shaped like a venture bell but instead having an open bell you place drum like lid of salted porous material at the bottom of the bell with a sizable hole in the center. Shoot hot pressurized water from your ship into the center of the hole where it pours back onto the porous plate at the bottom. After awhile you get a nice explosion but not before it has been pushed away from the ship. The water spray from the ship acts as a heat and radiation shield from the NSWR's exhaust and to increase the likelihood of critical mass the water spray could be spiked with a low amount of fissionable material as well. The "salted" fuel lip at the bottom of the bell shaped fuel nozzle would have upward hanging lip, when onboard enriched nuclear salt water is sprayed along the edge of the nozzle and onto the lip some the water flows back up into the nozzle. Directing a central stream into this overflow would create thrust and a critical reaction for further flight. These would likely be small and light "sprint" missiles for ship to ship combat.