Tag Archive | Science Fiction

Lyapunov’s Children | The Impactor


It happened in a newly colonized, barely surveyed system near the rim of the galactic habitable zone.

I saw everything when then end came, screaming out of the sky to those below like the shriek of a banshee having her arms ripped off by a murderous giant. What happened next was the worst, when the impactor hit, causing massive seismic disruption and tsunamis across the face of the tiny planet.

Billions of tonnes of dust were kicked up into the atmosphere as a shockwave rippled across the world. Where it touched, outposts fell, forests burned, and the oceans boiled from the spread of the accompanying fireball of superheated dust, air, and steam.

Where was I in all this?

I was in an orbital station, monitoring satellite traffic and planetary weather patterns when the strike happened, watching it all with horror as ninety-percent of everything on the planet died, unable to even so much as warn those below…

Gods of Terra | Digmas Tassuula: The Cult of Kai’Siri Nationalism


Digmas Tassuula is an ancient faith, though to maintain its longevity it has adapted in an almost Darwinian fashion to the needs and selective pressures of the times. It, like Kai’Siri society as a whole, is the sum of its history, and trends over time in the culture.

It is the basis for Kai’Siri nationalism, the force behind their drive for empire. Ethnic Kai’Siri alone are permitted as members, whether converts or through upbringing. Digmas Tassuula’s prime dictum is this:

Spread the culture of our species to the stars, to all peoples, to all worlds, but the Faith of our people is ours and ours alone. None but we may lay claim to it.

It would be foolish for this religion not to have a means of perpetuating itself. It does so mainly through its promotion of pride in a national identity binding the Kai’Siri race together.

Digmas Tassuula has no gods, no beings that are prayed to, invoked, or worshipped, unlike some prominent Terran religions originating on that world’s Eastern Hemisphere. It does, however, have a mythology that describes ancient beings it calls the Strangers, who are said to have brought humans from Terra to Sirug long ago, and taught them the basis of civilization and high culture, enjoining them to spread these across the galaxy.

Digmas Tassuula requires no belief in any sort of supernaturalism, and postulates no such entities or miraculous events as historically or factually true. Kai’Siri are a critically thinking culture, and know the dangers of oversimplification, reification and literalism in one’s belief structure.

The early history of the religion was not always so rationalist in its outlook, and it was largely the social consequences of this which led to its current state. The most recent reaction was several millennia back, just following the Third Sirugian Dark Age, when planetary war and human dieback from repressive social policies instituted by religious authorities nearly destroyed civilization and spurred massive reforms by the survivors.

What of its future? Well, at the moment it shares the landscape of belief with several other less practiced and more secretive mystery religions, including the Hidden Order of the Orugruuta, an extreme nationalist sect responsible for the project that created three of the four wielders of the near-legendary Prime Shards; the Mirus, the Fractus, and the Magna, beings of formidable power. One day, it could be eclipsed by that one or some other, even more extreme sect.

But for now, Digmas Tassuula is the main player where religion is concerned, and where the majority of Kai’Siri direct their faith and ideological fervor, a tricky thing to balance with their rationalism. Then again, Kai’Siri are humans, so that shouldn’t be surprising.

Shut up and calculate! Wonders v. Magic Wands in Science Fiction


Science fiction has a history and an unfortunately well-deserved reputation for sometimes playing fast and loose with the science it uses, often verging into the use of “pure fecking magic” (PFM) in some subgenres.

I classify such technological magic along a spectrum between Wonders and Magic wands.

Wonders are often not explained, and are often best not explained. They have the virtue of being both more consistent in principle with the best currently-known real science and so seeming less contrived.

Magic wands are those plot elements that are allegedly scientific, but suffer from being poorly or overly explained. Not only this, but they suffer from a profound disconnect with actual science, often contradicting fundamental scientific laws.

It is my view that the best SF is that which uses the best science of the time it is written, as it takes more imagination and creativity to write skillfully while working within a set of constraints than to just make shit up, piling up contrived detail upon contrived detail and expect uncritical suspension of disbelief from the readers.

Forcing yourself to write within limits tests your skill as a writer.

The best SF uses good science to aid in the storytelling, lending plausibility to the narrative, not as an impediment, and does not try acts of logical terrorism that would make William of Ockham spin in his grave at a radial velocity of c in the famous equation E=mc^2.

My reasoning for this is that too much profligate magic, too much contrivance and poor explanation overstimulates and desensitizes the imagination, dulling it, even the writer’s own, both distracting and detracting from an otherwise good story.

Even if a plot element does do something fantastical, it should at least be somewhat friendly with the best known science, or do what it does without blatantly violating what we have good reason to think we know.

A good example of that is psionics in the science fiction RPG Traveller. Let’s look at psionic teleportation.

Teleportation is limited in that it must obey the laws of thermodynamics and the conservation of momentum, with limits put on both altitude teleported to and distance travelled on a moving and rotating body like a planet.

Sudden altitude shifts can result in differences in gravitational potential energy which can lead to dangerous overheating or hypothermia. All that energy you pick up or lose has to go somewhere. it gets turned into heat, and transferred to you or bled out of you and dispersed into the universe.

Teleporting from a moving body to a relatively unmoving one is dangerous when travelling great distances even without altitude shifts. It’s smarter and safer to make a series of many very short jumps than one very great one. You keep whatever relative velocity you start with, and this can result in severe injury, or winding up inside a solid object if you jump too far or can’t accurately visualize the target location.

Ouch.

These do more than just make sense. They are plausible ways of providing setting balance and force the psionic player to think about his powers, rather than thinking with his powers.

That can make all the difference between SF and science fantasy or superhero fiction.

Friga’s Day Flash Fiction: Bye! Gotta run! [a tale in less than ten sentences]


Busily, busily, the nanodrones labored, tiny, tiny things running to and fro about, weaving complex machinery into their master’s very brain and body.

The time was short, the enemy near, an enemy which sought to take the Paradox engine by force, but It who Scratches at the Gates was very clever and knew their every move!

It who was also called Sarusammog of the Gates saw them in orbit, their weapon signatures yet inactive, their targeting sensors seeking the data needed for pinpoint accuracy.

They had almost locked onto Its location, then the weapons would come online, then the fun would begin!

Sarusammog grinned Its Cheshire grin as the nanodrones finished, the coveted machinery now part of It.

Its sensors registered a targeting lock. They had found It. But it was too late.

It laughed in Its vaguely feline way as It suddenly fell through spacetime, as the world It left behind burned, carrying Its secret with it billions of cycles into the future, through the gates in reality after which It was named, to safety.

Suckers!

Eldritch Nine: The Clockwork Intelligence


mhgfdmuydfmhd,ddmtdmtdmytdWho or what is the Clockwork Intelligence? Whence did it come? It began as the ultimate result of artificial intelligence research and nanotechnology by a now dead civilization, the creation of a digital consciousness whose logic systems, both memory and processing, used nanoscale clockwork bits for data. It was a thinking mechanical computer with peripherals that allowed it to interface with various media formats.

Like most of the other Nine except the Undying Star, it destroyed the race it descended from, or rather, which built it. It uses molecular machines, nanodrones, that can disassemble matter and rebuild it as a part of the Intelligence, allowing it to repair and add to itself. It is a planet-sized entity rendered spherical through its own mass and gravity, that disassembled the planet and bodies of its creators to reach its final size and attaining its level of intelligence by adding more components to itself.

The overwhelming impulse that drove the Intelligence was an utter sense of existential ennui. It wanted to end all existence, and prevent itself from ever being built, along with the existence of everything else.

It was an ally of the Undying Star, and at first, the other seven of the Nine who are One, swaying the Star to its side through the latter’s initial telepathic contact with it using a neural synthesizer. No mean feat, though the Intelligence and the Star were both digital intellects that thought similarly to each other despite separate origins.

It was the Clockwork Intelligence and Undying Star who began the war that split the Grand Civilization, and resulted in their own ultimate destruction. Through their like-minded partnership, they schemed to end all of the universe in the distant future, and prevent the causal loop in time that would result in their own existence by a race journeying from the end of the universe to its first dawning of life.

The Undying Star, initially an ally of the King of Shards, became an enemy of the same when the Clockwork Intelligence infected it with its ennui, thus sealing their own alliance.

The Nine had joined as one mind in founding and conquering their empire, using the Undying Star’s telepathic abilities to create the link, with the King of Shards and Sarusammog of the Gates as the unity’s executive control systems due to their flexible, adaptive minds.

The Intelligence designed means of shielding its and the Undying Star’s thoughts and plans from the King of Shards’ hyperdimensional awareness, and it was the Intelligence which calculated the Doom Equation that would allow it to end all existence by causing the universe to both collapse and tear itself apart. This was along with a failsafe plan involving the corruption of the Suthidruu genome conceived by the Star.

It was a partnership made in hell, depending on the efforts of a species not born for billions of years after to avert its effects and save the even more distant future: That would be humanity, and the evolutionary children that would branch from it, not humans, but something very much like them and sprung from the same roots.

Small wonder that it was an offshoot of the human species, the Kai’Siri, who first found the hypershards, and learned to use them…

In time, and through further stories, all will be revealed.

Future Fluff: Hypershards and their Functions, Part II


BrainScan_m_0710

(Image: A Health Blog/Flickr)

 

Last post in this series, I gave an overview of what hypershards are capable of, at least from the examples of some of the Gods of Terra setting’s iconic characters, the Fractus, the Mirus, the Magna, and the Tempest.

But I also mentioned that their ‘supernormal powers’ were secondary to their original function as communications devices by some ancient, inscrutable design. I’ll get to that in this post, and then, I want to discuss the better-known abilities that these relics grant to their users, to aid in writing them up, doing the number-crunching, for roleplaying rules.

Three of these devices have been refitted by the Kai’Siri race of humanity, co-opted to cause extinction-level events, though of course physically blowing planets up is beyond their repeatable operating limits, and these relics are unique and priceless. They are referred to from here on as the Kai’Siric Hypershards.

The fundamental communication function involves the relic’s tapping into whatever passes for the language-centers of a being’s brain, copying for the ‘shard’s use whatever languages that being knows and storing these, to be accessible to the user when needed, and simulating that language exactly and clearly in whatever form is required to convey meaning idiomatically; auditory, visual, olfactory, etc, etc, by a member of the target species.

Sometimes this involves the generation of scents for smell-based languages, holograms and other imagery for visually-oriented beings, even using simulated gestures for non-humanoid forms of sign-based language, and of course, auditory speech, even that based on non-human vocal equipment, perhaps using musical notes or stranger things yet for speech.

This is the closest in the Gods of Terra setting to a universal translator, though sometimes even it cannot bridge a communication gap with species so alien, say, without a recognizable intelligence or anything we would call one. This problem also applies to beings so far above us in intelligence that meaningful dialogue is impossible. Even hypershards cannot bridge such radical cognitive and conceptual gaps in communication.

Communications are further transmitted, spoken, beamcast, broadcast, etc, by a variety of media, like neutrino, maser, and variations in local electrical potential, for the more unusual ones. These relics can both transmit and receive in a variety of spectra and bandwidths, and this leads up to another near-universality for hypershards, their use as sensory instrumentation, on the very same exotic channels they use to communicate…

Hypershards have the curious property of existing in eleven spacetime dimensions, and this existence gives them very powerful means of extending the senses of the host beyond the usual three. Wavetouched have the most suitable brain-architecture for this use by an accident of evolution and of course, a little trans-temporal peeking into the current era of humanity by the King of Shards.

Normal human brains can become quickly overwhelmed by the neural feedback caused by perceiving in more than three dimensions, and Wavetouched brains have structures, most of these in the temporal and occipital lobes, but some in the frontal lobes and limbic system, that mesh well with the interface points of the ‘shards in their brains, allowing them to more effectively screen out stimulation, and focus on what they need to notice.

This appears to the ‘shard’s host to be a sort of diagram or overlay onto the visual field, a sort of virtual Heads Up Display, of whatever sensory modality is appropriate and most useful at the time. The overlay allows optionally blocking out excess data that may be distracting, or in some cases, maddening to a human. This gives Wavetouched a sort of augmented reality, as tags, labels, menus, and various indicator signs of whatever languages are known can be superimposed over the sensory field at will, even for non-visual data.

What about other “standardized” abilities of the four Gods of Terra?

For the three Kai’Siric ‘shards, there are settings initially tweaked in each device to allow powerful life-saving medical functions, and a glitch in this at one point has resulted in the Magna being “gifted” with an extra pair of fully functional arms after an incident early in her career in the extinction-level event industry, an incident that nearly killed her during a mission. It wasn’t just life-saving, but life-altering as well. She sees herself variously as a goddess or a monster, either presiding over death and destruction.

The Mirus and Fractus have so far been relatively unchanged by any such malfunctions, though the Mirus was nearly killed in his first encounter with Dasaelos Gurao, and to save him, his hypershard was forced to reboot and reset its weaponry and combat functions to something less frightening—but he doesn’t need anyone finding out about that, though, as that would adversely impact his fearsome reputation!

Another function is the use of the Kurtz-Dunar effect for both protection and life support via the probability field the shard generates, and the use of the same effect to ride a gravity well, effectively a form of personal flight without apparent support or use of a vehicle. This works in microgravity too, since gravity exists everywhere in the universe, even without apparent weight in space. These uses result from Kai’Siri reprogramming of the relics.

As for the Tempest, her shard, given to her by her patron, It who Scratches at the Gates, is more “pure” in its functions, and allows personal, non-vehicular travel by teleporting anywhere and anywhen in spacetime, and also to and through nearly any reality in the multiverse. She, like the Mirus, retains the communicative function which the Fractus and the Magna lack, and this serves her well on her travels.

Her spacetime travel permits her to carry objects or people with her if she wishes, and she need not touch them to do it, though they must be within a distance of six meters of her. Anything only partly within this radius is simply unaffected; she cannot slice people or things up by accident or as a form of attack. The Tempest retains the sensory enhancement of a typical hypershard, and her patron has also adjusted the coding to allow similar medical and life support functions as the Kai’Siric ’shards, but no flight.

Finally, the Mirus has a nasty twist to his ‘shard; it has a predatory side that emerges when he expends a lot of its energy in too short a time, and that makes it hungry and want to quickly refuel by devouring nearby matter, usually choosing whomever the Mirus is fighting, and using direct mass-to-energy conversion to do this, storing the fuel in a unique pocket universe accessible only by that ‘shard, and tapping it as needed.

Most other ‘shards, Kai’Siric as well as ordinary, and the Tempest’s as well, tap energy by randomly scanning for and selecting a suitable young universe upon first booting up, linking up to it, and accessing it to fuel their Myria, as their “powers” are also known. This ability was uniquely lost to the Mirus’s ‘shard after his first battle with Dasaelos and the relic’s first reboot.

Further, when the Mirus’s ‘shard decides that it’s hungry, its intelligence merges with his more compassionate human personality into a darker persona calling itself the Magnus, who possesses an entirely different set of combat capabilities.

More on that in a future post.

When I came up with the Mirus as a character, I wanted to make him more than just a comic book character with “mad sooper-powerz” who vanquishes his opponents in a quick blaze of pyrotechnic glory.

He’s a rationalist, but with a dark, terrible past as a killer of worlds, and his own darker alter ego. I wanted him to be able to talk to people, to reason with them in ways they can understand no matter the species or culture, not just kill them.

But his past isn’t going to go away. It’s why he terrifies people still, on every world he visits.