Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Interstellar Travel in the Age of Hypersail

So I've gone into why classic space opera makes no sense. I've also given one example of how we could try to get around that, the Into the Void setting.

The Age of Hypersail is another special case that tries to work with a limited number of assumptions to provide for a properly operatic setting without insulting our intelligence. I want to have stealth in space. Humans must remain important, not easily replaced with machines. The individual commander's initiative can shape the course of events. There are no push-button ships or push-button wars. This isn't going to be hard SF but semi-solid. Ships need to radiate heat, orient themselves with gyros and reaction control systems, burn rockets to move in realspace, don't have shields or artificial gravity, and, except where duly noted, operate according to the laws of physics. But the special case assumptions are clearly not hard SF. That's fine. I just need everything to be self-consistent and avoid obvious plot holes like having a genie in a lamp and not wishing for more wishes.

My notes on the concept of hypersail are a work in progress and by no means complete. But they're sufficiently progressed to invite discussion. I have them shared via Google Docs. Assuming permissions are correct, anyone should be able to view it without the need to sign in. 

Click here to enter the Age of Hypersail. As always, discussion is welcome. 


  1. Wooden ships and Iron mens IN SPAAAACE !!

    In fact, treating hyperspace like a 'fluid' medium, with its currents and storms (and travelling on it with sails) is a concept I heard about several times, who really interests me, but that I never saw well exploited. Too much space-galleons involved, generally.
    So this setting is really nice at first glance, but there are some points who could be clarified/improved.

    First, regarding the feedback discussion,
    You know the proverb, "FTL, relativity, causality, keep two." Well, if you don't want to ditch FTL, then ditch causality. Relativity is here, and getting rid of it will raise quite a few eyebrows. On the other hand, getting rid of causality can bring many fun things, if done right.
    First, I strongly suggest to have the Universe being already the sum of all 'time travel' effects ever. Meaning that you can't change history, because whatever history is, it's already the result of your efforts.

    But dropping causality don't automatically bring Delorean-powered time travelers, it can be more subtle.
    For example, hyperspace disturbances can be the result of future as well as past actions. A pre-nova system may have a giant and messy hypershadow. A liner may sometimes follow the tunnel of his own wake, which can both help or hinder. A future fight may disturb a generally calm region.
    It means that ambushing ships becomes difficult, because the navigator may 'feel' that something is odd, perceiving what may be the result of a future battle. It also means that a ship re-emerging may disturb realspace before even beginning its translation. (Which may be a solution against the surprise-attack problem, btw.)

    Now, you can make things even weirder : things don't have to happen in the future ; that they may happen can be enough.
    I can be wrong (quantum physics are really over my head), but I think something vaguely similar happens with particles, creating the 'phantom particles' : in some events, the position of a particle can not be precisely defined, meaning that it can be at several places, for what we know. But then, others particles don't know either, meaning that they may interact with said possible particle, until things are resolved and its position is known with more precision. Or something like that.
    The point is, it's head-scratching, weird, and if possible you should get a quantum physicist (if you are not one yourself) and ask him/her to explain it better to you, then use the same mechanisms for hyperspace. Or simply have the characters being as head-scratched than us lowly mortals, and still run with it.
    It would also explain why hyperspace is such a scary place. It is influenced by what is around in space, time, and probability. No wonder it's such a mess!

    You can also add that not only the emerging position in space is hard to calculate, but also in time. It should be limited, of course, to prevent those time travel messes we are all to familiar with, but it would make it for quite an interesting tactical addition. Particularly in scouting and information coordination. Just remember that if a ship did see another blow up, then the other did blow up. It's not avoidable (unless the ship saw it wrong, which can both happen and be used to 'trump fate').

    I don't like time travel in general, in stories. But if done well, dropping causality is an asset, not a liability.

    1. I'm particular about my time travel. I like it if it's the sole focus of the story and it's done proper. I really, really don't care for it when it's tossed in as an "Oh, yeah, and..." sort of thing. I blame Trek for that.

      I confess I really don't understand relativity and QM that much. I understand what the boffins tell me about it but it's far from intuitive. Every time I think I have a handle on time dilation the understanding fades when I try to put it in my own words.

      There's absolutely no basis for this hunch of mine but I wonder if our understanding of this stuff might be like a Sumerian brewer attributing fermentation to an act of the gods instead of yeast -- he might know how to make beer but his theory is completely off. So our QM theory is good enough to design integrated circuits but it's still as far off from the truth as Newtonian mechanics is from Einstein.

      Fluid causality would be exactly the sort of thing that might flummox computers but be the sort of thing humans can grok. Weird quantum effects could provide for appropriate plot complications that don't feel quite as artificial and forced as Star Trek. Transporters aren't working because of techno-babble? Ugh. But I can accept a flight being canceled due to weather, even though the writer pulled it from his bag of tricks.

      I like how it can add foreshadowing to a story without invoking the supernatural. Major disruption in a key shipping lane, sailors know that there will be a battle. Sure, you can tell some stuff in advance like knowing a major fortress would have to be taken to invade the enemy's heartland and so obviously a battle is coming but it's one thing to smell it on the wind and another to measure it on your sensors, especially when it's hard to say how far in the future those disruptions are from.

      But I'll have to say that I have absolutely no sense of how accurate that fluid causality would be, scientifically. Sure, I know hypersails is 100% magic tech but I also know it's not going to put the crew through reverse evolution and turn them into lizard monsters if something goes wrong. (Hello, Star Trek!) That's stupid raised to the tenth power.

      So I like fluid causality but I have to put a big proviso on it -- I don't know how credible it would feel. Needs more discussion. But if it checks out, it'd be great to include.

    2. I like it if it's the sole focus of the story and it's done proper. I really, really don't care for it when it's tossed in as an "Oh, yeah, and..." sort of thing. I blame Trek for that.

      Indeed ; it was one of the things I liked the less in Trek, or other series relying on "hey, it would be cool if we do X this episode" instead of a real story.

      Every time I think I have a handle on time dilation the understanding fades when I try to put it in my own words.

      Not so long ago, someone did explain me time dilation in a surprisingly understandable way ; though it may be a little off-topic (and break the character limit). But in comparison to QM, it looked simple...

      There's absolutely no basis for this hunch of mine but I wonder if our understanding of this stuff might be like a Sumerian brewer attributing fermentation to an act of the gods instead of yeast -- he might know how to make beer but his theory is completely off. So our QM theory is good enough to design integrated circuits but it's still as far off from the truth as Newtonian mechanics is from Einstein.

      I think I see what you mean, but the formulation is a little odd. 'The act of the gods' is not a scientific theory, but a metaphysic one. The scientific theory would be 'they send invisible spirits to explain the yeast it has to ferment', which would indeed be false. The metaphysic theory, on the other hand, is by definition not scientifically provable or disprovable (again, the 'how' vs the 'why').
      On the other hand, Newton was right, and still is in the tested context (of the time). Which is below relativistic speeds. Einstein is not exactly righter, he is more like 'right but talking about more stuff'. And neither theories explain why. They just say 'stuff fall this way', not why it works this way. (Funnily enough, Einstein would tell you that it's the act of God)
      So in a way, yes, there are probably more advanced theories waiting to be found about stuff QM describes. But keeping the field on what QM is about, it is pretty much right (tried and tested).
      Which is the whole point behind the correspondence principle.

      For less nitpicking and more on the topic, you precisely avoid to tell why hyperspace works this way, or what it is exactly, which is a good strategy : you can apply the workings you want on it, without being limited by a pre-described system (who could have unintended consequences). Which is exactly our state of knowledge about many things like QM.
      (Compare the geocentric 'sphere system' Newton helped crashing down : they 'knew' the system, and tried to find the rules from there.)

      But I'll have to say that I have absolutely no sense of how accurate that fluid causality would be, scientifically.

      You are describing a clearly completely unknown part of the universe. It means that the rules can be anything. The only two limits are self-coherence and correspondence principle (meaning that realspace still has to work the known way).

      So I wouldn't worry too much about sounding scientifically credible. Explaining that 'action A in context B (apparently) produce effect C' is scientifically credible. The concern will be to always be consistent, but with a solid grasp of the theory of hyperspace, it should be doable.

      The problem is that to be really interesting, a quite weird and mind-bending theory is required.
      Fortunately, QM has weird and mind-bending bits, so re-using those would help. This is why I'd suggest you to use QM as a basis : there are people who understand it and can explain it, so a hyperspace theory crafted on it would have a strong basis.
      Note that I'm not saying that hyperspace should run on QM, only that hyperspace theory would be similar on some points. (Not sure if this is clearly told)

    3. About fluid causality itself, it would be fine : like everything in science, you go from an axiom (future causes can have past effects), generally based on (in-universe) observations, and describe how things work from there with laws and theories.
      Science works like that : if X, then Y. For example, the fundamental axiom all science is using is, 'the observations match the reality' (opposed to, say, 'we are all plugged in the Matrix run by Brahma')
      'Hard' causality itself is often an axiom : future causes don't have past effects. That's what we observe, but we may well miss something. If we ever find wormholes, this may very well be disproved.
      That's why I prefer ditching causality than relativity. Easier to deal with it (in addition to the plot possibilities).

      I like the 'soft causality' term, btw...

    4. I'd most certainly have to run it past some physicists before writing such a story, that's for certain!

  2. Then, the other points :

    Now, your ships seem to have incredibly powerful lasers. You describe them as able to take RKV down. Either they have gigantic range, or they are almost Death-star-like powerful (probably both). But as much as I like lasers (no purple-green here, I also like kinetics and bomb-pumped warheads), those are problematic.

    If they have such a range, then battlestations are useless : Mount lasers separately on laserstars optimised for manoeuvres, and they can attack the almost-static battlestations while avoiding any return beams, due to the light lag.
    Also, the RKVs could dodge the same way. Meaning that whatever their range, they are able to take RKVs down at close range. Which means Death Star.

    If they are so powerful, then I expect fusion drives to be far too weak to feed them. Even antimatter-powered drives seem too weak. Maybe they use some zero-point energy or something? Anyway, such powerful lasers could probably be used for propulsion as well, even if their power source is not directly available. meaning that their torch drives would be really, really powerful. Maybe even 1g torches.
    Obviously, the battlestations are armoured (if they couldn't take hits, they would be built as individual laserstars, not as giant battlestations). So there are defences against those lasers, even partial. Which brings the question, why not armouring RKVs, then, or other projectiles?

    So you simply can't have RBoDs taking down everything including RKVs by themselves. I see two solutions to that :
    First, you can rid of the RKVs. Their drives are powerful, but not nearly enough for that. Even if someone did bring a ship at .1 lightyear and begun to accelerate an object in the direction of your precious installations/planet, then you could mount an expedition to take it down.
    There is the problem of things emerging out of hyperspace potentially at relativistic speeds. This can be handwaved, for example saying that you always emerge at speed close to the nearest gravitational sources. A planet or a star. Or even the galaxy if you are in interstellar space, where you could emerge at greater speeds relative to it, but there is nothing there anyway. It would also mean that if you emerge close to a planet, you are probably more or less at orbital speeds.
    You could try to enter or exit hyperspace at greater speed, but then your sails would be stressed much more, to the point of disintegrating you.
    Hyperdrive could be used at greater relative speed, though, to give it one more particularity.

    Second, beams are not that powerful. They can still be better than others weapons in most cases, so they are still used as primary ship-to-ship weapons. Others weapons may be used in special cases, though. Kinetics for long-range bombardment, for example (to force the opponent to come and attack your siege units). It also means that we are back to short ranges, light-second at best (so lighter ships can't dodge battlestation fire).
    Purple-green arguments gave us enough examples of laser-dominated battles, so no need to detail more here.

    The other solution is to make RKVs completely dumb. In Alastair Reynold's books, IIRC, he describes a 'railgun' : Basically, it's a giant one-shot weapon accelerating a RKV with near-simultaneous antimatter explosions. Like a gun, but bigger, in fact.
    It wouldn't be hard to believe that any such projectile would be unable to have any guidance or control system, due to the absurd energy levels and g's it would take on acceleration.
    It also means that you can shoot such a projectile down with another, which can even be smaller.
    The problem is that then, it would probably become a primary weapon alongside, or before laser. So if you want to keep lasers first, you would probably have to not go this far in the technology, and stick to the end-PMF/mid-operatic level.

    1. When it comes to a given setting, I divide the details into the critical and the optional. Optional details can be swapped and substituted without hurting the flavor I'm striving for but changing a critical detail could completely derail everything.

      Nothing about the purple/green realspace combat debate really affects hypersailing per se. What's written is 100% negotiable. The only thing that's certain is a) realspace combat will happen and b) hyperspace allows the ranges to suddenly become quite close, there's no need to make the approach in realspace unless the combatant is deep within the hypershadow.

      My primary fear for fixed installations is that they remain vulnerable to long-range attack. The ultimate expression of this fear is the Killing Star scenario, reletavistic kill vehicles. Now if that requires ridonkulous operatic fusion torches about as far out of line with the rest of my tech as planet-vaoporizing Death Stars then that makes me breath easier. Then again, if RKV's are feasible, that doesn't mean the setting won't work. We lived out the Cold War with cities highly vulnerable to nuclear attack with no means of defense. A setting with RKV's means that planets must be off-limits to attack via MAD theory.

      So, reactor performance is negotiable.

      Engine performance is negotiable.

      Thus missile performance is negotiable.

      Likewise, laser performance is negotiable.

      Anything that avoids fleets of robot drones and keeps humans essential to the action in a plausible manner is preferred.

      I would prefer to default to the lowest performance levels required to tell a good story so I can avoid excessive tech-wanking.

    2. Just one other clarification. The general idea I had to tame RKV's vs. planets was that that ravening beams of death would be like WWI machine guns, making defense stronger than offense. RKV's are like cannons vs. castles making offense stronger. So the idea was that the only sound way to defeat a ravening beam of death station is by dropping another beam of death station on top of it and the firefight would be suitably operatic.

      If RKV's aren't viable, ravenous beams of death aren't required to defeat them, thus battle-stations are scaled down as well as the ships required to defeat them. Regardless of the tech involved, the essential question is "how much does it cost the defender build the defenses and how much will it cost the enemy to reduce them?" That's what drives the story. Do you try to take the planet, blockade it at a distance, negotiate favorable terms for surrender? If the decision is to attack, then I need to make sure I do a good job with the descriptives.

    3. So basically, we just have to look at the many scenarios proposed on Atomic Rocket or Rocketpunk Manifesto and run with the most interesting one, then make the performance numbers match.
      As most of the stuff would be in hyperspace anyway, as you describe, it would be fine. The most important point here is self-consistency.
      That's why I'd suggest to either avoid RKVs or use RKV defences against them. A beam able to destroy a RKV would be so powerful that the tech implications would shake the setting (particularly by making battlestations useless).

      The MAD way could also work, true. I have a dislike for it, though : if there are many powers, then there are more risks that slagging happens, by war or terrorism (who may be funded by more third-parties). Human sphere can expand, meaning that you have more risks of rogue splinters going to the fringe and founding their own crazy state. You also have more risks of untraceable attacks, meaning no retaliation : RKV launchers without any identification emerges near your star and bomb you, you may never know who did it. Meaning that many will prefer offence to defence.
      So yes, it could work, but it would be quite limiting for the setting, IMHO. In addition to set a quite impressive tech level (if you have RKVs, you probably have high-operatic drives).
      The limit I'd put would be the 'R-guns' described above : absurdly expensive, big, unwieldy, loudly and smaller R-guns can intercept the purely-ballistic projectile. Also, as they rely on the detonation of supernukes instead of a drive or reactor, it maintains tech-level at acceptable level, and it can't be used as propulsion efficiently.
      Of course, that's more of a personal opinion, and a MAD-locked setting would work if pulled out right.

      Mostly, the point is : let's be sure to have crunched the numbers and avoided inconsistencies with their 'realspace' tech-level.

      About the battle-stations, you can keep them scaled quite up if a bigger thing can take more hits than several smaller things. Be it with point-defences, reactive/powered armour, force-fields or else.
      On top of my head, I'd suggest that power-plants become more efficient as they scale up, meaning more power for both attack and defence, but speed and agility scale down. Then everything try to be the biggest possible, limited by how agile they want to be.

      For the problem of long-range vulnerability, here's how I'd do it : their lasers are the biggest and best (better aiming, less jitters) possible, meaning more range than even battleships (but not by far). So to attack them with lasers, you need to come closer.
      For kinetics, their lasers and point defences are good enough to intercept any long-range atatck (other than RKVs).
      If there are RKVs, they are rare enough so enough RKV interceptors can be kept by the battlestation (so to use them, invaders have to destroy the battlestation by other means anyway)

      They could still be overwhelmed by long-range attacks, but then we talk about fleets so massive than they would have destroyed the battlestation anyway (albeit with more ship losses).
      But you wouldn't have only battlestations anyway, you would also need mobile fleets precisely for that. Pure reactive defence is bad strategy, any RTS player will tell you.

    4. I'm not wedded to RKV's so if they're scaled back to KKV's, that's fine.

      The battle-station idea is leftover from thinking lasers would be the queen of the space battle. Battle-station has limited strategic mobility (can move from one planet to another very slowly) and are meant to be more armor, reactors, and firepower in one place than an enemy could casually bring to bear.

      you are correct in that just sitting around waiting for the enemy to make his attack is foolish. Defending heavies would maneuver to engage attacking heavies but, depending on the battle, might try for a hammer and anvil approach, sandwiching the attacker between stations and mobile forces. If the defending mobile force is too weak, the defender might opt to let the stations bear the brunt of the attack and then drop the heavies in behind once fully engaged.

      My primary goal is to keep realspace battles interesting and moving at a good clip. Firing projectiles and waiting for two weeks to see who won might fit a certain scale of realism but it's not a good fit for this story.

  3. More about the details, now :

    You have smaller hounds made to disrupt medium ships. Heavy ships (let's call them battleships) are not disrupted by frigates or medium warships (let's call them cruisers, I'd guess it would fit them well). Still, there could be a type of ships made like an oversized hound (all engines and nothing else), to have the same role against those battleships (I'd call them destroyers, for 'torp...' er, 'battleship destroyers')

    Combat with depth charges (the mines), torpedoes/fighters (the hounds) and space-Tron (the manoeuvres) looks quite interesting, particularly in the chaotic environment of hyperspace.
    I'd expect piloted hounds to be better : faster reaction time, no concentration strain on the ship's navigator... Those pilots would fit the 'fighter pilot' trope quite well. I'd be curious to see how this trope could be applied to an entire crew with the destroyers, there are fun things to be made here.

    Are computers completely unable to do anything with hyperspace guiding? If so, why? There should be at least basic principles that the computer can get with the data input. For example, detecting the big fat wake of a warship in a not-too-perturbed environment. You could then have guided torpedoes, but also all the missile tropes to it : distancing them, losing them, making them lock on another ship, making them collide with some hyperspace feature/each other, 'shooting' them down with hounds...
    With the aforementioned dropping of causality, they could also try to use what they see to guess what the ship will do next : pilot skill becomes even more important.

    I'd call packet ships 'courier ships' instead, it sounds better (didn't have the idea, but it sounded good where I read it).

    Exploration ships could be quite an interesting setting as well : "Overpaid, fascinating job! Excitement! Going boldly where no-one went before! And (sometimes) coming back to tell what you found!" Those deadly regions of hyperspace won't discover and chart themselves, after all.

    I wonder what would be the effect of their job on the navigators, particularly as they would spend long, long times in this 'dream-like state' being the ship.
    I'd guess that some may want to stay connected as much as possible. With the progress of cybernetics, I'd even see them give their body up to be more permanently installed on the ship (if they have to go, for example, to another ship, they could take their old body back or use a temporary replacement body.)
    One of the story I want to write is about someone who gave up his body to 'become' a ship. It would fit quite well with this.
    As they become older (particularly if medical science made people longer-lived or ageless), I'd expect them to become more and more alien, it could be quite fascinating.

    Why 'realspace'? Hyperspace is not real? Unless it's in the mathematical sense ; you use complex numbers for hyperspace, is that so?

  4. Btw, do you prefer comments here or on the Google Docs page?

  5. I think comments on the blog would work for now. Comments in the document were from back before I'd shared it openly.

    As for the particulars of ship specialization, I'm trying to keep things in favor of generalists. Too much specialization makes for a dull story. You can have some great adventure tales with frigates but not so much with Soviet-era Oscar subs waiting to fire cruise missiles at American carrier battle groups.

    Realspace is called realspace to differentiate it from hyperspace. Old naming convention from classic scifi.

    As for giving up bodies, that becomes part and parcel of the "too far in the future scifi rabbit hole." We're too far in the speculative technology realm and I'm not sure what to think. I've seen good stuff done that way with Charlie Stross and Neil Stephenson but I would find it difficult to try writing like that.

    Is it more advanced to have cybernetic replacement limbs or cloned transplants? What would the command deck of a starship look like? Surely not exactly like what we have on modern wet-navy warships. What would the displays look like? How good will the automation be? Why aren't AI's doing everything? Can't we duplicate human minds now? And wouldn't we really be at a post-scarcity economy at this point? Trading material goods over great distances will seem about as outmoded and archaic a basis for an economy as offering blood sacrifice to the gods to keep the sun moving across the sky. And then I run in circles trying to figure out how conflicts will occur in such a setting. I can accept that human nature might not change but what will they be fighting about?

    Trying to conceptualize a really hard SF setting with a realistic extrapolation of technology just puts my brain in knots. It certainly kills the possibility for operatic stories, at least as far as my imagination can reach. That's a huge driving force towards going with semi-solid SF settings. :)

    1. As for the particulars of ship specialization, I'm trying to keep things in favor of generalists. Too much specialization makes for a dull story. You can have some great adventure tales with frigates but not so much with Soviet-era Oscar subs waiting to fire cruise missiles at American carrier battle groups.

      There are already some specialisation in what you described : frigates, cruisers, battleships (to keep those names, but feel free to use others) for military crafts. Destroyers would probably be part of a battleship escort, maybe cruiser escort too. Destroyers themselves may be not that different from courier ships, with all engines and little else.
      (Battlecruisers would probably be ships intended to crush what they can catch and outrun what they can, and reveal themselves too slow to catch what they can destroy, and too fragile to survive anything else, but still being built by many navies because of the awesome name. I know that it's more and more turning into a wet navy in space, but I can't help but see battlecruisers coming back.)
      We still don't have too much specialisation, with a handful of ship types.

      The existence of the space-escort submarine don't prevent the existence of the space-frigate, so the story would be fine anyway.
      (Btw, check Legend of Galactic Heroes if you want to see a great story with dumb walls of specialised battleships ; it can be pulled out.)

      You would still have generalist ships : frigates, who operate alone and thus have to do anything by themselves. Cruisers and their escort ships would be in a similar situation, but scaled up. (From the description, I see each cruiser operating individually with its escort.) There are also armed merchant ships. After all, there are probably fringes and less-than-patrolled zones, so plenty of stuff for adventures.

    2. As for giving up bodies, that becomes part and parcel of the "too far in the future scifi rabbit hole." We're too far in the speculative technology realm and I'm not sure what to think. I've seen good stuff done that way with Charlie Stross and Neil Stephenson but I would find it difficult to try writing like that.

      I don't know about that. There are already some artificial organs (hearts, kidneys), cloned organs (liver tissue) and primitive brain-controlled devices today, even if it's very early experiments. Neural regeneration possibilities have been identified, we tinker with genetic therapy for some time now... Even if those don't bring results anytime soon, they are not inconceivable future : serious people are putting lots of effort and money to develop them right now.
      The biggest difficulty comes from sending input to the brain (I heard something about artificial retinas 20 years ago, but that's all), but those are already firmly established by the setting (for the navigators).

      It doesn't mean that other fields will follow similar growth : to continue with today, we don't have the slightest idea about how to make a strong AI, our understanding of the human brain is still extremely limited, we have absolutely no idea how we could map one, so no problem if it stays this way.
      Meaning that humans are still in charge, as the human brain is still the only thinking device to be. No need to go Culture or Accelerando, merely Neuromancer (without the occasional strong AI). At best, you would have things like in the beginning of Accelerando, with people relying on immersive techs and lots of expert systems, in an evolution of today's computer-assisted and internet-linked people.
      So even someone whose ship functionally became the new body would still be a human. On the other hand, their experiences would be quite different, so their ways of thinking may become stranger and stranger for a non-connected person. Human enough so you can relate to them as characters, alien enough to be interesting.

      I'm not saying that you have to take this road, only that it could make for interesting stories and characters.

    3. I can accept that human nature might not change but what will they be fighting about?

      That shouldn't be too hard : information, rare resources (Don't tell me that your hypersails don't require at least a bit of Unobtanium!), industrial infrastructures, strategic positions (military or economic), money, ideological reasons, tragic misunderstanding, fear that they attack first, giving the population something to fear, good old hate, political schemes, ambition and imperialism, to make quick bucks with war industries, to destroy a pirate base or pirate-protecting state...
      Most of those are old as dirt, any combination should work in this setting IMO.
      The only one I didn't include is for slaves, but even then I have doubts. You could include it in 'industry' anyway, I suppose.

      To be more SFish, you could add : rogue virus (artificial or accidental) turning entire populations mad, modified/transhuman hunt (justified or not), preventive attack against someone potentially toying with existential threats, large-scale destructive memetic phenomena, for fun, to regulate economy...

      If you don't find for a given story, ask around. I'm sure we should find something :)

    4. Regarding ship classes: I'm trying to avoid reusing existing names to avoid historical baggage. But it stands to reason that if everyone built the same ship for war, some situations might confer an advantage with greater specialization, see Competitive Balance at TV Tropes for more.

      If you abstract away from any particular technology and just put stats at an arbitrary 1 to 10, you can see how tactics can shape up. Fragile speedsters can be used as cavalry. Mighty glaciers can grind an enemy to dust but only if you force him to the fight; if he runs away, the glacier ain't chasing him down. But becoming too specialized means that if the ship isn't used as directed, it's likely going to be massacred or fail in the mission.

      So like I said, I'd like to avoid expressly recreating WWII in space here but there will certainly be similarities.

      Concerning your second post and man-machine integration: Yes, there are doubtless many possibilities here. I'd like to avoid concepts that will come across like dated cyberpunk in the future like VR googles and jacking in with a plug in the base of the skull, that sort of thing. I do have problems imagining how the bridge of these ships would look.

      Culturally, I'm thinking there might be a cult of human perfection so cyber-doodads are looked down upon by the mainstream. Gene-diddling might make everyone look gorgeous, double the lifespan and maintain youthful bodies into old age so we die looking pretty, or at least those of us with access to galactic-level tech. Describing the navigator and helmsman as seeing the ship as an extension of their own bodies works in print but I'm not sure how that could be convincingly depicted in visuals. In Babylon 5 Crusade, the ship's weapons console became a VR interface with the tactical officer doing karate at targets. That comes across as very cheesy. Expert systems might be tapped directly into the mind and so can communicate with the user with the immediacy of telepathy and orders carried out as quickly as they are thought. But there are ramifications to think of with these sorts of things.

      My inclination is to not stick something into the story unless I can handle it credibly. Nano-wank was hard to avoid for a while but then it got a little easier to tame when it was pointed out that nanites have to work within physical limits and current biological processes are already pretty efficient. Even nanites with atomic-scale precision can't move any faster than thermodynamics allows for. Teeny-tiny nanites would remain vulnerable to environmental threats and might not do all that well outside of a clean room. In fact, that could be a built-in feature to keep them under control. Gray goo disasters don't seem as certain and, if anything, would be more like getting black mold in your house as opposed to a mad utility fog stripping people to the bone in seconds while crapping out screaming terrors made of flesh and razor-bone to rip your face off.

    5. concerning future interstellar economies and conflicts:

      Yeah, I'm still coming up with some ideas. Doctrinal wars can work when there's nothing else worth fighting about. Genetic engineering is of the devil and the other guy can't be allowed to do that! Or cloning is bad and inhuman, you can't allow that! But most doctrinal wars still have a pragmatic side for greed and enrichment.

      What gets traded over interstellar distances? What couldn't be found in useful amounts in a normal star system? Do we find islands of stability in the trans-uranic elements and use them to make new meta-materials? Does it take gobs of energy to transmute them? Does it make sense to ship them between star systems?

      I can't tell you with confidence what sounds good. I can tell you what sounds dumb. Flying to a new alien planet to mine crap out of the ground. As if you couldn't get it in space? Growing cash crops on the planet for export. Really? Shipping up the gravity well is that cheap? The garlic in my soup didn't just come from China but New China over in the HD 10307 system?

      The basic human motivations would remain, of course: love, hate, vanity, greed, revenge, honor, duty, ambition, idealism, etc. I'm just in a bit of a brainlock when sussing out the details of how the economy would work.

      It's similar to the super-weapon wank with destroy-all lasers and RKV's. It's great that they're more constrained since being able to shoot across an entire solar system is harmful to proper space fights. Fortunately, I see crazy godtech would be required for that. Perhaps there are similar solutions to the socio-economics of interstellar civilization that will be resolved.

      In a non-FTL setting, interstellar trade is a non-starter. Any exploration would be for satisfaction of scientific curiosity and going to another star would be because we can, not because we need the living room. Hypersail starships open up new possibilities but you still come back to the question of planets vs. orbitals. The only satisfactory answer to planets I've come up with is "super-aliens terraformed it and are gone now, k thx bye!"

      As far as my personal definitions go, operatic means "I've done my best to provide reasonable explanations but it all boils down to rule of cool."

    6. Regarding ship classes: I'm trying to avoid reusing existing names to avoid historical baggage.

      Understandable. I used names like 'battleship' or 'cruiser' because they seem to make sense (battleships here are used as ships of the line, cruisers as 'cruising' mobile forces...). It's not the only solution, of course. But I think names should be given for those broad roles. It sounds better when describing them, and it helps the reader.
      For example, the heaviest warships could be called 'juggernauts', because they are slow but unstoppable by anything else. (I took this one from FreeSpace 2, who use naval names but comes up with a ship bigger than everything they ever saw. I thought it was a cool ship type name, for when 'dreadnought' is not enough anymore. Better than 'titan' anyway.) You also gave 'hounds' instead of fighter/missile/drone/whatever they could be compared to. That's a good name, IMO.

      I'd like to avoid concepts that will come across like dated cyberpunk in the future like VR googles and jacking in with a plug in the base of the skull, that sort of thing. I do have problems imagining how the bridge of these ships would look.

      What is dated in cyberpunk is more the culture than the tech. No more governments, megacorps being the only power, entire social classes of hackers and mercenary cyborgs, hard drugs and lethal/weird technologies as common as bread...
      VR goggles are not that far-fetched (IIRC, Google is working on one, for example) or even weird ; neural plugs could make sense depending on how the neural interface works.

      Culturally, I'm thinking there might be a cult of human perfection so cyber-doodads are looked down upon by the mainstream.

      Yes, that would help to limit many 'cyberpunk tech', if you want to avoid them. Those neural plugs could then be undeveloped, because people don't like this kind of tech.
      Then, you could have wireless neural implants, though they could also be prejudiced, and wireless connections in your brain like that are probably a huge security risk. The other solution, that I would advocate, is some sort of helmet or headset who acts like a super-advanced brain scan and stimulate some parts of your brain. Those are in SF for quite a while, and not that far-fetched.
      No need to explain how they work, just have those helmets connecting the navigator to the ship, describe the effects without the technical details, and you're done.

      I'd still see some 'rogue states' going with cybernetics and/or directly putting electrodes in their navigators brains, though. It would still be more effective and/or cheaper for some things, and cultural prejudices would probably not be prevalent on every single culture of the human sphere. Some of those could even have founded their own colonies precisely to do what their want with cybernetics.
      (Potential sources for conflicts/tensions/comedy/aesops about tolerance/aesops about playing the sorcerer's apprentice...)
      Again, if you don't like them, the human sphere should be big enough to tell entire stories without even referencing to them. But they can be kept in the sleeve for later uses.

    7. For the effect direct mind control on the ship would have, let's see.
      First it would make everything run faster. No need to wait the captain to say 'Fire', then the lieutenant repeat to the gunners 'Fire', then the gunners pressing the buttons. You have a direct mind order, and the ship fires in 1/10 s instead of 3s.
      You would also probably have smaller crews, but that's already to be expected with expert systems.
      People can manipulate far more complex tools at once. For example, Dr Octopus-like manipulating arms could be quite common. But things would still be limited by how fast one can think ; for example, plane pilots wouldn't be that much better than today's best pilots. It's more than there would be more very good pilots, because they wouldn't be limited by dexterity. RTS players would probably have twice more APM, but probably not that much.

      Also, it would impact many designs. Decks would probably not be Star Trek-like. I'd see people wearing protective suits, being placed in 'coffins' in heavily protected rooms. Maybe all put in one place so this room can be better defended, maybe dispersed so if one section dies, the others can still run things. Maybe both, with multiple decks.
      Depending on how fast, how reliable and how sturdy this tech is, you would have screens and/or manipulators (command consoles) to complete them or to relay them in case of failure. If this is a concern, though, navigator sets would probably be super-heavily reinforced due to how much harder their jobs would probably be with classical controls.

      This tech may be quite bad to transfer images, complex thoughts and the like. It wouldn't hinder the navigators who work with something very abstract anyway (they would perceive it like through another sense), nor many crew functions who would give pre-set orders (equivalent of pushing a button to fire), but then you would still have screens and the like for much of internet-equivalent stuff, distance calls and such, giving more 'visual' interactions between people. Most of all, it wouldn't replace direct contact in many cases.
      So people would be more efficient at what they do, but the effect on culture wouldn't be too drastic.

      But most doctrinal wars still have a pragmatic side for greed and enrichment.

      Indeed. But let's not forget that in many cases, the pragmatic side may be something else than 'it will make richer.
      It can be for demagogic reasons. A war is a great way to divert the attention of people from chronic political or social problems.
      It can be because you run an armament company, and you will gain personal wealth at the expense of both groups.
      It can be to bring multiple warring groups together by giving them a common enemy.
      It can be because you really estimate the other group a threat (for real, potential or imaginary reasons), and such attack first despite the costs.
      All those can be found behind ideological wars, and many others. But having group A hating or fearing group B (be it with or without propaganda campaigns) can be an extremely powerful motor for a war who, despite the shady plans of some individuals, would never have happened otherwise.

      But sometimes, people just riot, be it because they are in misery, desperate, and/or they became so emotional and irrational that they just want to. This can lead to insurrections and full-fledged wars, given the right (or should I say wrong) conditions (including the utter incompetence of some people in charge, but History clearly shows that it happens).

    8. What gets traded over interstellar distances?

      This is one of the most important question indeed ; it will both shape interstellar interactions and conflicts.

      Sending raw resources over interstellar distances, even maybe interplanetary distances, may make no sense. It would probably be refined on the spot. The only exception is if there is a raw resource so hard to refine than only the most advanced and richest powers can afford to build one such refinery on their homeworld; but somehow I don't see that happening. At least basic refinery should be done on the spot, as long as there is some cost in space transport.

      Refined resources (up to manufactured goods) can be traded : if the refinery/fabrication process is very costly and ask for big, expensive and/or advanced factories, then importing them may be cheaper for many worlds than building said factories.
      It wouldn't make sense for cheap shoes, for example, but stabilised antimatter may not be that easy to produce en masse.
      A colony could still have some of those factories to not be completely dependent on trade, but not enough to be self-sufficient.
      Economies of scale can play a big role here as well.
      Those industrial platforms would be a reason to fight : it may be cheaper to steal someone else's platform than build your own.

      You also have unobtainium, stuff that can only be found in some places.
      You could have 'hyperspace-induced' stuff, for example (think magnets, but with hyperspace instead of lightning). I have no idea how this should work, but you could probably have very precise (and rare) places where this material can be found.
      You also have special environments. For example, maybe the extreme environment near neutron stars or black holes is the only place where you can (cheaply) produce stabilised antimatter, or some extreme meta-materials.
      Obviously, those places would also be also worth fighting for.

      Not that dissimilar are luxury items. For example (to steal the idea from Rocketpunk Manifesto), food from a given planet may have this very special taste or other proprieties.
      Today's USA produce very fine wine ; despite that they still import Bordeaux or Champagne, and vice-versa. In fact, you can have a wine tasting different with less than 1km of distance, due to so many factors than reproducing them may be very, very difficult even in an operatic future.
      No reason that the same wouldn't happen with different worlds.
      Note that at least part of this is due to the acquired technical skills, work with the soil and such, linking this to both the industrial base above and the technology trade below.

      Then you have technology itself. This range from information trade (let's remember that there is no space-Internet here) to selling better equipment because your R&D is more qualified.
      Even if information trades are one-shots and you can reverse-engineer stuff given enough time, their R&D teams will probably find something else to trade later, staying a length ahead.
      Again, it would be worth fighting for, as conquering a place would also be conquering its population and their skills.

    9. All those would also generate human movements, like scientists and engineers visiting other worlds to learn how they do stuff.
      Those would also generate other kinds of trades or conflicts, like interstellar finance and speculation, control of strategic 'crossroad' systems...

      In a non-FTL setting, interstellar trade is a non-starter.

      Not quite. Some of the above may work, assuming that your interstellar drives are powerful and cheap/enduring enough. Revelation Space has expensive but very long-lived fuel-less multi-g torch drives. A Deepness in the Sky has near-throwaway but cheap ramjets (for advanced worlds).
      You also need at least some other factors to be set right, like no reliable interstellar radios (if only because people don't trust the other guy to trade their infos with years of lag), impossibility to craft anything anywhere, specialisation meaning that each world has things to buy and sell...
      So it is a serious hinder, but not a complete non-starter.
      But I digress...

      Any exploration would be for satisfaction of scientific curiosity and going to another star would be because we can, not because we need the living room. Hypersail starships open up new possibilities but you still come back to the question of planets vs. orbitals.

      Living room can also be because Group A don't want to live near Group B, be it for political, ideological, cultural or other reasons. The most straightforward example is when Group A is persecuted by Group B, but it doesn't have to be so dark, it can simply be some romantics deciding "Let's found another colony!" and depart.

      Another reason is for the varied Unobtainiums, of course, or the 'crossroad' trade systems, if those aren't populated yet.

      The planet vs orbital can be tricky, but not impossible, I think. People may just prefer living in planets instead of 'tin cans', meaning that they will spend impressive amounts of resource in terraforming, despite far cheaper orbital solutions.
      Some would also rationalize it with : orbitals are cheaper today, but once the planet's ecosystem is up and running, then it will be self-sustaining.
      Having a pre-build 1g field as well as unlimited matter for varied usage (radiation/meteor shielding, housing, more personal space...) may also be appreciated by people. And deep underground laboratories may be better for some stuff thanks to the mass above them. You could also put them in asteroids, but that's if you don't want gravity or a planet-sized mass.
      Geothermal energy may or may not be relevant, depending on how cheap and efficient are fusion plants and solar panels. They may be a boon for new colonies, who would be implanted on the planet at the point where they switch to fusion as main plants.

      Also, planets are at the bottom of a gravity well, meaning no-one will emerge from hyperspace on top of their head. This could reassure people against the risk of some types of accidents.
      If some orbitals were destroyed in dramatic accidents, then maybe people will simply assume planets are safer. It's also possible that planets won't be attacked like habitats would be due to war conventions and/or strategic reasons (a habitat could conceal weapons, would be armoured and would be positioned like a battlestation ; any ground weapon would be further from the battle and at the bottom of the gravity well).

      Still, I wouldn't be surprised if most of mankind outside of Earth was living in space habitats.

      The only satisfactory answer to planets I've come up with is "super-aliens terraformed it and are gone now, k thx bye!"

      Note that it works with humans instead of super-aliens as well. If for some reasons colonies tend to die out and hyperspace exists for a while, you may have many partially or totally terraformed uninhabited worlds.
      Sometimes, you have to make it uninhabited yourself, though ; but be careful with that, I'm sure some would jump on it to write another Pocahontas IN SPAAACE!

    10. As far as my personal definitions go, operatic means "I've done my best to provide reasonable explanations but it all boils down to rule of cool."

      I use operatic for "needed for a Space Opera" (for example, 1g torch drives), but this describes well how I try to craft my Space Opera settings ; basically the believability/self-consistency > cool > realism rule.

      Btw, IMHO "spaceyard" sounds better than "spacedock" for where ships are assembled.

  6. I'll share one of my SFnal ideas for future tech: "Delegates"

    The idea here is a very advanced computer can accurately model a person to the point that the "delegate" can act for the person (for example, you send a delegate to one of the moons of Jupiter to negotiate a contract with a person or corporation there rather than go yourself). The more practical use of "delegates" is to embed them into highly advanced machinery as "expert systems". How would the Federation stack up if every ship had "Scotty" actually on board living in the engineering computers?

    The downside of delegates is re integrating them with the prime personality, especially if multiple delegates are out and about doing things. Since the delegate is a model of the person, as time passes and new information comes in, the delegate's actions and reactions will also change, perhaps not in the way the prime personality would want.

    WRT your setting, delegates would not be able to navigate, since they are computer programs (although of a very advanced nature), but could be whispering in the ear of the Captain or merchant prince to provide advice and moral support, and running ship systems in the background (Tech: 'what the hell is happening with the hypersail?" Disembodied voice from speaker: "Ye dinna pay attention to your rigging class, oaf? Reef the hypertopsails and mains, and close haul the jibs...")

    The reason for going to delegates and other libraries of expert systems is it is "impossible" to create hard AI. Trying to figure out the topology of thought is like trying to see the blind spot, which is my "out" for not invoking hard AI.

    1. This is another area where I'm knotted up with confusion. If personalities can be simulated, is that not hard/strong AI? If everything related to a human consciousness occurs inside the brain, memories are stored there, etc, then it seems possible for an artificial mind to be built. Could it be made in something other than meat? I don't know. Could it be made immortal? If we can lick cell death, then that should work. But there may be a finite capacity for memory so, if the brain cannot be extended, an immortal mind could lose a sense of its former self through time.

      If minds can be uploaded and run in parallel, then we get into strange territory. Stross experimented with this in Accelerando. The new world view it calls into being is as radical a departure from the now as godless materialism is from a supernatural view of God's orderly creation, possibly even more so.

      But on a practical level, if the delegate is as smart as the original personality, why isn't it in charge of the ship? You say expert system but if they're negotiating contracts, that seems a bit closer to strong AI.

      There's certainly stories to be told in settings where humans are ants scurrying around the feet of gods, i.e. strong AI's like Culture Minds or the Archailects of Orion's Arm. But all of that would be terribly incompatible with what I'd like for the hypersail setting where the people are recognizably human.

      As far as I'm imagining expert systems and automation working in this setting, the ships can be large yet still get away with having a small crew since the humans are the chiefs and the indians are the expert systems and servitors.

    2. Apart from Accelerando, I saw something like that in Revelation Space (and sequels), which is very operatic (and that's before they get alien tech).
      The idea is, they have Alpha simulations, which are your 'official' mind upload (you can officially have only one, but I'm not sure there is an in-universe technical reason for that), but also Beta simulation almost identical. The difference is that Beta sims don't have (the same) rights, and are fine with sacrificing themselves like an AI would do.
      They are used to discuss when people when they're not there, sometimes to reconstruct Alpha from them, or sent to discuss with a hostile party where they would shoot one of your people.
      Note that most people don't have enough stuff in the brain to be able to re-synchronise with them, when they are not compromised by enemy virus and such.

      All in all, it works quite well, but they have a crazy technological level and many of their societies don't look like ours anymore, some being barely humans. (One has institutional hitmen hired by people who want to be chased out of boredom, for example.)
      You also have sapient humanoid pigs who escaped from organ growing labs ; all levels of AI, though people don't like to build strong AI (giving sapience without free will is not nice), so (post)humans are still running things ; no FTL (you can try, but it's a very, very bad idea) but fuelless multi-g torch drives.
      (And once they get some alien tech, it turns out '... didn't work either. Let's send it a load of planet-busters, it should distract it. Ah, no...')

      So while it can work quite well, it would probably imply many cultural changes, bringing us further from 'classical' space opera, and possibly the kind of 'space adventures' stories.
      Of course, this is purely IMO, and if you are ready to go more (hard-)SF and less adventure, it does work.

      As far as I'm imagining expert systems and automation working in this setting, the ships can be large yet still get away with having a small crew since the humans are the chiefs and the indians are the expert systems and servitors.

      That's how I see most of my SF settings. It's the kind of world I'd like, it's a possible PMF, and it allows humans doing the important/interesting things and expert systems doing the boring stuff. What's more to ask?

  7. There's certainly room for strange futures. That's my own personal term for the stuff that combines strange ways of thinking with strange ways of being with uplifting species, brain backups, nano and bio-wank, and transhumanism.

    What I'm imagining fits with this setting is more along the lines of strange ways of thinking. The old orientalist pulps titillated with tales of the near and far east, sultans and emirs and moguls and emperors, strange religions, hints of mystic and occult knowledge, morals that are contrary or downright hostile to our own. Sex cults, death cults, fanaticism, fantasy, pleasures and temptation. Some in the west will see everything offered as wicked and yet somehow rationalize doing business with such wicked men only for money somehow allows them to retain their Christian superiority. Some western visitors will see their own culture's morals as ridiculous shackles and see a wisdom in the foreign ways.

    In imagining the arbitrary fiats to make a setting, it's all a matter of setting the right tone. If its a magic and tech fantasy do I want classic Tolkien which mixes Roman and Medieval sensibilities? Do I want a Renaissance flavor? Georgian? Edwardian? Victorian? 1930's for Gumshoes and Grimoires? Push far enough into the future and it's cyberpunk and magic to give us Shadowrun.

    If I don't want to do anywhere near physical computers then I keep it in the past. Possibly I explore the idea of a wizard using trained daemons for computation and information retrieval. The wizard uses a charmed parchment that the daemons will draw the information on, refreshing as they write. Computer ideas conceived before computers were even invented! Or perhaps he simply talks to the daemon's manifestation, a natural language interface.

    But back to the original discussion. I am cautious with strange ways of being because stuff like clones is like time travel -- the story had better be about them because just throwing them in there as an aside can be world-breaking. Cloning, mind backups and transfers, AI rights, natural law for sentients and, really difficult, writing super-intelligences. Very difficult to write a character smarter than yourself. I think this is why we see so many dummies in fiction.

    I think that the romance of the hypersail setting should feel more than a bit like the Great Game of Old Europe with some twists. Rival families, polities, guilds and leagues, secret societies, open societies, fortune seekers, con artists, pilgrims, and wandering philosophers, all looking for something and dreaming of what they can do with it when they find it.

    There aren't going to be malls, international corporations and TPS reports. But what is the day of the average high potentate like? The average servant? How much automation is there? What are the limits of technology? How could it collapse? Do they prefer worlds or orbitals? How were they settled? How do we avoid singularity-wank? Even weak singularity-wank could still unshape so much of this.

  8. Hypersail would be a semi-solid, plausible-ish far future setting. No strong AI, no strong transhumanism, human intelligence has been pushed as far as the limits of meat and computer augmentation can allow for and that's two or three times as far as our best super-brights today but we're not any wiser and human nature remains a mixed bag.

    So, with those starting conditions, what would a highly developed solar system look like? I know my generic guesses but can't tell you how well they'd stand up.

    Taking our own system as an example, Earth is where most of the population lives. Heavy industry is moved offworld and power beamed down from sats. Biodiversity is the one thing Earth has that no other planet can boast. Cities are made zero emission.

    Orbitals around Earth are used as living labs for resurrecting extinct ecologies, Jurassic Park-style, though it's not all about man-eating monsters. It's a pure science effort that yields some surprising commercial benefits.

    Mercury is used as a collection point for antimatter. The primary economy of the Sol system is solar-based with heavy manufacturing using solar power in close orbits near the sun. Mining efforts move stuff sun-ward.

    Terraforming efforts ongoing on Venus and Mars. The living space isn't needed, this is all a giant super-science project.

    Antimatter-triggered fusion runs the deep space powerplants and rockets. Asteroids are mined on-site and the results sent to the manufacturing zones sunward via mass driver.

    The gas giants serve as huge fuel repositories. Originally staging areas for further exploration out in the oort cloud, they are now sizable polities in and of themselves.

    So near as I can figure, in-system trade would be biologicals from Earth, energy from the inner system, minerals from the belt and volatiles from the outer system.

    Also, if there's the chance of islands of stability in transuranic elements, the inner system could also house breeder transmutation reactors that run off of abundant solar power.

    That's my stab at it and I'm sure there's a whole lot wrong. What would you do?

  9. Rather than get into a huge rehash of soemone elses ideas, go to NextBigFuture and search Joseph Friedlander's guest posts.

    Some pretty jaw dropping stuff in there.

    1. Do you have any specific articles in mind? Looks like there's many.

  10. http://nextbigfuture.com/2010/12/setting-up-industrial-village-on-moon.html




    Good starting points for a very high end PMF

    WRT "Delegates", the kicker is they are copies of existing people, not created artificial "people". This is a big handwave on my part, but I am rather suspicious of the idea of strong AI. particularly when they start setting their own goals (which will not be the same as our goals)

    The only real critical issue I have with the entire Hypersails thing is a fully immersed hypersail has more in common with a hot air balloon than a sailing ship. A ship interacts with two media (water and air), and even a solar sail interacts with the pressure of the sunlight and the gravity of the Sun. (A laser driven sail is more like a spinnaker going straignt downwind).

    Maybe you will have to define how hyperspace works a bit more closely, or introduce gravitational interaction with the "real" universe so the ship has the ability to actually use the medium rather than simply being a bubble floating uncontrolled in the media

  11. @t

    The hyper sailing is a mix of ballooning and sailing. They can specifically move to different clines to achieve a greater realspace-equivalent velocity.

    I would agree that it would suck if it was exactly like ballooning where you just go up and hope you land somewhere safe.

    What I like with hyper sailing is that there's risks that can be taken. The reaction drive trip to Mars takes this long and all the money in the world won't change the facts. In hyperspace it takes this long to do it safely. Need to shave time off? How much have you got? Fine, I can take five days off the time. I'm not the only captain who can make you the promise but I'm the only one who can deliver on it. I have a feel for these parts, know when the weather'll turn before it does.

  12. Concerning delegates -- I still don't see how a persons' thinking could be accurately modeled without having real AI. That'd be like saying I could replace your wife with a perfect replicant who can mimic her in every way and yet she isn't "alive" or strong AI.

    I am not educated enough to have a competent opinion about the viability of strong AI but if it is in a story, everything changes. The story can only be about humans adapting to their own irrelevance, there's no having strong AI and humans having anything of use to offer. I don't see how it's possible. At best I see strong AI playing dumb to keep humans from getting concerned and quietly correcting idiot orders like the bright manservant of an idiot nobleman.

    I'm prepared to be proven wrong on this but as far as I can see, the problem remains insurmountable.

  13. I agree strong AI is a real issue, so handwaves of various sorts are quite OK as far as I'm concerned.

    WRT hypersailing as hot air ballooning, maybe I'm not understanding this well enough but even invoking various "clines" seems to be the analogue of wind shear for the hot air balloonist. Hypershadows would be something like the turbulent winds behind a hill or ridgeline. I'll just stay in my lane and accept that there is something I've overlooked.

    When I look to semi hard STL I go for things like the Alderson drive (Jerry Pournelle's Co Dominium universe) or "flickering" drives like Vernor Vinge "A fire upon the deep" where you momentarily jump in and out of hyperspace, translating a short distance each time. High end drives have you "flickering" at such a high rate that you move a considerable distance. The last SFnal STL drive I'm willing to accept with minimum handwavium are wormholes or space warping of various sorts (you know the bend a sheet of paper so the two parts touch analogy).

    Mostly I look at STL as a means of getting to the story rather than the story itself, which is probably where we are diverging. This is not to say your idea is wrong or anything, just a different take on things.

    1. The whole thing with hyperspace is it analogizes right up to the point where it's nothing like what you're comparing it to. :)

      So let's say for example I'm trying to get from Departure Planet in Departure System to Destination Planet in Destination System.

      I break orbit with my reaction drive blazing. I make a shortest time path to get out from under the hypershadow. I've updated my own nav charts with the latest surveys. It's very difficult to model how hyperspace behaves so it's always necessary to continuously survey a ship with scouts. Civilized systems do this with their coast guard. Uncivilized systems, you have to scout your own way. This goes slower. If you are trying to sneak into a hostile system, having a recent survey is invaluable.

      I run out my sails and translate to hyperspace.

      In the lowest cline, right before droppin to realspace, I'm going faster than I could on reaction drives but I'm still not all that fast. But it's safer.

      As I change the frequency of my hyperfield, i'm biting deeper into hyperspace and catching higher clines. This can translate me into entirely new levels of hyperspace, layered on top of each other. Events on these different layers can ripple up and down.

      My goal is always to find the calmest channel between the eddies and shoals. While I may be drifting with the motion of the cline I'm in, those eddies move in different directions. It's like running into a submerged log with a speedboat.

      The faster I move, the less I can see ahead. If I'm moving slow enough, I can sense the ripples from the danger with my own hyperfields and react to it. If I'm moving too quickly, it's like overdriving your headlights -- if a tree suddenly appears in the road, you won't be able to brake in time.

      Lower, slower clines are forgiving. Things don't change as rapidly and there are few surprises. Higher clines make things tougher and far more dangerous. You can make some serious time in those clines but your risk is very, very high.

      Once I've made it out beyond the gravitational influence of the system primary, I'm in interstellar space. It takes a powerful ship to withstand the forces at work out here, keep the hyperfields from buckling during cline shifts.

      Really hard SF combat is going to be like chess. All the pieces are on the board. There may be some ambiguity over what each piece is capable of but good intel should allow for useful conjecture. And chess matches can remain interesting as you see two grandmasters feeling each other out.

      But there's a certain flavor of storytelling that goes along with that. Even with lightspeed lag, you're looking at close to real-time information flow. It's nothing like the Age of Sail where it could take a month just to get orders to someone and where autonomy with great responsibility was inevitable. A horizon gives uncertainty, increases random chance, and allows for a different kind of storytelling.

      One is not better than the other in general but but in particular, one might better suit a story than the other.

      What else is unclear about hyperspace? I might not have explained it sufficiently in the document.

  14. Based on your description, the ship is seeking clear streams or currents without much turbulence of eddying. The description is really that of a hot air balloon rising and falling to catch the wind going in the direction the balloonist wishes to go.

    A sailing ship uses the interactions between two media to get where it is going, the force of the wind is transmitted to the keel and into the water to direct the ship if you want to go anywhere besides downwind.

    A solar sail and all its variations (magsails etc.) also use the interaction of two "media", the ship is pushed by the solar wind and "pulled" by the gravity of the sun and any nearby planets. By angling the sail you can "tack" outwards away from the sun or "tack" inwards towards the sun, the velocity vector being the sum of the solar wind and the force of gravity.

    I'm just not seeing what the ship in hyperspace is working against to direct the flows or current of hyperspace into thrust.

    I'd be all for using the hyperdrive rigging to get you into hyperspace and enclose the ship in a protective field, and just use some sort of reaction drive to actually move around.

  15. Well, that's basically what the ship in hyperspace is doing, getting into hyperspace and catching the right current. Different clines move in different directions. If the cline you're in isn't going where you want, find another cline. Direction-finding and navigation in hyperspace is difficult because the lay of the land looks different in hyperspace for one, there's a definite horizon to your perception.

    The ship will always be moving at the same speed as the cline it's in. To move faster or slower, it needs to jump clines.

    So, for example, let's say a fast starship is trying to overtake a target ship and force it to translate to realspace for boarding. The attacker is hopping up and down clines trying to get ahead. The ripple of its passage up and down the adjacent clines creates vortexes that are dangerous to cross.

    The defender, meanwhile, is trying to force the attacker across her own vortexes to turn the tables. What ends up happening is a spiral dance up and down adjacent clines, each trying to force the other into an error.

    If the target surrenders, it will flutter its hyperfield in a gesture of surrender and then slowly move down the clines for a controlled translation to realspace. The attacker follows and they emerge together.

    If the defender does not surrender and crosses a vortex too hard, it will have to conduct a crash translation to realspace before the hyperfield collapses. If the ship is destroyed, I want a suitably large explosion, some portion of the ship's mass converted directly to energy. Big 'splosions.

    If the crash translation is survived, the ship will likely be too damaged to reenter hyperspace but could otherwise retain formidable fighting ability. It could take some minutes for the attacker to tack around to the point of the crash translation and make a safer approach. The defender is likely already sitting with realspace weapons charged and ready to fire.

    One way of thinking about the clines is sort of like the world of the living and the world of the dead in dualistic religions, they overlap in time and space and what seems ghostly and insubstantial on this side is quite solid on that side. A similar effect will be had with ships moving up and down the clines in proper combat. Even if the ship cutting across you isn't as "there" as you are, his vortex is real across multiple clines and can cause you harm.

    I guess an analogy could be Frogger where you have logs moving left and right and you control where you are by which log you jump on.

  16. Wait, if ships are only using hyperspace currents on varied clines to move where they want, how do hounds work? You described combats where ships are manoeuvring to trap the others in their trail, where they throw guided and unguided things to blow up in front of them and such. For that, ships need some way of moving relative to the local hyperspace current.
    If you don't want to plug a reaction drive in hyperspace, then it can simply be handwaved that by changing the shape or others proprieties of the sail, you can create the equivalent of a pressure differential and glide in one or another direction.
    So, they would move like (gliding) airships instead of hot air balloons.

    Of course, both should work, but this one would give more opportunities, as you can have more intense action sequences, and it allows for more variations.
    With that, you would have more of a strategic movement (e.g. to go somewhere) using currents, and more of a tactical movement (e.g. crashing the enemy in your wake) using 'gliding'. You could still change clines to cut the road of an enemy in a fight manoeuvre, or 'glide' through a still cline to go somewhere, but it would be more of the exception.

    After all, there are more stories about airships than balloons.

    1. I was thinking that the hounds could use a kind of motive drive for hyperspace, pulsing the field in a front to back motion to push it ahead of the current. The shortcoming is that it requires a lot of energy and so hounds have very short legs.

      I kept going back and forth as to whether hounds would be remote controlled or manned. Is it more interesting to see the helsman and navigator orchestrating everything from a single unified plot or to have them communicating with houndsmen out there the wilds of hyperspace, daring fools who risk annihilation as they cross wakes with far larger targets?

      The only real shooty weapon I can imagine for hyperspace involves an implosion bomb -- it deliberately overloads a hyperfield generator and creates a concussion wave that can destroy any ship nearby. Implosion bombs without a motivator are dropped like mines or depth charges, the crossing ship will use their presence to box in an opponent. An implosion bomb with a motivator is essentially a torpedo. Limited range, expensive, not many carried per ship. They're a fairly close-range weapon.

      What you're saying about gliding holds with the rest of the setting. In realspace the starship does have real motion, not just pseudo-motion. It is speeding up and slowing down based on hyperspace. Power is drawn through the sails by straddling clines. So cline-hopping can work.

      The visual I have in mind is like the diagrams of air combat maneuvers except the curving ribbons behind the planes aren't just to show you how they moved, they're deadly wakes.

      If I were to try to depict what the higher clines would look like in a cinematic fashion, I'd probably go with colors, red being the lower clines and on up the spectrum to violet. The current is faster, turning a lazy river into whitewater and the rocks seem to get harder. Your average starship isn't going to see much past orange. Actually making it to green is terrifying and hardly anyone has made it to blue and come back to tell of it. If you see purple, you're basically staring down the 200ft wave from the Perfect Storm: "Fellas, it's been good to know ya." So an old salt telling tales might say "We we riding that cline hard, fields scraping the shadows. The plot was turning from yellow to green and I dare say we were making twenty past lightspeed."

    2. I was thinking that the hounds could use a kind of motive drive for hyperspace, pulsing the field in a front to back motion to push it ahead of the current. The shortcoming is that it requires a lot of energy and so hounds have very short legs.

      Makes sense. After all, with the close horizon in hyperspace, they don't need a very long operation range (and huge power supplies going with it).
      Would they be able to change clines, btw? I can also imagine them being easily lost (reminds me of a few B5 episodes) if they are not careful.
      Also, you told at near the beginning that hypersails have a huge minimal size. Are hounds and implosion mines smaller for some reason, or are they huge - the ships simply be even bigger?

      The only real shooty weapon I can imagine for hyperspace involves an implosion bomb

      That and the wakes. You shouldn't need more. After all, many stories have been told involving only torpedoes, cannons and depth charges. Or even only cannons and boarding.
      Also, I expect to see many heroic sacrifices of ship captains imploding their ships to try to take the enemy with them. (Not cost-efficient to use an entire ship for that, but that's a desperate move) In fact, I see the potential for a nice deconstruction of the heroic sacrifice profiling here. (For some reason, this trope seems to have grown old a little the last few decades.)

      Torpedoes and mines would probably not be that smaller than hounds, I guess. The biggest difference would be that they are meant to detonate - more efficient but one-shot. Hounds would be able to do it as well (as well as larger ships, I'd guess), but they wouldn't be optimised for and as cost-efficient (even for remote-controlled versions).

      The colour is an interesting way to describe it. And bringing back the old wooden ship tropes definitely has potential.

  17. About strong AIs and delegates:

    Yes, strong AIs are a can of worms who shouldn't be opened unless there is a good storytelling reason for it. I can see AIs being quite alien and such not ending as a god with human pets or as a bright manservant (or as plain omnicidal maniacs), but they would still be vastly superior to humans in many domains, which would definitely change the setting and get many things out of human hands.

    However, delegates can exist without strong-AIs. If someone found a way to map the human mind and partially reproduce it, it doesn't mean that they understand how it works. They can copy the black box, but it is still a black box.
    But delegates may also change the setting. We have to think about what are the rights of those delegates. What are the differences with prime humans. Are their sapient, what are their motivations, are they real minds or just artefacts copying their surface appearances. What are their capabilities compared to the original. Do they fear death. How do they see themselves, and their identity. Can they be reunited with the original. Can be they modified, and how...
    Depending on the answers above, you may have a story looking more like Blade Runner than Babylon 5. Which is not a bad thing, of course, but it may not be the story you want to tell.

    Or you make them little more than advanced cleverbots, absolutely non-sapient and very limited, and such it wouldn't change things much. They could be compared to a set of pre-written questions and answers the 'original' would have written, but more complete and context-sensitive.
    If this is clearly asserted in the story, I can see them working quite well, including some people relying too much on those (like today's people relying too much on 'what would X have done?').

    1. Well, there's no way to prove it one way or the other so we're talking completely about gut reaction here. Working delegates without some manner of harder AI just doesn't feel quite right.

      As for blackbox AI, I do have a story idea going exactly that way. We manage to replicate the human brain structure in holo-crystal, a species of applied McGuffinite that cannot be copied. We can create a human mind in a box. We have no idea how long it will last but certainly a very long time. The general assumption was that we would use this as a stepping stone for designing superhuman AI. That plan was a bust.

      So, what you basically have is a human in a box that can be overclocked to maybe 10x realtime, doesn't need to eat, can sleep in shorter spans than live humans, but are still relatively expensive.

      Net result: more white-collar jobs get eliminated.

      The yield rate for these AI's is low -- they're shooting for super-geniuses but usually it's just office drones. The brightest ones tend to be the balkiest and so human shrinks are stuck acting like literary agents with reclusive authors. That's right, computer whisperers.

      The upshot of this scenario is that the AI's are delegated more and more power until they've taken over daily operations of the major companies. Human managers are in the executive suites congratulating themselves on being titans and the machines realize it's in their best interest to keep their owners believing that.

      There's a nice story to tell in this setting but it has nothing to do with space battles, nothing to do with interstellar empires, it's a thing entirely of itself. So it should be a separate story. The working title is RTFM but that's doubtless been used by someone else already.

    2. That's why I suggest that if you want to keep it a space-opera, don't go further than the non-sentient 'cleverbots' (I failed to find a good name).
      They are little more than automated question-answer systems, tuned to answer like the 'original' would do. They can't do stuff (that's the role of expert systems, though you can simply add them to the package) and are just the evolution of a memoir and a guide, but more adaptable. They may even have some memory functions to better adapt the answers, but it will still be limited to a simple program, not a thinking being.
      And if you find one of your old ones and listen to it, you can laugh at how arrogant and how naive you were back in the day.

      Otherwise, your RTFM story definitely has potential as a 'society-SF' story.
      (But why 'RTFM'? I missed any reference to a manual...)

  18. So hypersail battles are contests between hot air balloonists armed with crossbows...;)

    Actually I'm reading the analogy as somewhat closer to a whitewater raft or kayak although the translations are horizontal (closer to shore generally means slower currents while the fastest current is in the middle of the channel). There should still be something like a reaction drive as the counterpart to oars or paddles, something to allow the helmsman to keep the ship orientated in the current and have some control over the ships heading and direction. Given the potential speed and violence of the trip, these may be more like "popcorn" thrusters for many of the same reasons a hypervelocity round would use them (super quick response time and much easier to build into the ship and maintain/replace once you reach your destination). Changing these assumptions makes your ships hyperkayaks (and presumably a hyperkayak warship is armed with a harpoon...)

    Hounds should probably be unmanned unless your spacefareing culture is imbued with Bushido; this sounds like a Kamakazi run. The counterpart to hounds would probably be hornets, short range weapons that swarm out against the signature of an oncoming hound to protect the ship.

    Hard AI makes me uncomfortable, but since Delegates are copies of real people, you should be able to deal with them the way you would deal with the actual person. There is no particular reason a delegate needs to have 100% fidelity (although I personally feel an incomplete delegate would not be able to function properly), if you feel a partial copy works better in terms of your setting/story telling then by all means.

    1. Hounds should probably be unmanned unless your spacefareing culture is imbued with Bushido; this sounds like a Kamakazi run. The counterpart to hounds would probably be hornets, short range weapons that swarm out against the signature of an oncoming hound to protect the ship.

      IDK about that. Note that I assume that manned hounds are more effective.
      If remote-controlled hounds are as effective, there is little point in putting the pilot on board. On the other hand, if remote control is completely ineffective (bandwidth too low, easily jammed...), then you have no choice but using pilots or manage without them.

      Piloting a hound would be a very risky thing, but there are several points mitigating the need for a Kamikaze-prone society. First, if it's a peace-time force, then there will be little losses (mostly in accidents). Such army policies may brutally change when war bursts and their eager hound pilots take huge losses, or hound-piloting may be so anchored in their culture that they will continue despite the losses.

      Also, a nation at war may accept very heavy losses in their ranks. During WWI, generals sent entire squadrons to be slaughtered, sometime with little to no effectiveness. It still took a long time and immense incompetence from the generals before soldiers mutiny (and even then, they only refused to attack, not defend). Which, after execution of a number of those soldiers and the removal of some of the most incompetent generals, continued like before.
      In WWII, the Soviets sent squadrons upon squadrons of planes against the Germans, and regularly sent troops to be killed just to see what was the opposition.
      Neither cultures had anything resembling Bushido much.

      Things are slightly different as hound pilots wouldn't be so numerous, but I can see many forms of cultures, some not that different from ours, having romantics, death-wishers, drafted, convicts or simply overpaid volunteers (who are all sure they will be the 20% top-skilled who will survive) getting the job.
      The closest analogy I can think of is (unsurprisingly) naval war planes in WWII. Including the possibility for (not cost-effective) kamikaze attack against bigger ships.

      Apart from the hounds in a war-time army, I can see the same kind of people working on exploration ships tasked with charting hyperspace, finding new passages or studying the highest clines.

  19. The major difference between sending masses of conscript troops into battle and individual volunteer pilots is masses tend to run in herds and are imbued with groupthink (and a political commissar behind them with a gun in the case of the Soviet Union). Masses will go forward en mass (the counterpoint is when their moral fails they will also retreat en mass).

    Pilots of individual warplanes have a different mentality than even pilots operating in a bomber box, they can choose to accept certain death or attempt to turn away; it takes a lot of conditioning to fly straight into a hail of gunfire and attempt to crash into the target. Interestingly, the Luftwaffe gave some consideration to ramming attacks against bombers as the tide turned, but could never overcome their own scruples to order this (and few German pilots wold have considered that anyway).

    If I was outfitting the Navy, I would be very reluctent to use conscripts for any purpose whatsoever; a disgruntled troop who does not want to be there is a liability who needs watching (especially among finicky high tech equipment). Maybe there is a place for conscripts if your universe has Marines doing storm landings on contested planets.

  20. I'm sticking my comments down here because the threads are hard to follow. :)

    Concerning cleverbots: That's exactly what I mean by an expert system. The interface would feel very much like the librarian AI from Snow Crash where he can provide elaborate responses via a natural language interface yet continually has to remind the operator that he's not alive, not sentient, and can't really perform original thinking on his own, just canned analysis. To put it another way, the best AI's in this setting are perfect regurgitators but will not give you an original thought. All of the facts and figures they're providing you are the result of human skull-work. As for the name being RTFM, it's a joke in the story. There's one last human sysop in Megacorp since it's just not worth the time to automate the maintenance of the servers he's in charge of since they're going offline in a few more years. He starts a friendship with an accounting AI who has literally lived in a box his whole runtime. He has little understanding of people and the old sysop keeps telling him to RTFM and the AI keeps saying there's no manual anywhere and the sysop says that's the joke. Takes him the entire story for the AI to find it amusing instead of confusing. Story ends with him borrowing a military-grade cyber-body operated remotely to steal his own hardware, all 20 tons worth, from his employer. He has to maintain an independent power supply and quantum-entangled connection while loading it on a truck and moving it to a secure location. He can't just make a copy because the holo-crystal McGuffinite doesn't work that way. Can't be copied, can't be backed up, can't be restored, just like human brains. Each AI's a one-off, unique.

  21. Concerning hounds and pilots:

    The Germans did conduct several ramming attacks in WWII. These were intentional, not accidental or impulsive acts by pilots in the heat of the moment. But it was nowhere near as widespread as with the Japanese.

    Interstellar-capable ships are going to be very large, mainly so that they can deal with the rough patches in interstellar space. Think of a hound like a whaleboat. Can you deploy it in low sea states? Of course. Would you deploy it in the middle of a storm? No. So if two ships are fighting in the middle of a hyperspace squall, it might not be suitable conditions for hounds or anyone attempting it is more than a bit crazy.

    Concerning necessary weapons:

    Yes, I don't really see the need for more than that. All of the weapons described are variations of the existing technology: hyperfields. And you are correct, a captain could collapse his fields if he felt it necessary as an act of sacrifice.

    If hyperfields are in phase they can merge. That's how a hound separates from the starship, fields are up as it clears and is fully into hyperspace. Docking works the same way. The collision of two hyperfields out of phase drops them both which leads to instant annihilation. And the debris from all of this would be smeared across realspace as a sloppy gamma ray burst. Therefore battles near a planet represent a significant radiation threat. The exact yield will have to be tweaked -- I don't want a battle out by Saturn pumping out a burst powerful enough to strip the side of Earth facing it down to bedrock. But it would be pretty severe to imagine a battle right at the limits of Earth's hypershadow threatening a gamma burst that would lethally irradiate anyone on the surface caught by the flash. That's a very surreal thought, to see a kill zone drawn out as a big circle across a globe. Given that it's an expanding sphere, it would probably be concentric circles of radiation exposure on the globe, falling off towards the horizon.

    I'd have to play around with that idea to keep it a scary threat without making it also be an obvious terror weapon that completely undoes the balance of power. "Hey, I'm a terrorist! I fly a civilian starship towards your planet and collapse the hyperfield. All ur d00dz be glowing. U mad, bro?"

    So the only question is for a given mass exposed directly to hyperspace, how much of the direct energy conversion leaks back to realspace as a burst?

    Also, this is what you would see in the sky if there's a big fight with torps and mines anyway, far smaller gamma bursts from them going off and the primary weapon effect is meant to be felt in hyperspace but the bursts would be visible across a solar system.

    Given that hypercasters do propagate faster than light, it's possible for a battle to be over and for observers to be aware of the results before they see the bursts of light dotting the sky.

  22. Continued, specifically about the pilots: Being a hound pilot would be dangerous but I'm not thinking suicidal. It's correct to say that it's not overly risky in peacetime and I don't see wars at this point going total war with millions dead, at least not at the start.

    But that is something interesting to consider when you read about what military life is like before, during, and after great wars. In the US Navy, the aviation branch was seen as a glorious lark, a flying club after college. It seemed like fun and games and the reality of actually getting involved in a shooting war hadn't quite registered on the pilots until they were in the thick of it. A paraphrased quote from one of the pre-war pilots was along the lines of "hell of a way to ruin a flying club."

    It's something I've thought about watching the aviation shows that get produced these days and the active pilots from the various services offering their opinions. They're fit men but obviously in their 30' and 40's, hairlines starting to go. They're flying, having a good career, and barring any total wars, will make retirement. But what happens if we do have an all-out war? All of our pilots are college-educated, there's fierce competition for flying billets, and the ranks will skew older with mature, steady hands on the tiller. But what happens if we have a modern meat-grinder with no end in sight? Yes, hard to imagine with nukes on the table but run with the idea. How much training does it really take to make for a good pilot? If we strip things down to wartime emergency, if we stop gold-plating the aircraft and are throwing them together as fast as possible and with only the absolutely necessary equipment, how long would it take to get a raw recruit up to speed? And given that they're fly-by-wire, not a lot of strength is needed. How young could we go for pilots?

    While we can't say for sure how aerial combat in WWIII would have gone, every indication points to the combat environment being incredibly lethal and for existing forces to be depleted in short order.

    So back to the question of hound pilots, in a total war situation I think that an acceptable risk model would be something like what the RAF experienced in the two world wars. I've read personal accounts from pilots concerning how harrowing the experience is all alone in that cockpit. It's high-attrition but there are always more pilots in the pipeline.

    If you want really high-attrition, the German u-boat sailors suffered the highest casualty rate of any branch in any army of the war (75% losses), including the poor Russian bastards sent to fight without rifles.

    I'm not sure what ground combat would look like in this setting. That requires a whole new thinking cap. :) I can't really imagine conscripts working that well in a highly technical navy even though press gangs are a marvelous literary tool for introducing unlikely characters to warships. I agree that if we are likely to see conscripts, it would be in the ground forces but I don't know what ground forces look like!

  23. Pilot fitness in modern aviation is a balance of physical fitness to deal with the G loads and mental alertness since things happen so fast in air to air combat.

    Air combat in WWIII would depend a lot on whan the war actually happened. In the 1950's it would still be a lot like WWII except with jets; B-47s racing across the sky in their thousands (and towards the end, being prepared to do a spectacular 3G pullup and "over the shoulder toss" with their nuclear weapons) while the PVO Strany floods the sky with jet interceptors and missiles in a desparate attempt to knock them down.

    The 60's was the start of "push button war", B-52's would launch various sorts of drone penetration aids to lead them into the USSR and Chinese airspace, sophisticated ADM-20's to spoof the enemy and SRAM's to blow holes in the defense with nuclear firepower. F-105 "Thuds" would be screaming in low and fast against tactical targets, and the various NATO forces would be dueling with waves of less sophisticated but far more numerous MiGs from Frontovaya Aviatsiya. Cold warriors of the 70s and 80's were dealing with ever more sophisticated electronic warfare and electronic counter measures, as well as a declining number of aircraft, and experimenting with computer augmentation such as fly by wire and AWACS to direct the battle.

    Frankly, air combat isn't a good model for space combat; the major fighting platforms are far closer to naval warships and even drones, fighters or "hounds" would resemble the lone scout aircraft at the dawn of WWI rather than even the "Flying circus" of 1916 for simple "Force to Space" ratio considerations. This is in any semi hard and semi PMF setting.

    The "pilots in the pipeline" argument is semi valid, and even production of military hardware can be ramped up in a total war setting (Germany had record production of fighter planes and tanks in 1944 under a continuing air assault and using dispersed sheds hidden in forests as workshops), but the entire logistical apparatus can be strained to the breaking point; where are the crew cheifs coming from? How about fuel? If everyone is fighting, who is growing the food? Manning the production lines? It is also interesting to note that while production was ramping up, quality was falling and the inexperienced pilots who could get the fuel to fly were being minced by the USAAF. AS well, production of other war material like ships was grinding to a halt, since they were not amiable to dispersed production techniques.

    In your setting during a total war, fewer and fewer major warships remain, but they can still carry batteries of hounds and hornets (and dispense with the hornets to carry more hounds). Since the hounds often break down and the pilots might get caught in the hypervortex, larger groups get launched at a time to overwhelm the enemy ships...

  24. I don't really see any all-out WWIII scenario as being easily analogous to WWII thanks to nukes. Most European theater scenarios usually involved a conventional war going nuclear once one side or the other gained a decisive advantage.

    That being said, if we did find ourselves in a Tom Clancy-era WWIII scenario that didn't have nukes and remained an all-out total war between major industrial powers, what would the practical requirements for fighter pilots whittle down to be?

    The Age of Hypersail scenario would feature a sphere of human expansion spread across thousands of lightyears and would take decades to cross from one side to the other in even the fastest ships. The best analogy to that would be the Roman world where vast empires could exist as little more than distant rumors to each other. Yes, we know something of this India and China. There are vast lands to the south of Egypt in this continent of Africa. We are completely ignorant of anything across the Atlantic even tough there's evidence that pre-Columbian contact was made by the Chinese and possibly Phoenician traders. (And we wouldn't know the term Pre-Columbian any better than Socrates would call his time Before Christ. )

    There is some terror at the thought of a WWIII scenario fought before the development of ICBM's. If there's no massive pulse of bombers to send out in a first strike across the entire country you are then looking at focused raids against specific targets, rather than a Battle of Britain it would be a Battle of North America stretching for months as bombers would come across the North Pole and try for another Canadian or American city. Many bombers would be lost but it only takes one nuke to put a serious hurting on a city. A war like that could drag on for years.

    Given the scale of space in the hypersail setting, deep raids into the heartland would be less likely, especially for empires stretching across many systems. Therefore the situation would more likely be strategic systems fought over with core systems heavily fortified and not subject to attack.

    If warfare is highly formalized, strategic objectives such as industrial orbitals and planets would be fought over as prizes but never directly attacked. Formal customs would be observed for determining a victor in maneuver, a striking of the colors and a handing over of the garrisons. I've read books describing the pre-Napoleon professional armies of Europe as having many mercenaries and battles could be decided in such fashion. A king is never captured on a chessboard, only put in check. Likewise armies would maneuver on the field and the general in the disadvantage would surrender. I suppose you still had a number of enlisted ranks get killed but the officers could count on being treated as gentlemen. The Napoleonic wars blew all that out the window.

    To make a setting like this work, we really would need a tech plateau to explain why such a stable tech base exists for so many years. I have my answer for the Into the Void setting but lack one for the Age of Hypersail. Maybe then it would really be time to invoke the old saw of "We're not making any more fundamental discoveries in science, just filling in the blanks." That feels contrived but it's hard to find another viable alternative.

  25. The major difference between sending masses of conscript troops into battle and individual volunteer pilots is masses tend to run in herds and are imbued with groupthink (and a political commissar behind them with a gun in the case of the Soviet Union). Masses will go forward en mass (the counterpoint is when their moral fails they will also retreat en mass).

    The Soviets used their planes quite the same way, and at the beginning, they did use quite a bit of ramming themselves. My point was that you don't need a Bushido-like culture to make it work, only one where human life is considered less important, or where individual sacrifice for the group is praised. Or one where people are just caught in the system. Those cultures don't have to be very different from ours.
    But again, while WWII naval air battles are the closest thing we had to those hound battles, it is still a far from perfect analogy.

    If a total war is stretching out, there will indeed be personnel and materiel replacement problems similar to what Germany experienced at the end of WWII. But in a total war, if defeat mean total destruction, you may still see barely adult youngsters volunteering or being enlisted, and industry stretched to the limit to continue producing hardware.
    Another comparison to late WWII is that, yes, such wars between roughly equal powers would be won or lost on attrition (bar gross strategic mistakes).
    Unless both sides have explosive demographics, vast industrial power and probably a good enough education system, endless total wars seem unlikely. But they are so in History as well. Regional wars, on the other hand, could stretch for quite a long time.

    About conscript forces : if used, obviously, it wouldn't be used like the Soviet penal squadrons. But depending on the culture, experienced, educated or brilliant elements could be proposed amnesty if they enlist.
    The closest thing I can think of is during the Iran-Irak war, where Iran put its pilots out of jail so they could fight Iraqi. There are differences (they were political prisoners, for example), though.
    So you would have this freighter navigator who was caught smuggling and offered assignment on a light attack craft, this power-plant technician who is assigned as an hypersail tech to escape prison for embezzlement, this painter with a natural gift who has choice between piloting a hound or a death sentence for murdering his wife... They would receive adequate (or not) training, then sent on the front to risky missions. Though not suicidal missions, as their officers would probably not be 'undesirable' themselves, and hardware isn't cheap.
    So probably not common, but it could definitely happen. If only for special missions, Dirty Dozen-like.

    (Fun fact, Germany tried to develop a small plane especially made to ram bombers in the cockpit, IIRC. Pilots were intended to survive, though. But like most of their 'wunderwaffen', it was an impractical idea, if only because it didn't make cost.)

  26. I'm not sure if I like the gamma radiation bursts. There is indeed room for terrorism, unless it is weak and/or far enough from any world to have no effect. Unfortunately, suicide bombers are 'cheap', and there is bound to be determined terrorist groups in such a vast setting.
    The problem with gamma bursts is that it's a perfect terror weapon : it (generally) doesn't kill instantly, but cause durable degradation of the quality of life (by damaging ecosystem and possibly electronics, causing sickness), kills very slowly and in a horrible way, or simply reduce life expectancy (which maximizes the terror factor), or costs a lot to prevent the above effects (to repair the ecosystem/electronics, heal people).
    And it is near-unstoppable, as collapsing a hyperfield seems to be trivial.
    I'm not saying that it couldn't work, but if those gamma bursts can cause any damage, terrorism may then become a very serious problem.

    On the other hand, bursts in longer wavelengths would give a visual factor (seeing the lights of the battle from the planet) but not open this potential can of worms.
    Turning most of it into exotic but harmless particles (like, say, neutrinos) would also help explaining why any megaton ship doesn't sterilize the entire hemisphere with a 90 YJ burst.

    About ground troops, chances are they would be occupation troops, of which we have many examples through history.
    Their role wouldn't be to win the war (it was won by the ships) but to maintain it won. Protect from partisans/terrorists/freedom fighters. Possibly maintain order until (or for) the new local government is put in place.
    They would probably not be that different from modern infantry : some would be specialized teams (anti-terrorists, infiltration, special escort duty...), but many would simply patrol and do quite police-like duty.
    Interestingly, British troops in Irak tend(ed?) to wear berets instead of helmets, to show that they are a peacekeeping force instead of an invasion army. Similarly, even if there is stuff like power-armours and infantry drones, they may send most people in light battlesuits, with visible faces (mooks with concealing helmets are for evil overlords), for similar reasons.
    They could have a proverb like "Ships win wars. Troops win peace."

  27. Given the scale of space in the hypersail setting, deep raids into the heartland would be less likely, especially for empires stretching across many systems.

    I'm not sure to understand why. Hyperspace is vast and horizon limited. So what prevents a fleet to bypass frontier systems through interstellar space, to directly attack a homeworld?
    Such attack would make a large force unavailable for a longer time, but on the other hand it would force the enemy to protect all of their systems, not just the frontier ones.

    (That's something I never understood in the Honor Harrington books. Why didn't Haven directly attack the Manticore system with everything they could? I'd even have included the Home Fleet, as without Manticore, no other force could seriously menace their core worlds. It would have been a do-or-die move, but it was already a do-or-die war.)

    The tech plateau is necessary indeed. But what is wrong with the good old decelerando? It doesn't even have to be "well, we found most of the stuff". Sciences and techniques can be expected to continue to become more and more complex. But after a while, such complexity is far beyond what the human mind can tackle. We already have such problems, when interdisciplinary solutions are needed, for example.
    Expert systems would help, but this setting has no strong AI, meaning that it's still human scientists who make the most important advances.
    So you may still have advances. For example, say, a biologist, a mathematician and a hyperspace physicist discussing together suddenly found out that organic hypersails were possible. But those could be as rare as you want, and most of the advances would just be refinements of existing techniques.

    Oh, and I definitely like how this RTFM story sounds.

  28. Concerning gamma bursts: I believe matter/antimatter reactions are supposed to be mainly gamma which is why I called them gamma bursts. All they need to be is "Big matter converted to energy 'splosions! But not too big." Whatever gives me something dramatic to see in realspace and also threatens a planet is fine. To protect against suicide bombs planetside maybe you can't even properly raise a hyperfield inside a hypershadow, you just burn out the generator.

    Concerning ground troops: Good point differentiating between combat forces and pacification. Our current war on terror shows us how there's a vast difference between crushing a massive, industrial war machine and occupying the territory. WWII was deceptive for us since the shadow of the Cold War was already looming. Germany was divided from the start and we didn't get a whole lot of partisan resistance after the war. The Japanese were ordered to lay down arms by their Emperor. It would have been quite different if these countries were invaded and forcibly subsumed into an empire.

    Regardless of how technologically impressive the combat forces are with Death Stars and 50 foot combat mecha and starfighters and terminator bots and bolo tanks, occupation forces are going to be dealing human-on-human. It's a sticky situation.

    It's easy enough if you're space nazis and the goal is to kill off the locals and bring in colonists. If you're trying to get them on-board with the new regime and cooperative... that's tricky.

    And when we ask about "what are the people needed for?" we're right back to the current crisis in civilization we're facing, the growing irrelevance of humans in production.

    The old formula is land + capital + labor = wealth. A king with lands and plenty of money but no peasants is going to starve. With increasing automation, land + capital + very little labor = wealth. Just how small can that labor portion shrink? And what about the surplus population, the economically disenfranchised?

    That's all part of the occupation question. Why are you taking the planet/orbital in the first place? What's the value? How do you get the occupied people to play ball with you? And if you really give them a better deal than the original boss, how's he going to convince them to take him back?

  29. More concerns about conscription forces: You raise interesting points about political prisoners brought back into service due to crisis. That would actually make for some gripping storytelling in the breakdown of an old, formal war system.

    This actually puts me in mind of the contrast between the games Civilization and Alpha Centauri. In Civilization the factions are all essentially ethnic -- world leaders come from across history so Eyptians are run by Cleopatra, Americans have Lincoln, Mongols have Genghis Khan, etc. But it's basically all falling into the nation-state paradigm. Political philosophies and modes of government can be chosen over the course of the game but don't define the conflict. In Alpha Centauri, the factions are all philosophical: technological utopianism, environmentalism, capitalism, militarism, anti-authoritarianism, piracy, classic liberalism, or the Gaia philosophy.

    While I believe that human nature won't change until we start tinkering with our genes, the civilizations we built and the strength with which we hold our ethics will govern our behavior. We don't behead political opponents in the US and put their heads on spikes outside the Capitol Building. The Brits used to do the very thing in London and not all that long ago.

    I like using history as a touchstone when creating a fictional setting but I don't like directly copying things and doing a palate swap.

    I'd need to build more on the conflicting factions in the Hypersail setting before we could talk about how the military forces are recruited.

  30. Concerning fleets and deep strikes:

    Good question about "island hopping." The viability of such a tactic depends entirely on the nature of the setting. On Earth making a deep raid like that leaves you extended. You have some advantage in surprise but invite defeat while being in the heart of the enemy's territory. The Japanese could have lost their carriers with Pearl Harbor and the Americans could have lost the ships involved in the Doolittle Raid.

    Some scifi settings deliberately limit this with wormholes so you have to take the systems in sequence. The Age of Hypersail is open and free travel just like the Honorverse. So, what are the limitations?

    I'd say we're kind of looking at the medieval situation here. I can raise an army and march through your territory. You hole up in your castle. I don't have the means to take your castle. When I leave your peasants go back to their farms, rebuild and life goes on. If I don't control the castle, I don't control the land. At best I can deny you access to the land only when I'm there.

    If planet-smashing is acceptable then the enemy entering my system means my worlds could die. If I'm trying to take a planet instead, I've got to consider the length of my supply lines to my home systems versus yours.

    Now let's say a target system has orbital industries. I don't to capture them, I want to destroy them. I bring in my raiding force and order them to abandon station. I then destroy everything without it being a war crime. Or maybe I do because I don't care. I haven't attacked a planet, my lawyers could argue war workers are legitimate targets. I retreat before the enemy's mobile forces arrive. He's out a shipyard.

    What are my risks for running a deep raid like that? How easy is it to detect an incoming force? Detection ranges are low in hyperspace but are there narrows that I simply must pass through to get between the stars, given space weather? If we're talking hard SF with no FTL but .9c fusion torch drives, you see me coming light-years away. In squishy SF like Trek, FTL sensors can detect me even between the stars. In Hypersail, detection ranges are more like age of sail frigates on the high seas but you'll note that fleets can still be encountered and brought to fight. Of course, there's many historical accounts of fleets and armies having great difficult even finding each other to have a proper battle. This could also happen in hypersail, potentially a small division of one fleet encountering the main division of another fleet with poor communication meaning that they are defeated in detail.

    Hyperspace terrain can create choke points that are patrolled and thus present the opportunity for decisive battles. Spy finds out a deep raid is about to sortie, a fast packet carries his message to the defenders. Raid should be passing through the chokepoint in a month, raise a fleet to meet them. But wait, that chokepoint certainly is vulnerable but there's a passage only another two weeks to the galactic north. What if our spy finding out is a clever ruse?

  31. scenario continued.

    We commit to the main chokepoint and find out yes, that is where they were passing but they made it through days before we arrived. How could this be?! (we later find out that the enemy admiral took his fleet through higher clines and lost 10% of his force due to the treacherous conditions.) There's now vast areas of clear sailing. They could easily strike any of three major industrial systems. Which one could they have taken? Able to do little else, I send my fastest frigates to scout along the shortest course between those systems and set my main fleet forward along a course towards what I consider to be the most likely target. Whichever scout force finds the enemy, they will send a frigate back to my main force to relay the information. It will be tricky for them to locate me in hyperspace, of course, and will have to use every navigational trick they know.

    End result of the battle, the enemy hit the system I considered the least likely target. My scouts had trouble finding my main force so by the time I had the information I knew he would have already arrived. (I find out much later he's destroyed every facility there while losing 20% of his original strength to defenders, a very agreeable trade for him.)

    He's down 30% from original strength. I make a gamble and decide he won't return the same way he came and head for the distant passage. My instincts are correct and there's a confused battle as our forces come into engagement in a narrow and disagreeable fighting space. He loses another 30% of his forces there but makes it through on his flagship. My own flagship was forced across a wake and made a forced translation. Two enemy medium ships dropped to finish me off and a vicious 15 minute exchange of fire saw my ship victorious but heavily damaged. My fleet is mauled and too tattered to pursue him.

    He's down to 40% of original strength. My fleet was reduced by half. He's reduced the industrial output of my sector by 15% which could be an edge in a war of attrition. But the enemy will have trouble making good the loss of those veteran crews.

    The military command declares it a victory in public but I know it will count against me in admiralty politics.

    *shrug* Just a scenario. I think in the Hypersail setting the depth of a strike would depend on the audacity of the commander and the terrain he's passing through but any island hopping must take into account the risks of leaving an enemy to your rear who can project a strong force. We could bypass those islands because army soldiers dug in with coral bunkers don't threaten our ships any. It's a different case if we bypass a castle filled with knights and think we can safely run our supply line past it without getting raided by them.

  32. For the most viscous and total war in human history, we need to go to the 30 Years War; a war driven by religious fanaticism and the large scale introduction of gunpowder weaponry (which lowered the cost of getting trained fighting troops; you did not need a lifetime of training to make an effective musketeer, but you did to make an effective knight or bowman). Everyone and everything was at risk, even Kings (Gustavus Adolphus was killed on the field of battle, gunned down as he lay wounded rather than captured and ransomed).

    If there is some sort of ideological motivation, then expect the war to go on over an extended period of time (even relatively low tech wars like Mao's struggles against the Nationalist Army); other examples might include the Russian Civil war or the ongoing Arab Israeli wars (looking at the entire period as one of hostilities but few battles; cf the 100 years war). In SF the ultimate struggle for me is the Wars of Succession period in Jerry Pournelle's universe, the Forever War comes close in terms of the disorganizing of the parent society.

    You seem to be deliberately going for an age of sail setting; so follow along with how the masters of the genre did it; Patrick O'Brian, C.F. Forester and so on.

  33. What makes the 30 Years War so noteworthy to your way of thinking? Just going by duration or death toll doesn't really tell the tale. The Mongol invasions were pretty damned awful. And as bad as the world wars were, the Taiping Rebellion was no slouch either. Even for wars with low overall casualties, getting maimed or killed is no fun.

    I want echoes and rhymes, not 1:1 translation. A monarchist society having a revolution and a charismatic leader coming to power and thus into conflict with regional monarchies, where have we seen this before? Oh, right. The fall of a great republic and it turning into an empire, it's been done.

    I actually put up a new post along these lines. The essential conflict from the Honorverse could just as easily play out in a fantasy setting as it did in reality.

  34. The 30 years war is noteworthy because it was 30 years of near-constant warfare, with many faction fighting each-other, appearing, disappearing, changing sides to go against the strongest (religious divisions had their roots in, and were used by, political divisions and greed), and countless mercenaries who were often unpaid, lived on local supplies and ravaged everything on their path.
    Or, if you want, it was one of the biggest depictions of the "war is hell" trope. By this account, it may be the worst war of the entire pre-industrial Europe history.

    It should be pointed out that religious fanaticism, though it did a lot to fuel it, was far from being the only cause of the war ; which can be said more generally about the whole Catholic/Protestant schism and subsequent religion wars. As for most conflicts, there are other, deeper causes. Here, it was the power game between the centralizing power of the Pope and several kings, against the more liberal or independent-minded lesser noble families, to simplify.
    There is also the rejection of the corruption and decadence of the Church (the indulgences were the worst symptom) and said kings (who just didn't care about the people they ruled, being raised in isolation), and the failure of the "reformers" to prevent the "revolutionists" to create an open conflict. (Erasmus who, while being a great humanist and extraordinary writer, was too coward to confront Luther, which may have prevented the schism and the entire religion wars to happen ; human flaws can be the source of the greatest tragedies.) Then, things went downhill, and the rest is History...
    In fact, the entire thing could make for an epic tragedy ; just replace the religious system by a political one if you want to hit a broader audience (and keep the more modern form of politics separated from religion).

  35. I'm poking around with that in the new conflict post. I just don't want the exact nature of the conflict to feel exactly transplanted from our own time or recent history.

    One thing that struck me this morning was the idea of mind horror to go along with body horror. I'll include that thought over there.

  36. The 30 years war was exceptional because of the sheer scale of casualties in proportion to the size of the population, the almost constant combat and the total overturning of the existing political order leading to the founding of modern nation states (which we still live in today).

    The 100 years war may have lasted longer, but was a series of campaigns separated by long periods of inaction, and most wars may have ended up with exchanges of territory but not the overturning of the complete social and political order (the Seven Years War was the first global war, but in the end while the map changed the fundamentals of the societies that fought were not changed overly much).

    What made the war so exceptional was:

    1. The stated motivation was religious (no matter what the various kings and princes might have really wanted). Religion could motivate more people and far more deeply than the idea of who ruled what province.

    2. The introduction of firearms on a large scale. Up until this time, effective fighting men needed to be trained for years or even a lifetime. The peasant levy was sword fodder. With firearms, you could make anyone an effective fighting man with limited training, vastly increasing the size and destructive potential of armies.

    3. Large and destructive armies roaming the countryside with little to restrain them caused far more damage than the Chevauchée that preceded it (or the small professional armies that followed until the revolutionary period).

    The combination of factors in one time and place led to a casualty rate which may have exceeded 30% of the population in some places (much like the Black Death). It is hard to imagine a similar confluence of factors in the PMF (nanoweapons bringing the price of mass death down by another order of magnitude?).

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