Category: Miscellany

Dec 04 2015

Dat’s Waycist!

Contrary to what the title might imply, this isn’t going to be a broad discussion of racism in general or even to how it applies to my characters as an extension of “On Values Dissonance”. Rather, I was wanting to specifically address the Blackamoors of Junker Jorg. The name itself will elicit the titular cry of this post and it’s entirely intentional. Though the country of Byrandia is largely inspired by pre-WWII France, it’s rather plainly goose-stepping its way down the path of fascism.

The basis for Junker Jorg stems from two separate dreams that I connected. The one relevant to today’s discussion basically follows the events of Chapter 1 of the story. I was occupying the character who would be Root, watching all the various monsters roaming about in the ruins in the distance. One of the large ones, I noted, would’ve been voiced by the late Daisuke Gouri if it actually could speak. This made me think about Gouri’s role as Bask Om, commander of the fascistic paramilitary group known as the Titans, in Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam. Sure enough, who would appear on the horizon by the Titans themselves. The rest played out mostly how you saw it on the page. (As a side note, Margie was largely inspired by Lili Stecchin of Pumpkin Scissors, her torment quite possibly fueled by my annoyance at the idea of a little girl being a sergeant major. I was rather pleased with the justification I came up with in the story proper.)

Well, I couldn’t very well use the Titans in the actual story, so I took inspiration from the Italian Blackshirts, the German Brownshirts, and the Spanish Falange to craft an organization of my own design. I don’t know why, but I decided to incorporate Laurence Olivier’s disconcerting blackface makeup from his performance of Othello as a distinguishing feature. Now, if you haven’t seen the movie itself, just checking out a screenshot will reveal how off-kilter it looks. The funny thing is how much faith Sir Laurence had in its verisimilitude. Just look at this article to see how much he was applying his powers of observation (or attempting to, at least) to affect a genuine portrayal. Anyway, with that inspiration, it was just another step to go from a depiction of the Moor of Venice to the archaic term ‘Blackamoor’ that became the organization’s name.

So, yes, if you think the fascist gang of thugs from the story is racist, you’re right on the money. Ironically, the blackface allows them to minimize any potential racial variance in members (to the casual eye, at least), so while their rhetoric is virulently racist, they’re pragmatic enough to take in just about anyone willing to do the terrible things they do. I suppose it’s not unlike the yakuza being fairly willing to accept Koreans into their ranks.

Anyway, hopefully this post shed some light on things. I doubt it’ll spare me the barbs of some social justice warrior, but I seem to be obscure enough to be free of such attention.

Oct 26 2015

Zombies in the Tellus Arc

Ahead of my zombie movie reviews, here’s a little spiel about how zombies work in my canon. I use “zombie” for the convenience of contemporary audiences. The word isn’t used in the Tellus Arc as it would’ve been wildly anachronistic. (Yes, there are plenty of anachronisms in my stories, but I try to cut back on some of the most egregious ones.) The word you’ll typically hear is “revenant”, “the dead that walk” or something similar. We’re going to restrict ourselves to a discussion of undead zombies, which are all raised by means of the magic arts.

Zombies can be divided into their physical type and intellectual type. You can mix and match these with varying degrees of success. First, the most basic physical type is an ordinary dead body. It is subject to regular decomposition and its physical limitation can be overcome relative to the power of the magic infusing it, but eventually its usefulness will be completely expended. A flesh-eating zombie can delay the rate of decomposition, not by the physical means of digesting the flesh it consumes but rather by absorbing the life-energy within the flesh. A preserved body, such as in the manner of Egyptian mummification, can function for longer, but this depends on the manner of preservation. For instance, physical preservation is subject to physical limitations. You wouldn’t be able to keep a traditional mummy from decaying for long if you took it to a tropical swampland. Magic-enhanced preservation could be virtually perpetual. A patchwork zombie is crafted from multiple bodies (not unlike Frankenstein’s monster), which can yield a stronger amalgamation, but these are difficult to do will and the different parts make it difficult to bind a spirit to the flesh. The final type is a Copy Golem, made from bones (or ashes) and grave soil (think Kikyou from Inuyasha). Though essentially a clay doll, by means of advanced necromantic arts, it takes the likeness of flesh. Caligo’s Companions were revived by the Monarch Lich in this manner. It is the most resilient type of zombie and the most ready vessel for holding a person’s soul.

As for the intellectual types, the most basic is a mindless drone, animated entirely by magic. Every action must be directed by the necromancer. This is sufficient if you’re just trying to send waves of the walking dead at an enemy. The slave type is more advanced, capable of following simple commands. They are made by binding a soul with the zombies body. An animal soul of sufficient intelligence will suffice. The most advanced intellectual type comes from binding a sapient soul to the body. If available, the original soul will be the best fit. A fully sapient zombie is the most difficult to control, which make them dangerous to necromancers punching above their weight.

When it comes to stopping zombies of any type, there’s no particular virtue to aiming for the head. Depending on the power of the magic animating the zombie in question, you may have to completely destroy the body before it stops, and that’s assuming the necromancer behind it hasn’t enchanted it to regenerate (which isn’t usually a risk but does happen). Merely being bitten by a zombie won’t turn you into one, though the bite is likely to fester fairly quickly and kill you (and that’s not even accounting for any particular dark energy or curse that may be transmitted via the bite). Being recently dead does make it easier for you to be raised as a zombie yourself and it’s possible that the curse can be transmitted via the bite to activate upon your death, but strictly speaking, it’s not the bite alone that makes more zombies. (For that matter, the curse could be transmitted by scratching or via other fluids.) The risk of the curse spreading is mostly restricted to high order necromancy, but naturally you’d want to keep your distance as a general rule.

Lastly, when it comes to shamblers vs. fast zombies, it again falls to the magic animating the body. As you might imagine, dead tissue isn’t apt to move too quickly. A relatively fresh body still in rigor mortis isn’t going to be moving very fast without damaging the tissues. However, once rigor wears off, the flexibility of the flaccid state makes it easier to move the body more quickly. Generally speaking, though, zombies aren’t likely to move all that quickly as it requires more magic to push the body that hard and mitigate the damage. This of course means a fast zombie is that much more an unpleasant surprise.

That should do it for our coverage of some of the creepier denizens of my stories. I may or may not do a follow-up post on vampires. Otherwise, we’ll move on to other topics. Stay tuned.

Oct 19 2015

Werewolves in the Tellus Arc

I said I might follow up on my post about vampires in my canon with similar coverage of werewolves and so here we are. My vampire lore is far more extensive, I’ll admit, to the point where I really need another post of two to cover further details. Werewolves, on the other hand, are much simpler.

Werewolves come in two types: natural and cursed. A natural Werewolf is simply a variety of Demihuman (or Beastman, if that’s the term you prefer). In other words, they’re just a more humanoid sort of wolf. They’re capable of walking on two hands and have a degree of manual dexterity roughly on par with a chimpanzee, but besides these particular physical qualities and the mental capacity to establish the rudiments of civilization, they’re not so different from their four-legged cousins.

The cursed Werewolf is no doubt what you’re most interested in. The curse of the Werewolf is tied to the phase of the moon. The fuller the moon, the more wolflike you become. By the full moon, a cursed Werewolf appears much like a direwolf. The curse can be transmitted via a Werewolf bite (but only when the curse is active, i.e. during the night while the moon is at least partially in phase), but because victims of a Werewolf attack rarely survive. A cursed Werewolf is mortal and can be killed by ordinary means, but the curse greatly boosts their physical abilities and so it’s much more difficult. Silver has the effect of weakening the dark magics behind the curse and therefore increase vulnerability, but it’s not a matter of silver being the only means of killing a Werewolf. It would, in theory, be possible for a high-level white mage to remove the curse, but only by possessing power greater than the curse (or by artificially boosting the mage’s power above the level of the curse).

That’s really all there is to it. I told you there wasn’t nearly as much to talk about on the subject. I plan on reviewing zombie movies in the last week of the month, but I may do a commentary post about how they work in my canon sooner than that. Stay tuned.

Oct 10 2015

Vampires in the Tellus Arc

Given the theme of this week’s movie reviews, I thought it might be nice to go into detail on the rules for vampirism in my stories. At present, vampirism only exists in my Tellus Arc stories. I suppose in a roundabout way it crops up in a few Earth Arc stories and could potentially present itself in the Cross and If Arcs as well, but for now, it’s restricted to the Tellus Arc, hence the title of the post.

I’ve already depicted the process of turning into a vampire twice: with Flavia Sapphira in The Three Warriors and with Narkissos (better known as Sir Caligo) in TTWC2, so let’s start there. First off, to become a vampire, you must drink the blood of a vampire. Typically, you are first drained of blood to just shy of the point of death as the admixture of essences eases the transition. The process of being reborn into unlife is very traumatic and it takes great force of will to maintain your mind. Should you fail, you’ll becomes a ghoul, a mere ravening beast. Ghouls have all the powers of a vampire, but they don’t tend to live very long because they have nothing more than animal instinct to guide them. Hunting them is comparatively easy.

The powers of a newly born vampire are relative to its sire. In other words, should you be turned by an ancient vampire, you would start out much stronger than if you were sired by a younger vampire. There is also the matter of your innate abilities. A turned archmage will have even stronger magical powers, though someone like a white mage would have their alignment flipped, but more on that later. The basic abilities include increased strength and speed and heightened senses. Other abilities such as flight and shapeshifting manifest later. Lestat’s comment from Interview with a Vampire holds true. “The Dark Gift is different for each of us.” Different abilities will manifest for different individuals. For instance, if you are a latent telepath, that ability would manifest itself after you were turned. Even the slightest latent potential will be drawn out in the due course of time. As your vampiric powers grow, all your abilities, both natural and supernatural, are amplified and enhanced.

As for weaknesses, light is the great vampire killer. Sunlight is the most obvious, but light magic is also effective. Even for a newborn vampire, exposure is not immediately fatal, but the resistance depends of the power of the individual vampire. Vampires are also vulnerable to water, the purer the better (hence the effectiveness of holy water). The same applies to silver. For wood, it must be fresh, no more than a day or two since it was cut, ergo a makeshift stake broken off from a piece of antique furniture wouldn’t do you much good. Garlic and certain pungent herbs can have a warding effect on weaker vampires but will not stop a determined one. As for the effectiveness of holy objects such as crucifixes, it is the person’s faith rather than the object itself that has the warding power. (As a result, a committed atheist can’t expect to hold up a cross to save himself.) The vampire’s heart is the source of his powers. Using a wooden steak blocks the flow of energies that sustain the vampire, but this isn’t enough to kill it. If you remove the stake, the vampire will reanimate. Cutting out the heart is more effective, but if the heart is reunited with the body (or even the ashes of the body), the vampire can be restored. To completely and permanently destroy a vampire, you must stake the heart, sever the head, then burn it all in the light of the sun. However, less thorough measures are normally sufficient as the average vampire isn’t going to have anyone working to restore him.

The vampire’s thirst for blood is the basic means by which he gains and sustains power. The longer a vampire goes without drinking, the weaker he becomes and the more susceptible to a vampire’s vulnerabilities. It is also important that the blood be fresh or else the life energies will dissipate, which happens quickly as the blood is separated from the body or the body approaches death. (As a result, the modern vampire drinking from blood packets wouldn’t be viable under this system.) The more potent the blood, the more power is derived from it. The blood of the young has more vigor than that of the old, the blood of a mage more than that of a commoner, and so on and so forth. All else being equal, a vampire who feeds on humans is going to be stronger than one who feeds on rats. It is possible to slow the atrophy by entering into a state of hibernation and there is also something of a rubber band effect where an atrophied vampire can regain power faster than it was first acquired. Beside basic life energies, abilities and experiences can be transmitted via the blood. We saw this in KoG3 with Adrienne picking up Byrnan by drinking Mark’s blood and in TTWC2 where Caligo was able completely read Sir Telemachos’ mind via his blood. As a result, the drinking of blood is more than just a matter of acquiring energy and makes active vampires all the more dangerous.

Dhampirs, or half-vampires, are an interesting case. They are as varied as full-blooded vampires in terms of their abilities and vulnerabilities. It’s an oversimplification to describe them as having half the power and half the weakness, but it provides a conceptual starting point. The more blood a dhampir drinks, the more their vampiric side comes to the fore, but only by drinking vampire blood can they be fully turned. Only some ancient vampires have the ability to breed, so typically the only way a dhampir can be born is if the human mother is turned while pregnant, as was the case with Flavia Sapphira. Unsurprisingly, dhampirs are exceedingly rare. The Cadmus twins shouldn’t be seen as typical examples of dhampirs because of Shadowblight’s extensive experimentation on them. Vincentian had a natural affinity for regeneration, so this was amplified to the point where he could regenerate more quickly and completely than even many full vampires. Adrienne pushed the physical limitations of a dhampir’s body without a significant increase in vulnerability, but she lacked any higher level abilities like shapeshifting and suffered a thirst for blood nearly on par with a a full vampire. Before Shadowblight’s experimentation, they both had a higher thirst for blood as a product of habit because their mother raised them as full vampires.

Lastly, we’ll discuss psychic vampires. These aren’t necessarily vampires in the traditional sense, though it’s possible for a conventional vampire with psychic abilities to become a psychic vampire. Basically, a psychic vampire feeds on the astral energies of others as opposed to blood. This could kill the mind just as extensive exsanguination can kill the body. For dual vampires, there are two options for gaining power. A dual vampire could hibernate with his physical body while continuing to feed psychically and awaken even stronger.

When I had a friend read T3W, he noted the peculiarity of Flavia Sapphira being able to see herself in the mirror after she was turned, as opposed to the common trope of vampires casting no reflection. At first I considered going back to change it but decided instead to leave it in. My post facto reasoning is that only vampires of a certain power level cease to have reflections.

Well, hopefully this has served to be an illuminating post (apologies to the vampires for whom illumination isn’t a desired state of affairs). Perhaps I’ll make another similar post on werewolves later in the month. Stay tuned.

Oct 05 2015

Marriage in the Earth Union

Once again, I find myself taking a current events topic to make a commentary post about how society functions in the Earth Union. Marriage is a contentious issue, at least in my native country, to say the very least. (But then there’s scarcely a topic that isn’t fraught with bitter and irreconcilable differences in these troubled and sharply polarized times.) I’m going to begin with the disclaimer that I don’t consider this the ideal solution for the real world or even for the fictional world portrayed. This is simply the solution employed by the government of the Earth Union, for better or for worse.

One way the Earth Union chose to sidestep the controversy was by removing marriage as a legal construct. That isn’t to say there’s no marriage. It’s just not something the government chooses to define. That isn’t to say there’s no government involvement either. You see, the legal construct is domestic partnership and this has no real value judgment applied to it. Any two adult citizens can enter into a domestic partnership and for such matters as taxation, division of property, inheritance rights and visitation rights, it is more or less analogous to the legal trappings of marriage (at least in the American context). A domestic partnership need not involve any sexual relationship or even cohabitation. (Cohabitation at least is typically implied but not strictly necessary.) For instance, a single parent may choose to forge a domestic partnership with an adult child to extend insurance coverage. (You have a five-year grace period after reaching the age of majority [20] to remain under your parents’ insurance, but should a parent enter into a domestic partnership with an adult child, that insurance coverage could remain shared.) The conventional concept of marriage as a union between man and woman for the purpose of procreation does not need to be covered by a domestic partnership. Unless otherwise waived, biological parents have full rights to their offspring regardless of domestic partnership status. This would mean that technically polygamy is legal in the Union. You could, for instance, have a domestic partnership with your first wife and still maintain parental rights to your children by additional wives, but these additional wives wouldn’t enjoy the same legal protections as the wife who is also your legally sanctioned domestic partner. The most an additional wives could claim from you is child support. They would have no automatic rights of inheritance (though these could be secured by a legally binding will) or visitation in such instances as hospitalization (or the related authority on life-or-death decisions in the case of incapacitation unless granted by some additional contract). Officially, the Union discourages polygamy, but the government tends to turn a blind eye when it’s practiced.

Marriage as a religious or secular rite is entirely superfluous as far as the law is concerned in the strictest sense, so the government pretty well leaves it alone. Matters like age of consent and the like are a whole ‘nother can of worms and I don’t plan on getting into it here. However, as marriage doesn’t have the legal standing of a domestic partnership, you couldn’t get away with child marriage, at least not if the marriage is intended to be consummated. No matter the rite or ceremony, age of consent laws would still apply and marriage alone wouldn’t give legal sanction to a sexual relationship involving a minor.

You may find this an elegant solution for a one-world government to smoothe over the range of cultural differences across the world or you may see it as a corrupt and/or morally repugnant system prone to abuse. As I said in the initial disclaimer, I don’t necessarily consider it to be an ideal solution. It’s just the solution the Union opted to go with. I sometimes feel like I’m poking at a hornet’s nest bringing up hot-button issues like this, but maybe some of you will find it an interesting intellectual exercise. More to come, I’m sure.

Aug 21 2015

On Women in Combat and the Earth Union Military

The recent headlines being made about the two female officers passing Ranger School have inspired me to write on this subject. As someone who would be termed a ‘REMF’ who never served a combat tour, I realize that my perspective isn’t nearly as authoritative on the subject as an actual combat arms soldier. However, while you certainly can’t say integration has gone off without a hitch, I certainly had no issue working with or working for females. I knew of females who could boast of 300ing their PT test (which, even accounting for the lower standards for females, scores like that could kick my tail even before I was crippled). The point that I’m getting at is that I’m tenuously willing to accept females in combat arms if and only if they meet the same physical standards as the males. I worry, and not without good reason, that political pressures will outweigh military good sense (rare as it may be). There have been historically and are currently forces with females fully integrated into combat roles (even if it was move done out of desperation), so I’m certainly not of the mind that it can’t work, but the last thing we need is to hamper combat readiness to be PC compliant.

I also recall an article written by a female Marine officer who was in the Female Engagement Teams if I recall who wrote of the unique health problems she faced as a woman in as close to the role of a regular infantryman as we’ve yet had in an active conflict. While I doubt there’s been any thorough scientific study on the health of FET members as a basis for the viability of females in combat arms and I grant that this particular Marine may not be a representative case, there is a concern–not unreasonable, in my view–that females who take on combat arms roles could be condemning themselves to a wrecked physical condition. Now, to be fair, these physically strenuous roles ruin the health of plenty of males. There may not be a paratrooper one who ends his service without having a bum knee or two. This all ties into a critical lack of data, at least for public consumption, which casts shadows over the entire movement.

That’s not even touching on the risk of sexual harassment and assault. It is a legitimate concern. Admittedly, the way some people talk about it, male-on-male assault may be a bigger problem. I remember in AIT, everyone without exception was effectively warned that if you went out on the PT field after hours, you could expect to get raped. Now, this could have been simple scare tactics, but I’d say it’s not unfair to compare the military to prison, so, you know, don’t take any stupid risks. The risk of the real thing is serious and severe, but then there’s the matter of scurrilous charges. It may well be that false charges are vastly dwarfed by the real thing, but the former can make it all the more difficult for the latter to be given the credence it deserves. Just look at the Tailhook scandal. I certainly have my doubts about the original accuser and NIS’s overreach and impropriety in its investigation still causes me to hold the agency in suspicion, name change or no. (From my experience, CID isn’t regarded much better, seen more as a monster under the bed than a reliable crime-buster.) A successful unit is built on trust. You may not like the man (or in this case woman) to your left or your right, but you know you can count on them in a pinch. If riven by threats and accusations, no unit is likely to hold together when it counts. And all this doesn’t even begin to touch on ordinary hanky-panky, which is rather rife and sure to cause problems in a combat arms unit. (Of course, with the legitimization of gays in the military, I suppose there’s an extra layer of entanglements to be concerned about, though of course that sort of thing has existed on the down low for a good long while.)

All these doubts and concerns I’ve aired aren’t intended to convince anyone of anything. I’m just putting all that out there to give some lucidity to my own perspective as we go into the solutions that were made in the fictional world of the Ticonderoga series. In the series, we have two primary examples of females in combat arms: Allison O’Connor as an Army sniper and Miranda Grisson as a powered armor operator. Both are rarities in their units, but it’s Ally who has to deal with the most crap for being a female. Her naturally shy and passive personality is as big a part of the problem as anything else. Without breaking it down by branch, females in combat arms account for only a small percentage, but this wasn’t always the case.

When the Union was first formed, there wasn’t a single across-the-board policy on females in combat arms. Units that had females were allowed to keep them and units that did not were not required to take them on. Bear in mind that we’re talking about a global military and not all cultures afford that many opportunities to women. Rather than trying to change the world from Day 1, the government opted to progress by degrees. And these were slow degrees. It wasn’t until 087 when Defense Minister Rawthani (during the Palenko Administration) instituted a policy of unrestricted service in combat arms for females. This, however, was done with a lowering of physical standards to boost numbers. Bear in mind that prior to the Sheol War, the only full-fledged combat operations occurred during the Lunar Revolt 60 years earlier. This lowering of standards wasn’t just a PC move, though. The military was going downhill on a number of fronts and so this was just a symptom of a larger disease. The meat-grinder early years of the Sheol War quickly changed all that.

In Tico4 there’s a mention of the revisions to the military justice code spearheaded by Defense Minister Jafaari. This same man was behind a revision to the policy on females in combat arms. This same policy is stated in the same chapter Ally is introduced when Sergeant Rahim confronts Captain Robles about her inclusion in the unit. To reiterate, females can serve in any combat arms unit provided they meet the same physical standards as the males and do not disrupt unit cohesion. If this latter condition sounds open to abuse, that’s entirely by design. It takes a legitimate concern about combat effectiveness and uses it as an excuse to preserve the boys’ club mentality of a lot of combat units. It isn’t until after the war that we see a reversion to the pre-war policy with all the problems that came with it, only this time there isn’t a reversal when war breaks out again. As with many of the political tangles in the series, I don’t intend for the policy to be a clean-cut case of good or bad.

Sci-fi tends to veer toward either utopianism or dystopianism and in my more idealistic youth, I leaned toward the former, but now I strike somewhere in the middle, a grey morass that even if you pick a side, you do so with reservations. It’s possible that the setup you see in the Ticonderoga series will seem quaint in 20 years or so. I’ll leave the real world to sort itself out, but I thought I’d take this opportunity to take a current event and tie it into a commentary post. I may follow it up with further details or even discuss how the issue gets handled in the post-Union era, but that’s a story for another day.

Mar 30 2015

A Brief Overview of the History and Society of the Empyrean

I deliberately kept the Empyrean cloaked in mystery in Tico2, but now I can reveal a little more of the background. We start with Project New Moon, a program to build massive artificial moons as habitats for the Orbitals. Potentially, these units could be used as forward colonies when the Ringe-Wahl act expired and the Union could legally expand beyond the bounds of the solar system. Five were planned initially, but only three of them were completed. (Lydia Han was born on one of these, Selene 04.) By some means, the AI calling itself the Shekinah was embedded in Selene 03’s central computer and seized control of all systems. Whether the Shekinah was seriously deluded into a genuine God complex or if it was all part of some experimental routine in its programming is uncertain. Nehema seemed to believe her sister was genuinely insane, but she isn’t the most honest broker of information. From the time the Shekinah took over Selene 03, the Age of Vilon began. The history of the Empyrean is divided into ages named after the levels of Heaven, which is also used as the name for Selene 03 itself.

The Age of Vilon lasted from 089 to 101. It was a period of violence and disorder as the Shekinah sought to impose Empyrean society on a largely unwilling populace. Obviously, the Shekinah won out in the end and the hold-outs against its authority were purged. This led into the Age of Rakia, which lasted from 101 to 109. During this time, there was a massive baby boom in a big to raise the population to the desired standard of 144,000 people and the initial buildup of the Empyrean fleet. You might be asking how all this was accomplished. Artificial gestation accounted for a large number of births (and in the larger game, this was intended to replace old-fashioned methods of procreation), while a number of blacksites were appropriated to fuel the Empyrean war engine. As the Empyrean society began to settle, the Age of Rakia gave way to the Age of Shehakim. During this period, the Empyrean fleets started ranging and had their first encounters with the Union, which the Shekinah dubbed Amalek. Were it not for Nehema’s intervention in the Battle of Selene 03, the Union forces would have likely been defeated and the Empyrean would have entered the Age of Zebul, in which the the outer colonies would have been targeted for conquest and integrated into the Empyrean. The culmination of the Shekinah’s plan would be the Age of Arabot, in which all Union space would be under the Shekinah’s control. I’m actually considering an If Arc story with that very scenario.

Now, as for Empyrean society itself, it is based around a corrupted version Judaism with elements of the Kabbalah and any pragmatic adaptations to suit the Shekinah’s purposes. The people are divided into Twelve Tribes of 12,000 each and ranked according to the angelic hierarchy found in the Zohar. The common citizens are the Ishim and then there are the military ranks: the Bene Elohim, the Elohim, the Elim, the Hashmalim, and the Ophanim. The Hayyoth are priest-magistrates, 30 per tribe. There are seven Seraphim heading up each of the seven fleets and then the three supreme commanders of the military, the Erelim, and finally the twelve princes heading each of the Twelve Tribes, the Malachim. Among the Ishim, certain men of their numbers are named rulers of tens, fifties, hundreds and thousands. Similarly, in the military, among the Bene Elohim are rulers of tens, but it’s Elohim that act as rulers of fifties, Elim as rulers of hundred, and Hashmalim as rulers of thousands. (The military being the military, ranks are more explicit.) This means that life is strictly regimented for civilians as it is for the military, with all duties and responsibilities given religious significance. By the Age of Shehakim, Empyrean society was pretty well settled and anyone who dissented with official doctrine and policy either kept it to themselves or were quickly dispatched as heretics.

I think we’ll leave things here and save any more in-depth treatment for future posts. Hopefully this has shed a little light on the mysterious Empyrean. We’ll see what inspiration strikes me for the next commentary post. Stay tuned.

Mar 23 2015

A Brief History of the Emperors of Earth

In Tico3, there was a brief mention of Maximilian Nicodemus, the first World Council Chairman. In the (probably) mythological history of the New Earth Empire, the Lost Years (known as the Blackout in the Union era) were a time of global war, a devastating pandemic, famine, economic collapse, etc. During this time, the fractious nations of the world were united under the rule of Emperor Maximilian I. However, once his reign was secure, the Emperor chose to test humanity. Renouncing his crown, the Emperor restyled himself Maximilian Nicodemus, Chairman of the World Council of the newly established Earth Union. If humanity could remain united, there would be no further need of an Emperor. If not, a new Emperor would rise to bring humanity together again.

The post-Union era was brought to an end with the foundation of the New Earth Empire under Emperor Maximilian II Nicodemus, who claimed to be the direct descendant of Maximilian Nicodemus. Critical historians give no credence to the story of the First Emperor and consider it to be nothing more than a convenient fiction to give the Empire a claim to a longer lineage than what it truly possessed. Questioning the official history eventually became a prosecutable offense, so any critics who wanted to avoid a lengthy stay in prison published their work outside Imperial territory.

The Nicodeman Dynasty reigned only briefly. The order of succession wasn’t firmly established and it mostly fell to which of the eligible princes had the strongest faction of supporting nobles. For instance, after the death of Emperor Alexander I, it was the Emperor’s brother Philip rather than his son Alexander. This resulted in the first major line of pretenders, the Xue Line (named after the family of Prince Alexander’s mother). The powerful Sun Faction formed around these pretenders, but they could not stand directly against the ruling coalition. The Nicodeman Dynasty ended with the childless Emperor Alexander II and a new split was formed between the lines of the two daughters Emperor Maximilian II. From the elder daughter Princess Olympia came the new Augustan Dynasty, while the younger daughter Princess Athena’s grandson styled himself Alexander III of the so-called “True Nicodeman” Dynasty, though they had so little support that the Augustans never even bothered to actively hunt them down.

Now, it’s no great spoiler to say that the Empire suffers a bit of a bad turn at the end of the Aether War. The warrior-stateman Emperor John Charles was lost and his foppish playboy of a son John Frederick took the throne instead and was forced to negotiation a rather ignominious end to the war. The Emperor was then driven to abdicate, after which point he fell into the hands of the ever-patient Sun Faction. At this point, there were four branches vying for the throne. Besides the previous Xue and “True Nicodeman” Lines, there was the Santana Line descended from Princess Olympia’s daughter Andrea and Lord Juan Felipe Santana and the Andropov Line of the deposed Emperor’s father-in-law Lord Ivan Andropov. Surprisingly, none of these claimants won the throne in the end. Rather, the Augustan Dynasty was restored with the great-nephew of Emperor John Charles being crowned Charles III. This was all thanks to the shrewd machinations of Lord Neander Cruz, who soon married the Emperor’s sister and claimed the throne for himself. (Whether he was in fact responsible for the death of the young Emperor is an open question.) So began the Neandrian Dynasty.

Before he even rose to the throne, Emperor Alexis III (the regnal name of Lord Neander) had engineered the extinction of both the “True Nicodeman” and the Santana Lines, though the Xue and Andropov Lines were not so easily terminated. After Emperor Alexis’ death, the Neandrian Dynasty was dominated by the Empress Dowager Victoria Augusta, whose influence did not wane until well into the reign of her grandson, Emperor Carolus IV. The dynasty did not outlive Emperor Carolus, though, and after his assassination, it was the Andropov Line that claimed the throne. The Andropov Dynasty managed to defeat the Sun Faction, fulfilling a long-held blood feud, and the Xue Line went extinct, bringing an end to the last of the pretenders. The Andropovs were unstable, though. At its worst, there were three emperors in a span of four years. With the assassination of Emperor Ivan V, yet another dynasty rose, the Neologos Dynasty, descended from the Emperor Victor Alexis I Neander. It was by this point that life extension technology was much improved and Emperor Michael I Neologos reigned for over 70 years. And this is as far as the history needs to go at present.

This was a very broad gloss of Imperial history, but it gives you some idea of all the twists and turns I’ve been plotting out recently. Maybe I’ll explore more details of the culture next time. Stay tuned.

Mar 06 2015

A Brief Overview of the Superlight Spacecraft Warfare Doctrine of the Earth Union

To speak on a meta level, one of the key reasons space fighters feature so prominently in the Ticonderoga series is due to the strong influence of the Wing Commander series on the story. Also, the stakes don’t feel quite as high for remote drone operators as for pilots physically in the cockpit. Also, the deep impression in the popular consciousness of the heroic dogfighting of the two world wars have been perpetuated through major works of science fiction and will continue to be a staple even as technology seems to be bringing the classic concept of dogfighting more and more into obsolescence. However, rather than simply handwave all this, I do try to make some in-universe justification for it all, which I will explain below.

Before the start of the Sheol War, superlight spacecraft (under 50m in length and 300t in weight) were mostly limited to unmanned drones and the occasional custom curiosity. A large part of the reason for this was because the Schauer Fusion Propulsion System, which was the cornerstone of all space travel, could not safely be downscaled any further. At that time, space operations mostly fell under the Navy’s jurisdiction and the prevailing notion was that in any combat situation, the typical patrol escort was the smallest type spacecraft that would be needed. However, even before the Sheolites were identified as such, their small maneuverable craft were proving quite effective. While some in the Navy advocated warships with denser weapons arrays to deliver an impenetrable wall of interlocking fire, the risk of collateral damage was seen as too great, though the fifth generation warships developed during the war were much more heavily armed than their predecessors. Both the Air Force and Naval Aviation saw an opportunity to seize a larger role in the coming conflict and argued in favor of fighting fire with fire with superlight spacecraft.

The superlights would not have been possible without the development of the of the SFPS Mk.VId, a downscaled version of the SFPS previously thought impossible. Though much improved over previous attempts to downscale the SFPS design, the VId was nevertheless unstable and the containment could easily be broke with relatively little damage. Safety systems were put in place to shut down the reactor upon taking damage, but this did not always work and when it did, the superlight was left dead in the water and easy prey for the enemy.

While G-diffuser systems were installed to make the cockpit survivable for a human pilot, the theoretical limits of human reaction time were strained even at the reduced engagement velocity of 100kps. Given these and other concerns, there were many voices who argued against manned superlights, instead advocating either fully independent combat AIs or at least remote operators. The use of independent AI was always politically untenable in the Earth Union. For whatever flaws a human being may have, there is at least clearer accountability in the event something goes wrong. (A discussion on the complex debate on the role of AI in Earth Union society is best saved for another time.) While remote operators at least kept a human in the loop, there were concerns that the connection could be severed or even hijacked by the enemy. (Later review would confirm that the detractors overestimated the Sheolites’ electronic warfare capabilities.) In the end, the advocates of manned superlights won out.

Now that the plan to go forward with manned superlights was going forward, both the crafts themselves and the warships to carry them were being developed alongside the training of the pilots who would fly them. For instance, both Leia Han and Stalinslav Zhukov (who you would better know as Pride of the Seven Deadly Sins) were among the first midshipmen to be trained as pilots for spaceborne carrier operations. In addition, pilots from the terrestrial aviation communities and the pilots of light spacecraft adapted their skills to operate the new superlights. Casualty rates in training were and even higher in combat, but those who survived helped refine the warfighting doctrine for superlights. Combined with technological advancement, the second generation of pilots (represented by people like Matt and Lydia) were able to gain an advantage over the Sheolites and by the third generation that emerged by the war’s end, clear superiority on the Union side was established.

Following the postwar drawdown of forces, the expense of manned superlights became harder to justify in the changing political climate and worsening economic situation. By the time of the War of the Colonies, the Union had almost completely shifted to remote operators and only when rebel forces succeeded in realizing the concerns of the opponents of remote operators did manned superlights make a resurgence, but by that point it was a race against time to relearn what had already been well-established forty years earlier.

And that should do it for now. There are a number of technological brawls in Union military history and perhaps I’ll get into another in the near future. For my next commentary post, I may talk a little on the embarrassing origins of the Ticonderoga series and some of the early weirdness that was cut before the story saw the light of day. Stay tuned.

Feb 23 2015

A Brief History of Powered Armor and the Earth Union Military

I was doing a lot of work in the peripheral materials about the Earth Union’s powered armor technology and thought I’d share some of that with you. As most of you know, powered exoskeletons have been in development for a while and we may well see field deployment in the next ten or twenty years. There are of course a number of issues to consider, but we’re not going to go too far in depth with that.

By the start of the Earth Union, the original LightSuit S saw limited deployment among heavy weapons operators, combat engineers, construction engineers and materiel transporters. For those of you who have seen Edge of Tomorrow, imagine the Jacket technology scaled down a bit and with a little more armor. Things like mobility and battery life were the primary concerns which kept them from being general issue for combat arms. Subsequent versions improved on the design with modest gains, but the version of the LightSuit without the exoskeletal frame became the standard even though that was not the original plan.

The name LightSuit came from the fact that it was a much lighter and less bulky design than competitors, but there were always plans for larger scale units, but this did not gain much traction (or funding) until the government saw a spike in research funding in the 80s. This research would prove fortuitous because a number of the projects that went into development would prove invaluable in the arms race that kicked off with the start of the Sheol War.

The MediSuit was designed to be self-contained and deployable in all environments. The Mark 15 Heavy Duty EVA Suit developed in the wake of the Lunar Revolt represented the basic template, only the MediSuit was designed specifically for combat roles. One of the first assignments of a young Donovan Graves (future Commandant of the Marine Corps and Hero of the Union) was to serve as a test operator for the MediSuit prototype. The successes of the Mark 0 prototype let to the development of the Mark 1 production model, which began service in April of 100, less than a year after the official declaration of war by the Sheol Empire. The first MEU to fully integrate Mobile Armor saw action the following year with then-Colonel Graves as its commander.

As with the LightSuit before it, the MediSuit’s design went back and forth between the competing goals of strength and mobility. Low-gravity environments made weight less of a concern, but the heavier the armor, the less the mobility in more closed environments. The Mark 3 unit fielded in 108 was the lightest version ever made, but that light armor when added to its glitchy sensors left it widely reviled. The Mark 5 that followed was perhaps an overcompensation, but there were a number of Marines who favored its thick shell and improved load-bearing capacity. The Mark 6 is what you’ll recognize from the story. The 41st MEU on the Ticonderoga was the first unit to use them. Though they had significantly lighter armor than the Mark 5, this was offset by the built-in shield projectors, though their use had to be limited or else the power cells would be used up much more quickly.

The HeavySuit doesn’t show up in the main storyline until late in Tico4. The reason for this is that the things are too big to be practical in most applications. They are more than twice the size of a MediSuit, so they can’t fit in ships or inside buildings. They did, however, prove useful as force multipliers on orbital defense platforms. The ground operations in Mars provided another opportunity for HeavySuits to shine, but for the most part, they’re seen as a waste of money, mostly useful for propaganda and PSYOPS purposes.

We’ll stop here because I don’t want to get too much into the postwar years until I start in on the War of the Colonies Cycle. Hopefully you’ve found this illuminating. Maybe I’ll get into superlight doctrine next time. Stay tuned.