Category: Ticonderoga

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.

Jun 22 2015

On Admiral Xenopoulos’ History with Admiral Mfume

Before I shipped out, the recruiters hosted an event where DEPers were taken to Fort Hood to get a bit of a glimpse of Army life. (Some of the soldiers on post urged us to reconsider our decision, but we’d already signed on the dotted line.) At the end of the day, we were taken to a sports bar on post where my recruiter happened to see an old battle buddy of his. After catching up a bit, he commented on how small a world the military is. That idea stuck in my head and I’ve applied it to the Tico series. I’ve got a rather long list different points of convergence with various characters (even if they never realized it). I allude to the long history between Admiral Mfume and Admiral Xenopoulos and thought I’d give you the details here as a commentary post.

It all began in 098 when a Lieutenant Xenopoulos was assigned to the cruiser Galahad as Assistant Operations Officer. Commander Mfume was XO and later captain. The met again when Xenopoulos was assigned to the Leonidas as First Lieutenant where Captain Mfume, fresh out of the College of Naval Staff and Command, was assigned as XO and later captain. Commander Xenopoulos moved on to the Memnon as Assistant Operations Officer and Mfume followed in 107 to take the billet of captain. After War College, Mfume became the Assistant Staff Operations Officer and later the full-fledged Staff Operations Officer of CVBG43 while Xenopoulos served as Operations Officer, XO and ultimately captain of the Lysander (the battle group’s flagship). (Mfume was with the battle group from 111 to 117 and Xenopoulos was with the Lysander from 113 to 118.) Captain Xenopoulos narrowly avoided the Lysander‘s destruction when he was transferred to CVBG28 to serve as Staff Operations Officer while Admiral Mfume was the battle group commander. In 120, Xenopoulos served as Chief of Staff for CVBG27 while Mfume was deputy commander of 6th Fleet and then you already know about Admiral Xenopoulos as commander of CVBG28 joining the Ticonderoga in Operation Orpheus and the Battle of Mars in 122. As you can see, that’s a good chunk of their respective careers that have overlapped. That’s a lot of history to have tied up when Marshal Van Daan gave Xenopoulos the order to hunt down the Tico.

These two are a rather extreme case of the small world effect, but it’s precisely why there’s a lot of emotion simmering beneath the surface. Hopefully you found this interesting. We’ll see what sort of commentary post I come up with next. Stay tuned.

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 16 2015

The Shameful Story of Galactic Strife

Since I’m winding things down with the Tico series, let’s spend a little time talking about its embarrassing origins. I made a reference to my painfully derivative era when I was a middle schooler in my post about the utility of creative larceny. After the completion of Mesozoic World, my Jurassic Park rip-off, I started in on a sci-fi that would rip off not only Star Wars but Star Trek as well. (How’s that for resolving the fandom rivalry? A malformed amalgamation birthed in the mind of 12-year-old.) The name of this creation was Galactic Strife. (It was some time before I came to realize that raiding the thesaurus did not in fact constitute originality.) I don’t actually have the original documentation, so trying to remember the details is difficult over 20 years later. I know at very least Matt Harold and Ibrahim Mfume got their origins here. (Mfume was originally a white guy named Abner Sanford, believe it or not.)

I remember the next project better, a supernatural thriller borrowing a lot of from the vibe of Aliens called The Phantom Tower. While I never actually wrote anything for Galactic Strife, I did write The Phantom Tower, though there is no extant copy and the preliminary sketches and notes were all destroyed. In this story, a joint task force of Green Berets, Navy SEALs and Marines were tasked with investigating this skyscraper subject to bizarre occurrences. (I think the supernatural angle ended up being a fake-out to act as a distraction while a coup was launched to overthrow the US government. It was just a touch convoluted.) Jack Grisson and Ally O’Connor got their origins here as Marines in the task force and I believe Jeff Wallace was part of the technical support crew as a reworking of the Dennis Nedry expy Dennis Johnson from Mesozoic World. Miranda showed up as a Space Marine in the sequel, which tried to rehabilitate some ideas from Mesozoic World in space, blending elements of DOOM and the lesser known FPS Blake Stone (which happened to be on the shareware CD I made so much use of). No actual writing was done on the sequel, I don’t think, and though I think I wanted to have a third book, I’m pretty sure no major work went into it.

Though all the materials related to Galactic Strife and the Phantom Tower series were destroyed beforehand, I wound up recycling some of the character when I began work on what would grow into the Ticonderoga series after completing the initial conceptual work for Knight of Gladius (or Warriors of Swordtree as it was known back then, circa ’95, I believe). However, I think I’ll save a discussion of Version 1 of the series for another time. You know, unlike the KoG series, which is now in its seventh version, there are only four versions of the Tico series, possibly because I’ve only been through the thing once. Will it see ten years of changes like KoG has? Who knows? Stay tuned.

Mar 13 2015

WIP Update – 12 Mar 15

I wrapped up the one Space Arc short I hadn’t quite finished the day before, but that didn’t amount to much, so I then found myself working on Everyday Magic. Perhaps if I could get at least a ten-chapter headstart, I might alternate between EM and Junker Jorg. Then again, it may be better to focus on finishing one serial run rather than having two Cross Arc stories running at the same time. I’ll think about it. Stay tuned.

Mar 12 2015

WIP Update – 11 Mar 15

I finished another Space Arc short and made good headway on yet another.  I don’t know if I’ll be sticking to the Space Arc throughout the week or not. We’ll see. Stay tuned.

Mar 11 2015

WIP Update – 10 Mar 15

I pretty well wrapped up Chapter 28 of Tico4, which means the book is pretty well taken care of, but I’m going to do a read-through first before making a formal announcement of its completion. I also completed two shorts set after the events of the story, which I’ll likely put out shortly after serialization of Tico4 wraps in September. I’ll probably divide the remainder of my time on a few more shorts and the read-through of Tico4. After that, I’ll start turning my attention to Junker Jorg so I’ll have a good head-start when serialization begins. Might try to move “The Case of the Striped Leopard” along too. Stay tuned.

Mar 10 2015

WIP Update – 09 Mar 15

I really let myself get wrapped up in review fever and neglected the writing that should be my primary focus. I pretty well made up for the lost time, though, finishing Chapter 31 of Tico4 and making good headway in the final section of Chapter 28. I should be able to effectively wrap the book in one more sitting. That’ll make Tico4 my ninth completed novel. I may go ahead and work on some Space Arc shorts after that so that the Space Arc won’t be completely neglected once I start moving forward with Cross Arc stories. 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

WIP Update – 22 Feb 15

I managed to get Chapter 30 of Tico4 mostly finished and made a little progress on Chapter 31 as well. There was also a fair bit of work in the peripheral materials. Trying to detail over 170 years of military technology is no mean task and I still have a lot of gaps to fill.

Now I turn my attention to the Trident War series. I need to do a full read-through/edit of TTWC1 and finish the appendices in time for the update. Stay tuned.