Hiatus notice II

The time has come, yet again, for a brief hiatus. I suspect this will be ever so slightly shorter than the last time around, given the overall lessening of distractions. Nevertheless. Now is a good time to catch up on your reading, whether it be of the posts themselves or the further reading suggested therein. Or, if you need more Alpha Centauri right here right now, the Paean.

Now is also a good time to leave comments, suggestions and other feedback. The sooner it is given, the faster it can be incorporated into the writing process. There’s still quite a number of posts to go, so you might just end up having more of an impact than you know.

For those wondering where the division into chapters comes from: they are straightforwardly imported from this design document, which also conveniently doubles as the official tech tree visualization. Do check it out.

Speaking of things to do, I would encourage you to tell a friend about this project. Just one friend. Think long and hard about who among your peers would enjoy reading something like this, then go tell them. Personal recommendations go a long way to introduce new readers, and I reckon it will be ever so slightly more fun to read the new posts alongside someone else when the time comes.

Also, if you have way too much energy in your power grid, here is a Patreon link.

Until we meet again, stay healthy.

Advertisements

Field Modulation

The Progenitor race appears to sense, and possibly even manipulate, local fields an untrained human cannot perceive without mechanical aid, including at the very least electricity and magnetism. This sensitivity creates entirely new worlds of artistic endeavors for the race-or it may be developed into a powerful combat awareness that can foil any attempt at surprise.

– Prime Function Aki Zeta-Five, “Alien Analysis”

The world is bigger than we think it is. Not only in a physical sense – we can only ever visit a very limited number of places, and thus there is ever more world out there which we’ve never seen or will ever see. But this bigness also applies in a more subtle way – there are things we can not perceive because we quite literally lack the sensory apparatus necessary for apprehending it. Ultraviolet and infrared light, for instance, are imperceptible to the human eye, but it is nevertheless there as a thing in the universe. Some animals can see and react to it, and their visual experience of the world is greater than ours.

The fact that we can not see these things does not diminish their reality. It does, however, mean that the process of exploring the universe becomes ever so gradually detached from our sense of vision. We have to develop tools and technologies for perceiving what we can not see. Since we are blind without these tools, we become dependent on them to tell whether what we know to be there is actually there or not. Over time, we develop machine vision – a technological means to glimpse into what would otherwise be beyond our ken.

This means we have to put a non-trivial amount of trust into these machines. Not only do we have to trust that they are in full working order, we also have to trust that they work as we intend them to do. Given that these machines are our only source of information about these invisible phenomena, a flaw in the design specs might have disastrous consequences. Likewise, a faulty air traffic control radar monitor is a security risk for everyone involved.

Of course, a prudent course of action would be to seek multiple sources of confirmation before making a decision one way or the other. Science is nothing if not the art of corroborating data. But the sheer intimacy of these machines has a built-in tendency to make them invisible, as it were. They become extensions of the human body, as close as shoes or eyeglasses. To paraphrase Sean Cubitt: machine vision is implicit, immediate and imminent. In a very intimate way, the machines are us.

The Progenitors have the advantage over humans in that they can see more than we can without aid. Not only does this confer the immediate advantage of being able to navigate the world faster (due to having more information about it) – it also confers the long-term advantage of being used to making sense of it all. Even if given goggles that levels the visual playing field, a human would still be confused by all the additional input. A red blob over in the distance might not mean anything to the untrained eye, but a progenitor might instantly recognize it and move in to seize the tactical advantage. Merely having access to new planes of reality does not mean these are fully understood. Humans know how to build machines that can perceive field modulations; the Progenitors know how to make the fields sing.

Pressure dome

When beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean’s skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it; and would not willingly remember that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang.

– Herman Melville, “Moby Dick”, Datalinks

The pressure dome is a very weird building. What it does is that it allows a base to be submerged under water. Since this is a very situational thing that only ever happens on rare occasions, there really is no need to build it unless you specifically find yourself at risk of being submerged. (It also acts as a recycling tank, but at twice the cost, it’s easier to just build the tanks.) From a gameplay perspective, the pressure dome is an edge case.

It is interesting to ponder the in-universe reasoning behind restructuring a base in such a way that it could withstand a sudden onslaught of ocean, however. Not merely a momentary high tide which sweeps across the base to then recede in short order, but a permanent submersion under the waves. This requires being able to resist an immense amount of pressure, both from the sheer weight of the water, and also from its moving around back and forth. Overall, it is a massive feat of engineering and architecture, which should be commended.

The ordeal is made easier by the fact that a base is a sealed system from the word go. Everything is already indoors, so there is no need to enclose the plazas, street grids and other public amenities; all that is needed is to harden the exterior shell of the base such that it can withstand the water. At some places, this means strengthening it structurally. At other places, this means smoothing out surfaces to minimize the areas that are in actual contact with the sea. Only the edges of the base have to withstand the pressure; the interior only has to withstand the whims of its occupants.

Given that this is an extensive effort in preparation for an unlikely event, I imagine that the cases where a pressure dome is actually built is marked by a high degree of anticipation. On the one hand, if it is deemed necessary then it means that the ocean is on approach, arriving sooner rather than later. On the other hand, there is no real way to know whether the dome will actually withstand the pressure until it is fully submerged. If it holds, it holds. If it does not, then the base is flooded with water and subjected to the remorseless fang Melville alluded to.

Doctrine: Flexibility

He held his arm too stiffly, and so was thrown back repeatedly, until at last I seized his forearm and snapped it back against itself. His training suffered while the arm healed, of course, but I felt this was a lesson he must learn early, and well.

– Spartan Kel, “Honing the Ki”

Doctrine: Mobility emphasized the capacity of moving around at speed. With the addition of boats to the mix, speed is no longer the only consideration. Rather, it becomes a question of integrating different types of motion on different types of terrain under different types of conditions. A stiff breeze has different implications on land than at sea, which complicates matters when it comes to coordination. Both modes of movement have to be understood on their own terms and then made compatible to each other.

On Earth, this process was facilitated through the process of containerization. During the Vietnam War, the US military faced the logistical challenge of moving troops and immense amounts of stuff across the ocean. While the act of putting stuff on boats and moving it to far-away lands was by no means a new phenomenon, the scale and speed of it was novel enough to warrant innovation. Thus, the shipping industry (in its military and civilian guises) took it upon itself to standardize the process of moving stuff to a single, unified, uniform unit: the container.

A container is nothing fancy. A hundred million of them, however, constitute a system for global logistics. Their main feature is that they are all the same size and shape, and that they can be moved from one mode of transportation to another without much in the way of effort. Once something is in a container, the only thing that matters is moving the container around. It can be put on trains, boats or trucks with equal ease, as many times as it takes to reach the destination. Only upon reaching where it needs to go is it necessary to open the container; for the whole duration, it is merely a unit amongst other. All along the way, the infrastructural links are specifically designed to move, house and send these standardized units where they need to go next.

Before containerization, stuff was moved around more or less manually. Sometimes by hand, but more often than not by using cranes and other tools. Every shipment was different and had to be treated individually. Sometimes there were a lot of crates, and that had to be dealt with accordingly. At other times, it was a shipment of furniture, which required a different set of skills for getting off the boat. And so on for every kind of item that needed to move across the world. Now, however, the only thing moved are containers, regardless of what they might contain.

On Chiron, this process might very well repeat itself. Being on a new planet does not end the need to move stuff around, it only alters the gravitational constant. Doctrine: Flexibility represents the capacity to field naval units suited to the new environment, but it also represents a societal adaptation to the new realities of global logistics. It is, indeed, a lesson best learnt early and well.

Police state

The last three entries serve as an introduction to the general rationale behind the formation of a police state. Order must be maintained, loyalty sustained. The barbarians are at the gate, and unless every effort is put into keeping them out they are sure to overrun us all. Whether the barbarians are humans or mind worms makes little difference – survival hangs in the balance either way. It is therefore essential to build sturdy gates situated in imposing walls, to keep everyone where they belong.

These walls can be both physical and metaphorical. When it comes to physical walls, their necessity is obvious, and it might even be possible to rally popular support in their construction – especially if there really are barbarians out there. Over time, however, the walls are internalized. There are us and them, and it is imperative beyond everything else that the difference is maintained with rigor and swift ruthless severity. As with physical walls, it is impossible to be on both sides at once; either you are with us or against us.

In Modernity and Ambivalence, Bauman explores the mindset of modernity by taking a detour to the humble act of gardening. Gardening is a very ordered and structured activity, especially when it comes to large garden. There is a plan to things – these plants grow in these spots, and this other area is reserved for these other plants. Everything has a designated place. The art of keeping the grounds is making sure that everything is where it is supposed to be, whilst at the same time keeping out the things that are not supposed to be. Weeds, in particular, are to be rooted out with swift efficiency – if they are left unattended, they will grow exponentially and ruin the carefully laid out plan. If the designated plants are to live up to their full aesthetic potential, every other plant must die. There is and can be no ambivalence on this point. Just ask the Caretakers.

The same line of thinking is present in society as a whole, albeit for the most part in subtler forms. Modernity is keen on making plans and policy documents describing how things are supposed to be. Once these blueprints are made, the work of making them manifest in reality begins. Whatever happens to slow down or hinder the progress of the work is removed, like so much weed in a well-kept garden. Progress must be made, order must be maintained. Those who do not comply are the enemies of progress, who must be removed and taught a lesson in how the future is going to take shape.

It might seem something of a leap from removing weeds in a garden to removing politically inconvenient opponents, but both are born from the same impulse to maintain order. The only difference is in what the impulse is directed at. In both cases, the end results might very well be impressive works of art: a well-tended garden and/or a well-ordered society. If the only thing you have to go on is the end result, both might even speak to the same sense of aesthetic enjoyment. As William Gibson said of Singapore: it is Disneyland with the death penalty.

The point of this detour is to point out that few police states are ends in themselves. They are almost always motivated by some external pressure or future telos. If the barbarians are at the gate, it makes sense to crack down on internal dissent so as to be able to focus the entirety of society’s resources on keeping them at bay. If society needs to be radically restructured to meet the demands of the future (be they economic or aesthetic), then allowing luddites and anti-future elements to have full political freedom is counterproductive. Progress must be made. The ends justify the brutality of the means.

The Command Nexus

Information, the first principle of warfare, must form the foundation of all your efforts. Know, of course, thine enemy. But in knowing him do not forget above all to know thyself. The commander who embraces this totality of battle shall win even with the inferior force.

– Spartan Battle Manual

Continuing the trend of centralized command structures established in Doctrine: Loyalty, the Command Nexus takes it one step further. While it is reasonable to think that every faction get their own command nexi over time – by necessity, if for no other reason – the Command Nexus represents a singular devotion to integrating military coordination into the fabric of society to such a degree that it happens seemingly automatically. It becomes just another routine thing to include in planning documents and maintenance operations.

The Spartans would, of course, be a natural fit for this secret project. Their inherent ambition to become the best warriors on each and every possible field of battle goes hand in hand with ensuring that everything is known about where there’s a war to be fought. Information must not only flow from where the enemies are, but also where they could potentially be. Not only to be able to muster a defense should they attack along those vectors, but also to enable counterattacks along these very same lines. If the enemy does not know about these potential battlefields, then they provide a means through which to harass, sabotage or even destroy them if caught unawares. Knowing is half the battle.

The other half of the battle is being able to project force wherever and whenever it is warranted. This is, above all else, a question of organization and infrastructure. Knowing which forces are where and what capacities they possess is a prerequisite for issuing orders relevant to the situation; being able to distribute these orders in a swift and reliable manner is not something to be taken for granted. It requires dedicated efforts, hardened lines of communication and extensive drilling to keep the flows of information open and operational. War is, above and beyond anything else, an intensely social activity.

The Spartan Battle Manual is – from what we have seen of it – keen on emphasizing the possibility of inferior forces winning despite the odds. Most of it comes down to organization and readiness. Having more numbers than the enemy means very little when they know where to strike in order to cause chaos and disarray. As Clausewitz pointed out, the main objective of any battle is to disable the enemy’s capacity to resist, not to destroy them. Cut off the lines of communication, split up the troops in disparate contingents and undermine every point where coordinated resistance can be mounted – and victory is achieved.

All of this underscores the importance of a centralized command structure and of integrating it with society as a whole. While the Spartans make a virtue of necessity, other factions will have to follow suit to some degree. As the old saying goes: no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy. But planning is essential.

Perimeter defense

Having now established a secure perimeter, we have made ourselves relatively safe from enemy incursions. But against the seemingly random attacks by Planet’s native life only our array of warning sensors can help us, for the Mind Worms infiltrate through every crevice and chew through anything softer than plasmasteel.

– Lady Deirdre Skye, “The Early Years”

Being inside a building is, more often than not, an advantage when it comes to being on the defensive. The sheer presence of solid physical material between yourself and everything on the outside confers all sorts of advantages – warmth, the ability to organize your daily activities through specialized rooms, and of course the inability of things to enter in except through the door. Being thus sheltered from cold, chaos and calamity, you are ready to face the world on the occasions when you venture outside.

These advantages are all incidental, however, and differ from the sorts of protection afforded by constructions specifically built to create a difficult-to-conquer regions. Urban warfare is made difficult by the sheer fact that getting from point A to point B is difficult unless you already know the geography and can navigate the city streets. It is made a nightmare if the city is intentionally designed to include defensible positions, choke points and kill zones without cover. There is defense, and there is defense.

The Perimeter Defense represents an active investment in these kinds of intentional defensive architectural features. In a sense, it is the militarization of architecture. Given that life on Chiron is almost exclusively happening inside the built environment of bases, it by extension means the militarization of entire lifeworlds. Yang makes no secret of this, and intentionally built his bases underground specifically with this in mind. On Chiron, the dividing line between civilian and military endeavors is blurry at best. To quote from Virilio’s Bunker Archeology:

Anticipation and ubiquity are war’s requirements, and distance or prominent obstacles must not impede intelligence or reconnaissance. On the one hand, one must see all and know all, and, on the other, must create masks and screens infinitely tighter than any nature offered – than any of those we have dissipated or surpassed.

We can see this dual dynamic in Deidre’s quote. On the one hand the Perimeter Defense will defend against human enemies; on the other hand, only sensors can defend against Mind Worms. Defensive architecture will only take the colonists so far – the defense must go on the offense, as it were, and include anticipatory equipment that can see the enemy (be it human or worm) arrive from a distance. The effect of this is a society which at every point in time anticipates an incoming attack. Even when no attack is incoming, the preparations made for its eventuality has an effect on the present. It becomes part of the everyday mentality, even if it is rarely addressed explicitly. A base is a home, but it is also a bunker. By necessity, design, or both, that is the home the colonists built for themselves.