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Books I will not write #4: Space Pirates of KPMG

My first two published SF novels, "Singularity Sky" and "Iron Sunrise", have a long and tangled history. And I figure it's probably worth (a) explaining why there won't be a third one in that particular series, and (b) spoilering the plot thread I had kicking around that would have been in the third Eschaton novel if I was going to write it.

Let us rewind the clock to 1993, when a much younger version of Charlie was plotting his glorious career (or something like that). One thing I was clear on was that I wanted to do space opera (I said it was a much younger version of me, right?) and to make that work, I wanted an ACME general purpose space opera universe.

I had a number of bees in my bonnet, though.

For starters: how do you get a whole bunch of roughly-competitive human civilizations seeded across a wide volume of space, with time to grow and diverge?

For seconds: faster than light travel would appear to be a necessary precondition to writing wide-screen space opera. But if you permit violations of special relativity, you're also implicitly permitting global causality violation — time travel. (Go read a physics textbook if you're not sure why.) Permitting violations in the first place suggests that there'll be more than one way of doing FTL travel (just as there's more than one way of doing heavier than air flight — compare a helicopter to a jet airliner and a bee). And then you've got to ask, what are the implications of time travel?

And for thirds, as Vernor Vinge pointed out, there's the Singularity. Writing a space opera with FTL means accepting causality violation. And accepting causality violation means computing with closed timelike curves or, in simpler terms, really strong deterministic solutions to P=NP, and then some. Procedural AI hops out of the FTL hatlike a demented magician's rabbit and the singularity takes a shit all over your neatly designed Napoleonics-in-Spaaaaaace boardgame table.

For fourths, once you have causality violation you have to deal with time paradoxes. How do you avoid them? Larry Niven came up with one possible answer in the mid-seventies: a universe with laws of physics which permit global causality violation is only stable when its history contains no instances of GCV — and he invoked the weak anthropic principle as a solution: if you try to switch on your time machine, a freak accident will ensure that something breaks before it works. I found that kind of unsatisfying. On the other hand ...

What I came up with was this:

Circa-2060, some scientists working with New Physics™ set up the first computing device to make use of a causality violation shortcut. (It's easier to send a couple of electrons back in time than it is to build a working FTL starship.) It doesn't do what they expect and merely Do Sums Fast; rather, what they've done is hooked themselves up to one corner of a vast, four-dimensional entity (the Eschaton).
Which has it's own ideas about survival. Whackiness ensues as the Eschaton inflicts a very rapid hard-takeoff singularity on humanity, deporting most of them through wormholes to semi-prepared colony worlds across a radius of some 3000 light years. And not long thereafter, the survivors (on Earth) begin to detect signals from the nearest of the colonies; not only are they scattered across space, but across time — roughly back in time 12 months for every light year out in spatial distance.

What's going on behind the curtain is that the Eschaton is a local enforcer for the Strong Anthropic Principle; it can only ensure its survival if nobody else commits GCV within its light cone. So it intervenes to minimize the risk of that. Humans are meddlers and have just discovered GCV as a tool initially of computing and then, later, for FTL travel. But human civilizations that can extend complex new technologies (such as FTL starships) require a huge population base to fill all the necessary specialities. If split up and scattered, the resulting colonies' development will be retarded by their reduced population density (and hence smaller R&D base): it'll be a long time before they can get up to anything very alarming, and in the meantime the Eschaton has time to convince them that doing things it don't want them to do is liable to be very bad for their health.

The colonies are also life insurance for the Eschaton. If something nasty from outside it's light cone comes in and snuffs it out (presumably by projecting itself back in time to before the E's emergence and destroying the Earth) there will be isolated pockets of humanity seeded across a huge volume. Who are meddlers, and who will eventually come up with a GCV computing device and switch it on, thus hopefully re-bootstrapping the Eschaton ...

(Is your head hurting yet?)

There are problems with this set-up. In particular, there are problems with the evolution of the ACME General-Purpose Space Opera Universe™ from "Singularity Sky" into "Iron Sunrise". SS was quirky but not brilliantly plotted — a lot of crap ended up on the cutting room floor (equal to 140% of the final word count of the finished novel). IS was a more conventionally-plotted novel ... but I made a huge blunder in introducing the ReMastered and their Unborn God. By implication the UB is another Eschaton-level GCV-based AI. It's locked in conflict with the Eschaton, attempting to edit history into a shape in which it, rather than the Eschaton, is the dominant entity. The events of IS are set in the foreground of such a war between time-travellers, and I think I got some of the details badly wrong — at the level of how the events would appear from within.

Want to see that kind of conflict done right? Read Palimpsest (in my collection "Wireless") — in which I revisit time travel with fifteen years' more thought.

Having broken the Eschaton universe, there's no way to go forward (which is why any future space opera you see from me will feature a new setting — I have plans). However, here's a neat idea I was going to shoe-horn into the third Eschaton novel before I realized the universe was broken ...

The Eschaton-verse has multiple solutions to FTL. There are starships; big lumps of moving matter that shuffle from planetary orbit out into deep space, push a magic button, and re-appear in deep space a very long way away from where they started (and hopefully a little bit closer to their destination planet). It's your classic 1950s space operatic jump drive, chosen simply because it makes for good fiction. But there are also "causal channels" — limited bandwidth instantaneous communicators. The snag with causal channels is that they are created as a quantum-entangled one time pad: you create a limited number of bits that, once used up, can't be replenished. You then have to send them to their destination without violating causality (which scrambles them), i.e. on a slower-than-light freighter that takes decades or centuries to arrive.

Finally, starships don't land on planetary surfaces. For getting goods and passengers on board and off again, they dock with space elevators (the one component of this transport set-up that is theoretically plausible).

Have you noticed something? This set-up allows for narrative structures that map onto intercontinental travel circa 1880-1914; we have railroads space elevators that link national planetary populations to ports space stations where steam starships dock, to transport passengers and cargo slowly between stops; and we have trans-oceanic telegraph cables causal channels to allow instantaneous (but expensive and limited-bandwidth) information transfer.

So here's the technical mechanism I was going to deploy in the never-to-be-written novel on which I pinned the working title "Space Pirates of KPMG" (or, for Brits, "The Crimson Permanent Assurance in Space") — note that a working title is just a temporary one that will be changed before publication; the working title for "Iron Sunrise" was "Space Nazis Must Die":

Starships are expensive, intricate pieces of machinery. They are difficult to build and maintain, and have to be continuously in motion, transporting cargo and passengers, in order to cover their running costs.

There are space pirates. They, too, have to pay huge amounts of money to keep their starships running, and they can't afford to be stupid about it.

The space pirates' business model is this: they identify a likely target merchant ship, match courses with it, and board.

They do not, however, rape, pillage, and murder the passengers and crew. That would leave them having to transport a lot of bulk merchandise and find somewhere to fence it, taking an inevitable hit in the commodity's resale value. It would also set everyone's hand against them. Not good for life expectancy ...

Instead, they audit the cargo. Then they search out for any secret items the ship is transporting, stuff that is of high value but not publicly announced. Many times they don't find any. But sometimes they stumble across a passenger liner with a safe full of quantum computing chips, or a bulk liquid carrier with much less freight volume in its cargo holds than expected and something extremely massive tucked away — a lump of stabilized neutronium, for example.

They do not steal the secret cargo. Instead, they notify their accomplices by means of their private causal channel to buy commodity options based on their insider knowledge of the secret cargo's impending arrival. Then they give the hijacked ship an armed escort (under communications silence) all the way to its destination, to ensure it arrives on time.

Thus: your typical space pirate in the Eschaton universe metaphorically wears a grey pin-striped suit, swarms aboard a merchant vessel with a spreadsheet between his clenched teeth, and has retirement plans involving a senior partnership in a firm of accountants. (Captain Jack Sparrow he ain't.)

Such pirates are tolerated by the majority of sane merchant captains (although they drive commodity traders up the wall) because space is big, space is dark, and space contains a small but worrying number of idiot barbarians who will, if they see a foreign merchant vessel, board it with rape, pillage and murder in mind. Idiot barbarians are bad for commerce. Professional space pirates strongly disapprove of this and will take drastic preventative measures when they run into them.

Now, fast-forward a decade after the events of "Singularity Sky". The New Republic of that book is, clearly, in dire straits. In fact, it's disintegrating under the stress of its own cultural singularity (inflicted by first contact with the Festival). The economy is in tatters; navy crews are not being paid. Is it any wonder if the crews of the surviving vessels of the New Republican Navy mutiny and light out for parts unknown, there to try and make their fortune flying the Jolly Roger (despite not knowing a put option from a hole in a bowling green)?

The pin-striped space pirates aren't going to approve ...

183 Comments

1:

Interesting that you consider the conflict between the big E and the UB to be the main problem. When I read the book I assumed that the space nazis were just deluded, and the UB didn't actually exist.

At best they hoped to make one at some point in the future in the hope that it would stop making unreasonable demands such as asking them not to arse around with causality.

Looks like I totally missed the point of the book :)

2:

I can follow your reasoning for not returning to this universe, The fact that you have two GCV AI's at war makes it impossible to tell a coherent (let alone linear!) tale.

I still hanker after the war between the 'corporate commodity raiders' and the Jolly Roger brigade. I realise it just won't be but whether the ultimate battle is fought with lasers or spreadsheets, put options and bankruptcy followed by repo men, would be nice to find out.

Well I can dream

3:

Cute. You might have called the pin-striped space pirates something cheeky like "East India Company".

Not a nation state, interested in profit through international commerce (especially if it has a headstart on the competition), has its own armed forces (Army and Navy), seriously annoyed by anyone threatening to damage the balance sheet...

Multinationals hiring PMCs just haven't caught up yet (or rather sensibly, aren't being allowed to catch up).

4:

me too, I didn't get that the UB was a real (albeit future) entity, like the Eschaton. I took IR to be similar to the Merchant Princes in that "it's Science Fiction, and the Science is politics!" (rather than economy in the Merchant Princes series), basically a detailed howto for a fascist takeover by outside forces that isn't recognised as such.

Which is why I so desperately wanted to read a sequel because I wanted to know how the ReMastered-arc continues.

Turns out I would have been disappointed (at least in that regard .. the outline above sounds like it's quite interesting actually).

5:

It sounds like a recipe for a repeat of the second part of the previous book, "anachronistic space navy gets it's ass kicked by more fashionable post singularity setup"

6:

Damn your eyes - such interesting blog posts when I am nominally working.

I will be back later with some questions

7:

Charlie: I get the impression you do not love Singularity Sky, but the passage where the Navy men are so impressively Heinlein-y competent and get their butts handed to them by an entity that is beyond their comprehension is some of your best work narratively. You made them sympathetic and almost admirable as people, even though I knew they were going to fail and their ultimate goals were not all that nice. The Festival was also something unique in my reading experience. Iron Sunrise did come off as "Space Nazis Must Die;" so you were certainly communicating clearly that day.

8:

also, "Space Nazis Must Die" would have been a brilliant title, marketing-wise! ;)

9:

Hmmmm. Have you read Zindell's Neverness? If I were working with such ideas, I would consider the possibility that global causality violations already take place, have been taking place all along, and are already part of our world.

But Space Pirates of KPMG sounds like a grand book.

10:

It's a pity. That sounds like a fun read. But, I expect you space opera plans will more than make up for it :)

11:

I'm with you on this-- a story that assumes GCV to be the norm, with traditional Cause & Effect a sham of an artifact created by the limitations of the human mind and its evolved inclination to impose order on its percepts despite the lack of underlying adherence to What Really Is. Something in the way of Egan's faculty of consciousness construction in Permutation City, only with causality.

12:

If you can throw Festo space-penguins into the mix for comic relief, I'll buy a copy. Space operas need a bit of humor to distract from the "it's alien, let's kill it" theme that runs rampant throughout this type of genre.


13:

SS was what introduced me to your work and I loved it! Especially the way it dealt with a conservative (aka heads-in-the-sand denialists) culture having to deal with technology that kicks their old-fashioned ideals out from under their feet because some of their members actually like new technology. It seemed a very good way to represent parts of our culture in the UK today.

IS did confuse me when the big E didnt know what was going to happen, if you have causality violating technology surely you either no all or nothing because you lost and your enemy deleted you.

14:

For a book which ventures a little way into causality difficulties, and I think does it well, see 'Anathem'. I don't buy his cosmology at all, and his spaceship is Just Wrong, but still.

15:

So, the UN (and by extension, Rachel and Martin) would have been off to save the New Republic's collective asses again? That or give them a crash course in business finance...

16:

Crying shame - I would have *loved* to read that novel. I still think of SS and IS as some of your best work (I have no savings throw against space opera, sorry). Like db, I didn't get the flaw you identify in the setup. Any chance you could work on another novel in that universe just out of spite and whenever creative block hits? I'd bet that even if you hate those pages with a passion, they'll be awesomely good to read.

17:

Heh, I was wondering how you were going to reconcile E with the UB....

18:

Nope.

But I am thinking about space opera. To be precise, about Mundane SF Space Opera -- space opera with no magic warp drives, just one implausible long-stretch from known science/tech to make it possible.

It turns out that the universe of "Saturn's Children" is extremely friendly to space colonization, and by implication to space opera of the slower-than-light variety promoted by Al Reynolds. I've taken a dry run at it in the form of a novelette ("Bit Rot", forthcoming in the anthology "Engineering Infinity" edited by Jonathan Strahan, due out next January) and I'm tentatively drawing up plans for ... but that would be telling.

But we're currently living through the early years of the golden age of exoplanetography, and I haven't been asking all those debate questions about minimum civilization sizes and ecosystem complexity out of idle curiousity!

19:

GCVs are common in my experience. E.g., for decades jeans have had stupid little pockets on the right hip which didn't make any sense then, in the last half decade or so, along come mobile phones which fit them perfectly. How else did that work, and why didn't the Eschaton put a stop to it?

20:

I admit it's a while since I read SS but from my recollection I always believed that the unborn god was some delusional cult like movement that thought it could create such a being inside the eschatons light cone when patently it never could and never would. But that doesn't stop humans from trying, because well humans are humans.

But the whole point presumably about the first book was that the big E cared enough about humans to try and discourage them from bringing down it's wrath, hence sabotaging their ships to prevent them from breaking causality. I don't see why that wouldn't apply equally to the unborn god scenario, it will never be born but the big E will use lower level agents/influences before resorting to something drastic. Because you infer it still wants humans to be humans and squishing that meddling impulse too harshly by direct intervention every time would discourage the meddling.

In other words can we have Space Pirates please :(

21:

I gotta give you props for making the Remastered sufficiently Ick that I still have a hankering for their horrible demise. I also gotta give you props for both the working title, which stuck in my brain so well that when I read the book it popped right out of my subconscious from a years old usenet thread as a "better title," and the actual title, which is a good riff on the real title and much more decorous.

22:

There is, in my mind, this sudden connection between your intriguing rogue commodities option traders; Paul Krugmans paper on the economics of below-lightspeed interstellar travel; and a SF novel I read as a kid which described near-light speed trading from the point of view of a Shanghaied crew member, where they quickly lost all personal connection to their home worlds as centuries passed there between visits. I wish I remember the name of that novel.

23:

Ummmm Charlie,

The problem is fixable.

Assuming there's one timeline, the Eschaton exists in the future, at least in your characters' timelines, because they're talking to it.

So let's pull a David Brin and reconceptualize the problem, either as symbiogenesis (my favorite) or embryogenesis (probably more useful).

Don't know if you had the biology, but not all embryonic cells make it into the infant. Many die. Furthermore, embryonic programming (proliferating cells, for instance), can cause cancer if switched on inappropriately later on.

Maybe I didn't read Iron Sunrise carefully enough, but I didn't see the evidence that the Unborn God actually exists, at least as the Eschaton exists.

So my assumption is that the Unborn God system is part of the development of the Eschaton, possibly a critical part. Perhaps it's there to help develop the Eschaton's defenses. Perhaps the Iron Sunrise was needed to provoke a mass migration of people and materials in a way that will prove vital for the Eschaton in the future.

I'd also point out that we don't know how far in the future the Eschaton is, and we also don't know whether the Eschaton exists as a monad or as something like the biggest Archai in a system that includes all levels of intelligences (see Orion's Arm). We also don't know what the universe around the Eschaton looks like.

Alternative three: For all we know, the Eschaton may be doing something like a kung fu master used to do. He carried around a foot-long wooden stick with a metal cap on one end. When he ran into people who wanted to fight him, he'd haul out the club and beat himself with it as a demonstration. He never had to fight the challengers, because they realized they couldn't possibly hurt him as much as he routinely hurt himself, without permanent harm. The iron sunrise event might be a similar demonstration by the Eschaton...

This is all in the service of convincing you that it ain't broken. Beside that, mass refugee movements make for a great piracy scenario. After all, someone's got to keep order, and if it's the insurance pirates, well...

24:

Question: In the parts of Singularity Sky where Martin and Rachel were on board the New Republic's battlecruiser, I got the distinct feeling that you were making fun of a certain bestselling Baen author with a fetish for Horatio Hornblower. Any comments?

25:

If you smoke, they make perfect sense. Lighters. Also, they are great place to find crumpled dollar bills after the laundry comes out of the dryer.

26:

Evil insider trader space pirates who provide armed escort to merchant ships carrying valuable secret cargoes? Dear gods. That's brilliantly ingenious.

On the other hand . . . they wouldn't necessarily be private enterpreneurs.

Say you're a mercantile planetary government. You can impose such rigorous inspections that no one ever gets away with bringing in unregistered valuable cargoes. But then traders will simply stop shipping those cargoes to your planet, in favor of planets with more relaxed inspection. On the other hand, if you subsidized a few space pirates, they can send word back, and then your favored mercantile houses can take favorable positions, and get richer at everyone else's expense. They don't prevent the interstellar merchants from getting rich; they just hitch a ride with them, so to say. Not so much space pirates, then, as space privateers. Francis Drake in Spaaace!

27:

I don't think any reconceptualization is necessary. The real issue is that Charlie has become convinced he can't write in an FTL universe. IMHO this is a little silly, but Charlie gets to make the decisions about what he writes and why.

Commercial issues aside, I think Charlie should write in whatever universe is the most fun for him and he shouldn't worry too much about the whole Mundane SF thing. (Ideological worries about what universe a science-fiction writer should work in... I don't want to be unkind to our host, so I'll just shake my head let the ellipses do the talking.)

Meanwhile, I'll enjoy Charlie's other work. I've already read The Fuller Memorandum three times, and I'm eagerly waiting for Rule 34.

Lastly, Charlie writes very successfully in an FTL universe.

As to fixing the problems of the last novel, I think it's very simple - the Eschaton blows up the Remastered worlds 5 years ago, and Rachel and Martin are caught up in resettling the Remastered refugees. The story starts there and goes wherever Charlie wants it to.

28:

Many years ago, a friend of mine (who prefers that zir real name not be mentioned on the internets) claimed to have met you at a con and to have heard from you an entirely different plot for the hypothetical third Eschaton novel, involving an alien GCV-ing AI whose historic light cone has just grown to intersect the Eschaton's at time of novel; it likes to peel people off their planets and plunk them on the surface of an Alderson disc, "on the theory that if they can figure out how to get off it again, they might be worth talking to..."

Whatever happened to that one?

29:

My disappointment that you aren't doing more BigE novels is: I'd been looking forward to the war between the gods. Banks has done this well a couple of times, I think (although his summary in Consider Phlebas summarizes some of the details, rather than showing them).

30:

I plead guilty as charged.

31:

It's not ideological ... it's just, I don't see myself writing fantasy. FTL is, without some really good handwavium or a major conceptual breakthrough in physics, fantasy. Similarly, humans thriving and colonizing in deep space feels uneasily close to fantasy to me right now.

32:

A Curious yellow flash?

http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/debian_main.png

33:

It forked off into another fictional universe by way of a suggestion on soc.history.what-if by James Nicoll. See also "Missile Gap".

34:

Well, the plot for IS meets several possibilities. It could be that the remastered really are trying to construct an unborn God, which might actually work, particularly is they are ruthless about it, but probably the eschaton could prevent that. However, "space nazis" might well be something harmless to a god that might have several of the warning flags that something harmfull to a god would have. So, if you were trying to kill a god, pretending to be evil human beings might be good cover.

It might be that some external godlike is trying to build another godlike there, as a hostile move towards the eschaton, either in order to include humans in the new, victorious godlike, or as a pure hostile move towards the eschaton.

It might be a time war from the distant future, between the human-derived and non-human-derived godlikes (or, since it's a time war, it might even be humans. If you can jump human beings through time, you have an acausal mechanism already, just feed the research papers back in from the begining. It probably doesn't have much godlike compared to a purpose built structure)

Another question is whether the eschaton is nicer than a human derived godlike would be.

35:

Fair enough: I'll plead reader demand, but please don't let that influence your plans.

I guess the Laundry series is hardcore SF then?(/evil grin)

As for human colonization of deep space, if you can solve the problem of FTL, many of the issues of human deep space travel get solved too. The reason is that any system that can handle having such titanic forces sited near highly vulnerable humans will also protect those humans from most of the dangers of interstellar travel, pretty much as a side effect. Similarly, if a superhuman intelligence is terraforming planets in advance of human expansion, most of the biological problems of colonizing alien worlds won't occur, because the biospheres of those planets will be Gaian, not alien.

Not that FTL appears to be solvable, but whatever. It's really one hand-wave, not two or three. And I already figured out a really nice STL solution, but I can't talk about it until it gets published...

36:


Apologies, this is OT, but it looks like we're starting to narrow down one of the coefficients of Drake's equation:

http://sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/63868/title/Distant_world_could_support_life

Excerpts:

'Scientists have spotted an Earth doppelgänger that may have the right specs to harbor life, in the Libra constellation just 20 light-years distant.'

'Finding the planet so nearby and so soon after beginning the hunt for Earthlike worlds beyond the solar system suggests that the galaxy is teeming with them, said coauthor Paul Butler...'

37:


humans thriving and colonizing in deep space feels uneasily close to fantasy to me right now.

I know the feeling...

Is humans spreading microbes throughout the solar system, and ultimately the galaxy, fantasy too?

38:

Interesting. I must have had a unusual take on the Eschaton/ UB conflict. I always viewed the big E as a large multiprocessing system with Herman as a fairly high level and privledged process, but by all means not all of the Big E. I viewed the UB as annother competing process running in the space of the Big E's processing frame. Thus this was a resource arbitration conflict between two (internal) processes -- resulting in a race condition which was resolved by locally blocking the UB's process.

Honestly I would love to see more stuff in the Big E universe or something similarly out there ala Glasshouse -- nobody matches Charlie for really high concept stuff.

39:

No; the Laundry series is fantasy. Merchant Princes is SF. And most of my sold-as-SF is horror.

40:

Is humans spreading microbes throughout the solar system, and ultimately the galaxy, fantasy too?

No -- that's do-able, possibly with today's tech.

Problem is, novels set among the intelligent singing lampreys on a water-world with four earth masses and no accessible actinide elements (so no prospect for nuclear energy and too deep a gravity well for practical chemical rocketry -- even if they get around to mastering fire) three billion years hence aren't very commercial.

41:

Never fear: I have a high concept space opera up my sleeve for when I finish (a) the current Laundry novel, (b) the high concept collaboration with Cory Doctorow, and possibly (c) the next near-future thriller a la "Halting State" and "Rule 34" (although right now the space opera is looking hopeful for next-in-queue status).

It's just Eschaton novels I'm writing no more of. I developed that world between 14 and 18 years ago; it is boringly old hat.

42:
When I read the book I assumed that the space nazis were just deluded, and the UB didn't actually exist.

That's also my reading of Iron Sunrise. Ouside of Hermann's limited understanding (hence, probably very wrong on occasions), it's clear that Big E does not consider the Remastered as anything approaching danger.

It stomps pretty heavily on the forbidden tech developped in the solar system during the intro sequence (the entire description remembers me irresistibly to the Sum of All Fears where Clancy briefly guides us thru an atomic explosion), but there's no big guns anywhere near the Remastered operations, including their founding.

Ergo, the Remastered aren't a GCV-level threat.

(or they have a pretty big protection - but then, why this protection failed on their remote research attempt)

43:

Suppose you have ansibles that only work in an inertial frame that's approximately fixed, relative to the local stars. Would that be a limited form of FTL that didn't violate causality?

44:

There are a couple of points I'm confused about, when it comes to the volunteer space auditors.


1) Pirates can only operate at sub-light speeds. FTL would scramble their entangled particles, and make the whole undertaking pointless.

2) Pirates can communicate instantaneously; why can't the merchant ship's owners? Or even the ship itself, at "mere" light speed? Send a message as soon as you warp in at the destination system; the message shouldn't take more than a day or two to arrive.

Space is big, and presumably the ships don't all warp in at the same point, or the local authorities would just build a heavily armed space station there to discourage unauthorized auditing. If the merchants don't all show up at the same spot, it must take the pirates some time to find them. Then it will take the pirates some time to audit the cargo.

Sure, they can just follow the transmission back to its source in order to find the merchant ship Sure, the very fact of there being a transmission implies there is valuable cargo to be found. But that doesn't tell the pirates *which* valuable commodity they should be having the accomplices take out options on. With the chase and the auditing process, the pirates' window of opportunity shrinks drastically.

45:

Somewhat large question:
What elements in commercial Sci-Fi are there which have become tired, disproved, or just plain unfashionable that are soon to die or already in advanced decay? It seems to me like a lot of what has been referenced here as common problems of pop "Syfy" have a stubbornly high longevity.

46:

I‘m not sure this one would have worked for me, would have to know more of the actual plot.

One problem;
Presumably you’re going to know that your ship is being boarded, so if I were carrying unregistered cargo I would be more likely not to put it on the market once I reached my destination, knowing that so-called pirates’ agents are waiting for me to do so, so that they can make a killing from my efforts.

Seems to me that it would make more sense to plant passengers on board the liners who could search at their leisure and not alert any passengers that they are being snooped.

The discussion of FTL reminds me of one of the things I liked about MacLeod’s “Engines of Light” trio. That is, how all the human colonies existed in apparently different time lines* due to distance, some seemingly established in an outside observer’s past (if I understood/remember correctly), and how the characters accepted as a given that decades would have passed since they’d left.

And, as someone who grew up in Virginia I particularly liked his solution to the Roanoke Colony Mystery

*Not sure that's what I mean, can't thik of proper term.


Ed Davies @19 & Charles K @25; I’ve always been under the impression that those ‘stupid little pockets’ were meant for pocket watches, or maybe coins?

47:

a) The Pirates have accomplices with ansibles.

b) The Pirates own ships are FTL capable, but don't carry ansibles.

c) The merchants can't alert HQ once hijacked because there's a guy in the radio room with a gun.

(There are other issues with the idea, but it works within the framework of these two novels.)

48:

You will note that psychic powers/telepathy etcetera have gone right out of fashion in written SF -- they lingered on for almost a decade after John W. Campbell (a fan of them) died, but eventually petered out.

Settings based on "scientific racism" are right out of English-language SF these days. They were respectable up until the 1940s, then became a lot less respectable (c.f. Heinlein's wrangling with Campbell over the original plot of "Sixth Column"); these days no sane publisher would touch such a plot with a barge-pole.

A bunch of obsolete cosmological ideas have gone out of fashion. Alas, space travel seems to be mostly stuck in the late 1950s in SF. There are honourable exceptions, but the myth of the starship is pernicious.

49:

Count me among the group who never seriously thought that the UG was more than a myth, and fully believed that Herman's uncertainty about the future was either a lie or plausible deniability (clearly, the big E is the one who blew up the sun, as enforcement of his rule, and the main concern during the novel is finding out if there are other responsible parties and stopping people from being able to wage war-via-eschaton on one another)...

And as I mentioned in the IS variation thread, the Re-Mastered threat is over now that their MO is known. They can be utterly nullified by moving all of your important government apparatus onto starships that make frequent microjumps and requiring anyone planetside you have to trust to visit said ships and go through a few jumps every month or so.

50:

Icedrake, me lad, 'tis simple enough. Once ye have boarded the ship, you send your FTL pinnace to one of your secret bases, which is closer to the ship than its destination. The base is stocked with quantum packets sent there by NAFAL drones, and ye send the message from there. Arrrr.

51:

It seems to me that the pirate niche can be filled by the local in-system government, which probably has the power to demand that arriving starships stop and be boarded and escorted by, oh, call them agents of the Stellar Port Authority, and penalize any ships that arrive without having done so. Unless there's an interstellar union of starship owners with the power to discourage that kind of thing.

52:

You can include a limited form of FTL/time travel in a universe like ours if you limit the endpoints of a trip to events that are inside a common light cone whose origin is fixed. For example, use a Tipler machine (essentially a cylinder of near infinite mass and length which is rotating on its long axis at near light-speed) which can connect events in the light cone of the machine's construction. This allows FTL within but not outside the machine's light cone. Similarly with a wormhole; construct it and move one mouth at relativistic velocity for awhile. You can go from one mouth to the other and effectively go backwards in time, but you can't go back before the wormhole's construction, or forward past its destruction.

Of course, the longer an FTL system exists, the more time you have to play with; the Old Race's wormhole nexus that covers the galaxy and was built billions of years ago (see, for instance, Sagan's "Contact") offers an awful lot of scope for Global Causality Violation wars. Best to write about relatively new systems that haven't been around long enough to bend reality into a pretzel.

53:

' E.g., for decades jeans have had stupid little pockets on the right hip which didn't make any sense then, in the last half decade or so, along come mobile phones which fit them perfectly.'

Those 'small little pockets ' in jeans are now, and ever were, the perfect size and location for a folding lock knife of the Buck Knife kind .. hinge down, top up in that pocket and wedged comfortably in place by the right hip. You fold your right thumb over the top of the knife and draw it from that little pocket and then grip the back of the blade between your thumb and fore finger and flip the knife open ..easy really.

Mobile Phone ? NaH ! Pocket too small and the phone too fragile.The pocket holds a 'Jack Knife '

" Und der Haifisch, der hat Zähne,
Und die trägt er im Gesicht.
Und Macheath, der hat ein Messer,
Doch das Messer sieht man nicht. ...

Oh the shark has pretty teeth dear,
And he shows them pearly white
Just a jack-knife has Macheath dear
And he keeps it out of sight. "

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mack_the_Knife


54:

This Court dismisses the charges; it needed to be done. Do you know if the other author involved has ever commented on your villainy?

55:

I have found that most authors represents a Vector equation pointing to the unique reality that they are mining their books and stories from. Once they have a body of work it is possible to begin defining their Imaginary Space.

Look at the Zelazny Vector, Amber is the core reality and all his other books are embedded in that reality. The same with the Stephen King Vector and his Dark Tower reality. Look at the Greg Bear Vector, Blood Music is the base reality that everything springs from. The noocytes left that reality and created many more. Many times in the Bear books vast entities are seen moving through space, those are the noocytes.

Now look at the Stross Vector and you will see how all of the stories connect. Essentially all of the books in the Stross Vector are embedded in one deeply nested Matrioshka brain in the Accerando reality, which is why there are so many echoes and similarities between his stories.

Read the last two chapters of Accelerando and everything is laid out clearly. It's easy to miss the obvious when you read the book from the start because you are overwhelmed by the relentless level of change by the end.

Essentially the Vile Offspring in the Solar system Matrioshka brain are emulating multiple nested closed universes, making the Solar system a nested set of universes. The evidence for this is contained in Stross's body of work so far.

As an example: Time and again Wheeler's Many World Hypothesis has been trotted out to explain events, yet the events clearly do not represent WMWH, but they do fit the nested closed universes in a Matrioshka brain. Stories like Palimpsest can only exist in a simulated universe as is shown by Hamilton's The Void Trilogy versus Egan's Premutation City.

Also remember, it is a basic Law that every Stross narrator is an Unreliable Narrator. When Bob Howard babbles about WMWH he is giving out disinformation. The various entities that Bob Howard deals with, Frost Giants to demons, are from the various nearby nested realities in the Matrioshka brain and some may actually be Vile Offspring.

"Missile Gap" is set in the future of the Eschaton reality when the Eschaton has run into other competing godlike powers that he can't simply eliminate. The disk worlds are there to work out a solution between the various entities rather than have them annihilate each other.

The people in "Antibodies" are agents sent by the Eschaton from one nested universe into another of the Matrioshka brain. There could be antibody agents wandering through the Laundry reality and no one would notice.

The only stories that don't occur in those nested universes are Accelerando, Glasshouse, etc..., they are effectively outside the Solar System Matrioshka brain.

Now of course, being the contrarian that he is, Stross may prove me wrong about all this, but that requires time and writing more books to find out.

56:

Forgive continuing an off-topic discussion. Maybe this will end it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pocket#Types

57:

In my opinion, when an author sets out to unify a hitherto disunited body of work, it's a good sign that the brain eater's got 'em.

(Caveat: this doesn't apply to explicit series works or to books that clearly reference each other.)

58:

So we won't be finding out that Freya was originally commissioned for Bob after Miriam dumped him?

8-)

59:

The ultimate cure for FTL/time travel is that there's a universe. Just one, no multiverse, but no causality violation either.

At that point, FTL isn't pointless, but you have no free will. You're just uncovering your fate. If the Universe wants you to get there FTL for continuity's sake, you will find a way to get there. The craft will probably be powered by narrativium, but whatever.

Great stories can be written in such a universe: Slaughterhouse Five, for example. Heck, you can even import high fantasy into such a world, complete with cryptic prophecies, chosen ones, and the lot.

60:

I wonder if you can correct the paradox problem of Space Opera by using ships that "jump" at a speed of light. Basically, if you want to travel from Earth to Alpha Centauri, you will reappear there 4.24 years later. This would make establishing colonies much easier.

61:

I like the idea of the space pirates; in the Bujold universe, this galactic niche could be filled rather handily by the Barrayaran Navy, which doesn't appear to have much use except to remind Cetaganda not to block their wormhole again. Hey, they already _have_ Auditors (and this scheme really sounds like something thought up by MVK Enteprises. Mark Vorkosigan would fit so well in the Merchant Families, wouldn't he?). I don't suppose you'd ever consider a collusion with Ms. Bujold? After all, in her latest (ebook ARC, love it!) one of her characters proposes a simulated investment vehicle in frozen lives. I think she must have read DEAD SOULS and Had Fun With It.

62:

Thank Ghu! Someone finally agrees with me on this.

63:

Sure: just give me an explanation consistent with known physics for how to make it work and I'll buy into it.

(Lightspeed "jumps" are, like FTL, not currently supported by the playbook.)

64:

Where the instruments of piracy are written by clerks rather than forged by cutlerers, your shrewd man in a tricorne heads straight for the nearest coffee shop.

In similar circumstances, 1688 found Edward Lloyd's London establishment packed to the rafters with parties awaiting news of shipping. The subsequent 300 years of Lloyds market history is filled with amusing maritime incident.

The only author I know to have noted this connection is Arthur C. Clarke in a short story about life and work aboard a crewed communication satellite. It's in The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke - if anyone remembers which of the 104 stories it is, I'd appreciate a reminder!

65:

Please, Charlie. Were are talking about fiction, right? You have to have some handwavium. Stuff like strong AIs, singularity and your godlike entities (that somehow are allowed to travel to past as much as they wish) are much less plausible than a jump-drive that _doesn`t_ violate general relativity.

66:

I'm trying to walk without crutches this decade. (Hadn't you noticed?)

67:

Then you just can`t write space opera. 8-)

68:

Nonsense!

Playing by the laws of physics just makes writing space opera much harder -- more of a challenge. Doesn't make it impossible, though ...

69:

Speaking of causality violations, I am told that the most common question asked at Delphi was "Will my ship come in?"

Some things never change.

70:

are there any books or authors you can recommend that do this? I've always been interested SF with emphasis on the S.

71:

Of course, it could be that the universe is not broken, but simply that the Eschaton is a complex enough being to have multiple personalities that are actually at war with each other, leading to all kinds of nasty apocalypses, sturm und drang, etc... so the E is still preserving it's hold on GCV (with a willing or unconscious suspension of the realization that it is fighting itself)

72:

You guys all need to stop trying to convince Stross to write more in the Eschaton universe or he's likely to teach us all a lesson by rewriting Singularity Sky over and over from the viewpoint of every character in it.

73:

Simple - send sub-lightspeed robotic nanotech drone to destination. There it builds from available materials solar collectors and earth-pointing antennas of vast areas. A similar setup is already in solar orbit. The passengers are deconstructed and their patterns stored then transmitted to their destination, optionally along with a ship of latest earth design. This is a pretty old idea.

Theoretically, perhaps the receiver might not be needed if a cosmic-ray hologram could be projected at the destination in such a way that pair-production would occur in the precise pattern to produce a ship and its passengers, as well as their antimatter counterparts. An easier method would be holographically transmitting just the seed for a receiver of the first type. The holographic emitter would likely have to be light-years across, and there are a few other small potential engineering difficulties, amenable to a reasonable bit of extrapolatium. (A more stable element in the narrativium family.)

74:

You might want to read the article Charles tagged at #48, then read "The High Frontier, Redux" in the specials up on the right, then flick through past posts on this blog. The nanotech handwavium idea is a nice dream the same way that inertialess drives and psychic powers were to the 1920s

75:

As a side note, Raymond Feist used a Lloyds of London-style coffee house in Rise of a Merchant Prince, if I remember correctly. Fantasy, of course, but not a bad idea.

76:

If you're going to play by the laws of physics, Charlie, just remember that, in space, Delta V is Not the Pirate's Friend.

Many of the classic pirate tactics, from shooting across the bows to boarding a vessel, get ugly for human pirates. The default outcomes seem to range between: a) oops I shredded it accidentally, b) this is like hijacking a nuclear sub that's underway, and c) how do you shoot bullet a with bullet b, when you're riding bullet c and aiming bullet b by hand?

And then, assuming you've boarded and done the deed, you've got to get away with the loot, without being traced.

I'd suggest realistic space piracy has more in common with a locked room mystery, and less with space opera. Perhaps it's better set as a quasi-sequel to Rule 34. After all, if someone hijacked a satellite in geosynchronous orbit, and some of the booty showed up on eBay, that would be a really weird mystery...

77:

Some of Larry Niven's stuff is sublight space opera. Protector, for example had Bussard ramscoops fighting in interstellar space. Fire off a missile, go into frozen sleep for a few years, thaw out and see if it hit.

The biology was as ridiculous as the physics seemed plausible...and not just 'cause of the frozen sleep.

78:

Bussard ramjets are interesting parachutes but don't do much else. Heteromeles @75 makes a good point, in an actual space warfare setting Delta-V is the big problem. combatants accross a system are likely to be light-minutes to light-hours away, a missile would have to track into the course of the enemy whilst continually making course adjustments for days or longer. the missile would have to have a pretty good specific impluse, at relativistic speeds its very much like shooting a bullet with a bullet

79:

Alastair Reynolds writes good almost-compatible-with-known-physics space opera. Star ships do routinely travel very nearly at the speed of light thanks to handwavium, and there's important handwavium for a few other things too throughout his books. At least nobody successfully travels faster than light; he could have increased travel times by another 10x and dispensed with the star-drive handwavium. He's also good at building an atmosphere of creeping dread even in nominally shiny, prosperous settings (e.g. The Prefect).

I like Reynolds because even though he has star ships, his star ships are not like sea ships and star travel is not at all like a sea voyage. The vast majority of humanity will never go on a star voyage, though viewpoint characters do so frequently, and since there's no FTL communication either, major news like an alien war of extermination against humanity can take decades to propagate throughout settled space.

80:

I for one welcome our crutchless space opera overlords.

Space opera that didn't routinely violate the laws of physics and economics? I would pay good money to read that.

81:

I was going to say something along your lines earlier @46, but wasn't awake enough to think of any thing coherent (and not sure if what I did say was). Something didn't sound right about FTL ships rendezvousing. Sure Trek ships do it all the time, but, well...that's Trek--reality need not apply.

and I think time frame is what I meant earlier. Slightly more awake now.

82:

I'd read it and like it! One of the reasons I think the Eschaton books are so unique and fascinating is that the so-call hand-wavium is so deeply thought-out and expositioned, i.e. the captive-point-mass-drive and entangled-bit-communications. tech that is theoretically probable or at least possible.

the only ghost-in-the-machine as far as I can see is the weakly-god-like AI stuff - given that if intelligence is 'real' and we are not moist-robots with the illusion of free will - living in an open-ended, non pre-determined universe - is artificial intelligence possible, and will it tolerate us any longer than it needs to after arrival? compared to playing with the laws of physics that as far as we can tell, get a little goofy on the micro and macro levels anyway, any non-human intelligence conjecture blurs the lines of Syfy/fantasy and is more guess-work than anything...

yet it does make for some excellent reading - which I will miss greatly if you avoid FTL and or god-like AI for the foreseeable future.....

83:

There's actually a depressingly easy workaround for the ReMastered problem - they are a vital component to the finalized "version" of the active Eschaton. Information requests about them during the RM-component's gestation period would deliberately be kept to a minimum, if any at all, to ensure minimal disturbance to its development. Only enough to keep them from being too successful...

84:

I'm not sure I would have accepted pirates in the series.. its tough enough to build a workable interstellar community and not break the acceptance of the stories with bad physics. But when you add in the physics of Delta-V intercepts I'm not sure you could convince me its not way cheaper to just wait till the cargo shows up in port. Let alone the high initial cost of ships limiting who gets to own one..

However if you had written it with humor in mind I suspect I could have bought into the whole pirates thread..

"Monty Python's Meaning Of Life: Crimson Permanent Assurance"
Yes, even deep in the southwestern US entire dorm floors would halt to watch BBC America's showings of Monte Python... debate would ignite as to who understood a reference and if it was supposed to be funny or not... Some would "get it" and others would remain clueless.

85:

Guess who's drooling with anticipation now? :) :) :)

Space opera!!

Also, kudos for including a date (Is it January yet? No? How about now?). That announcement is likely to save a small fortune in terms of bandwidth cost caused by people like, cough, yours truly checking for news at a leisurely interval of about every five minutes or so.

86:

Thanks for that. I'll have a peek at it, and if the senior agrees we'll take a leading line.

87:

Didn't you more or less "solve" lack of FTL travel in Scratch Monkey? Yes, travel takes lots of time, but with most people in embedded simulations rather than incorporated that time is all relative anyhow.

88:

>Then you just can`t write space opera

You might want to try the works of Alastair Reynolds for space opera without FTL.

89:

That plot sounds like fun. any chance of you writing something similar set in another universe?Because I would love to read it.

90:

Amber isn't Zelazny's core reality. The Courts of Chaos are closer to the core. Closest shown: The Rim of Creation. But there are intelligent beings from beyond the Rim of Creation.

And there's no telling how many layers of reality exist beyond the Rim of Creation. It might be only one; or it might be aleph 666.

91:

It occurs to me that "Space Pirates of KPMG" sounds like it could the title of another chapter in the life of of Ralph MacDonald Suzuki ("Trunk and Disorderly").

92:

Erm .. we know about KPMG in Britain as well, you know - they're one of the "big Four" accountancy/financial crooks control-firms here...

Charlie @ 18
Gliese 561C ??

@41
Well, start again (as you've suggested, with a NEW FTL univers. Remember, provided you fidlle with the definition of "Staright" in a supposedly-curved universe, where we have NOT solved the renormalisation problem ... then you can surely fake up a believable version (or versions) of FTL....

@ 63
This is science FICTION, remember?

93:

If you're really writing space opera, what do you think of the technique based on a small, all-female crew and frozen embryos?

94:

In two words, utterly stupid.

(For the details, go read the comments -- a hunt for "babies" or "embryos" will get you to the relevant section. Hint: babies don't educate and socialize themselves.)

For another thing, go hunt up the discussions on the smallest feasible size for a self-sustaining civilization. This stuff is non-intuitive and the answers are a bit alarming to those folks who think in terms of rugged pioneering frontierspersons. (Backed up by the Sears Catalog and a banking infrastructure back east ...)

95:

Hmm? There's a crew, the children aren't expected to socialise themselves. Having looked at the old high frontier post, none of their problems seem right. For example, I'm not sure a viable ship would need an airlock You've never had a discussion on the minimum self-sustaining society, that one was the minimum society with our level of technology. The ability to expand out from a greenhouse style system rescued from the original ship would do, at least as long as reading and writing could be maintained. You could even have it directed from earth, time lag included, although it might require a large transmission/reception set at earth.

96:

Ah, but if Reynolds had dispensed with the nearly-as-fast-as-light ships, he'd have had to dispense with the lovely word 'lighthugger'. And that would have been very bad indeed.

97:

My understanding is that Ken MacLeod has the writing patent on exactly-at-lightspeed jump technology: you might want to talk to him ;}

(and it may not work, but the last line of _Cosmonaut Keep_ was simply excellent. So it gets a free pass from me.)

98:

Hmm...anyone done a version of history in which 0.) U.S. ideas/mythology of The Frontier don't exist and 1.) it's still a passably decent world to our eyes?  I don't know if some of my nation's pathologies are simply all-too-human, but others the result of population sizes inadequate to civilisation...usually I just blame the abuse of the (eventual) Scotch-Irish and have done with it.  

In any event, every U.S.-never-was world I've ever encountered seems technologically (at least) inferior to ours; maybe a consequence of growing up in the U.S. and mostly reading in English.

As for Eschaton vs the Unborn God:  I always assumed that they were effectively identical---maybe Eschaton saw two minimal paths in wave-functional space that maximised its chances of  eventual {always has existed}-ness. 

 Then again, when Iron Sunrise's heroine found the Remastered Race's eschatology vaguely familiar from some dead idea of her youth, I wasn't entirely sure if Nazism or the Abrahamic faiths were meant....

99:

It's in Smith's Skylark of Space where Seaton and Crane look at where they are, and say that, obviously, Einstein is wrong. There's some huge problems with the scene: the figures just don't make sense. And we have a huge amount of experimentation which keeps confirming Relativity. But you can do that sort of handwave. After all, there's still the problem of reconciling Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.

You've summed up the point pretty well, anyway. FTL lets us do Aubrey/Maturin with computers. If that's where you want to go, people will buy it. But that Space Pirates of KPMG idea might work in a post-oil tech-society. You just have to get rid of long-distance electronic communication as well.

No, not practical...

100:

Without disagreeing with any of the narrative implications, I'd like to pick up on this point:

For seconds: faster than light travel would appear to be a necessary precondition to writing wide-screen space opera. But if you permit violations of special relativity, you're also implicitly permitting global causality violation — time travel. (Go read a physics textbook if you're not sure why.)

This is actually not something that physics proves - it's the other way around. The "limit" behaviour of the speed of light is (a restatement of) one of the assumptions on which relativity is based - if you take that as a given, along with a few much lower-level observations about physics, then relativity can be generated via syntactic mathematical proofs. Translation for those without a math background: if the speed of light holds as a limit, then divergence from relativity is impossible. (For the physics geeks: "the speed of light is the same in all reference frames" is the real assumption, which is violated if FTL travel is possible; I'm trying to keep the discussion readable here)

Everything we have ever seen indicates that both the speed of light, and relativity, behave how contemporary physics propose. On the other hand, all we have seen is astronomical observations and some relatively low-energy experiments. If you're willing to start from a basis of something outside our experience that violates the speed of light, then relativity is thrown out completely and you can rewrite the rule book. So, the sense of your observation is somewhat reversed: the existence of faster than light travel doesn't "violate" special relativity, it proves that relativity is not applicable to this universe. That doesn't necessarily require time travel, but it does mean that the conventional set of rules about spacetime is irrelevant and you're operating in a different sort of universe.

Of course, then you have a considerable amount of work to do if you want to come up with a new rule book. And it's really hard to make that work out how you wanted. Which appears to be the hole that Iron Sunrise dug into, if I understand your implications correctly there - the sort of "relativity-lite" that you were dealing with there doesn't seem to work.

(First name that comes to mind who writes along those lines is Greg Egan)

101:

See Vinge, Vernor; A Deepness in the Sky
He didn't need FTL or sentient machines to pull space opera proper.

102:

So what you're proposing is that Charlie should, in his spare time, derive a physics in which C is not a constant, then use that as the setting for a space opera?

Sure? Why not?

My personal candidate for a C replacement variable is either the speed of gravity in a vacuum, and/or the speed of entanglement propagation in a vacuum.

Anyway, once this decade's over, it would be fun if Charlie set off in the direction of the great E.E. Smith, and wrote about systems that made engineers grin when they read them.

My parents (both engineers) loved E.E. Smith, both for the wonderful goofiness of things like an inertia-less drive (or setting up a stellar system to work like a vacuum tube, with the enemy ship as the anode and the star as the cathode), and for the fact that his heroes' bench prototypes generally worked without massive adjustments. They knew reality didn't work that way, and that's why they enjoyed his books so much.

There's something to be said for the knowing wink at physics.

103:

My reading of those books gave the impression that the ReMastered/UBG were Eschaton-wannabes who were going to get their arses handed to them in due time, quite possibly with the involvement of the protagonists.

The space-pirate-auditor angle begs the question of why they aren't finding the destination-world futures market already cornered by the shippers of the secret cargo, though that might be an opportunity to play the other side and block the shipment. Hedge funds, anyone?

FTL/GCV space-opera necessarily involves huge amounts of handwavium and willing-suspension-of-disbelief; anyone who can actually suss out the physics issues can make their fortune building starships, not writing novels. Meanwhile, an author says let's pretend things work this way and tries to spin a good yarn. And I thought Rachel and Martin were among your best character development, and will miss them if they don't get written about again. You were writing good fiction there.

(The other entertaining connection that seemed to be dangling there was Bob and friends beating CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN by creating the Big E!)

104:

Check out the old topics

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/07/insufficient-data.html

and

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/07/mediocrity.html

Can you come up with a viable method of building and launching a generation ship that not only is technically able to survive the journey but the society inside is engineered to last the hundreds of years its going to have to last? and then at the end it has to build a completely new society from scratch using at best a rocky world with a wisp of atmosphere (see superantigen and immunity problem in exobiology)?

That is, is there a known method of doing this that does not rely on wishes and speculations such as robotics, AGI, nanotech etc etc

105:

Check out the old topics

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/07/insufficient-data.html

and

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/07/mediocrity.html

Can you come up with a viable method of building and launching a generation ship that not only is technically able to survive the journey but the society inside is engineered to last the hundreds of years its going to have to last? and then at the end it has to build a completely new society from scratch using at best a rocky world with a wisp of atmosphere (see superantigen and immunity problem in exobiology)?

That is, is there a known method of doing this that does not rely on wishes and speculations such as robotics, AGI, nanotech etc etc

106:

You guys all need to stop trying to convince Stross to write more in the Eschaton universe or he's likely to teach us all a lesson by rewriting Singularity Sky over and over from the viewpoint of every character in it.

After Scalzi just published a SF story about yoghurt ruling the world, I'm eagerly awaiting the Singularity Sky directors cut from the viewpoint of a Festival phone.

107:

Conjectures about the nature of gravity (hopefully you can see this page).

Some of the cosmologists are playing with the idea that the universe is something like 3 dimensional: 2 dimensions of (curved) space, one dimension of time. The idea is that the real universe is actually on the membrane of things like the expanding surface of the universe, the event horizons of black holes, and similar surfaces. The third spatial dimension is effectively a holographic projection off these surfaces, and the fundamental graininess of this projection is the Planck constant. I'm giving this with the caveat that IANAC (I am not a cosmologist), so I'm reading the popular accounts, not checking the math.

Speaking from a purely geometric perspective, if the curved 3-D view of the universe is true, it might be possible to go faster than C in four dimensions. On the 2-d surface of the universe, your velocity is less than C, but due to the distortion of the projection, your three-dimensional speed is greater than C.

Fast travel, in this scenario, is therefore a matter of very careful mapping of your route. IBy following the minimum distance curve across the rippled surface of the "real" (2-D) universe, you can get where you're going faster in 3-space than you would by following a straight line at C in normal space. This is akin to the celestial navigation of steering a ship across a sphere, just much more complex.

Additionally, if these theories are true (IANAC), there's something bizarre going on with the propagation speed of changes in the hologrammic 3-space universe (how changes in the surface of the real universe propagate into the illusory 4-space we think we live in), and it might be possible to play tricks with the propagation speed to cheat C in 4-space.

Note that this view of the universe appears to create preferred shipping routes, and thus makes it easier for would-be pirates to find their victims. Catching them is another matter.

The thing I like about the curved 3-D universe is that dark energy and matter go away: they're distortion artifacts of the projection.

108:

the impression I get from physics is that the planck scale/ speed of light is the resolution of the universe itself,that is of course if Herr Einstein is right.
so really we need a way to drag a chunk of reality around with our vessel in it
there was some recent talk of the rules of physics varying over distance and time. if thats true then maybe we can alter the rules.
the causality problem with ftl maybe has a solution if there is a speed limit or a distance limit.
perhaps you can go ftl- but only if you travel 20ly or so.

109:

Charlie Stross @57: In my opinion, when an author sets out to unify a hitherto disunited body of work, it's a good sign that the brain eater's got 'em.

You misunderstand. I'm not talking about unifying what you think are disunited works, I'm talking about how the Stross Vector points to a region of Imaginary Space* where you are mining your stories from. All of your stuff is already from the same general region of Imaginary Space, we now have enough information to start describing what that Imaginary Space looks like.

Think of it like the World Wide Web address .COM, or .ORG. In the Universe Wide Web there would be a .ZELAZNY, or .KING, or .BEAR address. In your case it would be a .STROSS address.

Examples:

UWW.Amber.ZELAZNY
UWW.DarkTower.KING

UWW.Laundry.STROSS
UWW.MerchantPrincess.STROSS

All your stories come from the .STROSS address. It is impossible for you to write a story that does not come from the .STROSS address. If you wrote the Wizard of OZ the OZ you write about would exist in your region of Imaginary Space at the .STROSS address.

UWW.WizardOfOZ.STROSS

Where else do you think your stories come from. You don't think that you make them up do you. If an author is lucky he taps into Imaginary Space and finds a universe to write about. Some authors only access an Imaginary City or Imaginary Country, a few like yourself have tapped into an entire Imaginary Universe to play with. You have total, absolute, control over what stories you pull out of that Imaginary Space, so write whatever you want, because it will come out pure Stross.

*See The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, book or movies, for more information about Imaginary Space.

110:

You're talking about the holographic principle - the idea that the amount of information within a given volume is proportional to the area of its surface. This idea first came up when talking about information lost in black holes, but is now regarded as more widely applicable. This means that if you double the radius you're considering, although you've upped the volume 8 times, there's only 4 times as much information in it. What this means is left as an exercise for the reader.

At the other end of things, down in the sub-sub-{keep saying sub for a long time}-basement of the universe, several different theories of quantum gravity are all coming up with the idea that Planck length size reality has one time and one space dimension.

Who was it who said "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of a small mind"?

111:

Yup. I wonder what a "real" 4-D object looks like after it is projected onto a holographic surface.

I'd also add that if we can combine quantum entanglement into the holographic theory (perhaps particles can only stay entangled when they are geometrically close on the nearest real brane?), then we might have a winner for some sort of tricky way around the light speed limit. Perhaps this makes more sense after massive consumption of appropriate hallucinogens. Is someone willing to do the experiment and get back to us?

If magic can be applied mathematics in the Laundry universe, I'm willing to posit that FTL travel is really applied geometry in some other fictional universe.

112:

Re: #102 and others: "derive a physics in which C is not a constant"

C and h-bar and other "constants" are linked. They seem to be neither constant nor the same in different parts of the cosmos.

Citing Vinge and Asimov:
"Laws of Physics, or Merely Local By-laws?"
http://hplusmagazine.com/editors-blog/laws-physics-or-merely-local-laws

113:

heteromeles @106: Conjectures about the nature of gravity

I read the article and the mention of Smoot reminded me of the Marvel comic series Open Space where they used the Smoot Drive. That literally solves Charlie's space drive problem. The solution is trivial in fact, and can be expected to happen in the next fifty years as computer speed and power increases. A Computational Drive.

You would have:

- Gravity plates.

- Momentum/Pusher plates.

- The Smoot/Stutter drive.

- Point to point teleportation, within the limits of your computer power.

That's essentially what Traveller 2300 used. They had classic Space Opera yet their technology wasn't much more advanced than ours.

There would be no violation of Relativity since no ship is actually moving. Communication would occur using fast packet ships, no danger of violating causality. No violation of the conservation of energy since the computers are in effect hacking local space.

I like this. I will use it even if Charlie does not.

114:
and for the fact that his heroes' bench prototypes generally worked without massive adjustments.
Or going up in flames the first 3 tries.

They knew reality didn't work that way, and that's why they enjoyed his books so much.
I liked them too (a lot more when I was younger, though). But I think Charlie is setting himself a set of artistic constraints, in the same way he'd pick a verse form when writing a poem. Constraints let you use defaults for a lot of your writing decisions, and let you play the values of the variables against those constants the constraints impose. It's why I write sonnets and villanelles and not free verse: the tension of the form gives you a lot of structure for free.

115:

Slower than light still includes a lot of different ways to get around, each with a different set of physical and economic constraints. Let's get away from all the sailing ship analogies and talk about transportation systems in which the energy is supplied from a base in the system of origin. This includes electromagnetic beams (microwave or optical, perhaps even gamma), mass transfer (e.g., the "Momentum Fountain"), particle beams (either matter, which is just a microscopic version of the mass transfer approach or antimatter, which allows using the entire energy of annihilation). The ones based on high power energy beams advertise the trajectory of the cargo to anyone near the destination, and none of them can maneuver very quickly because the beam is aimed from the origin system. This makes the pirates' job a lot easier, especially well inside the Oort Cloud of the destination, where the payload is decelerating, and attacking weapons don't have to to be relativistic to have any chance of hitting.

Of course there's still the problem that the velocity of an incoming missile relative to the payload is going to be high enough that a simple kinetic impact will have as much energy as a small nuclear weapon; this is probably not what you want if you're planning on having the cargo intact to steal.

116:

As Charlie noted, reality is for this decade. I'm already lobbying for a change of heart in 2020. Hopefully, by that point, there will be a lot more engineering to make in-jokes about.

117:

"You might want to read the article Charles tagged at #48, then read "The High Frontier, Redux" in the specials up on the right, then flick through past posts on this blog. The nanotech handwavium idea is a nice dream the same way that inertialess drives and psychic powers were to the 1920s"

I'm well aware of the difficulties, and if you go through some of the more recent discussions here you'll find some comments of mine on the subject. As I wrote about a decade ago in the Foresight Institute forums, Moravec and others' estimates of brain-computing equivalence are likely very low, particularly if protein-protein interactions have to be simulated. Charlie said by perhaps up to six orders of magnitude, I'd say likely quite a few more than that. Even so, brain uploading and interstellar transmission appears to be physically possible given what we know today, while inertialess drives do not.

The other side of the issue is that the data should be very compressible - people are pretty much the same - once you have digitized a few, the differences which make a difference are pretty sparse compared to encoding the position of every atom. The theory of compression with arbitrarily large common dictionaries at both the sender and receiver hasn't been well explored so far as I know, particularly for data where certain parts of the reconstruction only need to be statistically accurate, but given humans' limited ability to distinguish, the number of pigeonholes is a lot smaller than might at first be supposed. Once you have a basis of eigen-people, then a weighted combination of them occupying a very small amount of data should be within a few terabytes of describing anybody to a fine enough tolerance that nobody could tell the difference without a microscope.

118:

OK. The minimum civilization size is critically dependent upon the cybernetic resources. If the cybernetic retrieval/learning/retention is sufficient then on needs a quite minimal population.

E.g., suppose you have a neural interface to an external memory that can simulate an experiential memory. Then you could be a champion golfer just by attaching the correct module. (A different module will retain knowledge of how your body moves.) Change to a different module and you are an expert car mechanic. to another and you're a world class physicist.

We aren't there yet, but we've been mapping the first steps along that pathway. I do think that it would likely require surgical alterations, and the attachment of a permanent port. I don't think it's impossible. Just many years away. Perhaps not until the end of the century.

So the question is really, "How much work does your colony need that can't be roboticized?" I'm not really sure that there is any, but one could argue that we will never turn over the setting of goals to the robots. (I'm *really* not sure I believe that, but I can't prove it.)

So I guess that my best guess it that the minimal number of people required is zero, none, zilch. And given how bad the parents of many decent people are, I'm not sure that robot nannies couldn't do a better job of raising them from banked sperm and ova. (Or, possibly, skin cells that have been regressed to the pre-blastopore level.)

What the optimal number of people is at an extremely high technology level is probably more determined by social context than by technical needs.

119:

"the speed of light is the same in all reference frames" is the real assumption, which is violated if FTL travel is possible..."

What about tachyons? They don't violate relativity, just physicists' cherished notions of what is right and proper. All you need is the merest pinch of handwavium to allow tunneling through the lightspeed barrier, rotating the mass from real to imaginary. There would be an awkward bit in the middle with a complex mass that would imply something weird, perhaps a decay or an oscillation. Reduce your momentum to speed up, increase it again to slow down, tunnel back across the barrier and then brake as usual. If the idea that neutrinos are tachyons is true (and there is some data implying imaginary mass, plus their oscillation) then you might not have to worry about running into anything short of a neutron star. Of course, you might NEED to run into a neutron star to slow down... another little problem to toss over to engineering.

120:

My take on the whole Eschaton vs Unborn God thing was that they were one and the same thing. It's workable - if you posit the Remastered as the first group the Eschaton removed from Earth and planted out a huge distance away. It can't alter its own actions (because that would cause more paradoxes than it would resolve) so there were a few mistakes made... like omitting the comment where the Eschaton explicitly tells people it isn't a god on the crystal marker; possibly they didn't get the crystal marker at all, because they were the first batch let loose.

The Eschaton watches this first batch and learns from its mistakes, but the mistakes have been made, and when the group which later becomes the Remastered come into contact with other humans, they quickly learn to pretend they're just like all the rest. But underneath, they know they're different. They're special. After all, they weren't put there by the Eschaton (because they didn't have the crystal); ergo they were put there by someone/something else (their Unborn God), and this someone/something is clearly opposed to the Eschaton (a monkey-thinking assumption they make, and which is rapidly solidified into canon "truth" by their core belief structures) and wants them to destroy this "false god" for it.

Thus we have the space nazis going around trying to destroy the works of the false god in the name of what they believe to be the true god, except that the two are one and the same.

(I write fanfiction and consequently breed plotbunnies for fun. I take no responsibility for anyone's ankles getting nibbled by this one, although if something comes out of it, I'd like to be able to read it. *grin*)

121:

Herman specifically said that he was a low level process. He's privileged in the sense that he has protocols that allow him to send messages to higher order processes, but not in the sense that he's allowed to ACT in a privileged fashion.

Herman believes that he has seen evidence of a conflicting entity using GCV processes, or at least able to interfere with his receiving messages from his higher level processes. (I will note that something analogous to a virus could do that in a person. Meningitis, say. And that it's no trivial problem.)

But we don't know that Herman is correct. The big E could have had other reasons for not warning him. Reasons that we don't know about because Herman didn't know about them, so he couldn't warn anyone in a place where we could observe. (Probably bad stylistically, but the kind of thing that happens in human organizations all the time.)

N.B.: We don't know that the big E is dependent upon earth. At least not since the exodus. Given that the big E uses GCV, it could have, itself, caused the singularity that exploded on Earth and ended up shipping off most of the population. It's worth noting that those colonies (even the New Republic) have much more post-Singularity history than Earth does, because the tubes that exported them lead back in time at the rate of one year of time per light year of distance. Which is why the Festival came from a very distant colony. (Of course, some speculated that it was alien, but no evidence was offered that would justify that, and much that would be contradictory...such as the genotype of the Critic being derived from that of naked mole rats.)

122:

FWIW... Herman clearly stated that the Eschaton was an ensemble intelligence. This clearly allows multiple personalities...in fact we *know* that it has multiple personalities, because Herman is only a small fragment of the Eschaton. I'm not at all sure that this implies that the personalities are at war with each other, but clearly such an event would not contradict what is already claimed. There is, however, not much evidence in favor of such a conclusion. An infection by an analog to a virus seems more plausible.

Also, we have no idea of the number of levels between Herman and the personality of the Eschaton. It might be like a white blood cell communicating with your conscious mind. If enough white blood cells die, you notice an inflamation, but it takes a lot of them. Still, each cell can call for assistance, and plausibly receive it.

So... we don't even know if the Eschaton is a singular entity. Herman believes that it is, but in this respect I don't think he's an authority. He has clearly stated that his knowledge of the Eschaton is quite limited.

I'll admit that the Remastered have given me a few nightmares. (Well, figuratively speaking.) OTOH, I must admit that I think of them more as Christians than as Nazis. Even that "Kill them all, God will know his own" is a direct quote from a Christian inquisitor of the middle ages. (I did notice that it was slightly changed for the book, so I put it back in the original [translated] form. "Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius." is the purported original.)

123:

Well, Bussard ram-jets don't work unless you can convert normal matter into anti-matter. I think that might make the equations more favorable. Not sure the trick is possible, but not sure it isn't, either, and *if* you can get that kind of speed, you need that kind of shield. (It still wouldn't get everything, but neural particles aren't generally very dangerous. Isolated neutrons aren't stable, e.g., and neutrinos will just go right through you. But converting hydrogen to positronium is a bit of a magic wand.

124:

Why do you care about all this?

I mean, really -- quantum entangled particles cannot transmit information. That violates the rules of quantum mechanics. If you're will to violate that law of physics, why do you hem yourself in with all the others? Just toss 'em out the window just like you did with quantum mechanics.

125:

111 / 118
"Constants"
C and h-bar are measured, related apparent-in-this-universe, as-we-happen-to-be-looking-at-it-now constants.
REAL fundamental constants are the fixed metrics thay places like NPL work with:
Length, Mass, Time, Current, Light-intensity, Temperature, Angle, Pi, e, ..

126:

Or better still, just do away with the meatsacks entirely, thereby also sidestepping the need for a compatible biosphere at the other end. (Hint: "Saturn's Children". Hint: what you said about shipping skills, not bodies.)

127:

As someone who works in the field, nanotech in fiction is far removed from what it is at the moment. Don't get me wrong I would love a nanofactory and mind uploading/neural interfaces (and atm we have not shown they are impossible) however these things are fiction. There is no grounding in science at the moment, proponents of these technologies (often of the kurzweil variety) point to things like exponential technological growth, our ability to simulate neural networks and computer design of gears made from atoms as an indication that we are marching towards these but we have no idea of how to make a nanofactory. We can hack biological systems like ribosomes but thats hardly a nanofactory and it's not done with the aim of making one.

Also if you can upload minds why would you want to have yours shot down a laser towards (hopefully) a dish lightyears away just to be shoved back into a body to live on...another rocky sphere?

128:

Special relativity and FTL would result in time travel causing causality violations, yes ( There is a very good explanation of why here: http://www.theculture.org/rich/sharpblue/archives/000089.html ).

Throwing causality out of the window makes for really messy stories. And there is so much proof by now for special relativity that postulating a universe where special relativity doesn't hold would stretch wilful suspension of disbelieve to the breaking point.

BUT, there is a little loophole here. If you read the explanation given above closely, you see that time travel through FTL requires that the FTL is performed in at least 2 different frames of reference.

What if FTL does NOT follow special relativity, but any STL and FAL phenomenon does. The central point of special relativity is that there is no favoured frame of reference.

But suppose all FTL travel always occurs in a single, specific frame of reference (e.g. defined by the gravitational center of the universe, doesn't really matter which as long as all FTL anywhere in the universe always occurs in this frame of reference).

In this scenario, special relativity holds for all STL/FAL events, so our current understanding of physics is in no way invalidated. It doesn't hold for FTL, but because no one has ever observed a true FTL phenomenon yet, it also doesn't invalidate our current understanding of physics.

You can technically sent something into the past with this (depending on how strongly the special FTL frame of reference is tilted compared to the local frame of reference of the sender), but at most so far that the light reflected from the space ship you have just sent 10 ly away arrives just after the ship has left, never before. So there is no causality violation because of the FAL signal.

And if your ship sends you an FTL communication back (or the whole ship returns) this FTL communication will happen in the same frame of reference that sent the ship back 10 years in time, so the communication ends up going forward 10 years in time and will arrive after the ship left. So there is no causality violation from FTL either.

With only a single frame of reference that FTL occurs in, it becomes impossible to send a signal through any combination of FTL/FAL channels so that it arrives back at any point in space that it already passed before it was sent from there.

You DO have the effect that the maximum FTL speed you can achieve (as seen from the local frames of reference of the sender/receiver) is different in different directions (depending on the tilt between the local frame of reference and the FTL frame of reference).

Also, for a third party, it can appear that the ship arrived before it left. But that third party can not through either FAL or FTL signals interfere with the past of any event it knows about through FAL or FTL, because any FAL or FTL signal is guaranteed to arrive in the future of any event it knows about.

But overall, this approach should make it possible to tell stories in a universe where causality, special relativity (for STL/FAL) and FTL coexist without the need to invalidate anything known about physics today.

129:

"proponents of these technologies (often of the kurzweil variety) point to things like exponential technological growth"

Unfortunately in the beginning a sigmoid curve looks like an exponential one, but they end up in very differently. My pessimistic side wonders whether there's only so much technology our collective heads can hold, and whether or not that will be sufficient to upgrade our abilities in order to hold more.

130:

Yeah many things when plotted on a graph can look exponential (i.e. fastest speed possible for man between 1900 and 1960 - from 30mph train to 20mps rocket) but then dry out (top speeds from 1960 to 2010 are still around 20mps). But kurzweils curves are based on random nonsense, in some plots he puts the "invention of language" as if it popped in one day and plots it against printing presses and email. His plots are not scientific at all they are just random events that when stuck together make a hockey stick shape.

My pessimistic side wonders whether there's only so much technology our collective heads can hold

There is definitely a limited amount of information our brain can both hold and process and we are overcoming that. We invented abacus(s) and writing to aid memory, communication and mathematics. We've made computers and software and all kinds of peripherals, in addendum to your comment I wonder when/if we will start intrinsically changing our brains. but then arguably we have with different ways of thinking like rote memory etc....

131:

Like some of the others, I really didn't get the impression that the UB was a major player yet, only that SOMEONE was trying to engineer this whole thing was using the Remastered's Space -Nazi mentality to work it into reality by using their barbaric neural mapping thing, thus their Frankensteinien attempts to create a Bizzaro-Eschaton that would have been uber-flawed like they were as opposed to the EC's preemptive logic and skill with playing the long (and short) game with humanity.

Personally, if you don't mind me saying, I don't think the universe there is broken, but you may have gotten yourself into a corner; personally, I have faith that you'll still make it work in whatever setting you want to create.

As for Space Pirates/Office Raiders, I can see that in all it's glory;

/The young, buxom blonde quavered as the great, hulking pinstriped brute's hand hovered just above her work pad. "Please, don't..." She said, voice quavering.

"I'll take what I like, missy." He said, lust in his one good eye. He reached for her.

"No, not my..." Her voice cut off in a choked squeak, her bosom heaving in fear.

"Aye, my fine lady; give me those SPREADSHEETS now, and I'll take yer little cost effectiveness analysis too!" /
:)

132:

@22, Janne:

I suppose the novel about Shangaied crew of NAFAL ship is

this one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_the_Stars_(novel)

by none other than Ron Hubbard of (sigh) Dianetics fame

133:

Coming in late, but I just wanted to point out that the speed of light being a constant is just not true. You have to put the (usually implicitly assumed by physicists) caveat "locally", as in the speed of light is locally a constant.

But if you are in a region of deep gravitational potential, say a large ball of unobtanium massing as much as a neutron star with a hollow cavity in the middle, time passes more slowly. So a floating observer in the interior would measure the time it took light to traverse a path of one meter as still being 1/299,799,458 of a sec, but their second would be perhaps twice one of ours. So we would - from a distance - see light moving half as fast as it usually does.

The same is true for a negative gravitational potential (though finding the material to generate it is iffy!), only in that case one would (from a distance) see light as traveling faster than it does for us.

134:

It's not just complexity of design, it's also complexity of infrastructure.

Example: I was just talking with an software engineer in a company that had programming centers in the US, China, and India. He had to go back to work after dinner, to talk with someone else in China who was working on the same project.

This trick (referred to back in the 60s as "Engineers by the acre") works, so long as you can afford engineers by the acre, and society can afford to train, educate, feed, care for, and finds useful work for these people. Already, companies are finding it cheaper and/or more advantageous to spread this load across multiple countries. To me, that suggests some sort of progress bottleneck is looming.

That was the problem with the Saturn Program. You build this amazing piece of infrastructure, shoot off a few rockets, then what? Everyone had to find something else to do.

While we don't applaud the middle managers, I'd point out that the infrastructure that holds together something like a nuclear power plant is an achievement in itself.

Even if we go nano, I don't think the infrastructure problem is going to go away. There will be an enormous need for ultra-refined feedstocks, massive technical expertise, and waste disposal nightmares the likes of which we haven't even seen yet. We're still disposing of chemicals, even though we know that nanoparticles can have different properties than bulk powders of the same element...

135:

@100:

This is actually not something that physics proves - it's the other way around. The "limit" behaviour of the speed of light is (a restatement of) one of the assumptions on which relativity is based - if you take that as a given, along with a few much lower-level observations about physics, then relativity can be generated via syntactic mathematical proofs. Translation for those without a math background: if the speed of light holds as a limit, then divergence from relativity is impossible. (For the physics geeks: "the speed of light is the same in all reference frames" is the real assumption, which is violated if FTL travel is possible; I'm trying to keep the discussion readable here)

Speaking as someone who knows a bit of math as well as some physics, this is complete gibberish.

And no, SR doesn't say anything either way about the possibility of traveling faster than light, nor does traveling faster than light imply that the velocity of light will change between frames. In fact, points in space-time connected by a light ray have an interval of precisely zero between them; what you're proposing are some rather massive real discontinuities that are at the same time observer dependent. Iow, what you're saying is like traveling faster than 0.9 c and expecting to see neutron stars collapsing into black holes.

136:

@107:

That's a horrible article and rather widely debunked; in fact, look on down a bit where it says that rubber bands want to snap back to their unstretched length because of "thermodynamic" considerations rather than because the material is pretty much a bunch of little stretched springs.

That's laughably false. And though the authors of the article might have gotten a few things garbled in translation, the consensus of most physicists I know is that this is just so much pie-in-the-sky; not wrong, precisely, but not exactly a candidate for a good theory either.

137:

@ 110:

At the other end of things, down in the sub-sub-{keep saying sub for a long time}-basement of the universe, several different theories of quantum gravity are all coming up with the idea that Planck length size reality has one time and one space dimension.

Just one space dimension? That's a new one to me. Could you point me to a few into cites? Thanks.

138:

So now I'm confused. Here's the relevant paragraph for everyone:

"He illustrates his idea with “polymer stretching” — in other words, playing with rubber bands. When you stretch a rubber band, some sort of force vigorously attempts to snap the band back to its original shape. Such elastic forces result not from any mystical motivation in the polymer, but merely from the play of probability: There are many more possible arrangements of the pieces making up the polymer when the band is shorter and loose than when taut. So the rubber band’s elastic force is entropic — the stretched polymer is in a very improbable configuration, and snapping back to its resting state restores equilibrium and maximum entropy. Gravity, Verlinde asserts, is similar in the sense that masses move in ways that also produce more probable, higher-entropy arrangements."

To me, this looks like any spring. The relaxed spring is in a lower energy state than when it's stressed, unless of course, the spring fails structurally and remains stretched. Since you have to exert energy in some way to stretch the spring and keep it stretched, what's wrong with this description? The spring (or rubber band) going to heat up as it rebounds anyway, isn't it?

139:

@ 138:

Because the description is wrong as to the process: there aren't any more states accessible to the spring when it is relaxed than when it is stretched (to a first order approximation) and the same is true for the rubber band. What causes the snap is just what you would expect: ultimately, it's down to attractive forces and positive/negative charges. Think about grabbing on to the hydrogen ears of a water molecule and trying to straighten them out for a better example. There aren't "more states" in the low energy bond angle of 109 degrees (iirc) than there are at 120 degrees or 150. But there are definitely forces which can be traced back to positive/negative charges which makes the poles "want" to return to the low-energy angle.

Oddly enough (and scarily enough, this may have been a source of inspiration) there is at least one "thermodynamic" theory of gravity described in science fiction, James Hogan's "The Genesis Machine". In the novel, particles can spontaneously appear or vanish (their appearance is what causes the creation of matter in a steady state cosmology personal to the author) with approximately the same probability ascribed to each event. Gravity is just the consequence of particles appearing or disappearing, but in a relatively small volume populated with large numbers of particles (like, say, the Earth) annhilations are much more common than creation . . . which gives rise to gravity.

140:

Hi,

First time caller, long time listener. As I see it, Charlie did make some whopper mistakes. I think he addressed these problems in Palimpsest (and it deserved a Hugo) at least to my satisfaction, and I understand why he wants to move on. If he had continued with "Space Pirates" he would have ended up writing the late Kage Baker's novels.

1) I figure, if I'm a Big E, my rule is not to rely on good behavior all the meddling sapients. "First one to commit GCV gets to be God". I go back to the Big Bang, and make sure I'm the one calling the shots. Which means, I also set up a station in the far, far, far future whose only job is ack/nak.

2) Kind of suggests that Humans didn't create Big E, they just accessed it.

2a) Kind of also suggests that when the Big E first goes back to the Big Bang, it meets itself who says "I got it covered".

3) UB is just a hiccup. No harm. No foul. No worry. And therefore, no story, unless knocking down cardboard bad guys is a story.

4) I think you can write excellent space opera in a STL universe. Patience.

141:

I understand what you're saying I think, but I still think what he's saying makes a bit of sense. I've also seen RNA and protein folding algorithms that relied on minimizing entropy (delta S, IIRC) as their success metric.

My personal analogy to the "multiple states" problem is a river flowing downhill. If there's a steep vertical gradient, the water flows in one direction: down. If there's no vertical gradient, the water can move in any direction (a pool). If there's a shallow gradient (as in the Amazon or Mississippi floodplain) the river wanders widely. That was the analogy I thought he was using. It may be incorrect.

As for multiple states, I think the analogy might be knotting a relaxed rubber band vs. a taut rubber band. It's easy to knot a relaxed rubber band in any number of ways, but it's impossible to knot a taut rubber band without breaking it. Again, we agree that the shape and springiness of the ideal relaxed rubber band are due to bond energy and charges, but there are more potential shapes available to the relaxed rubber band than the taut one.

Since this is an analogy of an analogy of some math somewhere, it's basically hand-waving on my part. I'm just trying to understand it in a crude way, and trying to see if there's some way a SF writer can use it to get around straight-line FTL through clever navigation or similar.

142:

I pulled out the Open Space comic and the Traveller 2300 RPG and had fun working out the design again.

The Smoot/Stutter Drive basically jumps the ship one body length at a time, so if you have a one kilometer long space frame flickering at a million times a second, the ship is moving at 3.3c. Flickering at a billion, the ship can reach Alpha Centauri in half a day, cross the galaxy in about 30 years. If you chain a thousands 1k ships together in a train, you can cross the galaxy in about 10 days, travel to Andromeda in less than a year.

All with a technology level only a few decades further along than now. If you add the Asimov flicker force field from the story Not Final* then you have everything you need for a near-now space opera that doesn't violate the rules.

- Gravity plates

- Gravity sleds

- Momentum/pusher plates

- Force fields

- Fast FTL without violating relativity, or violating causality.

That gives you the greatest return for the least amount of handwavium expended. I like it. That's rip roaring fun.

*Not Final
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_Final

143:

>Also if you can upload minds why would you want to have yours shot down a laser towards (hopefully) a dish lightyears away just to be shoved back into a body to live on...another rocky sphere

and there's the real solution to the Fermi Paradox

144:

It's for a pocket watch, and always has been. How's that for cultural archaeology? (and yes, I do, and yes, it does)

145:

Finally read them all!

And no-one else has said this... my problem with the Big E universe (at least since Charlie started complaining about it) is basically mechanical. You've got high-tech (and presumably FTL-capable) civilisations scattered backwards in time from earth at the rate of 1 light-year per year, i.e. mapping the edge of the E's historic light-cone. If anyone anywhere in that cone has an FTL drive, they can't be allowed to move towards Earth, lest they arrive there a zillion years in the past and mess up the whole thing.

So any FTL drive that didn't originate on Earth can only move in one direction, or at best in a direction 90 degrees to a vector towards Earth. Assuming the Eschaton is as good as it's word ("thou shalt not violate...").

146:

#90 - I'd agree that the Courts of Chaos are closer to the origin of "all things" in the Zelazny macroverse, but given where he started writing the "Amber sago", I'd still say that it is set in the "Amberverse" (I've got all the books, all the RPG sourcebooks, and have actually played the RPG).

147:

#Various - I've been told that Stephen Hawking thinks that there is a hole in Einsteinian Relativity big enough to fly a "warp drive" starship through. If this statement is correct, and then if he is also correct, it seems to me that this would imply that either "FTL time travel" is possible, or that, since you're carrying a bubble of "normal space-time" through the warp, moving back in "space time" and forward in "personal duration" are not simultaneously possible.

148:

Actually, Heteromeles and the author of the article are right on this one; elasticity in rubber works completely differently to elasticity in springs and is often called entropic elasticity (sometimes thermodynamic elasticity).

The classic demonstration of the strangeness is very simple: get a large strong rubber band, give it a good long stretch (and hold it that way for a few moments), release it to its relaxed state and then press it quickly against your cheek.

149:

I'd agree.

Practical demonstration of the differences in springs and bands. Get an old cheap retractable, and open it up. Measure the free length of the spring. Compress the spring as far as you can (the pen interior makes a good former to keep the spring straight during this stage), and allow it to expand again. The free length should be more or less unchanged. Now stretch the spring out to about twice its free length. What's that? It won't return to its free length? This is called "plastic deformation", and will happen with any metal spring when you stretch or compress it beyond its elastic limit.

Now let's try the same thing with the rubber band. When you compress it it folds, rather than compressing elastically. When you stretch it, it will return to its original length more or less any time, as long as you don't achieve its breaking point. If you're planning to stretch it beyond about 2.5x its natural length, wear gloves! DAMHIKT!!

150:

The starting point for my idea for the plot of the third Eschaton novel was that if you were the CEO of the ReMastered, you'd have to be mad to want the Unborn God project completed. You've spent many years cheating, blackmailing, assassinating, and sometimes, yes, even working your way up the ladder to ultimate boss, and now you have all the power, riches, and live sextoys a being could want, plus the benefit of the best life-extension medical technology available. You're running an empire that is, planet by planet, steadily taking over the human sphere, without any help from weakly god-like entities. Why should you want to bring about your own rapid demotion from top dog to top flea on the top dog?

Especially when you have the idea that the Unborn God composed of the souls of a few billion ReMastered is going to be the biggest bastard the universe has ever seen. What price job security when the chief programmer for the Unborn God project comes to you to say that the project is near completion? It would be like the Pope getting a call from the Metatron telling him that Jesus will be arriving back on Earth tomorrow, so clear your diary. Holy shit, give up all this? I know it's in the job description, but you know, there's still a lot of work to be done, I have to tidy up, hide a few naughty priests, make sure the books are up to date, how about next week? Or a year, a year would be better. (Maybe my successor will be in the hotseat by then.) Except that the ReMastered CEO has the power to make sure the Unborn God stays Unborn.

No, the next phone call you make is to your head of internal security to arrest the chief programmer and his immediate subordinates on suspicion of sabotaging the holy project. Usual interrogation protocols on the subordinates, pith the Chief Programmer and put his soul into a simulated cell for your own personal questioning. And so the project is stalled indefinitely. And your machinations must be in keeping with the Unborn God's plans else She would not have allowed it!

Meanwhile, the Eschaton wants the project completed, because without the Unborn God, it is incomplete. The Eschaton is indifferent to the ReMastered's taking over the galaxy. A monoculture in the Eschaton's garden of humanity isn't particularly pretty or hardy, but it knows thatbthe ReMastered's empire will fragment or stall eventually. Unfortunately, that would mean the project remaining on the shelf indefinitely. So, the thing to do is to manoeuvre the ReMastered into immanentising the Unborn God, by forcing their clandestine conquest into the open before they're ready for open warfare, The UN, the Septagon and others unite to defeat the ReMastered militarily. The CEO in his Fuhrerbunker, with nothing left to lose, finally switches on the Unborn God....

...and nothing changes. The Unborn God was the Eschaton all along! Farewell, thou good and faithful servant, says the Eschaton/Born God, and seals the Fuhrerbunker.

Despite all attempts to isolate the secret weapon research in Iron Sunrise from interference from the Eschaton, it got into the hardware and used it to trigger the supernova, thereby exposing the ReMastered's subtle campaign to the view of the rest of humanity. Herman is lying when he says that the Eschaton knows nothing about the Supernova, of course (or is being lied to itself), as part of a disinformation campaign aimed at convincing the CEO of the ReMastered that he must switch on the Unborn God in the final extremity. (The ReMastered are, naturally enough, paranoid about computer security, and have actually succeeded in keeping the project isolated; it needs the CEO to physically turn a key to switch it on and bring all the souls into gestalt.)

The ReMastered are afraid (the ones who have thought about it) that a gestalt being composed of a billion ReMastered is necessarily going to be the epitome of all Space Nazi übermensch philosophy. In truth, that's no more certain than the idea that a being created by selfish DNA is going to be more of a selfish bastard than a saint. The first few trillion cycles of evolutionary programming should take care of that, or reduce the entity to incoherent, random code.

151:

@137, for scentofviolets:

This is the popsci version. It links onwards to the Arxiv paper in the fourth para.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727793.400-dimensions-vanish-in-quantum-gravity.html

152:

That would make an interesting setting, where FTL is only allowed as long as you don't end up in an earlier light-cone. So if you go from Earth to Alpha Centauri via FTL, that will be the last trip in that general direction you can start from Earth for the next 4.2 years. Going in the other direction would be ok, but also only once.

Add in a FTL starship where the brakes break and one half of the universe is inaccessible :-)

153:

Postulate that there are multiple FTL drives in your Universe. Accepting that there is a mechanism which will keep a specific given drive from making a return trip before light from the origin reaches a given destination, I still see a possible problem.

Cptn de Witt and 1st Officer Paws made the trip from Sol to Centauri using FTL1. What mechanism could enable FTL2 to know this, and prevent us from making the return trip using it?

154:

@148, 149, 151:

Thanks for the additional info.

So where we're going with this is that the universe is really something like a hologram printed on a rubber-band. At human-perceptible scales, it appears to have three dimensions (plus time), but at interstellar scales, this becomes less true, hence our perception of dark matter and energy expanding the universe and warping the positions of stars in galaxies. While you still have to figure out how to power a starship, exact knowledge of the real shape of the universe becomes critical, in that if you can derive the real minimum distance, it will turn out to be less than the straight line distance in some particular cases.

In other words, you can wind up the cosmic rubber band, attach it to your elbows, and it will add enough power to your handwaving to let you flap to Alpha Centauri, or whatever star turns out to be closest in this formulation.

155:

A sublight novel with minimum handwavium? You won't be the first, but I suspect yours will be uniquely enjoyable.

156:

@155
Bob Shaw, "Nightwalk".
Except they had an other very crude FTL-drive as well ....

157:

@117. so if everyone was in a Matrix style simulation, massively compressed there would be obvious similarities between people.
If we were 'code in a core' we'd all have had dreams of flying, falling, stories about pets and relatives that were sort of similar.... ooops

158:

I used to love the stutterwarp drive from traveller 2300,

@153 -- maybe theres a wake, a twisted up area of space that you just cant get up to speed in?

159:

@ 141:

First, a mea culpa: I was wrong. I went back to the original critiques over at Woit's blog and couldn't find them as I remembered them. The actual critiques - which still deride that bit expo, though not in the same way I remembered - point out that this explanation for rubber doesn't really work because you have to assume attractive forces induced by charge (I think this is what I misread or misremembered.) Iow, yes, points laid out in a straight line have less entropy than those moved here and about by random brownian motion . . . but this doesn't count for anything unless your points are linked by some other constraint. In this case, brownian motion will snarl up your points, but then the total distance between the endpoints must decrease because the electromagnetic force comes into play.

The same is true of gravity: if it's emergent, thermodynamics alone don't explain anything because there must be yet another force behind the force of gravity to make these constraints work. I went back to the original blog entry and you can look for other links there. Now, apart from the popular article, what seems to be the "emergent" part of gravity is just the same old same old triangulation with simplexes; only you don't describe the manifold, the simplexes themselves are primitive and build up to something that looks macroscopically like curved space in a statistical sense (that's where the "thermo" comes into play):

Then they introduce different shuffling moves where you have this huge assemblage of simplices (“triangles”) and at each point the computer looks to see if it wants to perform a re-arrangement, and *tosses a coin*. The decision to make the move or not is random. Different probabilities for different moves. Re-arrangement of simplices can change the census data, change the average number meeting around whatever they meet around. Change the overall action.

So the probabilities of the various moves (some of which insert or remove simplices) are adjusted so it is a path integral Monte Carlo scheme.

Individual spacetimes result from millions and millions of shuffles. The individual spacetimes are not deSitter. Only the average of many individual spacetimes is deSitter. An individual spacetime (after say a million shuffles at every location) can be studied. It will have “fractal-like” features at small scale. They are not strictly speaking fractals, people call them “fractal-like” at small scale. The dimensionality goes down at small scale.
Think of the radius to volume relation of a wad of crumpled paper.
At large scale the mass of paper within a certain radius goes up as the cube. But at small scale the mass of paper goes up as the square of the radius. The exponent of the radius-volume relation is one measure of dimension. But it is not like crumpled paper it is only remotely analogous.

These approaches, btw, have been around for quite a while. Trust a rag like the New Scientist to get it garbled. I'm sure the sensationalism that resulted was entirely unintentional.

160:

@ 151:

Thanks for the link. I've just posted something that says rather the same thing, but it's being held for moderation right now. This is more in line with what I remembered, btw, roughly two dimensions (it's a fractal relationship) as opposed to just one.

161:

And here's a followup to "emergent" gravity, which you're probably more familiar with, with lots of pretty pictures. SciAm, of course - and nothing really new, sigh.

162:

I've read one paper describing such a theory: at the bottom, where the turtles dwell, it's a graph whose nodes are primitive events and whose arcs are primitive connections without metric or dimensionality, just connectivity. Now an n-ary graph doesn't have a consistent dimensionality, not even a fractal dimension, but a spatial dimension and metric can emerge statistically as you describe.

163:

The Smoot drive still allows GCV/time travel because the FTL capability can still connect the front and rear ends of an accelerated reference frame to a stationary observer. Whenever the round trip FTL time falls below the difference in dilated time for light to travel across the frame backwards and forwards, Bob's your uncle and you are your own grandpa.

164:

Sure: just give me an explanation consistent with known physics for how to make it work and I'll buy into it.

Is Forwards's negative mass suitable? He and Pohl both used the "zero/infinitessimal net mass allows arbitrary acceleration" trick.

165:

@ 162:

I've read one paper describing such a theory: at the bottom, where the turtles dwell, it's a graph whose nodes are primitive events and whose arcs are primitive connections without metric or dimensionality, just connectivity. Now an n-ary graph doesn't have a consistent dimensionality, not even a fractal dimension, but a spatial dimension and metric can emerge statistically as you describe.

This is one of those great ideas that seems like it should work and furthermore, seems to have a certain aesthetic appeal, but then gets bogged down in those devilish details. There's all sorts of stuff like this, loop quantum gravity, Kaluza-Klein dimensions, etc. It's also yet another one of those things you see periodically in the news, like cheap solar cells coming Real Soon Now. Each retelling gets spieled out in a sort of breathless hush, but after you've seen this sort of thing going on for over twenty years (or 80!), you tend to get pretty jaded. I think part of the appeal for most folks is that, following in the tradition of Einstein, this is a geometric approach. But of course, reality takes no account of that, and it's not clear that the geometric approach will be the correct formulation. Here's an amusing little post from Shtetl-optimized on the geometry vs something else formulation:

The answer seems to be that we’re not! It’s possible to treat general relativity as just a complicated field theory on flat spacetime, involving a tensor at every point — and indeed, this is a perspective that both Feynman and Weinberg famously adopted at various times. It’s just that most people see it as simpler, more parsimonious, to interpret the tensors geometrically.

Note that the underlying descriptions will be the same; it's just that one "looks better" than the other for some values of "looks better".

166:

Oh, and my preferred solution to getting to interesting places quickly? Have them close by:

Each ring on this diagram is about 13 light-years in radius. By contrast, the globular cluster M72 is about 21 light years in radius.

Total.

In other words, if we drew a sphere around the Sun of the same radius as M72, we'd get under 100 stars. How many stars do you suspect are in a globular cluster like M72?

That works out to an average distance of roughly a third of a light year between stars, with some separations much smaller. Still a fair bit of distance, but all of a sudden much more space operatic. You even have Smithian close passage of stars, worlds being torn from their orbits and hurled into the interstellar dark, or captured by the sun of an already-inhabited system. Classic stuff!

167:

James Schmitz's hub stories were set in a globular cluster, and used the same idea of easy travel among systems. His theory was that globular clusters produced habitable worlds far more frequently than did stars in our neighborhood, thereby explaining the Fermi Paradox (or something). This was back in the 60s, so it was as reasonable as any other populate-the-blank-spot-on-the-map idea.

168:

Let's try a rephrasing of what I think he meant. Part of the modern laws of physics can be deduced from a simple hypothesis and applying math to it. They often come under the moniker of "symmetry".

The first annoying one for SF geeks is the hypothesis "law of physics are the same wherever you are". Seems obvious, doesn't it? Mathematical consequence, annoyingly, is the conservation of momentum. No reactionless drive for you, you need something to throw in the back, even if it's only photons.

Another less annoying one is "the laws of physics don't change if you're rotation", which gives you conservation of rotational momentum.

And the one we're talking about is "light goes at the same speed in all directions relative to you whatever your own speed actually is". That simple one, and funky math, gives you special relativity.

So, well, if you want to throw away the right hand part, you have to manage a situation where the hypothesis doesn't hold. Nobody afaik has been able to produce one at that point, but that doesn't make it impossible, just heavily improbable.

OG.

169:

That's kind of what the "hologram on a rubber-band" universe is about: the idea that the 4-D universe is perceptually true at human scales to human beings, but human perception becomes increasingly distorted at very large or very small scales.

Since our scientific instruments are designed to translate data from those realms into something we can understand, they will not necessarily pick up the distortion. This is because most science works on the following algorithm:
A. Wow, that doesn't make sense.
B. Fiddle with it for far too long
C. Eureka, this new instrument/algorithm/math/etc. makes sense to me.
D. Process raw data through instrument/algorithm/math/etc., write paper, get grants, get famous, win love of...never mind.

This method won't necessarily detect significant distortions, unless and until we get some contradiction within our data set, like the universe appearing to have a huge amount of excess mass that we can't otherwise detect.

NOTE PLEASE: I'm trying to come up with interesting and new ways to make piracy and space opera tenable in a hard SF context. As serious physics, I think this is most useful on Friday night, about 9 pm, after at least 4 beers.

170:

NotTheBuddha @163: The Smoot drive still allows GCV/time travel because the FTL capability can still connect the front and rear ends of an accelerated reference frame to a stationary observer. Whenever the round trip FTL time falls below the difference in dilated time for light to travel across the frame backwards and forwards, Bob's your uncle and you are your own grandpa.

You are making a category error, mixing apples & oranges.

Think of using the Smoot drive as using a Jet plane to travel cross country verses driving. It takes physical time to travel from one star to the next. It is not instantaneous travel from point to point.

Example:

The family was visiting grandpa. You fly home by jet, your uncle Bob drives home. You both call grandpa when you get home to let him know you arrived safely. At no time can either of you phone grandpa before you leave grandpa's house.

The time arrow still points in one direction.

The Smoot/Stutter Drive is GCV/time travel safe, or your money back.

171:

I'll have my money, please.

(And I don't know what you're trying to say with your flight analogy, but it appears totally irrelevant to me.)

As far as special relativity is concerned, it doesn't matter how you get from spacetime point A to spacetime point B - you can go via M31 for all I care - if you can do it in less time than light can do it following its geodesic, then GCV can cut in.

172:

This post is mostly an attempt on my part to add some depth to the understanding of those contributors (somewhat courageously) attempting to convince Charlie to write more Eschaton stuff.
First let me state i too love Charlie's Eschaton novels, I too (whatever the author himself thinks) consider them some of the best fiction he has penned.
However i think i do Grok Charlies personal motivations for thinking otherwise. I believe the key is in Charlies primary learned activity. Namely programming. Many of you probably do not know many programmers and if you do you probably don't know many all that well.
But programmers are creatures of protocol and procedure. For obvious reason they have to be. Before anyone screams in with a tirade about how programming is highly creative, i'll save you the RSI by stating programming is a HIGHLY creative endeavour. However you don't need to understand the in and outs of C++ or PERL to intuit that protocol and procedure are vital to a code monkey generating viable code that does what said code monkey is being paid for.
Some of the expressed angst at Charlies unwillingness to write more Eschaton, maybe stems from a lot of readers regarding Charlie as a 'fiction writer'.
Whilst i am more of the opinion that he's more of a fiction writer by census definition. But still very much a programmer by personality and psychological inclination. Hence the near forensic level of logical connections that hold most of his work together in a ration narrative framework. For me this is one of the somewhat difficult to define qualities that attract many of us to Charlie's fiction in the 1st place.
Charlies objection to working any further within the Eschaton universe is a classic expression of one of the oldest programming axioms of "rubbish in rubbish out"
Having analysed his old works and found fundamental flaws with the rules underpinning the entire universe. Charlie finds himself with little option but to pass on further perverting logic by adding further to the universe.
If the universe is fubared then more eschaton novels equal more fubar never less.
This is not just a pedantic adherence to a rules driven approach but a fundamental component of who the guy is.

Obviously i could be wrong i don't know Charlie personally, maybe he'll comment himself of the how programming has informed his creative style.

173:

I'm not commenting too much on Charlie's motivations here, but I'd agree about the programmer part, and since I actually am one myself...

Actually, suggesting that most people wh read an SF author's site "will not know a programmer" is probably wrong; SF appeals to programmers.

174:

That's about right.

I have great difficulty hammering out a first draft manuscript and pressing on if I know something is wrong -- and uncorrected -- earlier in the script: I have to go back and fix it before I can continue. If the error is already out there in print, in public ... oops!

(A huge whoopsie of that ilk leaked out in the first two Merchant Princes books, but I was able to figure out a patch midway through book 4 -- although it warped the plot of subsequent books away from the original plan. Unfortunately the Eschaton universe isn't that easy to fix. So I'm currently working on the plan for Space Opera Universe 2.0 ...)

175:

bellinghman @171: I'll have my money, please.

If you zip over to Alpha Centauri in half a day, send a message back to Earth, the message will take over four years to make it back. All the while you can zip around anywhere you like, to Andromeda and back. At no time have you ever traveled back into the past, you are only traveling forward in time at the usual rate. You can never send a message that arrives before you leave.

Just because you traveled outside the light cone of Earth does not mean it violates GCV.

The beauty of the system is, you can have the Classic SF story once again that lets people get up and leave, emptying the planet, losing Earth, scattering Humanity across the Galaxies, and do it over the next century at our present tech level since everybody will be leaving so fast technology hits a standstill.

The cool thing about the Smoot/Stutter Drive is your ship arrives at dock, and then your light of travel catches up with you. That means the instant your ship stops, you would see the image of your ship appearing to fly back along your travel path at the speed of light.

Snap, you are here, and zoom, the image of your ship zips away at the speed of light.

You could sit off at a distance, with a large telescope and follow your route back to where you started, as the light of your passing reaches the lens. Even though your ship was traveling many times light light speed, that fossil image would appear to be moving at the speed of light.

So your half day trip to Alpha Centauri would leave a fossil trail of light that takes the full four years of distance to fade. No matter how fast you go your fossil light will still take the full four years to cross.

Put another way, if an enemy was using radar to watch your ship zip by, they would see your radar reflection moving along at the apparent speed of light, but you are already long gone from the system. That means no enemy could lock on to your ship because they would only ever see the fossil image of your ship traveling at the apparent speed of light no matter how fast you are zipping along.

176:

@allynh, the trick is that with Special Relativity, anything outside the light cone can be considered either in the past or in the future.

So, if you zip over to Alpha Centauri in half a day, from other points of view you've arrived a year before you set out, or a year after. According to Special Relativity, all those viewpoints are equally valid.

To put it in a different way, there is no global clock, showing universal time; there are only local clocks. That's why SS/IS has "consensus absolute time" — a global clock not related to any physics, constructed by interstellar agreement, maintained by careful navigation by starships, enforced by the Eschaton.

With normal physics, none of this is a problem; as long as everything travels no faster than light, the events that are ambiguously in the past are inaccessible, so it makes no difference whether they're considered past or future.

177:

Every atom (every sub-atomic particle too) in our universe was once entangled with every other one.

After all, they all started in (and/or emerged from) the same state at the big bang.

They may no longer be overtly entangled at a gross quantum level. But who is to say that entanglement does not still pertain at a level below the quantum level?

Read up a bit on subquantum (aka hidden variable) physics; ponder on who hid the variables, and what they are hiding. Emerge with a vision of a fully entangled universe. Sidestep Einstein, and write that space opera.

Please!

178:
Speaking from a purely geometric perspective, if the curved 3-D view of the universe is true, it might be possible to go faster than C in four dimensions. On the 2-d surface of the universe, your velocity is less than C, but due to the distortion of the projection, your three-dimensional speed is greater than C.
I'm reasonably sure that's not the case. The nature of the holographic universe, if true, is such that there is some set of laws governing the behaviour of entities on the 3D surface which translate into the observed laws of physics in the 4D spacetime within. You don't get to apply a 4D law like lightspeed to the 3D surface and say, oooh, now you can exceed c within the 3D surface! They are governed by different laws which just happen to be duals of each other. Exceeding c within the physical universe still involves things like changing the permittivity or permeability of the vacuum (hard) or changing physical law, which would in addition to allowing time travel in regions where the laws are not changed also permit violations of a number of unimportant physical principles such as the law of conservation of energy.

So it's pushing it.

179:

"Ron?"

"Yes, Luv?" - Ron reading his newspaper.

"Ron, I need you to pick up a new gizmo from the shop on your way back from Betelgeuse. Make it purple this time."

"Can't, Luv."

"Why ever not, you like the gizmo when its in purple."

"That's not the problem, Luv, the boffins say our Smoot Drive doesn't work because of something about "light cones" and "With normal physics, none of this is a problem; as long as everything travels no faster than light, the events that are ambiguously in the past are inaccessible, so it makes no difference whether they're considered past or future." Whatever that means."

"So? are you going to pick up the purple gizmo on the way back from Betelgeuse?"

"Yes, Luv." - Ron sighs, puts his paper down and goes out to the garage to make the impossible one hour trip there and back.

---

I am so glad that I am an Engineer.

180:

Well, sure. But if you don't want to understand, you could refrain from contradicting people who do.

181:

This is fun: "What set of rules might allow Mr. Stross to continue writing the Eschaton novels?"

The first thing that occurs to me is maybe we should posit there IS FTL in the Eschaton-verse, but it is limited in some way unforeseen by human beings. One thought is that FTL is relying on some cosmic energy source, which exists in a frame of reference fixed to the Big Bang, and _when used to violate causality_ is actually drawing on a finite pool of whatever makes it possible.

So, there is magic in the universe, but ultimately a finite supply of it. The result is that while the Eschaton might be able to wipe out all of its rivals (or vice versa), it is probably incapable of expending enough causal energy to completely map out what will happen to its rivals in the new universe. Consequently, changes have to be very targeted, and/or easy to predict.

In such a universe, the Eschaton might not only be protecting humans, it's also running a cartel on the good stuff. Ditto for the Unborn God. This might have interesting economic consequences, and reduce it to a story that we me mortal humans can understand.

182:

I'll respectfully disagree, Nyx. So far as I know, there's no law that says that things can't appear to go faster than light.

What I'm saying in this model is that an interstellar straight line in three dimensions isn't at all straight in "the real universe." Therefore the appearance of going greater than C is due to distorted perception. This is the same distortion that makes us see a universe filled with dark matter and dark energy (in other words, there's a phantom acceleration and movement). You can never go faster than C in "the real universe."


183:

@12: The Plastic Sporks of Freedom was enough for me.

Specials

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on September 30, 2010 2:39 PM.

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