Hubble Telescope


The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy

MAP through ROBOTS


Blue Band MAP.  See CHART.


MERCS. Mercenaries. These are not uncommon in the KNOWN GALAXY, which apparently has a lot of people who want to fight wars (or have them fought on their behalf), but cannot or will not recruit and train their own forces to do the GRUNT work.   Likewise there seem to be a good many people who are not only well trained, but also willing to get shot at for pay. Buyer + seller = market.

     Mercs almost always show up in PLANET WARFARE, not SPACE WARFARE. Presumably guys with POWER-ARMOR SUITS are affordable, but guys with COMBAT SPACECRAFT cost too much. In some cases, though, Mercs may be employed by a TRADE FEDERATION, which has its own (excellent) fleet for Space Warfare but uses hired specialists to handle Grunt stuff on PLANETS.

     For anyone else, hiring Mercs is a questionable decision. Historically, mercenaries have tended to be highly professional, but disinclined to go the last kilometer (they want to live to cash their paychecks), and with an alarming tendency to sieze power from their employers, whom they naturally despise. Mercs in the Known Galaxy are presumably much the same. In my opinion, they seldom give real value for money.

     THEOCRATIC NEOMEDIEVALISTS have an odd tendency to hire themselves out as Mercs. Anyone who hires religious fanatics to do their fighting for them deserves the consequences.


MINING. This is the one use sometimes gotten out of PLANETS that are not HABITABLE. Asteroid mining is also common, the idea being that they have no gravity well to speak of, plus the whole asteroid can be pushed to a more convenient location if need be. (This last can have a nasty side; see SLAG.)

     The social conditions of Mining seem to be quite different on non-Habitable Planets than in asteroid belts. Planet Mining is usually a pretty nasty business. The miners are overworked and underpaid.  Working and safety conditions are awful. Company goons beat up union organizers (or anyone who complains), then toss them out the airlocks. Asteroid Mining, in contrast, seems to draw Forty-Niner types. Their bases are lively, rowdy places. Working and living conditions may be just as bad as on non-Habitable Planets, but the miners are all confident that the next rock they hit will be the Mother Lode.

     Mining hardly ever seems to be done on Habitable Planets, even though that is where most of the people live, and therefore where most of whatever is being Mined is going to be used. In fairness, though, there is probably lots of Mining on Habitable Planets; it just hardly ever makes the news the way Space Mining does.

     To be sure, Mining in Space is usually for stuff that will also be used in Space, e.g. metal or whatever to build into spacecraft. The premise here is that pushing stuff around in Space, say from an asteroid belt to the neighborhood of a STATION, is cheaper than the notoriously costly lift by SHUTTLE from a Planet's surface to orbit. (This is the same justification given for using hydroponics or whatever to grow FOOD in Space, instead of shipping it up from a nearby Planet.)

     This seems a bit doubtful. It's true that SHUTTLES are particularly complicated in proportion to how far they go, and the first two hundred kilometers up from the surface are indeed the most expensive ones you'll go in Space, klick for klick. But the very existence of an interstellar civilization presupposes that the surface-to-orbit problem has been pretty well solved, or else neither COLONIZATION nor subsequent TRADE would be affordable. So it might well be cheaper to Mine stuff (and grow Food) on a Habitable Planet, where breathing oxygen is free, and Shuttle it up to where it is needed, rather than deal with the hassles and hazards of Mining in Space.

     But in most of the KNOWN GALAXY they seem to do it the other way.


MISSILE. A crewless vehicle that blows itself up, along with (if successful) the target it was fired at. Missiles can be used on or against PLANETS, but they especially appear as ship-to-ship weapons in SPACE WARFARE. The TECHJARGON is sometimes Torpedo - not a bad term, since Missiles in Space Warfare, like sea Torpedos, go about the same speed as their targets. (Note: The Photon Torpedoes of Trek fame seem not to be real Torpedoes/Missiles, but rather PLASMA BALLS.)

     Missiles traditionally carry something like a nuclear warhead (sometimes feeding power to an X-ray laser). It it is starting to catch on, though, that at Space Warfare velocities Missiles can be perfectly effective as KINETIC SLUGS, saving the cost and complexity of a separate warhead. With a small bursting charge the Missile can be fragmented to produce a whole cloud of Kinetic Slugs, that much harder to avoid.

     Even though they have been major weapons on Earth since the GOLDEN AGE, Missiles have never been as popular as BEAMS for use in Space Warfare. This is a bit odd, because they have some useful advantages. Their range in Space is almost unlimited, and they can maneuver to intercept an evading target. Thus, Missile forces can engage from well outside effective Beam range. Also, Missiles don't need an elaborate launching device; in the simplest case they can just be shoved out a hatch and given the electronic command to sic 'em.

     Missiles do have a couple of limitations, though. One is that you can run out of them (unlike Beams, which have more reloads than six-guns in old Westerns). The other is that while they can be fired from outside Beam range, they do have to get through Beam range to hit a target. Beams thus serve as a pretty effective defense against them. Still and all, the range advantage of Missiles should count for a good deal. He who hits farthest can hit first, and he who hits first has a big edge. I recommend Missiles for serious consideration.


NASA. An organization of EARTH HUMANS (or some of them), which carried out Space exploration during the late 20th and early 21st centuries CE. In spite of its remarkable achievements, which included the first landing by Earth Humans on another PLANET (Earth's large moon), and sending out a series of robot vehicles which explored much of the Solar System, NASA got absolutely no respect from anybody, at the time or subsequently.

     Henry the Navigator gets much more positive media, even though no one but the Portuguese knows just what, if anything, he discovered. NASA should have hired a better publicist. (I would recommend Allison Jackson of Paramount Studios.)


NEOFEUDALISM. A social structure often found in the KNOWN GALAXY, and especially prevalent during an INTERREGNUM, when individual PLANETS have been left stranded and their TECHLEVEL has sharply declined. Apparently, though no technical treatises have survived, the complete works of Sir Walter Scott have, so that there is a resurgence of castles, dukes, knights, and such. The whole Planet then resembles a big meeting of the Society for Creative Anachronism, except that there are no cell phones to call your mundane friends, and no porta-potties at the edge of the encampment.

     With surprising frequency, however, Neofeudalism appears even among people who retain a fairly high Techlevel; even EMPIRES may be established on a Neofeudalist basis. It is hard to have lords without peasants, and hard to have real peasants in an high-Techlevel ECONOMY, but these people manage it nicely.

     Whatever the Techlevel, the women in these societies tend to wear long dresses with tight bodices. This looks much better than the long underwear that, alas, seems to prevail in more sophisticated cultures. See APPAREL. This alone might justify Neofeudalism as a social order.


NOMENCLATURE. The general terminology of the KNOWN GALAXY, as opposed to specialized TECHJARGON. A familiar example of Nomenclature is the nearly universal Credit as the basic unit of currency, more or less the counterpart of a dollar.

     The most important part of Nomenclature, however, is the naming of PLANETS, especially COLONIES where EARTH HUMANS live. Since the GOLDEN AGE, fashions in this have varied. In the early days, these Planets were assumed to orbit familiar stars, Sirius or Betelgeuse or whatever, so a name was ready at hand. The Planet could just have the star's name, plus usually a Roman numeral giving its position in the planetary system. Say, Aldebaran IV.

     This ran into trouble when it was realized that most familiar named stars are shortlived giants and supergiants, unlikely to have HABITABLE Planets. This forced people to come up with names for the Planets, or at least a collective name for the whole planetary system, again using Roman numerals for the individual worlds. Say, Hespera II. In everyday usage you could just say "Hespera," since most systems probably have only one Habitable Planet anyway.

     In the Golden Age, and for a long time after, made-up Planet names tended to the mythological and romantic (e.g., Hespera). By the 1970s these became more multicultural, not just Greco-Roman or Norse. Also by the 1970s a counter-trend arose of giving flippant names such as the initial explorers might have assigned - say, Big Gulch for a Planet with a super-Grand Canyon.

     The romantic-mythological style is perhaps more realistic. The COLONIZATION of dozens or hundreds of Planets implies successful real-estate promotion on a truly colossal scale - and who's going to leave Earth behind, probably forever, to settle themselves and their descendents on Big Gulch? Surely the promoters will come up with more enticing names. (A change of language can help; Arroyo Grande sounds much better, no?)

     Now, wonderfully, extrasolar Planets are actually being discovered - but alas, the astronomers are completely ignoring the Roman-numeral system used in SF for all these years. In fairness, the astronomers have to designate Planets as they find them, and have no way yet to know whether a Planet found orbiting HR14482 is I, II, VII, or whatever. We may hope that when complete surveys of planetary systems appear, the Roman numerals will be revived.

     Planets inhabited by ALIENS - and for that matter, the Nomenclature for the Aliens themselves - poses a special problem. Trying to render the native name for their race or world, such as Xgorpf (or something even less pronounceable), got old even in the Golden Age. The usual practice now to let Earth Humans come up with names to use for them. We can delicately presume that this was the case with the Vulcans and Romulans, at least.


OUTWORLDER. Damn Furriner, Goy, Odar, Auslander, Étranger, Not From These Parts. Anyone from some other PLANET, and generally regarded with the usual suspicion.

     ALIEN is never used in this sense, for an obvious reason.


PIRACY. In the KNOWN GALAXY, Piracy does not generally mean selling illegally copied software. It has reverted to its more ancient meaning of waylaying TRADE ships and looting their cargo, meanwhile terrorizing the crew and (especially) any female passengers.

     Piracy seems less common now, or at least less prominent, than it was in the GOLDEN AGE. This is probably due to the technical constraints of SPACE WARFARE. Swinging across on rigging, cutlass in teeth, is regrettably not a practical means of boarding a spacecraft.

     However, given the volume of Trade, and the difficulty that even EMPIRES will have in trying to patrol everywhere all the time, Piracy might be all too feasible. No boarding with cutlasses is needed; the threat of being zapped to oblivion should persuade most Trade ships (except for FREE TRADERS, tough customers themselves) to cut power and allow the Pirates to rendezvous, board, and take whatever they want.

     In fact, if - as is quite likely - cargo is carried in external pods, the whole thing can be arranged quite elegantly. The Trade ship doesn't need to be boarded, subjecting female passengers to outrages. It simply jettisons its cargo pods; freed of their mass even a slow, cumbersome cargo ship turns fast and maneuverable, and can easily get away.

     The Pirate collects the drifting pods, female passengers don't get their APPAREL torn (unless they had the bad luck to be in passenger pods that were jettisoned), and the Trade ship skipper files an insurance claim. Everyone is happy, except the insurance companies. And it's cheaper for them to pay up than to hire COMBAT SPACECRAFT to clean out the Pirates.

     Come to think of it, the insurance companies aren't crying either. They merely hike their premiums. This might lead some rude people to ask who's conducting the real Piracy.


PLANET. An object orbiting a star, smaller than a brown dwarf and larger than a comet or asteroid. This is where people mostly live, specifically on HABITABLE Planets capable of supporting EARTH HUMAN life. (Or ALIENS WITH FOREHEAD RIDGES, who mostly have the same Habitability requirements as we Earth Humans do.)

     In fact, Planet in Space SF almost always means a Habitable one, for the obvious reason that most people never go to the other ones. They are mainly just background ornamentation, other than a few used for MINING. Habitable Planets are where the action is. Mostly they have names, sometimes with numbers as well; in fact, naming them all is a major component of NOMENCLATURE.


PLANET WARFARE. This is fought not in open SPACE but on (or immediately above) the surfaces of PLANETS, especially HABITABLE ones. Planet Warfare may involve atmospheric aircraft, sea forces, even underground tunneling forces, and often requires supporting forces in Space, but basically it is a matter of GRUNTS: ground troops. And just as SPACE WARFARE generally echoes naval usage, Planet Warfare unsurprisingly tends to follow Army conventions in rank and organization.

     TECHLEVEL in Planet Warfare seems to have a narrower range than that of Space Warfare, or perhaps it is constrained by basic planetary conditions: A tank able to go a thousand kilometers per second would merely hurtle off into Space, where it is not equipped to fight.

     The organizations and doctrine of Planet Warfare gravitate strongly to the first half of the 20th century CE, particularly the Second World War. As in that ancient conflict, a combined-forces doctrine of armor and infantry, with tactical air support, seems to be the general rule.

     The chief innovation in Planet Warfare is the POWER-ARMOR SUIT, which allows infantry to combine the characteristics of paratroops and armor. However, conventional armor is often prominent, though the tanks may float just above the ground instead of mashing their way along it. Occasionally they walk around on massive hydraulic-powered legs, which must be a maintenance nightmare. In recent years, this concept has been combined with the Power-Armor Suit to produce GIANT WAR ROBOTS, ten stories high.

     One peculiar thing about Planet Warfare is that most of it seems to be "high-intensity" conventional WARFARE. Considering how often the fighting is on a thinly settled COLONY world, it is surprising that more use is not made of guerilla or commando tactics. These would seem much better suited to local conditions, since the populations of these worlds are often thinly spread out, with much uninhabited terrain. Moreover, light forces of this type require less transport to get them from Planet to Planet. But except for the occasional raid by infantry wearing Power-Armor Suits, light, low-intensity tactics and forces seem to be secondary in most Planet Warfare, if not positively shunned. The marked preference seems to be for positional warfare involving heavy forces like armor.


PLASMA BALL. A weapon used in SPACE WARFARE, somewhat intermediate between a BEAM and a MISSILE. A Plasma Ball is a quantity of plasma held together by its own magnetic field. (Ball lightning, a rare but well-attested weather phenomenon, is a form of this.)

     A Plasma Ball is typically generated and fired by a gun-like projector. It may be a ballistic weapon, travelling on a fixed course once launched, or be capable of some degree of guidance. On hitting the target the magnetic field collapses, with an explosive release of the energy stored in the plasma. A Plasma Ball thus bears roughly the same relation to a plasma Beam that a water balloon does to the stream from a garden hose.

     Plasma Balls seem usually to be a secondary weapon, used against targets of opportunity; they rarely form the main armament. The Photon Torpedoes of Trek fame were apparently Plasma Balls. (Torpedo is more usually a synonym for Missile).


POWER-ARMOR SUIT. A piece of TECHJARGON worn by soldiers, especially elite infantry troops. It combines some of the qualities of space suits and medieval knights' armor, but is much more than either. Servo motors amplify the wearer's movements, making the GRUNT inside it faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings at a single bound.

     They are pretty nifty, if the TECHLEVEL makes them available. But note that they do not solve all military problems. If historical experience is anything to go by, troops wearing them can still be defeated by guerillas wearing only black pajamas, so long as the latter are sufficiently motivated and the Power-Armor Suit troops are the unwilling sent by the unqualified to do the unnecessary for the ungrateful. This, however, rarely happens in the KNOWN GALAXY, where the Americans almost always win.

     A rather grotesque development of the Power-Armor Suit is the GIANT WAR ROBOT.


PSEUDO-GRAVITY. A relatively minor but convenient item of HANDWAVIUM technology. It acts rather like ANTIGRAVITY in reverse, providing the sensation of weight in the absence of a gravity field or steady acceleration. This makes spacecraft toilets much easier to design, and protects people from bone and muscle tissue atrophy during prolonged voyages.

     A variation on Pseudo-Gravity, but requiring minimum Handwavium, is Artificial Gravity. This depends on centrifugal force, produced by rotating a drum- or wheel-shaped spacecraft or STATION. (The classical bicycle-wheel-shaped Stations, as in "2001: A Space Odyssey," were designed on this principle.)

     Unfortunately, the engineering needed to produce Pseudo-Gravity is inconvenient, especially for mobile spacecraft. Apparently the diameter of the rotating structure has to be very large (at least several hundred meters). Otherwise the rotation does a number on the balance organs in our inner ears, and everyone inside spends all their time throwing up.


RAILGUN.  An accelerator used to fire KINETIC SLUGS or other projectiles.  Essentially a type of linear electric motor, Railguns have actually been demonstrated, though the growth potential of this specific technology seems limited.   As TECHJARGON, however, Railgun is a somewhat generic term for a family of linear electric accelerators, such as Coilguns.

     As the "gun" part of the name suggests, the most widespead use of Railguns is as a weapon.  However, especially in HARD SF they may sometimes have a civil use, as a cheap way to toss cargo around a planetary system. And you thought the guys on the loading dock were hard on the merchandise!




REPLICATOR. A sort of high-TECHLEVEL automated machine shop, capable of making exact duplicates of absolutely anything. It thus does the same thing to physical objects that we all do to software and naughty graphics we download from the Internet.

     If Replicators are available, they wreak even more havoc with the ECONOMY than the ease of duplicating/downloading from the Internet has. For one thing, the first thing you can do with one is make a dupe of itself, giving you two Replicators for the price of one.

     For another thing, you can use it to make a copy of you. This can lead to more plot complications than one of those Shakespearean boy-playing-a-girl-playing-a-boy comedies. Too many, in fact. Moreover, when people are copied using a Replicator, the copy - a Replicant - seems not to come out quite right. He or she lacks a soul, or at least is suspected of lacking one. The resulting plot complications are rarely pleasant.

     For all these reasons, plus their heavy use of HANDWAVIUM, Replicators find only limited use in the KNOWN GALAXY. Apparently not enough copies of them were made in the first place.


ROBOTS. These have mostly disappeared, except for a few amusing ones in Star Wars movies, and the recent proliferation of GIANT WAR ROBOTS. Apart from these, the decline of Robots is striking, and my guess is that it happened for two reasons.

     1) They have made so little progress in the real world. ("Industrial Robots" don't count as real Robots.) I'm typing this on a computer vastly more powerful than the enormous Central Computers of 1950s SF, but I still don't have a household Robot to do the dishes. AI, needed for real Robots, hasn't much panned out, so people have tended to cool on the whole thing.

     2) Isaac Asimov. He ruined it for the old-fashioned malevolent Robots, and pretty much exhausted the possibilities of the other kind. Even HOLLYWOOD SCIFI hardly uses traditional Robots any more, though Giant War Robots will doubtless turn up soon at a 50-plex near you.

     When Robots do appear in written SF, TECHJARGON may shorten the term to simply Bots.



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