O! for a muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention.
— King Henry V, Prologue, William Shakespeare
This section surveys the technology available in the Vaster setting. Technology is limited by scientific understanding, especially for physical science. Science progresses in a series of major shifts of paradigms. Most scientific work and history is spent expanding, exploring, and exploiting the current paradigm, but when that paradigm can no longer accommodate new data, it is soon replaced by a new one, in which the old paradigm is included as an approximation or a special case. The paradigms, through Terran history, are:
- Primitive – mythological world-models.
- Proto-Scientific / Ptolemaic – mathematical world-models based on detailed observation, development of formal and axiomatic methods in mathematics and logic.
- Classical / Newtonian – first development of full scientific method, permitting technical advances including electrical systems, aviation, industrial chemistry, etc.
- Quantum-Relativistic / Einsteinian – twin paradigms that are not fully imaginable, permitting technical advances including nuclear energy, solid state electronics, etc.
- Q Theory – a paradigm not limited by spacetime locality, named after Quintessence and Quantum entanglement, permitting technical advances including FTL travel and communication, horizon energy, nonlocal force transmission, etc.
- Psionics – a paradigm including semantic as well as syntactic aspects of nature, permitting technical advances including mechanical and sentient use and control of psychic powers.
- Transcendence – a paradigm known to exist but not yet discovered, apparently permitting technical advances including manipulation of basic features of spacetime and matter.
Come, little lad; come, little lass,
Your docile creed recite:
"We know that Energy equals Mass
By the Square of the Speed of Light."
— "E=MC2," Morris Bishop
Devices and achievements in this group are theoretically achievable at our present level of scientific understanding, even if the technology itself does not have any direct connection to quantum mechanics or relativity, as with bio-technology.
Genetic engineering has produced many transgenic races: neo-humans, androids, neo-beasts or uplifts, fusions, and hybrids. See Neo-Human Races and Uplifts, Fusions, and Hybrids for specifics. There are also non-Terran uplifts and the alien equivalents of neo-humans.
The most profound change from bio-tech is rejuvenation. Once you eliminate old age and disease, accident is the only cause of death left, and human life expectancy soars. The average is a half-life of 1400 years. That is, when the average human wakes up in the morning, there is a 50% chance they will live 1400 more years. Just see your doctor regularly and buckle your seat belt. (And don't take up adventuring as a hobby.) Other species are similarly long-lived. This has had profound results for society. See Terran Culture.
Artificial wombs. They don't have the glamor of rejuvenation or transgenics, but they made a great difference to human society. Primarily, they greatly increase the safety of both mother and child. But once their use becomes the default, it means those who control access to gestators control birth. This becomes a new civil rights concern, and fits in perfectly with the rigid birth control required in a culture with 1400-year life expectancies.
Standard hospital gestators are about the size and shape of a refrigerator. There is no window, because that would disturb the fetus. Prior to use, a tissue sample from the mother (at least, usually the mother) is taken and grown into a uterine lining. The conceptus is extracted shortly after implantation and transferred to the gestator.
Theoretically, the parents need not encounter the child again until birth, or college graduation, or ever. The standard and optimal method, however, is for the mother to make frequent and regular blood exchanges with the cultured placenta in the gestator, to give various kinds of biological support to the baby and to synch up hormonally. She also usually wears a sound pickup so the baby can hear what is happening around her as part of prenatal learning.
Long term, gestators raise the concern that humans might become unable to breed without them. After all, we were barely able to do so before they were introduced. Neohuman women in particular often want to demonstrate their ability to give birth naturally. Once.
The most exotic application of bio-tech is regeneration — regrowing and transforming your whole body according to a new genetic code. This has allowed standard humans to turn into neo-humans or neo-beasts and vice versa.
Sapient machines are a standard part of the setting. See Artificial Intelligence.
Psychotechnics is the technology based on fully developed neurology and cognitive psychology. It enables the elimination or production of most psychological conditions. Applications include:
Psychotechnics uses pharmaceuticals, direct electrical stimulation, sensory stimulation, coaching, and other external aids. Patharchy achieves similar results as voluntary actions, based on prior psychotechnics, biofeedback, autosuggestion, and yogic techniques.
Patharchy is much harder than using psychotechnics, but it requires no equipment or other externals and can be applied more generally. It also includes enhanced perceptual skills, which psychotechnics is largely lacking, or can only approach as an aid to patharchy.
My God, it's full of stars! — "2001: A Space Odyssey," Arthur C. Clarke
The current quantum-relativistic paradigm is embarrassingly split into its two halves. Q theory blends the two and results in Q tech.
The Tangle is the galactic communications network. Its connections use quantum entanglement, and so are nonlocal, independent of any physical or broadcast medium. It is independent of distance and can provide instantaneous communication between any two points in the network, or even, with the proper equipment and caution, transtemporal communication. However, the Tangle's connections decay over time, having natural half-lives, and have to be continuously renewed via other connections; if they aren't renewed and fail, they must be re-established by physical contacts.
Q beams are a way of exerting mechanical force on objects using quantum entanglement. Shining a beam of ordinary light from the beam engine entangles the object surface with the engine, so that the engine can exert forces on the object, regardless of intervening distances or barriers. The effect, however, declines through exponential decay unless it is renewed.
For a firmer grip, some Q beams use X-rays or other penetrating forms of radiation, to entangle some fraction of the object's volume, not just a surface.
Advanced Q beams can produce thermal, electrical, magnetic, chemical, or nucleonic effects.
Using Q-beam technology at both ends, to maintain the entanglement, vehicles can move by pushing against remote anchors. This makes Q beam a common form of propulsion for planetary and in-system public transport, tugs, and orbital correction to satellites and stations.
Gravitics uses gravitons entangled with spacetime itself. The resulting control of gravity is used for:
Also called "castlers" or "jaunt cannons" informally, or "teleports," though the name is not accurate, since the payload passes through intervening space. The effect works by a combination of Q-drive technology with entanglement technology. A transilience driver moves a payload from point to point at a large fraction of the speed of light, using an effect related to quantum tunnel effect. Practical applications can only move microscopic amounts OR must move counterweighted payloads of nearly equal mass, one from A to B, the other from B to A. The latter is the method used to move people and cargo.
Current transilience drivers have several limitations:
Regularly scheduled teleporting is done between pairs of heavily and specifically entangled stations. Older systems use cars; commercial ones usually resemble freight elevators. Newer ones are open-air.
Military field transilience is done from an open platform to a patch of sand or water. The receiving area is conditioned by a specialized drone during a fly-by, or by ground personnel; or transit is to a transilience focus. You tough out the transit shock; remember your pills. There may or may not be a driver to send you back.
According to the archeological record, older and more advanced civilizations overcame these limitations.
Starships travel faster than light using the quintessence drive, or "Q drive." Quintessence, or "dark energy," is a natural feature of space and is what drives the accelerating expansion of the universe. The Q drive surrounds the ship in an intense, highly polarized field of quintessence, which then moves off in what amounts to a directed instance of cosmic expansion. This can go faster than light, as it did during the inflationary period of cosmic expansion, because it is really the region of spacetime that moves, not the material object. See Starflight.
But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
If you can move faster than light, you can time-travel. No new rubber science has cropped up to falsify this. However, you cannot alter the past. If you try to do something that would prevent an event that has already affected you, you will fail. Sometimes, this leads to bizarre distortions of probability; these odd twists of luck or fate are called "timelock."
Because of these effects, time travel is usually done with more or less secrecy. While time travel is publically known to exist, it is regarded as a risky activity, and time travelers are often thought to have an aura of bad or weird luck about them.
Time travel is usually done with specialized timeships, with exotic, heavy-duty hyperdrives.
Q-tech enables the manipulation of the energy strings that constitute fundamental particles; this is nematech. This allows the production of artificially designed particles and fields, including vastly enlarged (up to molecule-sized) strings. These modified strings are often manipulated in plasmas, called nemaplasms. Applications for nematech include:
These forms of exotic matter all require continuous power input to keep them stable.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. — Arthur C. Clarke
This is the psionic physics paradigm, lifted straight from the FuRPiG rules. It allows for the reliable use of psychic powers, their artificial control and, to a degree, artificial reproduction, and explains why they were so elusive and unreliable under previous paradigms.
Psionic physics can be applied to technology in ways that have no connection to living psychic powers as generally understood. Mechanical levitation can provide an alternative to gravitics and Q beams. Mechanical telesthesia provides an alternative to sensor and communications systems, and so on. But other psionic devices actually affect living psychic powers.
The most important such device is the psilencer, which establishes a zone where psychic powers do not work. This supplies protection for non-psychics against psychic attack. Other psychic tools include:
Guard scores are a form of cutting-edge psi-tech medical technology that enhance resistance to various kinds of insult to the body. Common scores include resistance to:
A rare but well-known score is emergency suspension (technically "cryptobiosis"), in which a sufficiently low oxygen level in the brain triggers a form of suspended animation. Blood becomes viscous and flesh becomes leathery. The body becomes resistant to heat, cold, and outside chemical action. Emergency suspension is incompatible with any other guard score.
Unless refreshed or replaced, scores gradually decay. Most begin to fall off noticeably after a year and are useless after eighteen months.
One can take no more than three of these guard scores at a time. After that, the psionic patterns begin to interfere with each other. There just isn't "room" for them.
Teleform projectors are psi-tech devices using mechanical TK to project solid images. Teleform technology is a new area of development in the Vaster setting. Early teleforms were formed from ambient air. They were rigid and inert chemically, thermally, and electromagnetically. The mechanical properties were soon expanded. Later, the non-mechanical ones could be added. Later still, the teleforms were formed from a projected magnetic field. Applications include:
Psionics allows for the creation of macroscopic, stablized energy strings. Besides offering improved versions of nematech, psionically produced strings are basic components in psi devices producing various dramatic effects, including:
Regeneration across biospheres, into alien forms, is sometimes possible if the alien metabolism is similar enough. Transpheric regeneration, like metabolic scores, is cutting-edge bio-technology in the modern galaxy.
Advanced psionic physics can make use of the background energies of the universe to store data (among other tricks). A datastrate is an essentially infinite, immaterial data bank, readable for light-centuries around (if data is entered with enough force), provided you have the right receiver. Datastrates are a dominant feature of xenoarcheology, especially the major datastrates called "akashics." See The Cycle of History.
Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced. — Gregory Benford
Modern galactic culture knows of the existence of transcendental technology in earlier cycles of civilization, but certainly does not understand it yet. However, archeologists have discovered remnants of trans tech, which get intensively studied, often in secret, by anxious governments.
Idiomorphics is a technology based on singularities such as those found at the bottoms of black holes. According to akashic records, civilizations with trans tech went prospecting for singularities inside black holes and also had several other sources for them.
We do not know how to produce idiomorphs and have only hazy, metaphorical, and probably misguided ideas about how they work and what they can do. Idiomorphs are rare relics of transcendent technology left over from earlier cycles of galactic civilization. Most idiomorphs are one of a kind. Known types of idiomorphs include:
Almost certainly, various governments have other, more dire idiomorphs being secretly held and studied.
on glorious dreams
sunrise, she spins her spells
on rising tides of wishing wells
on aphrodite lotus shells
beautiful phantom doll
— "Phantom Doll," Dave Carter
Using pragmaclaster idiomorphs, Olympic-level psi-talents specializing in probability-based psi can create pragmaclasts—objects lifted from events that might have happened but didn't.
Explorers and experimenters dealing with trans tech sometimes find that some minutes or hours of time they have just been through have not happened, as far as the rest of the universe is concerned. For the others, they disappeared for that time. They reappear in the location they moved to during their private "conditional" time. There is no accepted theory of how conditional episodes start.
hey ho, so it goes,
the point of sale, the puppet show
the merchant kings of war and woe
have turned their hands to labor
sound out the trumpet noise,
the cannons bark and jump for joy
someone’s dread and darlin' boy
has fallen on his saber
— "Hey Ho," Dave Carter
Lasers and particle beams have their place, but it's hard to beat concentrated kinetic energy delivered by projectiles. But bullets and cannon balls are a bad idea in space; any ammo that doesn't find its target becomes a navigation hazard. Flying wreckage is bad enough. So, in addition to missiles, spacefaring warcraft use:
All four forms of rams usually look like large footballs – pointed prolate spheroids. Ramdogs and ramjacks come into use only after psionics, so the massively hardened and shielded brains can work with the environment through mechanical psi, without using vulnerable ports for sensors and effectors. This means that, after they have rammed a hole in your ship, they can go on fighting in several other ways.
Ramjacks may be brained by soldier AIs recruited from civilian life, but some societies have created special castes of ramjacks, "born" to the service, though this brings on the interference of the Institutes of
Justice and the
Terraforming takes a lot of very large equipment.
These are factories for culturing and dispersing massive quantities of the transgenic bacteria used to raise oxygen levels, or raise or lower levels of carbon dioxide. Ideally, once dispersed, the bacteria begin multiplying exponentially, but conditions are never ideal, and it still helps to boost populations as much as possible. The bio-reactors can be housed in any suitably large vehicles: sea vessels, dirigibles, fleets of tanks with spray-cannons, etc.
Comets are a vital tool in terraforming. The Solar System has an 1012 in the Oort cloud. The average Oort comet has a mass of 1014 kg and is thought to be about half water ice with the rest composed of frozen carbon dioxide, methane, and a little dust. It would take roughly ten million such comets to supply enough water to fill the oceans of Earth.
Comet tugs are ships consisting mostly of power plant and engine, which steer and accelerate comets toward their destinations. They may also be used to give a comet a (relatively) soft touchdown, if that is possible and desired. Depending on tech level, tugs might visit a comet every few years for decades or centuries, letting gravity and momentum do most of the work, or they might haul it across the star system in a matter of hours or days.
Different comets have different uses. "Wet" comets, rich in water ice, are for irrigation. "Dry" comets, rich in carbon dioxide and methane ice, are for warming. Mining stations, set up beside or on a comet, strip out undesirable veins of material, tailoring the comet to its task. They also break large comets up into smaller ones, to make them more managable for the tugs.
Terraformers sometimes need to stimulate vulcanism, produce several small earthquakes to avoid one big one, sculpt canyons, chisel tectonic plates, or tailor planetary magnetic fields. Terraformers do their landscaping with small hyperdrive drones, set to come out of hyperdrive at carefully specified points inside the planet, producing enormous subterranean explosions.
To supply needed biota, terraformers run ranches and farms to raise the desired plants and animals. These may be natural or gene-tailored for the new planet. The breeding stations themselves are usually on the planet, though a few "space arks" may arrive early in the process, to set up the groundside stations. Beekeeping is a surprisingly important skill.
The main things terraformers want to do with a world are to adjust the temperature and the air mix. The list of methods and the time-spans given below assumes a more or less "normal" level of space-opera technology – no morphic field generators or nanotech bombs building ecosystems and cities in one exciting game session.
But terraforming takes so long that it's likely technology will change in the course of the project. You could start by crashing meteors into the planet and end by having your psionic über-computer adjust the atmosphere with planet-wide chemical telekinesis. Short of that . . .
Kick up dust with asteroid or comet strikes, or shallow tectonic missiles (see below), or by bomb-stimulated vulcanism, if the planet has any volcanos. (However, vulcanism also introduces unwanted greenhouse gases. The planetologists must calculate which volcanos to bomb, how far down to place the bombs, and how big an explosion, to get a favorable balance of dust over carbon dioxide.) This trick starts cooling within weeks to months, but the cooling only lasts until the dust settles, which will be a year or so.
Remove carbon dioxide by introducing carbon-fixing bacteria, plants, or other organisms. You want to start building coal beds, peat bogs, and layers of plankton shells and "coal reefs" built up in the seas. This would take years to centuries.
Carbon dioxide is the problem on Venus, but not on Mercury. Cooling a planet that is just too close to its sun is a much tougher challenge. Creating Saturn-like rings from pulverized asteroids would cast some shade and lower average planetary temperature. Such a project would take decades to centuries, depending on scale and tech level.
Add water vapor and carbon dioxide from comets, or by burning or metabolizing native carbon deposits, or by stimulating vulcanism. (However, vulcanism may introduce unwanted cooling dust cover in the short term. The planetologists must calculate again, as they did with cooling a planet quickly.) This would take years to centuries.
Put some large mirrors in synchronous orbit, angled to shine extra sunlight on the area. This takes effect almost immediately.
The size of the locality heated depends on how much mirror surface you put up and how much of the planet's surface the mirror-image of the sun is visible from. If the total angular cross-section of the mirrors is the same as the sun's and the mirrors are perfect, you can double the total sunlight to the area.
With enough mirrors, you can heat the whole planet, as on Komarre in the Vorkosigan stories of Lois McMaster Bujold. There, the time constraint is how long it takes to build a giant array of orbital mirrors.
Alternately, bomb open a crack in the planet's crust to expose magma or get near it, if the planet has a magma layer under a sufficiently thin crust. (The Moon and Mars do not.) This, however, only produces comfortable heat in a thin zone along the edge of the exposed magma, and the result may cool and crust over in a few years.
A third alternative is sunlamps. These can be in orbit, in high-altitude aerostats, or on very high towers or beanstalks. They require maintenance, though, and a lot of power. However, any civilzation that can travel between stars probably has lots of power.
Add oxygen by cracking it out of native water or cometary ices, using oxygenating plants or bacteria. This would take decades to centuries.
Dig a very deep canyon or crater, using tectonic missiles, then introduce the air mix, which might be manufactured from cometary ices. This would take effect immediately, but there would be mixing with the thin air up on the surface, so it had better be air you can tolerate.
The depth of the canyon is:
h = (KT/gm) ln(P/P0)
P = the air pressure at the bottom
P0 = the air pressure on the surface
g = the local gravity
T = the temperature, in degrees Kelvin
K = the universal gas constant = 8.3 Joules/mol-degK
m = mean molecular weight of atmosphere (= 29 for Earthly air)
Add water from comets, or use tectonic missiles to carve canals connecting to an ocean or an ice cap. (Using an ice cap may entail heating the planet.) This would take years or decades.
Terraformed planets generally do not stay terraformed without upkeep. The less like Earth a planet was to begin with, the faster it reverts, as a general rule. But, if the terraforming was done properly to begin with, reversion takes centuries, if not millenia, even if you're talking about air leaking off the Moon.
The following things do not exist in the Vaster setting:
Return to Vaster
Return to Wind Off the Hilltop
Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2010