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Into the Light Snippet #10

Aliens? Invading aliens? What will Earth do? Well...we may have a few more resources than we first thought. Come join a friendly discussion about David Weber's newest Tor series - "Out of the Dark."
Into the Light Snippet #10
Post by runsforcelery   » Wed Jul 10, 2019 4:34 pm

First Space Lord

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Location: South Carolina

So, okay, I was away at a really, really good (and exhaustion) convention which combined NASFIC, SpikeCon/Westercon, Mantcion, and a 1632 minicon. Sharon and I got to attend a July fourth barbecue which included Larry Correia and Jim Butcher, among others (including our peerless publisher, Toni Weiskopf). I was the NASFIC writer GoH, which was both an honor and a lot of fun, but I did have a very full dance card and the one real complaint I had about the con hotel was that its Wi-Fi sucked wind. I think it even infected my iPhone hotspot just by being in the same vicinity.

Anyway, I'm still catching up on a bunch of stuff, so here is Snippet #10:


"A little odd?" Nesbitt looked at him incredulously. She was blond and the next best thing to two feet shorter than he was, and her blue eyes widened as she shook her head. "Warren, I've come to the conclusion that the only thing that would really be 'odd,' is for anything these bastards do to make sense!"

"Might be putting it a bit too strongly," Jackson chuckled. "On the other hand, might not be, either. So, what's 'weird' today?"

Nesbitt smiled back at him. Jackson's easy-going manner had fooled some people into missing the keen-edged brain behind it, but Nesbitt never had. She was used to leaving other people in her intellectual dust, but that never happened with Jackson. More than that, she considered him probably the best boss she'd ever had, especially in academia. He was one of the very few people she'd ever met who seemed genuinely able to check his preconceptions at the door, and that was a very valuable trait indeed as they began picking their way through the cornucopia of the Hegemony's industrial and scientific base.

"All right, look at this," she said, pointing at her monitor.

It was an 82-inch LCD with PIPPBP functionality . . . and as obsolete as a wax tablet, as soon as they got around to replacing it. It was, however, quite good enough for her current purposes, and Jackson bent over her shoulder to look at the pair of schematics on it. One was about a quarter the size of the other, and he frowned.

"I'm looking. What would it happen I'm looking at?"

"This," Nesbitt said, pointing at the larger of the two, "is the basic counter-grav generator built into the Puppies' ground vehicles. It's smaller and less capable than the one built into their shuttles, and that one's smaller and less capable than the one built into their work boats, which is then scaled up even further for larger ships, etc. Right?"

"Sure." Jackson nodded. The Hegemony was a great believer in standardization, and apparently once it had a design that worked — especially one that scaled — it saw no reason to produce competing designs.

"Well, this one over here," Nesbitt pointed at the smaller schematic, "is what their workboat counter-grav should look like."

"What?" Jackson quirked an eyebrow. "Trish, I'm willing to concede that the Hegemony over-engineers like mad, but this —" it was his turn to indicate the smaller, simpler schematic "— is the workboat counter-grav and it's — what? Seventy percent smaller than the ground version?"

"Yep." Nesbitt shook her head, her expression disgusted.

"I know they go for multiply redundant features, but are you saying seventy percent of this thing doesn't need to be here?"

"No, it's worse than that." She tapped a key and a portion — a small portion — of the larger schematic flashed red. "I'm saying that this is what actually does all the work in the ground vehicle version. So, no, it's not seventy percent of the ground version that doesn't need to be there. It's more like ninety percent, and all the rest of this is all what you might call multiply multiply redundant features. Not one bit of it needs to be there, Warren. I mean, I kept double backups for every feature, and I was still able to cut the workboat version to less than a third of its original bulk. I know we're talking molecular circuitry. I know we're talking about a degree of miniaturization that was never possible for us before the invasion. But this is one of their more volume intensive components. In fact, if they'd been willing to accept this level of redundancy, they could've put counter-grav into every single one of their vehicles, not just their tanks, and still have saved a good ten or fifteen percent of the volume their engines and transmissions used. Not to mention most of the suspension, the steering gear — all of it."

"Hm. That is 'weird,' even for the Hegemony," Jackson acknowledged. "You'd have thought the Puppies would've recognized the advantages even if the rest of the Hegemony didn't."

"Well, I ran a simulation and analysis. Basically, the installation the Hegemony and the Puppies are using is designed for a mean time between failures of right around one-point-eight million hours." Jackson looked at her skeptically, and she nodded. "That's right, this design — which is for their ground vehicle, mind you — will fail about once every four hundred and twenty years. This one," she pointed at her revision, "will only go about eighty years between failures. Now, I understand it's really convenient when the troops can't break things in the field, but I find it just a little hard to imagine that they could be on constant operations without general overhaul for eighty fricking years, Warren! And their design margins get even greater as you move up to the larger, more capable units."

"Jesus." Jackson ran his fingers through his close cropped, curly hair.

"Yep." Nesbitt sat back, folding her arms so she could glare at the monitor better. "I couldn't believe it when I started stripping out the redundancies and realized just how damned many of them there really were. This is . . . overcompensating, even for the Hegemony. And, take a look at this."

She tapped the image of the original design, and the touch sensitive screen obediently zoomed in until a single portion of the image filled practically the entire width of the display.

"Know what this is?" she asked brightly.

"Not a clue," he told her obediently. "You may recall that you were put in charge of this particular project?"

"Indeed I was. What this is is an inhibitor whose sole function is to prevent the counter-grav generator coil from reversing polarity."

"Say what?"

"Well, we're still working out the proper terminology, but essentially, it's designed to prevent a counter-gravity generator from turning into a gravity generator."

"I can see why they might consider that unfortunate if it happened," Jackson said with a slight smile.

"But so far we haven't found any indication anywhere in their literature that they generate increased gravity, Warren. In fact, so far I haven't even found any suggestion that they could, which is why their starships have spin sections. It wasn't until I started trying to figure out what the hell this thing — and its four backups — were for that I realized what it had to be. So whoever designed this thing figured there was at least the possibility that someone could try to flip it from counter-grav to gravity generation. I don't even want to think about the power consumption — it's bad enough just canceling gravity — and I don't have a clue how you'd actually do it. Not yet. I've got a pretty good idea that taking the inhibitor apart would point us at how to do it, assuming we wanted to. But this is just plain crazy, even by Hegemony standards. I don't see any way that something like that could happen accidentally, which means they're designing to prevent things that could only happen as the result of a conscious operator decision."

"Yeah." Jackson nodded slowly, rubbing his mustache again, then shrugged. "Actually, it's not the first time we've seen a design intended to prevent an 'accident' that could only happen if someone made it happen. And, to be fair, looking at some of the tech we're starting to play around with, that might not be a terrible idea. I mean, some of this stuff is planet-killer level hardware, Trish. Given the Hegemony's apparent mindset, if somebody went off the rails and used one of these things as a weapon — the Hegemony equivalent of a terrorist, for example — just once, they'd make damned sure no one could ever do it again!"

"I guess so," she acknowledged almost unwillingly, and Jackson patted her on the shoulder.

"I imagine you've just moved the capabilities of whatever new ground vehicles we start designing ahead by — oh, nine or ten thousand percent, Trish. And, you're right. I think a MTBF of eighty years is probably adequate. Barely, you understand, but adequate."

She looked up and back to grin at him, and he smiled back. But then his smile faded.

"Actually, what I'm more interested in is this notion that it's possible to generate an artificial gravity field. Mind you, I can't really see a use for it right off the top of my head, but that sure doesn't mean there isn't one."

Doctor Fabienne Lewis's Office,
Greensboro, North Carolina,
United States

"What do you think about Nesbitt and Jackson's little discovery?" Fabienne Lewis asked.

"Which one? You mean how much smaller we can make counter-grav generators?" Doctor Marcus Ramos asked.

Ramos's father's family was from the Philippines. Although his mother's family was primarily Scottish, he strongly favored his dad, with curly black hair and a dark complexion that went a bit oddly with the gray eyes he'd inherited from his mother. At the moment, he sat in the comfortable chair on the other side of Lewis's desk, lounging at ease in his preferred cargo pants and the Clemson sweatshirt he wore to — as he put it — remind all of his current colleagues that some people had gone to practical universities.

Now he shrugged.

"You know, nuts and bolts and molecular circuitry aren't really my thing, Fabienne. So I don't really have an opinion on how much we can strip down their hardware when we design our own. Except that it's pretty obvious we can take a lot of it out." He shrugged again. "From where I sit, that's probably a good thing."

"Oh, I'm sure it is." Lewis tipped back in her own chair. "The thing is, I'd really like to be able for us to wrap our collective brain around whatever version of logic they use when they're designing this stuff. Rog MacQuarie and his guys and gals figure on ripping a lot of redundancy out in the name of tweaking efficiency, and I think it would be kind of neat to have some sort of roadmap of the reasoning behind the original designs. We know there are good reasons for some of their safety features, but when you start looking at something like this counter-grav —"

She shook her head, and Ramos snorted.

"I'm only starting to get a handle on that, and trust me — Freud, Jung, James, Dewey, and Skinner would all need psychoanalysis of their own after dealing with this stuff!"

"So why should they be any different from the rest of us?" Lewis asked sourly, and he chuckled.

"Point," he acknowledged.

"Look, I've got a meeting with the President in a couple of hours, and he's taken a special interest in what Jackson and Nesbitt are up to. I think there's a part of him that worries about whether or not the Hegemony is really as paranoid about this crap as we may think they are or if we're about to convince ourselves that all of their safety measures are unnecessary and delete the one that eats us in the end. So, are they really as paranoid about it as we think they are?"

"Paranoia isn't really the term you want," Ramos said. "And I'm serious when I say that our understanding of human psychology and how human brains work is still a lot less than perfect. Understanding the same things about not just one alien species but apparently an entire stack of alien species is a whole lot steeper order. So anything I can tell you at this point is going to be a generalization that may or may not stand up as we get deeper into it."

He paused, both eyebrows raised, until Lewis nodded, then resumed.

"All right, with that proviso.

"I think there are several things in play here. I'm not totally sold on the Hegemony model that says fundamental psychological approaches are inevitably shaped by whether a species is a predator, an herbivore, or an omnivore, but it certainly does offer some useful handles. Since we'd never met another tool-using species with . . . different dietary practices before the Shongairi came our way, there's no way we can test their theories with independent research, and everything I've found so far in their database has taken those classifications so completely for granted for thousands upon thousands of our years that nobody worries about a rigorous examination of the foundation upon which they rest.

"Having said that, it's not unreasonable for a species which was preyed upon rather than chasing down its prey, to have evolved a civilization focused on threat avoidance. As nearly as we can tell, most of the Hegemony's species built their civilizations and their use of tools as ways to avoid being eaten by other critters rather than as a way to more efficiently hunt the critters they wanted to eat. Even most of the omnivorous species I've been able to look at so far skew that way, especially as opposed to someone like the Shongairi, whose total focus was on better ways to hunt down or domesticate and raise meat animals."

"I can see that," Lewis said. "I guess that's sort of inevitable."

"As I said, the concept does offer useful handles. One of them is that risk avoidance and stability go hand-in-hand, at least in the Hegemony's view of the universe. I'm pretty sure that plays into the fact that humans appear to be so much more innovative than the Hegemony is. Maybe the best way to put it is that the Hegemony likes stagnation, because while things are stagnant, nothing bad is likely to surprise you. And the fact that they have a genuine post-scarcity economy means they can maintain that status quo — that stagnation — indefinitely. There isn't any pressure on them to be producing new technology to more efficiently utilize resources, because they have an effectively unlimited energy supply and their printer technology can produce anything they need in effectively unlimited quantities. There aren't going to be very many 'lean and hungry' species in the Hegemony. Even the Shongairi, who obviously prided themselves on cutting against the grain, being the 'bad boys and girls' who scorned the safety nets and 'cowardice' of the rest of the Hegemony, were highly risk-averse by our standards. How much of that was inherent in their own psychology before they met the Hegemony and how much of it was assimilated, maybe without their even realizing it, is a question I can't answer at this point."

"Interesting," Lewis murmured. "I hadn't thought about the Puppies' being . . . domesticated by the Hegemony."

"And I'm not saying that's what happened. I'm saying it could have happened," Ramos pointed out. "And if it is, that may be the reason they didn't see the advantage of stripping down the redundancies in their military equipment the way it jumped right out at Doctor Nesbitt."

"Understood. Go on!"

"Well, another facet that plays into that desire for stasis is that the Hegemony's technology simply doesn't break. Not very often, and not under anything like normal operating conditions, at any rate. Part of that is probably just that they've had millennia to refine their designs. Another part is all of those multiple layers of redundancy that they build into everything, though. Again, they can get away with that because their technology is good enough to produce that post-scarcity economy of theirs anyway, but the degree to which they built in the redundancies because of the risk-avoidance — the 'cowardice,' from our perspective — which is part of their basic nature and the degree to which they built them in simply to be positive stuff wouldn't break is another one of those questions we can't answer at the moment. I would think those two desires, coupled with the fact that they aren't planning on producing a 'new, improved' version of any of their tech anytime soon, mutually reinforce one another.

"And, while I'm hypothesizing wildly on the basis of virtually non-existent evidence, I might also suggest that the enormously long lifespans the Hegemony antigerone therapies make possible is probably another factor in avoiding risk. I mean, if you're potentially going to live for another six or seven hundred years, you might get just a little hinky about running avoidable risks."

"Make sense," Lewis murmured.

"Which is one reason I'm hesitant about investing too much confidence in it," Ramos said. "It's always way too easy to fall in love with your own impeccable logic."

"I'll bear that in mind," Lewis said dryly.

"Good." Ramos grinned, then shrugged. "On the other hand, your question about all of the safety features in their tech probably points out another difference between our mindset and theirs which I think could grow directly out of our shorter lifespan and the fact that we haven't had the level of technology they've got for thousands and thousands of years. I think we're more . . . impatient, perhaps, than they are. Historically, we haven't had time to burn the way they have. Some of our human cultures, like the Chinese, for example, have thought in generational terms, but we've always been limited by what we can accomplish, even as part of some generational strategy, by the size of our personal time windows. We haven't had all the centuries the Hegemony's species do, so we're more rushed to get things done.

"And another thing we have going for us — right now, at least — that they don't, is that first, we're used to things that break, and, secondly, our knowledge curve has been bending sharply upward for a couple of centuries now instead of having flatlined about the time Cro-Magnon turned up here on Earth."

"I think I can see the knowledge curve part of it, but breaking things is an advantage?"

"In a way. Look, Nesbitt says the counter-grav unit they installed in their ground vehicles was designed to be good for over four hundred years, I think she said, between failures. I can't think of anything much more complicated than a sundial — certainly not anything with moving parts — that any human being would expect to run at all for over four centuries, much less without a single failure. That's exactly what the Hegemony does appear to expect, though. So, if I'm going to buy a spaceship that's undoubtedly going to go even longer between failures than a ground vehicle, I'm going to plan on keeping it for a while, and I'm going to plan on it's not breaking. That means I don't have a 'replacement' mindset. In fact, I have exactly the reverse of a 'replacement' mindset. And because that's my basic mindset, my attitude towards technology and the universe in general, I'm going to continue to design things that fit comfortably into it.

"Then you look at the fact that they haven't needed to change anything in so long. I'm not joking when I say they're still using essentially the same technology they had in their possession ninety or a hundred thousand of our years ago. It works, it meets their needs, and there's no reason to improve upon it. And with no reason to improve upon it, they have even greater incentive to build it to last. But we haven't had a mature, stable technology for that long. Hell, I'm not the historian that Secretary Dvorak is, but I don't think the Egyptians had a mature, stable technology for anything remotely like that long! So when we look at technology, we automatically assume that this year's model is going to be obsolete by next year, and our experience has confirmed that assumption. We're not at the top of a hill, standing on a plateau. We're still climbing the hill, and it's going to be very interesting to me as a psychologist to see if we fall prey to the same status quo mentality once we finally catch up with the Hegemony and its member races. How much of our 'better model next year' is dependent upon the fact that our current institutions and belief structures have evolved in an environment where that's literally true, and how much of it is inherent in human nature? I guess it's that old nature-versus-nurture argument all over again."

"Interesting," Lewis said again, pursing her lips thoughtfully. "I'll tell you this, though, Mark — we damned well better not change our mindset until after we've figured out how to kick the Hegemony's ass!"

"No, I can see where that would be a Bad Thing," Ramos agreed.

"It's definitely something to keep in mind, though," she went on, "and not just where increasing the efficiency of their hardware is concerned. For example, this notion of Nesbitt's that it's within the scope of Hegemony-level technology to generate gravity, as well as counter-gravity. She still hasn't found anything in their database about doing that, but we're still only sort of scratching the surface there, and she and Jackson have turned up a few interesting possibilities. They've had to hand them off to another team right now — I need them doing exactly what they've been doing, at least until Bryan Jacoby has Invictus and Provocatio up and running at absolute maximum capacity. But I think we need to question every single conclusion in the Hegemony's accepted theory and practice. If we're the 'monkey boys and girls' Dvorak keeps talking about, then we need to look for every single 'oh, shiny' moment we can find. As you say, the Hegemony's had a highly advanced technology for over a hundred and fifty thousand years that we know of. There have to be quite a few 'roads not taken' buried in all those years. I think it's time we started straying off the beaten path."

"On the whole, I agree with you," Ramos said, after a moment. "I would, however, remind you what used to be printed around the outer edges of maps."

"Maps?" Lewis raised both eyebrows.

"Maps," Ramos confirmed. "They used to say 'Here There Be Dragons,' and — as we know — they were wrong about that. It's just possible the Hegemony isn't always wrong, though, and I really, really don't want to get eaten by any dragons."

"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
Re: Into the Light Snippet #10
Post by Fireflair   » Thu Jul 11, 2019 12:02 am

Captain of the List

Posts: 566
Joined: Wed Sep 05, 2012 6:23 pm

Thanks for the snippet!

Sounds like a rousing good time. I wish you made it out to cons closer to Cincinnati. We really don't get any guests out here that I'm interested in most of the time.
Re: Into the Light Snippet #10
Post by phillies   » Thu Jul 11, 2019 1:07 pm

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Posts: 1984
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Location: Worcester, MA

A fine segment. Truly you are a master of the disgused infodump, in ways that advance the plot.

As a practical matter, if I have not changed my spaceship designs since humanity first evolved, give or take archeological disputes, and my mean time between failures requiring a repair predates the invention of gunpowder, I probably have very little capacity for producing star battleships. Humanity is less limited in tis points of view.
Last edited by phillies on Thu Jul 11, 2019 4:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Re: Into the Light Snippet #10
Post by Joat42   » Thu Jul 11, 2019 1:24 pm

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Posts: 1864
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This snippet reminds me of a book I read a long time ago where aliens try to invade Earth and to their shock they discover that the Earthlings are smarter.

Jack of all trades and destructive tinkerer.

Anyone who have simple solutions for complex problems is a fool.
Re: Into the Light Snippet #10
Post by Theemile   » Thu Jul 11, 2019 4:39 pm

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phillies wrote:A fine segment. Truly you are a master of the disgused infodump, in ways that advance the plot.

As a practical matter, if I have not chanegd my spaceship designs since humanity first evolved, give or take archeological disputes, and my mean time between failures requiringa failure predates the invention of gunpowder, I proabbly have very little capacity for producing star battleships. Humanity is less limited in tis points of view.

If the same over-engineering and lack of incremental development is prevalent in the Hegemony's commercial sector, Their existing industrial production plant has to be incredibly low compared to our per capita industrial output. With spaceships lasting Epochs between maintenance cycles, a fleet of thousands of ships requires a handful of spare parts per decade!

And with mature societies that have probably instituted population controls, the Hegemony probably has no need for growth of their cities, just the slow replacement of worn out consumer items (which last centuries, if not millennia), the occasional replacement of a product that is being replaced by a superior model, and the occasional new colony on a terraformed world.

In short, they probably do not have a large industrial sector - for the entire Galaxy. The Fab setup sent for the Shongari colony may be many multiple times what is required for a fully populated core world, as only a new colony would require that level of construction of new goods and construction.

Depending on how David builds the universe, it is possible that Earth has a non-trivial % of the fab assets of the galaxy currently, and will quickly grow more.

Even Humanity's action loop is going to shake the Galactic powers - it took 700 years from finding Earth to the invasion. With access to the Shongari tech, Earth will be completely out of this crisis in 2-3 years, tops, and have completely rebuilt infrastructure and society to a new standard in less than a generation (~20 years), and even assuming a 50-75% population loss, will have replaced the lost population in less than 2 gens (<40 years), all of whom will be educated to a Hegemony level... or greater....

And if I'm correct, will have fab capability equivalent of a double digit % of the Hegemony.
RFC said "refitting a Beowulfan SD to Manticoran standards would be just as difficult as refitting a standard SLN SD to those standards. In other words, it would be cheaper and faster to build new ships."
Re: Into the Light Snippet #10
Post by Tregonsee   » Thu Jul 11, 2019 5:54 pm


Posts: 13
Joined: Sat Feb 23, 2019 3:14 pm

Taking notes for comparison with another technologically advanced but stagnant species I read about somewhere.
Re: Into the Light Snippet #10
Post by gcomeau   » Thu Jul 11, 2019 7:25 pm


Posts: 2737
Joined: Tue Dec 02, 2014 5:24 pm

Joat42 wrote:This snippet reminds me of a book I read a long time ago where aliens try to invade Earth and to their shock they discover that the Earthlings are smarter.

Sounds like Pandora's Planet...
Re: Into the Light Snippet #10
Post by DrakBibliophile   » Thu Jul 11, 2019 7:35 pm


Posts: 2311
Joined: Sun Sep 06, 2009 3:54 pm
Location: East Central Illinois

LIKE!!!! :D :D :D :D
Paul Howard (Alias Drak Bibliophile)
Sometimes The Dragon Wins! [Polite Dragon Smile]
Re: Into the Light Snippet #10
Post by Robert_A_Woodward   » Fri Jul 12, 2019 1:35 am

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runsforcelery wrote:

"On the whole, I agree with you," Ramos said, after a moment. "I would, however, remind you what used to be printed around the outer edges of maps."

"Maps?" Lewis raised both eyebrows.

"Maps," Ramos confirmed. "They used to say 'Here There Be Dragons,' and — as we know — they were wrong about that. It's just possible the Hegemony isn't always wrong, though, and I really, really don't want to get eaten by any dragons."

They have already meant a dragon, at least the Son of the Dragon. Though, perhaps the Hegemony should had put that legend on their maps.
Beowulf was bad.
(first sentence of Chapter VI of _Space Viking_ by H. Beam Piper)
Re: Into the Light Snippet #10
Post by isaac_newton   » Fri Jul 12, 2019 6:04 am

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Tregonsee wrote:Taking notes for comparison with another technologically advanced but stagnant species I read about somewhere.

I wonder if the Dragon is called Worsel ;)
friend of yours?

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