Crumbling Empire Placeholder for Chapter 6

This was where Chapter 6 was, which is the confronting-the-past chapter.  Which it didn’t do. It skirts around that issue and tries to figure out why Yuen looks like someone else. I bet you can guess.  Go ahead. Why does she look like someone else? Why, indeed? Maybe it needs explosions.

If you are new, Chapter 1 is here.

As of 1/18/16, I’ve removed it. I left the comments here because those are useful.



Military Officer Function for Science Fiction

Tactics and strategy inform or should inform everything a soldier does.

Your soldiers in military sci-fi must have a doctrine of some kind which tells them what to do and how to do it.

In the modern US Army, the nuts and bolts of things soldiers are trained to do are called Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP for short).  The larger picture is strategy, and there are some pretty basic things that are to be accomplished with strategy.

With strategy, you must ask the question: Why are your military units doing what they’re doing?

If it does not have an applicable purpose, then your officers look incompetent, stupid, untrained, or insane. If the character is portrayed as competent, then his inability to understand strategy will be seen as a function of the author’s inability to understand strategy and the reader will stop reading the book. Do not misunderstand this to mean that officers aren’t sometimes wooden, textbook responders, or unable to remain focused on the objective. It means that if you portray a competent officer, he will respond to stimuli in a competent manner, based on the information they receive.

A competent officer has training to teach him to gain information about the objective, evaluate the enemy forces and intent, and either respond or initiate a response.

The things we will see in your novel will reflect whether your POV character is a grunt or a officer.  Sometimes there’s officers who are ground-pounders– that is, company level and lower– but the higher ups formulate strategy based on the size of the units they command.  A general may command an army (or divisions), and lower ranking officers command smaller sized units all the way down to the company commanders who are in the field supervising their platoons.

One important aspect of strategy (and indeed, tactics) is sustainability. That’s the dull world of logistics. Did I say dull? It’s not dull if you’re on the pointy end of the spear and you are getting no supplies, or worse, the wrong supplies. Horror stories abound from how landing ships were configured for the US Army landings in Morocco and Algeria. The doctrine of loading a ship with stuff wasn’t advanced at all, and I believe the stevedores were often left in charge of determining what would be loaded where.  This led to situations where the guys first on the beach need tanks, or jeeps, or ammunition, or medical supplies, and instead they’ve got bales of blankets or rations or underwear. It sounds absurd, but the military will grind to a halt if they don’t have petrol and bullets. And water. And boots. And artillery.

Therefore, if you want to invade a planet, a space station, or another ship, you will need logistics: Transport, gas, food, drink, armor, weapons, communications, shelters, clothes, ammunition, and batteries. It’s not enough to go in with just the stuff on your back. You will need resupply if you’re not living off the land.  One way to cut off an army is to interdict its supply lines, and those supply lines in space are ships dragging supplies around and factories on the ground factoring. Cut off the ships, you cut off the ability of the attacker to support an attack and you conceivably will win the engagement. We see this doctrine in seige warfare, starting over 3000 years ago (the Greeks), and continuing to the present day (Cuba).

So your logistics arm is going to acquire, store, and move stuff. It finds replacement personnel and stores them. It acquires, stores, and moves weapons systems.  It provides medical, legal, and psychiatric care for personnel. If any of these things does not happen, it will affect the effectiveness of the personnel by lowering their morale and inhibiting their ability to fight.

The mindset the US Army has is that, “(1) In combat, Infantrymen who are moving are attacking. (2) Infantrymen who are not attacking are preparing to attack.” (FM 3-21.8 The Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad, published by the United States Army.)

Overall, the strategies used in sci-fi are going to mirror those used in modern combat. Asymetrical warfare, using small unit and terror tactics, must be responded to by the larger force with a unified strategic doctrine that places forces in places to quickly react to provocation or to search for and prevent attacks before they happen.

What is the larger strategy? Follow the money. No matter how you posture your future, ultimately there are never enough resources for everyone, and that is the crux of most decisions made by the polity. It’s not for the good of the people, it’s for the good of commerce. Ultimately, no matter how deep a political system may lay in socialism, it will collapse without the application of capitalism. Therein lays the logistics argument: To get all this stuff, you must mine it, grow it, or manufacture it.  The strategy is to protect the stuff, or to take the stuff.

I see some authors who promote a character from a shivering private up to general grade levels. Being a grunt does not mean you are trained to think like an officer. It means you’re trained to think like a grunt. When you have Private Schlomo promoted way above his pay grade, he’s going to be way out of his comfort zone because he isn’t trained to understand the fight at company, brigade, or division level. A fireteam leader or squad leader has 3-8 people under them, and the decision tree may not be that complex. A platoon leader, which is the lowest level of officer supervision, is the point where the thought process must be done on a give-orders-to-subordinates basis.

You must use a staff, because you are not capable of getting the information necessary to do your job on your own. At company level, you have an executive officer who seconds the commanding officer’s lead. At higher levels than company, you see more staff to assist with functions such as analysis and prediction of enemy action, communications, IT, operations to assist in personnel (promotions, moving around, exiting the service, pay, awards, and so on), and training (both finding locations and creating the criteria for what is being taught, writing manuals, creating videos for training).

This “Was” thing is worse than I thought

“Result 4 of 127.”

This is an infestation! Does this reflect my real life? I note that the was problem seems to crop up in crappy writing clusters.  A few paragraphs of passive, and then I’m back to a sprinkling.  As I go forward, I will endeavor to simply NOT write the passive voice. It’s like author thumb-sucking. Really.


I suppose I’ll go bang out chapter 6. 793 words in, another 1300, and we should be safely up for the remainder of the night in the orphanage. Maybe. Or the protagonist is going to murder someone, the guy with the information she really needs.  That ought to be cathartic.

His life hangs in the balance.

As if it matters. Create characters, then mash out their puny existence. Muahahahahaha.

My Space Guy hates my physics

Specifically, my space ships do not behave like ships in space.

I lay the blame at everyone else who ignores physics. I’ve seen two authors do it right – David Weber nails it in the Honor Harrington books (though I’ve read some criticism of the main character being a bit too shiny and brilliant), and Jay Allen’s Crimson Worlds series gets it right all the time.

The problem is that absent any intervening force, an object will continue to move in the same direction (vector) and velocity forever. Once your ship is going a gazillion miles per hour, and the ship you’re going against is going a gazillion miles per hour, you’re going to have a moment in time to engage with your weapons, assuming your weapons aren’t long range missiles, which have a different problem. These are slashing attacks. You fly by the other guy and shoot all your weapons at once. Then, you either hit the brakes (that is, fire engines in the opposite direction) and turn around, which may take a week, or you modify your vector to do a loop. The higher your velocity, the bigger the loop.

So you can do engagements slow and deal out damage, or you can go in fast and get out fast.

And then there’s ship shape. You don’t need aerodynamics in space. Just a good frame that holds everything together. Shape means nothing.  You’re only limited in size by stuff like dock size, or magic transfer gate (call them wormholes if you want) size, or stuff like mass vs. acceleration and fuel and all that.

This isn’t even addressing the idea of fuel for your massive ship. I’ve seen get-your-HE3-from-gas-giants with cloud scoops which seems okay on the face of it but ignores the difficulties of gas giants and their deadly magnetosphere radiation, gravity, storms, and how do you float in something lighter than you? Hydrogen and Helium.  Go ahead. Solve that one. I’ll wait over here.

Thought so. You don’t have an answer. Nobody else does, either.

XbyFri… Failure is NOT an option

Sorry, Apollo 13.  It is an option. It’s always an option.  Declaring this bold statement doesn’t eliminate failure, it just removes the mindset or drives it underground.

With that in mind, I have not delivered on my 10 pages by Friday deadline.  I am still knee deep in Write Great Fiction – Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell.  It’s been crystallizing how the structure is supposed to look, and I’ll be able to mate that with  The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (and the dark side, The Negative Trait Thesaurus by the same authors) to get a grip on the characters and their part in the structure of the novel, upon which I can hang the words.

The thing about XbyFri was that I was attempting to produce pages for Kristin Lamb to review and give me feedback.  While I value Kristin’s kind offer, I am not at a point to accept it. Any writing I give her would be stunted and lacking in the things I’m working on mentioned above, and that would waste her time looking at it.  I would rather use her time for valuable pursuits such as those who do have content to review who would benefit from her wisdom.

Give it a few weeks. I think that the understanding of plot structure will open up the whole thing immensely.

Go ahead, comment. It won’t kill you.  And, um, it’s not because I’m desperate. Because I’m not. I’m NOT! Just comment. If you comment, I’ll be your best friend!  C’mon. I’ll give you a cookie! Yeah, I love the “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” books, too.

Military ranks – sci-fi

I’ve seen a fair few numbers of military sci-fi novels that do interesting things with ranks. The modern ranking system has some meat to it, in that we see certain positions going back centuries and millenia.  Others, not so much.

There’s two approaches I see: 1) Historical, based on a present day military ranking system of a particular country; 2) Non-historical, either because the author doesn’t understand military ranks or they are deliberately changing it.

Historical Ranks

The advantage of using a system based on historical systems is that there is a lot of knowledge out there available to interpret and understand the ranks. Some authors may draw from their own knowledge and experience in the military.  There are nuances for different countries, and even the different services may have ranking systems that are not strictly using the same rank names for the same ranks.

Witness, for instance, the navies of the future.  If you’re using the United States navy, you have some classifications that might not sound right applied to space navy: Seaman, for instance.

You also have rank names and titles based on hundreds of years of traditions that are in turn descended from word origins that may or may not make sense. Lieutenant, which is Leftenant in the UK, is from the French.  The position is a junior officer in the US Army and USMC, but it’s a mid-level position in the US Navy.

While I was reading the Honor Harrington series, I thought it was fascinating that David Weber carefully brought forward the ranks and roles from the current UK modern navy, and even utilized the terminology.  It was a sort of look of “what would the English navy look like in space”?

If you’re going to use historical ranks, try to understand them enough to know what they do. Which ranks typically lead which sized forces?

Don’t mix up the force compositions. If you’re talking about a fireteam, that is not the same as a squad (it’s usually a sub-element of squad), or platoon, or company, etc. Those are terms of art and they have meanings that resonate with military guys.  They may differ from nationality to nationality.

In the Warstrider series, the ranks and force composition names are Japanese, reflecting the culture of those worlds.  I’ve seen Chinese ranks used as well. The future of space isn’t always ‘MURICA!, though it feels like it most of the time in the books I read.

Making up a new rank system

I believe that if you’re going to create a new ranking system, while it’s comfortable to use historical rank names, it’s going to look like you botched your research. When you say “this guy is an optio and he’s in charge of 100 men” that makes some readers’ heads hurt. We’re thinking, “no, you mean centurio, and it’s only 88 guys.”  Make up new ranks and rank structures with non-historical names, and you avoid this problem.  We readers have all this baggage about what we think it’s supposed to be, and it bothers us, a lot, when you do something that breaks the mold of what we think that means.  A sergeant is an non-commissioned officer (which is another funny term- if you don’t have commissioned officers, can you have a NCO? Or does it want another title?) so he shouldn’t be doing officery stuff, and vice versa.

Or make it clear that you’ve departed from the wonky historical ranks. You could have private 7th class as your lowest rank, and then after that, sergeants first through fifth class, and so on. Those people who don’t know what a first sergeant is or a staff sergeant or a master sergeant aren’t going to care, as long as they can get your system and understand the inherent rank status of each character.  Higher or lower?

Force Composition – Who leads what?

One thing you should consider is the makeup of the forces each person commands. The US has been experimenting with the ideal number of people under command of a person for over sixty years, and they think it’s four person teams, typically. This doesn’t mean you’re wedded to that fact, but you should consider force composition before blithely making up numbers. This is one of those areas where it won’t ring true if you say one guy is commanding, say, 48 people with no other NCOs or officers.  That’s a platoon, by the way, and there’s usually a ton of people to make everything happen.  For instance, you may have:
Platoon leader – 2nd or 1st Lt. (48 people under)
Platoon Sergeant – Sgt. or Staff Sgt. (directly trains the 4 SLs)
4 Squad leaders – Corporals or sergeants (12 or 8 people under)
3 or 2 fireteam leaders in a squad – specialists or lance corporals or corporals

And then there’s the idea of battle-buddies, which is that you have a guy to look after you and you look after him.  The Air Force calls that a wingman. We know from Top Gun that you never, ever leave your wingman.

Even in the four man fireteam, there is rank hierarchy due to position.  Thus, the fireteam leader is carrying a rifle with a grenade launcher, his battle buddy might be the least experienced guy who gets just a rifle, and then there’s a MG guy and his battle buddy humps ammo for him.  It’s VERY clear who is next in line for command of the element, because when the guy in command is killed or wounded, the next person has to take over.

The end result of that whole mass is that each person doesn’t command more than 4 people. Wait, Pontius, you say, the Lt. commands 48 people. No, he doesn’t. He tells their NCOs what he wants to have happen and they carry it out. So he’ll talk to the plsgt or the SLs and tell them that he wants them to move to a ridgeline using bounding overwatch and then provide fire suppression on position x.  The squad leader makes decisions and issues orders to the fireteams, and they execute the orders.  The Lt. does not give orders to individual soldiers at the end of the line; he goes through intermediaries and lets them use their training to carry out the orders using their best understanding of tactics, techniques, and procedures.

Higher Ranks

The higher ranks are more esoteric; at a certain point, maybe at battalion level or higher, the officers aren’t in combat, aren’t in the field, necessarily. They’re directing things, again with a low number of officers directly reporting to them so they can keep the information flow going.

Think of it like trying to play four games of Risk simultaneously.  The information flow is going to be rocky; you might be getting slammed on one board while you have a great position on another, but your attention is limited and you can only focus on one thing at a time.  The joy of computer systems is that it can sometimes prioritize things and organize things for better review, and your sci-fi universe can reflect that.

That’s it, in a nutshell.

Edit-  To help you out, current US Military ranks are found here:

Go ahead, comment. It won’t kill you.  And, um, it’s not because I’m desperate. Because I’m not. I’m NOT! Just comment. If you comment, I’ll be your best friend!  C’mon. I’ll give you a cookie! Yeah, I love the “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” books, too.


Science Fiction settings – Worldbuilding – Economics of your solar system

This ties into my other post,  Science Fiction settings – building the universe, solar system, planet

Pyramid of Needs

One thing you rarely see, or perhaps you may only see a little bit of it, is the economics of a star system. Human settlements do not thrive in places where the economics do not support it.  Human habitations require air, food, water, shelter, and room to exercise.

After that, they branch out to things that feed the mind and soul. But if one of the basics is missing, you can bet that’s the one that will be bothering most of the characters in your story.

Aside from that, your characters need to live in a universe that makes sense on paper to you. You may decide not to include that information in your book, but it’s useful appendix information and it ensures your world makes logical sense.

Worlds can provide three raw materials: Food crops, non-food crops, and minerals. Included in the food crops are domestic and wild animals.  It makes sense to locate a factory or processing unit close to the source for whatever it is you’re doing. Therefore, if you are refining ore, you put the refinery next to the mine.

Space won’t produce the food crops and non-food crops as much, because everything you do to make those things happen requires expenditure of labor and materials to create an environment that will survive and thrive in space. That isn’t to say you can’t do that, but if you have other options for agriculture such as a planet, you do that.

Space also provides minerals on planets, and perhaps if you have a gas giant, there may be some fuels minable from that gas giant.  The most recently proposed these days is HE3, supposedly a good little molecule for cold fusion energy.

However, in space and on planets, you can create factories and technology.  There are many advantages to creating a factory in space, mostly because micro-gravity makes economy of scale easier in some senses. (Pouring hot metal into molds is one thing I can think of that has problems in micro-gravity, but maybe there’s a way to combat that.)

Factories manufacture things. Whether robotics or humans or a hybrid are used, factories manufacture things for amusement or for work. The things may be metal, which must be worked through molding, processing, drilling, welding, brazing, and cutting.  While robots are efficient, they sometimes break when parts wear out and there’s a nice human job you probably (can’t) replace.

Once things are manufactured, you either need to move them into orbit out of a gravity well, or you manufactured them in microgravity and can congratulate yourself on not getting mired in additional expenses to get your finished widgets off the planet.  Instead, you can serenely float them over to the freighter ship.


Humans are very good at producing adequate information.  [Irony alert: Some of it is fiction.] There is also considered value in art which might not have any intrinsic value otherwise.  Art fills the spectrum from written, spoken, acting, painting, drawing, sculpting, singing, making music, and so on.  Something that doesn’t produce a valuable commodity in the sense of meeting the triangle of needs (food, shelter, etc.) may be valuable due to its impact on the human soul/brain. What are sports other than games we enjoy for the entertainment?

The arts usually spring up anywhere humans are, and organized professional arts stem from the presence of upper strata high economic status people who have the money to invest in such things.

Communicating that information from place to place is vital. How do solar systems communicate? Is there some sort of FTL system in place, or are there wormgates and black holes where buoys go back and forth, or do ships carry data packages when they travel? How about money? How do you handle that when someone is traveling from system to system, and you do not have instantaneous ability to track money being transferred?


The technology of your ships may limit their size, but consider that stuff in space doesn’t need to be streamlined, or pretty, or even attractive to the humans working in it. It could have zero outside aesthetic. It just has to work. The limitations on size you get from terrestrial limitations on ocean-going freighters or trains is eliminated in space.  Potentially, you could tow thousands of containers behind your ship, as long a you have a good way to stop all that forward inertia. In many ways, it’s like a train of containers, if you think of it. Once stuff is moving in space, it continues to move until it is stopped by something else, or it enters the gravitational pull of a sun, planet, or some other object.  Ultimately, it’s the cost of obtaining fuel that will affect shipping prices, and the shipping prices affect how much of what gets shipped where.

Shipping can be done by small shipping companies such as sole proprietors, or by consortiums, or large corporations, or governments. In recent human experience, the trend is toward large corporations buying up smaller operators and creating monopolies or something fairly close.


Investors in planetary colonization want to see a return on their investment. That means that they don’t occupy a planet for the pure pleasure of being there.  Here’s the sorts of things that would appear as planetary colonies:

Science outposts/stations – study of the planet, wildlife, geology, plants.
Military outposts


One major factor for a military is who holds the command, which is usually dictated by who holds the purse strings.  With that in mind, your military is constrained from growing bigger by how much money it costs to operate. If your military is too large and takes too much money, it undermines your economy and will cause your economy to fail. However, there is a tipping point and your military can actually prop up your economy if it’s big enough.

Example: In the 1950s, the Honduras and Nicaragua had a small air war. The economies of the two respective countries allowed them to purchase 15 year old fighter planes from the United States or other countries. One country had a dozen F4U Corsairs, and the other country had a dozen P51 Mustangs.  The resulting air battle is one of the only known situations where the two planes were pitted against each other in combat.  The economy of the two countries did not permit them to have jets or modern aircraft. They couldn’t afford it.

So, consider the economics of the Star Wars universe.  What’s the line item cost of a Death Star?  Who builds such a thing?  Does it make sense? Not very much. What do you need a Death Star for? The opposition barely has a few starships.  It makes for a good tale, but doesn’t stay propped up if you consider the sheer amount of money such a thing would require.

Social Services

Depending on the sort of government you employ, the economics of a system will include a fair bit of charity.  Charity is when a person or government gives goods or services to someone in exchange for a discounted rate or no payment at all.  Wherever humanity exists, there also exists some sort of charity.

Interest rates and inflation

This is more detailed than I have time for in a quick overview, but there are many economic theories floating around, and you can get the gist of them by doing a search on google.  You can also find some theories surrounding some economic situations that may contribute good story ideas.

For instance, a large country has a surplus of grain, so they donate that grain to a starving country. However, the starving countries’ farmers are undercut by the free grain from the large country and they thus go out of business. Later, the large country stops sending their grain surplus and the starving country has nowhere else to go.

(I believe this describes the United States’ relations with some African countries, which is simplified in this example, but you can certainly see the conflict this would introduce.)

Strange Quirks of the Rich

If you’re rich, you understand this. (And you should donate sums of money to me because you’ve obviously found this post useful, or you wouldn’t have read all the way through. Just sayin’. Send me emails.)  People who are bloviated rich do absurd and stupid things for which the rest of the universe has no answer.  It’s like they wake up one day and say, “I have a zillion bucks. I think I’ll go do something wasteful with it and make everyone scratch their heads.”  And then they do.  This isn’t carte blanche for you to start writing that into your stories, it’s saying that you can sometimes put something in there which has no explanation other than, “Bill Gates wanted that to happen.” It’s sort of like all the weird stuff you encounter in a James Bond story… it’s done purely because it’s exotic, not because it’s sensible.