Before we can explore the galactography of war, we first must ask whether war is in any sense a "universal" phenomenon.* If the answer is clearly negative, our subject matter may be a null set.

At least to the extent that competition and aggression are recognized solutions to ecological limitations, evidence accumulated to date suggests that the concept of war should not be strange to many sentient extra terrestrial races. Purposive murder, which has been called "individual war,"31 has been observed in countless vertebrate animal species, including lions, hyenas, macaques, chimpanzees, gorillas, baboons, elephants seals, wild dogs, hippos, seagulls, bears, and mountain lions.2946 Organized impersonal murder, or classical warfare, is more rare but has been seen among chimpanzees,2994 lions,2974 rats,455 and many species of social insects such as army ants65 and weaver ants.2993 Zoologist George Schaller observed a randomly selected Serengeti lion population for a total of 2900 hours and observed three murders.2974 As pointed out by E.O. Wilson, this means that lions are excessively violent by human standards:

If some imaginary Martian zoologist visiting Earth were to observe man as simply one more species over a very long period of time, he might conclude that we are among the more pacific mammals as measured by serious assaults or murders per individual per unit time, even when our episodic wars are averaged in. If the visitor were to be confined to George Schaller’s 2900 hours and one randomly picked human population comparable in size to the Serengeti lion population, he would probably see nothing more than some play-fighting — almost completely limited to juveniles — and an angry verbal exchange or two between adults.565

In his recent book On Human Nature Wilson expands on this point of view:

Recent studies of hyenas, lions, and langur monkeys, to take three familiar species, have disclosed that individuals engage in lethal fighting, infanticide, and even cannibalism at a rate far above that found in human societies. When a count is made of the number of murders committed per thousand individuals per year, human beings are well down on the list of violently aggressive creatures. Hyena packs clash in deadly pitched battles that are virtually indistinguishable from primitive human warfare. I suspect that if hamadryas baboons had nuclear weapons, they would destroy the world in a week.3198

Xenologists thus have every reason to suspect that alien races exist in this Galaxy both more and less "warlike" than humans.548 (And of course "war" implies only conflict, which need not necessarily involve any actual killing.1000,1541 There may exist stringent rules, codes, or legal requirements of war activity among ETs.933)

When is war most likely to occur? Consider the factors of sentience, dispersion, size and heritage.

Beings having genetic sentience have no concept of the self and thus no empathy for the pain and suffering of others. Genetic warriors should be the most ruthless and persistent, each individual driven on by the community urge with no thought of self-preservation. Similarly, communal sentients should be highly pacific among themselves but instantly reactive to any threat to the community at large. Personal sacrifice may be moderated by personal consciousness, but war will be perceived more as a match between two social organisms rather than as a contest between individual combatants. Patriotism may serve as a primary emotion rather than a vague ethical ideal, so communal soldiers may fight with a unity of purpose unparalleled in all of human experience. Finally, brain sentients such as human beings will fear for the integrity of the self without the matching support of a visceral sense of community. Xenologists expect them to be among the poorest warriors in the Galaxy.2980

High dispersion will make warfare more difficult. The late Quincy Wright, a leading international jurist and political scientist, showed that the frequency of war on Earth is inversely correlated with the number of barriers to mobility.585 Large populations tend to increase technological scale and accumulate excess resources which both permit and demand a larger scale of competitive activity. As heritage becomes more divergent, war between the different social units is expected to become more frequent since, according to Wright:

Cultural heterogeneity within a state tends to involve it in wars of two types: civil revolts of cultural minorities to resist oppression or to establish national independence and imperialistic wars to expand empire or to divert attention from domestic troubles.585

A number of writers have asserted that interstellar war is much too expensive to wage.63 This probably is not true. On energy considerations alone, war may be rather inexpensive. In an earlier chapter we discussed the dispatch of starliners similar in bulk to the Starship Enterprise. Let us convert to wartime status. Our heavy cruiser starvessel is dispatched from Capitol World at a steady 1 gee acceleration, reaching the enemy star system (100 light-years distant) in 9 years shipboard time using a Standard Flight Plan. The warcraft masses 190,000 metric tons and requires 9 × 1026 joules of energy to perform the maneuver.

When it arrives in orbit around the sole inhabited planet of the enemy star system, it hammers the civilization into submission by destroying all major population centers. This is accomplished by fusing into molten slag the top ten meters of 0.1% of the entire planetary surface area, a feat requiring 1022 joules. The equivalent of this in antimatter, if the energy is stored that way, is a mere 120 tons, which could handily be carried aboard a 190,000 ton starship. Similarly, a human-lethal dose of neutron radiation over the entire land surface of Earth probably requires no more than 104-105 megatons of well-placed nuclear explosives, corresponding to an energy requirement of only 1020 joules. Since either mission easily could be mounted by a mature Type II society, a galactic (Type III) civilization should find the effort of interstellar warfare rather trivial. Planetary sterilization might well be a standard instrument of foreign policy among ruthless expansionistic or totalitarian alien governments.

Will ETs experience the same motivations that have driven human beings to war for thousands of years? A desire for more living space is an oft-cited cause of war. There is no reason why population growth could not motivate competitive confrontations between alien races, especially during the initial phase of galactic expansion and colonization. Eventually, of course, even the Galaxy will be filled to capacity.1120 Even if planets and stars are taken apart for mass and energy, and artificial habitats are constructed to house the teeming octillions, relatively low rates of population growth can lead to extraordinarily large numbers in geologically short periods of time (a few million years). At least during the initial portion of galactic enculturation, interstellar lebensraum cannot be ruled out.

Another cause of war is the quest for power and security. Since we know that it is energetically fairly cheap both to attack and to be attacked, natural predatory alien instincts could find a convenient outlet. Defense may command high budgetary priority once the existence of military competitors with advanced starship technology becomes known. There may exist religious motivations for going to war, or the attacker’s cultural mores may have been insulted or disregarded during some past interaction between races. Also there are a variety of economic motives. Xenologists suspect that interstellar freight costs may be unexpectedly low, so lucrative rare metal, alien artifact, or slave/animal piracy and trade may be able to gain a foothold in local "black markets" among close cluster or Core star cultures. Or, on a larger scale of conquest and appropriation, raw planetary mass or stellar hydrogen might be scooped away for use in high technology projects in progress elsewhere. (Local inhabitants may not be asked for permission.)3386

All this is not to suggest that interstellar war is inevitable or that it is necessary or even likely. But the chances are excellent that many highly intelligent but warlike mentalities may exist in this universe. To blithely assert that warmaking is somehow self-limiting or self-destructive is utterly irresponsible.** (See Clarke1103,373 and MacGowan and Ordway.600) As Murray Leinster once pointed out: "It takes two to make trade, but only one to make war."2877 And, according to Wilson, intelligence itself may be preadaptive for warlike behavior:

If any social predatory mammal attains a certain level of intelligence, as the early hominids, being large primates, were especially predisposed to do, one band would have the capacity to consciously ponder the significance of adjacent social groups and to deal with them in an intelligent, organized fashion. A band might then dispose of a neighboring band, appropriate its territory, and increase its own genetic representation in the metapopulation, retaining the tribal memory of this successful episode, repeating it, increasing the geographic range of its occurrence, and quickly spreading its influence still further in the metapopulation.565

In other words, the human predisposition to practice warfare may actually be evolutionarily adaptive.3241

There are a number of strategic considerations pertinent to the practice of interstellar warfare.2995 For instance, Core civilizations and cluster cultures might be expected to have greater opportunity for conflict, since the higher number density of inhabited solar systems decreases dispersion and brings more divergent cultures into contact with each other. Galactic clusters straddling valuable trade routes (e.g., black hole space-ports?) should be more heavily defended, just as mountain passes have always been crucial in Earthly warfare.737

Perhaps the most crucial element from the standpoint of military strategy is the physical configuration of the defending system. Even on Earth it is well-known that compact shape is of tremendous advantage to a state.726,737 Attenuated or fragmented borders are hard to rule or defend. The Square-Cube law is relevant in this context. The smaller the outer surface of the Empire in relation to its internal volume, the less vulnerable it will be to external attack. Simple geometry might predict that the optimum shape of a galactic civilization should be spherical.1474

Of course, matters are rarely this simple. Since most of the Galaxy is empty space, the "volume" of an interstellar Empire is mostly "holes."668 There is the possibility of two or more alien governments being physically interwoven, with or without conflict or even knowledge of the existence of the other. Perhaps one group prefers F and G stars while the other restricts itself to K-class suns. Or maybe one race inhabits jovian worlds and other prefers terrestrials. The possible complications and permutations are virtually limitless.

Capitol worlds would appear best placed at the geometric center of an expanding spherical Federation. However, in view of the possibility of interwoven civilizations and various other tactical and strategic difficulties, some xenologists would advocate a mobile capitol similar in size and construction to the Death Star of Star Wars fame or the Flagship Plesarius from the original-series Star Trek episode entitled "The Corbomite Maneuver."2996 This would help to prevent crippling attacks on the seat of government.

A few have gone even further, totally rejecting any notion of capitols in favor of a decentralized "distributed intelligence" network of control and military command. Such a system would have the advantage of mobility and the security that the destruction of no single part could seriously damage the whole. However, it would suffer the disadvantages of increased delay time between communications, needless duplication of effort at all levels, and relative lack of tactical unity of command.


* According to one writer: "Man is the only warlike animal, and intelligence was selected simply because only the stupid get themselves in a position to get killed in a tribal battle."2930

** Many have suggested that virtually immortal beings won’t risk centuries of future life on the battlefield. Asks one writer: "Would a solider be willing to fight for his country if he were jeopardizing 20,000 years? What cause would justify exposing a patriot to such a sacrifice?"69 Automated warfare may be the answer.

     31. Pitirim A. Sorokin, Society, Culture, and Personality: Their Structure and Dynamics, Harper & Brothers Publishers, N. Y., 1947
     63. Poul Anderson, Is There Life on Other Worlds?; (Crowell-Collier Press, N. Y.; 1963). With intro. by Isaac Asimov.
     65. Howard R. Topoff; "The Social Behavior of Army Ants", Scientific American 227 (November, 1972):71-9. (Topoff is Assistant Prof. of Psychology at Hunter College of the City University of New York and Research Associate in the Department of Animal of the Behavior of the American Museum of Natural History.).
     69. Osborn Segerberg, Jr. (former UP reporter and ecology-environmentalist writer); The Immortality Factor; (E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc.; N. Y., 1974).
     373. Arthur C. Clarke; "When Earthman and Alien Meet"; Playboy 15 (January, 1968):118-121, 126, 210-212.
     455. Konrad Lorenz (*Ethologist & writer, the 'father of modern ethology’ & Nobelist); On Aggression; (Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., N. Y.; 1966). Translated from the original Austrian, 1963 volume, by Marjorie Kerr Wilson.
     548. Larry Niven; Tales of Known Space; (Ballantine Books, N. Y.; 1975 (S/F)
     565. Edward O. Wilson (Prof. of Zoology and Curator in Entomology at the Museum of comparative Zoology, Harvard University); Sociobiology: The New Synthesis; (The Belknap Press, of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts; 1975).
     585. Quincy Wright (leading authority in fields of int'l law & relations, taught all over the world, deceased 10/70); A Study of War; 2nd Edition (Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago; 1965). Final report of a 11-year research project on war.
     600. Roger A. MacGowen (Computation Center, Army Missile Command, Huntsville, Alabama, USA), Frederick I. Ordway, III (General Astronautics Research Corporation, London Corporation, London, England); Intelligence in the Universe; (Prentice - Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey; 1966).
     668. Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle; The Mote in God's Eye; (Simon and Schuster, N. Y.; 1974). (S/F)
     726. G. Etzel Pearcy, N. Marbury Efimenco, eds.; World Political Geography; (Thomas Y. Crowell Company, N. Y.; 1959).
     737. Samuel Van Valkenburg, Carl L. Stotz (Clark University); Elements of Political Geography, 2nd Edition; (Prentice -Hall, Inc., N. J.; 1960).
     933. Morris Greenspan; "Laws of War"; Britannica III 19 (1974): 538-542.
     1000. Doris Jonas (anthropologist), David Jonas (Adolphe David Jonas, psychiatrist, 1913-); Other Senses, Other Worlds; (Stein and Day, Publishers, N. Y.; 1976), (See Gen. Ref.).
     1103. A. C. Clarke; "The Challenge of the Spaceship"; JBIS 6 (December, 1946):66-81.
     1120. Sebastian von Hoerner; "Population Explosion and Interstellar Expansion"; JBIS 28 (November 1975):691-712.
     1474. Franz Joseph; Star Trek Starfleet Technical Manual; (Ballantine Books, Random House, N. Y.; 1975).
     1541. Clifford Simak; The worlds of Clifford Simak; (Simon and Schuster, N. Y.; 1960) ["Honorable opponent", pp. 26-38; "Jackpot", pp. 182-217; "Lula", pp. 243-280] (S/F)
     2877. Murray Leinster; "First Contact"; in Knight (#2875):9-44. (S/F)
     2930. R. Bigelow; The Dawn Warriors: Man's Evolution Toward Peace; (Little, Brown and Co., Boston; 1969).
     2946. Scot Morris; "The New Science of Genetic Self-Interest"; Psychology Today 10 (February 1977):42-51, 84-88.
     2974. George B. Schaller; The Serengeti Lion: A Study of Predator-Prey Relations; (University of Chicago Press, Chicago; 1972).
     2980. Nat Schachner; "City of the Corporate Mind"; Astounding Science Fiction 24 (December 1939).
     2993. Berthold K. Hölldobler, Edward D. Wilson; "Weaver Ants"; Scientific American 237 (December 1977):146-154.
     2994. "Chimp Killings: Is it the 'Man' in Them?" Science News 113 (Apr. 29, 1978): 276.
     2995. Joe Haldeman; The Forever War. (S/F)
     2996. George Lucas; Star Wars; (Ballantine, N. Y.; 1977). (S/F)
     3198. Edward O. Wilson; On Human Nature; (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.; 1978). {#3176}
     3241. Mark A. Stull, ed.; Workshop on Cultural Evolution (Minutes); (Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, C. A.; Nov. 24-25, 1975). Joshua Lederberg, Chairman.
     3386. Jack Williamson; The Trial of Terra; (Ace Books, N. Y.; 1962). (S/F)

From XENOLOGY, CHAPTER 21.4.3 INTERSTELLAR WAR by Robert A. Freitas Jr. (2008)

Germinating in regions far apart, these empires easily mastered any sub-utopian worlds that lay within reach. Thus they spread from one planetary system to another, til at last empire made contact with empire.

Then followed wars such as had never occurred before in our galaxy. Fleets of worlds, natural and artificial, manoeuvred among the stars to outwit one another, and destroyed one another with long-range jets of sub-atomic energy. As the tides of battle spread hither and thither through space, whole planetary systems were annihilated. Many a world spirit found a sudden end. Many a lowly race that had no part in the strife was slaughtered in the celestial warfare that raged around it.

From STAR MAKER by Olaf Stapeldon (1937)

      After thirteen subjective minutes and five hundred and twenty-eight years, the Clade battleship Ever-Fragrant Perfume of Divinity returned to the dying solar system. The Oort cloud web pulled the crew off; skating around the gravity wells of hot fat gas giants and the swelling primary, the battleship skipped out of the system at thirty percent light-speed into the deep dark. Small, fast, cheap, the battleships were disposable: a football of construction nanoprocessors and a pload crew of three embedded in the heart of a comet, a comet it would slowly consume over its half millennium of flight. So cheap and nasty was this ship that it was only given a name because the crew got bored five (subjective) minutes into the slow-time simulation of Sofreendi desert monasticism that was their preferred combat interface.

     The Oort cloud web caught the crew, shied them to the construction yards skeined through the long, cold loops of the cometary halo, which flicked them in a stutter of light-speed to the Fat Gas Giant relay point, where the eight hundred habitats of the new Clade daughter fleet formed a pearl belly chain around the planet; then to the Cladal Heart-world herself, basking in the coronal energies of the senile, grasping, swollen sun, and finally into fresh new selves.

     “Hi guys, we’re back,” said the crew of Ever-Fragrant Perfume of Divinity as they stepped from the bronze gates of the Soulhouse, down the marble staircase into the thronged Maidan of All Luminous Passion. Irony was still a tradable commodity on this innermost tier of the hundred concentric spheres of the Heart-world, even if not one woman or man or machine or beastli turned its head. Battleship crews knew better than to expect laurels and accolades when they resouled after a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand years on the frontline. Word of Ever-Fragrant Perfume of Divinity’s victory had arrived almost three centuries before. A signal victory; a triumph that would be studied and taught across the Military Colleges and Academies of the Art of Defense for millennia to come. A classic Rose of Jericho strategy (Rose is the fleet admiral).

     Early warning seeds sown like thistledown across half a light-millennium had felt the stroke of the Enemy across their attenuated slow senses and woke. Communication masers hastily assembled from the regoliths of cold moons beamed analyses back to the Heart-world, deep in its centuries-long task of biosphere salvation: eighty thousand habitats on the move. The Clade battle fleet launched instantly. After two hundred and twenty years, there was not a nanosecond to lose. Thirty-five ships were lost: systems malfunctions, breakdowns in the drives that kept them accelerating eternally, decades-long subtle errors of navigation that left them veering light-years wide of the target gravity well, loss of deceleration mass. Sudden total catastrophic failure. Five hundred years later, Ever-Fragrant Perfume of Divinity alone arrived behind the third moon of the vagrant gas giant, which wandered between stars, a gravitational exile, and began to construct the rain of antimatter warheads and set them into orbit around the wanderer. A quick plan, but a brilliant one. A Rose of Jericho plan. As Ever-Fragrant Perfume of Divinity accelerated away from the bright new nebula, its hindward sensors observed eighty thousand Enemy worlds plow into the bow wave of accelerated gas at forty percent light-speed and evaporate. Twenty trillion sentients died. War in space-time is slow and vast and bloody. When the species fight, there is no mercy.

     In the dying echoes of the culture fleet, the three assassins of Ever-Fragrant Perfume of Divinity caught a vector. The fleet had not been aimed on a genocidal assault on the Clade Heart-worlds clustered around the worlds of Seydatryah, slowly becoming postbiological as the sun choked and bloated on its own gas. A vector, and a whisper: Verthandi’s Ring.

     “What is this game?” With life spans measurable against the slow drift of stars, millennia-long games were the weft of Clade society. “What didn’t you tell them, couldn’t you tell us?”
     Rose of Jericho opened her eyes. The wood now joined across the bridge of her nose, her lips struggled against the lignum.
     “There was not one fleet. There are many fleets. Some set off thousands of years ago.”
     “How many fleets?”
     Rose of Jericho struggled to speak. Scented Coolabar leaned close.
     “All of them. The Enemy. All of them.”
     Then Rose of Jericho’s sparse leaves rustled and Scented Coolabar felt the ground shake beneath her. Unbalanced, Harvest Moon seized one of Rose of Jericho’s branches to steady herself. Not in ten reconfigurings had either of them felt such a thing, but the knowledge was deeply burned into every memory, every cell of their incarnated flesh. The Clade Heart-world had engaged its Mach drive and was slowly, slow as a kiss, as an Edda, manipulating the weave of space-time to accelerate away from bloated, burning Seydatryah. Those unharvested must perish with the planet as the Seydatryah’s family of worlds passed beyond the age of biology. Calls flickered at light-speed across the system. Strung like pearls around the gas giant, the eight hundred half-gestated daughter-habitats left their birthing orbits: half-shells, hollow environment spheres; minor Heart-worlds of a handful of tiers. A quarter of the distance to the next star, the manufactories and system defenses out in the deep blue cold of the Oort cloud warped orbits to fall into the Heart-world’s train. The Chamber of Ever-Renewing Waters, the military council, together with the Deep Blue Something, the gestalt übermind that was the Heart-world’s participatory democracy, had acted the moment it became aware of Rose of Jericho’s small secret. The Seydatryah system glowed with message masers as the call went out down the decades and centuries to neighboring Heart-worlds and culture clouds and even meat planets: after one hundred thousand years, we have an opportunity to finally defeat the Enemy. Assemble your antimatter torpedoes, your planet killers, your sun-guns and quantum foam destabilizers, and make all haste for Verthandi’s Ring.

     In all the known universe, there was only the Clade. All life was part of it, it was all life. Ten million years ago, it had been confined to a single species on a single world—a world not forgotten, for nothing was forgotten by the Clade. That world, that system, had long since been transformed into a sphere of Heart-world orbiting a sun-halo of computational entities, but it still remembered when the bright blue eye of its home planet blinked once, twice, ten thousand times. Ships. Ships! Probe ships, sail ships, fast ships, slow ships, seed ships, ice ships; whole asteroid colonies, hollow-head comets, sent out on centuries-long falls toward other stars, other worlds. Then, after the Third Evolution, pload ships, tiny splinters of quantum computation flicked into the dark. In the first hundred thousand years of the Clade’s history, a thousand worlds were settled. In the next hundred thousand, a hundred times that. And a hundred and a hundred and a hundred; colony seeded colony seeded colony, while the space dwellers, the Heart-world habitats and virtual pload intelligences, filled up the spaces in between which, heart and truth, were the vastly greater part of the universe. Relativistic ramships fast-tracked past lumbering arc fleets; robot seed ships furled their sunsails and sprayed biospheres with life-juice; terraforming squadrons hacked dead moons and hell-planets into nests for life and intelligence and civilization. And species, already broken by the Second and Third Evolutions into space-dwellers and ploads, shattered into culture dust. Subspecies, new species, evolutions, devolutions; the race formerly known as humanity blossomed into the many-petaled chrysanthemum of the Clade; a society on the cosmological scale; freed from the deaths of suns and worlds, immune, immortal, growing faster than it could communicate its gathered self-knowledge back to its immensely ancient and powerful Type 4 civilizations (actually, probabaly closer to Kardashev type 2.5); entire globular clusters turned to hiving, howling quantum-nanoprocessors.

     New species, subspecies, hybrid species. Life was profligate in the cosmos; even multicellular life. The Clade incorporated DNA from a hundred thousand alien biospheres and grew in richness and diversity. Intelligence alone was unique. In all its One Giant Leap, the Clade had never encountered another bright with sentience and the knowledge of its own mortality that was the key to civilization. The Clade was utterly alone. And thus intelligence became the watchword and darling of the Clade: intelligence, that counterentropic conjoined twin of information, must become the most powerful force in the universe, the energy to which all other physical laws must eventually kneel. Intelligence alone could defeat the heat-death of the universe, the dark wolf at the long thin end of time. Intelligence was destiny, manifest.

     And then a Hujjain reconnaissance probe, no bigger than the thorn of a rose but vastly more sharp, cruising the edge of a dull little red dwarf, found a million habitats pulled in around the stellar embers. When the Palaelogos of the Byzantine Orthodoxy first encountered the armies of Islam crashing out of the south, he had imagined them just another heretical Christian sect. So had the Hujjain probe doubted; then, as it searched its memory, the entire history of the Clade folded into 11-space, came revelation. There was Another out there.

     Games. And war was just another game to entities hundreds of thousands of years old, for whom death was a sleep and a forgetting, and a morning like this, fresh and filled with light. She remembered the actions they had fought: the reduction of Yorrrt, the defense of Thau-Pek-Sat, where Rose of Jericho had annihilated an Enemy strike-fleet with a blizzard of micro–black holes summoned out of the universal quantum foam, exploding almost instantly in a holocaust of Hawking radiation.

     How do wars begin? Through affront, through bravado, through stupidity or overconfidence, through sacred purpose or greed. But when galactic cultures fight, it is out of inevitability, out of a sense of cosmic tragedy. It is through understanding of a simple evolutionary truth: there can be only one exploiter of an ecological niche, even if that niche is the size of a universe. Within milliseconds of receiving the inquisitive touch of the Hujjain probe, the Enemy realized this truth. The vaporizing of the probe was the declaration of war, and would have given the Enemy centuries of a head start had not the Hujjain craft in its final milliseconds squirted off a burst of communication to its mother array deep in the cometary system on the edge of interstellar space.

     In the opening centuries of the long, slow war, the Clade’s expansion was checked and turned back. Trillions died. Planets were cindered; populations sterilized beneath a burning ultraviolet sky, their ozone layers and protective magnetic fields stripped away; habitat clusters incinerated by induced solar flares or reduced to slag by nanoprocessor plagues; Dyson spheres shattered by billions of antimatter warheads. The Clade was slow to realize what the Enemy understood from the start: that a war for the resources that intelligence required—energy, mass, gravity—must be a war of extermination. In the first two thousand years of the war, the Clade’s losses equaled the total biomass of its original prestarflight solar system. But its fecundity, the sheer irrepressibility of life, was the Clade’s strength. It fought back. Across centuries it fought; across distances so vast the light of victory or defeat would be pale, distant winks in the night sky of far future generations. In the hearts of globular clusters they fought, and the radiant capes of nebulae; through the looping fire bridges on the skins of suns and along the event horizons of black holes. Their weapons were gas giants and the energies of supernovae; they turned asteroid belts into shotguns and casually flung living planets into the eternal ice of interstellar space. Fleets ten thousand a side clashed between suns, leaving not a single survivor. It was war absolute, elemental. Across a million star systems, the Clade fought the Enemy to a standstill. And, in the last eight hundred years, began to drive them back.

     Now, time dilated to the point where a decade passed in a single heartbeat, total mass close to that of a thousand stars, the Clade Heart-world Seydatryah and its attendant culture cluster plunged at a prayer beneath light-speed toward the closed cosmic string loop of Verthandi’s Ring. She flew blind; no information, no report could outrun her. Her half trillion sentients would arrive with only six months forewarning into what might be the final victory, or the Enemy’s final stand.

     Through the crystal shell of the Heart-world, they watched the Clade attack fleet explode like thistledown against the glowing nebula of the Enemy migration. Months ago those battleships had died, streaking ahead of the decelerating Seydatryah civilization to engage the Enemy pickets and, by dint of daring and force of fortune, perhaps break through to attack a habitat cluster. The greater mass of the Clade, dropping down the blue shift as over the years and decades they fell in behind Seydatryah, confirmed the astonished reports of those swift, bold fighters. All the Enemy was here; a caravanserai hundreds of light-years long. Ships, worlds, had been under way for centuries before Ever-Fragrant Perfume of Divinity located and destroyed one of the pilgrim fleets. The order must have been given millennia before; shortly after the Clade turned the tide of battle in its favor. Retreat. Run away. But the Enemy had lost none of its strength and savagery as wave after wave of the cheap, fast, sly battleships were annihilated.

From VERTHANDI'S RING by Ian McDonald (2007)

      Busily, I concocted fantastic mass and firepower readings, fanciful descriptions of complex and meaningless enemy maneuvers; and while I held the Over-mind's attention, I searched (telepathically)—and found its memory vaults.

     There was the image of a great nest, seething with voracious life—a nest that covered a world, leaped to another, swelled through an ever-increasing volume of space, driven by lusts that burned like living fire in each tiny mote.

     I saw the outward-writhing pseudopods of this burgeoning race as they met, slashed at each other with mindless fury—and then flowed on, over every obstacle, changing, adapting to burning suns and worlds of ice, to the near-null gravity of tiny rock-worlds and the smashing forces of titan collapsed-matter stars.

     The wave reached the edge of its galaxy, boiled up, reached out into the void. Defeated, it recoiled on itself, churning back toward galactic center—stronger now, more ruthless, filled with a vast frustrated rage that shrieked its insatiable needs, devouring all in its path—and coming together at last in an eruption of mad vitality that rent the very fabric of space … 

     And from the void at the heart of the universe, the wave rolled out again, tempered in the fires of uncounted ages of ravening combat, devouring its substance now in a new upsurge of violence that made the past invasions seem as somnolent as spawning pools.

     And again the edge of the galaxy was reached, and there the wave built, poised, while from behind, the hordes arose with the voracity of atomic fires—

     And the fire leaped, fell into far space, burned out, and was lost.

     But pressure built, and again lusting life leaped outward, reaching—

     And again fell short. And leaped again. And again … 

     Forces readjusted, adapted, gained new balances. Ferocity was tempered as pressures slackened. But the need was as great as ever. Frantic, the Nest-mind sought for an answer—a key to survival. A million ways were tried, and the nest-motes died, and a million million more methods were attempted, and a million myriads fell, burned to nothingness in uncounted holocausts.

     And still the Nest-mind thrust outward … 

     And it bridged the gap to the next galaxy. Over the slim link, life flowed, fighting, slashing, devouring, leaping from new feeding ground to newer, filling the galaxy, boiling up in a transcendent fury of hunger. Again a leap into nothingness—and a new galaxy was reached.

     Nothing remained in the Nest-mind of its original character. It had become a vast mechanism for growth, a disease of life that radiated outward from a center so distant in the universe that the mind itself in time forgot its beginnings. Units broke free, withered, faded, died. Random islands of the raging vitality consumed themselves, disappeared. A long arm turned back, groped its way along the chains of burned-out worlds, scavenging, growing, to lance in the end into the original nest-place, to devastate it and go on, blind, insensate, insatiable—and finding no new feeding grounds beyond, it turned upon itself … 

     Eons passed. Scattered across a volume of space that was a major fraction of the Macrocosm, the isolated colonies burned out their destinies, consumed their worlds, died, turned to dust. New worlds formed from their substance. Gradually, the ancient plague subsided.

     But in one minor globular cluster, a remnant survived. Nature's vast mechanism of profusion had served its purpose. In the hot muck-beds of the virgin worlds of this cluster, a purpose grew, stabilized, came to fruition. New life-forms sprang from the purpose, new parameters of existence evolved. Questing fibrils of the mother nest spread out, formed themselves into miniscule spores, set themselves adrift from world to world.

     By the uncounted billions, they died. But here and there, they found haven, took root, became life—seeding warm seas, spreading out on dead shelves of rock and the familiar muck … 

     The life-force had found stability, a pattern of existence; but the primal urge to expansion remained. Expansion required a drive, a lust unsatisfied.

     A dichotomy came into being. All across the spectrum of reality, a fissure appeared. Existence segregated itself into two categories, inherently opposed. Conflict renewed; pressure built; expansion resumed. Again, life was on the march toward its unimagined destiny.

     On every world where the opposed forces met, the struggle was joined. Each force knew the other, instinctively recognized the ancient enemy. Each side called itself by a name, and the antagonist by another.

     One name was Good, and the other Evil.

     A variety of symbols came into being, and across the worlds, the struggle swayed, reaching ever outward … 

     And a time came on a remote, isolated world, when traitorous Good met treacherous Evil and joined, against all nature, in a new formula of existence. Now, in this unholy amalgam, the ancient drives met and mingled, fought and struck a balance. A transcendent value-scale evolved—new abilities, unheard-of in the galaxy; an empathy possible only to a monstrous hybrid; an unnatural negation of the primal drive, a perversion of that terrible energy into new channels. Under the stimulus of internal stresses, minds of undreamed-of power sprang into being. At every level from the cellular upward, death conflicted with life; sloth with vaulting ambition; greed with instinct for asceticism. And out of the synthesis of opposites, a cancerous growth called Beauty came into being; obscene antisurvival concepts named Loyalty, Courage, Justice were born into the universe.

     Wherever the elemental Purities encountered this monstrous hybrid, a battle of extermination was joined. Good could compromise with Evil, but neither could meet with the half-breed, Art. A new war raged across the minor galaxy and left annihilation in its wake.

     So it went for ages, until a lone, surviving pocket of hybrids was discovered (the human beings of Terra). The instinct to destroy the Unnatural Ones raged strong—but the race-lesson of restraint and exploitation was stronger. Guarding their secret find, the Pure ones took specimens, sampled their capabilities, needs, drives. Here were minds of great power—computers of magnificent compactness and ability—a resource not to be wasted. A decision was reached: the anomalies would be nurtured, allowed to evolve a primitive social organization—and then harvested, pressed into the service of the Pure. Sometimes the thought came that such a race, released, might rip asunder the ancient contours of the universe … 

     But this was a nightmare concept, to be passed over with a shudder. Control was complete. There was no danger. The hybrids were securely enslaved … 

     I withdrew from the Over-mind, and for a moment I held the long perspective of that view—saw my world as the insignificant scintilla that it was among the stars, my race a sinister tribe of barbaric freaks, harvested like wild honey …

     "Who are they, Jones—the Command-minds and the Over-mind—all those voices I hear (telepathically) in my head?" ("Evil")
     "They're the masters of the dog-things. They're fighting a war—the devil knows what it's about. For some reason they're using this moon as a battleground—and we're a convenient source of computer circuits."
     "The ones they're fighting—they're just as bad ("Good")," Joel said. "I got close to 'em once—nearly got cut off. I put out a feeler to one—wanted to see what he was like. I figured maybe if he was against the Command-voice, maybe I'd change sides. But it was—it was horrible, Jones. Kind of like … well, like some of the old ladies that used to come around the Seaman's Welfare. They was so bound to do good, they'd kill you if you got in their way. It's like hell comes in two colors—black and white."

(ed note: apparently author Keith Laumer was quite bitter in his old age)

From A PLAGUE OF DEMONS by Keith Laumer (1964)

Ain'ta Gonna Study War No More

Of course there are those who would like it if war was abolished. While that would be a nice idea, it seems to be a bit impractical. The old bromide is that people who beat their swords into plowshares tend to be killed by people who keep their swords intact, though sometimes they get lucky and are merely enslaved instead of killed. There are additional reasons for war if the others are aliens.


Getting rid of war, on the other hand, seems to me far more difficult (than FTL travel). It demands at least one, and probably two, psychological developments radical enough to be called breakthroughs, and our progress in developing and utilizing the psychological sciences has so far been disappointing.

The really necessary advance would involve some method of eliminating the almost universal human attitude that one's own rights are as important as anyone else's.

Not more important. As important.

I am not saying that people shouldn't feel that way, or don't have a right to feel that way, or that it's immoral or even unreasonably selfish. I simply say that unless and until it changes, conflicts of interest will continue to lead to violence in the name of right, freedom, and The People. What specific situation starts things off — the population of a landlocked country believing that it has the right to a seaport of its own, women believing that they have the same rights as men, or junkies believing that they have a right to a fix at public expense — is trivial beside the general principle that my right is as important as yours. If a way were actually discovered to alter this bit of human nature there would be screams against the dangers of psychological research; and if a government or some other group tried to apply the techniques, plenty of people (including me) would fight for the right to their own minds.

Please note that death, destruction, and mayhem are not primary aims of war. They may be secondary ones, as when a cannibal tribe attacks its neighbors for meat, but more usually they are just inconvenient by-products. The aim and end of war is to impose one's will on an opponent.

Unfortunately, imposing one's will on another includes the situation in which your will is merely that he not impose his on you.

From CHIPS ON DISTANT SHOLDERS by Hal Clement (1980)

So it appears that war will be with the human race for the forseeable future, or can be avoided by becoming not human anymore.

Occasionally in science fiction you will find a dubious panacea to cure war, just ensure that your civilization and every other civilization within range is infected with hyper-empathy. Which also comes under the heading of "becoming not human anymore." It will also render your civilization(s) helpless if they encounter a warlike civilization who is not so infected.


      But it was interesting. I caught one of those master's thesis assignments he chucked around so casually; I had suggested that the Crusades were different from most wars. I got sawed off and handed this: Required: to prove that war and moral perfection derive from the same genetic inheritance.

     Briefly, thus: All wars arise from population pressure. (Yes, even the Crusades, though you have to dig into trade routes and birth rate and several other things to prove it.) Morals — all correct moral rules derive from the instinct to survive; moral behavior is survival behavior above the individual level — as in a father who dies to save his children. But since population pressure results from the process of surviving through others, then war, because it results from population pressure, derives from the same inherited instinct which produces all moral rules suitable for human beings.
     Check of proof: Is it possible to abolish war by relieving population pressure (and thus do away with the all-too evident evils of war) through constructing a moral code under which population is limited to resources?
     Without debating the usefulness or morality of planned parenthood, it may be verified by observation that any breed which stops its own increase gets crowded out by breeds which expand. Some human populations did so, in Terran history, and other breeds moved in and engulfed them.

     Nevertheless, let's assume that the human race manages to balance birth and death, just right to fit its own planets, and thereby becomes peaceful. What happens?
     Soon (about next Wednesday) the Bugs (interstellar alien species in the novel with which Terra is currently at war with) move in, kill off this breed which "ain'ta gonna study war no more" and the universe forgets us. Which still may happen. Either we spread and wipe out the Bugs, or they spread and wipe us out — because both races are tough and smart and want the same real estate.
     Do you know how fast population pressure could cause us to fill the entire universe shoulder to shoulder? The answer will astound you, just the flicker of an eye in terms of the age of our race.
     Try it — it's a compound-interest expansion.

     But does Man have any "right" to spread through the universe?
     Man is what he is, a wild animal with the will to survive, and (so far) the ability, against all competition. Unless one accepts that, anything one says about morals, war, politics — you name it — is nonsense. Correct morals arise from knowing what Man is — not what do gooders and well-meaning old Aunt Nellies would like him to be.
     The universe will let us know — later — whether or not Man has any "right" to expand through it.

From STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert Heinlein (1959)



     Strangers, unfortunately, are not "Just our friends we haven’t met yet.”

     Life forms may and probably do vary in an infinite number of ways, but it seems pretty certain that they will be alike in some ways too—and therein lies the conflict. The more any alien life form resembles us, the more likely it is that we may find ourselves in competition with it for the necessities of continued existence, the first of which is room.

     Consider affairs right here on good old Terra Insula (Earth Island): Biafrans vs. Congolese (not Esquimaux), Bangladesh vs. Pakistan (and Pakistan vs. India). And Israelis vs. Arabs (both sides being desert-dwelling, monotheistic Semites). Then we have the religious conflicts: Medieval Catholics vs. assorted heretics, and post-Renaissance Catholics vs. their contemporary Protestants (including 20th Century Irishmen)—Christians all. So if we don’t engage in a death-struggle with the mud-dwellers of Krako 8, it’ll be because we don’t want their dark mud-worlds and they have no yen for the sunlit glades of Earth.

     When a bacterial culture reaches the edge of the agar-agar, it either is transferred to a less restricted environment (a bigger plate of jelly) or—it dies. We’ve pretty well filled up our planet of origin; already we need more room. We envision domed colonies on the Moon or planets, or self-sufficient Earth satellites—both inadequate expedients. But let us assume we succeed in staving off the Great Dying for some centuries by such desperate measures, until we find livable worlds elsewhere or learn to terraform inhospitable planets. It seems to me that other sapient species will inevitably have faced the same problems, and will have found the same solution. The result must be that in time we’ll meet and bump organ clusters on some coveted piece of real estate vital to our survival—and to theirs. There’ll be no room then for an Alphonse and Gaston routine. We gotta have that sector of space! So we proceed—and when they also forge ahead, we both, reluctantly perhaps, start shooting.

     But, you say, suppose the people we meet are gentle pacifists, evolved from kindly flower-eaters, with no long tradition of combative competition. W1ll we just blast them and take their planets? No. Because no passive, non-offensive species will have made it to the finals. Fast runners, armored browsers, bad-smellers, etc. can survive for a time, but they can’t, by the nature of their life patterns, win the survival contest to master their own home-worlds. It will be the mean old predators we’ll have to contend with. The best defense is usually an offensive, and you can seldom win sitting on the status quo, or even by running like hell from it. This is not a matter of ravening militarists stamping around the Galaxy looking for trouble, or even of cold-eyed engineers surveying a right-of-way through somebody else’s garden. It will be more like a drowning man clutching for his life at whatever’s floating.

     The dear little fox cubs waiting hopefully in the den for Mommy to come home with dinner before they starve don’t have the least ill-will toward the sweet little bunnies huddled in their rabbit-hole waiting for their Mommy to return. But if the Mommy wabbit outruns or outwits the Mommy fox, the little foxes may indeed perish. Whereas if Mama fox scores, the little bunnies starve. But Mrs. Fox has to try, and Mrs. Wabbit must by to elude her. Neither can possibly take pity on the other and also go on living. We all have every right to fight for life, and we will when we must. To my mind, this doesn’t mean that we’ll wage a war of extinction. No doubt some accommodation can be made to allow the loser (the weaker or softer-hearted species) to live a little longer on a reduced scale as long as it doesn’t get in the winner’s way. But in the final analysis, we can have no alien allies, because eventually it will be them or us. And both species will, quite rightly, vote for "us.”

     All this, of course, is at very long range. Before we can do a whole lot of organ-cluster bumping with other land-hungry species, we’ll have to deal with that venerated bugaboo, the so-called Limiting Velocity. I’ve dealt with this fallacy at length elsewhere, but here I’ll expose it to the harsh light of analog: Place, Boston, 1750 A.D. Any horse fancier can tell you that the fastest time ever clocked over the mile by a racehorse works out to about thirty-five miles an hour—a fantastic speed, we’ll agree; and supposing that any animal could maintain this speed for the whole 275 miles between Boston and Philly—an obvious impossibility—the time required would be almost eight hours. Ergo, Q,E.D., no man will ever travel from Boston to Philly in less than eight hours. And the fellow who so argues is absolutely right—so long as he limits himself to travelling by horse.

     So what’s that got to do with Einstein’s theory that if all the energy in the Universe were employed in attempting to accelerate one sub-nuclear particle to the velocity of light it still wouldn’t be enough? Just this: we’ll be able to start from Point A at the same moment as a photon, and arrive at Point B while the photon is still en-route. We’ll get there before the light, though we won’t necessarily exceed C in the process. How? Beats the hell out of me, Lieutenant. But let us not limit ourselves to terms of plain old matter and energy. (Why restrict our thinking to the concept of accelerating a material mass by means of physical energy?) Let’s just go—and we will. We’ll find lovely unoccupied planets in plenty at first, and I expect we’ll grab them as fast as we can breed.

     During this Era of Expansion, we’ll encounter non-competitor species with which we can temporarily co-exist, as long as there’s room for this luxury. But if the day comes when we have to make our last desperate bid to keep a selected few humans alive on a small reservation surrounded by competitors, but are forbidden by the Other Guys to trespass on their territory (perhaps because their Great God Ug says so), we’ll dig in and fight. Not because we like fighting or desperately hate the Other Guys, even though they eat both their own young and ours and have other unacceptable habits—but because it’s our only chance. We won’t let the five-billion-year saga of life on Earth end by default.

     In the initial skirmishes of the Last War, when it first becomes apparent that it’s Us or Them, no doubt we’ll deploy our highly impressive battle-fleets with boyish enthusiasm—and no doubt the Other Guys will be glad to come out to play: a fellow who owns a super-dreadnaught naturally wants a chance to see what it’ll do. But at the last—and why dwell on mere preliminaries?—we’ll find that Infantry is still the Queen of Battles. The foot- (or pseudopod-) soldier will still have to go in to take and hold the ground. After all, the ground is what it’s all about. Planet Busters won’t be used. More potent and accurate ways of inflicting damage on individuals without damage to the landscape will be found—the weapons of those last desperate days—and We’ll find that the ancient virtues of strength and courage, loyalty, and devotion to duty (plus plain old determination) will still be as vital as they were when Homo erectus had to throw the cave bears out of the available housing or die of cold. The cave bear was fourteen feet of muscles and bad temper, and could eat a Kodiak bear for lunch. He liked the same kind of caves our great-grandpas did, and great-grandpa had only a sharp stick to fight with. Too bad for Ursus spelaeus. They got kind of extinct all of a sudden. We come from a long line of tough SOB’s, and if we didn’t we wouldn’t be here.

     Nobody will want to invade Earth except as a mere detail after the last battle has been fought (if we should lose) and the last man is dead. The planet will have no military value, and a room-hungry competitor will take all the easier pickings first. We’ll defend the old place the way hornets defend their nests, but our fighting HQ will certainly be elsewhere.

     There won’t be any robots in the last war, because there won’t be any robots, period. By robot, I mean android, artificial man (or alien). There’ll be special-purpose usuform devices, of course, like record-changers and Mars-explorers. But there certainly will never be a need— or even an excuse—for crippling a machine by limiting it to tottering around on two or more legs, or in any other way restricting it to an external resemblance to any living being. (I have a late 19th Century magazine article, explaining that mechanical street transportation is just around the corner. The illustration shows a very life-like sheet-metal horse, with a steam boiler in his belly and complete in every detail except genitals, plus neat little external pistons looking like shock-absorbers attached to each joint of its shapely legs. The artist had vision, but not much. We should already have known that wheels worked better, and that the handsome head and neck were as superfluous as the tail and genitals. But we still almost always have the engine in front where the horse used to be—and up until about 1905 lots of motor-buggies had a socket for a buggy-whip, useful for horse-whipping editors.) But we don’t need to go on being myopic. We can leave the streamlining and steering vanes off our spaceships. Of course, square spaceships with no portholes to look through won’t look as snazzy as Flash Gordon’s needle-nosed fleets, but they’ll be more practical for stacking.

     A fighting “robot” will, of course, possess weapons, armor, self-transport capability, and effective communications equipment, and will thus inevitably look like a war machine, not a sheet-metal soldier. Computers will continue to be improved, and to improve themselves, but also and alas, they’ll never get as smart as, say, a dull-witted three-year old. (Yes. Exactly: computers are stupid. You’re inside a building with a computer-controlled security system that locks all the doors without ever forgetting—only this morning the place is on fire and you’re hammering on a locked exit. Your old pal and daily co-worker, the computer, hasn’t been programmed to listen to reason. Too bad.)

     So we’ll probably have to do most of our own fighting —and there’ll be neither race nor tribe, border nor breed nor birth, when two strong beings stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the Universe.


Peace Enforcers

Since science fiction is the literature that asks the question "What If?", there is some on the topic of what it would be like to live in a universe without war. However unlikely that may be.

Science fiction writers should understand that this is NOT a popular topic with readers. John Carr and Jerry Pournelle had a series of anthologies titled THERE WILL BE WAR, which eventually grew to ten volumes because the readers liked them. Harry Harrison and Bruce McAllister counter-anthology THERE WON'T BE WAR was cancelled after the first volume.

  • In the Gene Roddenberry production GENESIS II, out of the ashes of World War III arises a pacifist organization called "Pax" (peace). In the barbarian post-apocalyptic hell-scape, Pax seeks to re-build civilization along strictly peaceful lines. Which is a challenge since the rest of the world has gone all "Road Warrior". Members of Pax take a strict vow to never take a human life, since this is more or less the root cause of WWIII.

  • In James White's Sector General series the galactic federation is guarded by the Monitor Corps, who are NOT military. Yes, they have battlefleets and armies, but most of their efforts are in trying to stop wars before they start. They use lots of diplomacy, psychology, secret agents, and propaganda. They were invented by James White because he grew up in Belfast during the Troubles, and his deep horror of war was fueled by revulsion at events in his home town. In the Sector General stories, galactic citizens are such ultra-pacifists that they look at the Monitor Corps with distaste, carrying deadly weapons and other unspeakable things.


The novelette “Sector General,” however, had flaws. Ted Carnell said that it lacked a coherent plot; that the principal character, Doctor Conway, simply drifted into and out of medical situations without solving his main problem—the ethical conflict in his mind between the militaristic Monitor Corps, which maintained the hospital, and its intensely pacifist medical staff.

The second story in the series was “Trouble with Emily” and Ted was much happier with this one. It featured Doctor Conway—carrying a pint-sized alien with psi powers on his shoulder instead of a large chip—and a party of Monitor Corpsmen, who were assisting him with the treatment of a brontosaurus-like patient called Emily, because one of the Corps officers had a fondness for reading the Brontë sisters.

But the function of the Monitor Corps, the law enforcement and executive arm of the Galactic Federation whose sixty-odd intelligent species were represented on the staff of Sector General, was something that needed clarification, I thought. The result was a very long novelette of some 21,000 words.

Essentially the Monitor Corps was a police force on an interstellar scale, but I did not want them to be the usual ruthless, routine-indoctrinated, basically stupid organization that is so handy to have around when an idealistic principal character needs a bit of ethical conflict. Conway was one of the good guys and I wanted them to be good guys too, but with different ideas as to the kind of activity that produces the greater good.

Their duties included interstellar survey and first-contact work as well as maintaining the Federation’s peace—a job that could, if they were unable to discourage the warmongers, give rise to a police action that was indistinguishable from an act of war. But the Corps much preferred to wage psychological warfare aimed at discouraging planetary and interplanetary violence and when, despite their efforts, a war broke out, then they very closely monitored the beings who were waging it.

These warlike entities belonged to a psychological rather than physiological classification, and regardless of species they were the classification responsible for most of the trouble within the Federation. The story told of the efforts of the Monitor Corps first to attempt to prevent the war and then damp down the war, and Conway and Sector General came into it only when things went catastrophically wrong and large numbers of human and e-t casualties had to be dealt with. The original title of the story was “Classification: Warrior.”

Ted, however, insisted that it was much too serious a story to be tied into the Sector General series, and he had me delete all references to the Monitor Corps (rechristening them the Stellar Guard), the Federation, Sector General hospital and Conway. The story was retitled “Occupation: Warrior.” It appeared in the collection The Aliens Among Us which also contained a proper Sector General story called “Countercharm.”

Normally I do not like stories of violence or the senseless killing that is war. But if a story is to hold the interest of the reader there must be conflict, which means violence or struggle of some kind. However, in a medical SF story of the Sector General type the violence is usually the direct or indirect result of a natural catastrophe, a disaster in space or an epidemic of some kind. And if there is a war situation of the kind that occurred in Star Surgeon, then the medics are fighting only to save lives, and the Monitor Corps, like the good little policemen they are, are fighting to stop the war rather than win it—which is the essential difference between maintaining the peace and waging a war.


      In Conway’s pleasurable but busy life with the high unusual establishment that was Sector General there was only one sour note, and he met it again when he entered the Educator room: there was a Monitor in charge. Conway disliked Monitors. The presence of one affected him rather like the close proximity of a carrier of a contagious disease. And while Conway was proud of the fact that as a sane, civilized and ethical being he could never bring himself actually to hate anybody or anything, he disliked Monitors intensely. He knew, of course, that there were people who went off the beam sometimes, and that there had to be somebody who could take the action necessary to preserve the peace. But with his abhorrence of violence in any form, Conway could not like the men who took that action.
     And what were Monitors doing in a hospital anyway?
     The figure in neat, dark green coveralls seated before the Educator control console turned quickly at his entrance and Conway got another shock. As well as a Major’s insignia on his shoulder, the Monitor wore the Staff and Serpents emblem of a Doctor!

     And anyway, if Conway had thought more of his job and less of the fact that a Monitor was giving him the tape, this would never have happened.
     Conway, O’Mara continued bitingly, appeared to be a self-righteous bigot who made no pretense at hiding his feelings of defilement at the touch of an uncivilized brute of a Monitor. How a person intelligent enough to gain appointment to this hospital could also hold those sort of feelings was beyond O’Mara’s understanding.
     O’Mara had cooled somewhat as his explanation proceeded. His voice was almost impersonal as he went on, “You’re suffering from little more than a bad case of sunburn. Your back will be tender for a while and later it will itch. Serves you right. Now go away. I don’t want to see you again until hour nine the day after tomorrow.

     Outside in the corridor Conway had a feeling of complete deflation coupled with an anger that threatened to burst out of all control—an intensely frustrating combination. In all his twenty-three years of life he could not remember being subjected to such extreme mental discomfort. He had been made to feel like a small boy—a bad, maladjusted small boy. Conway had always been a very good, well-mannered boy. It hurt.
     He had not noticed that his rescuer was still beside him until the other spoke.
     “Don’t go worrying yourself about the Major,” the Monitor said sympathetically. “He’s really a nice man, and when you see him again you’ll find out for yourself. At the moment he’s tired and a bit touchy. You see, there are three companies just arrived and more coming. But they won’t be much use to us in their present state—they’re in a bad way with combat fatigue, most of ‘em. Major O’Mara and his staff have to give them some psychological first aid before—”
     “Combat fatigue,” said Conway in the most insulting tone of which he was capable. He was heartily sick of people he considered his intellectual and moral inferiors either ranting at him or sympathizing with him. “I suppose,” he added, “that means they’ve grown tired of killing people?”
     He saw the Monitor’s young-old face stiffen and something that was both hurt and anger burn in his eyes. He stopped. He opened his mouth for an O’Mara-type blast of invective, then thought better of it. He said quietly, “For someone who has been here for two months you have, to put it mildly, a very unrealistic attitude toward the Monitor Corps. I can’t understand that. Have you been too busy to talk to people or something?”
     “No,” replied Conway coldly, “but where I come from we do not discuss persons of your type, we prefer pleasanter topics.”
     “I hope,” said the Monitor, “that all your friends—if you have friends, that is—indulge in backslapping.” He turned and marched off.
     Conway winced in spite of himself at the thought of anything heavier than a feather hitting his scorched and tender back. But he was thinking of the other’s earlier words, too. So his attitude toward Monitors was unrealistic? Did they want him, then, to condone violence and murder and befriend those who were responsible for it? And he had also mentioned the arrival of several companies of Monitors. Why? What for? Anxiety began to eat at the edges of his hitherto solid block of self-confidence. There was something here that he was missing, something important.

     The sight of the first case gave Conway a shock—not because it was serious, but because of the nature of the injuries. The third made him stop so that his Monitor assistant looked at him questioningly.
     “What sort of accident was this?” Conway burst out. “Multiple punctures, but the edge of the wounds cauterized. Lacerated punctures, as if from fragments thrown out by an explosion. How … ?”
     The Monitor said, “We kept it quiet, of course, but I thought here at least the rumor would have got to everybody.” His lips tightened and the look that identified all Monitors to Conway deepened in his eyes. “They decided to have a war,” he went on, nodding at the Earth-human and DBLF patients around them. “I’m afraid it got a little out of control before we were were able to clamp down.”
     Conway thought sickly, A war … ! Human beings from Earth, or an Earth-seeded planet, trying to kill members of the species that had so much in common with them. He had heard that there were such things occasionally, but had never really believed any intelligent species could go insane on such a large scale. So many casualties
     He was not so bound up in his thoughts of loathing and disgust at this frightful business that he missed noticing a very strange fact—that the Monitor’s expression mirrored his own! If Williamson thought that way about war, too, maybe it was time he revised his thinking about the Monitor Corps in general.
     A sudden commotion a few yards to his right drew Conway’s attention. An Earth-human patient was objecting strenuously to the DBLF intern trying to examine him, and the language he was using was not nice. The DBLF was registering hurt bewilderment, though possibly the human had not sufficient knowledge of its physiognomy to know that, and trying to reassure the patients in flat, Translated tones.
     It was Williamson (the Monitor) who settled the business. He swung around on the loudly protesting patient, bent forwards until their faces were only inches apart, and spoke in a low, almost conversational tone which nevertheless sent shivers along Conway's spine.
     “Listen, friend,” he said. “You say you object to one of the stinking crawlers that tried to kill you trying to patch you up, right? Well, get this into your head, and keep it there—this particular crawler is a doctor here. Also, in this establishment there are no wars. You all belong to the same army and the uniform is a nightshirt, so lay still, shut up and behave. Otherwise I’ll clip you one.”
     Conway returned to work underlining his mental note about revising his thinking regarding Monitors. As the torn, battered and burnt life-forms flowed past under his hands his mind seemed strangely detached from it all. He kept surprising Williamson with expressions on his face that seemed to give the lie to some of the things he had been told about Monitors. This tireless, quiet man with the rock-steady hands—was he a killer, a sadist of low intelligence and nonexistent morals? It was hard to believe. As he watched the Monitor covertly between patients, Conway gradually came to a decision. It was a very difficult decision. If he wasn’t careful he would very likely get clipped.
     O’Mara had been impossible, so had Bryson and Mannon for various reasons, but Williamson now …
     “Ah … er, Williamson,” Conway began hesitantly, then finished with a rush, “have you ever killed anybody?”
     The Monitor straightened suddenly, his lips a thin, bloodless line. He said tonelessly, “You should know better than to ask a Monitor that question, Doctor. Or should you?” He hesitated, his curiosity keeping check on the anger growing in him because of the tangle of emotion which must have been mirrored on Conway’s face, then said heavily, “What’s eating you, Doc?”
     Conway wished fervently that he had never asked the question, but it was too late to back out now. Stammering Stammering at first, he began to tell of his ideals of service and of his alarm and confusion on discovering that Sector General—an establishment which he had thought embodied all his high ideals—employed a Monitor as its Chief Psychologist, and probably other members of the Corps in positions of responsibility. Conway knew now that the Corps was not all bad, that they had rushed units of their Medical Division here to aid them during the present emergency. But even so, Monitors … !
     “I’ll give you another shock,” Williamson said dryly, “by telling you something that is so widely known that nobody thinks to mention it. Dr. Lister, the Director, also belongs to the Monitor Corps.
     “He doesn’t wear uniform, of course,” the Monitor added quickly, “because Diagnosticians grow forgetful and are careless about small things. The Corps frowns on untidiness, even in a Lieutenant-General.”
     Lister, a Monitor! “But, why?” Conway burst out in spite of himself. “Everybody knows what you are. How did you gain power here in the first place … ?”
     “Everybody does not know, obviously,” Williamson cut in, “because you don’t, for one.”
     The Monitor was no longer angry, Conway saw as they finished with their current patient and moved onto the next. Instead there was an expression on the other’s face oddly reminiscent of a parent about to lecture an offspring on some of the unpleasant facts of life.
     “Basically,” said Williamson as he gently peeled back a field dressing of a wounded DBLF, “your trouble is that you, and your whole social group, are a protected species.”
     Conway said, “What?”
     “A protected species,” he repeated. “Shielded from the crudities of present-day life. From your social strata—on all the worlds of the Union, not only on Earth—come practically all the great artists, musicians and professional men. Most of you live out your lives in ignorance of the fact that you are protected, that you are insulated from childhood against the grosser realities of our interstellar so-called civilization, and that your ideas of pacifism and ethical behavior are a luxury which a great many of us simply cannot afford. You are allowed this luxury in the hope that from it may come a philosophy which may one day make every being in the Galaxy truly civilized, truly good.”
     “I didn’t know,” Conway stammered. “And … and you make us—me, I mean—look so useless …”
     “Of course you didn’t know,” said Williamson gently. Conway wondered why it was that such a young man could talk down to him without giving offense; he seemed to possess authority somehow. Continuing, he said, “You were probably reserved, untalkative and all wrapped up in your high ideals. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, understand, it’s just that you have to allow for a little gray with the black and white. Our present culture,” he went on, returning to the main line of discussion, “is based on maximum freedom for the individual. An entity may do anything he likes provided it is not injurious to others. Only Monitors forgo this freedom.”
     “What about the ‘Normals’ reservations?” Conway broke in. At last the Monitor had made a statement which he could definitely contradict. “Being policed by Monitors and confined to certain areas of country is not what I’d call freedom.”
     “If you think back carefully,” Williamson replied, “I think you will find that the Normals—that is, the group on nearly every planet which thinks that, unlike the brutish Monitors and the spineless aesthetes of your own strata, it is truly representative of its species—are not confined. Instead they have naturally drawn together into communities, and it is in these communities of self-styled Normals that the Monitors have to be most active. The Normals possess all the freedom including the right to kill each other if that is what they desire, the Monitors being present only to see that any Normal not sharing this desire will not suffer in the process.
     “We also, when a sufficiently high pitch of mass insanity overtakes one or more of these worlds, allow a war to be fought on a planet set aside for that purpose, generally arranging things so that the war is neither long nor too bloody.” Williamson sighed. In tones of bitter self-accusation he concluded, “We underestimated them. This one was both.”
     Conway’s mind was still balking at this radically new slant on things. Before coming to the hospital he’d had no direct contact with Monitors, why should he? And the Normals of Earth he had found to be rather romantic figures, inclined to strut and swagger a bit, that was all. Of course, most of the bad things he had heard about Monitors had come from them. Maybe the Normals had not been as truthful or objective as they could have been …
     “This is all too hard to believe,” Conway protested. “You’re suggesting that the Monitor Corps is greater in the scheme of things than either the Normals or ourselves, the professional class!” He shook his head angrily. “And anyway, this is a fine time for a philosophical discussion!”
     “You,” said the Monitor, “started it.”
     There was no answer to that.

From SECTOR GENERAL by James White (1957)

A pacifist, by definition, is a person who is opposed to the use of violence to resolve disputes or gain advantages. It's that simple.

Or is it?

No, it's not that simple. The opposition may be philosophical or pragmatic, it may be absolute or conditional. A philosophical pacifist holds the belief that violence is wrong, while a pragmatic pacifist objects to violence on the grounds that it's ineffective in the long run. An absolute pacifist believes that all violence is always to be avoided, a conditional pacifist believes that there are some situations in which it is acceptable (most often, in the protection of the life of another). Some people consider the definition of pacifism to be "not killing" rather than "not using violence."

As a trope, though, pacifists basically fall into several categories, arranged here from most strict to most lenient.

  • The Actual Pacifist: This is the character who will not, under any circumstances, use any form of violence against another living being. Actual Pacifists are rare in real life and vanishingly rare in fiction. The Jain religion of India advocates Actual Pacifism — even insects are not to be killed, and face masks are often worn to reduce harm to airborne spores or passing bacteria.

  • The Suicidal Pacifist: This is the above as depicted by an author committed to the Hard Truth Aesop that Violence Really Is the Answer. The Suicidal Pacifist will continue to preach absolute non-violence while a fascist dictator next door openly declares his people an inferior race who must be immediately exterminated, and do so right up until the point that the bad guys drive a tank over him and laugh while they clean bits of him out of the treads.

  • The Badass Pacifist: While the Technical Pacifist and the Martial Pacifist are seen as cool because they are willing to use violence, but still keep themselves under control, the Badass Pacifist is respected because of their strict anti-violence approach. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. are both Real Life examples of this with their practices of active non-violent resistance in the face of brutal oppression and tyranny.

  • The Martial Pacifist: Here is somebody who is extremely good at fighting, but unlike the Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy, they use martial arts as a means of enhancing their life as opposed to destroying others. They are very big fans of discipline, and typically will only fight if there is absolutely no other option available. If you do manage to force one of them into fighting you, though, prepare to get owned. They will clean the floor with anybody foolish enough to corner them. Often overlaps with Old Master. Iroh is a Martial Pacifist, as is Dhalsim

  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: This character recognizes that sometimes violence is necessary. He will try to avoid lethal violence, but if the need is great enough, he will directly kill. He won't like it, and will almost always have some sort of emotional backlash from it, ranging from angst to wangst to a Heroic BSoD. If he is forced to kill someone, he will honestly say "I killed him." Superman is a classic example of a a character who believes Thou Shalt Not Kill. Slippery Jim DiGriz of The Stainless Steel Rat is another. The Doctor, who also Doesn't Like Guns, is, too.

  • The Technical Pacifist: This is the character who is willing to use non-lethal forms of violence or to allow someone else to die directly because of his inaction or indirectly because of his actions, but will not kill them directly. He will almost always be able to rationalize that "I didn't kill him." although it may be a very flimsy rationalization. Batman is a Technical Pacifist in The Dark Knight Trilogy: "I won't kill you, but I don't have to save you."

  • Doesn't Like Guns: Not necessarily a pacifist at all. This includes characters willing to use any form of violence that doesn't involve guns, even if it's lethal or pointless, and may not even be a moral objection. In some cases, the definition of "gun" is rather conveniently narrow, excluding things like bazookas. Batman also Doesn't Like Guns. Many Retired Gunfighters also fall into this category.

  • An Obstructionist Pacifist is usually too utterly swept up in their own need of being a pacifist or making sure that everyone/anyone else is pacifist. This goes on to the point where it slightly or completely prevents the hero/party/group in progressing to their goal or weighs them down immensely. If things go From Bad to Worse, It may lead to being Too Dumb to Live.

I Can't Believe It's Not Warfare

Just to be complete, there are some odd activities that are arguably "warfare" but they sure don't look like it. These turn up especially in science fiction, which often is concerned with pushing the envelope and questioning basic assuptions.

I am not going to go into them in much detail, because they are mostly invented out of a whole cloth by the science fiction author. Which makes it very hard for me to generalize. Not to mention the fact that the vast majority of the readers of this website are not interested, they are here for the space navy and interstellar grunts.


Since Jupiter pretty certainly lacks a solid surface, its life forms should be of the flying/floating/swimming type (see Arthur C. Clarke’s “A Meeting With Medusa”). A conflict between such beings and our own species would represent one of my extremes, which I am arbitrarily calling the 1 or high end of my strangeness spectrum. I am quite aware that this may require revision when we get to the stars. This involves pairs of species which cannot come anywhere near to living under each other’s conditions and would presumably have no interest in acquiring either territory or properly of the other. In the present example, the Jovians might be unable even to grasp the concept of territory; They might find it easier to communicate with dolphins than with mankind.

An intermediate situation (about 0.3, maybe?) would involve Saturn’s big moon Titan and possibly—we don’t know much about the place yet—Neptune’s satellite Triton. If I had been writing this fifteen years ago I would have included Mars. These are all fairly small bodies, but Titan quite certainly has a fairly dense atmosphere and, a little less certainly, complex local chemistry. I regard it as the third most likely place in the Solar system to have native life.

Titanians could be relatively humanoid to the extent that they would be adapted to existence at a solid/gas interface, possibly with liquid also present. Face-to-face contact and hand-to-hand combat could occur between human and Titanian beings. The fact that one party or both would need space suits is minor compared to the human-Jovian differences; hence the low estimate for the strangeness spectrum number.

Zero strangeness would involve human-against-human or Jovian-against-Jovian conflict. In one way, it is likelier to be more complex than the higher-level situations. I cannot, of course, say that no human beings would sympathize with Jovians or Titanians in a higher-strangeness conflict; the negative chauvinism, or Ugly American complex, or whatever one wants to call it which has been so widespread in this country for the last decade or two could easily expand to cover our whole species. However, the whole who’s-for-whom question can get much more mixed up in an all-human or all-Titanian war.

Some people might feel that the Category 1 situation would not permit warfare at all because of the mutual exclusiveness of the environments; the parties could never cross each other’s paths or have conflicts of interest. Sorry, this is too idealistic even for me.

It is easy to imagine the Ugly Earthman using up his supplies of organic raw materials—petroleum and coal— even if he outgrows the present idiotic practice of burning them. Jupiter is rich in hydrocarbons and, by tonnage if not by percentage, in compounds of nitrogen, sulfur, oxygen, phosphorus, and probably anything else one could want. After we settle our Type Zero wars over local resources, we may very well start sending automatic collectors—ramscoops or something like that—into the Jovian atmosphere to accumulate the local equivalent of plankton for use as organics. The Jovians might reasonably resent such devices plowing through their equivalents of orchards, gardens, and flocks, not to mention their families and themselves. If they have the scientific competence to figure out where the things come from and to do something about it, war would seem a very likely result.

(If one prefers virtuous Earthmen, of course, it would be easy enough to work out a situation in which the Jovians were the heavies. There is no need to pursue both lines, which differ mainly in who does what, and with what, to Whom.)

This war, like any space conflict prior to the development of instantaneous unlimited-distance teleportation, is being conducted at very long range. This automatically means very high cost. This last word is to be taken, throughout this article, as a measure of traction of available effort, not some supposedly absolute unit like the dollar, the ruble, the Scrooge, or anything else which can have its quantitative meaning reduced indefinitely by inflation.

In the present situations the Jovians have a vast cost advantage; their logical strategy would be to make the most of it. After all, they win if humanity merely stops coming.

Tactically, they would reasonably remain in their own atmosphere (leaving it might be prohibitively expensive for them) and simply prevent the return of as many ramscoops as possible. The quantitative effect of this would depend on the cost of the scoops. If each one were the equivalent of a missile submarine or even a Boeing 747, even a very low batting average might give a Jovian victory. Of course, if the scoops were more in the family-car class, the process might take longer or might not work at all.

In this connection we must remember that the scoops may well represent a most unusual, and possibly very valuable, concentration of elements from the Jovian view-point. If they understand clearly enough what is going on at the human end of the line (perhaps too much to expect) the Jovians might deliberately arrange a capture rate low enough to avoid discouraging the suppliers, and accept losses and damage at the Jovian end as a reasonable price for the treasure coming in from space. What would be an acceptable price for either species would of course depend on their psychologies. I don’t see how this is to be predicted. I myself belong to a race apparently quite willing to spend several tens of thousands of lives a year for the convenience of privately—owned transportation equipment, but reluctant to pay a fraction of one percent of this price for a continuous and reliable energy supply (yes, I am pro-nuke). In other words, I find human psychology incomprehensible, and suspect that the Jovian variety would be even more so.

The foregoing situation should, ideally, be worked out as trade rather than war, but the parties involved will have to get into intelligible conversation first. This, unfortunately, is not a prerequisite for combat. The high-strangeness category carries another serious implication. Neither opponent can make direct use of the other’s home world. The destruction of that world, or at least of its habitability, is therefore a matter for strategic consideration, assuming its technical feasibility. Either species might have moral objections to such a course, but unless Jovians are much more moral than Earthmen this would probably not be a decisive consideration. On the practical side, Jupiter would have an enormous advantage; not only does it have over a hundred times Earth’s surface area, but it would be difficult to confine the effects of any destructive technique to the Jovian “surface.”

Just what the technique might be will depend, of course, on the scientific and technical capacities of the warring species. The most predictable from the basis of our present knowledge would be biological agents, with radioactive dusting a very poor second from the human viewpoint. I don’t really see how we could hope to contaminate Jupiter effectively with anything not self-replicating.


Types of Warfare



War must entail some degree of confrontation using weapons and other military technology and equipment by armed forces employing military tactics and operational art within a broad military strategy subject to military logistics. Studies of war by military theorists throughout military history have sought to identify the philosophy of war, and to reduce it to a military science. Modern military science considers several factors before a national defence policy is created to allow a war to commence: the environment in the area(s) of combat operations, the posture national forces will adopt on the commencement of a war, and the type of warfare troops will be engaged in.

From the Wikipedia entry for WAR: TYPES

      Commander John R. Lowell, captain of the NAUSS Ciudad Juarez, stood in an out-of-the-way corner of the docking area with Governor Cantrell, in order to be present while his executive officer saw to the unloading of the ship, without being obtrusively present.
      (Cantrell said) "I thought war was impossible."
     "Man is a bad-weather animal, sir. War is a primal need, and we will find a way."
     "That's nice. Philosophy aside, do you expect a war?"

     "Actually, yes. There are several modes of fighting, you know: Police war, war inside the state; Army war, war along the perimeter of the state; Navy war, war fought at a distance from the state. On Earth, distance has been annihilated, The states are like walled cities facing each other over a common moat. They look down on the Pacific Ocean and count the seagulls. No room for a navy on Earth anymore, and Army war is too expensive. So they fight the Police war, inside."
     "Terrorists and saboteurs?"
     "And counterterrorists and spies and bought politicians."

     "An example, please,” said Cantrell.
     "The Panoblancos, for instance. Very strong for Mexican independence. Japanese money makes them stronger."
     "That isn't news, and it isn't exactly war, either."
     "In the Police war, there is a connection. The NAU (North American Union, composed of former US, Canada, and Mexico) worries about the restoration of the old regime (split the former continental US off from the NAU), and the Panoblancos want a free Mexico — including Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Southern California, by the way (split off from the NAU). So the supporters of the old regime and the Panoblancistas have a mutual enemy (the NAU), a point not overlooked by anybody. It's true, the navy building program has been cut because the Government sees us as a hotbed of sedition — sympathy with the old regime is pervasive, supposedly. Today, we are first in space by the narrowest of margins. In five years, probably not."

     "What happens then?"
     "Scenarios.” A shrug. “Some men make a career playing war games."
     "War in space?” asked Cantrell. (Navy war)
     "Where better? More likely the Police war will be extended, and a purge will be attempted to rid the navy of disloyal elements. It will turn on how matters go on Earth. The Police war against a free Mexico and the ghosts of the old regime is fought on many fronts. I would prefer Navy war; it would be cleaner and less bloody."

From THE REVOLUTION FROM ROSINANTE by Alexis Gilliand (1980)

Unconventional Warfare

Unconventional warfare, the opposite of conventional warfare, is an attempt to achieve military victory through acquiescence, capitulation, or clandestine support for one side of an existing conflict.

Divide and Conquer

That old gag of "clandestine support for one side of an existing conflict" is a classic, and it never gets old. Economical, relatively risk-free, what's not to like?

For this to work you need an existing conflict, which means the operating theater must be balkanized. Make covert contact or send your agents into a couple of the most powerful nations and encourage them to attack each other. The loser of the war will be in no condition to resist your invasion, and the winner will be vastly weakened. The idea is "Let's you and him fight." In The Art of War, Sun Tzu called this "attacking alliances." A common colloquialism is "play both ends against the middle".

A balkanized planet is just full of flaws and vulnerabilities for an invader to take advantage of. The invaders can try to covertly inflame old hatreds and grievances, corrupt a nation into doing the invader's bidding by dangling riches or valuable alien technology in front of their nose, frame one nation with something it didn't actually do, the possibilities are endless.

Isaac Kuo points out that this also has implications for the invaders. If the invaders do not have enough troops to conquer an entire planet, but only enough for one nation, the dynamic shifts. As he puts it:

If alien forces are overwhelming but localized, then you don't need to be strong enough to defeat them. You just need to be stronger than your neighbor.

Isaac Kuo

This is a variant on the old joke "I do not have to run faster than the lion, I just have to run faster than you."

Isaac also mentions that if the various balkanized nations hate each other enough, when the invaders attack one nation, that nation's enemies might actually pay the invaders in gratitude.

Proxy War

A related concept is "Proxy War." In the prior strategy, the operating word is "clandestine", your opponent is unaware you are involved. Also, your opponent is one of the factions in the conflict. In a proxy war, your opponent is not directly involved, and they know quite well you are involved. The actual combatants may or may not know.

During the Cold War, proxy wars were standard operating procedure. Due to the fact that if the United States and the Soviet Union fought directly, sooner or later nuclear war would erupt. It was safer to damage your opponents interests by using a proxy.

Another potent type of unconventional warfare is Economic Warfare. Cutting a planet off from interstellar trade could trigger a major recession and may even crash the entire planetary economy.


My tentative suspicion is that war-as-we-know-it is obsolescent. This is not from any expectation that everyone is going to join hands and sing Kumbiya, or even seek mutual understanding through dialogue. But just a few days ago I saw a striking observation that the War of 1870 is the most recent inter-state war in which the side that started it achieved anything like its objectives. Certainly you could make a case that since 1945 most states would have been better off without armies: Governments have been far more at risk from their own armed forces than from someone else's.

In a post-industrial age, other modalities of political violence — terrorism, assassination, even plain old rioting — may well prove to be more efficient means of getting what you want through coercion than traditional march-across-the-border warfare, or even variations such as airstrikes, carrier task forces, or dare I say starships bristling with zappers and whackers of various fancy and expensive sorts.

Any shift from territorial states to other forms of power-political relations would certainly render war-as-we-know-it a doubtful proposition — we have contemporary evidence of the problems that very formidable militaries face when they don't know who the hell the enemy is.

I see this as (perhaps!) part of the phase shift from agrarian society to post-industrial society, a phase shift comparable in scope to the shift from hunting-gathering to agriculture. War-as-we-know-it may not have existed among hunter-gatherers. It is/was a phenomenon of the agrarian age, the jet fighter simply a super chariot with 150,000 horses. It likewise may not exist among developed post-industrial societies, its place taken by forms of nastiness we today can only vaguely guess at.

I should hasten to add that my own SF pretty much follows the conventions, with recognizable space fleets fighting recognizable wars-as-we-know-them, offering only minor conceptual innovations, often themselves rooted in past history. Which is rather odd, and calls for explanation. The short answer is that, in spite of Realistic TM trappings, my SF concepts are fundamentally space opera — starships, colonies, interstellar trade, all things that raise plausibility questions even if FTL turns out to be possible.

The slightly longer answer is that I like to write about recognizable people in recognizable settings. I am not a transhumanist; I suspect that humans in 3000 will be essentially the same messy Cro-Magnons that we are. I also suspect that the Singularity, to the extent there is one, already happened, centered around 1870-1930, though it will take at least a couple more centuries for its consequences to become clear. But the effort to create a future setting with plausible deep post-industrial power politics, would likely be so intellectually demanding that the ideas would overwhelm the story — the result might be good futurism, but probably not good fiction.

Thus I am fully complicit in the SF convention, imagining what is fundamentally a retro-future, complete with fusion-torch Indiamen and fusion-torch frigates to chase them.

Rick Robinson

One crucial point about warfare in general that is often overlooked, but is particularly relevant to the origins of space warfare, is that warfare is almost never just about destroying things.  Space colonies will likely place a premium on resources, doing their best to keep them intact during a war.  For that matter, the earliest space warfare might be police actions, security, or even filibusters (amateur attempts to take over other countries) instead of the sort of all-out warfare that has been described in this section so far.  Those forms of conflict tend to happen as much on the ground as in space, making the previous discussion on infantry weapons even more relevant.  Particularly at such low levels of conflict, space weapons will be very primitive, leading them to be either incredibly destructive (ramming ships into things) or almost totally ineffective (throwing unguided debris at other ships).

Part of this is that in many cases, warfare may resemble the formal, positional wars of the 18th century, with a premium placed on outmaneuvering the enemy and a minimum of destruction of assets.  This has been alluded to in other sections.  Both sides would have a strong incentive not to destroy anything, as they would be hoping to take enemy material for themselves.  For instance, an invasion could consist of one side sending a group of ships to the other’s world, with the space battle based around their attempts to run each other out of delta-V.  It’s possible that the attacker would go in without abort delta-V, in the knowledge that this gives their enemies an incentive to not go for the kill, as they can expect to take the ships if they win.  Unguided kinetics are likely to be common in these battles, as they are excellent for forcing maneuvers.  However, the equilibrium may not be stable, and both sides would have to be fighting over fringe issues, and not their very survival.

by Byron Coffey (2016)

When the dominant species of a minor nine planet system revolving about a yellow sun known as “Sol”—situated close to the fringe of the Galaxy—gained knowledge of space flight and came out into our lanes of travel there arose a problem which Central Control had to solve, and speedily. These “men,” as they called themselves, combined curiosity, daring, and technical skill with a basic will-to-compete against other races and species, an in-born thrust to conflict. Their answer to any problem was aggressive. Had this “will-to-battle” not been recognized at once for what it was and channeled into proper outlet, infinitesimal as their numbers were among us, we have been told that their influence might have torn asunder the peace of the stellar lanes and plunged whole sectors into war.

But the proper steps were taken at once and the Terrans were assigned a role which not only suited their nature but also provided a safety valve for all other belligerents among the systems which make up our great confederacy. Having been studied and carefully evaluated by Central Control psycho-techneers the Terrans were appointed to act as the mercenaries of the Galaxy—until such a time as these too independent and aggressive creatures would develop for themselves some less dangerous calling.

Thus there came into being the “Hordes” and “Legions” we find mentioned again and again in the various solar histories of the period. These organizations, manned by either “Archs” or “Mechs,” carried on a formalized warfare for any planetary ruler who desired to enhance his prestige by employing them to fight his battles.

The Archs who comprised the Hordes were limited to service upon primitive worlds, being equipped with hand weapons and fighting in personal combat. The Mechs of the Legions followed technical warfare, indulging in it, however, more as a game in which it was necessary to make one’s opponent concede victory, often without actual battle.

From STAR GUARD by Andre Norton (1955).
Collected in Star Soldiers (2001), currently a free eBook in the Baen free library.

Jon had studied his history of humanity in space, and especially humanity's history of warfare. War had brought him to this end. Men had taken the ancient game of chess, had given it three dimensions and a wider variety of pieces and moves and had turned warfare into a game. The basics remained the same. The Command Ship replaced the king, invested with the power to control the pieces on the three-dimensional board of space-time. Destroy the opponents' Command Ship and the battle ends in victory. The only major difference was that men still moved the pieces, but they moved them from the inside, and men died if they were lost.

A large cometary mass had entered the solar system a few years back. Once it had been determined to be of interstellar origin and a genuine scientific find, the Jovan and Lunan governments could not risk hostilities breaking out among competing exploration parties conducting a space race to claim the find in the name of a single government. Even by Jon's standards, the ideal solution would have been to mix crews aboard an international exploration caravan, but the Jovans considered Lunan lighting harsh and distracting, the air too dense and hot. The Lunans considered Jovan gravity preferences unnecessarily stressful and the side effects of the antibiotics necessary to prevent cross-biological contamination too uncomfortable. It took little more than minor grievances to result in a challenge by the Outer System Federation to armed combat, the winner to take possession of the cometary mass, the loser to trust that all findings would be fairly shared by all the nations.

But Jon not only knew the real reason for the challenge, he had anticipated it. It had been six years since the last major confrontation between the two greatest powers in space. Both were eager to probe the developing war technology of the other side.

On Earth, prior to the Holocaust, a growing population had featured relatively few races and cultures in its growing homogeneity, but it had faced the increasing stress of dwindling food and natural resources to be shared by all. Humanity had almost succeeded in creating a paradise on Earth, but it failed abysmally in controlling its own nature. When war broke out, it destroyed everything, but once free in the vastness of space, the process only intensified. As each colony left the ship-building yards of Jupiter or the inner system, a new racial variety of humanity was born, and a new culture. The same reasons for war existed, but also a heightened awareness of its consequence.

Economically, the two major spheres of humanity complemented one another. The colonies among the outer worlds specialized in the mining and processing of the lighter elements. Icebergs of insulated gases, liquids, and solids spiraled constantly down into the inner system. The outer system colonies considered themselves independent, but organized economically and militarily under the leadership of the Jovans, the outer system's largest society orbiting the four major moons of Jupiter.

The colonies of the Inner System Alliance also considered themselves independent, but, again, organized under the leadership of the Lunans, the largest inner-system colony based on Earth's single moon. Given the abundance of free solar energy close in to the sun and the heavier elements mined from Mercury, Luna, and Mars, the Inner System Alliance specialized in heavy construction and manufacturing.

Early in the days of the thriving space colonies, humanity hard learned three important facts and worked quickly to incorporate them usefully into the structure of a burgeoning society. First, a highly technical civilization meant increased specialization and interdependence between its parts. Second, the psychological distance between cultures in space would surpass anything seen on Earth in mankind's history. And, third, as long as man could bunch his hand into a fist, violence as a viable alternative to negotiation would remain too great a temptation to ignore. There would be war, but war would have to be contained. The rules of the wargames had been established by the Ganymede Convention less than two centuries after the Holocaust. Wars would be fought, but civilian populations would not be the target. Each population center understood, regardless of the intensity of their hatred, that their own welfare depended upon the welfare of an integrated whole.

War became a sport. The struggle of opposing warfleets to destroy the Command Ship of the opposition made the wargames the most intensely fascinating and challenging sport man had ever known.

The Outer System Federation voiced the initial challenge over the issue of the interstellar comet and its anomalies. Therefore, the Inner System Alliance had the choice of a defending position. Luna Nation chose Earth as a backdrop to their defensive position, forcing the Jovan forces to attack at a shallow angle across the interference provided by the face of a full-sized planet.

The Jovan fighter squadrons had been brought in by the carrier Saratoga. Jon's squadron had been assigned to defend the battleship Ganymede. The Ganymede engaged early in the apparently suicidal attack upon the Lunan Command Ship Brystol. But the battleship deflected at the last instant, attacking the fortress defending the Brystol. The maneuver forced the Brystol to take evasive action, a move to place more of the mass of the Earth directly behind it in relation to the incoming Jovan forces.

The wargames would have been little more than mass destruction of automated equipment without the deliberately imposed handicap of human-piloted machinery. Because of their human pilots and crews, the Jovans couldn't move directly against the Lunan formations. At velocities of hundreds of kilometers per second, the human body couldn't survive the G forces necessary to pull away from the bulk of the planet lying behind the Lunans. Automated vessels were legal, but limited in firepower. Still, in the excitement of battle, the Lunan forces panicked in the face of the onslaught of the carrier Saratoga barreling in on a full-frontal attack, decelerating engines of over fifty million tons of thrust burning like full-fledged supernovas.

Long before the Saratoga reached maximum deceleration, swarms of fighters fell away from the craft, blossoming outward to attack the flanks of the Lunan fleet on the horizons of Earth, the hurtling Saratoga little more than a weapon of fear, a lightweight shell never intended for combat worthiness. The Brystol had only seconds to analyze the bizarre strategy and respond. As the juggernaut deflected from its suicidal trajectory, skimming the Earth's atmosphere and disintegrating from numerous missile hits, the Brystol moved out of harm's way, directly into the firing trajectory of a Jovan weapons barge that had moved into position during the confusion.

Jon had studied the entire battle and its subtly shifting strategy during the seconds it took to engage, fire, and pass from the scene on his own individual mission. The Brystol should have vanished in a fireball of thermonuclear fury. It somehow survived, the Lunan formation reorganizing for its offense and a tighter defense around its Command Ship. The Jovan forces had incurred high losses in order to accomplish a probable victory. Knowing they would not survive another pass, Jon heard the concession to victory an instant before a random proximity mine detonated a few kilometers away. The blast reduced the underbelly of his Cobra to slag.

His computer had assessed the damage as terminal, blown off the shell of armor and ignited the emergency retrorockets to kill as much of his forward velocity as possible. Regardless, crippled fighters spinning into deep space at several hundred kilometers per second were not prime candidates for immediate rescue in the after battle cleanup.

A pilot in a fighter too heavily damaged to decelerate always had the option of entering a state of suspended animation and be rescued at convenience in the outer system. Jon had slept twice under such circumstances. He would have preferred to sleep again, but captured by the gravitational field of Earth, he had orbited the planet once, sweeping inward to skim tenuous atmosphere. He lost even more orbital velocity. The fighter had skipped once into space and arced back down for a final confrontation with the unknown.

For the first time since the Holocaust, a warfleet violated the rules of the Ganymede Convention. No command ship existed among the fleet to end an armed conflict. Most of the craft appeared to be scientific in nature, a true exploratory caravan, but it included warcraft capable of unacceptable levels of devastation.

Moore listened to the communication between Luna Authority and the Supreme Commander of the Jovan fleet broadcast on an open channel.

"Luna Navigational Control," a heavily accented Jovan voice spoke, "we are assuming a fifteen hundred and sixty kilometer equatorial Earth orbit. We are on a peaceful mission."

Luna Authority responded instantly. "The spirit and the letter of the Ganymede Convention has been violated. Never in the history of the space nations has civilization faced such grave risk of irresponsible catastrophe."

From SILENT GALAXY aka BATTLEFIELDS OF SILENCE by William Tedford (1981)

The uncountable miles of track, from Ishrail’s viewpoint, belonged to a primitive transport system on a remote globe. All around this globe stretched — not sky, as Davi had once idly thought — but the great, complicated highway called space. Not a simple nothingness; rather, Ishrail explained, an unfathomable interplay of forces, fields and planes. Ishrail had laughed to hear that Earth word “space”; he had called it not space but a maze of stresses. But of course Ishrail might well be crazy. Certainly nobody in Bergharra had ever talked as he did.

And through the maze of stress fields, Ishrail had said, rode the interpenetrators. Davi thought of them as spaceships, but Ishrail called them interpenetrators. They apparently were not made of metal at all, but of mentally powered force shields, which fed on the stress fields and changed as they changed; so the people of the Galaxy rode in safety between the civilized planets. At least, that was what Ishrail claimed.

And the planets warred on one another. But even the war was not as Davi understood the term. It was as stylized as chess , as formal as a handshake, as chivalrous as an ambulance, as unrelenting as a guillotine. Its objectives were more nebulous and vast than materialist Earthmen could visualize.

“Look here,” Davi said, unable to resist argument, although guessing already how useless it might be. “This tale Ishrail has told us about the great civilization of the Galaxy, the stress fields of space, the interpenetrators, all the details of life on other planets, strange animals and flowers — you can’t believe he made it all up in his head?”

“The etiquette of this incredible galactic squabble, Ishrail claims, renders an admiral or similar large fry liable to exile for life if he is captured by the enemy. As we might expect in this case, the exiling itself is a complicated business, a mixture of leniency and harshness. The exile concerned — by which we mean Ishrail — has his name struck off the rolls of civilization and is left on a planet absolutely bare-handed and bare-backed. Before he is landed, he is taught by hypnotic means to be fluent in the language of the planet or country to which he is banished.”

From O ISHRAIL! by Brian Aldiss (1957)

(ed note: Miranid of the Farla empire has just finished explaining to Henlo why conventional theory holds that a decisive interstellar war is impossible. Now he explains the sneaky trick they are going to do in order to avoid conventional theory and destroy the upstart barbarian Vilk empire.)

"Our barbarian friends have another weakness, which we have up to this point not been able to utilize without compromising its existence. I 've carefully saved it until now, and they have considerately not discovered it within themselves."

"The Vilks, of course, were able to make war quite successfully. Since they were operating as a horde of mobile independent principalities, and since they were after loot and glory only, they were never forced to gain what civilized nations would term 'victory', or 'conquest.'"

"They were reapers, harvesting the same field again and again, and gradually extending their boarders. They had no time for the re-education of subject peoples to their own ideals or patriotic causes -- a fact further implemented by their total lack of such civilized appurtenances. They merely informed their vassals that they had become the property of whatever Vilk it happened to be, and levied tribute accordingly. They left it to the natural fertility of the Vilk soldier to gradually erase all traces of independent nationality among such nations as could interbreed, and to the natural inertia of generations of slavery among such as could not."

"The result has been the gradual accumulation, in Vilk ranks, of a number of Vilks who are not Vilks."

Miranid seemed anxious to stress the point.

"And these Vilks may be good, barbarian Vilks like all the rest of them. But some of them inevitably feel that their particular kind of Vilk is better fitted to rule the communal roost."

"A situation, you will agree, which does not apply among such civilized communities as Farla, which may have its internal dissensions, but no special uniforms of hide-color, limb-distribution, or digital anomalies around which infra-nationalistic sentiments may be rallied."

Miranid stabbed the chart with his dividers. "We will slice here, here, and here, with most of our lighter units supported by some heavier groups. You and I, Henlo, will take the remainder of the main fleet and spit right through to Vilkai, where we will crown some highly un-Vilkish Vilk king of the Vilks, and then leave him to perish."

"The entire sorry mess will slash itself to suicide in the petty nationalistic squabbles which are sure to follow the precedent we set them. We will be enabled to do so quite easily by the allies which our housewifely intelligence corps have neatly suborned for us."

From SHADOW ON THE STARS by Algis Budrys (1954)

We now know (little consolation though this provides) that the Twerms were fleeing from their hereditary enemies the Mucoids when they first detected Earth on their far-ranging Omphalmoscopes. Thereafter, they reacted with astonishing speed and cunning.

In a few weeks of radio-monitoring, they accumulated billions of words of electroprint from the satellite Newspad services. Miraculous linguists, they swiftly mastered the main terrestrial languages; more than that, they analysed our culture, our technology, our political-economic systems — our defences. Their keen intellects, goaded by desperation, took only months to identify our weak points, and to devise a diabolically effective plan of campaign.

They knew that the US and the USSR possessed between them almost a teraton of warheads. The fifteen other nuclear powers might only muster a few score gigatons, and limited deliver systems, but even this modest contribution could be embarrassing to an invader. It was therefore essential that the assault should be swift, totally unexpected, and absolutely overwhelming. Perhaps they did consider a direct attack on the Pentagon, the Red Fort, the Kremlin, and the other centres of military power. If so, they soon dismissed such naive concepts.

With a subtlety which, after the event, we can now ruefully appreciate, they selected our most compact, and most vulnerable, area of sensitivity ...

Their insultingly minuscule fleet attacked at 4 a.m. European time on a wet Sunday morning. The weapons they employed were the irresistible Psychedelic Ray, the Itching Beam (which turned staid burghers into instant nudists), the dread Diarrhoea Bomb, and the debilitating Tumescent Aerosol Spray. The total human casualties were thirty-six, mostly through exhaustion or heart failure.

Their main force (three ships) attacked Zürich. One vessel each sufficed for Geneva, Basle, and Berne. They also sent what appears to have been a small tugboat to deal with Vaduz.

No armourplate could resist their laser-equipped robots. The scanning cameras they carried in their ventral palps could record a billion bits of information a second. Before breakfast time, they knew the owners of every numbered bank account in Switzerland.

Thereafter, apart from the dispatch of several thousand special delivery letters by first post Monday morning, the conquest of Earth was complete.

From "When The Twerms Came" by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1972)

Causes of Warfare

Traditionally, most wars are caused by disputes over resources. That is, the cause boils down to "two monkeys and one banana."

Most of the remaining wars are caused by the fact that human beings tend to be obnoxious self-centered arrogant authoritarian tribalistic creatures. That is, the cause boils down to "two monkeys, both of which want to be boss." You can identify these types of conflicts because there are no resources being squabbled over.

But please understand that bombing a planet back into the stone age is something that makes more sense in simplistic space operas, not in realpolitik. Sadly saturation bombing does make sense in a religious war. By which I mean it is an irrational senseless act, but an act that could plausibly happen in the real world.

     A consideration for this:
     If warfare is about causing the maximum destruction, these space siege scenarios make sense.
     If warfare is about achieving political objectives by other means, you need to either leave someone to negotiate the surrender with, or leave something worth occupying.
     If you're looking for numbers of boots on the ground to do occupation, look at the rules in Squadron Strike, which I had vetted by people who teach the US Army occupation duty and body counts.
     One of the problems with wargames on this scale is that they're usually divorced from realpolitik.
     A good way to illustrate this is that if the real world worked like most space gamers think planetary conquest worked, we'd'v'e given India a northern coast by making sure that Afghanistan had a mean altitude of 200 meters below datum...

Ken does have a good point. The motivation of the invaders puts limits on the allowed invasion techniques. If the invaders want slaves, it is counterproductive to kill every living thing on the defending planet. If the invaders want real estate, it is counterproductive to dust the planet with enough radioactive material to render it uninhabitable for the next ten thousand years. And so on.

The further underlying problem is: what do the aliens want? What is there that's easier to get by invading than by mining elsewhere in the solar system/local group/galaxy? The objective drives the means of invasion. Political domination is most easily achieved through infiltration — many politicians are easily bought or controlled through a combination of threats and gifts. (As Winchell posted while I typed!) Objectives beyond that seem like more trouble than they are worth.

James Sterrett

The lack of a logical reason for invasion is up to the author to devise a solution for. Some of the motivational questions can be side-stepped by assuming the invasion is not an alien one, but instead a hypothetical human interstellar empire attempting to invade a human colony world. The motivation of the empire can be something stupidly human like "gotta collect 'em all!". This is actually the motivation in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's The Mote In God's Eye. In that novel, there once was a loosely allied human interstellar empire that collapsed in a bloody secession war. The new imperium rose from the ashes, grimly determined that such wars will not happen ever again, and all human worlds must be incorporated into the empire with no exceptions.

The Eastern Mediterranean at the end of the 3rd century bc was a very complex region. The three empires founded by the successors of Alexander the Great were collapsing. They were locally powerful, but none was a superpower. Usurpers and secessionists complicated their politics.

Leagues of city states—the Achaeans and Aetolians in Greece proper, others in Asia Minor—had their own interests. New kingdoms, particularly that of Pergamum, were growing at the expense of their neighbors, and barbarians—both Celtic and Illyrian—were becoming regional powers instead of merely raiding and moving on.

Rome was still in the wings but the violent morass would shortly draw her in, ending both the chaos and her own status as a republic. (The region's enormous wealth and complexity, in my opinion, inexorably turned Rome into an empire.)

I adapted this setting for Paying the Piper. The general background is that of the war between Rhodes and Byzantium, ostensibly over freedom of navigation. It was about as stupid a conflict as you're likely to find, during which the real principals licked their lips and chuckled while well-meaning idealists wrecked their own societies in pursuit of unobtainable goals by improper means. Much of the military detail is drawn from the campaigns of Phillip the Fifth and his allies against the Aetolian League, particularly the campaign of 219 bc which culminated in Phillip's capture of Psophis.

I guess it isn't out of place to add one comment about the study of history. Knowing a good deal about how cultures interacted in the past allows one to predict how they will interact in the present, so I'm rarely surprised by the daily news. But I regret to say that this understanding doesn't appear to make me happier.

From a background note to PAYING THE PIPER by David Drake (2002)

Territorial Expansion

A war of aggression is a war for conquest or gain. The former is driven by a national leader who wants to expand the territoral limits of their empire because Bigger is Better. Nyah-nyah, mine is bigger than yours! Alexander the Great's fixation in other words.

Another motivation is to obtain more real estate for your people to live and expand on. Once your army has kicked out the current inhabitants. The clinical word is "Lebensraum". This does not apply to land being occupied by extreme alien species, since they generally live on hell-hole planets you can't live on anyway.

A third motivation is Empire Security. This is when the empire wants to be surrounded by a safe armor composed of buffer states. These are small empires lying between two rival or potentially hostile greater powers, which by its sheer existence is thought to prevent conflict between them.


Usually the giant stars have many planets, and Betelgeuse, with forty-seven, is no exception. Of these, six have intelligent native races, and the combined resources of the whole system are considerable, even in a civilization used to thinking in terms of thousands of stars.

When the first Terrestrial explorers arrived, almost a thousand years previously, they found that the people of Alfzar had already mastered interplanetary travel and were in the process of conquering the other worlds — a process speeded up by their rapid adoption of the more advanced human technology. However, they had not attempted to establish an empire on the scale of Sol or Merseia, contenting themselves with maintaining hegemony over enough neighbor suns to protect their home.


"— and then, of course, continue till all the barbarians have been conquered," said Manuel.

"Why?" I demanded. "Interstellar imperialism can't be made to pay. It does for the barbarians because they haven't the technical facilities to produce at home what they can steal elsewhere. But Sol would only be taking on a burden."

"For defense," said Manuel. "You don't think I'd let a defeated enemy go off to lick his wounds and prepare a new attack, do you? No, everyone but Sol must be disarmed, and the only way to enforce such a peace is for Sol to be the unquestioned ruler." He added thoughtfully: "Oh, the empire won't have to expand forever. Just till it's big enough to defend itself against all corners. And a bit of economic readjustment could make it a paying proposition, too. We could collect tribute, you know."

"An empire—?" asked Kathryn. "But the Commonwealth is democratic—"

"Was democratic!" he snapped. "Now it's rotted away. Too bad, but you can't revive the dead. This is an age in history such as has often occurred before when the enforced peace of Caesarism is the only solution. Maybe not a good solution but better than the devastation we're suffering now. When there's been a long enough period of peace and unity it may be time to think of reinstating the old republicanism. But that time is many centuries in the future, if it ever comes. Just now the socio-economic conditions aren't right for it."

He took a restless turn about the bridge. A million stars of space in the viewport blazed like a chill crown over his head. "It'll be an empire in fact," he said, "and therefore it should be an empire in name. People will fight and sacrifice and die for a gaudy symbol when the demands of reality don't touch them. We need a hereditary aristocracy to put on a good show. It's always effective, and the archaism is especially valuable to Sol just now. It'll recall the good old glamorous days before space travel. It'll be even more of a symbol now than it was in its own age. Yes, an empire, Kathryn, the Empire of Sol. Peace, ye underlings!"

"Aristocracies decay," I argued. "Despotism is all right as long as you have an able despot but sooner or later a meathead will be born—"

"Not if the dynasty starts with strong men and women, and continues to choose good breeding stock, and raises the sons in the same hard school as the fathers. Then it can last for centuries. Especially in these days of gerontology and hundred-year active lifespans."

I laughed at him. "One ship, and you're planning an empire in the Galaxy!" I jeered. "And you yourself, I suppose, will be the first emperor?"

His eyes were expressionless. "Yes," he said. "Unless I find a better man, which I doubt."

Kathryn bit her lip. "I don't like it," she said. "It's— cruel."

"This is a cruel age, my dear," he said gently.

He added after a moment, as if to himself: "Hate is a useful means to an end but damned dangerous. We'll have to get the racist complex out of mankind. We can't conquer anyone, even the Gorzuni, and keep them as inferiors and hope to have a stable empire. All races must be equal." He rubbed his strong square chin. "I think I'll borrow a leaf from the old Romans. All worthy individuals, of any race, can become Terrestrial citizens. It'll be a stabilizing factor."

From THE STAR PLUNDERER by Poul Anderson (1952)

"Well," said Unduma, "this sort of thing has happened before, you know."

"Hm-m-m?" Lefarge sat up.

Unduma smiled sadly. "Historical examples," he said. "They're of no practical value today, except for giving the cold consolation that we're not uniquely betrayed.”

"What do you mean?” asked Chilongo.

"Well,” said Unduma, "consider the astropolitics of the situation. Around Polaris and beyond lies Kolresh territory, where for a long time they sharpened their teeth preying on backward autochthones. At last they started expanding toward the richer human-settled planets. Norstad happened to lie directly on their path, so Norstad took the first blow — and stopped them.

"Since then, it's been seven hundred years of stalemated war. Oh, naturally Kolresh outflanks Norstad from time to time, seizes this planet in the galactic west and raids that one to the north, fights a war with one to the south and makes an alliance with one to the east. But it has never amounted to anything important. It can't, with Norstad astride the most direct line between the heart of Kolresh and the heart of Civilization. If Kolresh made a serious effort to by-pass Norstad, the Norrons could—and would—disrupt everything with an attack in the rear.

"In short, despite the fact that interstellar space is three-dimensional and enormous, Norstad guards the northern marches of Civilization.

He paused for another sip. It was cool and subtle on his tongue, a benediction after the outworld rotgut.

"Hm-m-m, I never thought of it just that way," said Lefarge. "I assumed it was just a matter of barbarians fighting each other for the usual barbarian reasons."

"Oh, it is, I imagine," said Unduma, "but the result is that Norstad acts as the shield of Earth.

"Now if you examine early Terrestrial history—and Rusch, who has a remarkable knowledge of it, stimulated me to do so—you'll find that this is a common thing. A small semi-civilized state, out on the marches, holds off the enemy while the true civilization prospers behind it. Assyria warded Mesopotamia, Rome defended Greece, the Welsh border lords kept England safe, the Transoxanian Tartars were the shield of Persia, Prussia blocked the approaches to western Europe … oh, I could add a good many examples. In every instance, a somewhat backward people on the distant frontier of a civilization, receive the worst hammer-blows of the really alien races beyond, the wild men who would leave nothing standing if they could get at the protected cities of the inner society.”

He paused for breath. "And so?” asked Chilongo,

"Well, of course suffering isn’t good for people,” shrugged Unduma. "It tends to make them rather nasty. The marchmen react to incessant war by becoming a warrior race, uncouth peasants with an absolute government of ruthless militarists. Nobody loves them, neither the outer savages nor the inner polite nations.

"And in the end, they’re all too apt to turn inward. Their military skill and vigor need a more promising outlet than this grim business of always fighting off an enemy who always comes back and who has even less to steal than the sentry culture.

"So Assyria sacks Babylon; Rome conquers Greece; Percy rises against King Henry; Tamerlane overthrows Bajazet; Prussia clanks into France—”

"And Norstad-Ostarik falls on Earth,” finished Lefarge.

"Exactly,” said Unduma. "It’s not even unprecedented for the border state to join hands with the very tribes it fought so long. Percy and Owen Glendower, for instance … though in that case, I imagine both parties were considerably more attractive than Hans Rusch or Klerak Belug.”

From AMONG THIEVES by Poul Anderson (1957)

Asteroid Revolutionary War

RocketCat sez

Science fiction authors utilizing the tried-and-true History Short-Cut method love using a Revolutionary War as a model. Because the rubes love it, just look at the Star Wars box office take (not to mention all the sequels). And because it never gets old, even in the real world. I mean, our first historical record of revolt was back in freaking 2740 BCE, and there have been thousands of them since.

Its all because human nature doesn't change. Founding nations throughout history just can't resist mistreating their colonies for profit, for power, and Because They Can. Eventually the colony in question gets angry enough to do something about it. The same old story happens again and again.

So nobody can accuse the SF author of depicting unrealistic events.

The science fiction readers eat it up as well. It is a dramatic and comfortingly familiar situation in a sometimes confusing science fiction universe. Any reader who has attended grade school has had history lessons drummed into their heads about the glorious revolutions in their nation's heritage. And pseudo-Libertarian spoiled brats stuck in the terrible twos who think they are being oppressed by the government, well, they just can't get enough SF revolution tales of liberation.

All the author has to do is drop into place the identity of the Oppressive Nation and the Colony and they are good to go. And the history books are just chock full of free exciting details to be used, such as rival nations covertly supplying aid to the rebels as a way of sticking it to the Oppressive Nation.

British science fiction authors are sort of ambivalent to the revolutionary war theme, for some odd reason.

A War of Independence is when a territory under the jurisdiction of a state gets fed up with taxation without representation and other oppression and declares its independence. The owning state almost invariably disagrees, and the war starts.

In science fiction the "territory" is usually some species of planetary or space colony. But not always.

(ed note: A civil war, on the other hand, is between two organized groups inside a single state. See below)

Many authors have been inspired by the American Revolutionary War and similar revolts. History repeats itself. So authors figure if Mars (for instance) is colonized, then Terra starts acting like King George, history will repeat with Mars emailing several megabytes worth of Declaration of Independence to Terra and starting the training of Martian minutemen.

TV Tropes calls it the The War of Earthly Aggression (though their sarcastic name is a riff off one of the titles of the American Civil War, not the American Revolutionary War). Related TV Tropes are The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified, The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized, La Résistance, and Les Collaborateurs.

Examples include:

Birth of a New Republic by Jack Williamson and Miles Breuer (1931)
One of the earliest examples of Lunar Colonies reprising the American revolution.
Red Planet by Robert Heinlein (1949)
The colonial governor of Mars colony systematically oppresses the colonists in a constant effort to cut costs and squeeze out more profit. With predictable results.
Between Planets by Robert Heinlein (1951)
The dystopian Terran govenment falls on economic hard times, and tries the insanely bad idea of solving their economic woes by levying tribute on Venus Colony. Hilarity ensues. See quote below.
The Revolt on Venus by Carey Rockwell (1954)
Book 5 of the Tom Corbett Space Cadet series. A secret underground organization on Venus called the "Nationalists" plot a revolt against the Solar Confederation. As it turns out, it was all a bigger plot by The Villain who wanted to rule Venus, and was channeling the frustration of a group of Venusian colonial hot-heads into his sinister plan.
Revolt on Alpha C by Robert Silverberg (1955)
Terra's first colony at Alpha Centauri is 125 years old, and they are fed up with taxation without representation. They kick off the revolution just as the space patrol ship Carden arrives. Among her crew is our hero Cadet Stark, who must decide what is the proper and honorable course of action in a situation where there is no clear right and wrong.
Earthlight by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1955)
Terra has all the mineable heavy metal resources available in the solar system. The federation of planetary colonies have all the brilliant scientists and vitality. Terra is afraid of becoming a has-been, so tries to hold back the federation. Yes, it is that old Decay of the Fatherland trope yet again. Anyway, Terra had been holding back on the heavy metal shipments to the federation on the pretext that the mines are worked out. But they secretly discover ore deposits on Luna and try to covertly mine them. Alas, the federation finds out, and again hilarity ensues. See quote below.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein (1966)
The lunar colony was orginally a penal colony, which is why the Terran government considers them to be untrustworthy riffraff bastards. TerraGov then proceeds to export most of the lunar crops to Terra without allowing imports of water. When the lunar colony complains that this is causing an ecological collapse, TerraGov figures they are lying. The lunar colony revolts and demonstrates to Terra (and generations of gleeful SF fans) the horrific planetary bombardment capabilites inherent in a weaponized mass-driver.
Tales of the Flying Mountains by Poul Anderson (1970)
In this collection, the stories "The Rogue" and "Say It With Flowers" take place just before and during the Asterite War of Independence. The war was consciously modelled on the American one.
Gundam by Yoshiyuki Tomino (1979)
Pretty much all of the various incarnations of the Gundam anime feature the orbital L5 colonies revolting for independence from Terra.
To The Stars trilogy by Harry Harrison (1980)
A totalitarian Terran government brutally controls a set of interstellar colonies who are carefully set up so they are totally dependent on each other. Each colony requires for survival goods that are only manufactured on another colony, and stockpiling is forbidden. Therefore it is impossible for any revolt to succeed unless all the colonies revolt simultaneously. Unfortunately for Terra, that is precisely what the colonies do.
Traveller: Library Data (N-Z) by John Harshman, Marc Miller & Loren Wiseman (1982)
In the universe of the Traveller role-playing game, inside the Third Imperium the Solomani Autonomous Region is a sphere of 50 parsecs radius centered on Terra. The Solomani (i.e., "Men of Sol") revolt, precipitating the Solomani Rim War. The Third Imperium had its victory, but it turned out to be Pyrrhic.
Clarke County, Space by Allen Steele (1990)
Lunar Descent by Allen Steele (1991)
Independence War by Particle Systems (1997)
In this top-notch computer game, Earth's Commonwealth Navy is embroiled in a decades old guerrilla war with the breakaway Indies.
"Bull Running's War" by Øyvind Myhre (1990) published in New Libertarian #187 (1990)
A short story about an American Indian colonist on Mars who got caught in the middle of a Martian libertarian revolution.
The Company Wars series by C. J. Cherryh (1991)
This features a three-way fight between the Earth Company, the breakaway colonies of the Union, and the Merchanter's Alliance.

In the section on elemental bottlenecks I point out that phosphorus and nitrogen are vital for plants, animal, and people; but there are no rich sources in the solar system except for Terra. This is not an insurmountable problem for a spacecraft or space station. But it is a major catastrophe for an extra-terran solar system colony. Your supply of new baby colonials is limited to your supply of phosphorus.

This could be a large club that the government of Terra waves at the extraterrestrial colonies, if they start making noises about rebelling from Terra's oppressive control. If the Martian colonials start complaining about "no taxation without representation", Terra will respond with "You are receiving a nice steady supply of phosphorus. It would be a shame if anything happened to it." Naturally the Martian Revolutionary War might be kicked off by the unexpected discovery of of a large non-Terran source of phosphorus.


UK writers have been less enthusiastic about the notion of colonial defection, and sometimes develop images of a very uneasy relationship between Earth and its colonies; examples include Arthur C Clarke's The Songs of Distant Earth (June 1958 If; much exp 1986) and Paul J McAuley's Of the Fall (1989; vt Secret Harmonies).


Of the blessings the Founding Fathers of the United States bequeathed on posterity, few could have been less foreseeable in 1776 than the birth of a science fiction trope. The American Revolution itself has all but fallen into the memory hole, except for this one day each year, but it lives on whenever and wherever a colony planet or spacehab tells old Mother Earth to stick it where Sol doesn't shine.

Robert Heinlein, naturally, was a leading proponent of this trope, which I first encountered in Between Planets — quite possibly the edition shown above, with a forward view of a classic Heinlein spherical deep space ship, along with a (flying boat!) ramjet shuttle. He had already treated the theme at least once previously, in Red Planet, and he would treat it again, at greater length, in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Thus Venus, Mars, and the Moon all get their chance at a Glorious Fourth, and I seem to recall that he mentions yet another Venus rebellion in his 'official' future history.

For obvious historical reasons the Revolt of the Colonies is particularly a theme in 'Murrican SF, though it also figures in an Arthur C. Clark novel, Earthlight, which includes his most extended take on a space battle. His perspective on the rebellion is naturally more detached. Indeed, he does not go into the politics at all, beyond the amusing twist that the one named Martian rebel leader is descended from Winston Churchill.

If space colonies come into being at all, it is obviously possible that they might eventually revolt and declare their independence from their Earthside rulers. Whether it is particularly likely is another matter. For one thing, there might be no one to rebel against. Ancient Greek colonies were born independent, expected to retain ties of affection with the metropolis, but none of authority. This would almost surely be true of any STL interstellar colony; if you send people off to settle a planet decades or centuries away, sending a viceroy along is fairly pointless.

On the other hand, if the central authority retains close control of its colonies, the colonials may well accept and embrace this state of affairs. Latin American colonies remained remarkably loyal for some 300 years, even at times when Spain and Portugal were cut off by sea and in no position to exert authority. Only Napoleon's invasion of Iberia itself set off the chain of events that led to revolt and independence.

This suggests that the key to colonial rebellion may not be metropolitan domination per se, but the attempt to re-establish it. Or — as in the case of the American Revolution itself — a belated attempt to exert it in the first place. The British American colonies were founded, from Britain's point of view, in a spirit of good luck and good riddance. By the time Whitehall decided to insist (not unreasonably, on the face of it) that the colonials contribute to imperial defense, the horse had been out of the barn for generations — not to mention that the heavy lifting of knocking off French Quebec had already been done.

Another possibility is a metropolitan political struggle spilling over into the colonies, with one faction losing at home but winning in the colonies. I cannot think of a direct example, but it seems like the sort of thing that might happen.

When in the course of literary events, it becomes necessary for a space colony to kick over the traces, a way can always be found.



     One can argue that the success of any revolution, no matter how the "mother country" manages the offworld colonies on any scale, can be answered by these questions:
1) Orbital vs. Planetary
2) Must the infrastructure be captured intact?
     For the first question, many of us have debated and learned over the previous blog entries that orbital colonies are very fragile structures compared to planetary settlements and, as such, far more vulnerable to violent action then their planet-side breatheren. Not to mention the near-dictatorship level of control that is needed to keep orbital habitats functional would make any acts of open rebellion a poor judgement at best.
     The only time a planetary settlement is as close to vulnerable to orbital habitats is if the planetary environment is a very close second to space when it comes to hostility towards human survival. The only difference is in the heat management with convection with either the atmosphere or the ground below, just one of many factors that'll make defense against any reactionary orbital constellation task force sent to qualsh any rebellion.
     Of course, this also depends upon if the political and/or economical reasons for the colony to be intact after military action are present and strongly argued for. If not, well as the old addage goes "bombs away".


     Some thoughs sparkled by Sabersonic's post above.

IMHO the main question should be: "Why should a colony rebel?"

     To answer you need to know why the colony was established.
     AFAIK the general consensus here (or at least Rick's opinion) is that meanigful colonies will be " a city in spaace!" otherwise called travel nexus, while mining and otherwise resource-exploitation stations/bases will be "Oil rigs in spaace!".
     Now, Oil rigs don't rebel for obvious reasons. They may have some strikes and turmoil, but noone wants to live there forever. Thus no one wants independence.

So, why should a travel nexus rebel?

     Probably taxes from Earth or something that affects the number of shippings that must go through it to reach their destinations (its main source of income after all).

Even then, why should a travel nexus be so violent about it?

     IMHO the sheer existence of said station is linked to commerce and most warfare would keep merchant shipments away from it. Thus, that station won't be able to support itself without merchant traffic. And I'm not talking about life support issues, but money to pay the bills.
     That's a major difference from an old times Earth nation, like the 13 colonies of the newborn US. They had more than enough resources to be more or less indipendent, thus they could cut loose any connection with the outside world (and then think they are the whole world... but I digress).
     A travel nexus exists to connect things, thus pulling loose the connections would be suicidal.
     This reasoning makes me feel that most "colonies", if they rebel at all, will choose a much more political/economical way of settling the dispute.
     Feel free to nitpick/debate about it.

Mr. Blue

     I believe that the closer you are, the less likely you are to rebel.
     If a colony is close, they can retain close cultural and personal ties. If it’s a colony in Earth orbit, light speed lag is not a big concern, so communication is almost instantaneous. One can talk to family in real-time and stay up with current trends and news via the internet. Frequent travel between orbital colonies and the earth is also pretty likely. Visits by ranking VIP’s and politicians would be frequent.
     So, politically, a colony in earth’s orbit would likely be incorporated as a province or state with full representation if large enough (a small colony would be too small to rebel anyway).
     However, move the colony out a bit further, say to Mars, and the communications lag becomes a factor. Light speed lag limits and filters the amount of data traveling back and forth. Weight limits on interplanetary transportation would encourage colonist to go with locally manufactured goods. And travel times of a few weeks does tend to discourage casual travel to and fro.
     Thus, this colony would very easily develop its own very separate culture. The distance would encourage a feeling of separation and independence from the mother planet. Decisions made from Earth would most likely be resented as out of touch.
     So, if the Earth tries to hold on too tightly, the colony would rebel. If they allow some sort of commonwealth type arrangement, the colony would be independent anyway, with only nominal and ceremonial ties to Earth. A bit like the British Commonwealth today.

Ferrard Carson

     Interplanetary conflict has always seemed a bit... arbitrary to me. It always presupposes a number of conditions, popularized by Star Wars and Star Trek:

One-World Government - The most basic assumption when you say, "Mars Attacks Earth!" Why would Mars as a whole have a problem with Earth? Why would they have a problem with all of Earth? How the hell did the entirety of Earth even agree to be ruled by one government?

Colonies - The second big assumption is that these are colonies, and not nations in their own right. Why would these planets be controlled from Earth? I can see a planet in Sol being controlled from Earth, but if you put a colony out in another star system, unless you have instantaneous communication or ridiculously fast FTL, then it's going to be inefficient beyond belief to govern that colony from Earth.

     I'm currently at work with a couple of friends on a generic medium-hard Sci-Fi RPG that we hope can be adapted to cover both Cowboy Bebop and Firefly in addition to the homebrew setting we're creating.
     From what I'm seeing of our setting (no ansible, interplanetary travel / communication is simple, but interstellar, not so much) there really isn't any incentive for Earth to A) have any influence or interest at all in the new colonies, and B) the colonies to revolt against Earth, when they're effectively autonomous nations anyways.
     That's not to say that some moons can't revolt against their planetary government, and some planetary populace can't revolt against a planetary government. In fact, I see this intra-planetary conflict as being more informative of the setting than any inter-planetary fracas, considering the system as a whole is administered by the founding megacorp like a quasi-feudal confederacy.


     The ultimate aim of a revolution is to settle the question "who is in charge here". England had their revolution in the 1600's, answering the question between the "Divine Right of Kings" or Parliament with a civil war and regicide.
     Things like the war between the United Provinces and the Spanish Empire are more in the class of a revolt against a foreign power rather than a revolution (the "real" revolution was the creation of the quasi republican political structure of the United Provinces in the first place).
     The Moon is a Harsh Mistress has both a revolt (against the oppressive Federation), and a revolution (the Professor's manipulation of the crowd to institute a Limited Republic), which seems to me to be a more realistic way of setting the stage for the revolution trope.
     The Earth will probably be vitally interested in the movement of large bodies in space, and also concerned about the movement of high velocity object with large amounts of kinetic energy. In order to "protect" the Earth from potentially devastating impacts, some sort of controlling mechanism, enforced by a Space Guard or Space Navy would be created, and proceed to closely monitor and control the mining of celestial bodies and the shipping of matter and energy across space.
     You think bureaucrats and command economies screw up the economy, the environment, culture and civilization? Try applying the "Local Knowledge Problem" to controlling social, political and economic activity across the Solar System, with timelines measured in decades. Friedrich von Hayek would laugh heartily at anyone or any organization foolish and arrogant enough to try. (Examples ranging from the current administration's handling of the gulf oil disaster, the EU's dealing with the economic crisis of the PIIGS or the economy of the DPRK exist to enlighten anyone who feels otherwise).
     The settlers and their colonies scattered across deep space will feel mightily pinched by cumbersome and generally negative bureaucratic interference in their lives, and so be inspired to revolt. They will also need to develop some new ways to organize in order to protect themselves from retribution and prevent further interference from Earth or other potential rivals (who knows what those Martians will do?). As people have pointed out, there will probably be a tendency for rigid internal controls in a colony, something the settlers might decide to change while they are at it.

From REVOLT OF THE COLONIES by Rick Robinson (2010)

At this point, it is worth looking at the classic ‘revolt of the colonies’ scenario in some detail, along with the intimately related question of claims of sovereignty in space.  What would it take for such a revolt to succeed, and what would constitute success?  The standard model, most famously described in Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, is based on the American Revolution, and is probably the one with the most interesting story potential.  In this, a major colony decides that it is fed up with misgovernment from Earth, and wants to go it alone.  The government that previously had jurisdiction over the colony is unlikely to be happy with this, and will probably send an expedition to put down the revolt.  There are serious problems with this scenario, however.  In nearly every revolt against a ‘colonial’ power, a significant fraction of the population supported the occupying power, and the premium that operations in space will put on group unity suggests that a full-scale revolt will be somewhat unlikely unless the occupier is totally unreasonable.  

Essentially, all revolts or attempts at independence succeed only when the cost of suppressing them exceeds the benefits to be gained.  In fact, the same could be said of any attempt to exert sovereignty on a celestial body, but in many cases, the balance is so skewed that the outcome is inevitable.  These will be examined later.

There are many factors that can influence the cost-benefit ratio of suppressing a revolt, most of which are tied into setting politics and economics, and will not be examined in detail here.  Instead, the focus will be on the effects of the factors directly related to space warfare.  Ultimately, any revolt can be suppressed in one of two ways.  Either it can be made too expensive for the revolt to be sustained, or it can be put down by occupying the colony directly.  In many ways, the first is more likely.  Unless some fantastically valuable resource is discovered on a body, any colony is likely to be more dependent on Earth than Earth is on it.  In this case, a simple blockade would be the most effective way to suppress the revolt, and a successful revolt would require that the blockade be made ineffective or impossible.  

The feasibility of a blockade can vary widely depending on scenario details.  The simplest case for a blockade is one in which all colonies on the body are in revolt, and an embargo can thus be slapped on everything headed in that direction.  As most ships capable of interplanetary flight probably belong to the power or powers that are attempting to suppress the revolt, only minimal military force is necessary, and what force is necessary can probably be exerted at the points of departure, without ever having to get close to the body and run the risks of any orbital defenses that may have been assembled.  However, this is also rather unlikely on anything but an asteroid, where there is a possibility of having only a single colony that is developed enough to be able to potentially become self-sufficient.  On a moon or a planet, there will likely be multiple colonies from multiple nations, and the chances of a simultaneous rebellion are slim.  

If there are colonies that are not in revolt, then the situation is obviously more complicated.  An embargo against all colonies on the body is clearly going to anger many people, both on Earth and on the body.  However, allowing trade to the body raises the risk that some of that trade will find its way to the colony, either via ships filing falsified destination plans, or via transport from the destination colony to the revolting colony.  Stopping such trade would require a much closer blockade (See Section 11), and that in turn potentially exposes the attackers to any defenses the revolt may have constructed.  The defender would probably have to prevent the attacker from reaching the body’s orbit at all, as there is no particular reason a blockade would need to be conducted within range of any point defenses.  The matter is more fully covered above, but the scenario generally does not end well for an unsupported revolt.  In a scenario with minimal space warfare preparation, where both sides are working from scratch, a defender might be capable of defeating the initial attack.  However, the Earth-based power would have a significant edge in terms of technological development, and any follow-up expedition would probably brush aside the defenses.  This applies to even the first expedition if the government has made significant preparations for space warfare.

Overland attacks are almost a mirror-image of this situation.  For logistical and technical reasons (see above), any revolt is going to be massively outmatched in a ground battle.  Their best option is to defeat the force before it can land, or at least damage it enough to even the odds on the ground.  This requires being able to defend the entire body, not just a small portion of it, as a landing force, even more than a blockade, can be conducted entirely outside the range of local defenses.  It’s possible that an overconfident landing party could be defeated, but technological development would quickly turn the tables.

The attacker does have another option if there are other colonies on the body, particularly another colony they control.  They could attempt to covertly ship the invasion force to said colony, and then move it overland from there.  The obvious countermeasure is to declare the colony embargoed, which might be very difficult to enforce without blowing up civilian ships and turning world opinion against you.  If the specific ships bringing the army can be identified, then they could be specifically attacked, but the attacker could quite easily leak that certain innocent ships are carrying the army, when in fact they aren’t, then reap a PR coup when the rebels destroy them.

The obvious solution to the technology problem (and the one that has been critical to nearly all successful revolts throughout history) is a ‘sponsor’, another major power which provides weapons and advice, along with trade.  At this point, there is a good chance that there will be a full-scale war between the two powers, a development discussed elsewhere.  Examples of cases where this did not occur are best found in a history book.

by Byron Coffey (2016)

Let us pay a visit to, say, the 23rd century. Earth is 'neomedieval' — not in the SCA sense, no knights and castles, but politically fragmented and cross-connected, with multiple layers of authority.

The space population is highly geocentric — the majority in low orbit, which after all is easiest and cheapest to reach from Earth. Here are the main stations supporting other space activity, such as assembly and maintenance of deep space craft. Here also is microgravity research, perhaps manufacturing; also tourist hotels, Xollywood micrograv studios, and whatever else anyone can finagle shuttle fare for up there. Here too, surely, will be administrators and emergency responders. But like Earth, its surrounding space is politically fragmented and diffuse, with multiple divided loyalties.

Low orbit is the Janus of space, looking down from one side, out from the other. From low orbit out to translunar space will be smaller and more specialized populations: on higher orbits (or as Isaac Kuo suggested at SFConsim-l, long elliptical orbits), and on/orbiting the Moon. Perhaps also ever popular L5, though I'm unpersuaded that it has any special real estate value.

All of this is within commuting distance of Earth, for sufficiently large values of 'commuting.' Most of the people are there for a few days to a few months. Beyond Earth space the buses run much less often. The population, though far smaller, is necessarily more permanent and self-sufficient. Much of it is aboard spacecraft and stations scattered across the inner Solar System. But let us suppose that there is a concentration on and around Mars. (If you think Mars is overrated, substitute Ceres, or wherever. It might be both, but let's keep things simple.)

Mars and its orbital space are a single commute zone, so to speak. Long term habs there can support multiple secondary outposts, and they can backstop each other. No colony in the traditional sense is needed for a cohesive Martian identity to emerge. Shared experience and perspective, along with frequent intermingling, will do the job. And, like Earth orbital space, Mars and its orbital space will have some administrators and emergency responders, the seeds of government — but with a difference. They too are Martians.

What we have here are two different worlds — figuratively as well as literally. Earth orbital space has a large and varied population, much of it transient and most of it shuttling back and forth from Earth itself. Orbital-space regulars will have some shared identity as spacehands (I prefer this to 'spacers'), but they are not a community. Martians, though fewer in numbers, are a community, their Martian-ness reinforced not only by the Red Planet itself but by years of intermingling and interdependence, and shared distance from Earth.

Different worlds, and different politics. In Earth orbital space, goods from the shadow side will find a market if the price is right. A spot of larceny, even outright piracy? Someone else's problem (unless it happens to you). Let the downside courts argue over who has jurisdiction and who sends a patrol craft to deal with it. In Mars space, not so much. Margins are too small, people and stations/bases too interreliant to shrug off that sort of thing. Trouble around Mars is everyone's problem.

So. What happens when an incident of barratry sends a Mars-bound cargo pod on orbit to nowhere? The first time, the Martians burn up the comm channels with angry protests, and demands that the Powers That Be Do Something About It.

The second time, they decide that if the Powers That Be cannot or will not clean up the mess in Earth orbital space, they'll have to do it themselves.

And that, boys and girls, is how the Solar System came to be governed from Mars.

From MARS ATTACK! by Rick Robinson (2009)

Evidently my sloganeering brain is still on good form:

"Down with Earther landsnatching! No legislation without excavation!"

(The predictable response of the Ceresians when some bureaucrat in a shiny suit arrives aboard to tell them all about how his government said it owned the sky ages ago and as their sovereign wossname from which all property rights derive, it'd like a 20% nitrogen tax now, please.)

((I mean, right before the people who actually worked their asses off carving a home out of that rock chuck him out the airlock. And then haul him back in again for the recycling tanks. No sense in being wasteful about it.))

From a post by Alistair Young (2016)

     When the first interplanetary war broke out in 2178, we didn't call it what the history books do now. The Interplanetary Civil War (Terran name) and The War of Martian Interdependence (Mars' preference) were latter fictions to gloss over the root of the conflict.
     No, we called that war, The Ogg-Nat War—or Nat-Ogg, depending on your side.

     The first extra-Terran colonists were volunteers. They had to be. The mid-21st Century brought freefall and shallow gravity wells to hundreds, then thousands, of colonists serving double duty as test subjects on the human body's response to low gravity. And natural selection demanded its due.
     Roughly 80% of humans who permanently settled on the Moon or Mars, fell seriously ill within 20 years of arrival. Theoretically, we could've treated many of the ailments, but stem cells and genetic repairs had their limits. Some of the more serious conditions could only be treated on Earth, which could itself prove fatal. The remaining healthy 20% were forced by circumstance to either break backs to support the colony, or let their fellow colonists—colleagues, friends, spouses—die on a strange world.
     If you ever wondered how "malapert" became synonymous with "disaster" or "massacre," look at a map of the Moon's south pole, and look for the tallest peak. There you'll find the site of the first off-world riot—and a memorial to the 117 people who perished, many of whom were already near death. The riot started with a demand for better health care, and ended with the explosive decompression and collapse of two of the base's four domes.

     Which is why, in 2061, the first Low Gravity Genomic Survey was conducted. We discovered which genes improved survival and quality-of-life when you are no longer Earthbound. By 2080, gene therapy before long-term space travel was as routine as immunizations were for international travelers the century previous—if not nearly as frequent.
     The last unmodified resident of the Moon died in 2093. Jessica Dumas, a survivor of the Malapert Base Riot, was a medic by trade, and a mountain climber by passion. Without those skill sets, she probably would have asphyxiated like the other victims of the dome collapses. Instead she saved her skin—mostly. Burn scars and rosacea plagued her, yet she refused treatment. As she often explained, "I want people to see and understand."
     Dumas became a political activist, her energies focused on improving the health of the off-world colonies. She also popularized "Selenian" as a collective noun for Lunar colonists, as pushback against the derogatory use of "Loony" by Terrans. When she died at age 59 from cancer, she was mourned by three worlds.

     In 2137, the last unmodified Martian, 106-year old Jeferson Schefer, died at Arsia Caverns Hospital. Schefer was also the last living participant in the Low Gravity Genomic Survey—and had 86% of the genes identified as useful to survival off Earth.
     It's often rumored, although easily debunked, that Schefer's genome was the basis for all low-g gene therapies. Some opponents of human genetic modification called Schefer, "Adam Sans Eve." In reality he was a botanist remembered on Mars mostly for cultivating Elysium hazel and other Mars-adapted evergreens. On Earth, however, he's sometimes mentioned along with Henrietta Lacks as an example of unethical medical research, despite Schefer's frequent public defense of the Survey.

     Great care was taken to keep ethics above-board. But that didn't stop accusations from The Light, an ostensibly interfaith conservative think tank, that low-gravity gene therapies were "eugenics." Nor did it help that some of the changes, such as increased brain blood flow to combat hypoxia, tended to make for slightly happier and more imaginative humans.
     If you put a Terran, a Martian, and a Selenian in the same room, you wouldn't notice any glaring differences in overall morphology. Martians and Selenians often had slightly larger heads, due to genes that slow the fusion of cranial sutures during development, to help offset fluid shift. They also tended to slighter, more androgynous builds. Nonetheless, their bodies were well within Terran body norms.

     But personality-wise, there tended to be starker differences.
     Martians and Selenians were... weird. They prefered oblique strategies and independent thinking, but also tended to increased intimacy and bonding. On worlds where survival was tenuous and sustainability a dream, people began to drop the dogmas of Earth life that separated Us from Them. Every person counted in the effort to make these new worlds into homes. Bigots weren't welcome anymore.
     Back on Earth, the climate was becoming more perilous, with flood and famine taking its toll. People were clinging to whatever could give them comfort, including the idea that humanity had sinned by modifying the sacred genetic code and leaving the world we were intended to live and die upon, and that was the true cause of their calamities, rather than the abundance of carbon dioxide.
     Before long, to admit that you had spent any time in space, for any reason, was enough to be labeled an augment and be accused of offending the natural order. Even if you could somehow prove that you were a "natural" human genetically. Even if such a concept truly existed.

(ed note: so in the Ogg-Nat War, the Oggs were the Augmented Martians and Selenians, while the Nats were the Natural Terrans)


The Greek Case

     Let us consider the Greeks of the first millennium b.c. It is from the Greeks that the modern Western world traces its philosophy, art, literature, science, and even important strands of its religion. Generally, we of the West feel sympathetic to the Greeks and identify with them in their struggles against the non-Greek "barbarians," notably in their war against the Persian Empire.
     Yet the ancient Greeks were not, at any time in their history, a single realm under a central government. They were a congerie of city-states, whose normal situation was that of mutual suspicion and hostility, and who would turn on any one of their number who showed signs of growing too powerful.
     They could never, under any circumstances, truly unite against an external enemy. Their closest approach to this was in the war against Persia between 500 and 450 BCE, and even then, substantial portions of the Greek world remained neutral—and in some cases even sided with the enemy.
     This was true despite the fact that the Greeks recognized themselves to share a common heritage, a common language, a common literature, a common religion. It was true despite the fact that the Greeks recognized themselves to be a unity at least to the extent that they lumped all non-Greeks together as "barbarians."
     After the successful fight against Persia, the Greeks could not maintain even the limited union that marked that war and, through division, fell easy prey first to Macedonia and finally to Rome.
     Was there no great accomplishment behind which a pan-Greek spirit might have flourished?
     Yes, there was, and it was even a great burst of colonizing energy that in some ways could offer an analogy to the projected twenty-first-century colonization of space.
     The Greeks, between 750 b.c. and 550 b.c., expanded greatly, planting colonies all along the Mediterranean coast from the farthest eastern reach of the Black Sea to the coastline of Spain in the far west, pushing back the non-Greeks already on the spot and constructing extensions of their own culture.
     Yet the period of colonization did not create the necessary spirit of union. For one thing, each colony was an independent city-state which promptly took up the task of fighting its city-state neighbors to the point where all could barely hold their own against the competing imperialisms of the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Etruscans and, eventually, could not hold their own at all against the Romans.
     Then, too, each colony was the product of the colonizing venture of a single city-state, so that Miletus was the colony of Athens; Syracuse of Corinth; Byzantium of Megara; Taras of Sparta, and so on. Many of the colonies then, in turn, founded colonies of their own.
     Any political or emotional ties that the colonies might form were therefore never with the Greek world as a whole, but at best with the mother city. The result was that when cities warred, each sometimes looked to a mother or daughter city for help, and disunion was exacerbated.

(ed note: though Asimov does point out that the Greek City States had some advantages.)

The European Case

     A curious parallel to the Greek experience was that of the great colonizing ventures of Western Europe between 1400 and 1800 a.d. As was the case with the Greeks, Western Europe had never been unified at any time after the fall of the west Roman Empire in the fifth century, except for a partial and abortive union under Charlemagne about 800 a.d. This disunity, as in the earlier case, persisted despite a common heritage, a common language of learning, a common literature, and a common religion.
     Nor did union develop through the great adventure of colonization.
     Some of the colonization, it is true, took place in Africa and Asia and was of the sort that established the domination of a European minority over a non-European majority. If we ignore this as an aberrant form, there remains the colonization of the Americas and of Australia where the native inhabitants were pushed back or destroyed and in which extensions of the colonizing culture were established as had been the case earlier, in the Greek colonizing period.
     In the European case, unlike that of the Greeks, the colonies were not independent from the start. Instead, each European nation kept its colonies tightly bound to itself and exploited them economically. (Eventually, these colonies rebelled and broke away, of course.)
     As in the Greek case, however, the colonies were established by single political units of the overall culture. No colony felt any allegiance to the European world in general, but only to individual nations. As a result, the colonies did not encourage union but rather exacerbated disunion, and colonial rivalries among the great colonizing powers became a new occasion for the endless wars that racked Europe as once they had racked Greece.

The American Case (ed note: this is Asimov's term, not mine. I know how demeaning this term is for nations in North and South America who are not the US)

     But now let us take a third case. In the period from 1600 to 1750, England (later Great Britain) had planted a series of colonies along the east-central coast of North America (pushing back the Indians and eventually destroying them in casual genocide).
     These colonies had varying degrees of self-government, but whatever their ties to the mother country, they were certainly independent of each other. There was no way in which the people of Massachusetts could help make the laws that governed Virginia, or vice versa.
     In the Revolutionary War of 1775-83, under the stress of the struggle for independence, the colonies joined in a weak and shaky alliance no stronger than the union of Greek city-states against Persia. Nor was it a unanimous alliance, any more than the Greek one had been, for the colonists in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, upper and lower Canada, and the West Indian islands did not join the rebellion. In fact, they wholeheartedly supported Great Britain. What is more, even within the thirteen colonies which were nominally in rebellion, at least as many colonists fought for Great Britain as for independence.
     The war ended at last with American independence established but that did not make the alliance of thirteen self-governing and essentially independent "states" any stronger. Few political observers in Europe thought that the "United States" would remain united for long.
     There are a number of reasons why the Union persisted, but one of them rests with a crucial self-abnegating decision on the part of the infant states—a decision whose wisdom and critical effect has been underestimated by posterity.
     The new states were primarily settled east of the Allegheny Mountains, but the territory of the new nation stretched westward to the Mississippi River. The royal charters that had originally established the colonies-turned-states were vague as to boundaries and generous in granting everything westward to the setting sun. The result was that nine of the states had claims, conflicting and overlapping, to the western lands. The land north of the Ohio River, for instance (the Northwest Territory), was claimed entirely by Virginia and, in part, by Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York.
     Had such conflicting claims persisted, there would have been an endless cause of wrangling among the states, and the earlier Greek and European experiences would have been relived. Had the claims been straightened out and the western lands distributed among the states according to some compromise, conflicting imperialisms would nevertheless have been set up, and each further extension of national territory would have been the occasion for endless rivalries. The nation in the end would have become a congerie of battling subnations.
     What really happened was that one of the states without western claims, Maryland, refused to join the Union even under the weak terms of alliance that had existed during the Revolutionary War until all western claims were abandoned and the western lands turned over to the weak and almost powerless Congress.
     One by one, to appease Maryland, the various states abandoned their western claims.
     Not only was a cause of rivalry removed, but the cen­tral legislative body, the Congress, had in this way gained something. Congress was so weak in the years following the Revolutionary War that it was almost a negligible quantity, as the United Nations is today. Like the United Nations, the early Congress would not levy taxes but had to wait, hat in hand, for contributions from the states that made up the Union— contributions that came reluctantly, sparingly, or not at all.
     But Congress now had the western lands! What was it to do with them?
     On July 13, 1787, with only eighteen members of Congress present (so moribund was the body), the "Northwest Ordi­nance" was passed. By that Ordinance, it was decided that when population reached a certain level, new states would be formed out of the Northwest Territory and these new states would be equal to the old ones in all political and social respects. No state would be the superior of another because it was older or because it had been one of the original thirteen. Had this point not been made clear, the Union might have become a mixture of dominating senior states and dominated junior ones, and the stage would have been set for new rebellions.
     The new states, like the Greek colonies, had equal status with the mother states, but unlike the Greek colonies maintained strong political ties with the colonizing power. These strong, political ties were not, as in the case of the European colonies, to a single segment of the colonizing culture, but to the culture as a whole. The new states became part of a central government which, in 1787, was made infinitely stronger by the working out of a federal constitution which was quickly adopted by the various states. (This adoption meant that the states voluntar­ily surrendered key portions of their sovereignty—again an enormously wise example of self-abnegation.)
     There was another reason why American colonization, in the form of new states, strengthened the Union—unlike the case of the earlier Greek and European examples.
     The new American states were not officially founded by particular old American states. Most of the immigrants would naturally come from nearby states, but anyone could enter from any state—and did. The result was that, on the whole, blocs of states were not formed. There was not, from the start, a Virginia bloc and a New York bloc and so on.
     The discords and dangers to which that would have given rise are clearly shown through the one case where blocs did form, but in a manner that did not arise out of the way in which the new states were formed.
     Unfortunately, the states while they had still been colonies, had imported black slaves from Africa and created a master-slave society where none need have existed. The unwisdom of this decision went far to neutralizing all the wisdom that had gone into, the establishment of a working Union.
     As time went on, some of the states outlawed slavery and a growing hostility arose between them and the other states that permitted it. Unfortunately, the two groups were not scattered, but formed two compact blocs.
     The consequences showed what might have happened if the United States had been broken up into half a dozen spheres of influences. In 1859, when Kansas was approaching entry as a state, possibly free and possibly slave, both sides attempted to influence the vote by subsidizing immigrants, arming them, and encouraging force. The result was a civil war in Kansas.
     Within two years, there was a Civil War in the nation as a whole.
     The United States survived, at great cost, partly because there were only two blocs. One could be defeated, the other be victorious. Had there been half a dozen blocs, the shifting alliances that would have resulted as each bloc perceived danger to itself every time a competing bloc seemed to grow too strong would have made a clear-cut conclusion impossible and the United States would have disintegrated.
     What was more amazing than the victory of the Union in 1865, however, was the fact that it was followed by reconciliation. The defeated slave states, prostrated and humiliated, did not easily forget or forgive and haven't entirely forgotten and forgiven to this day, but the spirit of revenge was contained. The embittered memory of defeat did not result in further revolts or in a guerrilla movement or a long-lived independence drive or appeals to foreign powers. Instead, reconciliation while slow, was real, and the United States has remained strong and united.
     How did this come about? Partly the responsibility must surely rest with the historic accident that, in the decades immediately after the Civil War, what remained of the West was developed and a dozen new states were formed—states which were settled by men from the victorious North and from the defeated South on an equal basis; states which, therefore, owed allegiance to neither of the two sides but only to the nation as a whole. In the great task of the colonization of the West, the sectional wounds were healed. (ed note: sorry Isaac, it didn't turn out that way.)

     If we agree, then, that the Greek civilization and the West European civilization each harmed itself enormously through an inability to unite, while the American civilization developed unprecedented power-plus-liberty over a vaster area than had ever before been the subject of such an experiment—and if we further agree that the Greek and European systems of colonization did not further union at home, while the American system of colonization did—then what can we say about the forthcoming colonization of space in the twenty-first century?
  1. The colonizing culture should be united to begin with, as Greece and Europe were not and as the United States was, even though the union might be excessively weak. This we may fairly hope for, since twentieth-century civilization is not likely to survive without some form of global cooperation and since a model for it already exists in the form of the United Nations (though one could scarcely imagine a more feeble and ineffective global government). (ed note: sorry Isaac, it didn't turn out that way.)

  2. The space colonies must not be utterly independent as soon as they are capable of such independence, as in the Greek case; nor must they be subjected to such humiliating dependence as to be forced into rebellion and consequent utter independence, as in the European case. Either way, the results will not be conducive to global government. Instead, the space colonies must be tied to earth but under terms which give them the full rights and privileges of the Earthly units themselves, as in the American example. This we may hope for, too, since the space colonies will not be sufficiently self-supporting for a period of time and can scarcely hope for complete independence very soon, and since colonial oppression had gone out of style and, we may hope, will remain out of style.

  3. The space colonies must not feel bound, either politically (as in the European case) or emotionally (as in the Greek case) to one single colonizing unit of the greater whole since that would encourage rivalry and disunion; but must feel bound to the central government only (as in the American case).

     This third requirement is the most crucial since it seems the least likely. To make it possible, the global government must be in charge of the colonizing ventures, and the colonization must take place under global auspices. Each colony must be open for colonization, without restriction, to people from any part of the Earth, and, indeed, a well-mixed population should be positively encouraged on every colony.
     We should avoid, like the plague, the formation of colonies populated entirely by Americans, or by Russians, or by Uruguayans—or by any group that would then feel some emotional or traditional attachment to one section of the Earth 'more than another.
     A well-mixed colony would, instead, be a microcosm of Earth and would be divorced from the local rivalries of the civilizing power. Naturally, we cannot expect perfection. On any of the colonies there will be occasionally fashionable nostalgia that will make itself felt in the boosting of various ethnic heritages. We are experiencing this today in the United States, in fact, and it is a far cry from this to the deadly rivalries that result when opposing groups are armed and are ready to convert hatred into force.
     And then, as the number of colonies increases, each with problems having nothing to do with terrestrial localisms, those localisms will seem to grow progressively more picayune and meaningless, and the global government will grow ever stronger and more meaningful.
     My conclusion, then, is that if the colonization of'space is carried through as wisely and as farsightedly as the colonization of the American West, it will be a vast project that will unite humanity both in the performance and in the consequence, and may be the route by which we can establish a functional global law for the first time in history and, in consequence, make human civilization permanent.
     So to those who cry out that space exploration is too expensive, I can only ask: How much is survival worth?

From SPACE AND THE LAW by Isaac Asimov (1976)

IF WAR CAME, thought Sadler, it would be a tragedy of circumstances rather than deliberate policy. Indeed, the stubborn fact that had brought Earth into conflict with her ex-colonies sometimes seemed to him like a bad joke on the part of Nature.

Even before his unwelcome and unexpected assignment, Sadler had been well aware of the main facts behind the current crisis. It had been developing for more than a generation, and it arose from the peculiar position of the planet Earth.

The human race had been born on a world unique in the solar system, loaded with a mineral wealth unmatched elsewhere. This accident of fate had given a flying start to man's technology, but when he reached the other planets, he found to his surprise and disappointment that for many of his most vital needs he must still depend on the home world.

Earth is the densest of all the planets, only Venus approaching it in this respect. But Venus has no satellite, and the Earth/Moon system forms a double world of a type found nowhere else among the planets. Its mode of formation is a mystery still, but it is known that when Earth was molten the Moon circled at only a fraction of its present distance, and raised gigantic tides in the plastic substance of its companion.

As a result of these internal tides, the crust of the Earth is rich in heavy metals—far richer than that of any other of the planets: They hoard their wealth far down within their unreachable cores, protected by pressures and temperatures that guard them from man's depredations. So as human civilization spread outward from Earth, the drain on the mother world's dwindling resources steadily increased.

(ed note: this is an out-dated theory. Currently it is thought that Terra's deposits of heavy metals came from asteroid strikes.)

The light elements existed on the other planets in unlimited amounts, but such essential metals as mercury, lead, uranium, platinum, thorium and tungsten were almost unobtainable. For many of them no substitutes existed; their large-scale synthesis was impractical, despite two centuries of effort—and modern technology could not survive without them.

It was an unfortunate situation, and a very galling one for the independent republics on Mars, Venus and the larger satellites, which had now united to form the Federation. It kept them dependent upon Earth, and prevented their expansion toward the frontiers of the solar system. Though they had searched the asteroids and moons, among the rubble left over when the worlds were formed, they had found little but worthless rock and ice. They must go cap in hand to the mother planet for almost every gram of a dozen metals that were more precious than gold.

That in itself might not have been serious, had not Earth grown steadily more jealous of its offspring during the two hundred years since the dawn of space travel. It was, thought Sadler, an old, old story, perhaps its classic example being the case of England and the American colonies. It has been truly said that history never repeats itself, but historical situations recur. The men who governed Earth were far more intelligent than George the Third; nevertheless, they were beginning to show the same reactions as that unfortunate monarch.

There were excuses on both sides. there always are. Earth was tired; it had spent itself, sending out its best blood to the stars. It saw power slipping from its hands, and knew that it had already lost the future Why should it speed the process by giving to its rivals the tools they needed?

The Federation, on the other hand, looked back with a kind of affectionate contempt upon the world from which it had sprung. It had lured to Mars, Venus and the satellites of the giant planets some of the finest intellects and the most adventurous spirits of the human race. Here was the new frontier, one that would expand forever toward the stars. It was the greatest physical challenge mankind had ever faced, it could be met only by supreme scientific skill and unyielding determination. These were virtues no longer essential on Earth; the fact that Earth was well aware of it did nothing to ease the situation.

All this might lead to discord and interplanetary invective, but it could never lead to violence. Some other factor was needed to produce that, some final spark which would set off an explosion echoing round the solar system.

That spark had now been struck. The world did not know it yet, and Sadler himself had been equally ignorant a short six months ago. Central Intelligence, the shadowy organization of which he was now a reluctant member, had been working night and day to neutralize the damage. A mathematical thesis entitled "A Quantitative Theory of the Formation of the Lunar Surface Features" did not look like the sort of thing that could start a war—but an equally theoretical paper by a certain Albert Einstein had once ended one.

The paper had been written about two years ago by Professor Roland Phillips, a peaceable Oxford cosmologist with no interest in politics. He had submitted it to the Royal Astronomical Society, and it was now becoming a little difficult to give him a satisfactory explanation of the delay in publication.

Unfortunately—and this was the fact that caused great distress to Central Intelligence—Professor Phillips had innocently sent copies to his colleagues on Mars and Venus. Desperate attempts had been made to intercept them, but in vain. By now, the Federation must know that the Moon was not as impoverished a world as had been believed for two hundred years.

"I must speak bluntly, even if I have to upset the people back home. Earth isn't very popular here. The phrase 'dog in the manger' gets bandied around quite a lot. Your own supply difficulties are recognized, but it's felt that the frontier planets are short of necessities while Earth wastes much of its resources on trivial luxuries. I'll give you an example. Yesterday the news came in that the Mercury outpost has just lost five men through a faulty heat-exchange unit in one of the domes. The temperature control failed and the lava got them—not a very nice death. If the manufacturer had not been short of titanium, this wouldn't have happened.

"Of course, it's not fair to blame Earth for this. But it's unfortunate that only a week ago you cut the titanium quota again, and the interested parties here are seeing that the public doesn't forget it. I can't be more specific than that, because I don't want to be cut off, but you'll know who I mean.

"I don't believe that the situation will get any worse unless some new factor enters the picture. But suppose—and here I want to make it quite clear that I'm only considering a hypothetical case—suppose Earth were to locate new supplies of the heavy metals. In the still-unexplored ocean depths, for instance. Or even on the Moon, despite the disappointments it's given in the past.

"If this happens, and Earth tries to keep its discovery to itself, the consequences may be serious. It's all very well to say that Earth would be within its rights. Legal arguments don't carry much weight when you're fighting thousand-atmosphere pressures on Jupiter, or trying to thaw out the frozen moons of Saturn. Don't forget, as you enjoy your mild spring days and peaceful summer evenings, how lucky you are to live in the temperate region of the solar system, where the air never freezes and the rocks never melt. What is the Federation likely to do if such a situation arises? If I knew, I couldn't tell you. I can only make some guesses. To talk about war, in the old-fashioned sense, seems absurd to me. Either side could inflict heavy damage on the other, but any real trial of strength could not possibly be conclusive. Earth has too many resources, even though they are dangerously concentrated. And she owns most of the ships in the solar system.

"The Federation has the advantage of dispersion. How can Earth carry out a simultaneous fight against half-a-dozen planets and moons, poorly equipped though they may be? The supply problem would be completely hopeless.

"If, which heaven forbid, it should come to violence, we may see sudden raids on strategic points by specially equipped vessels which will make an attack and then retreat into space. Any talk of interplanetary invasion is pure fantasy. Earth certainly has no wish to take over the planets. And the Federation, even if it wanted to enforce its will on Earth, has neither the men nor the ships for a full-scale assault. As I see it, the immediate danger is that something like a duel may take place—where and how is anyone's guess—as one side attempts to impress the other with its strength. But I would warn any who may be thinking of a limited, gentlemanly war that wars were seldom limited, and never gentlemanly. Good-by, Earth—this is Roderick Beynon, speaking to you from Venus."

From EARTHLIGHT by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1955)

     “To start with, have you ever heard of Earth?”
     “Which one? There are a couple of planets in this sector by that name, and another one in near the Hub somewhere. I can’t say I know much about any of them.”
     “The Earth I’m talking about is the original one. Over in the Sirius sector. The birthplace of the human race, millions of years ago.”
     “You mean such a place actually exists? I thought it was nothing more than a legend, a myth. for children.” Zim shook his head in puzzlement, then took another long drink from the glass in front of him.
     “No, I assure you it isn’t a myth. Earth, old Earth, actually exists, and it is really the original home of mankind. Let me fill you in a little on the background.
     “As near as we can determine from the records, something like seventeen hundred years ago man was confined to that one system, Sol. Space travel had developed slowly, until the invention of the inertialess drive, which opened up the stars. Over the next several hundred years, the men of Earth went out, colonizing uninhabited planets and contacting other species.
     “That outward surge of explorers and colonists almost killed the home planet. The best of their young men left for the stars, never to return. The resources of the entire system were looted to build the many ships required, all in the hope that eventually the colonies would begin to ship back to the home system raw materials that Earth vitally needed. Earth wished to evolve into a governmental center of an interstellar empire. The member planets would provide the material goods while Earth provided the direction.
     “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out quite that way. A pattern emerged. A colony would be founded and it would take several generations to become self-sufficient. Once the colony developed to the point where it had sufficient materials to send the surplus off-planet, it began an expansion policy of its own, establishing daughter colonies rather than sending the surplus back to Earth.

(ed note: this is sort of the exact opposite situation in Earthlight)

     “The situation soon became intolerable for Earth, and the central government attempted to enforce its policy. The reaction was predictable: the colonies revolted. At first Earth countered with blockades and confiscation of shipping; but eventually she resorted to weapons, and the war was on."
     “Several of the older colonies formed a loose confederation and attacked Earth. They assumed that they were getting involved in nothing more than a police action, considering the state of Earth’s resources, but they forgot one very important fact. At that time, poor as she may have been in military-minded young men and the raw materials needed to support an interstellar war machine, Earth still had the greatest concentration of technical know-how and scientific development potential in the known universe.
     “The confederation of rebel planets ringed the Earth system—the Solar System—with warships, then bombed the colonies on the fourth planet to rubble as a demonstration of its powers. Then it sat back and waited, two years, for Earth’s surrender. When the reaction finally came it was nothing they could have expected. In those two years Earth developed weapons of such fantastic power that no colonial fleet, no matter how large, could stand against her ships. Unfortunately, Earth could not possibly maintain exclusive use of those new weapons. Ships were occasionally captured and their weapons copied. Scientists of the colonies also came up with some new weapons of their own, but Earth had a commanding lead. In no way could the Earth fleets be stopped—only slowed, dragging out the war. Then Earth came up with a weapon that has never been copied since.
     “Out of the laboratories of the home world came a bomb capable of exploding a sun! A nova bomb, that could erase every trace of life from a system and leave it completely uninhabitable. With that weapon the Earth government completely destroyed every one of the colonies that had made up the confederation, ringing the section of space around the Solar System with a swath of burned-out suns.
     “Over one hundred billion people died in that war. There’s no telling what eventually might have happened if the people of Earth, common citizens and government officials alike, hadn’t recoiled in horror at what was being done. The reaction destroyed the government that had planned to rule the stars; Earth, with the threat of the nova bomb to back her words, closed the space around her system, renouncing the stars forever. For twelve hundred years Earth has been all but completely cut off from that part of human civilization that eventually evolved into the Hub Federation. Not more than one ship a century has visited Earth, and as far as we know, in all that time only two Earth ships have ventured into the galaxy beyond the ring of dead stars.”

From VOYAGE TO A FORGOTTEN SUN by Donald Pfeil (1975)

(ed note: Terra (which Luna as its puppet) is on one side, and the Settlement Worlds (Mars et al.) are on the other. The issue is Trade. Terran corporation not only want their monopolies protected from cheaper Settlement imports, they pretty much want the Settlement worlds to just die off.)


     “As I am to preside today, I hereby call this conference back into session,” Hiroshi Suzuki said in his quiet, tired voice. He used his age well, Neruda thought. People instinctively paid deference to a man who appeared so frail. Suzuki tapped a few keys on his notepack and cleared his throat. “We have been in session for five days now, my friends, and have agreed on little more than to repeat this meeting one Earth year from now. I say the people of all worlds will condemn this conference as a failure if that is all we can agree to. Surely we can and must come to some sort of compromise.”
     Angela Hardin sniffed audibly and replied. "Mr. Chairman, with all due respect, I ask you not to speak of compromise when all you offer are terms that amount to outright surrender. Your idea of a ‘compromise’ is to flat-out ban imports to Earth from the Settlement Worlds.
     “Once again, I must clarify,” Suzuki said. “We seek only to rationalize our own economy. We seek a cessation of only redundant imports, those which duplicate items or materials mined or manufactured in cislunar space. If the product in question cannot be found within the orbit of the Moon, we welcome its importation.”
     “There are, as you know perfectly well, virtually no products or raw materials that are not available or manufactured in cislunar space,” Hardin pointed out mechanically.
     “Granting for the sake of argument that were true, why then should our people import from you what our domestic industry can sell them already?"
     “Because ‘your people’ are the other ones you’re gouging, pally,” McGillicutty snapped. The other Settlement delegates shifted uncomfortably. The chief Mars delegate was not noted for his subtlety. “Ores, water and organics, fusion engines and fuel, spacecraft, even whole habitats—every damn one of them we could sell to ‘your people’ for half what your precious domestic industry crowds gets for em.
     “But you exclude us to protect your industry from its own customers—because your industries are used to being monopolies. Your own people pay double prices, and we're forced to run a hemorrhaging trade deficit with Earth, because you sell us what we need at monopoly prices, but you refuse to buy from us." He pointed a meaty finger at Suzuki. “Talk smooth and gentle all you like, Suzuki, but your trade policy is a systematic effort to drain wealth from the Settlements back toward Earth. You want to convert us into a pack of miserable eunuch colonies like the bloody Moon.
     Neruda (governor of the Moon) started in shock and glared balefully at McGillicutty. “I must protest,” he sputtered.
     The Martian delegate shrugged indifferently. “Sorry, mate, but if the shoe fits. … Try calling anyone on Mars a ‘colonist’ and not a Settler. You’ll get your face ripped off. Your poor sods don’t even know ‘colonist’ is a dirty word.” McGillicutty dismissed the outraged Neruda from his thoughts and continued. “So the question is, do the trade barriers come down, or do we all sit around on our arses yapping until the conference is over?”
     Angela Hardin sat silent. Few around the table missed the noteworthy point of McGillicutty’s outburst. Hardin had allowed it. Heretofore, she had restrained her second-in-command. That she was unleashing him today was significant. She was upping the stakes.

     Suzuki pulled a paper out of his inside jacket pocket and unfolded it thoughtfully. “I am informed that the so-called ‘trade barriers’ you refer to are down already. There has always been a fair degree of smuggling, largely thanks to the difficulty of patrolling the vastness of space adequately. Until now there has at least been some honorable government-to-government effort to control the illegal trafiic. I have before me what appears to be an authenticated copy of an order from the Settlement Confederation Assembly. It instructs Settlement custom agents to cease all efforts at interdiction of Earth/Settlement smuggling. How can we negotiate a trade agreement with governments who condone—indeed order—the violation of existing trade laws?”

     “How can we cut deals with a mob of colonial monopolists who’re ready to let our children die of malnutrition or disease rather than allow open trade?” McGillicutty snapped back. “We do not have the means, facilities, or raw materials to manufacture trace-element nutrition products. We don’t have the medical labs or research capacity to manufacture anything but the most basic vaccines and drugs.
     “Yes, we’re forced to condone smuggling—or else watch our people die by the thousands in plagues. Disease spreads horribly fast in a closed-environment colony. But you tax the medicines and medical equipment straight through the ceiling. That's why we smuggle them. For what must be the first time in history, black market prices are cheaper than the official rate. Your taxes are so high the smugglers can make a bloodsucker’s profits and still undercut the legal rates. They can sell one vitamin and trace-element tablet for the price of a whole bottle back on Earth. Plain old vitamins you can extract from natural sources cheaply and easily, while so far it’s flat-out impossible for us to synthesize them in useful quantities. And you ask us to choose tight customs control over children with rickets and scurvy?”

     McGillicutty gestured to the nervous faces on his side of the table. “My friends at this table didn't want me to bring all these things up, because they’d like to pretend it’s all a grand secret. But your lot would have to be damned fools not to know it. Half of what we buy from you is health care in one way or another. But it’s not just drugs and medicines you're keeping from us. It's people. Skilled, educated people.
     "To this day, there isn’t a medical school off Earth, because we’ve never been able to afford to hire a faculty or buy the equipment we’d need. We have to pay incredible wages to attract any doctors at all—and then your policies only make it worse.
     "You've written laws and treaties that make all wages earned by a citizen of a U.N. country while off-planet liable to tax just as if the wage earner were back home— plus an additional twenty percent payable to the U.N.! Violators to be thrown in Tycho Penal should they ever return to the Earth/Moon system. We have to pay emigrants enough to compensate for the taxes you've forced them to pay you! It amounts to an indirect tax on the Settlement worlds, bribes we're forced to pay you if we're to attract the skilled people we need to survive.
     “Not just doctors, but pilots, technicians, all sorts of specialists—anyone who might want to emigrate off-planet must hesitate under those circumstances. Those who do decide to emigrate and still want to visit Earth before they die must pay an unfair tax to a government a billion kilometers away. It s that or exile themselves from Earth for all time, never see their families or the home planet again. It’s extortion.”
     “The twenty percent U.N. surtax is paid as recompense for the cost of our educating your specialists for you, Suzuki said smoothly.
     “Learned that from old Soviets, nyet?’ one of the Titan delegates sneered. The Titanians were virtually all of Russian extraction, Neruda reminded himself, and more paranoid for signs of imagined tyranny than most.
     Suzuki ignored the interruption. "Each emigrant from the Earth represents a lost investment in education and other social services. We are within our rights to seek recompensation."

     “And the medical taxes are there to recompense you for all the trouble of malnourishing our children? McGillicutty shot back. “What’s your excuse for that?
     “There are, as you know perfectly well, export taxes on many classes of merchandise and services. Medical supplies are taxed in accordance with the appropriate formulae for their classes of export."
     “Double-talk. Bloody no-answer double-talk—” McGillicutty growled. Hardin reached out and touched him on the arm. He stopped in midsentence and the two of them leaned their heads toward each other to whisper together. After a moment, McGillicutty grunted and sat back in his chair.

     “Tempers are growing hot,” Hardin said. "I move we adjourn for the day and return to the issues at hand tomorrow.”
     Chairman Suzuki nodded regretfully. “I am forced to concur.” He lifted the gavel. “Do I hear a second to the motion from the non-proposing delegation?”
     That was Neruda’s cue. He could tell when Suzuki wanted a second. “Mr. Chairman, I second the motion,” he said promptly, not liking it for a moment. Why let the opposition get in such an insulting last word on the subject?
     “Any objections or discussion?” Suzuki asked mechanically. “There being none voiced, I declare this conference adjourned until 0900 tomorrow, at which time Dr. Angela Hardin will be in the chair. ” He whacked down the gavel and the delegates began to shuffle their way out.

     Hillary Wu, private assistant to the lunar governor, had been seated with the rest of the staff, in a row of chairs lining the edge of the room. Now she stood and caught up with her boss, Governor Neruda, as he left the room.
     “Heartening, isn't it, Wu?” Nenida asked as she fell into step alongside him. “The Settlement delegation is clearly in disarray. Did you notice how far out of line McGillicutty stepped? Hardin won’t be able to keep them together much longer. Once the Settlers split, then we can start negotiating more favorable agreements with each group, one at a time. ”
     Hillary Wu sighed. She was past caring if Neruda was that stupid naturally, or if he had been forced to study. Once again he had managed to miss or misinterpret every important point of the day’s session. McGillicutty’s public admission of the Settlers’ weaknesses was no outburst, but a carefully planned warning. It said very plainly that the Settlers were ready to go public with the medical story. There would be plenty of people back on Earth appalled by the medical shortages Earth seemed to be inflicting on the other worlds. Then Suzuki had come right back and revealed terrestrial knowledge of secret Settlement documents.
     That had set hands to working over notepack keyboards on the Settler side of the table. No doubt half a dozen delegates had sent messages, and the Settler intelligence services were tracing the leak already.
     The key point: Suzuki had willingly sacrificed a vital intel source to let the Settlers know he too was willing to go public. It would be highly embarrassing to Settler sensitivities to be branded as a bunch of bushwhacking smugglers. There was too much of that in the Settlers past for them to be comfortable about a present-day accusation.
     Hardin's delegation was under the strictest control, that was obvious. Even McGillicutty had fallen silent at her command. Now the stakes were raised, the gloves were off—and tomorrow Hardin was in the chair. She could control the discussion at a crucial juncture.

(ed note: That night, Hiroshi Suzuki of Earth and Angela Hardin of the Settlement worlds have a private meeting. After all, they were lovers about sixty years ago.)

     He thought for a moment. “To survival,” he replied.
     “Surely we can seek a richer success than mere survival,” Hardin suggested, looking at his face. There was no humor here. He meant it. “But, very well, to survival.” She raised her glass and then sipped her sake thoughtfully. “Is it that bad?” she asked at last.
     Hiroshi Suzuki drank from his wine and leaned back into the couch. He allowed himself the luxury of feeling his tiredness, instead of once again thrusting it away. Here, with Angela Hardin, he could let his guard down. “It may be. You know the problem as well as I do. Earth’s time is passing. We will always be more populous than your worlds, but the day is coming when we will no longer richer or more powerful. It is not even that we are declining—but that you are advancing faster. Industries we now must defend with trade laws, we once owned. Twenty years ago, no one would buy a spacecraft built outside lunar orbit. Now, Mars is the leader in spacecraft production.
     “I would try and guide Earth toward a woeful acceptance of this state of affairs,” he said. “Sooner or later, we must come to know that the Settlements are neither our enemies or our underlings, but our partners. When that understanding comes, we can come to share our strengths, to everyone’s betterment. Free trade would provide Earth with a most eficacious shock, and renewed contact with off-planet technology would stimulate us to new efforts. Perhaps in time we would again regain preeminence.
     “But my views do not guide my delegation. There are terrestrials who regard you all as spoiled children to be taken to task, your will broken, your economies sapped, emigration stopped altogether. They know your birthrates, your infant mortality rates. Without emigration, your population would now be in decline. They see that as a weapon to be used, not as a tragedy to be avoided. They imagine Earth might somehow profit from your collapse. I do not share these ideas, even if I must tolerate them from my people.”
     “I know, Hiroshi. And McGillicutty does not speak for all the Settlements—though his views are growing more popular. His faction actively hates Earth. My extremists are just as extreme as yours. And I cannot control them for long."

From FARSIDE CANNON by Roger MacBride Allen (1988)

(ed note: from Heinlein's outline notes for Between Planets:)

  1. the bill of rights is a damned good idea
  2. absentee landlords are a bad idea (aka "Slumlords")
  3. people can't vote themselves something for nothing—and collect.
  4. Terra is a small place; so is the solar system. Survivor types will meet the challenge by finding more land and bending it to their needs.
  5. The folks who stay at home are nutty as hell if they think that their economic problems can be solved for any length of time by levying tribute on colonies.

Mr. Reeves studied his fingernails. "Are you quite sure where your loyalties lie?" he said slowly.

Don forced himself to think about it. His father had been born on Earth; his mother was a second-generation Venus colonial. But neither planet was truly their home; they had met and married on Luna and had pursued their researches in planetology in many sectors of the solar system. Don himself had been born out in space and his birth certificate, issued by the Federation, had left the question of his nationality open. He could claim dual citizenship by parental derivation. He did not think of himself as a Venus colonial; it had been so long since his family had last visited Venus that the place had grown unreal in his mind. On the other hand he had been eleven years old before he had ever rested his eyes on the lovely hills of Earth.

"I'm a citizen of the System," he said harshly.

"Mmmm—" said the headmaster. "That's a fine phrase and perhaps someday it will mean something. In the meantime, speaking as a friend, I agree with your parents. Mars is likely to be neutral territory; you'll be safe there. Again, speaking as your friend—things may get a little rough here for anyone whose loyalty is not perfectly clear."

"Nobody has any business questioning my loyalty! Under the law, I count as native born!"

The man did not answer. Don burst out, "The whole thing is silly! If the Federation wasn't trying to bleed Venus white there wouldn't be any war talk."

Reeves stood up. "That will be all, Don. I'm not going to argue politics with you."

"It's true! Read Chamberlain's Theory of Colonial Expansion!"

Reeves seemed startled. "Where did you lay hands on that book? Not in the school library."

Don did not answer. His father had sent it to him but had cautioned him not to let it be seen; it was one of the suppressed books—on Earth, at least. Reeves went on, "Don, have you been dealing with a booklegger?"

Don remained silent.

The orchestra, which had been playing softly from nowhere in particular, stopped suddenly and the sound system announced "News flash!" At the same time the darkening sky overhead turned black and lighted letters started marching across it. The voice over the sound system read aloud the words streaming across the ceiling: BERMUDA: OFFICIAL: THE DEPARTMENT OF COLONIAL AFFAIRS HAS JUST ANNOUNCED THAT THE PROVISIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE VENUS COLONIES HAS REJECTED OUR NOTE. A SOURCE CLOSE TO THE FEDERATION CHAIRMAN SAYS THAT THIS IS AN EXPECTED DEVELOPMENT AND NO CAUSE FOR ALARM.

The lights went up and the music resumed. Dr. Jefferson's lips were stretched back in a mirthless grin. "How appropriate!" he commented. "How timely! The handwriting on the wall."

Circum-Terra was a great confused mass in the sky. It had been built, rebuilt, added to, and modified over the course of years for a dozen different purposes—weather observation station, astronomical observatory, meteor count station, television relay, guided missile control station, high-vacuum strain-free physics laboratory, strain-free germ-free biological experiment station, and many other uses.

But most importantly it was a freight and passenger transfer station in space, the place where short-range winged rockets from Earth met the space liners that plied between the planets. For this purpose it had fueling tanks, machine shops, repair cages that could receive the largest liners and the smallest rockets, and a spinning, pressurized drum—"Goddard Hotel"—which provided artificial gravity and Earth atmosphere for passengers and for the permanent staff of Circum-Terra.

Goddard Hotel stuck out from the side of Circum-Terra like a cartwheel from a pile of junk. The hub on which it turned ran through its center and protruded out into space. It was to this hub that a ship would couple its passenger tube when discharging or loading humans. That done, the ship would then be warped over to a cargo port in the non-spinning major body of the station. When the Glory Road made contact, there were three other ships in at Circum-Terra, the Valkyrie in which Don Harvey had passage for Mars, the Nautilus, just in from Venus and in which Sir Isaac expected to return home, and the Spring Tide, the Luna shuttle which alternated with its sister the Neap Tide.

Instead of a hotelman anxious to please his guests, in came three men in uniform. The two flank men were carrying mob guns cradled at their hips; the third man had only a hand pistol, still holstered. He stepped forward, planted his feet and set his fists on his hips. "Attention! Quiet, everybody."

He got it; his voice had the ring of command which is obeyed without thinking. He went on, "I am Assault Sergeant McMasters of the High Guard, Venus Republic. My commanding officer has directed me to advise you of the present situation."

There was an additional short moment of silence, then a rising mutter of surprise, alarm, disbelief, and indignation. "Pipe down!" the sergeant shouted. "Take it easy. Nobody's going to get hurt—if you behave." He went on, "The Republic has taken over this station and everybody is being cleared out. You groundhogs will be shipped back to Earth at once. Those of you who are headed home to Venus will go home—provided you pass our loyalty check. Now, let's get sorted out."

Don was busy trying to quiet down and arrange his whirling thoughts. He was forced at last to admit that this was it, this was war, the war that he had told himself was impossible. No cities had been bombed, not yet—but this was the Fort Sumter of a new war; he was smart enough to see that. He did not have to be threatened with a boot in the belly to see what was in front of his face.

He realized with nervous shock that he had just barely gotten away in time. The Valkyrie might be the last ship to Mars in a long, long time. With the transfer station in the hands of the rebels it might be the last one for years.

The Earthlings had no guards and no colonials in with them; they were giving vent freely to their opinions about events, "—outrage! We should blast every one of their settlements, level them to the ground!" "—I think we should send a committee to this commanding officer of theirs and say to him firmly—" "I told you we shouldn't have come!" "Negotiate? That's a sign of weakness." "Don't you realize that the war is already over? Man, this place isn't just a traffic depot; it's the main guided-missile control station. They can bomb every last city on Earth from here, like ducks on a pond!"

Don noticed the last remark, played it over in his mind, let it sink in. He was not used to thinking in terms of military tactics; up to this moment the significance of a raid on Circum-Terra had been lost on him. He had thought of it in purely personal terms, his own convenience.

Would they actually go that far? Bomb the Federation cities right off the map? Sure, the colonials had plenty to be sore about, but—Of course, it had happened like that, once in the past, but that was history; people were more civilized now. Weren't they?

The flag of the task force commander, High Commodore Higgins, was shifted from Circum-Terra back to the Nautilus, and Higgins moved at once to carry out the rest of the coup. The storming of Circum-Terra had been managed almost without bloodshed; it had depended on timing and surprise. Now the rest of the operation must be completed before any dislocation in ship schedules would be noticed on Earth.

The Nautilus and the Valkyrie had already been prepared for their long jumps; the Spring Tide's crew was removed to be sent to Earth and a crew supplied from the task force; she herself was fueled and provisioned for deep space. Although designed for the short jump to Luna, she was quite capable of making the trip to Venus. Space travel is not a matter of distance but of gravity potential levels; the jump from Circum-Terra to Venus required less expenditure of energy than did the terrible business of fighting up though Earth's field from New Chicago to Circum-Terra.

The Spring Tide shoved off in a leisurely, economical parabola; she would make the trip to Venus in free fall all the way. The Valkyrie blasted away to shape a fast, almost flat, hyperboloid orbit; she would arrive as soon or sooner than the Nautilus. The Nautilus was last to leave, for High Commodore Higgins had one more thing to do before destroying the station—a television broadcast on a globe-wide network.

It cut suddenly, the tank went empty and a voice said, "We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a special news flash." The tank filled again, this time with the features of Commodore Higgins.

His face lacked the synthetic smile obligatory for all who speak in public telecast; his manner and voice were grim. "I am High Commodore Higgins, commanding Task Force Emancipation of the High Guard, Venus Republic. The High Guard has seized Earth's satellite station Circum-Terra. We now have all of Earth's cities utterly at our mercy."

He paused to let it sink in. Don thought it over and did not like the thought. Everybody knew that Circum-Terra carried enough A-bomb rockets to smear any force or combination of forces that could be raised to oppose the Federation. The exact number of rocket bombs carried was a military secret, variously estimated between two hundred and a thousand. A rumor had spread through the civilians in the Nautilus that the High Guard had found seven hundred and thirty-two bombs ready to go, with component parts for many more, plus enough deuterium and tritium to make up about a dozen Hell bombs.

Whether the rumor was true or not, Circum-Terra certainly held enough bombs to turn the Terran Federation into a radioactive abattoir. No doubt with so much under ground many inhabitants of cities would survive, but any city, once bombed, would have to be abandoned; the military effect would be the same. And many would die. How many? Forty millions? Fifty millions? Don did not know.

The commodore went on, "Mercifully we stay our hand. Earth's cities will not be bombed. The free citizens of Venus Republic have no wish to slaughter their cousins still on Terra. Our only purpose is to establish our own independence, to manage our own affairs, to throw off the crushing yoke of absentee ownership and of taxation without representation which has bled us poor.

"In so doing, in so taking our stand as free men, we call on all oppressed and impoverished nations everywhere to follow our lead, accept our help. Look up into the sky! Swimming there above you is the very station from which I now address you. The fat and stupid rulers of the Federation have made of Circum-Terra an overseer's whip. The threat of this military base in the sky has protected their empire from the just wrath of their victims for more than five score years.

"We now crush it.

"In a matter of minutes this scandal in the clean skies, this pistol pointed at the heads of men everywhere on your planet, will cease to exist. Step out of doors, watch the sky. Watch a new sun blaze briefly and know that its light is the light of Liberty inviting all Earth to free itself.


Subject peoples of Earth, we free men of the free Republic of Venus salute you with that sign!"

Suddenly the tank went dead and at the same instant there was a flash of light so intense that it leaked through the shuttered ports and tormented the optic nerve. Don was still shaking his head from it when over the ship's announcing system came the call: "Safe to unshutter!"

A petty officer stationed at the compartment's view port was already cranking the metal shield out of the way; Don crowded in and looked.

A second sun blazed white and swelled visibly as he watched. What on Earth would have been—so many terrible times had been—a climbing mushroom cloud was here in open space a perfect geometrical sphere, growing unbelievably. It swelled still larger, dropping from limelight white to silvery violet, became blotched with purple, red and flame. And still it grew, until it blanked out Earth beyond it.

(ed note: in reality, a nuclear detonation in space looks like a very bright camera strobe)

At the time it was transformed into a radioactive cosmic cloud Circum-Terra had been passing over, or opposite, the North Atlantic; the swollen incandescent cloud was visible to most of the habitable portions of the globe, a burning symbol in the sky.

From BETWEEN PLANETS by Robert Heinlein (1951)

“I won’t jump the gun,” he said, “and I can’t tell you what’s happening now. But here’s a little story that may amuse you. Any resemblance to — ah — real persons and places is quite coincidental.”

“I understand,” grinned Gibson. “Go on.”

“Let’s suppose that in the first rush of interplanetary enthusiasm world A has set up a colony on world B. After some years it finds that this is costing a lot more than it expected, and has given no tangible returns for the money spent. Two factions then arise on the mother world.

One, the conservative group, wants to close the project down — to cut its losses and get out. The other group, the progressives, wants to continue the experiment because they believe that in the long run Man has got to explore and master the material universe, or else he’ll simply stagnate on his own world. But this sort of argument is no use with the taxpayers, and the conservatives are beginning to get the upper hand.

“All this, of course, is rather unsettling to the colonists, who are getting more and more independently minded and don’t like the idea of being regarded as poor relations living on charity. Still, they don’t see any way out until one day a revolutionary scientific discovery is made. (I should have explained at the beginning that planet B has been attracting the finest brains of A, which is another reason why A is getting annoyed.) This discovery opens up almost unlimited prospects for the future of B, but to apply it involves certain risks, as well as the diversion of a good deal of B’s limited resources. Still, the plan is put forward — and is promptly turned down by A. There is a protracted tug-of-war behind the scenes, but the home planet is adamant.

“The colonists are then faced with two alternatives. They can force the issue out into the open, and appeal to the public on world A. Obviously they’ll be at a great disadvantage, as the men on the spot can shout them down.

The other choice is to carry on with the plan without informing Earth — I mean, planet A — and this is what they finally decided to do.

“Of course, there were a lot of other factors involved political and personal, as well as scientific. It so happened that the leader of the colonists was a man of unusual determination who wasn’t scared of anything or anyone, on either of the planets. He had a team of first-class scientists behind him, and they backed him up. So the plan went ahead; but no one knows yet if it will be successful. I’m sorry I can’t tell you the end of the story; you know how these serials always break off at the most exciting place.”

From THE SANDS OF MARS by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1951)

(ed note: Relations between Terra and the Belter Civilization is strained. But each has a monopoly on something that is vital to the other)

“No, we can’t call on the Belt for help.” Chick’s expression dismissed the idea with the contempt he felt it deserved. “Not with Belt relations the way they are now. They know what they’d do to us with an embargo on uranium, and we know what we’d do to them by holding off their vitamins, and both sides are just itching to see who’d collapse first. You think they’d believe a story like ours? All the proof we can offer is second hand, from their point of view. They’d think we were setting up our own mining operation, or trying to claim a moon. They’d think anything at all, because all they can tell for sure is that three ships from Earth are on their way to Neptune.

From WORLD OF PTAVVS by Larry Niven (1965)

The Belt Cities could survive without the help of Earth, and the Supreme Congress of the United Nations of Earth knew it. But they also knew that “survive” did not by any means have the same semantic or factual content as “live comfortably”. If Earth were to vanish overnight, the people of the Belt would live, but they would be seriously handicapped. On the other hand, the people of Earth could survive—as they had for millennia—without the Belt Cities, and while doing without Belt imports might be painful, it would by no means be deadly.

But both the Belt Cities and the Earth knew that the destruction of one would mean the collapse of the other as a civilization. Earth needed iron. Belt iron was cheap. The big iron deposits of Earth were worked out, and the metal had been widely scattered. The removal of the asteroids as a cheap source would mean that iron would become prohibitively expensive. Without cheap iron, Earth’s civilization would have to undergo a painfully drastic change—a collapse and regeneration.

But the Belt Cities were handicapped by the fact that they had had as yet neither the time nor the resources to manufacture anything but absolute necessities. Cloth, for example, was imported from Earth. A society that is still busy struggling for the bare necessities—such as manufacturing its own air—has no time to build the huge looms necessary to weave cloth…or to make clothes, except on a minor scale. Food? You can have hydroponic gardens on an asteroid, but raising beef cattle, even on Ceres, was difficult. Eventually, perhaps, but not yet.

The Belt Cities were populated by pioneers who still had not given up the luxuries of civilization. Their one weakness was that they had their cake and were happily eating it, too.

Not that Harry Morgan didn’t realize that fact. A Belt man is, above all, a realist, in that he must, of necessity, understand the Laws of the Universe and deal with them. Or die.

From THIN EDGE by Randall Garrett (1963)

"I didn't mean... Look, I'm sure there are all kinds of differences. Earth hates Mars for having a better fleet. Mars hates Earth for having a bigger one. Maybe soccer's better in full g; maybe it's worse. I don't know. I'm just saying anyone this far out from the sun? They don't care. From this distance, you can cover Earth and Mars with one thumb.

From LEVIATHAN WAKES by James Corey (2011)

     “Mars is America,” Tori said, waving his beer expansively. “It’s exactly the same.”
     “It’s not America,” Malik said.
     “Not like it was at the end. Like the beginning. Look at how long it took to travel from Europe to North America in the 1500s. Two months. How long to get here from Earth? Four. Longer if the orbits are right.”
     “Which is the first way in which it’s not like America,” Malik said, dryly.
     “It’s within an order of magnitude,” Tori said. “My point is that politically speaking, distance is measured in time. We’re months away from Earth. They’re still thinking about us like we’re some kind of lost colony. Like we answer to them. How many people here, just at this table have had directives from someone who’s never been outside a gravity well but still felt like they should tell us where our research should go?
     Tori raised his own hand, and Raj followed suit. Voltaire. Carl. Reluctantly, Malik. Tori’s grin was smug.
     “Who’s doing the real science in the system?” Tori said. “That’s us. Our ships are newer and better. Our environmental science is at least a decade ahead of anything they’ve got on Earth. Last year, we hit self-sustaining.”
     “I don’t believe that,” Voltaire said. The new one still hadn’t spoken, but Solomon watched her attention shift to each new speaker. He watched her listen.
     “Even if there are a few things we still need from Earth, we can trade for them. Shit, give us a few years and we’ll be mining them out of the Belt,” Tori said, backing away from his last point and making a new, equally unlikely assertion at the same time. “It’s not like I’m saying we should cut off all diplomatic relations.”
     “No,” Malik said. “You’re saying we should declare political independence.”
     “Damn skippy, I am,” Tori said. “Because distance is measured in time.”
     “And coherence is measured in beer,” Voltaire said, the cadence of her voice matching Tori’s perfectly. The new woman smiled at the mimicry.
     “Even if we decided that all we had to lose was our chains,” Malik said, “why would we bother? We are already de facto our own government. Pointing out the fact is only going to stir up trouble.”
     “Do you really think Earth hasn’t noticed?” Tori said. “You think the kids back at the labs on Luna and Sao Paulo aren’t looking up at the sky and saying That little red dot is kicking our asses? They’re jealous and they’re scared and they should be. It’s all I’m saying. If we do our own thing, the earliest they could do something about it still gives us months of lead time. England lost its colonies because you can’t maintain control with a sixty-day latency, much less a hundred and twenty.
     “Well,” said Voltaire drily, “that and the French.”
     “And good damn thing, too,” Tori said as if she hadn’t spoken. “Because who was it that came in when the Nazis started knocking on England’s door? Am I right?”
     “Um,” Solomon said, “no, actually. You just made the other point. We’re really the Germans.”
     And because he spoke, the new woman’s gaze turned to him. He felt his throat go tight and sipped his beer to try to loosen up. If he spoke now, his voice would crack like he was fourteen again. Voltaire put her elbows on the table, cradled her chin in her dark hands, and hoisted her eyebrows. Her expression could have had This should be good as the caption.
     “Okay,” Malik said, abandoning his disagreement with Tori. “I’ll bite. In what ways are we like a murderous bunch of fascists?” “By-by how we’d fight,” Solomon said. “Germany had all the best science, just like us. They had the best tech. They had rockets. No one had rockets, but they did. Nazi tanks could destroy allied tanks at something like five to one. They had the best attack submarines, drone missiles, early jet aircraft. They were just that much better. Better designed, better manufactured. They were elegant and they were smart.”
     “Apart from the whole racial cleansing genocide thing,” Julio said.
     “Apart from that,” Solomon agreed. “But they lost. They had all the best tech, just like we do. And they lost.
     “Because they were psychopathic and insane,” Julio said.
     “No,” Solomon said. “I mean, they were, but there have been a lot of fascist psychopaths that didn’t lose wars. They lost because even though one of their tanks was worth five of the other guy’s, America could build ten. The industrial base was huge, and if the design wasn’t as good, who cared? Earth has that industrial base. They have people. It could take them months, maybe years, to get here, but when they did, it would be in numbers we couldn’t handle. Being technically advanced is great, but we’re still just building better ones of the stuff that came before. If you want to overcome the kind of demographic advantage Earth has, you’ll need something paradigm-shiftingly new.”

From DRIVE by "James S.A. Corey" (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) 2012. Prequel to The Expanse

(Daniel) Boone’s life is emblematic of the problems of the frontier, not just those of the developing “need” for defeating native inhabitants and of settling a new land, but even of those created by tensions between the poor of the backwoods and the richer East, problems that amounted to what could best be described as the “internal colonialism” of economic exploitation…

…Boone wasn’t “of” the people who supported him so enthusiastically. They were descendants of the Scots-Irish Borderers who, after a century in Ulster Plantation in Northern Ireland, populated the Appalachian Mountains in the 18th century and who were always among the first moving west after that. Boone was of an English Quaker family in Pennsylvania, but the Boones joined the Scots-Irish in their push into the mountains and were quickly assimilated into that culture…

The Borderers understood self-reliance; they resented it when they had to depend on others. Often fervent Calvinists or devotees of New Light descendants of Calvinism, they believed in a personal relationship with God and wanted nothing to do with churches, like the Anglican and Catholic, with centralized dictates. In addition, many of them “moved on” constantly because they soon found that they were no longer able to stay where they had settled in the colonial backwoods. Their land often proved not even to be theirs but belonging to speculators first in England and then in the coastal states…

…With the establishment of the Borderers in the backwoods, there were, essentially, two … American cultures—our contemporary American political split still reflects the differences between them. During George Washington’s administration, this split was papered over by the fact that one of the leaders who seemed to be representing the interests of the Borderers, Thomas Jefferson, leader of what were seen in some quarters as Americans Jacobins (those who seemed overly influenced by the French Revolution), was a tried-and-true son of the elite and no Borderer himself. John Mack Faragher writes that Boone, on the other hand, “was a hero, but a hero of a new, democratic type, a man who did not tower above the people but rather exemplified their longings and, yes, their limitations.” Jefferson, towering above, was no leader like that.

The type of leadership Boone represented was not “new” to Borderers. William Wallace comes through legend from the 13th century as much the same sort of hero, as do many more recent Borderer heroes… Jefferson was a hero both of institutionalized democracy and independence. These others were heroes of the democracy of freedom, of independence alone—a different thing.

Boone, whatever allegiance he may have developed for the United States during and after the Revolution, spent many of the later years of his life moving away from its power. If anything, he was not a hero of the United States but of freedom and of a developing American sort of individualism and desire for self-sufficiency—again, much as Wallace became in his older legend. Certainly, he was no hero of the secular-liberalism and American democracy held dear by the likes of Jefferson. That was a liberalism of the Enlightenment and the cities and towns of the East, quite distinct from the individualism of the frontier.

The towns, in Boone’s eyes as in those of many of the Borderer settlers, were rife with legal entrapments and predatory businessmen. Necessary optimists, the Borderers were always betting on a better day coming—specifically betting on a successful harvest or hunting trip, both requiring supplies acquired in advance and generally on credit. The debts they incurred each spring before planting or each winter before setting out on the hunt ensnared them when luck did not go their way—and many of them surely felt that the lenders and the law merely waited for something untoward to happen at harvest or for Indians or scoundrels to abscond with their pelts while taking none of the risks themselves. Boone, certainly, “ignored business, forgot business” and returned to the woods as quickly as he could after each trip to town, going back to those occupations that he and most Borderers believed to be of greater importance: hunting, farming, and caring for the family…

The debt of the Borderers was not always simply the result of needing money at the start of a hunt or a planting. Sometimes the debt came as a result of exploitation by suppliers and landowners and even by those who provided the market for Borderer crops and pelts. With very little legal or political clout, the people of the backwoods were open to exploitation by those backed by the legal and economic powers of the coast, an exploitation (given the cultural distinctions involved) that amounted to the same thing as colonialism, something only the Borderers, of the white population in America, continued to experience after the Revolution.

Absentee landlords and mortgage holders controlled the backwoods economy in a number of ways, all of which forced the farmers either into a monetary economy or into a flouting of colonial law, a precarious situation for families living on the edge of subsistence. They now found themselves needing cash to pay mortgages and quitrents and taxes imposed by distant overlords—or dodging the law. The farmers knew they could make it on their own, but, because of the current system of landownership, they needed a stake to get started and at least a small cash flow to repay any mortgage, the taxes, and any loans for supplies. If they could only get ahead on these, they would need no other help—or so they believed. Their hard work and individual initiative would be enough, allowing them to make or buy what little they needed.

One thing the Borderer farmers were certainly aware of was that they were paying an unfair share of taxes. Their land was taxed, and they had to pay poll taxes, excise, fees for court services, and more—while the rich paid little or nothing, the rich who owned the vast acreages the Borderers had “squatted” upon and wanted to buy…

As I have hinted, Boone, that paragon of American spirit and virtue, also got caught up in the debt cycle that ruined so many of his contemporaries. It happened a number of times during his life. Apparently, he went west not only to get away from people but also to get away from debt, land speculators, and the corruption that was, more often than not, the law. He knew, like the farmers around him, that he could make it on his own—if only he would be allowed to—but that human circumstances were against him. He had the individual talent, but society was structured against him.

From an article by Aaron Barlow (2016)

Corporate Revolutionary War

This is an independence war where the owning state is a megacorporation instead of a nation. This is uncommon in the real world but popular in science fiction. A corporation sets up something like an asteroid mining operation or company planet, develops it until it is near self-sufficient, and simultaneously downtrods the workers with all the savage explotation of a big business who knows it has grabbed all the workers by the short-and-curlies. When the revolution happens, it is not so much a war as it is an incredibly violent labor strike.

Some revolutionary war features still obtain in a corporate war, such as the corporation controlling the rebel's access to elemental bottlenecks and the like. Some features do not, such as the fact since this is not a war between two nations, niceties such as the laws of war technically do not apply.

There will have to be a lot of improvising on the part of the rebels. Basically all they have in the way of military hardware is what they can cobble together out of equipment available at the mining operation, or whatever. This is why the rebels in Battlefleet Mars originally used quote "mining lasers" unquote to mine asteroids. The author figured adding a mining laser to a cargo ship would create instant warship.

Examples include:

Birth of Fire by Jerry Pournelle (1976)
Martian colonists revolt against oppressive multinational corporations back on Terra.
Badge of Infamy by Lester del Rey (1963)
Martian colonists revolt against oppressive Guilds and Lobbyists back on Terra. Yes, guilds are not corporations, but the point is that neither are nations.
BattleFleet Mars by SPI (1977)
This is a tabletop wargame, not a novel. In the game, the only major presence in space is the Ares Corporation. They have developed Mars and several asteroids. "Developed", as in all the miserable Ares Corp employees find that they perpetually owe their soul to the company store. The Terran government is powerless to change things, so the employees take matters into their own hands.
Gallagher's Glacier by Walt and Leigh Richmond (1970)
All the poor planetary colonies are controlled by an evil corporation, will no chance of rebelling against corrupt corporation rule. Until Gallagher comes along and changes the rules



     On December 16th, 2017, two dozen members of the group "Children of Liberty"(a political action organization of Europan radicals) seized the Jupiter Company's flagship HOLST and, without proper authorization, jettisoned four tons of alpine and nordic skiing equipment into Jovian space.

     The “Party" was a protest against the massive tax burden placed on so-called “luxuries" bound for Europa, Ganymede and other Jovian moons. The colonials, infuriated by what they considered unfair taxation (with no corresponding representation on either the board of the Jupiter Company or on Earth's U.N. Security Council), boarded the HOLST disguised as aboriginal natives of pre-technological North America, although they didn’t really fool anybody for a second.

     Science-fiction, right? Wrong. It could be future history, especially if the United Nation’s Agreement on the Moon and other Celestial Bodies is signed in its present murky form.

     As it stands, the Agreement mandates the establishment of a new multi-national Regime with jurisdiction over the entire solar system. It effectively bans private enterprise from outer space, and requires all activities in space to be under the control of an OPEC-like Earth monopoly.

     If the human race is to avoid the mistakes of the past, human and political freedoms must be assured off-planet. The time to start is now, and the way to begin is to learn the facts.

     Why are we interested in this? We're the L-5 Society, and we're going. Join us.

From DESTINIES, FEBRUARY-MARCH 1980 edited by James Patrick Baen (1980)

Walt Richmond & Leigh Richmond’s 1970 Gallagher’s Glacier is a standalone science fiction novel.

Humourless, by-the-book Captain Harald Dundee isn’t keen on hiring free-wheeling space engineer N. N. “Dublin” Gallagher, but circumstances give Dundee no choice. Their association is short. Gallagher only wants the gig so that he can strong-arm young Dundee into dropping Gallagher and some equipment on an unremarkable ice asteroid.

His curiosity piqued, Dundee checks in on Gallagher to see what the Space Irishman is doing. It’s straightforward enough: the iceteroid + an obsolete space drive = the first successful non-corporation-owned free trader: Gallagher’s Glacier.


The corporations own both the colonies and the means to reach them.

A) Deploying indenture and monopolistic company stores, corporations maintain control over the colonies while seeming to offer prospective colonists a chance at freedom and prosperity.

B) The corporations control spaceport fees, so can prevent free traders from even leaving the ground. Yes, corporation ships have to pay as well, but those fees go into corporation pockets. It’s a wash for them but a huge barrier to independents.

Gallagher has managed to escape both traps. No doubt some of his methods are not entirely legal (since the regulations are written with corporation welfare in mind) but for the moment, he’s OK. There’s a niche for a loner and Gallagher has found it.

Space captain Dundee (the one who dropped off Gallagher) makes his own discoveries on the colony of Stellamira. He’s outraged at conditions there and resolves to do what he can: write a firmly worded letter to the UN Space Commission. Too bad that he lets this be known before leaving Stellamira. To his immense surprise he is immediately detained and tossed in a cell, where can expect the standard corporation treatment: torture dissidents until they go mad, then institutionalize them for life.

Providentially for Dundee, Gallagher was keeping an eye on the naïve young man. Even better, Gallagher has allied with prostitutes with revolutionary tendencies … as well as their madam, Suzie. Suzie breaks Dundee out of jail (before he can be driven insane) and she and her ladies stage a short, bloody revolution. The entire colonist population flees Stellamira on the Glacier.

Gallagher and his allies have grand plans that extend far beyond rescuing the virtual slaves of one hostile mining world. Dundee didn’t intend to be a revolutionary but it looks like he is one now.


What I liked: the authors paid attention to the engineering challenges of a space ship made mainly of ice. Even in the icy cold of deep space (Glacier avoids spending too much time in habitable zones, to avoid sublimation), the craft isn’t exactly solid. Metal components bend and migrate as the ice flows (which ice does).

The authors also have a fair grasp of the miseries of company towns and the unfairness of systems under which the little guy is free to fail while the government is forever poised to bail out the fat cats if need arises.

(As a result of such systems, Stellamira seems to feature lots of [very indirectly described] brothels, brothels staffed by widows who had no other employment opportunities. There are reasons why Suzie’s sex workers are revolutionaries.)

What I didn’t like: Dundee, the main POV character, is basically an observer. He reports on events which he may not have directly witnessed. He’s also the least interesting character in the book, a cork in someone else’s current. This may have been the authors’ plan; it allows Gallagher to spring some grand surprises, both on adversaries and the reader. But I didn’t think the authorial plan worked. Any one of Suzie’s employees, who fight and die on the front lines, would have made a more interesting POV character than bland Dundee.

The plot itself is rather perfunctory. Having established that company rule is bad, and asserted without much evidence that Earth is Doomed! Doomed, I say! If things keep going as they are, Gallagher and company proceed to up-end corporation rule on another world. Which they do by crashing planetary infrastructure (something that may have triggered catastrophe off-stage). But hey, this is the happy ending!

How the Earth and the corporations react to losing a colony thanks to what amounts to a WMD is up to the reader’s imagination. I couldn’t imagine anything positive, but that’s me.

Gallagher’s Glacier is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK) and here (Book Depository). I did not find it at either Barnes & Noble or Chapters-Indigo.

From FROM FORTUNE HE DID SAIL by James Davis Nicoll ()
Working Stiffs in SPAAACE !!!

In North America this is Labor Day. I had vaguely assumed that it was ginned up early last century to keep May Day, with its lefty connotations, from catching on in 'Murrica. Good old Wikipedia set me straight. 'Our' Labor Day originated decades earlier, in Canada, while the call for a workers' holiday first arose in Australia.

If there are large numbers of humans in outer space, most of them will be workers. They will be working as researchers and assistants, engineers and technicians, administrators and support staff. Perhaps there will be Belters with singleships, but the great majority of people in space are likely to live in complex habitats, kept functional and alive by hundreds of specialized trades, professions, and crafts. And a great deal of plain hard work.

'Spacer' is, in essence, a skilled blue collar trade. Spacers (or whatever term emerges for them) operate heavy machinery, some of it very heavy and much of it exceedingly powerful and dangerous. They deal with precision devices, some of them exceedingly fine and delicate. On this blog I casually discuss large interplanetary spacecraft with plasma electric drives rated at a gigawatt, instruments that measure nanometers, and life support for hundreds of people. Someone builds and operates these fabulous and complex vehicles, and those someones are spacers: workers.

Given the high costs and resulting high automation there probably won't be full time potato peelers aboard spacecraft, but someone will end up peeling them. And once things get somewhat established, the necessary scut work won't get evenly distributed. Universities, the military, and big civil engineering contractors offer three different models of how things can get done, and none of them is the least bit egalitarian. Some sort of hierarchy of work is likely to emerge.

Science fiction has long been aware of this, and there have been a fair number of stories about labor unrest in space. Given 'Murrican political culture, in the rocketpunk era such commie stuff might be tucked well into the background. All those rebel colonists have to be rebelling over something, and it probably is not all abstractions about liberty and independence. At least not to start. More likely it begins with disputes over pay and working conditions, then spreads to the question of why someone who has never been to Ceres is making decisions instead of the people who live and work there.

Those who plan the human presence on Ceres, and those who pony up the money to get it built, also have their rightful claim. But since they generally appoint the decision makers, their claim rarely goes unheard. The working crews are expected to be content with their paychecks — not entirely unfair, presuming they signed on by choice, but not the whole of the story. They create a value above and beyond what they get paid for. (If they don't, why were they hired?)

The workers in space will have a stake in the work they do, and ultimately the biggest one, since they will build the human presence in space. And will be the human presence in space.

From Working Stiffs in SPAAACE !!! by Rick Robinson (2009)

Stellar Civil War

A civil war is a war between forces belonging to the same nation or political entity. Citizens inside a single nation become politically polarized enough over some contentious issue that they go to war with other citizens. The goal of those angry with the status quo may be the subjugation of opposing citizens, the forcible change of the nation's policies, or the splitting the nation into two nations.

A more specialized civil war is the old trope of The Frontiersmen Kill Their Mother Empire.

(ed note: on the other hand, a War of Independence is when a territory under the jurisdiction of a state tries to break away in order to gain their freedom.)

Examples include:

Insurrection by David Weber and Steve White (1990)
In the Terran Empire, the inner colonies of the Corporate Worlds basically run the government, and have used government structural tricks to all but disenfranchise the poor outer colonies of the Fringe Worlds. Just when the Fringe Worlds are about to get some representation, the Corporate Worlds pull yet another dirty trick to prevent it. Which turns out to be the straw that broke the camel's back.
Star Guard by Andre Norton (1955)
Terrans are a late-comers to the Central Control galactic empire. They are treated like third-class citizens. But Terra is pursuing a three hundred year plan leading to civil war.
The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov (1955)
As the galactic empire decays, the capital planet Trantor tries to avoid being captured by hostile starfleets from breakaway star sectors. And tried to avoid internal military coups.
The Rebel Worlds by Poul Anderson (1969)
The evil governor of Sector Alpha Crucis sends reports to the Galactic Capital of internal rebellion and asks for warships. Actually the only rebellion is the governor's secret plans for a civil war, splitting off Sector Alpha Crucis into the governor's private galactic empire. His dastardly plot is foiled by our hero Dominic Flandry. Poor Flandry has to do this again and again with depressing regularity, as the decaying decadent galactic empire breeds civil war plots like rats in a dumpster.

(ed note: In the city of Ankh-Morport, the angry young men plot revolution to overthrow the government. In order to save "The People." )

There were plotters, there was no doubt about it. Some had been ordinary people who'd had enough. Some were young people with no money who objected to the fact that the world was run by old people who were rich. Some were in it to get girls. And some had been idiots as mad as Swing, with a view of the world just as rigid and unreal, who were on the side of what they called 'the people'. Vimes had spent his life on the streets, and had met decent men and fools and people who'd steal a penny from a blind beggar and people who performed silent miracles or desperate crimes every day behind the grubby windows of little houses, but he'd never met The People.

People on the side of The People always ended up disappointed, in any case. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness. And so the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it wasn't that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people.

As soon as you saw people as things to be measured, they didn't measure up. What would run through the streets soon enough wouldn't be a revolution or a riot. It'd be people who were frightened and panicking. It was what happened when the machinery of city life faltered, the wheels stopped turning and all the little rules broke down. And when that happened, humans were worse than sheep. Sheep just ran; they didn't try to bite the sheep next to them.

From NIGHT WATCH by Terry Pratchett (2002)

(ed note: the Corporate Worlds are the ones closest to Terra, the first ones colonized (the "inner worlds"). They quickly developed into the most economically powerful. The Fringe Worlds (the "outworlds") were colonized later, but were more numerous. Sadly, the Corporate worlds used their clout to rig the interstellar Federation. According to the rules, the Fringe Worlds were all but disenfranchised. Naturally the Fringe Worlds were a bit upset about that.)

     After twenty-five years in the Assembly—twenty of them as head of her planet's delegation—Fionna had learned the bitter, sordid realities of the Federation's government, but the Chamber of Worlds still took her breath away. She wished she could have seen it when the Assembly had lived up to its promise, but not even the gangrenous present of partisanship and exploitation could diminish the grandeur of the ideal this chamber had been built to enshrine...
     ...Fionna fidgeted uneasily as the opening formalities filtered past her. She could see the Galloway's World delegation from where she sat, and Simon Taliaferro wasn't in his usual place. The New Zurich delegation was less than ten meters away, and she noted sinkingly that Oskar Dieter wasn't with his fellows, either. Whatever Greuner had tried to warn them of, those two would be at the heart of it. Her fingers flew over her information console, keying their names and punching up a cross index of the committees on which they sat, for she'd learned long since that it was in the closed committee meetings that the Corporate Worlds wove their webs.
     The screen lit, confirming her memory. Both men were from populous worlds; combined with their personal seniority in the Assembly and the "representative membership" committee rules the Corporate Worlds had rammed through twelve years ago, that gave them membership on dozens of committees . . . including shared membership on Foreign Relations and Military Oversight. She frowned. Not only was each a member of both, but Taliaferro chaired Foreign Relations and Dieter chaired Military Oversight. It was an ominous combination...
     ...Taliaferro could have been prime minister, but his position as head of his delegation was more useful, and he would have been forced to resign it to accept the premiership. On the other hand, he could never have been president, for that largely gelded office was still decided by direct election. As heir to one of the shipbuilding dynasties which had used political power to cement its stranglehold on the Outworlds' commerce, he could never have carried enough of the popular vote. Ninety percent of all Federation cargo moved in hulls owned by Corporate World shipping magnates, yet over sixty percent of the Federation's systems lay in the Fringe and Rim. Which was why Taliaferro was hated . . . and why he was prepared to embrace any expedient to stave off the rapidly-approaching day when the Fringe's delegates would be numerous enough to demand an accounting for two centuries of economic exploitation...
     ..."Members of the Assembly," Taliaferro said, "I bring you great news! After months of negotiation, I can now tell you that perhaps the most momentous departure in the history of the Galaxy has been proposed. President Zhi and Prime Minister Minh have received a direct communication from the Khan of the Orions, borne by a fully empowered plenipotentiary." He paused for effect, knowing he'd gathered the eyes and ears of every delegate. "The Khan proposes nothing less than the amalgamation of the Terran Federation and the Khanate of Orion!"
     His voice rose steadily through the last sentence, but it was almost lost in the roar which burst forth at the word "amalgamation," and Fionna was on her feet, one fist clenched on the top of her console.
     "No!" she shouted, but her voice was lost in the uproar...
     ...Her eyes narrowed as she sank back into her seat. Of course the Corporate Worlds knew, and Taliaferro's obvious delight made cold, ugly sense. How was the huge population of the Khanate to fit into this new, amalgamated monster? Were the Orions suddenly to find themselves enfranchised to vote for the first time in their history? It had taken over a century of slow, painful population growth in the outworlds to earn the delegates to challenge the Corporate Worlds. With such a huge influx of votes, the Assembly would have no choice but to cut the representational basis . . . which would just coincidentally gerrymander the sparse Fringe population out of the representation it had finally gained...
     ...But if twenty-five years in the Assembly had taught her anything, it was that the Heart Worlds didn't understand the Fringe. The Corporate Worlders knew their outworld cousins and enemies far better than the motherworld and its oldest colonies did, though she suspected not even the Corporate Worlds fully realized the fulminating anger they were fanning. But the Heart Worlds were too far removed from their own frontier days. They'd forgotten what it was like to know that any outside attack must come through their systems to reach the heart of empire. As they'd forgotten—if they'd ever known—what it was to have their commerce, the lifeblood of their societies, manipulated and exploited by predatory merchants with a yen for power.
     And because they had forgotten or did not know, they were a terrible danger to the Fringe. Fionna had seen the "new liberalism" of her Heart World colleagues. The Heart Worlds had it too good, she thought bitterly; they were too content, too ultracivilized. The Corporate Worlds could convince them the Fringe really was peopled by uncouth barbarians but little removed from outright savagery. Worse, they could be convinced to do what was "best" for the Fringe—even if it killed the object of their kindness!...
     ...Of all the Fringe Worlds, Beaufort, perhaps, most despised Corporate Worlders. Beaufort's heavy gravity had not been kind to its colonizers, despite their selection for high pressure tolerance, yet there had been fierce competition for space on the colony ships. The rebels of the Corporate Worlds, those who could no longer tolerate their roles as cogs in the vast machines, had seen in Beaufort a world poor enough and distant enough to be secure from manipulation and control. They'd gone to Beaufort to escape, and many had died there—so many BuCol actually closed the planet to immigration for almost sixty years.
     Fionna's parents and grandparents had spoken of those bitter years. The gene pool was small; the environment was harsh; and BuCol's Corporate World bureaucrats had not gone out of their way to help. Those six decades of isolation had produced the dialect the Innerworlders mocked—and left a burning hatred in the hearts of the people who spoke it.
     But then the unsuspected pharmaceutical potential of the Beaufort doomwhale had rocked Terran medical science, and suddenly the Corporate Worlds and the Assembly were filled with concern for the colony they had ignored for so long. The Corporate World combines had moved in, and the Corporate World nightmare had come for the people of Beaufort once more.
     Yet cold, hostile Beaufort had trained them well, and the planetary government moved quickly to regulate doomwhaling and exclude the Corporate Worlds, unmoved by threats of economic reprisal. There was little anyone could do which the Corporate Worlds hadn't already done, and, for the first time in over a century and a half, Corporate World plutocrats were forced to dance to the economic piping of a Fringe World.
     They had hated it, and it was Beaufort's successful resistance to their penetration which gave her delegation such prestige. Beaufort had proved the Corporate Worlds could be stopped; now it was time to prove they could be pushed back, and Fionna MacTaggart had dedicated her professional life to that goal...

(ed note: Corporate Worlder Simon Taliaferro finds Beaufort delegate Fionna too much of an obstacle, and has her assassinated. )

     They (the leaders of the Corporate Worlds) were no more truly "evil" than he himself. Like him, they played by the only rules they knew, and they played the "game" well. That was the problem. For them, it was only a game, a vastly exciting contest for the wealth of a galaxy.
     They were manipulators and users because it had never occurred to them to be anything else. The Legislative Assembly was no government; it was a tremendous, fascinating toy, a machine whose buttons and levers disgorged ever more wealth, ever more power, and ever more intoxicating triumphs.
     Sorrow filled him. The Corporate Worlds had spent trillions of credits and decades of political effort to master that machine, and when the growing Fringe population threatened their control, they'd moved ruthlessly to crush the opposition—all as part of "the game." For all the time and effort they spent plotting and planning, they were even blinder than the insulated Heart Worlders, for they saw Fringers only as obstacles, not as people, and certainly not as fellow citizens. They saw them as pawns, dupes—cartoon caricatures cruelly drawn by habitual contempt and denigration...
     ..."The truth," she sneered, "is that the Fringe won't even know what hit it for at least ten years—if they manage to figure it out then! With our majority, we'll control the post-amalgamation reapportionment. We'll gut them, and they'll stay gutted for fifty years!"
     "Fifty?" Dieter allowed himself a chuckle. "Amanda, you obviously don't know as much about the demographics as you think." He felt spines stiffen as he threw his challenge into her teeth, filled with a courage based for a change on conviction rather than convenience. "It won't be fifty years, dear; if the Fringe population curves hold steady and the borders continue to expand, it'll be more like a hundred and fifty years."...
     ..."Dear me, Amanda—didn't Simon mention that?" Dieter's voice was harsh in the semi-silence. "He should have, because the Fringers have waited two hundred years for their representation to match ours; they'll certainly run a worst-case projection and realize they're facing at least another century of powerlessness. How do you think they'll react to that?"
     "How can they react?" Taliaferro scoffed. "They won't have the votes to stop it."
     "Precisely," Dieter said flatly. He drew a deep breath and rose, his gaze burning over the faces around him...
     ..."Listen to me, all of you," he said softly. "We can do it. We can use Skjorning to break the Fringe and then ram reapportionment through whatever opposition is left, but are you all too blind to see what will happen then?"
     "Tell us, Oskar, since you seem so prescient," Taliaferro sneered, no longer hiding his contempt.
     "I'll tell you, Simon," Dieter said, his voice sad. "War."
     "War!" Taliaferro's laugh was harsh. "With whom, Oskar? That penniless bunch of ragged-assed barbarians? Hell, man, the Taliaferro Yards alone can build more hulls than all the Fringe Worlds put together! Not even Fringers could be stupid enough to buck that much firepower!"
     "Can't they? Simon, I chair Military Oversight. I know what I'm talking about. They can fight, and they will. They'll be ready enough if you only railroad Skjorning out of the Assembly—" he saw frowns of distaste at his deliberately honest choice of verb "—but that isn't all you'll be doing. This amalgamation is an antimatter warhead, man! The mere threat of enfranchising the Orions will drive them berserk. And it won't be 'barbarian xenophobia,' whatever you tell the Heart Worlds. It'll be a cold sober appreciation of what adding that many non-Terran voters will do to their representation."
     "So what?" Taliaferro shot back. "Let some of them try to secede! We'll squash them like bugs, and it'll prove they're barbarians! The Heart Worlds'll be as eager as we are to expel them from the Assembly—for good!"
     Cold shock knifed through Dieter. Not surprise, really; perhaps he'd guessed Taliaferro's real intent all along and simply chosen not to face it.
     "My God," he said softly. "You want a war."

(ed note: civil war ensues, and Taliaferro does suffer his richly deserved horrible fate. They didn't count on the fact that a sizeable proportion of the crew on Federation navy starships were from the outworlds. When civil war arrives, many ships defect to the outworld side.)

From INSURRECTION by Steve White & David Weber (1993)

Frontiersmen Kill Mother Empire

There is another kind of civil war popular with pulp science fiction authors, but rare in reality. The authors postulate the existance of the cinematic but realistically dubious theory of the Decay of the Fatherland. All the virile and intelligent population flees the homeworld (or inner colonies) for the untamed and unspoiled frontier worlds on the rim of explored space. The homeworld collapses into decadence and inferior genes. Yes, it's the tired old Libertarians In Space trope.

Anyway, "Fatherland Decay" allows the scifi novel plot to feature that type of civil war called "FRONTIERSMEN KILL MOTHER EMPIRE". See examples here, here, and here.


      Distance in any relationship is deadly and it naturally breeds hostility and isolation, stressing relationship to the breaking point. This also pertains to the settlement of exo-planets and how far they are from the influence and control of Terra. In this continuation of the blog article serial: What Will We Fight Over, FWS will be exploring this often used trigger of interstellar conflict: the Inner and Outer Colonies.

What Do We Mean by "Inner" and "Outer"?

     Some sci-fi creators treat outer space in a similar way to the geography of Earth, giving little to the realities of distance and depth to deep space; let alone the grandeur of the scale of the Milky Way galaxy. Classically, the measure of outer and inner colonial settlements is their distance from the Sol System or other important central locations like the Citadel from Mass Effect, Tarn-Vedra from Andromeda, or even an important space station or military outpost like Babylon 5 or Reach from HALO. These inner and outer distances could made via their proximity to an hostile government, like the Star Trek Neutral Zone, or a frontier, like the Red Line from BSG. After all, distance and location are all relative. An alien empire may regard the Terran settlements near their border as the "inner" or closest Terran presence to their space. We would have to take in account several factors when labeling some colonies as inner or outer, but it is likely that most sci-fi creators will continue to judge these distances from the location of Terra and how far they either control or have explored.

How Distance Breeds Strife Between the Inner and Outer Colonial Settlements

Proximity to Other Governments and Species

     One of the common themes with the frontier colonies is their proximity to the enemies of humanity or that they are on the frontier of explored space. Either way, this exposes the outer frontier colonies to contact with other governments, societies, and species. This could alter the outer colonies' opinion on interstellar politics or a conflict with the enemies of Terra. Colonists of these outer colonies could be more friendly or sympathetic to the issues of Terra's enemies. Or it could mean that these more distant colonies are forced to defend themselves from the alien threat and they become less reliant on Terran and/or the inner colonies. At times, the geography of the interstellar political landscape can cause these outer colonies to be the first to be attacked in the advent of conflict or dispute. In addition, it could mean that the outer colonies are the subject of increased government involvement due to their proximity and/or these outer colonies need greater resources for protection from the central Terran government.

Formation of Individual Colonial Culture

     Depending on the existence and function of FTL propulsion, the outermost colonial settlements of Terra would began to develop their own culture, separate from where the settlers come from. Colonies closer to the Sol System would be more connected and influenced by the home system. Add more distance, and you increase isolated cultural and sociological development of individual colonial culture. This formation of individual colonial culture increases the more generations that are born, live, and die on the colony.  This has been seen in the real world with the wild diversity of human culture across the globe, especially in how the Americans differ from Europe. This culture would further isolate the colony from Terra when new generations of children are born that have never seen or experienced Terra in the first-person. This would begin these settlers to translation from being Terran to originate from their colonial world. The experiences of the settlers on their world will also separate them from the rest of humanity, and depending on the environmental conditions, humans would continue to evolve due to local conditions. This adds up to the increased likely of conflict between the colonies…much like what happened in Mexico in the 1520's.

Pioneering Culture and Mindset

     It takes a certain type of person to go out further than civilization and establish that point as home. Pioneers have also been a breed apart that brave the challenges and push humanity, society, and history forward. When it comes time for off-world colonization, there will be pioneers and that culture will cause the rift between Earth, the inner colonies, and the ones who go boldly into the night of deep space. It is that which will separate those colonies from the ones closer to shore. That mindset of being on your own and hacking your destiny on alien soil under unfamiliar stars is held by people that do not want a government lightyears away dictating policies, rules, and lifestyles. This was seen in the development of the Southern states of America, and how their colonial culture led to the Civil War. This was idea and historical example was mined for the civil war seen in Firefly.

Travel Time

     How we get to the stars could determine a great deal about the people that colonize exo-planets and time will be a factor as well. If it will indeed take generations of real-time to get to an habitable world, than it is likely that hibernation and/or embryonic methods will be used to settle these distant points of light. Deep-frozen humans could sleep lifetimes, arrive at the colony site, and began the process of founding the colony long after everyone and everything they knew on Earth has been dead for centuries. That travel time to the colonial site will organically separate these deep space colonies from the innermost. If embryonic space colonization is the only way to counter the horrors of the travel time from our solar system to the objective, than artificial grown humans will be raised by robots and computers in the warm glow of another star. These native-born colonists will be alien to any Terrans that show up to the colony…all thanks to the travel time between the planets.

To Be or Not To Be: FTL Propulsion

     In science fiction, Faster-Than-Light propulsion systems and drives are as common as Smartphones in today's society: nearly every major sci-fi work contains an fictionalized FTL propulsion system to get from Point A to Point B in a relative shorter travel time than what we understand today about space travel. This plot device allows for the majority of fictional space travel stories we enjoy. Just having an FTL drive system in your fictional work alters your fictional universe from the real-world, due to the fact that we have not YET proven or tested an FTL propulsion system. How fast your FTL system is, its operation, and established limits, sets certain conditions for your creation and issues within your story. This also directly affects the subject of this blogpost: inner and outer colonies.

     If we obey the established physics of the known universe, there is no magical faster-than-light propulsion system and time dilation exists as a consequence of light speed travel. In the hard science world, inner and outer colonies might as well be the same damn thing for the most part. Most habitable worlds will be lifetimes beyond Terra and its current society, politics, and technology. The closest rumored Earth-like world is Wolf 1061 "C" in the Wolf 1061 star system, some 13.8 LYS from the Sol System. Even at near the speed of light, we are talking about a one-way trip decades in travel time without FTL. This puts a "close" star with an rumored livable exo-planet lifetimes beyond us…would this be an inner or outer colonial world?

     Then there is another thing to consider, if there was indeed an dickhead marauding alien species in this hard science universe, the colony on Wolf 1061 "C" would be most likely on their own to defend themselves from the asshole alien aggressors. Help from Terran space marines or even robotic soldiers would be generations in arriving…the battle would be long over by then. The only inner colony in the hard science universe is within our solar system or maybe Alpha Centauri.

     Now, in most soft science sci-fi works, FTL allows for the inner and outer colonies to be reached in a relatively short length of time or in the case of Star Trek, within an commercial break. Outer colonies in these soft sci-fi universes could be days, weeks, or months away, but they are still reachable and they are only "outer"  until their spacefaring society pushes out to that point. Much like the American frontier was always being pushed back further and further out west due to increased settlement and the railroad. How does this affect wars and conflicts between closer to Terra and ones farther away? Without FTL, any colony beyond the Sol System would be an outer colony that develops nearly independently from Terra to the point that these colonial societies would as alien as the Aztecs, Mayans, and Inca were to the European explorers. Any contact between them could be hostile as an invading alien species. With FTL, inner colonies would be directly affected by the Terran government, society, and politics. While the outer colonies would more independent and less reliant on Terra or her government, much like we saw in the Firefly universe.

Will Inner Colonies and Outer Colonies Really Wage Wars?

     Often this rift between Inner and Outer colonial settlements is used to be genesis of conflicts and wars in all types of science fiction works...but in the real world, would this actually happen? It is with near certainty that mankind will push out beyond the solar system to expand or save humanity. With FTL not being a reality (yet), colonization of exo-planets will be low and slow, with generations passing, and colonial societies evolving in vastly different ways, as we have seen with human evolution. Those space-flung colonial societies will be as alien, in some ways, to Terrans as the Aztec were to the Spanish or modern humans were to neanderthals. That alone could breed wars and conflicts. However, they may never met if there is no magical FTL propulsion system or even know each other. For there to be war between inner and outer colonies, it will as we've seen in Mobile Suit Gundam and Firefly…within the star system. We could see Titan or Mars rebel against Earth's rule.

Science Fiction and the Inner/Outer Colonial Wars

     When it comes to the genesis of many wars mentioned in science fiction across all media, we see a correlation of interstellar conflicts being started by rifts between the Inner Colonies/Terra and the outermost colonial settlements. Why is this such a common reason for space wars? Some of it rests in the tense history of the relationships between colonies and their founding nations. In America, we owe our very existence as a nation to a war between the colonies and the founding government. The same is true of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Haitian Revolution, the American Civil War, and Latin American revolutions. These all serve has an historical foundation for conflicts in outer space and justification of inter-colonial conflicts being born out of distance from Terra and the core colonies.

     At times, sci-fi creators show the outer colonists as the resistance to an authoritative regime that opposes them, as we saw in B5, Star Wars, Renegade Legion, and Firefly. Other times, the sci-fi property shows war between different ideas and either are right or wrong…grey area…which is rare in sci-fi. However, it was seen in Star Trek: TNG and Battletech. Other times, the outer colonies are treasonous to the core systems, and their rebellion threatens the safety and security of the citizenry, as with the Clone Wars from Star Wars. This can be applied on a smaller interstellar scale. In a previous blogpost, we picked apart why Mars is a source of future conflicts in science fiction. This could be also considered an outer colony vs. inner colony conflict, depending on how developed the solar system is in the scenario. Either way, this reason for future wars in outer space seems secure in sci-fi and we will see more in future worlds.


The League of Free Worlds vs. Earth Empire from the Colony Wars video games

     Okay, the open cut-scene for this game really beats it over your head that the Earth Empire is evil and wants to control the colonies absolutely. According to the opening cinematic, this imperial power from Terra sees all, knows all, and punishes all. To protect themselves from the pillaging Imperial Navy that imposes the iron will of the empire, the colonies form the League of Free Worlds to oppose the draconian Earth Empire. The League is led by "the Father", who turns out to a serious dickhead in the later games. The background of the oppressive government from Terra is one that gives logical rise to the wars seen in the game series. Terra and other Sol system settlements were exhausted of resources, and the government on Terra relayed and on the outer colonies to supply it with the material and resources to allow the Earth and settled worlds in the Sol System to operate. Soon that reliance led to the Earth Empire's leader, the Czar, to demanding that all of the outer colonial resources go to the Sol System, and thus began the war between the inner colonies and the outer colonies.

The IMC vs. the Frontier Militia from the Titanfall Universe

     Titanfall is maddening game. In one way, it is an epic multiplayer mech shooter game that delivers on its promise beautifully, and it appeals to hardcore mecha geeks like me. However, the story of inter-colonial warfare is lost in the rush of combat and insanity that results in Titanfall online matches. That has been one of the main faults of the game: lack of story-driven gameplay. Long-term players of Titanfall could be excused from understanding or explaining the story that does exist…somewhere…in the gameplay. The Frontier Militia is like many pioneer movements to settle distant lands for their and their kids' futures.

     The Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC) is the company that constructed the Titans and Specters and like many historical heavily industrial powers, the IMC needs raw material to continue their domination of the war-machine market. That means that the IMC came to the colonial frontier with the purpose of controlling the raw resources of those backwater worlds. The Frontier Militia is the resistance movement to the IMC aggression. One of the elements that Titanfall wisely explores is the the people caught in the middle of the armed struggle between the IMC and the Militia. From the Militia POV, the IMC are imperialist, coming to the frontier to take and strip the resources from the settlers who paid their dues in settling these worlds. The IMC regards these militia forces as terrorists standing in the way of progress and their financial backers in the core colonies. After all, the IMC is one of the primary economic engines of the entire colonial economy, much like the RDA from AVATAR. If the IMC fails to be profitable, it could spell economic doom in the core colonies and on Terra.

The Commonwealth vs. The TOG from the Renegade Legion Universe by FASA

     In one of the forgotten classics of 1980's tabletop wargames (foreshadowing), Renegade Legion, we see a struggle between the Terran Overlord Government (the TOG) and the Commonwealth in the 69th century. This is the basis for the wars in the 1980's FASA game that shows combat with anti-gravity tanks, aerofighters, and combat starships. The story is that the TOG is an response to an Reptilian alien invasion that took control of Earth and her colonies. The Terrans pattern themselves after the Roman Empire and won their rebellion against the Kess Rith aliens. After the senate is killed in a supposed terrorist bombing, the Overlords and their Caesar rule over the human race in a society that makes the Roman Empire look like a Mormon compound. Some of the military, human colonies, and alien races band together under the Commonwealth, against the TOG after it attempts to bring the entire Milky Way under its authority. These human settlements or nations, are the most distant in the galaxy, and far from the core regions of the galaxy and the TOG. The war in the 69th century, is the struggle of the distant Commonwealth vs. the innermost TOG. One day soon, FWS will be examining Renegade Legion in an Forgotten Classics blogpost.

The Unification War from Firefly

     One of the best examples of the inner colonies fighting the outer colonies comes from one of the best sci-fi television shows of the 21st century: Firefly. In the backstory of the show, humanity has abandoned Earth-that-was for another star system, the 'verse, due to pollution and climate change. The 'Verse is a cluster of stars that orbit a central star, making the 'Verse, a complex web of planets, moons, and asteroids. After the era of terraforming, the 'Verse became home to many different factions of humanity, and wars started. To avoid the mistakes of Earth-that-was, the central planets formed the Union of Allied Planets and they attempted to bring peace to the 'Verse, and then it got twisted.

The Strife between the 12 Colonies of Kobol from Battlestar Galactica

     In the rebooted series and the cancelled show Caprica, while the 12 Colonies of Kobol were "at peace", there was strife between the heart of the 12 Colonies society, Caprica, and the poorer colonies of Gemenon, Sagittaron, and Aerilon. While there had been open warfare in the past, it was the treatment of some of the more outer colonies by the more inner colonies that bred strife. For years, the imperialistic habits of Caprica fueled a series of insurrections, terrorists groups, and protests. In the more powerful core colonies, Tauron, proved to be a source of tension to the rule of the colonial government, adding more tension. Some of this infighting was cooled by the Cylon Wars, but it did pick up against after the Cylons left the 12 Colonies.  It is unknown what would have happened if the Cylon apocalypse had never happened.

The 2nd Rebellion the Hunger Games Universe

     When we look at more unconventional example, we can see the struggle between the inner colonies and the outer colonies causing wars in the Hunger Games story. Even before the 2nd Rebellion that made a messiah out of Katniss Everdeen, there was interior strife between the Panem districts and the capital, namely the 1st Rebellion. The rumored nuclear response of the capital government against the rebellious District 13, kept the rest of the District, along with the Hungry Games and the economic/military superiority of the Capital, in line. This all changes with the emergence of Katniss Everdeen, the Mockingjay symbol, and the truth of District 13. By the end of the story, the Districts unite and topple President Snow and the Capital in an climactic fight in the capital itself.

The Spacers vs. Earthers from Issac Asimov's universe

     Here is oldie, but goodie: the tension between the Spacer Worlds and Earth from Asimov's Robot novels. In most of these conflicts between the outer colonies and the inner colonies, the outer colonies are the backwater frontier worlds that are controlled by inner colonies and Terra. Or they are wild, and do not take kindly to the control of Earth and the older, more established inner colonies. In the Caves of Steel, the Spacers were the descendants of the original colonial pioneers into deep space, and they had grown technologically than the more backward Earth. Unlike the crowded Earth, the 50 Spacers worlds were low-population worlds with most Spacers living in vast estates with robot labors greatly outnumbering the Spacers. In some ways, the Spacers were nearly aliens to their Terran cousins.

     The conflict between the Outer Worlds and Earth began when Earth attempted to force the issue of more immigration from Earth to the off-world colonies. The Outer Worlds refused and the result was the Three Weeks War and the Great Rebellion resulting the Outer Worlds gaining their freedom from the Earthmen. To punish the Earth and show off its superior in social and technological development, the Spacers blockaded Earth from any further space travel and even communicating with the Spacer Worlds. This blockade altered Earth, fueling the development of the massive underground cities seen in The Caves of Steel. However, the situation on the Earth is reaching crisis point, the Spacers attempt to solve the problem by establishing an outpost in New York City along with the introduction of robots. After the core Robot novels, the Earth enters a new phase of colonization led by Baley's son, but unlike the Spacers, the Earthmen found new worlds without the aid of robots. Soon, the Spacers are isolated on their fifty worlds and begin to die off. The Earth colonization movement leading to the foundation of the Galactic Empire of the Foundation and Galactic Empire novels.

The Arm of Orion Rebellion from Section 8

     Section 8 was an military sci-fi shooter video game by Timegate Studios on last generation consoles that had the player taking the role of an powered armor wearing Special Forces soldier named Alex Corde. In the backstory to the multiplayer game, an group called the Arm of Orion was "disconnecting" frontier colonial worlds from Terra, and given the slow pace of space travel in the Section 8 game, the Arm of Orion was at an advantage. This struggle between the distant imperialistic Arm of Orion and the Terran government was conducted by the 8th Armored Infantry unit. While the frontier colonies were not rebelling against Terra, it is still an example of an conflict between the core central government and the frontier settlements.

The Strife between the Colonies from Dynamo Joe

     In one of the best military science fiction American comics, Dynamo Joe from First Comics (1986-1988), we see a ongoing strife between the colonies of Terra in the 35th century. In the comic backstory, the Terran Confederation has a serious rift between their inner and outer colonies, with the outer colonies being under attack from pirates, slavers, and the Blood Nation attacks. This causes the Terran Confederation to mount a serious pirate suppression activity for the outer worlds. This costs a great deal of money, and Terra and her inner colonies resent the outer colonies for their helplessness. Then the table turn. In 3415, when an unknown alien race attacked the galactic rim. Faced with an aggressive species of unknown origin, the Terran Confederation decided to attack the hostiles with the full might of their fleet. At the Rim Battle Massacre, half of the Terran fleet was wiped out, and the aliens made a direct path for Terra and Londree. For years, the combined forces of three civilizations banned together (sort of) to repel the invaders. Because the aliens were laser-focused on attack Terra and Londree, the outer colonies were uninterested in funding "Terra's War", because they were not under direct threat from the aliens. Once again, the rift between the inner and outer colonies reached a breaking point. This tension between the inner and outer colonies in Dynamo Joe was the origin-point for this blogpost

The Maquis from the Star Trek Universe

     Even in the big, happy Federation, shit can go wrong, especially on the edge of Federation space with an hostile alien race on your doorstep. During final peace talks between the Cardassian Union and the UFP, after a brief war years before TNG started, it was decided to from an DMZ with planets changing hands. The Federation worlds were home to frontier settlers and these were their homes…they were not going to give up and move for the sake of peace with an aggressive alien government. That was the setting that Trek introduces us to one of the more un-Trek like elements of the 24th century: the Maquis.

     Taking their name from the underground French resistance movement of the 2nd World War, this 24th century Maquis were labelled many things: terrorists, freedom fighters, troublemakers. However, they are a symbol of how a policy made between Terra and an hostile species, the Cardassians, could result in tensions and conflicts way out on the border/frontier. This is a struggle between the central government and the frontier, where things are different and less clear-cut that back on the utopia of Earth. One of the interesting things I learned about the Maquis during my reading up on the topic was that the concept of this group goes back to 1993 when the foundations of what would be Voyager were being laid. The Maquis were developed for that show to provide the tension on the long-lost starship and the Starfleet crew. Over time of Deep Space Nine and TNG, the Maquis were more developed, and many fans sympathized with the quest of the Maquis.

The Insurrection of the Outer Colonies from the HALO Universe

     From 2494 to 2537, the UNSC fought an board violent insurrection against their rule over the outer colonies. This was the genesis of the SPARTAN-II program. The outer colonies of the UNSC were tired of the politics and policies of the Colonial Administration Authority/ When protests did not work, the violence started. The actions of the UNSC fueled more volunteers to the cause of the insurrection, especially after the use of nuclear weapons on Far Isle. However, the out-and-out civil war of the outer colonies against the UNSC was the Insurrection were able capture the UNSC warship Callisto in 2494. When the UNSC set three warships to recapture the Destroyer, the Insurrection was able to use an nuclear device to break apart an asteroid, and pepper the three UNSC warships with the natural kinetic projectiles. With one ship destroyed and two others wounded, this became the wake up call to the UNSC on the power of the Insurrection in the outer colonies. This war in the outer colonies even touched as far into the interior of UNSC space as Reach, and even after the Covenant invaded the UNSC, there was still conflict between the UNSC and her outer colonies. Some in the government even feared the Insurrection would attempt to made a deal with the aliens to betray the UNSC. One of the more interesting points I've read about the Outer Colonial Insurrection is that it prepared the UNSC, as a whole, for the Human-Covenant War, especially with regards to be the reason for the creation of the SPARTAN-II Program that saved humanity from the Covenant.

Earth Alliance Civil War from Babylon 5

     At the beginning of the B5 television series, the President of the Earth Alliance, Santiago, was killed by an conspiracy to bring Morgan Clark to the office. It was during the 2nd and 3rd Season that the shit really hit the fan, as EarthGov was twisting into being more anti-alien and wanting for the Earth Alliance to be more aggressive in the galaxy. During this, Captain Sheridan and others on B5 learned of an vast conspiracy and the draconian goals of Clark, and the connection to the shadows. Part of this was the creepy Nightwatch movement.

     It was during the apex of this, that Joint Chiefs General Hague staged a coup as Proxima III, Mars, and Orion VII broke away from the Earth Alliance, and Sheridan sided with others breakaway colonies as Mars is bombed by Clark's forces. Also during this, the sci-fi CNN, ISN, revealed the truth and was shut down by Clark's goon squads. Seeing B5 as a support and safer harbor for the rebellion, Clark ordered an taskforce to retake the station, resulting in one of the best episodes of the entire series. B5, with help from the Minbari, repel the Earth Alliance attack, and this made the station a beacon in the darkness. During the Shadow War, there was an ensuing tension between EarthGov and B5, and it was only after the Shadow War, that attention was turned to liberating Earth from Clark. The final episode of Earth Civil War, we see Clark take his own life, and the end of the darkness. While the show was building to the Shadow War, I always preferred the Earth Civil War storyline. There is less of a struggle between the inner and outer colonies here, but it does show an Terran based government attempting to take control of their colonies and the most distant Earth off-world installation: Babylon 5.

Earth Federation vs. the Principality of Zeon from Mobile Suit Gundam

     In the Mobile Suit Gundam universe, the One Year War from 0079 UC-0080 UC, was a transformative event that had the breakaway  Principality of Zeon wage war against the  Earth Federation.

     In 0058 UC, the Side 3 O'Neil Colony station near Luna declared themselves independent from the Earth Federation and the other space colonies, calling themselves "the Principality of Zeon".  After the One Year War, this outer colony was brought back into line with the Earth Federation, but the die had been cast for colonial resistance.

The Clone Wars from Star Wars

     While the real genesis of the Clone Wars was an grand machiavellian Sith plot to wipe out the Jedi Order, erode the power of the Republic, and installing an Sith-controlled Galactic Empire. On the surface however, the Clone Wars were an outgrowth of tensions on the outmost regions of the galaxy that started with the Trade Federation, the Siege of Naboo, and the formation of the Confederacy of the Independent Systems. While some of the tension between the rim and Coruscant was rooted in real issues of economics, government, and bureaucracy; there was a great deal of Sith engineering to destabilize the galaxy and foster tensions between the rim and the core systems. This peaked in the First Battle of Geonosis and the discovery of the existence of the Cloned Army. By the end of the 2nd Prequel film, there was an all-out war between the Republic and the Separatists that engulfed the galaxy. Most of the war was fought away from the central systems, however, there was the battle over the Coruscant at the beginning of The Revenge of the Sith. By the time of Order-66, the war was over, and when the Empire rose, it too, would find controlling an entire galaxy was too difficult a task. Another reason mentioned for the Sith-engineered Clone Wars was to eliminate the possible resistance to an new Sith-based empire. By the Sith uniting powerful groups, like the Banking Guild, the Techno-Union, against the Republic, they could destroy these groups that might oppose the new Empire via the war.

The Foundation vs. the Barbarian Galaxy from Isaac Asimov's Foundation Universe

     In an odd examples culled from one of the titans of science fiction Isaac Asimov, we look to the Foundation established on Terminus and the crumbling galaxy after the fall of the Galactic Empire. In the iconic 1940's science fiction novel, Hari Seldon, founder of the Psychohistory, was moving to safeguard the knowledge of the galaxy has the Galactic Empire was crumbling after 12,000 in power. He predicted using Psyhohistory that the galaxy would be under barbarism for 30,000 years until it would reunite. Seldon and others wanted to shorten that to about 1,000 years and the Foundation on Terminus was the answer. Assembled there on the edge of the Milky Way was the best and the brightest, devoted to the Encyclopedia Galactica. As the galaxy collapsed around Terminus, newly formed savage kingdoms came to Terminus for their storehouse of old Imperial and technology. While this is a stretch of the core concept of the blogpost, it does show the very distant settled world of Terminus against these new kingdoms. Why the Foundation was way the hell out there was due to it wanting to protect itself and its knowledge from the savagery of the new galaxy situation after the fall of the Galactic Empire. In someways, the Foundation represents the Byzantine Empire after the fall of the Roman Empire to the barbarian invaders, as Isaac Asimov intended.


(ed note: the frontier rebels are attacking Earth and the Home Stars, and they are doing a good job of it. Earth wing commander Arris and historian Glen wait for the frontier rebels to come and finish them off.)

      Lunar relay flickered out as overloaded fuses flashed into vapor. Arris distractedly paced back to the dark corner and sank into a chair.
     "I'm sorry," said the voice of Glen next to him, sounding quite sincere. "No doubt it was quite a shock to you."
     "Not to you?" asked Arris bitterly.
     "Not to me."
     "Then how did they do it?" the wing commander asked the civilian in a low, desperate whisper. "They don't even wear .45's. Intelligence says their enlisted men have hit their officers and got away with it. "They elect ship captains! Glen, what does it all mean?"

     "It means," said the fat little man with a timbre of doom in his voice, "that they've returned. They always have. They always will. You see, commander, there is always somewhere a wealthy, powerful city, or nation, or world. In it are those who's blood is not right for a wealthy, powerful place. They must seek danger and overcome it. So they go out — on the marshes, in the desert, on the tundra, the planets, or the stars. Being strong, they grow stronger by fighting the tundra, the planets, or the stars. They — they change. They sing new songs. They know new heroes. And then, one day, they return to their old home."
     "They return to the wealthy, powerful city, or nation or world. They fight its guardians as they fought the tundra, the planets, or the stars — a way that strikes terror to the heart. Then they sack the city, nation, or world and sing great ringing sagas of their deeds. They always have. Doubtless they always will."

     "But what shall we do?"
     "We shall cower, I suppose, beneath the bombs they drop on us, and we shall die, some bravely, some not, defending the palace within a very few hours. But you will have your revenge."
     "How?" asked the wing commander, with haunted eyes.
     The fat little man giggled and whispered in the officer's ear. Arris irritably shrugged it off as a bad joke. He didn't believe it. As he died, drilled through the chest a few hours later by one of Algan's gunfighters, he believed it even less.

(ed note: the "revenge" is that after sacking the city, the returning frontiersmen settle down and become the new wealthy powerful city. And one day it will be their turn to be killed by the new frontiersmen.)

(ed note: title is from an old aphorism "The Only Thing We Learn From History Is That We Learn Nothing From History" by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel)

From "THE ONLY THING WE LEARN" by Cyril M. Kornbluth (1949)

(ed note: In this novel, the humans of Terra develop a faster-than-light starship, only to discover that Sol is inside an alien interstellar federation several thousand years old: Central Control (C.C.) only allows Terrans into the rest of the galaxy as third-class citizens, barely tolerated and only allowed off-world in the narrow role defined by C.C.: that of mercenary.

It is instructive to compare the bold-face text in the quote below with the bold-face text in the "The Only Thing We Learn" quote above.)

"What made them so quick on the trigger, sir? The Patrol usually doesn't flare up that way—or do they? And that officer said `Terrans' as if we were Lombros muck worms—"

"It shouldn't surprise you, Karr, to discover that some of the more `superior' races who make up the C.C. Councils at the present moment are inclined to rate us at just about that level—in private, naturally. One doesn't boast of caste openly—that's too close to shape and race prejudice. But I've seen an Ageratan leave an eating booth before he had finished his meal because a Terran was seated as his neighbor. It's illegal, unethical, violates all those pretty slogans and refined sentiments drilled into them from the cradle or the egg—but it persists."

"But the Zacathans aren't like that—and Rey and Mic were friendly with that Lupan on Secundus—"

"Certainly. I can cite you a thousand different shapes and races who accept Terrans as equals as easily as we accept them in return. But note two things, Karr, and they are important. The systems where we are persona non grata are dominated by humanoid races and they are systems which have had space travel for a very long time, who have pioneered in the Galaxy. Embedded deep in them is an emotion they refuse to admit—fear.

"Back on Terra in the ancient days before the nuclear wars we were divided into separate races, the difference in part depending on the color of skin, shape of features, and so forth. And in turn those races were subdivided into nations which arose to power, held in control large portions of the planet, sometimes for centuries. But as the years passed each in turn lost that power, the reins slipped from their hands. Why?

"Because the tough, sturdy fighters who had built those empires died, and their sons, or their sons' sons' sons were another breed. For a while, even after the fighting quality died out, an empire would still exist—as might a well-built piece of machinery set in motion. Then parts began to wear, or oiling was needed, and there was no one who remembered, or cared, or had the necessary will and strength to pull it together and make repairs. So another, younger and tougher nation took over—perhaps after a war. History progressed by a series of such empires—the old one yielding to the new.

"Now the races of the Galaxy with whom we have established the closest ties are, so far, not of our species. We like the Zacathans who are of reptile origin, we enjoy the Trystians, whose far-off ancestors were birds. The Yubana—they're evolved felines. And most of these are also newcomers on the Galactic scene. But—and this is important—they have different aims, backgrounds, desires, tastes. Why should a Zacathan fret over the passing of time, hurry to get something done the way we must do? His life span is close to a thousand years, he can afford to sit around and think things out. We feel that we can't. But we're not a threat to him or his way of life."

"But, sir, do you think we are to the others—the humanoids of Agerat and Rassam? Their civilizations are old but basically they are similar to ours—"

"And are showing signs of decay. Yes, we're a threat to them because of our young pushing energy, our will to struggle, all the things they openly deplore in us. For, old as Terra seems to us, she is very young in the Galaxy. So they've met us with a devious design. It is their purpose to wall us off—not openly and so provide us with a legitimate grievance which we may take before the Grand Council—but legally and finally. They struggle to dissipate our strength in needless warfare which in no way threatens their control, sapping our manpower and so rendering helpless a race which might just challenge them in the future. And because we have fought and dreamed of the stars we have been forced to accept their condition—for a time."

"A time, sir?" burst out Kana passionately. "For three hundred years we've played their game—"

"What is three hundred years on the Galactic chessboard?" Hansu returned calmly. "Yes, for three hundred years we have taken their orders. Only now they must be beginning to realize that their plan is not working. I'm not sure that their motives had been plain even to them. They have played omnipotence so long that they have come to believe in their godhead—that they can make no wrong moves. For they have always operated against us under cover—until now.

From STAR GUARD by Andre Norton (1955).
Collected in Star Soldiers (2001), currently a free eBook in the Baen free library.

(ed note: this is the author popularizing his paper Space colonization and suffering risks: Reassessing the “maxipok rule”. It boils down to the same lesson as The Only Thing We Learn)

There are lots of reasons why colonizing space seems compelling. The popular astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson argues that it would stimulate the economy and inspire the next generation of scientists. Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX, argues that “there is a strong humanitarian argument for making life multiplanetary … to safeguard the existence of humanity in the event that something catastrophic were to happen.” The former administrator of NASA, Michael Griffin, frames it as a matter of the “survival of the species.” And the late astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has conjectured that if humanity fails to colonize space within 100 years, we could face extinction.

To be sure, humanity will eventually need to escape Earth to survive, since the sun will make the planet uninhabitable in about 1 billion years. But for many “space expansionists,” escaping Earth is about much more than dodging the bullet of extinction: it’s about realizing astronomical amounts of value by exploiting the universe’s vast resources to create something resembling utopia. For example, the astrobiologist Milan Cirkovic calculates that some 1046 people per century could come into existence if we were to colonize our Local Supercluster, Virgo. This leads Nick Bostrom to argue that failing to colonize space would be tragic because it would mean that these potential “worthwhile lives” would never exist, and this would be morally bad.

But would these trillions of lives actually be worthwhile? Or would colonization of space lead to a dystopia?

In one article in Futures, which was inspired by political scientist Daniel Deudney’s forthcoming book Dark Skies, I decided to take a closer look at this question. My conclusion is that in a colonized universe the probability of the annihilation of the human race could actually rise rather than fall.

Consider what is likely to happen as humanity hops from Earth to Mars, and from Mars to relatively nearby, potentially habitable exoplanets like Epsilon Eridani b, Gliese 674 b, and Gliese 581 d. Each of these planets has its own unique environments that will drive Darwinian evolution, resulting in the emergence of novel species over time, just as species that migrate to a new island will evolve different traits than their parent species. The same applies to the artificial environments of spacecraft like “O’Neill Cylinders,” which are large cylindrical structures that rotate to produce artificial gravity. Insofar as future beings satisfy the basic conditions of evolution by natural selection—such as differential reproduction, heritability, and variation of traits across the population—then evolutionary pressures will yield new forms of life.

But the process of “cyborgization”—that is, of using technology to modify and enhance our bodies and brains—is much more likely to influence the evolutionary trajectories of future populations living on exoplanets or in spacecraft. The result could be beings with completely novel cognitive architectures (or mental abilities), emotional repertoires, physical capabilities, lifespans, and so on.

In other words, natural selection and cyborgization as humanity spreads throughout the cosmos will result in species diversification. At the same time, expanding across space will also result in ideological diversification. Space-hopping populations will create their own cultures, languages, governments, political institutions, religions, technologies, rituals, norms, worldviews, and so on. As a result, different species will find it increasingly difficult over time to understand each other’s motivations, intentions, behaviors, decisions, and so on. It could even make communication between species with alien languages almost impossible. Furthermore, some species might begin to wonder whether the proverbial “Other” is conscious. This matters because if a species Y cannot consciously experience pain, then another species X might not feel morally obligated to care about Y. After all, we don’t worry about kicking stones down the street because we don’t believe that rocks can feel pain. Thus, as I write in the paper, phylogenetic and ideological diversification will engender a situation in which many species will be “not merely aliens to each other but, more significantly, alienated from each other.”

But this yields some problems. First, extreme differences like those just listed will undercut trust between species. If you don’t trust that your neighbor isn’t going to steal from, harm, or kill you, then you’re going to be suspicious of your neighbor. And if you’re suspicious of your neighbor, you might want an effective defense strategy to stop an attack—just in case one were to happen. But your neighbor might reason the same way: she’s not entirely sure that you won’t kill her, so she establishes a defense as well. The problem is that, since you don’t fully trust her, you wonder whether her defense is actually part of an attack plan. So you start carrying a knife around with you, which she interprets as a threat to her, thus leading her to buy a gun, and so on. Within the field of international relations, this is called the “security dilemma,” and it results in a spiral of militarization that can significantly increase the probability of conflict, even in cases where all actors have genuinely peaceful intentions.

So, how can actors extricate themselves from the security dilemma if they can’t fully trust each other? On the level of individuals, one solution has involved what Thomas Hobbes’ calls the “Leviathan.” The key idea is that people get together and say, “Look, since we can’t fully trust each other, let’s establish an independent governing system—a referee of sorts—that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. By replacing anarchy with hierarchy, we can also replace the constant threat of harm with law and order.” Hobbes didn’t believe that this happened historically, only that this predicament is what justifies the existence of the state. According to Steven Pinker, the Leviathan is a major reason that violence has declined in recent centuries.

The point is that if individuals—you and I—can overcome the constant threat of harm posed by our neighbors by establishing a governing system, then maybe future species could get together and create some sort of cosmic governing system that could similarly guarantee peace by replacing anarchy with hierarchy. Unfortunately, this looks unpromising within the “cosmopolitical” realm. One reason is that for states to maintain law and order among their citizens, their various appendages—e.g., law enforcement, courts—need to be properly coordinated. If you call the police about a robbery and they don’t show up for three weeks, then what’s the point of living in that society? You’d be just as well off on your own! The question is, then, whether the appendages of a cosmic governing system could be sufficiently well-coordinated to respond to conflicts and make top-down decisions about how to respond to particular situations. To put it differently: If conflict were to break out in some region of the universe, could the relevant governing authorities respond soon enough for it to matter, for it to make a difference?

Probably not, because of the immense vastness of space. For example, consider again Epsilon Eridani b, Gliese 674 b, and Gliese 581 d. These are, respectively, 10.5, 14.8, and 20.4 light-years from Earth. This means that a signal sent as of this writing, in 2018, wouldn’t reach Gliese 581 d until 2038. A spaceship traveling at one-quarter the cosmic speed limit wouldn’t arrive until 2098, and a message to simply affirm that it had arrived safely wouldn’t return to Earth until 2118. And Gliese 581 is relatively close as far as exoplanets go. Just consider that he Andromeda Galaxy is some 2.5 million light-years from Earth and the Triangulum Galaxy about 3 million light-years away. What’s more, there are some 54 galaxies in our Local Group, which is about 10 million light-years wide, within a universe that stretches some 93 billion light-years across.

These facts make it look hopeless for a governing system to effectively coordinate law enforcement activities, judicial decisions, and so on, across cosmic distances. The universe is simply too big for a government to establish law and order in a top-down fashion.

But there is another strategy for achieving peace: Future civilizations could use a policy of deterrence to prevent other civilizations from launching first strikes. A policy of this sort, which must be credible to work, says: “I won’t attack you first, but if you attack me first, I have the capabilities to destroy you in retaliation.” This was the predicament of the US and Soviet Union during the Cold War, known as “mutually-assured destruction” (MAD).

But could this work in the cosmopolitical realm of space? It seems unlikely. First, consider how many future species there could be: upwards of many billions. While some of these species would be too far away to pose a threat to each other—although see the qualification below—there will nonetheless exist a huge number within one’s galactic backyard. The point is that the sheer number would make it incredibly hard to determine who initiated a first strike, if one is attacked. And without a method for identifying instigators with high reliability, one’s policy of deterrence won’t be credible. And if one’s policy of deterrence isn’t credible, then one has no such policy!

Second, ponder the sorts of weapons that could become available to future spacefaring civilizations. Redirected asteroids (a.k.a., “planetoid bombs”), “rods from God,” sun guns, laser weapons, and no doubt an array of exceptionally powerful super-weapons that we can’t currently imagine. It has even been speculated that the universe might exist in a “metastable” state and that a high-powered particle accelerator could tip the universe into a more stable state. This would create a bubble of total annihilation that spreads in all directions at the speed of light—which opens up the possibility that a suicidal cult, or whatever, weaponizes a particle accelerator to destroy the universe.

The question, then, is whether defensive technologies could effectively neutralize such risks. There’s a lot to say here, but for the present purposes just note that, historically speaking, defensive measures have very often lagged behind offensive measures, thus resulting in periods of heightened vulnerability. This is an important point because when it comes to existentially dangerous super-weapons, one only needs to be vulnerable for a short period to risk annihilation.

So far as I can tell, this seriously undercuts the credibility of policies of deterrence. Again, if species A cannot convince species B that if B strikes it, A will launch an effective and devastating counter strike, then B may take a chance at attacking A. In fact, B does not need to be malicious to do this: it only needs to worry that A might, at some point in the near- or long-term future, attack B, thus making it rational for B to launch a preemptive strike (to eliminate the potential danger). Thinking about this predicament in the radically multi-polar conditions of space, it seems fairly obvious that conflict will be extremely difficult to avoid.

The lesson of this argument is not to uncritically assume that venturing into the heavens will necessarily make us safer or more existentially secure. This is a point that organizations hoping to colonize Mars, such as SpaceX, NASA, and Mars One should seriously contemplate. How can humanity migrate to another planet without bringing our problems with us? And how can different species that spread throughout the cosmos maintain peace when sufficient mutual trust is unattainable and advanced weaponry could destroy entire civilizations?

Human beings have made many catastrophically bad decisions in the past. Some of these outcomes could have been avoided if only the decision-makers had deliberated a bit more about what could go wrong—i.e., had done a “premortem” analysis. We are in that privileged position right now with respect to space colonization. Let’s not dive head-first into waters that turn out to be shallow.

War with Aliens

When one contemplates the many long and bloody wars in Terra's history over differences in culture or the color of one's skin, one can only imagine the scale of wars possible with aliens from outer space. After all, warfare with enemy nation X is one thing, but at least they are human. Those things from Tau Ceti five are freaking bug-eyed monsters extraterrestrial sophonts with unknown habits. It would be all too easy for combat to escalate to War to the Knife: total genocide.

There are some related motives for alien genocide, suggested as possible solutions to the Fermi Pardox:


     Nevertheless, let's assume that the human race manages to balance birth and death, just right to fit its own planets, and thereby becomes peaceful. What happens?
     Soon (about next Wednesday) the Bugs move in, kill off this breed which "ain'ta gonna study war no more" and the universe forgets us. Which still may happen. Either we spread and wipe out the Bugs, or they spread and wipe us out — because both races are tough and smart and want the same real estate.
     Do you know how fast population pressure could cause us to fill the entire universe shoulder to shoulder? The answer will astound you, just the flicker of an eye in terms of the age of our race.
     Try it — it's a compound-interest expansion.

     But does Man have any "right" to spread through the universe?
     Man is what he is, a wild animal with the will to survive, and (so far) the ability, against all competition. Unless one accepts that, anything one says about morals, war, politics — you name it — is nonsense. Correct morals arise from knowing what Man is — not what do gooders and well-meaning old Aunt Nellies would like him to be.
     The universe will let us know — later — whether or not Man has any "right" to expand through it.

From STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert Heinlein (1959)

(ed note: The aliens wish to conquer Terra. But first they send a small invasion force to do some reconnaissance)

      Tlasht Bade, Supreme Commander of Invasion Forces, drew thoughtfully on his slim cigar. "That's a relief. What about the natives?"
     "Erect, land-dwelling, ill-tempered bipeds," said Runckel. "They seem to have little or no planet-wide unity. Of course, we have large samplings of their communications media. When these are all analyzed, we'll know a lot more."
     "What do they look like?"
     "They're pink or brown in color, quite tall, but not very broad or thick through the chest. A little fur here and there on their bodies. No webs on their hands or feet, and their feet are fantastically small. Otherwise, they look quite human."
     "Their technology?"

     Runckel sucked in a deep breath and sat up straight. "Every bit as bad as we thought. Technologically they are deadly. They've got fission and fusion, indirect molecular and atomic reaction control, and a long-reaching development of electron flow and pulsing devices. So far, they don't seem to have anything based on deep rearrangement or keyed focusing. But who knows when they'll stumble on that? And then what? Even now, properly warned and ready they could give us a terrible struggle."
     Runckel knocked a clinker off his length of rope and looked at Bade with the tentative, judging air of one who is not quite sure of another's reliability. Then he said, loudly and with great firmness, "We have a lot to be thankful for. Another five or ten decades delay getting the watchships up through the cloud layer, and they'd have had us by the throat. We've got to smash them before they're ready, or we'll end up as their colony."

     Bade's eyes narrowed. "I've always opposed this invasion on philosophical grounds. But it's been argued and settled. I'm willing to go along with the majority opinion." Bade rapped the ash off his slender cigar and looked Runckel directly in the eyes. "But if you want to open the whole argument up all over again—"
     "No," said Runckel, breathing out a heavy cloud of smoke. "But our micromapping and radiation analysis shows a terrific rate of progress. It's hard to look at those figures and even breathe normally. They're gaining on us like a shark after a minnow."
     "In that case," said Bade, "let's wake up and hold our lead. This business of attacking the suspect before he has a chance to commit a crime is no answer. What about all the other planets in the universe? How do we know what they might do some day?"
     "This planet is right beside us!"
     "Is murder honorable as long as you do it only to your neighbor? Your argument is self-defense. But you're straining it."
     "Let it strain, then," said Runckel angrily. "All I care about is that chart showing our comparative levels of development. Now we have the lead. I say, drag them out by their necks and let them submit, or we'll thrust their heads underwater and have done with them. And anyone who says otherwise is a doubtful patriot!"
     Bade's teeth clamped, and he set his cigar carefully on a tray.
     Runckel blinked, as if he only appreciated what he had said by its echo.
     Bade's glance moved over Runckel deliberately, as if stripping away the emblems and insignia. Then Bade opened the bottom drawer of his desk, and pulled out a pad of dun-colored official forms. As he straightened, his glance caught the motto printed large on the base of the big globe. The motto had been used so often in the struggle to decide the question of invasion that Bade seldom noticed it any more. But now he looked at it. The motto read:

Them Or Us

(ed note: The alien reconnaissance force suffers lots of set backs and grinds to a halt, due to unfamiliar phenomenon such as "snow" (aka "the white death"), tornadoes (aka "whirling death") and the common cold (aka "the exploding sickness"). A plenipotentiary from the United States arrives to discuss terms with Supreme Commander Tlasht Bade)

     "This is our planet," said the plenipotentiary grimly, "and we will fight for it to the end."
     "We don't want your planet."
     The plenipotentiary's eyes widened. Then he burst into a string of invective that the translators couldn't follow. When he had finished, he took a deep breath and recapitulated the main point, "If you don't want it, what are you doing here?"

     Bade said, "Your people are clearly warlike. After observing you for some time, a debate arose on our planet as to whether we should hit you or wait till you hit us. After a fierce debate, the first faction won."
     "Wait a minute. How could we hit you? You come from another planet, don't you?"
     "Yes, that's true. But it's also true that a baby shark is no great menace to anyone. Except that he will grow up into a big shark. That is how our first faction looked on earth."
     The plenipotentiary scowled. "In other words, you'll kill the suspect before he has a chance to commit the crime. Then you justify it by saying the man would have committed a crime if he'd lived."
     "We didn't intend to kill you—only to disarm you."

From THE GENTLE EARTH by Christopher Anvil (1957)

      The interrogation room was typical of such facilities: a bare cubicle with a table, a single chair, and a variety of surveillance mechanisms mounted in the ceiling behind panes of armor glass. Richard Drake sat in the chair and waited for the heavy steel door at the opposite end of the room to be opened. He did not have to wait long. The door retracted into the wall and one of the Ryall was ushered in by two Marine guards.
     As it moved to stand on the opposite side of the table, the creature reminded Drake of pictures he had seen of early experiments with all-terrain walking machines. The gait required to keep six legs from becoming entangled involved a sequence of motions that was difficult for the untrained eye to follow. Drake toyed with the idea of asking the Ryall to walk around the room, and then decided against it.
     The two intelligent beings regarded each other in silence for long seconds. If the Ryall was capable of facial expression, it did not bother – or else, Drake was not watching for the proper signals. After nearly a minute of silence, the snout opened and speech issued forth from between two rows of conical shaped teeth.
     “I am told that you wish to converse with me, sir or madam.” The Ryall’s voice was full of sibilants, but otherwise completely understandable.
     “How long have you been held captive here?” Drake asked.
     “Five of your standard years,” the Ryall replied.
     “And you still can’t tell the difference between the two human sexes?”
     “The sex of any particular human is not a matter of concern to one of my kind. I would guess that you are a male, since the overwhelming preponderance of my visitors are.”
     “You are correct. And, if I am not being too personal, which are you?”
     “Neither,” the Ryall replied. “I am neuter, what your species calls a ‘drone,’ I believe.”
     “Do you have a name?”
     There was a brief sound that began with a sharp inhaling noise and ended with a sound like a sneeze cut short. “A none-too-close translation would be Loyal-Hand-of-the-Egg- Which-Bore-Us-All. However, you may call me ‘John.’ That is the name my keepers have given me.”
     “Well, John, my name is Richard Drake. Have the Sandarians told you who I am?”
     The Ryall made an unrecognizable gesture with its hands, and its tri-forked tongue flicked into sight. “A zoo animal is not offered explanations, Richard Drake; nor does he ask them.”
     “Zoo animal? Is that what you think this place is?”
     This time, the gesture was more expansive. The arms extended fully, and six long fingers spread wide. “Is that not your name for a place where humans observe the antics of species other than their own?”
     “It is. However, a more correct term for this place would be ‘prison.’ You are a prisoner-of-war.”
     “That is another distinction that is lost on those of my kind, Richard Drake. We apparently do not view reality the same as you humans do.”
     “I’m afraid you’ve lost me, John. Are you saying that you don’t understand what a prison is, or what it means to be a prisoner?”
     The Ryall flapped its ears. A quick fluttering noise accompanied the movement. “I laugh, Richard Drake. After five standard years, the dual concepts of prison and prisoner are ones I understand very well. Indeed, I and my fellows speak of little else.”
     “Then what...?”
     “You called me a prisoner of war. I find it hard to rationalize the Ryall concept of war with the loose interpretation you humans seem to place on the word.”
     “What is the Ryall concept, then?”
     “War is a battle of honor between two adversaries, as when one male sends his drones to secure a nesting place or a particular female from another. War is the clash of clans to see who will win the place of honor for their eggs. War is the struggle for dominance between entire civilizations wherein one civilization establishes its right to lead the other.”
     “Is that not what is happening between your species and mine right now?” Drake asked.
     “Not at all,” the Ryall replied.
     “Then what do you call it?”
     “The closest I can come in your language, Richard Drake, is to compare it to a contest between rival pest exterminators, each trying to rid the cosmos of the other’s presence.”

     “My dear, the whole of the human race is fighting the Ryall. They haven’t left us much choice in the matter.” The ambassador put his teacup on a side table and leaned forward. “As an historian, I think you will find the story extremely interesting. The underlying cause of our current difficulty, it seems, lies not in ourselves, but in our stars ... and in the opaque mists of Ryall history.”
     “What I am about to tell you is a Ryall legend. It has been pieced together from interviews with thousands of prisoners from dozens of different planets within the Ryall Hegemony. All the prisoners have told the legend in the same way, no matter what interrogation techniques were used – and I am forced to admit that we have not always conformed to the spirit of the ancient Geneva Convention.

     “Thirty thousand years ago, the Ryall were simple fisher people dwelling on the banks of rivers and near the shallows of their world’s seas. They spent much of their time in the water where they harvested other forms of marine life. They had lived this way for as long as anyone could remember. Then one day, a star blazed forth in the sky until its brightness rivaled that of the system primary.”
     “Another nearby nova?” Bethany asked.
     “It would seem so,” Ambrose Cartier answered with a sharp nod. “Of course, with the nova light came radiation storms. They were not strong enough to sterilize the planet, but they wreaked havoc nonetheless. The mutation rate rose precipitously. Some species went extinct and other species took their place. “Nor were the Ryall immune to the radiation. With each new generation of hatchlings came grotesque new shapes and new abilities. Most of these were harmful, killing their owners while still in the egg. Others were of limited utility, and were weeded out by either natural selection or by the elders of the tribe. Some mutations proved beneficial, and were incorporated into the quickly evolving race.

     “The Ryall weren’t the only race subjected to forced evolution. Some twenty-five thousand years ago, there came into existence another intelligent species on the Ryall home world. The Ryall prisoners have various names for these beings, but the most common is the swift eaters – swifts for short.
     “The swifts were amphibians descended from a non-sentient carnivore that inhabited the oceans of the Ryall world. They were intelligent, cunning, and voracious. The swifts attacked the Ryall breeding grounds and gorged themselves on Ryall eggs. Consequently, the Ryall population underwent a precipitous drop. There was even a time when it appeared as though the swifts would force the older species into extinction.
     “The Ryall finally devised a successful defense against the depredations of the swift. They withdrew completely from the water and became full-time land animals, living in groups inland to avoid attack by the swifts. They began to hunt other land animals and to herd land beasts. They learned about fire and metallurgy. They learned to farm to provide fodder for their herds. Eventually, they developed cities and a true civilization.

     “Sometime during their Bronze Age, they began hunting the swifts. It was a long hunt. The prisoners tell us that it lasted some fifteen thousand years. We are inclined to believe them.”
     “Why?” Bethany asked.
     “Because, Miss Lindquist, of the deep scars their competition with the swift eaters left on the Ryall psyche. It has been ten thousand years since they wiped out the last of the swifts – twice the span of time since the earliest civilizations on Earth. Yet, when we show individual prisoners drawings of swifts prepared from the descriptions of other prisoners, they undergo a strong fight-or-flight reaction. Tell me, Miss Lindquist, are you afraid of snakes or spiders?”
     “I really don’t know, sir. I have never seen either. Except, of course, as pictures in books.”
     “Well it’s a documented fact that a certain percentage of the human race has an irrational fear of these creatures. In that respect, the Ryall and we are alike. The difference is that all the Ryall fear the swift eaters. It is less a phobia with them than an instinct. And that is why this war between humanity and the Ryall may well be unto the death.”

     “I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Bethany said.
     “Ryall history teaches them to beware of exploding stars in the sky. To them, the Antares Supernova was the worst omen that could possibly be. Worse, they saw their fears confirmed when a starship full of alien creatures materialized in the sky of one of their worlds shortly afterwards.
     “Unlike humanity, the Ryall have experience in dealing with a rival intelligent species. Their approach to the problem is validated by fifteen thousand years of pain and suffering on the part of their ancestors. It is a system that is simple and effective. Moreover, it works every, single time!
     “Simply put, history has taught the Ryall that the only possible response to a potential competitor species is to seek its extinction. They give no quarter and they ask none. It is an article of faith among the Ryall that the hatchlings will never be safe so long as a single human being is left alive anywhere in the galaxy!”

From ANTARES DAWN by Michael McCollum (1998)

Alien Invasion

The traditional science-fiction motives for alien contact are:

  • Help!
  • Buy!
  • Negotiate!
  • Discuss!
  • Convert!
  • Vacate!
  • Work!
  • Serve!

and the latter few can involve aliens invading human settled planets, if not Terra itself.

The further underlying problem is: what do the aliens want? What is there that's easier to get by invading than by mining elsewhere in the solar system/local group/galaxy? The objective drives the means of invasion. Political domination is most easily achieved through infiltration — many politicians are easily bought or controlled through a combination of threats and gifts. (As Winchell posted while I typed!) Objectives beyond that seem like more trouble than they are worth.

James Sterrett

Remember realpolitik. Ken does have a good point. The motivation of the invaders puts limits on the allowed invasion techniques. If the invaders want slaves, it is counterproductive to kill every living thing on the defending planet. If the invaders want real estate, it is counterproductive to dust the planet with enough radioactive material to render it uninhabitable for the next ten thousand years. And so on.

Not that aliens are likely to want slaves in the first place. Here and now we are already having problems with technological unemployment. Aliens technologically advanced enough to have starships will have zero need for human slaves when machinery can do any jobs faster, cheaper, and with no food required.

Aliens certainly don't want our women. That pathetic trope was tired and worn out back in 1958 when it was used in I Married a Monster From Outer Space. Let's get real here. An alien would find human women to be about a sexually attractive as humans would find a Komodo monitor. Yes there may be one or two with a kinky fetish, but certainy not species-wide.

It is highly unlikely that aliens would find humans to be a delicious food item, but even so it would be so much less trouble to swipe a few human cells and use them to grow vat meat.

If one must have aliens invading because they want some crucial resource, I like to use an analogy. Ordinary resources are not worth it. I don't care what you saw in the TV show V, they ain't gonna want Terra's water. Markus Baur points out that aliens invading Terra to steal our water makes about as much sense as Eskimos invading Central America to steal their ice. The rings of Saturn are almost pure water ice with a mass of fully half of Terra's entire Antarctic ice shelf, and it is already in space floating around free for the taking. The Jovian moon Europa has about three times the water as all the oceans of Terra combined.

The same goes for gold, uranium, or our women. But what if we hand-wave an unknown resource, something that our scientists have not even discovered yet? (Wow, Zzazel! Their planet is incredibly rich in polka-dotted quarks!)

Then us poor humans will find ourselves in the same spot as a primitive African tribe who does not understand why these Western stranger want to bulldoze their village in order to dig up the dirt. The westerners tell the tribesmen that the dirt is called "Coltain", from which they can extract something called "Tantalum", which is absolutely vital for something called a "Cell Phone." But to the tribesmen, it looks just like the same dirt that is everywhere else, and more specifically, in places that are not under their beloved village. This causes hard feelings, but unfortunately the westerners have something else called "automatic rifles".

Aliens could invade Terra by using exotic attacks, which at the time Terra does not realize they indeed are attacks.

We may very well have already been invaded by "aliens"

If you want to write an alien invasion story, TV Tropes has some useful tips and advice. There certainly are plenty of standard alien invasion story plots.

Footfall is arguably the best "alien invasion" novel ever written.


      There is only one resource on Earth that is not widely available elsewhere in the solar system, which implies that it is also not widely available elsewhere in the universe, and that is the biosphere and its products.

     Energy and resources are plentiful in the cosmos without needing to go down to the bottom of a gravity well and lift them up out of the gravity well. It would be much easier (in terms of return on investment for energy invested) to get water from the subsurface oceans of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, as these moons have more water than Earth and the gravity on these moons is far lower. Indeed, the gravity on a small moon like Enceladus is so low you could build a pipeline from the moon’s orbit to the surface and then bore through the surface ice to get at the water underneath. By this or some similar means you could get plenty of water without having to fight for it or expend the energy to lift it off the surface of a planet.

     There are minerals that form on Earth due to the geological complexity of our planet that do not form elsewhere in the solar system, but an alien civilization with technology sufficient to mount an invasion from another planetary system would probably be able to synthesize all of these elements from the matter it has available. Again, you don’t want to expend the time or energy to lift something off the surface of a planet if you can find it or create it in a microgravity environment. And you don’t want to travel over interstellar distances for something that you could more or less easily make at home.

     There is no reason that an advanced alien civilization could not also synthesize artificial biology from the elements they would have available, and so produce as many biospheres as they liked. However, the unique biosphere of Earth, being pristine (except for human impacts, but we could easily be gotten rid of), contains within its history about four billion years of evolutionary experience, with everything that occurs over millions of years, like mass extinctions and adaptive radiations of survivors, etc. This cannot be manufactured, and it cannot be gotten by staying at home. This record of a pristine biosphere developing in independence from other life and civilization may be of considerable scientific interest to an alien species, and, depending on the particular biochemistry of that species, it may also be of commercial interest to such a species.

     Addendum added later: Even if an alien species’ biochemistry was incompatible with that of terrestrial life, so that the aliens couldn’t eat any products of the terrestrial biosphere, or use any products of the terrestrial biosphere as medicines, some products might still have commercial value. For example, commodities like wood, leather, amber, etc., i.e., products of distinctive biological processes, might be valuable as luxury goods, as they would be unobtainable on the alien species’ homeworld. For that matter, aliens might come to prize mounted specimens of terrestrial life past and present, much as we today might have a fossil fish on the mantel as a conversation piece. Let’s hope that taxidermied human beings wouldn’t become a conversation piece in alien homes.


      Humans had first emerged from their home planet two and a half millennia earlier, optimistic, expanding, and full of hope… or so it seemed to Jasoft now. Then had come the first contact with an extra-Solar species—the group-mind entity known as the Squeem—and that hope had died.
     Humans were crushed; the first occupation of Earth began.
     But the Squeem were overthrown. Humans had moved out once more from Earth.

     Then the Qax had found a human craft.
     There had been a honeymoon period. Trading links with the Qax had been established, cultural exchanges discussed.
     It hadn’t lasted long.
     As soon as the Qax had found out how weak and naive humanity really was, the Spline warships had moved in.

     He had come to suspect, for instance, that comparatively few individuals comprised the Qax race—perhaps no more than thousands. Certainly nothing like the billions that had once totaled humanity, in the years before the development of AntiSenescence technology. And he was sure that there were only three or four Qax individuals assigned to the supervision of Earth, orbiting in the warm bellies of their Spline freighters.

     This hypothesis had many corollaries, of course.

     The Qax were immortal, probably—certainly there was evidence that the same Governor had ruled Earth from the beginning of the Occupation. And with such a small and static population, and with all the time in the world, each Qax would surely come to know the rest of its species intimately.
     Perhaps too well.
     Parz imagined rivalries building over centuries. There would be scheming, maneuvering, endless politicking… and trading. With such a small and intimate population surely no form of formal policing could operate. How to build consensus behind any laws? How to construct laws that would not be seen to discriminate against individuals?
     …But there were natural laws that governed any society. Parz, drifting into a contemplative doze, nodded to himself. It was logical. The Qax must work like so many independent corporations, in pure competition; they would swim in a sea of perfect information about each other’s activities and intentions, kept in some semblance of order only by the operation of the laws of economics. Yes, the theory felt right to Parz. The Qax were natural traders. They had to be. And trading relationships would be their natural mode of approaching other species, once they started spreading beyond their own planet.

     Unless, as in the case of humanity, other opportunities, too soft and welcoming, beckoned…
     Parz didn’t believe—as many commentators maintained—that the Qax were an innately militaristic species. With such a small number of individuals they could never have evolved a philosophy of warfare; never could they have viewed soldiers (of their own race) as expendable cannon fodder, as a renewable resource to be husbanded or expended to suit the needs of a conflict. The murder of a Qax must be a crime of unimaginable horror.
     No, the Qax weren’t warlike. They had defeated humanity and occupied the Earth merely because it had been so easy.

From TIMELIKE INFINITY by Stephen Baxter (1992)

Atomic Rockets notices

This week's featured addition is SPIN POLARIZATION FOR FUSION PROPULSION

This week's featured addition is INsTAR

This week's featured addition is NTR ALTERNATIVES TO LIQUID HYDROGEN

Atomic Rockets

Support Atomic Rockets

Support Atomic Rockets on Patreon