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Stopping a technology from killing the conflict?:

Ave Imperator

I've been working on a slightly unorthodox  * sci-fi setting for some time now, and I've noticed a detail that, without causing a case of epically Misapplied Phlebotinum, is a complete Conflict Killer. The problem is that detail happens to be interstellar travel at high fraction of light speed, which can be turned into a planet killer just by neglecting to slow down before reaching your destination. Since there's no Stealth in Space, even on an interstellar scale, there's nothing to stop a sufficiently ruthless spacefaring civilization from just launching one of these "relativistic bombs" at a desired planet a few days before launching the ship to colonize/harvest/whatever it.

While I've come up with a solution for the Conflict Killer in the larger sense  * of things, there's still the issue of there being no combat even resembling conventional warfare in this setting, it's pretty much a game of hide and seek where both parties are hiding and have Death Stars.

Can anyone think of a good way to allow some form of conventional warfare in this setting? (even spaceship to spaceship combat would work.) There are no habitable planets (Earth included) in this setting, and enough factions don't care about collateral damage that "would rather not commit genocide" is not an answer.

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 2 Tzetze, Thu, 10th Mar '11 7:21:48 PM from a converted church in Venice, Italy
DUMB
You need some pretty specific calculations to hit anything at the relevant size, let alone a moving object. Just say that it takes years for a supercomputer to tally all the variables.
Ave Imperator
If you can get ships between star systems, you can hit planets from star systems away. Considering how advanced computer technology will likely be in the year this story takes place in, it won't be a problem.

Edit: Planets have relatively constant accelerations. Anything with predictable motion in space is (relatively) easy to hit.

edited 10th Mar '11 7:32:19 PM by Archereon

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patience, young padawan
Okay, first... what exactly does the high-speed interstellar travel entail that other technologies don't? Is it a particularly new technology that's still rough around the edges, or is it particularly old and hasn't been maintained properly?

A specific resource may be required if ships themselves come equipped with it. Or if it's like a communal portal system, a malfunction of some kind could strike the entire system. Depends on what it is.

Another option you could consider is writing it out of the story if it doesn't do too much. Which then forces people to take more conventional methods to settle conflicts.

edited 10th Mar '11 7:33:41 PM by CrystalGlacia

Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.
Ave Imperator
[up][up]

There is no FTL or exotic travel devices, it's just plain (well, antimatter powered, but that's fairly conventional compared to a portal network) rockets. This is sublight travel, which can be made into a weapon of planetary scale destruction just by neglecting to slow down.

It can't be written out since there's no story without interstellar travel.

edited 10th Mar '11 7:36:01 PM by Archereon

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patience, young padawan
Hmm. Wow. Antimatter? So you're saying that that's what the travel works off of? If that's so, the ships should need some way to actually use it, since current studies of antimatter have concluded that it's too unstable to be of much use, i.e., it explodes.

edited 10th Mar '11 8:00:55 PM by CrystalGlacia

Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.
 7 Moe Dantes, Thu, 10th Mar '11 8:03:07 PM from the Land of Classics
cuter, cuddlier Edmond
there's nothing to stop a sufficiently ruthless spacefaring civilization from just launching one of these "relativistic bombs" at a desired planet a few days before launching the ship to colonize/harvest/whatever it.

Yeah, because a doomsday weapon won't totally ruin whatever planet you were planning to colonize/harvest/whatever.

There's the point you're overlooking, right there.
Ave Imperator
If your looking for mineral wealth on the planet, it'll survive the doomsday  *. Since no planets are habitable, all colonies need to have completely self contained environments, meaning any "environmental destruction" caused is irrelevant.

Crystal Glacia: It's kept in a magnetic bottle in the form of ionized hydrogen flakes at 0.0001 Kelvin. At that temperature, the antimatter is to cold for any meaningful collisions with the sides of the tank to start a chain reaction. However, random cosmic rays could conceivably slip through the thick radiation shields on an antimatter tank, collide with a particle of antihydrogen, give it the heat to react with something, and, if it happens to be touching the side of the tank, cause a chain reaction that would destroy the ship. Every so often, ships fuel tanks fail, and destroy the entire ship, though, since nearly all flights are unmanned, this is rarely a tragedy so much as a setback.

edited 11th Mar '11 4:14:21 AM by Archereon

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Pronounced YAK-you-luss
You're looking at this the wrong way. We already have Conflict Killer weapons. They're called nukes. This is just an extension of that. Now consider how various nations have dealt with the fact that they have the power to wipe out human civilisation as we know it, and work from there. You may have noticed, for instance, that a large number of countries possessing nuclear weaponry has not resulted in the disbandment of everyone's militaries.

After all, there's an obvious deterrent to using this sort of relativistic-kill weaponry - namely, that someone else can use it right back at you.

edited 11th Mar '11 6:20:44 AM by Iaculus

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 10 Archereon, Fri, 11th Mar '11 7:09:15 AM from Everywhere.
Ave Imperator
The dynamics of nuclear weapons doesn't really translate to this kind of weapon. The best way to describe it is a modified version of the prisoners dilemma.

We have to alien races, race A and Race B. They can't communicate, can't afford the loss of several planets, and both have the technology to launch "relativistic bombs." at each other, therefore they each have 2 options: ignore the other party and leave in constant fear they will attack, or attack and greatly increase their odds of survival. This scenario has 4 basic outcomes.

  • 1: Race A and Race B both ignore each other. Both survive unharmed, but either race can choose to attack leading to...
  • 2: Race A attacks, race B ignores. Race B is disadvantaged and most likely destroyed, Race A survives.
  • 3. Race A Ignores, race B attacks. Race A is disadvantaged and most likely destroyed, Race B survives.
  • 4. Both Race A and Race B attack. Both are devastated, but likely survive.

Things become more complicated once third parties get involved, or the races are capable of communicating but there aren't any third parties in this scenario, and the races cannot communicate. Because any intelligent species can be expected to have a strong instinct for self preservation, and will choose the lowest risk option (attack) rather than the highest gain (ignore) option, since the survival of their species is to much to risk. The only way 2 noncommunicating factions can coexist is if one has such an overwhelming advantage in resources that they can afford to loose several planets, and is also willing to accept those losses for the sake of peace.

You know, I've hit another snag, namely that the sheer amount of energy a civilization would need to have access to in order to create a ship of the sort I've been thinking of would make just about any use of...Anything comprehensible by today's standards Misapplied Phlebotinum.

edited 11th Mar '11 7:16:17 AM by Archereon

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Well, in my personal 'Verse, there's strict regulations on how interstellar species conduct war. If you break them, the the Precursor tech-equipped Empire swoops in and destroy your entire species in seconds. You could use something like that, a big, old, mysterious benevolent-neutral race that will only interfere when a species has a 100% chance of being eliminated.

As for getting the energy to create antimatter without super-advancing every other technology, you could say that the Precursors sell it to the lesser races in return for something they would find valuable, I.E. mineral resources or literature. Of course you couldn't use the antimatter technology for ground-based power since having that much antimatter anywhere near a planet for any length of time is just too risky to be worth it. Even if the containment was perfect, it'd be a really good target for terrorists and crazies. There's also the paranoia factor we have going with nuclear power on Earth right now, even if it's almost completely safe that 1% chance of being blown up terrifies people more than the extraordinarily high chance of being killed in a car accident.

 12 Archereon, Fri, 11th Mar '11 7:35:01 AM from Everywhere.
Ave Imperator
This is (slightly) hard sci fi. No precursors and no aliens, considering the time frames necessary to travel far enough to have any realistic chance of encountering them would put it in the year 40, 000 or so. The big problem is that the amounts of energy involved in interstellar travel at these speeds pretty much makes the economy post-scarcity, which eliminates any reason for wanting to go to another system for military reasons.

edited 11th Mar '11 7:37:11 AM by Archereon

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The factions cannot communicate? Is this an insurmountable obstacle? Because when faced with a scenario that is likely to result in colossal casualties if open warfare breaks out, the most sensible solution seems to be to figure out a way to negotiate so's you don't get bombed to ashes.

Humans, at least, tend to be highly risk-averse where matters of potential species-wide annihilation are concerned, and launching an attack on people who can wreck your shit right back is an enormously risky strategy. After all, you're assuming that you can eliminate all their military assets without the slightest possibility of a revenge attack in your first strike, which is seldom a smart bet to make.

edited 11th Mar '11 7:37:10 AM by Iaculus

Freedom of speech includes the freedom for other people to call you out on your bullshit.
You could always have it so that the antimatter-rockets are easy to intercept. An interceptor missile would have a much lower distance to travel, and could therefore be built cheaper and deployed faster than the interstellar missile itself. Since both the missile and the interceptor are full of antimatter (or at least the interceptor would be, if the missile used up all its delta-v early in the flight), it wouldn't be too hard to simply blast the missile away or at least far enough off course that it wouldn't hit.

 15 Archereon, Fri, 11th Mar '11 8:03:36 AM from Everywhere.
Ave Imperator
Schilcote: Unfortunately, that's not possible with FTL sensors, which I don't have. An object moving at relativistic speeds that you didn't launch is virtually impossible to pinpoint with enough accuracy to divert it. Just shooting a big cloud of stuff at it wouldn't necessarily be enough (ignoring the fact that it would need to be insanely huge to hit it), since the debris would impact with the force of many many tsar bombs.

Iaculus: Well, they CAN communicate, though I'm talking about the speculative "2 alien races meet" scenario. Since any realistic alien would be Starfish Aliens who's psychology is fundamentally different from ours, communication would be virtually impossible to establish quickly enough to avoid a scenario like this, and even if you did, you'd never be reasonably sure the other race wasn't lying to you while plotting your annihilation. The real question here isn't why people don't just launch relativistic bombs at each other all the time (they do), but how a society with this much available energy would engage in anything resembling conventional warfare.

edited 11th Mar '11 8:07:08 AM by Archereon

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In that case, again, the most logical course of action is to stay way the hell away from them. It's the only option that gives you a reasonable chance of not getting several of your planets blown up by the revenge strike.

Again, assuming that a war involving doomsday devices on both sides can be won without casualties on your part is foolish at best.
Freedom of speech includes the freedom for other people to call you out on your bullshit.
 17 Archereon, Fri, 11th Mar '11 8:41:19 AM from Everywhere.
Ave Imperator
Unfortunately, in space, there's not really anywhere to run, and the closest thing to hiding is the enemy not knowing exactly where you are. From what I know, the way to go would be colonizing asteroids and other hard to to hit targets, and avoiding interstellar travel so long as your home system can keep you going. I've already got the reason why my Space Cossacks don't have that option in our solar system at least, but...Well, I'm not sure this setting can work without FTL travel as well as FTL communication, which is unfortunate.

edited 11th Mar '11 8:41:52 AM by Archereon

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You're assuming that only colonies could deploy these weapons. What about roaming battlestations akin to our own missile submarines, capable of random, unpredictable movement? Those should stay alive long enough to ensure a retailatory strike.

If you mean avoiding another, similarly-powerful race, the solution would be simply to keep out of their section of space, mark your own territory clearly, and demonstrate that you do, in fact, have relativistic weaponry. A sort of 'don't fuck with us and we won't fuck with you' business.

The universe is a big place. There are plenty of worlds whose inhabitants won't glass half your civilisation if you show up uninvited.

edited 11th Mar '11 8:59:15 AM by Iaculus

Freedom of speech includes the freedom for other people to call you out on your bullshit.
 19 Native Jovian, Fri, 11th Mar '11 9:22:35 AM from Orlando, Florida
Io vs Jupiter
Here's an idea: forgo colonies with predictable orbits. You've already mentioned that the worlds being colonized aren't habitable anyway, so colonies are essentially giant self-contained environments in the first place. Well, why not just leave the giant self-contained environment floating in space, with just enough engine on them to shift their orbit randomly so that they can't targetted by a reletivistic weapon?
See ALL the stars!
Wouldn't that mean that the colonies would be small enough that conventional weapons would be all the more effective? Remember, the reason a nuke is not a planet killer is simply because there's planet left over.

edited 11th Mar '11 9:27:56 AM by Yej

Da Rules excuse all the inaccuracy in the world. Listen to them, not me.
 21 Native Jovian, Fri, 11th Mar '11 9:29:43 AM from Orlando, Florida
Io vs Jupiter
Conventional weapons can be countered. Relativistic weapons cannot; that's the whole problem at hand. If someone shoots a nuke at you, you can shoot it down before it hits you. If someone shoots a rock at you at .99c, then you won't even be able to see it until it's too late to keep it from hitting you.

edited 11th Mar '11 9:30:47 AM by NativeJovian

See ALL the stars!
1) You can still be an order of magnitude slower than relativistic velocities and still be utterly untargatable by all known weapons systems. Space objects are fast.
2) It's plausible to shoot down one nuke, but 10, 000 nukes will probably still be cheaper than one relativistic projectile.

edited 11th Mar '11 9:36:16 AM by Yej

Da Rules excuse all the inaccuracy in the world. Listen to them, not me.
 23 Native Jovian, Fri, 11th Mar '11 9:39:52 AM from Orlando, Florida
Io vs Jupiter
1) We're not talking about "known systems". It's a sci-fi story. If you can build a relativistic bomb, then you can build something to destroy anything that's not a relativistic bomb. (You can kill it by pointing your relativistic bomb at it, if nothing else.)

2) I didn't say it was foolproof. There will still be ways to destroy a wandering colony, yes. But at least they could defend themselves; your 10, 000 nukes against my point defenses. A relativistic bomb is literally impossible to defend against.
 24 Archereon, Fri, 11th Mar '11 9:43:10 AM from Everywhere.
Ave Imperator
Only a solar system with significant development (likely a dyson swarm) would be able to generate enough energy to create such a weapon

Native Jovian: That might just work, though the problem remains that any military operation against them or in defense of them would be fought with space ships rather than soldiers of any sort...Hmmm...

There's still the problem that deploying conventional weapons of any sort doubles the cost of the fuel wihtout even getting into the payload of the weapon...

Yej: Space objects may be fast, but planets have predictable movement. With FTL communication that's practically instantaneous, things get a lot simpler since you can send orders for course correction from halfway across the galaxy. On the 10, 000 nukes, the relativistic bomb is cheaper unless the target is in the same system, you already need to break down on the fuel for the trip, double the fuel and reaction mass in fact, since you need to slow down.

Should I break down and insert FTL or at least an exotic propulsion system to get ships up to high relativistic velocities?

edited 11th Mar '11 9:49:39 AM by Archereon

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Soldiers are a small-scale solution for small-scale problems. Colony riots, terrorist activities, et cetera. It's unsurprising that they'd be somewhat less useful against an interstellar foe.

Well, that, and they're good for capturing things. Just because you're post-scarcity doesn't mean the enemy might not have cool stuff that you want. Or even if they don't, they could still steal something important (like, say, a matter replicator due for a fledgeling colony) that you want back.
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