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Literature / Eldraeverse

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In another universe, in a galaxy strangely similar to our own, there’s a bubble of space a couple of thousand light-years across – somewhat distorted by bumping into the edges of the galactic disk to acme and nadir – filled with millions of stars, bound together by an ever-expanding spiderweb of manufactured wormholes, and bright with the EM babble of civilized life.

These are the Associated Worlds, sprawling myriad species, polities, philosophies, corporations, clades, and cultures. From the hypercivilized Powers at their heart – the Empire of the Star, self-proclaimed jewel of the galaxy; the Photonic Network, by, for, and of digital intelligences; the Voniensa Republic, standing up for the natural sophont in a galaxy leaving them behind; and more – to the brawling colonies of the Periphery and Beyond, trillions of lives are lived, each with its own story to be told.

These are some of them.

The Eldraeverse is a Transhuman Space Opera setting rooted in Hard Science Fiction, developed by Alistair Young. It currently comprises three books of short/nanofiction:

  • Vignettes of the Star Empire: Tales of the Associated Worlds I (2012)
  • The Core War and Other Stories: Tales of the Associated Worlds II (2015)
  • Darkness Within and Other Stories: Tales of the Associated Worlds III (2019)

With more promised to follow, along with ongoing nanofiction and other articles posted regularly to the author's website.

The Eldraeverse contains examples of:

  • Abusing the Kardashev Scale for Fun and Profit: The Empire has two Dyson Spheres, one of them solely for power generation, making it a solid Type II.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Most A.I.s are fairly safe. Seed A.I.s, on the other hand - well, making gods is about as safe as you might expect.
  • Alien Blood: Eldrae have indigo blood, due to their biology incorporating aspects from their homeworld's native "bluelife" (including using its oxygen-transporting catalysts in place of hemoglobin) - so named for the colors of both its plants and animals' blood - in contrast to the Terran greenlife and nanotechnological silverlife.
  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: Averted by the Empire and most of its citizen-shareholders. There's actually a "Speculativism Index" for rough estimates of how easy it would be to sell uncontacted planets stuff based on their science-fiction. The Voniensa Republic plays it straight, though.
  • Alternative Calendar: Mentioned by name in the Trope-a-Day series, and expanded on in later entries. Imperial Standard Time is based around the homeworld's day of ~26 Earth hours and year of 333.3 local days, with other planets having local calendars based on their own orbital and rotational parameters.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: Ontotechnology, which as hyper-advanced technology designed to bend the laws of physics on demand is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Rather more of it than natural intelligence.
  • The Beautiful Elite: Thanks to millennia of genetic engineering and other transhuman enhancement, all the Imperials qualify.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Eldrae ethics is incredibly propertarian (considering property metaphysically part of its owner), preoccupied with balance and obligation, worships cold-minded rationality, considers pride a virtue (though hubris is still considered a vice and understanding the difference is critical), and is individualist enough to utterly fail to understand why anyone might consider 'peer pressure' or 'community consensus' a thing at all. Naturally, this produces, ah, distinctively inhuman results.
  • Body Backup Drive: Common enough to be standard operating procedure among the more advanced polities of the Associated Worlds, the Empire among them.
  • Brain/Computer Interface: Pretty much every eldrae has one, and it allows them to interface with almost everything in the world around them almost unconsciously. They work so well that everyone takes them for granted, but breakdowns, while rare, can be rather inconvenient.
  • Brain Uploading: The eldrae are capable not only of uploading their personalities to a cybernetic plane, but also of allowing those personality "forks" to learn and record memories independently, with the forked personality eventually being reintegrated into the original to allow it to benefit.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Many greenlife species are referred to by their Eldraeic names: dogs (bandal), cetaceans (ííche), octopi (cúlno), ravens (vorac), and rats (célmek), although they, and some others, are also referred to by their English names. Uplifted versions of several of these species prefix (dar-) to their Eldraeic names, from the word daráv, meaning sophont, or person.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: Eventually - the stargates do give you this, but getting them emplaced in the first place is anything but casual.
  • Crapsack Only by Comparison: Strictly speaking, the Voniensa Republic isn't all that bad, and would almost be a Utopia by Earth standards - for most unmodified organic species. It's just that, next to the Empire's extravagant prosperity, its own claims of superiority are starting to ring a little hollow.
  • Death World: Paltraeth is currently a desert world with an unusually radioactive sun, alkaline seas, and high heavy metals. Despite all that the native kaeth consider its current environment an improvement over the brutal jungles it had before the asteroid impact.
  • Defictionalization: In-universe examples: A quadrillionaire funded the creation of three entire species based on races from an MMO. And an NPC from another MMO managed to escape his virtual reality and effected a coup on an actual planet.
  • Democracy Is Bad: The Empire considers representative democracy to simply be another form of tyranny. Instead Imperial Senators are appointed by sortition, though there are polities within the Empire run by direct democracy.
  • Deus est Machina: Seed A.I.s in general. With a special nod here to the Eldraeic Transcend, which not only concluded that wearing the existing mythological pantheon as a hat made for a good user interface, but may actually have been responsible for creating the myths in the first place, millennia before it was built.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The Empire's policy towards those who would violate the rights of their citizen-shareholders. In one story, an Imperial scholar was visiting a non-Imperial world and was kidnapped by a separatist faction, the Empire's embassy responded by bombarding the village where he was being held from orbit and restoring him from backup.
  • The Dreaded: House Sargas has produced a fair number over the course of history, what with their genetic predisposition towards sociopathy and traditional means of channeling it, but Admiral Caliéne "The Worldburner" Sargas is one of the more notable for deploying the strangelet bomb that destroyed Litash.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The Burning of Litash, when the Empire tested a strangelet bomb on a planet whose economy was based around piracy and slaving. The bomb left a thousand-mile wide crater, incinerated the entire planetary ecosphere, and directly caused some drastic amendments to the Conclave of Galactic Polities' accords concerning the use of weapons of mass destruction. Just as Planned.
  • Expendable Clone: Played with. Splitting personality forks and partial personality copies across bodies and using different physical shells for dangerous work is a common practice, but they technically aren't "clones" — just different states of the same person in different bodies — and they generally know exactly what they're getting into, since they share the original person's memories and drives.
  • The Fair Folk: The setting is science fiction rather than fantasy, but it's uncanny how the author's depiction of the eldrae aligns so well with the traditional depiction of fairies as ethereally glamorous beings obsessed with contracts and obligations who operate according to an inscrutable and sometimes ruthless moral code.
  • Fantastic Legal Weirdness: A small but substantial collection of vignettes is dedicated to examining exactly how law and order work in a Society of Immortals where death as we know it has become more of an inconvenience than a finality.
  • The Federation: A darkly shaded version; the Voniensa Republic, which resembles the United Federation of Planets viewed through very cynical eyes, although more good intentions Gone Horribly Wrong than a People's Republic of Tyranny.
  • Fictional United Nations: The Accord/Conclave of Galactic Polities. Functional when it comes to matters of technical infrastructure; laughable when it comes to actually attempting to govern. Just as planned.
  • Floating Continent: The world of Sialhaith is known for building massive, elaborate aerostatic cities where the buoyant volume also pulls double duty as the city's breathable atmosphere.
  • For Science!: The Imperial scientific establishment does recognize the ethical significance of consent. It doesn't recognize the ethical significance of anything else that might stand in the way of SCIENCE!, however. Knowledge and progress are eo ipso goods and moral imperatives, don't you know, and damn the Potential Applications!
  • Generican Empire: The Associated Worlds is a deliberate example, the members being unable to agree on anything less generic.
  • Generic Federation, Named Empire: The Accord might not all be "good guys", but the Voniensa Republic is not a member and a significant motivator for polities to join the Accord.
  • Galactic Superpower: The Empire of the Star in terms of overwhelming technological superiority. While the Voniensa Republic has eight thousand systems in contrast to the hundreds of the Empire (the entire Accord is slightly larger than the Republic but much less unified), but their tech doesn't measure up: for example, they only have stargates because they found a Precursor weylforge.
  • Godzilla Threshold: While Imperial military policy generally tries to wield its force like a scalpel rather than a bludgeon, they do have a variety of contingency plans for various existential threats, most of which involve throwing around things like star-killing nova bombs and weaponized strangelets on the basis that they may be the only options available to stop something even worse.
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe: While eldrae skin tone most commonly varies between cream and copper, there is a small minority with skin translucent enough to qualify as “blue-skinned space babes”. Having blue blood, and all.
  • Heart Drive: The vector stack, which functions more or less identically to the cortical stack from the Takeshi Kovacs series — a black box that records and stores your memories and personality, specifically designed to survive anything that destroys the rest of you and allow you to be restored in a new body.
  • Hegemonic Empire: The Empire of the Star, having decided a very long time ago that traditional empire-building only worked well when you could persuade people that they wanted to be Imperials, and if you could do that successfully, then conquering them was pretty much superfluous.
  • Hive Mind: The Eldraeic Transcend, although it's very clear that it isn't a hive mind, it's a collective consciousness, or a group intellect, in which everyone retains their own individuality and personality as well as contributing to the whole and it certainly doesn't treat its constitutionals as drones. It's a coordinating superstructure, not a borganism. More classical Hive Minds do exist in the setting, but most of those present in the Empire (where they're known as "fusions") are entirely voluntary constructs.
  • Humanoid Aliens: The eldrae, who are fundamentally hominins, if heavily-and-on-multiple-occasions engineered 7' tall ones with Pointy Ears. This being relatively hard SF, this means that they are (very) distant cousins of humanity.
  • Humans Are Divided: Inasmuch as eldrae are like humans, there are several eldrae polities outside the Empire. Most other non-starbound sophonts are similarly divided, and contrariwise, most polities contain multiple kinds of sophont thanks to immigration and assimilation. For example: it's mentioned that there are some kalatri colonies that are independent of the Republic, and there are sefir in the Equality Concord, the League of Meridian and the Empire, and probably elsewhere.
  • Immortality: The eldrae and galari are The Ageless, naturally, and with the help of Transhuman engineering, just about everyone can have a Body Backup Drive, via Brain Uploading. They're working hard on selling both of these to everyone else in the universe, too.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet: Earth isn't even known to the universe, although it's out there somewhere.
  • Just a Machine: Averted. Very strongly. Usually with railguns.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: For the most part, yes. Energy weapons do exist, for various specialized purposes, but the majority of guns from handgun to ortillery sized are kinetic Magnetic Weapons.
  • Libertarians IN SPACE!: Examined. The central setting, the Empire of the Star, is portrayed as a libertarian Utopia, where respect for liberty and personal choice is balanced by an admirably cheerful general attitude of voluntary civic-mindedness. On the other hand, it's mentioned that there are plenty of outliers outside Imperial space where a narrow, dog-eat-dog interpretation of self-interest a la the Crazy Survivalist is practiced; it's implied that these are not nice places to live at all, especially if you can't afford decent protection services. Subverted somewhat in that the modal Imperial is not so likely to criticize these other places as greedy, but rather to rail at them for doing greed wrong.
  • Liberty Over Prosperity: Mostly averted; the cashy money tends to belong to the Libertarians IN SPACE! - but not all the examples of Libertarians IN SPACE!.
  • Literal Genie: In an in-universe children's story a young couple tells an "Unwise GenAI" that all they want is to live happily ever after together, so it sticks them in time-frozen orbit over a black hole.
  • Machine Worship: It's complicated. The eldrae worship the eikones (roughly, divine manifestations of virtuous archetypes) that manifest in their Transcend, but they coded those into the system in the first place — although some suspect in-universe that the eikones somehow inspired the prior faith's creation to guarantee their own in the future. Both the eldrae and their eikones would probably take some umbrage at the term "worship" in this context, however: that implies rather more subservience than any Imperial would be comfortable being accused of.
  • Matter Replicator: The ubiquitous - in the Empire and other bits of the Core Economic Zone - nanoforge, cornucopia machine, and/or autofac, which use nanofabrication mixed with automated versions of traditional manufacturing techniques to make just about anything that can be made out of traditional matter that you have a recipe for. And unless it's still under copyright, for not much more than the cost of the raw materials and the energy input.
  • The Men in Black: The Fifth Directorate, which deals with all those inconvenient existential threats that most people aren't supposed to know even exist.
  • Mind Hive: Most people qualify as a mild form of this, as running a personal assistant AI ("muse") on the computer in your head is commonplace, as is letting it run your body while you're busy elsewhere. And constitutionals of the Eldraeic Transcend have its soul-shard running in their head, too.
  • Multiple Government Polity: The Empire of the Star contains several polities of different types, including direct democracies and corporate states, though not representative democracies as they decided long ago that it was a bad idea.
  • No Poverty: Played straight in the Empire and other bits of the Core Economic Zone, thanks to the Matter Replicator and ensuing post-material-scarcity. Taken remarkably casually, too, because so far as most people living there are concerned, it is the natural state of affairs. Scarcity economies are the weird, unnatural things.
  • No Transhumanism Allowed: In contrast to the Empire, the Voniensa Republic seems to view things like cybernetic augmentation, Brain Uploading, true artificial intelligence, and their ilk as unnatural and frightening.
  • One Nation Under Copyright:
    • The reason that the Empire's citizens are referred to as citizen-shareholders. Back in the dim and distant past, it grew out of a merger of anarchist-style private law providers (a Privately Owned Society).
    • The Magen Corporate is a more blatantly dystopian corporate state founded by Renegades from the Empire, non-shareholders are treated as literal corporate assets.
  • Orion Drive: Most of the Empire's original space program was powered by Orion drives - the desert they launched from is still glowing - and they're still a popular design choice. Played even harder by the Flapjack-class Drop Ship, which is a double-ended Orion Drive one end of which doubles as a nuclear daisy-cutter.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The particular Precursor species believed to have created the eldrae, the trakelpanis trakóras amán or "Great Drakes", seem to have been partially silicon-based 500 foot tall scaly beasts with reality-warping tech and a bad case of solipsism, leading to the internecine wars that wiped them out.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Averted, the Empire's mainstream religion follows a pantheon of Gods who find groveling insulting and act as examples for their followers.
  • Pieces of God: Non-supernatural example; the Empire's local Deus est Machina is built on top of the local Hive Mind, and so every one of the Transcend's constitutionals is arguably one of its subroutines.
  • Precursors: The Eldrae homeworld is riddled with artifacts of their extremely advanced creators. In fact, the entire homeworld is a giant Precursor artifact.
  • Privateer: One of the "nanofics" collected in The Core War and Other Stories is a letter of marque issued by the Empire of the Star, followed by a brief commentary on the armed merchant ship to whom that specific letter had been issued to.
  • Pro-Human Transhuman: Not exactly pro-human, per se (since there are no humans in the setting), but the eldrae clearly view self-augmentation in a very positive light, to the point that much of Imperial society is built around the fact that everyone who's anyone already has a computer chip in their head.
  • Psychic Powers: Technological imitations at least. The Precursors genetically engineered eldrae brains for Electronic Telepathy and injected them with self-replicating vector-control effectors for psychokinesis.
  • Purpose-Driven Immortality: A key aspect of eldraeic society is something they call qalasír, roughly glossed as "purpose" or "leaving one's stamp on the Universe" with overtones of Friedrich Nietzsche's "will to power." An individual is expected to have high-minded, grandiose ambitions and devote themselves to seeing it fulfilled, regardless of cost.
  • Raygun Gothic: The default Imperial aesthetic, with just a hint of Crystal Spires and Togas.
  • Resurrective Immortality: Thanks to the ubiquity of Brain Uploading, coming back from the dead is no more difficult than copying the most recently updated version of your personality into a new body. You'll be none the worse for the wear, except maybe some incidental amnesia — and not even that, if they recovered your vector stack.
  • Scale of Scientific Sins: Absolutely all of them. The Imperial research establishment considers this sort of thing a to-do list.
  • Science Is Bad: Believed by a few minority factions to one degree or another; widely and publicly mocked by everyone else. The Empire, in particular, has lots of people willing to sneer "bigoted, barbaric, knowledge-resenting, knuckle-dragging primitives", etc., etc., with only a moment's provocation.
  • Scrapbook Story: Much of the fiction in the series consists of excerpts from news articles, transmission logs, transcripts, internal memos, and other works written in-universe.
  • Shout-Out: During the Core War a gunner fired a mass driver without waiting for a targeting solution, hitting an iron-age planet. "That is why you wait for a targeting solution."
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Played straight at both ends. The greater galaxy is a cynical place - in the sense that the universe, well, just doesn't care, and thus is cynical in the same way Real Life is. This state of affairs, however, greatly irritated the Empire's founders and set them on a course towards building an extremely idealistic polity (a exceptionally shiny and idealistic Utopia of wealth, freedom, the complete absence of death, disease, poverty, crime, war, or anything else that might disturb the serenity of the average citizen-shareholder; a place where everyone can trust and be trusted, people always care, and happy endings always happen for good people) that's determined to impose the reality of extreme idealism on absolutely everyone up to and including physical reality itself.
  • Socially Scored Society: The Empire of the Star has multiple reputation networks, your scores on which can affect the price you pay at vendors, job prospects, and in at least one case if you accumulate a low enough score an organization will pay you to leave the empire. The author doesn't subscribe to all the implications of the trope - see an extended discussion here.
  • Space Cold War: Going on between the hyperlibertarian, hyper-trans"human"ist Empire and the more traditionally statist Voniensa Republic. The narrative thus far has dropped subtle hints that the Republic is losing.
    • There have been some "hot" border wars in the past; and the Core War details another "hot" war when the Republic suddenly sends a battle fleet into Associated Worlds' space with no explanation. They were trying to seize what they thought was the Empire's source of wormholes; it ends up not only failing but seriously destabilizing the Republic's economy.
  • Space Elves: Baseline eldrae are seven to eight feet tall with pointed ears and don't die of old age. The author's website outright admits it.
  • Space Fighter: Averted, at least in the traditional sense. There are spacecraft called "space fighters" in the setting, but they do not look or act like fighter planes— they essentially serve as mobile launch batteries for autonomous Attack Drones.
  • Space Opera: Albeit the "New Space Opera" kind. There's a strong focus on hard science underpinning the whole thing, but the author seeks to present a vast, expansive, somewhat idealistic Adventure-Friendly World within those constraints.
  • Space People: About three-fifths of everyone in the modern Empire. Depending on where you draw the line between a habitat that is an asteroid and a dome that's on an asteroid.
  • Technology Uplift: The Empire engages in a great deal of uplifting primitive cultures, both officially, with at least one corporation based on providing uplift services, and unofficially, such as opening a "Rent-a-Thought" franchise in their embassy on a planet whose government restricts off-world tech and encouraging the natives to visit.
  • Telepathy: Technically, no. Organic wireless networking, on the other hand...
  • Transhumanism : And lots of it in advanced polities, to the point that anything resembling a baseline is an endangered species. Necessarily so, since without higher than baseline intelligence, you can't invent quite a lot of the goodies that define "advanced polities".
  • Uncoffee: Esklav, the general eldraic caffeinated beverage of choice. Has some traits in common with both coffee and chocolate.
  • Uplifted Animal: In several varieties, most prominently the dar-bandal - uplifted canines, but also mentioned are cetaceans, corvids, octopodes, rat swarms (rather than individual rats), and at least one outright alien species.
  • Utopia: The Empire tries hard to be one, or at least an asymptotic approach to one, but is quite self-aware about being a Utopia for the sort of people who think the way that Imperials think people ought to think, and less so for people who don't.
  • Worldbuilding: Lots of it, with quite a few explanatory articles mixed in with the fiction on the author's blog. Also an example of TV Tropes Will Enhance Your Life, as this site is used extensively as a world-building tool in the trope-a-day series.