2016/04/28

De scripturae romanicos physicales IV

SF writing thoughts. Was basically another speculative material culture, mil-SF, and exobiology post, but I also talk about languages. So, writing post.
  • Did you know there's an exception to the rule that birds (or diapsids in general) don't pee? Ostriches. And turkey vultures (which are actually condors). A couple other birds, too—all of them from hot climates. Urinating is an excellent method of dumping heat, that's why you sometimes shiver when you pee, it works even when you'd rather it didn't.
  • In my setting (because it seems most realistic), not only are nano-bot weapons primarily actually micro-bot weapons, with the nano-bots mostly acting as a germ-warfare payload (like how you combat malaria by going after mosquitos), but the terraforming projects that would involve nano-bots actually just use the nano-bots as something like termite gut-flora, and the termites themselves are ant-sized microbots.

    Of course, in my setting, the terraforming project is an "in case we need it millennia from now" thing, not a "we already did it before ever setting foot there" thing. In terms of "terraforming", I mean, as used in science fiction; they do, of course, do various things to prep the soil, etc., for colonization. Even on planets where humans can live without habitat domes, I think they have medical nano-bot injections to help them cope with anything odd about the atmospheres involved.
  • Decided that instead of using auxiliary verbs for the causative, Zbin-Ãld reduplicates the vowels in its tense- and aspect-affixes, with a glottal stop in between—kinda like how Uto-Aztecan languages mark one of their generally two classes of plurals, except that's always the first syllable of the stem, rather than the vowel in the syllable-nucleus of both prefixes and suffixes (Zbin-Ãld uses prefixes for one and suffixes for the other, tense and aspect respectively). That might slightly increase the number of apostrophes in words, since they already insert a glottal stop between affix and stem, if the stem starts or ends with a vowel.

    It now also marks the reflexive by applying both the ergative and absolutive particles to the agent of the verb (which, yes, does effectively make an intransitive verb transitive, but causatives slot the verb they modify into the next rank, in terms of "valency", i.e. the number of "arguments" involved in a verbal predicate). The reflexive-causative is important because it's how they mark their honorific constructions; as in Nahuatl, I think that, idiomatically, the two morphologies effectively cancel each other out and rather than being a reflexive causative semantically, it's just an honorific version of a normal construction.
  • Although they use their reflexive causative for that idiom, I think they still mark other things, including the actual (semantic) reflexive causative, by auxiliary verbs (plus, I think, the subjunctive). Since "you cause yourself to do" is the honorific, to actually say "you make yourself do something", they might say something like "You forced yourself that you might do it", with "do" in the subjunctive (just a particle, in Zbin-Ãld). They also have an "I am livid that you would do that" construction, like the -teiyagaru form in Japanese, with "dare that you (might) do", and express the dubitative with "guess that you (might) do", and form polite imperatives with "I (we) request (that) you (might) do" (and a more emphatic request of "I (we) beg that you (might) do"). They probably also use that kind of construction for an inferential/renarrative mood and various other "evidential" constructions, with "it seems that you (might) do", "I hear that it (might) do", etc.

    On the other hand the desiderative (want to) and permissive (allowed to/"may") are single particles. So are two different necessitatives, one for ought to/"should" and one for has to/"must" (though for things like "I have to do my homework" they say "should"). They combine the latter necessitative particle with the subjunctive of the verb "to be", for the assumptive/deductive mood, "must be that you (might) do". They also use a single particle for a verb-mood that is probably a specific type of the speculative, which means able to/"can", and ought to be called the "poderative" (there is a verb-ending for that in Japanese but apparently it's classed as a voice, not a mood, which I don't buy). Zbin-Ãld also uses that last thing for informal requests, like how English (and Czech) say "Could you pass the mustard?" as a request between "Pass the mustard" and "Please pass the mustard"—but theirs isn't a question.
  • To inflict locust-style devastation on an area, let's say you have 40 million micro-bots (roughly the number of locusts in a square kilometer during a "swarming"). And that each is ant-sized, i.e. roughly the size of a grain of long rice, 70 cubic millimeters. Now, at the density of carbon fiber (what insect-based bots seem to usually be made of), we're talking about 25 milligrams each; 40 million of them weigh one megagram, and have a volume of 2,800 liters—which, assuming square containers, have 75% density, so really a volume of 3,733 and one-third liters.

    If you take them in something like this US military medical storage-chest, it basically takes 18 of them to contain it all, say three trips of six chests. Each of the chests weighs 19 kg; if each of the canisters containing the bots is half a liter, and there are 200 of them per chest (not sure how the dimensions of each canister would play out), well I seem to find a typical weight for a half-liter vacuum bottle of 300 grams, so figure 200 of them is another 60 kg per chest, for a total weight per filled chest of 134 and 5/9 kilograms per chest; each cartload of six of them would weigh 807 and 1/3 kilograms, which I think the biggest carts used in shelf-stocking do sometimes handle.

    The 1-megagram of micro-bot locusts can do more damage than real locusts because while a locust can eat its own weight in a day, a micro-bot is not limited by the need to digest—or being diurnal (since they're probably not solar-powered, at least at night). Locust-bots with beamed power (or that use environmental electrolytes for fuel) can probably devour three, maybe four times their weight in the course of a day, either using nano-bots inside them as something like termite gut-flora or else just using the nano-bots as an anti-personnel weapon while the micro-bots do anti-materiel damage.
  • I got to thinking, what if there were an ecosystem with no autotrophs, and the herbivore-analog survived by directly eating electrolyte salts from its environment? From that point on, the rest of the ecosystem would work like ours does, with various levels of carnivore eating the...halivore, I guess?...for its salts and whatever its tissues were made of. (Probably the salts would also get shuffled back into the environment by the decay of such organisms.) I suppose their "energy biosphere" probably wouldn't be based on carbon-fixing, so their tissues would be radically different from ours. Maybe that would be what silicon-based life would do?

    Maybe they exist in seas of molten metal or something. It also occurred to me that such an ecosystem would only be more efficient than one based on photosynthesis in a dark environment, either subterranean (see previous remarks RE: "molten metal"), or perhaps under highly pressurized oceans, on planets far from stars or even without stars ("rogue planets"). They might well have senses like radar, and almost certainly sonar; there might be wavelengths that make prey or predators show up against a background of molten metal or highly pressurized seas (though most thalassogens are, I think, opaque to radar—probably sonar and electrosensitivity would be more important to them). Then again on a Venusian type planet you'd still be able to see via EM, even though visible light would be less useful.

    It also occurred to me that "herbivore role taken by creatures that directly consume a mineral that serves as an electric power-source, while other creatures eat them to get that mineral"...is basically Cybertron's ecosystem. They're even made of inorganic substances!
  • It occurs to me that maybe the reason zledo are significantly more reptilian in terms of things like their moisture intake (and output, since they don't pee), is that their planet is not in any part of a glaciation-phase, and yet has less ocean than Earth does in an interglacial of a glaciation (we're in an Ice Age now, just not the most extreme part of it; what pop culture calls an "Ice Age" is properly termed a glacial maximum). It's drier—especially during Ice Ages—and therefore more watertight anatomies, like those of reptiles and birds, would be favored (I think their other major lineage of vertebrate-analogues, roughly analogous to reptiles if zledo are mammals, has a similar setup).

    Presumably during its glaciation phases Lhãsai is outright scary dry; it's also colder than Earth even when it's not in a glaciation phase so when it is in one, presumably it approaches Karoo Ice Age levels of severity (but not, quite, "Snowball Earth", Cryogenian Ice Age levels). Zledo are stronger and faster than humans, yet intelligent, because everything else in their biosphere is bigger and scarier than Earth-life (as I've said, they're somewhere between Oligocene/Pleistocene and full-blown Mesozoic on the "everything is huge and scary" scale). And the reason everything else in their biosphere is stronger, faster, and just generally huge and scary, is that their planet is scarier than Earth is.
  • I like the idea of reporting names, so I decided that under ordinary circumstances, zledo and humans refer to each other's military hardware by code-names, since they may not always know the actual name of something an alien made—or be able to pronounce it. Zledo call human stuff by random names, like "Shower" and "Gown", like how we call Russian fighters things like "Faceplate", "Fargo", and "Fulcrum" and their cargo-planes "Condor", "Cossack", and "Crusty".

    I had had the UN call zled hardware by the names of mythical beasts, but that was a bit too like Halo, where all Covenant vehicles except Scarabs, Locusts, Choppers, and Prowlers are named for undead beings. So instead, I decided to name them all poisonous plants. They use e.g. "Monkshood" for one type of zled mothership and "Mancenillier", French for manchineel, for another one. The others are sometimes in English and sometimes in one of the other UN official languages (none in Spanish, because it's hard to find the Spanish common names of plants, Spanish Wikipedia doesn't have most of them).

    I fudge on one because even though the words are supposed to start with S, I actually used Sh—the Arabic word for "hemlock", Shûkran. But in Arabic, the Sh is written as S with a diacritic mark (ش is س with three extra dots). I made sure that the other one I named with S actually started with S ("Sokírki", the Russian word for larkspur), since Ш and С are not variants of the same letter.