Technology in Revelation Space

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This article lists elements of technology in the fictional Revelation Space universe created by Alastair Reynolds.

Abstraction and entoptics[edit]

Abstraction is the process by which humans with neural implants gain access to wireless data networks, the data rate of which is far beyond anything current technology can offer. The most essential feature of abstraction was political participation in the Demarchy's absolute democracy through near-constant polling. Regardless of a given habitat or citizen's views on implants or abstraction, participation in the polling process was nearly universal. The term "abstraction" itself refers interchangeably to both the ubiquitous wireless computing networks embedded in and controlling most advanced technology, as well as to the human participation in these networks. In The Prefect, for example, automated robots are remote-governed via abstraction, while citizens also use abstraction to engage in esoteric virtual realities and participate democratically.

Entoptics are another feature of abstraction technology and consist of various visual layers interpolated into human sight at some point between the viewer's cornea and visual cortex. These effects can either be created by a single person (e.g., the projection of the appearance of clothing, glowing tattoos, etc.) or an authority (e.g., public visual displays "projected" into mid-air without the use of any actual display devices). While some forms of abstraction, especially those in use during the Belle Epoque, were profoundly immersive and based on wireless networking between sophisticated brain implants and local computer architecture, entoptics by themselves could be technologically quite simple, with convincing visual phantoms being produced solely within ordinary ocular implants, or artificial eyes. The Conjoiners developed the first Entoptics early in their history, used in "Great Wall of Mars". By the time of The Prefect, much of humanity was engaged in abstraction in some form. Most of the characters in Reynolds' novels participate in abstraction through the use of neural implants, though after the advent of the Melding Plague, when complex cybernetics became liable to dangerous infections, many characters choose simply to use entoptics without engaging in the more intimate forms abstraction could take. Others, such as the Prefects of Panoply, a police force charged with defending the universal enfranchisement championed by Demarchists, are explicitly denied access to abstraction implants as part of their job, in order to foreclose potential avenues for the manipulation or obstruction of justice. Instead, Prefects carry with them simple pairs of goggles which simulate entoptics for use in situations where they need to be privy to activity within local abstraction, without having it broadcast immediately into their nervous systems.

Cache Weapons[edit]

The Cache Weapons, also known as "Hell Class" weapons, first appeared in Revelation Space but were built by the Conjoiners some time before the events when that novel begins. The weapons were built based on information believed to have been received from the future via the project Exordium. Concerns about the source of information and the power of the weapons lead the Conjoiners to destroy the knowledge necessary to build additional weapons shortly after construction was completed, and though carefully hidden, they were eventually recovered by a crew of Ultras some years before the events in Revelation Space. Only forty cache weapons were created, and though Clavain and Remontoire speculated on creating more by reverse-engineering the technology, this never occurs in the novels.

The weapons are possessed of intelligence at least the level of a gamma level simulation. Sizes vary, but all are approximately sixty to seventy meters long and bronze/green in appearance. The weapons are self-contained (save for targeting data) and self-propelled, with at least an interplanetary range. After being deployed outside the hull of their carrier vessel, their own engines move them to a safe distance while acquiring a target. In the novels it is not entirely clear the degree of independent thought that each weapon is capable of, nor is the degree of security in remote control entirely known. They seem, however, to be fundamentally able to make their own choices about whether or not to fire and whom to target, being able to override the pacification codes the Conjoiners programmed into them (Cache Weapon Seventeen, given its Gamma-level personality, was only ever convinced to fire, no other cache weapon was listed)

The power and nature of the weapons varies, and is not fully understood in all cases. The smallest of the weapons seem to have been considerably more powerful than conventional space-borne weapons, and at least one is deemed capable of destroying a planet-sized object from a distance exceeding 100 AU. It is suggested that some of the weapons can have negative effects upon stellar bodies. Their level of sophistication differs widely—the most basic cache weapons appear to be radical extensions of otherwise conventional principles, such as relativistic projectile weapons with antimatter or neutronium ammunition and gamma-ray lasers. Others, however, make use of gravity wave effects and other complex phenomena, with certain weapons even containing microscopic black holes. Once a weapon is programmed to fire, the process cannot be stopped by any method short of destroying it. Some of the weapons appear to be single use, including some deployed in the novel Absolution Gap (in several cases this is because the weapon destroys itself when firing), while others are at least theoretically capable of being reloaded, though this is never attempted.

Conjoiner Drive[edit]

Conjoiner drives are starship engines that use quantum mechanics to propel starships up to relativistic speeds, giving such ships the name "lighthuggers". It is at one point said that Conjoiner drives contain a small wormhole linked to the very deep past, through which they draw their propulsion energies from the Quark–gluon plasma created by the Big Bang. In Redemption Ark, their design is implicated as attracting the Inhibitors, and subsequently modified after a 100-year suspension of their production (referred to in Revelation Space). The Conjoiners did not actually invent the drive themselves, but received the instructions for it via the Exordium.

A small part of the workings of the drives is revealed in Galactic North. The drive has six manual control dials that allow the power of the drive to be varied. As the drive power is increased, so does the risk of an uncontrolled, ship destroying explosion. Lighthuggers mount a pair of Conjoiner drives, both of which are controlled by a disembodied Conjoiner brain that performs rapid calculations to control the internal drive reactions. If the turbulence within the drive exceeds the ability of the brain, the drive will explode. The drive is also designed to explode if non-Conjoiners attempt to open it for reverse engineering, or if the gap between two drives on the same ship grows too large. This occurs because the Conjoiner brain is housed within one of the engines and controls the other remotely; once the other drive passes out of the brain's control, the internal reactions quickly spiral out of control.

Cryo-arithmetic engines[edit]

Cryo-arithmetic engines are a specific class of quantum computer discovered by the Conjoiners. When certain algorithms are executed on processors of this architecture, it leads to a local violation of the Second law of thermodynamics: the computer gets colder instead of hotter. Consequently, cryo-arithmetic engines have massive industrial (as opposed to computational) ramifications for Conjoiner manufacturing; such engines abound in Conjoiner asteroid factories, where their calculations can drain away the heat of starship construction.

Cryo-arithmetic engines are also used by the Conjoiner's modern 'stealthed' lighthuggers; they cool the exterior of the ship to the temperature of ambient space, making the starships difficult for the Inhibitors (or other foes) to detect.

Like many of the technologies in the Revelation Space universe, the cryo-arithmetic engines can have potentially catastrophic consequences in the event of an accident. In Absolution Gap, Skade's ship crashes in the ocean of the planet Ararat, and the cryo-arithmetic engines malfunction. Their control systems fail, and so they get colder. Getting colder enables them to calculate faster, prompting a positive feedback loop. By the time the inhabitants of Ararat find the wreck, Skade's ship is encased in an ever-expanding iceberg.

Exordium[edit]

Exordium is a method of communication, wherein its participants create a "tunnel" or link through spacetime to exchange knowledge across temporal loci. The Many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is assumed, and allows participants to form neural links with their past, future, and alternate selves via the instigation of quantum superposition states in their neural implants. Galiana and Skade use this system to obtain and modify inertial suppression technology and take various precautionary actions to eliminate the existential threat of the Inhibitors.

One limitation of the technology appears to be the total informational capacity of the superposition states—each instance of communication makes subsequent attempts more difficult in an effect described similarly to the build-up of static interference. It is unknown whether this limitation holds only for each individual repeat participant (which seems more likely) or for the entire process independent of the participants. Also never explicitly stated is the exact effect of the process' acausal nature, though it is implied that it cannot be used to directly violate causality. Instead, each use of the Exordium creates a new timeline in which the message is received. The original timeline in which the message was sent continues as before.[1]

A similar system to the Exordium is used in Chasm City by the race known as "grubs" to achieve faster-than light communication. It does this by grouping all messages ever sent into a massive far-future archive (known as "Galactic Final Memory") and sending them back to their recipients. It uses the local gravitational background as a key, making it impossible for other recipients to read the messages and gives the device a "range" of a few thousand light years. This also means, however, that the technology cannot be used to send information to other times. It also appears affected by the interference effect which damages the Exordium.

Hypometric weapon[edit]

The hypometric weapon is an alien weapon, manufactured using technology acquired from the huge reservoir of alien knowledge stored inside an enormous distributed computer system disguised as neutron stars and (possibly) other astronomical objects. Hypometric weaponry is said to be highly advanced, usually discovered only by races after one or two million years of spacefaring civilization.

The author does not explain exactly what the weapon looks like or how it works, although it is described as being seen as "a threshing machine", with tolerances measured on the atomic level. Due to the high velocity of its rotating physical parts a slight miscalculation in construction will almost certainly destroy whatever vessel it is contained in. It is described repeatedly as "wrong" by characters who have had close exposure to it. This is possibly due to the ambient spacetime irregularities generated by the weapon's operation. The weapon appears to simply eliminate areas of space from existence, leaving gaping holes in whatever it is attacking. It is described as "weakly acausal" in its mechanism of operation.

Though the full extent of the weapon's power is not explored, its area of effect is large enough that it is useful in space warfare and can also be contracted to an area small enough to take out a section of a man's stomach without causing collateral damage. However, it is also implied that this degree of accuracy is not something often achieved, and that the weapon is usually difficult to use with any degree of precision, to the extent of being dangerous to the users themselves. Users of hypometric weapons find that it is difficult to gauge their effectiveness in terms of "range" or "accuracy", as these characteristics are subject to change.[2] The weapon is apparently capable of affecting targets out of its line of sight, or even through solid walls, and has a volume of effect of up to several light-hours. The Inhibitors can eventually adapt to its effect, although the novel suggests this is a local response and not a galactic response (i.e., using the weapon in one solar system does not automatically generate the defenses in the next).

Inertia Suppression[edit]

In Redemption Ark, Skade and Clavain independently encounter technology captured by the Mademoiselle, that permits the alteration of a ship's inertial mass in order to permit high-g acceleration for interstellar travel. It works by suppressing fluctuations and turmoil in quantum foam that supposedly causes momentum and inertia (similar to the concept of Higgs Bosons). It is also mentioned in that the technology may have been linked to the alien tower (in Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days). Skade tries to modify the technology with the help of Exordium to allow faster than light travel, via a state transition from tardyonic to tachyonic, but her efforts are spectacularly unsuccessful, and the technology itself has the side effect of removing individuals caught in the transition bubbles from all recent history, as well as crippling her ship. Only those very close to the area of effect remember a person who is erased or unravelled backwards in time and recorded history indicates a much earlier death of that person. Because the victims (the deleted and nearby observers) are the only thing that remain from the time line where the victims began, people suddenly panicking and searching for a 'colleague' who died years before (in the new timeframe) can be the only sign of an accident. This happens at least twice in the novels. The Inhibitors make reference to a similar effect erasing entire species from history. As such, neither they nor any other species in the galaxy with the technology to build inertia suppressing drives ever use them to travel faster than light.

Lighthugger[edit]

Lighthuggers are spacecraft that travel at just below the speed of light, taking months or years to accelerate to their cruising speed. Although capable of extremely powerful bursts of acceleration, when in transit between stellar systems lighthuggers typically sustain an acceleration of 1 g which would enable them to reach 99% of the speed of light in about 1 earth year.

Generally 3–4 km long, they use Conjoiner drives for propulsion, and are also coated with a thick caul of ice that protects against minor impacts at relativistic velocities and acts as armour against the attacks of other ships. The great size of the lighthuggers enables them to carry vast numbers of passengers and huge amounts of cargo. At the end of Redemption Ark this is demonstrated by Ana Khouri and Triumvir Ilia Volyova as they load approximately 160,000 of the almost 200,000 on the world Resurgam onto the Nostalgia for Infinity.

Lighthuggers are also described as having a limited repair and redesign capability in the novels. They are capable of moving rooms or machinery around within their hulls, or stripping material from one point to repair another. At least some are also equipped with "manufactories", which can build a considerable range of devices, given the relevant specifications (the full extent of their capabilities is unknown as they are only ever used in the novels to produce weapons). These ships were also quite powerful, by the standards of most science-fiction. Their small, point-defence weapons (ostensibly defensive in nature) were capable of drilling a 200 kilometre crater in a planet and disrupting weather formations in a fashion similar to a large geological event, such as an asteroid impact or volcanic eruption.

Most lighthuggers are owned or ruled by their crew of Ultranauts, who, because of their long stretches in reefersleep and constant hopping from one star system to another are mostly divorced from baseline humanity. They are characterized by extreme modifications, often in the form of replacement or mechanical limbs or even holes right through them (as seen in Chasm City).

By the end of the sequence, there exists a fleet of lighthuggers that have been upgraded or built from scratch by the Conjoined and other elements fighting the Inhibitors. These ships are far more advanced than the average lighthugger, and are equipped with stealthed drives that do not emit in any detectable spectrum, "cryo-arithmetic engines" which cool the hull to make it nearly indistinguishable — in thermal terms — from empty space, inertia suppression machinery that allows extremely fast acceleration and deceleration, and extremely heavy armaments, including hypometric weaponry.

Melding Plague[edit]

The Melding Plague is a nanotech virus that attacks anything that has nanotechnology present within it and does not discriminate between organic and synthetic structures. It attempts to hybridise or meld the nanomachines and nanotechnological cybernetics that are commonly present in the bodies of humans with the biological structure of their tissues at a subcellular level. This results in horrific, uncontrolled, and invariably fatal modifications to the infected body.

The most extreme example of a Plague outbreak is encountered in the novel Chasm City, in which the titular Chasm City, the capital of Yellowstone, has been infected by the Plague. Once the centre of Demarchist culture during the high Belle Epoque (a Renaissance-like period of social and technological flowering), most of the built environment and its inhabitants were embedded with sophisticated programmable nanocybernetics. The coming of the Plague changed all this and reduced the City and its inhabitants to a level of technological simplicity that the Plague could not infect. By the time that the worst of the Plague had passed, the City was almost unrecognisable, its towering skyline twisted and deformed by its own autonomic self-repair systems, and the population devastated by the Plague. The Glitter Band, an artificial ring of ten thousand intricately choreographed orbiting habitats, home to a hundred million people, had been reduced to a scarcely habitable Rust Belt. The only survivors were those that had taken steps to remove their implants or who hadn't had them to begin with, although some extremely wealthy individuals could afford "palanquins" — hermetically-sealed mobile robotic capsules that filter out Plague spores. Others used "dream fuel"—an alien drug that counteracted the Plague. In Revelation Space Ilia Volyova had developed a virus which could apparently counteract the Plague, but the infected individual she attempted to cure with it had already been inoculated against her strain in an attempt to foil her cure.

By the time the events of Redemption Ark took place, the Plague was seen as less of a threat, though it was still considered dangerous. The Conjoiners in particular, being one of the only factions to have been relatively unaffected by the Plague, were adept at dealing with its various strains. This is demonstrated in a scene in Redemption Ark in which Galiana's lighthugger is brought into the Mother Nest of Epsilon Eridani. Conjoiner quarantine techniques include large amounts of complexly interlocking ceramic armour (amongst other things), which the Plague apparently cannot infect or penetrate. Later, Clavain is shown to be unworried about infection, maintaining his Conjoiner implants even while aboard the Plague-infested Nostalgia for Infinity. Other Conjoiners hold similar sentiments, including Remontoire and his soldiers (who install advanced weaponry on the Nostalgia for Infinity). The Conjoiners and Ultranauts are the only factions who continue to use their implants during the time of the Plague, because their relative isolation from other human societies greatly simplifies quarantine.

Nonvelope[edit]

As mentioned in The Prefect, a nonvelope is a semi-autonomous container made with quickmatter, which renders that which it envelopes all but invisible.

Quickmatter[edit]

A substance used by the Demarchists in The Prefect, it appears as a general purpose building material, as well as serving numerous other functions. As its name implies, it is capable of changing form. It was susceptible to the Melding Plague and was destroyed by it.

Whiphounds[edit]

Whiphounds are weapons used by Prefects in The Prefect, and function as multi-purpose electronic whips. When activated they extend a long metal whip which can be made rigid in order to use as a sword. The whip has an active cutting edge which, when fully powered, can cut through most solid matter. It has numerous modes, acting as a whip, sword, grenade and "enhanced suspect compliance," a controversial mode acting as a form of torture and interrogation device. They are controlled by verbal commands from their users, although Conjoiners can override these using their implants. Whiphounds are notable in that they are the only weapons Prefects are permitted to carry unless an emergency vote by the entire Glitter Band permits them to carry heavier weaponry in times of crisis.

Simulations[edit]

Alpha-level[edit]

A complete, functioning copy of a mind, fully capable of learning and developing inside its host computer system. Despite the process of creating an alpha-level simulation resulting in the complete destruction of the neural structure of the mind copied, eighty (referred to as The Eighty) of those hyper-wealthy enough to afford the hugely expensive computer systems required to host the alpha-level copy volunteered for the first round of transfers, considering it a minor price for effective immortality inside the machines. Unfortunately, a problem with the transfers resulted in the minds being corrupted in a matter of weeks, perhaps due to the uncertainty principle, becoming irreparably insane (although at least two survived). Later technology was far more effective, creating perfectly sane simulations without killing the scanned individual (although large amounts of medical equipment were still necessary to survive the scan). Rushed scans often failed and produced useless simulations.

Beta-level[edit]

A poor cousin to an alpha-level simulation, a beta-level is based on modeling the behavioural patterns of the person copied, attempting to predict their reactions to a given stimulus. They are apparently non-sentient, only capable of offering the illusion of being otherwise (similar to the Chinese room notion), but not everybody in the novels agrees with this, particularly in The Prefect. Most beta-level simulations are used in an advisory capacity, but many are used in other ways, such as running automated ships where a certain level of judgment is involved (although this usually falls to gamma-level simulations).

Gamma-level[edit]

Standard AI used for handling computational work. It is mentioned in Galactic North that they have a tendency to go insane if left without work to do.

See also[edit]

References[edit]