Science Fiction for Dummies

A Brief History of Science Fiction

Sci-fi wasn't always known as science fiction. As a meta-genre consisting of smaller genres (hard science fiction, cyberpunk, social science fiction, etc.), it itself is part of a larger meta-genre known as speculative fiction (which also consists of fantasy and other non-"realistic" genres). However, there are different periods in the history of science fiction as a genre. While non-"realistic" stories are as old as humanity itself (possibly older if there's any aliens who evolved before us with some analog to the written word as we know it, or some other information sharing medium). Since if you're reading this, you're likely on the path of nerd-dom (a path I encourage you to follow into being a scientist or engineer), let's hop into our time machine and revisit a brief history of science fiction.

Scientific Romance

Period: The first notable form of science fiction, at least identifiable as its own thing, appeared in the 19th century. The "Scientific Romance" period was categorized by the titans who arguably set the stage for all to come after them: HG Wells and Jules Verne. Here, they still didn't understand electrical and quantum physics as well yet, being as they still hadn't moved past steam power for the most part.

Concepts: The Scientific Romances were the first techno-thrillers, and often tended to involve "advanced" technologies in the modern period. From HG Well's invading Martians to Jules Verne's Nautilus, the politics of the day often framed the stories. "War of the Worlds," for instance, could be seen as a critique against Social Darwinism and colonialism. If a civilization had superior tech and firepower to the poor natives of the Americas, Africa, Australia, and Asia, some in Victorian times reasoned it was the "right" of the advanced civilization to wipe out the "failed" cultures. So, what if Martians land with heat rays and tripods and do the same thing to us? Talk about karma biting you in the ass. However, some of the fiction wasn't as "politically correct," and instead had "Edisonades" about genius inventors killing "evil savages" faster than a Gatling gun mowing down unarmed natives. Electricity was often treated as an almost mystic or unknown force, but this changed as Maxwell's Equations became more commonly used at the end of the 19th century.

Descendants: Aside from all of science fiction, the Scientific Romance did spawn a modern day sub-culture and aesthetic: steampunk. It can be a sort of retro-styling (in the aesthetic sense), often taking modern technology and putting it in a clockwork, brass, and steam driven form. While they often mimic the pseudo-Victorian aesthetic, modern steampunk appears in all manner of media as an aesthetic. From fantasy novels (like China Mieville's Perdido Street Station) to movies (like Hellboy 2) to videogames (like Final Fantasy, especially 6 and 7) to anime (like Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Last Exile) to retro-styled Scientific Romances (like Gibson's The Difference Engine) to music (like Abney Park).

Pulp Fiction

Period: In the early 20th century, the serial format of science fiction began to take off. Thanks to a rather seedy editor, Hugo Gernsback, we were introduced to the age of pulp. It took its name from the cheap paper it was printed on. Pulp itself is a meta-genre consisting of a bunch of stuff (more on that below). In the period around WW1 to around WW2, pulps focused on adventures and zany inventions. After WW2, the powers of television and comic books would spell a death knell for it (mostly). While dime novels and "penny dreadfuls" were known before, it really took off in the early 20th century.

Concepts: Often times, pulp science focused more on adventure than real science. Like pulp itself, pulp science fiction was a huge meta-genre. Pulp ranged from Westerns (like the Lone Ranger), to war and spy stories (like Operator Number 5), to fantasy yarns (like Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian), to noir detective stories, to space operas (like Flash Gordon), to planetary romance (like Burroughs' Mars series), to vigilantes and proto-superheroes (like the Shadow and his later clones, such as Batman), to horror (like HP Lovecraft), to "science" adventures (like Doc Savage), to even more experimental genres, like "railway" or "zeppelin" genres. Generally, expect things like zeppelins, Nazis, mad scientists, ray guns, fedora hats, rocket packs, gangsters, private eyes, lost worlds, and people raised in jungles.

There was a lot of crossover between these genres. Generally, though, pulp heroes were larger than life in some way (especially Doc Savage), but most weren't as powerful as the current interpretation of "superheroes" are. The Shadow, in his radio show incarnation, for instance, had hypnotic powers and could hide in the shadows with supernatural assistance. Prose was often purple and littered with rich description and archaic terms. Mad scientists, hero scientists, aliens, cosmic horrors, and alien invaders all were stables of science fiction of the era. Science was often portrayed as glowing test tubes, strange lights, and gigantic machines. So, it was more like "SCIENCE!" fiction.

Descendants: Pulp fiction is the pool which most of modern day pop culture spawned from, directly or indirectly. A lot of the pulps would often be related to one hero exclusively (like the Shadow, the Phantom, Doc Savage, and so on), and these would later become the basis for comic books. Batman, for instance, was originally a clone of the Shadow, and he had no problem with using guns or with killing people. (They gave him the hatred of guns and not killing anyone to set him apart from the Shadow, interestingly enough.)

Since pulp is a meta-genre, it did spawn bunch of descendants. Even the weirder stuff inspired a lot of writers of the New Weird school of speculative fiction (like China Mieville). Lovecraft's writing did inspire the existentialist style of horror, relying more on humanity's (in)significance in the universe than monsters jumping out. But, a lot of the most well known scifi writers did start off writing for the pulps, like Heinlein and Asimov. Most significantly, planetary romance and space opera (like Lensmen, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers) did inspire George Lucas to make "Star Wars." Star Wars is more a science fantasy space opera than a science fiction story. But thanks to the public not all being scifi nerds, it often gets categorized as scifi simply because it has space ships (which make noises in the vacuum), death rays (which travel slower than the speed of light), and aliens (which all look like variations on humanoids). Also, things like the old "Batman" cartoon, the game "Bioshock," and movies "The Rocketeer" and "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" more directly pay homage to the era. Spy fiction also got its start in the era, from "Operator No. 5," about a secret agent who defended the USA from foreign threats using special gadgets. Operator No. 5 is what the older, zanier James Bond movies drew inspiration from, rather than the more gritty/realistic Jason Bourne style.

Golden Age

Period: From World War II to the Sixties (or so), we had a period known as the Golden Age of Sci-Fi. This is my favorite period, or at least one of them. Thanks to an editor known as John Campbell, science fiction began to take its current form. This generation of sci-fi is said to have inspired the Space Race, and got a hole generation interested in the stars. However, the Sixties happened, and this sort of sci-fi became old hat as people actually did walk on the moon. Sadly, in this era, pulp as it had been known would die out and wane due to comic books and television.

Concepts: Campbell would often prefer stories that had better research with regards to technology and scientific research. As such, the Golden Age is when we've had the birth of one of my favorite sub-genres of sci-fi: Hard science fiction. While a few hard sci-fi stories had "softer" elements (like personal teleporting in "The Stars My Destination" or psychic powers in Asimov's "Foundation" series), they would often do their research and focus on the technical aspects more than the "adventure" ones. Heinlein would create something that would always be the bane of less adept writers (such as an amateur like myself): techno-babble. However, as an engineer, Heinlein mostly knew what he was talking about. If he didn't, he'd at least treat it pragmatically. Unlike the one of a kind wonders of pulp mad scientists, the realization new tech could be mass produced and used for the good of humanity, to cause it harm, or just not alter much. Much of the classic Heinlein (Starship Troopers) is actually fairly opened minded. Or at least much more than the society at the time.

During the Fifties, the themes of the Cold War would often play a part in this. Dastardly Russian-sounding villains were often popular, as were evil hive-minds representing communism. On the other side of the Iron Curtain, those darn Russkies had some similar sci-fi of their own. They were often about the country's glorious socialist future in space, and often involve greedy capitalists as villains. More than a few stories were actually veiled criticisms of the Soviet dictatorship. Of course, while space travel was popular (such as in the "Forbidden Planet") movie, a defining feature of the era was atomic power. At the time, nuclear energy was poorly understood, and was often used as a way to hand-wave anything from giant monsters to superpowers. Of course today, we realize radiation would be more likely to give you tumors than allowing you to grow ten stories tall.

Generally, Campbellian stories are about "science heroes:" scientists (or people smart enough to apply the scientific method) who'd learn about their world and use what they learn to improve their world (or abuse it). Even outside the US, there were science heroes. Professor Allen Quatermass (from "Quatermass and the Pit") was a famous one in the UK (and the inspiration for "Doctor Who," another one). In these stories, love of discovery and the wonder that follows are common themes here.

Descendants: The Campbellian tradition is a very rich one, and became the de facto "mainstream" of science fiction. Writers like Heinlein and Asimov would be productive long afterwards, but here's when they burst onto the scene. We also see the "retro" vibe of this era evoked in countless B-movies, and some games with that sort of styling, like the "Fallout" series. However, the Campbellian tradition would essentially draw in a lot of engineers and scientists and helped inspire the generation who put men on the moon. This group would later become the "bedrock" of science fiction, and its heart and soul. Thanks to the Campbellians, we nerds can toss around technobabble. However, writing and characterization in many of these stories often takes a backseat to techno-masturbatory babble. Heinlein actually did this well, but even some other of the Grandmasters (like Isaac Asimov, Poul Anderson, and Arthur C. Clarke) didn't. Doesn't mean their ideas should be discredited, it just means that they had room to improve. And today, their direct successors, the "Killer Bs" (David Brin, Greg Bear, Gregory Benford), have mostly done that. They are always keen to assimilate and cross-pollinate with other sorts of science fiction.

New Wave

Period: Once the Sixties rolled around, change was in the air, as well as the body odor of hippies and questionable substances being smoked. Civil rights, anti-war rallies, and other stereotypes helped turn the social conservativism of the 1950s around. As much as we nerds like to think otherwise, we're still part of a larger society. Even though we're condemned to labs, rooms, and basements, we still can be affected by the zeitgeist of an era. So, with society and sexuality going through tailspins, we nerds did so as well. Our nerdy ranks also were expanded to include a lot of the "softer" sciences as well (like sociology and psychology). They brought with them some of their new social sciences, and while they might've seemed funny at first, we grew used to them and allowed them to share our basements.

Concepts: Despite our hirsute and oddly smelling brethren's unkempt appearances, they began throwing in some of the sciences we overlooked. Ecological science fiction, bizarre societies, more overt displays of sexuality, feminism, strange alien creatures that weren't humans with different skin tones, inter-racial (and inter-species) couples and casts, non-Western cultures, and other strangeness came from the New Wave. William Burroughs arguably was one of the first, but a few other writers also stepped up. Not that they were bad (on the contrary). In terms of "plausibility," New Wave stuff could be less "hard" than Campbellian sort, but often had more developed settings. A few of my favorite writers popped up in this era: Frank Herbert (Dune, Jesus Incident), Roger Zelazny (Lord of Light), Joe Haldeman (The Forever War), Michael Moorcock, and Harlan Ellison, as well as writers like Ursula Le Guin, Samuel Delany, and Philip K. Dick. Generally, many of them had training as "proper" writers, allowing pesky characterization and the like to get the attention it needed.

Descendants: Now, quite a few of these writers are still around. Some of them hit the drugs too hard, like Philip K. Dick. However, whenever mainly sociological science fiction pops up, it's generally its descendant in some form or another. However, a lot of the "mainstream" Campbellian writers began assimilating New Wave elements into their own genre. For instance, Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land" became a resounding success (and drew a lot of creepy hippies towards Heinlein). Even Asimov took a gambit and wrote a novel where alien beings and alien sex was a notable plot point in "The Gods Themselves." However, the rebellion themes of the Sixties and Seventies was short lived, and would be assimilated into the next wave. The New Weird movement (mentioned before) also draws some inspiration from them. At its worst, a New Wave book can read like a junkie's hallucination journal (partially because bad New Wave stuff probably is).


Period: Ah, the Eighties. The time that gave us heavy metal, Reaganomics, the CD, and the rise of home videogame consoles. It also gave us a very famous sort of dystopian fiction: cyberpunk. William Gibson's "Neuromancer" was often held to be the first cyberpunk novel. Together with its sequels, it forms the "Sprawl" trilogy. Now, as a bit of background, the Eighties had a lot of concepts that would be reflected in fiction: megacorporations and totalitarian governments ruling the world, the Japanese buying up everything, technologies getting even smaller and getting implanted in people, yesterday's morals go off to die in the gutter, and generally the rich get richer as the poor get poorer. Gee, that's nothing like reality, eh?

Concepts: As I mentioned before, cyberpunk is often synonymous with "near future" sorts of dystopias. However, cyberpunk can often fall victim to one of the same sorts of problems with other speculative fiction. They assume that the future will be like the present in terms of fundamental society, just with a few new advances in science and tech, or some nightmarish political changes. While evil corporations became the favored big bad entities of cyberpunk, evil governments (as well as outright corporate states) can also fill that niche. Generally, if it's "near future," well developed, and full of corruption, it will be called "cyberpunk. One of the things I don't care for in cyberpunk is the constant nihilism. Characters are generally cynical and world weary. They can be hackers dressed in black leather, "street samurai," killer cyborgs, artificial intelligences, or any combination therefore of, and generally are nihilistic. Some of the less mercenary characters might be Robin Hood-esque characters, lone hackers stealing from corporations to fight injustice.

Now, interestingly, cyberpunk is often about "style" over substance. It can be seen as a sort of "tech-noir" or throwing a lot of hardboiled stereotypes into the undefined "near future." A lot of the first cyberpunk writers (namely Gibson again) didn't know anything about hacker culture or computers when the book first came out, making for some unintended hilarity. For instance, hackers get electrocuted for some reason when a firewall-type program stops them (instead of well, banning or disconnecting them). Cybernetic implants are often commonplace, as are virtual reality and technology "going feral." The underworld and street would find their own uses for new technologies. Now, interestingly, cyberpunk did predict a few things. It's thanks to cyberpunk we have the term "cyberspace." It also predicted the rise of the Internet and some effects of global commerce. Some other fun trivia? In Gibson's "Sprawl" trilogy, hackers enter a cyberspace world called "the Matrix" through neural implants called "microsofts." (Hopefully, they aren't running Vista.) Cyberpunk writers include Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Even some of the New Wave (like Philip K. Dick) dabbled here. In cyberpunk, the "rebellion" took on a new form. Even if "real" punks weren't impressed. Still, one problem with cyberpunk is that even "good stuff" can come across as the emo kids of science fiction, and treat technologies as magic even more than the New Wavers.

Descendants: Cyberpunk's most useful legacy is perhaps making science fiction more widespread. Hollywood latched onto the style like a bunch of lampreys (and still hasn't let go). Movies like "The Matrix," "Johnny Mnemonic," and "Blade Runner" are all examples of cyberpunk. Cyberpunk can be seen as whining and self important, but also a good stylistic direction. But to me, the best party of cyberpunk is its descendant: postcyberpunk.

While cyberpunk is brooding and bitching, postcyberpunk is sleek and fast. Instead of focusing on the bottom of a dystopia, or even a dystopia at all, postcyberpunk takes a more realistic (or at least optimistic) view of future tech. Life goes on, even if new technologies change how we live it. The "mainstream" of science fiction at first saw cyberpunk as a foreign invasion, but the next generation of writers saw it as merely another style of sci-fi. So, eventually, postcyberpunk was born and assimilated into the mainstream. Examples of postcyberpunk works are "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex," and Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash" and "Diamond Age." There's also biopunk, which as bio-engineering rather than cybernetics. However, the difference is often semitic, although a few devoted biopunk works do exist.


Period: After cyberpunk was assimilated, the next sort of science fiction rose in popularity. A new generation of writers arose, and they simply considered cyberpunk another style of science fiction, rather than invasion from outside. So, they created post-cyberpunk. But with postcyberpunk came a whole new set of memes. Moore's Law, nanotech, the Singularity, and transhuman tech were all perceived to be within grasp. During the Nineties and the early 2000s, we had all sorts of technological breakthroughs. There was the dot com rise (and fall), the much-hyped Y2K glitch, the cloning of Dolly the sheep, the Internet becoming a more prevalent part of life, the first bionic limbs and neural chips, and biotech becoming a marketable commodity in the form of bio-engineered crops. There was also 9-11, fear of terrorism, and the rise of the neocons. So, a few people felt threatened by new tech, a few people felt excited, and some people didn't give a shit. (The people who enjoy science fiction generally don't fall in with that last group.)

Concepts: As cyberpunk was forced to drop its black leather and jammed into the Campbellian styled mainstream of science fiction, the writers who grew up in this time began to show there stuff. Themes of artificial intelligence, the Singularity, nanotech, and humans adapting themselves into idealized and/or surreal forms also became popular. Like pulp, Singularitarian is a term that describes a large category of fiction. It can range from post-cyberpunk (like "GURPS Transhuman Space" or "Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex") to post-Singularity galactic empires (like the awesome "Orion's Arm" setting) to anything in between (like the sci-fi works of Alastair Reynolds, Charles Stross, and even many of the "Killer Bs"). Generally, the postcyberpunk works can range from modern technothrillers to near future eras with notable new takes or subversions of cyberpunk concepts. Corporations haven't turned society into a nightmare, AI isn't trying to kill you at every turn, augmented reality replaces virtual reality, hacking doesn't melt your brain, new technologies transform people as we define them, nanotech reshapes the economy (as well as us potentially), and cyborgs aren't all just robot zombies. Then the works that feature the Singularity may have a few different takes on it: Some see it as a magical, almost overnight event that turns out for good (or ill). Others see it as just a more realistic general trend, with humanity (or transhumanity) slogging through new technological discoveries at a slightly faster pace than yesterday. However, stuff here seems to be sleek, modular, and slick.

Generally, it can be optimistic, but it can also show things nastier on a whole other order of magnitude. For instance, the AI that undergoes Singularity overnight doesn't want to kill humans because of some hackneyed robo-adolescent rage. It doesn't care about killing humans simply because it's trying to covert their planet into a Jupiter brain or Dyson sphere for itself. Some works have a positive Singularity (like "Orion's Arm"). The Singularity's a great way to bring in harder scifi version of Lovecraftian cosmic horror to the party. A Singularity gone wrong is the premise of the cool horror-conspiracy RPG setting "Eclipse Phase." The release of ancient civilization killer von Neumann machines (and worse later on) is likewise the premise of many of Alastair Reynold's "Revelation Space" universe. Expect to see harder science here, or at least stuff like magic-seeming tech handwaved off as something a mere baseline human can't understand.

Descendants: This style is currently what's in (or at least emerging), but we can see its themes in a lot of media. From some older but awesome games ("Deus Ex" and "Alpha Centauri") to even "Half Life" (with a designer stating the Combine were intended to be a post-Singularity alien race) to some of the writings I mentioned before. The comics of Warren Ellis are also rife with many of these themes. It is said Warren Ellis is to technology what Alan Moore was to magic. This, as you can gather, is my favorite style. Why? Because I've been most directly inspired by it. That's why I went into engineering. It's also the reason you should, too. Maybe whatever comes next will "prove us wrong," but it's still a pretty sweet flavor of sci-fi. It can range and build upon all that came before it. I think combining pulp science fiction, steampunk, and/or Campbellian sci-fi with this sort would be a pretty awesome idea. For an example on this site, go check out "Quentin Quark and the Cult of the Singularity" by Doctor Vile. Or some of my serial-styled works.

Well, I will say this to close off the column. Science fiction may come in different flavors. The "sub-genres" I listed are all artificial (no pun intended). But they go to show what some of the more general trends are. Some works can have themes more in tune with another generation. The game "Bioshock" is a combination of biopunk and retro-science fiction. The book "The Stars My Destination" by Alfred Bester has plenty of themes more in line with a cyberpunk book. All of speculative fiction, science fiction or fantasy, is ultimately about one thing: Imagination. That's one thing this genre can be about. Whether it's something zany and light hearted, like the adventures of a steampunk big-game hunter traveling to Burroughs' Mars, or something more serious like a near future postcyberpunk work, they all have this in common. Corny, yeah, but chances are if you're reading this, we're all nerds and geeks here. And so what?

We're in a time of awesome discoveries. You can build your own coil gun from parts at a local electronics shop (although it's basically a glorified spit-ball gun, since our capacitor technology sucks). You can do genetics at home for a comparatively low price. Printable matter's already common at a lot of colleges (in the form of 3D printers). Robots have come a long way, but still have ways to go. Augmented reality's practically around the corner. Even if Moore's Law craps out and we can't find a replacement for silicon, there's still plenty of fun to be had even with stuff we haven't fully explored yet. That's why I hope some of you at least get interested in going into science. Even if you just work in your garage on different projects, inspiration and imagination are things the agents of stasis fear. Our politicians are still living in the Cold War (or earlier). Our social institutions are only now (sluggishly) catching onto the fact that the Internet allows their antics to be broadcast live worldwide. Blocking websites is only a pathetic and temporary measure, given how easy it is to mirror content on another website. The economy may be in the shitter, but think of it this way: The petro-economy is hopefully in its death throes before something better comes in. Sure, we'll be on oil for quite a while, but there's plenty of opportunity for something new. Even ten failed opportunities can be more useful than a single success (so long as you learn from them). There's been a lot of stuff leveled, but there's plenty of ways to go from here. Hopefully, this sci-fi will help you give things a kick towards a better direction.

That said, I'd like to propose a little informal contest. Write a short story, premise, or setting from a paragraph to a thousand words or so in length. The twist? It has to combine two or more of the above. (If you're a fan of pulp, feel free to swing by Dreamshell's "PULP!" forum.) Your entry can even be a setting without a story, or just a really awesome premise. For instance, see my sample entry below, which is a combination of steampunk, pulp, and Singularitarian:

Butlerian Commonwealth

History: The Butlerian Commonwealth is among the most conservative of major polities in Terran space. Originally, the Butlerians trace their cultural and memetic heritage to a colony set up by British colonists in the New Victoria system. On pre-Exodus Earth, an electromagnetic pulse weapon deployed over the British Isles by a terrorist group caused most of their electronic technology to fail, and killing many citizens in the process. This ingrained a preference for robust and primarily mechanical technology, resistant to radiation, damage, and similar attacks.

This meme-set would prove common amongst the first wave of British colonists to the stars. They colonized a star sector deemed too hazardous by the nascent Terran Federation, due to large amounts of cosmic radiation from a nearby neutron star. They took the name Butlerians after a 19th century British writer. It was here that the hardened mechanical technology long favored by the Butlerians proved especially useful. Rugged enough to withstand the cosmic radiation, the Butlerians became the dominant power in the sector. While a close ally of the Federation for most of its history, they opted not to join the Core Worlds of the Federation on the Exodus.

After the Exodus, the Butlerians were left as the pre-eminent regional power in their star cluster. Having taken it upon themselves to 'civilize' their neighbors, they hold themselves as the last bastion of civilization and democracy in the star cluster. Their culture is very conservative, favoring near-baseline human shapes, mechanical looking robots (appealing to their dominate "steampunk" aesthetic sense), and humanoid-styled uplifts (gorilla ones being popular). Despite certain stereotypes, they are, like the other major powers of the post-Exodus galaxy, a post-Singularity level civilization. Predictably, the super-intelligences behind their civilization utilize many of the same technologies and memes as the society itself.

Society: They are currently lead by a clockwork artifical general intelligence, His Majesty, the Rex Machina. Rex is comprised of countless nanoscale gears and switches inside a structure designed to resemble an even larger version of Big Ben. The relationship of Rex Machina with the Commonweath's citizens is that of a constitutional monarch. Rex exists to protect the rights of citizens, and if he is unable to perform this job, he would be replaced by another super-intelligent citizen during an election by Parliament. Parliament is elected by all sapient citizens (including humans, cyborgs, self aware machines, and uplifted animals). Many humans often speak with a dialect memetically engineered from Cockney English. Cyborgs often go for brass coverings for their prosthetics, and have non-functional gears turning on the outside. Robotic citizens often go for similar design aesthetics, sometimes even having a "smokestack" for novelty's sake. Even uplifted animals often have items designed for them in the "Victorian" fashion. Differences are tolerated, although the dominant cultural aesthetics are unlikely to change anytime soon.

Military: The Butlerians have deliberately obsolete looking military hardware. It's somewhat bulkier than equivalent Federation technology, but is functionally the same and generally is a bit more robust. War is not a place for fragile toys, according to a famous Butlerian commander. Their star-ships often have flared ports, reinforced "windows" (which are actually well armored and intended as target to draw fire away from other parts of the ship), and use 19th and early 20th century looking devices inside. Soldiers are clad in uniforms resembling 20th century gear (a combination of 19th century, World War I, and World War II in appearance, but actually made of high-tech nano-materials able to stop most forms of attack). They carry archaic ballistic firearms modeled after ancient ones, such as Sten guns, the EM-2 assault rifles, and Webley-Fosbery autorevolvers (which fire modern caseless nano-rounds). They use zeppelins in the upper atmospheres of planets (self-powered stratellites, which serve as launching points of surface attacks or communications arrays or sneaky recon methods or all of the above). They use massive amphibious land-ships resembling wheeled and tracked 20th century dreadnoughts and battleships (which deploy their own smaller armies of soldiers, drones, and light vehicles). Many of their vehicles are covered in piezoelectric materials under their armor, so every hit can recharge their internal electric stores. While EMP resistant and some even use bio-fuels, most large craft have an on-board fusion reactor. Butlerian armor is strong, and their military is based around their amphibious surface forces and mighty space fleet. Not subtle, but it works.

Entries will be offered the chance to be offered in my "Worlds Unlimited" column or suggest a topic for the next column entry. Just send me a PM, and let me know you're in! And remember, have fun!