Being a treatise on VSF and Mars, and on 19th Century colonial warfare in general

(with a nod towards Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan, lest I take myself too seriously)

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Technology - Armour

Armour is not a standard issue on Mars, but is also not uncommon.  Armour built to withstand a properly-made ceramic slug would have to be extremely thick and heavy, and would render the wearer immobile.  But short range fire is often with a cannister round.  Add to this the danger from flying sabots, and it becomes apparent that a lighter form of armour will suffice for protection from a significant portion of musket fire.

Unsurprisingly, metal armour is too expensive (and probably too heavy) to be in common use.  Most armour is therefore made from boiled, shaped leather or from laminated wooden strips.  Both armours are usually coloured, often by dying (leather) or in the lacquering and sealing of the wooden strips. Shaped leather helmets are quite common, as are breastplates, vambraces and greaves.   Armour is nevertheless often limited to officers and to royal troops due to its expense. 

Technology - Melee Weapons

A proportion of infantry (typically around a quarter) are armed solely with melee weapons, normally halberd-like pole arms.  
At first glance this appears quite anachronistic for such an ancient civilisation.  However, like the smoothbore musket, these are actually a sign of adaptation to straitened circumstances rather than of backwardness. Given the inability to mount a decent bayonet on their musket, the halberd was probably (re)introduced to provide a degree of protection to the musketeers.  The halberd is basically a large lump of metal on the end of a hardwood pole, and so is an expensive piece of kit.  Over time they have developed into a status symbol to reward the loyalty and bravery of troops.  Only the best and bravest therefore tend to be so armed*, which also limits the number that are likely to go missing upon desertion!  Halberds are also more effective than muskets in a policing role, and when putting down civil disturbances with minimum force, so have rightly earned their place as a useful weapon on Mars.

The typical Martian sidearm is a sword of some description.  Steel swords do exist, but these are museum pieces and family heirlooms rather than a commonplace.  Most blades are made from a laminate of bone, wood, leather and sinew.  Blades come in all shapes and sizes, and can be extremely strong and flexible, holding a good edge if properly maintained.  Even those of poorer quality are quite capable of causing dreadful damage and of severing limbs. 

*This also helps to explain the ease with which Earth governments have been able to raise such good quality auxiliary forces.  In essence, and initially unknowingly, they have entrusted each Martian recruit with a Prince’s ransom of steel in the form of a rifled musket and bayonet.  It is little wonder that such “trust” is returned. 

Technology - Infantry Firearms

The relative paucity of refined metals on Mars means that rulers are reluctant to hand large lumps of very valuable metal to their troops in the form of weapons.  Wherever possible the amount of metal has been reduced over the millennia to a point where only the bare minimum is carried by your average ranker.

The standard infantry weapon is a wooden-barrelled smoothbore firearm.  Metal gun barrels and rifling are certainly known and are even made on Mars, but these tend to be for the wealthy or for select guard troops.  For the common ranker, metal barrels have been replaced by a specially-bred form of wood, known locally as “Jee-oo”, whose lattice-like structure can resist rapid deformation in a manner analogous to modern kevlar.  This makes them suitable for use as gun barrels once dried and treated.  The breech-end of the barrel is secured within a metal block and trigger mechanism – the only significant lump of metal in the firearm - with a light wooden stock and fore stock.  

The standard ammunition round is a ceramic slug and sabot together with the smokeless propellant and ignition all wrapped in a sealed waxed package.  The ceramic slugs can take a variety of forms.  The most common has a square cross section, is slightly tapered towards the tip and has a quarter twist along its length.  This tapering and twist provides an element of aerodynamic form and spin to the round, and so these smoothbores have a decent range compared with Earthly ones.   The sabot also allows the manufacture of shotgun-style rounds for use at close range, without excessive wear and tear on the barrel.  

The loading process is relatively quick: a first pass down the barrel with a ramrod to clear the worst of any residue, followed by the sealed round being forced down until seated against the firing block.  The waxing of the round ensures an element of lubrication and also better sealing within the barrel, while the base of the sabot expands upon the ignition of the propellant to reduce windage.  The weapon is cocked manually by pulling back a hammer which is then released by the pull of the trigger.  The hammer drives the platinum-coated firing pin (actually a cone) forward, sealing the block and piercing the base of the round.  There the cone acts as a catalyst causing the two dry chemicals to flare, igniting the propellant and driving the sabot along the barrel.  The force of the ignition returns the firing cone back into the breech and the hammer into a “safe” position (so that the loading process will not result in firing). 

These muskets do have a number of drawbacks.  They foul quite easily, and can suffer from splitting at inopportune times.  They are therefore replaced at regular intervals – quite a simple process if you still retain both hands - and this can even take place in the field.  The propellant used is smokeless, but there is always some visible discharge from the weapon, with the combustion of the packaging, sabots flying around, and so on.  Finally, Jee-oo barrels are not a suitable fixing for a bayonet, and neither does it make a good club, so troops are reliant on a sidearm (sword or axe) for melee. 

A proportion of infantry in a unit (typically a quarter) comprise teams armed with a long-barrel musket (referred to as jingals by Earthmen).  

Jingals are essentially Jee-oo muskets with longer and larger barrels (up 2.5m long, with a bore of as much as 5cm in some cases).   The loading teams carry a variety of rounds depending on need and availability.  Most will be solid slug rounds which are effective at 800 yards.   Others are a form of cannister which can be devastating are close range. Each weapon requires a crew of four – one to carry and fire, one to carry a spare barrel plus a bipod rest, and two loaders.  This weapon is especially effective against Giant Martian troops and mounts, but also as a siege weapon and as light artillery in the field. 

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Technology - General thoughts

It is certainly true that the level of Martian technology is far below what it once was.  Even the means of making the canals so long ago, surely their greatest achievement, is wreathed in legend myth and folklore.  If any Martian knows or understands how it was done, then they are not telling the Earthmen. 

As a society they also suffer from a lack of resources.  Fossil fuels were exhausted long ago - coal-burning came as a surprise to this generation of Canal Martians.  Iron ore is abundant – this is the red planet after all – but it is difficult to turn it into good quality iron or steel in any quantity for two reasons.  Firstly, the thinner air on Mars, with its lower oxygen levels, makes it difficult to achieve the temperatures needed to smelt iron.  Secondly, the general shortage of fuel means that it becomes an economic and environmental impossibility to feed any large-scale production.  Iron and steel are made, but Martians have gone back to small-scale production and use alternative materials wherever possible.  In part they use softer metals, such a copper and tin, but these minerals are also in relatively short supply and so a great deal of recycling takes place.  But Martian society has also developed the use of plant materials – and other renewable resources – to replace metals in many areas of life.

Canal Martians cultivate a great many crops that have been bred for very specific reasons other than for food.  Some are for straightforward uses such as coloured dyes and cloth (similar to cotton and linen/flax).  But many more are quite different form any earthly forms.  Presumably these have been selectively bred from now-extinct species to meet specific requirements.  

Two examples.  

They have a plant very similar to bamboo, “Jee-oo”, but which is far stronger when treated.  It has a resistance to deformation that makes it very valuable as building frames, scaffolding, fencing, and even as weapon barrels.  When split and treated it can be moulded into extremely hard plates.  

Another plant with a much spongier interior, is also used in construction.  This “Betaan” is mashed and left to break down in water for several weeks.  It is then mixed with sands with a high iron content to create a substance similar to concrete when dry.  In its liquid form it can be poured into moulds or forms to create beams and panels.

Canal Martians and Technology

Over time I will be posting some rambling thoughts on the technology used by "my" Canal Martians, in particular, and as it trickles down to the other denizens of the Red Planet.  Obviously I'll be mostly be looking at the technology used in warfare, but you can't totally divorce that from more peaceful pursuits.

As stated before, I do like to follow a great deal of the Space:1889 descriptions of society and technology (so liftwood is definitely in!).  However, and unsurprisingly, Mr Chadwick had to be a bit sparing on some of the details. Some ideas did pop up in various TRMGS publications and in some of the published scenarios, but I just wanted to add a bit more colour to help me picture the Martian way of life.

Rather than creating a long thesis I will probably just jot down ideas as they occur to me.  With a bit of luck they might even be internally consistent, but I'm not holding my breath.  There is far less chance of them being scientifically viable, so I apologise in advance to the more practically-minded out there.