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)

Monday, 15 June 2015

Some Notes on Hill Martians

The Hill Martian tribes that surround the city state of Mylarkt fall into two broad categories.

Those of the Nilosyrtis Hills and Neith Steppes are fully nomadic, dependent upon their gashants to move the vast distances between suitable grazing and only occasionally involved in some temporary agriculture. Most of their needs are met from their herds of gashants and the occasional stand of fnuuk. Water and other liquids tend to be derived from plants which absorb and store the limited moisture available from the air and subsoil.

Those of the Meroe Badlands are largely sedentary and live in villages, raising crops and trading (and sometimes raiding) between communities. Their pastoralism is still semi-nomadic, with youths moving the herds between the limited pasturage in the badlands, similar to seasonal transhumance movements on Earth.

Their agriculture uses some very water-efficient techniques, with much of their water coming from condensation on natural features. These “Wind Bounty” sites are features that channel the humid wind coming up from the grand canal through gorges or tunnels that widen suddenly causing the air to chill and the water vapour to condense into small droplets that gather on the surface of cavern walls. This water gradually filters into underground cisterns that in turn feed irrigation and drinking water networks (the two are typically kept separate) via various natural filtration systems. Most of the sites look to be quite natural, but this seems unlikely given the very similar arrangements of underground cisterns and filtration ponds at different sites. Several Terran scientists are very keen to study these wonders of water collection, but the custodians are understandably reluctant to allow strangers to poke around in their life-supporting water and so their exact provenance and the detail of their design remain mysteries.

Both types of nomad herd gashants as their principal source of meat and transport, with wocnid and wild gashants being hunted. Ganz willoi are typically hunted by children, although some sedentary tribes have been able to domesticate them to some extent. Bush Monkeys are looked on as a nuisance due to their tendency to enter settlements at night, and they driven off or killed where possible. Their meat is taboo, being seen as distant relatives of Hill Martians cursed by the gods for some misdeed in the past (the Nepenthi name for them translates as “unfinished”), but their spikes are often used when making weapons and armour. Teshuwaan are usually attacked on sight due to the threat they present to the gashant herds, and their meat is prized twice over as it both saves the life of a herd animal and delays the need to slaughter one for food.
As in Space:1889 canon, the models for these societies are North American natives. My ideas for the steppe-dwellers are based on Souian cultures, while those for those of the Meroe Badlands come from the Pueblo Indians and others from the South West. In both cases they are derivatives, and are certainly not intended to be direct copies.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Ewart's PIFFers - Part I

Politically, Mylarkt has a strong mercantile culture, but also strong regional nobility. The nobles and merchants are always vying for power, and if a strong prince can avoid capture by either set of interests he can be assured of the strong backing of one against the other, allowing to him to set his own agenda. Unfortunately for the merchants of Mylarkt, Prince Ilsanoor XV is more interested in hunting than budgeting, and so they are fighting a loss of influence to the noble houses.

They have, however, managed one policy change that has worked to their advantage. The bulk of the army of Mylarkt is a hereditary force that is heavily based on tradition and upon reinforcement from noble houses in times of emergency. The state also hires large number of Hill Martian mounted mercenaries to patrol the state’s borders with other Hill Martian tribes. But there have always been substantial number of mercenaries supplied by Canal Martians. These have traditionally been a mixture of cutthroats and ne’er-do-wells from outside the hereditary system whose main duty has been to garrison unpopular locations and collect overdue taxes. The Guild of Merchants petitioned the Prince to disband some of these companies and replace them with mercenary troops trained along the Earth model. They sold this on the basis that a) it could be done in such a way to curry favour with the earthmen at Syrtis Major, b) that it would allow them to learn more about how the red men fought so that they could better oppose them and c) that the merchants would pay for it. Argument c) swung it. The unspoken argument d) was that the merchants hoped to be able to gain effective control of these new troops as a counter to the nobles, but that passed the Prince and the nobles by at the early stages.

When Ilsanoor’s advisers approached the British Ambassador, Sir Henry Baird, for assistance he was only too happy to pass this on to HMG. The plan was to raise a battalion of infantry with a short battery of artillery. The Prince made it clear that the officers could not be seen to be serving the Queen, but would have to be answerable to him. HMG quite understood, naturally, and was only too willing to help build a strong, dependent ally on their border and one which also lay on the important trade route with the Boreosyrtis League. They at once proposed to procure the good offices of a British subject who would surely be exactly what Prince Ilsanoor wanted.

Their gaze fell upon Captain William E. Ewart of the Kings Own Borderers, lately serving with 2/3 Martian Infantry (Avenel Rifles) with the brevet rank of Major. Captain Ewart had recently come under something of a cloud, having fallen foul of his Commanding Officer, the Horse Guards and the Viceroy over a matter concerning a Steppe Tiger skin. Or, more accurately, over the press reports of a young Martian “Ochre Lady” found in the presence of Captain Ewart, both in a somewhat désabillé state, on said animal skin. The Queen was not amused, naturally. However even his worst detractors admitted that Ewart was an excellent officer, with a good appreciation of the handling of Martian troops. He also spoke excellent Parhooni which one can only surmise had something to do with the Ochre Lady.

In any case, Ewart was persuaded to resign his commission before the Queen revoked it (and with promise that he would be kept on half pay on the unofficial list for unspecified services to HMG). He was quickly despatched to Mylarkt to prevent any further fallout over the tiger-skin affair, and was duly appointed as First Sword of the Prince Ilsanoor Field Force, which Ewart took great delight in calling his PIFFers.

Liberally paraphrased from “A year with Ewart’s PIFFers” by Capt. J.R. Newton ret’d with the kind permission of the author's widow.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Martian Vehicles, or Do Martians Dream of Reliant Robins?

Another of my long-term projects has been to work out how Martians get around the place.

Walking is an option, naturally, as is riding the ubiquitous gashant or in a ruumet brehr howdah. I could also see sedan chairs and palanquins being good for those who could afford it.

There's liftwood for cloudships and screw galleys obviously - where would Space:1889 be without it? There are boats on the canals, and the large ruumet brehr-drawn wagons of the Wagon Masters of Meroe are legendary.

But how are the bulk of people and goods transported? Ruumet brehr wagons are (I'd guess) too big to get through most city streets. Your average rich merchant might be happy to ride in a howdah on his ruumet brehr, but he won't get astride a gashant to cross the city for a meeting - it's just so barbaric and last millenium, don't you know. Palanquins might be good for carrying ostentatious princelings (and rich merchants), but they're not much use for moving goods.

For smaller items handcarts, wheelbarrows and carry poles would work fine. But what about larger loads?

Some form of gashant-drawn carriage or cart makes sense, but how would they work? OK, confession time: I'm no expert on hitching horses, far less gashants. My experience of horse-drawn transport is pretty much limited to being driven round tourist locations at eye-watering expense.

But if I was willing to allow such a lack of qualifications stop me, why would I have started a blog in the first place, eh? So here goes!

I don't think you could put a single gashant between the shafts of a carriage or cart. Its bipedal gait may make it lurch from side to side, but that could perhaps be ignored - ostriches seem to move pretty smoothly. The bigger problem is probably the tail - think of the beast stretching forward; its tail coming up level behind it as it picks up speed, and whirling around as it changes direction (think of a cheetah cornering in full chase mode). How can it do that between two fixed shafts? Gashants side-by-side in traces might also be a problem as they would have to be a long way ahead of the cart to keep their tails away from the front wheels. Wouldn't that make control and steering a lot more difficult? And how do you stop the traces interfering with the tails?

A two-wheeler like a Hansom cab might be workable, perhaps with a single long shaft curved high over the rump of the Gashant. The wheels are set towards the rear of the passenger compartment, so are out of the way of the tail. I see the shaft as the weakness in this design, needing it to be strong whilst keeping the weight to a minimum. It should still be workable as a light cab, but it's not a means of moving goods around a city due to the difficulty of getting the weight distribution right for a single-axle vehicle.

Maybe a three-wheeler would work? (Yes, gentle blogee, that's where the Reliant Robin comes in, with due posthumous apologies to Philip K. Dick.) The cart would be somewhat boat-shaped, with a solid keel extending between the pair of draught-gashants, with the "hull" curving up sharply from the keel and out over their rears. Presumably the driver's position would be in the "prow".  The single front wheel would be secured to the keel and be somewhere between the pair of gashants - probably at a level just behind their feet - and shrouded to prevent their tails being caught up. The rear wheels would be on a heavy axle towards the rear (stern?) of the vehicle, but not too far back in order to take some of the weight off the front wheel.

In fact five wheels would be better for load distribution, but this would make any cornering much more difficult unless you introduce some steering (and thus complexity) to the forward pair.

Then there's the question of what gashant tack would look like. (I know, I know, I need to get out more.) You probably need something similar to a horse collar, but would it fit round the relatively narrow shoulders of a gashant, or in front of its much heavier hips? The latter would make more sense to me (for all that's worth!), but how would it be secured? Perhaps it's a cushioned inverted U that is permanently fixed to a high central shaft, and is secured below the beast's belly by straps. (And I shall not speculate here on the existence or location of male gashant external reproductive organs.)

Of course it might be easier to posit some form of domesticated quadruped (or hexaped!) that doesn't get a mention in the Space:1889 canon, which can use wagons very similar to those on Earth, but that's no fun at all. (Or did I miss one?)

That's several solutions looking for a problem that exist only in my own imagination, I know, but it's cheaper than therapy any day :-)

Am I talking total nonsense?  Has anyone out there seen or come up with better ideas on how to keep Mars moving?