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.