Fiction, Politics

If you wanted to steal an election…

Let us say that you were in charge of the Ministry for Shenanigans, tasked by the Supreme Leader with interfering with the democratic elections in Freedonia, not to ensure the current Prime Minister of Freedonia remains in power, but to sow dissent amongst its people.

The current Prime Minister of Freedonia is known for saying random nonsense, but is not actually known for having the competence to pull off any of the conspiracies everyone knows he would like to engage in.

If anything, he is so mindbogglingly incompetent that nobody would dare try to involve them in a conspiracy, because everyone knows that if you tried, he would boast about the plan the next morning in the middle of a breakfast TV interview that was supposed to be a fluff-story about cheese exports. Everyone knows this, because during the last election he openly asked you to interfere, and then went on to boast about getting your help, even though you actually didn’t bother that time. The fact you genuinely didn’t help him then is the only reason he has not already been removed from office and inserted into a prison cell.

So, what do you do given that it is absolutely vital that all of your actions are deniable? Remember, the goal is not to get this moron elected, it is to cause civil disorder within Freedonia. To make Freedonia care more about its internal affairs than whatever the Supreme Leader is doing.

You wait.

You wait for the Prime Minister to say or do something corrupt and stupid. Perhaps he will claim that suicide bombers are plotting to blow themselves up in the polling stations, and therefore all voters must be naked, even though the election is in the middle of November. Perhaps he will make spurious claims about postal voting. Perhaps he will require people to show a voting-specific ID card but only send those cards out to people likely to vote for him.

It doesn’t really matter what nonsense he comes up with, because Freedonia has a constitutional separation of powers that limits the damage the Prime Minister can actually inflict.

What does matter is that he will say these things, and many voters will see this as a threat to their vote and (quite understandably) be very angry. They will organise. They will suggest ways around his schemes. They will think themselves very clever. Broadly, they will also have no idea how anything works.

You will use your fake social media accounts to join in. You will seem real, genuine, pro-democracy. But… the ideas you will be feeding the Freedonian electorate are those which sound good and yet do not work. Ideas like “online voting with blockchain” (you know how easy it is to break into a Freedonian government website) or “posting your vote directly to the $insert_address_here” (oh, but post that goes there never gets read).

Most of the public won’t be able to tell which advice is good and which is bad, so if experts warn against listening to bad advice, the public are still just as likely to do the wrong thing as the right thing.

Either way, an increasing number of people start distrusting the result. When the results come in, they have an excuse ready and waiting for why they lost: not because their politics were unpopular, but because the other lot corrupted the vote.

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Fiction, SciFi

Trek head-cannon

In the real world, the “vaporise” setting in SciFi ray-guns comes from a desire to make extras disappear quickly when their characters are killed off.

As countless of pedants have noticed, a real-life weapon which vaporised a target would have all sorts of unpleasant side-effects, from the merely icky of inhaling your enemies to the potentially fatal of suddenly adding 80 cubic-meter-STP of (lethally hot) gas to your room in less than a second. There are also, shall we say, artistically convenient behaviours such as one scene in Star Trek VI where a pan is vaporised while the mashed potato inside is untouched.

None of these things ought to spoil your experience of Star Trek or similar — they’re character-driven space soaps, not hard SciFi. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun to invent some plausible-sounding rationale for how it fits into the in-universe technobabble.

So, phasers, with a digression via subspace.

In the Star Trek universe, “subspace” is treated as an extra dimension — not up-down, not left-right, not front-back, not future-past. If you’re “deep” in subspace, you’re “further” from the reality we know about. How this works precisely is never described, so let’s pretend that there are a bunch of different stable layers that matter can occupy, one for normal space and one more for each different integer warp speed; and lets assume that in the absence of anything pushing you between layers, you just stay on your current layer.

What if the “rapid nadion effect” is a nudge in the subspace-realspace direction?

All the atoms in your body are connected by relatively strong interatomic forces, while the interatomic forces between different objects are much weaker (not zero, but much much weaker). Let’s say you’re hit by a beam which nudges you in the direction of subspace: if its a weak push, the atoms hit by the beam are briefly a little bit outside normal space, but they rapidly return. This effect propagates through your body in exactly the same way that a sound wave would — each out-of-place atom drags nearby atoms with it, but they’re quickly restored to their original place. This could stun you or kill you, depending on how much it interferes with the chemistry that keeps you alive, in much the same way that a punch or a grenade both send waves through your body yet have very different impacts on your life expectancy.

If this nudge is strong enough to push your body to the next subspace layer, the part of your body first hit by the beam will seem to disappear entirely, without the inconvenience of exploding! All the atoms bound to the nudged-into-subspace patch of flesh will be dragged with it onto the next subspace layer, which does not have any air. If this happens at the speed of sound in water (5336 km/h), a 2m humanoid hit in the middle would disappear completely in about 0.7 ms. The effect you see on screen is a far more prosaic 8-15 km/h — again, don’t worry to much about that: Trek has very little in the way of scale or time consistency, but even if it did you should pretend it’s a dramatic slow-mo.

There’s no narrative requirement for subspace layers to be limited to three spacial dimensions, so we can also posit that subspace is (e.g.) 4 spacial dimensions. In 4D, a creature like us built in 3D space would fall to pieces in much the same way as you might expect a creature built out of a single layer of atoms sandwiched between two plates would almost instantly disintegrate if you took the plates away. One idea which would allow “being pushed into subspace” to be much more dangerous than “being in a starship when the warp drive is switched on” would be another fairly ambiguous piece of Star Trek tech: the inertial dampeners. The inertial dampeners are supposed to be space-filling forcefields which push every atom in your body at the same rate the ship accelerates so that you don’t feel any G-forces — vitally important when you go from zero to 0.25c (74,770 km/s, full impulse) in one second. Those very same force fields could (with enough technobabble) keep the crew from disintegrating even if they were in a 4D (or 5D or 6D or…) subspace domain.

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Fiction, Humour

The Totally Credible Heroes

Superheroes, but all their powers are incredibly minor:

  • Übermensch has 5 milliwatt laser eyes, giving him the power to entertain cats and give PowerPoint presentations without the need of a laser pointer. He has occasionally dazzled himself while shaving.
  • Water-Woman has webbed hands and feet, so can swim quite fast. She also has a habit of talking to seaweed, but it doesn’t reply.
  • The Sprinter can run a half-marathon at the speed an average person can sprint 400 meters. He has been banned from most sporting events, even the ones he would lose.
  • Mr Boring is so dull nobody pays him any attention, making him essentially invisible to anyone except security guards.
  • Cat Man likes to dress up as a cat, but denies all suggestions that he is a furry. The claws are his own fingernails cut into points, and not particularly dangerous.
  • Cyber-Woman has cochlear implants which can be connected to her phone via Bluetooth. She also has a prosthetic leg which looks pretty futuristic, but doesn’t do anything unusual.
  • Doctor Komisch has a PhD in the politics of the British Isles in the 13th century, and is a practicing Wiccan priest. He is skilled at cold-reading, but none of the spells he knows do more than make him feel happy.
  • Titanium Man likes to build his own jet packs and similar flying apparatus. His jet packs are very expensive to build and consume a lot of fuel.
  • The Greek is a dominatrix with a kevlar rope lasso. She is a skilled interrogator, and can get the truth about 95% of the time.
  • Miss Tesla can generate and sense weak magnetic fields from her nerves, allowing her to read and edit the magnetic stripe on any credit card she can touch, to open magnetically sealed doors, and to pick up small ferrous objects that would otherwise only be reachable with a magnet on a stick.
  • The Human Dragon can belch methane. It only catches fire with an external source of ignition, and is much like a street entertainer performing fire-breathing only slightly less impressive.
  • The Face-shifter has unusually elastic skin and far more tiny face muscles than normal, and can perfectly mimic the face of anyone… provided they have similar melanin levels, no obvious moles, birthmarks, or current sunburn. They cannot transform their hair, but they have heard of wigs and hair dye.
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