by Max Barry

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by The Gleeful Anatrepocracy of Sierra Lyricalia. . 115 reads.

A Note on Tech Levels

UPDATE: Long after the fact, I can state that EP's Yet Another Civ Index solves all of the problems with the Querria index that I describe at length below. Per the EP Index, SL is Tier 7, Level 0, Type 6. Interplanetary travel and political influence, check; single-system space colonies and economy, check. Propulsion is less like "The Expanse" and more realistic, and the time things take is way longer, but the economics are spot-on and our biotech is better (Belters can visit Urrth if they like, though they tend not to want to for obvious reasons). My thanks to Excidium Planetis for creating an intuitively-readable scale. SL is a 12, though its scientists are working feverishly to reduce that number.


This forum thread, while unwieldy, at least gives a way to map civilizations along several different axes (criteria), in order to form a very basic index of their reach, capabilities, and economic spheres.

Unwieldy is an understatement. While the mapping itself is an excellent notion, and the idea to enumerate tiers of technology, geographic influence, and international competitiveness - is excellent, the clashing numbering systems render the exercise useless as an at-a-glance measure. One number goes up with increased power/savvy, the other goes down. Then the third dimension doesn't have a number, it has a name. Then those three dimensions are compressed into a totally arbitrary designation consisting of one letter and a one- or two-digit number. There's no systematic scheme to how this scale was constructed, which makes it impossible to use intuitively. Unless you're constantly referencing the thing, you have no idea if (say) a K11 state is going to annihilate you with particle beams, or bounce their spears off your tank turrets before summoning their entire planetary population to just drown you in human bodies.

All that said, it is thus far the most comprehensive way to map national power that NS thus far has, so I'll play along with it for those who know the scale and those who want to learn it. If anyone has the time, energy, and will-to-systematize to come up with a better one, by all means I'll stand off to the side and kibbitz along the way.

Sierra Lyricalia sits in a rough sweet spot between L11 (Tier 3, Type IV, Superpower); V11 (Tier 3, Type III, Superpower); D14 (Tier 4, Type IV, Superpower); and N14 (Tier 4, Type III, Superpower).

You'll already have seen the only constant there is Superpower: the Lyrical state uses its Earthly geographic footprint and a serious interplanetary space presence to compete with other Earthly powers. It is one of three to five world powers who do so at the highest level.

The other dimensions present a problem.

Arguably, the modern IRL United States is a Tier 4 civ. It is beyond the Cold War (Tier 5), and while it does not have the things cited in Tier 4, it could within a few years if it stopped bombing cave dwellers and trying to intercept ballistic missiles, and spent the money on developing things. It's also a few decades at most from having Tier 3 technologies like powered armor, and "holocrystal storage" (I don't know what that is, but if it's related to quantum computing, we're working on it!). And it for m sure has "Magnetic(Kinetic)/Gauss weapons such as... Railguns" - they're just not in mass production yet. But Tier 3 says FTL! Doesn't have to be a magic Star Trek warp drive, but you do need to be able to get from star system to star system in weeks at most, it sounds like. Neither the actual United States nor the Giggling Anatrepocracy (as it's called at the time of this writing) have any expectation of such a thing any time soon. So S.L. is somewhere between Tier 4 and Tier 3 technology-wise.

Then there's Type. Type III is limited to "surrounding moons" and "seek to use renewable energy(i.e. solar energy, or power of the sun)." Well, we're a bit beyond that! Asteroid belt mining, permanent settlements on asteroids and on Mars, exploratory mining on Mercury and Jovian moons, all powered by solar panels or thorium-cycle nuclear reactors (ht, the IRL human race could make our current reactors much safer, again in just a few decades, by converting them to run on thorium-derived uranium-233...).

But Type IV is all over the native solar system, "and even surrounding space. populations may have advanced forms of energy use." Well, stuff beyond the asteroid belt just takes a long-ass time to get to, unless you've got something like really cheap antimatter production. So we're a step above Type III and a step below Type IV. Again, a case where the "next step" of plausible technology inconveniently straddles two of these categories.

I hope this elucidates my hard-sci-fi scheme without being too long-winded. Thanks for reading.