On Scifi Glossaries

I’ve always liked the the word “ansible”, which was created by Ursula K LeGuin, for faster-than-light communications. And then, being an awesome and futuristic word, it was liberally borrowed by other authors. It’s gone so far as to be used now for an automation system used by IT professionals, which makes it mainstream adjacent.

Palantir is another term, from the Lord of the Rings, that’s made the jump to be used by technology companies., in this case the creepy Palantir Technologies. Not being satisfied with just taking Tolkien’s words, Palantir also has the products Palantir Gotham and Palantir Metropolis, for DC Comics fans, and Palantir Night Live as the name of their events.

Great Artists (and Meh Companies) Steal.

This isn’t IP theft, or some unfair piggybacking; as terms enter the popular culture (Gotham,:Night Live) they get remixed and reapplied in adjacent situations, as a form of shorthand. Ansible and Palantir, terms classically trained geeks and nerds are familiar with, get applied to geek and nerd cultural projects (science fiction and technology).

It’s a coincedence that both these terms are, at their heart, instantaneous communication devices.

What follows, then, is a list of terms I’ve swiped from various science fiction and other sources, and use unashamedly. In some cases I use the term in a tight, related manner to the original source: like Palantir, a seeing stone, for a spy network. Other times it’s at best tangentially related: like the faster than light Ansible for IT task automation.

Non-Original Work, Please Steal

Palantir: yes, I use it too! In my writing, palantir refers to non-natural jump points, aka stargates, that like core systems together. The gates are too small, in a physical sense, to allow large bulk frieghters or warships through, but just the right size for smaller mail packets, couriers, and diplomatic boats. It’s not instantaneous communication, but it does allow major capitals to have a direct and hard to militarily exploit line to other major systems. They are exceedingly expensive to build and run, require near-constant maintenance, and are “imposed” on systems by decree from Federal bodies. Just the perfect way to know what’s going on and force a vassal/lord relationship on a too big to let go free world.

Sophont: from Poul Anderson originally, and first seen by me in Traveller. Most of my writing is human centric. I have nothing against aliens, I just don’t find them necessary to the stories I want to tell. But I do include a lot of transgenic and modified humans, so it’s good to have a term that applies to humans in all shapes and forms: and some very limited cases to AI.

Highport/downport: again, from Traveller. I like torchships, and I like planets. So it’s obvious I never let the two near each other. The concept of a highport, a space station in orbit or at an L2 point, is a must-have if your tramp freighters all have ecological atrocity or Kzinti Lesson level weapons down in the basement. And thus you also need a downport, that planetside place where your surface to orbit and orbit to surface craft can load and unload cargo and people. Hell, the downport might be built around the base of a beanstalk, for that matter. It’s the connection between the surface and the sky.

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Eli Jones
Writer, IT Grunt, A Decent Sort

I like firm Science Fiction so that’s what I write.