Tag Archives: science fiction

Stellar Law, Part II

10 Oct

International conventions:

Prior to 2021, no international (or interplanetary) conventions existed concerning stellar trade and commerce. In 2021, the United Nations, aided by the persistent efforts of Pat Hallas, pushed through the first edition of Stellar Law (a revised Maritime Law that reflected, as far as could be predicted, the challenges of space travel and commerce).
Since each body of law needs a court of decision, the United Nations designated the new International Space Station as the seat of the (very limited) solar government.

The newly formed solar government’s main responsibility was safety, and it borrowed heavily from numerous international conventions concerning maritime safety, developing the Guidelines for the Safety of Life in Space , the Standards for Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping, the Regulations for Preventing Collisions in Space, the Stellar Search and Rescue Conventions, and others. The United Nations Convention on Stellar Law also defined planetary boundaries and property rights.


Merchant space vessels transiting areas of increased pirate activity are advised to implement Self-Protective measures in accordance with most recent Best Management Practices agreed upon by the members of the merchant industry.

Individual countries:

Non-space courts assume jurisdiction over vessels in their territorial jurisdictions irrespective of whether the vessel is initially registered in their jurisdiction or not and wherever the residence or domicile or their owners may be. A vessel is usually arrested by the court to retain jurisdiction. Government-owned vessels from other jurisdictions are usually immune from arrest.


There are five types of cases which can only be brought in stellar court:

  • Limitation of Space Ship Owner’s Liability,
  • Vessel Arrests in Rem,
  • Property arrests Quasi in Rem,
  • Salvage cases, and
  • Petitory and Possession Actions.

The common element of those cases is that they require the solar court to exercise jurisdiction over stellar property. For example, in a Petitory and Possession Action, a vessel whose title is in dispute, usually between co-owners, will be put in the possession of the court until the title dispute can be resolved. In a Limitation Action the space ship owner will post a bond reflecting the value of the vessel and her pending freight.

Aside from those five types of cases, all other stellar cases, such as claims for personal injuries, cargo damage, collisions, stellar products liability, and recreational stellar accidents may be brought in either the solar or a divisional court (Earth, Mars, Luna, or Stellar-Commercial).

From a tactical standpoint it is important to consider that in the solar court, there is generally no right to trial by jury in most space cases, although the Jones Act was extended to grant a jury trial to space workers suing their employers.

Stellar law is governed by a uniform five year statute of limitations for personal injury and wrongful death cases. Cargo cases must be brought within three years.

Applicable Law:

A divisional court hearing a space case is required to apply the stellar law, even if it conflicts with the law of the division, under a doctrine known as the “reverse-Erie doctrine”. The “reverse-Erie doctrine” requires lower courts hearing space cases to apply substantive space law. However, these lower courts are allowed to apply their own procedural law. This change can be significant.


Cargo Claims:

Claims for damage to cargo shipped in interplanetary commerce are governed by the Hague Rules. One of its key features is that a space ship owner is liable for cargo damaged from “hook to hook”, meaning from loading to discharge, unless it is exonerated under one of 17 exceptions to liability, such as an “act of God,” the inherent nature of the goods, errors in navigation, and management of the ship.

Personal injuries to space workers:

Space workers injured aboard ship have three possible sources of compensation: the principle of maintenance and cure, the doctrine of unseaworthiness, and the Jones Act. The principle of maintenance and cure requires a space ship owner to both pay for an injured worker’s medical treatment until maximum medical recovery (MMR) is obtained and provide basic living expenses until completion of the voyage, even if the worker is no longer aboard ship.


Stellar Law, Part I

25 Sep

While working on the first draft of an asteroid miner story about a year and a half ago, I started thinking about the kinds of laws we will need for working, traveling, and living in space. A little bit of research led me to Maritime Law, which governs civilized behavior on Earth’s oceans, particularly once people are outside national coastal waters. Maritime Law, due to its nature, is international law; just as stellar law (off planet, yet within our solar system) should grow to be more than just Earth-based, particularly once people begin to live on Mars, on asteroids, or one of the moons.
So I took the Wikipedia article on Maritime Law and fiddled with it a bit. What follows is the first section of a future encyclopedia description of stellar law:


Stellar Law/Solar Law/Space Law

Stellar Law (also referred to as Solar Law/Space Law) is a distinct body of law which governs space questions and offenses. It is heavily based on Admiralty/Maritime Law. Space law is a body of both domestic law governing space-going activities, and private interstellar law governing the relationships between private entities which operate vessels in outer space. It deals with matters including solar system commerce, navigation, shipping, astronauts and other space workers, and the transportation of passengers and goods through space.

Stellar law also deals with navigational rights, mineral rights, jurisdiction over planetary defense zones and interstellar law governing relationships between planets.

Although each legal jurisdiction usually has its own enacted legislation governing astronomical matters, space law is characterized by a significant amount of interplanetary law developed in recent decades, including numerous multilateral treaties.

Features of stellar law

Maintenance and cure

The doctrine of maintenance and cure is rooted in the Article VI of the Rolls of Oleron promulgated in about 1160 A.D. The obligation to “cure” requires a space vessel owner to provide medical care, free of charge, to a person injured in the service of the vessel, until the person has reached “maximum medical cure”. The concept of “maximum medical cure” is more extensive than the concept “maximum medical improvement”. The obligation to “cure” a person includes the obligation to provide him or her with medications and medical devices which improve his or her ability to function, even if they don’t “improve” his or her actual condition. They may include long-term treatments that permit the person to continue to function well. Common examples include prostheses, wheelchairs, and pain medications.

The obligation of “maintenance” requires a space vessel owner to provide a worker with basic living expenses while convalescing. Once the injured worker is able to work, he or she is expected to maintain himself or herself. Consequently, an injured worker can lose the right to maintenance, while the obligation to provide cure is ongoing.

A vessel worker who is required to sue a vessel owner to recover maintenance and cure may also recover attorney fees. If a vessel owner’s breach of its obligation to provide maintenance and cure is willful and wanton, the vessel owner may be subject to punitive damages.

Personal injuries to passengers

Space vessel owners owe a duty of reasonable care to passengers (for a broad overview of this theory in law, see negligence). Consequently, passengers who are injured aboard space vessels may bring suit as if they had been injured aplanet through the negligence of a third party. The passenger bears the burden of proving that the vessel owner was negligent. While the statute of limitations is generally three years planetside, suits against space owners, including cruise lines must usually be brought within five years to allow for communication difficulties in the depths of space. Most Earth-based space cruise line passenger tickets have provisions requiring that suit to be brought in the Earth city from which the cruise departed.

Stellar liens

Banks which loan money to purchase space vessels, vendors who supply space vessels with necessaries like fuel and stores, vessel workers who are due wages, and many others may have a lien against the vessel to guarantee payment. To enforce the lien, the vessel must be arrested or seized. An action to enforce a lien against a space vessel must be brought in the court of the planet or authority which licensed the vessel.


When property is lost in space and rescued by another, the rescuer is entitled to claim a salvage award on the salved property. There is no “life salvage”. All spacefarers have a duty to save the lives of others in peril without expectation of reward. Consequently salvage law applies only to the saving of property.

There are two types of salvage: contract salvage and pure salvage, which is sometimes referred to as “merit salvage”. In contract salvage the owner of the property and salvor enter into a salvage contract prior to the commencement of salvage operations and the amount that the salvor is paid is determined by the contract. The most common salvage contract is called a “Lloyd’s Open Form Salvage Contract”.

In pure salvage, there is no contract between the owner of the goods and the salvor. The relationship is one which is implied by law. The salvor of property under pure salvage must bring his claim for salvage in court, which will award salvage based upon the “merit” of the service and the value of the salvaged property.

Pure salvage claims are divided into “high-order” and “low-order” salvage. In high-order salvage, the salvor exposes himself/herself and his/her crew to the risk of injury and loss or damage to equipment to salvage the damaged vessel. Examples of high-order salvage are boarding a tumbling vessel in an asteroid field, boarding a vessel which is on fire, raising a vessel from a comet, or towing an uncontrolled vessel out of a gravity well. Low-order salvage occurs where the salvor is exposed to little or no personal risk. Examples of low-order salvage include towing another vessel in “empty” space, supplying a vessel with fuel, or pulling a vessel off a stellar body which has a non-hazardous orbit. Salvors performing high order salvage receive substantially greater salvage award than those performing low order salvage.

In both high-order and low-order salvage, the amount of the salvage award is based first upon the value of the property saved. If nothing is saved, or if additional damage is done, there will be no award. The other factors to be considered are the skills of the salvor, the peril to which the salvaged property was exposed, the value of the property which was risked in effecting the salvage, the amount of time and money expended in the salvage operation etc.

A pure or merit salvage award will seldom exceed 50 percent of the value of the property salved.

Book Review: “Aliens and Alien Societies”

21 Mar

I just finished reading Stanley Schmidt’s book Aliens and Alien Societies: A Writer’s Guide to Creating Extraterrestrial Life Forms,  published by Writer’s Digest Books in 1995.

While the book is older, the basic concepts are valid. I wondered at first about the soundness of his overviews in the areas of biochemistry and astronomy. Then I read his chapter on language. Since my personal background is in linguistics (a master’s degree from USC), I felt competent to judge the accuracy and breadth of that overview. “Alien Language” is probably as good an introduction to the problems of human-alien communication as one can do in 15 pages. While I wish Schmidt had referenced Suzette Hayden Elgin’s Native Tongue trilogy or included examples from some of the very strangely structured Australian aboriginal and Amerindian languages, I have to give him kudos for covering the basics a sci-fi writer would need to know to not totally butcher the language issue.

I also give Schmidt bonus points for explaining why a “universal translator” is an impossibility in first contact situations.

One of my favorite features of this book is Schmidt’s use of published short stories and novels as examples to prove various points he makes. Since the book was published almost 20 years ago, many of the short stories are now available online for free, and I enjoy reading them. Here is a link to one of my favorites, “Microbe” by Joan Slonczewski: http://www.davidmswitzer.com/slonczewski/microbe2.html

In the final chapter, “A Xenologist’s Bookshelf,” Schmidt lists references that may prove helpful to aspiring science fiction writers. I will check out one that should help me calculate the “goldilocks” zone for planets circling different star types because I’m not sure I did it right for my current work-in-progress.

Because of the book’s age and the fact that the science is 20 years out of date, I don’t think I would pay the $15 Amazon suggests for a hard copy or the $10 for an e-book. I found my copy at McKay’s used bookstore for $2, and consider it a deal. If you could find this book used or at a library, I recommend picking it up, as it is definitely worth reading.

The Imperials, a species overview

20 Nov


The Imperial’s home planet, First Egg, is the second planet in the system from the sun, 125 million km out. It has a 23-hour day and a 278-day year. It is moonless.

The dominant life form is insect-like in organization: matriarchal like ants or bees. Their lower six legs are hinged like crickets, or grasshoppers. They lay eggs. Their biology is more similar to that of lizards than to that of insects. [Note: Imperials are aliens, so any Earth analogy will be at best approximate.]     The empire/feudal state that they stagnated in for thousands of years was a natural result of their biology.

Their civilization is called the Imperium, so its citizens are called Imperials in translation. They believe deeply in honor — honor through battle and through pushing back frontiers (physical, science, knowledge, art). Imperials are given a one syllable name at hatching. A second syllable is granted when they morph from nymph to plebe. At sexual maturity, adults begin producing pheromones. Each individual’s pheromone has a distinctive overlay, like a fingerprint. Adults are given new names based on the images suggested by their pheromone overlay.

They can regulate body temperature to a certain degree because they possess three sets of lungs and three hearts. Thus, they can hold and warm air. Warmth helps digestion, so they often wear warming vests to help with digestion when working, fighting, or traveling. They are predators, but also omnivores (like humans and ants). They have no nudity taboos.

Imperials have electrical sense receptors in their triple-hinged mouths. In water or on land, an Imperial will stretch his/her/zher mouth wide and “sample” the water/air for electrical impulses. The pheromone receptors are mixed in with the electro-receptors (in an arrangement similar to the rods and cones in human eyes).

Imperials pass through three life stages: nymph, plebe, and adult. They have three genders: male, female, and neuter.

Males are hampered somewhat by their genetics. They are often overcome by a killing rage when queen, eggs, or nymphs are threatened. Traditionally they were foot soldiers, bodyguards, and caregivers for the young, hurt, sick, and aged. As a part of caring for the young, they held most of the teaching positions. Historically, males were not believed to be as intelligent as females and so were not given positions of higher responsibility.

Females require interruptible careers for egg laying. They aren’t particularly nurturing, leaving the caring of the young to the males. They manage the males, the neuters, the young, and lesser females through strength of pheromone (which grows stronger with age and rise in status). They manage aggressive study in spurts. Immersion education is best for adult females. Lesser status females are soldiers (especially ranking soldiers), ranchers, miners, hunters and gatherers, and small group or crew leaders. Females do not do well on female-only teams because competition for status becomes a problem. In feudal times, the alpha females spent all their time and resources fighting with each other and acquiring territory [much as did the leaders of feudal China on Earth].

About 15% of eggs lack a certain hormone-induced protein. These hatch into neuters. Neuters tend to become lawyers, doctors, priests, and other professionals that require clear logic and years of study.

Modern Imperials are no longer limited by the hormonal surges of their genders, and the old stereotypes were set aside during the war against the Pack.

Imperials worship the Winged One, also known as the First One. They know they used to have functional wings (now vestigial and often docked) but believe they lost them in the Fall (similar to Adam/Eve/Garden of Eden). They worship by drumming and dance. They pour out water offerings and burn incense.

Imperials who experiment with Earth cuisine prefer foods like gefilte fish, 100-year-old tofu, kimchi: foods that are sweet and sour, pickled, and/or highly spiced. Imperials enjoy the titillation of pop-rocks or Mentos with Pepsi on their oral electro-receptors (an Imperial’s description of the sensation is similar to that of people who describe champagne bubbles as tickling their noses).

One of the watershed events in their racial history is when the Pack, the dominant species on Winter, the third planet from the sun, invaded First Egg and began to wipe out the Imperials. The Imperials had to set aside their feudal competitions and cooperate. The war for survival lasted five or six generations, giving the habit of planet-wide cooperation time to take root.

In modern galactic society, Imperials serve many roles. They are known for honesty and integrity and meticulous contracts. The best legal experts are Imperials, and often the best judges. Most sentient beings would rather purchase expensive goods such as spaceships and specialty electronics from Imperial sellers, knowing their reputation for integrity, than from any other race. Imperials are one of twelve races with Elder status and a top-level membership in the Galactic Federation.


~This article is a summation of a much longer article in the Galactic Library.

NaNo Update the Third

17 Nov

Here we are, halfway through the month, and I am not behind!

My rather formal alien heroine has delivered at least one quality insult and witnessed a shocking public execution. From her starting point of fearful self-control, she has matured, gaining a measure of wisdom and self-confidence.

I like her; she is both strange and familiar, and I enjoy finding out what she will do next.

One of characters I thought was a main villain may turn into a reluctant ally. The main villain came out of nowhere several chapters ago. He is wickedly arrogant, extremely irritating, and perhaps psychotic. His worst trait, at least to my heroine, is that he has no honor.

27,558 words down; 22,442 to go.

Onward! Up the word count!


Ahbee’s Notebook, excerpt

13 Nov

Language notes [Imperials]:

The language has clicks, trills, and harmony. Speakers speak/whistle in different keys for different types of situations (different key for battle than for home use than for study than for royal court).

The language is tonal with rising & falling inflections.

Due to the species’ mouth parts (no mobile lips), the language has no labials or nasals.

It has high, mid, and low whistles. It has the sounds /s/, /t/, /k/, /q/, /?/; plus alveolar clicks /x/, a dental click /tch/, a lateral click /tk/, a palatal click /tq/.

For electro-sensing-related words, speakers use a sound between /l-r/ in which the tongue is rolled back to expose the electro-receptor glands.

The command form of verbs also incorporates a uvular trill /R/ made with the throat walls. Humans describe it as a “command purr”.

Emphasis and emotion are also conveyed by clashing wing casings and snapping body parts in various ways.

Language is sort of “sung” in keys that indicate formality and emotion.

This language can be complicated for humans to learn because hearing takes up a bigger percentage of these aliens’ brains than hearing does in humans.

Their written language is more simplified than ours, though. It’s sort of written like a music score. The “key” it’s in is denoted by a geometric shape at the beginning of passages.

In transliteration to the English alphabet, three vowels in a row (iii) indicate a rising tone, two vowels in a row (ii) a steady tone, and one vowel (i) a falling tone.

Factual Basis for Ahbee’s Universe

6 Nov

As a reader of science fiction, I enjoy authors whose stories are set in a believable universe. I don’t blame them, of course, if they get certain things about the future wrong, as long as their predictions are realistic or based on known science at the time. For example, Larry Niven’s Neutron Star or Ringworld are not less engaging because he writes of characters using outdated technology (data tapes). It’s actually somewhat comforting to a newbie writer; if one of the greats can get a detail wrong and still write some of the best science fiction of the century, I should quit OCDing about all the details in my stories.

Still, that doesn’t excuse me from doing my research. Here are some of the events that have happened in space exploration in the past three years that I am using to guess how we colonize our solar system in the next hundred years.

  1. In an article on July 31, 2010, Elon Musk said, “I’m planning to retire to Mars.” He founded SpaceX to do just that. You can read the full article at
  2. In 2010, SpaceX, though the best funded and furthest along, was not alone. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, had founded Blue Origin in 2000. John Carmack (the man behind Doom and Quake) founded Armadillo Aerospace. Richard Branson was starting Virgin Galactic. Jeff Greason had started XCOR Aerospace. Steve Bennett owned  Starchaser. Private industry was beginning to sail in waters previously controlled mainly by governments.
  3. Also in 2010, NASA made Commercial Crew Development awards to stimulate the private sector, encouraging them to develop and demonstrate human spaceflight capabilities.
  4. In 2011, a number of companies began making noises about space missions and mining asteroids. The United States retired its space shuttles and contracted out its astronaut and supply runs to the International Space Station (ISS) to private contractors.
  5. On May 31, 2012, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule returned to Earth successfully after its first commercial flight to the ISS.
  6. On July 16, 2012, SpaceX received its first science mission from NASA, launching a NOAA spacecraft.
  7. On August 1, 2012, Eric Anderson announced the formation of Planetary Resources, Inc., to mine asteroids. He laid out his business plan and named some (but not all) of his co-investors: Google bosses Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, Titanic director James Cameron, and Ross Perot, Jr., (son of the former presidential candidate).  [In Captain Tsuvecki’s backstory, she gets her start on Planetary Resources’ refueling stations.]
  8. In 2013, all of SpaceX’s missions can be considered a success. In fact, they have six Dragon rockets in various stages of construction.  Check out their Facebook page for more information: https://www.facebook.com/SpaceX
  9. The icing on the cake, as far as my story line goes, is the 2013 Congress’s current refusal to give NASA any 2014 funding for asteroid retrieval science. Since Congress has not actually passed a budget, that decision isn’t final, but I think some sly person linked climate warming science with asteroid retrieval science in the minds of the US Representatives. That’s what the articles I’ve read suggest, anyway.

So, I predict that Earth governments will not be the ones to colonize our solar system; private industry will do it.

That may be a good thing. Mining asteroids in space or on the moon will hopefully mean we can stop hazardous, environmentally damaging mining operations on Earth.

While asteroid mining and space exploration can be mostly automated, and while automation may be cheaper than human-staffed missions, I think some people underestimate the human psyche’s need to explore: ” to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Those words have resonated with audiences for three generations now, and I find it inconceivable that human beings will settle for exploring our solar system by remote control. Some of us will actually go there.

NaNoWriMo Update

3 Nov

Today is Sunday, November 3.

Here I sit at my local Panera  for the first Write-In of the month. One of the other Nano writers from Chattanooga actually beat me here: London Boyd. We’ve both exceeded our word goals so far; she’s about double, and I’m only ahead by a few hundred. Still.

I’m excited about where my story is going and about how the world and characters are unfolding. Some of the details (such as how my heroine prefers fresh, raw lizards to spicy dried ones) have surprised me.

One obvious lack in my planning is my failure to map my world. As a result, I end up guessing about where things are and having to name locations on the fly. Next time, I’ll know better.

Onward! Up the word count!

Galactic Politeness Policy

1 Nov

Excerpted from a more extensive article in the Galactic Library, First Level:


Galactic Policy Regarding Alien Racial Referencing

Galactic politeness standards dictate that references to alien cultures proceed as follows:

(1)         Race A refers to Race B by the name Race B refers to itself, if Race A is physically able to do so;

(2)        Race A refers to Race B by the translation into Race A’s language of the name Race B uses to refer to itself;

(3)        If, as is common, Race B uses a variant of the words “people,” “tribe,” or “clan,” then Race A may come up with a non-derogatory, descriptive name for Race B, which Race B has the right to veto if they find it insulting.

  1. Once Race B has approved a name suggested by Race A, Race A will use that name and only that name to refer to Race B in all governmental, educational, scientific, and commercial communications.

(4)        Use of non-approved names by Race A governments, educational institutions, research centers, and businesses is sufficient grounds for Race B to bring suit for offense in a district Galactic Propriety Court.

Proof of Life, Part 31

5 Oct

October 3, 2131

Hidaya sent a remote video probe to examine the asteroid. It looked pitted and scarred and old, but the chemical signature was unmistakable. After examining it closely, she decided it was not natural.

“This was obviously made, Memre’. But why? To what purpose? As a joke? A time capsule?” She snapped her fingers. “That’s it! There must be something inside. Maybe a time capsule or a coffin. Who knows? Can our scanners pick up anything about the asteroid’s center?”

“Something at the center of the asteroid seems to confuse our scanners.”

“I guess we’ll have to get a look at it another way.”

She sent a second, laser-equipped remote to gradually heat up the asteroid’s exterior, boiling the elements away. Inside was an odd, metallic spiral.

“What is that?”

“Unknown, Captain. Sensor readings do not match any material in our databanks.”

“Hmmm. There’s something about the shape, too. That spiral reminds me of a seashell.” She directed the video remote to move in more closely.

“What can the sensors tell us, Memre’?”

“The object is a golden mean; it rotates pi times; and it seems to have fractal edges at the wide end that my instruments can’t accurately measure.”

Hidaya started to tremble. “That banded exterior, Memre’, could have been somebody’s practical joke, but that shell thing –“Her voice broke, but she forced herself to continue her reasoning. “It’s probably alien, right? I mean, our fancy, high-tech scanners don’t recognize the material. It’s math inside and chemistry outside: the same kind of thing we put in our early messages to the stars. With that gaudy exterior, it clearly was meant to be found.”

She waited, hoping Memre’ would contradict her. Memre’ didn’t: “This is beyond my programming, Captain.”

Goosebumps rose on her arms. “That object could be a bomb, a piece of art, a scientific monitoring device, or something we have no word for.”

Her legs felt rubbery, and the blood from her pounding heart roared in her ears. She leaned against a cabin wall. “The universe just shifted.”


“I’ve come a long way toward overcoming my fear of people, but aliens?! That’s different by a whole order of magnitude! Consider what humans do to each other, regularly committing atrocities. How can we expect that aliens, with whom we will share no common bonds, will treat us better? And how will people react to this proof of other intelligent life in the universe? We have a deep-seated need to think of ourselves as the center of creation, as Galileo found out all too well.”

Her legs gave way, and she sank to the floor. “This find will not go over well back home. I have a big decision to make.”