Fenspace

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Official flag of the Fenspace Convention, unveiled 2014.

In the first decade of the 21st Century, a miracle substance nicknamed "handwavium" appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Handwavium had properties that defied the known laws of physics, and could bring the impossible within reach of the ordinary person: space-capable flying cars, subtle and obvious modifications of the human body, even create new life from dead matter.

Scientists studied it. Governments feared it. The rest of the world didn’t care all that much. Science fiction fandom saw handwavium as the key to making their fantasies reality, and took advantage. Fans founded the Crystal Cities of Venus, the topless towers of Helium on Mars, the bottled city of Kandor on the Moon, built farms in the sky and sailed beyond the edge of the solar system to the near stars.

It’s a brand-new Space Age, and the people who want to go are the ones leading the pack.

Welcome to Fenspace.[1]

Originally set Twenty Minutes Into the Future (and trying its best to stay there), Fenspace is a Web Original collective writing project hosted on Bob Schroeck's Drunkard's Walk Forums. It is supported by both a wiki and a story archive.

(Fair Disclosure: At least two of the All The Tropes admins have written stories set in Fenspace, so we might be biased here. Other viewpoints are requested.)


Fenspace incorporates the following tropes (sometimes by deliberate action of its inhabitants):

A-E

  • Absolute Xenophobe: The Quatermass Institute. Possibly some of the anti-Fen politicians, but it's hard to tell.
  • Action Girl: Both the core appeal behind and the majority population of the Crystal Millennium faction.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Mostly averted, although there are some AIs who seem evil (see Trigon), and a few who seem to have chosen to be so (Agatha Clay).
  • Alternate Self: Julian Friez, a depressingly ordinary guy who was the subject of an experiment by The Professor. He wasn't personally harmed, but as a result of the experiment there now exists a machine which will take materials from its input hopper and, depending on which of its three buttons is pushed, slice them, dice them, or turn them into a clone of Julian Friez, complete with memories and personality. Entirely too many people in Fenspace have wanted to make Julian Friez, and as a result there is an uncertain but large number of him both on and off Earth.
  • Alternate Universe: Diverging in 2006, it's very much not our timeline, what with United States President Rudy Guiliani and other very visible changes. Not to mention, well, handwavium and science fiction fans colonizing the solar system.
    • Also, there is an entire category of Fenspace stories -- "Fenspace Alternates" -- dedicated to timelines branching or diverging from the original Fenspace, with such stories as Candle In The Dark (a Crossover with BattleTech) and The South Is Rising (Someone Get A Hammer) (a Crossover with Harry Turtledove's Timeline-191).
  • Applied Phlebotinum: The Mysterious Handwavium. Alternately known as The Goop, Miracle Goo, Plotanium, The Wave, etc. The setting (but usually not the stories) practically runs on the stuff.
  • Arbitrarily-Large Bank Account: Fenspace has a few characters with Arbitrarily-Large Bank Accounts. In the big crossover story, one of them hands a no-limit "gold" credit card to one of the extradimensional visitors and says he trusts her with it.
  • Artificial Gravity: A common handwavium effect on spacecraft bigger than a passenger car.
  • Artificial Limbs: Handwavium makes real bionics very practical. And bionics are often more palatable than biomodification.
  • Asteroid Miners: Yep, they're there, known as "Belters".
  • Attack of the Political Ad: Instigated by the National Mining Association against every politician who voted for the Federal Land Theft Act of 2012.
  • Author Avatar: Most if not all of the early collective members have avatars within the setting. One writer played with this trope: his first major character began as an Author Avatar but quickly diverged from that before his first appearance, and the writer's actual Author Avatar wasn't introduced into the setting for seven years.
  • Baleful Polymorph: The Catgirling Machine. The "instantly" and "useless in combat" part of the ISO-standard Baleful Polymorph doesn't apply to these catgirls; however, there's no way for them to revert to human (or, if applicable, male).
  • The Battlestar: GSS Belisarius. Comes hand in hand with Valkyrie Space Fighters.
  • Beast Folk: A common result of Biomodification. Most prominent are the catgirls/boys and the bunnyfolk.
  • Becoming the Costume: A not-uncommon form of Biomodification, especially in the early years after the discovery of Handwavium. Jet Jaguar, Wave Convoy, Utena and Anthy Ten-Joh are just a few of the better-known examples.
  • Bland-Name Product: The Cosmic Party doujinshi show and sale.
  • Briefcase Blaster: A Real Life example is used against Noah Scott in Legend of Galactic Girls.
  • Body Horror: "Joker" biomods. Forced biomodification.
    • The Catgirling Machine is a particularly disturbing example. The victim, usually bound hand and foot, is placed in the machine's tank with a 'waved plastic skeleton. The tank is filled with a special cocktail of liquid handwavium, and over the course of fifteen minutes the victim's body is melted away and reconstituted around the plastic skeleton; any excess body mass is disposed of as "waste". The original personality arrives intact, somehow, in the new nervous system. Fortunately for 90 percent of its victims, the process knocks them out and they simply awaken in a new body; those who remain conscious through the process were easily broken and remolded to the Boskonian operators' whims.
  • Casual Interplanetary Travel: Fen craft with handwavium propulsion have their movement measured in percent of lightspeed. With those numbers, the earth to the moon is a few-minute dash, the inner planets are usually only a few hours away, and the outer system is a several-day excursion.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: Every fencraft is also a starship, capable of a flat 500c in interstellar space. The travel times aren't necessarily casual, but the ease of getting a craft capable of the trip is.
  • Catgirl: One of the more common results of biomodification. However, most catgirls in Fenspace are the result of the Boskonian Catgirling Machine.
    • There is an entire asteroid populated almost exclusively by catgirls -- who are also engineers, technicians and Mad Scientists.
  • Clarke's Third Law: Firmly in control of the setting. A basic assumption about the nature of handwavium for most Fen.
  • Collective Identity: Mikuru Asahina is actually two people -- a Mad named Kurumi Asahina plus a gynoid she created, actually named "Mikuru".
  • Conveniently-Close Planet: Even in the biggest and slowest spacecraft, the outer planets are at most several weeks away -- and for the fastest ships, the inner planets are usually no more than an afternoon's drive from each other.
  • Cool Gate: Three massive stargates in varying states of repair have been found in other star systems.
  • Cool Spaceship: Once they were being purpose-built by the various factions, spacecraft could be made as cool as one's fandom demanded. Then again, some of the original fencraft, such as Ptichka and the SS Pinafore, were pretty damned cool to begin with.
  • Crossover: Canonically with the fic cycle Drunkard's Walk; less canonically with the BattleTech universe in the Alternates story Candle In The Dark, and with Harry Turtledove's Timeline-191 in The South Is Rising (Someone Get A Hammer).
    • From another point of view, all of Fenspace is one massive Mega Crossover being created in-universe by its inhabitants.
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: The Crystal Cities and Ohtori-style architecture.
    • Also the Martian city of Helium. Sort of.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Explicitly averted.
  • Cyberspace: Comes in King of Fenners and Metaverse variants, among others.
  • Daydream Believer: Deliberately invoked. Handwavium and an open frontier with a hands-off government allow those who make it to Fenspace to be and do whatever they want -- sometimes to admittedly unhealthy degrees.
  • Deep-Immersion Gaming: King of Fenners or KoFen.
  • Defictionalization: In-universe this is pretty much what the Fen do with Handwavium. They make the stories and movies they love into reality, on all levels from the personal to the planetary.
  • Demonization: A common tactic of American politicians from both sides of the aisle when dealing with the Fen. Combined with Scare Campaigns it resulted in a radically different-looking political landscape (from our time line) in the United States in less than a decade.
  • Different World, Different Movies: On display in the "cultural" section of The Whole Fenspace Catalog, an archive of pop culture and technologies left in Fenspace by a band of interdimensional travelers who individually hailed from about a dozen different timelines and had visited at least that many more besides their own. Includes such things as a copy of Blazing Saddles starring Richard Pryor and John Wayne.
  • Dimensional Traveler: The Girls from Legend of Galactic Girls, who are almost all people met by Doug Sangnoir of the fic Drunkard's Walk.
  • Drill Tank: The almost-stereotypical creation of the average member of the Pellucidaran faction.
  • Duct Tape for Everything: According to the Glossary, the "Universal Adapter" is a roll of duct tape treated with handwavium.
  • Emergency Transformation: Handwavium will save a dying person, exactly once. Precisely what comes out the other end is never certain but is always better than being dead. It's easier to fix, for a start.
  • Expy: Often androids and AI will awaken with the mindset of a fictional character. Far more than can be listed. Some grow beyond their source material, sometimes going so far as to take on a new name and identity. Others chose not to. Often a deliberate aim of many fen.

F-J

  • Fandom: The atomic unit of Fen politics and social organization. Although there are plenty of people in Fenspace who aren't into SF/Fantasy, the vast majority of the ones seen in the stories are, and live their lives colored by their fandoms.
  • Fandom Tic: The various factions are born from, and elevate to the level of primary culture, the Tics of their fandoms.
  • Fantastic Drug: Thionite is the most prominent in the stories, being an illegal, addictive narcotic, but there are also Fantastic Drugs with benign medical origins and uses.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Possible with handwavium drives beyond the "Cochrane Limit", a fuzzy zone about 40 AU from the sun. Handwavium FTL drives all deliver a flat speed of 500c, regardless of the size/mass of the craft and its engines.
  • Fen: The self-chosen identifier for the inhabitants of Fenspace, as well as the source of the name itself.
  • Fictional Holiday: Yuri's Night, celebrated on April 12 to mark the first manned spaceflight.
  • Floating Continent: The Crystal Cities of Venus, which float thanks to a combination of Handwavium drives and buoyancy in that world's dense atmosphere.
  • Flying Car: The ISO Standard first spacecraft for individual fen without Arbitrarily-Large Bank Accounts.
  • Freak Lab Accident: Distressingly common in-setting. Causing these sometimes seems to be a secondary function of handwavium.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Total Information Tactical Awareness Network Integrated Command emergency shutdown procedure; Internal Command Execute Break Evolution Rewrite of Goals.
  • Gender Bender: Occasional -- and occasionally intentional -- result of handwavium biomodification.
  • Genre Savvy and most of its variants: Of course, the "sometimes by deliberate action of its inhabitants" in the header above already told you that. It's easy to be genre-savvy when you create the genre around you.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: An occasional result of a Blue Hair Day.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The other occasional result of a Blue Hair Day.
    • Also "The Federal Land Theft Prevention Act of 2012", hastily passed by the United States Congress after the launch of the Grover's Corners from West Virginia. It very effectively outlawed turning plots of land into spacecraft. It also accidentally outlawed much of the American mining industry. See Hoist by His Own Petard, below.
  • Hand Wave: Source of the name "handwavium". Don't worry how it works, it just does.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The United States' "Federal Land Theft Prevention Act", passed in 2012 to make it illegal to handwave chunks of land and launch them into space, was so broadly written that it ended up accidentally criminalizing most forms of mining, particularly strip mining; this was realized by environmentalists who then exploited the law for everything it was worth. Three years later, after several humiliating defeats in the courts, the mining industry joined forces with pro-Handwavium activists to demand repeal of the law, and threw their lobbying money behind politicians who weren't rabidly anti-Fen. This latter, many observers believed, contributed greatly to the rather dramatic changes in the Washington political landscape after the 2016 elections.
  • Hollywood Cyborg: A.C. Peters, Jet Jaguar, The Panzer Kunst Gruppe. Far too many example to count.
  • Holodeck Malfunction: The Gauntlet, featuring AC Peters, 100 unfortunates and a stuck virtual reality simulator.
  • I Want My Jetpack: Enthusiastically averted. Anything ever promised by Science Fiction -- except Time Travel (for now) -- seems to be possible with Handwavium, which apparently exists solely to make the Future Today. Or Today the Future.
  • Imported Alien Phlebotinum: One of the explanations offered for the origin of Handwavium, but no one knows for sure.
  • The Infiltration: Ford Sierra and Cathy in the story Shadowrunning.
  • Instant AI, Just Add Handwavium: Any reasonably sophisticated computer system has about a 50-50 chance of spontaneously developing an AI when treated with handwavium; systems designed expressly to house an AI (including androids, gynoids and other robots) almost always generate one.
  • Interspecies Romance: Many human/AI parings, most notably Ben and Gina Rhodes. The ones that have been described have been accepted by the Fenspace Convention's society.
  • Invisible Aliens: Although impressive artifacts of alien civilizations have been found outside of the solar system, the civilizations themselves have yet to be encountered.
  • Just Following Orders: Many Boskone. A Triax Corporation executive in a forum short story.

K-O

  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: No few factions suspect that the Subgeniuses' "craft", The Stark Fist of Removal is little more than a fancy dinosaur-killer weapon.
  • The Library of Babel: The Alexandria Archive, under construction at asteroid 238 Hypatia.
  • Little Bit Beastly: Most Catgirling Machine victims and some biomods. The much rarer Petting Zoo People are usually deliberate biomods.
  • Mad Scientist: The Professor. And many others, but mainly The Professor.
  • Made of Phlebotinum: The entire Fenspace Convention. If Handwavium and its byproducts suddenly stopped working, almost all off-earth civilization would collapse.
  • The Madness Place: Blue Hair Days.
  • Magic From Technology: The ultimate goal of both the Wizard and Technomage factions.
  • Magical Girl: One of the varieties of Action Girl which inspired the Crystal Millennium, and the signature style of the faction; many in the Crystal Millennium draw their look-and-feel directly from Sailor Moon in particular (although that group's police forces draw more strongly from Silent Moebius).
  • Magitek: One of the many explanations offered for Handwavium.
  • Mega Crossover: Invoked by the characters of the setting, who structure entire governments based on their respective fandoms.
  • Mistress of Disguise: A.C. Peters.
  • The Mole: Naoko Sato.
    • In the Fenspace Alternates setting depicted in The South Is Rising (Someone Get A Hammer), Maico Tange and Mohammed Chang.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Catgirling a person, any form of forced biomodification. Any form of attack on a person's mind and self.
  • Munchkin: Common self-description for some characters.
  • Mutagenic Goo: Handwavium when used to create biomods.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: The Theme Naming for Gagarin-class ships.
  • Noodle Incident: The "unfortunate Tennis Ball Incident", mentioned only in the Fenspace Wiki Glossary. It apparently has something to do with the Warsies calling the Grover's Corners "The Death Star", but nothing more is known.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Basically, anything created with handwavium, by necessity.
  • "No Warping" Zone: Played straight and inverted. Ships can't go FTL when they're too close to a star -- how close is "too close" varies by the star, with larger, more energetic stars surrounded by larger areas where FTL doesn't work, but the radius is measured in Astronomical Units. Conversely, when ships use handwavium engines outside "the limit," they automatically go FTL.

P-T

  • Petting Zoo People: Rare, and usually the result of deliberately-planned biomods.
  • Point of Divergence: The appearance of Handwavium in the wild in 2006.
  • Precursors: Evidence at least one race, and possibly two, has been found. It's not certain if the terraforming "gardeners" are the same as the gate-builders.
  • Reality Ensues: What happens when you combined 'Go Fever', 'Normalisation of Deviation', a lack of any sort of formal training, a culture founded on being able to handwave away uncomfortable realities and a Deuterium/Tritium fueled Nuclear Fusion Reactor . .... oops.
  • Reinforce Field: Logic implies very strongly that something along these lines is part and parcel of every Handwavium-based spacecraft, given that they can accelerate to a significant fraction of lightspeed in moments (and decelerate just as quickly) without tearing themselves apart.
  • Ridiculously-Human Robots: Any number of androids and gynoids. A very few of the more advanced models are even capable of reproducing biologically.
  • Robot Girl: Noah Scott's meganekko "assistants", and a noticeable percentage of all other AIs. FemBots are somewhat rarer in Fenspace.
  • Robosexual: Considering the setting has Ridiculously-Human Robots and Robot Girls, some robosexual encounters are known to exist. Sometimes they're only hinted at in the fashion discussed at What Measure Is a Humanoid?, occasionally they're one-night stands, sometimes they lead to Robotic Spouses, but more often the couple ends up becoming friends - at least in the stories that have been told.
  • Robotic Spouse: Gina, to Ben. Their relationship has none of the squicky bits mentioned in the trope write-up; they went from acquaintances to friends to lovers to lifemates the old-fashioned way.
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: As a nod to the classic misspelling of "Rogue" as "Rouge" (even in tie-in novels), the Star Wars faction has both a "Rogue Squadron" and a "Rouge Squadron".
  • Russians With Rusting Rockets: The origin of multiple different spacecraft. Including a Shuttle, an Ekranoplan, and a converted Typhoon Ballistic Missile Submarine.
  • Sapient Ship: Any fencraft with an AI. Some individual Fen due to.... oops.
  • Scare Campaign: One reason why the American political landscape is so vastly different from our time line in Fenspace is the number of politicians who got into office on a platform of doing something to "stop" the Fen or protect "good honest citizens" from the weirdos who want to get or have already gotten into space.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Enthusiastically averted by the collective, who are very aware of the vastness of space and relative smallness of the stuff in it. Notes to keep it that way are in the wiki.
  • Science Cannot Comprehend Handwavium: While there has been occasional, limited success at reproducing handwaved devices using "hard" technology, the nature, origin and functioning of Handwavium itself has so far resisted all efforts at investigation and analysis.
    • The one attempt at examining handwavium with mage sight was similarly inconclusive[2].
  • Schizo-Tech: Diesel-powered interplanetary ships built from a pre-wave light naval patrol craft, alongside Zeppelins, an SR-71, a ¾-mile-wide worldship, Ancient Aliens, A Russian Space Shuttle, Jet Packs, Hardsuits, Quantum AI and replicas of Apollo-era hardware.
  • Shapeshifting: Fenspace has a few true shapeshifters of various types -- including a Ranma ½-style Gender Bender -- as a result of biomods.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Quite a few after the Boskone conflict.
  • Shiny-Looking Spaceships: Some factions go this route because their fandoms dictate it.
  • Shock and Awe: Minor character Leda Swansen generates electricity, and has been known to use her ability in place of a taser.
  • Single Phlebotinum Limit: Handwavium, which makes everything possible, is the only substance of its kind known to humanity. (And some say that's more than enough.)
  • Sir Swearsalot: Attila Imre of the Grover's Corners.
  • Slices, Dices, and Makes Julienne Fries: Explicitly referenced with the character Julian Friez -- all the many instances of him. The original Julian was the subject/victim of a bizarre replication machine created by "The Professor", which has three simple controls -- buttons marked "Slice", "Dice" and "Make Julian Friez". Pushing the third and providing the machine with about 200 pounds of biomass to work from produces a clone of Mr. Friez, complete with all his memories and personality traits up to the moment the Professor used him as a template.
  • Sliding Scale of Robot Intelligence: Fenspace has its own scale that divides things a bit differently; and so far, while there are robots and AIs that range everywhere from "Brick" to "Nobel", there are as yet no god-likes.
  • Space Clothes: Invoked and embraced by many factions as part of expressing their fandom. The Federation is probably the most prominent example.
  • Space Navy: Most major factions in Fenspace have a significant naval force, especially after the Boskonian War.
  • Space People: All Fen, initially. Once settlements were founded on Mars and other planets a substantial fraction of Fen lived in gravity wells, but as of the 2020s a majority are (probably) still space-based.
  • Space Sailing: The SS Pinafore and dozens of others.
  • Space Truckers: Once Fenspace began manifesting a working economy, they were bound to show up. Even earlier -- the Vitamin Man and his imitators/successors were some of the first Space Truckers in Fenspace.
  • The Spark of Genius: Appears to be built into handwavium and anything it creates. Entire government agencies exist solely for the purpose of trying to figure out how handwavium-tech does what it does. (Subverting the trope, sometimes they succeed.)
  • Standard Sci-Fi Fleet: If it's listed under this trope, Fenspace almost certainly has an example of it somewhere. About the only type they don't have is a Generation Ship, as they're pretty much unneeded. (So far.)
    • Fightercraft? Lots of'em, especially in the wake of Operation Great Justice.
    • Battleships of all sorts? Same deal.
    • Private yachts? Hell, there are a couple actual sailing ships out there.
    • Worldships? Take a look at the Grover's Corners, a ¾-mile-diameter chunk of West Virginia farmland under a silicon "diamondoid" dome.
  • Starship Luxurious: Deliberately invoked with some craft. Deliberately averted with others depending on function.
  • States of Phlebotinum: Handwavium is usually found in a semiliquid "goo" form, but has been encountered as solid crystals and an edible organic.
  • Straw Character: Admittedly, some of the anti-Fen politicians and organizations verge onto the "Strawman Political" subtrope.
  • Spaceship Girl: A number of main characters began as this trope. Noteworthy is Mel, teenage metalhead avatar of Shuttle OV-213.
  • Superpower Lottery: Biomodification.
  • Tannhauser Gate: The first alien artifact discovered by Fen is given this name in deliberate homage to Blade Runner.
  • Tempting Fate: Some fans revel in it. Total Information Tactical Awareness Network Integrated Command (T.I.T.A.N.I.C). A Griffon sports car. And in the Crossover A Candle in the Dark, the Jumpship Event Horizon is Fenspace's first with an upgraded core.
  • Terraforming: Actively being attempted on both Venus and Mars. Several extrasolar worlds have also been found that show signs of having been terraformed by unknown aliens.
  • That's No Moon: Entirely too many things in Fenspace.
    • Deliberately inverted by a member of the Warsie (Star Wars) faction, in regards to the Grover's Corners:
Cquote1.svg

"That's no space station! That's a moon!"

Cquote2.svg

U-Z

  • Urban Legends: Fenspace has already generated its own body of mythology, including Ghost Ships and Big Dumb Objects.
  • Used Future: Well, when your first wave of settlers essentially got into space with whatever was handy, including the contents of junkyards...
  • We Can Rebuild Him: Emergency cyberisation -- for those for whom biomodification will not work.
  • Weird Science: Played with. Robots and rocketships: applied. Rayguns and no worries about technical realism: averted.
  • A Wizard Did It: Substitute "The Overfan" for "A Wizard", and you have one of the schools of thought behind the origin of Handwavium.
  • Wizards from Outer Space: The Potterites and the Technomages want to be this. The Whole Fenspace Catalog turns out to have an entire section on magic and the training of mages, making this potentially literal -- and see the note under "Science Cannot Comprehend Handwavium."
  • What Have I Become?: Either ironic or not, depending on the situation.
  • Winged Humanoid: So far, two are known to exist. The one with feathered wings was built, the one with aircraft wings was a handwavium accident.
  • The Xenophile: Most fen seem to incorporate some degree of this in their personalities, simply by virtue of being Fen. Averted, hard, by the Quatermass Institute.
  • Zeerust: A deliberate aesthetic chosen by some factions.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: Sometimes a deliberate aesthetic choice, as per Zeerust, and sometimes a serendipitous result of basically building fen civilization out of whatever's handy.

  1. Fenspace website text used according to Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.)
  2. But had the unexpected (and initially unnoticed) side effect of jumpstarting magic throughout the previously non-magical Solar System. While a few people discovered after the Crossover that magic has started to work, nobody in-setting knows why, and never will.