What I would do with the Stargate program

Advance warning: This post was written while not entirely sober and consists entirely of extremely nerdy overthinking of a weird 90s/early 2000s TV series. If you haven’t watched stargate you don’t care. If you have you probably still don’t care.

People seemed to like my competent Stargate season 1 and there was some demand for me to write a season 2.

I’m not massively keen on the idea. The problem is that it just starts to diverge too radically for my tastes. Season 1 I could more or less do along the lines of “I wonder how this would happen if they didn’t mess it up completely“? and basically play the initial conditions forward.

The problem is that at this point earth is in a much stronger position, all the rules and players are different, and I’d have to actually start making serious decisions about the universe and the consequences in it.

And at this point you run into the fact that the universe doesn’t actually make much sense. The rules are inconsistent and the simple fact is that the Goa’uld level of technology and industry makes absolutely no sense. You simply cannot perform the level of construction that they routinely perform with the industrial base they have (maybe this is addressed in some of the RPG materials? I haven’t read them).

So basically this all requires a level of universe building in order to rationalise it that a) Takes us significantly away from the core concept of “What would happen if people were competent?” and b) If I were going to do I’d actually write my own fiction instead.

I also don’t like that the requirement of competence basically means that Sam and Teal’C can’t be on SG1. Aside from the fact that I’ve removed everyone from the team who isn’t a white man, I really like them as characters and it would be a shame to not have them on the team.

On the other hand, I really cannot justify a competent version of the universe where the foremost expert on the Stargate and the person who is a hugely valuable source of intelligence and will routinely get you in trouble on every world you go to because he’s got “I am a bad guy” literally tattooed on his forehead.

So basically although I stand by the idea that I think this is how it would have played out, it doesn’t really put the story in a position I’d want to write about.

All that being said, I do have some interesting ideas…

This post is about one set of those ideas: Suppose you gave me an R&D budget and the ability to make strategic decisions. What would I do to the Stargate program?

All of this is stuff that could have been figured out fairly early on and mostly does not depend on detailed semantics of how the stargates work.

My plan basically consists of two complimentary parts:


OK. So “seeing the thing someone else is dialling” is a known security vulnerability where you can totally figure out where someone who has gone through the stargate went. This happens literally all the time in the series.

Even if we’re not in competent verse where no-one in the Goa’uld knows the address for earth, we still don’t want the knowledge to proliferate.

So, rule 1 is: You never, ever, dial earth from an insecure location.

An insecure location in this case meaning “Any Stargate not enclosed in a building surrounded by soldiers”.

i.e. we establish off world bases today. The stargate program does not operate out of Cheyenne mountain. The stargate program operates out of multiple off planet bases. At least two, ideally three or more. Ideally you’d follow the “Stick the stargate deep in a mountain” approach that both earth and the alpha site use in the classic series, but for starters you’re still better off just sending a bunch of marines through the stargate and having them stick a tent over it. We can improve from there.

Obviously you never gate directly to any of these worlds either. That would be silly. You’d be revealing your bases.

No, your route home is always that you gate to one of the dozen worlds that you have been specifically tasked with memorizing and not allowed off world before you’ve passed a test proving you’ve memorized them. These are allocated to you at random from a set of worlds that have been explored and designated really really boring (ideally uninhabited, certainly with no permanent Goa’uld presence). You then gate to one of the established bases. If you need to get back to earth you gate to earth from there.

Obviously the gating to earth process is not automated and the coordinates are not stored anywhere.

Equally obviously, none of the people you regularly send on expeditions know the coordinates. I mean why would you do anything so stupid as sending someone who knows the address of earth into enemy territory?

As soon as is feasible, every offworld base is equipped with an ultrasound scanner. All incoming travellers are given an ultrasound scan to determine whether or not they carry a Goa’uld.

(Depending on whether we know about Cimmeria or not, and whether we’re in competentverse, anyone detected as infected is sent there. Obviously in competentverse we weren’t stupid enough to send Teal’C there and destroy Thor’s hammer as a result, so that’s still a viable solution)

As a result the chances of anyone discovering your off world bases is low (they’d need a watcher on the planet you were on) and the chances of getting to earth from there is even lower.

You also don’t gate out from earth to anywhere except one of these bases. This is less mandatory, but signals are bidirectional through a stargate, so if I were being security conscious I sure wouldn’t want to give people the ability to fire a beacon back through the world I gated to.

As a bonus, the offworld bases act as a firebreak. If, for example, we bring back a bomb, a plague, gate into a black hole, etc. worst case scenario is you lose the base and the couple of hundred people you’ve stationed there. You don’t lose your entire world of billions of people and the war to save humanity from enslavement.

At this point we’ve been minimally paranoid. Earth is probably not going to get invaded any time soon because they don’t know where we are. Now it’s time to proceed to the technical solutions that will be used to help us take the galaxy from the occupying force that are literally too incompetent to be allowed to live.

Technology to develop

All technology I’m going to suggest is technology that I believe could be developed by 90s era engineering without having to figure out alien super science. This has the advantage that it does not require any knowledge of the details of gate mechanics. All technology I’m interested in here is dumb, mechanical, and is not useful unless we can mass produce it for cheap.

There are basically three pieces of kit I consider it essentially mandatory to develop.

How fast and cheap can we build and install an iris?

In the series the answer is always “super fast, very  not cheap”. The super fast is ludicrously unrealistic and I’m going to assume that there’s lots of behind the scenes prep to which we are not privy because it makes for boring TV. The very not cheap is obvious when they’re talking about precision engineering and extremely expensive materials (some of them literally not available on earth). We don’t want to do that. We want to be making hundreds of irises. If we explore a planet and it has people and doesn’t currently have Goa’uld on it, we want to stick an iris there.

I’m not interested in “we have fancy dilating titanium shield which can withstand an arbitrary number of assaults”. I’m interested in “it might take us ten minutes to undo the iris but that’s OK because the gate stays open for half an hour, and if there’s a major assault we might have to replace it afterwards”. The point is not to be impervious to harm, the point is to have something we can easily install that will be vastly better than not having it there.

This is the sort of solution I’d like to do better than:

  1. Put the stargate on a hinged mount allowing it to rotate forward
  2. Place this arrangement on a concrete platform
  3. Tilt it slightly forward, suspended by cables on a winch
  4. When you get an incoming wormhole drop the stargate. It’s now flush with the concrete (if you’re feeling fancy you can even stick a concrete plint there which perfectly matches the stargate position). Sure, people might half rematerialize on the other side but they won’t actually be able to get even fully out of the wormhole. When the wormhole disengages there will be bits of them to clena up.
  5. If you get a valid GDO signal, winch the stargate up and signal when it’s ready for incoming travellers.

This solution is OK but it is too slow to install. I’m sure a team of military engineers can do better.

Portable dialling devices

It is well established that you can manually dial a stargate if you just provide it with energy. I want a device I can clamp to the side of a stargate with an electric motor and a power source  that can power a stargate for a couple minutes.

We want this for three reasons:

  1. Emergency procedure for when an SG team is stranded due to an issue with the DHD (this happens several times)
  2. Earth needs a DHD (sure, we have the antarctic one, but in competent!SG1 we never find that because why the hell would you dial back to earth when under heavy fire?) and we want a way to take one
  3. The following complete dick move that will bring the Goa’uld war machine to a stand still

Once we have the dialler, people will practice the following operation:

  1. Send a lovely handfull of flash bangs through the stargate
  2. Send an extremely grumpy set of marines through the stargate
  3. Kill or incapacitate every readily available guard
  4. Steal or destroy the DHD
  5. Take it back through the stargate with you
  6. Leave the autodialler behind to self destruct, leaving a pile of meaningless slag
  7. Giggle as you’ve just cut off a Goa’uld world from greater galactic civilization

How effective this is depends. The Goa’uld may or may not be able to build DHDs, but they can certainly ship them in from other places. This will take time and ships, and basically have them running around wasting most of their ships on transit power. In the meantime you have the ability to lock down a substantial proportion of their forces.

Automated DHD covers

The DHD is in almost all ways 100% better than the system that earth has built. It’s easier to use, faster to dial, draws less power, etc.

There’s one way in which it is much worse: It is entirely manual, with no capacity for automation.

Oh, in canon inside it there’s all sorts of fancy computing going on inside it and the stargate network that people eventually figure out how to use. We don’t need any of that.

We’re going to stick a physical cover on top of it with motors that can push each button. We’ll use what we’ve already figured out about the stargate to tap into some basic diagnostics, but worst case scenario we can probably get by with “how much energy is currently flowing through the thing”.

There are a number of use cases for this, most notably that it lets us handle our own infrastructure much better. It also gives us much faster dialling, which is a significant tactical advantage.

It can also be used offensively. Oh so offensively.

Basically, the Goa’uld are going to figure out irises at some point. We can only steal so many DHDs in surprise raids before they realise that maybe they should take a leaf from our book and start blocking incoming travellers.

They’ll probably do something fancy and hard to mass produce like a force field.

Once this start being widespread, we giggle at how annoyed the pompous little megalomaniacs are going to be and turn on the war dialler program.

You see, all you need to permanently shut down a stargate in a way that makes it permanently inoperable is two stargates and good automation. I think with decent scheduling you can shut down n stargates with n + 1.

Here’s how it works:

A stargate can’t dial out when there’s an incoming wormhole. The only defence against this is to dial out faster than your opponent can dial in.

So you dial in and set a timer. Meanwhile your second stargate dials the first 6 symbols. As close to exactly as you can make it, when the timer goes off the first stargate shuts down the wormhole and the second stargate presses the seventh symbol. Voila, new incoming wormhole faster than you can ever dial out.

And what do we do with all this?

Oh that’s policy. I don’t set policy.

But on this front I’m mostly in agreement with canon. Starting with the currently most annoying system lord and killing your way downwards seems like a pretty good strategy.

This entry was posted in Stargate, Uncategorized on by .

6 thoughts on “What I would do with the Stargate program

  1. pozorvlak

    This solution is OK but it is too slow to install. I’m sure a team of military engineers can do better.

    I haven’t seen the series, but would it be acceptable to block up the gate with HESCO bastions and forklift them out of the way when friendlies want to come through?

    1. david Post author

      No, doesn’t work. You need to leave the gate open and drop a barrier in place once the wormhole is open. When a stargate opens there’s a big “whoosh” effect which destroys everything a couple meters in front of it. It will punch a hole in any attempt at a permanent barrier.

      You can block off a gate altogether by filling it up, but there’s no FTL communication other than the gates so this gives you no way to “knock”.

      1. pozorvlak

        Hmmm, OK. How serious an assault do we have to withstand? The flashbangs-and-Marines attack you describe could be made, if not impossible, then much harder by surrounding the gate with a maze of Hescos and Claymores. But that would be no use at all against an enemy who can fire nukes through gates at you.

        By the way, have you read Ken MacLeod’s book Newton’s Wake? Among many many other Good Bits, it includes a number of assault-through-wormhole-gate scenes.

        1. david Post author

          Ah, right, sorry, that’s what the irises are for. Essentially the way the iris works in the series is that it’s a dilating metal cover that goes just over the surface of the wormhole. Once the wormhole has done its initial burst thing you immediately close it.

          The reason this works is that stargate wormholes don’t really behave like you’d expect a wormhole too. They’re not a pure wormhole but are some weird wormhole / transporter hybrid where you’re actually sending a matter stream through. If you put a barrier too closer to the “surface” it prevents reintegration and you just get a thud against the iris (which seems to then vanish back into the wormhole? Exactly what the behaviour of matter that tries to go through an incoming wormhole is is very unclear, but it’s basically not good for it).

          In particular this is an adequate defence against nukes because the nuke doesn’t just hit a barrier, it essentially ceases to exist altogether if it hits a properly constructed iris.

          The semantics of Stargates are quite weird and fairly underspecified in places TBH. And that’s not even counting the episodes where they hadn’t figured them out yet or casually violate them for the sake of plot reasons (to be fair, the latter they usually remember the violation and incorporate it into canon, but that just makes the semantics weirder)

          Note: For a variety of reasons, irises are not a common feature of stargates but are in fact a human innovation. This can largely be explained by the fact that the Goa’uld are ridiculous creatures who are superintelligent and with high technology, but so used to getting by on this fact that they somehow lack any sort of real practical cunning.

          I failed to get into Newton’s Wake. I’ve a bit of a hit and miss relation with ken macleod. I liked Cosmonaut Keep et al but have mostly failed to get into the rest of his work.

          1. SirBob

            What about by default position it face up (flat on it’s back) instead of vertical? Then anything coming though will immediately fall back into the event horizon, and be destroyed. Only make it vertical when you want people to pass though.

            You still might need to worry about aircraft and missiles, but other solutions (inside a mountain, or a web of heavy steel cables outside the whirlpool radius would handle most things).

  2. Pingback: Stargate physics 101 | David R. MacIver

Comments are closed.