On This Page
First, go to The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy and read the entry "FUTURE HISTORY". Then remember the 1950's vision of the history of the future:
Novels that cover several of the following stages include THE REDISCOVERY OF MAN by Cordwainer Smith, BIRTHRIGHT: THE BOOK OF MAN by Mike Resnick, and the anthologies GALACTIC EMPIRES vol. 1 and vol. 2 edited by Brian Aldiss.
1. Exploration of the Solar System
Initial voyages to Luna and the planets of the solar system. Stories of the first efforts to set up terrestrial bases on the planets. Stories of the first colonies on such worlds, their problems internal and external, their conflicts with the parent world, their breakaway or interplanetary commerce, spaceship trade lanes, space pirates, asteroid mining, the weird wonders of the Outer Planets. Examples: TALES OF KNOWN SPACE by Larry Niven, SPACE CADET, FARMER IN THE SKY, THE ROLLING STONES, THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, PODKAYNE OF MARS by Robert Heinlein, SPACE DOCTOR by Lee Corey, HIGH JUSTICE, EXILES TO GLORY, "Tinker" by Jerry Pournelle, LIFEBOAT aka DARK INFERNO by James White, SCAVENGERS IN SPACE by Alan E. Nourse, THE MARTIAN WAY by Isaac Asimov, HIGHER EDUCATION by Pournelle and Sheffield, ISLANDS IN THE SKY, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SKY by Arthur C. Clarke.
2. Slower Than Light Interstellar Travel
First interstellar flights. Starships that must travel centuries and contain generations descended from the original crews. Other planets of other stars. Ben Bova calls this the "Marco Polo" stage of interstellar contact: adventure, strange tales, and artifacts. But no lasting political relations (for better or worse) with the neighbors. Example: TAU ZERO by Poul Anderson, ORPHANS OF THE SKY, TIME FOR THE STARS by Robert Heinlein, THE STARS ARE OURS by Andre Norton, THE OUTCASTS OF HEAVEN'S BELT by Joan Vinge, THE SONG OF DISTANT EARTH and RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA by Arthur C. Clarke.
3. Total or Limited Nuclear War on Terra
Forrest J. Ackerman calls it "atomigeddon". Widespread nuclear death on Terra. Fall of civilization. Mutants. Eventual recovery. Example: A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ by Walter Miller, LOT and LOT'S DAUGHTER by Ward Moore, DAVY and STILL I PERSIST IN WONDERING by Edgar Pangborn, the Hiero Desteen series by Sterling Lanier, VAULT OF AGES by Poul Anderson, DAYBREAK - 2250 A.D. aka STAR MAN'S SON by Andre Norton.
4. Meeting With Aliens
Intelligences on extra-solar planets and our problems with them or against them. Examples: THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE by Niven and Pournelle, "First Contact" by Murray Leinster.
5. Faster Than Light Interstellar Travel
As per #2, but quicker. Examples: VOYAGE OF THE SPACE BEAGLE by A.E. van Vogt, THE LEGION OF SPACE or THREE FROM THE LEGION by Jack Williamson.
6. Colonization of the Galaxy
Human colonies on other solar systems. Contact with Mother Terra, independence or dependence. Commerce - exploitation or otherwise. Go to The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy and read the entry "COLONIZATION". Example: THE STARS LIKE DUST by Isaac Asimov, THE STAR FOX and THE ENEMY STARS by Poul Anderson, THE SEEDLING STARS by James Blish, REVOLT ON ALPHA-C by Robert Silverberg, the Med Service series by Murray Leinster, THE GREAT EXPLOSION by Eric Frank Russell, the Humanx Commonwealth series by Alan Dean Foster.
7. Rise of the Galactic Empire
The rise of contact and commerce between many human-colonized worlds or many worlds of alien intelligences that have come to trust and do business with one another. The problem of mutual relations and the solution, usually in the form of treaties or defensive alliances. Implacable aliens in the cosmos who must be fought. The need for defense. The rise of industrial or financial or political powers, the eventual triumph of one and the establishment of a federation, a union, an alliance, or an autocratic empire of worlds, dominated usually from Old Terra. Example: the Trantorian Empire novels of Isaac Asimov, the Nicholas Van Rijn novels of Poul Anderson, THE HELMSMAN by Bill Baldwin, CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY by Robert Heinlein, THE WITCHES OF KARRES by James Schmitz, THE REDISCOVERY OF MAN by Cordwainer Smith, BIRTHRIGHT: THE BOOK OF MAN by Mike Resnick.
8. Galactic Empire Established
Commerce between worlds an established fact, and adventures while dealing with worlds in and out of the Empire. The farthest planets, those of the Galactic Rim, considered as mavericks. The problem of aliens again outside the Empire, and outside our own galaxy. Politics within the government setup, intrigues, and dynasties, robotic mentalities versus human mentalities. Terraforming worlds for colonization. The exploration of the rest of the galaxy by official exploration ships (from the Survey Service), or adventurers, or commercial pioneers. Examples: The Lensman series by E.E. "Doc" Smith, FEDERATION by H. Beam Piper, the Commodore Grimes series by A. Bertram Chandler, the Sector General novels by James White, THE REDISCOVERY OF MAN by Cordwainer Smith, BIRTHRIGHT: THE BOOK OF MAN by Mike Resnick.
9. Galactic Empire Declines and Falls
Intrigue and palace revolt. Breakaway planets. The alliance of worlds strained beyond its limits by rebellion, alien wars, corruption, scientific inability to keep up with internal or external problems. The rise of restless subject worlds. Decline, then loss of contact with farthest worlds, crumbling of commerce, failure of space lanes, distrust, finally worlds withdrawing into themselves as the empire/alliance/federation/union becomes an empty shell or is destroyed at its heart. Go to The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy and read the entry "FALL OF EMPIRE". Examples: the Foundation novels of Isaac Asimov, THE LAST PLANET aka STAR RANGERS by Andre Norton, the Dominic Flandry novels of Poul Anderson, THE COSMIC COMPUTER aka JUNKYARD PLANET by H. Beam Piper, GALACTIC DERELICT by Andre Norton, THE REDISCOVERY OF MAN by Cordwainer Smith, BIRTHRIGHT: THE BOOK OF MAN by Mike Resnick.
10. The Interregnum or Dark Ages
"The Long Night." Worlds reverting to pre spaceflight conditions, savagery, barbarism, primitive forms of life, superstition. Worlds taking to barbarian raids on defenseless isolated planets, hastening the downfall of knowledge. Fragments of spaceflight, fragments of empire, some starships, some efforts to revive. Thousands of years of loss of contact. Humanity in this period becomes indigenous to most of the habitable planets of the galaxy, forgetting origins. Evolutionary changes may take place. Alteration of form to fit differing world conditions - giant men, tiny men, water-dwelling men, flying men, mutations. Go to The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy and read the entry "INTERREGNUM". Examples: EARTHBLOOD by Keith Laumer, SPACE VIKIKG by H. Beam Piper, THE REDISCOVERY OF MAN by Cordwainer Smith, THE ARMAGEDDON INHERITANCE by David Weber, the Interstellar Empire novels of John Brunner.
11. Rise of a Permanent Galactic Civilization
Restoration of commerce between worlds. The reexploration of lost and uncontacted worlds and the bringing them back to high-technology, democratic levels. The efforts to establish trade between human worlds that no longer seem kin. Beating down new efforts to form empires, efforts which sometimes succeed and revert to approximations of the previous period, with similar results. Eventual rise of galactic harmony among intelligences. The exploration of other galaxies and of the entire universe. Examples: THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE by Niven and Pournelle, "Herbig-Haro" by Harry Turtledove, EMPIRE by H. Beam Piper, STARFOG and "The Star Plunderer" by Poul Anderson, WARLORD by S.M. Stirling and David Drake.
12. Delphic Age
Everybody wears togas. Galactic harmony and an undreamed of high level of knowledge leads to experiments in creation, to harmony between galactic clusters, and possible exploration of the other dimensions of existence. The effort to match Creation and to solve the last secrets of the universe. Sometimes seeking out and confronting the Creative Force or First Cause itself, sometimes merging with it. The end of the universe, the end of time, the beginning of a new universe or a new space-time continuum. Examples: LAST AND FIRST MEN and STAR MAKER by Olaf Stapledon, THE CITY AND THE STARS by Arthur C. Clarke.
Predicting the Future
The following is some suggested reading on the topic of predicting enough broad historical trends that can be used to manufacture your future history. In the following, the term "Psychohistory" refers to the fictional science created by Isaac Asimov in his Foundation trilogy, not the modern Psychohistory. "Cliology" is a variant on Asimovian Psychohistory.
If you are trying to write your own future history, legendary SF author Isaac Asimov shows the way. He took the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, filed off the serial numbers, replaced "Roman Empire" with "Galactic Empire", and thus wrote the Foundation Trilogy. (I jest. Asimov did much more than that. Asimov is one of the giants of science fiction and his Foundation trilogy is rightly considered to be one of the best SF series ever written, period. It's the trilogy, the latter books are to be ignored.) Noted SF author Ken MacLeod said "History is the trade secret of science fiction." If you find Gibbon's Decline and Fall a little overwhelming, there is always the Complete Idiot's Guide to the Roman Empire. If you want something in between, try The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire by Edward Luttwak. For a "crossover" science fictional history, read here. And go to The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy and read the entry "COSMIC BACKGROUND HISTORY".
You can use other sources than history. Glen Cook's marvelous novel SHADOWLINE is a re-telling of Norse mythology. Only instead of Norse gods, it is about futuristic mercenary companies. The mercenary leader Storm is an Odin figure, sending two telepathic flying lizards around to spy in the same way Odin sent Huginn and Muninn. He has robot drone aircraft flying around various battlefields. If they spot some soldier who is valiant, when the soldier is killed the drones swoop down and carry off the body. The soldier is brought back to life by advanced medical techology and given the opportunity to enlist with Storm's mercenary legion, to fight and be reborn forever. This parallels the Norse tales of Valkyries and the undying warriors of Valhalla.
If you want a slightly more scientific method, you could take a stab at simulating future history.
(WITH APOLOGIES TO W. S. GILBERT)
If you ask me how to shine in the science-fiction line as a pro of luster bright,
I say, practice up the lingo of the sciences, by jingo (never mind if not quite right).
You must talk of Space and Galaxies and tesseractic fallacies in slick and mystic style,
Though the fans won't understand it, they will all the same demand it with a softly hopeful smile.
And all the fans will say,
As you walk your spatial way,
If that young man indulges in flights through all the Galaxy,
Why, what a most imaginative type of man that type of man must be.
So success is not a mystery, just brush up on your history, and borrow day by day.
Take an Empire that was Roman and you'll find it is at home in all the starry Milky Way.
With a drive that's hyperspatial, through the parsecs you will race, you'll find that plotting is a breeze,
With a tiny bit of cribbin' from the works of Edward Gibbon and that Greek, Thucydides.
And all the fans will say,
As you walk your thoughtful way,
If that young man involves himself in authentic history,
Why, what a very learned kind of high IQ, his high IQ must be.
Then eschew all thoughts of passion of a man-and-woman fashion from your hero's thoughtful mind.
He must spend his time on politics, and thinking up his shady tricks, and outside that he's blind.
It's enough he's had a mother, other females are a bother, though they're jeweled and glistery.
They will just distract his dreaming and his necessary scheming with that psychohistory.
And all the fans will say,
As you walk your narrow way,
If all his yarns restrict themselves to masculinity,
Why, what a most particularly pure young man that pure young man must be.
"Yes," Harkaman pounced on that last. "I know of at least forty instances, on a dozen and a half planets, in the last eight centuries, of anti-technological movements. They had them on Terra, back as far as the Second Century Pre-Atomic. And after Venus seceded from the First Federation, before the Second Federation was organized."
"You're interested in history?" Rathmore asked.
"A hobby. All spacemen have hobbies. There's very little work aboard ship in hyperspace; boredom is the worst enemy. My guns-and-missiles officer, Van Larch, is a painter. Most of his work was lost with the Corisande on Durendal, but he kept us from starving a few times on Flamberge by painting pictures and selling them. My hyperspatial astrogator, Guatt Kirbey, composes music; he tries to express the mathematics of hyperspatial theory in musical terms. I don't care much for it, myself," he admitted. "I study history. You know, it's odd; practically everything that's happened on any of the inhabited planets has happened on Terra before the first spaceship."
From Probapossible Prolegomena to Ideareal History by James Blish (1978). Blish expounds upon the historical theories of Oswald Spengler.
Civilizations may last for centuries and be extremely eventful; Imperial Rome is a prime example.
But autumn ends, and a civilization becomes a culture gone frozen in its brains and heart, and its finale is anything but grand. We are now far into what the Chinese called the period of contending states, and the collapse of Caesarism.
In such a period, politics becomes an arena of competing generals and plutocrats, under a dummy ruler chosen for low intelligence and complete moral plasticity, who amuses himself and keeps the masses distracted from their troubles with bread, circuses, and brushfire-wars. (This is the time of all times when a culture should unite — and the time when such a thing has become impossible.) Technology flourishes (the late Romans were first-class engineers) but science disintegrates into a welter of competing, grandiosely trivial hypotheses which supersede each other almost weekly and veer more and more markedly toward the occult.
Among the masses there arises a "second religiousness" in which nobody actually believes; an attempt is made to buttress this by syncretism, the wrenching out of context of religious forms from other cultures, such as the Indian, without the faintest hope of knowing what they mean. This process, too, leads inevitably towards a revival of the occult, and here science and religion overlap, to the benefit of neither. Economic inequity, instability and wretchedness become endemic on a hitherto unprecedented scale; the highest buildings ever erected by the Classical culture were the tenements of the Imperial Roman slums, crammed to bursting point with freed and runaway slaves, bankrupts, and deposed petty kings and other political refugees.
The Eastern Mediterranean at the end of the 3rd century bc was a very complex region. The three empires founded by the successors of Alexander the Great were collapsing. They were locally powerful, but none was a superpower. Usurpers and secessionists complicated their politics.
Leagues of city states—the Achaeans and Aetolians in Greece proper, others in Asia Minor—had their own interests. New kingdoms, particularly that of Pergamum, were growing at the expense of their neighbors, and barbarians—both Celtic and Illyrian—were becoming regional powers instead of merely raiding and moving on.
Rome was still in the wings but the violent morass would shortly draw her in, ending both the chaos and her own status as a republic. (The region's enormous wealth and complexity, in my opinion, inexorably turned Rome into an empire.)
I adapted this setting for Paying the Piper. The general background is that of the war between Rhodes and Byzantium, ostensibly over freedom of navigation. It was about as stupid a conflict as you're likely to find, during which the real principals licked their lips and chuckled while well-meaning idealists wrecked their own societies in pursuit of unobtainable goals by improper means. Much of the military detail is drawn from the campaigns of Phillip the Fifth and his allies against the Aetolian League, particularly the campaign of 219 bc which culminated in Phillip's capture of Psophis.
I guess it isn't out of place to add one comment about the study of history. Knowing a good deal about how cultures interacted in the past allows one to predict how they will interact in the present, so I'm rarely surprised by the daily news. But I regret to say that this understanding doesn't appear to make me happier.
Tracking Essential Goods
For a good overview of the history of the world in 48 pages, try David Maurer's Explanation of history. If you read the section on Mixed Tribal and Aristocratic Societies, you will find a plausible explanation of the psychology of the Klingon Empire. Maurer covers the economic stages a nation goes through, with each state boiling down to a new answer to the problem of "where is the food going to come from?" Another book about stages is The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire by Edward Luttwak. And don't miss the Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map of the World.
When getting down to basics, remember that the word Lord comes from the Old English word hlaford, which was derived from the Old English hlafweard. The word hlaf means "bread" or "loaf" and weard means "keeper" or "guardian", so Lord means "Keeper of the food". You give your allegiance to your lord because he's the one who gives you food. Meanwhile Lady come from the Old English word hlæfdige. -Dige means "maid", and is derived from dæge or "maker of dough."
In other words, the Lord brings home the bacon, and the Lady cooks it. And the Lord's men are loyal because he feeds them.
Without the plow, all one person could manage to feed was themselves and maybe their family. Such cultures had to have 100% employment in the food raising industry. The culture could not afford the luxury of supporting citizens who were inventors. But with the invention of the plow, suddenly a surplus of food appears. Inventors can be supported, and the headlong rush of technological progress is off and running.
And in Jerry Pournelle's Janissaries, the Earth mercenaries are marooned on a primitive planet. The first thing they ask for from their alien owners is a copy of James Burke's Connections book. If you haven't seen Burke's documentary series Connections or The Day The Universe Changed, you might consider renting a copy.
In his epic series Cities In Flight, James Blish based his future history on the theories of Oswald Spengler's book The Decline of the West and its civilization model. Spengler's thesis is that civilizations and cultures go through well defined stages in their life-cycle. This is obviously a big help to the SF author trying to create the history of the future.
In the appendix to the omnibus volume of Cities in Flight, Leland Sapiro has a short essay outlining Spenglerian theory, and includes a chart of the stages of the life-cycle of a civilization (it also mentions how incredibly difficult it is to make a chart like this). It illustrates the stages with example from the cultures of ancient Greece, Arabia, Western, and Blish's "Earthmanist". (the latter stages of Western culture are also fictional ones from Blish, since Western culture hasn't collapsed yet. Or at least not that I've noticed.) Fictional entries are in yellow text.
|The Classical Culture||The Arabian Culture||The Western Culture||The Earthmanist Culture|
Tribes and their chiefs; no politics, no State. Chaos of primitive expression forms.
Mycenean Age, "Agamemnon"
Frankish Period, Charlemagne
Vegan-War Period Admiral Hrunta
|Culture. Early Period.||1100-650||0-500||900-1500||2464-3111|
|P1. Formation of Feudal Order||1100-750||0-400||900-1254||2464-3089|
|R1. Spiritual Spring: the Priestly Myth||Demeter cult||Primitive Christianity||German Catholicism||Hruntanism|
|R1. Spiritual Spring: the Military Myth||Trojan War||Gospels, Apocalypses||Siegfried, Arthur||Vegan-War Myth|
|A1. Early forms, rural, unconsciously shaped||Doric||The cupola||Gothic||-|
|R2. Mystical-metaphysical shaping of Myth||Cosmogonies||Patristic literature||Scholasticism||-|
|P2. Breakdown of Feudal Order: The Interregnum||750-650||400-500||1254-1500||3089-3111|
|R3. Spiritual Summer: the Reformation||Orphism, et al.||Monophysitism, et al.||Huss- Luther- Loyola||Arpad Hrunta|
|A2. Exhaustion of possibilities in Early forms||Late Doric||Proto-Arabesque||Early Renaissance||-|
|Culture. Late Period.||630-300||500-800||1500-1815||3111-3925|
|P3. Formation of a World of Aristocratic States||650-487||500-661||1500-1660||3111-3602|
|R4. First purely philosophical world views||Pre-Socratics||In Jewish literature||Galileo, Bacon||-|
|M1. Formation of a new Mathematic||Geometry||Algebra||Analysis||Matrix mathematics|
|A3. Mature art forms, urban and conscious||Ionic||Zenith of mosaic art||Baroque||-|
|R5. Puritanism; opposition to rising absolutism||Pythagoras||Mohammed||Cromwell; the Fronde||The Duchy of Gort|
|P4. Climax of the State-Form ("Absolutism"):|
Aristocracy held in check by alliance of King (or Tyrant) with Bourgeoisie
Age of Themistocles and Pericles
The Omayyad Caliphate
The Ancient Regime
Earth and Okies vs. Colonials
|R6. Spiritual Autumn: the Enlightenment||Socrates||The Mutazilites||Locke, Rousseau||-|
|A4. Intellectualization of Mature art forms||Myron, Phidias||Arabesque||Rococo||-|
|M2. Zenith of mathematical thought||Conic sections||Spherical trigonometry||The infinitesimal||-|
|R7. The Great Conclusive System: Mystic||Plato||Alfarabi||Goethe, Hegel||-|
|R7. The Great Conclusive System: Scholastic||Aristotle||Avicenna||Kant||-|
|P5. Revolution and Napoleonism
Bourgeoisie against alliance of King (or Tyrant) and Aristocracy; victory of Money over Blood.
Partisans of Philip; Alexander
The Kufans; the first Abbassids.
Okies vs. Earth and Colonials.
|A5. Exhaustion and dissolution of Mature forms||Corinthian||"Moorish" art||Romanticism||-|
|Civilization and Spiritual Winter||300-0-300||800-1400||1815-2522||3976-4104|
|P6. Transition from Napoleonism to Caesarism
The Period of Contending States; dominance of Money ("Democracy").
From Alexanderism to Caesarism.
From Caliphate to Sultanate.
From Napoleonism to
|In Cloud 3998-4104
New York vs. IMT; Jorn vs. New York
|R8. Materialism (science, utility, prosperity)||The Cynics||Brethren of Sincerity||Comte, Darwin, Marx||The Stochastics|
|R9. Ethical-social ideals replacing religion||Epicurus, Zeno||Movements in Islam||Schopenhauer, et al.||-|
|M3. Mathematics: the concluding thought||Archimedes||Al-Biruni||Riemann||-|
|R10. Spread of final world sentiment||Roman Stoicism||Practical Fatalism||Ethical Socialism||-|
|A6. Art problems; craft art||Hellenistic art||Spanish-Sicilian art||Modern art||-|
Victory of force-politics over Money; decay of the nations into a formless population, soon made into an imperium of gradually increasing crudity of despotism.
Sulla, Caesar Tiberius, up to Domitian.
The Seljuk Sultanate.
MacHinery and Erdsenov; rise to full power of Bureaucratic State.
The Triumph of Time Over Space
|A7. Artificial, archaic, exotic art forms.||Roman art||"Oriental" art||-|
|Rll. Second Religiousness (in the masses only)||Syncretism||Syncretic Islam||Adventism; Witnesses|
|P8. THE FINAL POLITICAL FORM
The world as spoil. Gradual enfeeblement of imperial machinery against raiders and conquerors. Primitive human conditions thrusting up into the highly civilized mode of living.
Full power of the Empire, then disintegration in the West.
Rise-fall of the Ilkhanate; rise of Ottoman Turks under whom the moribund culture endures to 1920.
Full power; then decline and fall of Bureaucratic State.
|A8. Fixed forms, giganticism, imperial display||Triumphal arch||Gigantic buildings||The Jupiter Bridge|
|The Aftermath||After 284
Arabinization in the East.
Westernization of the Arabian lands and entire world.
Galaxy proper conquered by Web of Hercules.
Leland Sapiro's chart was used in the classic computer game Omnitrend's Universe. ( here, here, here, here, here, here ). It was used to classify the cultural level of each planet. It determined the types of products that were illegal to import.
Omnitrend's Universe. Appendix G: Cultural List
A Guide To Cultural Epochs
Since the latter part of the Nineteenth Century [Common Era], historians have been dividing cultures into "epochs." Epochs are the turning points in the history of a culture. For example, the rise of George Louis I was a new epoch in New Europe culture.
All the cultures in the Local Group have undergone a careful examination and classification by the Janet Leader Foundation on Arbest. These classification codes help the traveler to determine what the import and immigration restrictions are.
Code Epoch Description Accept Immigrants Illegal Product Types 1 Pre-Cultural Clans, tribes, no politics. A chaos of primitive expression. Yes [none] 2 Fuedalism Rural art, naturally shaped. Warriors and Priests in power. No ARTI, EDUC, INFO 3 Breakdown of Fuedalism Exhaustion of early art forms, the Reformation. Yes ARTI, NARC, ENTR, PERS, JEWL 4 Formation of Aristocratic States Mature art, new forms of math, philosophical world views and puritanical religions opposed to growing absolutism. No ARTI, EDUC, NARC, PERS, JEWL, FURN, CLTH, FOOD 5 Absolutism Aristocracy held in check by King/Tyrant with Bourgeoise. The zenith of mathematical thought, intellectualization of art, the great conclusive systems of thought. Yes WEAP 6 Revolution and Napoleonism Bourgoise against alliance of King/Tyrant and Aristocracy. The Victory of Money over Blood. Exhaustion of art forms. No EDUC, TRANS, INFO, WEAP 7 Transition from Napoleonism to Caesarism The epoch of Contending States. Dominance of Money ("Democracy"). Rational social ethics replace Religion. Final world sentiment. Conceptual art. Final Thought in Mathematics. Yes NARC, SLAV, BOGU 8 Caesarism Victory of Force-Politics over Money. The decay of nations into a formless mass, soon to be made into an imperium of gradually increasing despotism. Archaic, exotic art. No EDUC, WEAP, BOGU 9 Final Political Form The world as a spoil. Primitive human conditions thrusting up into the highly civilized mode of living. No [none]
ARTI - artifact; BOGU - bogus items; CLTH - clothing; EDUC - educational materials; ENTR - entertainment; FOOD - food; FURN - furniture; INFO - information; JEWL - jewelry; NARC - narcotics; PERS - personal items; SLAV - slaves; TRANS - transportation; WEAP - weapon
Novel that have a background of cyclical history include The Last Planet AKA Star Rangers by Andre Norton, the Cities in Flight novels of James Blish, Birthright: The Book of Man by Mike Resnick, Macroscope by Piers Anthony, the Childe Cycle novels of Gordon Dickson, the Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, the LaNague Federation novels of F. Paul Wilson, the Polesotechnic novels by Poul Anderson, and of course the Foundation trilogy (with the prequels The Stars Like Dust, The Currents of Space, and Pebble in the Sky) by Isaac Asimov. The old bromide is that history never repeats itself, but sometimes it rhymes.
Then none was for a party;
Then all were for the state;
Then the great man helped the poor
And the poor man loved the great;
Then lands were fairly portioned;
Then spoils were fairly sold:
The Romans were like brothers
In the brave days of old.
Now Roman is to Roman
More hateful than a foe,
And the Tribunes beard the high,
And the Fathers grind the low.
As we wax hot in faction,
In battle we wax cold;
Wherefore men fight not as they fought
In the brave days of old.
The Last Planet
THERE is an old legend concerning a Roman Emperor, who, to show his power, singled out the Tribune of a loyal legion and commanded that he march his men across Asia to the end of the world. And so a thousand men vanished into the hinterland of the largest continent, to be swallowed up for ever. On some unknown battlefield the last handful of survivors must have formed a square which was overwhelmed by a barbarian charge. And their eagle may have stood lonely and tarnished in a horsehide tent for a generation thereafter. But it may be guessed, by those who know of the pride of these men in their corps and tradition, that they did march east as long as one still remained on his feet.
In 8054 A.D. history repeated itself — as it always does. The First Galactic Empire was breaking up. Dictators, Emperors, Consolidators wrested the rulership of their own or kindred solar systems from Central Control. Space pirates raised flags and recruited fleets to gorge on spoil plundered from this wreckage. It was a time in which only the ruthless could flourish.
Here and there a man, or a group of men, tried vainly to dam the flood of disaster and disunion. And, notable among these last-ditch fighters who refused to throw aside their belief in the impartial rule of Central Control were the remnants of the Stellar Patrol, a law enforcement body whose authority had existed unchallenged for almost a thousand years. Perhaps it was because there was no longer any security to be found outside their own ranks that these men clung the closer to what seemed in the new age to be an out worn code of ethics and morals. And their stubborn loyalty to a vanished ideal was both exasperating and pitiful to the new rulers.
Jorcam Dester, the last Control Agent of Deneb, who was nursing certain ambitions of his own, solved in the Roman manner the problem of ridding his sector of the Patrol He summoned the half dozen officers still commanding navigable ships and ordered them — under the seal of the Control — out into space, to locate (as he said) and re map forgotten galactic border systems no one had visited in at least four generations. He offered a vague promise to establish new bases from which the Patrol might rise again, invigorated and revived, to fight for the Control ideals And, faithful to their very ancient trust, they upped-ship on this mission, undermanned, poorly supplied, without real hope, but determined to carry out orders to the last.
The sled rode the air smoothly, purring gently. That last tune-up they had given her had done the trick after all. Even though they had had to work from instructions recorded on a ten-year-old repair manual tape. She had been given the last of the condensers. They had practically no spare parts left now—
"Zinga," Kartr demanded suddenly of his seat mate. "Were you ever in a real Control fitting and repair port?"
"No," replied the Zacathan cheerfully. "And I sometimes think that they are only stories invented for the amusement of the newly hatched. Since I was mustered into the service we have always done the best we could to make our own repairs—with what we could find or steal. Once we had a complete overhaul—it took us almost three months—we had two wrecked ships to strip for other parts. What a wealth of supplies! That was on Karbon, four—no, five space years ago. We still had a head mech-techneer in the crew then and he supervised the job. Fylh—what was his name?"
"Ratan. He was a robot from Perun. We lost him the next year in an acid lake on a blue star world. He was very good with engines—being one himself."
"What has been happening to Central Control—to us?" asked Kartr slowly. "Why don't we have proper equipment—supplies—new recruits?"
"Breakdown," replied Fylh crisply. "Maybe Central Control is too big, covers too many worlds, spreads its authority too thin and too far. Or perhaps it is too old so that it loses hold. Look at the sector wars, the pull for power between sector chiefs. Don't you think that Central Control would stop that—if it could?"
"But the Patrol—"
Fylh trilled laughter. "Ah, yes, the Patrol. We are the stubborn survivals, the wrongheaded ones. We maintain that we, the Stellar Patrol, crewmen and rangers, still keep the peace and uphold galactic law. We fly here and there in ships which fall to pieces under us because there are no longer those with the knowledge and skill to repair them properly. We fight pirates and search forgotten skies—for what, I wonder? We obey commands given to us over the signature of the two Cs. We are fast becoming an anachronism, antiques still alive but better dead. And one by one we vanish from space. We should all be rounded up and set in some museum for the planet-bound to gawk at, objects with no reasonable function—"
"What will happen to Central Control?" Kartr wondered and set his teeth as a lurch of the sled stabbed his arm against Zinga's tough ribs and jarred his wrist.
"The galactic empire—this galactic empire," pronounced the Zacathan with a grin which told of his total disinterest in the matter, "is falling apart. Within five years we've lost touch with as many sectors, haven't we? C.C. is just a name now as far as its power runs. In another generation it may not even be remembered. We've had a long run—about three thousand years—and the seams are beginning to gap. Sector wars now—the result—chaos. We'll slip back fast—probably far back, maybe even into planet-tied barbarianism with space flight forgotten. Then we'll start all over again—"
"Maybe," was Fylh's pessimistic reply. "But you and I, dear friend, will not be around to witness that new dawn—"
Zinga nodded agreement. "Not that our absence will matter. We have found us a world to make the best of right here and now. How far off civilized maps are we?" he asked the sergeant.
They had flashed maps on the viewing screen in the ship, maps noted on tapes so old that the dates on them seemed wildly preposterous, maps of suns and stars no voyager had visited in two, three, five generations, where Control had had no contact for half a thousand years. Kartr had studied those maps for weeks. And on none of them had he seen this system. They were too far out—too near the frontier of the galaxy. The map tape which had carried the record of this world—provided there had ever been one at all—must have rusted away past using, forgotten in some pigeonhole of Control archives generations ago.
"Completely." He took a sort of sour pleasure in that answer.
As a functioning unit in the Confederation scheme, Beltane had been in existence about a century at the outbreak of the Four Sectors War. That war lasted ten planet years.
Lugard said it was the beginning of the end for our kind and their rulership of the space lanes. There can rise empires of stars, and confederations, and other governments. But there comes a time when such grow too large or too old, or are rent from within. Then they collapse as will a balloon leaf when you prick it with a thorn, and all that remains is a withered wisp of stuff. Yet those on Beltane welcomed the news of the end of the war with a hope of new beginning, of return to that golden age of "before the war" on which the newest generation had been raised with legendary tales. Perhaps the older settlers felt the chill of truth, but they turned from it as a man will seek shelter from the full blast of a winter gale. Not to look beyond the next corner will sometimes keep heart in a man.
Since the population of Beltane was small, most of them specialists and members of such families, it had been drained of manpower by the services, and of the hundreds who were so drafted, only a handful returned...
...There was no definite victory, only a weary drawing apart of the opponents from exhaustion. Then began the interminable "peace talks," which led to a few clean-cut solutions.
Our main concern was that Beltane now seemed forgotten by the powers that had established it. Had we not long before turned to living off the land, and the land been able to furnish us with food and clothing, we might have been in desperate straits. Even the biannual government ships, to which our commerce and communication had sunk in the last years of the war, had now twice failed to arrive, so that when a ship finally planeted, it was a cause for rejoicing — until the authorities discovered it was in no way an answer to our needs but rather was a fifth-rate tramp hastily commandeered to bring back a handful of those men who had been drafted off-world during the conflict. Those veterans were indeed the halt and the blind — casualties of the military machine...
...We strapped into the foreseats, and I set the course dial for Butte Hold. Nowadays it was necessary to keep both hands on the controls. There was too apt to be some sudden breakdown, and the automatics were not to be trusted.
Since the war the settlements on Beltane had contracted instead of expanded. With a short supply of manpower, there had been little or no time wasted in visiting the outlying sites, abandoned one after another...
...I hoped they would number among them some techneer-mechanics with training in the repair of vehicles. Already our machines had become so unpredictable that some of the settlements talked of turning to beasts of burden...
..."This is a wreck-"
"It is about the best you can find nowadays," I replied promptly. "Machines don't repair themselves. The techneer-robos are all on duty at the labs. We have had no off-world supplies since Commander Tasmond lifted with the last of the garrison. Most of these hoppers are just pasted together, with hope the main ingredient of that paste."...
...The Free Trade party is looking forward to independence and is trying to beam in a trader. Meanwhile, repairs go first for lab needs; the rest of it slides...
..."And they had better give up their dreams of trade, too. The breakup is here and now, boy. Each world will have to make the most of its own resources and be glad if someone else doesn't try to take them over—"
"But the war is over!"
Lugard shook his head. "The formal war, yes. But it tore the Confederation to bits. Law and order — we won't see those come again in our time, not out there—" He motioned with one thin hand to the sky over us. "No, not in our time, nor probably for generations to come. The lucky worlds with rich natural resources will struggle along for a generation or two, trying hard to keep a grip on civilization. Others will coast downhill fast. And there will be wolves tearing all around—"
"An old term for aggressors. I believe it was an animal running in packs to pull down prey. The ferocity of such hunts lingered on in our race memories. Yes, there will be wolf packs out now."
"From the Four Stars?"
"No," he answered. "They are as badly mauled as we. But there are the remnants of broken fleets, ships whose home worlds were blasted, with no ports in which they will be welcomed. These can easily turn rogue, carrying on a way of life they have known for years, merely changing their name from commando to pirate. The known rich worlds will be struck first — and places where they can set up bases—"...
..."You cannot trust such treaties —"
"Perhaps you cannot, Sector-Captain." That was Scyld Drax. "The military mind is apt to foresee difficulties—"
"The military mind!" Lugard's interruption came clearly. "I thought I made it simple — the situation is as plain as the sun over you, man! You say you want peace, that you think the war is over. Maybe the war is, the kind we have been fighting, but you don't have peace now — you have a vacuum out of which law, and what little protection any world can depend upon, has been drained. And into this is going to spread, just like one of your pet viruses, anarchy. A planet not prepared to defend itself is going to be a target for raiders. There were fleets wrecked out there, worlds destroyed. The survivors of those battles are men who have been living by creating death around them for almost half a generation, planet time. It has become their familiar way of life — kill or be killed, take or perish. They have no home bases to return to; their ships are now their homes. And they no longer have any central controls, no fears of the consequences if they take what they want from the weaker, from those who cannot or will not make the effort to stand them off. You let this ship land — only one ship, you say, poor lost people; give them living room as we have a sparsely settled world — there is one chance in a hundred you read them aright.
"But there are ninety-nine other chances that you have thrown open the door to your own destruction. One ship, two, three — a home port, a safe den from which to go raiding."...
The Stars, Like Dust
'An entirely old one, rather. The Tyranni are destroying the right of twenty billion human beings to take part in the development of the race. You've been to school. You've learned the economic cycle. A new planet is settled' - he was ticking the points off on his fingers - 'and its first care is to feed itself. It becomes an agricultural world, a herding world. It begins to dig in the ground for crude ore to export, and sends its agricultural surplus abroad to buy luxuries and machinery. That is the second step. Then, as population increases and foreign investments grow, an industrial civilization begins to bud, which is the third step. Eventually, the world becomes mechanized, importing food, exporting machinery, investing in the development of more primitive worlds, and so on. The fourth step.
'Always the mechanized worlds are the most thickly populated, the most powerful, militarily - since war is a function of machines - and they are usually surrounded by a fringe of agricultural, dependent worlds.
'But what has happened to us? We were at the third step, with a growing industry. And now? That growth has been stopped, frozen, forced to recede.
It would interfere with Tyrannian control of our industrial necessities. It is a short-term investment on their part, because eventually we'll become unprofitable as we become impoverished. But meanwhile, they skim the cream.
'Besides, if we industrialized ourselves, we might develop weapons of war. So industrialization is stopped; scientific research is forbidden. And eventually the people become so used to that, they lack the realization even that anything is missing. So that you are surprised when I tell you that I could be executed for building a visisonor.
'Of course, someday we will beat the Tyranni. It is fairly inevitable. They can't rule forever. No one can. They'll grow soft and lazy. They will intermarry and lose much of their separate traditions. They will become corrupt. But it may take centuries, because history doesn't hurry. And when those centuries have passed, we will still all be agricultural worlds with no industrial or scientific heritage to speak of, while our neighbors on all sides, those not under Tyrannian control, will be strong and urbanized. The Kingdoms will be semicolonial areas forever. They will never catch up, and we will be merely observers in the great drama of human advance.'
The Only Thing We Learn
In the short story "The Only Thing We Learn", by Cyril M. Kornbluth (1949), the frontier rebels are attacking Earth and the Home Stars, and they are doing a good job of it. Earth wing commander Arris and historian Glen wait for the frontier rebels to come and finish them off.
Lunar relay flickered out as overloaded fuses flashed into vapor. Arris distractedly paced back to the dark corner and sank into a chair.
"I'm sorry," said the voice of Glen next to him, sounding quite sincere. "No doubt it was quite a shock to you."
"Not to you?" asked Arris bitterly.
"Not to me."
"Then how did they do it?" the wing commander asked the civilian in a low, desperate whisper. "They don't even wear .45's. Intelligence says their enlisted men have hit their officers and got away with it. "They elect ship captains! Glen, what does it all mean?"
"It means," said the fat little man with a timbre of doom in his voice, "that they've returned. They always have. They always will. You see, commander, there is always somewhere a wealthy, powerful city, or nation, or world. In it are those who's blood is not right for a wealthy, powerful place. They must seek danger and overcome it. So they go out — on the marshes, in the desert, on the tundra, the planets, or the stars. Being strong, they grow stronger by fighting the tundra, the planets, or the stars. They — they change. They sing new songs. They know new heroes. And then, one day, they return to their old home."
"They return to the wealthy, powerful city, or nation or world. They fight its guardians as they fought the tundra, the planets, or the stars — a way that strikes terror to the heart. Then they sack the city, nation, or world and sing great ringing sagas of their deeds. They always have. Doubtless they always will."
"But what shall we do?"
"We shall cower, I suppose, beneath the bombs they drop on us, and we shall die, some bravely, some not, defending the palace within a very few hours. But you will have your revenge."
"How?" asked the wing commander, with haunted eyes.
The fat little man giggled and whispered in the officer's ear. Arris irritably shrugged it off as a bad joke. He didn't believe it. As he died, drilled through the chest a few hours later by one of Algan's gunfighters, he believed it even less.
(ed note: the "revenge" is that after sacking the city, the returning frontiersmen settle down and become the new wealthy powerful city. And one day it will be their turn to be killed by the new frontiersmen.)
In this novel, the humans of Terra develop a faster-than-light starship, only to discover that Sol is inside an alien interstellar federation several thousand years old: Central Control. C.C. only allows Terrans into the rest of the galaxy as third-class citizens, barely tolerated and only allowed off-world in the narrowly role defined by C.C.: that of mercenary.
It is instructive to compare the bold-face text in the quote below with the bold-face text in the "The Only Thing We Learn" quote above.
"What made them so quick on the trigger, sir? The Patrol usually doesn't flare up that way—or do they? And that officer said `Terrans' as if we were Lombros muck worms—"
"It shouldn't surprise you, Karr, to discover that some of the more `superior' races who make up the C.C. Councils at the present moment are inclined to rate us at just about that level—in private, naturally. One doesn't boast of caste openly—that's too close to shape and race prejudice. But I've seen an Ageratan leave an eating booth before he had finished his meal because a Terran was seated as his neighbor. It's illegal, unethical, violates all those pretty slogans and refined sentiments drilled into them from the cradle or the egg—but it persists."
"But the Zacathans aren't like that—and Rey and Mic were friendly with that Lupan on Secundus—"
"Certainly. I can cite you a thousand different shapes and races who accept Terrans as equals as easily as we accept them in return. But note two things, Karr, and they are important. The systems where we are persona non grata are dominated by humanoid races and they are systems which have had space travel for a very long time, who have pioneered in the Galaxy. Embedded deep in them is an emotion they refuse to admit—fear.
"Back on Terra in the ancient days before the nuclear wars we were divided into separate races, the difference in part depending on the color of skin, shape of features, and so forth. And in turn those races were subdivided into nations which arose to power, held in control large portions of the planet, sometimes for centuries. But as the years passed each in turn lost that power, the reins slipped from their hands. Why?
"Because the tough, sturdy fighters who had built those empires died, and their sons, or their sons' sons' sons were another breed. For a while, even after the fighting quality died out, an empire would still exist—as might a well-built piece of machinery set in motion. Then parts began to wear, or oiling was needed, and there was no one who remembered, or cared, or had the necessary will and strength to pull it together and make repairs. So another, younger and tougher nation took over—perhaps after a war. History progressed by a series of such empires—the old one yielding to the new.
"Now the races of the Galaxy with whom we have established the closest ties are, so far, not of our species. We like the Zacathans who are of reptile origin, we enjoy the Trystians, whose far-off ancestors were birds. The Yubana—they're evolved felines. And most of these are also newcomers on the Galactic scene. But—and this is important—they have different aims, backgrounds, desires, tastes. Why should a Zacathan fret over the passing of time, hurry to get something done the way we must do? His life span is close to a thousand years, he can afford to sit around and think things out. We feel that we can't. But we're not a threat to him or his way of life."
"But, sir, do you think we are to the others—the humanoids of Agerat and Rassam? Their civilizations are old but basically they are similar to ours—"
"And are showing signs of decay. Yes, we're a threat to them because of our young pushing energy, our will to struggle, all the things they openly deplore in us. For, old as Terra seems to us, she is very young in the Galaxy. So they've met us with a devious design. It is their purpose to wall us off—not openly and so provide us with a legitimate grievance which we may take before the Grand Council—but legally and finally. They struggle to dissipate our strength in needless warfare which in no way threatens their control, sapping our manpower and so rendering helpless a race which might just challenge them in the future. And because we have fought and dreamed of the stars we have been forced to accept their condition—for a time."
"A time, sir?" burst out Kana passionately. "For three hundred years we've played their game—"
"What is three hundred years on the Galactic chessboard?" Hansu returned calmly. "Yes, for three hundred years we have taken their orders. Only now they must be beginning to realize that their plan is not working. I'm not sure that their motives had been plain even to them. They have played omnipotence so long that they have come to believe in their godhead—that they can make no wrong moves. For they have always operated against us under cover—until now.
The Cosmic Computer
Ed Note: in the novel, about 40 years in the past the Terran Federation was embroiled in a civil war against the secessionist System States Alliance. On the vangard planet Poictesme the Federation starts a top secret operation to create Merlin, a cutting-edge computer. The war unexpectedly ends. But the Merlin project discovers a dreadful secret, and covers up the existance of Merlin. Forty years later, the protagonist Conn discovers Merlin, but the Federation agent Shanlee warns of the danger.
Shanlee puffed for a moment at the cigarette; it must really have tasted good after his long abstinence.
"You know, we were really caught off balance when the War ended. It even caught Merlin short; information lag, of course. The whole Alliance caved in all at once. Well, we fed Merlin all the data available, and analyzed the situation. Then we did something we really weren't called upon to do, because that was policy-planning and wasn't our province, but we were going to move an occupation army into System States planets, and we didn't want to do anything that would embarrass the Federation Government later. We fed Merlin every scrap of available information on political and economic conditions everywhere in the Federation, and set up a long-term computation of the general effects of the War.
"The extrapolation was supposed to run five hundred years in the future. It didn't. It stopped, at a point a trifle over two hundred years from now, with a statement that no computation could be made further because at that point the Terran Federation would no longer exist."
The others, who had taken chairs facing him, looked at him blankly.
"No more Federation?" Judge Leduc asked incredulously. "Why, the Federation, the Federation..."
The Federation would last forever. Anybody knew that. There just couldn't be no more Federation.
"That's right," Shanlee said. "We had trouble believing it, too. Remember, we were Federation officers. The Federation was our religion. Just like patriotism used to be, back in the days of nationalism. We checked for error. We made detail analyses. We ran it all over again. It was no use.
"In two hundred years, there won't be any Terran Federation. The Government will collapse, slowly. The Space Navy will disintegrate. Planets and systems will lose touch with Terra and with one another. You know what it was like here, just before the War. It will be like that on every planet, even on Terra. Just a slow crumbling, till everything is gone; then every planet will start sliding back, in isolation, into barbarism."
"Merlin predicted that?" Kurt Fawzi asked, shocked.
If Merlin said so, it had to be true.
Shanlee nodded. "So we ran another computation; we added the data of publication of this prognosis. You know, Merlin can't predict what you or I would do under given circumstances, but Merlin can handle large-group behavior with absolute accuracy. If we made public Merlin's prognosis, the end would come, not in two centuries but in less than one, and it wouldn't be a slow, peaceful decay; it would be a bomb-type reaction. Rebellions. Overthrow of Federation authority, and then revolt and counterrevolt against planetary authority. Division along sectional or class lines on individual planets. Interplanetary wars; what we fought the Alliance to prevent. Left in ignorance of the future, people would go on trying to make do with what they had. But if they found out that the Federation was doomed, everybody would be trying to snatch what they could, and end by smashing everything. Left in ignorance, there might be a planet here and there that would keep enough of the old civilization to serve, in five or so centuries, as a nucleus for a new one. Informed in advance of the doom of the Federation, they would all go down together in the same bloody shambles, and there would be a Galactic night of barbarism for no one knows how many thousand years."
"We don't want anything like that to happen!" Tom Brangwyn said, in a frightened voice.
"Then pull everybody out of here and blow the place up, Merlin along with it," Shanlee said.
"No! We'll not do that! " Fawzi shouted. "I'll shoot the man dead who tries it!"
"Why didn't you people blow Merlin up?" Conn asked.
"We'd built it; we'd worked with it. It was part of us, and we were part of it. We couldn't. Besides, there was a chance that it might survive the Federation; when a new civilization arose it would be useful. We just sealed it. There were fewer than a hundred of us who knew about it. We all took an oath of secrecy. We spent the rest of our lives trying to suppress any mention of Merlin or the Merlin Project.
"Let's not try to decide it ourselves," Conn said. "Let's get Merlin into operation, and run a computation on it."
"You mean, ask Merlin to tell us whether it ought to be destroyed or not?" Ledue asked incredulously. "Let Merlin put itself on trial, and sentence itself to destruction?"
"Merlin is a computer; computers deal only in facts. Computers are machines; they have no sense of self-preservation. If Merlin ought to be destroyed, Merlin will tell us so."
They ran off the computations Merlin had made forty years before, and rechecked them. There had been no error. The Terran Federation, overextended, had been cracking for a century before the War; the strain of that conflict had started an irreversible breakup. Two centuries for the Federation as such; at most, another century of irregular trade and occasional war between independent planets, Galaxy full of human-populated planets as poor as Poictesme at its worst. Or, aware of the future, sudden outbursts of desperate violence, then anarchy and barbarism.
It took a long time to set up the new computation. Forty years of history for almost five hundred planets had to be abstracted and summarized, and translated from verbal symbols to the electromathematical language of computers and fed in. Conn and Sylvie and General Shanlee and the three men and two women Conn had taught on Koshchei worked and rested briefly and worked again. Finally, it was finished.
"General; you're the oldest Merlin hand," Conn said, gesturing to the red button at the main control panel. "You do it."
"You do it, Conn. None of us would be here except for you."
"Thank you, General."
He pressed the button. They all stood silently watching the output slot.
Even a positronic computer does not work instantaneously. Nothing does. Conn took his eyes from the slot from which the tape would come, and watched the second-hand of the clock above it. The wait didn't seem like hours to him; it only seemed like seventy-five seconds, that way. Then the bell rang, and the tape began coming out.
It took another hour and a half of button-punching; the Braille-like symbols on the tape had to be retranslated, and even Merlin couldn't do that for itself. Merlin didn't think in human terms.
It was the same as before. In ignorance, the peoples of the Federation worlds would go on, striving to keep things running until they wore out, and then sinking into apathetic acceptance. Deprived of hope, they would turn to frantic violence and smash everything they most wanted to preserve. Conn pushed another button.
The second information-request went in: What is the best course to be followed under these conditions by the people of Poictesme? It had taken some time to phrase that in symbols a computer would find comprehensible; the answer, at great length, emerged in two minutes eight seconds. Retranslating it took five hours.
In the beginning and for the first ten years, it was, almost item for item, the Maxwell Plan. Export trade, specialized in luxury goods. Brandies and wines, tobacco; a long list of other exportable commodities, and optimum markets. Reopening of industrial plants; establishment of new industries. Attainment of economic self-sufficiency. Cultural self-sufficiency; establishment of universities, institutes of technology, research laboratories. Then the Maxwell Plan became the Merlin Plan; the breakup of the Federation was a fact that entered into the computation. Build-up of military strength to resist aggression by other planetary governments. Defense of the Gartner Trisystem. Lists of possible aggressor planets. Revival of interstellar communications and trade; expeditions, conquest and re-education of natives...
"We can't begin to handle this without Merlin," Conn said. "If that means blowing up the Federation, let it blow. We'll start a new one here."
"No; if there's a general, violent collapse of the Federation, it'll spread to Poictesme," Shanlee told him. "Let's ask Merlin the big question."
Merlin took a good five minutes to work that one out. The question had to include a full description of Merlin, and a statement of the information which must be kept secret. The answer was even more lengthy, but it was summed up in the first word: Falsification.
"So Merlin's got to be a liar, too, along with the rest of us!" Sylvie cried. "Conn, you've corrupted his morals!"
The rest of it was false data which must be taped in, and lists of corrections which must be made in evaluating any computation into which such data might enter. There was also a statement that, after fifty years, suppression of the truth and circulation of falsely optimistic statements about the Federation would no longer have any importance.
"Well, that's it," Conn said. "Merlin thought himself out of a death sentence."
A common failing of with those who write future histories is a failure to take into account Future Shock, that is, the rapid progress of technological advancement. Refer to the "Apes or Angels" argument. Consider that one hundred years ago the paper clip had just been invented, Marconi had invented the wireless radio, the Wright brothers had invented the airplane, and the latest cutting edge material was Bakelite. Assuming that technology continues to advance at the same rate, all of our flashy technological marvels of today will look just as quaint and obsolete in the year 2100. And in 2500, they will look like something made by Galileo.
Remember, this assumes that the rate of technological progress remains the same. The evidence suggests that the rate is increasing.
When it comes to futures histories in various SF novels, the main failing I have noted is a failure of scope. While you may read novels with orbital beanstalks, immortality drugs, virtual people living in digital cyber-reality, nanotechnology, transhumanity and post-humans, Dyson spheres, teleportation, zero-point energy, matter duplicators, time travel, cloning, and cyborgs; you almost never find an individual novel that has all of these things (although Greg Egan's DIASPORA comes close, and the Orion's Arm project comes even closer).
This is because future history SF novels are not meant to predict the future, so much as they are meant to illuminate a specific point the author is trying to make.
I am once again stunned at the insistence that Star Trek has to be allegorically relevant, but if it must, I'd prefer it take on more scientific/ethical issues, like a justification for banning genetic enhancement. or how a society with FTL, molecular replication, and teleportation has managed to sidestep a technological singularity.
Star Trek is considered by many to be the public face of SF, it's flagship. I hold by my belief that to retain that title it needs to take it up a level: travel out into some heretofore unexplored quadrant and find that it is heavily populated by Type II Kardashev cultures, Lovecraftian ancients, Kirby-esque star gods, Matrioshka brain AIs trying to tap reality's source-code, post-singularity societies like Banks Culture, Wright's Oecumene, or Hamilton's Edenists, etc.
In short, Trek needs to catch up with the rest of science fiction.
Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape- descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.
INVENTOR n. A person who makes an ingenious arrangement of wheels, levers and springs, and believes it civilization.
Recognizing the Future
Around 1910, the hot multiple-use buzzword was "Electric," as in Tom Swift and His Electric Runabout or Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle. In the 1920's it was "Radio." Radio was just coming into regular use, so it was new and exciting. In the 1940's it was "Atomic," for obvious reasons. In the 1950's it was "Transistorized". In the 1960's it was "Laser". In the 1970's it was "Computerized". Currently it is "Nanotechnolgy."
If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Even if it actually a screw. So if you invent some fabulous scientific breakthrough for your SF story, try to resist the temptation to use it as the solution for everything. You can see how silly it becomes.
Naturally, the more specific the details of your future technology that you describe in your SF story, the bigger the risk that it is going to sound quite silly in the decades to come. My favorite example is "Into the Meteorite Orbit" by Frank K. Kelly (1933).
It starts out so good. It predicts air-traffic controllers, the 22nd century as being dominated by the energy crisis, it even has the hero finding a recorded message on his video-telephone.
Then the reader's willing suspension of disbelief crashes and burns as the hero pulls the wax cylinder out of the video-telephone, puts it in the replay unit, and places the needle on the groove. Oops.
And then there were the slide-rules in a short story by A. E. Van Vogt, complete with a radio link to the ship's computer.
In "How to Build a Future", John Barnes suggests as a rule of thumb one shouldn't try predicting technological advances past 500 years or so. He got this by assuming that each epoch of advance is composed of 90% of existing technology miniaturized, turbo-charged, or otherwise improved and 10% technology that is "magic" (in the sense of Clarke's Third Law) coming from scientific breakthroughs. An example of the 90% would be the development of the propeller airplane into the jet airplane, an example of the 10% would be the invention of the laser. His thinking is that while one can extrapolate improvements in existing technology, breakthroughs cannot be visualized. Indeed they would be almost incomprehensible (imagine trying to explain the quantum mechanical basis of the transistor to Thomas Edison). The first epoch would be 10% magic. The second would be an extension of the first plus 10% new magic, for a grand total of 19% magic. By epoch 7 it will be 52% magic. After about 500 years of technological epochs, the current technology approaches 100% magic as compared to the starting technology, hence the 500 year rule of thumb. Keep it up and you'll have a Vingian Singularity.
Authors who worry about such details try to come up with a way to put the brakes to progress. Barnes postulated a "inward turn" in his A MILLION OPEN DOORS. In his DUNE novels, Frank Herbert has the "Butlerian Jihad". In Jerry Pournelle's CoDominion novels, the government suppresses all research that might upset the military balance, which is basically all research. In Andre Norton's THE STARS ARE OURS, Terra is controlled by a fundamentalist Luddite regime which swept into power after a close brush with nuclear Armageddon.
Warning Signs for Tomorrow
Anders Sandberg has created a brilliant set of "warning signs" to alert people of futuristic hazards. Some are satirical, but they are all very clever. There are larger versions of the signs here.
The Sword on the Starship
Some space opera writers are fascinated with the romantic concept of star conquerors charging out of their interstellar star ships on horseback, waving longswords. While cinematically interesting, the concept is obviously scientifically silly, surely somebody advanced enough to run an FTL starship can manage to cobble together a laser pistol (or a submachine gun). A related notion is a high-tech interstellar empire threatened by "barbarians" waiting in their FTL longboats at the rim of the empire. One wonders about the tech assumptions though. Either starships are relatively cheap (ponder the idea of "barbarians" fielding aircraft carriers as a comparison) or the smallest feudal units are pretty good sized.
A common fig-leaf is updating the sword into a laser-sword, and inventing some imaginative reason why using said sword on a group of pistol-packing thugs is not tantamount to bringing a knife to a gunfight (Use the Force, Luke!). Another fig-leaf is allowing laser pistols, but with such lousy power supplies that there is a ten-minute recharge delay between each shot, along with some dubious reason to prevent the use of gunpowder weapons but allow swords.
In his DUNE novels, Frank Herbert makes a frantic hand-wave with his Holtzman effect personal force fields, which miraculously render laser pistols and conventional handguns worthless, forcing people in the far future to rely upon swords. Along with his Butlerian Jihad, it makes the universe of ten thousand years from now look remarkably medieval.
Forsooth, many have written begiling tales of swordplay laid on Mars, not to mention Venus and assorted extra-solar planets. In fact, I am reading one, Gardner Fox's WARRIOR OF LLARN, right now.
The trouble with most of these stories, including Fox's, is that the authors try to combine two incompatable elements. For one, they want the glamor of antiquity. Therefore they fill their imaginary worlds with impenetrable jungles, fearsome monsters, glittering palaces, haughty emperors, beautiful princesses, sinister temples, villainous priests, cowering slaves, deadly duels, gladitorial combats, ghastly ghosts, frightful demons, lethal magic, gallant steeds, and of course a lavish assortment of swords and other hand-to-hand weapons.
But, at the same time, the writers want to cash in on the fictional appeal of super-science. So, along with this display of picturesque archaism, they mingle elements from the technological present and future: guns, disintegrators and other lethal ray projectors, mechanical air and ground vechicles, and other scientific gadgets. At this point, pop goes the illusion they have striven so hard to build up. For, their fictional milieu is as anachronistic, or technologically incongruous, as it would be to have a contemporary American businessman wear Gothic armor to his office or light his cigarette by rubbing sticks.
True, such incongruities do exist in the real world. Today you can see a Peruvian Indian jogging along on his mule and holding a transistor to his ear. (ed note: for all you young whipper-snappers, this was written in those ancient days of yore when a transistor FM radio was considered cutting-edge high-tech) But a mixture of the technics of different eras is always an unstable and rapidly changing state of affairs, because people compelled to mix with those of a technologically more advanced culture soon adopt the gadgets of the others, as far as they can do so without much disturbing their basic cultural attitudes, social organizations, and traditional way of life. Even when these things are disturbed, the people may eventually adopt the new discoveries when they get used to them.
To judge by the record of our own species, most people are not conservative about adopting more effective methods of killing their foes and getting from place to place. In recent centuries, for instance, primitive people who found themselves fighting Westerners did their damndest to obtain Western weapons. In the wars of the Peruvian Indians against the Conquistadores, many Indian chiefs went into battle wearing armor looted from dead Spaniards. Once the primitives had enough guns, they quickly shelved their bows and spears. The Plains Indians made little use of either in their wars with the whites in the 1870s and 80s...
...by the end of the (19th) century, however, the sword had become an absurd anachronism, even though there were still a few cavalry charges. The last I know of was on 20 March 1942, when Sandeman's cavalry detachment charged a Japanese position near Toungoo, Burma. Needless to say, Sandeman and his gallant Sikhs were all killed before the could get within slashing distance...
...My point is that people who have weapons like radar-sighted, aluminum-alloy, radium rifles of Burroughs' Martians, with ranges of hundreds of miles, would not fool around with swords and spears, as Burroughs' people do, any more than the Plains Indians did when they got rifles. Nor will they go galumphing around on thoats, gawrs, drals, or other beasts of burden when the equivalents of automobiles and airplanes are available. Remember how quickly the Plains Indians adopted the horse...
...So, if you really want to build a convincing fantasy world, ... make up your mind what technological level your world shall have. If it is the ancient, pre-industrial world, that's fine; if the contemporary world, that's fine; if a world of super-science, that's fine. But don't mix them, unless the older technology is shown as crumbling before the new, as it always has, or unless the older activity is preserved in the form of a sport (e.g., hunting, fishing, sailing a sailboat, riding a horse, fighting with swords, shooting a bow, or throwing a javelin)...
Poul Anderson had this comment on de Camp's analysis:
I have no argument with Sprague's interesting essay, but might amplify his remarks a trifle.
First, he modestly omits one legitimate way in which you can put your superscientific hero in a sword-swinging type of sitiuation. That's when, because of shipwreck, secrecy, technological blockade, or whatever, said hero has to get out and mingle with the backwards natives (oops, I mean underdeveloped patriots!) on their own terms à la Krishna.
Speaking as one who misguidedly thought that writing swords-and-spaceship stories was easy (it used to be, but then I started asking awkward questions of myself), I read both Sprague de Camp's "Range" and Poul Anderson's comment theron with considerable interest. I got to the point where the latter was accusing the former of modesty in omitting the Krishna-type situation as a legitimate means of mating these ingredients, and realized that Poul was doing the same in his turn...
...There are two more ways, not examined in detail in the Amra discussion, in which this paradoxical situation can arise. First, and right under our noses, is the one implied by the horse-doesn't-need-United-Steel argument in respect of modes of transportation. We've had it in scores of After-the-Bomb stories. Modern technology requires an interlocking structure of cohesive and cooperative enterprise in which a catastrophic milieu would vanish and might not appear in its original form...
...One can select out from a body of techniques a certain rather limited group which are within the competence of a single man or a small team — for example the Afghan rifles — and provided one condition is met those techniques can then survive as folk knowledge...
...The condition which must be met is this: among the isolated team or community continuing the technique must be at least one cobbler. I mean by that someone who will make do — who can cut through the fog of traditional methods which surrounds most modern technology and see that even if such-and-such isn't available, so-and-so will do the job. What do those Afghans put in their rifles? Cordite? Maybe — if they have a source of supply from a factory. But for all their handcrafting skill, I don't see them processing nitroglycerine over a cooking fire. More likely, they're packing their cartridges with a rather inefficient black powder.
In your post-nuclear-holocaust situation, to give a parallel instance, you'll be able to keep cars and jeeps moving provided you have somebody around who can bake the gas out of wood, or compress methane boiled off by stable-dung, and plumb a gas-supply into the induction manifold using scrap tubing and insulated tape...
...So: Situation One aforementioned is a catastrophic one, during which for a comparatively brief time a maximal range of incongruities coexist...
...Let's consider Situation Two now; it's far more stable and leads to many more promising consequences. For my investigations into this area, I can thank Poul — hence my comments about his own excess of modesty. He had a delightful scene in a Planet yarn years back, where a sword-swinging spaceman argued that the stars couldn't be light-years apart because he could get from one to the other in a week or two. He'd set up a borderline case of the item under consideration: what one might call an inheritance situation. And the reason why this hasn't been examined more closely in the previous articles in Amra is probably because on Earth it's occurred only rarely and over a small area for a short space of time.
To the quick of the ulcer: a society (community, whatever) busy using up someone else's resources and not its own is a perfect setting in which to combine the most contrasting gadgetry. In the story just referred to, and in heaven knows how many more of that sort, the inheritors are the derelict descendants of a star-spanning galactic empire.
For instance, it takes the resources of a major industrial power to crash a can of instruments on the moon, or to operate an eighty-thousand-ton ocean liner or a fleet of jet aircraft. Unless something incredible happens, and I don't mean a faster-than-light drive, it's going to take the resources of an industrialized planet to maintain a spacefleet. A galactic empire will contain so many planets so highly industrialized and so densely populated that some part of it will survive any major crash and probably make the whole shebang into a galaxy-sized parallel with present-day Earth.
Not good enough. How do we get the local planetary populations down to peasant-agriculture numbers? How do we reduce the odds against knowledge of fifty-percent-plus are of contemporary (star-flying) technology disappearing altogether over an entire chunk of the galaxy?...
...I got it clear in my mind that the ships were surviving because they were built to last, while planet-bound engineering was mainly the product of the inhabitants, isolated on the fringe of the galaxy, and probably a century or two behind the state of the art at the Hub when the empire collapsed (which brings me approximately level with Asimov in his Foundation stories, though he was using the argument to a different end).
And then I got it, belatedly because as I said the Earthside parallels are extremely rare. I can only think of such instances as people mining ancient monuments for building stone and lacking either the patience or the skill to square a true block themselves when the store runs dry.
Suppose the early explorers of the galaxy find caches of starships belonging to a vanished race, in such enormous quantities that they can spread across the stars like seed from a puffball. Good: this provides all the necessary incongruities. You can go as far and as fast as you like; you don't have to take a cross-section of Earthside technology in every ship; and when you get where you're going you start with the local resources only. Maybe you don't make a very good job of it. In that case, when some next-door system gets into an expansionist mood you rather welcome being taken over and garrisoned by legionaries who bring advanced medicine (we should have invited Mrs. Jones who knows first aid!) — and maybe you do well enough yourself to launch out in the conquest game yourself.
But at no point does human knowledge of the borrowed technology catch up with the application of it. This is no surprise though — out of the next hundred people you see drive past you, how many do you think could change a spark plug or grind a valve? In certain previously advanced areas of the galaxy understanding will be achieved; maybe humans get to the theory underlying the stardrive ... but where from there? To build the tools to build the machines to apply the theory, and that may take generations.
(Ed note: This does remind one of Frederik Pohl's Heechee novels.)
This may or may not be the story John Brunner was referring to:
Many men — risking indictment as warlocks or sorcerers—had tried to probe the secrets of the Great Destroyer and compute the speed of these mighty spacecraft of antiquity. Some had even claimed a speed of 100,000 miles per hour for them. But since the starships made the voyage from Earth to the agricultural worlds of Proxima Centauri in slightly less than twenty-eight hours, such calculations would place the nearest star-system an astounding two million eight hundred thousand miles from Earth — a figure that was as absurd to all Navigators as it was inconceivable to laymen.
(Ed note: 2,800,000 miles is a pathetic 1/50th the mean distance between Earth and Mars. To travel from Earth to Proxima Centauri in 28 hours would require the starship to be travelling about 1320 times the speed of light, which is a far far cry from 100,000 mph.)
The Warlock of Rhada
In The Warlock of Rhada by Robert Cham Gilman, one thousand years after the fall of the first galactic empire, warriors are armed with swords and ride horses, but by golly the starships still work. Built to last.
The starship Gloria in Coelis, grounded on the sandy plain to the west of Lord Ulm of Vara's keep, was ancient. Though the men who presently flew her were the wisest of their time, they had no really clear notion of how the vessel operated, when it was built or how fast it traveled. From time out of mind, the Order of Navigators had trained its priests in the techniques of automated starflight by rote. Even now, as the Gloria's two million metric tons depressed the soil of the Varan plain, the duty Navigators on the starship's bridge, were chanting the Te Deum Stella, the Litany for Preflight, this ritual being one of the first taught to young novice Navigators on the cloister-planets of Algol.
Though the three junior priests on the bridge were chanting the voice commands that activated the immense ship's systems, in fact only the propulsion units (sealed after manufacture in the time of the Empire) responded. The priests did not know that the vessel's life-support systems and its many amenities had ceased to function more than a thousand years earlier. The interior of the starship was lit by torches burning in wall-sconces, water and food were stored aboard in wooden casks, and the ship's atmosphere was replenished not by the scrubber units, as originally intended, but by the air that was taken aboard through the open ports and hatchways. The starships were capable of almost infinite range, for the engines operated on solar-phoenix units. But the length of any star voyage was limited by the food and water supply and by the fouling of the air by the hundreds of men and horses of the warbands the starships most often carried.
The bridge had been depolarized, and from within this consecrated area where only a Navigator might pass, the duty crew could see the squat towers and thick walls of Lord Vim's keep. The warband, almost a thousand armed men, was mustering on the plain below the north tower, preparing to file into the vaulted caverns within the kilometer-long ship.
Brother Anselm, a novice who spoke with the heavy Slavic accents of the Pleiades Region, had the Conn. This honor was a small one, for the ship was not under way, but the engine cores were still humming from the recent voyage from Aurora, and Anseim, a fervent young man, imagined that the voice of the Holy Star was in them — and speaking directly to him.
He half-closed his eyes and chanted, "Planetary Mass two-third nullified and cores engaged for atmospheric flight at minus thirty and counting."
Brother Gwill, a thinly made and sour young Altairi, made the response, pressing the glowing computer controls in the prescribed sequence. "Cores One and Three at Energy Point Three, for the Glory of Heaven. Cores Two, Four, and Five coming into phase as the Lord of the Great Sky Commands."
"Hallelujah, Core Energy rising on scan curve," Anselm declared with fervid devotion...
..."Null-grav power to main buss at Energy Point Five in the Name of the Holy Name."
"Null-gee to main buss at my hack, if it is pleasing to the Spirit," Gwill responded. In spite of himself he could not suppress a shiver of anticipation. At Energy Point Five, the power of the cores was fed into the lifting system and the vast star ship would begin to lose mass. The tonnage that interacted with planetary gravity to give the ship its great weight when at rest would begin to dissipate into a spatio-temporal anomaly, changing the molecular structure by reversing the atomic polarities of all matter within the Core field. The men who designed and built the starships understood this effect only imperfectly, and the Navigators who now flew them across the Great Sky understood it not at all. But the visual and physical effects of the change in matter within the Core fields was spectacular and awesome. As the Null-grav buss was activated, the skin of the ship would begin to shimmer and glow, surplus energy accumulated by kinesis and radiation from the Vyka Sun expending itself as light and molecular motion until the starship actually began to move. It was a sight that created consternation among the common folk of all the Great Sky, and even Navigators, who were accustomed to the phenomena, gave thought to the miraculous and holy nature of the great ships that were their domain.
Anselm murmured to Brother Collis, "Gloria in Excelsis, let the ship's pressure rise to ambient."
"Ambient it is and blessed be the Holy Star," Collins said rapidly. He pressed the prescribed buttons on the Support Console and waited the required thirty heartbeats. Nothing happened, nor did the young novice expect anything to happen. The display screen remained dark. "We are hold, hold, hold, may it be pleasing to God," he reported in the familiar rising chant. "Hold on pressure, hold on flow, hold on storage."...
...The three priests made the sign of the Star and Anselm in dictated that Brother Gwill should make the Query.
The novice punched in the coded sequence that was one of the first things memorized by all Navigators and meant, in effect, "Are we where we should be?" Ordinarily, for a short atmospheric flight, the Query was omitted from the Litany, but nothing was ever left out when Brother Anseim was in charge of the countdown.
The ship's computer flashed its reply on the display-screen: "Position coordinates D788990658-RA008239657. Province of Vega, Area 10, Aldrin. Planetary coordinates 23° 17' north latitude, 31° 12' west longitude, inertial navigation system engaged."
In spite of their familiarity with the ways of the holy starships, the three novices felt a tingling thrill at the appearance of the strangely shaped sigils in the ancient Anglic runes of the Empire. They had only the vaguest notion of what the ship meant by addressing them in these mystical words, in these phrases of the ancient world. But the background color on the display screen was the Color of Go — emerald green — and that told them that the Gloria in Coelis was, once again, ready for flight.
The Rhadan warlock Cavour (Early Second Empire period) once suggested that starships could attain velocities in excess of 200,000 kilometers per standard hour. Not only did he run the fatal risk of the displeasure of the Order of Navigators by these calculations (in an earlier age he would have been burned), but he earned the derision of his contemporaries. His computations, based on the known elapsed time for flight between the Rimworlds and Earth, resulted in a hypothetical diameter for the galaxy of 12,800,000 kilometers. Even Cavour, a learned man for his day, was shaken by this immense figure, and recanted.
Interregnal investigators, such few as there were, believed that a figure of 666,666 kilometers represented the exact diameter of what they called "The Great Sky."
-Matthias ben Mullerium, The History of the Rhadan Republic, Late Second Stellar Empire period
The Road Not Taken
For an even more unbelievable solution, read Harry Turtledove's "The Road Not Taken". Joshua Munn points out that there is a similar situation in David Brin's "Just a Hint"
"Back then, on Terra, they knew FTL travel was impossible forever. It was a rude shock when they found that a couple of simple experiments could have given them the key to contragrav and the hyperdrive three, four, even five centuries earlier." (ed note: in the 1500's.)
"How did they miss them?" Chang asked.
"No idea — in hindsight they're obvious enough. What's that race that flew bronze ships because they couldn't smelt iron? And every species we know that reached what the old Terrans would have called a seventeenth-century technological level did what was needed — except us."
"But trying to explain contragrav and the hyperdrive skews an unsophisticated, developing physics out of shape. With attention focused on them, too, work on other things, like electricity and atomics, never gets started. And those have much broader applications — the others are only really good for moving things from here to there in a hurry."
With a chuckle, Chang said, "We must have seemed like angry gods when we finally got the hyperdrive and burst off Terra. Radar, radio, computers, fission and fusion — no wonder we spent the next two hundred years conquering."
The Mote In God'S Eye
Blaine was searching for something to say when Whitbread gave him his opportunity. At first Blaine saw only that the junior midshipman was doing something under the edge of the table - but what? Tugging at the tablecloth, testing its tensile strength. And earlier he'd been looking at the crystal. "Yes, Mr. Whitbread," Rod said. "It's very strong."
Whitbread looked up, flushing, but Blaine didn't intend to embarrass the boy. "Tablecloth, silverware, plates, platters, crystal, all have to be fairly durable," he told the company at large. "Mere glassware wouldn't last the first battle. Our crystal is something else. It was cut from the windscreen of a wrecked First Empire reentry vehicle. Or so I was told. It's certain we can't make such materials any longer. The linen isn't really linen, either; it's an artificial fiber, also First Empire.
Joan Vinge pointed out an unexpected consequence of the collapse of technology in her THE OUTCASTS OF HEAVEN'S BELT. If a planetary colony falls into barbarism, everybody reverts to a non-technological agrarian society. If an asteroid civilization falls into barbarism, everybody dies. It takes lots of technology to run the oxygen system, airlocks, spaceships, hydroponics, nuclear reactors, and other items vital for life in space. No technology, no life. In other words, they are a Hydraulic state.
Betha saw suddenly the fatal flaw the original colonizers, already Belters, must never have considered. Without a world to hold an atmosphere, air and water -- all the fundamentals of life -- had to be processed or manufactured or they didn't exist. And without a technology capable of processing and manufacturing, in a system without an Earthlike world to retreat to, any Dark Age would mean extinction.
As has happened so often in the past, the challenge may be too great. We may establish colonies on the planets, but they may be unable to maintain themselves at more than a marginal level of existence, with no energy left over to spark any cultural achievements. History has one parallel as striking as it is ominous, for long ago the Polynesians achieved a technical tour-de-force which may well be compared with the conquest of space. By establishing regular maritime traffic across the greatest of oceans, writes Toynbee, they "won their footing on the specks of dry land which are scattered through the watery wilderness of the Pacific almost as sparsely as the stars are scattered through space." But the effort defeated them at last, and they relapsed into primitive life. We might never have known of their astonishing achievement had it not left, on Easter Island, a memorial that can hardly be overlooked. There may be many Easter Islands of space in the aeons to come — abandoned planets littered not with monoliths but with the equally enigmatic debris of another defeated technology.
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
(ed note: Titus Crow steps out of his grandfather-clock-like time machine several million years in the future)
I was up at dawn, if that gradual lightening of the sky, in which the stars never quite managed to extinguish themselves above the monstrous desert of Earth, could ever be called a dawn. The waning orange sun was rising in the dark blue of the eastern sky. And yet, despite the fact that the sun was dying, still its rising was my undoing, for of course the enigmatic structure I so desired to investigate lay in just that direction, to the east. Pitifully dim though the sun was by the standards of this twentieth century, still it was bright enough to throw the face of that towering edifice into shadow. Because of this I found myself approaching the thing blind, as it were, and I did so to within a distance of some three and a half miles. The base of the skyscraper (so I had come to think of it, though its actual purpose was as much a mystery as ever) lay in something of a declivity, but for all that the thing must still have stretched a good three-quarters of a mile into the thin air, while its column was easily a third of that distance in diameter.
At this point something about the shape of the thing caused me to halt the clock's slow forward motion. It almost seemed as if I stood at the feet of a giant, and I had not yet made up my mind that this giant was friendly! Nor was this idea too far fetched, for indeed the shape of the thing, seen in silhouette, was somehow statuesque.
I decided to circle about it and thus observe it from a position where the dim sun would not be shining directly into my eyes, but no sooner had I taken this decision than yet another factor arose to deny me a clear, unobstructed view of the thing. The sun, climbing steadily now into the sky, was warming however remotely the tenuous air of the valley in which my giant stood. A fine mist was rising, clinging to and climbing the steep and strangely suggestive outlines of the structure, so that by the time I reached that point to the north from which I had hoped to view it, the combination of ground haze and rising, writhing vaporization had obscured all but its pointed summit. That summit, however, I could now see quite clearly: a great curve of a silvery hull and sharp prow tilted at the sky, sleek fins gleaming in the weak sunlight. A spaceship, held aloft in a giant's hand, symbol of man's domination of the stars and of his exodus from this dying Earth!
My heart gave a wild leap. This was more than I had dared hope for, better by far than the thought of the last members of the human race burrowing in the dry earth like so many miserable worms. Impatiently I waited while the sun completed its work and the feeble haze began to drift lazily down from the gargantuan it so thinly veiled. And soon those disturbing proportions I had noted before began to emerge, but this time clearly and unmistakably to my shocked eyes!
My mouth went dry, my mind utterly blank in an instant. I could only stare ... and stare ... while my jaw dropped lower and lower and my hopes for mankind plummeted into unfathomable abysses. For perhaps a full half hour I stood there beside the clock, until, gripped by an emotion like none I had ever known before, I stumbled once more in through the panel of that purple-glowing gateway to forgotten times and places and carelessly hurled myself back, back into time, perhaps to a time when man lived and loved, fought and died and gloried on the green hills and in fertile valleys of Earth.
For the immense metal statue holding aloft that silvery symbol of galactic exodus was made neither by nor yet in the image of man. Vastly intelligent were its builders, yes, and plainly proud of their ancient heritage, a heritage which predated mere man and now patently antedated him ... It was a beetle!