First, go to The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy and read the entry "FUTURE HISTORY". The read the TV Trope's Standard Sci-Fi History (you might also want to read the TV Trope's Standard Sci-Fi Setting. Hackneyed, formulaic, derivative, and space opera; but very common).

Also check out this website's historical timeline of (mostly) real world events.

The 1950's flavored future history below is sort of an amalgam of Donald A. Wollheim's "Consensus Cosmogony", TV Trope's Standard Sci-Fi History, and my own memories of reading 1960's era science fiction.

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 and Colonization 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 (maybe even a war of independence), interplanetary commerce, spaceship trade lanes, space pirates, asteroid mining, the weird wonders of the Outer Planets.

Note that the performance of available rocket engines will affect the rate of exploration.


2. Slower Than Light Interstellar Exploration and Colonization

First interstellar flights. Starships that must travel centuries and contain generations descended from the original crews. Other planets of other stars. Contact with Terra is difficult at best. Lost colonies are typically founded during this era. 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.


3. Total or Limited Nuclear War on Terra (World War III)

Forrest J. Ackerman calls it "atomigeddon". Widespread nuclear death on Terra. Fall of civilization. Mutants. Political map is wiped clean, most or all modern day nations are gone. Sometimes remote and marginal cultures will expand and take over the world, because they happen to be located far away from where the nukes fell. Eventual recovery.

Examples: 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

First Contact, followed by second, third, fourth, and nth contact. Intelligences on extra-solar planets and our problems with them or against them. What happens depends upon whether the aliens technology level is lower, the same, or greater than humanity. And whether the aliens are friendly or hostile. Things can range from alien invasions to humans playing star-god with primitive aliens. There might be a Prime Directive imposed on human explorers.

Examples: THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE by Niven and Pournelle, "First Contact" by Murray Leinster.

5. Faster Than Light Interstellar Exploration and Colonization

As per #2, but quicker.


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".

Examples: 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. The Cycle of Empires

The history can go through the Cycle of Empires one or more times.

7A. 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. For whatever reason the indepenent human and/or alien worlds unite. This can be for common defense, cultural reasons, economic reasons, or by conquest. 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.

The TV Trope is "Rising Empire".

Examples: 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.

7B. Galactic Empire at its Height

Commerce between worlds an established fact, and adventures while dealing with worlds in and out of the Empire. The Pax Galactica reigns — a long period of peace and prosperity (at least on the surface). Technology is highly advanced. Civilization at it apex. During the Dark Ages, people will look back to this time as the Golden Age. 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. Authors tend to avoid writing stories set in this period because it is very boring.

This period varies depending upon the iteration, whether this is the First, Second, or latter Galactic Empire. The first is the most optimistic period. The Second Empire is generally wiser and more benevolent, but is also aware that empires can fall. In the Golden Age, the Second Empire was often also the Final Empire. Third and later empires are essentially the same setting as the Second Empire, but the higher number serves to imply an old galaxy, not locked in stasis.

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, the "First Empire" mentioned as background in THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE by Niven and Pournelle.

If this period doesn't turn out to be the Final Empire, eventually the edifice begins to crack, leading to:

7C. Galactic Empire Declines and Falls

Empire begins to decay. Intrigue and palace revolt. Breakaway planets. The alliance of worlds strained beyond its limits by rebellion, alien wars, decadence, corruption, scientific inability to keep up with internal or external problems. The rise of restless subject worlds. Outer provinces begin to revolt. Rim barbarians begin to invade. 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. Since Isaac Asimov showed the way, this period will resemble Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. 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.

7D. 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. Interstellar trade and communication fails. Knowledge and technology is lost. Fragments of spaceflight, fragments of empire, some starships, some efforts to revive. Rise of petty wars and kingdoms. 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. Rairly this can end with the extinction of humanity. Go to The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy and read the entry "INTERREGNUM".

Examples: EARTHBLOOD by Keith Laumer, SPACE VIKING by H. Beam Piper, THE REDISCOVERY OF MAN by Cordwainer Smith, THE ARMAGEDDON INHERITANCE by David Weber, the Interstellar Empire novels of John Brunner.

7E. Renaissance

Rebirth of civilization. Interstellar trade and communications resume, and the seeds of a new Empire are planted. This step might be an overwhelming problem, because resource-wise you've got just one shot.

Examples: "Starfog" and "The Star Plunderer" by Poul Anderson.

From here, the history can circle round back to 7A: Formation of Empire. Otherwise, it leads up to:

8. 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, WARLORD by S.M. Stirling and David Drake.

9. 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. Humanity ascends to a higher plane of existence or mysteriously vanishes/goes extinct.

Examples: LAST AND FIRST MEN and STAR MAKER by Olaf Stapledon, THE CITY AND THE STARS by Arthur C. Clarke.

Supporting The Story

At the basic level, scifi writers are storytellers, and the elements are present to support the story. The characters, the situation, the conflict, and of course the historical background.

For example, if the writer wants to create a story about how society becomes stressed out by the ever increasing advance of technology, well, there has to be a background history of ever increasing technological advances. This is not a problem since that is actually the history we are currently living within in the real world. So no future history has to be invented, the writer can just use reality.

But if the writer wants to create a story about how a matriarchal society will be impacted by the invention of star-gates, the writer will have to design a future history showing how this society came to be. Otherwise the readers may become confused, and the morality play will lose some of its impact.

Indeed, the writer may create several historical events indicating a historical trend. One where an astute reader may extrapolate the logical next event, and realize "Uh, oh! There is going to be trouble soon..." This is the scifi historical background actually supporting the thrust of the story.

So the writer does not have to create the entire history, they can make do with creating historical events that specifically help with the plot line.

Now if the writer is doing it the other way around, they have a more daunting task. This where they try to extrapolate historical events by either analogy, calculation, or some theory of cyclical repeating historical cycles. The hope is that the generated history suggests the plot of an interesting story to be written. Generating a history is covered in the sections following this one.


One of the primary difficulties facing a science-fiction writer when writing about the future is presenting to the reader a future that appears to be possible, a future that could have evolved from the present. Many successful writers have approached this problem by creating a future history—an outline of significant occurrences from the present extending through the period which the writer is using as his time base. Each writer does this in an individual way; this column will describe one specific future history and how it was created.

When John Carr and I decided to collaborate on a novel set approximately one hundred years in the future on Earth, dealing with future religious factions and a new messiah, we worked simultaneously toward creating a plot outline and a future history that would set the stage for the action we wished to present. Since the title of the novel is “The Crying Clown Celebration,” we call the future history the Clown Cycle.

We wanted an affluent, energy-rich society in which more people could and would spend more time in religious pursuits; this led us to incorporate into our future history the invention of the matter transmitter, the perfection of teleportation, and the utilization of solar power. The integration of these elements into the future history produced skyfactories; Earthport II; the United States Space Service; an economic depression several wars; universal currency (the kilowatt-hour); the universal money card (the keycard); the Universal Subsistence Level Income; and human settlements on Luna, sky islands, and asteroids.

In addition to information needed directly for “The Crying Clown Celebration" plot, we included other details of the future that seemed probable, possible and desirable, or interesting. Since many readers are interested in the future of offworld exploration, we incorporated sufficient data on space exploration and utilization to make that future reality an integral part of the future history.

We both reread Future Shock by Alvin Tofller to consider other elements that would enhance our projected future. The establishment of enclaves, biological experimentation, rejuvenation treatments, and the advancements of the arts were all influenced by Tofller's presentation of future possibilities.

To present a poverty-free society without the dullness frequently associated with utopian futures, we created a mainstream culture rich in science, technology, and art, diverse enough to satisfy the majority of the population. Since all members of the society receive the Universal Subsistence Level Income by registering for keycards, the people who practice a profession, pursue a career, or work for others do so for reasons other than the need to earn a basic living—for prestige, social position, luxuries, personal satisfaction, beliefs, tradition, entertainment, achievement of goals, power, recognition, etc.

Within the mainstream culture, teleportation has changed the ancient procedure of trading time for distance. For a small charge, an individual can enter a teleportation station, punch out a destination, and emerge in another teleportation station anywhere on Earth in a matter of seconds. The teleportation system utilizes the magnetic force lines of the Earth as ships utilize ocean currents. Stations are located in all major cities, usually in an architectural complex called a huburb which houses people, businesses, government oflices, and recreational facilities.

Teleportation has changed the world's political climate. Politicians are mainly concerned with administration and have much less to do with policy making. National boundaries have eroded because of unrestricted teleporting, and passports have become obsolete. Although some people still hunger for political power, the amount of power in politics has declined as the culture of the world has become more international.

For those individuals who fail to find satisfaction in the mainstream culture, there are a number of alternatives: offworld settlements in the asteroids, on the sky islands, or Luna; fringe areas near major cities that appeal to those of unconventional behavior; primitive areas far from teleportation stations where the mainstream culture doesn't penetrate and people must wrest their living from the land; and enclaves: enclosed areas where individuals can band together and use their keycards to support whatever kind of culture and environment they can develop.

The variety of enclaves is virtually unlimited by energy, logistical, or political constraints. They add diversity and color to a complex future. Some enclaves are future experiments, like the Freedom Franchise: where necessities are auto mated and there are no rules restricting individual exercise of freedom. Some are attempts to recreate the past, like the Eisenhower Enclaves: where complex androids function as the political figures of that time, and the enclavers attempt to recreate the nineteen-fifties as they should have been. Other enclaves are for religious groups, military training, modified pioneer lifestyles, artistic development, athletic achievement, or any other purpose which attracts a suitable number of interested individuals.

Projection of some present trends and near-future possibilities introduced into the future history such varied elements as new sports; rejuvenation treatments which offer an additional sixty years of healthy life to any man or woman; biological experimentation resulting in some shape-changed humans; and the International Individual Freedom Act, passed by the World Committee, which—as interpreted by the World Court—abolishes provincial laws dealing with victimless crimes. Other additions include such organizations as the Erotic Terrorists, sexual exhibitionists who perform in public places for shock value, and such avocations as free-lance mercy killers and necrophilia advocates.

The increased technology in health treatment gives rise to the diagnostic analyzer, which prepares a detailed analysis of an individuals physical condition in minutes; and pharmodrama—a combination of drugs and psychodrama techniques—which enables a lifestyle crisis counselor to create hypothetical situations in order to understand the mind set of the client. The blend of technology and art results in electronic musical instruments of wide capability, practical holographic television, and films that are produced from complex computer graphics that match the images scanned from the creator's mind.

The creation of the Clown Cycle involved a great number of hours spent in research, discussion, and problem resolution over a four-year period. The result is a background rich enough to provide the environment for a variety of diflerent novels and stories, which focus on the possibilities inherent in a future that has no limits except those of imagination.

From BIRTH OF A FUTURE HISTORY by Camden Benares (1979)

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.

Asimov, Isaac. Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine (July 1988). SF Author Isaac Asimov discusses psychohistory.
How to Build a Future
Barnes, John (1991). Analog Magazine (March 1990) and collected in Apostrophes and Apocalypses by Tor Books (1998) and Writer's Chapbook #18. SF Author John Barnes discusses how he uses spreadsheets and computer programs to model sociological and economic trends. He then uses these as the skeleton to build his future histories upon.
The World, The Flesh, and The Devil (online)
Bernal, J. D. (1929) Visionary notes on the future and how to conquer the three great enemies of human advancement.
Candidate - Fundamental Theorems of Cliology
Choate, James. Notes on candidates for theorems in cliology.
Profiles of the Future
Clarke, Arthur (1984). Great collection of essays on technological advancements and predicting the future.
An Introduction to Cliology
Flynn, Michael. Collected in In the Country of the Blind. Cliology is a variant on psychohistory. Flynn develops it in interesting directions removed from Asimov's ideas.
An Introduction to Psychohistory part 1 and part 2
Flynn, Michael. Analog Magazine (April 1988 - May 1988). SF Author Michael Flynn discusses areas of scientific thought that could be used to actually formulate something approximating the psychohistory
Pson of Psychohistory
Flynn, Michael. Analog Magazine (June 1994). A follow-up to the "Intro to Psychohistory" article.
"Where To?"
Heinlein, Robert. Collected in Expanded Universe. An excellent essay on prediction the future in general and extrapolating technological progress in specific.
Stover, Gene. Notes on developing a predictive science of history.
Human cycles: History as science
Spinney, Laura. Advocates of 'cliodynamics' say that they can use scientific methods to illuminate the past. But historians are not so sure.

Psychohistory is a fictional science in Isaac Asimov's Foundation universe which combines history, sociology, and mathematical statistics to make general predictions about the future behavior of very large groups of people, such as the Galactic Empire. It was first introduced in the four short stories (1942–1944) which would later be collected as the 1951 novel Foundation.


Psychohistory depends on the idea that, while one cannot foresee the actions of a particular individual, the laws of statistics as applied to large groups of people could predict the general flow of future events. Asimov used the analogy of a gas: An observer has great difficulty in predicting the motion of a single molecule in a gas, but with the kinetic theory can predict the mass action of the gas to a high level of accuracy. Asimov applied this concept to the population of his fictional Galactic Empire, which numbered one quintillion. The character responsible for the science's creation, Hari Seldon, established two axioms:

  • that the population whose behavior was modeled should be sufficiently large
  • that the population should remain in ignorance of the results of the application of psychohistorical analyses because if it's aware, the group changes its behaviour.

Ebling Mis added these axioms

  • That there would be no fundamental change in the society
  • That human reactions to stimuli would remain constant.

Golan Trevize in Foundation and Earth added this axiom

  • that humans are the only sentient intelligence in the galaxy.


The fact that Seldon established a Second Foundation of mental-science adepts to oversee his Seldon Plan might suggest that even Seldon himself had doubts about the ultimate ability of a purely mathematical approach to predicting historical processes, and that he recognized that the development of psychic skills, such as those used by the Mule, had the ability to invalidate the assumptions underlying his models, though he did not (and could not) predict the appearance of the Mule himself. The Seldon methodology might therefore only work at a certain level of species-development, and would over time become less useful.

Psychohistory has one basic, underlying limitation which Asimov postulated for the first time on the last page of the final book in the Foundation series: psychohistory only functions in a galaxy populated only by humans. In Asimov's Foundation series, humans form the only sentient race that developed in the entire Milky Way Galaxy. Seldon developed psychohistory to predict the actions of large groups of humans. Even robots technically fall under the umbrella of psychohistory, because humans built them, and they thus represent more or less a human "action", or at least, possess a thought-framework similar enough to that of their human creators that psychohistory can predict their actions. However, psychohistory cannot predict the actions of a sentient alien race; their psychology may differ so much from that of humans that normal psychohistory cannot understand or predict their actions.

The end of the series offered two possibilities:

  1. sentient races actually very rarely develop, such that only humans evolved in the Milky Way Galaxy, and in most other galaxies, it appears probable (given this assumption) that only one sentient race would develop. However, statistically two or more alien races might evolve in the same galaxy, leading them into inevitable conflict. The fighting in this other galaxy would only end when one race emerged the victor, and after the prolonged conflict with other races, would have developed an aggressive and expansionist mindset. In contrast, humans had never encountered another sentient species in the Milky Way Galaxy, so they never felt greatly compelled to expand to other galaxies, but instead to fight other humans over control of the Milky Way. Eventually, such an aggressive alien race would expand from galaxy to galaxy, and try to invade the Milky Way Galaxy.
  2. through genetic engineering, subsets of humanity could alter themselves so significantly from baseline humans that they could for all intents and purposes be considered "aliens". Specifically exemplifying this theory we find Asimov's Solarians: humans evolved from an old Spacer world who had genetically modified themselves into hermaphrodites with telekinetic mental powers.

Asimovian psychohistory and similar concepts in other fiction

  • Legend of the Galactic Heroes (November 1982) – The concept of psychohistory appears in this novel by Yoshiki Tanaka.
  • Hyperion (1989) – In Dan Simmons's novel, the AI civilization is capable of statistically predicting future events to a very high degree of accuracy.
  • In The Country of the Blind (1990) – In this novel, author Michael F. Flynn creates competing groups of psychohistorians.
  • Ghost Rider 2099 (May 1994) – In issue #1, a group of AIs predict that human society (and therefore the global network in which the AIs exist) will crash in 2113. One of them mentions that Asimov conceived the idea of such a mathematical model.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1997) – In the episode "Statistical Probabilities", a think tank uses mathematics to predict the future in a manner likely to be a reference to Asimov.
  • Star Trek: Preserver (2000) – In this novel by William Shatner, the science of psychohistory is used (and mentioned by name) by scholars at outpost Memory Alpha. Memory Alpha was shown in the Star Trek: Original Series episode "The Lights of Zetar", although psychohistory was never mentioned in the episode.
  • Psychohistorical Crisis (2001) – Donald Kingsbury's novel re-imagines the world of Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy, set after the establishment of the Second Empire.
  • Transformers: Timelines (2005) – In the 'Shattered Glass' universe, Megatron uses math to predict the future in a reference to Asimov.
  • Fantastic Four (January 2007) – In issue #542, Mister Fantastic reveals his real reason for supporting the superhero registration act which prompted the Civil War: his development of a working version of Isaac Asimov's fictional psychohistory concept. Mister Fantastic's application of this science indicates to him that billions will die in escalating conflicts unless the act becomes law.
  • House of Suns (2008) – This novel by Alastair Reynolds features a device called the "Universal Actuary", which aims to predict the future of civilisations in a manner very similar to psychohistory. As the limits of slower-than-light travel prevent any interstellar civilisations from lasting very long, one of its most important uses is to determine how much longer a given civilisation will last.
  • Fallout 4 (2015) – In the video game developed by Bethesda Softworks, a robot dubbed P.A.M. (Predictive Analytical Machine) uses algorithms to make predictions of the future. However, her capabilities are limited due to the complexity of human free will and she has to adjust her algorithms constantly, especially when the player character shows up.

Outside fiction

Polymath Adolphe Quetelet developed in the 19th century what he called "social physics". Quetelet studied the statistical laws underlying the behaviour of what he called "average man".

Some individuals and groups, inspired by Asimov's psychohistory, seriously explore the possibility of a working psychohistory not unlike the one imagined by Asimov—a statistical study of history that could help in the formulation of some "theory of history" and perhaps become a tool of historical prediction.

Complexity theory, an offshoot of chaos mathematics theory, explored by Stuart Kauffman in his books "At Home in the Universe" and "Redefining the Sacred" cover the concept of statistical modeling of sociological evolutions. The concept was also explored in "Order Out of Chaos" by Ilya Prigogine.

Another theory that has similarities to Psychohistory is "Generational Dynamics" proposed by John J. Xenakis, where he proposes, "Generational Dynamics is a historical methodology that analyzes historical events through the flow of generations, and uses the analysis to forecast future events by comparing today's generational attitudes to those of the past". Essentially, generations immediately after a major crisis event (civil war, world war) will be unwilling to live through such events again and will be risk-averse. Generations after them may well be aware of previous crisis events, but will be more risk-tolerant, as they have not been exposed to the crisis themselves. Xenakis states that this allows one to predict future crisis events by analyzing the current generation's outlooks.

For similar ideas see Peter Turchin's WAR AND PEACE AND WAR: The Life Cycles of Imperial Nations - his science is called cliodynamics.

Nathan Eagle and Alex Pentland (among others) have developed useful techniques for predicting human behavior through statistical analysis of smartphone data.

At the 67th science-fiction world convention in Montreal, Paul Krugman, the Nobel laureate in Economics, mentioned Hari Seldon, a central character in Foundation who was a psychohistorian, as his inspiration to study Economics since it is the closest thing to Psychohistory, according to P. Krugman.

The Living Earth Simulator, a platform of the proposed FuturICT project, aims to simulate social and economic developments on a global scale in order to anticipate and predict global phenomena, like for example financial crisis. For similar ideas see Dan Braha's work on predicting the behavior of global civil unrest. This work demonstrates, based on historical records and mathematical modeling, the existence of universal patterns of collective unrest across countries and regions.

The evolving field of behavioral economics embodies elements of Asimov's psychohistory.

Looking at several revealed conspiracies, the estimated chance of a conspiracy being busted is 4 parts per million per year per conspirator, combining history, sociology, and mathematical statistics to make general predictions about the future behavior of very large groups of people.

The 3 February 2017 issue of Science has a special section "Prediction and Its Limits". This section has articles on many mathematical techniques of predicting human behavior, and explicitly compares them to Asimov's psychohistory.

In role-playing games

Psychohistory appears in the Traveller science-fiction role-playing game, released in 1977. The alien race known as the Hivers use extensive manipulation of other cultures based on psychohistorical data to achieve their own ends. Rumors ascribe the assassination of the Third Imperium's Emperor Strephon to a Hiver manipulation based on psychohistorical data indicating the eventual fall of the Third Imperium. Humans in the setting have also attempted to use psychohistory, but with less skill or success; the Psionic Suppressions (which turned public opinion within the human Imperium against those with paranormal mental abilities, forcing them to go into hiding) resulted, unknown to most, from an experiment in psychohistory that got out of control and went much farther than the experimenters intended.

Literary influences

Some literary critics have described Asimov's psychohistory as a reformulation of Karl Marx's theory of history (historical materialism), though Asimov denied any direct influence. Arguably, Asimov's psychohistory departs significantly from Marx's general theory of history based on modes of production (as distinct from Marx's model of the capitalist economy, where "natural laws" work themselves out with "iron necessity") in that psychohistory is predictive (if only in the sense of involving precisely stated probabilities), and in that psychohistory is extrapolated from individual psychology and even from physics. Psychohistory also has echoes of modernization theory and of work in the social sciences that by the 1960s would lead to attempts at large-scale social prediction and control such as Project Camelot.

Similar concepts

  • Psychohistory, the real (non-fictional) study of the psychological motivation of groups in historical and current events
  • Game theory, application of probability models to analyze human (and other) interactions driven by strategic rationality (defined broadly), with the potential for predicting events
  • Macroeconomics, the real economics sub-field that considers aggregate behavior
  • Lyapunov time, the time for a system to become unpredictable after observation
  • Economic history, the real economics sub-field trying to discover long-run trends in human behaviour (the equations of the Prime Radiant)
  • Praxeology, the study of human action
  • Robopsychology, the fictional study of the personalities of intelligent machines
  • Quantitative psychology, the real psychology sub-field that applies statistical mathematics to psychology
  • Mathematical sociology, the real sociology sub-field that applies statistical mathematics and other quantitative approaches such as social network analysis to micro- and macro-social phenomena
  • Cliodynamics, the real area of research focused on mathematical modeling of historical dynamics
  • Societics, the fictional study of "the interaction of individuals in a culture, the interaction of the group generated by these individuals, the equations derived therefrom, and the application of these equations to control one or more factors of this same culture"
  • Survival analysis, a branch of statistics which deals with death in biological organisms and failure in mechanical systems. This topic is called reliability theory or reliability analysis in engineering, and duration analysis or duration modeling in economics or event history analysis in sociology.
From the Wikipedia entry for PSYCHOHISTORY (FICTIONAL)

In the case of “psychohistory,” however, I suspected that the word was not in common use, and might even never have been used before. (Actually, the O.E.D. cites one example of its use as early as 1934.) I first used it in my story, “Foundation,” which appeared in the May 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction.

I came up with the word because John Campbell and I were discussing the course I was to take in the Foundation series once I came to him with my initial idea on the subject. I was quite frank in my intention of using Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as my model and as a basic guide for plot ideas, but I needed something that would make science fiction out of it. I couldn’t simply call it the Galactic Empire and then just treat it as a hypertrophied Roman Empire.

So I suggested we add the fact that a mathematical treatment existed whereby the future could be predicted in a statistical fashion, and I called it “psychohistory.” Actually, it was a poor word and did not represent what I truly meant. I should have called it “psychosociology” (a word which the O.E.D. lists as having first been used in 1928). However, I was so intent on history, thanks to Gibbon, that I could think of nothing but psychohistory. In any case, Campbell was enthusiastic about the idea and we were off and running.

I modeled my concept of psychohistory on the kinetic theory of gases, which I had been beat over the head with in my physical chemistry classes. The molecules making up gases moved in an absolutely random fashion in any direction in three dimensions and in a wide range of speeds. Nevertheless, one could fairly describe what those motions would be on the average and work out the gas laws from those average motions with an enormous degree of precision.

In other words, although one couldn’t possibly predict what a single molecule would do, one could accurately predict what umptillions of them would do.

So I applied that notion to human beings. Each individual human being might have “free will,” but a huge mob of them should behave with some sort of predictability, and the analysis of “mob behavior” was my psychohistory.

There were two conditions that I had to set up in order to make it work, and they were not chosen carelessly. I picked them in order to make psychohistory more like kinetic theory. First, I had to deal with a large number of human beings, as kinetic theory worked with a large number of molecules. Neither would work for small numbers. It is for that reason that I had the Galactic Empire consist of twenty-five million worlds, each with an average population of four billion. That meant a total human population of one hundred quadrillion. (In my heart, I didn’t think that was enough, but I didn’t want to place any greater strain on the suspension of disbelief than I absolutely had to.)

Second, I had to retain the “randomness” factor. I couldn’t expect human beings to behave as randomly as molecules, but they might approach such behavior if they had no idea as to what was expected of them. So it was necessary to suppose that human beings in general did not know what the predictions of psychohistory were and therefore would not tailor their activities to suit.

Much later in the game, I thought of a third condition that I didn’t think of earlier simply because I had taken it so completely for granted. The kinetic theory assumes that gases are made up of nothing but molecules, and psychohistory will only work if the hosts of intelligence are made up of nothing but human beings. In other words, the presence of aliens with non-human intelligence might well bollix the works. This situation may actually develop in future books of the Foundation series, but so far I have stayed clear of non-human intelligences in my Galactic Empire (partly because Campbell and I disagreed fundamentally on what their role would be if they existed and since neither of us would give in).

Eventually, I thought that my psycho history would fade out of human consciousness because the term came to be used by psychiatrists for the study of the psychiatric background of individuals (such as Woodrow Wilson, Sigmund Freud, or Adolf Hitler) who had some pronounced effect on history. Naturally, since I felt a proprietary interest in the term psychohistory as a predictive study of large faceless masses of human beings, I resented the new use of the word.

But then as time went on, I grew more philosophical. After all, it might well be that there could be no analogy drawn between molecules and human beings and that there could be no way of predicting human behavior. As mathematicians began to be interested in the details of what is now called “chaos,” it seemed to me that human history might prove to be essentially “chaotic” so that there could be no psychohistory. Indeed, the question of whether psychohistory can be worked out or not lies at the center of the novel I have recently completed, Prelude to Foundation, in which Hari Seldon (the founder of psychohistory) is portrayed as a young man who is in the process of trying to devise the science.

Imagine, then, how exciting it is for me to see that scientists are increasingly interested in my psychohistory, even though they may not be aware that that’s what the study is called and may never have read any of my Foundation novels, and thus may not know of my involvement. (Who cares? The concept is more important than I am.)

Some months ago, a reader, Tom Wilsdon of Arden, North Carolina, sent me a clipping from the April 23, 1987, issue of Machine Design. It reads as follows, in full:

“A computer model originally intended to simulate liquid turbulence has been used to model group behavior. Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratories have found that there is a similarity between group behavior and certain physical phenomena. To do the analysis, they assigned certain physical characteristics such as level of excitement, fear, and size of the crowd to model parameters. The interaction of the crowd closely paralleled the turbulent flow equations. Although the analysis cannot predict exactly what a group will do, it reportedly does help determine the most probable consequence of a given event.”

Then, too, Roger N. Shepard, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, has published an article in the September 11, 1987 issue of Science entitled “Toward a Universal Law of Generalization for Psychological Science.” Unfortunately, although I made a valiant effort to read it, the mathematics was too tough for me and even the nonmathematical portions produced only a rather dim and hazy understanding within me. However, here is the summary of the article as given at the beginning:

“A psychological space is established for any set of stimuli by determining metric distances between the stimuli such that the probability that a response learned to any stimulus will generalize to any other is an invariant monotonic function of the distance between them. To a good approximation, this probability of generalization (i) decays exponentially with this distance, and (ii) does so in accordance with one of two metrics, depending on the relation between the dimensions along with the stimuli vary. These empirical regularities are mathematically derivable from universal principles of natural kinds and probabilistic geometry that may, through evolutionary internalization, tend to govern the behaviors of all sentient organisms.”

As I said, I don’t really understand this but I have the feeling that Hari Seldon would understand it without trouble. I am also concerned, suddenly, that psychohistory may be developed within the next century. I placed its development 20,000 years in the future. Is this going to be another case of my science-fictional imagination falling ludicrously short?

From PSYCHOHISTORY by Issac Asimov (1988)

(ed note: The protagonists are in charge of the first atomic power plant. If the operators make one little mistake the plant will go up in an explosion that will melt the North American continent down to bedrock. The operators are under lots of stress so they are constantly observed by psychologists. Which of course increases the stress. This is a problem.)

      King ceased pacing the floor and faced the doctor. "But there must be some solution — " he insisted.
     Silard shook his head. "It's beyond me, Superintendent. I see no solution from the standpoint of psychology."
     "No? Hmm—Doctor, who is the top man in your field?"
     "Who is the recognized number-one man in handling this sort of thing?"
     "Why, that's hard to say. Naturally, there isn't any one, leading psychiatrist in the world; we specialize too much. I know what you mean, though. You don't want the best industrial temperament psychometrician; you want the" best all-around man for psychoses non-lesional and situational. That would be Lentz."
     "Go on."
     "Well — he covers the whole field of environment adjustment. He's the man that correlated the theory of optimum tonicity with the relaxation technique that Korzybski had developed empirically. He actually worked under, Korzybski himself, when he was a young student—it's the only thing he's vain about."
     "He did? Then he must be pretty old; Korzybski died in — What year did he die?"
     "I started to say that you must know his work in symbology—theory of abstraction and calculus of statement, all that sort of thing—because of its applications to engineering and mathematical physics."
     "That Lentz—yes, of course. But I had never thought of him as a psychiatrist."
     "No, you wouldn't, in your field. Nevertheless, we are inclined to credit him with having done as much to check and reduce the pandemic neuroses of the Crazy Years as any other man, and more than any man left alive."
     "Where is he?"
     "Why, Chicago, I suppose. At the Institute."
     "Get him here. Get him down here. Get on that visiphone and locate him. Then have Steinke call the Port of Chicago, and hire a stratocar to stand by for him. I want to see him as soon as possible—before the day is out." King sat up in his chair with the air of a man who is once more master of himself and the situation. His spirit knew that warming replenishment that comes only with reaching a decision. The harassed expression was gone.
     Silard looked dumbfounded. "But, superintendent," he expostulated, "you can't ring for Doctor Lentz as if he were a junior clerk. He's—he's Lentz."
     "Certainly—that's why I want him. But I'm not a neurotic clubwoman looking for sympathy, either. He'll come. If necessary, turn on the heat from Washington. Have the White House call him. But get him here at once. Move!" King strode out of the office.

(ed note: King talks with Doctor Lentz)

     King was reminded again of something that had bothered him from the time Silard had first suggested Lentz' name. "May I ask a personal question?"
     The merry eyes were undisturbed. "Go ahead."
     "I can't help but be surprised that one man should attain eminence in two such widely differing fields as psychology and mathematics. And right now I'm perfectly convinced of your ability to pass yourself off as a physicist. I don't understand it."
     The smile was more amused, without being in the least patronizing, nor offensive. "Same subject," he answered.
     "Eh? How's that — "
     "Or rather, both mathematical physics and psychology are branches of the same subject, symbology. You are a specialist; it' would not necessarily come to your attention."
     "I still don't follow you."
     "No? Man lives in a world of ideas. Any phenomenon is so complex that he cannot possibly grasp the whole of it. He abstracts certain characteristics of a given phenomenon as an idea, then represents that idea as a symbol, be it a word or a mathematical sign. Human reaction is almost entirely reaction to symbols, and only negligibly to phenomena. As a matter of fact," he continued, removing the cigarette holder from his mouth and settling into his subject, "it can be demonstrated that the human mind can think only in terms of symbols.
     "When we think, we let symbols operate on other symbols in certain set fashions—rules of logic, or rules of mathematics. If the symbols have been abstracted so that they are structurally similar to the phenomena they stand for, and if the symbol operations are similar in structure and order to the operations of phenomena in the 'real' world, we think sanely. If our logic-mathematics, or our word-symbols, have been poorly chosen, we think not sanely.
     "In mathematical physics you are concerned with making your symbology fit physical phenomena. In psychiatry I am concerned with precisely the same thing, except that I am more immediately concerned with the man who does the thinking than with the phenomena he is thinking about. But the same subject, always the same subject."

(ed note: Dr. Lentz concludes there is no solution to the problem of atomic plant operators cracking up mentally, short of shutting down the reactor. Because the operators are responding rationally to being responsible for an atomic reactor that could wipe out the human race in an eyeblink. But then nuclear physicist Dr. Harper announces that he has discovered how to use the plant to create atomic rocket fuel.)

     "Wait a minute." Lentz had the floor. "Doctor Harper…have you already achieved a practical rocket fuel?"
     "I said so. We've got it on hand now."
     "An escape-speed fuel?" They understood his verbal shorthand a fuel that would lift a rocket free of the earth's gravitational pull.
     "Sure. Why, you could take any of the Clipper (suborbital) rockets, refit them a trifle, and have breakfast on the moon."
     "Very well. Bear with me…" He obtained a sheet of paper from King, and commenced to write. They watched in mystified impatience. He continued briskly for some minutes, hesitating only momentarily. Presently he stopped, and spun the paper over to King. "Solve it!" he demanded.
     King studied the paper. Lentz had assigned symbols to a great number of factors, some social, some psychological, some physical, some economic. He had thrown them together into a structural relationship, using the symbols of calculus of statement. King understood the paramathematical operations indicated by the symbols, but he was not as used to them as he was to the symbols and operations of mathematical physics. He plowed through the equations, moving his lips slightly in subconscious vocalization.
     He accepted a pencil from Lentz, and completed the solution. It required several more lines, a few more equations, before they cancelled out, or rearranged themselves, into a definite answer.
     He stared at this answer while puzzlement gave way to dawning comprehension and delight.
     He looked up. "Erickson! Harper!" he rapped out. "We will take your new fuel, refit a large rocket, install the breeder pile (atomic reactor) in it, and throw it into an orbit around the earth, far out in. space. There we will use it to make more fuel, safe fuel, for use on earth, with the danger from the Big Bomb itself limited to the operators actually on watch!" (which will remove the danger of the atomic reactor exploding and making the human race extinct, and incidentally lower the stress on the operators to the point where they will stop suffering psychological breakdowns)
     There was no applause. It was not that sort of an idea; their minds were still struggling with the complex implications.
     "But Chief," Harper finally managed, "how about your retirement? We're still not going to stand for it."
     "Don't worry," King assured him. "It's all in there, implicit in those equations, you two, me, Lentz, the Board of Directors and just what we all have to do about it to accomplish it."
     "All except the matter of time," Lentz cautioned. "You'll note that elapsed time appears in your answer as an undetermined unknown."
     "Yes…yes, of course. That's the chance we have to take. Let's get busy!"

(ed note: in other words the complicated equation is an example of Psychohistory, much like as in Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy)

From BLOWUPS HAPPEN by Robert Heinlein (1940)

“…science goes back a long way, actually. Francis Bacon speculated about a genuine science of man. Boole did some work along those lines as well as inventing the symbolic logic which was to be such a major tool in solving the problem.

“In the last century, a number of lines of attack were developed. There was already the psychology of Freud and his successors, of course, which gave the first real notion of human semantics. There were the biological, chemical, and physical approaches to man as a mechanism. Comparative historians like Spengler, Pareto, and Toynbee realized that history did not merely happen but had some kind of pattern.

“Cybernetics developed such concepts as homeostasis and feedback, concepts which were applicable to individual man and to society as a whole. Games theory, the principle of least effort, and Haeml’s generalized epistemology pointed toward basic laws and the analytical approach.

“The new symbologies in logic and mathematics suggested formulations—for the problem was no longer one of gathering data so much as of finding a rigorous symbolism to handle them and indicate new data. A great deal of the Institute’s work has lain simply in collecting and synthesizing all these earlier findings.”

From THE SENSITIVE MAN by Poul Anderson (1954)

      He looked back at the entry for October 16, 1931, and ran through it swiftly. There, near the end of it was the sentence:
Ulysses says the Thubans from planet VI are perhaps the greatest mathematicians in the galaxy. They have developed, it seems, a numeration system superior to any in existence, especially valuable in the handling of statistics.
     He closed the book and sat quietly in the chair, wondering if the statisticians of Mizar X knew of the Thubans’ work. Perhaps they did, he thought, for certainly some of the math they used was unconventional.
     He pushed the record book to one side and dug into a desk drawer, bringing out his chart. He spread it flat on the desk before him and puzzled over it. If he could be sure, he thought. If he only knew the Mizar statistics better. For the last ten years or more he had labored at the chart, checking and rechecking all the factors against the Mizar system, testing again and again to determine whether the factors he was using were the ones he should be using.
     He raised a clenched fist and hammered at the desk. If he only could be certain. If he could only talk with someone. But that had been something that he had shrank from doing, for it would be equivalent to showing the very nakedness of the human race.
     He rolled up the chart and put it back into the desk. The record book he put away in its proper place among all the other record books upon the shelf.

     But before he began to eat, he went back to the desk and, opening a drawer, got out his chart and spread it on the table. Once again he wondered just how valid it might be, although in certain parts of it, at times, it seemed to make a certain sort of sense.

     He had based it on the Mizar theory of statistics and had been forced, because of the nature of his subject, to shift some of the factors, to substitute some values. He wondered now, for the thousandth time, if he had made an error somewhere. Had his shifting and substitution destroyed the validity of the system? And if so, how could he correct the errors to restore validity?
     Here the factors were, he thought: the birth rate and the total population of the Earth, the death rate, the values of currencies, the spread of living costs, attendance of places of worship, medical advances, technological developments, industrial indices, the labor market, world trade trends-and many others, including some that at first glance might not seem too relevant: the auction price of art objects, vacation preferences and movements, the speed of transportation, the incidence of insanity.
     The statistical method developed by the mathematicians of Mizar, he knew, would work anywhere, on anything, if applied correctly. But he had been forced to twist it in translating an alien planet’s situation to fit the situation here on Earth-and in consequence of that twisting, did it still apply?

     He shuddered as he looked at it. For if he’d made no mistake, if he’d handled everything correctly, if his translations had done no violence to the concept, then the Earth was headed straight for another major war, for a holocaust of nuclear destruction.
     He let loose of the corners of the chart and it rolled itself back into a cylinder.
     There had been a time, he remembered, when he had held some hope that the chart based on the Mizar theory might show, if not a way to end all war, at least a way to keep the peace. But the chart had never given any hint of the road to peace. Inexorably, relentlessly, it had led the way to war.

From WAY STATION by Clifford Simak (1963)

Historical Events

Naturally, future histories will aways include wars. At least as long as humans are humans. But there may be other events.

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.)

Noted SF author Ken MacLeod said "History is the trade secret of science fiction." Keep in mind that you do not have to copy the historical record slavishly, even real history doesn't do that. It has been said it is not quite true that "history repeats itself", more like "historical situations reoccur." More flippantly John Colombo said "History never repeats itself but it rhymes."

This is yet another example of RocketCat's observation on science-fiction worldbuilding: "Everything Old Is New Again."

Also remember the old bromide: "Truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to make sense."

Asimov had another useful innovation in his Foundation trilogy. Part of the background of the first couple of stories was that the Foundation was going to create an "Encyclopedia Galactica" containing the knowledge of the day. So as an author, when Asimov was going to write a new story set in the series, he could get the reader up to speed by giving them a fictious Encyclopedia article from the even further in the future. This gave the reader "Cliff Notes" on the situation, and what had happened in prior volumes of the saga. This was much easier than that tired old method of one character starting an idiot lecture with "So Tell Me, Professor…" and burying the reader under an indigestible infodump disgused as dialog.

If you want to use Rome as a model for your galactic empire but 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".

As an example, Bill Baldwin's rollicking space opera The Helmsman Saga is obviously based on World War II, with scenes reminding one of The Battle of Britain and The Dunkirk Miracle.

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.



Here is an example for you to stretch your authorial muscles a bit. First, read this entertaining account by a historian who goes by the internet handle of John Bull:

John Bull:

     Let's talk about the point after WW2 where the Knights Hospitaller, of medieval crusading fame, 'accidentally' became a major European air power.
     I sh*tteth ye not.
     So, if I asked you to imagine the Knights Hospitaller you probably picture:
  1. Angry Christians on armoured horses
  2. Them being wiped out long ago like the Templars
  3. Some Dan Brown bullsh*t
     And you would be (mostly) wrong about all three. Which is sort of how this happened.

     From the beginning (1113 or so), the Hospitallers were never quite as committed to the angry, horsey thing as the Templars. They had always (ostensibly) been more about protecting pilgrims and healthcare. They also quite liked boats. Which were useful for both.
     Over the next 150 years (or so), as the Christian grip on the Holy Lands waned, both military orders got more involved in their other hobbies — banking for the Templars, mucking around in boats for the Hospitaller. This proved to be a surprisingly wise decision on the Hospitaller part. By 1290ish, both Orders were homeless and weakened.

     As the Templars fatally discovered, being weak AND having the King of France owe you money is a bad combo.

     Being a useful NAVY, however, wins you friends.

     And this is why your first vision of the Hospitallers is wrong. Because they spent the next 500 YEARS, backed by France and Spain, as one of the most powerful naval forces in the Mediterranean, blocking efforts by the Ottomans to expand westwards by sea. To give you an idea of the trouble they caused: in 1480 Mehmet II sent 70,000 men (against the Knights 4000) to try and boot them out of Rhodes. He failed. Suleiman the Magnificent FINALLY managed it in 1522 with 200,000 men. But even he had to agree to let the survivors leave.

     The surviving Hospitallers hopped on their ships (again) and sailed away. After some vigorous lobbying, in 1530 the King of Spain agreed to rent them Malta, in return for a single maltese falcon every year. Because that's how good rents were pre-housing crisis in Europe.

     The Knights turned Malta into ANOTHER fortified island. For the next 200 years 'the Pope's own navy' waged a war of piracy, slavery and (occasionally) pitched sea battles against the Ottomans. From Malta, they blocked Ottoman strategic access to the western med. A point that was not lost on the Ottomans, who sent 40,000 men to try and take the island in 1565 — the 'Great Siege of Malta'. The Knights, fighting almost to the last man, held out and won.

     Now the important thing here is the CONTINUED EXISTENCE AS A SOVEREIGN STATE of the Knights Hospitaller. They held Malta right up until 1798, when Napoleon finally managed to boot them out on his way to Egypt (Partly because the French contingent of the Knights swapped sides). The British turned up about three months later and the French were sent packing, but, well, it was the British so:
THE KNIGHTS: Can we have our strategically important island back please?
THE BRITISH: What island?
THE KNIGHT: That island
THE BRITISH: Nope. Can't see an island
     After the Napoleonic wars no one really wanted to bring up the whole Malta thing with the British (the Putin's Russia of the era) so the European powers fudged it. They said the Knights were still a sovereign state and they tried to sort them out with a new country. But never did. The Russian Emperor let them hang out in St Petersburg for a while, but that was awkward (Catholicism vs Orthodox). Then the Swedes were persuaded to offer them Gotland. But every offer was conditional on the Knights dropping their claim to Malta. Which they REFUSED to do.

John Bull:

     It's the 1900s. The Knights are still a stateless state complaining about Malta. What that means legally is a can of worms NO ONE wants to open in international law but they've also rediscovered their original mission (healthcare) so everyone kinda ignores them. The Knights become a pseudo-Red Cross organisation. In WW1 they run ambulance trains and have medical battalions, loosely affiliated with the Italian army (still do). In WW2 they do it too.
     Italy surrenders. The allies move on then...
     Oh dear.
     Who wrote this peace deal again?

     It turns out the Treaty of Peace with Italy should go FIRMLY into the category of 'things that seemed a good idea at the time'. This is because it presupposes that relations between the west and the Soviets will be good, and so limits Italy's MILITARY.

     This is a problem.

     Because as the early Cold War ramps up, the US needs to build up its Euro allies ASAP. But the treaty limits the Italians to 400 airframes, and bans them from owning ANYTHING that might be a bomber. This can be changed, but not QUICKLY.

     Then someone remembers about the Knights.

     The Knights might not have any GEOGRAPHY, but because everyone avoided dealing with the tricky international law problem it can be argued — with a straight face — that they are still TECHNICALLY A EUROPEAN SOVEREIGN STATE.
     And they're not bound by the WW2 peace treaty.
     Italy (with US/UK/French blessing) approaches the Knights and explains the problem. The Knights reasonably point out that they're not in the business of fighting wars anymore, but anything that could be called a SUPPORT aircraft is another matter.
     So, in the aftermath of WW2, this is the ballet that happens:

     The Italians transfer all of their support and training aircraft to the Knights. This then frees up the 'cap room' to allow the US to boost Italy's warfighting ability WITHOUT breaking the WW2 peace treaty.
     This is why, in the late forties/fifties, a good chunk of the 'Italian' air force is flying with a Maltese Cross Roundel. Because they were not TECHNICALLY Italian. They were the air force of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

     And that's how the Knights Hospitaller ended up becoming a major air power. Eventually the treaties were reworked, and everything was quietly transferred back. I suspect it's a reason why the sovereign status of the Knights remains unchallenged still today though.
     And that's why today, even thought they are now fully committed to the Red-Cross-esque stuff, they can still issue passports, are a permanent observer at the UN, have a currency...
     ..,and even have a tiny bit of Malta back.


OK science fiction authors, ready to become creative? Start with the history you have just read.

Change the timeline from the past into the future. Change the location from Europe and the Mediterranean to a spiral arm of our galaxy. Replace sea-going ships and airplanes with combat starships. Replace fortified islands with orbital fortresses. Change the names of the various factions to new names that sound futuristic.

Voila! Instant bizarre, but real, background for your next novel. And most of the background historical events as well. Start customizing it to your novel's needs and quite quickly you will have something special.

Further material can be easily found by simple Google searches, or from historical texts. There is even a TV Tropes page.

And I'm sure if you ask around among historians, they can point you at other equally bizzare but entertaining historical events that you can mine for your story backgrounds.


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.

"THE FOUNDATION OF S.F SUCCESS", Isaac Asimov (1954)

      For some reason, possibly because of the awful title, for which I emphatically disclaim responsibility, “Black Friar of the Flame” is taken as the quintessence of my early incompetence. At least, fans who come across a copy think they can embarrass me by referring to it.

     Well, it isn’t good, I admit, but it has its interesting points. For one thing, it is an obvious precursor to my successful “Foundation” series. In “Black Friar of the Flame,” as in the “Foundation” series, human beings occupy many planets; and two worlds mentioned in the former, Trantor and Santanni, also play important roles in the latter. (Indeed, the first of the “Foundation” series was to appear only a couple of months after “Black Friar of the Flame,” thanks to the delay in selling the latter.)

     Furthermore, there is also a strong suggestion in “Black Friar of the Flame” of my first book-length novel. Pebble in the Sky, which was to appear eight years later. In both, the situation I pictured on Earth was inspired by that of Judea under the Romans.

     The climactic battle in “Black Friar of the Flame,” however, was inspired by that of the Battle of Salamis, the great victory of the Greeks over the Persians. (In telling future-history I always felt it wisest to be guided by past-history. This was true in the “Foundation” series, too.)

From THE EARLY ASIMOV by Isaac Asimov (1972)

"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 SPACE VIKING by H. Beam Piper (1963)

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.

From a background note to PAYING THE PIPER by David Drake (2002)

Star Trek uses a system of warping space to make their ships fly faster than light. Warping space is a long time tradition in SF, and the ensuing battles bear a striking resemblance to the battles between warships. This is no accident. Many space battles are written as though they were sea battles because the readers are familiar with the form, and besides, it's less work for the writers.

In fact, in the original Star Trek series. the episode that introduced the Romulans was written exactly like a duel between a destroyer and a submarine (the cloaked Romulan ship being the submarine). I know that because I recognized the movie from which they were cribbing their plot. It was The Enemy Below, with Robert Mitchum as the American destroyer captain and Curt Jurgens as the German U-boat captain.

From THE ART OF SCIENCE FICTION, VOLUME 2 by Michael McCollum (1998)

Societal Stages

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 Aristocrat Tribal Societies, you will find a plausible explanation of the psychology of the Klingon Empire.

Aristocrat Tribal Societies

...This kind of society sometimes has the outward appearance of being an aristocrat peasant society, but in reality the common people have not been reduced to peasant status and are not compelled to deliver large amounts of food to their political leaders. This means that the common people retain a great deal of personal freedom and independence. These people fully realize that they have much more freedom than the peasants in neighboring societies and are determined to defend it. Most of the men carry weapons most of the time. This group contains quite a large number of different people. It includes Albanians, Kurds, Chechens, Berbers, Druse, many of the Arab countries, Afghans, a number of groups in Central Asia, Tibetans, Mongols, Gurkhas, and a number of Hill Tribes in Southeast Asia. The Scottish Highlanders were a member of this group before they were destroyed in the 18th century.

Most of these people lived in mountains, deserts, and difficult hill country where it was just not possible to produce a reliable food surplus. They were tough, well armed, and sometimes envious of the wealth that was produced by their more prosperous neighbors. It used to be common for many of them to raid their neighbors for food, women, and moveable wealth. It was a very macho form of society that admired physical toughness and ability with weapons. These aristocrat tribal societies seem to have a high level of resistance to the transition into modern nation-states.

(ed note: sound much like the Klingon Empire from classic original Star Trek)

From Explanation of history by David Maurer

Maurer covers the economic stages a nation goes through, with each stage boiling down to a new answer to the problem of "where is the food going to come from?"

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.

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.



Gladstone, upon hearing of the death of "Chinese" Gordon in Egypt, was reported to have muttered irritably that his general might have chosen a more propitious time to die: Gordon's death threw the Gladstone government into turmoil and crisis. An aide suggested that the circumstances were unique and unpredictable, to which Gladstone crossly answered: "All crises are the same."

He meant political crises, of course. There were no scientific crises in 1885, and indeed none for nearly forty years afterward. Since then there have been eight of major importance; two have received wide publicity. It is interesting that both the publicized crises—atomic energy and space capability—have concerned chemistry and physics, not biology.

This is to be expected. Physics was the first of the natural sciences to become fully modern and highly mathematical. Chemistry followed in the wake of physics, but biology, the retarded child, lagged far behind. Even in the time of Newton and Galileo, men knew more about the moon and other heavenly bodies than they did about their own.

It was not until the late 1940's that this situation changed. The postwar period ushered in a new era of biologic research, spurred by the discovery of antibiotics. Suddenly there was both enthusiasm and money for biology, and a torrent of discoveries poured forth: tranquilizers, steroid hormones, immunochemistry, the genetic code. By 1953 the first kidney was transplanted and by 1958 the first birth-control pills were tested. It was not long before biology was the fastest-growing field in all science; it was doubling its knowledge every ten years, Farsighted researchers talked seriously of changing genes, controlling evolution, regulating the mind—ideas that had been wild speculation ten years before.

And yet there had never been a biologic crisis. The Andromeda Strain provided the first.

According to Lewis Bornheim, a crisis is a situation in which a previously tolerable set of circumstances is suddenly, by the addition of another factor, rendered wholly intolerable. Whether the additional factor is political, economic, or scientific hardly matters: the death of a national hero, the instability of prices, or a technological discovery can all set events in motion. In this sense, Gladstone was right: all crises are the same.

The noted scholar Alfred Pockran, in his study of crises (Culture, Crisis and Change), has made several interesting points. First, he observes that every crisis has its beginnings long before the actual onset. Thus Einstein published his theories of relativity in 1905—15, forty years before his work culminated in the end of a war, the start of an age, and the beginnings of a crisis.

Similarly, in the early twentieth century, American, German, and Russian scientists were all interested in space travel, but only the Germans recognized the military potential of rockets. And after the war, when the Gennan rocket installation at Peenemünde was cannibalized by the Soviets and Americans, it was only the Russians who made immediate, vigorous moves toward developing space capabilities. The Americans were content to tinker playfully with rockets—and ten years later, this resulted in an American scientific crisis involving Sputnik, American education, the ICBM, and the missile gap.

Pockran also observes that a crisis is compounded of individuals and personalities, which are unique:

It is as difficult to imagine Alexander at the Rubicon, and Eisenhower at Waterloo, as it is difficult to imagine Darwin writing to Roosevelt about the potential for an atomic bomb. A crisis is made by men, who enter into the crisis with their own prejudices, propensities, and predispositions. A crisis is the sum of intuition and blind spots, a blend of facts noted and facts ignored.
Yet underlying the uniqueness of each crisis is a disturbing sameness. A characteristic of all crises is their predictability, in retrospect. They seem to have a certain inevitability, they seem predestined. This is not true of all crises, but it is true of sufficiently many to make the most hardened historian cynical and misanthropic.
From THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN by Michael Crichton (1969)

      In retrospect, Chris found Okie history the least difficult subject to absorb, because the part of it dealing with the early years of the cities, and in particular with what had happened on Earth before the first of the cities had left the ground, was already familiar to him. Nevertheless he was now hearing it for the first time from the Okie point of view, which omitted great swatches which an Earthman would have considered important, and instead brought to the fore for study many events of which Chris had never heard but which obviously were essential for the understanding of how the cities had gone into space and prospered in it. It was, perhaps predictably, like seeing the past life of the Earth through the wrong end of a telescope.

     As the memory banks told the story (without the pictures and sounds and other sensations, which, though they were so vivid as to become at once a part of Chris’s immediate experience, could not possibly be reproduced in print), it went like this:

     “The exploration of the solar system was at first primarily the province of the military, who alone could demand the enormous sums of money necessary for space travel under rocket power, which is essentially a brute force method of propulsion directly dependent upon how much power is thrown away. The highest achievement of this phase was the construction of a research and observation station upon Proserpine II, the second satellite of the most remote of all the planets from Sol. Proserpine Station was begun in 2016; it was, however, still not completed when it was abandoned temporarily twenty-eight years later.

     “The reasons for the abandonment of Proserpine Station and all other solar system colonies at this time may be found in the course of contemporary Terrestrial politics. Under the relentless pressure of competition from the USSR and its associated states, the Earth’s Western culture had undertaken to support a permanent war economy, under the burden of which its traditional libertarian political institutions were steadily eroded away. By the beginning of the twenty-first century it was no longer realistically possible to see any difference between the rival cultures, although their outward forms of government continued to be called by different names. Both were police states in which the individual citizen had lost all right to juridical defense, and both operated under a totally controlled economy. In the West, the official term for this form of public policy was “anti-Communism”; in the East it was called “anti-Fascism,” and both terms were heavily laden with mob emotion. The facts of the matter, however, were that neither state was economically either fascist or communist, and that as economic systems neither fascism nor communism has ever been tried in recorded Terrestrial history.

     “It was during this period that two Western research projects under the direction of the Alaskan senator Bliss Wagoner discovered the basic inventions upon which the second phase of spaceflight was to be based. The first of these was the Dillon-Wagoner gravitron polarity generator, now known as the spindizzy, which was almost immediately developed into an interstellar drive. The second was ascomycin, the first of the anti-agathics, or death-postponing drugs. The first interstellar expedition was launched from the Jovian satellary system in 2021 under Wagoner’s personal direction, although Wagoner himself was arrested and executed for his complicity in this ‘treasonable’ event. Though no record exists of the fate of this expedition, it is certain that it survived, since the second expedition, more than three hundred and fifty years later, found the planets of the stars of the local group well scattered with human beings speaking recognizable Terrestrial languages.

     “At this time an attempt was made to settle the rivalry between the two power blocs by still another personal pact between their respective leaders, President MacHinery of the Western Common Market and Premier Erdsenov of the USSR. This took place in 2022, and the subsequent Cold Peace provided little incentive for space flight. In 2027 MacHinery was assassinated, and Erdsenov proclaimed himself premier and president of a United Earth; however, Erdsenov was himself assassinated in 2032. During this same year, an underground Western group calling itself the Hamiltonians succeeded in escaping from the solar system in a large number of small spindizzy-powered craft which they had built from funds collected secretly to finance a supposed new American revolution, thus leaving behind the vast majority of their followers. No survivors of the Hamiltonian exodus have thus far been found; they succeeded, however, in escaping the Terror, the world-wide pogrom by which a united Earth government was actually established for the first time.

     “One of the first acts of this government, now called the Bureaucratic State, was the banning in 2039 of spaceflight and all associated sciences. The existing colonies on the planets and satellites of the solar system were not evacuated home, but were simply cut off and abandoned. The consolidation of the State proceeded rapidly, and historians generally agree that the fall of the West must be dated no later than the year 2105. Thus began a period of systematic oppression and exploitation unmatched on Earth even by the worst decades of the Roman Empire.

     “In the meantime the interstellar exiles continued to consolidate new planets and to jump from star to star. In 2289, one such expedition made its first contact with what proved to be a planet of the Vegan Tyranny, an interstellar culture which, we now know, had ruled most of this quadrant of the galaxy for eight to ten thousand years, and was still in the process of expanding. The Vegans were quick to see potential rivals even in these unorganized and badly supplied colonists, and made a concerted attempt to stamp out all the colonies. However, the distances involved were so vast that the first real engagement of the Vegan War, the battle of Altair, did not occur until 2310. The colonial forces were defeated and scattered, but not before inflicting sufficient damage to set back the Vegans’ timetable for razing the colonial planets—permanently, as it turned out.

     “In 2375, the spindizzy was independently rediscovered on Earth and the Thorium Trust’s Plant Number Eight used it to wrench its entire installation from off the ground and leave the Earth, using the plant as a self-contained spaceship. Other plants followed, and shortly thereafter, whole cities. Many of these were driven to leave as much by the permanent depression which had settled over the Earth as by the long-established political repressions of the Bureaucratic State. These escaping cities quickly found the earlier Earth colonies among the nearby stars, to which they provided badly needed industrial strength, and with whom they joined forces against Vega. The outcome was both triumphant and shameful. In 2394 one of the escaping cities, Gravitogorsk-Mars, now calling itself the Interstellar Master Traders, was responsible for the sacking of the new Earth colony on Thor V; this act of ferocity earned for them the nickname of ‘the Mad Dogs,’ but it gradually became a model for dealing with Vegan planets. The capital world of the Tyranny, Vega II, was invested in 2413 by a number of armed cities, including IMT, whose task it was to destroy the many orbital forts surrounding the planet, and by the Third Colonial Navy under Admiral Alois Hrunta, who was charged with occupying Vega II in the event of its surrender. Instead, Admiral Hrunta scorched the planet completely, and led the Third Navy off into an uncharted quadrant with the intention of founding his own interstellar empire. In 2451 the colonial court found him guilty in absentia of atrocities and attempted genocide, and an attempt to bring him to justice culminated in 2464 in the battle of BD +4°4048’, which was destructive but completely indecisive for both sides. The same year Alois Hrunta declared himself Emperor of Space.

     “The Exodus of Earth’s industrial power had by now become so marked that the Bureaucratic State no longer had a productive base upon which to rest, and it is generally agreed that it collapsed in 2522. In the same year there began the police interregnum, a limited government deriving its powers from a loose confederation based roughly upon the ancient United Nations, but without sufficient popular base or industrial support to control the economy. Realizing, however, that the only hope for the restoration of economic health to Earth lay in the colonists and the free cities, the confederation proclaimed an amnesty for everyone in space, and at the same time instituted a limited but systematic program for the policing of those nomad cities which had begun to prey upon colony planets or upon each other.

     “The confederation is still the only operative government in this arm of the galaxy. The poisoning of Alois Hrunta in 3089 was followed by the rapid Balkanization of the Hruntan Empire, which was never even at its best highly cohesive, and although there is at present self-styled Emperor of Space, Arpad Hrunta, his realm does not appear to be of any importance. Effectively, today, law and order in Arm II are provided by the Earth police, and its economy is supported by the migrant cities. Both systems are haphazard and inefficient, and often operate at cross purposes.

     “It is impossible to predict when better methods will emerge, or what they will be.”

From A LIFE FOR THE STARS by James Blish (1962)

Where Is Terra?

Once cute trope that pops up occasionally is that in the ultra distant future mankind has spread so far into space for so long that they have forgotten where Terra is.

After all, interstellar colonists hungry for the "light of home" will be out of luck if the colony is farther than 55.7 light years away from Sol. Beyond that distance, Sol will be dimmer than apparent magnitude 6.0, too dim to see with the naked eye. Colonists who want to see Sol will need a telescope.

  • In Harry Harrison's The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World, Professor Coypu vaguely knows that humanity originated on a planet called "Dirt" or "Earth" or something like that.
  • In James Schmitz's The Witches of Karres they vaguely know that humanity originated on a planet called "Yarthe".
  • In Isaac Asimov's Foundation, Lord Dorwin dabbles with the "Origin Question", trying to figure out which planet man started from.
  • In Andre Norton's Star Rangers, everybody knows that Terra of Sol is the legendary home of mankind, but nobody has the faintest idea of where it is located.
  • In Andre Norton's Moon Of Three Rings all the Free Traders starships have ship's cats. But nobody can remember which planet the cat species came from.
  • In Thorarinn Gunnarsson's The Starwolves planet Terra had to be evacuated for some mysterious reason. The location of Terra was kept in the memory cells of their sentient starships. Unfortunately all the original ships were gradually destroyed in the ten-thousand year war with the evil Union. Said Union had captured one of the ship memory cells eons ago but could not extract any information from it. The memory cell becomes a MacGuffin in the novel.

For a man 'home' is the place of his birth and childhood—whether that be Siberian steppe, coral island, Alpine valley, Brooklyn tenement, Martian desert, lunar crater, or mile-long interstellar ark. But for Man, home can never be a single country, a single world, a single Solar System, a single star cluster. While the race endures in recognizably human form, it can have no abiding place short of the Universe itself.

This divine discontent is part of our destiny. It is one more, and perhaps the greatest, of the gifts we have inherited from the sea that rolls so restlessly around the world.

It will be driving our descendants on toward a myriad unimaginable goals when the sea is stilled forever, and Earth itself a fading legend lost among the stars.

From ACROSS THE SEA OF STARS by Arthur C. Clarke (1959)

(ed note: Kilda c’ Rhyn was hired as an Au Pair to look after two young children. She and the children are swept away from the planet Dylan into an extradimensional realm which is the basis of legends about the mystical Land of Faerie. As they dodge all the hideous monsters and perils, they meet another human refugee from the real world: Jorth Kosgro.

The Land of Faerie plays tricks with time. As it turns out, Kosgro fell into Faerie in the year 2301 After Flight. Rhyn and the children fell into Faerie in the year 2422 After Flight, which is 121 years later. For Kosgro, he thinks he has been in Faerie only for a couple of months, not one hundred years)

      (Kosgro said "I Am) Jorth Kosgro, First-In Scout, Twenty-fifth Division, Argol Sector—"
     (Rhyn thought) Only one thing meant much to me now—Argol Sector. If he had operated out of there, he could have come to Dylan. But why? Dylan had been on star maps now for more than a hundred years. And the scouts penetrated far out into the unknown. Unless he had been sent here for some administrative reason, he was very far from where he should be.
     (Kosgro said ) "One does not go forward by looking back." That might have been a quotation. "And to us now the going forward must matter. Are you old Terran stock?" The change in subject surprised me.

     Then I (Rhyn) laughed because it was a foolish question. "Who is nowadays, when even where Terra lies is in dispute? My father was of the scouts. He made a planet marriage on Chalox, of which I am issue. How do I know how many hundreds of generations back now Terra lies?"
     "Terra unknown? But that is impossible! Why, I have on my ship Terran tapes. I am only fourth generation from First Ship on Nordens."

     It was my turn to stare. I had never met, even among all those far rovers who drifted in and out of Lazk Volk's quarters, anyone who had any real contact with Terra. For generations it had been a legend. There were stories it had been destroyed in some galactic war. Those I knew were either a mixture of cross-planetary strains like myself, or could and did, with undue pride, trace their families back to a First Ship. But that ship, in turn, had lifted from one of the crowded inner worlds, not from Terra.
     "I have never met anyone who had contact in any way with Terra." I wondered if he were telling me the truth or trying to impress me for some reason.

(ed note: Later they compare notes and find to their horror the 121 year discrepancy. And when they manage to escape Faerie and re-enter the planet Dylan, they find that the year is now 2491 After Flight.

But the point is that it was sometime in the 121 years between Kosgro and Rhyn that the location of Terra was forgotten

Now 121 years sounds a bit short to me to forget Terra, and 121 years is only about 5 generations, not "hundreds of generations". On the other tentacle, 200 generations would be 5,000 years which sounds long enough to forget Terra's location.)

From DREAD COMPANION by Andre Norton (1970)

(ed note: in Asimov's future history, this story takes place c. 5924 CE. This quote is not directly appropriate for this section, because in the novel's background the galactic empire has not yet forgotten that Earth is mankind's origin planet. However, it does mention the fact that Earth is radioactive in the aftermath of a nuclear war. This gives some details about the next quote, from the next novel in the series where Earth has been forgotten.)

      Besides, he didn’t like having to wake to the complete darkness of his room. Four years’ custom had not hardened him to the Earthman’s habit of building structures of reinforced concrete, squat, thick, and windowless. It was a thousand-year-old tradition dating from the days when the primitive nuclear bomb had not yet been countered by the force-field defense.
     But that was past. Atomic warfare had done its worst to Earth. Most of it was hopelessly radioactive and useless. There was nothing left to lose, and yet architecture mirrored the old fears, so that when Biron woke, it was to pure darkness.

     The view-room was not open to the passengers for the first three hours of the flight, and there was a long line waiting when the atmosphere had been left behind and the double doors were ready to separate. There were present not only the usual hundred-percent turnout of all Planetaries (those, in other words, who had never been in space before), but a fair proportion of the more experienced travelers as well.

     The vision of Earth from space, after all, was one of the tourist “musts.”

     The view-room was a bubble on the ship’s “skin,” a bubble of curved two-foot-thick, steel-hard transparent plastic. The retractile iridium-steel lid which protected it against the scouring of the atmosphere and its dust particles had been sucked back. The lights were out and the gallery was full. The faces peering over the bars were clear in the Earth-shine.
     For Earth was suspended there below, a gigantic and gleaming orange-and-blue-and-white-patched balloon. The hemisphere showing was almost entirely sunlit; the continents between the clouds, a desert orange, with thin, scattered lines of green. The seas were blue, standing out sharply against the black of space where they met the horizon. And all around in the black, undusted sky were the stars.
     They waited patiently, those who watched.
     It was not the sunlit hemisphere they wanted. The polar cap, blinding bright, was shifting down into view as the ship maintained the slight, unnoticed sidewise acceleration that was lifting it out of the ecliptic. Slowly the shadow of night encroached upon the globe and the huge World-Island of Eurasia-Africa majestically took the stage, north side “down.”

     Its diseased, unliving soil hid its horror under a night-induced play of jewels. The radioactivity of the soil was a vast sea of iridescent blue, sparkling in strange festoons that spelled out the manner in which the nuclear bombs had once landed, a full generation before the force-field defense against nuclear explosions had been developed so that no other world could commit suicide in just that fashion again.

From THE STARS, LIKE DUST by Isaac Asimov (1951)

(ed note: in Asmiov's future history, this novel takes place c. 12,411 CE {827 Galactic Era}. The implication is the knowledge that Earth was the origin planet of humanity was lost sometime in the 6,487 years between 5924 and 12,411 CE)

      Bel Arvardan, fresh from his interview with the press, on the occasion of his forthcoming expedition to Earth, felt at supreme peace with all the hundred million star systems that composed the all-embracing Galactic Empire. It was no longer a question of being known in this sector or that. Let his theories concerning Earth be proven and his reputation would be assured on every inhabited planet of the Milky Way, on every planet that Man had set foot through the hundreds of thousands of years of expansion through space.

     These potential heights of renown, these pure and rarefied intellectual peaks of science were coming to him early, yet not easily. He was scarcely thirty-five, but already his career had been packed with controversy. It had begun with an explosion that had rocked the halls of the University of Arcturus when he first graduated as Senior Archaeologist from that institution at the unprecedented age of twenty-three. The explosion—no less effective for being immaterial—consisted of the rejection for publication, on the part of the Journal of the Galactic Archaeological Society, of his Senior Dissertation. It was the first time in the history of the university that a Senior Dissertation had been rejected. It was equally the first time in the history of that staid professional journal that a rejection had been couched in such blunt terms.

     To a non-archaeologist, the reason for such anger against an obscure and dry little pamphlet, entitled On the Antiquity of Artifacts in the Sirius Sector with Considerations of the Application Thereof to the Radiation Hypothesis of Human Origin, might seem mysterious. What was involved, however, was that from the first Arvardan adopted as his own the hypothesis advanced earlier by certain groups of mystics who were more concerned with metaphysics than with archaeology; i.e., that Humanity had originated upon some single planet and had radiated by degrees throughout the Galaxy (expanded in all directions starting from a central point). This was a favorite theory of the fantasy writers of the day, and the bête noire of every respectable archaeologist of the Empire.

     But Arvardan became a force to be reckoned with by even the most respectable, for within the decade he had become the recognized authority on the relics of the pre-Empire cultures still left in the eddies and quiet backwaters of the Galaxy.

     For instance, he had written a monograph on the mechanistic civilization of the Rigel Sector, where the development of robots created a separate culture that persisted for centuries, till the very perfection of the metal slaves reduced the human initiative to the point where the vigorous fleets of the War Lord, Moray, took easy control. Orthodox archaeology insisted on the evolution of Human types independently on various planets and used such atypical cultures, as that on Rigel, as examples of race differences that had not yet been ironed out through intermarriage. Arvardan destroyed such concepts effectively by showing that Rigellian robot culture was but a natural outgrowth of the economic and social forces of the times and of the region.

     Then there were the barbarous worlds of Ophiuchus, which the orthodox had long upheld as samples of primitive Humanity not yet advanced to the stage of interstellar travel. Every textbook used those worlds as the best evidence of the Merger Theory; i.e., that Humanity was the natural climax of evolution on any world based upon a water-oxygen chemistry with proper intensities of temperature and gravitation; that each independent strain of Humanity could intermarry; that with the discovery of interstellar travel, such intermarriage took place.

     Arvardan, however, uncovered traces of the early civilization that had preceded the then thousand-year-old barbarism of Ophiuchus and proved that the earliest records of the planet showed traces of interstellar trade. The final touch came when he demonstrated beyond any doubt that Man had emigrated to the region in an already civilized state.

     It was after that that the J. Gal. Arch. Soc. (to give the Journal its professional abbreviation) decided to print Arvardan’s Senior Dissertation more than ten years after it had been presented.

     And now the pursuit of his pet theory led Arvardan to probably the least significant planet of the Empire—the planet called Earth.

     Arvardan landed at that one spot of Empire on all Earth, that patch among the desolate heights of the plateaus north of the Himalayas. There where radioactivity was not, and never had been, there gleamed a palace that was not of Terrestrial architecture. In essence it was a copy of the viceregal palaces that existed on more fortunate worlds. The soft lushness of the grounds was built for comfort. The forbidding rocks had been covered with topsoil, watered, immersed in an artificial atmosphere and climate—and converted into five square miles of lawns and flower gardens.

     The cost in energy involved in this performance was terrific by Earthly calculations, but it had behind it the completely incredible resources of tens of millions of planets, continually growing in number. (It has been estimated that in the Year of the Galactic Era 827 an average of fifty new planets each day were achieving the dignity of provincial status, this condition requiring the attainment of a population of five hundred millions.) In this spot of non-Earth lived the Procurator of Earth (Lord Ennius), and sometimes, in this artificial luxury, he could forget that he was a Procurator of a rathole world and remember that he was an aristocrat of great honor and ancient family.

     Ennius said, “Do you plan to stay for some time, Dr. Arvardan?”
     “As to that, Lord Ennius, I cannot surely say. I have come ahead of the rest of my expedition in order to acquaint myself with Earth’s culture and to fulfill the necessary legal requirements. For instance, I must obtain the usual official permission from you to establish camps at the necessary sites, and so on.”
     “Oh granted, granted! But when do you start digging? And whatever can you possibly expect to find on this miserable heap of rubble?”
     “I hope, if all goes well, to be able to set up camp in a few months. And as to this world—why, it’s anything but a miserable heap. It is absolutely unique in the Galaxy.”
     “Unique?” said the Procurator stiffly. “Not at all! It is a very ordinary world. It is more or less of a pigpen of a world, or a horrible hole of a world, or a cesspool of a world, or almost any other particularly derogative adjective you care to use. And yet, with all its refinement of nausea, it cannot even achieve uniqueness in villainy, but remains an ordinary, brutish peasant world.”
     “But,” said Arvardan, somewhat taken aback by the energy of the inconsistent statements thus thrown at him, “the world is radioactive.”
     “Well, what of that? Some thousands of planets in the Galaxy are radioactive, and some are considerably more so than Earth.”
     “Thousands of radioactive planets, Procurator, just as you say, but only one of them is inhabited. This one, Procurator.”
     “Well”—Ennius smacked his lips over his own drink and seemed to lose some of his sharpness after contact with its velvet—“perhaps it is unique in that way. It’s an unenviable distinction.”

     “But it is not just a question of statistical uniqueness.” Arvardan spoke deliberately between occasional sips. “It goes further; it has tremendous potentialities. Biologists have shown, or claim to have shown, that on planets in which the intensity of radioactivity in the atmosphere and in the seas is above a certain point life will not develop…Earth’s radioactivity is above that point by a considerable margin.”

     “Interesting. I didn’t know that. I imagine that this would constitute definite proof that Earth life is fundamentally different from that of the rest of the Galaxy…That should suit you, since you’re from Sirius.” He seemed sardonically amused at this point and said in a confidential aside, “Do you know that the biggest single difficulty involved in ruling this planet lies in coping with the intense anti-Terrestrialism that exists throughout the entire Sirius Sector? And the feeling is returned with interest on the part of these Earthmen. I’m not saying, of course, that anti-Terrestrialism doesn’t exist in more or less diluted form in many places in the Galaxy, but not like on Sirius.”

     Arvardan’s response was impatient and vehement. “Lord Ennius, I reject the implication. I have as little intolerance in me as any man living. I believe in the oneness of humanity to my very scientific core, and that includes even Earth. And all life is fundamentally one, in that it is all based upon protein complexes in colloidal dispersion, which we call protoplasm. The effect of radioactivity that I just talked of does not apply simply to some forms of human life, or to some forms of any life. It applies to all life, since it is based upon the quantum mechanics of the protein molecules. It applies to you, to me, to Earthmen, to spiders, and to germs.

     “You see, proteins, as I probably needn’t tell you, are immensely complicated groupings of amino acids and certain other specialized compounds, arranged in intricate three-dimensional patterns that are as unstable as sunbeams on a cloudy day. It is this instability that is life, since it is forever changing its position in an effort to maintain its identity—in the manner of a long rod balanced on an acrobat’s nose.

     “But this marvelous chemical, this protein, must be first built up out of inorganic matter before life can exist. So, at the very beginning, by the influence of the sun’s radiant energy upon those huge solutions we call oceans, organic molecules gradually increase in complexity from methane to formaldehyde and finally to sugars and starches in one direction, and from urea to amino acids and proteins in another direction. It’s a matter of chance, of course, these combinations and disintegrations of atoms, and the process on one world may take millions of years while on another it may take only hundreds. Of course it is much more probable that it will take millions of years. In fact, it is most probable that it will end up never happening.

     “Now physical organic chemists have worked out with great exactness all the reaction chain involved, particularly the energetics thereof; that is, the energy relationships involved in each atom shift. It is now known beyond the shadow of a doubt that several of the crucial steps in the building of life require the absence of radiant energy. If this strikes you as queer, Procurator, I can only say that photochemistry (the chemistry of reactions induced by radiant energy) is a well-developed branch of the science, and there are innumerable cases of very simple reactions which will go in one of two different directions depending upon whether it takes place in the presence or absence of quanta of light energy.

     “In ordinary worlds the sun is the only source of radiant energy, or, at least, by far the major source. In the shelter of clouds, or at night, the carbon and nitrogen compounds combine and recombine, in the fashions made possible by the absence of those little bits of energy hurled into the midst of them by the sun—like bowling balls into the midst of an infinite number of infinitesimal tenpins.

     “But on radioactive worlds, sun or no sun, every drop of water—even in the deepest night, even five miles under—sparkles and bursts with darting gamma rays, kicking up the carbon atoms—activating them, the chemists say—and forcing certain key reactions to proceed only in certain ways, ways that never result in life.”

     Ennius tapped a tapering fingernail upon the arm of his chair and said, “You make the process sound quite fascinating, but if all is as you say, then what about the life on Earth? How did it develop?”

     “Ah, you see, even you are beginning to wonder. But the answer, I think, is simple. Radioactivity, in excess of the minimum required to prevent life, is still not necessarily sufficient to destroy life already formed. It might modify it, but, except in comparatively huge excess, it will not destroy it…You see, the chemistry involved is different. In the first case, simple molecules must be prevented from building up, while in the second, already-formed complex molecules must be broken down. Not at all the same thing.”

     “I don’t get the application of that at all,” said Ennius.
     “Isn’t it obvious? Life on Earth originated before the planet became radioactive. My dear Procurator, it is the only possible explanation that does not involve denying either the fact of life on Earth or enough chemical theory to upset half the science.”
     Ennius gazed at the other in amazed disbelief. “But you can’t mean that.”
     “Why not?”
     “Because how can a world become radioactive? The life of the radioactive elements in the planet’s crust are in the millions and billions of years. I’ve learned that, at least, during my university career, even in a pre-law course. They must have existed indefinitely in the past.”

     “But there is such a thing as artificial radioactivity, Lord Ennius—even on a huge scale. There are thousands of nuclear reactions of sufficient energy to create all sorts of radioactive isotopes. Why, if we were to suppose that human beings might use some applied nuclear reaction in industry, without proper controls, or even in war, if you can imagine anything like a war proceeding on a single planet, most of the topsoil could, conceivably, be converted into artificially radioactive materials. What do you say to that?”

     Ennius said, “It sounds very artificial to me. For one thing, I can’t conceive using nuclear reactions in war or letting them get out of control to this extent in any manner—”

     “Naturally, sir, you tend to underestimate nuclear reactions because you’re living in the present, when they’re so easily controlled. But what if someone—or some army—used such weapons before the defense had been worked out? For instance, it’s like using fire bombs before anyone knew that water or sand would put out fire.”

From PEBBLE IN THE SKY by Isaac Asimov (1950)

(ed note: in Asmiov's future history, this story (The Encyclopedists) takes place c. 23,701 CE {12,117 Galactic Era})

     “Lameth, you must know,” continued the chancellor, pontifically, “pwesents a new and most intwesting addition to my pwevious knowledge of the ‘Owigin Question.”’
     “Which question?” asked Hardin.
     “The ‘Owigin Question.’ The place of the owigin of the human species, y’know. Suahly you must know that it is thought that owiginally the human wace occupied only one planetawy system.”
     “Well, yes, I know that.”
     “Of cohse, no one knows exactly which system it is — lost in the mists of antiquity. Theah ah theawies, howevah. Siwius, some say. Othahs insist on Alpha Centauwi, oah on Sol, oah on 61 Cygni — all in the Siwius sectah, you see.”
     “And what does Lameth say?”
     “Well, he goes off along a new twail completely. He twies to show that ahchaeological wemains on the thuhd planet of the Ahctuwian System show that humanity existed theah befoah theah wah any indications of space-twavel.”
     “And that means it was humanity’s birth planet?”
     “P’haps. I must wead it closely and weigh the evidence befoah I can say foah cuhtain. One must see just how weliable his obsuhvations ah.”

From FOUNDATION by Isaac Asimov (1951)

(ed note: in Asmiov's future history, this novel takes place c. 24,150 CE {12,566 Galactic Era})

      “I’ve gone through my reference material on Comporellon and the entire sector of which it is part is rich in legends of age. They set their settlement far back in time, in the first millennium of hyperspatial travel. Comporellon even speaks of a legendary founder named Benbally, though they don’t say where he came from. They say that the original name of their planet was Benbally World.”
     “And how much truth is there in that, in your opinion, Janov?”
     “A kernel, perhaps, but who can guess what the kernel might be.”
     “I never heard of anyone named Benbally in actual history. Have you?”
     “No, I haven’t, but you know that in the late Imperial era there was a deliberate suppression of pre-Imperial history. The Emperors, in the turbulent last centuries of the Empire, were anxious to reduce local patriotism, since they considered it, with ample justification, to be a disintegrating influence. In almost every sector of the Galaxy, therefore, true history, with complete records and accurate chronology, begins only with the days when Trantor’s influence made itself felt and the sector in question had allied itself to the Empire or been annexed by it.”
     “I shouldn’t think that history would be that easy to eradicate,” said Trevize.
     “In many ways, it isn’t,” said Pelorat, “but a determined and powerful government can weaken it greatly. If it is sufficiently weakened, early history comes to depend on scattered material and tends to degenerate into folk tales. Invariably such folk tales will fill with exaggeration and come to show the sector to be older and more powerful than, in all likelihood, it ever really was. And no matter how silly a particular legend is, or how impossible it might be on the very face of it, it becomes a matter of patriotism among the locals to believe it. I can show you tales from every corner of the Galaxy that speak of original colonization as having taken place from Earth itself, though that is not always the name they give the parent planet.”

     “What else do they call it?”

     “Any of a number of names. They call it the Only, sometimes; and sometimes, the Oldest. Or they call it the Mooned World, which, according to some authorities is a reference to its giant satellite. Others claim it means ‘Lost World’ and that ‘Mooned’ is a version of ‘Marooned,’ a pre-Galactic word meaning ‘lost’ or ‘abandoned.’ ”

From FOUNDATION AND EARTH by Isaac Asimov (1986)

      + Logic forces us to a single conclusion + Linkica said. + There must have been a time, unimaginable as it is to us, when mankind did not possess the Doors (stargates) +
     + It follows then, that you are a monolinearist, not a multifontist? +
     + Of course. For one thing it is biologically impossible to have a single species occur in a number of different places and then be able to interbreed. Just as there was a time when we had no Doors, so was there a time when we were confined to one restricted area of space +

     + To but a single planet? +
     Linkica smiled. + You said it—I did not. It carries the theory almost too far +
     + Why? I do not tempt you into rash statements for I am as enthusiastic a monolinearist as you are, even though it is an unfashionable attitude to hold these days. I will go even further. I believe we did originate on a single planet at one time. Just as those creatures out there are natives of this world and incapable of leaving +
     + You force agreement from me. I admit to physical change, but never considered that cultural change must accompany it. We may have originated from as crude a background as this one. If so—it had to be a single planet +

     + I have long thought so, and during my work have traced mankind’s movements backward as far as possible. Always I have found the simpler growing into the complex. My researches have been exhaustive +
     Linkica shielded his eyes for a moment in the sign of great appreciation. + Can it be that you have discovered this proto world, this home world? +
     + Perhaps. Though I doubt it. I have traced back all records, the oldest records, to an incredibly ancient world. I do not know if it is the planet, only that there are none older +
     +I humbly request the code +
     + A pleasure to share it + Dehan spoke the digits aloud. + In fact we could go there now and see it +
     + You are kinder than I thought possible +
     + I am pleased to take you. So few show any interest at all +

     Dehan led the way through the Door to a small and crudely furnished room.
     + So rarely do people come here that it is sealed for the most part. See my visits on the graph. The first in many thousand units + He examined the controls and nodded with satisfaction. + Air, temperature, all is well +
     They passed through a sealing door into a long, corridorlike room. There were viewing ports set into one wall while everywhere else were cabinets and displays.
     + Dead now + Linkica said, looking out on the desiccated landscape. A sun, scarcely brighter than the other stars, shown as a cold, unblinking disc in the black sky. Air gone, water gone, life gone, bare sand and rock stretched flatly to the horizon. Yet nearby great monoliths, fissured and eroded, still bore witness of having been shaped by some intelligence.

     + These cases contain the few identifiable objects found here +
     Linkica turned with a high anticipation that slowly faded and died.
     + These could be—anything + he said, pointing to the eroded lumps of metal and stone.
     + I know. But should we expect more? +
     + Of course not. You are correct +

     Linkica looked once more at the mute age-old shapes, then out again at the dead plain. He shivered, although the room was warm and comfortable. + I feel the weight of ages here. More time than I can possibly understand has passed for this world. I see how short my own individual span of existence is and how unimportant +
     + I have felt the same thing myself, here, many times. It is said that a man’s mind cannot encompass the idea of its own death, but when I am here I can begin to see how a species might die. If we had not had the Door we would be here, trapped here, dead here, if this were the only world we had ever known +

From A TALE OF THE ENDING by Harry Harrison (1970)

      "No problem!" Fyrdenna insisted. "How long has it been since you were home? Our support worlds have been prospering, and they are all behind us. Home Base is expanding. There is going to be a new construction airdock, and more carriers. There is even talk of a final push to defeat the Union."
     "The rest I can believe, but not that," (the AI embodied in the starship) Valthyrra said doubtfully. "We lost too much when we lost Terra, and that was a long time before you or I came out of the construction bay. We would have to get back what we lost before we can seriously consider making an end to this war."
     "So?" Fyrdenna asked. "You send your crack pilots into Vannkarn after the Vardon's memory cell, and we would have Terra back in a year to two."
     Valthyrra hesitated in her response, since the idea had definite appeal. Of all the big wolf ships, the Vardon had been the last to know the location of Terra. She had been destroyed when Valthyrra had still been very young; one of her memory cells, the big information storage units of her computer mind, had been found by the (enemy) Union centuries later. Their attempts to access that wealth of information had proven futile, and at last the unit had been placed on display in Vannkarn, the capital of the Rane Sector. The Starwolves had long believed that they would one day get it back and find the way to Terra, where the big carriers had first been built. Perhaps that time would be soon, Valthyrra thought, if a certain pack leader could be trained to the task.

(ed note: A group of Starwolves are cheekily visiting the enemy Union planet Vannkarn, and are in a museum looking at Vardon's memory cell. Dveyella is talking about events that happened fifty thousand years ago)

     "Failed who?" Tregloran alone dared to ask.
     "Failed themselves," she answered. "Do you know what this is?"
     "It looks like part of a large computer," he speculated cautiously.
     "This is a memory cell from a Starwolf carrier," she said. "The traits and personal memories of a ship are held in there. There are eight scattered throughout a ship, with enough duplication in the information they store and the computers they drive that even extensive damage does not affect the operation of a ship. That, for all practical purposes, holds the life of a ship. The Theralda Vardon, to be exact.
     "The Vardon came out of the early days of the war. That was back when the Union still had the technology and industry to be able to fight us... and occasionally win. The Vardon was besieged and destroyed about sixteen thousand years ago, the last of the fifty-seven carriers to be lost, in the years when the Kelvessan were in some danger of dying out.
     "Most likely she was ripped apart by a small thermonuclear explosion from a shield-penetrating missile, such as the Union has not been able to build in ten thousand years. According to the Union's own story, a piece of the wreckage was found much later, and the unit was discovered inside. They salvaged it, recognized it as something important and brought it here for safekeeping. Since they assume that we cannot get to it here, they soon grew bold enough to place it on public display."
     "Can we get it back?" Merkollyn asked.
     "Yes, if we want to try hard enough," she answered. "Since the unit is of no use to the Union, we have let matters stand until we are ready for it."
     "Ready for it?" Tregloran, always the quickest, caught a hidden meaning in that.
     Dveyella nodded slowly. "That is the second of our failings. You recall, do you not, that we left Terra during the early days? The Union could not get at Terra directly, but they did something that forced us to retreat from the planet for many thousands of year. Just what is not exactly known.
     "Now comes the strange part of the story. We lost much in that hasty retreat from Terra. Since we could no longer return there, within time even its very location was recorded only in the memories of the great ships. And the Vardon was the last ship built before the loss of Terra, the last ship that knew where to find it. Since the Union knows even less of Terra than we do, there is no one today who knows where Terra is.
     "But Terra was not destroyed. Whatever happened, it was understood from the start that we could return there someday. And our kind has long held a belief, almost a prophecy, although based, I fear, on wishful thinking. The Starwolves have long believed that when the time comes that we may at last win this war, when the Union is waning in strength and we are waxing, then Terra will be found. And the only place where we might discover how to find it is in the Vardon's memory cell."
     Tregloran stared in disbelief. "You mean this unit is still operational?"

From THE STARWOLVES by Thorarinn Gunnarsson (1988)

     “First we must find out where you are going. And when.”
     Professor Coypu staggered across the laboratory, and I followed, in almost as bad shape. He was mumbling over the accordion sheets of the computer printout that were chuntering and pouring out of the machine and piling up on the flow.
     “Must be accurate, very accurate,” he said. “We have been running a time probe backward. Following the traces of these disturbances. We have found the particular planet. Now we must zero in on the time. If you arrive too late, they may have already finished their job. Too early and you might die of old age before the fiends are even born.”
     “Sounds charming. What is the planet?”
     “Strange name. Or rather names. It is called Dirt or Earth or something like that. Supposed to be the legendary home of all mankind.
     “Another one? I never heard of it.
     “No reason you should. Blown up in an atomic war ages ago. Here it is. You have to be pushed backward thirty-two thousand five hundred and ninety-eight years. We can’t guarantee anything better than a plus or minus three months at that distance.”
     “I don’t think I’ll notice. What year will that be?”
     “Well before our present calendar began. It is, I believe, A.D. 1975 by the primitive records of the aborigines of the time.”


     One afternoon, he found the Leewit curled up and asleep in the chair he usually occupied on the porch before the house. She slept there for four solid hours, while the captain sat nearby and leafed gradually through a thick book with illuminated pictures called “Histories of Ancient Yarthe.”

(ed note: our heroes figure out that they have been sent back in time, on the planet Karres)

     Goth shook her head. “Not a bit of klatha around except ours and the vatch. There’s no witches here yet, believe me! And won’t be for another three hundred thousand years anyway—”
     “Three hundred thou … !” the captain half shouted. He checked himself. “How do you know that?”
     “Got a little moon here. You’ll see it tonight. Karres had one early, but then it smacked down around the north pole and messed things up pretty bad for a while. They figured that must have been a bit more than three hundred thousand years back … so we’re back before that! Besides, there’s the animals. A lot of them aren’t so much different from what they’re going to be. But they’re different. You see?”
     “Yeah, I guess I do!” the captain admitted. He cleared his throat. “It startled me for a moment.”
     “Pretty odd, isn’t it?” Goth agreed. “No Empire at all yet, no Uldune! Patham, no starships even! Everybody that’s there is still back on old Yarthe!

From THE WITCHES OF KARRES by James Schmitz (1949)

     “To start with, have you ever heard of Earth?”
     “Which one? There are a couple of planets in this sector by that name, and another one in near the Hub somewhere. I can’t say I know much about any of them.”
     “The Earth I’m talking about is the original one. Over in the Sirius sector. The birthplace of the human race, millions of years ago.”
     “You mean such a place actually exists? I thought it was nothing more than a legend, a myth. for children.” Zim shook his head in puzzlement, then took another long drink from the glass in front of him.
     “No, I assure you it isn’t a myth. Earth, old Earth, actually exists, and it is really the original home of mankind. Let me fill you in a little on the background.
     “As near as we can determine from the records, something like seventeen hundred years ago man was confined to that one system, Sol. Space travel had developed slowly, until the invention of the inertialess drive, which opened up the stars. Over the next several hundred years, the men of Earth went out, colonizing uninhabited planets and contacting other species.

From VOYAGE TO A FORGOTTEN SUN by Donald Pfeil (1975)

Alien History

Science fiction authors who just don't know when to quit may create elaborate future histories of alien races. As a general rule authors do not take on such extra work unless the history is the focus of the entire novel.

This little masterpiece tells the history of an alien race and their rise from medieval ignorance to high scientific advancement. Which is sort of a race to see if they can develop space arks to escape their solar system before it is destroyed by an oncoming nebula. The novel covers several thousand years and is very engrossing.
DRAGON'S EGG by Robert L. Forward
This landmark hard-science science-fiction novel tells the history of little aliens composed of dwarf-star matter who live on a neutron star. Human explorers in orbit can watch this, since the aliens experience time about forty million times as fast as humans (the alien's biochemistry depends upon nuclear reactions, not slow chemical reactions like us humans). The aliens go from primitives worshipping the human spaceship as a god to technology thousands of years more advanced than humans in the space of a couple of days.
FIRST CYCLE H. Beam Piper and Michael Kurland
     This novel tells the history of not one, but two alien species. Each inhabits one of the two planets of a binary planet system. The history starts right at the beginning, and I mean at the very start. The first bits are about the evolution of organic molecules in the oceans. The planets Hetaira and Thalassa are twins, but Thalassa got the lion's share of the water. This influences the later evolution.
     The Thalassians evolved from amphibians. They rely upon gods and magic to guide their thinking, and develop an authoritarian totalitarian state.
     The Hetairians evolved from felines. They rely upon logic and reasoning to guide their thinking, and develop an anarchic group of decentralized clans.
     Of course, when first contact happens, they both conclude that the other race is utterly evil. A reader of suspicious mind would suspect the authors were writing an allegory about the Cold War.
This is technically the history of aliens, but they look just like humans and the stories have echos of Terran history and mythology. But I included it anyway because it is so awesome! It certainly has a broad scope: starting with the founding of a Rome-like city in ancient times, leading up to interstellar warfare.

I have been told that there is similar histories in Octavia Butler's XENOGENESIS series and in Peter Hamilton's PANDORA'S STAR but I have not read these yet.


      Busily, I concocted fantastic mass and firepower readings, fanciful descriptions of complex and meaningless enemy maneuvers; and while I held the Over-mind's attention, I searched (telepathically)—and found its memory vaults.

     There was the image of a great nest, seething with voracious life—a nest that covered a world, leaped to another, swelled through an ever-increasing volume of space, driven by lusts that burned like living fire in each tiny mote.

     I saw the outward-writhing pseudopods of this burgeoning race as they met, slashed at each other with mindless fury—and then flowed on, over every obstacle, changing, adapting to burning suns and worlds of ice, to the near-null gravity of tiny rock-worlds and the smashing forces of titan collapsed-matter stars.

     The wave reached the edge of its galaxy, boiled up, reached out into the void. Defeated, it recoiled on itself, churning back toward galactic center—stronger now, more ruthless, filled with a vast frustrated rage that shrieked its insatiable needs, devouring all in its path—and coming together at last in an eruption of mad vitality that rent the very fabric of space … 

     And from the void at the heart of the universe, the wave rolled out again, tempered in the fires of uncounted ages of ravening combat, devouring its substance now in a new upsurge of violence that made the past invasions seem as somnolent as spawning pools.

     And again the edge of the galaxy was reached, and there the wave built, poised, while from behind, the hordes arose with the voracity of atomic fires—

     And the fire leaped, fell into far space, burned out, and was lost.

     But pressure built, and again lusting life leaped outward, reaching—

     And again fell short. And leaped again. And again … 

     Forces readjusted, adapted, gained new balances. Ferocity was tempered as pressures slackened. But the need was as great as ever. Frantic, the Nest-mind sought for an answer—a key to survival. A million ways were tried, and the nest-motes died, and a million million more methods were attempted, and a million myriads fell, burned to nothingness in uncounted holocausts.

     And still the Nest-mind thrust outward … 

     And it bridged the gap to the next galaxy. Over the slim link, life flowed, fighting, slashing, devouring, leaping from new feeding ground to newer, filling the galaxy, boiling up in a transcendent fury of hunger. Again a leap into nothingness—and a new galaxy was reached.

     Nothing remained in the Nest-mind of its original character. It had become a vast mechanism for growth, a disease of life that radiated outward from a center so distant in the universe that the mind itself in time forgot its beginnings. Units broke free, withered, faded, died. Random islands of the raging vitality consumed themselves, disappeared. A long arm turned back, groped its way along the chains of burned-out worlds, scavenging, growing, to lance in the end into the original nest-place, to devastate it and go on, blind, insensate, insatiable—and finding no new feeding grounds beyond, it turned upon itself … 

     Eons passed. Scattered across a volume of space that was a major fraction of the Macrocosm, the isolated colonies burned out their destinies, consumed their worlds, died, turned to dust. New worlds formed from their substance. Gradually, the ancient plague subsided.

     But in one minor globular cluster, a remnant survived. Nature's vast mechanism of profusion had served its purpose. In the hot muck-beds of the virgin worlds of this cluster, a purpose grew, stabilized, came to fruition. New life-forms sprang from the purpose, new parameters of existence evolved. Questing fibrils of the mother nest spread out, formed themselves into miniscule spores, set themselves adrift from world to world.

     By the uncounted billions, they died. But here and there, they found haven, took root, became life—seeding warm seas, spreading out on dead shelves of rock and the familiar muck … 

     The life-force had found stability, a pattern of existence; but the primal urge to expansion remained. Expansion required a drive, a lust unsatisfied.

     A dichotomy came into being. All across the spectrum of reality, a fissure appeared. Existence segregated itself into two categories, inherently opposed. Conflict renewed; pressure built; expansion resumed. Again, life was on the march toward its unimagined destiny.

     On every world where the opposed forces met, the struggle was joined. Each force knew the other, instinctively recognized the ancient enemy. Each side called itself by a name, and the antagonist by another.

     One name was Good, and the other Evil.

     A variety of symbols came into being, and across the worlds, the struggle swayed, reaching ever outward … 

     And a time came on a remote, isolated world, when traitorous Good met treacherous Evil and joined, against all nature, in a new formula of existence. Now, in this unholy amalgam, the ancient drives met and mingled, fought and struck a balance. A transcendent value-scale evolved—new abilities, unheard-of in the galaxy; an empathy possible only to a monstrous hybrid; an unnatural negation of the primal drive, a perversion of that terrible energy into new channels. Under the stimulus of internal stresses, minds of undreamed-of power sprang into being. At every level from the cellular upward, death conflicted with life; sloth with vaulting ambition; greed with instinct for asceticism. And out of the synthesis of opposites, a cancerous growth called Beauty came into being; obscene antisurvival concepts named Loyalty, Courage, Justice were born into the universe.

     Wherever the elemental Purities encountered this monstrous hybrid, a battle of extermination was joined. Good could compromise with Evil, but neither could meet with the half-breed, Art. A new war raged across the minor galaxy and left annihilation in its wake.

     So it went for ages, until a lone, surviving pocket of hybrids was discovered (the human beings of Terra). The instinct to destroy the Unnatural Ones raged strong—but the race-lesson of restraint and exploitation was stronger. Guarding their secret find, the Pure ones took specimens, sampled their capabilities, needs, drives. Here were minds of great power—computers of magnificent compactness and ability—a resource not to be wasted. A decision was reached: the anomalies would be nurtured, allowed to evolve a primitive social organization—and then harvested, pressed into the service of the Pure. Sometimes the thought came that such a race, released, might rip asunder the ancient contours of the universe … 

     But this was a nightmare concept, to be passed over with a shudder. Control was complete. There was no danger. The hybrids were securely enslaved … 

     I withdrew from the Over-mind, and for a moment I held the long perspective of that view—saw my world as the insignificant scintilla that it was among the stars, my race a sinister tribe of barbaric freaks, harvested like wild honey …

     "Who are they, Jones—the Command-minds and the Over-mind—all those voices I hear (telepathically) in my head?" ("Evil")
     "They're the masters of the dog-things. They're fighting a war—the devil knows what it's about. For some reason they're using this moon as a battleground—and we're a convenient source of computer circuits."
     "The ones they're fighting—they're just as bad ("Good")," Joel said. "I got close to 'em once—nearly got cut off. I put out a feeler to one—wanted to see what he was like. I figured maybe if he was against the Command-voice, maybe I'd change sides. But it was—it was horrible, Jones. Kind of like … well, like some of the old ladies that used to come around the Seaman's Welfare. They was so bound to do good, they'd kill you if you got in their way. It's like hell comes in two colors—black and white."

(ed note: apparently author Keith Laumer was quite bitter in his old age)

From A PLAGUE OF DEMONS by Keith Laumer (1964)

Cyclical History

This section is about the theory that civilizations and cultures undergo well defined steps in their lifetime. This theory is somewhat controversial as you can imagine. However, it comes in real handy for a science fiction author trying to craft a future history. Just fill in the outline with the names of your galactic empires.

Be sure to see the Cyclical Governments section of the Interstellar Empire page. That is concerned with multiple cycles of difference government types a given culture may go through during its lifetime.

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.


Social cycle theories are among the earliest social theories in sociology. Unlike the theory of social evolutionism, which views the evolution of society and human history as progressing in some new, unique direction(s), sociological cycle theory argues that events and stages of society and history are generally repeating themselves in cycles. Such a theory does not necessarily imply that there cannot be any social progress. In the early theory of Sima Qian and the more recent theories of long-term ("secular") political-demographic cycles as well as in the Varnic theory of P.R. Sarkar an explicit accounting is made of social progress.

Historical forerunners

Interpretation of history as repeating cycles of Dark and Golden Ages was a common belief among ancient cultures.

The more limited cyclical view of history defined as repeating cycles of events was put forward in the academic world in the 19th century in historiosophy (a branch of historiography) and is a concept that falls under the category of sociology. However, Polybius, Ibn Khaldun (see Asabiyyah), and Giambattista Vico can be seen as precursors of this analysis. The Saeculum was identified in Roman times. In recent times, P. R. Sarkar in his Social Cycle Theory has used this idea to elaborate his interpretation of history.

19th and 20th century theories

Among the prominent historiosophers, Russian philosopher Nikolai Danilewski (1822–1885) is important. In Rossiia i Evropa (1869) he differentiated between various smaller civilizations (Egyptian, Chinese, Persian, Greek, Roman, German, and Slav, among others). He wrote that each civilization has a life cycle, and by the end of the 19th century the Roman-German civilization was in decline, while the Slav civilization was approaching its Golden Age. A similar theory was put forward by Oswald Spengler (1880–1936) who in his Der Untergang des Abendlandes (1918) also argued that the Western civilization had entered its final phase of development and its decline was inevitable.

The first social cycle theory in sociology was created by Italian sociologist and economist Vilfredo Pareto (1848–1923) in his Trattato di Sociologia Generale (1916). He centered his theory on the concept of an elite social class, which he divided into cunning 'foxes' and violent 'lions'. In his view of society, the power constantly passes from the 'foxes' to the 'lions' and vice versa.

Sociological cycle theory was also developed by Pitirim A. Sorokin (1889–1968) in his Social and Cultural Dynamics (1937, 1943). He classified societies according to their 'cultural mentality', which can be ideational (reality is spiritual), sensate (reality is material), or idealistic (a synthesis of the two). He interpreted the contemporary West as a sensate civilization dedicated to technological progress and prophesied its fall into decadence and the emergence of a new ideational or idealistic era.

Alexandre Deulofeu (1903–1978) developed a mathematical model of social cycles that he claimed fit historical facts. He argued that civilizations and empires go through cycles in his book Mathematics of History (in Catalan, published in 1951). He claims that each civilization passes through a minimum of three 1700-year cycles. As part of civilizations, empires have an average lifespan of 550 years. He also stated that by knowing the nature of these cycles, it could be possible to modify the cycles in such a way that change could be peaceful instead of leading to war. Deulofeu believed he had found the origin of Romanesque art, during the 9th century, in an area between Empordà and Roussillon, which he argued was the cradle of the second cycle of western European civilization.

Contemporary theories

One of the most important recent findings in the study of the long-term dynamic social processes was the discovery of the political-demographic cycles as a basic feature of the dynamics of complex agrarian systems.

The presence of political-demographic cycles in the pre-modern history of Europe and China, and in chiefdom level societies worldwide has been known for quite a long time, and already in the 1980s more or less developed mathematical models of demographic cycles started to be produced (first of all for Chinese "dynastic cycles") (Usher 1989). At the moment we have a considerable number of such models (Chu and Lee 1994; Nefedov 1999, 2002, 2003, 2004; S. Malkov, Kovalev, and A. Malkov 2000; S. Malkov and A. Malkov 2000; Malkov and Sergeev 2002, 2004a, 2004b; Malkov et al. 2002; Malkov 2002, 2003, 2004; Turchin 2003, 2005a; Korotayev et al. 2006).

Recently the most important contributions to the development of the mathematical models of long-term ("secular") sociodemographic cycles have been made by Sergey Nefedov, Peter Turchin, Andrey Korotayev, and Sergey Malkov. What is important is that on the basis of their models Nefedov, Turchin and Malkov have managed to demonstrate that sociodemographic cycles were a basic feature of complex agrarian systems (and not a specifically Chinese or European phenomenon).

The basic logic of these models is as follows:

  • After the population reaches the ceiling of the carrying capacity of land, its growth rate declines toward near-zero values.
  • The system experiences significant stress with decline in the living standards of the common population, increasing the severity of famines, growing rebellions etc.
  • As has been shown by Nefedov, most complex agrarian systems had considerable reserves for stability, however, within 50–150 years these reserves were usually exhausted and the system experienced a demographic collapse (a Malthusian catastrophe), when increasingly severe famines, epidemics, increasing internal warfare and other disasters led to a considerable decline of population.
  • As a result of this collapse, free resources became available, per capita production and consumption considerably increased, the population growth resumed and a new sociodemographic cycle started.

It has become possible to model these dynamics mathematically in a rather effective way. Note that the modern theories of political-demographic cycles do not deny the presence of trend dynamics and attempt at the study of the interaction between cyclical and trend components of historical dynamics.

Modern social scientists from different fields have introduced cycle theories to predict civilizational collapses in approaches that apply contemporary methods that update the approach of Spengler, such as the work of Joseph Tainter suggesting a civilizational life-cycle. In more micro-studies that follow the work of Malthus, scholars such as David Lempert have presented "alpha-helix" models of population, economics, and political response, including violence, in cyclical forms that add aspects of culture change into the model. Lempert has also modeled political violence in Russian society, suggesting that theories attributing violence in Russia to ideologies are less useful than cyclical models of population and economic productivity.

From the Wikipedia entry for SOCIAL CYCLE THEORY

What kind of creature is this? In the morning it's angry and full of ambition, but also brave and with sharp teeth, so it can take everything it desires. At high noon it lies on its treasures, peaceful and wise, but still as strong and brave as before. At the sunset its teeth are no longer sharp and it becomes mad, squandering all of its treasures, forgetting its wisdom, strength and brave heart, to live only for pleasure. When night falls, it lies down in agony, rotting alive. But if neither predator nor scavenging worm feasts on its body until sunrise, it heals and rises again, rejuvenated and strong. What is this?

An empire.

Let's explain. The "Imperial Cycle" of history is a model that is put forth to try and explain the history of empires or other great states. It should be noted that this model is highly simplified and somewhat hidebound so that it can't fully fit every empire that has existed, but it is still an elegant and relatively accurate model, and highly influential in culture (especially Chinese and other culture in the Sinosphere). According to the theory, the History of every empire, real life or fictional, can be divided in four parts:

Phase One: Expansion

During this phase the Empire is still young and rising, many of its rulers are ambitious, and those with money often give them the loans they need to conquer their enemies. These days see the Empire established by military expansion, and also the most betrayals and civil wars, as many great leaders may turn against each other in their desire to take the throne for themselves. The Empire racks up massive debts from all this warfare, and its economy is likely totally devastated, but with its borders secure it'll probably be able to pay off its debts over the next few generations.

The ruler of this era is The Conqueror and Founder of the Kingdom. Serving him are The Good Chancellor or Evil Chancellor (depending on moral allegiance usually), fathers to their men, and just heroes of legend and lore. Opposing him are Feudal Overlords clinging to their old crumbling castles, warlords and barbarian chiefs, for whom Authority Equals Asskicking and Might Makes Right, opposing would-be empires and claimants to be met in climatic struggle, and hardline devotees of a previous empire, who want to preserve what little is left of it. This era ends when there is either nothing left to conquer worth conquering, or when everyone is just so indebted or exhausted that there is literally no money left to be loaned or taxed and The Empire can't afford to fight anymore. With long awaited peace the second phase begins.

Phase Two: Stabilization

In this phase the conquerors die off and are replaced by administrators who help estabilish a system of rules and institutions used to manage their empire, overseeing an era of economic & demographic recovery and growth and gradually paying off the still-massive debts of their ancestors. It may also involve a purge of hotheads who still think in terms of brute force, which is a significant source of internal conflict during this era. While not as aggressive as their precursors, rulers of this phase know war very well, having learned from conqueror's experience. Conquest may still occur, but the empire is more focused on protecting what they already have and use it to become stronger in cultural, administrational and economical sense, becoming a Hegemonic Empire.

The ruler of this era can be a Reasonable Authority Figure, though they can also be a Totalitarian Utilitarian control freak. Badass Bureaucrats, Honest Corporate Executives and, quite possibly, some Secret Police support them.

Phase Three: The Decay

After the administrators' work is done, with debt down to manageable levels and no serious outside threats remaining, comes a time of economic growth and real prosperity. This may or may not involved a population high as well, which is a problem because agriculture can only support so many people in the long-term - meaning that many people will starve and die in times of famine until the population falls to sustainable levels again. The biggest problem facing The Empire is that more and more wealth and power is concentrated in private hands and not those of the state - the nobles and merchants become more and more powerful, and the central government has more and more trouble getting local and regional governments to cooperate. The increasingly delicate balance of power is easily disrupted if just one Spoiled Brat inherits the throne and lets this weakening of the state happen. Even if there aren't any, the new generations of rulers take little pride from the administrators and think of their conquerors' heritage instead, often wasting state money on expensive military campaigns to expand the Empire just for the sake of conquest. They tend to spend their life on never-ending consumerism or hedonism, wasting what previous generations left for them instead of trying to secure or multiply it through 'boring' things like building infrastructure, re-organising the taxation system, or establishing new trade missions.

The ruler of this era can be The Caligula, an Adipose Rex, or a possible well-meaning but inept ruler, Unfit for Greatness, who will only make things worse with their reforms; helping (or hindering) him are a cabal of obstructive and corrupt bureaucrats and the whole Deadly Decadent Court, some of whom are on the payroll of a Corrupt Corporate Executive or two. Such an empire can already be called vestigial; it may not yet suffer loss of territories, but its influence is waning. The fate of Empire that enters this phase is to fall; the point of no return is already past, and no matter how gilded is the empire's facade, its structure is rotting, and the only way to stop it is a top-down revolution, that is, to tear everything down and rebuild from scratch (think Meiji or Peter the Great).

Phase Four: The Long Night

The Empire exists in name only at this stage. It is now a failed state, a gray zone of squabbling independent shards or sub-factions. The dissipation of The Empire's power to rich and powerful individuals (oligarchs) is complete, with many families and even regions now only paying lip-service to The Empire and its supposed rulers. The Empire's fiscal situation is a mess because very little money will be coming in thanks to disloyalty and corruption, even though the state's debts haven't gone away - the debt might even be growing. This will be the case regardless of whether The Empire itself is still experiencing economic growth or not, but it's very likely that The Empire is also experiencing economic contraction due to the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer peoplenote . Long-term population decline is also likely, mostly due to the unsustainability of the previous population high - i.e. some people will starve because the total population's food requirements exceed total sustainable food production - but also due to banditry, civil disorder, and even Civil War.

Only a small part of the former empire's territories, half or less, give money to or actually take orders from the former capital; this is called a rump state, or a late, actually Vestigial Empire, where utter ignoramuses try to simulate the old Empire in a Cargo Cult-ish fashion, dressing in the robes of long-dead emperors and spouting bombastic orders no one actually listens to. The decadence of the old Empire is now concentrated around a few select oligarchs and their surroundings, possibly a rich city or two, and the rest of the populace is struggling hard to get something to eat. The majestic and titanic monuments of the previous imperial eras turn into ruins or are resettled by bandit gangs, marauders or folks more sinister still.

The ruler of this era is Authority in Name Only with a 0% Approval Rating, a Small Name, Big Ego pompous gasbag of a dictator or an outright Empty Shell who has lost all will and cognition due to Despair Event Horizon, a Fisher Kingdom effect or just plain senility and/or alcoholism, practicing Head-in-the-Sand Management. A Vast Bureaucracy may form, stifling any and every positive idea and pilfering away budgets. The peripheries, which the rump state no longer controls, are home to Feudal Overlords clinging to their old crumbling castles, warlords and barbarian chiefs, for whom Authority Equals Asskicking and Might Makes Right, and yet more Small Name, Big Ego dictators, who are pleasantly surprised that they don't have to kowtow to anyone any longer. However, in one or more sub-factions, intelligent leaders may arise and plan a new Empire; a new Expansion begins when one of them emerges openly, unambiguously triumphant.

Adjacent empires can see the rotting carcass of the empire ripe for plundering; they may directly intervene, send troops and partition the dead empire into colonial or semi-colonial pieces, or they can use hegemonism and make the petty states of the ex-empire their puppets.

Eventually, the Long Night ends with either total disappearance of the empire, its shards growing from petty and self-proclaimed to true distinct nations, or fading culturally and becoming just governorates of neighboring nations, or a climactic Civil War in which it is reforged in fire and steel and re-enters Stage One.

In fiction the border between phases are mostly clear, but in Real Life it wasn't always so clear - neither Caligula nor Nero brought the Decay stage upon Roman Empire, because when the empire is mighty, the occasional tyrant don't hurt it much. It wasn't also uncommon to have rulers more fit for second phase to appear in first or third, trying to stabilize the situation. They can even pop up in the fourth phase, bringing the rump state back from failed to just decayed. However, it does not appear possible to restore the former regime to its full glory without serious reforms; even if such a restoration happens it usually either comes back wrong (and is already in the decay phase), or is too fundamentally different to be considered the same Empire (such as being brought back to the expansion or stabilization phase but speaking a different language, functioning with a different form of government and a different economic model, practicing a different religion with different morals, and sometimes ruling completely different territories). To truly restart the cycle, new ideas and institutions are required.

Supertrope to Standard Sci-Fi History.

(ed note: see TV Trope page for list of examples)


      “Well. I’ve got a job for you if you want it. I’ve been studying it ever since it was first mentioned to me, and all I can say is, it serves you right.”
     Chris swallowed again. The Mayor studied the cigar judiciously.
     “It calls for a very odd combination of skills and character traits. Taking the latter first, it needs initiative, boldness, imagination, a willingness to improvise and take short-cuts, and an ability to see the whole of a complex situation at a glance. But at the same time, it needs conservative instincts, so that even the boldest ideas and acts tend to be those that save men, materials, time, money. What class of jobs does that make you think of so far?”
     “MILITARY GENERAL OFFICERS,” the City Fathers promptly announced.
     “I wasn’t talking to you,” Amalfi growled. He was plainly irritated, but it seemed to Chris an old irritation, almost a routine one. “Chris?”
     “Well, sir, they’re right, of course. I might even have thought of it myself, though I can’t swear to it. At least all the great generals follow that pattern.”
     “Okay. As for the skills, a lot of them are required, but only one is cardinal. The man has got to be a first-class cultural morphologist.”
     Chris recognized the term, from his force feeding in Spengler. It denoted a scholar who could look at any culture at any stage in its development, relate to it all other cultures at similar stages, and come up with specific predictions of how these people would react to a given proposal or event. It surely wouldn’t be a skill a general would ever be likely to have a use for, even if he had the time to develop it.
     “You’ve got the character traits, that’s plain to see—including the predisposition toward the skill. Most Okies have that, but in nowhere near the degree you seem to. The skill itself, of course, can only emerge with time and practice…but you’ll have lots of time. The City Fathers say five years’ probation.
     “As for the city, we never had such a job on the roster before, but a study of Scranton and some more successful towns convinces us that we need it. Will you take it?”
     Chris’s head was whirling with a wild, humming mixture of pride and bafflement. “Excuse me, Mr. Mayor—but just what is it?”
     “City manager.”

(ed note: 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 brown text.)

Epochs Divided into Periods
P=political; A=art; R=religio-philosophic; M=mathematical
PeriodThe Classical CultureThe Arabian CultureThe Western CultureThe Earthmanist Culture
Pre-Cultural Period
Tribes and their chiefs; no politics, no State. Chaos of primitive expression forms.
Mycenean Age, "Agamemnon"
Persian-Seleucid Period
Frankish Period, Charlemagne
Vegan-War Period Admiral Hrunta
Culture. Early Period.1100-6500-500900-15002464-3111
P1. Formation of Feudal Order1100-7500-400900-12542464-3089
R1. Spiritual Spring: the Priestly MythDemeter cultPrimitive ChristianityGerman CatholicismHruntanism
R1. Spiritual Spring: the Military MythTrojan WarGospels, ApocalypsesSiegfried, ArthurVegan-War Myth
A1. Early forms, rural, unconsciously shapedDoricThe cupolaGothic-
R2. Mystical-metaphysical shaping of MythCosmogoniesPatristic literatureScholasticism-
P2. Breakdown of Feudal Order: The Interregnum750-650400-5001254-15003089-3111
R3. Spiritual Summer: the ReformationOrphism, et al.Monophysitism, et al.Huss- Luther- LoyolaArpad Hrunta
A2. Exhaustion of possibilities in Early formsLate DoricProto-ArabesqueEarly Renaissance-
Culture. Late Period.630-300500-8001500-18153111-3925
P3. Formation of a World of Aristocratic States650-487500-6611500-16603111-3602
R4. First purely philosophical world viewsPre-SocraticsIn Jewish literatureGalileo, Bacon-
M1. Formation of a new MathematicGeometryAlgebraAnalysisMatrix mathematics
A3. Mature art forms, urban and consciousIonicZenith of mosaic artBaroque-
R5. Puritanism; opposition to rising absolutismPythagorasMohammedCromwell; the FrondeThe 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 EnlightenmentSocratesThe MutazilitesLocke, Rousseau-
A4. Intellectualization of Mature art formsMyron, PhidiasArabesqueRococo-
M2. Zenith of mathematical thoughtConic sectionsSpherical trigonometryThe infinitesimal-
R7. The Great Conclusive System: MysticPlatoAlfarabiGoethe, Hegel-
R7. The Great Conclusive System: ScholasticAristotleAvicennaKant-
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.
Robespierre, Napoleon.
Okies vs. Earth and Colonials.
A5. Exhaustion and dissolution of Mature formsCorinthian"Moorish" artRomanticism-
Civilization and Spiritual Winter300-0-300800-14001815-25223976-4104
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 CynicsBrethren of SincerityComte, Darwin, MarxThe Stochastics
R9. Ethical-social ideals replacing religionEpicurus, ZenoMovements in IslamSchopenhauer, et al.-
M3. Mathematics: the concluding thoughtArchimedesAl-BiruniRiemann-
R10. Spread of final world sentimentRoman StoicismPractical FatalismEthical Socialism-
A6. Art problems; craft artHellenistic artSpanish-Sicilian artModern art-
P7. Caesarism
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)SyncretismSyncretic IslamAdventism; Witnesses
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 displayTriumphal archGigantic buildingsThe Jupiter Bridge
The AftermathAfter 284
Arabinization in the East.
Westernization of the Arabian lands and entire world.
After 2522
Galaxy proper conquered by Web of Hercules.
From CITIES IN FLIGHT by James Blish (1956)

(ed note: 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. The stages are based on James Blish's chart, which was the only example of such stages back then.)

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.

CodeEpochDescriptionAccept ImmigrantsIllegal Product Types
1Pre-CulturalClans, tribes, no politics. A chaos of primitive expression.Yes[none]
2FuedalismRural art, naturally shaped. Warriors and Priests in power.NoARTI, EDUC, INFO
3Breakdown of FuedalismExhaustion of early art forms, the Reformation.YesARTI, NARC, ENTR, PERS, JEWL
4Formation of Aristocratic StatesMature art, new forms of math, philosophical world views and puritanical religions opposed to growing absolutism.NoARTI, EDUC, NARC, PERS, JEWL, FURN, CLTH, FOOD
5AbsolutismAristocracy held in check by King/Tyrant with Bourgeoise. The zenith of mathematical thought, intellectualization of art, the great conclusive systems of thought.YesWEAP
6Revolution and NapoleonismBourgoise against alliance of King/Tyrant and Aristocracy. The Victory of Money over Blood. Exhaustion of art forms.NoEDUC, TRANS, INFO, WEAP
7Transition from Napoleonism to CaesarismThe epoch of Contending States. Dominance of Money ("Democracy"). Rational social ethics replace Religion. Final world sentiment. Conceptual art. Final Thought in Mathematics.YesNARC, SLAV, BOGU
8CaesarismVictory 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.NoEDUC, WEAP, BOGU
9Final Political FormThe 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

From Omnitrend's Universe

      Gibbon begat Spengler, who begat Toynbee, who begat Hari Seldon — or so it seemed to me in high school. Arnold Toynbee has pretty much fallen down the memory hole, but in the mid-20th century his reputation was considerable. I'm sure I learned his name from Clarke, who mentions him fairly often, in one story even naming a spaceship Arnold Toynbee. Oddly, Clarke never much worked the future-history street corner. I don't know if Asimov ever mentions Toynbee, but A Study of History is the perfect companion piece for the Foundation Trilogy.*

     Like Spengler, Toynbee was big on the grand cycles of history, the rise and fall of civilizations. Unlike Spengler, however, Toynbee does not fall back on semi-mystical mumbo jumbo about civilizations being organic entities with a fixed lifespan. (Later he fell back on a different semi-mystical mumbo jumbo.) Although most past civilizations have declined and fallen, this is not inevitable; a flexible enough society might keep winning the game of Civilization indefinitely.

     You win, says Toynbee, by growing through a cycle of challenge and response. Challenge usually means something like "Vikings show up," to which the response may be organizing the fyrd, or simply giving them Normandy provided that they ask for it in French. Each response, if successful, usually ends up planting the germ of the next challenge. The Vikings learn French and become Normans, for which the response is to ship them off to conquer England and Sicily.

     Or, suppose an academic enclave on the fringes of a declining empire faces the challenge of petty kingdoms that have broken away from imperial control. It responds by repackaging its learning as religious magic to awe the natives. This works, but the religious establishment gets out of hand, only to be muscled aside by trading interests … each Seldon Crisis leading logically to the next.

     If a civilization fails to handle a Seldon Crisis it "breaks down," and spends the rest of its history — some 800-1100 years, depending on how you measure — trying and failing to patch things up. The civilization first enters into a Time of Troubles, persisting and destructive internal warfare, that last about 400 years. The Time of Troubles ends with the last guy standing, who founds a Universal State that will in turn last about 400 years.

     Toynbee's prototype for this grand cycle is classical civilization. The Greeks were going along fine, he says, till the Pelopponesian War (431-404 BC) screwed it all up for them. The Time of Troubles, with Greek and then semi-Greek states bashing endlessly and pointlessly away at each other, lasts a nice exact 400 years till the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, after which Cleopatra's asp leaves Augustus the last guy standing. Another 409 years — close enough! — takes you to the Battle of Adrianople in AD 378, when the Goths wiped out a full Roman army, for Toynbee the effective end of the Empire. (Apparently Theodosius the Great doesn't count, let alone Justinian.)

     After the fall comes a 300-year fallow period, an interregnum, at the end of which one or more new civilizations will rise out of the ashes of the old one to embark on their own Seldonian adventures. Just 309 years from Adrianople takes you to the battle of Tertry in 687 — not exactly household-name stuff, but the winner was a guy named Pepin of Heristal, majordomo to a Merovingian king whose name no one then or since has bothered with (Theuderic III). Majordomo sounds cooler when you translate it as Mayor of the Palace. Pepin's son was Charles Martel, the Hammer, his grandson was Charlemagne, and we are off to the races with the Rise of the West.

     It turns out that nearly all other fallen civilizations have followed this same trajectory on the way down — admittedly Toynbee was not above a little hammering to help things fit. Within the 400-year primary wavelength he identifies a 200-year harmonic — federal ideas were in vogue for a while in post-Alexandrine Greece, to Toynbee a "rally" amid the Time of Troubles, while the Roman rough patch between Marcus Antonius and Diocletian is a "rout" foreshadowing the eventual fall. Even Justinian can be seen as a final "rally," even though Rome had already fallen. Toynbee notes some multi-generation social rhythms that are fairly well-established, such as the cultural naturalization of immigrant populations, to suggest that these long cycles have some natural basis.

     All of this is enormously persuasive when you are a geeky teenager, and Toynbee seemed like the Newton or Darwin of history. I was actually motivated to do some critical research — and learned to my dismay that professional historians regarded it all as sophisticated BS. The rap on him, in a nutshell, is that he did a lot of hammering to make other civilizations fit the schedule, in fact beating world history pretty much out of recognition.

     Still, Toynbee's scheme is inherently cool, and it just asks to be used as a framework for a future history. Bound up in this is the interesting little question of what his model says about the West. Are we still growing, successfully handling each Seldon Crisis as it comes along, or did we already "break down" at some point in the past? More on that next time!

* Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation, all published as books in the early 1950s. Accept no substitutes! Asimov's other much later "Foundation" books are generally lame, and don't count.

(ed note: Sandra Miesel wrote an essay about the Technic Future History of Poul Anderson with the title "Challenge and Response." As it turns out Poul was a fan of both Spengler and Toynbee)

From HISTORY: PAST, FUTURE, AND FAKE III by Rick Robinson (2007)

(ed note: Dominic Flandry, secret agent of the Terran Empire, talks with Imperial scholar Chunderban Desai. In the large infodump that follows, a student of history will discover that author Poul Anderson is using the theories of Arnold Toynbee to design the future history of the Terran Empire.)

      The festival wore on. Toward morning, Flandry and Chunderban Desai found themselves alone.
     The officer would have left sooner, were it not for his acquired job. Now he seemed wisest if he savored sumptuousness, admired the centuried treasures of static and fluid art which the palace housed, drank noble wines, nibbled on delicate foods, conversed with witty men, danced with delicious girls, finally brought one of these to a pergola he knew (unlocked, screened by jasmine vines) and made love. He might never get the chance again. After she bade him a sleepy goodbye, he felt like having a nightcap. The crowd had grown thin. He recognized Desai, fell into talk, ended in a small garden.
     Its base was cantilevered from a wall, twenty meters above a courtyard where a fountain sprang. The waters, full of dissolved fluorescents, shone under ultraviolet illumination in colors more deep and pure than flame. Their tuned splashing resounded from catchbowls to make an eldritch music. Otherwise the two men on their bench had darkness and quiet. Flowers sweetened an air gone slightly cool. The moon was long down; Venus and a dwindling number of stars gleamed in a sky fading from black to purple, above an ocean coming all aglow.

     "No, I am not convinced the Emperor does right to depart," Desai said. The pudgy little old man's hair glimmered white as his tunic; chocolate-hued face and hands were nearly invisible among shadows. He puffed on a cigarette in a long ivory holder. "Contrariwise, the move invites catastrophe."
     "But to let the barbarians whoop around at will—" Flandry sipped his cognac and drew on his cigar, fragrances first rich, then pungent. He'd wanted to end on a relaxing topic. Desai, who had served the Imperium in many executive capacities on many different planets, owned a hoard of reminiscences which made him worth cultivating. He was on Terra for a year, teaching at the Diplomatic Academy, before he retired to Ramanujan, his birthworld.
     The military situation—specifically, Hans' decision to go—evidently bothered him too much for pleasantries. "Oh, yes, that entire frontier needs restructuring," he said. "Not simple reinforcement. New administrations, new laws, new economics: ideally, the foundations of an entire new society among the human inhabitants. However, his Majesty should leave that task to a competent viceroy and staff whom he grants extraordinary powers."
     "There's the problem," Flandry pointed out. "Who's both competent and trustworthy enough, aside from those who're already up to their armpits in alligators elsewhere?"
     "If he has no better choice," Desai said, "his Majesty should let the Spican sector be ravaged—should even let it be lost, in hopes of regaining the territory afterward—anything, rather than absent himself for months. What ultimate good can he accomplish yonder if meanwhile the Imperium is taken from him? The best service he can render the Empire is simply to keep a grip on its heart. Else the civil wars begin again."

     "I fear you exaggerate," Flandry said, though he recalled how Desai was always inclined to understate things. And Dennitzans on Diomedes... "We seem to've pacified ourselves fairly well. Besides, why refer to civil wars in the plural?"
     "Have you forgotten McCormac's rebellion, Sir Dominic?"
     Scarcely, seeing I was involved. Flandry winced at a memory. Lost Kathryn, as well as the irregular nature of his actions at the time, made him glad the details were still unpublic. "No. But that was, uh, twenty-two years ago. And amounted to what? An admiral who revolted against Josip's sector governor for personal reasons. True, this meant he had to try for the crown. The Imperium could never have pardoned him. But he was beaten, and Josip died in bed." Probably poisoned, to be sure.
     "You consider the affair an isolated incident?" Desai challenged in his temperate fashion. "Allow me to remind you, please—I know you know—shortly afterward I found myself the occupation commissioner of McCormac's home globe, Aeneas, which had spearheaded the uprising. We came within an angstrom there of getting a messianic religion that might have burst into space and torn the Empire in half."
     Flandry took a hard swallow from his snifter and a hard pull on his cigar. Well had he studied the records of that business, after he encountered Aycharaych who had engineered it.

(ed note: The arch rivals of the Terran Empire is the Merseian Roidhunate, and the arch enemy of Terran secret agent Dominic Flandry is Merseian secret agent Aycharaych)

     "The thirteen following years—seeming peace inside the Empire, till Josip's death—they are no large piece of history, are they?" Desai pursued. "Especially if we bear in mind that conflicts have causes. A war, including a civil war, is the flower on a plant whose seed went into the ground long before... and whose roots reach widely, and will send up fresh growths.... No, Sir Dominic, as a person who has read and reflected for most of a lifetime on this subject, I tell you we are well into our anarchic phase. The best we can do is minimize the damage, and hold outside enemies off until we win back to a scarred kind of unity."
     "‘Our' anarchic phase?" Flandry questioned.
     Desai misheard his emphasis. "Or our interregnum, or whatever you wish to call it. Oh, we may not always fight over who shall be Emperor; we can find plenty of bones to contend about. And we may enjoy stretches of peace and relative prosperity. I hoped Hans would provide us such a respite."

     "No, wait, you speak as if this is something we have to go through, willy-nilly."
     "Yes. For about eighty more years, I think—though of course modern technology, nonhuman influences, the sheer scale of interstellar dominion may affect the time-span. Basically, however, yes, a universal state—and the Terran Empire is the universal state of Technic civilization—only gives a respite from the wars and horrors which multiply after the original breakdown. Its Pax is no more than a subservience enforced at swordpoint, or today at blaster point. Its competent people become untrustworthy from their very competence; anyone who can make a decision may make one the Imperium does not like. Incompetence grows with the growing suspiciousness and centralization. Defense and civil functions alike begin to disintegrate. What can that provoke except rebellion? So this universal state of ours has ground along for a brace of generations, from bad to worse, until now—"

     "The Long Night?" Flandry shivered a bit in the gentle air.
     "I think not quite yet. If we follow precedent, the Empire will rise again... if you can label as ‘rise' the centralized divine autocracy we have coming. To be sure, if the thought of such a government does not cheer you, then remember that that second peace of exhaustion will not last either. In due course will come the final collapse."

     "How do you know?" Flandry demanded.
     "The cycle fills the history, yes, the archeology of this whole planet we are sitting on. Old China and older Egypt each went thrice through the whole sorry mess. The Western civilization to which ours is affiliated rose originally from the same kind of thing, that Roman Empire some of our rulers have liked to hark back to for examples of glory. Oh, we too shall have our Diocletian; but scarcely a hundred years after his reconstruction, the barbarians were camping in Rome itself and making emperors to their pleasure. My own ancestral homeland—but there is no need for a catalogue of forgotten nations. For a good dozen cases we have chronicles detailed to the point of nausea; all in all, we can find over fifty examples just in the dust of this one world.
     "Growth, until wrong decisions bring breakdown; then ever more ferocious wars, until the Empire brings the Pax; then the dissolution of that Pax, its reconstitution, its disintegration forever, and a dark age until a new society begins in the ruins. Technic civilization started on that road when the Polesotechnic League changed from a mutual-aid organization of free entrepreneurs to a set of cartels. Tonight we are far along the way."

     "You've discovered this yourself?" Flandry asked, not as skeptically as he could have wished he were able to.
     "Oh, no, no," Desai said. "The basic analysis was made a thousand years ago. But it's not comfortable to live with. Prevention of breakdown, or recovery from it, calls for more thought, courage, sacrifice than humans have yet been capable of exercising for generation after generation. Much easier first to twist the doctrine around, use it for rationalization instead of rationality; then ignore it; finally suppress it. I found it in certain archives, but you realize I am talking to you in confidence. The Imperium would not take kindly to such a description of itself."
     "Well—" Flandry drank again. "Well, you may be right. And total pessimism does have a certain bracing quality. If we're doomed to tread out the measure, we can try to do so gracefully."

     "There is no absolute inevitability." Desai puffed for a minute, his cigarette end a tiny red pulsar. "I suppose, even this late in the game, we could start afresh if we had the means—more importantly, the will. But in actuality, the development is often aborted by foreign conquest. An empire in the anarchic phase is especially tempting and especially prone to suffer invaders. Osmans, Afghans, Moguls, Manchus, Spaniards, British—they and those like them became overlords of cultures different from their own, in that same way.
     "Beyond our borders, the Merseians are the true menace. Not a barbarian rabble merely filling a vacuum we have left by our own political machinations—not a realistic Ythri which sees us as its natural ally—not a pathetic Gorrazani remnant—but Merseia. We harass and thwart the Roidhunate everywhere, because we dare not let it grow too strong. Besides eliminating us as a hindrance to its dreams, think what a furtherance our conquest would be!
     "That's why I dread the consequences of the Emperor's departure. Staying home, working to buttress the government and armed force, ready to stamp fast on every attempt at insurrection, he might keep us united, uninvadable, for the rest of his life. Without his presence—I don't know."

     "The Merseians would have to be prepared to take quick advantage of any revolt," Flandry argued. "Assuming you're right about your historical pattern, are they aware of it? How common is it?"
     "True, we don't have the knowledge to say how far it may apply to nonhumans, if at all," Desai admitted. "We should. In fact, it was Merseia, not ourselves, that set me on this research—for the Merseians too must have their private demons, and think what a weapon it would be for our diplomacy to have a generalized mechanic for them as well as us!"
     "Hm?" said Flandry, surprised afresh. "Are you implying perhaps they already are decadent? That's not what one usually hears."
     "No, it isn't. But what is decadence to a nonhuman? I hope to do more than read sutras in my retirement; I hope to apply my experience and my studies to thought about just such problems." The old man sighed. "Of necessity, this assumes the Empire will not fall prey to its foes before I've made some progress. That may be an unduly optimistic assumption... considering what a head start they have in the Roidhunate where it comes to understanding us."
     "Are you implying they know this theory of human history which you've been outlining to me?"
     "Yes, I fear that at least a few minds among them are all too familiar with it. For example, after considering the episode for many years, I think that when Aycharaych tried to kindle a holy war of man against man, starting on Aeneas, he knew precisely what he was doing."

     Aycharaych. The chill struck full into Flandry. He raised his eyes to the fading stars. Sol would soon drive sight away from them, but they would remain where they were, waiting.
     "I have often wondered what makes him and his kind serve Merseia," Desai mused. "Genius can't really be conscripted. The Chereionites surely have something to win for themselves. But what—from an alien species, an alien culture?"
     "Aycharaych's the only one of them I've ever actually met," Flandry said. "I've sometimes thought he's an artist."
     "An artist of espionage and sabotage, whose materials are living beings? Well, conceivably. If that's all, he is no more to be envied than you or I."
     "I'm not sure I can make the reason clear to you, or even very clear to myself. We have not had the good fortune to be born in an era when our society offers us something transcendental to live and die for." Desai cleared his throat. "I'm sorry. I didn't intend to read you a lecture."
     "No, I thank you," Flandry said. "Your ideas are quite interesting."

From A KNIGHT OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS by Poul Anderson (1974)

      Maybe some scholar of science fiction can say definitely when the “future history” device first appeared in it. Myself, I remember only that back in the late ’30’s, a few writers were laying various of their stories in common timelines, and not merely because they were doing specific series. Manly Wade Wellman comes immediately to mind; I enjoyed his petal-headed Martians and their varying relationships with humankind. However, beyond any doubt, the really seminal future history was that of Robert A. Heinlein.

     He has remarked that he got the idea from Sinclair Lewis, who created an entire American state, Winnemac, and its chief city, Zenith, as part of the settings of a number of realistic novels. Sometimes characters in one appeared in another, usually briefly, yet giving all the books an extra dimension. Elsewhere I have read that Lewis was so meticulous a craftsman that he would even make architect's models of the homes of his characters. Perhaps he in his turn had been inspired by the example of Balzac.

     Heinlein’s own attention to detail was among the factors that gave his early work the impact it had. Another was his own essential realism. Here, for the first time since Wells and Kipling, was a science-fiction writer (at least, in the English language) who understood politics, organizations, economics, strategy, tactics, all the ways in which a people try to cope with public business. A third element was the fact that here was not just a background, essentially static, shared by different stories. It was a history. Things changed; the past was remembered, the future anticipated; the society as a whole became a kind of ongoing protagonist.

     I was enchanted and enlightened. Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, though not precisely the same thing, reinforced my impression of the power of this approach. Rather soon after my own writing career began, I decided to attempt something similar. It would not be what I did exclusively, of course; nor did it seem feasible to give the undertaking a private byline. My readers, like Asimov’s, would just have to pick out for themselves what of mine did and did not take place in this particular universe. What mattered was to get started on it.

     So I drew up a big chart similar to Heinlein's, planned what events on it should be related, and from time to time over a stretch of several years would write one of them. They included “Marius,” “Un-Man," “The Sensitive Man," “The Big Rain," The Snows of Ganymede, “Gypsy,” Virgin Planet, Star Ways (currently retitled The Peregrine), and more. This partial list is in order of fictional chronology, not publication. Basically, I wanted to trace the evolution of human civilization from the present day to the beginnings of exploration and settlement beyond the Solar System.

     Alas, real life caught up with me. For instance, World War Three did not come off on schedule. I could live with that a good deal easier than with the appearance of scientific discoveries and techno logical developments which I had not foreseen.

     More critical was a change in my own thinking, which along with much else led to dissatisfaction with the conceptual cosmos I was using. That clutter of props and backdrops came nowhere near hinting at the variety, strangeness, and sheer wonder of the real universe, as the work of Hal Clement was so brilliantly doing.

     I never formally abandoned my chronicle. Indeed, as late as 1968 I added a fresh chapter to it, “The Pirate." However, that was after a lapse of quite a few years, and merely because a particular character and setting would serve the purposes of this particular tale. Meanwhile I had been doing a variety of other things, as I still am. Among them was the development of a new, altogether difierent future history. That is the one with which the remainder of this reminiscence will deal.

     Its interior history is also unlike that of its predecessor. Originally it was not planned; it happened, piece by piece.

     Way back when, I was for a short while a mainstay of Planet Stories. That magazine is today of fond memory, but at the time. it was considered trash by many fans, because it frankly went in for straight adventure with a science-fictional background. Myself, I saw nothing wrong with that. The action story has been a legitimate form since Homer, if not before. (It might be remarked, too, that Planet occasionally ran stuff by such people as Ray Bradbury, Margaret St. Clair, and William Tenn which nobody else dared touch. And even in the swashbucklers, characters were permitted to have sex lives.) I was young and poor and wanted money to travel on; I could write derring-do very fast; why not? Therefore I churned out a total of about a dozen. That was all. They caused persons who think in categories to dismiss me as nothing but a blood-and-thunderer, and these folk took a long time to change their minds. Some never have. No matter. I don't feel the least apologetic for having thus earned the means to widen my horizons. Those tales were in no way memorable, but they weren't pretentious either, and if they gave a little diversion to most of their readers, they served their purpose.

     Nevertheless, I quickly grew tired of certain clichés in the genre: the uniformly noble and Nordic heroes, the incredibly complete resolutions of all problems. Why not do something a bit more believable? This was the origin of “Tiger by the Tail," the first story about Dominic Flandry. In name and temperament, he was Gallic; a Frenchman has actually congratulated me on the characterization. He was an intelligence officer in the service of a Terran Empire far gone into decay, losing the very will to defend its frontiers while alien enemies pressed ever harder inward. He recognized the corruption of his society in his own spirit. But somebody had to try to keep things hanging together somehow, at any rate through his lifetime. After all, civilization was much more enjoyable than barbarism, or death. Besides, the work itself was the most interesting activity in sight, in between bouts of sensualism; and he did keep a few fugitive ideals and loyalties.

     I liked Flandry and wrote a couple more pieces about him, which slightly expanded the picture of his milieu. These early efiorts were pretty crude, though, and afterward I went on to different things.

     Among them, two or three years later, was “Margin of Profit." In it, I had fun with another anti-hero, as it is currently fashionable to call such figures. This was boisterous, bibulous Nicholas van Rijn, probably the most popular character I’ve yet come up with. I saw him as living in an era of interstellar expansion, with enough wealth and elbow room around that a largely free-market economy had come into being. However, my personal libertarian predilection does not blind me to the fact that not many people will ever really support the free market. Most will organize and connive and use force and in general do whatever they can to hog an undue share of the goods for themselves, and especially to reduce the competition which it is such an ongoing effort to meet. There would surely be a mercantile association in van Rijn's day, and it might well have strong teeth; I thought of the medieval Hansa, but analogues elsewhere are plentiful. My wife Karen, who is a bit of a Classical scholar, coined the name “Polesotechnic League" for it, from the Greek words for “marketplace” and "art" (or “skill” —“technology").

     This was all ad hoc. Only later, when I was planning a Hal Clement-style novel to be laid on an oddball planet, did the idea occur that van Rijn would make a good protagonist in it. The result was The Man Who Counts. Subsequently I did a few shorter pieces featuring the same person. These are collected in Trader to the Stars. But since it wasn't logical that the old devil would be risking his neck in more adventures than he absolutely had to, I provided him with a younger assistant, David Falkayn, whose initial career may be seen in The Trouble Twisters.

     Meanwhile, Robert Mills had started the magazine Venture, as a companion to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It emphasized action and color, as the now-defunct Planet had done. Also like Planet, it was remarkably free of taboos, with the consequence that it ran such extraordinary things as Theodore Sturgeon's “Affair with a Green Monkey" and Walter Miller, Jr.’s “Vengeance for Nikolai.” When it foundered, our field lost a great deal, which has only been regained in the past several years.

     For a contribution to it, I brought back Flandry, in a more mature and better-written story than hitherto. This prompted a number more about him, including short novels. All were collected in two volumes, Agent of the Terran Empire and Flandry of Terra, published by Chilton but never reprinted until recently, when a British paperback house did them. Now Ace Books is doing a Stateside edition, for which I have polished up the older items.

     I was first-drafting one of these adventures, set on a planet colonized from southeast Asia, when on an impulse I put in a mention of folk tales about Polesotecharch van Rijn. He could have lived centuries before, couldn’t he?

     Then I noticed that several other stories, belonging to no particular series, were not inconsistent with the same universe. I began to do more as opportunity ofiered. It seemed to me that, while each must naturally be comprehensible by itself, the cross-connections would add depth (and thus, be it hoped, enjoyment) for readers who paid attention.

     However, this meant that the society in which they were all set was not static. Like Heinlein's, it underwent change, and on a larger scale in both space and time than his. Van Rijn lived—or, at least, started out in—a pioneering era. Flandry lived in the twilight of an empire. What had gone wrong?

     History has always been a leading interest of mine. Even for the first Flandry episodes, I had considered corresponding cases in the actual past—e.g., Byzantines vs. Persians … and present—the West vs. the Soviets… As a young chap, I'd read Spengler and been enormously impressed; later came Toynbee and similar thinkers. The paradigm was not and is not clear by any means. The nature of such fundamental historical processes as break-down, universalization, collapse, and rebirth—or their very meaning, or their very existence—remain subjects of controversy. In a thoroughly amateur fashion, I am among the controversialists myself.

     Still, a scheme of this sort would give structure to my series, and hence help lend convincingness. For instance, it would clarify what the time intervals were between separate episodes. The latter could be more than narratives, they could be examinations of this or that aspect of the entire cycle. (If that looks pompous, it isn’t meant to. I feel that story ought to come first, last, and in the middle. If anything further can be woven in, okay.)

     It had also clearly become necessary for me to start keeping systematic notes. Else I'd soon be drowning in a welter of inconsistencies and, worse, repetitions. Gritting my teeth, I went through everything on hand and compiled lists of characters, place names, planets, flora, fauna, etc., roughly alphabetized and with an indication for each entry of where it occurs. Once that was done, the file became comparatively easy to update as new stories were completed. I also kept all notes made in the course of planning—astronomical and planetological details, descriptions of life forms and cultures, character biographies, etc. I wrote out the entire historical scheme explicitly, with a time chart, star maps, and related aids. (How to represent a three-dimensional galactic region on a flat sheet of paper is left as an exercise for the student.) These things were not done in a single effort, but have themselves grown and filled out as matters progressed. By now, the assembled material fills a loose-leaf binder to overflowing.

     Cross references multiplied, with one story often suggesting another. To give a single example, in The Rebel Worlds Flandry helped suppress a rebellion, much of which centered on the colony planet Aeneas. In the course of so doing, he found himself shipwrecked on the planet Dido, in the same system, and involved with its natives, who were a strange sort. Later I set The Day of Their Return entirely on Aeneas, not long afterward. Flandry didn't appear in this, but his great adversary Aycharaych did; and the novel shows effects of the Didonians upon the human Aeneans, and remarks upon certain of the roles that religion has played in history.

     Among the rewards of being a science-fiction writer, especially the kind who likes ideas for their own sakes, is the contact made with readers. Those who are knowledgeable in a given field will be struck by something you've done that touches on it, and sometimes strike up a fascinating correspondence. Here I want to credit John K. Hord with having a major influence on me—or discredit him, depending on what you think of my work.

     This gentleman has for years been engaged in an analysis of historical processes. He builds upon the creations of predecessors, notably Toynbee, but in my opinion he is truly building. Seeking to cover all known societies to date, he has produced a gigantic volume of text, which he is now assembling and condensing for publication. After seeing a part of this, I got enthusiastic and asked for more, and before long saw that this was exactly the Leitmotiv I had been needing: the interplay of free will and fate, not in any mystical sense but as something concretely describable.

     Here is not the proper place to discuss Hord’s work at length. Besides, that would require a book, just to outline the scheme. Briefly—and therefore. I fear, rather misleadingly and very incompletely—put, he seems to have found a pattern which civilizations have had a strong, almost (if not quite) overwhelming tendency to follow. A society which is not locked into it, he denominates as being in “free growth," and he thinks that a few such exist to the present day. In the great majority of cases, however, breakdown occurred, when the society in question failed to solve some basic problem. Often ‘the breakdown event is identifiable only in retrospect, since there is a kind of grace period of 125 years, give or take a few, in which the damage can be repaired. But repair gets harder and harder to accomplish as time goes on, and finally becomes impossible. By then, institutions and the loyalty that people give them are so far gone that an epoch of civil war ensues. Hord calls this the “Chan-Kuo" phase, from the Chinese exemplar (“Contending States”)—which, incidentally, illustrates that many of the most brilliant achievements of a civilization may date from just then.

     Finally one contender knocks out the rest and establishes a Toynbeean “universal state.” This has two phases: the “principate," comparatively enlightened and tolerant at first, but soon corrupted until it loses all legitimacy; and the ever more oppressive “dominate.” In between is a new round of civil wars, interspersed with power struggles which are quieter but no less ruthless.

     Eventually the dominate also comes apart and a dark age sets in. It has its own pattern. A new society is in gestation. This experiences some miserable times as well as hopeful ones, e.g., when its “ghost empire" disintegrates. But at last it reaches the end of the pattern and takes ofi into free growth, seemingly able to develop in any direction.

     Hord’s basic contribution, I think, is the closely measured spans he has found for the various stages (with the time from breakdown to complete rebirth being about 1500 years), as well as the showing that there is no absolute inevitability. Notably, some broken-down societies have been retrieved by what he calls “conversion tyrannies," which have a pattern of their own but on a much shorter time-scale; and some universal states have been aborted.

     Never mind now whether or not the scheme is scientifically correct. A lot of study and argument by a lot of experts will be needed to settle that; besides, it is still being worked out. Though obviously impressed, I myself am not sure that I am in entire agreement with Hord. We've been kicking that particular ball around for several years.

     The point is that his work was what put mine into real perspective. Suddenly I saw, for example, that Flandry lives at the beginning of the interregnum between a principate and a dominate. In his youth he could uphold the principle of legitimacy in government, but now there is no more legitimacy; he can but rally behind the least bad war lord. The best he can ever hope to do is help make the period less terrible than it would otherwise be: though that is perhaps not too little, considering how many persons will have to live through it. This vision became the driving force behind the penultimate story about him, A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows.

     Meanwhile I'd also been dealing with earlier events. It had become plain that van Rijn's era was not as halcyon as it might have appeared at first glance. Rather, breakdown had already begun, and his society was going more on momentum than on inherent impulse (though, to be sure, it would do extraordinary things yet).

     Already I had referred to this society as “Technic civilization," with the implication that it thought of itself as being distinct from any forerunner—West European, American, Soviet, Japanese, Chinese, to name those conspicuous at the moment. We may well live to see others, e.g., a renascent Islam, move into the front rank, while one or more of the present giants decline. I don't know, and am not about to write any guesses into this particular timeline. Its predecessor taught me better! Most likely, the chronologically first story will remain “Wings of Victory," which takes place at the beginning of the interstellar era.

     Still, it seems obvious—and certainly there is a good bit of detail in my head, even though I'll never put it into print—that humanity in this imaginary universe did muddle through its present set of crises; that a more humane order of things did evolve; that English, eventually shifting enough to be called “Anglic," became the main international language, without suppressing the rest; and so on. This was not a matter of first going through a dark age. Possibly conversion tyrannies were involved, or possibly difierent factors, unprecedented in previous history, came into play— notably, scientific method and knowledge and the technological application thereof. Suflice it to say that man did get a whole new civilization, afiiliated mainly to the Western, a civilization in which there was a great deal of freedom and hope.

     And people blew it.

     I examined various preliminary results of that in Satan's World, a novel to which Joanna Russ took strong exception. If anything, I was more pleased than otherwise at the negative review which this fine writer and acute critic gave the book. Apparently I'd succeeded in showing a society which was in a bad state, and touched a nerve. Nevertheless, she missed the point I was trying to make—not her fault, since I hadn't gotten around to spelling it out.

     My attempt to do that was Mirkheim. There had been a preliminary go at it in “Lodestar," but that was only a novelette, without room for sociological analysis. All it could do was show van Rijn as an old man whose day was ending. A reader or two wrote to express regret at seeing him exhibit liberal guilt. Was he getting senile?

     Lord forbid! That had never been the remotest part of my intention. Mirkheim sought to clarify matters, and identified the precise point at which Technic civilization had broken down.

     Reviewing it, Lester del Rey wrote that it was too much devoted to tying up loose ends (or words to that effect, as far as I remember them). Maybe; but the scheme required it, if the statement was to be made that I aimed to make. Not all the stories in this future history are cautionary tales, but a number are, Mirkheim among them.

     (Without committing himself to date, Hord has suggested that for most of Western Europe, breakdown began at the 15th-century Council of Basle, which tried and failed to solve the problem of how the Church should be governed. Among the consequences were the Reformation, religious war, growing absolutism, and repeated attempts to establish hegemony over the Continent. Hord maintains that the Cromwellian conversion tyranny separated England and thus, afterward, its daughter countries from this, in effect begetting whole new societies. )

     Well before Mirkheim, I had started writing about the winged Ythrians and their developing relationships with humankind: relationships which in the long run would prove more significant than man's with the comparatively anthropoid Merseians.

     The principal story about the Ythrians is The People of the Wind, which takes place in the principate phase of the Terran Empire; but there are others, some minor, some key. You can find them collected in The Earth Book of Stormgate.

     In this wise, very roughly and incompletely, I have covered the history of Technic civilization, from its youth to its downfall. There have been a few stories set later than that, e.g., The Night Face and “The Sharing of Flesh,” which happen out on the far fringes after the Empire has perished, and “Starfog," which is set still further off in space and time, but hints that it may, after all, be possible to make an entirely new beginning, one which breaks away from the old cycle of rise, ruin, decay, and fall. That beginning is founded upon freedom.

     A great many sections remain to fill in, and readers keep asking me if I will. For instance, what went on between the collapse of the Polesotechnic League and the establishment of the Terran Empire? After the latter had crumbled, what became of Terra—and the Merseians, for that matter? What did various other races, such as the Cynthians and Wodenites and, especially, the Ythrians and their human allies, go on to do?

     These are intriguing questions, and perhaps from time to time I'll answer a few. Certainly that would please a lot of readers. But maybe I never will. At this writing, I have published one more Flandry story, as a kind of coda to that sub-series. It may prove to be the very end.


     Well, to start with, by now forty-odd parts of the chronology exist, ranging from short stories to (several) novels. The notebook is crammed and the task of staying consistent enormous. Indeed, various eagle-eyed individuals have long since pointed out this or that contradiction to me.

     Furthermore, our knowledge of the cosmos is changing all the time. My universe is beginning to look hopelessly obsolete. For instance, in a Flandry tale I gave Betelgeuse planets, on some of which were life; in another, I gave Jupiter solid land masses. Both these assumptions were reasonable when I was composing, but are so no longer. I've written rationalizations into later stories. Yet this can be done to just a limited extent before it becomes ridiculous.

     Then too, since each item is related to all the rest, the framework has grown increasingly restrictive. If I want to write A, oftener and oftener it turns out to be incompatible with B, which is already in print. Okay, I set A in an entirely separate world.

     Besides, I wonder if I may not have made my point. As remarked earlier: the way this series has evolved, it has been first and foremost a bunch of narratives that I hoped readers would enjoy; but secondarily, it has—while trying hard to avoid self-importance—sought to draw a moral, to make people think. The statement being complete, why belabor it? Better to seek new themes.

     That last sentence expresses my major reason for phasing out this second future history of mine, whether that be done fast or gradually. In an age when everything else is constantly changing, including our concept of human nature and of ultimate reality, what's the sense in clinging to the old? (Here I refer simply to old literary devices. Basic principles are different. They are eternal. What we need is ever new ways of expressing them.) I want to take a closer look at a lot of things which lie entirely outside any traditional type of scheme.

     Yet let me say in conclusion that the experience of building a future history has, on the whole, been grand. In various ways, direct and indirect, including the stimulating contacts with readers which it has provoked, it's taught me a lot about the real world, past and present. That alone is abundant reward. Along the way, it has sparked ideas and generated stories that would otherwise never have come to be. It has enabled me to say things which no single book could possibly do. And it has given a special pleasure to a lot of people, the same kind of pleasure—I hope—that I in my youth got from Heinlein’s. What more can a writer ask for?

     I don't recommend that everyone do anything similar. A heap of work is involved. Now every writer worth his or her salt puts as much work as necessary into everything produced. But precisely because it does have that extra dimension, the extended chronology demands an extra amount of effort: which a given writer might well decide could better be expended elsewhere. Often that has been the case for me.

     I do recommend that you consider at least a mini-series of related stories, which together form a chronicle. Several among us have done so, of course, with admirable results. If they wish to go on to something larger, or if anybody else in our field does, perhaps this account of one lodge brother’s adventures along the same trail may be of some small help.

From CONCERNING FUTURE HISTORIES by Poul Anderson (1979)

Dynastic cycle (traditional Chinese: 朝代循環; simplified Chinese: 朝代循环; pinyin: Cháodài Xúnhuán) is an important political theory in Chinese history. According to this theory, each dynasty rises to a political, cultural, and economic peak and then, because of moral corruption, declines, loses the Mandate of Heaven, and falls, only to be replaced by a new dynasty. The cycle then repeats under a surface pattern of repetitive motifs.

It sees a continuity in Chinese history from early times to the present by looking at the succession of empires or dynasties, implying that there is little basic development or change in social or economic structures. John K. Fairbank expressed the doubts of many historians when he wrote that "the concept of the dynastic cycle... has been a major block to the understanding of the fundamental dynamics of Chinese history."

The cycle

The cycle appears as follows:

  1. A new ruler unites China, founds a new dynasty, and gains the Mandate of Heaven.
  2. China, under the new dynasty, achieves prosperity.
  3. The population increases.
  4. Corruption becomes rampant in the imperial court, and the empire begins to enter decline and instability.
  5. A natural disaster wipes out farm land. The disaster normally would not have been a problem; however, together with the Corruption and overpopulation, it causes famine.
  6. The famine causes the population to rebel and a civil war ensues.
  7. The ruler loses the Mandate of Heaven.
  8. The population decreases because of the violence.
  9. China goes through a warring states period.
  10. One state emerges victorious.
  11. The state starts a new empire.
  12. The empire gains the Mandate of Heaven.
(The cycle repeats itself.)

The Mandate of Heaven was the idea that the Emperor was favored by Heaven to rule over China. The Mandate of Heaven explanation was championed by the Chinese philosopher Mencius during the Warring States period.

It has 3 main phases:

  1. The first is the beginning of the dynasty.
  2. The second is at the middle of the dynasty's life and is the peak of the dynasty.
  3. The last period is the decline of the dynasty, both politically and economically, until it finally collapses.


Chinese history is traditionally represented in terms of dynastic cycles. Through its long history, the Chinese have been ruled not by one dynasty, but by a succession of different dynasties. The first dynasty in China to be described in ancient historical records such as Records of the Grand Historian and Bamboo Annals is the Xia, which was succeeded by the Shang, although concrete existence of Xia is yet to be archaeologically proven.

Among these dynasties the Han and Tang are often considered as particularly strong periods, although other dynasties are famous for cultural and other achievements (for instance, the Song dynasty is sometimes associated with rapid economic development). Han and Tang, as well as other long, stable dynasties were followed by periods of disorder and the break-up of China into small regimes.

Out of disorder a leader eventually arose who unified the country and imposed strong central authority. For example, after the Han various dynasties ruled parts of China until Yang Jian reunited the country and established the Sui dynasty. The Sui set the scene for the long and prosperous Tang. After the fall of Tang, China again saw a period of political upheaval.

There is a famous Chinese proverb expressed in the 16th century novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms that says "After a long split, a union will occur; after a long union, a split will occur" (分久必合,合久必分). Each of these rulers would claim the Mandate of Heaven to legitimize their rule.

Although this well-known dynastic periodization of China is more or less based on traditional Sinocentric ideology, it also applies to non-native rulers who sought to gain the Mandate of Heaven. While most ruling dynasties in Chinese history were founded by native Chinese, there were also non-native or Conquest Dynasties established by non-Han Chinese people beyond the traditional border of central part of China dominated by Han Chinese people (also known as China proper). These include the Yuan founded by Mongols and the Qing founded by Manchus, who later conquered the central part of China and assumed the title of Emperor of China.

From the Wikipedia entry for DYNASTIC CYCLE

Grosvenor read the letter grimly. He did not doubt that Kent had made sharp remarks to the secretary about the only Nexialist on the ship. Even as it was, Kent had probably restrained his language. The turmoil, the reservoir of hatred that was in the man, was still suppressed. If Korita was right, it would come out in a crisis. This was the “winter” period of man’s present civilization, and entire cul­tures had been torn to pieces by the vaulting egotism of individuals.

Dennison’s face was flushed, his voice harsh. “Look, Grove, you can’t possibly have anything against a man you don’t even know very well. Kent is the kind of person who won’t forget his friends.”

“I’ll wager he also has special treatment for those he dislikes,” said Grosvenor. He shrugged impatiently. “Carl, to me Kent represents all that is destructive in our present civilization. According to Korita’s theory of cyclic history, we’re in the ‘winter’ stage of our culture. I’m going to ask him to explain that more fully one of these days, but I’ll wager Kent’s caricature of a democratic campaign is an example of the worst aspects of such a period.”

Standing there, Grosvenor decided that it was too soon for drastic defense measures. It was hard to be certain that any sustained, positive action would not produce on board the ship the very situation he was supposed to prevent. Despite his own reservations about cyclic history, it was well to remember that civilizations did seem to be born, grow older, and die of old age. Before he did anything more, he’d better have a talk with Korita and find out what pitfalls he might inadvertently be heading towards.

He located the Japanese scientist at Library B, which was on the far side of the ship, on the same floor as the Nexial department. Korita was leaving as he came up, and Grosvenor fell in step beside him. Without preamble, he outlined his problem.

Korita did not reply immediately. They walked the length of the corridor before the tall historian spoke, doubtfully. “My friend,” he said, “I’m sure you realize the difficulty of solving specific problems on the basis of generalizations, which is virtually all that the theory of cyclic history has to offer.”

“Still,” Grosvenor said, “a few analogies might be very useful to me. From what I’ve read on this subject, I gather we’re in the late, or ‘winter,’ period of our own civilization. In other words, right now we are making the mistakes that lead to decay. I have a few ideas about that, but I’d like more.”

Korita shrugged. “I’ll try to put it briefly.” He was silent for a while, then said, “The outstanding common denominator of the ‘winter’ periods of civilizations is the growing comprehension on the part of millions of individuals of how things work People become impatient with superstitious or supernatural explanations of what goes on in their minds and bodies, and in the world around them. With the gradual accumulation of knowledge, even the simplest minds for the first time ‘see through’ and consciously reject the claims of a minority to hereditary superiority. And the grim battle for equality is on.”

Korita paused for a moment, then continued. “It is his widespread struggle for personal aggrandizement that constitutes the most significant parallel between all the ‘winter’ periods in the civilizations of recorded history. For better or worse, the fight usually takes place within the framework of a legal system that tends to protect the entrenched minority. The late-corner to the field, not understanding his motivations, plunges blindly into the battle for power. The result is a veritable melee of undisciplined intelligence. In thejr resentment and lust, men follow leaders as confused as themselves. Repeatedly, the resulting disorder has led by well-defined steps to the final static fellahin state.

“Sooner or later, one group gains the ascendancy. Once in office, the leaders restore ‘order’ in so savage a bloodletting that the millions are cowed. Swiftly, the power group begins to restrict activities. The licensing systems and other regulative measures necessary to any organized society become tools of suppression and monopoly. It becomes difficult, then impossible, for the individual to engage in new enterprise. And so we progress by swift stages to the familiar caste system of ancient India, and to other, less well-known but equally inflexible societies, such as that of Rome after about A.D. 300. The individual is born into his station in life and cannot rise above it.

“There, does that brief summary help you?”

Grosvenor said slowly, “As I’ve already said, I’m trying to solve the problem Mr. Kent has presented me without falling into the egotistical errors of the late-civilization man you have described. I want to know if I can reasonably hope to defend myself against him without aggravating the hostilities that already exist aboard the Beagle.”

Korita smiled wryly. “It will be a unique victory if you succeed. Historically, on a mass basis, the problem has never been solved. Well, good luck, young man!”

(ed note: then suddenly the exploration starship comes under attack by a hypnotic telepathic broadcast from an unknown alien planet they happen to be passing by. Grosvenor manages to resist the attack due to his training in Nexialism. He frees Korita from the hypnotic trance)

     He turned to Korita, and asked, “In terms of cyclic history, what stage of culture could these beings be in?”
     A thin, wet line of moisture formed on the archeologist’s brow. “My friend,” he said, “surely you can’t expect a generalization at this stage. What do we know about these beings?”
     Grosvenor groaned inwardly. He recognized the need for discussion, but vital time was passing. He said indecisively, “Beings who can use hypnosis over a distance, as these can, would probably be able to stimulate each other’s minds, and so would have naturally the kind of telepathy that human beings can obtain only through the encephalo-adjuster.”
     He leaned forward, abruptly excited. “Korita, what effect would the ability to read minds without artificial aids have on a culture?”
     The archeologist was sitting up. “Why, of course,” he said. “You have the answer. Mind reading would stultify the development of any race, and therefore this one is in the fellahin stage.”
     His eyes were bright as he stared at the puzzled Grosvenor. “Don’t you see? The ability to read another’s mind would make you feel that you know about him. On that basis, a system of absolute certainties would develop. How could you doubt when you know? Such beings would flash through the early periods of their culture, and arrive at the fellah period in the swiftest possible time.”
     Alertly, while Grosvenor sat frowning, he described how various civilizations of Earth and galactic history had exhausted themselves, and then stagnated into fellahdom. Fellah people resented newness and change. They were not particularly cruel as a group, but because of their poverty they all too frequently developed an indifference toward the suffering of individuals.

From THE VOYAGE OF THE SPACE BEAGLE by A. E. van Vogt (1950)

'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.'

From THE STARS, LIKE DUST by Isaac Asimov

(ed note: this is from a letter written by an immortal man {actually just very long-lived, he is currently 180,000 years old} to people on the eve of World War III)

      It is this: The human race is the only immortal organism in the universe.

     There have been other races, but they have died away or they will die. We charted them once, a hundred thousand years ago, with an instrument that detected the presence of thought, the presence of intelligence, however alien and at whatever distance—and gave us a measure of that mind and its qualities. And fifty thousand years later that instrument was rediscovered. There were about as many races as before but only eight of them were ones that had been there fifty thousand years ago and each of those eight was dying, senescent. They had passed the peak of their powers and they were dying.

     They had reached the limit of their capabilities—and there is always a limit—and they had no choice but to die. Life is dynamic; it can never be static—at however high or low a level—and survive.

     That is what I am trying to tell you, so that you will never again be afraid. Only a race that destroys itself and its progress periodically, that goes back to its beginning, can survive more than, say, a hundred thousand years of intelligent life.

     In all the universe only the human race has ever reached a high level of intelligence without reaching a high level of sanity. We are unique. We are already at least five times as old as any other race has ever been and it is because we are not sane. And man has, at times, had glimmerings of the fact that insanity is divine. But only at high levels of culture does he realize that he is collectively insane, that fight against it as he will he will always destroy himself—and rise anew out of the ashes.

     The phoenix, the bird that periodically immolates itself upon a flaming pyre to rise new-born and live again for another millennium, and again and forever, is only metaphorically a myth. It exists and there is only one of it.

     You are the phoenix.

     Nothing will ever destroy you, now that—during many high civilization—your seed has been scattered on the planets of a thousand suns, in a hundred galaxies, there ever to repeat the pattern. The pattern that started a hundred and eighty thousand years ago—I think.

     I cannot be sure of that for I have seen that the twenty to forty thousand years that elapse between the fall of one civilization and the rise of the next destroy all traces. In twenty to forty thousand years memories become legends and legends become superstitions and even the superstitions become lost. Metals rust and corrode back into earth while the wind and the rain and the jungle erode and cover stone. The contours of the very continents change — and glaciers come and go, and a city of forty thousand years before is under miles of earth and miles of water.

     So I cannot be sure. Perhaps the first blow-up that I knew was not the first; civilization may have risen and fallen before my time. If so, it merely strengthens the case I put before you to say that mankind may have survived more than the hundred and eighty thousand years I know of, may have lived through more than the six blow-ups that have happened since what I think to have been the first discovery of the phoenix's pyre.

     But—except that we scattered our seed to the stars so well that even the dying of the sun or its becoming a nova would not destroy us—the past does not matter. Lur, Candra, Thragan, Kah, Mu, Atlantis—those are the six I have known, and they are gone as thoroughly as this one will be twenty thousand years or so hence, but the human race, here or in other galaxies, will survive and will live forever.

     It will help your peace of mind, here in the year 1949 of your current era, to know that— for your minds are disturbed. Perhaps, I do not know, it will help your thoughts to know that the coming atomic war, the one that will probably happen in your generation, will not be a blow-up war; it will come too soon for that, before you have developed the really destructive weapons man has had so often before. It will set you back, yes. There will be darkish ages for a century or a few centuries. Then, with the memory of what you will call World War III as a warning, man will think— as he has always thought after a mild atomic war— that he has conquered his own insanity.

     For a while—if the pattern holds —he will hold it in check. He will reach the stars again, to find himself already there. Why, you'll be back on Mars within five hundred years, and I'll go there too, to see again the canals I once helped to dig. I've not been there for eighty thousand years and I'd like to see what time has done to it and to those of us who were cut off there the last time mankind lost the space drive. Of course they've followed the pattern too, but the rate is not necessarily constant. We may find them at any stage in the cycle except the top. If they were at the top of the cycle, we wouldn't have to go to them—they'd come to us. Thinking, of course, as they think by now, that they are Martians.

     I wonder how high, this time, you will get? Not quite as high, I hope, as Thragan. I hope that never again is rediscovered the weapon Thragan used against her colony on Skoro, which was then the fifth planet until the Thragans blew it into asteroids. Of course that weapon would be developed only long after intergalactic travel again becomes commonplace. If I see it coming I'll get out of the Galaxy, but I'd hate to have to do that. I like Earth and I'd like to spend the rest of my mortal lifetime on it if it lasts that long.

     Possibly it won't, but the human race will last. Everywhere and forever, for it will never be sane and only insanity is divine. Only the mad destroy themselves and all they have wrought.

     And only the phoenix lives forever.

From LETTER TO A PHOENIX by Fredric Brown (1949)

Decline and Fall

In science fiction the fall into the long night can be a dull slow decline into decadence and decay. However, more commonly it comes about due to exciting savage wars to seize the galactic crown or exciting savage wars as galactic sector governors try to split their fiefdom off into a separate pocket empire. Or both. As the empire weakens the space barbarians in their longboat starships at the rim of the galaxy invade the outer provinces. Barbarians raid defenseless isolated planets. Interstellar trade and communication fails, knowledge is lost, high-tech equipment becomes useless because nobody knows how to repair it anymore. Countless petty wars and tiny kingdoms. The few remaining bits of high-tech that still work become more and more precious. Low-tech items become more common, such as swords. Science is lost, superstition increases, priceless paintings are used as toilet paper. There is a markéd increase in Machiavellianism, barbarian savagery, and general bad manners.

FALL OF EMPIRE. This will happen to the FIRST EMPIRE, which may be either the TERRAN EMPIRE or GALACTIC EMPIRE. (Rarely both, since this would be rather duplicative.)

     The cause given for the Fall of Empire should be noted, because it is usually a dead giveaway to the author's political and social biases. Authority, especially quasi-religious authority, became too stifling, choking off free thought. Or people ignored the old Imperial virtues, became decadent and hedonistic, and had far too much sex. Or the Imperial government choked the ECONOMY to death with exorbitant taxes. Or the rich got richer and arrogant, while the poor got poorer and desperate. These causes may be disguised by some TECHJARGON about Psychohistorical Dynamics or General Systems Collapse, but they are almost always there if you scope them out.

     The Fall of Empire is second only to the initial COLONIZATION as the central defining event of of FUTURE HISTORY, during most of which the dominant themes will in succession be staving off the inevitable Fall, then surviving through it, then dealing with the resulting chaotic INTERREGNUM, and finally putting together a more enduring SECOND EMPIRE.

     In this regard it may be said that the most influential writer in the history of SF was not Verne or Wells, or Hugo Gernsback, or Robert Heinlein, or even Isaac Asimov (who introduced this theme to SF), but Edward Gibbon.

From THE TOUGH GUIDE TO THE KNOWN GALAXY by Rick Robinson (2012)

(ed note: James Blish expounds upon the cyclical 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 collapse of urban cultures is an event much more frequent than most observers realize. Often, collapse is well underway before societal elites become aware of it, leading to scenes of leaders responding retroactively and ineffectively as their society collapses around them.”
     – Sander Vander Leeuw, Archaeologist, 1997

The tragedy is that, despite what you hear on TV or read in the paper or online, this collapse was completely predictable. Scientifically speaking, oligarchies always collapse because they are designed to extract wealth from the lower levels of society, concentrate it at the top, and block adaptation by concentrating oligarchic power as well. Though it may take some time, extraction eventually eviscerates the productive levels of society, and the system becomes increasingly brittle. Internal pressures and the sense of betrayal grow as desperation and despair multiply everywhere except at the top, but effective reform seems impossible because the system seems thoroughly rigged. In the final stages, a raft of upstart leaders emerge, some honest and some fascistic, all seeking to channel pent-up frustration towards their chosen ends. If we are lucky, the public will mobilize behind honest leaders and effective reforms. If we are unlucky, either the establishment will continue to “respond ineffectively” until our economy collapses, or a fascist will take over and create conditions too horrific to contemplate.

Sound familiar? America has witnessed a similar cycle of oligarchic corruption[1] starting in the 1760s, 1850s, 1920s, and 2000s:

  • Economic Royalists infiltrate critical institutions and rig political and economic systems to favor elites. 1760s: Royal governors run roughshod over colonial farmers; The East India Company, whose investors were primarily wealthy aristocrats, is given monopoly trading rights in the colonies. (The Tea Act was basically a corporate tax break for it.) 2000s: Vice President Dick Cheney’s company Halliburton is given no-bid contracts to handle military services in Iraq; American taxpayers bail out failed banks; Billionaire Warren Buffet pays a lower tax rate than his secretary; America’s medical system is dominated by profit-maximizing, health-minimizing insurance companies.

  • Rigged systems erode the health of the larger society, and signs of crisis proliferate. Developed by British archaeologist Sir Colin Renfrew in 1979[2], the following “Signs of Failing Times” have played out across time in 26 distinct societies ranging from the collapse of the Roman Empire to the collapse of the Soviet Union:
    1. Elite power and well-being increase and is manifested in displays of wealth;
    2. Elites become heavily focused on maintaining a monopoly on power inside the society; Laws become more advantageous to elites, and penalties for the larger public become more Draconian;
    3. The middle class evaporates;
    4. The “misery index” mushrooms, witnessed by increasing rates of homicide, suicide, illness, homelessness, and drug/alcohol abuse;
    5. Ecological disasters increase as short-term focus pushes ravenous exploitation of resources;
    6. There’s a resurgence of conservatism and fundamentalist religion as once golden theories are brought back to counter decay, but these are usually in a corrupted form that accelerates decline.

  • The crisis reaches a breaking point, and seemingly small events trigger popular frustration into a transformative change. If the society enacts effective reforms, it enters a new stage of development. If it fails to enact reforms, crisis leads to regression and possibly collapse. 1776: Lexington and Concord’s “shot heard round the world”; the Declaration of Independence; America becomes unified nation aimed at liberty and justice for all. 1933: Under huge public pressure, FDR turns from a standard New York politician to a champion of social and economic reform; government work-programs revitalize the nation’s infrastructure, and reforms such as the Glass-Steagall Act reduce bankers’ ability to abuse the system; Post-FDR America witnesses the longest surge of cross-scale prosperity and the largest increase in the middle class in history.

  • Over time, transformed societies forget why they implemented reforms; Economic Royalists creep back and the cycle starts a new. 1980-2000s: Reagan removes the Fairness Doctrine and stops enforcing antitrust laws; Economic elites argue we need to modernize finance by getting rid of Glass-Steagall; Tax rates on the wealthy plummet while infrastructure crumbles; The Supreme Court supports Citizens United and guts the Voting Rights Act; Gerrymandering increases.

[1] This cycle has occurred every 80 to 90 years throughout American and much of world history. It is detailed in books such as Strauss and Howe’s The Fourth Turning, and Thom Hartmann’s The Crash of 2016. See Strauss, W. & Howe, N., (1996). The Fourth Turning: What the cycles of history tell us about America’s next rendevouz with destiny.

[2] Renfrew, Colin. 1979. Systems collapse as social transformation: Catastrophe and anastrophe in early state societies. In Renfrew C. and Cooke, K.L. (eds.), Transformations: Mathematical approaches to culture change. New York: Academic Press, 481-506.

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.

HORATIUS by Thomas Babbington, Lord Macaulay

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.

One of these ships was the Vegan Scout — Starfire

THE PATROL ship, Starfire, Vegan registry, came into her last port in the early morning. And she made a bad landing, for two of her eroded tubes blew just as the pilot tried to set her down on her fins. She had bounced then, bounced and buckled, and now she lay on her meteor-scarred side.

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 Deneb II. 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.

From STAR RANGERS by Andre Norton, 1953.
Collected in STAR SOLDIERS (2001), currently a free eBook in the Baen free library.

(ed note: the planet Beltane has a research facillity with a small town or two for the scientist's families. But otherwise it has no infrastructure or interstellar trade. So when the decline and fall starts the planet is in big trouble)

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...

(ed note, your random fact for the day: "biannual" means "twice a year" while "biennial" means "occurring every two years")

...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."...

From DARK PIPER by Andre Norton (1968)

After a time he was conducted to Cerdic's cabin. The place had a number of ethnic touches, such as a huge pair of tusks displayed on a bulkhead between shields and swords, animal skins on the deck, and a grotesque idol in one corner. Flandry wondered if they were there merely because they were expected. Other furniture included a desk with infotrieve and computer terminal, bookrolls and a reader for them, a holoscreen, and, yes, a number of codex volumes bearing Anglic titles. The prince occupied an Imperial-made lounger, too. Jewelry glittered across his massive breast.

"I told you before, I have been in the Empire, on Terra's very self; and I have studied deeply, aided by data retrieval systems, the works of your own sociologists, and of nonhumans who have an outside view of your ways. I know the Empire—its self-seeking politicians and self-indulgent masses, corruption, intrigue, morality and sense of duty rotten to the heart, decline of art into craft and science into dogma, strength sapped by a despair too pervasive for you to realize what it is—aye, aye. You were a great race once, you humans; you were among the first who aspired to the stars. But that was long ago."

The accusation was oversimplified, probably disingenuous. Yet enough truth was in it to touch a nerve. Cerdic's voice rose: "The time has waxed ready for the young peoples, in their strength and courage and hopefulness, to set themselves free, burn away the decayed mass of the Empire and give the universe something that can grow!"

Only, thought Flandry, first comes the Long Night. It begins with a pyrotechnic sunset across thousands of worlds, which billions of sentient beings will not see because they will be part of the flames. It deepens with famine, plague, more war, more destruction of what the centuries have built, until at last the wild folk howl in our temples—save where a myriad petty tyrants hold dreary court among the shards. To say nothing of an end to good music and high cuisine, taste in clothes and taste in women and conversation as a fine art.

From TIGER BY THE TAIL by Poul Anderson (1951)

      "You've seen decivilized planets. How does it happen?"
     "I know how it's happened on a good many: War. Destruction of cities and industries. Survivors among ruins, too busy keeping their own bodies alive to try to keep civilization alive. Then they lose all knowledge of how to be civilized."
     "That's catastrophic decivilization."

     "There is also decivilization by erosion, and while it's going on, nobody notices it. Everybody is proud of their civilization, their wealth and culture. But trade is falling off; fewer ships come in each year. So there is boastful talk about planetary self-sufficiency; who needs off-planet trade anyhow? Everybody seems to have money, but the government is always broke. Deficit spending—and always the vital social services for which the government has to spend money. The most vital one, of course, is buying votes to keep the government in power. And it gets harder for the government to get anything done.
     "The soldiers are sloppier at drill, and their uniforms and weapons aren't taken care of. The noncoms are insolent. And more and more parts of the city are dangerous at night, and then even in the daytime. And it's been years since a new building went up, and the old ones aren't being repaired any more."
     Trask closed his eyes. Again, he could feel the mellow sun of Gram on his back, and hear the laughing voices on the lower terrace, and he was talking to Lothar Ffayle and Rovard Grauffis and Alex Gorram and Cousin Nikkolay and Otto Harkaman. He said: "And finally, nobody bothers fixing anything up. And the power-reactors stop, and nobody seems to be able to get them started again. It hasn't quite gotten that far on the Sword-Worlds yet."

From SPACE VIKING by H. Beam Piper (1963)

His thoughts kept echoing back and forth in his mind, unable to escape. What had Ihjel meant? What was that nonsense about Anvhar? Anvhar was that way because—well, it just was. It had come about naturally. Or had it?

The planet had a very simple history. From the very beginning there had never been anything of real commercial interest on Anvhar. Well off the interstellar trade routes, there were no minerals worth digging and transporting the immense distances to the nearest inhabited worlds. Hunting the winter beasts for their pelts was a profitable but very minor enterprise, never sufficient for mass markets. Therefore no organized attempt had ever been made to colonize the planet. In the end it had been settled completely by chance. A number of offplanet scientific groups had established observation and research stations, finding unlimited data to observe and record during Anvhar’s unusual yearly cycle. The long-duration observations encouraged the scientific workers to bring their families and, slowly but steadily, small settlements grew up (much like the planet Beltane). Many of the fur hunters settled there as well, adding to the small population. This had been the beginning.

Few records existed of those early days, and the first six centuries of Anvharian history were more speculation than fact. The Breakdown occurred about that time, and in the galaxy-wide disruption Anvhar had to fight its own internal battle. When the Earth Empire collapsed it was the end of more than an era. Many of the observation stations found themselves representing institutions that no longer existed. The professional hunters no longer had markets for their furs, since Anvhar possessed no interstellar ships of its own. There had been no real physical hardship involved in the Breakdown as it affected Anvhar, since the planet was completely self-sufficient (they were very lucky...). Once they had made the mental adjustment to the fact that they were now a sovereign world, not a collection of casual visitors with various loyalties, life continued unchanged. Not easy—living on Anvhar is never easy—but at least without difference on the surface.

The thoughts and attitudes of the people were, however, going through a great transformation. Many attempts were made to develop some form of stable society and social relationship. Again, little record exists of these early trials, other than the fact of their culmination in the Twenties. To understand the Twenties, you have to understand the unusual orbit that Anvhar tracks around its sun, 70 Ophiuchi. There are other planets in this system, all of them more or less conforming to the plane of the ecliptic. Anvhar is obviously a rogue, perhaps a captured planet of another sun. For the greatest part of its 780-day year it arcs far out from its primary, in a high-angled sweeping cometary orbit. When it returns there is a brief, hot summer of approximately approximately eighty days before the long winter sets in once more. This severe difference in seasonal change has caused profound adaptations in the native life forms. During the winter most of the animals hibernate, the vegetable life lying dormant as spores or seeds. Some of the warm-blooded herbivores stay active in the snow-covered tropics, preyed upon by fur-insulated carnivores. Though unbelievably cold, the winter is a season of peace in comparison to the summer.

For summer is a time of mad growth. Plants burst into life with a strength that cracks rocks, growing fast enough for the motion to be seen. The snowfields melt into mud and within days a jungle stretches high into the air. Everything grows, swells, proliferates. Plants climb on top of plants, fighting for the life-energy of the sun. Everything is eat and be eaten, grow and thrive in that short season. Because when the first snow of winter falls again, ninety per cent of the year must pass until the next coming of warmth.

Mankind has had to adapt to the Anvharian cycle in order to stay alive. Food must be gathered and stored, enough to last out the long winter. Generation after generation had adapted until they look on the mad seasonal imbalance as something quite ordinary. The first thaw of the almost nonexistent spring triggers a wide-reaching metabolic change in the humans. Layers of subcutaneous fat vanish and half-dormant sweat glands come to life. Other changes are more subtle than the temperature adjustment, but equally important. The sleep center of the brain is depressed. Short naps or a night’s rest every third or fourth day becomes enough. Life takes on a hectic and hysterical quality that is perfectly suited to the environment. By the time of the first frost, rapid-growing crops have been raised and harvested, sides of meat either preserved or frozen in mammoth lockers. With this supreme talent of adaptability mankind has become part of the ecology and guaranteed his own survival during the long winter.

Physical survival has been guaranteed. But what about mental survival? Primitive Earth Eskimos can fall into a long doze of half-conscious hibernation. Civilized men might be able to do this, but only for the few cold months of terrestrial midwinter. It would be impossible to do during a winter that is longer than an Earth year. With all the physical needs taken care of, boredom became the enemy of any Anvharian who was not a hunter. And even the hunters could not stay out on solitary trek all winter. Drink was one answer, and violence another. Alcoholism and murder were the twin terrors of the cold season, after the Breakdown.

It was the Twenties (hyper-Olympic games) that ended all that. When they became a part of normal life the summer was considered just an interlude between games. The Twenties were more than just a contest—they became a way of life that satisfied all the physical, competitive and intellectual needs of this unusual planet. They were a decathlon—rather a double decathlon—raised to its highest power, where contests in chess and poetry composition held equal place with those in ski-jumping and archery.

“Dis,” Ihjel said, consulting a thick file, “third planet out from its primary, Epsilon Eridani. The fourth planet is Nyjord—remember that, because it is going to be very important. Dis is a place you need a good reason to visit and no reason at all to leave. Too hot, too dry; the temperature in the temperate zones rarely drops below a hundred Fahrenheit. The planet is nothing but scorched rock and burning sand. Most of the water is underground and normally inaccessible. The surface water is all in the form of briny, chemically saturated swamps—undrinkable without extensive processing. All the facts and figures are here in the folder and you can study them later. Right now I want you just to get the idea that this planet is as loathsome and inhospitable as they come. So are the people. This is a solido of a Disan.”

Lea gasped at the three-dimensional representation on the screen. Not at the physical aspects of the man; as a biologist trained in the specialty of alien life she had seen a lot stranger sights. It was the man’s pose, the expression on his face—tensed to leap, his lips drawn back to show all of this teeth.

“He looks as if he wanted to kill the photographer,” she said.

“He almost did—just after the picture was taken. Like all Disans, he has an overwhelming hatred and loathing of offworlders. Not without good reason, though. His planet was settled completely by chance during the Breakdown. I’m not sure of the details, but the overall picture is clear, since the story of their desertion forms the basis of all the myths and animistic religions on Dis.

“Apparently there were large-scale mining operations carried on there once; the world is rich enough in minerals and mining them is very simple. But water came only from expensive extraction processes and I imagine most of the food came from offworld. Which was good enough until the settlement was forgotten, the way a lot of other planets were during the Breakdown. All the records were destroyed in the fighting, and the ore carriers were pressed into military service. Dis was on its own. What happened to the people there is a tribute to the adaptation possibilities of homo sapiens. Individuals died, usually in enormous pain, but the race lived. Changed a good deal, but still human. As the water and food ran out and the extraction machinery broke down, they must have made heroic efforts to survive. They couldn’t do it mechanically, but by the time the last machine collapsed, enough people were adjusted to the environment to keep the race going.

“Their descendants are still there, completely adapted to the environment. Their body temperatures are around a hundred and thirty degrees. They have specialized tissue in the gluteal area for storing water. These are minor changes, compared to the major ones they have done in fitting themselves for this planet. I don’t know the exact details, but the reports are very enthusiastic about symbiotic relationships. They assure us that this is the first time homo sapiens has been an active part of either commensalism or inquilinism other than in the role of host.”

From PLANET OF THE DAMNED by Harry Harrison (1962)

(ed note: This quote is in reference to adding a "decline and fall" background to a table top role-playing game campaign. But there is discussion of real historical forces)

Ruined, fallen, or 'collapsed' civilizations have clear appeal for those designing fantasy campaign settings, as many have noted (e.g. Monsters and Manuals' post from earlier this summer). Whether because of a ruin-favoring aesthetic or simply to explain so many dungeons, many campaign worlds are built over the rubble of earlier, 'failed' societies. But what happened to those 'collapsed' kingdoms? I've gone there several times (especially here and here), and my resource BRAZEN BACKGROUNDS (aff) is custom-tailored to evoke a Bronze Age society teetering on the edge of just such a collapse. In real life, I'm a scholar specializing in the 'late antique' period, or - more provocatively - what one could call the era of the 'fall of the Roman Empire' (really, the political fragmentation of its western half, along with a hurricane of other problems). I even teach a university seminar course about historical-archaeological perspectives on social collapse, and I follow literature in the busy scholarly sub-field of 'collapse studies.' I'm a nerd for a living, and I particularly like reading about the end of the world as we know it (though stay tuned below - turns out 'collapse' is not so easy to define).

I've also blogged here about a 'Settings with Strata' project on game-able sandbox settings that don't take forever to design, but do have deep and coherent backstories (see here and here). In my most recent post on this topic, I suggested charting one faction's changing fortunes from age to age. I wrote:
Most simply, one could think of the transition between each period as either RISING/GROWING POWER/STABILITY, STASIS OR STAGNANT POWER/STABILITY, and DECLINE OR COLLAPSE IN POWER/STABILITY. Heck, you can even make that a die roll if you want to discover the history as you make it. If this seems useful then what I may do is for each of those three kinds of trajectories - up, sideways, down - present random-generation tables with commentary discussing real-world types of such processes, not as straightjackets, but as loose guides to the kinds of effects each type might have, and other dynamics that might go along with it...
Today, I'm going to tackle 'downward' movement - often defined, whether rightly or wrongly, as decline or even collapse - since it's so dear to the OSR and RPG world, and because I find it so interesting. But I'm going to be a little bit ornery first, opening with some caveats. If you stick with me, I'll hand you a tool below that will hopefully be useful for design - but please be clear that it also oversimplifies how these things seem to work in real life.


What does it mean for a society, let alone a civilization, to be 'in decline'? 'Decline' is a tricky and controversial concept. First, what exactly are we measuring, and how do we measure it? Second, to what extent do our answers depend on subjective philosophical or aesthetic judgments? And what other factors - maybe quite positive factors - might co-exist with alleged signs of 'decline'?

Today, most historians recognize that claims that a certain society 'was in decline' often rest on assumptions in hindsight rather than an objective measure of stability. I mean, if the Roman empire fell, then it obviously declined first, right? Not necessarily. Assuming that decline precedes collapse = assuming that collapse can't happen suddenly, unexpectedly (different scholars would argue both sides, but the point is worth raising). Moreover, conversations about 'decline' often veer into territory that is quite subjective. It was once customary for historians to talk about 'vulgar, barbarized' late Latin, as if the fact that the Latin of the later Roman period didn't measure up to the grammatical standards of the early Empire was a clear sign of cultural and literary decay. Now, think about this: if you're a native speaker of English, do you routinely speak like Shakespeare or the King James Bible? No, you don't? Ok, is that an obvious sign of the cultural decay of our civilization? Well, no, actually, it's just a sign of the normal development of a spoken language over time. Historians now recognize that organic changes in the Latin language should not be used as evidence that Roman culture was 'in decline.' To be clear, none of this means that aesthetic judgments are impossible or automatically off the table, but those making them need to be clear on their subjective nature even as they make them.

Nor should we assume that one kind of decline will always parallel other signs of weakness. Traditionally, Greece's cultural golden age is seen as the period before Alexander (late 300s BCE). After the Hellenistic period, which had its own glories, Rome conquered the Greek east piecemeal in the final two centuries BCE. One might expect that Greek culture would now be a goner, since Greek political autonomy at any high level was functionally stamped out by Roman rule. But nope; Rome, the great military power, was so taken with Greek culture that Roman aristocrats fell all over themselves to assimilate Greek culture into their own. One Roman poet went so far as to note that captive Greece was now taking captive her own fierce captor (Rome)! Thus, a period of total Greek political eclipsing was also a period in which Greek culture remained prominent and influential. In fact, Greek culture remained well-rooted enough that when the Roman west fell apart centuries later, it was Greek-speaking 'Byzantines' (as we call them) who carried on the torch of 'Roman' traditions. My point: don't think that 'decline' lets us make blanket statements about what societies experience in periods of weakness.

Instead of thinking about 'cultural decline' we are on firmer ground if we focus on something easier to measure, like a society's overall political, social, or economic complexity. That is the kind of thing one can actually track a bit more confidently. Compare a traditional Inuit hunter-gatherer band to the array of groups you'd find at noon in Manhattan. Any judgments about comparative 'cultural value' would be subjective, but no one should doubt that Manhattan possesses much more complex economic and social networks. We know today that between about 300 and 650, economic networks and political institutions lost reach and complexity everywhere across the former Roman world (whatever we also think about the massive cultural changes that occurred across that period). That gives us firmer ground than changes in art or language for debating the possibility of decline - or even collapse.

But collapse is generally less extreme and total than portrayed in popular media. Against popular conceptions of fallen civilzations with no legacy beyond wind-swept empty ruins, contrast the fact that despite Rome's 'collapse,' late Roman law, late Roman language, and late Roman religion have remained culturally influential ever since. If many Classic Maya cities fell into ruin around the 9th century CE, it is also true that the Maya remain today, living in the same region. It turns out that some form of continuity almost always (ok, maybe ALWAYS) has followed collapse, to an extent that some scholars want to do away with the whole idea of collapse. That goes too far, in my opinion - we can still track and try to explain those massive reductions in socio-economic-political complexity - but if you have a 'collapsed' society, that may just mean that a loss in overall population and an abandonment of certain settlements (or types of settlements and political systems) has severely changed that groups' way of life.

Collapse rarely has one, easy causal explanation. Why did so many Classic Maya cities (apparently) 'collapse'? Well, there's a strong case that climate change played a key role, but also that climate change alone wasn't adequate; change also seems to have involved the failure of old political ideologies, possibly exacerbated by climate change, but also a whole bunch of other factors, including the specifics of trade route locations, ground-water depth variance, etc., etc., etc. Whatever causes collapse, it is generally complex.

Collapse has winners as well as losers, whether outsiders or just the downtrodden and less privileged under the previous system. The fall of your empire is probably a big step up in the rise of somebody else's, and the collapse of your institutional system probably liberates a bunch of people on whose backs you built. Yet despite all of the above, collapse is real and sobering. It generally involves net increases in suffering, and can lead to degraded material quality of life, withered social and cultural networks, loss in local technological ability, increased political instability, and population loss. So it's hardly a thing to celebrate - though, again, if you're scraping by in a Roman salt mine, a little 'increased political instability' might be the best news in a long time. (My early post on the Late Bronze Age collapse highlights the tension between these top-down and bottom-up perspectives).

Having done some due diligence for those caveats, let's turn to...


It is perfectly viable to throw together a bunch of dungeons and ruins and NOT tell your players (or even yourself) why that old kingdom fell apart. That mystery can be part of the fun and is, after all, realistic in terms of adventurers encountering unknown ruins. But sometimes you want a better understanding of how things got there - or maybe you're using this to supplement my Settings with Strata quick-design method for settings!

Here are 1d8 broad problems that may have threatened a society in your campaign world. Again, 1d8; but if you want a more plausible and interesting crisis, then I suggest you roll twice, embracing how complex collapse tends to be. Create a toxic mess that combines not one but two or more major threats to your imagined society - like a plague that decimates your population but also unravels the trade networks on which your political order depends.

This list is not meant as comprehensive, but it gives you lots to play with.
  1. Political change, external (conquest, forced regime change)!
  2. Genocide! 
  3. Political failure, internal (especially failed political ideology)!
  4. Economic woes, internal!
  5. Economic woes, external!
  6. Plague/disease pandemic!
  7. Pressure from gradual environmental change!
  8. Environmental catastrophe! 
Now let's walk through these in more detail, thinking both about real examples and also applications for fantasy worlds. 

1. Political change, external...So, the Mongol hordes, or the Roman legions, or the armies of Sauron, or whoever, show up and politely inform you that:

This is pretty low-hanging fruit, a classic way to get rid of one faction and replace them with another in your campaign history. Keep in mind, however, that political-military conquest rarely stamps out any culture and usually involves significant continuities with what came before. When Alexander the Great snuffed out the Achaemenid Persians, that actually amounted to a coup at the top, in which Alexander forcibly replaced Persian leaders with Macedonian ones but held on to many existing Persian systems of rule. When Rome conquered Gaul, many elite Gauls died, but their descendants soon learned to marry Gallic and Roman identities, and got busy being fairly loyal Gallo-Romans. When Normans conquered Anglo-Saxon England, the end result was a language with a lot of French influence that we still call...English. When Mongols brutally conquered half of Eurasia, they tended either to stand off and delegate a lot of messy governance to locals (as in Russia) or they themselves got more or less assimilated to local culture (less in China, more in the Middle East).

2. Genocide! Uh, ok, but what if the newcomers kill everyone? Yeah, genocide is hideously ugly and also all too real. That being said, it is worth noting that genocide, although tragic, is also rarely if ever completely effective (thank goodness!). Massive depopulation has happened all too often across history, but the rule of thumb generally is some form of population continuity albeit with decreased numbers and/or cultural prominence. In a purely fantasy world, of course, one can imagine hideous sorcerous ways to snuff out entire peoples, so there might actually be more (terrible) room for empty, windswept ruins in a S&S world.

Worth noting; where some kind of depopulation and cultural apartheid has happened, the result may be that later generations think a genocide happened, when really the losers just interbred and culturally assimilated into a politically dominant group. In the early Middle Ages, some in France thought their Frankish ancestors had killed off all the Romans, when in fact the Gallo-Romans and Franks (and many others) mostly had merged culturally and biologically.

3. Political failure, internal...Sometimes a whole social-political system can collapse without outside help. Some scholarship on the Classic Maya collapse(s) suggests this was important in the 9th-century Yucatan. The particular nature of Mayan sacred kingship in that period typically emphasized rulers' role in guaranteeing divine provision of rain and fertility. When the helpful rains stopped coming, the kings' own propaganda worked against them, and there are archaeoogical signs of settlements that violently overthrew that kind of king and experimented with other forms of governance. In the Late Bronze Age Aegean and Mediterranean, as I've discussed before, the particular form of the dominant palatial system may have fallen apart under its own weight. Find the weak spots and the tension points in your setting's political systems, and you don't necessarily need a Sauron to spark a systemic collapse (though adding a Sauron in can't hurt, either...).

4. Economic woes, internal...unlikely to cause collapse on its own, but economies are never actually isolated from the rest of human experience. In pre-modern societies, overall wealth was closely tied to agricultural production, so environmental changes (see below) could ripple easily into economic problems. Being able to pay for food for the troops was a constant concern for the imperial Roman government. In addition to the food-supply problem, another problem involved the bullion supply of precious metals. In a society where money is tied to the actual (perceived) value of gold, silver, etc., the minting authority has limited ability to deal with fluctuations in metal supply, and limited ability to spread wealth around through devaluing the currency. In Roman history, some periods (most infamously the 3rd century CE) saw the official 'silver' coinage debased by replacing some of the silver with more and more lower-value metal, until the coins were almost black, and visibly worth hardly anything like the coin's nominal value. This bought a little breathing-room for government expenses, but they could only push people so far before they would refuse to accept such coin for payment. We have an increasingly good history of the money-supply of major European regimes during the medieval period, too; when the mines ran dry, states had little choice but to experiment with alternative sources for coin-bullion - or squeeze extant wealth-holders (the Church, nobles, etc.) to get more of their shiny stuff back into government hands. Such measures can exacerbate other tensions, helping erode the stability of an overall system.

5. Economic woes, external...all the same caveats apply here, but in this case the tension is lack of access to foreign goods that are important for a society or for its dominant system. The palatial system in the Late Bronze Age is a strong example - foreign luxury goods helped prop up rulers and foreign bronze components helped arm their troops. Loss of access to foreign goods - whether because a military defeat severed a trade route (see problem #1), or because a key river shifted its course (see problem #7), or because a foreign trading partner suffered its own collapse, could cause trouble to ripple internationally, with unpredictable consequences.

6. Plague/disease pandemic...Bring out your dead! Highly infectious disease has the potential to wreak massive, massive damage on a society. Or not; note that Y. pestis ravaged what was left of the Roman world in the 6th century, but a later form of the same disease (as 'the Black Death') killed off perhaps 1/3 or 1/2 of Europe's population in the 14th c. - but Europe bounced back and dominated the globe within a few centuries. So pandemics are not necessarily silver-bullet civilization killers. But they have potential to act with other factors to really tear things apart. Note that plagues will not be very serious unless they spread; and they will only spread widely if they touch a society that has fairly sophisticated transport networks linking dense concentrations of vulnerable human beings.

As with genocide, plague presents a uniquely dangerous threat in a fantastic world, where more-than-purely-epidemiological concerns might affect the spread of a disease/curse. The whole idea of 'a zombie plague' reflects this - imagine if those affected by a plague not only fall out of your society, but turn into enemies actively working against it...

7. Pressure from gradual environmental change...I think no book has shaped popular conceptions of collapse more than Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. I also think that is unfortunate; Diamond's core idea, that 'ecocide' - self-destruction through environmental abuse - has been a key factor in historical collapses - turns out to be ... well, probably very wrong. (Diamond is so opposed by many professional archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians, that you can even buy a counter-book of papers from a whole academic conference organized just to rebut his theories!). This is not to say that environmental change is unimportant historically for collapse - quite the contrary, in fact - but 'ecocide' as framed by Diamond and earlier scholars actually seems to clash with the available evidence almost wherever we look in detail [the issue is further complicated by present urgent concerns about environmental change: climate change, species extinction, pollution, etc., etc. etc. But saying that ecocide doesn't seem to have shaped past history doesn't actually get us off the hook today, because humanity never before has had the capacity to shape the earth's biosphere on the same scale that we have today. The future remains an undiscovered country].

Ok, but it looks more and more like some kind of environmental trouble - even if naturally caused, rather than manmade - has played key roles in many societies' collapses. Palaeoclimate data for the late Roman period now help us better understand what happened to one of history's greatest empires. As mentioned earlier, Classic Maya collapse looks very, very complex, but drought seems to have played some kind of central role. As noted above, in pre-modern societies economics was usually tied closely to food production, so any serious degradation in agricultural output meant bad news for those feeding the troops.

Thus, gradual deleterious changes over time can mean really bad news for your campaign setting's current masters. This might take many forms: climate change affecting heat and rainfall; the slow movement of rivers across the landscape (this is more likely to affect a single settlement than an entire society's wellbeing), silting up of important harbors, ice sheets advancing or retreating, etc., etc. In a fantasy setting, too, where the forces of nature may have very conscious agents or spokes-things, this could get really interesting.

8. Environmental catastrophe...BOOM! 'Vesuvius erupts, everyone dies' may not be a fair GM statement, but it certainly makes a dramatic way to change your setting. Here, again, we're likely dealing with crises that affect a locality more than an entire civilization, though the destruction of some key nodes might have wider ripple effects. Shift to something like (the popular understanding of) Noah's Flood, and you're talking a real society-killer. In a fantasy setting, the sky really is the limit for what you can throw at your world. But note that in real life, we humans are peskily resilient; even supervolcanoes turn out to be a part of the human experience.

I hope this has helped inspire some ideas about ways to cause trouble or 'downward change' for your campaign setting backstories.

Best wishes, happy gaming, and watch out for plagues that weaken armies so foreign conquerors can sweep in, or maybe bullion shortages that prevent paid maintenance of key harbors, leading to regime collapse, or...well, it's your turn now.


“The fall of the Empire," he commenced, and heard in imagination the crashing of worlds like bowling-bails being hurled down a skittle-alley. “is for most people shrouded in a mystery only less deep than the obscurity attending its foundation, and that although the former event is closer to us in time than the latter by some ten thousand years. The reason in both cases is the same, and so simple that it generally has to be pointed out before it is noticed. It is as difficult to maintain detailed records during a landslide as it is during an explosion.

“The erosive effect of ten millennia has stripped the deceitful flesh from the story of the Imperial rise; today we are fortunate enough to have only the skeleton arrayed before us. We know that we were borrowers: we know that we inherited the abandoned property—most significantly, the interstellar ships—of a people who matured and died in the galactic hub while we were struggling outward from our legendary planet of origin. We know that this chance bequest allowed our race to spread among millions of stars like an epidemic disease. We know that our reckless habit of spending our resources as though their store was infinite was sustained for the entire lifetime of the Argian Empire by the billion-vessel spacefleet of our mysterious benefactors. Details beyond this bare outline, however. can now almost certainly never be reclaimed. It is as though one were to blink and find a century had passed. Blink now, and man is creeping along the galactic rim, in those areas which were later to be regarded as the home of mutants and pirates—but which, significantly, were and remain the only areas where interstellar ships have been built by human beings. Blink again, and Argus is already a wealthy world, imposing economic domination on its neighbors like Phaidona. Blink once more, and the Empire's writ runs all the way to the Marches of Klareth, and the threshold of the Big Dark."

Now he was warming to his tale, the greatest in the checkered span of human history. His hooded eyes saw other sights than the plain stone walls of the tiny room: the note of uncertainty was fading from his voice.

“So total was the absorption of our borrowings into the pattern of human development," he continued, “that tens—perhaps hundreds—of billions of people were born and died without being able to conceive an alternative to the structure of the Empire. Yet something strained past its limit. Something was overburdened, and broke. And the Empire fell."

“The collapse left more worlds than we can count suspended, as it were, in a void between a glorious past and a future so bleak it has been nicknamed, already, the Long Night. Most relapsed towards barbarism; having been dependent for millennia on the tightly-knit network of galactic trade they could not support their own populations. Others, somewhat more fortunate, contrived to hold on to a portion of what they had formerly enjoyed. but at the expense of extreme privation and a near-total denial of individual liberty. An example in this category was Mercator, which conquered and then bled two nearby worlds to preserve itself. Again, there were worlds— including Argus itself, the galactic capitol—where the dissolution proceeded slowly enough for adjustments to be made without undue violence."

“The purpose of this present work. however, is to make a contribution towards the documentation of the first truly human expansion through the galaxy—one, that is, which does not depend on the leavings of another species. It may never take place: we may have squandered our energies too swiftly, and already be going into a permanent decline. On the optimistic assumption that the present trend is to be reversed, the seeds of such a regeneration may most likely be found on worlds sufficiently far from the cataclysmic effect of Argus’s decay to have maintained their society under the guidance of benevolent rulers, like Loudor. Klareth, and the subject of this study: my home world of Asconel."

     The shadow of that incredible death still lay over them when they gathered in the control room to watch the planet Delcadoré grow beyond the main ports. To break the intolerable silence between them, Vineta—recovered almost completely from her treatment at the hands of Korisu—spoke up.
     “What sort of a world is this one, now?”
     “Well,” Spartak commenced, “this was formerly one of the main garrison systems for the Imperial fleet, and when the Empire began to lose its outer reaches this was one of the—the foci, so to speak, on which retrenchments were made. I think it’s now effectively a frontier system. The Empire hasn’t: vanished, of course, but only shrunk to a fraction of its former size.”
     “That’s what’s worrying me,” Vix interjected. “I’ve tangled with certain bone-headed parties who seem to imagine the Empire still flourishes. For my part, I think it’s now a farce, and will only prove a handicap to some new and more stable foundation.”
     “Right now, that’s what it means!” Vix replied in white-lipped fury, and gestured towards the viewport which moments ago had held only Delcadoré, its larger moon and the stars beyond.
     Now, like a monstrous fish swimming leisurely to intercept smaller prey, there loomed the gigantic shape of an Imperial ship of the line, the ancient Argian symbols blazoned at prow and stern, for all the galaxy as though Argus could still issue orders to a million planets, and prepared to back this false contention with the all-too-real support of fire-power equal to the output of a minor sun.

     Spartak’s heart lifted, though only briefly, when he saw what forces the Empire could still command—there might be a thousand vessels, he guessed, docked here at what huge illuminated signs still declared to be the Headquarters Port of the Third Imperial Fleet. Then he took a second look at those monstrous hulls, ranged like a forest of branchless metal trees across the concrete plain, and realized he had failed to make an obvious deduction. The Empire, by all accounts, was struggling against decay and rebellion all through the galaxy—why then were so many ships out of the sky at one place and one time? And he began to spot the clues which accounted for their presence: gashed hulls from distant battles, plating removed by the hundreds of square feet to expose the vital equipment within which was being cannibalized to maintain those ships still capable of flight.
     Maybe somewhere out near the rim there was a world where ships stood like this in vast numbers, but not antiques used to the limit by reckless commanders—new ships, human-made, ready to bring inwards to the hub those who for ten millennia had been harried away from the Argian domains and had bided their time on the threshold of intergalactic emptiness, waiting for the inevitable collapse.
     Vix vented his anger on them in a single blast of abuse and complaint. They ignored him as they might have ignored a breath of wind. Spartak, urging Vix aside, attempted to tackle them on a more rational basis, inquiring the authority for “Imperial requisition” and contesting the legality of giving orders to non-Imperial citizens.
     The officials sighed and produced guns. It seemed that this had become the standard substitute for argument on Delcadoré.
     All three of them were taken—for Vineta refused to stay alone aboard the ship after her experience on Annanworld—to wait in a large, fight anteroom outside the office of the port controller. There was no one else there apart from a man of early middle age, who to their horror lacked both a leg and an arm. They could not refrain from staring at him; on a world retuming to barbarism after the withdrawal of Imperial support, such a sight might have been expected, but Delcadoré was supposed to be an outpost of the still viable Argian civilization.
     The man cracked a bitter smile as he saw their eyes covertly turning on his injuries.
     “I’m not pretty any longer, am I?” he rasped. “Well, not to wonder at that! If you’d been picked out of an airless wreck the way I was, you’d have A fit of coughing interrupted his angry words, and racked his body for a good minute before he could answer Spartak’s tense questions.
     “Oh, sure they’ll fix me up sooner or later. But that can wait, they tell me. I’m the only survivor from my whole team, and all they want to know is where they went wrong. I’m going to tell ’em, too! Without mincing my words!”
     “What happened?” Vix snapped.
     “Fools—gas-brained fools! I could have told them…” The man’s eyes were unfocused, staring through the wall at a faraway disaster. “Hiring pirates, that’s what they’ve hit on as their latest brain-wave! A whole Imperial fleet revolts under a commander who thinks he can do better than the mud-heads we have in charge at the moment—and who’s to say he couldn’t? Sometimes I think I could! And what do they do to combat this? They hire a ramshackle bunch of pirate ships, thinking to keep them from pillaging some Imperial planet this way, send out a command echelon to give the orders—that's where I got involved—and sit back and pour some more ancinard. And what happens? Exactly what any schoolchild would have said: you can’t give pirates orders, so they break and run, and the lmperial-trained rebels pick them off like scooting watersliders, and then the lmperials-that-were loot the very planet the pirates were aiming for, to make up for the inconvenience and minor losses they suffered!"
     “Which fleet?” Vix demanded.
     “The Eighteenth." The injured man stared at him. “What other did you think it was?"
     “What do you mean, ‘what other’?” Vix countered. “The Twenty-Seventh is wiped out, as I well know—but it could have been the Tenth, or the Fortieth, or the Forty-Second, or—” He broke off, the other man’s eyes burning at him.
     “Are you sure?” the cripple whispered, after glancing around to make sure there was no one else in earshot.
     “Of course. l’ve just come from Annanworld, before that I was at Batyra Dap, and before that Poowadya, and before that—"
     “All these fleets are still operating? In revolt, but still operating?”
     “At the last hearing, yes. Bar the Twenty-Seventh, as I mentioned.”
     “The liars,” the cripple whispered. “The dirty, double-tongued, deceiving, damnable—”
     “Vix of Asconel!” a speaker cried from the wall. “Go to the door which will open on your right. Bring your companions with you.”
     Puzzled at the cripple’s reaction, Spartak lingered to put a final question to him, and got the answer he had half expected but was barely able to credit. If a high-ranking officer of the crack Third Imperial Fleet had been lied to about the fate of so many other fleets, lying must have become the general policy of the rump Empire. How long could it stand on falsehood? He had envisaged another century or so before its prestige diminished to the point at which rebels and outlaws were tempted clear down to the hub—ultimately perhaps to Argus itself. But if they were already so desperate at the reduction of their loyalist forces that they were hiring pirates as mercenaries, the word would travel fast, and the next time the Empire would find pirates and rebels combined against it; there would be an end to futile shifts like trying to make the two enemies destroy each other.

     “Now you listen to me!” Vix burst out. “First off, my ship is mine and I’m not handing it over to anyone who still has delusions of glory about the Empire! Second, my business here is important not only to me but to my home planet, and I’m not going to be cheated out of it. And thirdly—"
     “Oh, shut up," the woman said. “Third is probably going to be something about not being an Imperial citizen. You're an Imperial citizen if you were bom on any planet which was ever part of the Empire, and Asconel was—your Warden still holds his fief from Argus, and his space fleet too.”
     “The blazes he does! The present Warden’s a usurper, and he brought his fleet with him from some world called Brinze which the Imperial records don’t show!”
     “I wouldn't know,” the woman shrugged. “Don’t think I have time to keep up with what's happening on backwater planets like that, do you? What’s left of the Empire generates enough problems to keep my attention fully occupied. So swallow this, and digest it at leisure.

     He was appalled beyond measure. If this experience was anything to go by…and he felt it was, for the odds against a random sample in a society organized on a multi-billion population basis like the Empire being anomalous were tremendously high…it appeared that the chief tools of the Imperial power had been reduced to lies, propaganda and the threat of obliteration.
     Small comfort, in view of that, to know that the galaxy now held forces too strong to be impressed by the last of those three instruments!

     The stretcher grated over the edge of the platform and was slammed flat. Blue eyes in a face which would normally have been ruddy and healthy, but had turned sallow, stared at the sky, not even turning to see into whose care she had been committed.
     “Catatone!” Spartak thundered, and rage so great that it overcame the force of the conditioning stormed into his limbs.
     “What did you say?” Vix cried.
     “She’s under catatone! It’s a paralyzant—they first got it from the poison of the Loudor ichneumon.” He stamped to the guardrail and stared down at the gray-haired woman.
     “Correct!” she applauded mockingly.
     Vix plucked at his arm. “Isn’t it as well?” he whispered. “After all, to have her—”
     Spartak brushed aside the other’s hand. “It’s the cruelest thing in the galaxy!” he blazed. “Because it only paralyzes! It doesn’t dull pain! How’d you like to be unable even to moisten your eyes by blinking—or move to relieve a cramped leg—or control your bowels?”
     He heard Vix draw his breath in sharply, and from the corner of his eye saw that the redhead was staring with dismay at the girl’s taut body.
     “And don’t you know why they did it?” Spartak raged on. “Because there’s so much lying and deceit going on in this once-proud Empire they’re afraid a mind-reader could tell a few unpleasant truths to the people they’re duping—like the man we met earlier, shy of his arm and his leg!”

     His second brother had aged noticeably. He would in fact be—Spartak calculated rapidly—forty-one, which in the heyday of galactic civilization had been late youth, not early middle age. But the extreme wealth of the Empire was needed to support freely available geriatric treatment; now, and for the foreseeable future, only those fortunate enough to inhabit secure planets like Annanworld would enjoy the old benefits. He had a passing vision of peasants grubbing on decadent worlds, mating in their teens, the women wom out by childbirth at age thirty. It was not a pleasant idea, and Spartak spoke hastily to distract his mind.
     "Tiorin, it's incredible that we should have located you!"
     "Not really." Even Tiorin's voice had changed from what Spartak recalled: grown deeper and become colored with a sort of drawl to suggest that he weighed every single word. "I've been explaining to Vix how it happened. Right now, he tells me, you're feeling very annoyed at the pretensions of the rump of the Empire, but it saved my life by still possessing some of the old advantages—an efficient law force, swift communications…Accordingly, I had it noised about that I'd gone to beg Imperial aid in the deposition of the usurper at the court of Argus."
     "I still don't see why you didn't," Vix muttered.
     ‘You of all people should know," Tiorin retorted. "Holding what it has is beyond the Empire's power now—whole fleets are rebelling and setting up on their own…What chance would I have had of securing aid except on terms that would be ruinous to Asconel? Do you know what price the old Twenty-Seventh Fleet set for their return to Imperial jurisdiction? You, Spartak?" On receiving headshakes, he concluded, "The free right to sack the planet Norge!"
     Spartak, shocked beyond measure, pushed aside the empty jug of broth. "But Norge was one of the last Imperial outposts beyond Delcadoré!"
     "Still is. The price was refused. But the point is: the price was set. I'd have had to promise something similar in respect of Asconel, and I wouldn't have had the heart." Tiorin scowled.

From THE ALTAR ON ASCONEL by John Brunner (1965)

Can a pattern be discerned in the failure of major institutions? This is question I ask myself today, and in asking the question in a systematic way — i.e., by proposing such a pattern and examining its potential explanatory power as well as its weaknesses — I find that it raises more questions than it answers. This is promising, in so far as questions suggest further inquiries.

I have written about system failure in several posts, especially in Complex Systems and Complex Failure and Induced Failure in Complex Adaptive Systems. However, these posts came at the problem of failure from a systems perspective, and what I have in mind now is something more in line with my conception of agency (as I have detailed his in several posts, e.g., Agent-Centered Metaphysics).

For the purposes of the failure cycle below, I ask that the reader at this point only think of the institution in question as a nation-state (for simplicity’s sake), and I will refer to this institution as “a state”:

1. A state with weak institutions begins to fail.

2. Institutional weaknesses are exploited by criminal enterprises, exacerbating state failure.

3. Failure becomes so acute that outside powers intervene.

4. Intervention ameliorates the immediate and acute failure, but leaves a state with weak institutions vulnerable to failure.

I will call these four stages of state failure incipient failure, criminal exaptation, outside intervention, and partial amelioration (if I wanted to be tendentious I could call these last two steps nation building).

As I wrote above, even to suggest a pattern of failure poses more questions than it answers. Here are, respectively, some of the immediate questions that occur to me in this context:

Incipient failure — Why are state institutions weak? Can this systemic weakness be traced back to an anterior cause? Why do institutions fail? It would be helpful here to make a distinction between chronic institutional failure and traumatic institutional failure. Some institutions are in a state of near-chronic failure, while other institutions are able to function until presented with a traumatic break with routine to which the institution cannot respond. These are different forms of institutional failure, with different causes. However, they are all linked together in subtle ways in history. A traumatic failure may initiate a failure cycle in which institutional failure becomes chronic and the self-fulfilling source of its own failure.

Criminal exaptation — What kind of criminals exploit institutional failures? To what end? Power? Money? Mischief? What kind of criminal enterprises flourish in the interstices of failing state institutions, and which criminal enterprises hasten state failure? There is a profound difference between the criminality of ideologically motivated terrorists and financially motivated drug traffickers. Is either more likely to hasten state failure? Must we distinguish here between internal and external criminal elements? Transnational criminal elements are like corporations with capital and expertise that can be brought in from the outside in order to exploit the conditions of a failing state. Almost every state has its internal mafiosi, who profit from partial failure but who would be adversely affected by catastrophic state failure that brings about outside intervention.

Outside intervention — What triggers acute institutional failure? What triggers intervention? Who intervenes? Why? What is the desired outcome of intervention? What is the actual outcome of intervention? How long does intervention last? Is there a clear distinction between intervention and occupation?

Partial amelioration — Why does intervention on the pretext of amelioration of failed institutions almost never result in strengthened institutions? Why does partial amelioration of institutional failure so rarely result in an improving base on which further progress can be made toward robust institutions? Why does it seem to be impossible to create strong institutions de novo? Burke and Joseph de Maistre have an obvious answer to the latter question, which I discussed in Fairness and the Social Contract. Why does a newly founded or radically reformed state have such difficulty in crafting robust institutions that can develop and grow and strengthen? After all, existent states today with strong institutions had to start at some time in the past. Have historical changes made it more difficult to found a state than was the case in the past?

As I observed above, a nation-state is only one kind of institution that can fail. For our present purposes, the nation-state is interesting because it is an institution of institutions. However, any sufficiently large institution will be an institution built up from subordinate institutions. An ideal theory of institutional failure would address any and all possible institutions. But set that aside for a moment, and I will make a few more remarks about state institutions more generally, which can include any large political institution of our time, from nation-states to city-states like Singapore to non-state entities like NGOs.

To speak in term of the strength of institutions invites a certain facile misunderstanding. One of the most persistently seductive models of robust institutions is that of the law and order state. Many politicians make a fetish of policing, and equate the strength of a state with the strength of its legal institutions, especially the strength of the enforcement arm of legal institutions. This idea coincides with state power being the ability of the state to impose its will by force. This is an all-too-familiar image, and it is rooted in the geographically defined nation-state’s need to enforce the territorial principle in law in order to provide proof of its own legitimacy.

The need for heavy policing is a sign of lack of social consensus. Where there is a strong social consensus, very little policing is needed. People can largely go about their business unmolested because they are largely doing what comes naturally to them. Thus it is easy to see that the most robust institutions are those that emerge from social consensus. In so far as policing emerges from a lack of social consensus, policing is the sign of a weak state, not a strong state.

The strongest states with the strongest institutions will be those states that are able to honestly discern the social consensus of the peoples of the state, and to formalize this social consensus in their constitution and legal institutions. In this way, the laws of the land would reinforce a social consensus already extant, and the social consensus would reinforce the laws. This virtuous cycle of strong state institutions invites us to speculate on its mirror image, which would be the vicious cycle of failing state institutions: a lack of social consensus undermines the law, while the law’s inability to codify a social consensus undermines the possibility of social consensus.

With these reflections it would now be possible to restate my initial failure cycle in terms of state structures that fail to reflect social consensus, for example:

1. A state lacking social consensus in its legal structure begins to show evidence of institutional failure.

2. Institutional weaknesses are exploited by separatist elements violently pursuing a state structure that will institutionalize their preferred social consensus, exacerbating state failure.

3. Failure becomes so acute that outside powers intervene in the attempt to stop the break up of the state.

4. Intervention ameliorates the immediate and acute failure, but leaves a state with institutions still weak because still lacking social consensus and therefore vulnerable to failure.

This is indeed one form that state failure can take. If outside powers intervene in the attempt to force Azawad to rejoin with Mali, this would be a simplified, schematic summary of Mali’s state failure. However, this is an overly specific account, and I would prefer a more general analysis that is more universally applicable to political failure. This more specific account answers some of the questions that I posed in my exploration of the more general account, but it answers them only by narrowing the focus to a particular failure due to a particular form of criminality (which, but the way, is one of the SCO’s “three evil forces,” and thus not the best example).

Further reflection on the questions that I have posed here will be necessary to arriving at the requisite analytical clarity that might make possible a definite formulation of the failure cycle.


      The stranger said, “My name is Hober Mallow. I come from a far province.
     Barr nodded and smiled, “Your tongue convicted you of that long ago. I am Onum Barr of Siwenna — and once Patrician of the Empire.”
     “Then this is Siwenna. I had only old maps to guide me.
     “They would have to be old, indeed, for star-positions to be misplaced.” “My house is poor and my resources few. You may share what I have if your stomach can endure black bread and dried corn.”
     Mallow shook his head, “No, I have eaten, and I can’t stay. All I need are the directions to the center of government.”
     “That is easily enough done, and poor though I am, deprives me of nothing. Do you mean the capital of the planet, or of the Imperial Sector?”
     The younger man’s eyes narrowed, “Aren’t the two identical? Isn’t this Siwenna?”
     The old patrician nodded slowly, “Siwenna, yes. But Siwenna is no longer capital of the Normannic Sector. Your old map has misled you after all. The stars may not change even in centuries, but political boundaries are all too fluid.
     “That’s too bad. In fact, that’s very bad. Is the new capital far off?”
     “It’s on Orsha II. Twenty parsecs off. Your map will direct you. How old is it?”
     “A hundred and fifty years.”
     “That old?” The old man sighed. “History has been crowded since. Do you know any of it?”
     Mallow shook his bead slowly.

     Barr said, “You’re fortunate. It has been an evil time for the provinces, but for the reign of Stannell VI, and he died fifty years ago. Since that time, rebellion and ruin, ruin and rebellion.” Barr wondered if he were growing garrulous. It was a lonely life out here, and he had so little chance to talk to men.
     Mallow said with sudden sharpness, “Ruin, eh? You sound as if the province were impoverished.”
     “Perhaps not on an absolute scale. The physical resources of twenty-five first-rank planets take a long time to use up. Compared to the wealth of the last century, though, we have gone a long way downhill — and there is no sign of turning, not yet. Why are you so interested in all this, young man? You are all alive and your eyes shine!”
     The trader came near enough to blushing, as the faded eyes seemed to look too deep into his and smile at what they saw.
     He said, “Now look here. I’m a trader out there — out toward the rim of the Galaxy. I’ve located some old maps, and I’m out to open new markets. Naturally, talk of impoverished provinces disturbs me. You can’t get money out of a world unless money’s there to be got. Now how’s Siwenna, for instance?”
     The old man leaned forward, “I cannot say. It will do even yet, perhaps. But you a trader? You look more like a fighting man. You hold your hand near your gun and there is a scar on your jawbone.”
     Mallow jerked his head, “There isn’t much law out there where I come from. Fighting and scars are part of a trader’s overhead. But fighting is only useful when there’s money at the end, and if I can get it without, so much the sweeter. Now will I find enough money here to make it worth the fighting? I take it I can find the fighting easily enough.”
     “Easily enough,” agreed Barr. “You could join Wiscard’s remnants in the Red Stars. I don’t know, though, if you’d call that fighting or piracy. Or you could join our present gracious viceroy — gracious by right of murder, pillage, rapine, and the word of a boy Emperor, since rightfully assassinated.” The patrician’s thin cheeks reddened. His eyes closed and then opened, bird-bright.
     “You don’t sound very friendly to the viceroy, Patrician Barr,” said Mallow. “What if I’m one of his spies?”
     “What if you are?” said Barr, bitterly. “What can you take?” He gestured a withered arm at the bare interior of the decaying mansion.
     “Your life.”
     “It would leave me easily enough. It has been with me five years too long. But you are not one of the viceroy’s men. If you were, perhaps even now instinctive self-preservation would keep my mouth closed.”
     “How do you know?”

     The old man laughed, “You seem suspicious — Come, I’ll wager you think I’m trying to trap you into denouncing the government. No, no. I am past politics.”
     “Past politics? Is a man ever past that? The words you used to describe the viceroy — what were they? Murder, pillage, all that. You didn’t sound objective. Not exactly. Not as if you were past politics.”
     The old man shrugged, “Memories sting when they come suddenly. Listen! Judge for yourself! When Siwenna was the provincial capital, I was a patrician and a member of the provincial senate. My family was an old and honored one. One of my great-grandfathers had been—No, never mind that. Past glories are poor feeding.”
     “I take it,” said Mallow, “there was a civil war, or a revolution.”
     Barr’s face darkened. “Civil wars are chronic in these degenerate days, but Siwenna had kept apart. Under Stannell VI, it had almost achieved its ancient prosperity. But weak emperors followed, and weak emperors mean strong viceroys, and our last viceroy — the same Wiscard, whose remnants still prey on the commerce among the Red Stars — aimed at the Imperial Purple. He wasn’t the first to aim. And if he had succeeded, he wouldn’t have been the first to succeed.
     “But he failed. For when the Emperor’s Admiral approached the province at the head of a fleet, Siwenna itself rebelled against its rebel viceroy.” He stopped, sadly.
     Mallow found himself tense on the edge of his seat, and relaxed slowly, “Please continue, sir.”
     “Thank you,” said Barr, wearily. “It’s kind of you to humor an old man. They rebelled; or I should say, we rebelled, for I was one of the minor leaders. Wiscard left Siwenna, barely ahead of us, and the planet, and with it the province, were thrown open to the admiral with every gesture of loyalty to the Emperor. Why we did this, — I’m not sure. Maybe we felt loyal to the symbol, if not the person, of the Emperor, —a cruel and vicious child. Maybe we feared the horrors of a siege.”
     “Well?” urged Mallow, gently.
     “Well, came the grim retort, “that didn’t suit the admiral. He wanted the glory of conquering a rebellious province and his men wanted the loot such conquest would involve. So while the people were still gathered in every large city, cheering the Emperor and his admiral, he occupied all armed centers, and then ordered the population put to the nuclear blast.”
     “On what pretext?”
     “On the pretext that they had rebelled against their viceroy, the Emperor’s anointed. And the admiral became the new viceroy, by virtue of one month of massacre, pillage and complete horror. I had six sons. Five died — variously. I had a daughter. I hope she died, eventually. I escaped because I was old. I came here, too old to cause even our viceroy worry.” He bent his gray head, “They left me nothing, because I had helped drive out a rebellious governor and deprived an admiral of his glory.”
     Mallow sat silent, and waited. Then, “What of your sixth son?” he asked softly.
     “Eh?” Barr smiled acidly. “He is safe, for he has joined the admiral as a common soldier under an assumed name. He is a gunner in the viceroy’s personal fleet. Oh, no, I see your eyes. He is not an unnatural son. He visits me when he can and gives me what he can. He keeps me alive. And some day, our great and glorious viceroy will grovel to his death, and it will be my son who will be his executioner.”
     “And you tell this to a stranger? You endanger your son.”
     “No. I help him, by introducing a new enemy.

     And were I a friend of the viceroy, as I am his enemy, I would tell him to string outer space with ships, clear to the rim of the Galaxy.”
     “There are no ships there?”
     “Did you find any? Did any space-guards question your entry? With ships few enough, and the bordering provinces filled with their share of intrigue and iniquity, none can be spared to guard the barbarian outer suns. No danger ever threatened us from the broken edge of the Galaxy, —until you came.”
     “I? I’m no danger.”
     “There will be more after you.”
     Mallow shook his head slowly, “I’m not sure I understand you.”
     “Listen!” There was a feverish edge to the old man’s voice. “I knew you when you entered. You have a force-shield about your body, or had when I first saw you.”
     Doubtful silence, then, “Yes, —I had.”
     “Good. That was a flaw, but you didn’t know that. There are some things I know. It’s out of fashion in these decaying times to be a scholar. Events race and flash past and who cannot fight the tide with nuclear-blast in hand is swept away, as I was. But I was a scholar, and I know that in all the history of nucleics, no portable force-shield was ever invented. We have force-shields — huge, lumbering powerhouses that will protect a city, or even a ship, but not one, single man.”
     “Ah?” Mallow’s underlip thrust out. “And what do you deduce from that?”
     “There have been stories percolating through space. They travel strange paths and become distorted with every parsec, —but when I was young there was a small ship of strange men, who did not know our customs and could not tell where they came from. They talked of magicians at the edge of the Galaxy; magicians who glowed in the darkness, who flew unaided through the air, and whom weapons would not touch.
     “We laughed. I laughed, too. I forgot it till today. But you glow in the darkness, and I don’t think my blaster, if I had one, would hurt you. Tell me, can you fly through air as you sit there now?”
     Mallow said calmly, “I can make nothing of all this.”
     Barr smiled, “I’m content with the answer. I do not examine my guests. But if there are magicians; if you are one of them; there may some day be a great influx of them, or you. Perhaps that would be well. Maybe we need new blood.”

     He muttered soundlessly to himself, then, slowly, “But it works the other way, too. Our new viceroy also dreams, as did our old Wiscard.
     “Also after the Emperor’s crown?”
     Barr nodded, “My son hears tales. In the viceroy’s personal entourage, one could scarcely help it. And he tells me of them. Our new viceroy would not refuse the Crown if offered, but he guards his line of retreat. There are stories that, failing Imperial heights, he plans to carve out a new Empire in the Barbarian hinterland. It is said, but I don’t vouch for this, that he has already given one of his daughters as wife to a Kinglet somewhere in the uncharted Periphery.

From THE BIG AND THE LITTLE by Isaac Asimov (1944)

Decline And Fall Gallery

Hard Times

(ed note: HARD TIMES is what they call a "sourcebook" for the role playing game Megatraveller. What this means is not only does it have game-specific "scenarios" that we don't care about, but also includes details about the background and worldbuilding which are definitely relevant to our interests. In particular it shows the step-by-step process of the galactic empire decay, due to how many organizations depend upon each other for survival. For the want of a nail and all that. If your business is built on just-in-time manufacturing, this is a death warrant.

Hard Times author Dr. Gannon has been a subject matter expert for the Pentagon, Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy (CNO/SSG and ONR), NATO, DARPA, NRO, DHS, NASA, and several other organizations with which he signed many a NDAs.

In Hard Times, the cause of the Traveller Third Imperium's decline and fall is a civil war, instigated with the assasination of Emperor Strephon and his immediate heir. The current self-crowned emperor, Strephon's mentally unstable nephew Lucan, made things much worse by being a psychotic bastard. As the war drags on Lucan becomes more and more hysterical, and resorts to even more horrific war crimes.)

      I don't remember when it all started to change, when each starport looked a little more rundown than the last, when starships became fewer and farther between. It was sometime after 1120. What I do remember is we finally turned our backs on the Core and charted a course for the Frontier by late 1124.
     But there was no Frontier remote enough to remain unaffected by the tides of war or its destructive eddies. Instead of the increasing paranoia, insularity and authoritarian mindset of the Core, we found the Outlands full of dying backwater planets.

From The Memoirs of Trevor Scotius (a pseudonym), starmerc/merchant captain


     The Rebellion has wrecked the Imperium as a unified political entity. However, as is often the case with wreckage, some of the remaining pieces are larger than others. Hard Times portrays this 'new" incarnation of the Imperium-a collection of separate interstellar states surrounded by blasted, abandoned battlefields.
     The interstellar states are centered on the areas still controlled by each of the respective factions of the Rebellion. For the most part, these power centers were untouched by the depredations of war. With their industrial and population centers intact, these safe areas carry on in an essentially pre-Rebellion fashion.
     The regions beyond these cores of safety have a different story to tell. The Frontier around the Safes were aided and supplied by their allied factions. Thus they managed to retain much of their technology and industry despite being repeatedly visited by combat.
     Beyond the Frontiers are the starkest tragedies of the Rebellion. These no man's lands, trapped between gigantic warring factions, bore the brunt of the savage war that raged across the former heart of Imperial civilization and culture. The ruin visited on them was not relieved by outside aid. Industries, technologies and societies staggered, stumbled and fell.
     Tragically, these regions can be further divided into areas of real suffering, the Outlands, and areas of abject misery, the Wilds. While the Outlands were simply abandoned by retreating factions, the Wilds were additionally brutalized by repeated, agonizing combat.
     These four environments—Safe, Frontier, Outland and Wild—now constitute the terrain of the new Imperium. The first type does not differ radically from pre-Rebellion Imperial society and is not dealt with here. However, the last three are new environments within the MegaTraveller universe. They offer fresh possibilities for adventure and for a flavor unique to the period presented in Hard Times.

Part I, year 1122 to 1125 (Background)

     I guess it was around 1125 when it really started sinking in that the Imperium was gone. You notice things like that because people start using new labels for things, like "Third Imperium." Yeah, I know it was supposedly already called the Third Imperium, but not by regular people. While we were living in it, it was always the Imperium, you know? Who cared about any others.
     So when people started talking about the Third Imperium, you knew all of a sudden it was over. It had been consigned to history, along with all of those other things and people with numbers stuck to them. And then you think, well what do we call ourselves now? Everybody'd been talking about how hard times were, how it takes hard times to find out what you're made of, and how you should be thankful for what you've got in such hard times. Eventually someone just started using a capital "H"and a capital "T." Who knows what they'll call it 100 years from now, but right now, "Hard Times"seems pretty accurate.

From the unfinished manuscript Oral History of the Interregnum, edited by Dr. Terkel Hadushiggar, ca. 1129.

     The carnage wrought by several years of warfare has only set in motion forces that will continue to tear down worlds that never heard a shot fired in anger.
     The unified Imperial economy has been dealt a mortal wound. And while it is true that a rising tide raises all boats, it is time to learn the reverse is also true: An ebbing tide lowers all boats and leaves a great many of them stranded on the rocks.
     Worlds are dying, but different worlds die at different rates. Some die quickly and painfully, while others die slowly in absolute agony. Either way, the human cost is staggering. But extraordinary people—otherwise referred to as player characters (the people who are playing the Traveller RPG game)— can sometimes mitigate these effects. Sometimes they can slow them down enough to allow some of the innocents to escape. And sometimes by weighing in with their talents and determination, they can tip the scales from death to life, if that is their intent.
     Make no mistake, in the post-Rebellion environment there are forces of darkness and of light, and the PCs can be agents of either. Which they will be, and how much impact their acts will have, are the questions treated in Hard Times

Road to Hard Times

     The Third Imperium is predominantly noted for being the first empire in which two branches of humanity held the reigns of power conjointly (it is a long story but the Vilani are descendants of Terran human primitives transplanted to other worlds 300,000 years ago by an ancient alien race). It is also noteworthy for the unique blend of conservatism and vitality which this sharing of power produced.
     The Solomani ("Sol men", i.e., people from Terra) tendency toward innovation and conquest was tempered by the traditional Vilani values of restraint and caution.
     As a result, the Third Imperium achieved an impressive balance between expansion and consolidation, international vigor and domestic security. However, despite the longevity of the Third Imperium and its many noteworthy achievements, it is perhaps best remembered for its fragile governmental structure and its final, tragic disintegration.

From Imperial Stars: A History of Three Imperiums by hu-Tugul Ackerson


     Aftermaths are inevitably longer than the wars that cause them. And the aftermath of the War of the Rebellion is no exception.
     Hard Times begins in 1125 (about 5,643 CE). The fighting is effectively over: The combatants are too drained to mount the massive campaigns that characterized the first five years of the Rebellion. The factions are now facing the reality of long-term independence and a new political order—but the actual condition of most of the former Imperium continues to worsen.
     Even after the last great fleet actions of 1121, the factions continued to hammer away at each other with what force they had left. However, limited resources dictated warfare to devolve into banditry, surgical strikes and terrorism. Resources, which could not be secured for future use were destroyed in order to deny them to the enemy. The space lanes became too dangerous to travel. Trade continued to shrivel up. Contact and communication died away to an intermittent trickle. Most planetary economies retracted; others imploded. Populations decreased; governments grew oppressive; and pirates thrived.
     This outcome was not what most military or economic experts forecast. Each faction’s chief analysts had predicted that the Rebellion would be resolved in five years, six at the most. They predicted minimal civilian casualties, with acceptable levels of damage to industry and commerce. Encouraged by the comparatively positive tone of these predictions, many faction leaders imagined that a sharp military victory would crush the will and organization of the adversary, and the Rebellion would be over.
     But as 001-1125 (day one of year 1125) dawned on Capitol—eight and a half years after the hostilities began—it was quite clear the experts were wrong. Only a very few intelligence agencies and megacorporations had accurately foreseen the outcome of the conflict, an outcome they referred to hopefully as the Short Dusk (insted of the dreaded "Long Night"). But to the sophont in the street, it was simply the beginning of Hard Times.


     By the end of 1116, the majority of experts had already made the crucial mistake that ruined their projections regarding the outcome of the Rebellion. This tragic flaw was inherent in their very first theoretical assumption—that the Civil War of 604-622 was an appropriate historical model for the upcoming events of the Rebellion. Although such a mistake is understandable—the Civil War of 604-622 being the Third Imperium’s only prior experience with internal strife—the experts couldn’t have been more in error when they selected it as an example. The Civil War of 604-622 was not a civil war at all. It was a series of military coups, with minimal civilian involvement. During that conflict, the political infrastructure of the Imperium attempted to detach itself from the fierce struggles between the military kingpins who collected around Core in pursuit of the Iridium Throne. The admirals held no public loyalty, held no right to specific territories and held no claim to the Iridium Throne other than their willingness to kill to obtain it. In contrast, the legitimate organs of state continued to operate without interruption: The Imperial bureaucracy continued with business as usual, administering the affairs of the Third Imperium while the admirals fought over who would ultimately rule.
     Since no admiral had a clear political or ancestral claim to any given region, all were outsiders to every planet and system they visited. Those few admirals who attempted to impose themselves as local rulers quickly became quagmired in the difficulties posed by regional resistance. They found that battlewagons were easier to smash than labor strikes and planetary assaults were simpler to defeat than protest marches. Inevitably, the admirals always gave up empire-building in favor of empire-stealing. After all, if they won, they wouldn’t need to build an empire—they could simply claim the extant one as the spoils of war.
     The worlds of the Imperium encouraged the admirals to keep their war between themselves. When visited by the fleets of the Imperial contenders, the planets paid tithes, provided the logistical support required of them and did not complain too much. They knew that eventually the admirals would leave, and life would return to normal. Unfortunately, the tendency in this’civil war“ to restrict violence to certain select political strata was not a hallmark of the Rebellion.
     The Rebellion was—and is—a true civil war. From the very outset, political rivals with competing claims rallied civilian populations to their cause. Fleets went forth not as the embodiment of one admiral’s desire to rule, but as an extension of publicly supported policy. This was not just a conflict between soldiers—this was a war between common people, between competing regions, cultures and political ideas.
     Consequently, just as the enabling foundation of the war was civil, so were its casualties. Industry, commerce, transportation, even agriculture and population centers became targets. Damage suffered by a faction’s populace vindicated counterstrikes. The upward spiral of violence took an increasingly heavy toll on the structure of the Imperium itself.


     It took the experts several years to accept that the Rebellion was different from any previous type of conflict within the Imperium. The military was not used to managing a conflict whose battleground was also its logistical base. Wars with the Zhodani and Solomani, plus various pacification campaigns, gave the Imperial military establishment an institutional predisposition toward conquest at any cost: Damage done today could be rebuilt tomorrow or left for the enemy to handle.
     But the Rebellion was a more complex conflict. Every faction’s logistical base overlapped onto its area of military operations. Therefore, it was crucial for objectives to be taken and defended intact—there was no time for rebuilding if war production was to retain the momentum required for victory. Strategic success required a deft military hand and an understanding of the subtle interactions of warfare, commerce and politics. An inappropriately timed tactical victory could in fact be a strategic defeat.
     Few leaders of the Imperium appreciated this. Those few who did had little opportunity to benefit from it: Lucan’s headlong offensives demanded stiff, absolute responses. His irresponsibility as a ruler and unsuitability as a military planner not only squandered his own sizeable resources, but ultimately invalidated any measured responses undertaken by his rivals. Consequently, no single individual contributed more to the downfall of the Imperium than the man who—rightly or wrongly—sat upon its throne.


     The Rebellion’s most combat-intensive period extended from late 1118 to mid-1120. It was then that the factions strove to attain the key objective in the conflict—control of the high-population worlds. Predictably, but tragically, the battle to control these worlds led unerringly to their ultimate ruination. The intense conflict that surrounded them shattered markets and port facilities, and drove off all commercial shipping. Thus, the huge, import-driven economies of these multibillion-person leviathans retracted—or collapsed.
     Few of these worlds were ever self-sufficient. As foodstuff imports dwindled, rationing was introduced, followed immediately by panic. The law levels of these worlds—typically high to begin with—grew more oppressive as governments were forced to adopt draconian measures to maintain control. All too often, the result was revolt, anarchy and ruin.
     This result was inevitable, though no less tragic, on high-population worlds with inhospitable environments. With their needs for food, water and air always close to the edge, their slide into chaos was swifter and more absolute—and involved millions of civilian casualties.
     Consequently, most high-population worlds quickly lost their value as strategic objectives. Instead, they devolved into chaotic cesspools of misery and desperation. Although few were targets of major attacks, these prizes of the Rebellion became the war’s most tragic casualties.

WINDING DOWN: 1120-1121

     The Imperium started the war with 320 numbered fleets and an equal number of reserve fleets. By 1121, fewer than 95 numbered and 130 reserve fleets remained. Most had been reduced to 60% strength or less, with the heaviest losses in the BatRons (battleship squadrons) and CruRons (cruiser squadrons). Losses were also severe in the ground forces. As the front moved back and forth, countless divisions were stranded due to insufficient resources for evacuation. Without orbital support, few units survived more than 48 hours past the arrival of an enemy fleet.
     Lucan, having held a disproportionately large share of the military resources to begin with, was the only faction leader who could still mount one last major offensive in 1121. So he did. Lucan’s final offensive against Gushemege Sector was a Pyrrhic victory: His forces were too weakened to hold the territory they had purchased at so high a price in trained personnel and high-tech equipment.
     The other faction leaders had already realized what Lucan refused to accept: The war might not be over, but it was collapsing under its own weight. Neither the personnel nor the equipment was left for further offensives. What front-line quality units remained were now barely able to defend each faction’s core. And control over peripheral areas continued to recede.
     But even more telling than the lack of personnel and equipment was the lack of logistical support. Commerce and industry were devastated. Manufacturing centers watched their shipments of raw materials being reduced to a trickle. The remaining bulk carriers were needed to ensure the immediate defensive and minimal industrial needs of the faction core areas. Even had the combat forces existed, there was no way to reprise the massive offensives of 1118-1120. The supply resources to empower them were gone. Like exhausted prize-fighters, the contenders for the Iridium Throne staggered away from each other and collapsed in their respective corners.


     As the faction leaders learned, the costs of war continued to accrue long after the bullets and BatRons stopped flying. Economies did not spring back in response to the deescalation. War-related industries dominated the commercial sectors of the factions. As contracts for new war materiel began to shrink, ripples of unemployment coursed through the economy. Commerce retracted even further: The last viable market—war—evaporated. Now there was nothing left to sell—which was appropriate since no one had any money to spend anyway.
     Each faction began attempting to rebuild its economy and commercial sectors.Among the more successful were the Ziru Sirkaa, Margaret's Domain (whose strong suits were in trade, not war) and—oddly enough—Lucan. The reason for Lucan's success was indeed ironic: The would-be emperor was simply not interested in economics. Consequently, his experts had a relatively free hand. Only his military leaders had to endure his "expert guidance." That guidance mandated a relentless campaign of lightning strikes into the core areas of the rival factions. Convinced that the other factions were on the verge of uniting against him, Lucan decided it was necessary to disrupt their largely illusory offensive capabilities.
     As a result, the battles of the Rebellion ceased to resemble arena contests fought with battle-axes and began to be reminiscent of knife fights in darkened alleys. Commerce raiding took the place of squadron actions. Deep-penetration raids by destroyers and escorts replaced fleet-sized thrusts. Hit-and-run strikes by companies or battalions were used instead of full-scale planetary assaults. As the forces shrank in size, so did the objectives: Instead of whole planets, single cities or starports were targeted.
     However, despite its seemingly "limited" nature, this new phase heralded a terrible change in military objectives: The desire to conquer had been replaced by the decision to destroy. The targets were not attacked in order to be added to the assets of the attacker; they were being eliminated so the defender no longer gained any benefit from them. The purposeful destruction of resources had begun years earlier, when retreating naval commanders were forced to destroy key starship construction and repair facilities to hinder pursuit by the enemy. But now this tactic was no longer the exception to the rule—it became Lucan's standard operating procedure.
     The other factions had no choice but to respond in kind.This at least forced Lucan to devote more of his assets to defense, which limited the number of offensive strikes he could make. But Lucan still maintained a high level of activity against Dulinor, Vland and the Solomani Confederation.
     Just as this period of conflict (referred to by many as the Black War years) evolved new kinds of tactics and objectives, it also produced a new breed of soldier. It placed emphasis on the trained, resourceful professional who could conduct and complete complex missions with minimal support and guidance.
     On the other hand, it encouraged the emergence of raiders and "black" units—so named because of suspicions that they were moonlighting as pirates when not on a mission.
     By now, the factions were passing out letters of marque as freely as party favors. And the lines separating war, terrorism and piracy—always thin to begin with—began to vanish amid the new brutality of "legitimate" warfare.
     As a result of these years of Black War, the factions' efforts to jumpstart their respective economies died. Civilian losses in the peripheral areas caused many heretofore loyal outlying worlds to rethink their allegiances and move toward neutrality. Thus, in a remarkably evolutionary fashion, the areas controlled by each faction continued to shrink to a size which could be defended by what few military assets remained, a task simplified by the deeper no man's land—a byproduct of the receding Frontiers.
     By the end of 1124, some measure of stability had finally arrived for the central regions of each faction. However, each of these regions—known as Safe areas—were not much bigger than one or two subsectors (the Third Imperium was 281 subsectors in size). Beyond each of them was a Frontier area, a region where the faction still held a fair amount of sway, but which was more unpredictable and risky for travellers. Beyond the Frontiers were the Outlands, areas that had originally been under marginal control by the faction. After suffering the depredations of full-sized fleets and armies, the Outlands were too battered to endure the insult added to their injury by the Black War. Most of the Outland worlds fell by the wayside, seldom visited.
     And further outward still were the Wilds—the areas forsaken by the factions since the war began. Innumerable fleets had raged back and forth across these systems, and then the Black War had ravaged them. Maintaining contact with these worlds was not only pointless—it was folly.
     Only the adventurous and foolhardy, or those with intense personal ties, would attempt to cross the gulf to visit those abandoned worlds. And no others were interested in helping them try. For as 1124 drew to an end, it was obvious that the attempts at economic reinvigoration were failing. Merchants were getting nervous about being able to make payments on their increasingly rare jump-capable ships. Every day, another broker closed up shop for good—or opened a window 30 stories up and took a short walk into forever. People stopped spending; stores began closing. You could feel it everywhere: Hard Times were a'coming.

Eve of Hard Times

Area Distinctions

     By the beginning of 1125, the factional core areas have achieved basic stability. Military forces have withdrawn to lines that can be reliably defended, allowing the worlds within these boundaries to retain pre-Rebellion economic levels. However, their outlying regions—and the interstellar reaches beyond—are still adjusting to the tremendous changes caused by the Rebellion.
     There are four categories of areas in Hard Times: Safe, Frontier, Outlands and Wilds.
     Safe Areas: Safe areas are the most secure areas in the Rebellion imperium. They represent the cores of the respective factions and are carefully guarded by the remaining military forces. These function as isolated pockets of pre-Rebellion times, where commerce, industry and civil government continue as before.The only thing that breaks the illusion of travelling back in time to 1115 is the attitude of the inhabitants. They are wary and vigilant, for only vigilance can keep these areas secure. In addition, they know what is going on outside the Safes, and this has made them cautious spenders. They have something of a lifeboat mentality, hardening their hearts to the tragedy outside the Safes, knowing there are only enough resources to retain selected parts of their civilization.
     Frontier Areas: These lie just outside the boundaries of the Safes. They encompass areas whose security cannot be guaranteed by the reduced militaries of 1125. Consequently, their factional loyalty is lower. The level of factional control and defense runs about 50%, although most of the Frontier worlds must trade with the Safes, the only real economy around. Although lower than in the Safes, the level of naval patrolling is sufficient to encourage moderate interstellar trade and transport. But the danger to shipping is sufficient to reduce its volume to well below pre-Rebellion levels. The increased risk shows in the attitudes of the people. They have become careful and shrewd, sometimes gruff. However, unlike the more desperate people farther from the Safes, Frontier-folk are still usually generous to travellers in need of help. After all, a favor done is a favor owed, and everyone needs favors and friends when there is no shortage of enemies. These enemies—pirates and raider—are drawn to the Frontier because shipping is still sufficiently plentiful, and defenses sufficiently light, to make such raids a reasonable proposition. Also, technology needed to keep ships and weapons functional is becoming increasingly rare farther out, where the bones of civilization are rapidly picked clean.
     Outland Areas: These are the areas that have been forsaken by all the factions, so there is no law or protection beyond what each world can muster for itself. Therefore, space travel is very hazardous. Pirates operate virtually at will, and rescue is unlikely. The Outlands are difficult to characterize—as worlds become isolated, they can evolve drastically different responses to the same circumstances. Some still hunger for their lost trade and the benefits of Imperial society. Others shun trade because it attracts piracy: If you have nothing, no one can take anything from you. Outlanders live by their wits—there are only the quick and the dead.
     Wild Areas: Anything awful that can be said about the Outlands is even worse in the Wilds. The Wilds were not just abandoned because they were strategically untenable—they were blasted to smithereens first. Many of these worlds have not had outside contact since 1121—and for good reason. While pirates may run rampant in the Outlands, it is the Wilds they call ”home, sweet home.“ This is not to say that some Wild worlds haven’t retained some tatters of civilization. But those which have are typically xenophobic—again, with good reason. Many feel that the Imperium has forsaken them, and they are not friendly to any visitors, even if the strangers aren’t pirates. While some Wild worlds may desire access to rare and desperately needed technology, their people will be very slow to give their trust.

War Zone Subsectors

     Subsectors are also labelled according to the degree of conflict they saw over the first five years of the Rebellion.
     War Zones: These subsectors endured at least one major campaign. They contain a high percentage of worlds that have had their starports destroyed, populations attacked and industry wrecked. War Zones are susceptible to the UWP changes brought about by Hard Times.
     Intense War Zones: These subsectors endured two or more years of high-intensity combat. They are even more vulnerable to the forces of decline than are War Zones.
     Black War Zones: These are Intense War Zones where Lucan was a combatant and pursued his objectives at all costs, resorting to his Black War tactics when necessary. Such regions likely hold several annihilated worlds. Almost all these zones are also Wild regions since traders have little reason to expect any benefits from visiting them. They are thus doubly benighted and tend to hold a large number of doomed or failing worlds.

Part II, year 1125 to 1128 (Hard Times Era)


     The inevitability of the Third Imperium’ economic collapse is fully evident by the end of 1124. The single greatest sign of this impending disaster is the decrease of interstellar trade and transport. And the single greatest cause of this decrease is the loss of high quality starports in all but the Safe areas of the Imperium.
     Standing head-and-shoulders above the other reasons for the decline of starports is Lucan’s scorched earth policy regarding his rivals’ interstellar resources. His military logic was cold and uncompromising: If he could not retain an important resource, then it must be destroyed to deny it to the enemy. This erosion of interstellar capabilities further deprived opponents of the ability to seize the initiative and carry out reprisals. In addition to being effective, this strategy also appealed to Lucan’s vengeful nature.
     But Lucan overestimated his chances of a quick victory, and enemy factions discovered the most effective countermeasure was a response in kind to the scorched earth tactics. This contagious whirlwind of destruction—the Black War—escalated from 1120 to 1124, by which point the factions were too exhausted to mount many attacks of any type.
     However, by this time, uncounted shipyards lay in ruins, and billions of Imperial citizens turned their backs on the interstellar community, rejecting the Rebellion and all the madness associated with it.
     Without port facilities, worlds could not attract merchants. Commerce and transport dried up. And since the selective focus of raids was on class-A and class-B starports, new ships could not be built to replace the tens of thousands destroyed by years of warfare.
     As of 300-1124, the Imperium’s shipping industry is in full retreat. And with decreased shipping, only a fraction of the once vast Imperial markets are still available to the producers and traders of goods—too small a fraction to stave off the economic recession that begins the tumble into Hard Times.

Safe Areas and Starports

     Within the safe areas, the drop in interstellar traffic is not perceptible. In fact, many safe areas actually experience a minor increase in interstellar transport. This seemingly paradoxical situation is due to the influx of merchants who have decided that the Frontier and Outlands are too risky for further operations. Consequently, the functional starships tend to congregate in the areas known to be Safes. Also, no starports within the Safes have been damaged or degraded, making trade and maintenance much easier to conduct.
     Due to this, Hard Times do not really hit the Safes too hard. Markets may be smaller, but they are still vigorous and self sustaining. Thus, worlds in the Safes are not subject to the effects presented in Chapter 3 unless the safe area is also a War Zone.
     The Frontier areas still enjoy a fair amount of transport, but the need for protection dictates that about half of all interstellar runs are now conducted in convoys. Starports in the Frontier are more likely to be damaged or gone to seed, although most have not slipped too far.
     However, in the Outlands, starport quality has slipped dramatically. After the fleet actions of the Rebellion and the vicious strikes of the Black War, there is little reason for planets in the Outlands to rebuild their facilities—it only invites another attack. Furthermore, the need for starports has diminished since traders are now fearful of venturing into the Outlands.As a result, many facilities that survived the war have been allowed to decay as traffic dropped off and the benefits derived from operating them diminished.
     The Wilds face the same problems as the Outlands, but to a greater degree. since fewer worlds escaped military strikes, more starports were damaged or annihilated. While traders avoid the Outlands, only the most brave or foolhardy would even consider venturing into the wilds. Pirates am common in this interstellar wasteland,and many planetary populalions are no longer friendly; to them, an outsider is simply a harbinger of more trouble.

Annihilated Worlds

     Another aspect of the scorched earth policy has contributed to the emergence of Hard Times by the end of 1124—the corruption or destruction of entire planetary biospheres by nudear,biological and chemical attacks. Such terrible attacks were fairly rare,but in some subsectors—notably those where Lucian's Black War tactics were practiced—such events did occur once or twice.
     The main targets for weapons of mass destruction were high population and class-A starport worlds. Since these were perceived to be the strategic keys of the Rebellion, worlds with such attributes were more likely to invite escalation—defensive commanders felt it was more imperative to hang on to hem. Paradoxically, this forced them to desperate measures when fighting grew heavy and, in turn, invited escalation by the attacker-ith predictable results.
     Lucan's demands for results at any cost made his forces the worst offenders in this regard. As the war progressed, the tactics of his surviving commanders reflected the attitudes of their ruthless leader more and more.
     The physical results of scorched earth attacks varied. But the psychological response was invariable-any survivors acquired a deep and lasting hatred for Lucan and his forces. They also grew more suspicious of offworlders in general and recanted whatever love they had for the Imperium.


Starport Facilities in Hard Times

     All interstellar travellers need access to certain facilities that can only be found at starports. And since those facilities are becoming increasingly rare, they are increasingly important.
     By 1124, class-A starports are becoming new meccas and growing into centers of civilization, education, exchange and—of course—larceny. Since they can repair and build starships, these installations represent priceless assets.Those few that are not found in Safe or Frontier areas are shining beacons in the darkness of the Outlands or Wilds, and they attract all manners of clientele. Although there are sure to be a half dozen plots afoot to seize each one, only insane raiders or Lucan's strike teams would consider actually damaging a class-A starport.
     Class-A ports are sure to be running at peak capacity on a steady basis. The waiting list for repair and maintenance work is long and prices are higher than usual. New ships are rarely available for purchase since almost all are specially commissioned well in advance. It is not unlikely for contractors to be murdered in order to free up their nearly completed ships for purchase. In the Outlands and the Wilds, ships are only available for 100% cash up front.
     Class-B facilities are also busy,but waiting times and costs are comparable to those of the pre-rebellion era Such ports handle a fair amount of customization and ordnance sales.
     Class-C facilities, once considered substandard, have emerged as the workhorses of the interstellar transport industry (such as it is in 1125). Capable of repairing heavy damage, these facilities are used by many ship owners to keep their rustbuckets jump-capable until they can afford enough for an annual maintenance. These ports are also capable of building slower-than-light (STL) spaceships of Tech Level 8 or less that have a total cost of no more than MCr10. Such construction requires twice the usual time and may not incorporate any elements of more than Tech Level as part of the standard equipment (although such craft can be retrofitted later).
     Class-D (and class-F) facilities are still substandard, but the lack of alternatives has increased their importance. However, due to the general dropoff in interstellar travel, they receive barely half the traffic they did in the years before the Rebellion.
     All other classes (E, X, G, H and Y) are considered to be lesser facilities and are as unimpressive as ever. They attract almost no interstellar traffic now, unless they are located on a world that is an unusual source of trade or resources.
     The lack of adequate facilities and decreased potential for trade makes starship maintenance harder to find and afford.

Starport Procedures

     People wandering through the starports of Hard Times will notice a few changes.
     Security: Security is tighter and more businesslike in better ports (A and B) but has decreased in lesser facilities (E, X, G, H, Y). In better facilities, patrols have expanded far beyond their traditional role of customs and immgration/emgration. In fact, the major duty of most armed security personnel is to protect the facility itself, particularly repair and construction yards. These guards have the right-and are encouraged to shoot first and ask questions later. They are armed and armored to the maximum standards permitted by local (or imported) technology. Many starports have also emplaced missile batteries to repel unwanted visitors.
     Flight Control: Flight control is a lot pickier about approach and departure vectors and is likely to deny landing rights to an uncooperative craft. The word at high quality installations is 'safety first"—and those who don't agree are tersely invited to take their ship someplace else.
     Extrality Zone: With the death of the Imperium as a centrally organized, law enforcing entity, the concept of the extrality zone being an area beyond local jurisdiction has disappeared in all starports except for those within the Safes. From the moment a craft enters the planet's declared airspace (many planets now define that as being 'anywhere in-system"), the craft and crew are under the jurisdiction of the main world. Extrality zones are still maintained as areas where individuals without visa may walk about freely and conduct business.
     Personnel: The personnel in class-A and class-B facilities are the best available—as befits the staff of the few remaining top-of-the-line facilities. In low quality facilities, however, the ports are often run by local crackpots who are sure that The old days are gonna be back soon" or who refuse to leave the job. Out of touch and out of the trafficked lanes, many are going a bit daft.
     Cargo: Cargo is now watched over very carefully by merchants. Although the trading process remains the same, the remittance of the goods and its landing are now given considerable security.This is not paranoia: Desperate ship's masters have Men to stealing cargos from each other during on- and off-loading.


     Even in the fragmenting Imperium, ‘money makes the world go round.” Unfortunately, there’s a great deal less money to go around as of001-1125,which is why that date is considered the starting point of the Hard Times era.
     Hard Times are not hard due to the damage done to the Imperium’s ability to manufacture goods or acquire raw material—although severe, this kind of damage is physically repairable. Rather, the crucial damage done by the war was the shattering of the economy.
     In 1115, the Imperium represented a single, highly integrated market of exceptional fluidity. The economic environment allowed megacorporate planners to project production requirements and anticipated revenues decades into the future.
     Commercial vessels of every size wandered the star lanes freely, carrying all types of cargos to all types of worlds. Corporate planning authorities were able to work within an economy that was broad and diverse enough to offer virtually infinite markets, yet the economy was also large enough, unified enough and standardized enough to allow security, predictability and huge economies of scale (this was the miracle of the Imperium).
     Dulinor’s first shot killed this market as surely as it killed Strephon. Suddenly, the Imperial economy was plunged into confusion and chaos.There were no more centralized authorities to detect problems and massage them away with 10-year economic plans and strategically designed subsidies. Markets became divided and trade routes interdicted by factional battle lines.
     The spacelanes became battlegrounds, and merchants lived under the eternal threat of mobilization. Century-old trade relationships were severed; shortages became endemic: and industry shifted to war material or logistically necessary products. The once safe and reliable Imperial economy became a maelstrom of uncertainty and extreme risk.
     By 1125, the Imperium ceased to exist as a single economy. Now, only the Safes function as they did before—all other markets are unknown quantities. Merchants have no way of determining the odds of success—or the likelihood of suffering a commercial loss—so fewer of them bother to venture into those areas which most need economic stimulation.

As Traders Pull Back, So Do Insurers and Banks

     At the very basis of any speculation-based economy is the consideration of losses. Insurance rates are proportional to perceived risk. Consequently, as trade retracted and the areas outside Safes grew more hazardous, insurance companies and other financial speculators began withdrawing their services from these areas—particularly where piracy, theft or political instability were likely. Even in the Frontier, lending and insurance rates are now astronomical or simply unattainable.
     Three major factors influence a financial company's willingness to serve a potential client. These are perceived protective measures taken by the insuree, size of the contract and reliability of risk ascertainment
     For instance, it is now almost unheard of for someone from a small planet in the Diaspora Sector to be able to get life insurance—at any price. The size of the contract is too small to make any potential insurer willing to overlook the fact that the risk probabilities are virtually unassessable.
     Most commonly now, insurance beyond the Safes is only of interest to Frontier worlds. And in these cases, policies are taken out only for those facilities essential to commerce (starports, spaceports, industrial or resource extraction facilities) or for convoyed cargos of highly valuable items. The more protection the facility/convoy has, the lower rate it is able to get (and the easier it is to find an insurer). Single ships are generally unable to get insurance. Even in a convoy situation, the policy does not cover anything that occurs from the time the jump drives are engaged through the ship's reemergence into space normal. This last provision prevents attempts to make false claims of misjump, which can be faked by a last second jump coordinate alteration.
     As a result, most smaller planets in the Frontier (and all the planets in the Outlands and Wilds) spend money on local defense rather than insurance. Even if they could find a company which would agree to cover them, collection would be a lengthy process, and lives cannot be replaced. Such worlds hope that as they grow, their heightened defenses will prove a better protection against catastrophic losses than insurance would be.

No Way to Finance Rebuilding or New Projects

     The death of underwriting signals the end of loans, mortgages and liens. Small planets which are prime targets for raiders can no longer recoup their losses by borrowing credits to rebuild. As loan and mortgage collectors become more worried and less patient, barratry (starship crews "skipping out" on their starship loan payments) become epidemic. Merchant captains— already suffering from higher risks and outrageous maintenance, repair and protection fees—default on their ship payments and disappear along with them.
     Those merchants who can still function at a profit are forced to adopt a new form of commerce insurance—starmercs (mercenaries). But as centralized databases break down and resumes become increasingly uncheckable, convoy masters increasingly wonder whether the starmercs they are hiring are guard dogs or ravening wolves waiting to pounce upon their flock of ready-to-shear mercantile sheep.
     In short, the majority of the banking, credit and development industries are beginning to topple. In the final analysis, markets will retract into local, barter-oriented economies.
     As people see this handwriting on the wall, they leave the more benighted areas (creating a rush of immigrants bound for the Safes), start stockpiling technology they will not be able to produce in the future (driving up prices of key goods), or turn inward and shun the rest of the interstellar community.
     The first two courses of action are becoming common in 1125 and have caused the creation of a new shuttle economy between the various regions of Hard Times. Merchants now leave the edge of the Safes bearing high technology, high-need goods. The farther outward they go, the more they can charge for these rare wonders. On their return trip, they load up with passengers fleeing these areas, as well as with raw materials and mail. This is a new method of trading—one fraught with danger. But hundreds of merchants are trying their hand at it as the year 1125 begins.

Return of a Barter Economy

     One of the most unusual results of Hard Times is the return of a barter economy. With regular trade routes and production schedules a thing of the past, the buying or selling of large, standardized lots of material is just a memory in the outer regions.
     The growing barter economy is also being fueled by the tremendous amount of salvaged goods that are in the marketplace— vehicles rescued from buried garages, weaponry taken from slain pirates, clothes found in a ruined department store. War's dubious bounty comprises almost 50%of all trading, and the proportion is growing. Anything not bolted down is likely to be sold as a trade item, and anything that is bolted down is likely to be sold as real estate.
     Instead of being bought and sold by generalized lots, items are being marketed individually or in small numbers, based on their retail price. And an increasing number of trades involve exchanges of equipment or trade goods rather than credits.


     I don‘t think I realized how bad things were until that time we were laying over at Beso. The locals decided to take the fusion reactor off line to work on it. Seeing friendly types, me and my crew went down to take a look at the job and see if we could lend a hand. Maybe earn some good will and a few free meals in the bargain.
     As the locals ushered us into the toroidal containment core, I saw a flickering blue light up ahead. I froze—what the heck was that? The machine was cold, so how could there be a short?
     I turned to the local with us, who must have read my mind by the look on my face. He just smile—bit sadly—and shook his head. He waved us on.
     That’s when I turned the bend and almost lost my vision. I suddenly found myself staring into an intensely bright point of blue-white light. I threw up a hand, closed my eyelids and watched the green-blue affer-image chase around against the darkness.
     I could hear the smile in the local’s voice as he said, 'Never seen one before, huh?’
     "Nope. Used X-ray lasers where I’m from.”
     He sighed. “So did we—before the war. But tools wear out—or are appropriated by the military. Now, this is all we have to work with."
     I nodded and opened my eyes again, cautious of the intermittent, violent glare outlining the welding team before me.
     I had never seen an electric arc-welder before.
     One of the foremost changes in Hard Times is the decline of technology. Technology is a reliable indicator of per capita wealth and commercial health. It might seem that large, industrial worlds (particularly those which are self-sufficient in terms of food and water) should be able to retain their tech level in times of difficulty. Unfortunately, any given high population, high technology world in the Imperium did not develop its technology alone. Rather, it did so in the context of a vast interconnected economy, the various parts of which supported each other by providing markets for manufactured goods or by providing key goods for sale.
     The nature of the pre-Rebellion Imperial economy was a highly integrated and interdependent marketplace. Policies stressing self-sufficiency were generally unpopular because they were seen (often rightly) as representing isolationist attitudes. Such policies were also costly in terms of damaged commerce (due to offworld merchants avoiding what they considered to be a xenophobic market), and in terms of decreased production efficiency.
     Technological self-sufficiency means building everything yourself. While it may be a good survival tactic, it is a disastrous economic plan if a world is part of an integrated market. Instead, specialization in a few key products allows the world and its population to generate a great volume of carefully refined goods and thereby sell premium items at lower costs (which attracts a tremendous volume of business). The higher the tech level a world has, the more extreme the trend toward specialization becomes and the more vulnerable to the economic disruption that lies at the foundation of Hard Times.
     Worlds are now scrambling to become self-sufficient in every way they can. Unfortunately, self-sufficiency requires a world to create supplies of systems covering the entire spectrum of civilized needs, which means they have to accept a lower common denominator. A world that once grew rich supplying a subsector with TL15 hair-driers and holorecorders must now develop innumerable other industries. Since it can no longer devote the effort to the high-tech specialty items, it can no longer purchase TL15 fusion plants and foot-warmers from its neighbors. Therefore, such a planet will cease to be TL15 in a few years. If economic collapse requires self sufficiency, then self-sufficiency clearly demands a considerable reduction in technology.
     Worlds with inhospitable environments have to devote more time and resources to ensure long-term self-sufficiency in life support. Such worlds are forced to build their own food production facilities, environmental system modifications, replacement parts—all at the expense of maintaining their tech level.

Safe Money and Frontier Finances

     As the economic recession sets in and tech levels roll backward; individuals, govemments and businesses begin to look at the credits they hold in their hands. They not only count them, but they also consider the stability of whatever is backing their value. And many of the hands holding those credits begin to tremble.
     With the Imperium cut into many small pieces and with huge tracts of it effectively out of contact (or out of control), there is good cause to wonder exactly what a credit is worth during Hard Times. Almost every faction and major power center has dallied with the notion of issuing its own scrip (money), but each has thus far rejected the notion because the value of any legal tender is based on the net worth of the issuer. The Imperial credit was—and is—still based on the net value of the Imperium. No one faction can hope to equal that value.
     As the Imperium slides further toward permanent fragmentation, faction leaders begin to wonder whether the “greater value” offered by a unified scrip—the pre-Rebellion Imperial credit, also known as Lucan’s credit or the Core credit—is worth the unpredictability resulting from “sharing” a currency with other power centers. For instance, Lucan’s mercurial nature makes him likely to strike out on some rash new campaign of destruction—which will devalue the money and erode confidence in it. Some client states and large corporations have decided the higher value of the unified credit is not worth the instability, and they have begun to print their own scrip. However, they still use the Imperial credit as the basis of their currency—from subsector to subsector, there is no variance in its exchange rate or acceptability. Major scrip issuers are generally recognized without difficulty within their own Safe. They are rarely recognized beyond this area, except in some regions of the adjoining Frontier.

Cash and Carry In the Outlands and Wilds

     On planets where contact with stable markets is dwindling, the relevance of the Imperial credit is diminishing. Cut off from larger markets and reliable scrip issuers, such worlds are forced to start printing their own money.
     Individual worlds are comparatively risky as issuers (and subsequent backers) of currency. More generally accountable are banking institutions that serve as investment/transaction centers for multiworid trade routes in the Outlands. These institutions issue scrip which is locally recognized and accepted. They usually maintain a close watch on the markets in the Safe areas and adjust the amount of currency in circulation so as to keep the independent scrip on an equal value with the Imperial credit.
     Smaller worlds and those in the Wilds are likely to base their currency on bullion reserves, having an insufficient trade flow to generate confidence in capital-backed currency. Worlds too small to even have bullion reserves of any appreciable size do not have a separate currency but operate via recognized scrip or specie (coins made from precious metals).
     Players paid 10,000 local credits on Jedell, for instance, may find their money is no good on Aight. The merchants and government of Aight might not want to risk accepting credits from a world that may be overrun by wild-eyed anarchists within the week. In actuality, money brokers might buy the cash at a depreciated value.
     An easy and interesting option is the introduction of specie currency, which does have fixed values since the value of the coin is in the metal it’s made of. Most areas turning to specie currency have adopted the following standard, which was common during the Long Night:

CopperCr 0.2050 grams
SilverCr 10.0030 grams
GoldCr 300.0030 grams

     All these coins are available from Outlands customs currency counters and are supplied at a 2% exchange surcharge. They are recognized on all Frontier worlds and are available via exchange on half of them. These coins can be cashed in on Safe worlds, but am not usually recognized by merchants there.

Old and New Tech Levels

     The Imperium produced a lot of high-tech equipment in its centuries of industrial vigor. Not all of this equipment could possibly have disappeared by 1125, but what used to be common high technology is now very special and increasingly rare. For instance, military units can no longer acquire fusion or plasma weaponry except at exorbitant prices—and even then, most of it is used. More mundane items have ceased to function because the parts wore out—and no replacements were available. Each failed system becomes a source of spare parts for those devices which remain operable. Junkyards grow, and working items dwindle.
     In addition to interrupting industrial output and the flow of replacement parts, the violence of the Rebellion also accounted for a tremendous level of technology being destroyed. Vehicles, weapons, power generation systems, starships, spaceships, environmental, medical and food production equipment—all of these were prime targets for attacks or seizures. And once a world's defenses were crippled, they fell prey to salvagers and scavengers.
     As a result, much of the old technology is gone, and most of the remaining items are jealously hoarded by governments or other major power centers. Those last few PGMP-13s are not for sale—they've been assigned to a planet's crack security unit. Grav vehicles are retained for serving needs only they can fulfill, and they are pampered with endless hours of preventative maintenance and careful storage.
     The new Hard Times tech level rating of a world reflects its most recently produced (and generally available) technology. The most important technologies (military, vehicle, spaceflight, medical, environmental, power generation and a planet's primary industry, such as agriculture on an agricultural world) tend to be produced at this new tech level. Consumer goods—including but not limited to food, clothing, toiletries and simple gear—are usually produced at one tech level less than the new local maximum.
     An exception to this would be an industrial world, whose trade status as a competitive net exporter of manufactured goods would require these goods to be at the current maximum tech level.


     Megacorporations thrived in the fluid, interconnected economy of the pre-Rebellion Imperium. However, the extreme regionalism of Hard Times and the lack of a strong central government are anathema to the continued health of these financial giants.
     Consequently, they begin to consolidate their positions by centralizing. This strategy stresses a compromise between establishing defensible positions, focusing on astrographic regions they’re already heavily invested in, and switching their emphasis to industrial production.
     The effects of this strategy push along the decline of the Wilds and the Outlands while stabilizing the Frontiers and the Safes. Megacorporations move or abandon those assets which are not in secure areas, shifting whatever resources can be relocated to the heart of a nearby Safe or—if this is not possible—to Frontier planets with strong ties to the faction controlling that Safe.
     This kind of corporate restructuring is neither an easy nor a rapid undertaking. In many cases, whole facilities are swapped between megacorporations. One of the first—and most famous—swaps occurred between Hortalez et cie and the four Vilani bureaux in 1121. A staggering amount of capital assets changed hands—starports, continent-sized industrial sectors, natural resource rights, thousands of smaller factories and businesses.
     When it was all done, Hortalez had traded away almost 80% of its capital holdings in and around Vilani space. In return, the Bukaux—led by Zirunkariish—remitted an equal amount of assets to Hortalez, all located within Delphi Sector, the Coreward edge of the Old Expanses, Daibei and the Spinward Marches.
     The purpose of this strategy was to centralize assets under the protective umbrellas of faction Safes. By 1126, other megacorporations (as well as smaller companies) are following what is now known as the Hortalez Strategy, relocating or abandoning those assets that cannot be protected. These moves cause widespread unemployment and economic disaster for the already damaged and shunned Outlands. For the Wilds, this is the final death knell; in losing contact with megacorporations, they lose their last solid tie to the rest of Imperial space.


     An important change caused by the megacorporate reshuffling of Hard Times has already been felt by the people—the increased importance and price of certain goods. Military hardware, spacecraft, transport systems, food and energy production, environmental technologies, and medical equipment are all at a premium.
     The severely reduced industrial capacity of the Imperium is naturally focusing on these products to the exclusion of less essential pursuits. Naturally, many leisure industries are suffering, not because people don’t need or want an escape from the frequently bleak reality of 1126, but because the distribution system is straining simply to provide essentials, it has little room to spare for luxuries. Not only are entertainment businesses like 2-D and 3-D video renters and vidcasting/ holocasting companies feeling the pinch, but art itself is a casualty of the Rebellion. These losses are obscured behind the sight of banking, insurance and brokerage firms collapsing, signalling more surely the ominous proximity of total economic failure. The trappings of the wealth and ease of an entire society are gone, and in their place is a harder, more practical lifestyle

STAGE 5: RAIDING AND RAIDERS (date 180-1126)

     As economies nose-dive deeper into Hard Times, the comparative profitability of plundering increases. This evolution is exacerbated by the dissolution of naval units. During the war, fleet commandeering of necessary supplies was common, and this eventually devolved into outright raiding. By 180-1126, those units which have not devolved into corsairs have either disbanded (rare), become starmercs (common) or attached themselves to the naval forces of some stable government (a faction leader or one of the worlds in the faction's Safe or Frontier).
     The raiders of Hard Times are not all devolved ex-military units; many raiders can trace their origins to traditional pirate bands, organized crime, backgrounds of inhuman poverty and violence, or even mental illness. Raiders are a diverse bunch.

Raiders of Hard Times: Vikings, Corsairs and Rippers

     It was starmercs who first divided raiders into three general types. The starmercs named these types Vikings," 'corsairs" and "rippers."
     Vikings: Vikings are the rarest type of raider, but they form the largest groups. Nearly all Viking bands, called 'lagers," trace their origins to ex-military vessels of on sort or another: decimated or privateers who eventually extended their letters of marque to include everybody.
     As a result of their ex-military origins, Vikings are the most organized and sophisticated raider type. They have well hidden bases of operations where they keep their sizable population of dependents.
     Their operations are marked by military-style&tyle planning, including advance intelligence and reconnaissance, made possible by the groups' large size. Vikings e able to insert spies or observers into ordinary society help&p set up their They are deserters from factions, remnants J units cut off and operations. They are wary and canny, and hard to ambush.
     Although militaristic, their society has democratic elements, "one gun, one vote" being the Viking policy. Periodic votes of confidence in leaders are taken, and many bands are evolving a formalized system of challenges and duels to resolve challenges to leadership.
     Honor is the highest Viking value; they often speak of living and dying by their word.
     Even so, Vikings pose the greatest raider threat to civilization by virtue of the effectiveness that their discipline and size give them. Fortunately, they have no desire to cause wanton carnage and destruction, although under certain circumstances they might feel compelled to set an example to make their job easier in the future.
     Most Viking lagers contain several vessels, typically former military types. In fact, many Vikings are able to masquerade as starmercs. Of all the raiders, Vikings will sometimes operate fighters—their military background giving them the ability to conduct advanced integrated operations.
     Corsairs: Corsair groups strongly resemble pre-Rebellion pirates in both composition and activities. In fact, many bands of corsairs can trace their history back to pre-Rebellion pirate groups.
     As always, the bulk of corsair recruits are military deserters, criminals and desperate individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. Corsairs do not like fighting against well-organized and comparably-equipped defense units—they prefer preying on the weak and attacking by surprise.
     Many corsair societies have adopted an appropriately macabre, ritualized method of "announced assassination," which discourages casual attempts at assassination and thereby stabilizes the band's leadership. An individual who intends to assassinate the current leader must send the announcement to the intended victim via the band's "Black Suit"—an individual who is outside the pecking order of the band and who serves as herald and witness. The Black Suit (a reference to the official undertaker's garb worn by these individuals) may not be assassinated or challenged, nor may he aspire to any position of leadership.
     After announcing the intended assassination to the victim (without disclosing the assassin's identity), the Black Suit then makes a public announcement before the whole band.Twenty-four hours after this, the unnamed assassin may begin to make attempts. No other rules apply.
     Corsair bands in 1126 are retaining increased numbers of dependents, who may either be stashed in a safe place immediately before a 'hit" or brought along for the ride. The crowding and filth aboard corsair hulls are legendary.
     Note that all raiders who work within a single system are of the corsair variety. Vikings are too smart to stay in one place, and rippers either self-destruct or are hunted down and exterminated.
     Rippers: Rippers are in many ways the most dreaded of all raiders since they are completely without scruples—or mercy. The ranks of rippers are filled with escaped convicts, the worst of the pre-Rebellion pirates, war criminals guilty of ghastly acts and former inmates of mental institutions. These bands are highly fractious and divisive unless they have a particularly powerful leader. Many of the individuals who fill the leadership role for ripper bands are genius-level sociopaths. Whatever their background and skills, these individuals give a ripper band cohesion via their powerful (if dark) charisma and self confidence. Ripper bands without such leadership are likely to fight more amongst themselves than with potential prey which accounts for the low numbers that typically comprise these groups.
     The only law in ripper bands is the rule of the mob. Otherwise, all disputes are settled by violence-often to the death. Rippers may have a small number of dependents, but these individuals may not be anything more than temporary playthings; on a whim, they might be cycled out a nearby airlock.
     Rippers take particular joy in inflicting damage and death. Most of their number are sadists, and many are also megalomaniacs. Few are particularly brave, however, which means rippers usually prey upon very weak settlements or targets. They may attempt to attack stronger targets if they can hit them from ambush with a debilitating first strike. In general, though, most ripper bands are not particularly astute in military matters—they are murderers, not soldiers.
     Raider Ecosystem: This is like any other ecosystem: Carnivores (raiders) have defined territories which they defend against competing carnivores. Each territory also includes a source of prey, such as a grazing area or water hole (trafficked world). The need to regularize boundaries is the primary motivation behind the raider alliances. In general, the larger the band, the larger the territory. Some degree of overlap is tolerated, mainly because most groups would rather be 'hunting" than defending their boundaries. Smaller bands are careful not to offend their larger neighbors by encroaching too often—no small corsair or viking band will last long if it preys too often upon a large Viking lager's prime "feeding ground." While it is true that there is no honor among thieves, there is enlightened self-preservation.


     The death of the Imperium's communications network has impacts beyond the decline of markets and the upsurge of piracy. It also brings a change in personal perspective.
     By 1127, many individuals no longer see themselves as Imperial citizens. In the Outlands and Wilds, there is an increasingly regional focus.Abandoned by what is left of the Imperium, these isolated and often forsaken worlds are beginning to turn their collective b&s upon the old notions of unity and Imperial destiny. Mixed in with resentment for the Imperium is their pressing need to tend to those matters with an immediate impact on their probabilities of survival. They now see themselves as the citizens of subsectors, worlds or even continents. As Hard Times wear on, them is every mason to suspect that these governments will continue to divide themselves into smaller—and more xenophobic—polities.
     No world feels responsible for the results of the Rebellion and Hard Times. Rather, people feel themselves victims of Imperial madness and indifference. In their eyes, the problems came from beyond their system, from "out there." Of course, interstellar travellers hail from "out there" and are often painted with the same broad brush used on the Imperial monsters who brought about the miseries the locals have suffered for the past decade. As a result, travellers in the Outlands and Wilds may find that interworld travel no longer has the charm it once held. There are fewer bright faces waiting to hear stories of other worlds and starflight. In their place, furtive, narrow looks inform travellers that offworlders are not welcome—and are possibly at risk. This is not true on all worlds; not even a majority of them have attained this level of xenophobia and regionalism. But there are many—and the number is growing.
     On many worlds, groups actively espouse a return to simpler times. They want to do away with the technologies and/or facilities which invite offworld visitors and their often excessive meddling. Only military forces are excluded from this general "back to the good earth" push. However, this exclusion contains its own seeds of disaster. High-tech military equipment is still a lure for raiders. Furthermore, equipment does not remain operable for very long without adequate support and maintenance—which a "good earth" regressed society would be unable to provide.
     One final concern is that this arrangement increases the possibility of a military coup. By allowing the military to expand its technological edge, groups are voting to give the military a comparative growth in power. And an ambitious general who feels this "good earth" stuff is sheer nonsense might have to declare martial law in order to nip it in the bud.


     Times are tough, with plenty of hardship to go around for everyone. But we still see some humorous moments. One of the funniest was during a little corporate disagreement we found ourselves involved in on Wake.
     The opposing side was a large firm—Aspardan, Inc.—still headquartered back in the Core. Their good buddy, Lucan, made sure they stayed up to date with the best available technology—grav carriers, air/rafts, ACRs, the works. I guess Aspardan figured if they got into a shoving match with the local authorities, they'd either win hands down or intimidate the natives into acquiescence.
     Instead, when H-hour came, the local military came brewing over the hill in the oddest collections of vehicles you've ever seen. Internal combustion, high-speed, wheeled A PCs, variable-attitude propeller (VAP) troop carriers, track-laying tanks with autocannons, VTOL attack jets—and a few gravsleds of their own. I don't think any two vehicles were the same kind—it looked like an attack by the Junkyard Legion.
     The offworld security specialists had to admit they were wrong about cowing the natives with their technological superiority They never got the chance to admit they were also wrong about beating the locals hands down—I don't think there were any Aspardan troops among the survivors

     As production centers are lost, resupply vanishes and trade diminishes, people will have to use whatever equipment is on hand and will eventually get used to lower-tech, locally supportable gear.
     Remember, a planet's tech level indicates its construction capabilities. This is not synonymous with the tech level its inhabitants and experts can understand. Ancient Terra had to discover everything for itself—and usually the hard way. That is not the case for most worlds within the Imperium, regardless of their tech level.
     On a world discovering everything for itself, the laser carbines it develops at tech level 8 may only be perfected once the world has entered tech level 9. However, if patented designs for a laser were available to that same world, then the limiting factor is no longer knowledge. The limiting factor becomes the ability of the world's factories to duplicate hardware which is already understood. This is why much standard Imperial equipment shows sophistication or elegance of design that seems beyond the tech level it was actually manufactured at. Once a principle has been discovered, its implementation can be "back-dated" into the designs of equipment built at lower tech levels, as long as those lower-tech factories possess sufficient abilities in metallurgy, chemistry, etc.
     When knowledge, rather than ability, is the limiting factor, any concept knowable at tech level 15 is available for learning at any lower level. Each world does not have to struggle along the road of discovery on its own-the road signs are all there. Some technologies exist (in rudimentary form) at much lower tech levels than their first Terran equivalents+the Imperium and its thousands of worlds have perfected these systems at each level of capability. Given these vast research resource—and several millennia of study—even primitive tech levels are capable of produang some important technologies.
     Economies of Construction and Purpose: In the height of the Imperium, personal vehicles were not perceived to be luxuries in most places—they were necessities. But in Hard Times, the industrial and distribution systems can no longer support such bounty. Thus, the fewer systems that are obtained have to be able to meet more needs. Vehicles owned by individuals and groups have to fill many different roles and not be specialized in purpose. Similarly, vehicles with only one purpose are now required to provide services to many more recipients. As a result, the principle of jump carriers has experienced a tremendous resurgence in shipyards throughout the post-Rebellion Imperium.
     Essentially this an extension of the military’s jump-rider concept—one large, jump-capable starship with a large set of jump drives to do the work previously achieved by 10 or 20 separate, smaller units. Instead of a dozen 200-ton traders plying the starlanes, convoys of a dozen 200-ton STL barges hook up to a modular frame and travel together.
     Many advantages to this design strategy are quantifiable, yet one disadvantage is hard to measure—the asset of personal freedom. The growth of this technology portends an era in which many captains will no longer be their own masters. They will operate less-expensive STL ships and be forced to contract with frame operators for interstellar transits.
     Economy of Operation: Another major concern for designers is a vehicle’s fuel requirements. Pre-Rebellion commerce made almost all fuel types available in every market. The rigors of Hard Times makes it clear that designers must create vehicles which can be fueled from indigenous sources. In general, solar-electric energy sources experience a huge increase in use—a system without a sun has bigger problems than vehicle design.
     Economy of Maintenance: Pre-Rebellion vehicle design was characterized by luxurious amounts of space for crew and all sorts of impressive optional equipment. These indulgences are no longer possible in Hard Times. Vehicles are now practical, bare-bones creations. Their design reflects an attempt to minimize maintenance requirements, costs and dependence upon computers.

It Doesn’t Have to Go Fast—It Just Has to Go

     With the onset of the Rebellion, functional space-going ships have skyrocketed in value. Because of their comparative economy (in terms of both maintenance and fuelingm) any older vessels are being restored and pressed into avariety of service roles. The reduced flow of high technology has even propelled some tech level 9 and higher systems into new production runs of these older vehicles.The logic is each system may have to fend for it self in the years to come, and the easier a space fleet is to maintain, supply and build, the more likely it is to endure. This signals an era of renewed importance for spacecraft employing pregravitic technologies.

STAGE 8: DOOMED WORLDS (date 001-1128)

     Of the many Doomed worlds we came across, I remember Duster the most clearly Almost no water, air too thin to breathe, a tech level of 5 and poverty matched only by the lack of industry. We were the first ship to pass through in two years, they told us. They offered us money to take their children away to a world—any world—with air you could breathe without machines. We tried to fix their colony-sized compressors, and we managed to get the capital's plant working at full efficiency again. But the unit at the other major city was a wreck—beyond saving.
     We were heading out of the system when we heard via radio that the one crippled compressor had broken down for good and the city's inhabitants were starting overland to seize the capital—and its compressor. Some of my crew wanted to go back, but I vetoed the idea. They asked for an explanation, so I gave it to them bluntly: There's nothing we can do.
     Seems like I've been repeating myself ever since.
     Many planetary environments are inhabitable only because of advanced technology—technology which many populations can no longer maintain or create on their own. In Hard Times, the populations of many desert worlds, ice worlds, and—particularly— worlds with hostile or otherwise unsuitable atmospheres must find indigenous answers to their life support needs.
     For low-tech worlds, this may be impossible.
     Those worlds which cannot meet their basic life support needs are labelled Doomed worlds. By 1128, it is clear which worlds are Doomed and which are not. It has been almost three years since most local technologies took a stumble into lower values. During this time, each world depending upon mechanical systems for life support has nursed those systems along, lavishing an almost fanatical degree of care and maintenance upon them.
     However, by 1128, failures have occurred—was inevitable. Worlds could either meet the challenge of repair or they could not. If they couldn't, then they had to meet the challenge of constructing a new system of their own, in accordance with their new, reduced technological capabilities. Those worlds that could not succeed in this regard and have harsh environments are clearly Doomed.
     Doomed worlds will eventually become completely uninhabitable, although this grisly end may still be years away. Almost all have already suffered population losses as a result of the life support problems.
     However, not all—or even most—of these losses are outright casualties.Those individuals, who could have pulled up stakes and moved on, did and went someplace—anyplace—where air, water and food are still available. Many more people want to follow them, but that will only be possible if enough starships arrive to carry them away to other systems.

Desperate Biofreight: The Doom Trade

     One of the most lucrative businesses for traders operating in the Outlands and the Wilds is the transport of individuals back into the Frontier and the Safe. Refugees attempting to escape from Doomed worlds are generally their best—and most desperate—customers.The severity of their plight makes them willing to pay anything in order to get away. If denied a spot on the ship, some of these individuals are likely to consider violence, hijacking or becoming stowaways. This is an excellent source of adventures, since these people have nothing to lose and everything to gain if they can pull off their plans.
     Consequently, PCs who decide to engage in what is known as the 'doom trade" have to be careful—the profit potentials may be high, but so are the risks.

Adding Injury to Insult: War Damage

     In addition to whatever natural environmental difficulties are presented by a world, those which were located in War Zones have the additional problem of possible war damage.
     Passing fleets and invading armies were often given orders to cripple life support systems and/or power generation systems of those worlds deemed sympathetic to the enemy or likely to fall out of friendly hands. This was not intended as a genocidal tactic but it was rather intended to slow down the enemy, who had to rebuild these damaged facilities.
     Or so ran the assumption. Unfortunately, as the war progressed, many worlds were never visited again—either by friend or foe. The war passed them by. Their life support capacities remained crippled.
     The Black War years only intensified this problem—Lucan's forces were known for striking at the life support equipment of vulnerable enemy worlds, particularly those at the fringes of his enemies' protective spheres.

Doomed Worlds vs. Falling Worlds: Predictions of Severity

     Some worlds may show signs of population decrease and marginal life support maintenance, yet not be Doomed. These borderline cases are known as Failing worlds. This name reflects the ambiguity of their future—it is still unclear whether they have managed to stabilize at a viable life support level or whether they will ultimately decline into total uninhabitability.
     Whether a world is Doomed or Failing can be predicted with considerable accuracy simply by considering the nature of the world's environment and its practical tech level.
     Below TL3: Tech levels prior to TL3 are extremely vulnerable to any kind of life support shortage. An absolute lack of a needed resource (e.g., no water) is almost certain to doom the world.
     TL3: At TL3, two important changes take place. Electricity becomes possible, as does limited construction with metals. The importance of these factors in helping a world maintain life support cannot be overstated.
     With electricity, it becomes possible to liberate oxygen and hydrogen from common water. Consequently, it becomes possible to replenish tired air supplies and to secure an (admittedly dangerous) source of power—gaseous hydrogen. However, worlds with fluid hydrospheres still have a strong negative effect on life support capacity, even with primitive electricity available. The ability to acquire any water (and, thereby, free oxygen and hydrogen) from most non-water hydrospheres is very limited indeed. In effect, making water in a fluid hydrosphere usually requires the maker be able to isolate and contain the molecular components of whatever compound(s) the fluid is comprised of. Societies barely generating electricity are going to find this nearly impossible in most cases. In certain instances, it may be completely impossible.
     Another major advantage conferred by TL3 is the ability to manufacture metal hulls and containers with reliable seals. This allows for the construction of tanks to retain the molecular by-products of water. It also makes various distillation processes much easier and less wasteful. Even a world without any water at all has some available to it when this technology is produced—the moisture contained in every living cell on the world. This has led to some admittedly gruesome 'cremation" practices on desperate worlds, but it makes survival—at some level—possible.
     Also important—crude filter masks can be produced at this tech level, which serves to reduce the effects of tainted atmospheres.
     TL4: TL4 introduces a number of important additions. Internal combustion engines are perfected, as are more sophisticated metal-working techniques. The ability to compress very thin atmospheres increases, as does the ability to seal out those which are contaminated. Filtration improves, and chemical manipulation advances to the point where extensive hydroponics are quite possible. Electricity is now an easy-to-produce and easy-to-operate power source energizing lights and heating units.
     TL5: By TLS, almost all adverse environmental conditions can be handled with only minor long-term reduction of life support capacities.
     TL7: By TL7, only insidious atmospheres have any effect on a population's ability to provide for its own long-term life support.


     Although better off than Doomed worlds, many backwater planets just manage to struggle by. They have enough resources to ensure survival, but lack sufficient materials or development to prevent a headlong slide down the scale of civilization and technology—sometimes crashing to a halt below the level of industrialization. Such planets usually have some environmental handicaps—and it is usually the relationship between those handicaps And the local tech level which cause the world to fail.
     Some of these worlds may possess hazards making them seem more like candidates for Doomed status, but for some reason, the hazard is not as severe in this particular case. For example, certain Failing worlds have tainted atmospheres that are not immediately fatal but cause early death or chronic resperatory ailments instead.

How the Falling Worlds Contribute to the Doom Trade

     The doom trade (the transport of refugees away from crippled worlds to safer ones in the Frontier and Safe) actually owes more of its existence to the Failing worlds than to the Doomed worlds. This is largely due to many more of the worlds in Imperial space are Failing than Doomed. Also, the populations of Failing worlds tend to be larger.
     However, individuals on Failing worlds are nowhere near as desperate to escape as the people on Doomed planets. Most individuals on Failing worlds still believe long-term survival in the environment is possible, and they are not so quick to cut their losses and their roots. Most of the doom trade passengers from Failing worlds are emigres who do not have strong personal ties, or people who have been economically ruined and will have to start anew anyhow. A few are those wise individuals who realize it is better to be safe than sorry and things may slide further—which could mean further decreases in technology and a change in status from Failing world to Doomed world.

Life on a Falling World

     By 1128, Failing worlds are beginning to go through a number of significant changes. Communities shrink back into tighter proximity as long-range, high-speed travel becomes more expensive. Alternate energy sources are re-explored, if only to provide backup systems in the event of main power plant failures. On those worlds where space travel already exists and is still technically sustainable (TL6+), many of the new insystem industries will be underway. For example, those worlds without petroleum reserves of any type will be wildcatting propane from gas giant atmospheres for fuel, lubricants and—via torturous polymerization methods—plastics.
     Life support strategies employed by many Failing worlds include:
     Recycling: Recycling—everything from paper to metals to plastics to petroleum—becomes a major concern. Many high-tech factories that are no longer being used for production are converted to this purpose. In many of the more desperate and water-poor environments, bodies are dehydrated to add to the total water supply.
     Bioproducts: In order to create more air, flora and fauna, many Failing world governments subsidize industries which meet needs by developing biological resources, rather than nonbiological resources. For instance, rubber, wood and animal hides are all preferred over plastic. Methanol and ethanol distillation is encouraged.
     Nonexhaustible Resources: Solar, wind, hydroelectric and tidal energy sources are all encouraged and exploited to the degree permitted by local funding. Stone and cement construction is emphasized over metals or composites.
     Useful Bioforms: The Imperium’s tremendous diversity was not just social, but biological. As a result, many creatures offer Failing worlds major advantages. One example hails from the Ley Sector—silicate-based organisms which excrete complex polymers as gastric waste products. Such creatures can be fed their standard meal with a little excess carbon and water—and out comes strands of plastic. Organisms with this kind of unusual property are highly desirable in 1128. Unfortunately, the widespread largess of the Imperial standard of living prior to the Rebellion made these creatures more notable as oddities rather than assets. Consequently, they are rare beyond their homeworlds and hard to locate for purchase.

Law and More Order on Most Worlds

     The changes all worlds experience during the first three years of Hard Times often create changes in government as well. The population of any world which has experienced significant economic disruption or loss of life is likely to experience a decrease in personal freedoms and a corresponding increase in centralized, autocratic government. This is usually caused by the need to control the dangers to the civilian population in the most efficient manner, and to assure that crucial services and tasks are carried out when needed.
     In many cases, however, the heightened efficiency is overshadowed by the increased intrusion and oppression these governments entail. This can create a mood of civil unrest, which leads to a more autocratic governmental form, which leads to more unrest. This cycle can often end in violent revolts—leaving things worse than before.
     By 1128, those worlds that are going to experience government changes have done so. This represents a majority of the worlds due to the widespread decreases in tech level. When governments change due to Hard Times, the net effect is usually a loss in pluralism, not simply an increase in the world’s governmental UWP. For instance, a Representative Democracy (UWP value 4) is more pluralistic than a Charismatic Oligarchy (UWP value 3), yet the Representative Democracy has the higher UWP. The basic MegaTraveller governmental progression tends to reflect a compromise between increasing levels of centrism and the governmental evolution accompanying the growth in population. Hard Times establishes an alternate progression based on decreasing levels of pluralism and increasing levels of oppression to resolve changes in government. This alternate progression is presented in the following section.

Passing of an Age

     The year 1128 sees an Imperium populated by increasing numbers of Frontier folk. Strangely, however, they are Frontier folk in reverse chronological order. Rather than opening up a new frontier, they are the rear guard of a collapsing civilization. These hardy, self-reliant people are the survivors of a terrible, pervasive war. They were born into the largest, most advanced and (supposedly) most secure interstellar state in existence.
     And now it is gone and will not be back in their lifetimes.
     In particular, the small worlds of the Outlands and the Wilds are beginning to realize the greatest hardships are ahead. Unable to maintain the infrastructure that produces doctors, educators and other essential specialists, they must now try to attract offworlders from the Frontier or the Safes to fill those posts. But offworlders are fewer and further between in 1128, and the numbers continue to decrease.
     A typical planet in the Outlands—say, population 4, tech level 7—is at the mercy of many possible aggressors, the most prominent of which are bands of organized pirates. It is not a safe, and therefore probably not a stable, environment. Yet, somehow, this planet must maintain an adequate number of competent, professional medical personnel. At population level 4, it is almost certain this world will not have a college, much less a medical school. And since there are no longer formal avenues of educational exchange, attending a suitable college on another planet maybe all but impossible. Even if the inhabitants of this world know of a suitable institution somewhere, the distance may be too great; the institution might not take offworlders; or the planet might be unable to afford it. Indeed, its own secondary and post-secondary educational system may be so limited as to be unable to produce candidates with sufficient qualifications. In order for such small planets to ensure themselves adequate medical care, they must either place a tremendous investment in one or two of their best and brightest, or they must hire offworld help. That offworld help is getting more scarce and less willing to take long-term employment in the Outlands and the Wilds.
     Similar areas of personnel shortages would be in education, technical maintenance, security/military and science. Lawyers will be rare as well, but smaller societies have less need for elaborate legal structures, so this lack will hardly be felt.
     This situation creates communities with a quaint "Old West" feel, where each citizen is solicitous toward, and proud and protective of, "our school marm" or "our doc."

STAGE 10: EMERGENT AUTONOMOUS POLITIES (date 1125-1128 and beyond)

     Few of the fledgling polities that attempted to band together against the onset of the Short Dusk (Hard Times) lasted more than a few years. Only a dozen or so survived long enough to be absorbed when the Safes of the post-Rebellion factions began to re-expand. However, the fact that so many interstellar polities did strive fa link themselves in common cause against the threat of social and technological recidivism offers insight into why the Short Dusk will not become another Long Night.
     The breakup of the Third Imperium was not caused by decay and decrepitude, what is what killed the First Imperium. Nor was it the result of the overextension and loss of control, creating the fragmentation of the Second Imperium. Instead, the Third Imperium was like a collection of spokes suddenly losing their hub. When the core (the emperor) was removed, large chunks of the society spun off on their own stilted trajectories, revealing what many had said for centuries—the dynamic equilibrium of the Third Imperium was too fragile to survive the stress of a true crisis.
     The pieces that flew away from the Imperium's hub were not the agents of chaos, despite the powerful and often conflicting?g centrifugal forces predetermining their fates. Instead, the factions, Frontiers, even the worlds of the Outlands longed for the benefits they had known when the Third Imperium cloaked them all. That longing pushed them to resurrect some semblance of the Imperium, whether with a few neighboring worlds or as part of a multifaction effort to restore the peace and prosperity through compromise and cooperation.
     What many see as the death throes of the Imperium will soon be known as the growth pains heralding the approach of a newer more mature scheme of interstellar governance. The Imperium is not dying of old age—it is experiencing childhood's end.

From the unfinished manuscript discovered, along with the pistol used to take his own life, beside the body of Tredek Jurisor

     In addition to the Safe regions, stable interstellar governments can arise in Frontier and Outland areas, particularly after 1128. These groupings, conceptually akin to ancient city-states, are referred to as independent, autonomous or stellar polities. Areas conducive to such regional consolidation have generally not been heavily mauled by the clashes of the Rebellion: If an area's tech level and industrial base are largely undamaged, so are its potentials to emerge as a new political nexus. It is also important the area contains a suitable mix of resources—usually at least one high-population planet for industry and economy, one or more agricultural planets, and perhaps a maintenance of intersystem trade within the polity.
     Local governments must have the vision to rapidly and efficiently reorganize along humbler lines. Bureaucracies and pure democracies are unlikely to do so in time; their processes are too full of inertia. Dictatorships and oligarchies are too unwilling to concede their power. Technocracies, corporate-owned systems, republics and military administrations have the best chances of enacting the changes in time.
     Finally, the formation of an interstellar government is more likely if the area has some form of speciate, ethnic, linguistic or cultural homogeneity—something creating an easily perceived line that divides a regional "us' from the hordes of 'them' beyond the local borders.

Polities and Survival

     Unfortunately, the majority of the interstellar polities formed will not endure for more than a few years. Some Frontier polities are actually absorbed by the local Safe, but Outland polities too often find out the member planets still have not wealthy planet. Class-A and class-B starports crucial to the stabilized their economies or achieved acceptable levels of security. Arguments over inequities of expenses and resource allocation often lead to feelings of suspicion and resentment, leading to dissolution of the group.
     Even if these potential obstacles are overcome, the very success of the polity increases its attractiveness as a target for raiders. Prosperity means higher technology, fresh ships, worthwhile opportunities for a daring band of corsairs, Vikings or rippers, However, if an Outland polity can survive these combined threats to its unity, it can provide a safe haven in the midst of increasingly dangerous regions of space.

After 1128

     Many of the changes, which become evident from 1125-1128, require another decade before they are fully resolved, although many of these resolutions are already obvious by the end of 1128. For instance, Doomed worlds are still slowly dying. The long-term results are ordained—compliance with the harsh reality is all that remains.
     Not all worlds face immediately bleak futures, however, Some may have the resources to take up with an independent polity, while some Frontier worlds may benefit from gradual firming up of defensive lines. Some stellar polities survive in the Outlands by stabilizing their technology and their ports, and they become, for a time, beacons in the growing darkness around them.
     However,the astrographic lines dividing entrophy from order will become sharper in the years ahead. Areas with the benefit of in dustry and commerce may stabilize, recover, flourish and formulate plans for reexpansion. Areas that have fallen by the wayside will sink deeper into the mire of depression and decay.
     To a large degree, it is up to the players to determine how deep this depression—and how dark that decay—will be.

The Long Night

In the real world, the most crowd-pleasing example of Cyclical History is how the Roman Empire declined and fell. Well, in western popular culture at any rate.

But from a science fiction writer's standpoint, one of the most dramatic parts comes in between. The Interregnum aka "The Dark Ages". The part that Isaac Asimov used to create an entire genre of science fiction, when he was inspired by Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to write the immortal Foundation trilogy. The part which happens historically between the fall of the first Galactic Empire and the rise of the Second. That period which Poul Anderson gave the picturesque name "The Long Night."

Which is also the part that makes historians throw up their hands in despair, since the popular culture conception of the dark ages is almost total fantasy. The majority of modern scholars avoid the term altogether due to its negative connotations, finding it misleading and inaccurate. Historians prefer the term "Early Middle Ages"

Be that as it may, the historians will just have to keep wringing their hands, because "Early Middle Ages" won't put your science fiction novel on the best-seller's list. The readers want something familiar, dramatic, and full of dark majesty; they wouldn't give a rat's heinie for dull historical accuracy. Writers can milk the popular culture misconception for all it is worth, because it never gets old.

In the Foundation trilogy some planets lost the ability to maintain their atomic power infrastructure and reverted to coal and oil. Although some still had starships, presumably steam-powered. In Niven and Pournelle's The Mote In God's Eye the planet New Scotland was recently terraformed. It required high-tech injection of tailored algae into volcanic plumes to keep the atmosphere breathable. When the Long Night hit, things got real tense on the planet. It was a desperate race between bootstrapping up to terraforming technology and everybody dying of suffocation. This is always a problem if you are living in a place where high technology is vital for survival.

Eventually things decay to the point that the starships stop working, and all the worlds revert to pre-spaceflight conditions. From there individual isolated planets can decivilize all the way down to cave-man level if they are unlucky. Or even to extinction if their luck has really run out. Lucky ones can arrest the fall at various technology levels, or even start to rise again.

Life become nasty, brutish, and short for a thousand years or so. Until a few planets regain starship technology and the second galactic empire starts to rise.

INTERREGNUM. The period of general decline following the FALL OF EMPIRE. Basically a dark age.  Interstellar TRADE dwindles, PLANETS are isolated from one another, and on many of them the TECHLEVEL falls dramatically, often down to early-industrial or even pre-industrial levels. The society adjusts accordingly, often to a NEOFEUDALIST system.

     An Interregnum is not implausible following the collapse of an early Terran Empire, since the implication is that a great many half-settled COLONIES are left stranded without the outside support their economies still require. It is not so clear why a similar result would follow the Fall of a mature Galactic Empire, since by that time most Planets have presumably been settled for centuries, if not thousands of years.

From THE TOUGH GUIDE TO THE KNOWN GALAXY by Rick Robinson (2012)

Term used by Poul Anderson in his Technic History sequence to denote the galactic Dark Ages expected after the fall of a Terran Galactic Empire already mired in Decadence, a narrative of Decline and Fall and the Darkness to come that comprises a central thread in the megatext (see SF Megatext) of the West, as exemplified in the twentieth century by Arnold J Toynbee (1889-1975) in A Study of History (1933-1961 11vols), especially Volumes V and VI (both 1939) where his depiction of "The Disintegrations of Civilizations" takes on a mythopoeic intensity whose impact on sf writers has been deep if inexplicit. Anderson's main protagonists – they give their names to the Nicholas van Rijn and Dominic Flandry subseries of the Technic History – foresee this grim eventuality in implicitly Toynbeean terms, and work against it, ultimately in vain; several stories in Anderson's The Long Night (coll 1983) are set in this dark era. The term appears in the first Flandry magazine story, "Tiger by the Tail" (January 1951 Planet Stories).

Hari Seldon in Isaac Asimov's Foundation (May 1942-October 1944 Astounding; fixup 1951; cut vt The 1,000 Year Plan 1955 dos) uses Psychohistory to predict a similar dark age and lays his plans to shorten this interregnum from the expected 30,000 years to a single millennium. It should be noted that most sf Future Histories which anticipate a Dark Age to come do so in the clear (though sometimes unstated) understanding that the Long Night is precisely an interregnum: that a new civilization will emerge from the abyss, though perhaps not soon. Examples include the early John Brunner tales eventually assembled as Interstellar Empire (omni 1976), H Beam Piper's Terro-Human Future History, Jerry Pournelle's CoDominium sequence and the lengthy timeline of the game Traveller. The Long Night figures as an explanatory backstory in many novels and series set in Rimworld planets, hinterlands that – according to both Toynbee and Asimov – will eventually reinvigorate the centre. There is also a natural tendency in long-lasting Space Opera series – an instance being Jack McDevitt's Academy/Priscilla Hutchins sequence, which has continued for a quarter of a century – for their later volumes to convey a sense that the twilight is deepening. [DRL/JC]

From The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction entry THEME: LONG NIGHT
by David Langford and John Clute (2018)

(ed note: The Galactic Union was a nice little interstellar empire, until it went through a hard Decline and Fall into the Long Night via a bloody civil war. Most of the interstellar colonies fell into medieval levels of technology. A bit more than a thousand years later the Proletarian Eclectic States of Terra arose. It sends out exploration missions to search for lost colonies. Our hero Rod and his faithful robot sidekick Fess have discovered such a colony.)

      Rod tilted his face back, breathing in. His eyes closed in luxury. “Ah, the blessed breath of land! What lives here, Fess?”
     Machinery whirred as the robot played back the electron-telescope tapes they had taken in orbit, integrating the pictorial data into a comprehensive description of the planet. “Land masses consist of five continents, one island of noteworthy dimensions, and a host of lesser islands. The continents and the minor islands exhibit similar flora—equatorial rain forest.”
     “Even at the poles?”
     “Within a hundred miles of each pole; the ice caps are remarkably small. Visible animal life confined to amphibians and a host of insects; we may assume that the seas abound with fish.”
     Rod rubbed his chin. “Sounds like we came in pretty early in the geologic spectrum.”
     “Carboniferous Era,” replied the robot.

     “How about that one large island? That’s where we’ve landed, I suppose?”
     “Correct. Native flora and fauna nonexistent. All lifeforms typical of Late Terran Pleistocene.”
     “How late, Fess?”
     “Human historical.”
     Rod nodded. “In other words, a bunch of colonists came in, picked themselves an island, wiped out the native life, and seeded the land with Terran stock. Any idea why they chose this island?”
     “Large enough to support a good-sized population, small enough to minimize problems of ecological revision. Then too, the island is situated in a polar ocean current, which lowers the local temperature to slightly below Terran normal.”

     “Very handy; saves them the bother of climate control. Any remains of what might have been Galactic Union cities?”
     “None, Rod.”
     “None!” Rod’s eyes widened in surprise. “That doesn’t fit the pattern. You sure, Fess?”

     The developmental pattern of a lost, or retrograde, colony—one that had been out of touch with Galactic civilization for a millennium or more—fell into three well-defined stages: first, the establishment establishment of the colony, centered around a modern city with an advanced technology; second, the failure of communications with Galactic culture, followed by an overpopulation of the city, which led to mass migrations to the countryside and a consequent shift to an agrarian, self-sufficient economy; and, third, the loss of technological knowledge, accompanied by a rising level of superstition, symbolized by the abandonment and eventual tabooing of a coal-and-steam technology; social relationships calcified, and a caste system appeared. Styles of dress and architecture were usually burlesques of Galactic Union forms: for example, a small hemispherical wooden hut, built in imitation of the vaulting Galactic geodesic domes.

     But always there were the ruins of the city, acting as a constant symbol and a basis for mythology. Always.

     “You’re sure, Fess? You’re really, really sure there isn’t a city?”
     “I am always certain, Rod.”

(ed note: in this case, the reason the modern city is absent is because it was never built in the first place. The planet was colonized by the futuristic equivalent of the Society for Creative Anachronism. They deliberatly built a pseudo-medieval colony. Basically this is Ren Fair Planet.)

From THE WARLOCK IN SPITE OF HIMSELF by Christopher Stasheff (1969)

"There was a time when this whole quadrant belonged to us! What are we now? Twelve worlds and a thousand monuments to past glories. Living off memories and stories, and selling trinkets. My god, man! We've become a tourist attraction. 'See the great Centauri Republic - open 9 to 5 - Earth time.'"

Londo Mollari, Babylon 5 — "The Gathering"

This nation used to rule the known world, or at least a sizable chunk of it. Unfortunately, for the last n years, its influence has been declining and its territory shrinking.

Vestigial Empires tend to leave behind still-working infrastructure (especially roads or the nearest space-operatic equivalent) as they shrink; frequently, they also leave behind a common language. Generally their remaining bits are a hotbed of cutthroat politics, ruled by decadent nobles with superiority complexes and equally decadent and morally challenged courtiers. In Space, may result from an Ungovernable Galaxy.

The protagonist is rarely actually from the Vestigial Empire—any time one is involved in a setting, it's usually it's either a source of villains, or a setting whose politics need to be navigated in order to obtain allies. Quite often, the only mention of them may be in a Cryptic Background Reference.

Being a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to late imperial Rome or Byzantium isn't required, but it's definitely a bonus.

Contrast with Precursors — an entire species of Vestigial Empire which tends to leave little to no working infrastructure and is also long gone by the time the story takes place. All or part of the Vestigial Empire may be The Remnant if they're still fighting for the (usually) lost cause of restoring their former glory. An inversion is a Rising Empire.

For a huge list of examples click here

VESTIGIAL EMPIRE entry from TV Tropes

      I came to, about two weeks later, in a base hospital, pretty badly burned. By that time the war was over, except, for the mopping up, and except for restoring order and getting the world started up again. You see, that hadn't been what I call a blow-up war. It killed off—I'm just guessing; I don,t remember the fraction—about a fourth or a fifth of the world,s population. There was enough productive capacity left, and there were enough people left, to keep on going; there were dark ages for a few centuries, but there was no return to savagery, no starting over again. In such times, people go back to using candles for light and burning wood for fuel, but not because they don't know how to use electricity or mine coal; but because the confusions and revolutions keep them off balance for a while. The knowledge is there, in abeyance, until order returns.

     It's not like a blow-up war, when nine-tenths or more of the population of Earth—or of Earth and the other planets—is killed. Then is when the world reverts to utter savagery and the hundredth generation rediscovers metals to tip their spears.

From LETTER TO A PHOENIX by Fredric Brown (1949)

Long Night Insurance

The Long Night is an awful time to live, so if it is inevitable, steps can be taken to help before it actually happens. Empires or organizations with some foresight can make some preparations. Having said that, the preparations will probably have to be made early in the Empire's life, it will probably be very difficult to do them during the Decline and Fall phase (due to indifference, self-centeredness, and decadence). Although Hari Seldon managed it.

There are two goals here:



The idea is to try and minimize the number of deaths in the empire, even though much of the infrastructure needed for survival is going to be swept away.

Survival in the galactic empire depends upon infrastructure. Think about modern day life, your automobile for instance. It is a wonderful piece of technology, but it needs infrastructure. Bluntly: if the Zombie Apocalypse happens, there ain't gonna be any more gasoline to fill up your auto's gasoline tank. Infrastructure like petroleum wells, oil refineries, gasoline tankers, and gasoline stations will all stop working as they are overrun by hungry zombies. The same will be true for the internet, smartphones, household electricity, natural gas, food and water.

Things are even worse if you are in living in a space station or something. Because you need infrastructure to supply your air.

The situation is that during the long night the level of technology is dropping. But survival depends upon using the existing ultra-high tech infrastructure left over from the defunct galactic empire.

To repair broken technology when no spare parts are available will require the services of a tinker. For instance, if a machine breaks a ball bearing but there are no spares, a tinker can try to re-cast the broken bearing in place.

As things get worse the tinkers will have to learn how to be cobblers, who have the power of bricolage. For instance, if there are no gasoline stations to supply fuel to your auto, a cobbler can alter the engine to run on methane distilled from chicken manure. Make an input into the auto's induction manifold using scrap tubing and duct-tape. Boil the manure to release the methane, capture it and compress it.

This isn't going to stop the infrastructure decline, but it can slow it down a bit. This will save lives. It will also give the civilization some breathing room to downsize into a sustainable infrastructure before everybody dies. Otherwise the infrastructure will probably crash all the way down to a subsistence economy. If they cannot hang on to plow technology they will rock-bottom into cave man hunter-gatherer level.


This is trying to minimize the centuries that will pass before the empire recovers to its original functionality and/or a new empire arises.

This was the motive behind Hari Seldon establishing the First and Second Foundation when the galactic empire was found to be falling, in Isaac Asimov's FOUNDATION trilogy. The Foundation's goal was to reduce the long night from thirty thousand years down to a mere thousand. Turning the Long Night into a Short Dusk so to speak. Seldon's official line was that the Encyclopedia Galactica produced by the First Foundation would do the job, by preserving knowledge. That turned out to be a ruse, the actual plan had the First Foundation playing a more active role.

There are three strategies that can help with the birth of the Second Galactic Empire:

  1. Preserving Knowledge
  2. Caching equipment
  3. Establish reserves
     Ensuring that a civilization struggling to leave the Long Night does not have to recreate all the scientific and technological knowledge of the Empire from scratch. Catches of information and knowledge passed down word-of-mouth will jump-start the renaissance.
Re-Boot Encyclopedias
     These are books containing information about important scientific knowledge in general, and recreating a technological infrastructure in particular. Examples include Foundation Encyclopedia Galactica, The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch, How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler, and these book lists.
     Caches of knowledge will have to be accessible to the lowest common denominator. Which probably means a universal common language (a lingua franca analogous to Latin, used by scholars) and indestructible printed books. Physical "dead-tree" books can be read by a culture that has not yet advanced to the discovery of electricity. A lingua franca ensures that people in the long night can understand what is written in the blasted books.
     eBooks are not as accessible. As a general rule eBook readers require electrical power, which can be a challenge for a culture who doesn't know what electricity is. As stupid as putting the key to a lockbox inside the lockbox, explaining how to generate electricity inside an eBook that requires electricity to read. If you do go the eBook route, you'll have to freeze the eBook data format, to avoid the digital preservation problem, e.g., why you cannot read the data on your old floppy disks. Otherwise the poor long-night culture is liable to be stuck with eBooks in a format that the surviving eBook readers cannot handle. The US Library of Congress is having a real problem with digital data becoming unaccessible for this very reason, and is finding that migrating the data from obsolete formats to new formats is almost impossible to perform successfully. This will have to be a constant effort since data formats change so rapidly, which is why the data format needs to be frozen.
     An unreliable alternative is using bards and minstrels to preserve the encyclopedias. Sort of like the "book people" from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. This has several problems.
     Passing the memory of the books from generation to generation can distort them like a children's game of "Telephone". The problem could be managed with the rhyme system, a la Ballad of Brandobar, sort of a bard checksum. Custard Smingleigh said: That's why each book needs three people. Two to individually memorise the book, one more to memorise parity information. Hah-hah.
     Volumes of the encyclopedia can be lost if the current bard dies before passing on the memory. Memorizing complicated diagrams is difficult. Getting the system set up in the first place will be a challenge in a decadent civilization. And so on. Relicteurs make more sense.
     Important but short pieces of data can be preserved via popular songs that non-bards can sing, examples include the Raycat Song, Space Shanties, and THE SILK AND THE SONG.
Cryo-frozen Scientists
     Idealistic scientists and engineers might volunteer to be put into suspended animation for hundreds or thousands of years, and be awakened during the long night to assist the rebirth of the Empire. While noble, the idea is tricky to implement.
     Like pretty much all of this section, the frozen-scientist project will happen when the empire is at its youth, since there will be little or no popular support for such a project during the empire's decline and fall.
     The scientists may be ignorant of Imperial history after they are frozen, which may lead to miscalculations. Unless the empire sends periodical historical digests to the cryo-chamber, so the scientists are faced with the daunting task of reading two thousand years worth of history.
     The scientists will have to be carefully profiled and vetted. It would be most unfortunate if some megalomaniac with visions of conquering the primitive planet managed to get included with the scientists.
     There is a question of what criteria triggers the awakening of the scientists. It may be safer for the scientists to be automatically wakened every hundred years or so and let them decide whether to go back into cryo-freeze or not. A fail-safe signal from the Empire (whose interruption triggers awakening) may fail during the Decline and Fall phase, when the officials don't care about keeping it up. This would a premature awakening since the Long Night had not actually happened yet.
     It might be a good idea to wake up a scientist if a local manages to open an equipment cache.
     The scientists might need some soldiers, since when they emerge, any native fallen war-lords will quickly realize that whoever captures the scientists will rule the world. The scientists will need to be protected. For the same reason all the information inside the cryo-chamber should be encrypted. Weapon data, military tactics, location of other cryo-chambers, that sort of thing. And all the equipment in locked chambers.
     This is gathering equipment that will assist in boot-strapping infrastructure and storing clutches of the gear in hidden/armored/buried/whatever locations. This will be tricky because you don't want the equipment being destroyed during the fall, or destroyed by ignorant long night people who don't understand how to use it. 'Twould be tragic if the fallen got their grubby hands on a priceless Santa Claus machine and smashed it to pieces to make into daggers and swords.
     How to keep the wrong people out is left as an exercise for the reader. I would suggest locks that require scientific knowledge to open, for example the lock on the Motie Museum. Hints may be left in re-boot encyclopedias.
     Naturally this will only help after the original cause of The Long Night is fixed. For instance, if the fall was because all the aristocracy and political rulers were corrupt and decadent, recovery is unlikely until they are replaced with people who are non-corrupt and non-decadent. The culture has to be ripe for re-birth in other words.
     In Philip E. High's These Savage Futurians, due to an overnight destruction of infrastructure, the spectre of mass starvation looms. Scientist frantically genetically engineer a food supply suited for the current global population reduced to a medieval level of technology. Protages look like cabbages, but they are high in protein, contain all required vitamins, and grow like weeds.
     Establish reserves of bootstrapping mineral resources because otherwise you only get one shot.
     If a planet uses up all the easily accessible petroleum sources, a civilization in the long night trying to recreate a technology base will have to make the jump from medieval wood-and-coal tech to off-shore oil drilling in one step. No can do, if there are no places where the oil is just bubbling up from the ground waiting to be scooped up. The same goes for many rare-earth elements which are vital to the electronics industry. These are called "rare" not because they are uncommon, but because of their chemical nature they rarely occur in economically exploitable ore deposits.
Set up reserves
     The empire will have to set aside strategic reserves of petroleum and other minerals that can be accessed with medieval tech, or the long night civilization will be stuck there.
Protect the reserves
     The problem is that most megacorporations look no further in the future than the next quarterly fiscal period, they don't give a rat's heinie about the long night happening in five hundred years. They always are looking for short-term benefits and ignoring long-term consequences. So they want to gobble up all those reserves, where the ease of resource access will increase profits.
     The empire will have to pass draconian laws to punish people and corporations who steal from the reserves. It's the future empire you are threatening!
     On the other hand, if a multi-planet empire collapses into the long night, the planets who were prudent about their resource reserves will be the ones who have a shot at being the new throne world of the new empire. The stupid planets who could not resist the megacorporations will still be at medieval peasant level when they are invaded by starships from prudent worlds.

Even without preparation, any organization that can retain a bit of infrastructure can become a nucleus for rebirth. Even unlikely ones, like the post office. We saw that in fiction with David Brin's The Postman, and in real life in Puerto Rico during 2017.


(ed note: This is for a scifi transhuman role playing game called Eclipse Phase. But it does explain the concept well)

Skillsets age and lose relevance as civilization and technology moves on. The necessity of creating flint knives through knapping drops to near-zero once superior metal technology becomes available and widespread; foot- and head-binding to achieved desirable body alteration falls out of fashion due to changing cosmetic preference and medical or ethical concerns; in both cases the skills are no longer practiced, and within a few generations are generally lost. Most transhumans rarely give this any thought, aside perhaps from a passing sadness or triumphant glee at the passing of the old ways—but others see this as a criminal loss of knowledge.

Relicteurs are a mostly informal association of transhumans dedicated to the preservation through practice of archaeoskills, the intellectual and physical abilities no longer in widespread use but which they feel should be preserved for the day when they do have some use once again or out of a desire to keep past legacies alive. While it is impractical to practice with certain obsolete technologies and circumstances, relicteurs also maintain distributed libraries of self-crafted and peer-reviewed skillware, most of which are available for free.

Barsoomians in particular have benefited from relicteur training in ancient traditional low-tech building techniques, and security forces regularly access the thousands of catalogued styles of martial arts, many of which use exotic and archaic weapons, and hunting, trapping, and survival techniques from old Earth cultures. Scumbarges tend to be relicteur strongholds as well, with an urgent need to keep at least a few people on board capable of programming near-obsolete programming languages and servicing antiquated but vital equipment.

Among the relicteurs themselves, there is a substantial movement for reinventing or repurposing archaeoskills for contemporary use, finding immediate and practical value in the skills of yesteryear. Knitting and sewing for example have re-emerged as energy-conservative and stylish endeavors in habitats where maker-crafted clothing was becoming a strain on the system; it is less resource-intensive to make a length of thread for repair or embroidery than to re-process an entire article of clothing. Likewise, many Neo-Avians and Neo-Ceteceans have repurposed scrimshaw methods to decorate their bills and teeth.


Relicteur networks on the ‘Mesh maintain a freeware library of skillsofts for archaic skills, everything from Art: Scrimschaw to Medicine: Leeching; it is up to the gamemaster to decide what relicteur ‘softs are available in their game. Skillsofts follow the rules in Eclipse Phase p.309 and 332.

Using Relicteurs

The most immediate benefit of relicteurs is to provide characters with an obscure, archaic skill in a pinch and with a minimal cost or hassle. Run a search, download the freeware skillsoft, then make a test. Used creatively, this can be a lot of fun for both players and gamemasters. If a player begins to somehow abuse the relicteur network (like trying to sell the skillsofts), consider applying a rep penalty or limiting access until the PC makes amends.

From RELICTEURS by greyirish (2012)

The Office of Studied Archaism and Talent Preservation is a curious little department of the Ministry of Ancestral Heritage (itself part of the Ministry of Progress and Prosperity). Like their cousins at the Office of the Libraries, their job is to prevent antiprogress in the form of lost knowledge, but where the librarians focus on gnosis, the OSATP and its partners in the Repository of All Knowledge and various authenticist initiatives focus instead upon praxis.

As such, they monitor, and offer grants and stipends to, authenticist and recreationist societies and individual hobbyists and relicteurs both, in order to ensure that there will be plenty of people around who can manage second-century blacksmithing, 8th-century steam engineering, 10th-century cogitator computing, 16th-century silicon-chip fabrication, 23rd-century asteroid-homesteading, and so forth, such that the knowledge will not be lost, and thus will be available should there ever again be a need for such things – or should some synergy with modernity, otherwise unavailable, become apparent.

– Sur-Dodeciad Parts in Approximate Formation: The Empire from Outside


Living National Treasure (人間国宝, Ningen Kokuhō) is a Japanese popular term for those individuals certified as Preservers of Important Intangible Cultural Properties (重要無形文化財保持者, Jūyō Mukei Bunkazai Hojisha) by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology as based on Japan's Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties (文化財保護法, Bunkazai Hogohō). The term "Living National Treasure" is not formally mentioned in the law, but is an informal term referencing the cultural properties designated as the National Treasures.


Before 1947, a system for Imperial Household Artists (帝室技芸員, Teishitsu Gigei-in) was in place.

Under the 1950 Law for Protection of Cultural Properties, intangible cultural properties are defined as dramatic, musical, artistic, and other intangible cultural artifacts of high value in terms of Japanese history or art (Article 2, Section 1, Part 2). Those intangible cultural properties of especial importance can be designated as "Important Intangible Cultural Properties" by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (Article 71, Section 1).

In other words, intangible cultural properties are certain artistic skills. Those individuals or groups who have attained high levels of mastery in those certain skills can be designated as preservers of them by the Japanese government for the purpose of ensuring their continuation. Living National Treasure is a term for those designated as keepers of important intangible cultural properties. It is considered to be a great honor as a national living treasure.

Types of Certification

There are three types of certification:

  • Individual Certification (各個認定, Kakko Nintei): this designation is for individuals who "have attained high mastery" of an art or craft.
  • Collective Certification (総合認定, Sōgō Nintei): this designation is for groups of 2 or more who as a group working in common have attained high mastery of an art or craft.
  • Preservation Group Certification (保持団体認定, Hoji Dantai Nintei): this designation is for large groups who have mastered an art or craft in which individual character is not emphasized.

Of the three types, generally only those to have received "Individual Certification" are referred to as Living National Treasures. Those working in artistic fields such as drama and music receive Individual and Collective Certifications, while those working in the crafts receive Individual or Preservation Group Certifications.

Support System

The Japanese government, with the goal of preserving important intangible cultural assets, provides a special annual grant of 2 million yen to Living National Treasures. In the case of groups, the government helps defray the costs of public exhibitions and activities necessary to continue the group. The National Theater of Japan provides training programs to help train successors in such arts as Noh, Bunraku, and Kabuki.

Many of the craft artisans are also members of the Japan Kōgei Association.


To date Living National Treasures have been certified for 16 categories of Intangible Cultural Properties:

List of Living National Treasures

From the Wikipedia entry for LIVING NATIONAL TREASURE (JAPAN)

David J. Gingery (December 19, 1932 – May 3, 2004) was an inventor, writer, and machinist, best known for his series of books on how to build machine tools.

Gingery is most famous for his Build Your Own Metal Working Shop From Scrap series, which details how to build a reasonably complete machine shop at low cost, often from scrap metal and other items. The hobbyist starts by constructing a small foundry capable of melting silicon-aluminum and zinc alloys from recycled automotive parts. Then green sand castings are used to make a metal lathe. The lathe is the first machine built since it can be used to help build itself. The lathe and foundry are then used to make more complicated machine tools.

The books in the series are, in the suggested sequence of construction:

  • The Charcoal Foundry
  • The Metal Lathe
  • The Metal Shaper
  • The Milling Machine
  • The Drill Press
  • The Dividing Head & Deluxe Accessories
  • Designing & Building The Sheet Metal Brake

There is another book by Gingery, not usually counted as part of the series, entitled Building a Gas Fired Crucible Furnace, which can be substituted for that describing the charcoal foundry.

The dominant themes of the series are recycling, using inexpensive and free materials, and bootstrapping the shop's capabilities. Gingery is noted for using basic methods, seldom used today, in order to make it possible for a skilled hobbyist to build the machines in the book series, usually without the aid of power tools or other expensive instruments.

In addition to the Build Your Own Metal Working Shop From Scrap series, Dave Gingery and his son Vincent have published a large number of booklets on shop practices, engine construction and mechanical miscellanea.

Links and references

From the Wikipedia entry for DAVID J. GINGERY

(ed note: This is from a satirical fantasy novel)

It looked to Sacharissa that the only tools a dwarf needed were his ax and some means of making fire.

That’d eventually get him a forge, and with that he could make simple tools, and with those he could make complex tools, and with complex tools a dwarf could more or less make anything.

From THE TRUTH by Terry Pratchett (2000)

One particularly distressing hallmark of late modernity can be characterized as a cultural loss of the future. Where we once delighted in imagining the turns civilization would take hundreds and even thousands of years ahead—projecting radical designs, innovative solutions, great explorations, and peculiar evolutionary developments—we now find the mode of forecasting has grown apocalyptic, as climate change and other catastrophic, man-made global phenomena make it difficult to avoid some very dire conclusions about humanity’s impending fate. We can add to this assessment the loss of what we may call the "long view" in our day-to-day lives.

As the Long Now Foundation co-founder Stewart Brand describes it, “civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span,” driven by “the acceleration of technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next-election perspective of democracies, or the distractions of personal multi-tasking.”

Such is the texture of modern existence, and though we may run our hands over it daily, remarking on how tightly woven the fabric is, we seem to have few-to-no mechanisms for unweaving---or even loosening---the threads. Enter the Long Now Foundation and its proposal of “both a mechanism and a myth” as a means encouraging “the long view and the taking of long-term responsibility.”

Inspired by computer scientist Daniel Hill’s idea for a Stonehenge-sized clock that “ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium,” the foundation proposes a number of projects and guidelines for restoring long-term thinking, including “minding mythic depth,” “rewarding patience,” and “allying with competition.” The clock, initially a thought experiment, is becoming a reality, as you can see in the short video above, with a massive, “monument scale” version under construction in West Texas and scale prototypes in London and the Long Now Foundation’s San Francisco headquarters. Largely a symbolic gesture, the “10,000 year clock," as it's called, has been joined with another, eminently practical undertaking reminiscent of Isaac Asimov’s Encyclopedia Galactica---a “library of the deep future.”

One wing of this library, the Manual for Civilization, aims to compile a collection of 3,500 books in the Foundation's physical space---books deemed most likely to “sustain or rebuild civilization.” To begin the project, various future-minded contributors have been asked to make their own lists of books to add. The first list comes from musician/composer/producer/musical futurist and founding board member Brian Eno, who named the foundation. Other notable contributors include Long Now Foundation president Stewart Brand and board member and co-founder of Wired magazine Kevin Kelly. Below, see the first ten titles from each of these futurist’s lists, and further down, links to the full list of contributors’ selections so far. As you scan the titles below, and browse through each contributor’s list, consider why and how each of these books would help humanity rebuild civilization, and suggest books of your own in the comments.

10 Titles from Brian Eno’s Manual for Civilization list

10 Titles from Stewart Brand’s Manual for Civilization list

10 Titles from Kevin Kelly’s Manual for Civilization list

Once again, these are only excerpts from longer lists by these three futuristic thinkers. For their complete selections, click on their lists below, as well as those from such cultural figures as sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson and Brain Pickings’ editor Maria Popova. And please let us know: Which books would you include in the “Manual for Civilization” library project, and why? You can also add your own suggestions for the growing library at the Long Now Foundation's website.


Standard Template Construct

The Standard Template Construct (STC) systems were complex analytical and processing programs, artificial intelligences, created during the Dark Age of Technology (M21 - M23). They are said to have contained the entirety of human technological knowledge up to that point. Following the Age of Technology, the systems became increasingly rare, until becoming lost entirely. In the current Age of the Imperium, the ancient technological knowledge survives only because it was preserved in STC hard copies.


The Dark Age of Technology saw the original development of the technology the Imperium is now reliant on, which was encapsulated into the STC systems. Along with the creation of Warp Drive technology and the human mutants known as Navigators, the STC systems were one of the major factors in mankind's expansion outside the solar system and his conquest of the stars. The STC allowed disparate mankind to maintain a standard level of technology. A complete, functioning STCs system was an evolved computer designed to provide construction details for human colonists, enabling them to build efficient shelters, generators and transports without any prior knowledge and using almost any locally available materials. For example, the user simply asked how to build a house or a tractor and the computer would supply all the necessary plans.

The Age of Strife

During the Age of Strife, the STC systems lapsed into disuse and decayed, becoming increasingly unreliable and quirky. On some worlds they were maintained, but most suffered damage by enthusiastic software specialists or subsequent jury-rigging. Hard copies of the information they contained survived much longer, and were frequently copied and passed down from generation to generation.

Some Imperial historians have theorized that scientists during the Age of Technology foresaw the coming of the Age of Strife, and created the STCs to ensure that their knowledge would not be lost to future generations.

The Age of the Imperium

In the Age of the Imperium, working STCs are practically unknown. The recovery of fragments of an STC or the templates used in one is the primary focus of the Adeptus Mechanicus's quest for knowledge. Part of this quest is also to find, collate and utilise STC print-outs. The STC is their equivalent to the font of all knowledge (which is exactly what it was intended to be). Ancient recovered print-outs from STCs are regarded as sacred texts. The Mechanicus strives to recover as much information as possible from them, hoping to find new knowledge, weapons and technologies. Although the most advanced technological information eludes the Adeptus Mechanicus, through their efforts, much has been either recovered or reconstructed through comparison of copies.

Probably the most significant find of an STC fragment was by Magos Arkhan Land in M31. This fragment contained the templates for the construction of the now famous Land Raider Main Battle Tank, and the Land Speeder, all named in honour of their discoverer. An intact, functional STC is so rare in the galaxy as to be regarded as almost mythical, an impossibility. Nevertheless, even a rumour that such a system has been found is enough to prompt a Mechanicus expedition to locate it. If a working STC could be found, it would revolutionize the entire Imperium. The technologies lost during the Age of Strife would bring humankind back to its zenith of power, pushing the boundaries of the Imperium further, and emasculating the aliens threatening mankind.


      Winchell Chung: Also needed are books like: The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch

     Arturo Sierra: Problem is, on what to write it. Digital stuff is obviously out of the question, but the survivability of paper is an unknown, and it suffers greatly from use. Plastic degrades quickly for this purpose.

     Winchell Chung: Yeah, I see what you mean. Without a doubt this is a non-trivial problem. If you carve letters into metal sheets, future barbarians will use them as a convenient source of sword-making material.

     Prez Cannady: Pick the longest lasting substrates you can prepare and devise a means of rapidly transferring knowledge encoded on it. Both methods of manufacturing substrate and means of reproduction should be simple enough to be recovered by folks with minimal technology at their disposal.

     Arturo Sierra: In Cixin Liu's Death's End there's a really interesting discussion about the pros and cons of different substrates for long term information storage. Rock seems like the most lasting, but info compression is terrible.

     Will Turner: Idea I toyed with in aborted post-apocalyptic game was information inlaid into useful items made of fancy stainless steel-like metal such as blades and arrowheads. Idea being a civilization would collect and keep them for their practical use even before value of the inlaid information is discovered.

     Arturo Sierra: Metal lasts really little time, though, less even than biological materials. Also, the temptation to melt it for re-use is great.

     Will Turner: If human civilization hasn't rebuilt after an apocalypse within the reasonable lifetime of corrosion resistant metals, it's not going to, was my thinking. And the other idea was by the time they have the ability to forge high temps they know the value of the inlaid information. The main hopefully useful thing I was trying to add to the discussion is record the knowledge on something that an early civilization will want to keep around before they understand the information, thereby increasing the chance they'll spend time figuring out the information.

     Arturo Sierra: Not only that, what language do you use? Language can change incredibly fast in times of social catastrophe, not to mention literacy rates going to hell. Diagrams and iconographic symbols sound cool, but anyone who has build an IKEA shelve knows they are not as obvious to read

     Winchell Chung: Just so. There will be a need for a widely known language that is useful. Much like Latin was during the middle ages.

     Arturo Sierra: Several issues. The Roman Empire colapsed gradually and institutions such as the Church had time to adapt, finding ways to keep knowledge/language alive. Technological civilization is likely to fall fast and hard. Scientific and technological lingo is meaningless outside context, not like living languages (e.g., Latin). You can learn Latin from a text in Latin and your native tounge. Can't learn physics the same way. Concepts like energy, entropy, electricity, particle, have no reference in natural language (see Torretti). You need a comunity of scientist to teach you their meaning; once gone...


      The audience was small and drawn exclusively from among the Barons of the Empire. Press and public were excluded and it was doubtful that any significant number of outsiders even knew that a trial of Seldon was being conducted. The atmosphere was one of unrelieved hostility toward the defendants.
     Five of the Commission of Public Safety sat behind the raised desk. They wore scarlet and gold uniforms and the shining, close-fitting plastic caps that were the sign of their judicial function. In the center was the Chief Commissioner Linge Chen. Gaal had never before seen so great a Lord and he watched him with fascination. Chen, throughout the trial, rarely said a word. He made it quite clear that much speech was beneath his dignity.
     The Commission's Advocate consulted his notes and the examination continued, with Seldon still on the stand:

     Q. Let us see, Dr. Seldon. How many men are now engaged in the project of which you are head?
     A. Fifty mathematicians.
     Q. Including Dr. Gaal Dornick?
     A. Dr. Dornick is the fifty-first,
     Q. Oh, we have fifty-one then? Search your memory, Dr. Seldon. Perhaps there are fifty-two or fifty-three? Or perhaps even more?
     A. Dr. Dornick has not yet formally joined my organization. When he does, the membership will be fifty-one. It is now fifty, as I have said.
     Q. Not perhaps nearly a hundred thousand?
     A. Mathematicians? No.
     Q. I did not say mathematicians. Are there a hundred thousand in all capacities?
     A. In all capacities, your figure may be correct.
     Q. May be? I say it is. I say that the men in your project number ninety-eight thousand, five hundred and seventy-two.
     A. I believe you are counting women and children.
     Q. (raising his voice) Ninety eight thousand five hundred and seventy-two individuals is the intent of my statement. There is no need to quibble.
     A. I accept the figures.

     Q. (referring to his notes) Let us drop that for the moment, then, and take up another matter which we have already discussed at some length. Would you repeat, Dr. Seldon, your thoughts concerning the future of Trantor?
     A. I have said, and I say again, that Trantor (capital planet of the galactic empire) will lie in ruins within the next three centuries.
     Q. You do not consider your statement a disloyal one?
     A. No, sir. Scientific truth is beyond loyalty and disloyalty.
     Q. You are sure that your statement represents scientific truth?
     A. I am.
     Q. On what basis?
     A. On the basis of the mathematics of psychohistory.
     Q. Can you prove that this mathematics is valid?
     A. Only to another mathematician.
     Q. (with a smile) Your claim then is that your truth is of so esoteric a nature that it is beyond the understanding of a plain man. It seems to me that truth should be clearer than that, less mysterious, more open to the mind.
     A. It presents no difficulties to some minds. The physics of energy transfer, which we know as thermodynamics, has been clear and true through all the history of man since the mythical ages, yet there may be people present who would find it impossible to design a power engine. People of high intelligence, too. I doubt if the learned Commissioners—

At this point, one of the Commissioners leaned toward the Advocate. His words were not heard but the hissing of the voice carried a certain asperity. The Advocate flushed and interrupted Seldon.

     Q. We are not here to listen to speeches, Dr. Seldon. Let us assume that you have made your point. Let me suggest to you that your predictions of disaster might be intended to destroy public confidence in the Imperial Government for purposes of your own.
     A. That is not so.
     Q. Let me suggest that you intend to claim that a period of time preceding the so-called ruin of Trantor will be filled with unrest of various types.
     A. That is correct.
     Q. And that by the mere prediction thereof, you hope to bring it about, and to have then an army of a hundred thousand available.
     A. In the first place, that is not so. And if it were, investigation will show you that barely ten thousand are men of military age, and none of these has training in arms.
     Q. Are you acting as an agent for another?
     A. I am not in the pay of any man, Mr. Advocate.
     Q. You are entirely disinterested? You are serving science?
     A. I am.

     Q. Then let us see how. Can the future be changed, Dr. Seldon?
     A. Obviously. This courtroom may explode in the next few hours, or it may not. If it did, the future would undoubtedly be changed in some minor respects.
     Q. You quibble, Dr. Seldon. Can the overall history of the human race be changed?
     A. Yes.
     Q. Easily?
     A. No. With great difficulty.
     Q. Why?
     A. The psychohistoric trend of a planet-full of people contains a huge inertia. To be changed it must be met with something possessing a similar inertia. Either as many people must be concerned, or if the number of people be relatively small, enormous time for change must be allowed. Do you understand?
     Q. I think I do. Trantor need not be ruined, if a great many people decide to act so that it will not.
     A. That is right.
     Q. As many as a hundred thousand people?
     A. No, sir. That is far too few.
     Q. You are sure?
     A. Consider that Trantor has a population of over forty billions. Consider further that the trend leading to ruin does not belong to Trantor alone but to the Empire as a whole and the Empire contains nearly a quintillion human beings.
     Q. I see. Then perhaps a hundred thousand people can change the trend, if they and their descendants labor for three hundred years.
     A. I'm afraid not. Three hundred years is too short a time.

     Q. Ah! In that case, Dr. Seldon, we are left with this deduction to be made from your statements. You have gathered one hundred thousand people within the confines of your project. These are insufficient to change the history of Trantor within three hundred years. In other words, they cannot prevent the destruction of Trantor no matter what they do.
     A. You are unfortunately correct.
     Q. And on the other hand, your hundred thousand are intended for no illegal purpose.
     A. Exactly.
     Q. (slowly and with satisfaction) In that case, Dr. Seldon—Now attend, sir, most carefully, for we want a considered answer. What is the purpose of your hundred thousand?

     The Advocate's voice had grown strident. He had sprung his trap; backed Seldon into a comer; driven him astutely from any possibility of answering.
     There was a rising buzz of conversation at that which swept the ranks of the peers in the audience and invaded even the row of Commissioners. They swayed toward one another in their scarlet and gold, only the Chief remaining uncorrupted. Hari Seldon remained unmoved. He waited for the babble to evaporate.

     A. To minimize the effects of that destruction.
     Q. And exactly what do you mean by that?
     A. The explanation is simple. The coming destruction of Trantor is not an event in itself, isolated in the scheme of human development. It will be the climax to an intricate drama which was begun centuries ago and which is accelerating in pace continuously. I refer, gentlemen, to the developing decline and fall of the Galactic Empire.

     The buzz now became a dull roar. The Advocate, unheeded, was yelling, "You are openly declaring that—" and stopped because the cries of "Treason" from the audience showed that the point had been made without any hammering. Slowly, the Chief Commissioner raised his gavel once and let it drop. The sound was that of a mellow gong. When the reverberations ceased, the gabble of the audience also did. The Advocate took a deep breath.

     Q. (theatrically) Do you realize, Dr. Seldon, that you are speaking of an Empire that has stood for twelve thousand years, through all the vicissitudes of the generations, and which has behind it the good wishes and love of a quadrillion human beings?
     A. I am aware both of the present status and the past history of the Empire. Without disrespect, I must claim a far better knowledge of it than any in this room.
     Q. And you predict its ruin?
     A. It is a prediction which is made by mathematics. I pass no moral judgements. Personally, I regret the prospect. Even if the Empire were admitted to be a bad thing (an admission I do not make), the state of anarchy which would follow its fall would be worse. It is that state of anarchy which my project is pledged to fight. The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity — a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop.
     Q. Is it not obvious to anyone that the Empire is as strong as it ever was?
     A. The appearance of strength is all about you. It would seem to last forever. However, Mr. Advocate, the rotten tree-trunk, until the very moment when the storm-blast breaks it in two, has all the appearance of might it ever had. The storm-blast whistles through the branches of the Empire even now. Listen with the ears of psychohistory, and you will hear the creaking.
     Q. (uncertainly) We are not here, Dr. Seldon, to lis—
     A. (firmly) The Empire will vanish and all its good with it. Its accumulated knowledge will decay and the order it has imposed will vanish. Interstellar wars will be endless; interstellar trade will decay; population will decline; worlds will lose touch with the main body of the Galaxy. —And so matters will remain.
     Q. (a small voice in the middle of a vast silence) Forever?
     A. Psychohistory, which can predict the fall, can make statements concerning the succeeding dark ages. The Empire, gentlemen, as has just been said, has stood twelve thousand years. The dark ages to come will endure not twelve, but thirty thousand years. A Second Empire will rise, but between it and our civilization will be one thousand generations of suffering humanity. We must fight that.
     Q. (recovering somewhat) You contradict yourself. You said earlier that you could not prevent the destruction of Trantor; hence, presumably, the fall; —the so-called fall of the Empire.
     A. I do not say now that we can prevent the fall. But it is not yet too late to shorten the interregnum which will follow. It is possible, gentlemen, to reduce the duration of anarchy to a single millennium, if my group is allowed to act now. We are at a delicate moment in history. The huge, onrushing mass of events must be deflected just a little, — just a little — It cannot be much, but it may be enough to remove twenty-nine thousand years of misery from human history.
     Q. How do you propose to do this?

     A. By saving the knowledge of the race. The sum of human knowing is beyond any one man; any thousand men. With the destruction of our social fabric, science will be broken into a million pieces. Individuals will know much of exceedingly tiny facets of what there is to know. They will be helpless and useless by themselves. The bits of lore, meaningless, will not be passed on. They will be lost through the generations. But, if we now prepare a giant summary of all knowledge, it will never be lost. Coming generations will build on it, and will not have to rediscover it for themselves. One millennium will do the work of thirty thousand.
     Q. All this
     A. All my project; my thirty thousand men with their wives and children, are devoting themselves to the preparation of an "Encyclopedia Galactica." They will not complete it in their lifetimes. I will not even live to see it fairly begun. But by the time Trantor falls, it will be complete and copies will exist in every major library in the Galaxy.

     The Chief Commissioner's gavel rose and fell. Hari Seldon left the stand and quietly took his seat next to Gaal.

From FOUNDATION by Isaac Asimov (1951)

(ed note: this is from actual real history)

      The reaction of the Carthaginian proconsul Martianus Capella (410 CE) to the fall of Rome was more pragmatic. He saw that the expansive, public life of the Empire was gone for good. If the Romans were to survive at all, it would be in a very different world,with everything on a much smaller scale. Without the centralising influence of Rome, the Empire would be fragmented into tiny states and cities that would have to exist autonomously on limited resources. They would need condensed forms of Roman knowledge to help them.

     Such a condensation was Capella’s packaged version, in nine volumes, of the imperial school curriculum. That course had been divided into two sections, the first of which contained all the rules for the teaching of the primary subjects of rhetoric, grammar and argument. These had been the staple of early instruction in an expanding Roman imperialist society with a need to win over conquered tribes with oratory, teach them Latin, and formulate complex legislation to hold everything together.

     To these three early subjects Capella added four more from the Empire’s later years. As Rome grew it had become necessary to expand the school curriculum with more practical subjects relevant to the day to day organisation of sophisticated urban life. Music, geometry, arithmetic and astronomy were added. These subjects formed the advanced studies. Capella’s book detailed these seven subjects, which were known as the seven liberal arts, together with an encyclopedic anthology of all the facts relating to them. His work was to become standard reference for education for the next six centuries.

(ed note: can you say "Encyclopedia Galactica", girls and boys? Sure you can)

     As the monastic communities spread northwards in the seventh century, they took Capella’s book with them into a world very different from Carthage in its splendid decay. Dark Age Europe was a land of darkness indeed, of almost impenetrable woods in which roamed wild animals: boar, bear, wolves and men too violent to live in the tiny clusters of huts scattered through the forest. Roman administration had been replaced by small kingdoms of barbarians, but their writ did not extend far beyond the bounds of their encampments among the ruined cities. They lived as isolated as did the forest communities.

     Between the hamlets the Roman roads crumbled under the onslaught of bracken and bush. With no movement from one place to another, there was little point in maintaining them. The dwindling members of the population subsisted on what they could grow in the forest clearings, or ‘assarts’, as they were called, which poked like hesitant fingers into the shadows of the forest. Only the well armed, or those protected by spiritual courage, ventured into the woods.

     Gradually, however, as the forest was pushed back, the small communities grew, and by the eighth century some were loosely linked in the manorial system. The manor was a totally autonomous entity, seldom covering more than a few square miles, its illiterate serfs ruled by an equally illiterate lord, whose duty it was to protect his manor in return for payment in kind. There was no money. The manor had to be self-sufficient, as no help could be expected from elsewhere. Life expectancy at the time was about forty years.

     Several hundred such small manors might be held in sway by one overlord, administering them as he saw fit. All transactions were conducted in terms of land: ownership, tenure or rent. Each man paid his debts in acreage, produce or service. Only the seasons changed. The routine of daily life was an unvaried cycle of sleeping, eating, working and sleeping again. The mental horizons of even the most inquisitive were limited by the forest wall. Customs, clothes, dialect, food and laws, all were local. And there was no way of knowing if things were any different elsewhere, for a small community might be fortunate to see one visitor a year.

     The rare sight of a passing monk was an event of note. These strange, cowled figures must have seemed to come from another world. They could read and write. They knew things beyond the ken of even the great barons. They lived in fortified stone monasteries, islands of knowledge in a sea of ignorance, protecting themselves where they could against barbarian havoc, preserving what they knew against the day when there would be a world able to make use of it. Guardians of the past, the monks shared their learning among their own kind as the centuries passed. Fittingly perhaps, knowledge spread from monastery to monastery with the recorders of death — monks who spent their lives travelling the countryside inscribing mortuary rolls with details of members of the order who had died. These travelling scribes would bring and take away knowledge in the form of copies of manuscripts from the various monasteries.

From THE DAY THE UNIVERSE CHANGED by James Burke (1985)

      Many papers, articles, documentaries, and movies—technical and fictional—have described the probable effects of a nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union. Although no one can foretell the collective result of such an event, or predict with absolute certainty how ballistic missiles will perform under combat conditions, two conditions of the postnuclear world seem to be assured: utter chaos and megadeaths.

     In view of the current nuclear arms race, and the superpowers’ inability to abate it, we would do well to consider what steps need to be taken in terms of supporting U. S. citizens who survive a nuclear attack.

     Barring populace annihilation from complete saturation by ballistic missile strikes, there undoubtedly will be pockets of survivors. These pockets of survivors must be provided for, making it feasible for our nation to regroup, reestablish, and defend against the aggressor. Currently, such regrouping and survival techniques are not available; what we need is a Mobile Continuity Force (MCF).

     Any land-based stockpiling of food­stuffs and medical supplies would not be immune to radioactive contamination. Even if these supplies were immune, the disruption of virtually all transportation as a result of a nuclear exchange would preclude these supplies from being distributed. Furthermore, the major population centers may well be eliminated, and with them the majority of our govern­mental agencies and their related communication networks.

     There is an area where foodstuffs and medical supplies, plus vital support equipment necessary to support the pockets of surviving civilians, could exist: the open sea. It would provide a buffer between devastated areas in the northern hemisphere and MCF deployment areas in the southern polar regions. True, an all-out nuclear war would generate immense clouds of radioactive fallout which would eventually encircle the world. But if supplies could be held in reserve on board vessels near the South Polar sea areas, it is possible that the contaminating fallout would be of low intensity, or even nonexistent. To stow, transport, and deliver these vital supplies and equipment would require the use of man’s largest and most versatile prime movers—ships; specifically, Mobile Continuity Force ships.

     MCF ships would be specially designed to transport and off-load provisions, materials, and equipment which would sustain survivors of a nuclear attack on the United States. Other MCF capabilities would be to ensure the continuity of our government and perpetuation of our most essential scientific, medical, and industrial technology. In standby patrol, an MCF ship would be deployed to remote and diverse sea stations. The anticipated length of patrol duty would be approximately 60 days, with crew changes similar to that of the nuclear submarine service. With this extended length of time on station, the ship’s crew will require substantial medical care and adequate recreational facilities.

     To fill the various duty and watch requirements inherent in a ship with this proposed mission, some or all of the crew may have to be double-rated. Consequently, if a survival beachhead is established, the deck divisions may have to double as paramedics, drivers, etc. The engineering divisions, while keeping the main plant operating, would man the cargo handling rigs and landing craft. A mixed crew of men and women is advocated for this type of mission. In view of the dire consequences of a nuclear war, the mixed crews of MCF vessels, isolated from the sterile effects of nuclear radiation, could still procreate.

     If the unthinkable does occur, and after the conflict subsides, MCF vessels would cautiously approach the coastal areas of the United States. Before establishing survival beachheads, MCF vessels would dispatch helicopters to conduct reconnaissance sweeps. The first sweep would determine areas of least radioactive intensity. The second and successive sweeps would attempt to locate pockets of survivors in these areas.

     After contact with survivors was made, a beachhead and base of operations would be established. Immediately, an MCF ship’s commanding officer worn assume control of the area until a local, stable government could be formed. Subsequently, the off-loading of provisions, materials, and equipment at a survival beachhead would be accomplished by means of the ship’s cargo gear and landing craft. Small diesel trucks stowed on board and off-loaded with the supplies would facilitate distribution and help to consolidate survival efforts.

     The MCF command would continue to aid survivors and have its ships be the centers of operational control, until such time as the civilian body could demonstrate its ability to govern and support itself. Until then, MCF would continue to:

  • Dispense medical aid and service
  • Allocate and disperse foodstuffs and drinking water
  • Disperse and direct the use of agricutural supplies, seeds, and equipment
  • Maintain law and order
  • Make the technical library available civilians for instruction and training purposes
  • Maintain communications with ot MCF vessels to coordinate consolidation of government
  • Conduct probes to determine their habitability into the surrounding areas

     Preliminary analysis indicates MCF vessels should have the following design characteristics:

     Hull: Vessels will be of steel construction, conforming to the requirements unrestricted ocean service; principal dimensions indicated in Figure 1 are approximate. To reduce cost and simplify construction, decks will have no sheer and only exposed weather decks will have camber. Shipboard washdown systems will be incorporated to provide decontamination from radioactive fallout.

     Propulsion: For adequate maneuverability and long-term station keeping, the propulsion arrangements will consist of twin screws, twin steam turbines, and twin nuclear steam generators. For safety, the machinery spaces will be arranged in segregated port and starboard engine and boiler rooms.

     Armament: Armament will assume a low-profile defensive mode. This may reduce the probability of MCF vessels being targets of attack as offensive ships. Armament will consist of four radar directed, twin-barrel 30-mm. guns. These will serve as surface, antiaircraft, and antimissile defense weapons; there will also be two standoff antisubmarine weapons. MCF vessels will also be outfitted with small arms. These weapons will be used to repel boarders, provide ship security while in port, control riots, and provide protection for supplies and equipment when deposited ashore during survival operations.

     Library: An adequate reference and instruction library will be provided to assure the preservation and perpetuation knowledge in the major life-support fields of medicine, science, agriculture, and industrial technology. Also housed in library will be films, slides, and tapes, along with playback equipment to supplement various instruction books. The compartment or compartments designated as the library area will have an air-conditioning system with sensitive humidity controls to assure preservation the materials stored therein.

     Survival Provisions: Survival provisions will be comprised of canned, dried, and powdered foodstuffs stowed as indicated in Figure 1. These provisions will be packaged so that each individual container can be handled by one man, but at the same time suited to stacking for handling on pallets. In addition to the provisions, mobile field kitchens will be provided and stowed on the second deck of No. 5 hold. Fresh water will be provided from the shipboard distillation plant.

     Agricultural Supplies and Equipment: Adequate agricultural supplies will consist of numerous types of grain and vegetable seeds stowed in moisture-proof containers; accompanying the seeds will be a supply of fertilizer. In addition, farm tractors—complete with attachments—will be stowed on the tank top of No. 4 hold.

     Medical Supplies and Equipment: Medical supplies consisting of selected medicines, some requiring refrigeration, will be stowed in security lockers on the main deck of No. 5 hold. Appropriate medical equipment will be provided, including items for major surgery. Mobile hospital equipment, including utility ambulances, will be stowed on the second deck of No. 4 hold.

     Transport: If no suitable piers are available for the off-loading of supplies and equipment, the ship’s landing craft will establish a beachhead. These craft shall consist of LCM-6s and LCVP-Mk-4s stowed atop the cargo hatches on the 0-1 level. The LCMs will be capable of carrying farm tractors and trucks. The LCVPs will be capable of transporting small vehicles and related trailers. All landing craft will be capable of carrying forklifts, palletized cargo, and drums. Land transport vehicles will consist of medium and small trucks with attached trailers. All vehicles will have two-way radio communication equipment and shall be diesel powered. Fuel for diesel-powered trucks and landing craft will be carried in the wing tanks of the MCF vessels as indicated in Figure 1.

     Detection and Communication Equipment: Radiation detection devices (Geiger counters and dosimeters), together with portable two-way radio equipment, will be stowed in lockers on the main deck level of No. 4 hold.

     Miscellaneous Supplies: Certain cargo hold areas will be designated to stow emergency temporary shelters (tents), construction tools, plus sanitary chemicals and equipment to cope with the disposal of raw sewage.

     Helicopters: Two helicopters, similar in size and capability to Kaman SH-2Fs, will be housed in hangars port and starboard on the aft end of the 0-2 level, with a landing platform aft of the hangar area.

     Capabilities: Listed below are MCF vessel capabilities in addition to survival services:

  • Conduct submarine, ship, and aircraft surveillance
  • Monitor designated radio signals
  • Record and transmit weather data

     Conclusion: The MCF would be a nautical counterpart to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “crisis re­location” program. MCF would provide ways and means of counteracting the effects of a nuclear attack on the United States, and supplying aid, subsistence, and government continuity for surviving segments of the population. MCF could thus be construed as a deterrent, since its implementation would provide strong evidence of our determination to survive, regroup, and reestablish ourselves as a nation.

Mr. Sollers was assigned to the industrial design section of the U. S. naval base at Pearl Harbor during World War II. He retired from Bethlehem Steel Corporation as a senior designer in the Central Technical Division of the Sparrows Point Shipyard in Maryland. Currently, he is a free-lance marine designer/photographer.

(ed note: ToughSF said "I can already imagine a scifi story where scattered populations emerging from bunkers are racing to claim these 'civilization in a box' ships.")

From THE WEEKS AFTER by James T. Sollers, USNI Proceedings July 1984 (1984)

      “I was put in a Navy section called PNW—for Post-Nuclear World. The very existence of the damn section was itself so classified that we had a joke about our studies being so top secret as to be stamped ‘Burn Before Reading.’”
     Bainbridge received with a smile the small ripple of laughter. “Anyhow, one idea given a very serious consideration was the positioning of something called a ‘Mobile Continuity Force.’ The idea was to create a task force of vessels built solely for the purpose and cram them with all imaginable survival gear and personnel … food, clothing, medicine, tents … doctors, nurses, mobile hospitals, ambulances … grain and vegetable seeds, fertilizers … Jeeps, landing craft, helicopters … standing ready to take all this to pockets of survivors who might just be around here and there in the United States. Plans even called for each ship’s company being composed half of men, half of women: In case there was nobody left, they could procreate all by themselves. Having built this task force, the idea was to pick the place on earth most likely to survive all-out nuclear attack. There was no argument as to what that place was. The vessels were to be stationed in the South Polar Sea—however great the fallout everywhere else, contamination there being either of low intensity or nonexistent.

     We all listened with fascination to this account of the communications officer’s former duty. I softly put a question into the absolute silence.
     “And what happened to that particular Pentagon plan, Mr. Bainbridge?”

     “Well, Captain, the Joint Chiefs shot it down. Two reasons. In the event of that kind of attack the whole country, they figured, would be so contaminated that the ships couldn’t get anywhere near it for a couple of hundred years or so. The other was that building and positioning those ships, so they reasoned, would signal to the Russians and everybody else that we believed we could survive a nuclear confrontation; contradicted the reigning philosophy of mutual assured destruction—that a nuclear war was unwinnable. (meaning the Soviets would immediately launch their nukes since MAD was not longer in effect) While they were about it, they deep-sixed the whole damned section as being too dangerous just sitting around thinking up things like that and sent us all to sea.”

From THE LAST SHIP: A NOVEL by William Brinkley (1988)

      Thank God, they’d sent the children up north—there was more food up there. Better not think of food—of course, the government would solve the problem, no doubt about that. There was this protage thing for instance. It was a kind of cabbage according to the news reports and contained all the necessary vitamins of well balanced meal. The thing could be planted on Monday and grew so quickly it was ready to harvest the following week.
     Then there was the tuber, didn’t grow so quickly, but was still a full meal and could be stored for months. Oh yes, most certainly the government would solve it—wouldn’t they?

     He was fortunate—after a few hundred paces he found a hollow in the soil which was filled with rain water. He drank, uncaring that it was slightly rank and white with chalk.
     When he raised his head a few moments later, he was shocked to see a protage growing, splendidly alone and fully mature, a bare twenty paces away. Probably grown from a wind-born seed from one of the cultivation patches.
     He devoured the juicy green leaves ravenously, pushing them into his mouth with his fingers. Finally, satisfied, he wiped his hands on his shirt-front and stood upright.

from THESE SAVAGE FUTURIANS by Philip High (1967)

(ed note: Stevens and Nadia are marooned on a planet, and have to build an "ultra-radio" to call for help. Steve quickly runs into the hard facts of infrastructure, how everything depends on something else)

"Not necessarily—there's always a chance. That's why I'm trying the ultra-radio first. However, either course will take lots of power, so the first thing I've got to do is to build a power plant. I'm going to run a penstock up those falls, and put in a turbine, driving a high-tension alternator. Then, while I'm trying to build the ultra-radio, I'll be charging our accumulators, so that no time will be lost in case the radio fails.

"It's going to be a real job—I'm not try to kid you into thinking it'll be either easy or quick. Here's the way everything will go. Before I can even lay the first length of the penstock, I've got to have the pipe—to make which I've got to have flat steel—to get which I'll have to cut some of the partitions out of this ship of ours—to do which I'll have to have a cutting torch—to make which I'll have to forge nozzles out of block metal and to run which I'll have to have gas—to get which I'll have to mine coal and build a gas-plant—to do which...."

"Good heavens, Steve, are you going back to the Stone Age? I never thought of half those things. Why, it's impossible!"

"Not quite, guy. Things could be a lot worse—that's why I brought along the whole 'Forlorn Hope,' instead of just the lifeboat. As it is, we've got several thousand tons of spare steel and lots of copper. We've got ordinary tools and a few light motors, blowers, and such stuff. That gives me a great big start—I won't have to mine the ores and smelt the metals, as would have been necessary otherwise. However, it'll be plenty bad. I'll have to start out in a pretty crude fashion, and for some of the stuff I'll need I'll have to make, not only the machine that makes the part I want, but also the machine that makes the machine that makes the machine that makes it—and so on, just how far down the line, I haven't dared to think."

As Stevens had admitted before the work was started, he had known that he had set himself a gigantic task, but he had not permitted himself to follow, step by step, the difficulties that he knew awaited him. Now, as the days stretched into weeks and on into months, he was forced to take every laborious step, and it was borne in upon him just how nearly impossible that Herculean labor was to prove—just how dependent any given earthly activity is upon a vast number of others.

Here he was alone—everything he needed must be manufactured by his own hands, from its original sources. He had known that progress would be slow and he had been prepared for that; but he had not pictured, even to himself, half of the maddening setbacks which occurred time after time because of the crudity of the tools and equipment he was forced to use. All too often a machine or part, the product of many hours of grueling labor, would fail because of the lack of some insignificant thing—some item so common as to be taken for granted in all terrestrial shops, but impossible of fabrication with the means at his disposal.

At such times he would set his grim jaw a trifle harder, go back one step farther toward the Stone Age, and begin all over again—to find the necessary raw material or a possible substitute, and then to build the apparatus and machinery necessary to produce the part he required. Thus the heart-breaking task progressed, and Nadia watched her co-laborer become leaner and harder and more desperate day by day, unable in any way to lighten his fearful load.

From SPACEHOUNDS OF IPC by E.E. "Doc" Smith (1931)

Civilization Rebirth

After the mindless drudgery of the Long Night, eventually a new galactic empire will rise from the ashes, phoenix-like. Although, as previously mentioned, if a given planet has already gobbled up the low-hanging natural resources they may be in trouble because you just got one shot.

Examples in science fiction include The Star Plunderer by Poul Anderson, Junkyard Planet by H. Beam Piper, and Prince of Tanith by Terry Mancour.

Naturally, the planets that have the best long night insurance will have a head-start on rebuilding their technological base. As soon as they can manufacture and support [a] starships and [b] guns, the planets will start having ideas about recreating the galactic empire with them as the boss. They need starships in order to travel to other planets, and need guns in order to conquer them.

If several closely spaced planets start making armed starships at the same time, then obviously they will have to first conquer all the others before they start on recreating the empire. Because everybody wants to be the galactic emperor. The result will be lots of tiny two-planet wars. Often the winner will be the planet further along the tech tree, but not always.

Things get really fun if you have distantly spaced planets with armed starships. They may be unaware of the rival planets and start assimilating all their primitive neighbor worlds. When the rivals discover each other, it will not be a two-planet war. It will be a much more serious war between pocket empires.

Another possibility is if the primitive survivors of the galactic empire take too long to claw their way out of the long night. An alien race might discover how to make armed starships for the very first time, then discover all these medieval-level human planets just begging to be turned into slave worlds. Hilarity ensues.

Once a single planet emerges as the supreme, it has to start the long process of incorporating all the long night planets in the entire galaxy. Planets which almost have armed starship technolgy and are reasonable have the possibility of being incorporated by signing a treaty. Unreasonable planets will have to be conquered.

Planets with little or no technology will have to be gently taken over and taught how to use a plow, read, and use indoor plumbing. In the Traveller role playing game, this is a job for the World Tamers (the handbook is for the role playing game, but science fiction authors will find it full of useful information).

Finding and analyzing long night planets is the job of the Galactic Survey. The only difference is the original job of the Survey is to find unpopulated worlds to colonize and assess their suitability for colonization. The new job is to discover former members of the defunct galactic empire and assess how far they have fallen.


(ed note: this is from the historical record of a period from the end of the Roman empire to the recovery. With a little alteration, a science fiction author can use this to plot the recovery of their galactic empire from the Long Night)

      The last time a world empire fell apart it was Roman, and there, too, the fragments of the Roman province of Gaul, which had broken up into several small kingdoms, were held together by a communications network which preserved some of the imperial administration techniques. The operators of the network also guarded the most advanced technology of Rome, and ultimately it was this technology which was to help relocate the center of power in Europe northwards away from the Mediterranean in the tenth century. One of the greatest examples of that technology in the Roman world was the huge imperial grain mill at Barbegal, near Aries, in southern France. It was erected in the third century A.D., and may have been the largest industrial complex in the Roman Empire. The mill consisted of eight pairs of waterwheels, set at intervals down the side of a 65-foot slope. The wheels were powered by water falling from a reservoir at the top, which in turn was fed by an aqueduct built for the purpose. The sixteen wheels each powered two grindstones, through a gearing system that turned the horizontally revolving shaft of the waterwheel into a vertical one, on which the grindstones were set. The mill ground flour from as far away as Egypt, and though the local provincial capital of Aries had a population of 10,000 the Barbegal mill produced enough flour to feed eight times that number, leaving a surplus for export, or to provision the legions garrisoned in Gaul.

     At almost the same time as the Barbegal mill was being built, the Roman Empire was splitting into two halves, one administered in Rome, the other in Constantinople, the new city built by Constantine on the Bosporus. From this point on, Rome had to support herself without the wealth of the eastern part of the Empire on which she had previously been able to draw. Yet the vast bureaucracy which that wealth had spawned and the 300,000-strong army it had funded were both still there, and the only way to support them was by raising taxes.

     So began a chain of events which was to lead to the fall of the Western Roman Empire within less than two hundred years, destroyed by its own taxation system. Higher taxes devolved on to tenants of either land or buildings as higher rents. After a time the tenants had less surplus with which to support their families, so the birth-rate fell. At the same time, administration and collection of the new taxes demanded more bureaucrats, and in order to support them taxes had to rise again, so the population declined further. It was this descending spiral that ruined the West, as the economy faltered and began to grind to a halt.

     In the fifth century, as the legions began to withdraw to protect Rome, the Germanic tribes which had been in contact with the Empire for over two hundred years gradually consolidated their position. In the province of Gaul they had held high administrative positions since the fourth century. When the so-called barbarians invaded in the fifth and sixth centuries they were fighting Romanized Franks or Burgundians, not Romans. And with the armies gone and the local populations so long forbidden to carry arms, resistance was apathetic. Small city-states sprang up. The great estates, established as part of the imperial economic structure, had no further raison d’être, and they gradually ran down. The imperial roads (equivalent to spaceports and starships) were too expensive to keep in repair when there were no legions to use them. They served no local purpose, and life had become local (i.e., all off-planet contact is cut off), so they too fell into disrepair. Economic activity dropped sharply as the province split into tiny self-sufficient units under local kings, and especially during the plagues of the sixth and seventh centuries when the population of Europe was halved.

     The network of communications that maintained contact between one part of this patchwork quilt of territories and another was that of the Church (in a future history these do not have to be religious institutions, they could be educational organizations devoted to higher learning or research labs). By the fifth century the diocesan organization of the ecclesiastical hierarchy corresponded to the concentrations of civil population. When the legions withdrew, the administration of the area fell into the hands of the bishops and their clergy: they could read and write and the new rulers could not. For this reason the Church was granted many privileges, in particular exemption from taxes, that helped it to survive, while the Church itself exacted a tax of one-tenth (a tithe) from its own tenants. By the eighth century Europe was scattered with churches and monasteries, many of which had to provide a service that no one civil community could have done, in the absence of a centralized power: they ran the mails. A new church or monastery was called upon to provide pack horses or messengers, and in some cases a freight service of wagons, within a radius of up to 150 miles from the church. It would seem that the Church had a bishop-to-bishop communications network that continued to operate right through the Dark Ages, connecting one kingdom with another, carrying news and information as well as ecclesiastical business, and transmitting knowledge in the form of copies of manuscripts.

     It was in the writing departments of their monasteries that the churches preserved the few elements of technology that would otherwise have been lost to barbarians who had no use for mills on the scale of Barbegal, for instance. The earliest description of the Hellenistic gearing system employed by the mills is in the writings of a Roman engineer, Vitruvius, who referred to them in 14 B.C. as “machines that are rarely used”. The ancient world made little use of the waterwheel—the power source for the mill—for industrial purposes (these would correspond to galactic nuclear reactors or orbital solar power arrays) . There are various reasons put forward, the one most generally offered being that with a high slave population the Greeks and Romans had little use for labour-saving devices. It may also have been that in a centralized imperial administration, large areas of the country could be supplied from few central sources such as the mills at Barbegal, and it was only when communities became separated and needed to survive that each one built what machinery it needed to live on. Certainly all through the period from the fifth to the tenth century there are constant references to mills. In the main these references are found in law, such as that passed by Theodoric the Goth, in sixth-century northern Italy, to prevent the diverting of water supplies “for private milling.”

     The extent to which the mills were used from the fifth to the tenth century was also related to the profit that could be made by a mill owner. In most cases such owners were churchmen, since it was they who had the knowledge to construct the mills, and the literacy to work out accounting systems to run them as businesses. They would lease the mills for given periods to farmers, taking the profit in flour rather than coin, since coin was then a commodity few people saw in a lifetime.

     But if the recovery of Europe owed its success to any one particular variant of the waterwheel and cam, it was to its use in the textile industry, in the form of fulling mills. These used the trip hammer to pound alum and other astringent materials needed to clean and take the grease out of newly woven cloth, and then to pound the cloth itself so as to soften and intermix the fibers, giving it a “fuller” appearance. By the thirteenth century, fulling mills were turning out ever-increasing amounts of cloth in northern Italy, Flanders, along the banks of the Rhine in Germany, and in England. And the source of their raw material—wool—was the same as that of the technology itself had been: the monks, and in particular, an order known as the Cistercians.

     To understand why the Cistercians exerted so profound an influence on medieval Europe it is necessary to go back briefly to central Italy in the late fifth century, and to a priest who saw the need to separate and preserve the life of the religious from the degeneracy and confusion he saw around him as the Western Roman Empire went down. This priest, who lived from A.D. 480 to 543 and who later became known as St. Benedict, formulated a Rule by which the monks of his monastery would live. It laid stress on the equal value of prayer, study and work, and in this way Benedict laid the foundations for self-sufficiency in a period when a community would either survive on its own, or not survive at all. At the core of the Rule was the edict, laborare est orare (to work is to pray). Benedict’s monks were to be no mere ritualistic bookworms—he wanted them to get dirt under their nails. As the movement spread across Europe the Benedictines set up abbeys that prospered, safe behind their massive walls, even when the depredations of the barbarian invaders were taking their greatest toll of the country around. It may even be that the first of the new towns that began to rise in the ninth and tenth centuries started life at the walls of the abbeys, with the regular markets that the monks held on feast days. But the very success of the Benedictine rule was, for a time, to prove its undoing. By the eleventh century the monks had grown fat and rich from their estates. The simplicity of their daily ritual had given way to elaborate services and ornate churches and vestments.

     It was a reaction to this decadence that led a monk called Robert of Molesme, in France, to leave the rich Burgundian house with twenty of his fellow revolutionaries in 1098 and set up a rival concern in a poor, marshy part of the Burgundian forests known as Cîteaux—after which they called themselves Cistercians. Thanks to their observation and extension of the original Rule of St. Benedict, they were to have a profound influence on the world around them less than a hundred years after the Cîteaux foundation. Several vital additions were made to the Rule by the third Cistercian abbot, an Englishman called Stephen Harding, in a constitution that gave the Order a dynamism that was to make it the most advanced technological community in Europe. The most influential decree was that the foundations of new abbeys were to be “far from the haunts of men”. This was intended to remove the brothers from the taint of urban life, but it also had the effect of making survival more difficult, on marginal land for the most part at the higher end of uninhabited valleys. A typical site was described in 1203 by a monk of Kirkstall, in Yorkshire: “A place uninhabited for all the centuries back, thick set with thorns, lying between the slopes of mountains and among rocks jutting out on both sides, fit rather to be the lair of wild beasts than the home of human beings.” If under these conditions a house was also obliged to be self-sufficient, the small number of monks present could not produce the necessary food, so the constitution permitted the introduction of “lay” brothers, who were in effect little more than farm laborers. Each house managed its own affairs, though at an annual meeting ideas were exchanged on improved methods of operation and management (particularly valuable as the Order’s land-holding grew). Above all, a house might sell any excess produce to the communities around it.

     With a regular day of four hours of prayer, four of reading and meditation, and six of manual work, plus the ready water-supply that was to be found in most of the abbey sites, placed as they were in foothills, the Cistercians rapidly became masters at making marginal land productive. The Order spread with equal rapidity. By the end of the twelfth century, 102 years after they had begun, there were 530 houses all over Europe, each one of them a medieval factory. Whenever possible houses were built with the local water-supply running through the center of the site—to provide water for hygiene, and to power the machines the Cistercians became so adept at using. By the 1300s they had foundries with associated mills for treating ore, fulling mills, corn mills, water-powered workshops where tools were made and wool treated, with forges, oil mills, wine presses (the Cistercians set up the great vineyards of Clos de Vougeot) and all the equipment and administrative organization to run the vast business concerns which many of the abbeys had become.

     As the Order grew, large grants of land were often made by local aristocrats. The land was usually of the same poor quality as that on which the abbeys themselves stood, so the noble donor could save his soul at little cost. Often these lands were also a good distance from the abbeys, so in the twelfth century “granges” were set up; these were semi-independent farms which in time became too big or too prosperous to be run from the mother house, and were leased out to tenant farmers. As might be expected, the leases on these properties read like treatises on farming and animal husbandry. The Cistercians had become Europe’s best land managers, and they insisted that their knowledge be put to use. The leases contain instructions on irrigation, mill use and upkeep, husbandry, land clearance, crop rotation, management of finance. In this way the experience which the Order had built up over the decades went, so to speak, on the open market, and the laity were quick to copy. The Cistercians acted as any major corporation might be expected to act. If villages were included in a land grant, they were destroyed and the people resettled elsewhere. The Order opened warehouses and finance offices at the major seaports, to facilitate the export of the commodity for which they had become famous by the thirteenth century: wool. As has been said, much of the land they owned was marginal, and what they could not till they used for grazing sheep. Thanks to careful management and expertise Cistercian wool was the best available, and the textile centers—in particular those of Flanders—would buy every pound the Cistercians could produce.

(ed note: Flanders took the wool, and with the invention of the horizontal loom and the great wheel they produced lots and lots of quality cloth. Which everybody needed. This jump-started international economic exchanges. The recovery accelerated, except for a temporary interruption called the Black Death.)

From CONNECTIONS book version by James Burke (1978)

The Sword Worlds were a cluster of a dozen worlds beyond the edge of Old Federation space. They had been founded over five hundred years before – about the same time Tanith had been originally colonized – by 10,000 die-hard veterans of the System States Alliance, the great civil war that signaled the beginning of the end of the first great interstellar human culture, the 300-world strong Federation. Lucas’ ancestors had lost, but refused to surrender with their comrades. Instead they gathered at Abigor, the furthest planet out, and plunged into the unknown, uncharted galaxy in search of a safe, new world where they could live without their Federation foes even knowing they existed.

But the story didn’t end there. The Sword Worlds had built their own independent civilization in secret for almost four hundred years, when they finally began to tentatively return to the edges of Federation Space – only to find the government and civilization they had feared and fled from had long vanished.  The grand Federation was no more.

What remained were abandoned colony worlds in various states of de-civilization, with a few bright jewels where the old Federation culture had survived its fall.  The vast majority of the old colonies had fallen to the oxcart-and-battle-axe stage of development. That made them highly vulnerable to exploitation by enterprising Sword Worlders. The neobarbarians, as the decivilized natives were termed, could rarely resist the advanced weapons of the Sword Worlds, and could not defend their valuable property. A generation after re-contact, the raiders – colorfully referred to as Space Vikings – were regularly journeying to the distant neobarb planets of the Old Federation and bringing home amazing amounts of loot and plunder to the Sword Worlds.

But death, destruction, and larceny weren’t the only things the Sword Worlds exported. The distance between the nearest Sword World and the nearest world of the Old Federation was still over 2000 light-years. At a rate of an hour a light-year, that was far too long a voyage to return home quickly. So after fifty years or so of raiding, Space Vikings began selecting planets in the Old Federation to transform into raiding bases, places they could put in between raids and repair their ship, replace their crews, and sell their loot without the long trip back to the Sword Worlds.

Local bases allowed for much greater penetration and higher profits. And the natives on those worlds quickly picked up high technologies and other hallmarks of a starfaring civilization. The side effect was the neobarbs in contact with Space Vikings on those worlds were slowly being dragged back into civilization. Located deep in Old Federation space, three-thousand light-years from Gram, that was what Tanith was originally intended to be.

From PRINCE OF TANITH by Terry Mancour (2011)

“Throughout the past thousand years of history it has been traditional to regard the Alderson Drive as an unmixed blessing. Without the faster than light travel Alderson’s discoveries made possible, humanity would have been trapped in the tiny prison of the Solar System when the Great Patriotic Wars destroyed the CoDominium on Earth. Instead, we had already settled more than two hundred worlds.

“A blessing, yes. We might now be extinct were it not for the Alderson Drive. But unmixed? Consider. The same tramline effect that colonized the stars, the same interstellar contacts that allowed the formation of the First Empire, allow interstellar war. The worlds wrecked in two hundred years of Secession Wars were both settled and destroyed by ships using the Alderson Drive.

He put the instrument away and looked down. They were over mountainous country, and he saw no signs of war. There hadn’t been any area bombardments, thank God.

It happened sometimes: a city fortress would hold out with the aid of satellite-based planetary defenses. The Navy had no time for prolonged sieges. Imperial policy was to finish rebellions at the lowest possible cost in lives-but to finish them. A holdout rebel planet might be reduced to glittering lava fields, with nothing surviving but a few cities lidded by the black domes of Langston Fields; and what then? There weren’t enough ships to transport food across interstellar distances. Plague and famine would follow.

Yet, he thought, it was the only possible way. He had sworn the Oath on taking the Imperial commission. Humanity must be reunited into one government, by persuasion or by force, so that the hundreds of years of Secession Wars could never happen again. Every Imperial officer had seen what horrors those wars brought; that was why the academies were located on Earth instead of at the Capital.

As they neared the city he saw the first signs of battle. A ring of blasted lands, mined outlying fortresses, broken concrete rails of the transportation system; then the almost untouched city which had been secure within the perfect circle of its Langston Field. The city had taken minor damage, but once the Field was off, effective resistance had ceased. Only fanatics fought on against the Imperial Marines.

Both worlds were partially depopulated during the Secession Wars, with New Ireland joining the rebel forces while New Scotland remained staunchly loyalist. After interstellar travel was lost in the TransCoalsack Sector, New Scotland continued the struggle until its rediscovery by the Second Empire. As a consequence, New Scotland is the TransCoalsack Sector Capital.

     Potter was doing most of the talking and all the pointing. “Those twin volcanoes; d’ye see them, Mr. Renner? D’ye see yon boxlike structures near the peak of each one? They’re atmosphere control. When yon volcanoes belch gas, the maintenance posts fire jets of tailored algae into the air steam. Without them our atmosphere would soon be foul again.”
     “Um. You couldn’t have kept them going during the Secession Wars. How did you manage?”

     “Yes, sir.” Cargill studied his captain closely. They had been lieutenants together not long before, and it was easier to talk to Blaine than it would be with an older CO. “You’ve never been on St. Ekaterina, have you, Skipper?”
     “But we’ve got several crewmen from there. Lenin has more, of course. There’s an unholy high percentage of Katerinas in the Navy, Skipper. You know why?”
      “Only vaguely.”
     “They were settled by the Russian elements of the old CoDominium fleet,” Cargill said. “When the CD fleet pulled out of Sol System, the Russkis put their women and children on Ekaterina. In the Formation Wars they got hit bad. Then the Secession Wars started when Sauron hit St. Ekaterina without warning. It stayed loyal, but…”
     “Like New Scotland,” Rod said.
     Cargill nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, sir. Imperial loyalist fanatics. With good reason, given their history. The only peace they’ve ever seen has been when the Empire’s strong.

From THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (1974)

(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 existence 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."

From THE COSMIC COMPUTER by H. Beam Piper (1963)

(ed note: After the fall of the Human Commonwealth, the long night starts. Towards the end, the Gorzuni barbarians take to raiding Terra for plunder and slaves. Unfortunately for them, one of the people they capture and throw in the slave pens is Manuel Argos. He creates and leads a slave revolt, escapes with all his followers while nuking several Gorzuni cities, and goes on to eventually found the Terran Empire.)

      "Things were better under the old Baldic (Gorzuni) conquerors," admitted Manuel. "The kings who forged the League out of a hundred planets still in barbaric night, savages who'd learned to build spaceships and man atomblasts and little else. But even they succeeded only because there was no real opposition. The (Human) Commonwealth society was rotten, corrupt, torn apart by civil wars, its leadership a petrified bureaucracy, its military forces scattered over a thousand restless planets, its people ready to buy peace rather than fight. No wonder the League drove everything before it!
     "But after the first sack of Terra fifteen years ago, the barbarians split up. The forceful early rulers were dead, and their sons were warring over an inheritance they didn't know how to rule. The League is divided into two hostile regions now, and I don't know how many splinter groups. Their old organization is shot to hell.
     "Sol didn't rally in time. It was still under the decadent Commonwealth government. So one branch of the Baldics has now managed to conquer our big planets. But the fact that they've been content to raid and loot the inner worlds instead of occupying them and administering them decently shows the decay of their own society. Given the leadership, we could still throw them out of the Solar System and go on to overrun their home territories. Only the leadership hasn't been forthcoming."
     It was a harsh, angry lecture, and I winced and felt resentment within myself. "Damn it, we've fought," I said.
     "And been driven back and scattered." His heavy mouth lifted in a sneer. "Because there hasn't been a chief who understood strategy and organization, and who could put heart into his men."
     "I suppose," I said sarcastically, "that you're that chief."
     His answer was flat and calm and utterly assured. "Yes."

     "You're a heartless bastard," I said tonelessly.
     "I have to be, seeing that everyone else chooses to be brainless. These aren't times for the tender-minded, you. This is an age of dissolution and chaos, such as has often happened in history, and only a person who first accepts the realities of the situation can hope to do much about them. We don't live in a cosmos where perfection is possible or even desirable. We have to make our compromises and settle for the goals we have some chance of attaining."

     In the days and weeks that followed, Manuel talked much of his plans. A devastating raid on Gorzun would shake the barbarian confidence and bring many of their outworld ships swarming back to defend the mother world. Probably the rival half of the Baldic League would seize its chance and fall on a suddenly weakened enemy. The Revenge would return to Sol, by that time possessed of the best crew in the known universe, and rally mankind's scattered forces. The war would go on until the System was cleared—
      "— and then, of course, continue till all the barbarians have been conquered," said Manuel.
     "Why?" I demanded. "Interstellar imperialism can't be made to pay. It does for the barbarians because they haven't the technical facilities to produce at home what they can steal elsewhere. But Sol would only be taking on a burden."
     "For defense," said Manuel. "You don't think I'd let a defeated enemy go off to lick his wounds and prepare a new attack, do you? No, everyone but Sol must be disarmed, and the only way to enforce such a peace is for Sol to be the unquestioned ruler." He added thoughtfully: "Oh, the empire won't have to expand forever. Just till it's big enough to defend itself against all corners. And a bit of economic readjustment could make it a paying proposition, too. We could collect tribute, you know."
     "An empire—?" asked Kathryn. "But the Commonwealth is democratic—"
     "Was democratic!" he snapped. "Now it's rotted away. Too bad, but you can't revive the dead. This is an age in history such as has often occurred before when the enforced peace of Caesarism is the only solution. Maybe not a good solution but better than the devastation we're suffering now. When there's been a long enough period of peace and unity it may be time to think of reinstating the old republicanism. But that time is many centuries in the future, if it ever comes. Just now the socio-economic conditions aren't right for it."
     He took a restless turn about the bridge. A million stars of space in the viewport blazed like a chill crown over his head. "It'll be an empire in fact," he said, "and therefore it should be an empire in name. People will fight and sacrifice and die for a gaudy symbol when the demands of reality don't touch them. We need a hereditary aristocracy to put on a good show. It's always effective, and the archaism is especially valuable to Sol just now. It'll recall the good old glamorous days before space travel. It'll be even more of a symbol now than it was in its own age. Yes, an empire, Kathryn, the Empire of Sol. Peace, ye underlings!"
     "Aristocracies decay," I argued. "Despotism is all right as long as you have an able despot but sooner or later a meathead will be born—"
     "Not if the dynasty starts with strong men and women, and continues to choose good breeding stock, and raises the sons in the same hard school as the fathers. Then it can last for centuries. Especially in these days of gerontology and hundred-year active lifespans."
     I laughed at him. "One ship, and you're planning an empire in the Galaxy!" I jeered. "And you yourself, I suppose, will be the first emperor?"
     His eyes were expressionless. "Yes," he said. "Unless I find a better man, which I doubt."
     Kathryn bit her lip. "I don't like it," she said. "It's— cruel."
     "This is a cruel age, my dear," he said gently.
     He added after a moment, as if to himself: "Hate is a useful means to an end but damned dangerous. We'll have to get the racist complex out of mankind. We can't conquer anyone, even the Gorzuni, and keep them as inferiors and hope to have a stable empire. All races must be equal." He rubbed his strong square chin. "I think I'll borrow a leaf from the old Romans. All worthy individuals, of any race, can become Terrestrial citizens. It'll be a stabilizing factor."

From THE STAR PLUNDERER by Poul Anderson (1952)

"But as for the continents, sir, why, I thought you would know. Nyanza has none. Altla is just a medium-sized island. Otherwise there are only rocks and reefs, submerged at double high tide, or even at Loa high."

"Oh, I knew," said Flandry reassuringly. "I just wanted to be sure you knew." He turned off the receiver and sat thinking. Damn those skimpy pilot's manuals! He'd have had to go to Spica for detailed information. If only there were a faster-than-light equivalent of radio. Instant communications unified planets; but the days and weeks and months between stars let their systems drift culturally apart—let hell brew for years, unnoticed till it boiled over—made a slow growth of feudalism, within the Imperial structure itself, inevitable. Of course, that would give civilization something to fall back on when the Long Night finally came.

From THE GAME OF GLORY by Poul Anderson (1958)

(ed note: The king of the planet Marduk is having a chat with Space Viking Prince Lucas Trask. They are pretending not to be rulers of nations, but instead Goodman Mikhyl and Goodman Lucas: two ordinary people shooting the breeze over a beer or two.)

      (The King of Marduk said) You know, sometimes I think a few lights are coming on again, here and there in the Old Federation (which has fallen into the Long Night). If so, you Space Vikings are helping to light them."
     "You mean the planets we use as bases, and the things we teach the locals?"
     "That, too, of course. Civilization needs civilized technologies. But they have to be used for civilized ends. Do you know anything about a Space Viking raid on Aton, over a century ago?"
     "Six ships from Haulteclere; four destroyed, the other two returned damaged and without booty."
     The King of Marduk nodded.
     "That raid saved civilization on Aton. There were four great nations; the two greatest were at the brink of war, and the others were waiting to pounce on the exhausted victor and then fight each other for the spoils. The Space Vikings forced them to unite. Out of that temporary alliance came the League for Common Defense, and from that the Planetary Republic. The Republic's a dictatorship, now, and just between Goodman Mikhyl and Goodman Lucas it's a nasty one and our Majesty's Government doesn't like it at all. It will be smashed sooner or later, but they'll never go back to divided sovereignty and nationalism again. The Space Vikings frightened them out of that when the dangers inherent in it couldn't. Maybe this man Dunnan will do the same for us on Marduk."

From SPACE VIKING by H. Beam Piper (1963)

The Road Not Taken

In a few novels that have a grand historical theme, they sometimes end with the metaphor of the road to the future splitting in two, and the people of the future civilization have to make personal decisions on which branch they will take.


(ed note: the Galactic Empire is undergoing a decline and fall. The Patrol ship Starfire has made a crash landing on some unknown wilderness planet outside of known space. They have no idea that the planet is Terra, the ancient origin planet of the human race.

The only inhabitants are primitive tribes of humans. There is a remarkably well preserved high-tech city, but nobody lives there. And also an equally ancient starship field where zillions of starships flew into space but never returned. The Patrol rangers are puzzled.)

      The rangers spent the day overhauling their equipment and making minor repairs. Clothing was a problem—unless they followed the example of the natives and took animal skins to cover them. Kartr speculated about the coming cold season. Should they tramp south to escape its rigor? For the sake of the Zacathans perhaps they should. He knew that exposure to extremes of cold rendered the reptile people torpid until they lapsed into complete hibernation.
     They spied upon the natives, going out in pairs to do so, turning in all information to Zicti who compiled it as if he fully intended to give a documented lecture on the subject.
     "There are several different physical types among them," he commented one evening when Fylh and Smitt, who had drawn that day's watch, had given their report. "Your yellow-haired, white-skinned people, Kartr, are only one. Now Fylh has seen this clan of very dark-skinned, black-haired men—"
     "By their light clothing and strange equipment they are from a warmer country," added the Trystian.
     "Odd. Such dissimilar races on the same world. But that is a humanoid characteristic, I believe," continued the hist-techneer. "I should have had more grounding in humanoid physiology."
     "But they are all very primitive. That is what I can't understand." Smitt wore a puzzled frown as he spooned up the last of his stew. "That city was built—and left all ready to run again—by men who were at a high state of technological advancement. Yet all the natives we have discovered so far live in tents made of animal hide, wear skins on their backs, and are afraid of the city. And I'll swear that that pottery I saw them trading today was made out of rough clay by hand!"
     "We don't understand that any better than you do, my boy," answered Zicti. "We never shall unless we can penetrate the fog of their history. Some powerful memory—or threat—has kept them out of the city. If they ever possessed any technical skill they forgot it long ago—maybe by deliberately suppressing such knowledge because it was sacred to the 'gods,' perhaps because of a general drop in a certain type of intelligence—there could be many explanations."
     "Could they be the remains of a slave population, left behind when their masters emigrated?" ventured Rolth.
     "That, too, would be an answer. But slavery does not usually accompany a highly mechanized civilization. The slaves would be machine tenders—and the city people had robots which would serve them better in that capacity."

     "It seems to me," began Fylh, "that on this world there was once a decision to be made. And some men made it one way, and some another. Some went out"—his claws indicated the sky—"while others chose to remain—to live close to the earth and allow little to come between them and the wilds—"
     Kartr straightened. That—that seemed right! Men choosing between the stars and the earth! Yes, it could have happened just like that. Maybe because he, himself, was a barbarian born on a frontier world where man had not long taken to space, he could see the truth in that. And perhaps because Fylh's people had made just such a choice long ago and sometimes regretted it, the Trystian had been the first to sense the answer to the riddle here (the Trystian had evolved from birds. As part of their evolution into an intelligent species, they traded wings for hands. Sometimes they miss the ability to fly).

     "Decadence—degeneracy—" broke in Smitt.
     But Zacita shook her head. "If one lives by machines, by the quest for power, for movement, yes. But perhaps to these it was only a moving on to what they thought a better way of life."
     A moving on! Kartr's mind fastened on that eagerly. Maybe the time had come for his own people to make a choice which would either guide them utterly away from old paths—or would set them falling back—

From STAR RANGERS by Andre Norton, 1953.
Collected in STAR SOLDIERS (2001), currently a free eBook in the Baen free library.

      It may even be that Homo sapiens will not be the only species to make the transition to a star ship culture. Perhaps there is a crucial point, reached by every intelligence, from which two roads branch off, one leading to the true conquest of space and the other to a slow withering on the planetary vine.
     Out there, perhaps, are many creatures waiting for man to join them. And when we do, we may find ourselves united with them not in terms of material body resemblances, but in the life we lead and in the intellect we cultivate.
     Is this, then, the consequence of the new phase change that will make space exploration truly possible? Or am I only stumbling in a vain attempt to see the unseeable? Perhaps the essential point of the phase change is as far beyond my grasp as the smell of a rose is beyond the grasp of a fish or a Beethoven symphony beyond the grasp of a chimpanzee.
     But I tried!

From THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE SPOME by Isaac Asimov (1967)

      So this, thought Jan, with a resignation that lay beyond all sadness, was the end of man. It was an end that no prophet had ever foreseen—an end that repudiated optimism and pessimism alike.
     Yet it was fitting; it had the sublime inevitability of a great work of art. Jan had glimpsed the universe in all its awful immensity, and knew now that it was no place for man. He realized at last how vain, in the ultimate analysis, had been the dream that had lured him to the stars.

     For the road to the stars was a road that forked in two directions, and neither led to a goal that took any account of human hopes or fears.

     At the end of one path were the Overlords. They had preserved their individually, their independent egos; they possessed self-awareness and the pronoun "I" had a meaning in their language. They had emotions, some at least of which were shared by humanity. But they were trapped, Jan realized now, in a cul-de-sac from which they could never escape. Their minds were ten—perhaps a hundred—times as powerful as men's. It made no difference in the final reckoning. They were equally helpless, equally overwhelmed by the unimaginable complexity of a galaxy of a hundred thousand million suns, and a cosmos of a hundred thousand million galaxies.

     And at the end of the other path? There lay the Overmind, whatever it might be, bearing the same relation to man as man bore to amoeba. Potentially infinite, beyond mortality, how long had it been absorbing race after race as it spread across the stars? Did it too have desires, did it have goals it sensed dimly yet might never attain? Now it had drawn into its being all that the human race had ever achieved. This was not tragedy, but fulfillment. The billions of transient sparks of consciousness that had made up humanity would flicker no more like fireffies against the night. But they had not lived utterly in vain.

From CHILDHOOD'S END by Arthur C. Clarke (1953)

(ed note: in Poul Anderson's novel, Brain Wave, a cosmic accident raises the IQ of everybody on Earth by a factor of five. Average people now have an IQ of around 500, and are much more than human. People who are severely cognitively impaired now have an IQ of about 100.

Archie Brock is the leader of a colony of cognitively impaired folk. He is unexpectedly visited by Nat Lewis, one of the hyper-intelligent folk)

      The dog poised, it was a lovely taut stance, and looked toward the sky. Brock's eyes followed. The flash of metal was so bright it hurt him to look.
     An airship—some kind of airship. And it's landing!
     He stood with his fists clenched at his sides, feeling the wind chill on his skin and hearing how it roared in the branches behind him. The heart in his breast seemed absurdly big, and he shivered under the heavy jacket and felt sweat on his palms.
     Take it easy, he told himself. Just take it easy. All right, so it is one of Them. He won't bite you. Nobody's harmed us, or interfered with us, yet.
     Quietly as a falling leaf, the vessel grounded nearby. It was a small ovoid, with a lilting grace in its clean lines and curves, and there was no means of propulsion that Brock could see. He began walking toward it, slowly and stiffly. The revolver sagging at his waist made him feel ridiculous, as if he had been caught in a child's playsuit.
     He felt a sudden upsurge of bitterness. Let Them take us as we are. Be damned if I'll put on company manners for some bloody Sunday tourist.
     The side of the aircraft shimmered and a man stepped through it. Through it! Brock's first reaction was almost disappointment. The man looked so utterly commonplace. He was of medium height, a stockiness turning plump, an undistinguished face, an ordinary tweed sports outfit. As Brock approached, the man smiled.
     "How do you do?"
     "How do." Brock stopped, shuffling his feet and looking at the ground. Joe sensed his master's unease and snarled, ever so faintly.
     The stranger held out his hand. "My name is Lewis, Nat Lewis from New York. Hope you'll pardon this intrusion. John Rossman sent me up. He's not feeling very well or he'd have come himself."
     Brock shook hands, a little reassured by Rossman's name (prior to the change, Rossman was Archie's guardian). The old man had always been a decent sort, and Lewis' manner was ingratiating. Brock forced himself to meet the other man's eyes, and gave his own name.
     "Yes, I recognize you from Rossman's description," said Lewis. "He's quite interested in how you people are making out up here. Don't worry, he has no intention of repossessing this property; it's just a friendly curiosity. I work at his Institute, and frankly, I was curious myself, so I've come to check up for him."
     Brock decided that he liked Lewis. The man spoke rather slowly, it must be a slight effort for him to return to old ways of speech, but there was nothing patronizing about him.
     "From what I hear, you've done a marvelous job," said Lewis.
     "I didn't know that you—well—that we—" Brock halted, stammering.
     "Oh, yes, a bit of an eye was kept on you as soon as we'd taken care of our own troubles. Which were plenty, believe me. Still are, for that matter. Here, may I offer you a cigar?"
     "Hmmm—well—" Brock accepted but didn't smoke it. He had not formed the habit. But he could give the cigar to someone else. "Thanks."
     "It's not a baby," Lewis grinned. "At least, I hope not!" He lit one for himself, using a trick lighter that worked even in the high, noisy wind.
     "You've doubtless noticed that the towns around here have all been evacuated," he said after taking a contented puff.
     "Yes, for some months now," answered Brock. With defiance: "We've been taking what we needed and could find there."
     "Oh, quite all right. That was the idea; in fact, you can move into any of them if you want. The colony committee just thought it was best to rid you of such, ah, overwhelming neighbors (i.e., people with an IQ of 500). The people didn't care; at the present stage of their development, one place is about as good as another to them." Wistfulness flitted across Lewis' face. "That's a loss of ours: the intimacy of giving our hearts to one small corner of the earth."
     The confession of weakness relaxed Brock. He suspected that it was deliberate, but even so—
     "And those who've strayed here to join you have often been unobtrusively guided," Lewis went on. "There will be others, if you want them. And I think you could use more help, and they could certainly use a home and security."
     "It's—nice of you," said Brook slowly.
     "Ah, it isn't much. Don't think you've been guarded against all danger, or that all your work was done for you. That was never true, and never will be. We've just—well, once in a while we've thrown a little opportunity your way. But it was up to you to use it."
     "I see."

     "We can't help you more than that. Too much for us to do, and too few of us to do it. And our ways are too different. Your kind and my kind have come to the parting of the roads, Brook, but we can at least say good-by and shake hands."

     It was a warming speech, something thawed inside Brook and he smiled. He had not relished the prospect of being stamped out by a ruthless race of gods, and still less had he cared to spend his days as anyone's ward. Lewis made no bones about the fact of their difference, but he was not snobbish about it either: there was no connotation of superiority in what he said.
     They had been strolling about the grounds as they talked. Lewis heard the clashing hammers inside the shed now, and glanced questioningly at Brook.
     "I've got a chimpanzee and a moron in there, making a charcoal apparatus so we can fuel our engines," Brook explained. It didn't hurt to say "moron"—not any more. "It's our day off here, but they insisted on working any way."
     "How many have you got, all told?"
     "Oh, well, ten men and six women, ages from around fifteen to—well, I'd guess sixty for the oldest. Mentally from imbecile to moron. Then a couple of kids have been born too. Of course, it's hard to say where the people leave off and the animals begin. The apes, or Joe here (the dog), are certainly more intelligent and useful than the imbeciles." Joe wagged his tail and looked pleased. "I draw no distinctions; everyone does what he's best fitted for, and we share alike."
     "You're in command, then?"
     "I suppose so. They always look to me for guidance. I'm not the brightest one of the lot, but our two intellectuals are—well—ineffectual."
     Lewis nodded. "It's often that way. Sheer intelligence counts for less than personality, strength of character, or the simple ability to make decisions and stick by them." He looked sharply at his bigger companion. "You're a born leader, you know."
     "I am? I've just muddled along as well as possible."
     "Well," chuckled Lewis, "I'd say that was the essence of leadership."
     He looked around the buildings and out to the wide horizon. "It's a happy little community you've built up," he said.
     "No," answered Brook frankly. "It's not."
     Lewis glanced at him, raising his eyebrows, but said nothing.
     "We're too close to reality here for snugness," said Brock. "That may come later, when we're better adjusted, but right now it's still hard work keeping alive. We have to learn to live with some rather harsh facts of life—such as some of us being deformed, or the need for butchering those poor animals—" (the colony needs meat for protein, but the animals are semi-intelligent) He paused, noticed that his fists were clenched, and tried to ease himself with a smile.
     "Are you—married?" inquired Lewis. "Pardon my nosiness, but I have a reason for asking."
     "No. I can't see taking what's available here. No matter, there's enough to do to keep me out of mischief."
     "I see—"
     Lewis was quiet for a while. They had wandered over by the corn crib, where a board across two barrels made a seat out of the wind. They sat down, wordlessly, and let the day bluster around them. Joe flopped at their feet, watching them with alert brown eyes.
     Presently Lewis stubbed out his cigar and spoke again. He sat looking ahead of him, not facing Brock, and his voice sounded a little dreamy, as if he were talking to himself.
     "You and your animals here are making the best of a new situation," he said. "So far it's not been a very good one. Would you want to return to the old days?"
     "Not I, no," said Brock.
     "I thought not. You're taking this reality which has been given to you, with all its infinite possibilities, and you're making it good. That's what my branch of the race is also trying to do, Brook, and maybe you'll succeed better than we. I don't know. I probably won't ever know—won't live that long.
     "But I want to tell you something. I've been out in space—between the stars—and there have been other expeditions there too. We found that the galaxy is full of life, and all of it seems to be like the old life of Earth: many forms, many civilizations, but nowhere a creature like man. The average I.Q. of the whole universe may not be much over a hundred. It's too early to tell, but we have reasons to think that that is so.
     "And what are we, the so-called normal humanity, to do with our strange powers? Where can we find something that will try and challenge us, something big enough to make us humble and offer us a task in which we can take pride? I think the stars are our answer. Oh, I don't mean we intend to establish a galactic empire. Conquest is a childishness we've laid aside, even now. Nor do I mean that we'll become ministering angels to all these uncounted worlds, guiding them and guarding them till their races get too flabby to stand on their own feet. No, nothing like that. We'll be creating our own new civilization, one which will spread between the stars, and it will have its own internal goals, creation, struggle, hope—the environment of man is still primarily man.
     "But I think there will be a purpose in that civilization. For the first time, man will really be going somewhere; and I think that his new purpose will, over thousands and millions of years, embrace all life in the attainable universe. I think a final harmony will be achieved such as no one can now imagine.
     "We will not be gods, or even guides. But we will—some of us—be givers of opportunity. We will see that evil does not flourish too strongly, and that hope and chance happen when they are most needed, to all those millions of sentient creatures who live and love and fight and laugh and weep and die, just as man once did. No, we will not be embodied Fate; but perhaps we can be Luck. And even, it may be, Love."
     The man smiled then, a very human smile at himself and all his own pretences. "Never mind. I talk too much. Winelike autumn air, as the old cliché has it." He turned to Brock. "What's more to the point, we—our sort—are not going to remain here on Earth."
     Brock nodded silently. The vision before him was too enormous for surprise.
     "Your sort won't be bothered," said Lewis. "And then in a few years, when things are ready, we'll disappear into the sky. Earth will be left to your kind, and to the animals. And thereafter you will be altogether free. It will be up to you, as to the other kinds of life, to work out your own destiny. And if now and then a bit of luck comes to you—well, that has always been happening."
     "Thank you." It was a whisper in Brook's throat.
     "Don't thank me, or anyone else. This is merely the logic of events working itself out. But I wish you well, every one of you."

From BRAIN WAVE by Poul Anderson (1954)
BRUTUS: And whether we shall meet again I know not.
Therefore our everlasting farewell take:
For ever, and for ever, farewell, Cassius!
If we do meet again, why, we shall smile;
If not, why then, this parting was well made.
From THE TRAGEDY OF JULIUS CAESAR by William Shakespeare (1599)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

From THE ROAD NOT TAKEN by Robert Frost (1916)

Technological Progress

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The Plow

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You've Got Just One Shot

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Technological Stasis

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Technological Decline

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Asteroid Revolutionary War

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The Only Thing We Learn

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Star Guard

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Science and Society

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End of Natural Selection

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Technological Unemployment

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The Singularity

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Warning Signs for Tomorrow

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