Stages

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. Examples: TALES OF KNOWN SPACE by Larry Niven, SPACE CADET, FARMER IN THE SKY, THE ROLLING STONES, THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, PODKAYNE OF MARS, BETWEEN PLANETS, "Logic of Empire" by Robert Heinlein, SPACE DOCTOR by Lee Corey, HIGH JUSTICE, EXILES TO GLORY, "Tinker" by Jerry Pournelle, LIFEBOAT aka DARK INFERNO by James White, SCAVENGERS IN SPACE by Alan E. Nourse, THE MARTIAN WAY by Isaac Asimov, HIGHER EDUCATION by Pournelle and Sheffield, ISLANDS IN THE SKY, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SKY by Arthur C. Clarke.

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. Example: TAU ZERO by Poul Anderson, ORPHANS OF THE SKY, TIME FOR THE STARS by Robert Heinlein, THE STARS ARE OURS by Andre Norton, THE OUTCASTS OF HEAVEN'S BELT by Joan Vinge, THE SONGS OF DISTANT EARTH and RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA by Arthur C. Clarke.

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. Eventual recovery. Example: A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ by Walter Miller, LOT and LOT'S DAUGHTER by Ward Moore, DAVY and STILL I PERSIST IN WONDERING by Edgar Pangborn, the Hiero Desteen series by Sterling Lanier, VAULT OF AGES by Poul Anderson, DAYBREAK - 2250 A.D. aka STAR MAN'S SON by Andre Norton.

4. Meeting With Aliens

First 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. 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. Examples: VOYAGE OF THE SPACE BEAGLE by A.E. van Vogt, THE LEGION OF SPACE or THREE FROM THE LEGION by Jack Williamson.

6. Colonization of the Galaxy

Human colonies on other solar systems. Contact with Mother Terra, independence or dependence. Commerce - exploitation or otherwise. Go to The Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy and read the entry "COLONIZATION". Example: THE STARS LIKE DUST by Isaac Asimov, THE STAR FOX and THE ENEMY STARS by Poul Anderson, THE SEEDLING STARS by James Blish, REVOLT ON ALPHA-C by Robert Silverberg, the Med Service series by Murray Leinster, THE GREAT EXPLOSION by Eric Frank Russell, the Humanx Commonwealth series by Alan Dean Foster.

7. 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. Example: the Trantorian Empire novels of Isaac Asimov, the Nicholas Van Rijn novels of Poul Anderson, THE HELMSMAN by Bill Baldwin, CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY by Robert Heinlein, THE WITCHES OF KARRES by James Schmitz, THE REDISCOVERY OF MAN by Cordwainer Smith, BIRTHRIGHT: THE BOOK OF MAN by Mike Resnick.

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. 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.

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.

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

This step might be an overwhelming problem, because resource-wise you've got just one shot.

From here, the history can circle round back to 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.

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.

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.
Cliology
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 (FICTIONAL)

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.

Axioms

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.

Limitations

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)
PSYCHOHISTORY

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)
CALCULUS OF STATEMENT

(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?"
     "Eh?"
     "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)
THE SENSITIVE MAN

“…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)
WAY STATION

      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.

Example

Me:

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.

Me:

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.

(WITH APOLOGIES TO W. S. GILBERT)

If you ask me how to shine in the science-fiction line as a pro of luster bright,
I say, practice up the lingo of the sciences, by jingo (never mind if not quite right).
You must talk of Space and Galaxies and tesseractic fallacies in slick and mystic style,
Though the fans won't understand it, they will all the same demand it with a softly hopeful smile.

And all the fans will say,
As you walk your spatial way,
If that young man indulges in flights through all the Galaxy,
Why, what a most imaginative type of man that type of man must be.

So success is not a mystery, just brush up on your history, and borrow day by day.
Take an Empire that was Roman and you'll find it is at home in all the starry Milky Way.
With a drive that's hyperspatial, through the parsecs you will race, you'll find that plotting is a breeze,
With a tiny bit of cribbin' from the works of Edward Gibbon and that Greek, Thucydides.

And all the fans will say,
As you walk your thoughtful way,
If that young man involves himself in authentic history,
Why, what a very learned kind of high IQ, his high IQ must be.

Then eschew all thoughts of passion of a man-and-woman fashion from your hero's thoughtful mind.
He must spend his time on politics, and thinking up his shady tricks, and outside that he's blind.
It's enough he's had a mother, other females are a bother, though they're jeweled and glistery.
They will just distract his dreaming and his necessary scheming with that psychohistory.

And all the fans will say,
As you walk your narrow way,
If all his yarns restrict themselves to masculinity,
Why, what a most particularly pure young man that pure young man must be.

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

"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)
ADAPTING SETTING FROM HISTORY

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)
READERS ARE FAMILIAR WITH THE FORM

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.

Crisis

THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN

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)
A LIFE FOR THE STARS

      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+40° 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)

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.

THE CRUCIBLE OF TIME by John Brunner
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.
THE RISE AND FALL OF THE TRIGAN EMPIRE
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.

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.

CYCLICAL HISTORY 1

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
CYCLE STAGES

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)

CYCLE STAGES 1

      “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.
1600-1100
Mycenean Age, "Agamemnon"
500-0
Persian-Seleucid Period
500-900
Frankish Period, Charlemagne
2289-2464
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
487-338
Age of Themistocles and Pericles
661-750
The Omayyad Caliphate
1660-1789
The Ancient Regime
3602-3900
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.
338-300
Partisans of Philip; Alexander
750-800
The Kufans; the first Abbassids.
1789-1815
Robespierre, Napoleon.
3900-3976
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").
300-100
From Alexanderism to Caesarism.
800-1050
From Caliphate to Sultanate.
1815-2000
From Napoleonism to
MacHineryism
.
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.
100-0-100
Sulla, Caesar Tiberius, up to Domitian.
1050-1250
The Seljuk Sultanate.
2000-2105
MacHinery and Erdsenov; rise to full power of Bureaucratic State.
4104
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
P8. THE FINAL POLITICAL FORM
The world as spoil. Gradual enfeeblement of imperial machinery against raiders and conquerors. Primitive human conditions thrusting up into the highly civilized mode of living.
100-300
Full power of the Empire, then disintegration in the West.
1250-1400
Rise-fall of the Ilkhanate; rise of Ottoman Turks under whom the moribund culture endures to 1920.
2105-2522
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.
1800-1950
Westernization of the Arabian lands and entire world.
After 2522
Earthmanization.
3976-4104
Galaxy proper conquered by Web of Hercules.
From CITIES IN FLIGHT by James Blish (1956)
CYCLE STAGES 2

(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
CYCLE STAGES 3

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.

Significance

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
CYCLE STAGES 4

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)
CYCLE STAGES 5

'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

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)
DECLINE AND FALL 1

(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.

DECLINE AND FALL 2
     “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.

From COLLAPSE OF THE AMERICAN OLIGARCHY by Dr. Sally Goerner (2016)
DECLINE AND FALL 3
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
DECLINE AND FALL 4

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.
DECLINE AND FALL 5

(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—"

"Wolves?"

"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)
DECLINE AND FALL 6

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)
DECLINE AND FALL 7

      "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)
DECLINE AND FALL 8

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)
DECLINE AND FALL 9

(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.

SHOULD WE DECLINE DECLINE? SHOULD WE BREAK DOWN COLLAPSE?

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...

D8 REASONS YOUR EMPIRE (or whatever) MAY HAVE DECLINED/COLLAPSED

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.


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


BACKGROUND

     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

PASSING OF AN AGE

     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.

ANALYTICAL ERRORS OF 1116

     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.

A NEW KIND OF WAR

     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.

HIGH-POPULATION WORLDS ARE BROUGHT LOW: 1118-1120

     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.

SHADOWS LENGTHEN: 1122-1124

     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)

STAGE 1: DESTRUCTION OF INSTERSTELLAR TRANSPORT (date 300-1124)

     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.

THE IMPERIUM AS OF 300-1124: DETERMINING THE EFFECTS OF STAGE 1

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.

STAGE 2: COLLAPSE OF THE FINANCIAL MARKETS (date 001-1125)

     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.

STAGE 3: RECESSION OF THE PLANETARY ECONOMIES (date 180-1125)

     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:

Coin
Specie
Imperial
Credits
Mass
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.

STAGE 4: CORPORATE RECONFIGURATION (date 001-1126)

     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.

THE IMPERIUM AS OF 001-1126: DETERMINING THE EFFECTS OF STAGE 4

     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.

STAGE 6: SEPARATION AND ISOLATIONISM (date 001-1127)

     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.

STAGE 7: RETOOLING AND RETHINKING HARDWARE (date 180-1127)

     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.

STAGE 9: FAILING WORLDS AND A FAILING IMPERIUM (date 180-1128)

     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)
THEME: LONG NIGHT

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)
VESTIGIAL EMPIRE

"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

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:

  1. MINIMIZING DEATHS
  2. ASSISTING REBIRTH

MINIMIZING DEATHS

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.


ASSISTING REBIRTH

This is trying to minimize the centuries that will pass before the empire recovers to its original functionality, or before 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
PRESERVING KNOWLEDGE
     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.
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.
CACHING EQUIPMENT
     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.
Protages
     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
     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.

RELICTEUR 1

(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.

Mechanics

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)
RELICTEUR 2

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

RELICTEUR 3

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.

History

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.

Categories

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)
RELICTEUR 4

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
RE-BOOT ENCYCLOPEDIAS 1

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.

RE-BOOT ENCYCLOPEDIAS 2

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.

History

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.

RE-BOOT ENCYCLOPEDIAS 3

      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...

PROTAGE

      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)
PREREQUISITE PROBLEM

(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)

Renaissance

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.

FALL AND REBIRTH 6

(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)
FALL AND REBIRTH 1

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)
FALL AND REBIRTH 5

"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)
FALL AND REBIRTH 2

“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?”
     “Badly.”

     “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?”
     “No..”
     “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)
FALL AND REBIRTH 3

(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)
FALL AND REBIRTH 4

(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)

Technological Progress

In science fiction the level of technology has to be more advanced than present-day state-of-the-art, otherwise where is the fun in that? Indeed, in some science fiction a single advance in technology starts off the entire plot, with the balance of the novel spent exploring the ramifications and changes caused to society (i.e., the theme of the novel is unintended consequences).

Kicking it up a notch, some 1950s novels were about a series of technological advances one after the other, usually in the form of an arms race. Gotta explore the tech tree.

Such science fiction novels can make the readers impatient with the real world. They often complain that we have reached the 21st century yet there are still no ubiquitous flying cars, jet packs, cities on the ocean floor, nor lunar colonies.

Having said that, such science fiction readers are often oblivious to the titanic tech advances they have personally lived through. Such as the advent of the internet. Which made this entire website possible.

So the most common error science fiction writers make is drastically underestimating the rate of technological advance.

For details about predicting the technological future, refer to Robert Heinlein's essay "Where To?" and Sir Arthur C. Clarke's Profiles of the Future.

Around 1910, the hot multiple-use buzzword was "Electric," as in Tom Swift and His Electric Runabout or Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle. In the 1920's it was "Radio." Radio was just coming into regular use, so it was new and exciting. In the 1940's it was "Atomic," for obvious reasons. In the 1950's it was "Transistorized". In the 1960's it was "Laser". In the 1970's it was "Computerized". Currently it is "Nanotechnolgy."

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Even if it actually a screw. So if you invent some fabulous scientific breakthrough for your SF story, try to resist the temptation to use it as the solution for everything. You can see how silly it becomes.

“We'll be saying a big hello to all intelligent lifeforms everywhere and to everyone else out there, the secret is to bang the rocks together, guys.”

From THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY by Douglas Adams (1979)

The Plow

In James Burke's fascinating documentary Connections, the first episode points out that technological progress was impossible until one key thing had been invented: the Plow.

Job one is getting enough food to eat, because otherwise you die.

Without the plow, all one person could manage to feed was themselves and maybe their family. Such cultures had to have 100% employment in the food raising industry. The culture could not afford the luxury of supporting citizens whose job was inventing innovations instead of raising food.

But with the development of the plow, suddenly a surplus of food appears. Inventors can be supported, and the headlong rush of technological progress is off and running.


And in Jerry Pournelle's Janissaries, the Earth mercenaries are marooned on a primitive planet. The first thing they ask for from their alien owners is a copy of James Burke's Connections book, with an eye towards converting the primitive planet into an industrial one. The book is practically a blueprint. If you haven't seen Burke's documentary series Connections or The Day The Universe Changed, you might consider renting a copy.

You've Got Just One Shot

Fred Hoyle has suggested that the reestablishment of civilization may not be as easy as it sounds.

Our civilization developed using fossil fuels as an energy source. The coal and oil in the Earth’s crust are the residues of hundreds of millions of years of biological evolution and decay. At the present rate of growth, in another 50 or 100 years we will have exhausted all fossil fuels on Earth.

If our civilization were to destroy itself at that time, the absence of fossil fuels would make the development of a successor civilization unlikely, at least for a few hundreds of millions of years.

From INTELLIGENT LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE by I. S. Shklovskii and Carl Sagan (1966)

Dr. Hoyle has a point. As civilization on Terra advanced, it used up all the low hanging fruit. All the easily accessible petroleum and rare minerals have been extracted. Now you have to use incredibly difficult techniques like fracking and deep offshore oil drilling.

Which means if some civilization destroying apocalypse strikes (Class 2 Civilization Extinction, Scope: Planetary, Severity: Societal Collapse), any new civilization attempting to increase its technology level will crash into an overwhelming road block. Basically they will have to make the jump from medieval technology to offshore oil drilling in one step.

In other words: you practically get only one shot at a high-tech civilization on a given planet. If you screw up and destroy your civilization, you'll have to wait a few hundreds of millions of years for your next chance.

Richard Duncan is even more pessimistic. His Olduvai theory predicts that the lifetime of an industrial civilization is under 100 years, apocalypse or no. As near as I can figure his theory hinges on the "peak oil" phenomenon. He predicts our technological civlization will start contracting about the year 2030.

This sad fate can be avoided by purchasing some insurance: extraterrestrial colonies and space mining. This can be an argument to invest in the colonization of space, the species of MacGuffinite called Don't Keep All Your Eggs In One Basket.

The second and subsequent civilizations on a given planet will probably be forced into landfill mining of landfills created by the prior civilization.

EXISTENTIAL RISKS

5.1 Resource depletion or ecological destruction

The natural resources needed to sustain a high-tech civilization are being used up. If some other cataclysm destroys the technology we have, it may not be possible to climb back up to present levels if natural conditions are less favorable than they were for our ancestors, for example if the most easily exploitable coal, oil, and mineral resources have been depleted. (On the other hand, if plenty of information about our technological feats is preserved, that could make a rebirth of civilization easier.)

Pulling back from the tight-focus shock for a moment, we know that development isn't inevitable.

If there are no large reserves of coal and iron to mine you're unlikely to get widespread deployment of steam engines. If it's easier for your second sons to set out and march into unoccupied territory and set up farming than to try and eke more food out of a smaller subdivided family farm, you won't get increases in population density until you butt up against the Malthusian limits. If your political system generates a succession crisis that can only be resolved by a brutal and destructive civil war once every generation, that's not going to be conductive to long-term capital accumulation and investment, or to development of a culture of respect for the rule of law (including observance of any form of property law not enforced at swordpoint). If your religion insists that women are chattel and slaveowning is just fine, then the aristocratic beneficiaries of such a system have little incentive to improve productivity and conditions that benefit their perceived inferiors.

But the ability of a pre-industrial empire to enforce social norms globally is hampered by their ability to operate on a worldwide scale: no global system of social control that can block industrialization is possible to a state or agency that hasn't acquired the means of rapid communication and transportation (unless it emerges in the future as an accidental side-effect of resource depletion—if Olduvai theory holds water, then future civilizations won't be able to easily reindustrialize because we'll have consumed the necessary prerequisites).

From THE IRON LAW OF DEVELOPMENT by Charles Stross (2016)
CIV REBOOT WITHOUT FOSSIL FUELS?

It took a lot of fossil fuels to forge our industrial world. Now they’re almost gone. Could we do it again without them?

Imagine that the world as we know it ends tomorrow. There’s a global catastrophe: a pandemic virus, an asteroid strike, or perhaps a nuclear holocaust. The vast majority of the human race perishes. Our civilisation collapses. The post-apocalyptic survivors find themselves in a devastated world of decaying, deserted cities and roving gangs of bandits looting and taking by force.

Bad as things sound, that’s not the end for humanity. We bounce back. Sooner or later, peace and order emerge again, just as they have time and again through history. Stable communities take shape. They begin the agonising process of rebuilding their technological base from scratch. But here’s the question: how far could such a society rebuild? Is there any chance, for instance, that a post-apocalyptic society could reboot a technological civilisation?

Let’s make the basis of this thought experiment a little more specific. Today, we have already consumed the most easily drainable crude oil and, particularly in Britain, much of the shallowest, most readily mined deposits of coal. Fossil fuels are central to the organisation of modern industrial society, just as they were central to its development. Those, by the way, are distinct roles: even if we could somehow do without fossil fuels now (which we can’t, quite), it’s a different question whether we could have got to where we are without ever having had them.

So, would a society starting over on a planet stripped of its fossil fuel deposits have the chance to progress through its own Industrial Revolution? Or to phrase it another way, what might have happened if, for whatever reason, the Earth had never acquired its extensive underground deposits of coal and oil in the first place? Would our progress necessarily have halted in the 18th century, in a pre-industrial state?

It’s easy to underestimate our current dependence on fossil fuels. In everyday life, their most visible use is the petrol or diesel pumped into the vehicles that fill our roads, and the coal and natural gas which fire the power stations that electrify our modern lives. But we also rely on a range of different industrial materials, and in most cases, high temperatures are required to transform the stuff we dig out of the ground or harvest from the landscape into something useful. You can’t smelt metal, make glass, roast the ingredients of concrete, or synthesise artificial fertiliser without a lot of heat. It is fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil – that provide most of this thermal energy.

In fact, the problem is even worse than that. Many of the chemicals required in bulk to run the modern world, from pesticides to plastics, derive from the diverse organic compounds in crude oil. Given the dwindling reserves of crude oil left in the world, it could be argued that the most wasteful use for this limited resource is to simply burn it. We should be carefully preserving what’s left for the vital repertoire of valuable organic compounds it offers.

But my topic here is not what we should do now. Presumably everybody knows that we must transition to a low-carbon economy one way or another. No, I want to answer a question whose interest is (let’s hope) more theoretical. Is the emergence of a technologically advanced civilisation necessarily contingent on the easy availability of ancient energy? Is it possible to build an industrialised civilisation without fossil fuels? And the answer to that question is: maybe – but it would be extremely difficult. Let’s see how.


We’ll start with a natural thought. Many of our alternative energy technologies are already highly developed. Solar panels, for example, represent a good option today, and are appearing more and more on the roofs of houses and businesses. It’s tempting to think that a rebooted society could simply pick up where we leave off. Why couldn’t our civilisation 2.0 just start with renewables?

Well, it could, in a very limited way. If you find yourself among the survivors in a post-apocalyptic world, you could scavenge enough working solar panels to keep your lifestyle electrified for a good long while. Without moving parts, photovoltaic cells require little maintenance and are remarkably resilient. They do deteriorate over time, though, from moisture penetrating the casing and from sunlight itself degrading the high-purity silicon layers. The electricity generated by a solar panel declines by about 1 per cent every year so, after a few generations, all our hand-me-down solar panels will have degraded to the point of uselessness. Then what?

New ones would be fiendishly difficult to create from scratch. Solar panels are made from thin slices of extremely pure silicon, and although the raw material is common sand, it must be processed and refined using complex and precise techniques – the same technological capabilities, more or less, that we need for modern semiconductor electronics components. These techniques took a long time to develop, and would presumably take a long time to recover. So photovoltaic solar power would not be within the capability of a society early in the industrialisation process.

Perhaps, though, we were on the right track by starting with electrical power. Most of our renewable-energy technologies produce electricity. In our own historical development, it so happens that the core phenomena of electricity were discovered in the first half of the 1800s, well after the early development of steam engines. Heavy industry was already committed to combustion-based machinery, and electricity has largely assumed a subsidiary role in the organisation of our economies ever since. But could that sequence have run the other way? Is there some developmental requirement that thermal energy must come first?

On the face of it, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that a progressing society could construct electrical generators and couple them to simple windmills and waterwheels, later progressing to wind turbines and hydroelectric dams. In a world without fossil fuels, one might envisage an electrified civilisation that largely bypasses combustion engines, building its transport infrastructure around electric trains and trams for long-distance and urban transport. I say ‘largely’. We couldn’t get round it all together.

While the electric motor could perhaps replace the coal-burning steam engine for mechanical applications, society, as we’ve already seen, also relies upon thermal energy to drive the essential chemical and physical transformations it needs. How could an industrialising society produce crucial building materials such as iron and steel, brick, mortar, cement and glass without resorting to deposits of coal?

You can of course create heat from electricity. We already use electric ovens and kilns. Modern arc furnaces are used for producing cast iron or recycling steel. The problem isn’t so much that electricity can’t be used to heat things, but that for meaningful industrial activity you’ve got to generate prodigious amounts of it, which is challenging using only renewable energy sources such as wind and water.

An alternative is to generate high temperatures using solar power directly. Rather than relying on photovoltaic panels, concentrated solar thermal farms use giant mirrors to focus the sun’s rays onto a small spot. The heat concentrated in this way can be exploited to drive certain chemical or industrial processes, or else to raise steam and drive a generator. Even so, it is difficult (for example) to produce the very high temperatures inside an iron-smelting blast furnace using such a system. What’s more, it goes without saying that the effectiveness of concentrated solar power depends strongly on the local climate.

No, when it comes to generating the white heat demanded by modern industry, there are few good options but to burn stuff.

But that doesn’t mean the stuff we burn necessarily has to be fossil fuels.


Let’s take a quick detour into the pre-history of modern industry. Long before the adoption of coal, charcoal was widely used for smelting metals. In many respects it is superior: charcoal burns hotter than coal and contains far fewer impurities. In fact, coal’s impurities were a major delaying factor on the Industrial Revolution. Released during combustion, they can taint the product being heated. During smelting, sulphur contaminants can soak into the molten iron, making the metal brittle and unsafe to use. It took a long time to work out how to treat coal to make it useful for many industrial applications. And, in the meantime, charcoal worked perfectly well.

And then, well, we stopped using it. In retrospect, that’s a pity. When it comes from a sustainable source, charcoal burning is essentially carbon-neutral, because it doesn’t release any new carbon into the atmosphere – not that this would have been a consideration for the early industrialists.

But charcoal-based industry didn’t die out altogether. In fact, it survived to flourish in Brazil. Because it has substantial iron deposits but few coalmines, Brazil is the largest charcoal producer in the world and the ninth biggest steel producer. We aren’t talking about a cottage industry here, and this makes Brazil a very encouraging example for our thought experiment.

The trees used in Brazil’s charcoal industry are mainly fast-growing eucalyptus, cultivated specifically for the purpose. The traditional method for creating charcoal is to pile chopped staves of air-dried timber into a great dome-shaped mound and then cover it with turf or soil to restrict airflow as the wood smoulders. The Brazilian enterprise has scaled up this traditional craft to an industrial operation. Dried timber is stacked into squat, cylindrical kilns, built of brick or masonry and arranged in long lines so that they can be easily filled and unloaded in sequence. The largest sites can sport hundreds of such kilns. Once filled, their entrances are sealed and a fire is lit from the top.

The skill in charcoal production is to allow just enough air into the interior of the kiln. There must be enough combustion heat to drive out moisture and volatiles and to pyrolyse the wood, but not so much that you are left with nothing but a pile of ashes. The kiln attendant monitors the state of the burn by carefully watching the smoke seeping out of the top, opening air holes or sealing with clay as necessary to regulate the process.

Good things come to those who wait, and this wood pyrolysis process can take up to a week of carefully controlled smouldering. The same basic method has been used for millennia. However, the ends to which the fuel is put are distinctly modern. Brazilian charcoal is trucked out of the forests to the country’s blast furnaces where it is used to transform ore into pig iron. This pig iron is the basic ingredient of modern mass-produced steel. The Brazilian product is exported to countries such as China and the US where it becomes cars and trucks, sinks, bathtubs, and kitchen appliances.

Around two-thirds of Brazilian charcoal comes from sustainable plantations, and so this modern-day practice has been dubbed ‘green steel’. Sadly, the final third is supplied by the non-sustainable felling of primary forest. Even so, the Brazilian case does provide an example of how the raw materials of modern civilisation can be supplied without reliance on fossil fuels.

Another, related option might be wood gasification. The use of wood to provide heat is as old as mankind, and yet simply burning timber only uses about a third of its energy. The rest is lost when gases and vapours released by the burning process blow away in the wind. Under the right conditions, even smoke is combustible. We don’t want to waste it.

Better than simple burning, then, is to drive the thermal breakdown of the wood and collect the gases. You can see the basic principle at work for yourself just by lighting a match. The luminous flame isn’t actually touching the matchwood: it dances above, with a clear gap in between. The flame actually feeds on the hot gases given off as the wood breaks down in the heat, and the gases combust only once they mix with oxygen from the air. Matches are fascinating when you look at them closely.

To release these gases in a controlled way, bake some timber in a closed container. Oxygen is restricted so that the wood doesn’t simply catch fire. Its complex molecules decompose through a process known as pyrolysis, and then the hot carbonised lumps of charcoal at the bottom of the container react with the breakdown products to produce flammable gases such as hydrogen and carbon monoxide.

The resultant ‘producer gas’ is a versatile fuel: it can be stored or piped for use in heating or street lights, and is also suitable for use in complex machinery such as the internal combustion engine. More than a million gasifier-powered cars across the world kept civilian transport running during the oil shortages of the Second World War. In occupied Denmark, 95 per cent of all tractors, trucks and fishing boats were powered by wood-gas generators. The energy content of about 3 kg of wood (depending on its dryness and density) is equivalent to a litre of petrol, and the fuel consumption of a gasifier-powered car is given in miles per kilogram of wood rather than miles per gallon. Wartime gasifier cars could achieve about 1.5 miles per kilogram. Today’s designs improve upon this.

But you can do a lot more with wood gases than just keep your vehicle on the road. It turns out to be suitable for any of the manufacturing processes needing heat that we looked at before, such as kilns for lime, cement or bricks. Wood gas generator units could easily power agricultural or industrial equipment, or pumps. Sweden and Denmark are world leaders in their use of sustainable forests and agricultural waste for turning the steam turbines in power stations. And once the steam has been used in their ‘Combined Heat and Power’ (CHP) electricity plants, it is piped to the surrounding towns and industries to heat them, allowing such CHP stations to approach 90 per cent energy efficiency. Such plants suggest a marvellous vision of industry wholly weaned from its dependency on fossil fuel.


Is that our solution, then? Could our rebooting society run on wood, supplemented with electricity from renewable sources? Maybe so, if the population was fairly small. But here’s the catch. These options all presuppose that our survivors are able to construct efficient steam turbines, CHP stations and internal combustion engines. We know how to do all that, of course – but in the event of a civilisational collapse, who is to say that the knowledge won’t be lost? And if it is, what are the chances that our descendants could reconstruct it?

In our own history, the first successful application of steam engines was in pumping out coal mines. This was a setting in which fuel was already abundant, so it didn’t matter that the first, primitive designs were terribly inefficient. The increased output of coal from the mines was used to first smelt and then forge more iron. Iron components were used to construct further steam engines, which were in turn used to pump mines or drive the blast furnaces at iron foundries.

And of course, steam engines were themselves employed at machine shops to construct yet more steam engines. It was only once steam engines were being built and operated that subsequent engineers were able to devise ways to increase their efficiency and shrink fuel demands. They found ways to reduce their size and weight, adapting them for applications in transport or factory machinery. In other words, there was a positive feedback loop at the very core of the industrial revolution: the production of coal, iron and steam engines were all mutually supportive.

In a world without readily mined coal, would there ever be the opportunity to test profligate prototypes of steam engines, even if they could mature and become more efficient over time? How feasible is it that a society could attain a sufficient understanding of thermodynamics, metallurgy and mechanics to make the precisely interacting components of an internal combustion engine, without first cutting its teeth on much simpler external combustion engines – the separate boiler and cylinder-piston of steam engines?

It took a lot of energy to develop our technologies to their present heights, and presumably it would take a lot of energy to do it again. Fossil fuels are out. That means our future society will need an awful lot of timber.

In a temperate climate such as the UK’s, an acre of broadleaf trees produces about four to five tonnes of biomass fuel every year. If you cultivated fast-growing kinds such as willow or miscanthus grass, you could quadruple that. The trick to maximising timber production is to employ coppicing – cultivating trees such as ash or willow that resprout from their own stump, becoming ready for harvest again in five to 15 years. This way you can ensure a sustained supply of timber and not face an energy crisis once you’ve deforested your surroundings.

But here’s the thing: coppicing was already a well-developed technique in pre-industrial Britain. It couldn’t meet all of the energy requirements of the burgeoning society. The central problem is that woodland, even when it is well-managed, competes with other land uses, principally agriculture. The double-whammy of development is that, as a society’s population grows, it requires more farmland to provide enough food and also greater timber production for energy. The two needs compete for largely the same land areas.

We know how this played out in our own past. From the mid-16th century, Britain responded to these factors by increasing the exploitation of its coal fields – essentially harvesting the energy of ancient forests beneath the ground without compromising its agricultural output. The same energy provided by one hectare of coppice for a year is provided by about five to 10 tonnes of coal, and it can be dug out of the ground an awful lot quicker than waiting for the woodland to regrow.

It is this limitation in the supply of thermal energy that would pose the biggest problem to a society trying to industrialise without easy access to fossil fuels. This is true in our post-apocalyptic scenario, and it would be equally true in any counterfactual world that never developed fossil fuels for whatever reason. For a society to stand any chance of industrialising under such conditions, it would have to focus its efforts in certain, very favourable natural environments: not the coal-island of 18th-century Britain, but perhaps areas of Scandinavia or Canada that combine fast-flowing streams for hydroelectric power and large areas of forest that can be harvested sustainably for thermal energy.

Even so, an industrial revolution without coal would be, at a minimum, very difficult. Today, use of fossil fuels is actually growing, which is worrying for a number of reasons too familiar to rehearse here. Steps towards a low-carbon economy are vital. But we should also recognise how pivotal those accumulated reservoirs of thermal energy were in getting us to where we are. Maybe we could have made it the hard way. A slow-burn progression through the stages of mechanisation, supported by a combination of renewable electricity and sustainably grown biomass, might be possible after all. Then again, it might not. We’d better hope we can secure the future of our own civilisation, because we might have scuppered the chances of any society to follow in our wake.

For more information on this thought experiment on the behind-the-scenes fundamentals of how our world works and how you could reboot civilisation from scratch visit www.the-knowledge.org

From OUT OF THE ASHES by Lewis Dartnell (2015)

Technological Stasis

As previously mentioned, the most common error science fiction writers make is drastically underestimating the rate of technological advance. Consider that one hundred years ago the paper clip had just been invented, Marconi had invented the wireless radio, the Wright brothers had invented the airplane, and the latest cutting edge material was Bakelite. Assuming that technology continues to advance at the same rate, all of our flashy technological marvels of today will look just as quaint and obsolete in the year 2100. And in 2500, they will look like something made by Galileo.

What I am saying is that Star Wars technology is more like 150 years from now, not ten thousand years from now. In ten thousand years we will all be cosmic StarGods who sculpt entire galaxies as art projects. Which makes the DUNE universe target date of 21,267 CE somewhat ludicrous.

Authors who do not want to write about StarGods have a problem.

A related problem is that science fiction authors desiring a Star-Trek/Star-Wars like universe with lots of alien species who just happen to be at the same tech level, well, disappointment looms. An analysis reveals that interstellar explorers looking for alien civilizations will only encounter either apes or angels, but never humans. Unless all alien species run into a technological stasis brick wall shortly after developing starships.


Solutions

Authors who worry about such details try to come up with a way to put the brakes on progress.

  • In his DUNE novels, Frank Herbert has the "Butlerian Jihad". This eliminates "thinking machines" (computers and artificial intelligence), so bye-bye internet. Creating thinking machines is punishable by death.

  • John Barnes postulated a "Inward Turn" in his A MILLION OPEN DOORS. Due to reaction from the aftermath of a horrific world war, world culture decided to take a rest from technological progress for a few centuries.

  • In Jerry Pournelle's CoDominion novels, the government suppresses all research that might upset the military balance, which is basically all research.

  • In Andre Norton's THE STARS ARE OURS, Terra is controlled by a fundamentalist Luddite regime which swept into power after a close brush with nuclear Armageddon. Scientific research was made illegal. Heck, study and book-larnin' was made illegal (excep for the privileged "Peacemen" of the new regime). And the former scientists were made into menial slaves.

  • In James Blish's THEY SHALL HAVE STARS government security has grown so strict that one researcher complains the scientific method doesn't work any more. Progress has ground to a halt.

  • And the Long Night (dark ages following the decline and fall of the Galactic empire) is always a good way to reset the clock by a thousand years or so. This can be found in Asimov's FOUNDATION trilogy, Niven and Pournelles THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE, H. Beam Piper's SPACE VIKING, and Poul Anderson's Flandry of Terra series.

These are a few of the many ways that "thinking-man's" authors use to justify writing stories about, say, recognizable reader-friendly galactic kings and queens. Otherwise logic dictates they'd be being forced to write science fiction about some unrecognizable reader-unfriendly bizarre cyberpunk dystopia. Hard for the author to write, and it drastically limits their reader-base.

Non-scientific authors do not have that problem. They just write unabashedly write science-fantasy about recognizable galactic kings and queens with no justification. Because they figure their reader base is too unsophisticated to know any better. But such authors probably avoid this website in the first place, frightened away at the sight of the first equation. And by the hostile glare from RocketCat.


Minimum Necessary Change

Occasionally an author can make their desired background plausible by altering just one technological advancement instead of suppressing all technological advance (this is considered to be very elegant and will gain you accolades from your readers and other authors. But it is not strictly necessary). A "Minimum Necessary Change", to use the terminology of Isaac Asimov's time-travel novel The End of Eternity.

Remember von Braun's giant space wheel type space station? It would have paid for itself, with improved weather forecasts, relaying TV and radio messages over the globe, and observing hostile military maneuvers. 76 meters in diameter with a crew of fifty! Makes the ISS look like a used beer can.

Why didn't it get built? It was rendered obsolete by the invention of integrated circuits. Without ICs you need a huge crew with life support and artificial gravity. With ICs you can get away with using a small inexpensive satellite with no crew at all.

So an author who wants a background where huge space stations made their appearance in the 1950s, you just need an alternate history where the IC was never invented. Of course this implies a world with vacuum tube computers filling entire buildings and no such things as personal computers and smart phones, but this just adds more flavor to the science fiction background.


BUTLERIAN JIHAD

The Butlerian Jihad is an event in the back-story of Frank Herbert's fictional Dune universe. Occurring over 10,000 years before the events chronicled in his 1965 novel Dune, this jihad leads to the outlawing of certain technologies, primarily "thinking machines," a collective term for computers and artificial intelligence of any kind. This prohibition is a key influence on the nature of Herbert's fictional setting.

Writing for The New Yorker, Jon Michaud praises Herbert's "clever authorial decision" to excise robots and computers ("two staples of the genre") from his fictional universe, but suggests that this may be one explanation why Dune lacks "true fandom among science-fiction fans" to the extent that it "has not penetrated popular culture in the way that The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars have".

Herbert coined the name in honor of his friend, Frank Butler (who later worked as an attorney in Stanwood, Washington), because of a community movement Butler helped set in motion which resulted in the cancellation of the building of the R.H. Thomson Expressway through Seattle in 1970.

Perhaps coincidentally, 19th-century author Samuel Butler introduced the idea of evolved machines supplanting mankind as the dominant species in his 1863 article "Darwin among the Machines" and later works. Butler goes on to suggest that all machines be immediately destroyed to avoid this outcome.

The original Dune series

In Terminology of the Imperium, the glossary of 1965's Dune, Frank Herbert provides the following definition:

Jihad, Butlerian: (see also Great Revolt) — the crusade against computers, thinking machines, and conscious robots begun in 201 B.G. and concluded in 108 B.G. Its chief commandment remains in the O.C. Bible as "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind."

Herbert refers to the Jihad many times in the entire Dune series, but did not give much detail on how he imagined the actual conflict. In God Emperor of Dune (1981), Leto II Atreides indicates that the Jihad had been a semi-religious social upheaval initiated by humans who felt repulsed by how guided and controlled they had become by machines:

"The target of the Jihad was a machine-attitude as much as the machines," Leto said. "Humans had set those machines to usurp our sense of beauty, our necessary selfdom out of which we make living judgments. Naturally, the machines were destroyed."

In the series, Herbert illustrates how the Jihad leads to many profound and long-lasting effects on the socio-political and technological development of humanity. The known universe is purged of all forms of thinking machines, resulting in not only a ban on the re-creation of similar devices (which remains in effect throughout the periods described in the original six Dune novels), but also a great technological reversal for humanity. The chief commandment from the Orange Catholic Bible, "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind", holds sway, as do the anti-artificial intelligence laws in which the penalty for owning an AI device or developing technology resembling the human mind is immediate death. This leads to the rise of a new feudalistic galactic empire which lasts for over ten thousand years, until the rise of the God Emperor Leto II in 10,217 A.G.

To replace the analytical powers of computers without violating the commandment of the O.C. Bible, "human computers" known as Mentats are developed and perfected, their mental abilities ultimately honed to the point where they become superior to those of the ancient thinking machines. Similarly specialized groups of humans which arise after the Jihad include the Bene Gesserit, a matriarchal order with advanced mental and physical abilities, and the Spacing Guild, whose prescience makes safe and instantaneous space travel possible. Fringe societies such as the Ixians and Bene Tleilax eventually begin to develop mechanical and biological technology that, if not actually transgressing the commandments of the Jihad, at least come extremely close. Prohibitions spawned by the Jihad also include artificial insemination, as explained in Dune Messiah (1969) when Paul Atreides negotiates with the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, who is appalled by Paul's suggestion that he impregnate his consort Princess Irulan in this manner.

See also

From the Wikipedia entry for BUTLERIAN JIHAD
INWARD TURN

(ed note: Dr. Barnes elaborates on the spreadsheet mathematical models he used to calculate historical cycles. In A MILLION OPEN DOORS STL relativistic starships establish interstellar colonies which develop over the next thousand years. Then some joker invents an instantaneous interstellar teleportation machine. Suddenly all the colonies can travel to each other and back to Terra.

Dr. Barnes suddenly needs a reason why the colonists do not find a thousand year older Terra that is incomprehensibly advanced. He needs a plausible way to put the brakes on technological advance.)

I didn’t want the world to get utterly unrecognizable (though that might make another good story), but clearly I would need a reason why it wasn't unrecognizable. I decided to add an event to the background: at or around the time the colony ships are leaving, for some reason or other, the global human culture decides change in general is bad, and begins the Inward Turn (a period like the Enlightenment or Renaissance). There will be much refinement but little new development after A.D. 2300.

Such things have happened. The familiar case is Tokugawa Japan, but China, Persia, and India have done similar things at times, and the tendency was clearly there in other cultures (e.g., Dark Ages Ireland, fourth century Rome). So it’s a reasonable human possibility.

Of course, after several centuries of the tide running the other way in our culture, we’re out of sympathy with such a cultural turning, and may think of it as “decadent,” as “stagnation” and “degeneracy.” But it need not be. The Inward Turn simply means people will value and explore one set of possibilities at the expense of another. It will tend to favor skills, arts, and crafts that require extensive refinement and disciplined training: gymnastics, martial arts, formal or classic styles in the arts, religions requiring elaborate meditative practices, taxonomic or “catalog” sciences, ethics and ontology in philosophy. By the same token, it will devalue that which requires novelty and personal passion: team contact sports, romanticism and subjectivism in arts, religions based on fervor and conversion experiences, theoretical sciences, epistemology. That’s a choice—not a moral collapse. They’ll have fewer Beethovens and Rimbauds, but more formal gardens and tea ceremonies.

And at the time of the story, centuries later, the Inward Turn will be as automatically accepted, unremarked, and beyond debate as the Renaissance is today.

(ed note: more details here)

From HOW TO BUILD A FUTURE by John Barnes (1991)
CODOMINIUM SUPPRESSES RESEARCH

2010–2100 CoDominium Intelligence Services engage in serious effort to suppress all research into technologies with military applications. They are aided by zero-growth organizations. Most scientific research ceases.

…There was another reason, too. CoDominium Intelligence licensed all scientific research and tried to suppress anything that could have military value. The U.S.-Soviet alliance was on top and wasn't about to let any new discoveries upset the balance. They couldn't stop everything, but they didn't have to, so long as the Grand Senate controlled everyone's R&D budget and could tinker with the patent laws.

…If we had not suppressed scientific research. But that was done in the name of the peace. Prevent development of new weapons. Keep control of technology in the hands of the government, prevent technology from dictating policy to all of us; it had seemed so reasonable, and besides, the policy was very old now. There were few trained scientists, because no one wanted to live under the restrictions of the Bureau of Technology.


     …Mark nodded, but Halpern only sneered. "You don't know anything at all," Halpern said. "Oppression? Shooting rioters? Sure that's part of what the CD does, but it's not the worst part. Symptom, not cause. The case is their g*dd*mn so-called intelligence service. Suppression of scientific research. Censorship of technical journals. They've even stopped the pretense of basic research. When was the last time a licensed physicist had a decent idea?"
     Mark shrugged. He knew nothing about physics.
     Halpern grinned. There was no warmth in the expression. His voice had a bitter edge. "Keeping the peace, they say. Only discourage new weapons, new military technology. B*llsh*t, they've stopped everything for fear somebody somewhere will come up with—"

…BuReloc had been shipping the worst troublemakers off Earth for two generations now … except for the Grand Senators, Owensford thought mordantly. Earth could not afford more trouble. The CoDominium had kept the peace since before his grandfather's birth, the United States and Soviet Union acting in concert to police a restive planet. The cost had been heavy; an end to technological progress, as the CoDo Intelligence services suppressed research with military implications … which turned out to be all research.

…CoDominium Intelligence was tasked with suppressing scientific research; their most effective method had been a generations-long effort to corrupt every data base and research program on Earth. Few of the colony worlds had the time or resources needed to undo the damage. Besides, there were few trained scientists left anywhere after four generations. Nobody wanted to live under the lidless eye of BuInt all their lives, with involuntary transportation to someplace like Fulson's World as the punishment for stepping over the line. Mostly what were left were technicians, cookbook engineers who might make a minor change in a recipe if they were very daring.

From THE PRINCE by Jerry Pournelle and S. M. Stirling (2002)
SCIENTIFIC METHOD DOESN'T WORK ANY MORE

(Senator Bish Wagoner said)“But there’s something far more radically wrong now. If space flight were still a live proposition, by now some of it would have been taken away from the army again. There’d be some merchant shipping maybe; or even small passenger lines for a luxury trade, for the kind of people who’ll go in uncomfortable ways to unliveable places just because it’s horribly expensive.” He chuckled heavily. “Like fox-hunting in England a hundred years ago; wasn’t it Oscar Wilde who called it ‘the pursuit of the inedible by the unspeakable’?”

“Isn’t it still a little early for that?” Corsi said.

“In 2013? I don’t think so. But if I’m rushing us on that one point, I can mention others. Why have there been no major exploratory expeditions for the past fifteen years? I should have thought that as soon as the tenth planet, Proserpine, was discovered some university or foundation would have wanted to go there. It has a big fat moon that would make a fine base—no weather exists at those temperatures—there’s no sun in the sky out there to louse up photographic plates—it’s only another zero-magnitude star—and so on. That kind of thing used to be meat and drink to private explorers. Given a millionaire with a thirst for science, like old Hale, and a sturdy organizer with a little grandstand in him—a Byrd-type—and we should have had a Proserpine Two station long ago. Yet space has been dead since Titan Station was set up in 1981. Why?”

He watched the flames for a moment.

“Then,” he said, “there’s the whole question of invention in the field. It’s stopped, Seppi. Stopped cold.”

Corsi said: “I seem to remember a paper from the boys on Titan not so long ago—”

“On xenobacteriology. Sure. That’s not space flight, Seppi; space flight only made it possible; their results don’t update space flight itself, don’t improve it, make it more attractive. Those guys aren’t even interested in it. Nobody is any more. That’s why it’s stopped changing.

“For instance: we’re still using ion-rockets, driven by an atomic pile. It works, and there are a thousand minor variations on the principle; but the principle itself was described by Coupling in 1954! Think of it, Seppi—not one single new, basic engine design in fifty years! And what about hull design? That’s still based on von Braun’s work—older even than Coupling’s. Is it really possible that there’s nothing better than those frameworks of hitched onions? Or those powered gliders that act as ferries for them? Yet I can’t find anything in the committee’s files that looks any better.”

“Are you sure you’d know a minor change from a major one?”

“You be the judge,” Wagoner said grimly. “The hottest thing in current spaceship design is a new elliptically wound spring for acceleration couches. It drags like a leaf-spring with gravity, and pushes like a coil-spring against it. The design wastes energy in one direction, stores it in the other. At last reports, couches made with it feel like sacks stuffed with green tomatoes, but we think we’ll have the bugs out of it soon. Tomato bugs, I suppose. Top Secret.”

“There’s one more Top Secret I’m not supposed to know,” Corsi said. “Luckily it’ll be no trouble to forget.”

“All right, try this one. We have a new water-bottle for ships’ stores. lt’s made of aluminum foil, to be collapsed from the bottom like a toothpaste tube to feed the water into the man’s mouth.”

“But a plastic membrane collapsed by air pressure is handier, weighs less—”

“Sure it does. And this foil tube is already standard for paste rations. All that’s new about this thing is the proposal that we use it for water too. The proposal came to us from a lobbyist for CanAm Metals, with strong endorsements by a couple of senators from the Pacific Northwest. You can guess what we did with it.”

“I am beginning to see your drift.”

“Then I’ll wind it up as fast as I can,” Wagoner said. “What it all comes to is that the whole structure of space flight as it stands now is creaking, obsolescent, over-elaborate, decaying. The field is static; no, worse than that, it’s losing ground. By this time, our ships ought to be sleeker and faster, and able to carry bigger payloads. We ought to have done away with this dichotomy between ships that can land on a planet, and ships that can fly from one planet to another.

“The whole question of using the planets for something—something, that is, besides research—ought to be within sight of settlement. Instead, nobody even discusses it any more. And our chances to settle it grow worse every year. Our appropriations are dwindling, as it gets harder and harder to convince the Congress that space flight is really good for anything. You can’t sell the Congress on the long-range rewards of basic research, anyhow; representatives have to stand for election every two years, senators every six years; that’s just about as far ahead as most of them are prepared to look. And suppose we tried to explain to them the basic research we’re doing? We couldn’t; it’s classified!

“And above all, Seppi—this may be only my personal ignorance speaking, but if so, I’m stuck with it— above all, I think that by now we ought to have some slight clue toward an interstellar drive. We ought even to have a model, no matter how crude—as crude as a Fourth of July rocket compared to a Coupling engine, but with the principle visible. But we don’t. As a matter of fact, we’ve written off the stars. Nobody I can talk to thinks we’ll ever reach them.”

Corsi got up and walked lightly to the window, where he stood with his back to the room, as though trying to look through the light-tight blind down on to the deserted street.

To Wagoner’s fire-dazed eyes, he was scarcely more than a shadow himself. The senator found himself thinking, for perhaps the twentieth time in the past six months, that Corsi might even be glad to be out of it all, branded unreliable though he was. Then, again for at least the twentieth time, Wagoner remembered the repeated clearance hearings, the oceans of dubious testimony and gossip from witnesses with no faces or names, the clamor in the press when Corsi was found to have roomed in college with a man suspected of being an ex-YPSL member, the denunciation on the senate floor by one of MacHinery’s captive solons, more hearings, the endless barrage of vilification and hatred, the letters beginning “Dear Doctor Corsets, You bum,” and signed “True American.” To get out of it that way was worse than enduring it, no matter how stoutly most of your fellow scholars stood by you afterwards.

“I shan’t be the first to say so to you,” the physicist said, turning at last. “I don’t think we’ll ever reach the stars either, Bliss. And I am not very conservative, as physicists go. We just don’t live long enough for us to become a star-traveling race. A mortal man limited to speeds below that of light is as unsuited to interstellar travel as a moth would be to crossing the Atlantic. I’m sorry to believe that, certainly; but I do believe it.”

Wagoner nodded and filed the speech away. On that subject, he had expected even less than Corsi had given him.

“But,” Corsi said, lifting his snifter from the table, “it isn’t impossible that interplanetary flight could be bettered. I agree with you that it’s rotting away now. I’d suspected that it might be, and your showing tonight is conclusive.”

“Then why is it happening?” Wagoner demanded.

“Because scientific method doesn’t work any more.”

“What! Excuse me, Seppi, but that’s sort of like hearing, an archbishop say that Christianity doesn’t work any more. What do you mean?”

Corsi smiled sourly. “Perhaps I was overdramatic. But it’s true that, under present conditions, scientific method is a blind alley. It depends on freedom of information, and we deliberately killed that. In my bureau, when it was mine, we seldom knew who was working on What project at any given time; we seldom knew whether or not somebody else in the bureau was duplicating it; we never knew whether or not some other department might be duplicating it. All we could be sure of was that many men, working in similar fields, were stamping their results Secret because that was the easy way—not only to keep the work out of Russian hands, but to keep the workers in the clear if their own government should investigate them. How can you apply scientific method to a problem when you’re forbidden to see the data?

“Then there’s the caliber of scientist we have working for the government now. The few first-rate men we have are so harassed by the security set-up—and by the constant suspicion that’s focused on them because they are top men in their fields, and hence anything they might leak would be particularly valuable —that it takes them years to solve what used to be very simple problems. As for the rest—well, our staff at Standards consisted almost entirely of third-raters: some of them were very dogged and patient men indeed, but low on courage and even lower on imagination. They spent all their time operating mechanically by the cook-book—the routine of scientific method —and had less to show for it every year.”

“Everything you’ve said could be applied to the space-flight research that’s going on now, without changing a comma,” Wagoner said. “But, Seppi, if scientific method used to be sound, it should still be sound. It ought to work for anybody, even third-raters. Why has it suddenly turned sour now—after centuries of unbroken successes?”

“The time lapse,” Corsi said sombrely, “is of the first importance. Remember, Bliss, that scientific method is not a natural law. It doesn’t exist in nature, but only in our heads; in short, it’s a way of thinking about things—a way of sifting evidence. It was bound to become obsolescent sooner or later, just as sorites and paradigms and syllogisms became obsolete before it (ed note: ??!?). Scientific method works fine while there are thousands of obvious facts lying about for the taking—facts as obvious and measurable as how fast a stone falls, or what the order of the colors is in a rainbow. But the more subtle the facts to be discovered become—the more they retreat into the realms of the invisible, the intangible, the unweighable, the sub-microscopic, the abstract—the more expensive and time-consuming it is to investigate them by scientific method.

“And when you reach a stage where the only research worth doing costs millions of dollars per experiment, then those experiments can be paid for only by government. Governments can make the best use only of third-rate men, men who can’t leaven the instructions in the cook-book with the flashes of insight you need to make basic discoveries. The result is what you see: sterility, stasis, dry rot.”

“Then what’s left?” Wagoner said. “What are we going to do now? I know you well enough to suspect that you’re not going to give up all hope.”

“No,” Corsi said, “I haven’t given up, but I’m quite helpless to change the situation you’re complaining about. After all, I’m on the outside. Which is probably good for me.” He paused, and then said suddenly: “There’s no hope of getting the government to drop the security system completely?”

“Completely?”

“Nothing else would do.”

“No,” Wagoner said. “Not even partially, I’m afraid. Not any longer.”

Corsi sat down and leaned forward, his elbows on his knobby knees, staring into the dying coals. “Then I have two pieces of advice to give you, Bliss. Actually they’re two sides of the same coin. First of all, begin by abandoning these multi-million-dollar, Manhattan-District approaches. We don’t need a newer, still finer measurement of electron resonance one-tenth so badly as we need new pathways, new categories of knowledge. The colossal research project is defunct; what we need now is pure skullwork.”

“From my staff?”

“From wherever you can get it. That’s the other half of my recommendation. If I were you, I would go to the crackpots.”

Wagoner waited. Corsi said these things for effect; he liked drama in small doses. He would explain in a moment.

“Of course I don’t mean total crackpots,” Corsi said. “But you’ll have to draw the line yourself. You need marginal contributors, scientists of good reputation generally whose obsessions don’t strike fire with other members of their profession. Like the Crehore atom, or old Ehrenhaft’s theory of magnetic currents, or the Milne cosmology—you’ll have to find the fruitful one yourself. Look for discards, and then find out whether or not the idea deserved to be totally discarded. And—don’t accept the first ‘expert’ opinion that you get.”

“Winnow chaff, in other words.”

“What else is there to winnow?” Corsi said. “Of course it’s a long chance, but you can’t turn to scientists of real stature now; it’s too late for that. Now you’ll have to use sports, freaks, near-misses.”

“Starting where?”

“Oh,” said Corsi, “how about gravity? I don’t know any other subject that’s attracted a greater quota of idiot speculations. Yet the acceptable theories of what gravity is are of no practical use to us. They can’t be put to work to help lift a spaceship. We can’t manipulate gravity as a field; we don’t even have a set of equations for it that we can agree upon. No more will we find such a set by spending fortunes and decades on the project. The law of diminishing returns has washed that approach out.”

Wagoner got up. “You don’t leave me much,” he said glumly.

“No,” Corsi agreed. “I leave you only what you started with. That’s more than most of us are left with, Bliss.”

Wagoner grinned tightly at him and the two men shook hands. As Wagoner left, he saw Corsi silhouetted against the fire, his back to the door, his shoulders bent. While he stood there, a shot blatted not far away, and the echoes "bounded back from the face of the embassy across the street. It was not a common sound in Washington, but neither was it unusual: it was almost surely one of the city’s thousands of anonymous snoopers firing at a counter-agent, a cop, or a shadow.

Corsi made no responding movement. The senator closed the door quietly.

He was shadowed all the way back to his own apartment, but this time he hardly noticed. He was thinking about an immortal man who flew from star to star faster than light.

From THEY SHALL HAVE STARS by James Blish (1956)
SCIENCE IS OUTLAWED

(Excerpt from the Encyclopedia Galactica)

THE FIRST GALACTIC exploratory and colonization flight came as a direct outgrowth of a peculiar sociological- political situation on the planet Terra. As a result of a series of wars between nationalistic divisions atomic power was discovered. Afraid of the demon they had so loosed the nations then engaged in so-called "cold wars" during which all countries raced to outbuild each other in the stock piling of new and more drastic weapons and the mobilization of manpower into the ancient "armies."

Scientific training became valued only for the aid it could render in helping to arm and fit a nation for war. For some time scientists and techneers of all classes were kept in a form of peonage by "security" regulations. But a unification of scientists fostered in a secret underground movement resulted in the formation of "Free Scientist" teams, groups of experts and specialists who sold their services to both private industry and governments as research workers. Since they gave no attention to the racial, political, or religious antecedents of their members, they became truly international and planet-, instead of nation-, minded—a situation both hated and feared by their employers.

Under the stimulus of Free Scientist encouragement man achieved interplanetary flight. Terra was the third in a series of nine planets revolving about the sun, Sol I. It possessed one satellite, Luna.

Exploration ships made landings on Luna, and the two neighboring planets, Mars and Venus. None of these worlds were suitable for human colonization without vast expenditure, and they offered little or no return for such effort. Consequently, after the first flurry of interest, space flight died down, and there were few visitors to the other worlds, except for the purpose of research. Three "space stations" had been constructed to serve Terra as artificial satellites. These were used for refueling interplanetary ships and astronomical and meteorological observation. One of these provided the weapon the nationalists had been searching for in their war against the "Free Scientists." The station was invaded and occupied by a party of unidentified armed men (later studies suggest that these men were mercenaries in the pay of nationalist forces). And this group, either by ignorant chance or with deliberate purpose, turned certain installations in the station into weapons for an attack upon Terra. There are indications that they themselves had no idea of the power they unleashed, and that it was at once beyond their control. As a result the major portion of the thickly populated sections of the planet were completely devastated and no one was ever able to reckon the loss of life.

Among those who were the sole survivors of an entire family group was Arturo Renzi. Renzi, a man of unusual magnetic personality, was a believer in narrow and fanatical nationalist doctrines. Because of his personal loss he began to preach the evil of science (with propaganda that the Free Scientists themselves had turned the station against the earth that had apparently been carefully prepared even before the act) and the necessity for man to return to the simple life on the soil to save himself and Terra.

To a people already in psychic shock from the enormity of the disaster, Renzi appeared the great leader they needed and his party came into power around the world. But, fanatic and narrow as he was, his voiced policies were still too liberal for some of his supporters.

Renzi's assassination, an act committed by a man arbitrarily identified as an outlawed Free Scientist, touched off the terrible purge which lasted three days. At the end of which time the few scientists and techneers still alive had been driven into hiding, to be hunted down one by one through the following years as chance or man betrayed them.

Saxon Bort, a lieutenant of Renzi's, assumed command of the leader's forces and organized the tight dictatorship of the Company of Pax.

Learning, unless one was a privileged "Peaceman," became suspect. Society was formed into three classes — the nobility as represented by the Peacemen of various grades, the peasantry on the land, and the work-slaves—descendants of suspected scientists or techneers.

With the stranglehold of Pax firmly established on Terra, old prejudices against different racial and religious origins again developed. All research, invention, and study was proscribed and the planet was fast slipping into an age of total darkness and retreat. Yet it was at this moment in her history that the first galactic flight was made.

From THE STARS ARE OURS by Andre Norton (1954)
SCIENCE DELIBERATELY BROUGHT TO A STANDSTILL

“You aren’t even a cadet as yet.” Baldwin went on. “There is the project to increase our numbers, but that is thousand-year program; you’d need a perpetual calendar to check it. More important is keeping matches away from baby ("baby" is the government, the "matches" in this case is a simple technique to make the sun go nova). Joe, it’s been eighty-five years since we beheaded the last commissar: have you wondered why so little basic progress in science has been made in that time?”

“Eh? There have been a lot of changes.”

“Minor adaptations—some spectacular, almost none of them basic. Of course there was very little progress made under communism; a totalitarian political religion is incompatible with free investigation. Let me digress: the communist interregnum was responsible for the New Men getting together and organizing. Most New Men are scientists, for obvious reasons. When the commissars started ruling on natural laws by political criteria—Lysenkoism and similar nonsense—it did not sit well; a lot of us went underground.

“I’ll skip the details. It brought us together, gave us practice in underground activity, and gave a backlog of new research, carried out underground. Some of it was obviously dangerous; we decided to hang onto it for a while. Since then such secret knowledge has grown, for we never give out an item until it has been scrutinized for social hazards. Since much of it is dangerous and since very few indeed outside our organization are capable of real original thinking, basic science has been almost at a public standstill.

“We hadn’t expected to have to do it that way. We helped to see to it that the new constitution was liberal and—we thought—workable. But the new Republic turned out to be an even poorer thing than the old. The evil ethic of communism had corrupted, even after the form was gone. We held off. Now we know that we must hold off until we can revise the whole society.”

From GULF by Robert Heinlein (1949)
POLITICIZATION OF SCIENCE

The politicization of science is the manipulation of science for political gain. It occurs when government, business, or advocacy groups use legal or economic pressure to influence the findings of scientific research or the way it is disseminated, reported or interpreted. The politicization of science may also negatively affect academic and scientific freedom. Historically, groups have conducted various campaigns to promote their interests in defiance of scientific consensus, and in an effort to manipulate public policy.

Overview

Researcher William R. Freudenburg and colleagues have noted that where decisions and action are required, science can offer valuable degrees of certainty, however, it can never offer a guarantee. John Horgan describes how this point is sometimes intentionally ignored as a part of what he calls an "Orwellian tactic". Organizations sometimes seek to shift all discussion on some issues away from 'conclusions are most scientifically likely' to 'even the more probable conclusion is still uncertain.'

Chris Mooney has claimed these tactics are used to gain more attention for views that have been undermined by scientific evidence. In his view, the media ends up in a misguided pursuit of "balance" which results in undue weight in reporting. As examples, Mooney offers the Teach the Controversy campaign that seeks to cast doubt on some aspects of evolutionary explanations, and other campaigns that seek to cast doubt on certain aspects of anthropogenic climate change.

William R. Freudenburg and colleagues have written about this rhetorical technique, and state that this is an attempt to shift the burden of proof in an argument. Cigarette lobbyists combating laws that would control smoking via trivializing evidence as uncertain, is offered as an example of a SCAM (Scientific Certainty Argumentation Method). They maintain that what is needed is a balanced approach that carefully considers the risks of both Type 1 and Type 2 errors in a situation while noting that scientific conclusions are always tentative. The authors conclude that politicians and lobby groups are too often able to make "successful efforts to argue for full 'scientific certainty' before a regulation can be said to be 'justified' – and that, in short, is a SCAM."

Hank Campbell and microbiologist Alex Berezow have described "feel-good fallacies" used in politics, where politicians frame their positions in a way that makes people feel good about supporting certain policies even when scientific evidence shows there is no need to worry or there is no need for dramatic change on current programs. They have claimed that progressives have had these kinds of issues with policies involving genetically modified foods, vaccination, overpopulation, use of animals in research, nuclear energy, and other topics.

(ed note: for more detail and examples, refer to the Wikipedia article)

From the Wikipedia entry for POLITICIZATION OF SCIENCE
MINIMUM NECESSARY CHANGE

(ed note: E. E. "Doc" Smith's classic LENSMAN series is one of the foundations of space opera. In 1993 Sean Barrett wrote a game supplement for the role playing game GURPS. Since the original series was written in the late 1930s, Mr. Barrett had to retcon reasons why a science fiction series set in the future inexplicably had no personal computers, internet, nor smartphones. Mr. Barrett made the minimum necessary change, and managed to tie it in with technobabble technology mentioned in the original series.)

ARISIA, PLEISTOCENE EPOCH, QUATERNARY PERIOD

(ed note: The good Arisians are engaged in an eon-old war with the sinister Eddorians. Since the Arisians cannot defeat the Eddorians with any combination of psychic or technological weapons, their solution is to take promising planets and evolve races who have the power. Young Arisian Eukonidor is agast at necessity of allowing an atomic war on Tellus/Terra. )

“But the loss of life! Surely there is a way … ”

“Your thinking is loose and turgid, youth. Do not allow affection for the subjects to interfere with your reasoning. Continue the extrapolation. Yes, the war would be prevented. What would then occur? ”

“With the vast improvement in electronics, they would quickly develop …" The Arisian child possesses no organs even remotely resembling eyes, but had he, they would grow wide as he pursues the thought. “In a single generation, they would abdicate control of every aspect of life, down to food preparation utensils, to the ubiquitous electronic data processors! They would rely on machines for precise, detailed reasoning, for clarity of cogitation — but the powers of the mind necessary to Civilization cannot be simulated by electronics!

“Yes,” the teacher replies dryly. “Some would even become so desperate as to implant electronics into their own bodies. Is the war not better than an entire race reduced by dependence on cybernetics to punks and mental cripples? (humans cannot develop powers of the mind if they use crutches like pocket calculators and spell-checkers) Describe a prevention of that fate that has minimal side-effects. ”

“Obviously, the humans Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley must not invent this ‘transistor’ device. ” A mental silence falls as the student contemplates methods. Elegance governs. A human heart would have pulsed several times before the child again broadcasts his thoughts. “I suggest spatial translation of this fastening device a short distance in nearly any direction, removing it from the path of this transportation mechanism.” He indicated in a purely mental fashion a precise point in space-time.

“Yes,” replies the teacher “Many consider that the optimal course. Now, consider…"

The teacher exerts himself to hide the pride he feels. This is, in fact, the course Mentor themselves selected. This youth, Eukonidor by symbol, has real promise.


ALABAMA, TELLUS, 1932 CE

Dr Murray, driving late into the night, remains forever oblivious to the nail he nearly drove over. Fighting to keep his eyes open, he pulls off the road outside the tiny town of Athens, Alabama for forty winks. Dawn finds him snoring, and he awakes with a vicious crick in his neck.

At the exact moment he sees the girl climbing the tree, she is 143.213 feet from him (which the Arisian teacher accepts as being within the error constraints of the student’s visualization). As he rolls his head, trying to loosen his neck muscles, he is in perfect position to see her lose her grip and fall, striking a bough heavily before plummeting to the ground.

Dr Murray leaps from the car and reaches her in 23.17 seconds (which causes the teacher to remind the child that physical life frequently operates at less than full capacity). The ground is soft, but the impact of the branch across her abdomen cracks several ribs and stops her breathing. Artificial respiration is successful, and Ruth recovers quickly and fully, though it is quite clear that she would have suffocated, had Dr. Murray not been present.


BOSTON, TELLUS, 1944 CE

Bill Shockley sits in the corner of the party, deep in thought and wishing he had his slip-stick and a supply of scratch paper; or even a corner of the tablecloth to sketch on. An idea is nagging at him, but refuses to completely gel.

“Hello there. ”

He looks up, and the idea flees before red-bronze-auburn hair and gold-flecked, tawny eyes. He and Ruth Sommer know nothing of the rest of that party, though it is the most delightful of the many they attend. They spend the entire evening sitting in that corner; in rapt and exclusive conversation. She continues to monopolize all of his free time and thought, and much thought that should be devoted to his work at Bell Labs. Even were he reminded of that fascinating idea he had almost had, he would never regret its loss — his beautiful wife is considerably more than worth it.


STOCKHOLM, TELLUS, 1956 CE

William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Houser Brattain share the Nobel Prize in Physics for their revolutionary “ultra-wave” vacuum tube design. (Ultra-wave is technobabble from the Lensman series, which the trio invent instead of the real-world transistor)


STOCKHOLM, TELLUS, 1958 BE

Pavel Aleksejevic Cherenkov, Ilya Mickajlovic Frank and Igor Evgenevic Tamm share the Nobel Prize in Physics for their studies of the effects of the super-luminal speeds found in the Shockley ultra-wave tube (including the “Cherenkov effect”). Hundreds of years later; Dr Nels Bergenholm finds their work seminal in his research (in the Lensman series Dr Nels Bergenholm invents the faster-than-light starship engine called the Inertialess Drive).

From GURPS: LENSMAN by Sean Barrett (1993)

Technological Decline

Joan Vinge pointed out an unexpected consequence of the collapse of technology in her THE OUTCASTS OF HEAVEN'S BELT. If a planetary colony falls into barbarism, everybody reverts to a non-technological agrarian society. If an asteroid civilization falls into barbarism, everybody dies. It takes lots of technology to run the oxygen system, airlocks, spaceships, hydroponics, nuclear reactors, and other items vital for life in space. No technology, no life. In other words, they are a Hydraulic state.

A milder version of this happens with the Three Generation Rule.

Disaster may be staved off by tinkerers and cobblers, but only temporarily.

Betha saw suddenly the fatal flaw the original colonizers, already Belters, must never have considered. Without a world to hold an atmosphere, air and water -- all the fundamentals of life -- had to be processed or manufactured or they didn't exist. And without a technology capable of processing and manufacturing, in a system without an Earthlike world to retreat to, any Dark Age would mean extinction.

From THE OUTCASTS OF HEAVEN'S BELT by Joan Vinge
DECIVILIZATION 1

And after they were gone, the farms and ranches and factories would go on, almost but not quite as before. Nothing on Gram, nothing on any of the Sword-Worlds, was done as efficiently as three centuries ago. The whole level of Sword-World life was sinking, like the east coastline of this continent, so slowly as to be evident only from the records and monuments of the past. He said as much, and added: "And the genetic loss. The best Sword-World genes are literally escaping to space, like the atmosphere of a low gravity planet, each generation begotten by fathers slightly inferior to the last. It wasn't so bad when the Space Vikings raided directly from the Sword-Worlds; they got home once in a while. Now they're conquering planets in the Old Federation for bases, and staying there."


He turned to Basil Gorrarn. "You see, the gentleman isn't crazy, at all. That's what happened to the Terran Federation, by the way. The good men all left to colonize, and the stuffed shirts and yes-men and herd-followers and safety-firsters stayed on Terra and tried to govern the Galaxy."


The city was familiar, from Otto Harkaman's descriptions and from the pictures Vann Larch had painted during the long jump from Gram. As they came in, it looked impressive, spreading for miles around the twin buildings that spired almost three thousand feet above it, with a great spaceport like an eight-pointed star at one side. Whoever had built it, in the sunset splendor of the old Terran Federation, must have done so confident that it would become the metropolis of a populous and prospering world. Then the sun of the Federation had gone down. Nobody knew what had happened on Tanith after that, but evidently none of it had been good.

At first, the two towers seemed as sound as when they had been built; gradually it became apparent that one was broken at the top. For the most part, the smaller buildings scattered widely around them were standing, though here and there mounds of brush-grown rubble showed where some had fallen in. The spaceport looked good—a central octagon mass of buildings, the landing-berths, and, beyond, the triangular areas of airship docks and warehouses. The central building was outwardly intact, and the ship-berths seemed clear of wreckage and rubble.

By the time the Nemesis was following the Space Scourge and the Lamia down, towed by her own pinnaces, the illusion that they were approaching a living city had vanished. The interspaces between the buildings were choked with forest-growth, broken by a few small fields and garden-plots. At one time, there had been three of the high buildings, literally vertical cities in themselves. Where the third had stood was a glazed crater, with a ridge of fallen rubble lying away from it. Somebody must have landed a medium missile, about twenty kilotons, against its base. Something of the same sort had scored on the far edge of the spaceport, and one of the eight arrowheads of docks and warehouses was an indistinguishable slag-pile.

The rest of the city seemed to have died of neglect rather than violence. It certainly hadn't been bombed out. Harkaman thought most of the fighting had been done with subneutron bombs or Omega-ray bombs, that killed the people without damaging the real estate. Or bio-weapons; a man-made plague that had gotten out of control and all but depopulated the planet.

"It takes an awful lot of people, working together at an awful lot of jobs, to keep a civilization running. Smash the installations and kill the top technicians and scientists, and the masses don't know how to rebuild and go back to stone hatchets. Kill off enough of the masses and even if the planet and the know-how is left, there's nobody to do the work. I've seen planets that decivilized both ways. Tanith, I think, is one of the latter."

From SPACE VIKING by H. Beam Piper (1962)
DECIVILIZATION 2

(ed note: The person talking is the chief of an interstellar law-enforcement agency. The "Enemy" is the interstellar organized crime syndicate)

He paused and indicated a chair. "Do sit down, make yourself comfortable." He sat down facing them. "As you know from history, four hundred years ago, there was a war of independence among our stellar colonies. During that war, four recently colonized planets were completely cut off. Vessels carrying vital equipment failed to arrive and, in the hundred-year combat which followed, the colonists on these worlds lost their technology. Superstition replaced knowledge. They slipped to a period roughly approximating sixteenth-century earth which was pretty good considering that they had only memory, records, and the clothes they stood up in with which to build. Every time someone died, knowledge died with them, you get the picture.

"It was felt, when the first cautious surveys were made, that it would be in the interests of these cultures generally, if they climbed to a period roughly approaching the twentieth century before being united with the Empire. The experts felt that too early a contact might have dangerous repercussions on these cultures. Further, with the growing strength of the Enemy they would undoubtedly be exploited, turned into side-shows and perhaps perish as individual and vital off-shoots of mankind's climb to the stars.

"Warning monitors were therefore placed in orbit round these planets and regular patrols instituted. It was known, needless to say, that Cisterine, the planet in question, was rich in Cuderium and here precautions were doubled.

"The Enemy, however, has some ingenious scientists on its payroll and they managed to by-pass the monitors and evade the patrols without triggering the alarms. Judging by figures to hand, they had mined and ferried out a couple of billions worth of Cuderium before they were discovered.

"While this was going on, the executives in charge became bored. They therefore decided to amuse themselves, playing God.

"The peoples of the planet's two continents, if not friends, had never been overt enemies, so the executives drummed up a little war to make their stay more interesting. It was then that some bright spark had the idea of making a profit out of it. Why not hook up some cameras? Make a good spectacular and profit out of indulgence appealed to them greatly.

"The spectacular (a popular TV show), as you did not see all of it, is worth mentioning. It depicted an heroic spaceman marooned on a primitive planet. He falls among a noble race whose lands and seaboards are being constantly ravished and plundered by the brutal Royal fleets of the adjacent continent. Out of love of the people and, incidentally, unlikely local materials, he builds a quick-firing gun and sallies forth in their only available ship to do battle for them. Needless to say, the battle scenes were impressive and the backgrounds so skilfully disguised that, but for your 'dream' we should never have put two and two together."

From BUTTERFLY PLANET by Philip E. High (1971)
INTELLECTUAL DECADENCE

     “You don’t intend. You don’t. And who are you? And may I ask what you meant by blowing off your mouth about our nuclear-power plant? Why, it’s just the thing that would s a military target.”
     “Yes,” grinned Hardin. “A military target to stay away from. Isn’t it obvious why I brought the subject up? It happened to confirm a very strong suspicion I had had.”
     “And that was what?”
     “That Anacreon no longer has a nuclear-power economy. If they had, our friend would undoubtedly have realized that plutonium, except in ancient tradition is not used in power plants. And therefore it follows that the rest of the Periphery no longer has nuclear power either. Certainly Smyrno hasn’t, or Anacreon wouldn’t have won most of the battles in their recent war. Interesting, wouldn’t you say?”
     “Bah!” Pirenne left in fiendish humor, and Hardin smiled gently.
     He threw his cigar away and looked up at the outstretched Galaxy. “Back to oil and coal, are they?” he murmured — and what the rest of his thoughts were he kept to himself.

     “The Encyclopedia first,” ground out Crast. “We have a mission to fulfill.”
     “Mission, hell,” shouted Hardin. “That might have been true fifty years ago. But this is a new generation.”
     “That has nothing to do with it,” replied Pirenne. “We are scientists.”
     And Hardin leaped through the opening. “Are you, though? That’s a nice hallucination, isn’t it? Your bunch here is a perfect example of what’s been wrong with the entire Galaxy for thousands of years. What kind of science is it to be stuck out here for centuries classifying the work of scientists of the last millennium? Have you ever thought of working onward, extending their knowledge and improving upon it? No! You’re quite happy to stagnate. The whole Galaxy is, and has been for space knows how long. That’s why the Periphery is revolting; that’s why communications are breaking down; that’s why petty wars are becoming eternal; that’s why whole systems are losing nuclear power and going back to barbarous techniques of chemical power.
     “If you ask me,” he cried, “the Galactic Empire is dying!”

     When the lights went on again, Lord Dorwin said: “Mahvelous. Twuly mahvelous. You ah not, by chance, intewested in ahchaeology, ah you, Hahdin?”
     “Eh?” Hardin shook himself out of an abstracted reverie. “No, milord, can’t say I am. I’m a psychologist by original intention and a politician by final decision.”
     “Ah! No doubt intewesting studies. I, myself, y’know” — he helped himself to a giant pinch of snuff — “dabble in ahchaeology.”
     “Indeed?”
     “His lordship,” interrupted Pirenne, “is most thoroughly acquainted with the field.”
     “Well, p’haps I am, p’haps I am,” said his lordship complacently. “I have done an awful amount of wuhk in the science. Extwemely well-read, in fact. I’ve gone thwough all of Jawdun, Obijasi, Kwomwill … oh, all of them, y’know.”
     “I’ve heard of them, of course,” said Hardin, “but I’ve never read them.”
     “You should some day, my deah fellow. It would amply repay you. Why, I cutainly considah it well wuhth the twip heah to the Pewiphewy to see this copy of Lameth. Would you believe it, my Libwawy totally lacks a copy. By the way, Doctah Piwenne, you have not fohgotten yoah pwomise to twansdevelop a copy foah me befoah I leave?”
     “Only too pleased.”
     “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.”
     Hardin remained silent for a short while. Then he said, “When did Lameth write his book?”
     “Oh — I should say about eight hundwed yeahs ago. Of cohse, he has based it lahgely on the pwevious wuhk of Gleen.”
     “Then why rely on him? Why not go to Arcturus and study the remains for yourself?”
     Lord Dorwin raised his eyebrows and took a pinch of snuff hurriedly. “Why, whatevah foah, my deah fellow?”
     “To get the information firsthand, of course.”
     “But wheah’s the necessity? It seems an uncommonly woundabout and hopelessly wigmawolish method of getting anywheahs. Look heah, now, I’ve got the wuhks of all the old mastahs — the gweat ahchaeologists of the past. I wigh them against each othah — balance the disagweements — analyze the conflicting statements — decide which is pwobably cowwect — and come to a conclusion. That is the scientific method. At least” — patronizingly — “as I see it. How insuffewably cwude it would be to go to Ahctuwus, oah to Sol, foah instance, and blundah about, when the old mastahs have covahed the gwound so much moah effectually than we could possibly hope to do.”
     Hardin murmured politely, “I see.”
     “Come, milord,” said Pirenne, “think we had better be returning.”
     “Ah, yes. P’haps we had.”
     As they left the room, Hardin said suddenly, “Milord, may I ask a question?”
     Lord Dorwin smiled blandly and emphasized his answer with a gracious flutter of the hand. “Cuhtainly, my deah fellow. Only too happy to be of suhvice. If I can help you in any way fwom my pooah stoah of knowledge—”
     “It isn’t exactly about archaeology, milord.”
     “No?”
     “No. It’s this: Last year we received news here in Terminus about the meltdown of a power plant on Planet V of Gamma Andromeda. We got the barest outline of the accident — no details at all. I wonder if you could tell me exactly what happened.”
     Pirenne’s mouth twisted. “I wonder you annoy his lordship with questions on totally irrelevant subjects.”
     “Not at all, Doctah Piwenne,” interceded the chancellor. “It is quite all wight. Theah isn’t much to say concuhning it in any case. The powah plant did undergo meltdown and it was quite a catastwophe, y’know. I believe wadiatsen damage. Weally, the govuhnment is sewiously considewing placing seveah westwictions upon the indiscwiminate use of nucleah powah — though that is not a thing for genewal publication, y’know.”
     “I understand,” said Hardin. “But what was wrong with the plant?”
     “Well, weally,” replied Lord Dorwin indifferently, “who knows? It had bwoken down some yeahs pweviously and it is thought that the weplacements and wepaiah wuhk wuh most infewiah. It is so difficult these days to find men who weally undahstand the moah technical details of ouah powah systems.” And he took a sorrowful pinch of snuff.

     “But, Hardin,” reminded Fara, “we can’t!”
     “But you haven’t tried. You haven’t tried once. First, you refused to admit that there was a menace at all! Then you reposed an absolutely blind faith in the Emperor! Now you’ve shifted it to Hari Seldon. Throughout you have invariably relied on authority or on the past — never on yourselves.”
     His fists balled spasmodically. “It amounts to a diseased attitude — a conditioned reflex that shunts aside the independence of your minds whenever it is a question of opposing authority. There seems no doubt ever in your minds that the Emperor is more powerful than you are, or Hari Seldon wiser. And that’s wrong, don’t you see?”
     For some reason, no one cared to answer him.
     Hardin continued: “It isn’t just you. It’s the whole Galaxy. Pirenne heard Lord Dorwin’s idea of scientific research. Lord Dorwin thought the way to be a good archaeologist was to read all the books on the subject — written by men who were dead for centuries. He thought that the way to solve archaeological puzzles was to weigh the opposing authorities. And Pirenne listened and made no objections. Don’t you see that there’s something wrong with that?”
     Again the note of near-pleading in his voice. Again no answer.
     He went on: “And you men and half of Terminus as well are just as bad. We sit here, considering the Encyclopedia the all-in-all. We consider the greatest end of science. is the classification of past data. It is important, but is there no further work to be done? We’re receding and forgetting, don’t you see? Here in the Periphery they’ve lost nuclear power. In Gamma Andromeda, a power plant has undergone meltdown because of poor repairs, and the Chancellor of the Empire complains that nuclear technicians are scarce. And the solution? To train new ones? Never! Instead they’re to restrict nuclear power.”
     And for the third time: “Don’t you see? It’s Galaxywide. It’s a worship of the past. It’s a deterioration — a stagnation!”

From FOUNDATION by Isaac Asimov (1951)

As has happened so often in the past, the challenge may be too great. We may establish colonies on the planets, but they may be unable to maintain themselves at more than a marginal level of existence, with no energy left over to spark any cultural achievements. History has one parallel as striking as it is ominous, for long ago the Polynesians achieved a technical tour-de-force which may well be compared with the conquest of space. By establishing regular maritime traffic across the greatest of oceans, writes Toynbee, they "won their footing on the specks of dry land which are scattered through the watery wilderness of the Pacific almost as sparsely as the stars are scattered through space." But the effort defeated them at last, and they relapsed into primitive life. We might never have known of their astonishing achievement had it not left, on Easter Island, a memorial that can hardly be overlooked. There may be many Easter Islands of space in the aeons to come — abandoned planets littered not with monoliths but with the equally enigmatic debris of another defeated technology.

From PROFILES OF THE FUTURE by Arthur C. Clarke

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

From "OZYMANDIAS" by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1818)

(ed note: Percy Shelley and his friend Horace Smith were in a friendly competition to write a sonnet about the new statue of Ramesses II in the British Museum. Smith's sonnet is similar in story and moral point, but includes a science fiction bit about a hunter of the future looking at the ruins of London. Sort of like an 1800's version of the ending of Planet of the Apes.)

In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:—
"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,
"The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
"The wonders of my hand."— The City's gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place

From OZYMANDIAS by Horace Smith (1818)

(ed note: Titus Crow steps out of his grandfather-clock-like time machine several million years in the future)

I was up at dawn, if that gradual lightening of the sky, in which the stars never quite managed to extinguish themselves above the monstrous desert of Earth, could ever be called a dawn. The waning orange sun was rising in the dark blue of the eastern sky. And yet, despite the fact that the sun was dying, still its rising was my undoing, for of course the enigmatic structure I so desired to investigate lay in just that direction, to the east. Pitifully dim though the sun was by the standards of this twentieth century, still it was bright enough to throw the face of that towering edifice into shadow. Because of this I found myself approaching the thing blind, as it were, and I did so to within a distance of some three and a half miles. The base of the skyscraper (so I had come to think of it, though its actual purpose was as much a mystery as ever) lay in something of a declivity, but for all that the thing must still have stretched a good three-quarters of a mile into the thin air, while its column was easily a third of that distance in diameter.

At this point something about the shape of the thing caused me to halt the clock's slow forward motion. It almost seemed as if I stood at the feet of a giant, and I had not yet made up my mind that this giant was friendly! Nor was this idea too far fetched, for indeed the shape of the thing, seen in silhouette, was somehow statuesque.

I decided to circle about it and thus observe it from a position where the dim sun would not be shining directly into my eyes, but no sooner had I taken this decision than yet another factor arose to deny me a clear, unobstructed view of the thing. The sun, climbing steadily now into the sky, was warming however remotely the tenuous air of the valley in which my giant stood. A fine mist was rising, clinging to and climbing the steep and strangely suggestive outlines of the structure, so that by the time I reached that point to the north from which I had hoped to view it, the combination of ground haze and rising, writhing vaporization had obscured all but its pointed summit. That summit, however, I could now see quite clearly: a great curve of a silvery hull and sharp prow tilted at the sky, sleek fins gleaming in the weak sunlight. A spaceship, held aloft in a giant's hand, symbol of man's domination of the stars and of his exodus from this dying Earth!

My heart gave a wild leap. This was more than I had dared hope for, better by far than the thought of the last members of the human race burrowing in the dry earth like so many miserable worms. Impatiently I waited while the sun completed its work and the feeble haze began to drift lazily down from the gargantuan it so thinly veiled. And soon those disturbing proportions I had noted before began to emerge, but this time clearly and unmistakably to my shocked eyes!

My mouth went dry, my mind utterly blank in an instant. I could only stare ... and stare ... while my jaw dropped lower and lower and my hopes for mankind plummeted into unfathomable abysses. For perhaps a full half hour I stood there beside the clock, until, gripped by an emotion like none I had ever known before, I stumbled once more in through the panel of that purple-glowing gateway to forgotten times and places and carelessly hurled myself back, back into time, perhaps to a time when man lived and loved, fought and died and gloried on the green hills and in fertile valleys of Earth.

For the immense metal statue holding aloft that silvery symbol of galactic exodus was made neither by nor yet in the image of man. Vastly intelligent were its builders, yes, and plainly proud of their ancient heritage, a heritage which predated mere man and now patently antedated him ... It was a beetle!

From THE TRANSITION OF TITUS CROW by Brian Lumley (1975)

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.
ACROSS THE SEA OF STARS

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)
DREAD COMPANION

(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 Fairie. As they dodge all the hideous monsters and perils, they meet another human refugee from the real world: Jorth Kosgro.

The Land of Fairie plays tricks with time. As it turns out, Kosgro fell into Fairie in the year 2301 After Flight. Rhyn and the children fell into Farie in the year 2422 After Flight, 121 years later. )

      (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 Fairie 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)
THE STARWOLVES

      "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)
DIRT

     “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.”

From THE STAINLESS STEEL RAT SAVES THE WORLD by Harry Harrison (1972)
OLD YARTHE

     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)
THE ORIGIN QUESTION

     “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)
VOYAGE TO A FORGOTTEN SUN

     “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)

Asteroid Revolutionary War

This section has been moved here.

The Only Thing We Learn

This section has been moved here.

Star Guard

This section has been moved here.

Science and Society

This section has been moved here

Eugenics

This section has been moved here

End of Natural Selection

This section has been moved here

Mutants

This section has been moved here

Technological Unemployment

This section has been moved here

The Singularity

This section has been moved here

Warning Signs for Tomorrow

This section has been moved here.

Atomic Rockets notices

This week's featured addition is MONOCLE FIGHTER

This week's featured addition is GASEOUS CORE SPACECRAFT

Atomic Rockets

Support Atomic Rockets

Support Atomic Rockets on Patreon